Re: Terror Goes Marching On

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On the flip side, a well-developed terrorist movement formed quickly in the South after the Civil War, with the most emblematic representative being the KKK.


Posted by: Frostbite | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:55 AM
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Isn't this something like the argument that pro-life people use to justify clinic bombing?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:01 AM
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All of the Yale Open Course offerings (like Blight's) are rumored to be very good. MIT also has something similar.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:02 AM
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I haven't listened to the TED talks. Do you all like them?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:03 AM
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2: My thought exactly. The main flaw in that being that, whereas most abolitionists favored abolition, including the criminality of slaveholding in a post-abolition world, we know that most anti-abortion people don't favor any criminal sanction for a woman terminating her pregnancy.

IOW, if they don't have the courage to take their convictions that far, then it's pretty rich to claim that it's such a problem that it justifies terror.

But it's a problem, yeah.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:04 AM
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Isn't this something like the argument that pro-life people use to justify clinic bombing?

Most pro-life people don't justify clinic bombing, in the same way that most abolitionists didn't justify John Brown.


Posted by: Armsmasher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:06 AM
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most anti-abortion people don't favor any criminal sanction for a woman terminating her pregnancy

Well, they don't *admit* to it, anyhow. Or they aren't in favor of it while the question remains abstract. It's hard to say what their response would be to women who defied an actual abortion ban. Especially given the overlap between that crowd and the people who think welfare recipients should be forcibly sterilized.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:08 AM
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we know that most anti-abortion people don't favor any criminal sanction for a woman terminating her pregnancy.

To be honest, I don't see why this is such a huge sticking point. It seems poorly thought out on their part, but a natural inconsistency of the different ways their hearts are being tugged.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:09 AM
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video, not audio, but a really nice biology lecture on siRNA

MIT's OpenCourseWare has an audio/video division with a fair amount of audio. Terence Tao and John Baez are both great math writers, no audio for either though.

Lessig has a bunch of audio, he's very good IMO. The search term "lecture" on delicious turns up this.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:12 AM
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Situations where terrorism is sane and justified aren't all that common.

Really? I'll grant you that situations where terrorism is sane may be rare, given that it often doesn't work. But justification for terrorism seems about as common as justification for more conventional war, and people manage to find justification for conventional war all the time.

I recall seeing the quote "Terrorist? That's what the big army calls the little army!" attributed to Wolverine, but I can't find a convincing source.

5: Could be a lack of courage, but then again it could be a lack of intelligence. Who knows? Choose whichever option seems more like giving them the benefit of the doubt. And of course, there might be yet another reason in the case of people who oppose abortion but don't say they believe it's murder.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:15 AM
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I like some of the Long Now Foundation seminars on long term thinking.

I've also enjoyed this series on the rulers of Byzantium.

I've been enjoying the Blight lectures (I found them via your earlier reference to them in comments here). The sound quality is hit and miss, and there's definitely something missing in listening to just the audio, but they are very good nonetheless.

I visited Harper's Ferry a while back and was really struck by just how unlikely Brown's raid was to succeed. There was no real chance that a bunch of inexperienced people with pikes were going to overrun an armory manned by trained soldiers with muskets. To me that's as important as the fact that he was justified in taking extreme measures to end slavery. It's not just that action is needed, it's that *effective* action is needed. "Something must be done" isn't enough. The "something" must actually have a chance of success. That's not just a moral imperative (wasting effort is aiding the enemy), it's also the difference between patriotic resistance to tyranny (the American revolution) and treason (southern secession), for example. One of the spoils of victory is legitimacy.

All the above is obviously complicated by the fact that Brown's raid failed but created a martyr who inspired thousands.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:38 AM
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2: Well, yes. But the problem with that is that they're wrong about the justice of their cause. If people were systematically killing two-year old kids because they were inconvenient, bombing the buildings where it was happening would seem sane and reasonable (if I thought it was likely to be effective in rescuing the kids) to me as well.

I suppose what I was thinking was not so much that Brown seemed reasonable, as that the moderate response to slavery -- Lincoln's pre-war position, for example -- seems kind of insane. Someone who gets far enough to identify slavery as wrong, and then stops on 'But it would be unconstitutional to interfere with it where it's legal,' seems to be missing the point in a bizarre kind of way.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:44 AM
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Situations where terrorism is sane and justified aren't all that common ...

So perhaps as with torture it is best to have a bright line rule against it?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:48 AM
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To be honest, I don't see why this is such a huge sticking point. It seems poorly thought out on their part, but a natural inconsistency of the different ways their hearts are being tugged.

I don't know that I'd call it "huge;" I bring it up to suggest that the movement lacks the moral clarity that they claim. They want to say that abortion==slavery and/or abortion==Holocaust, but the courage of their convictions fails almost immediately.

I wouldn't have as much of a problem if the equivalency talk was limited to those who do have the courage of their convictions. But instead you get these milquetoasts who savor the feeling of taking a stand against a world-historical injustice without actually taking any stand at all.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:50 AM
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9: MIT's OpenCourseWare has an audio/video division with a fair amount of audio. Terence Tao and John Baez are both great math writers, no audio for either though.

I was thinking about this, but I don't know if a class on a technical subject would work as entertainment -- I'm not going to have the commitment to do problem sets, so I'd be lost on anything heavy in two weeks or so. History works nicely as narrative, and while I have a bunch of books I need to read now (I've never read anything by Frederick Douglass, for example, which now feels like an omission), even not having done the reading the lectures still make sense.

I'm not sure what subjects other than history would work well on a level where I'm only going to listen to the lectures.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:52 AM
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We used to visit John Brown's grave (a-moldering, etc.) every summer. Sometime circa 1978 there is a guest book where my cousin signed me in as "oudemia shithead." But seriously, every summer. This was more than anything because it was "an historical site" very near my aunt and uncle's home in Lake Placid. One can only go to Storybook Village so often.


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:52 AM
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But the problem with that is that they're wrong about the justice of their cause.

In your view. And Southerners in the 1850s thought Brown was wrong about the justice of his cause.

And no, sorry, you really don't have a way to determine objectively who's right here.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:54 AM
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13: Sure. We do have a bright line rule against it. Doesn't mean there aren't situations where it's going to look justified in retrospect. That doesn't actually seem to happen with torture.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:54 AM
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What's the reasonable response if you live across the street from Auschwitz?

You join the Armia Krajowa. (And in the unlikely event that you survive the war, you spend some years in a Soviet Gulag.)


Posted by: Gdr | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:54 AM
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Someone who gets far enough to identify slavery as wrong, and then stops on 'But it would be unconstitutional to interfere with it where it's legal,' seems to be missing the point in a bizarre kind of way.

Isn't this a fundamental tenant of living in a pluralistic society? Not everyone agrees with your ideas of what's right and wrong, and so you tolerate things that seem to you morally reprehensible, even as you work legally or politically to change them.

Endorsing terrorism here is fundamentally rejecting pluralism.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:57 AM
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What's the reasonable response if you live across the street from Auschwitz?

Move.

As rhetorical questions go, this one seems similar to the ticking bomb scenarios. It is possible to imagine circumstances where extraordinary actions might be justified, but imagining such circumstances doesn't seem like such a good way to do moral or political philosophy.

You can also make a case that Brown's terrorist activities--I'm thinking of his involvement in the Bleeding Kansas episodes here--were wrong, and not just wrong but insanely wrong, because they inflicted misery without even furthering the alleged goal of ending slavery. The institution of slavery was too big. Brown couldn't terrorize sympathizers into abolishing slavery anymore than the Resistance could liberate the concentration camps.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:57 AM
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17: And no, sorry, you really don't have a way to determine objectively who's right here.

Objectively? No. But as a moral actor, I do get to decide for myself what's right -- people chaining up other people and making them work on threat of death or torture is wrong, and horrifying; people ending pregnancies at a point before the fetus is sentient on any level is not wrong.

For an anti-abortion type who really believes that abortion is wrong on a level comparable to slavery, or mass infanticide, I think they're wrong and will do what I can to stop them, but I wouldn't judge them for any particular tactics, including violence. I'd want them stopped, and punished, but I wouldn't think of the tactics as disproportionate or unreasonable.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:00 AM
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As rhetorical questions go, this one seems similar to the ticking bomb scenarios.

Not really. The problem with the ticking bomb scenario is that it's bullshit -- that fact pattern doesn't happen, and there's no particular reason to think that torture would be an effective response if it did. You need the power of stipulation to get anyone to the point of admitting that the ticking bomb scenario would justify torture.

You can also make a case that Brown's terrorist activities--I'm thinking of his involvement in the Bleeding Kansas episodes here--were wrong, and not just wrong but insanely wrong, because they inflicted misery without even furthering the alleged goal of ending slavery.

Kansas wasn't admitted to the Union as a slave state. It seems reasonable to me to think that abolitionist violence had at least something to do with that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:09 AM
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So what you're asking is where do we personally draw the "terrorism is justified" line, not what we think is a useful rule of thumb for everyone to use?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:11 AM
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24: Eh, I don't know that I'm asking anything. I'm saying that I've come to the position that there are real-world situations where I couldn't call terrorism unjustified. This isn't something I'd favor temperamentally -- if I had the moral luck to be living in the North rather than the South in the pre-Civil War era, I sincerely doubt I'd be supporting violence, rather than a gradual political solution, as the means to end slavery. I just don't think that sort of restraint is morally mandated, or even praiseworthy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:16 AM
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#11 states my case much more clearly.

We used to visit John Brown's grave (a-moldering, etc.) every summer.

I was there around the same time, but I don't remember seeing "oudemia shithead" in the guest book. Good old Dad was fond of educational vacations when we were kids. I've never been to Disney World, but I've sure as shit walked all the Civil War and Revolutionary battlegrounds.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:16 AM
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And no, sorry, you really don't have a way to determine objectively who's right here.

Sure you do. Slavery fails the golden rule test, therefore it is wrong. I realize that there are people who reject the GR, or interpret it to include only those like themselves, but they are wrong.

Some kind of reciprocity principle is as close as we can get to an objective morality. Sophists can bullshit around it all they want, but in the end of the day it's the best we can do. If we need an objective moral standard higher than that to justify intervention then intervention is never justified, not against slavery, or rape, or genocide, or any of the myriad other horrors humans inflict on each other.

Insisting on objective truth before deciding on a course of action is a cheap trick to avoid action. We don't have objective truth even in the easy cases of physical law - we approximate until the theory works as well as we can measure and then we get on with our business.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:21 AM
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This seems to get close to the fact that tons of people, constantly, for ever and always are leading wretched, wretched lives. And how do we make peace with that. I mean, shouldn't we all constantly be being terrorists?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:23 AM
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"This seems to get close to the fact that tons of people, constantly, for ever and always are leading wretched, wretched lives."

I have been having thoughts about that lately. I didn't turn to terrorism, but I did try to figure out how I could get a pair of shoes to the homeless guy I saw one the way home from work most days. Now he's gone. My guess is that somebody more practical than I am figured out how to get him committed.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:26 AM
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28: Maybe! Depends! What sort of effective action did you have in mind, to remedy what situation?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:26 AM
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The Kansas situation is complicated by the fact that both sides resorted to 'terrorism" and extra-legal violence; it was not asymmetrical warfare. Brown's later stance was clearly informed by that experience, you could say that he just saw the coming total breakdown of civility a bit early.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:26 AM
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28: In a non-violent sense, it's the Peter Singer problem. What's your justification for not cutting your lifestyle back to bare subsistence and sending the rest of your income to ameliorate poverty? I don't do that, or anything close to it, myself, but it's unclear to me that my failure to do so can be justified.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:28 AM
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27: Terrorism (or other violent intervention) is justified anytime the golden rule is being violated?

That's an, um, fairly extreme position.

Not to mention that "there are people who reject the GR, or interpret it to include only those like themselves, but they are wrong" is totally indeterminate. Are pigs "like" me?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:28 AM
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It seems reasonable to me to think that abolitionist violence had at least something to do with that.

This is almost entirely wrong. And, not surprisingly (and completely consistent with much of modern US history*), it was actually the pro-slavery violence -- the outrages committed by the border ruffians, as well as the extraordinary backlash they provoked in onlookers -- that proved far more important in keeping Congress from accepting the validity of the Lecompton Constitution.

There is a very strong case to be made that John Brown set back the case of abolition quite a bit. And that only the even more violent and intransigent slaveocracy bailed him out. Had slaveholders been somewhat more patient, and somewhat less violent, slavery would have existed in this country for much longer than it did. Now, perhaps Brown pushed the planter class into a corner. But that becomes a very hard argument to sustain, given all that came before Brown. In other words, slaveholders were already cornering themselves. Brown was no hero; he was a violent madman. And the place to look for his true madness isn't Harpers Ferry but Pottawattamie Creek**.

* See Movement, Civil Rights.

** Spelled properly? Maybe.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:28 AM
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I haven't listened to the TED talks. Do you all like them?

Some of them are very good. Some aren't.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:29 AM
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31: The Kansas situation is complicated by the fact that both sides resorted to 'terrorism" and extra-legal violence; it was not asymmetrical warfare.

See, even had the slaveholders and supporters in Kansas refrained from violence against whites, they were engaged in constant systematic violence as part of the slave system. I'd think that violence in response would be justified regardless.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:29 AM
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Sorry that's mostly incoherent. I'm doing three things at once, including commenting with a baby in my arms -- never a good idea, though probably a step or two shy of terrorism on the "outrages against humanity" meter.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:30 AM
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34: Huh. Now, you're a historian and I'm not, but was the slaveholders' violence truly unprovoked, or pre-emptive? That is, if slaveholders had been assured that the importation of slaves into Kansas wouldn't have been forcibly opposed, wouldn't a plausible outcome have been a violence-free political victory for bringing Kansas in as a slave state?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:33 AM
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I think they're wrong and will do what I can to stop them, but I wouldn't judge them for any particular tactics, including violence. I'd want them stopped, and punished, but I wouldn't think of the tactics as disproportionate or unreasonable.

You think that they're wrong, but wouldn't judge them for using violence to achieve their goals. You want them punished, but don't think that their tactics are unreasonable. This seems like an oddly Hobbesian view, to me, as if to say that it's only dominance which determines which tactic or which goal is disproportionate or unreasonable.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:33 AM
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Spelled properly? Maybe.

Pottawatomie.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:33 AM
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justified

Given that this is your point, LB, I actually have very little to say on the subject and will return to my baby-toting duties. I was responding to your suggestion that violence was effective.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:34 AM
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What sort of effective action did you have in mind, to remedy what situation?
In a non-violent sense, it's the Peter Singer problem.

I end up turning into a gloomy biologist if I pursue these thoughts too far: most living entities have short, wretched lives, or don't have enough memory to know they have short wretched lives. Their kids get eaten by nearby species, their homes get infested by kudzu, they die of infection from an open wound from scratching themselves because they have lice. Or whatever. It's the way of the earth. It's very depressing. I just try to recycle.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:35 AM
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39: It's more about precisely locating the moral error, which is in the goal, rather than in the proportionality of the tactics to the goal. Someone who thinks that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of littering, and uses violence to prevent it, is making two distinct errors: first, it's not wrong, and second, using violence to prevent littering is crazy. Someone who thinks that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of slavery or infanticide, and turns to violence, is making one error, rather than two. That one error still justifies me in seeking to prevent or punish anti-abortion violence, but not to call it disproportionate to the actor's goals.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:39 AM
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38: I'm not sure I follow you here. Nobody, to my knowledge at least, promised slaveholders that slavery would be legal in KS. They promised them, and free-soilers along with them, that popular sovereignty would decide the question: that the people of the state would choose for themselves. Border ruffians began pouring into KS from MO because so many free-soilers were arriving from New England -- often in carefully planned waves of migration sponsored by abolitionist societies. The Border Ruffians countered the free-soilers' peaceful efforts to stack the deck politically with violence (terrorism), in other words. And John Brown reacted to that, to the sacking of Lawrence especially. The caning of Charles Sumner fits in there, too, but I don't think Brown knew about that when he unsheathed his broadsword.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:39 AM
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What 11 said. The problem with terrorism is that there are only so many of Those Evil Fuckers that any one cell can kill. And it isn't nearly enough. Eliminationism isn't just morally wrong, it is grandiose and ineffective.

The fact that saner methods are also ineffective unless maybe when viewed on geologic time scales is frustrating though.


Posted by: Mo MacArbie | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:39 AM
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I visited Harper's Ferry a while back and was really struck by just how unlikely Brown's raid was to succeed. There was no real chance that a bunch of inexperienced people with pikes were going to overrun an armory manned by trained soldiers with muskets.

There was, they weren't, they did, and it wasn't, in that order.
(The raiders had rifles and pistols, not pikes; the armory wasn't very well guarded at all; and they did, in fact, overrun it very quickly and efficiently - it's just that Phase II, the massive slave revolt, never really happened, and it degenerated into a siege.)


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:39 AM
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So perhaps as with torture it is best to have a bright line rule against it?

I don't see the parallel, really. Torture just doesn't work for any value of 'work' that we really want to be trying, and is pretty useless as a source of intelligence. It's historically proven very effective as a tool of tyranny though, and for controlling dissent and curtailing the expression of personal freedoms. Totalitarians love this stuff. So I can see drawing drawing a bright line to exclude a bunch of stuff you really don't want, with little risk of excluding anything actually useful.

Terrorism on the other hand, is one of the age-old responses in a situation of asymmetric power. As such, it is often pretty ineffective, but particularly in the case of oppressed peoples, I don't see how you can attempt to curtail one of the few options they may choose either in practice, or in justice. Much of what you might reasonably try and do boils down to protecting the strong from the weak, which is bass-ackward.

This isn't a defense of terrorism really, I'm just trying to imagine what "drawing a bright line around it" might mean in practice.

On top of that, the term has become somewhat useless due to recent abuse, which confuses things.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:40 AM
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40: Dammit.

43: Right, and fair enough. But these are issues about which I have nearly nothing to contribute. Moral error (and the like) is above the pay grade of most historians, especially those whose pay is going to be cut 8% in the coming days.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:42 AM
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What's the reasonable response if you live across the street from Auschwitz?
Move.

"Move" was more or less my first instinct, too, but without the added considerations of moral or political philosophy and with a good deal of added urgency and fear. What would have kept me from a terrorist reaction to Nazi Germany, had I been there in that time, would not have been high minded moral values.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:42 AM
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44: Do you think it would have been unreasonable for someone in Brown's position, at the outset of the situation, to think that "If neither side turns to violence, slaveholders will be able to move enough people in from Missouri and other slave states to bring Kansas in as a slave state peaceably through popular sovereignty?"


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:43 AM
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The TED talks are too short and tend toward the gee-whiz, but some of them are still pretty great. David Harvey has his course on Capital available for download. The first lecture is interesting. I bought the book but haven't finished the reading assignment for the second lecture yet.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:43 AM
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What would have kept me from a terrorist reaction to Nazi Germany, had I been there in that time, would not have been high minded moral values.

Oh, me too. Personally craven as all get out, here.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:44 AM
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What's the reasonable response if you live across the street from Auschwitz?

Oh man, I would so be bitching to the local zoning board. Just think of the damage to your property value.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:47 AM
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So perhaps as with torture it is best to have a bright line rule against it?

In fact - unlike torture - this is what we've done in the U.S., and I think it's the right approach.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:50 AM
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48:

If one's pay is to be cut 8 percent, what level of terrorism is appropriate?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:51 AM
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slaveholders' violence

Does anyone know, is there a good small book or short article about the response of slaves to the American revolution? (High hopes, some revolts, brutal repression, if I recall).

gloomy biologist

Roughly 25% of terrestrial animal biomass in the tropics is ants. E.O. Wilson's ant book is great, and is IMO dispositive for extrapolating from any small slice of biology to an ethical system. Slime molds are pretty neat also, organisms that are on the boundary between single-celled and multicellular.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:51 AM
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If one's pay is to be cut 8 percent, what level of terrorism is appropriate?

There will be self-righteous stealing of office supplies, and flagrant web-based procrastination, I'd expect.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:53 AM
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35 I haven't listened to the TED talks. Do you all like them?

Some of them are very good. Some aren't.

It's stronger than that, I think, although I haven't watched all that many. There are the ones that are of the "let me tell you about something very cool!" form, which tend to be amusing, and sometimes informative. Then there are the incredibly pompous "my deep thoughts, let me show you them" talks. And a fair number of these are people who aren't even experts in anything, they're just random crackpots whose sole claim to fame is that they claim they are famous.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:55 AM
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56: There's a really good historical novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:55 AM
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50: Not really, because that's not what was happening. In fact, free-soilers outnumbered pro-slavery folks by significant numbers in KS. Brown's worry, then -- and perhaps it was a justifiable concern given Buchanan's suckitude -- was that Congress and the President would ignore the injustice taking place in KS, ignore that it wasn't really popular sovereignty, and accept the unjust Lecompton Constitution.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:56 AM
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There's a chance that a book called "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" is any good? A more clichéd title for a novel would be hard to imagine.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:58 AM
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Let's derail a train. If we do it now in America, we're terrorists. If we do it in France in 1944, we're national heroes.

Let's kill some civilians in Nicaragua. Are we terrorists? Well, are we Sandinistas or Contras? And what are you? And what's the date?

Let's found Umkhonto we Sizwe. We can win prizes!

The definitional naivety here is priceless.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:59 AM
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The caning of Charles Sumner

This raises a question in the same vein as LB's original question: When is it appropriate for a Senator, on the floor of the Senate, to be severely beaten?

As a rule you'd be against that sort of thing, but I can think of exceptions.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:01 AM
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For an anti-abortion type who really believes that abortion is wrong on a level comparable to slavery, or mass infanticide, I think they're wrong and will do what I can to stop them, but I wouldn't judge them for any particular tactics, including violence. I'd want them stopped, and punished, but I wouldn't think of the tactics as disproportionate or unreasonable.

I've had this exact thought, and whenever I have expressed it, people have responded to me as if I was either crazy or secretly pro-life. I get told I fundementally don't understand what the pro-choice movement is about.

I think this is another example of how you and I think exactly alike.

ok, now to read more of the thread


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:03 AM
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When is it appropriate for a Senator, on the floor of the Senate, to be severely beaten?

So often.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:04 AM
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Posthumous Views of John Brown

Writing in the 1970s, Albert Fried, a biographer and historiographer of Brown, concluded that historians who portrayed Brown as a dysfunctional figure are "really informing me of their predilictions, their judgment of the historical event, their identification with the moderates and opposition to the 'extremists.'"[22] Unfortunately it is this less studied, highly interpretive view of Brown that has prevailed in academic writing as well as in journalism; as biographer Louis DeCaro Jr. has recently written, "there is no consensus of fairness with respect to Brown in either the academy or the media."[23] The current trend among some writers to portray Brown as another Timothy Mc Veigh or Osama bin Laden may still reflect the same bias that Fried discussed a generation ago. DeCaro likewise complains of writers taking "unstudied liberties" and concludes that in the 20th century alone, "poisonous portrayals [of Brown were] so prevalent as virtually to have formed one long screed of hyperbole and sarcasm in the name of historical narrative."[24]

Lemme see, WEB Dubois...or ari? ari or WEB Dubois?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:06 AM
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When is it appropriate for a Senator, on the floor of the Senate, to be severely beaten?

If Ithere's an identifiable group of people in US life more deserving of an instructive (but not long term debilitating) ass kicking, it's only going to be Congress.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:06 AM
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"collectively" more deserving


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:07 AM
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When is it appropriate for a Senator, on the floor of the Senate, to be severely beaten?

I'm in favor of just meting them out randomly. "The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Kansas. KICK HIS ASS!"


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:07 AM
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And actually I don't know that "deserving" is really the term I was looking for. "who would most benefit" is better.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:07 AM
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it's only going to be Congress

Insurance executives.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:09 AM
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60: I guess my thinking is that violence, to someone in Brown's position, wasn't obviously or necessarily bad tactics -- that believing it was necessary or effective under the circumstances in preventing Kansas from coming in as a slave state was, if mistaken, not obviously or unreasonably so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:11 AM
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In late August he met with Douglass in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, where he revealed the Harpers Ferry plan. Douglass expressed severe reservations, rebuffing Brown's pleas to join the mission. Douglass had actually known about Brown's plans from early in 1859 and had made a number of efforts to discourage blacks from enlisting. ...wiki on Brown

But a) This was after Pottawatomi(sic), and Douglass was still talking to a "violent madman"

b) Douglass tried to stop Brown, but not to the limits of his ability. Didn't warn anybody, for instance.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:11 AM
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There will be self-righteous stealing of office supplies, and flagrant web-based procrastination, I'd expect.

So pretty much the same as before, with some additional self-righteousness.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:12 AM
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70 to 71

insurance executives wouldn't learn a damn thing from it.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:12 AM
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or at least, nothing useful.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:12 AM
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So pretty much the same as before, with some additional self-righteousness.

precisely.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:13 AM
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But think of the happiness it would bring to the rest of us!


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:15 AM
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47 is exactly right. Torture is terrorism of the already powerful who have numerous alternative means to accomplish any reasonable goal. Terrorism is the violence of the powerless who have no other means to accomplish their goals.

And even "justified" terrorists are morally obligated not to torture -- the ability to torture someone means you have complete power over them.

Isn't this something like the argument that pro-life people use to justify clinic bombing?

pro-lifers have been explicitly making the slavery/John Brown/Lincoln analogies for decades.

For an anti-abortion type who really believes that abortion is wrong on a level comparable to slavery, or mass infanticide, I think they're wrong and will do what I can to stop them, but I wouldn't judge them for any particular tactics, including violence.

I completely disagree. That's Oprah/talk show subjectivism brought to the moral judgement of violence. Hey, killing for whatever belief is fine so long as you *really sincerely believe it*. Abortion absolutely doesn't justify killing real actual human beings...if you killed the women getting the abortions that would be immediately obvious. Plus, there's the problem of living in a (sort of) free country and being unable to get the support of your fellow citizens, although that existed with slavery too.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:15 AM
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55: The cuts are system-wide, so the right response is wishing, for the umpteenth time, that we had a faculty union or that the CA electorate would realize that the state needs a constitutional convention. Failing that, my family will eat a bit less.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:16 AM
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hmmm. I suppose there is a global utility argument there. Particularly if there was good coverage by a national network.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:16 AM
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46: You're right, I'm badly misremembering.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:17 AM
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Under English law, the stocks were kept as a penalty until quite late on - around 1820 or so. But only, at the end, for one offence: malfeasance on the Stock Market. (Last man to be so punished: Thomas Cochrane, the Sea Wolf, model for Jack Aubrey, liberator of South America and cousin of the man who burned the White House.)

I'm just baffled why they ever got rid of them.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:17 AM
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A couple of points on one of my favorite subjects:
1. Was John Brown insane?
First off, it's hardly as though John Brown was the only Free Soil man who was in favor of violence. Remember that, as far as can be proved, he didn't actually kill the slavery supporters at Pottawatomie. There were plenty of people who felt as strongly as Brown did, and were prepared to take their beliefs to the limit. Brown was merely the most charismatic of them.
Second, it's not as though Brown's violence existed in some kind of moral and political vacuum. Apart from the massive violence visited on slaves as a routine part of their lives, there was a huge amount of violence on the part of the slavocracy and its supporters directed against abolitionists long before Brown came to prominence. It's ridiculous to start from the position that Brown was introducing violence into any given situation -- it was a violent time, with many participants in the violence, of whom Brown was, again, merely one of the most prominent and charismatic.
W/r/t Harper's Ferry in particular, Brown himself conceded, in his interrogation and trial, that it was a poorly planned action in hindsight. However, again, he was not operating in a vacuum. In addition to the several, regrettably unsuccessful, slave revolts in the US, there had also been the example of Haiti's liberation and the treaty between the Jamaican Maroons and the British government, prompted by the Maroons' effective use of violence.
If there was "insanity" in Brown, it was the insanity of optimism and a favorable belief in the possibility of moral advancement by his contemporaries. (Which wasn't, as it turned out, all that insane -- once the Civil War started, a lot of fence-sitters found the courage to come to the side of freedom.)
2. The bright line of terrorism vs. other types of political violence.
I've been asking about this for a long time, here and in other places, and no one has given me a satisfactory answer. Unless you are adopting an absolutist pacifist stance, what criteria do you use to separate legitimate political violence from its illegitmate cousin? read was upset that I called Nelson Mandela a terrorist, but he was, in fact, legally a terrorist per the US government. Partisan resistance in WWII = terrorism to the governments who were fighting it. And how about the resistance of Native people in the Americas to European governments. Remember that the biggest mass execution in US history happened just 3 years after Harper's Ferry, when 38 Dakota fighters were hung as criminals for their resistance to the settler state's depredations.
If John Brown was a terrorist, despite having one of the most morally defensible ideologies for political violence in history, then everybody who has ever used violence for any political end is also a terrorist -- the Zapatistas (old and new), the popular militias of the Spanish Civil War, the Makhnovistas, the ANC, the Tupamaros, every slave uprising, every insurgency of indigenous people -- in short "terrorist" completely loses any meaning.
3. John Brown vs. right-wing terror apologists
The difference between Brown's fight, and the fight of anti-abortion "people" or KKK members or homophobes, is that Brown was clearly and explicitly fighting for freedom *AND* equality. Rightwing terror may occasionally claim that it's fighting for freedom, but it can never claim to fight for freedom for everyone.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:22 AM
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That's Oprah/talk show subjectivism brought to the moral judgement of violence. Hey, killing for whatever belief is fine so long as you *really sincerely believe it*. Abortion absolutely doesn't justify killing real actual human beings...if you killed the women getting the abortions that would be immediately obvious.

Tell me, if you saw a woman about to kill her five-year old child, would you think deadly force was justified to stop it? I don't think it's immediately obvious that it wouldn't be justified.

Killing to prevent abortion isn't 'fine', but the reason why it isn't fine is that abortion isn't wrong, and certainly isn't a wrong comparable to murder. Someone who thinks that killing to prevent abortion is permissible is wrong, and should be stopped. But they're wrong about their goals, not, given the rest of their beliefs, about their choice of tactics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:24 AM
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66: Your argument seems to be about character or morality, Bob. And again, I was talking about effectiveness. Really, as I noted above, the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the Brown debate don't interest me very much -- at least not in my capacity as a historian.

Also, if I'm not supposed to address you directly, my apologies. I thought you were talking to me. But I'll be happy to disengage if you'd prefer.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:29 AM
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61: Go figure. A lot of people (me, included) liked a novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao too.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:35 AM
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in short "terrorist" completely loses any meaning

Only inasmuch as it equates with "bad person". It retains its actual meaning.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:37 AM
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85: but my point is you can't separate the wrongness of the belief that abortion=murder from the wrongness of the killing that it justifies, using some intermediate step where the person *really sincerely believes* their wrong belief. If the anti-abortion terrorist stopped to think about it, they would see that abortion is not the same as murder of a five year old. The fact that they don't stop to think about it is because they're an ideologue who wants to kill people.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:37 AM
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Isn't there a useful distinction to be drawn between terrorism, vigilantism, and political insurrection?

I think of terrorism as political violence against innocent civilians. Exploding bombs in subways, or in Jerusalem nightclubs, or flying airplanes into skyscrapers. I think of vigilantism as the violence directed against individuals who are perceived to be guilty of crimes, but who the state is not punishing. This would include abortion-provider-killers, I think. Political insurrection is violence against the state, or state actors, by the politically aggrieved. This could presumably run the gamut from assassination to organized, armed rebellion.

Obviously, any one action could blend elements of several of these categories, but just lumping all these together as "terrorism", as many people do, seems analytically unhelpful.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:38 AM
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Isn't there a useful distinction to be drawn between terrorism, vigilantism, and political insurrection?

Not anymore, at least in US discourse.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:39 AM
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90
I think of terrorism as political violence against innocent civilians. Exploding bombs in subways, or in Jerusalem nightclubs, or flying airplanes into skyscrapers.

Define "innocent."


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:42 AM
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This would include abortion-provider-killers, I think.

The above aside, I also don't think you can come up with a useful definition of terrorism that doesn't include abortion provider killers. Their aim is clearly political, and aimed to leverage fear of reprisal to change the behavior of a larger group of people.

Vigilantism doesn't cover that. Particularly in the "pure" sense --- there is no plausible claim that the providers have broken the law, so no claim to extra-judicial justice.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:42 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:43 AM
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90: these distinctions seem totally ideological to me. My political insurrection is your terrorism.

Part of my point in 89 is that there's so much subjectivism about morality that we're losing sight of the main distinction between John Brown and an abortion terrorist -- that John Brown is right and the anti-abortion nut is wrong. I mean, human slavery is deeply wrong and justifies violence to end it, but abortion (while it might be wrong) is not murder and does not justify violence to end it.

Obviously one cannot prove this, but it's true.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:43 AM
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Is 91 just agreeing with the "as many people do" from the final sentence of 90, or is it making a positive claim that analytically separating these concepts is no longer useful?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:43 AM
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It is a nonsensical reading to think 66.2 is addressed to ari. It is obviously addressed to everyone but ari.

"Violent madman(34)" does not speak to character or morality? Only makes sense if John Brown was not responsible, non compos mentis.

"Philosophical or psychological underpinnings don't interest?"

"And the place to look for his true madness...(34)"

...is in this blog comment, simply spinning in confusion.
...
What is most interesting is not even Brown or Dubois, but the implications of the quoted paragraph of 66, and how complete hegemonic tools most academia has become. Charitable, I'll grant it may be unconscious.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:44 AM
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96: I think both that through long standing abuse the term has become nearly useless here, and that even if you try to be careful about it you run into the trouble of 95.1.

I think you can usefully separate vigilantism from terrorism/insurrection/etc, but that your example fails in this, and illustrates how narrowly that is useful.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:46 AM
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97: Sorry, my mistake.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:48 AM
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Their aim is clearly political, and aimed to leverage fear of reprisal to change the behavior of a larger group of people.

I'm not sure what you mean by "their aim is clearly political"? To make abortion illegal? I don't think that's the aim of someone who bombs an abortion clinic. Their aim is to stop, or at least lessen, abortions.

As for "aimed to leverage fear of reprisal to change the behavior of a larger group of people", many people view that a primary point of our entire penal code.

My political insurrection is your terrorism.

Are you targeting state actors or civilians? I don't see how that's a totally ideological distinction.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:49 AM
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100
Their aim is to stop, or at least lessen, abortions.

Yes, and that's a political aim.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:51 AM
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Also, we were always "hegemonic tools". Nothing has changed; there's been no declension. You should read a bit about the history of the American historical profession. Try Peter Novick's That Noble Dream; you'd like it, person who I'm not talking to.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:52 AM
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90 et seq: Yes, I think that vigilantism has to be "these people have unquestionably broken the law, but the state is either too corrupt or too weak to go after them, therefore we must do so". It's citizens supplementing the state in order to enforce the law, albeit without official sanction. Batman, basically.

Abortion providers haven't broken US law - even pro-lifers would agree with that. They would argue that they are acting not illegally but immorally - and, in killing them, they are not supplementing but attempting to supplant the state.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:54 AM
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95:that we're losing sight of the main distinction between John Brown and an abortion terrorist

Ahhh...

See the point and purpose of the liberal hegemony is to make the process and methods themselves the outcome and moral goal, and outcomes and actual justice afterthoughts and mere byproducts.

Hard Left ...hilzoy

Like most people, they would prefer that the policies they think are best get adopted, but none of them would want to impose those policies by force if they lost the political argument...hilzoy, her emphasis

It is to gape in wonderment. Apparently it is now inconceivable, like pigs flying, that anyone, no matter the cause, no matter the horrors of the outcome, would resist violently. hilzoy has never met a single soul.

I did not comment, not wanting to break her illusion.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:54 AM
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Define "innocent."

At it's most extreme, "innocent" would be persons whom even the person commiting the act of violence would not view as culpable. This would, of course, make the scope of "terrorism" fairly limited, but wouldn't erase it altogether. I think with some work you could come up with a more useful, and broader, definition, but I don't have the time or inclination right now.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:55 AM
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101: well, in the trivial "everything is political" sense, sure. (Though trivial, that's not necessarily an incorrect sense of "political"--everything is, in fact, political in some sense or another. But it's not how "political" is commonly used, nor how I'm using it here.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:57 AM
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If John Brown was a terrorist, despite having one of the most morally defensible ideologies for political violence in history, then everybody who has ever used violence for any political end is also a terrorist....The difference between Brown's fight, and the fight of anti-abortion "people" or KKK members or homophobes, is that Brown was clearly and explicitly fighting for freedom *AND* equality.

Right, exactly, you have to keep your eye on the ball of who is right and who is wrong. Anti-abortion violence uses violence to prevent others from controlling their sexuality (even if they make mistakes with it), while anti-slavery violence is a stand against human slavery.

Are you targeting state actors or civilians? I don't see how that's a totally ideological distinction.

you said the state, not state actors. You clearly target the state by terrorizing civilians. If you want to limit violence to state actors, then the U.S. government was a major terrorist in WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Fine if you want to say that, but your categories are losing their meaning.



Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:58 AM
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I'm not sure what you mean by "their aim is clearly political"? To make abortion illegal? I don't think that's the aim of someone who bombs an abortion clinic. Their aim is to stop, or at least lessen, abortions.

I think terrorism is defined by its goals and tactics -- political or social change pursued by violence outside the context of war (that's offhand, and could probably be improved) -- rather than its victims. The guy who murdered Dr. Tiller was (speculating, but I think reasonably, about his motives) a vigilante, in that he wanted to punish a perceived wrongdoer, but also a terrorist in that he wanted to create a climate of fear that would prevent other health care providers from providing abortions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:00 AM
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103 is completly right about the fact that there's certainly a narrower definition of "vigilantism" than what I posited in 90. Pick another word for what I've posited, if expanding "vigilantism" to cover it bothers you. (I don't think my definition is idiosyncratic, but I'm perfectly willing to slice the loaf thinner, since over-aggregation of different concepts is the very problem I'm complaining about.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:02 AM
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well, in the trivial "everything is political" sense, sure.

Not at all. LB is right, by viewing these acts as mere vigilantism (and even that is problematic, given that nothing illegal has been posited and I don't know if you want to stretch the concept that way) throws out what is clearly one of, if not the primary, purposes of the act. The violence directed against abortion providers and their colleagues is a terrorist act by any sensible definition of terrorism I can imagine. It is clearly separable form vigilante acts that do not have the same politicization.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:05 AM
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I think terrorism is defined by its goals and tactics -- political or social change pursued by violence outside the context of war (that's offhand, and could probably be improved) -- rather than its victims. The guy who murdered Dr. Tiller was (speculating, but I think reasonably, about his motives) a vigilante, in that he wanted to punish a perceived wrongdoer

Terrorism is defined by somebody's desire to call somebody else names -- to call their use of violence illegitimate. Illegitimacy is defined by who I agree with and who I don't. When you promote the guy who murdered Dr. Tiller from "terrorist" to "vigilante", you are saying his use of violence was at least semi-legitimate, and you are thereby supporting his right to kill Dr. Tiller.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:06 AM
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Illegitimacy is defined by who I agree with and who I don't.

It's really not. At all.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:09 AM
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The violence directed against abortion providers and their colleagues is a terrorist act by any sensible definition of terrorism I can imagine. It is clearly separable form vigilante acts that do not have the same politicization.

No, vigilante acts are clearly political in the sense that they are designed to deter others from committing the same crime the vigilante supposes his victim committed. Vigilantism is violence that is outside state authority but widely supported by informal community norms and beliefs, while terrorism is outside state authority but also outside majority norms and beliefs.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:10 AM
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If you want to limit violence to state actors, then the U.S. government was a major terrorist in WWII, Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Fine if you want to say that, but your categories are losing their meaning

I don't usually think of governments as being "terrorists", but I don't have a real problem with it. We certainly committed war crimes.

The guy who murdered Dr. Tiller was (speculating, but I think reasonably, about his motives) a vigilante, in that he wanted to punish a perceived wrongdoer, but also a terrorist in that he wanted to create a climate of fear that would prevent other health care providers from providing abortions.

Huh--I don't have a real problem with this, and am probably fine saying his act had elements of both terrorism and vigilantism. But I wouldn't call creating a "climate of fear that would prevent other health care providers from providing abortions" something incompatible with vigilantism--again, as I tried to say in 100.3, a major goal of many (though not all) people seeking to punish any criminals for their crimes is to create a climate in which other people are afraid to commit those crimes. It's called "deterrence".

Although, of course, if you're defining "terrorism' as broadly as "political or social change pursued by violence outside the context of war", you're throwing 90 out the window altogether, so.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:10 AM
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When you promote the guy who murdered Dr. Tiller from "terrorist" to "vigilante", you are saying his use of violence was at least semi-legitimate, and you are thereby supporting his right to kill Dr. Tiller.

So, what you think, is that "vigilante" has positive connotations. I think that's a minority view.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:11 AM
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Yglesias "Don't Compromise for Nothing"

More accurately, Enzi supports the Finance Committee's process, which he said has been more transparent and bipartisan in spirit. He says the co-op proposal sounds promising, but he needs to learn more about it before he offers his full support to the provision.

But, crucially, even if Enzi does decide that co-ops are a great policy idea, he in no uncertain terms, withholds judgment on the greater bill.

My attack on liberalism, or perhaps more accurately on liberalism as a goal, outcome, ultimate end rather than just a tool, is universal and all-encompassing.

Disinviting Enzi from negotiations is on a continuum with suicide belts. And a liberalism that can be suspended or disregarded under conditions and contingencies has lost all of its controlling power, like a religion without transcendance.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:12 AM
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I wonder whether killing (outside of a formally declared war) is a proportionate response to slavery. Slavery is clearly truly terrible, but wouldn't the proportionate response be to set up slave camps of plantation owners. This is obviously impossible, but I'm writing theoretically.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:13 AM
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PGD, you're guilty of extraordinary lexicographical violence in your last few comments. Stop yourself before you kill again.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:13 AM
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||

SCOTUS comes through on strip searching teens (not doing it, that is). Woo!

|>


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:15 AM
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Thomas lone dissenter, of course.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:15 AM
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119: I'm not surprised by the verdict, but I was surprised (pleasantly) about it being 8-1.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:16 AM
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112: I suppose you're going to say that legitimacy is defined by the consent of the governed, as conveyed through a series of procedural steps that have at each step been consented to through decision mechanisms designed to determine the popular will on the matter.

I realize my definition was a huge impatient oversimplification, but you should consider the possibility that yours is equally naive.

So, what you think, is that "vigilante" has positive connotations. I think that's a minority view.

From the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on "vigilante":

Vigilantes have been central to several creative fictional works and are often depicted as being heroes and retaliatory against wrongdoers.

Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:18 AM
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No, vigilante acts are clearly political in the sense that they are designed to deter others from committing the same crime the vigilante supposes his victim committed.

I disagree. Vigilante acts may by targeted by the perpetrator at what they perceive as redressing a particular failure of the judicial system, without the assumption that anyone perceives this as a general failing of the judicial system, or that the vigilante act will have any significant deterrent.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:19 AM
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105: You sure it wouldn't define terrorism out of existence altogether? It would come pretty damn close.

I think a better solution is to remove the word "innocent" from that definition completely. "I think of terrorism as political violence against [civilians]." And I'd probably exclude violence by a government against that government's own people absent due process etc., from the definition. Worse than terrorism, I think. I guess this is talking about the process-above-all-else liberalism bob hates, but I'm not sure whether it puts me on his side or not. My definition broader than yours, but still not all-inclusive. Some conventional military actions would be included, some wouldn't.

106
101: well, in the trivial "everything is political" sense, sure. (Though trivial, that's not necessarily an incorrect sense of "political"--everything is, in fact, political in some sense or another. But it's not how "political" is commonly used, nor how I'm using it here.)

But that's not how I'm using it either. Domestic violence isn't political. Killing someone for money isn't political. Looting during a riot isn't political, even if the riot is. (Absent specific, relatively unusual situations where they are.) Killing someone to send a message is political whether the intended recipients of the message are legislators, voters, women who would get abortions or doctors who would consider performing abortions. Killing to prevent access to a product because you believe it's wrong is political whether the product is abortion or the Satanic Verses.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:19 AM
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PGD: I think you are unwilling or unable to take the leap where you imagine that the fetus is a person, and then reason out the logical consequences of this hypothesis.

LB's point (and mine) has nothing to do with the Opera-like sincerity of the belief, but simple logical consequence.

If it helps, imagine what would be true if we lived in a science fiction world where fetuses are fully sapient at conception.

If you insist on looking at the issue as being about someone who would kill a real live actual person in the name of some sort imagined person, you aren't really making the logical move LB and I are talking about.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:19 AM
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32

In a non-violent sense, it's the Peter Singer problem. What's your justification for not cutting your lifestyle back to bare subsistence and sending the rest of your income to ameliorate poverty? I don't do that, or anything close to it, myself, but it's unclear to me that my failure to do so can be justified.

My justification is that my principles don't require this. If your principles do perhaps it is your principles that are fault.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:24 AM
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Is 123 a joke, or are we really just going to argue about what is and what isn't "properly" the definition of "vigilante"? There word can be, and is commonly, and is in this thread, used to refer to several analytically distinct concepts. (Much like "terrorist", which was the point of 90.) We could call them "vigilante(1)", "vigilante(2)", "vigilante(3)" ... "vigilante(n)", and try to give them all cleanly distinct and rigorous definitions, or we could use different words entirely to describe the concepts, or we look past the word itself and focus on the underlying concepts that people are talking about, which I think generally have been fairly well laid out (and which could certainly be clarified where that's not the case).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:26 AM
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I think a better solution is to remove the word "innocent" from that definition completely. "I think of terrorism as political violence against [civilians]."

I'm inclined to think this is right, and almost went with this formulation in the first place, but I'd want to think about it more.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:29 AM
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43

... Someone who thinks that abortion is a moral wrong on the level of slavery or infanticide, and turns to violence, ...

I don't see this with regards to infanticide. Killing a fetus one day before birth is completely ok but killing a baby one day after birth (even if perfectly legal) is so wrong as to justify violence? Birth is a convenient spot to place an arbitrary line but it is still an arbitrary line.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:29 AM
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125: Rob, you're falling into a deep error here, basically the one that Bob pointed out in 104. The "leap" you point to is basically seeing the matter from the perspective of someone who is wrong. Obviously it is true that if you insist on seeing the matter from the perspective of someone who is wrong, then many wrong things will be justified. However, that does not make them less wrong. Procedural liberalism and its moral assumptions encourage us to imagine ourselves into some kind of neutral judicial posture where we make this leap, but I think that's deeply problematic on all kinds of levels.

I part from Bob in appreciating the moral core of procedural liberalism -- it's basically an attempt to hold a moral community together in the context of an abstract, depersonalized state, and smuggles the abstraction of the state into the moral perspective -- but it's still extremely problematic and heavily ideological. In this context, granting legitimacy to the abortion extremists is an attempt to hold the political community together across divides that are not bridgeable through dialogue. But you know, many divides are like that, and we shouldn't be blind to the necessary role of power in reconciling them by force. For one thing, when we are blind to that role we lose a lot of our capacity to really check the use of power and force, because we lose our ability to see how it operates.

Anyway, I have a job I should be doing, sorry for the ranting. Bourgeois liberalism drives me crazy sometimes but I guess all things considered it's probably the best system. History will tell.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:31 AM
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100 - I don't know how you could have thought that you'd have anything useful to say about the Civil War, Ari.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:35 AM
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85

Tell me, if you saw a woman about to kill her five-year old child, would you think deadly force was justified to stop it? I don't think it's immediately obvious that it wouldn't be justified.

This hypothetical should specify that the killing is completely legal.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:36 AM
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Is 123 a joke, or are we really just going to argue about what is and what isn't "properly" the definition of "vigilante"?

Not entirely joking; note it was a scenario, in response to a definition that tried to exclude such scenarios. Which is silly. Whatever definition of "vigilante" you want to go by, it's not primarily political.

So think both concepts are somewhat useful and somewhat vague, there is some overlap possible, and you've got the characterization of them entirely backwards when you try and shove abortion provider killers in the "vigilante" category to exception of the "terrorist" category.

Which is consistent with:
I think of terrorism as political violence against [civilians].

Which I think is a pretty good characterization actually, and avoids a lot of pitfalls.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:37 AM
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131: Really, that was only one of my mistakes. Still, I think I fought the good fight for the liberal hegemony in this thread, so I'm okay with my actions.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:38 AM
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123

I disagree. Vigilante acts may by targeted by the perpetrator at what they perceive as redressing a particular failure of the judicial system, without the assumption that anyone perceives this as a general failing of the judicial system, or that the vigilante act will have any significant deterrent.

I believe vigilante acts generally have a deterrent intent or justification. I would not call all acts of private vengence vigilante.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:41 AM
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130: Rob, you're falling into a deep error here, basically the one that Bob pointed out in 104.

No, PGD, you're not reading what Rob's saying. He's not granting legitimacy to the actions of anti-abortion terrorists. He's saying that those actions are wrong because their goals are wrong, rather than because their actions are disproportionate to their goals. Looking at a situation from the point of view of someone who's wrong does not imply thinking that they're not wrong, or that their actions, taken in service of wrongful goals, are justified.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:41 AM
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135: Not private vengeance, no, but that wasn't quite what I described.

Anyway, the points that these definitions are slippery, and if there is a useful distinction to be made, afaics it has to involve the political goal.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:44 AM
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Ari, I don't suppose you would want to be, like, activist about the Constitutional Convention. The Bay Area Council wants interested people to proselytize to their neighbors (invite them for a meeting on the topic). That is just intimidating enough that I won't do it by myself, but with one other supporting person, I'd go for it.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:48 AM
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OT, but this is good news. I'm actually surprised it went this way, or at least that it went this way so strongly; from what I read about the oral arguments, I got the impression that some of the more centrist judges had expressed sympathy for the school, and I would have guessed other conservatives to join Thomas in support of strip-searching minors on practically no evidence. It's not totally a happy ending though; it seems bizarre that the SC rejected the lawsuit too. So this kind of thing is unconstitutional, but if someone does it anyway, there's no redress? Am I reading that right?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:52 AM
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No more masturbating to strip searches of teenagers, and no more masturbating to Farrah Fawcett.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:55 AM
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138: I'm out of town until the end of July, but I'd love to do it then. Especially if you'll carry several huge plates on a bar, so as to intimidate the weaklings into compliance.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:57 AM
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The "leap" you point to is basically seeing the matter from the perspective of someone who is wrong.

Well, yeah, that's the point. I put myself in the shoes of wrong people all the time. You have to do that to teach Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius. It is a very important mental exercise.

Also, what Lizard said in 136.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:57 AM
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139

... So this kind of thing is unconstitutional, but if someone does it anyway, there's no redress? Am I reading that right?

Not exactly. If it happens again, after the decision, then the school officials would be liable as they are now on notice.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:58 AM
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it seems bizarre that the SC rejected the lawsuit too. So this kind of thing is unconstitutional, but if someone does it anyway, there's no redress? Am I reading that right?

First, see 119-121. Second, you're reading it right, but only (I saw this only having skimmed the opinion) because the Justices felt the law before today was insufficiently clear for the official to be held liable. If someone now does the same thing again (or something comparable), they could be held liable.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:58 AM
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In 144, "saw" s.b "say". I wasn't trying to be an ass.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:00 AM
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Cool. I'll ask you again in early August. I don't usually have bars and plates in my house. But I could pick up the couch that the weaklings are sitting on. Shake it around until they see the need for a new Constitution.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:02 AM
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147: Excellent. Historians make lousy enforcers. But we're unusually complicit tools of The Man.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:05 AM
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141 to 140.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:10 AM
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144: Thanks. I think I read the news in 119, went to find details, and by the time I had found an article and read it I forgot that this is where I had heard about it in the first place. Duh.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:10 AM
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136, 142: no, I do get it. I get it completely. Like every other upper-class liberal, I'm saturated in that moral perspective at all times. Like I said, it's limited in ways that people don't appreciate -- are specifically trained not to see.

This discussion kicked off with LB saying:

I think they're wrong and will do what I can to stop them, but I wouldn't judge them for any particular tactics, including violence. I'd want them stopped, and punished, but I wouldn't think of the tactics as disproportionate or unreasonable.

Now, imagine we were discussing the KKK here instead of abortion terrorists. The KKK goal was to restore white supremacy as the vital organizing principle of their society. Given this goal, their actions were correct and justified. But since the goal is wrong, it is of course logically true that their actions are wrong as well. But how would you *feel* if someone made exactly the above statement to you about the KKK in 1870?

In this case, your emotions are a better guide to what's going on here than your abstract philosopher/law school trained reasoning skills.

I put myself in the shoes of wrong people all the time. You have to do that to teach Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius. It is a very important mental exercise.

I agree, it's a very important skill, both mentally and emotionally. I do have great respect for the moral core of procedural liberalism. I just think it's become a limiting ideology in lots of ways.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:19 AM
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No more masturbating to strip searches of teenagers,

More like no more maturbating to this strip search of this teen in this circumstance. For other instances, it depends on the reasonableness of the suspicion that something is being concealed, as well as the dangerousness of the thing sought. Recent court decisions have held that breasts are per se dangerous in high schools, capable of striking terror into the hearts of almost half the student population.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:22 AM
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without the assumption that [...], or that the vigilante act will have any significant deterrent.

I don't think the deterrent effect is inherent to vigilantism (sometimes it's really nothing more than revenge), but I do think there's a strong association. Vigilantism is often associated with "making an example" of the presumed criminal.

Obviously it's a continuum, but I basically endorse Brock's 90, as well as the contention that bombing of civilian populations is a terror tactic, whether perpetrated by the USAF or a 13-y.o. with an explosive belt. The one thing I'll add is that, once you're engaged in open warfare, the definitions lose a lot of their salience as moral indicators. The Resistance engaged in all three terrorism, insurrection, and vigilantism but, war being hell, they deserve a lot less condemnation than, say, a Michigan militia performing the same acts.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:26 AM
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OT: Supreme Court did indeed hold it was unreasonable to strip search the 13-year old in Redding for suspicion of Advil.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:31 AM
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More like no more maturbating to this strip search of this teen in this circumstance.

Which really wasn't very erotic to begin with. This wasn't one that was going to show up on Cinemax late night any time soon.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:35 AM
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Also, just picking up on this
I'd thought about this in the context of the IRA before -- the sins of the IRA as an organization don't discredit the political aims they were seeking

Their political aim was to shoehorn Northern Ireland into a country which the majority of people in Northern Ireland did not want to be part of. They wanted to do this by
a) inflicting enough violence on the population of NI and the rest of the UK to sicken them and make them agree to
b) either the handover of NI tout court, or, failing that, an Ireland-wide referendum on an Anschluss of Northern Ireland, which referendum would (they reckoned) have gone in their favour.

I'm not sure that is a very laudable political aim, to be honest. In fact, it's downright unpleasant - straightforward annexation.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:35 AM
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It's probably most useful not to modify "civilian" in the definition of terrorism but, at least in the context of armed insurrection, it may be a bit overdetermined. Setting off a bomb in an Israeli settlement is terrorism, regardless of handwaving about collaboration and occupation. But if you're actively warring against Israel, then explosions in settlements are more or less inevitable, and I'm not sure they deserve to be pulled out from the rest of the violence (if your primary tactic is bombing of civilians, then I think you've lost the term armed insurrection).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:37 AM
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155: Many Americans have a very distorted view of both the goals and the methods of the IRA, largely because of the incredible success the IRA had in marketing itself to third and fourth generation Irish Americans in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:38 AM
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PGD in 79: That's Oprah/talk show subjectivism brought to the moral judgement of violence.

PGD in 150, characterizing the same position: But how would you *feel* if someone made exactly the above statement to you about the KKK in 1870?

In this case, your emotions are a better guide to what's going on here than your abstract philosopher/law school trained reasoning skills.

I'm having trouble keeping track of whether I'm wrong because I'm a Oprah-watching fuzzy-headed liberal squish, or a coldblooded overly logical lawyer. More importantly, PGD, I can't figure out what you think follows from my wrongness -- what am I going to do that you disagree with because of my squishiness/Vulcan coldness?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:38 AM
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All but the link in 153 pwned...

The sad part of the holding, of course, is the finding that this right was not clearly established at the time she was searched, rendering several of the adults immune from civil liability.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:40 AM
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154:Actually, it was Showtime, Denise Crosby from TNG as a traffic cop, and an adult male speeder.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:48 AM
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155: My sole point is that the tactics of some supporters were separable from the goals, and don't discredit the goals. Drop the IRA if you like and focus on Brown -- even if he was an insane terrorist, and even if terrorism is always wrong, Brown's actions didn't make abolitionism wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:53 AM
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Not that she needs my defense, but I think LB's position wrt anti-abortion violence shouldn't be presumed to hold in a lot of circumstances. The fact claim of radical anti-abortion folks is that fetuses==humans with full rights. If that were true, then violence would be justified. That doesn't mean that anyone with a goal is justified in pursuing it through violence. Even if whites deserved to be supreme, that wouldn't justify terrorist violence to create that situation - the imposition on superior whites created by the possession by blacks of certain legal rights is nothing like the imposition on blacks created by lynching them.

BG way up above mentioned proportionality, and obviously slavery isn't equal to murder, but it's awfully close - it definitionally* takes someone's autonomy away forever at a minimum, and of course usually does far more than that.

* in the US South context anyway. Actually a useful distinction - terrorism would be an inappropriate response to indentured servitude


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:54 AM
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My sole point is that the tactics of some supporters were separable from the goals, and don't discredit the goals. Drop the IRA if you like and focus on Brown -- even if he was an insane terrorist, and even if terrorism is always wrong, Brown's actions didn't make abolitionism wrong.

Wait, that's the only point? How is anyone arguing with that?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:58 AM
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163: Nobody here is arguing it, but that sure seems to be the premise of a lot of political discussion. Which was the point of the original post.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:00 PM
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Er, 164 s/b 163.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:01 PM
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Now I really am not understanding. There are a lot of people who argue that any act of terrorism in support of a cause renders that underlying cause illegitimate? Like, if some weirdo sets off a bomb in the name of civil rights that makes the underlying civil rights campaign illegitimate?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:07 PM
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People find it easy to distinguish the morality of the means from the morality of the ends in the case of John Brown, where the ends are moral and the means immoral, but understandable once you assume the high moral importance of the goal, ending slavery. They have a harder time performing a similar move in the case of anti-abortion terrorism. People are reluctant to distinguish means from ends and often offended at the idea that they should temporarily assume the ends our just.

I encounter this all the time, although PGD is the first person I've seen to frame the issue in terms of an objection to procedural liberalism. Generally I get the reverse complaint, that a willingness to imagine the worldview of a fundementalist shows a weak commitment to liberalism and a genuine betrayal of feminism.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:08 PM
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There are a lot of people who argue that any act of terrorism in support of a cause renders that underlying cause illegitimate?

Not explicitly, but this seems to be implicit in a lot of public discussions in the US, yes.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:09 PM
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MIT has its organic chemistry lectures on iTunes, but that's probably not what you're looking for.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:13 PM
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155: Oho! "Anschluss"! So "the IRA were the Nazis" is the Very Serious position on the Troubles, is it? We're just writing the loyalist paramilitaries and British excesses right out of the picture... or was their aim the "pleasant" one?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:14 PM
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(Cyrus, BTW, was bang-on in that justifications for "terrorism" and those for war are not different from one another.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:15 PM
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162

... The fact claim of radical anti-abortion folks is that fetuses==humans with full rights. If that were true, then violence would be justified. ...

This does not necessarily follow. Current law allows humans with full rights to be killed under some circumstances.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:23 PM
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168 -- I guess I don't really see that. There aren't a lot of people who go around saying that "I really think that extreme anti-abortionism is a totally reasonable goal, but now that some wacko has been involved in a clinic shooting, I just can't support it." In other words, that the existence of some people using improper means automatically makes an otherwise-legitimate end illegitimate.

That's a different kind of thought process from "the logical consequence of extreme anti-abortionism is that killing abortion doctors is justified, and that seems crazy to me, and therefore I think I need to rethink extreme anti-abortionism as an ideology." The latter kind of thought process seems common; the former, not so much.

But I have absolutely no idea what PGD is talking about, so there's that, too.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:26 PM
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Current law allows humans with full rights to be killed under some circumstances.

Mostly just for annoyingly literal blog commenting, tho....


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:31 PM
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168, 173: I think that is more or less how some people think about the Palestinean cause -- that the use of suicide bombing show their cause is not just.

Maybe you can find some logic in this -- their use of violence shows that they don't deserve a country.
Eh...not all that logical.....


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:34 PM
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"the logical consequence of extreme anti-abortionism is that killing abortion doctors is justified, and that seems crazy to me, and therefore I think I need to rethink extreme anti-abortionism as an ideology."

I teach abortion ethics regularly, and I have never seen anyone make this inference. It is common for people who are already pro-choice urge pro-life people to make this inference. But I have never seen anyone change their views on the abortion issue because they wanted to be logically consistent.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:36 PM
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And, w/r/t 170, the IRA weren't the Nazis, but I do think that, in the USA, extraordinarily naive and romantic pro-IRA sentiment is still pretty common and important to correct -- as witnessed by the casual reference in the OP. It's not signing up with Ian Paisely (or a denial that Catholics in NI had legitimate civil rights issues) to point out that the IRA's ultimate goal was, in fact, to use violence to force the majority NI's population into joining a country that the majority didn't want any part of.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:38 PM
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173: We might not be able to find a quote by someone who holds that view. It's not the kind of thing someone comes out and says. (It might sound like I'm talking about a strawman, but I'm encouraged by the fact that Brock and peep and rob also apparently think the mentality exists, so.)

Ooh, I can think of an example after all, or if not the attitude exactly, something similar to it. Yet again it's someone complaining about the attitude in other people rather than holding it themselves. However, it's not just us nobodies on the Internet noticing the attitude, it's Martin Luther King, Jr..

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action";


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:43 PM
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For clarity, note that the white moderates MLK objects to are using that message as an explanation of why they do not work with his cause. No, they aren't saying his cause is unjust because of the methods he uses, but it amounts to the same thing under the circumstances.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:48 PM
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177: Yeah, I would suppose that's at about the same rate as, in Britain, extraordinarily blinkered and inflammatory anti-IRA sentiment is still pretty common though, innit. The IRA's ultimate goal was to end partition -- which was also the goal of other Republican groups who couldn't be plausibly characterized as "using violence to force the majority of NI's population" to do anything -- yet here you are talking about the means of the Provos as if they're interchangeable with the goal. Which is really exactly the kind of thing the OP was talking about, right?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 12:54 PM
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178 -- Yeah, we may be talking past each other slightly, and I'm not sure that I disagree with you. If the point is that "some people prefer avoiding social disruption/violence to actively supporting a cause that they would otherwise agree with" then that seems obviously right. I take the MLK quote to be talking about that situation. And violence can turn off or demobilize otherwise lukewarm supporters of a cause, for sure.

I guess I just see people's most important attachment as being to the underlying cause, not the means. If many people in the US really sympathized with the situation of the Palestinians, the actions of the suicide bombers would be written off as a too-extreme reaction of a bunch of crazies, but not something that undermined the case for Palestinian rights as a whole. It's the underlying cause that's the issue, not the means. Many Americans' forgiving attitude towards the IRA can be explained similarly; so can the attitude of the bulk of the pro-life movement towards anti-abortion terrorists -- they're blemishes on an otherwise valuable movement, not something that undermines the movement as a whole.

But I'm not sure that drawing these distinctions is in any way helpful or illuminating, so I'll move on.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:04 PM
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Actually, it was Showtime, Denise Crosby from TNG as a traffic cop, and an adult male speeder.

Ooh, I saw that one. Didn't she actually knock out one of the headlights of his car with her big thick baton in order to have an excuse to pull him over and strip search him later?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:04 PM
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175: Well it's certainly a pretty stupid position, but I think Brock is right that it shows up at least implicitly in a lot of the US discourse. Much of which isn't, in this context, particularly known for being nuanced after all.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:04 PM
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182: Out of my fantasies, helpy-chalk.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:05 PM
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I'm having trouble keeping track of whether I'm wrong because I'm a Oprah-watching fuzzy-headed liberal squish, or a coldblooded overly logical lawyer.

Both! IT'S ALL PART OF THE SAME DIABOLICAL PLOT!

More importantly, PGD, I can't figure out what you think follows from my wrongness -- what am I going to do that you disagree with because of my squishiness/Vulcan coldness?

*You're* not going to do anything. But the squishy treatment of Tiller's murder in the public / press discourse made me sick. If the abortion is murder view is a legitimate perspective to hold in the public discourse, and the abortion is murder view would morally justify that murder, then where does that leave you? Pretty squishy. People won't follow that line all the way, but it had its influence.

I encounter this all the time, although PGD is the first person I've seen to frame the issue in terms of an objection to procedural liberalism. Generally I get the reverse complaint, that a willingness to imagine the worldview of a fundementalist shows a weak commitment to liberalism and a genuine betrayal of feminism.

And they have a point, although the kind of point they are making is incompatible with philosophy class discussion. The notion that class discussion is the highest good is where procedural liberalism comes in. Of course, as a philosophy professor your role is holding a good discussion.

The thing is, the kind of point I'm making leads very quickly to the noxious "moral clarity", susceptible to infinite perversion and beloved of sick neocons who want to blow up other countries. But I believe it has been a frequent point around here, made by many besides me, that liberals could use a little more moral clarity at times.



Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:07 PM
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But I have never seen anyone change their views on the abortion issueanything, ever, anywhere because they wanted to be logically consistent.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:07 PM
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186: It happens, though.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:08 PM
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If the abortion is murder view is a legitimate perspective to hold in the public discourse, and the abortion is murder view would morally justify that murder, then where does that leave you?

Erm, what does 'legitimate' mean here? It's a position that some people do hold.

Seriously, if my and Rob's position were more common, it'd make it harder, not easier, for anti-abortion types to participate in public discourse, because it leaves them either being inconsistent about the severity of the issue, or genuinely dangerous.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:18 PM
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180 -- I guess I'd take the view that "ending partition" was and is not a particularly attractive goal -- and certainly not a particularly liberal one --given the demographic and democratic realities of NI, and that therefore aggressive violence of the IRA sort in support of that goal was particularly wrong. I do think that there's a fairly broad-based sentiment in the USA (including in members of my own family) that the IRA was really just the paramilitary wing of a legitimate civil rights/anti-colonial movement, like Umkhonto we Sizwe with red hair. That view seems deeply wrong to me, which isn't to deny that there were a lot of true bastards on the Unionist side or that there were very legitimate civil rights issues for NI Catholics for a long time.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:20 PM
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I dunno about "justified"--and I haven't read the whole thread yet--but it seems to me that terrorism tends to happen when people have political goals/needs that have no outlet under a given system. I mean, basically terrorism is a state of war in which one side doesn't possess a nation-state with a recognized army. At least most organized, ongoing terrorism is.

Which I think is distinct from the kind of terrorism John Brown, or anti-abortion bombers engage in. And is probably why we don't usually think of those actions as "terrorism," really, except to make a rhetorical point. There I think you have a single individual or a very small group of individuals who have strong moral convictions that x state of affairs, which doesn't affect them directly, is Wrong. And that existing means of trying to change the status quo are inadequate or too slow or unlikely to succeed, and b/c whatever-it-is is so very Wrong, they are justified in stopping it, even on a v. small scale, by any means necessary.

I think that the latter kind of terrorism is usually at least half-associated with crazy people who are on a moral crusade, and that whether their moral crusade is Right or Wrong, especially in light of their actions, really depends on the distance of time and place. Brown may seem like a hero to non-slave-owning people today, but I guarantee that if non-slave-owning people back then lived anywhere near him, he'd seem like a loose cannon even if you were an abolitionist. And maybe even to some actual slaves--after all, wasn't part of his agenda to "free" the slaves so that they could join his cause--i.e., to press-gang them, in a way? I wonder what he would have done if the freed slaves had said hell no, we just want to move to Canada. (For the record, I'm just making an argument here; I tend to think Brown was right, but that's surely b/c I don't know anyone who he killed, and can't really imaginatively identify with them very easily.)

Whereas the former sort of terrorism, I think, isn't just about the odd crazy person, but is more about mass desperation and is really *political*. The abortion clinic bombings started happening only when the political right decided that it was useful to ratchet up anti-abortion feeling, they're easily suppressed by legislation (if it's enforced), and once anti-abortion sentiment is no longer *useful* as a political tool, they'll go away because crazy people won't be handed anti-abortion as a tool to buttress their self-aggrandizement. But IRA or Palestinian terrorism, or the French Resistance, didn't/wont go away until the actual problem it's a direct response to is dealt with. It isn't a false tool created to serve another political end; it's a Clausewitzian political tactic.

Which ironically is why the crazy-people type of moral "terrorism" is easier to play the "but don't they have a point" game with, while the real political terrorism is easier to dismiss by talking about its being ineffective or counter-productive.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:31 PM
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184: Its a real episode of Red Shoe Diaries. With a voice over by oh so sexy David Duchovny. IIRC Crosby doesn't look as good naked as you would hope, but that may have just been bad lighting/direction/cinematography.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:34 PM
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I guess I'd take the view that "ending partition" was and is not a particularly attractive goal -- and certainly not a particularly liberal one --given the demographic and democratic realities of NI

I certainly need to brush up on my Irish history, and probably should keep my mouth shut until I do, but this being the internet and all... How strongly should the demographic realities be weighed if the demographic result from strategic planting of that demographic in disputed lands? Which is to say, my understanding of the political aims is that they well predate the 20th Century Troubles.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:35 PM
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Maybe my distinction is partly between people acting on behalf of an abstraction and people acting in their own interests--is that part of the definition of political action? B/c if not, it should be.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:37 PM
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188

Erm, what does 'legitimate' mean here? It's a position that some people do hold.

Maybe but it is nonsense. Murder is a legal term and abortion is legal.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:41 PM
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193: Isn't there a third option, people acting on behalf of the concrete interests of others? That was what I was thinking about Brown, that his actions were sane and reasonable if you weren't thinking about Slavery As An Economic Force, but were instead thinking "Shit, that guy over there has twenty people chained up and he's beating them regularly. What do I do?!?! How do I get them out of there?"

And I got there partially by having my attention drawn to the fact that reasonable abolitionists, like, as Bob points out above, Frederick Douglass, didn't treat Brown like a lunatic. A 'loose cannon', probably -- his tactics didn't look likely to be effective -- but not outside the realm of plausible responses to slavery.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:45 PM
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194: James, most people who say "abortion is murder" mean it as shorthand for "abortion is morally equivalent to murder", or perhaps "abortion should be treated as murder, legally". I think they're almost all aware that it's not, in fact, currently illegal.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:46 PM
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194: Sure thing, Mr. Pope. Whatever is, is right.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:47 PM
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195.1: But surely part of the whole "concrete interests of others" question depends on whether one is *following* the others or acting on one's own. Like, Brown was acting "for" the slaves, not with them: he wasn't working with the underground railroad, or smuggling arms to slaves who were planning a revolt, he was trying to send a message to slaveowners and free slaves so that they could join his army.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:57 PM
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190: Brown may seem like a hero to non-slave-owning people today, but I guarantee that if non-slave-owning people back then lived anywhere near him, he'd seem like a loose cannon even if you were an abolitionist.

Really? After the sack of Lawrence, Kansas? When pro-slavery forces were driving people from their homes, beating them and killing them? Not to mention that the pro-slavery forces were precluding any possibility of a democratic resolution by mass fraudulent voting (backed up by more violence)? Certainly, there were abolitionists who were against using violence, Garrison and the broad mass of Quakers foremost among them, but a very, very cursory reading of the actual history behind the Pottawatomie and Harper's Ferry incidents suggest that there were quite a few people who thought Brown was absolutely justified in his actions.

Here's the thing, if Brown was insane, or illegitimate in his use of violence, then that insanity or illegitimacy boils down to one simple phrase: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. John Brown actually believed that. Combine that ideology with the reality of slavery in the US, and Brown is a martyr not to violence but to a Christ-like level of restraint.

To shift gears for a moment: I still have a soft spot in my heart for the various IRAs, despite their descent into gangsterism and irrelevancy. It has to be said that when we talk about "the IRA", we're again not talking about something that occurred in a vacuum hoover. The RUC and the Loyalist paramilitaries have plenty of blood on their hands, and the English counter-intelligence operatives, who were running pretty big chunks of the PIRA for awhile there, are just as culpable. If it hadn't been for Long Kesh and Bobby Sands and the constant repression of ordinary Catholics in Northern Ireland, the IRA might have blossomed into a true revolutionary organization. As it was, they lost the plot. But that's their tragedy, not the violence per se.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:57 PM
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Wait, Shearer is the Pope? The Pope lives in Westchester?

I've got to get off the blogs and read a damn newspaper.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 1:59 PM
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200: Is a bear Catholic?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:02 PM
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I like the distinction B is trying to make, but it's unclear how well it fits Brown -- he moved to Kansas because his own adult children were living there and were caught up in a shooting war about slavery.

Seriously, if my and Rob's position were more common, it'd make it harder, not easier, for anti-abortion types to participate in public discourse, because it leaves them either being inconsistent about the severity of the issue, or genuinely dangerous.

If your and Rob's habit of being driven by logical consistency were more widespread, it would change a lot of things about the public discourse. But it's not.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:03 PM
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198: Brown was acting "for" the slaves, not with them: he wasn't working with the underground railroad, or smuggling arms to slaves who were planning a revolt

Again, this would make sense, except for the fact that it is totally inaccurate. Brown did work with the Underground Railroad, and part of the purpose of the League of Gileadites, which he co-founded, was to help freedmen and escaped slaves defend themselves by getting them guns.
Brown didn't just suddenly go crazy one day and think "I'm going to murder five men in Kansas" -- he was an activist and revolutionary who followed a pretty standard path from verbal and written protest & consciousness raising, to non-violent direct action and then to militant direct action. Millions of other revolutionaries have followed the same progression all over the world.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:04 PM
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quite a few people

Who? About Pottawatomie Creek, who thought he was right? And better still, who was willing to follow him or emulate him? Yes, some keyboard commandos in Concord thought he was just ducky. They were even willing to send him money. But they sure didn't want to follow him into battle or allow their friends to do so. Brown was considered way beyond the pale by the overwhelming majority of anti-slavery Americans. Abolitionists, too, with a very, very few exceptions. That And LB, that Douglass, at his most radical, wasn't willing to snitch on Brown tells us what exactly?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:05 PM
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As for this,

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. John Brown actually believed that. Combine that ideology with the reality of slavery in the US, and Brown is a martyr not to violence but to a Christ-like level of restraint.

it's half right. Brown was, without question, among the most racially enlightened people in the United States -- at least by our standards. But how we get from that to viewing him as martyr for his restraint is beyond me.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:07 PM
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204: Douglass's having Brown live with him for a couple of months while Brown was planning the Harper's Ferry raid is a step past not snitching on him, surely? I'm making a claim about the transitivity of craziness, but Douglass is, I think, while a radical abolitionist, also pretty well established as a sane, respectable radical abolitionist rather than a fringe crazy. To the extent that Douglass willingly associated himself with Brown, that suggests that Brown wasn't seen as a fringe crazy either.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:11 PM
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B: And maybe even to some actual slaves--after all, wasn't part of his agenda to "free" the slaves so that they could join his cause--i.e., to press-gang them, in a way? I wonder what he would have done if the freed slaves had said hell no, we just want to move to Canada. (For the record, I'm just making an argument here; I tend to think Brown was right, but that's surely b/c I don't know anyone who he killed, and can't really imaginatively identify with them very easily.)

I was gonna originally address minne, but you hit the nail on the head. Yep, a bunch of pro-slavery goons sacked Lawrence, KS. And rather than attack the specific individuals or retaliate in kind, John Brown found a cabin far away from anywhere and kicked five people. Likewise, at Harper's Ferry - the first person killed by JB was a slave. And the point of pro-slavery action in Kansas, was to protect slavery in Missouri, lest the Yankees come and create a Free State, which might be followed by more slaves escaping &c., and that eventually might result in the end of slavery in Missouri, which was on the brink, as it was.

In sort, the South provoked a fight, and JB took the bait.

Fundamentally, I think Brock is right - in the terrorism good/bad fight, the issue is pluralism. For what causes is it OK to kill (innocent) people when you can vote for change? A: it isn't. B: whenever it is justified.

The problem with answer B is that it pretty much allows killing for anything you care to be pissed off enough about, even if you can vote. And that, in turn, is the fundamental underlying justification for despotism and police states.

On the other hand, if there is no civil society, on the other hand, then Bob's your uncle, and that's the case when your country has been occupied by furrners and other unfriendly persons.

(As for the IRA, well, gee, England/the UK, rather violently colonized the place, and hung onto part of it after they were kicked out, which happened to be the area where they had a (small) majority. Huh.)

max
['So, yeah, procedural liberalism is ideological, and I like it, thank you.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:13 PM
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...If you had a great class that's available online...

Gilbert Strang teaching 18.06 (intro Linear Algebra) and 18.085 ("Computational Science and Engineering I", which is basically just "applied linear algebra for engineers") are both available as free video lectures online, and are both excellent.

I'm also a big fan of the Eric Lander lectures from the 7.012 series as well.


Posted by: arthegall | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:18 PM
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a sane, respectable radical abolitionist rather than a fringe crazy

Now? Or then? Because if you're talking about then, Douglass was considered, at that time, to be very, very radical. In fact, most whites, northerners and southerners alike, would have considered him dangerous. How much of this had to do with racial attitudes, rather than the particulars of his career, I can't say for sure. But there it is.

Anyway, I say all of this as someone who thinks of Douglass as one of the great heroes in American history. Still, he was very isolated at the time. And that he was willing to deal with someone like Brown, I think, tells us very little. Hell, Hillary Clinton broke bread with Richard Mellon Scaife, who's a complete whackjob, during the primaries. I hope that future historians won't make the mistake you're making here and see Scaife as mainstream because a leading Democrat treated him like a sane person and potential ally.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:19 PM
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204: Brown was considered way beyond the pale by the overwhelming majority of anti-slavery Americans.

Yeah, for a couple of years, until it was brought home to them that he was right. I'm not arguing that Brown had broad support for his use of violence among the majority of Abolitionists. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the Abolitionist movement was that it was, as you point out, mostly divorced from the everyday realities of slavery. But are you seriously suggesting that the people who'd been caught up in Bleeding Kansas thought Brown was unjustified in responding to the violence of the Border Ruffians with his own violence? He had a whole company of other militia men, and received a commission from the local military authorities. Sure, some Abolitionist Quaker in Ohio probably deplored the violence, but do you really think the people who were constantly at the mercy of the slavers and their allies didn't want to see them beaten?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:23 PM
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199: I meant "you" as in the average non-slave-owning person. Also, what Ari said.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:23 PM
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208: I don't think I can get much out of a math class on lectures alone, without doing the homework. (Given that I've taken 18.06 before, that might be an exception, but I doubt it -- I'd probably be lost in two lectures.) I'm looking for something that's workable as passive information/entertainment while I commute or exercise, rather than something I'm going to put effort into.

209: I was trying to draw a distinction between respectable radical and fringey lunatic -- Douglass may have been a dangerous radical, but he wasn't a nut. He was respected enough to get meetings with Lincoln during the war. Respectable radicals like Douglass thought of Brown as one of them, rather than as being a pathetic crazy to be avoided as discrediting the abolitionist movement.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:26 PM
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212.2: Is "people who are friendly with people who've had audience with the president" really a good proxy for "not a nut"? I don't have examples off the top of my head, but I bet if I ran through a list of loose associates of the people who met with G.W.B.* during his 8 years in the White House, I'd definitely think there were some real nuts in there.

* Or, really, any other President.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:31 PM
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Respectable radicals like Douglass

I'm apparently not being clear enough. My point is that if there were more than fifty such people in the entire country -- before the war started, at least -- that would stun me. You're talking about a sliver (people like Douglass) of a fraction (radical abolitionists) of a tiny minority (outspoken anti-slavery reformer). Relatedly (or whatever that word is), Douglass only got meetings with Lincoln after the latter issued the Emancipation Proclamation and black troops had gone into the field. Things had changed quite a lot by then.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:33 PM
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Further to my response to 198, from Wikipedia (since I don't have my John Brown library with me right now):

As Frederick Douglass and Brown's family testified, his strategy was essentially to deplete Virginia of its slaves, causing the institution to collapse in one county after another, until the movement spread into the South, essentially wreaking havoc on the economic viability of the pro-slavery states. Thus, while violence was essential to self-defense and advancement of the movement, Brown's hope was to limit and minimize bloodshed, not ignite a slave insurrection as many have charged.

205: But how we get from that to viewing him as martyr for his restraint is beyond me.
You've read the accounts of slavery that Brown read, right? If you really, truly believed that the narrators of those accounts were your brothers and sisters, as Brown apparently did, would you not be moved to violence against any slaver or slavery-supporter?

207: And rather than attack the specific individuals or retaliate in kind, John Brown found a cabin far away from anywhere and kicked five people.
This doesn't make sense. So you think that, rather than finding some pro-slavery Border Ruffians to kill (and sparing the lives of two of them who he couldn't determine to be involved in any violence), instead Brown should have raised a mob and descended upon some random town in Missouri, wantonly destroying everything in sight? That would be sane? I'm just guessing, but isn't it likely that Brown would have very much liked to apprehend and/or kill the specific people involved with the Sack of Lawrence, but couldn't because they had far more fighters and guns than he did? Wouldn't that be the most parsimonious explanation for his actions.

The whole "John Brown was insane" thing is just slavocrat propaganda. John Brown behaved exactly like committed revolutionaries do all the time today and in the past. Again, if you're willing to say that all violence is wrong, fine. But if there was ever a case where violence in the service of an ideal was justified, that is the history of John Brown.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:37 PM
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210: You raise a fair point. It's possible that a plurality of anti-slavery Kansas would have deemed Brown's deplorable act at Pottawattamie (sp?) Creek justified. But I'd doubt it was anything like a majority of Kansans -- even free-soilers, by the way, not all of whom were anti-slavery -- which leaves us right back where I started: we're talking about a tiny, tiny group of people who would have approved of that butchery. And remember: you can find a tiny, tiny minority of people who approve of most anything at any given time in American history -- particularly if you're looking at people who are being terrorized by pro-slavery thugs.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:37 PM
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And that he was willing to deallive for two months with someone like Brown, I think, tells us very little.

Oh, come on, ari. This wasn't a half hour editorial board meeting.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:39 PM
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214: I'm reacting to Bitch's characterization of people like Brown as probably 'crazy'. 'Crazy' isn't a point on a spectrum of radicalism -- you can have someone who's at the very extreme of radicalism who's perfectly sane and reasonable, but just has unusual beliefs. Douglass was someone in that category: if you read his writings, you can tell he was perfectly well balanced and reasonable. The fact that he was treated as a national spokesman for African Americans by Lincoln suggests also that he was reasonable and non-crazy. And, of course, the fact that his radical opinions look a lot more reasonable from our historical vantage point than from his own makes him look a lot more reasonable.

So, not that anyone was calling Douglass crazy, but we're (or at least I am) pretty clear that Douglass was just about ultimately radical on abolition, but not even a little insane.

The next step is weaker, and I'm not saying it establishes Brown's sanity and reasonableness conclusively, but it's suggestive. Usually, reasonable radicals try to disassociate themselves from counterproductive lunatics. Douglass (and other abolitionists) didn't treat Brown like that -- they willingly associated with him and praised his efforts. That suggests to me that Brown didn't appear to be a counterproductive lunatic to sane people who shared his goals, which suggests that he wasn't, in fact, a counterproductive lunatic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:42 PM
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would you not be moved to violence against any slaver or slavery-supporter?

No. But I'm the wrong person to ask, as I really, really abhor violence and think, based on my study of history, that violence is most often not an effective lever of positive social change. That said, I know what you're saying. And I do find Brown's racial politics incredibly admirable. I just depart from your interpretation right here: I don't think his racial politics drove him to violence. I think his whacked-out upbringing did, especially his father's fundamentalist Calvinism. Brown really believed in an eye for eye. He really believed that God was angry. And he really believed that he was God's vessel on earth. That's some scary shit, my friend, the kind of megalomania that leads to people meting out justice with a broadsword. No, thanks; I'll stick with procedural liberalism.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:42 PM
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Reasonable reasonable reasonable reasonable reasonable. I'd like a larger vocabulary, please.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:43 PM
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217: What's your point? That Douglass thought Brown might be a useful ally? I've already granted that, haven't I?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:44 PM
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214: My point is that if there were more than fifty such people in the entire country -- before the war started, at least -- that would stun me.

Again, this doesn't make any sense on a historical level. John Brown had over a score of people who actually went into battle with him in Kansas. You're telling me that the people who were actually fighting side-by-side with Brown were the only people who supported him? That's nonsense. There were lots and lots of people in Kansas, in North Elba, all over the place, who were militant Abolitionists like Brown. Not to mention the millions of slaves of course. Surely more than .0005% of enslaved people in the United States before the Civil War supported killing slavery supporters, don't you think?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:45 PM
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189: Whether you find the goal "attractive" or not is up to you, I suppose. I don't see why perpetuating the last narrow sliver of the British Empire is an especially more "attractive" goal than Sinn Feinn's, what's supposed to be so uniquely immoral about the Provos having adopted a radical response to the radical violence of the loyalist paramilitaries, or how the end of partition would necessarily be prejudicial to the well-being of the Protestants still in Northern Ireland. Guess I must be naive and prone to romanticism.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:47 PM
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And none of us sanction your repeated, deplorable misspellings of Pottawatomie.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:48 PM
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hat suggests to me that Brown didn't appear to be a counterproductive lunatic to sane people who shared his goals, which suggests that he wasn't, in fact, a counterproductive lunatic.

Again, the overwhelming majority of people* who shared his goals** thought he was a counterproductive lunatic. Only a handful of people in the entire country were willing to tolerate his company after Pottawhoopseedaisy Creek. Regardless, I think your transitive property of sanity is pretty much empty, historically speaking. I mean no offense, by the way; I'm just not seeing it.

* Again, we're now discussing a tiny, tiny minority of the anti-slavery reformers in the United States, who, themselves, were a small fraction of the overall population of northerners.

** We're talking about abolition, right? Because he had more than just one goal.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:49 PM
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What's your point?

Simply that you were pulling a BS rhetorical move by pretending that Douglass was no more associated with Brown than HRC was with Scaife.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:50 PM
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196

James, most people who say "abortion is murder" mean it as shorthand for "abortion is morally equivalent to murder", or perhaps "abortion should be treated as murder, legally". I think they're almost all aware that it's not, in fact, currently illegal.

Which means they appear to be under the misapprehension that murder is defined by God or natural law or something rather than the legislature and the courts.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:50 PM
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219: I'm going to step back from this for awhile, 'cause my blood is getting angried up. However, if what John Brown did (or thought) was somehow aberrant, how do you characterize Harriet Tubman's actions? Is it more sane to return again and again to slave territory when you yourself are an escaped slave, on missions to free your friends, family and others, than to do what Brown did?
Brown and Tubman both saw what needed to be done, and they did it. If that was partly motivated by their Christianity (as was apparently the case) then I guess Christianity has one little jot of merit to balance against its perfidy.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:52 PM
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Again, the overwhelming majority of people* who shared his goals** thought he was a counterproductive lunatic.

How'd the song get so popular, then? (Seriously, you're the historian, and so I'm asking. I just can't figure out how to reconcile what you're saying with "and then he became a folk hero.")


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:52 PM
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219: And yet, ari, you revere Lincoln and defend the Civil War. Are you against violence or are you just against violence that isn't successful?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:53 PM
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222: I'm talking about P Creek. He had a score of people with him there? No, I think that's wrong (though I'm 2000 miles away from my books, so please don't quote me). I'm pretty sure he had a couple of his sons and a few other people who were swayed by his passion. And to be clear, we're not talking about abstractions -- the question of how many people would have been okay with violence against anonymous slaveholders. Or at least I'm not. I'm referring specifically to how many people would have supported Brown's decision to kill those five people at P Creek.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:54 PM
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I don't understand 227 at all. I don't see how you're making that inference.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:56 PM
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But I'm the wrong person to ask, as I really, really abhor violence and think, based on my study of history, that violence is most often not an effective lever of positive social change.

Ummm, wow. Really? I guess it depends what you define as positive. The modern political system is mainly a product of violence.

I have a strong aversion to violence too, but you have to grapple with its historical effectiveness.

No, thanks; I'll stick with procedural liberalism.

liberalism is plenty violent. The procedures function to legitimate it. But part of the issue here is the referent of "liberalism". I'm thinking of it more as David Broder than Russ Feingold, identifying it with a key part of the system rather than the left wing.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:57 PM
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227: I know I shouldn't get into hypothetical situations with you, Shearer, but still. Imagine we're in a country with a very silly legislature, that has passed a law saying that the unjustified killing of a human being, with the proper mens rea, is murder, unless that person is under five foot tall, in which case killing them is perfectly legal. And imagine that you were an activist saying "It's not true that 'short people got no reason to live'! The law should be changed! Killing short people is murder, just like killing tall people!"

I understand that you'd disagree that killing short people, under those circumstances, is murder. But surely you understand the sentiment expressed. So figure out how you'd like our hypothetical activist to express his defense of the rights of short people not to be killed, and then imagine that people saying "Abortion is murder" are using your favored turn of phrase.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:57 PM
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230: I admire Lincoln for his growth as a person and a leader, particularly for his willingness to meet with Douglass and free the slaves; for his courage in admitting when he was wrong, especially his introspection about the shortcomings of his and the nation's racial politics; for his choice to lose the 1864 election rather than compromise on the issue of emancipation or the rights of black pows; and yes, for his willingness to defend the Union. My reading suggests that he had two choices in 1861: either allow the Confederacy to secede or fight. He chose the latter; I think, given the options available to him, it was the right choice.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:59 PM
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232

I don't understand 227 at all. I don't see how you're making that inference.

According to you they know abortion is legal. So if they accepted that murder is what the legislature and courts say it is, they would know that abortion is not murder.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 2:59 PM
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skimming this thread to public enemy works well. Back to Arizona is a great piece of political poetry.

Taleb's take on the crisis and a bunch of other finance/business interviews at www.econtalk.org . Strong pro-markets bias, obvs.

Nietzsche's word for reasonable was Apollonian.

Mediocre rapper John Brown has a Sarah Palin mockery I wanna lay pipe


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:00 PM
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229: It got popular after the war started, LB. Again, things changed. Secession changed a lot of minds, the early battles changed a lot of minds, and the performance of black troops changed a whole lot of minds. Public opinion isn't static, thank goodness.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:00 PM
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According to you they know abortion is legal.

According to me? I'm sorry, but--do you doubt this??


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:01 PM
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Which means they appear to be under the misapprehension that murder is defined by God or natural law or something rather than the legislature and the courts.

Or merely that they are aware of the power of framing.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:01 PM
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More fundamentally, 236, see 234.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:02 PM
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226: Not really. Read what I wrote. My point was and is that the transitive property of sanity, as minted and applied by LB, is a pretty nonsensical thing. I wasn't trying to pretend that Douglass disavowed Brown, as you suggest. I had already granted the opposite of that.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:03 PM
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234

I understand that you'd disagree that killing short people, under those circumstances, is murder. But surely you understand the sentiment expressed. So figure out how you'd like our hypothetical activist to express his defense of the rights of short people not to be killed, and then imagine that people saying "Abortion is murder" are using your favored turn of phrase.

Simple enough, "Abortion should be murder".


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:03 PM
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My reading suggests that he had two choices in 1861: either allow the Confederacy to secede or fight. He chose the latter; I think, given the options available to him, it was the right choice.

so what is your position on violence again?


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:04 PM
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The modern political system is mainly a product of violence.

I think we're talking about very different kinds of positive social change, PGD. I also, as ever, suspect that you know that and are baiting me. But that's another story entirely.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:06 PM
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238: Still, that's an awfully quick transition from almost everyone who agreed with him on abolition (barring Douglass and all the other abolitionists who provided funds for the raid on Harper's Ferry) thought he was a counterproductive lunatic, to folk hero. From Wikipedia:

Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked that "[John Brown] will make the gallows glorious like the Cross."

And two or three years after his death, millions of northerners are singing hymns in his praise. Who were the abolitionists who thought Brown was a counterproductive lunatic?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:08 PM
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244: In light of 244, I'm now sure that you're baiting me. Or you can't read. Or you don't bother to read. Regardless, I'll give it another go: I don't believe Lincoln had a better choice than violence in 1861. Given that, I don't think entering the war was a lousy idea. Also, I don't think Lincoln was acting as an agent of social change in 1861, at least not in the way that abolitionists were before that time. Finally, I said earlier that, I really, really abhor violence and think, based on my study of history, that violence is most often not an effective lever of positive social change.

Did you really not consider any of the above before posting your comment? I'm serious, by the way. I find that I often think you're completely full of shit, but I'm wondering if that interpretation is a function of the medium. Maybe I'm totally misreading you, in other words, and you're arguing in good faith.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:12 PM
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Ari, you're wanted in the other thread.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:13 PM
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Now I feel bad for piling on. To state 246 less contentiously -- while I can certainly see while you'd look at Brown's actions and think they were those of a counterproductive lunatic, I'm not seeing any evidence at all that sensible people of the time who shared his goals reacted to him that way. Is there something I'm missing?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:14 PM
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238: Emerson, and others, were the keyboard commandos in Concord that I referred to above. They loved Brown -- from afar.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:17 PM
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237: skimming this thread to public enemy works well

Ha! My cow orkers have been blasting NWA for the past half hour.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:18 PM
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250: But who were the sensible abolitionists who thought he was a counterproductive lunatic?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:19 PM
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Whoa - Yale's open courses appear to have lecture transcripts! Sometimes I don't want to spend the up to 90 minutes it takes with my attention span to listen to a 45 minute talk.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:19 PM
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249: LB, I don't have my books with me, but there were no elected officials, not even Charles Sumner (I think), who supported Brown publicly. There were no abolitionists leaders, not even Douglass (unless I'm mistaken), who supported Brown publicly. The people who supported him did so clandestinely, much as the people who support clinic bombers do now. So allow me to turn the tables on you, who were Brown's public allies? You keep talking about hymns, but that was years later. You say that it wasn't that long. But the South had seceded, the Civil War had started, tens of thousands had died, and depending on when we're talking about, black troops had begun fighting courageously. Just two years ago, many of us thought that the Republicans were in great shape. Things change; that's the nature of history.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:23 PM
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252:William Lloyd Garrison?

Well, then, you who are otherwise [not pacificists] are not the men to point the finger at John Brown, and cry "traitor"?judging you by your own standard

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:26 PM
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the sensible abolitionists

a) You're not hearing me: the mainstream of public opinion believed that there was no such thing as a sensible abolitionist.

b) See my 254. But please be aware that it may be riddled with inaccuracies. I don't have my books, or my lecture notes, anywhere near me. Sorry.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:27 PM
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248: Which thread, neb?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:28 PM
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254: He was planning to go break the law -- the fact that people who agreed with him weren't publicly praising his plan to go seize a federal arsenal before he did it doesn't seem to say anything beyond the fact that seizing a federal arsenal gets you put in jail/hanged, and announcing that you plan to do so gets you at least stopped. I recognize that there weren't many radical abolitionists out there, but I'm not seeing any evidence that radical abolitionists who knew anything about Brown had made the judgment that he was, personally, a lunatic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:29 PM
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Also, I think ari is right that after Pottawhateveramie Brown was pretty much considered a dangerous lunatic whose supporters kept their support mostly quiet (though part of this was because the law was kind of not on his side, so they had to). After Harpers Ferry and especially after 1861 that was no longer the case. There were some events that took place during that time, not directly involving Brown himself, that had an effect on changing public opinion.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:29 PM
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I wasn't trying to pretend that Douglass disavowed Brown, as you suggest.

Not at all what I suggest. But what you wrote very clearly states equivalence between Brown's multi-month residency with Douglass and HRC's hour-long meeting with Scaife. The two are nothing alike. "Deal with" is a bullshit way of describing "housed for months." I'm not trying to get at any larger point on this matter, only that I was irritated with your phrasing, and now I'm offended. It's tendentious and dishonest, and beneath you.

If you want to argue that it's normal for sane people to house dangerous radicals to whom they are unrelated and whom they view as violent madmen, then make the argument*. Don't pretend that it's no more significant than one professional meeting among a thousand.

* Good evidence for such an argument would be Douglass saying, "I viewed Brown as a violent madman, and housed him only from a sense of Christian charity." Did he ever say such a thing? Maybe! I don't know. I'd like to know if he did.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:29 PM
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223 -- Fine, take out the word "unattractive," if you're going to be a dick about it. "Ending partition" is a nationalist, anti-liberal goal, and is a throwback to a kind of 19th Century nationalism that should not be on the agenda of cosmopolitan liberals. Civil rights for all of the citizens of NI and a defusion of nationalist tension on all sides is a worthy and liberal goal. The clear prejudice and conservatism of much of the unionist/loyalist faction is repugnant, and is surely to blame for a lot. But the fact is that elevating "ending partition" into the primary goal of your movement transforms a civil rights movement for a minority into a movement for forcible annexation of a majority, for reasons that are basically grounded in romantic nationalism. Which makes the IRA's campaign to do this through violence that much more repugnant.

As for that "last sliver of the British Empire" stuff, that's a pretty lazy analysis -- Britain surely would have very happily rid itself of completely of NI a long time ago (Churchill, no anti-imperialist, even proposed this to DeValera during WWII) were it not for the fact that a majority of the population of NI has very consistently made clear since 1910 that it does not want out of the UK -- and were it not for the fact that it's very unclear that the ROI has ever really wanted NI in. The combination of NI's demographics and toxic nationalism on both sides created a hard problem to solve, and NI's history doesn't really lend itself well to playing heroes and villains -- although I'll agree with you that there are plenty of loyalist/unionist types who easily fall on the villain side of the line. In any case, my only real beef is with the lazy assumption, fairly common in the US, that the IRA=noble anti-colonial struggle for civil rights.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:30 PM
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Ari: the Nugent one. People want to know about you and the Sierra Club.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:30 PM
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255: Garrison said that two weeks after Brown was executed. Again, things changed quite a lot over time. And Brown's behavior while he waited in prison after Harper's Ferry changed some minds. What did Garrison say after P Creek? I'm guessing nothing at all, at least not in public, except, perhaps, for condemnations.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:32 PM
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Oops. The speech linked in 255, delivered Dec 19, 1859, is awfully damn sympathetic to Brown.

Rather than see men wearing their chains in a cowardly and servile spirit, I would, as an advocate of peace, much rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with their chains. Give me, as a non-resistant, Bunker Hill, and Lexington, and Concord, rather than the cowardice and servility of a Southern slave plantation.
...Garrison
Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:32 PM
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You're not hearing me: the mainstream of public opinion believed that there was no such thing as a sensible abolitionist.

And you're either not hearing or not accepting that there's a distinction between radical and mentally ill. Brown's politics were admittedly very unusual, but that's partially because the mainstream of public opinion on racial issues was itself bizarrely misguided in the 1850s. While the 1850's mainstream of public opinion might not have believed that there were sensible abolitionists, I think that from the advantaged perspective of the future, I can identify sensible abolitionists of the 1850s. And those sensible abolitionists seem to have thought well of Brown.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:32 PM
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260: What you took from my comment isn't what I meant, as I've already said. And I'm sorry if I've offended you, but really, your .2 circles back to the same idea that I think I've covered: I've already granted that Douglass viewed Brown as a potential ally. But I don't think that matters insofar as I don't think the transitive property of sanity makes any sense at all. That was my argument with LB, JRoth. And that was why I raised Senator Clinton's meeting with Scaife.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:36 PM
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251: Now they switched to Billie Holiday.

258: Yes, imagine that, people in power, the gatekeepers of discourse, were not publicly supporting someone who had proved he was absolutely opposed to the existing social order.

250: The hymn came up from the ranks, after all, not from Emerson or Thoreau's pens. And Julia Ward Howe was specifically asked to change it from a desperate call to murder into a respectable, patriotic ode.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:39 PM
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And that was why I raised Senator Clinton's meeting with Scaife.

And that's why analogies were once banned, on a better blog than this one.

It's fine, I'm done with it.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:44 PM
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264: See 263.

265: I think we've reached the end, I'm afraid. You've tried to establish that Brown was sane by saying that lots of sane people didn't distance themselves from him, right? I've said, no, it really wasn't that many people at all. In fact, the overwhelming majority of people, prior to his death, steered far clear of him. But, you say, what of people who shared his goals? Well, I answer, they mostly avoided him, too, Frederick Douglass notwithstanding, at least until after Brown died, when it was much easier to cuddle with his memory than the living breathing man, who, you know, sometimes killed people. But what of the hymns, or Garrison's speech after his death (granting you Bob's evidence)? Again, I say, things change a lot. As Southern intransigence offended more and more people, and as Brown demonstrated, while he waited in jail for the gallows, that he was a relatively cool customer (as compared to, say, Preston Brooks or the so-called Fireeaters who freaked out after Harper's Ferry) and thus somewhat sympathetic in that moment, it became possible for someone like Garrison, among the most radical people in the entire country, by the way, to give a speech sympathetic to Brown. And finally, after the South seceded and the war started, Union troops sang about him, yes they did. But does that establish his sanity, I'd ask? It stuns me that you'd say yes after what he did at P Creek. So we'll just have to agree to disagree, okay?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:45 PM
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I'm not seeing any evidence that radical abolitionists who knew anything about Brown had made the judgment that he was, personally, a lunatic.

Okay, one more round, because I didn't see this before. They took their allies where they could get them. And it was a pretty wild group, I'm guessing, based on the hairstyles. So who were they to judge?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:47 PM
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In any case, John Brown is an unusual and romantic case with a relatively easy justification.

I am studying whether, considering that the alternative Sieyes and the liberal moderates of the Directorate soon (and I think inevitably as statist liberals) turned to the dictatorship of Napoleon and laid waste to Europe...whether Robespierre and Sainte-Just went far enough. I'll grant a limit in the time for show-trials and a shortage of guilotines.

The relevance of the Terror, if we are talking about a state where thousands of poor children will suffer and die simply because Republicans are allowed to exist won't negotiate in good faith is more clear that any dicussion of Kansas or Harper's Ferry.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:49 PM
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Well, I answer, they mostly avoided him, too,

What I'm looking for here is any specific person who contemporaneously said "I support Brown's abolitionist goals, but Brown himself is a murderous lunatic." Or anything similar. And there don't seem to be a large number of such people -- people who shared his goals who said anything about him seem to largely have thought well of him personally (not necessarily to agree that everything he did was a good idea, but there don't seem to be abolitionists actively disassociating themselves from him rather than just not mentioning him.) I'm sure there were some abolitionists who thought Brown was a counterproductive lunatic, but I'm not seeing any evidence that that was anything like a majority opinion among abolitionists, much less an "overwhelming majority" opinion.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:51 PM
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Whoops, we keep on overlapping. From this:

They took their allies where they could get them. And it was a pretty wild group, I'm guessing, based on the hairstyles. So who were they to judge?

I figure we can't get anywhere productive at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:54 PM
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From Wikimedia on Garrison

That which is not just is not law.

Garrison did use this phrase, but he was quoting Algernon Sydney:

That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

Discourses Concerning Government (1698) Ch. 3, Sect. 11

And a process that does not deliver just outcomes is not a just process, and need not be followed. Rawls stinks.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:55 PM
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261: I mean, look, I don't really have any particular dog in the Northern Ireland fight, but I'm frequently amused at the confidently moralistic assessments of the whole business that so often seem to come from Brits who would otherwise know better. And fine, it's emotional issue, I can understand that; but maybe you oughtn't to be worrying quite so much about American blind spots in this particular case.

Few points:
1) The pro-Unionists are a bare majority and the Roman Catholics a bare minority in NI. It's not like the Nationalists are a 2% minority demanding the region be handed over to them.

2) You're conflating "forcible" and "ending partition" again. Making "ending partition" a goal of your movement does not transform it into a movement for a "forcible" anything, any more than Quebec separatism is a movement for "forcible" secession because it wants secession.

3) There is almost no anti-colonial movement anywhere that could not be described as "anti-liberal" in some sense. That often isn't really very relevant to the legitimacy of the movement in question or its aims, especially if the alternative/opposition also happens to be anti-liberal, which is fairly common.

4) I wasn't clear enough that "last sliver of the Empire" referred to Orange sentiment and goals in NI, not to broader British sentiment about it -- although frankly I find it rather hard to believe Britain couldn't find a way to divest itself of NI if it really wanted to, opinion of the Unionists or no.

5) I have my doubts about your assumptions about a "lazy assumption." One should probably point out that a lot of the pro-IRA sentiment in the US is heavily concentrated in regions with significant Irish-descended populations. I rather suspect that many of these will know rather more about the Troubles than you're crediting. Their assumptions may or may not be wrong, but I think there's a significant chance that some work and thought will have gone into them. I also rather suspect that the more-or-less entirely negative framing of the IRA that you'd evidently prefer to see in American opinion is much harder to effectively defend than you're crediting.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:56 PM
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From a summary of Lincoln's speech in Leavenworth, Kansas, 5 Dec 1859:

The attempt to identify the Republican party with the John Brown business was an electioneering dodge. Was glad to know that the Democracy underrated the good sense of the people as the great Republican victories in New York, New Jersey, Minnesota and Iowa---where the argument was brought out with extraordinary emphasis---clearly demonstrated. In Brown's hatred of slavery the speaker sympathized with him. But Brown's insurrectionary attempt he emphatically denounced. He believed the old man insane, and had yet to find the first Republican who endorsed the proposed insurrection. If there was one he would advise him to step out of the ranks and correct his politics. But slavery was responsible for their uprisings. They were fostered by the institution. In 1830-31, the slaves themselves arose and killed fifty-eight whites in a single night. These servile upheavings must be continually occurring where slavery exists.

Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:56 PM
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Lincoln, not an abolitionist.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 3:57 PM
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272

... lunatic, ...

Are you asking whether Brown was mentally ill?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:01 PM
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Lincoln, not a dangerous radical. Lincoln, more representative of public opinion at the time. Lincoln, not insane.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:01 PM
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222: I'm talking about P Creek. He had a score of people with him there? No, I think that's wrong (though I'm 2000 miles away from my books, so please don't quote me).

No need. (No blockquoting here - too hard to read, a pain to do. Pages 77-79, The Road to Disunion.)

-7-

Seventy-two hours after the Missouri legislature endorsed Atchison's adherents, without electing Atchison, Bentonians shed the camouflage of nonagitation, without Benton's endorsement. On January 16, 1857, the St. Louis Democrat, controlled by Frank Blair, Jr., and B. Gratz Brown, declared that Bentonians must now oppose not just proslavery agitation but also slavery itself. The substitution of "free white labor for servile black labor" declared the Democrat, would be "wise and lofty statesmanship."

In retaliation, Atchison supporters introduced a resolution in the Missouri legislature, calling emancipation "impolitic, unwise, and unjust." The resolution invited yet another legislative debate on slavery. On February 12, 1857, in the Missouri House of Representatives, B. Gratz Brown accepted the invitation.

Brown was a blueblood from the Kentucky Blue Grass. Both his grandfathers had been U.S. senators. Raised in Frankfort and educated at Lexington's Transylvania University and at Yale, he favored Cassius Clay's gradual emancipation proposal during the Kentucky antislavery debate of 1849. A few months after Kentucky voters rejected Cassius Clay, Brown joined his cousin Frank Blair, Jr., in Missouri. There, hiding his antislavery inclinations, he only agitated, Benton style, against proslavery agitation.

As he shed the nonagitation disguise before the legislature on February 12,1857, B. Gratz Brown looked to Atchison's followers as incendiary as they thought he sounded. A slender man of middling height, he seemed to swell as one's eye swept up his frame. His head, too large for his body, hinted at intellectual power. His thatch of red hair, towering atop his head, hinted at a Jacobinical intelligence.

He would no longer be driven into hiding, he warned, "by the arraignment, in the cant language of the day," of being disloyal "to the institutions of the State." Were colonial Virginians forever loyal to primogeniture? Were American Revolutionaries eternally loyal to King George? With the cry for perpetual loyalty, "bigots intimidate fools. Loyalty to existing institutions shuts out all reform."

Brown proposed no legislative antislavery reform, for "there is, sir, already a gradual emancipation act in force in Missouri." The state census of 1856 showed that even in the twelve most enslaved Missouri River counties, the white population had grown twice as fast as the black since 1851. In the rest of the state, the white population had increased ninety times faster than the slave. This is nonlegislative emancipation "on its largest, proudest, grandest scale - emancipation gathered as a triumph in the forward march of the white race."

Brown applauded freedom's march "not so much for the mere emancipation of the black race" as for "THE EMANCIPATION OF THE WHITE RACE. I seek to emancipate the white man from the yoke of competition with the negro." He also sought to liberate white orators from the dictatorial "spell which has silenced many voices." But silent migration would accomplish almost all the liberating. White migrants' westward surge would drive almost all blacks out of Missouri. That magic moment "is almost upon us." He would then introduce an antislavery law, to free the trifling few slaves remaining. Or as Brown's compatriot, James Gardenhire, put it in yet another legislative debate on slavery eight months later, Missourians would not so much abolish slavery "as simply let it go."

Slaveholders would hardly let slavery go. Nine days after B. Gratz Brown spoke, the legislature approved Atchisonians' resolution against legislative emancipation, 107-12. The 90 percent margin demonstrated Border South slavery's stubborn staying power, even when it was most besieged. Still, Benton's former apostles were not yet seeking legislative emancipation, and Benton himself wanted no part of any siege. Benton called it "the greatest outrage" that his ex-lieutenants, Blair and Brown, had begun "a new slavery agitation," contrary "to the whole policy of my life, which has been to keep slavery agitation out of the state." Atchison supporters, as it turned out had been paranoid to suspect Benton but prescient to suspect Blair.

Whatever Benton preferred, his young turks had brought agitation against slavery into the state for the duration. In Missouri's urban centers, the Brown-Blair party's successes appalled proslavery men throughout the South. In the late 1850s, Jefferson City elected James Gardenhire mayor, while St. Louis elected Frank Blair, Jr., to Congress and the equally antislavery John Wimer mayor. Missouri's persisting slavery debates in the 1850s, unlike Virginia' one-shot affair in 1832, had spawned a permanent southern antislavery party. The new organization controlled 10 percent of the Missouri legislature and over 50 percent of Missouri urban governments. The heretics stood poised t collaborate with a northern antislavery party - poised to become founding fathers of a Southern Republican power base for Abraham Lincoln.

Only an especially obtuse cynic could now think that Davy Atchison' fear of antislavery politicians in Missouri, and thus his agitation in Kansas had been only a self-serving myth, concocted merely to steal political power. Free laborers' migration into Missouri, the drain of Missouri slaves southward, urban free white laborers' loathing of George Fitzhugh-style colorblind proslavery, some blacks' resistance to slavery (epitomized by George and Celia), the pretenses of Frank Blair, Jr. - all these trends had swelled in Missouri's cities as the Civil War approached. Like borderites who insisted on the Fugitive Slave Law, Atchison supporters gambled that only intense and sometimes undemocratic agitation could seal the slavocracy's borders and deter slavery's slow erosion in the northernmost South. By cajoling some voters, transforming others into one-day Kansans, and intimidating others, Atchison had turned the innervating stalemates of 1854-55 into the exhilarating triumph of 1857. But the triumph deepened resentment of the Slave Power in St. Louis and lesser towns. Furthermore, the rape of Kansas republicanism fanned white republicans' rage at the Slave Power beyond Missouri, in the North and in Kansas itself.

By mid-1856, Yankee migrants to Kansas outnumbered Missouri migrants. Slavery's foes also bore better arms, partly financed by officers of the New England Emigrant Aid Society (the society itself never financed a rifle). As free soiler protests mounted, the Atchison forces countered with the same antidemocratic repression that had expelled Frederick Starr and George Park from Missouri. In a preventative strike on May 20-21, 1856, over 500 proslavery vigilantes, including Davy Atchison's Platte County Rifles, massed against free soilers' Kansas stronghold, the town of Lawrence, some twenty-five miles west of the Missouri border. The proslavery mob battered Lawrence's main hotel, torched the free soil leader's house, and heaved the free soilers' press, the Herald of Freedom, into the Kansas River.

On May 23-24, 1856, a northern heralder of freedom retaliated against this so-called Sack of Lawrence. John Brown, the same warrior who would assault Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859, massed six followers, including four of his sons, against slumbering proslavery settlers on the Pottawatomie Creek, some thirty miles south of Lawrence. Brown and his henchman dragged five men from rude log cabins. They shot their victims, slit them open, and mutilated their corpses.

With Brown's celebration of an eye for an eye, the nation's problem was not just that proslavery violence spawned antislavery violence. The worse problem was that more Kansans and more Northerners than John Brown, whatever they thought of black slavery, already preferred civil war to slaveholder repressions of white men's republicanism. Thanks to the aftermath of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that Davy Atchison's followers had spawned, a continuing Kansas crisis loomed huge on the national horizon.

- end -

max
['Woo.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:01 PM
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278, see 218 and most of the rest of the thread.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:02 PM
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Garrison and Douglass also spoke to the futility and waste of Harper's Ferry, and I see in Lincoln's words nothing much that differs from that. That is not the same as saying Brown was wicked.

There are those who say the Weatherunderground were ineffective.

Then there are those who like to say most violent revolutions had their goals and ideologies refuted by their failures. This is said about many utopian communities.

And thus we end up with bourgeois liberal politics, and wars and inequality and social injustice.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:05 PM
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209: I was trying to draw a distinction between respectable radical and fringey lunatic -- Douglass may have been a dangerous radical, but he wasn't a nut. He was respected enough to get meetings with Lincoln during the war. Respectable radicals like Douglass thought of Brown as one of them, rather than as being a pathetic crazy to be avoided as discrediting the abolitionist movement.

Lincoln meets with Douglass (after the Emancipation Proclamation and the war is in progress) --> Douglass is respectable.

Douglass is respectable + Douglass associated with Brown before the Emancipation Proclamation and the war --> Brown was not considered to be crazy.

Lincoln considered Brown crazy and diassociated himself from Brown before the war and the emancipation proclamation. Well, that's just not relevant.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:07 PM
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279: But Lincoln, in 1859, is disassociating himself from Brown's abolitionist goals. Lincoln, if asked, "Are you seeking to free all the slaves in the South right now?" in 1859, would have (for very sensible political reasons, involving wanting to preserve the Union) said, "Good heavens, no."

From our perspective, we can pretty much agree that abolitionists were, you know, right, and Lincoln (to the extent that his failure to be an abolitionist was anything other than political strategy) was wrong. What I was looking for was someone who was right about abolitionism, but who nonetheless thought Brown was crazy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:07 PM
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281

278, see 218 and most of the rest of the thread.

Ok, if you want a diagnosis I would consult present day doctors rather than his lay contemporaries.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:07 PM
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272: LB, you've totally shifted the goalposts here. Rather than using your transitive property of sanity, you're now asking for indictments from his (maybe) allies to establish his insanity. I'd prefer to establish that he was a bit off by pointing to his propensity to kill a lot of people.

As for my 270, you know I was kidding, right?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:10 PM
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ARI.

Tell us about the Sierra Club!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:12 PM
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quotes from 280

by the arraignment, in the cant language of the day," of being disloyal "to the institutions of the State."

"His thatch of red hair, towering atop his head, hinted at a Jacobinical intelligence."

"Loyalty to existing institutions shuts out all reform."

Until pretty recently, the language and sentiment and understanding of Revolution was universal, if not universally admired. I don't understand what happened.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:14 PM
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284: I see your point. But in that case you pretty much have to argue from our evaluation of the respective positions. You're not really going to find immediatist abolitionists thought of as anything but dangerous radicals in 1859. At least, you can't use Lincoln post 1861 to work them back into 1859 respectability.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:15 PM
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NEB! I DID! IT WAS BORING!1!!!!1!!! But see for yourself.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:16 PM
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you're now asking for indictments from his (maybe) allies to establish his insanity.

Meet

Again, the overwhelming majority of people* who shared his goals** thought he was a counterproductive lunatic.

So far I'm not coming up with anyone who shared his goals, much less the overwhelming majority of people who shared his goals, who actively disassociated themselves from him. I'm sure there were some, but it doesn't seem to have been anything like a universal reaction.

I agree, the killing lots of people gives me pause. My only point about Douglass, and Emerson, and the rest of the abolitionists you're dismissing as 'keyboard commandos' is that they didn't react to Brown personally as a dangerous nutcase. They treated him as an ally. That suggests to me that maybe he wasn't as crazy as you might think from all the violence -- possibly the violence was a sanely thought-out response (not effective, but not everything that's ineffective is insane) to slavery.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:17 PM
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It was not necessarily really that much about abolition.

It was also about the inevitability of violent confrontation.

This is what Brown was right about and the rest horribly wrong. Lincoln did not accept the coming war until shots were fired at Fort Sumter.

Brown == not crazy.

Lincoln == crazy as a bedbug.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:19 PM
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289: The thing is, what positions are impossibly radical changes when conditions change. Who's a nutcase (and a nutcase can be right or wrong on the issues, stopped clocks being right twice a day) doesn't. Lincoln's respect for Douglass, when it became politically possible for Lincoln to associate with abolitionists, is evidence that Douglass was a reasonable, sensible person throughout his career, even at the points when Lincoln wouldn't have spoken to him.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:21 PM
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sanely thought-out response (not effective, but not everything that's ineffective is insane) to slavery.

But there is a record of his thinking. It has something to do with being chosen by god, and with believing you could actually hold and defend a federal arsenal in a narrow valley with 19 people plus escaped slaves recruited on the spot.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:22 PM
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The immediatist position, leaving aside how to put it into effect immediately, was completely sane, I would agree.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:23 PM
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Okay, in the 19th century talking about being chosen by god doesn't itself make you a lunatic.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:23 PM
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Nor does a flawed sense of what's militarily plausible.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:26 PM
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295:Insane. As "insane" as Harper's Ferry.

"leaving aside how to put it into effect immediately"

We leave that aside? That was entirely the point.

This was Brown's genius and martyrdom, to recognize and accept that violence had already come upon the land, and only the violent could bear it away. His stature is only increased by the resistance to his truth 150 years later.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:28 PM
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So the timeless, that is to say, of our time, principle that the immediatist position was right works in Brown's favor. However, the also of our time principle that believing oneself to be the vehicle of god for various acts of violence, is kind of crazy does not work in Brown's favor. So a 19th century principle is applied in that case. Ok.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:32 PM
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If ari thinks there was a "change" in the public perception of Brown, what was the nature of the change?

Could it have been the recognition of the nature of the opposition, as evidenced by secession and the start of war?

Could there have been still, before the war, been some kind of sentimentalization pf pro-slavers, as people who could educated and reasoned with, human beings part of the polity, not irredeemable aliens who must be destroyed?

Are we still paralyzed by our own liberal delusions about the descendants and transmitters of that Southern culture?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:36 PM
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So the timeless, that is to say, of our time, principle that the immediatist position was right works in Brown's favor.

Well, and the fact that there were other immediatist (I don't know this word, but in context it seems clear) abolitionists in the 19th century who weren't crazy suggests that immediatist politics aren't strong evidence of Brown's insanity.

However, the also of our time principle that believing oneself to be the vehicle of god for various acts of violence, is kind of crazy does not work in Brown's favor.

Well, and the fact that there were plenty of other 19th century figures who believed themselves to have been chosen by god to do his work who weren't crazy suggests that such a belief is also not strong evidence of Brown's insanity.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:36 PM
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I don't actually know if Brown was crazy, of course. All I'm arguing is that (a) contemporaries didn't treat him as a crazy person, and (b) a violent response to slavery isn't self-evidently crazy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:39 PM
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Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Black Jack:
"On June 2, 1856 Brown and 29 others met Henry Pate and fought the battle of Black Jack."

Henry Pate, was, in fact, a perpetrator of the Sack of Lawrence. So, far from being "insane", Brown and his over-a-score of followers were retaliating for a specific act of guerilla warfare against the people who were responsible for it. We're not talking about "insanity". The only things "insanity" to do with John Brown is that it was suggested by others as a defense (which Brown rejected), and used as a propaganda device by the slavocracy. John Brown, and his sons, and his followers, and a lot of people in Kansas that he had nothing to do with, were participating on one side of an undeclared civil war. There's not a single shred of evidence that Brown was any more insane than anyone else in Bleeding Kansas. He participated in killing people, it's true, but so have millions of other people during wartime. Claiming that John Brown was insane is simply the easy way out of coming to terms with his sacrifice and dedication.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:44 PM
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"has to do"


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:44 PM
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303: Furthermore, the Battle of Black Jack occured after the killings at Pottawatomie. Brown's party went from 5 to 30 in a week. Lots of insane people approving of his insane actions? Or a recognition that it really was kill-or-be-killed?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:46 PM
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I just made up immediatist for this thread, though it could correspond to a real term. It just seemed easier than writing out the whole thing. But I've already said I don't think the position was crazy, but that how Brown thought to put it into effect was. And it's not just chosen by God, which lots of people, some crazy, some not, thought they were, it's chosen to carry out the sort of violence Brown carried it that's the issue. I don't really think we can get any further with this, and I have to be somewhere else in a few minutes. So I guess that's that.

It's surprisingly hard to find online, considering all the 19th century texts up, what abolitionists thought about Brown post Kansas, pre Harpers' Ferry. But all I've found is sympathy (or more, in the case of Wendell Phillips) post Harpers' Ferry. Douglass does some distancing - he was accused of being personally involved by one of the people with Brown, who thought him a coward for not being there - but nothing like Lincoln. I probably just don't know where to look for pre-1859 stuff (or it's mostly in private papers).


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:46 PM
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It's surprisingly hard to find online, considering all the 19th century texts up, what abolitionists thought about Brown post Kansas, pre Harpers' Ferry.

Yeah, I'm relying mostly on the residence in Douglass's house, and the fact that he successfully raised a fair amount of money, as evidence of sympathy -- I don't have more than that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:48 PM
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violent response to slavery to violent pro-slavery partisans isn't self-evidently crazy.

And I certainly believe it is fair, and much more accurate, to characterize slavery as ongoing systematic violence. A culture of violence.

To not recognize this and respond in kind, to accept the violence of slavery because it wasn't happening to white people, or to "us", is the craziness and unforgivable sin of Abraham Lincoln and the so-called sane North. It was not only morally despicable, it was stupid, delusional, and short-sighted.

I repeat. We are still confronting that culture of violence, and still intimidated and delusional. Another war will come.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:50 PM
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Also, I don't think Lincoln was acting as an agent of social change in 1861, at least not in the way that abolitionists were before that time.

There seems to be something going on here with state violence vs. non-state ("social change"?) violence. Fine, but state violence is still violence.

Did you really not consider any of the above before posting your comment?

of course I did. I just don't see it as obvious and non-contradictory in the way you seem to. It's hard to talk about violence without a double standard somewhere along the line.

I'm serious, by the way. I find that I often think you're completely full of shit, but I'm wondering if that interpretation is a function of the medium. Maybe I'm totally misreading you, in other words, and you're arguing in good faith.

I think it's a function of the medium, in the sense that I'm sure if we met in another context it wouldn't be glaring. But the medium reveals real things. Namely, that you may have some tendency toward intellectual complacency and I may have some tendency toward argumentative obnoxiousness when I sense such complacency.

I am arguing in good faith in the sense that I think there's an important question at issue and I don't understand the answer to that question. I'm not just lobbing spitballs, in other words. I too really dislike violence and think it's profoundly destructive and counterproductive. But I can't square that very comfortably with my understanding of history. That actually really bothers me, it makes me more depressed and troubled about the world I live in. Maybe it's easier when you're Canadian.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 4:57 PM
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To not recognize this and respond in kind, to accept the violence of slavery because it wasn't happening to white people, or to "us", is the craziness and unforgivable sin of Abraham Lincoln and the so-called sane North.

Lincoln made a genuine effort to square the circle and come up with a reformist incremental approach to the evil of slavery. Restricting the geographical spread of slavery would end it within the system. His ability to keep moral clarity about slavery while staying loyal to the institutional system of his constitutional democracy was truly impressive, and has a moral dimension.

In the end of course he failed. The entire point of the Second Inaugural is that McManus was right about the "unforgivable sin" of compromise with slavery. The Lord metes out a harsh punishment for such compromise.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:08 PM
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How insane is it that the US government, the preeminent perpetrator of political violence in the world today, labels the ELF and ALF, which have never physically harmed a human being, as the "No. 1 domestic terrorist threat"?

308: Another war will come.
You mean in addition to the two that the US is currently fighting, plus all of the other ones?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:13 PM
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From the SFGate article about the Gulabi Gang:
""I learned that the more you suffer silently, the more your oppressor will oppress you," said Devi."

Damn right!


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:16 PM
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309.1: Yes, the state, for better or worse (mostly worse) gets to make the laws, which returns me to my point about your use of "illegitimate" earlier. And when the state declares war, as in the Civil War, when its agents kill people, that's legal. I don't much like it, I have to say, but there it is.

309.2: That's fair enough. My point, though, was that you chose (and often choose, it seems to me) the least charitable interpretation of what I wrote. You say that's not lobbing spitballs; I'm not sure that's credible. But I'll believe you.

Then there's this

some tendency toward intellectual complacency and I may have some tendency toward argumentative obnoxiousness when I sense such complacency.

I'd really like to see some evidence of the former, because in past I've provided you many of the latter. Again, in all seriousness, I think you like to fight much more than I do. I also think you're much more willing to tweak people in order to provoke a fight than I am. I'm no shrinking violent, I know, but you really like to get under people's skin. And you're more than willing, it seems to me, to say incendiary things in order to do so. I find that pretty maddening, which is why I mostly don't engage with you any more.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:23 PM
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313.1: Well, that is where you and revolutionaries differ. There is a higher goal than preservation of the state.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:25 PM
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How insane is it that the US government, the preeminent perpetrator of political violence in the world today, labels the ELF and ALF, which have never physically harmed a human being, as the "No. 1 domestic terrorist threat"?

Pretty ridiculous. But I think the ELF's tactics are counterproductive and stupid.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:25 PM
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But the medium reveals real things. Namely, that you may have some tendency toward intellectual complacency and I may have some tendency toward argumentative obnoxiousness when I sense such complacency.

Yes, the medium reveals that I am a hard-hitting truth-teller and you have a tendency towards intellectual complacency. What an awesome medium!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:27 PM
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311:Domestic and civil.

The mistake is thinking the First Civil War was about slavery.

It was about the violent culture of the South. Slavery was an expression of that culture, not its cause.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:27 PM
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What an awesome medium!

innit just


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:37 PM
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It's late, and this is a flying comment, but Jesus, does some of the IRA-related commentary above want me to dish out a good fucking kicking ...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:39 PM
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319: N.I. and Palestine are like two vast, gaping chasms of potential to say something stupid in this conversation. They've got yellow tape and flashy lights around the top too, but still, people lean over the edge....


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:42 PM
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319: Good. Use your aggressive feelings, ttaM. Let the hate flow through you.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:49 PM
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Re 275, I think, as so often happens in internet conversations, that we're both arguing against different imaginary adversaries (and no one else in the thread seems interested in the Irish conversation, so we should probably drop it).

I don't come into contact with Brits who are unreflective about NI. But I do know (and am related to) some folks who were unreservedly romantic about the IRA for a very long time based on a kind of willful ignorance about the actual facts on the ground. Assuming that NORAID supporters gave money based on some kind of real situational knowledge, as opposed to pure nationalistic romanticism (or that they were right to support NORAID) is, in my view, crazy.

There's nothing wrong at all with the kind of "nationalism," such as the SDLP's, that rely on the "consent principle" and democratic means. I agree with you there. But of course the entire focus of Sinn Fein and the various IRAs from the 1970s through 1998 was to strongly disavow that principle, all in the name of "ending partition." That means, in effect, that they were committed to forcing the majority population of NI into a ROI that didn't particularly want them. That was both a fool's errand and a profoundly anti-liberal one. None of this is to say that Catholics in NI didn't (and don't) face very real civil rights problems that deserved a popular movement, but the linking up of those problems to violent nationalism was unequivocally a disaster -- and it's just a category error to assign the IRA to a common place with the ANC's military wing or some other example of justified anti-colonial military action.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 5:50 PM
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You've read the accounts of slavery that Brown read, right? If you really, truly believed that the narrators of those accounts were your brothers and sisters, as Brown apparently did, would you not be moved to violence against any slaver or slavery-supporter? in fact, crazy?

I mean, come on. "brothers and sisters" is a fucking metaphor. To take it literally--to the point of murder--is a little nuts.

I don't think that Douglass's respect for Brown's anti-abolition fervor legitimizes Brown as not nuts. I'm sure that there are plenty of very sincere, very smart, very principled people who are political allies with, and who support (up to a point) people who are both very firm on similar principles *and* a little nuts. Douglass himself didn't do what Brown did, did he?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:03 PM
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So it's okay to have religious faith, as long as you don't take it too seriously, that's what you're saying?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:08 PM
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LB, I don't know if you're still around, but if you are, I'd be very grateful if you'd restate your argument. It seems to me that you've moved around quite a bit in this thread, but I really might be wrong. I also wonder if you're still putting forward your transitive property of sanity. Thanks.

314: Yep, I'd make a lousy revolutionary. I'm not even sure I'd call myself a radical any more, though I used to think that term applied to me. That said, I also totally agree that the preservation of the state is hardly the greatest societal good.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:09 PM
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Or, more succintly, it's okay to have principles, as long as you don't abide by them.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:09 PM
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324: Mostly yes. I'd say that it's okay to have religious faith, but fundamentalism, in all its guises, is some scary shit. And Brown, to be clear, went well beyond most of your garden-variety fundamentalists. As I noted way upthread, he literally believed that he was God's vessel on earth, and that His justice would flow through his hands. And then he became a mass murderer -- twice! -- because of those beliefs. That strikes me as insane, yes. But hey, Ralph Waldo Emerson said nice things about him when it was totally safe to do so, and Frederick Douglass wasn't willing to turn him over to the state that Douglass viewed as completely corrupt. So he must have been sane, right?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:13 PM
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What part of Christian belief supposedly backed the Pottawattomie Creek massacre, or Harper's Ferry? I don't really think you can blame those ones on religion.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:17 PM
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Wow, John Brown killed Michael Jackson while we were talking.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:19 PM
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(a) contemporaries didn't treat him as a crazy person, and (b) a violent response to slavery isn't self-evidently crazy.

Disagreed. First because (though I'm not a specialist on American abolitionist sentiment or the history of the period), Ari is and I'm willing to accept his generalization that contemporaries--even abolitionist contemporaries--distanced themselves from his "abolitionism means we must start killing people now" actions. And second because I sort of disagree a little with Ari's saying that abolitionists, whether violent or not, were generally considered dangerous radicals; I think EB's more correct when he says that those who thought abolition needed to happen *now* were so considered (and were very, very few).

Moreover, honestly, those very few really were, if not medically "crazy", seriously unrealistic. It took a *civil war* to end slavery, and even then there was a fair big of lag time in some places like oh, say, Texas. And even *then* the actual daily living conditions of many, if not most newly freed people weren't materially all *that* different from slavery. And then there was backlash, and sharecropping, and the KKK, and lynching, and Jim Crow. None of which are "as bad" as slavery, but that's a matter of degrees, not absolute difference.

So yeah. Not a psychiatrist here, but I think that for a single person to think that he is somehow going to bring about the end of an institution by killing the people who are responsible for perpetuating the institution, is, for want of a better word, "crazy." Wanting the institution gone isn't. Working your ass off to end it isn't. But failing to understand that it *is* an institution, and a system, and that killing slaveowners (or abortion providers) isn't really attacking the instutition as such, is.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:20 PM
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Hold up there, professor -- a mass-muderer? Now we're all the way back to the beginning. Were the ANC mass-murderers? How about the Viet Minh? Or the Haitians under Toussaint L'Overture? Sure, if any killing is murder, then Brown was a mass-murderer, but then so was pretty much every revolutionary ever.
If people are killing and looting and pillaging and you're on their list, how is defending yourself against them "mass-murder"? Both Pottawatomie and Black Jack happened within 2 weeks of Lawrence. And Harper's Ferry happened after several hundred years of murder, torture, rape, beatings and oppression. It's not crazy to resist that by any means necessary.
Also, I'm iffy about using the term "fundamentalist" pejoratively in the context of John Brown's life and works. There were plenty of people in ante-bellum America who went much farther than Brown in their religiousity (Joseph Smith, for example). Brown, by contrast, whittled Christianity down to the principle that it was his Christian duty to help the slaves, and then tried to follow that. Unlike many of his contemporaries who were incontrovertably "fundamentalist" in the sense we understand the word today, he wasn't obsessive about the minor details of Biblical literalism, and he wasn't claiming anything for Christianity that isn't pretty obviously derived straight from scripture. He was a Christian, sure, and a very devout one, but there were a lot of devout, Calvinist Christians who didn't feel any particular bond with the slaves. Calling Brown a "fundamentalist" is ultimately as obfuscatory and misleading as calling him "insane" or a "terrorist."


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:26 PM
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I think EB's more correct when he says that those who thought abolition needed to happen *now* were so considered

FWIW, I agree with this, too, and was trying to make that distinction way upthread when talking about radical abolitionists, versus abolitionists, very anti-slavery reformers, very those with anti-slavery sentiments, versus free-soilers. But I wasn't really very clear, because I'm intellectually complacent, not to mention pro-torture and a willing tool of the state.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:27 PM
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324: I'm saying that not recognizing the difference between a metaphor and a literal truth is crazy, yes. And that if you think "acting on your principles" means that you have to be an absolutist about it--e.g., literally give away everything you own to the poor, say, or gouge out your right eye if you see something offensive--that yeah, that's crazy. It is a failure to distinguish between language and material reality. Such a failure may very well lead people to do extremely admirable things, but whether something is admirable or not isn't the mark of sanity.

FWIW, I'm taking offense, rather, at phrases like "slavocrat propaganda" and implications that by saying that single-handedly declaring war on slavery--which I believe, like every other 20th-century American human being, was a heinous and evil institution--was nuts, I'm a hypocrite. Along with the associated implication, if I'm reading correctly, that somehow such hypocrisy is morally objectionable.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:27 PM
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322.3: Neither side is exactly covered in glory, but the militancy of the various Irish political organizations during the Troubles was (from certain standpoints) a comprehensible response to forms of militancy issuing from the loyalist paramilitaries, not to mention (as things progressed) from the British authorities themselves. The sanctity of the (bare) "majority" becomes a very tarnished property when constituents of that "majority" get to thinking they can use their status to dish out violence and abuse unopposed. In circumstances like that it was, arguably, perfectly understandable for the IRA to prioritize getting the British out and depriving those paramilitaries of the cover of British Crown protection. I don't see how that's separable from the genuine "civil rights problem" they were encountering or how the IRA's actions can be viewed in isolation from the actions of the UVF, who basically started the conflict and whose errand was, to adopt your phrase, "a profoundly anti-liberal one."

So, while I completely believe you that you know people who thoughtlessly and romantically supported NORAID, if you wanted to put together a thoughtful and pragmatic case for giving money to NORAID during that period, it arguably would not have been so hard as you're making it out to be.

It's of course, we both agree, far preferable for them to be able to seek their aims by democratic means: but before that could happen there had to be drawing-down by both sides, and particularly by the side that was the initial belligerent. The IRA elements who wanted to keep fighting after a political solution became possible: those I can see writing off as just plain assholes. But would the political opportunities have necessarily come round without the "terrorism" and the "violent nationalism"? Would simply letting the UVF run rampant have been all that great a strategy? I'm inclined to doubt it.

The IRA of course fucked up plenty, as such movements will. As MK quite often did, for that matter, though this rather tends to get airbrushed out of popular memory (speaking of romanticism), and there was questionable justification for some of what they did TBH. But I actually don't see how it's "just a category error" to see the Troubles as part of the history of anti-colonialism, given that it revolves around the original enclave of British colonialism.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:28 PM
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I'm intellectually complacent, not to mention pro-torture and a willing tool of the state.

Right there with you. Also really in favor of principles as long as no one actually tries to do anything about them.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:29 PM
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A. The question whether Brown was objectively crazy for acting violently on behalf of his beliefs is a stupid one.

B. Ari, on the argument with PGD, I believe he's quite sincere in his remarks in, say, 309, 233, 150 and 130. Especially 309 and 130. In other words, it's not about you, and he's not coming from combative outer space.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:32 PM
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331: Sorry, Che, but I'm sticking with mass murderer. He attacked five people in the middle of the night and murdered them in cold blood. At Harper's Ferry, he killed a slave (I think), as well as a number of federal troops who either did or didn't support slavery. That Robert E. Lee and JEB Stuart ended the attack doesn't really figure, except in people's memory of Brown's martyrdom.

Also, Brown, by contrast, whittled Christianity down to the principle that it was his Christian duty to help the slaves, and then tried to follow that. ignores an awful lot about the man. Know anything about the way he raised his kids? About how he treated his wife? His neighbors? He had a worldview entirely steeped in his father's vision of orthodox Calvinism. He would have made a great follower of Jonathan Edwards, maybe, but boy was he out of place in the mid nineteenth century. Now, being out of place isn't really a crime, in my view. Heck, I'm pretty much out of place a lot of the time. But I don't kill people, so there's that. On the other hand, nobody's ever going to sing songs about me, so score one for the mass murderer.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:32 PM
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336.1: True dat.

336.2: Um, okay?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:34 PM
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337.2: Following onto that, maybe one working definition of "crazy" as I am using it includes "thinking that you, personally, are morally beyond reproach and not to be questioned."

(Which I'm pretty sure the bible says is bad, just in terms of the Christian thing.)


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:36 PM
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333: that single-handedly declaring war on slavery
That. Is. Not. True.

Totally not true. There was Harriet Tubman. There were the Free Soil people in Kansas. There were the other League of Gileadites. There were the thousands and thousands of enslaved people who resisted, often, and most efficaciously by running away. All of those people were fighting a war on slavery. Were they all insane too? Tell me, Ari and B, was Harriet Tubman insane? Was she insane? Just answer that, yes or no?


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:38 PM
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Agreed that the "objectively crazy" question is a dumb one, even though I keep harping on it. Again: not a psychologist. Also "crazy" is not a medical term. Still willing to defend my use of the word, however.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:38 PM
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340: Tubman got slaves out. She didn't, literally, declare war. Again, you're not distinguishing between metaphoric use of the word--people resisting and running away are not "declaring war" on the institution--and literal use. Brown *literally* tried to start a war, single-handedly.

And no, of course Tubman was not insane. She acted on her principle, and she did so in a way that was in keeping with fucking reality.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:41 PM
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337: He attacked five people in the middle of the night and murdered them in cold blood.
Okay, we're getting to the point where you're engaging in deliberate falsehood, so it's probably time for me to disengage. Bleeding Kansas was not "in cold blood." The Sack of Lawrence had happened just a few days before Pottawatomie, and the men who were killed were known pro-slavery activists. As I pointed out above, the people he and 29 other "clearly insane" people were fighting a week after that were the very people who had attacked Lawrence. It's pointless to argue if you're simply going to lie, and then refuse to even acknowledge when I publicly catch you lying.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:42 PM
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Was she insane?

Nope, not based on any definition of the word that I know of or have employed here (I think). But, I know much more about Brown than I do about Harriet Tubman. Actually, more is known about Brown than about Harriet Tubman, because of the nature of their activities and the records generated as a result.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:42 PM
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And it isn't the violence thing either--Tubman was more than willing to kill people who got in her way. I don't have a problem with that either morally or practically.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:42 PM
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I mean, come on. "brothers and sisters" is a fucking metaphor. To take it literally--to the point of murder--is a little nuts.

if the guy down the block has people chained up in his basement, calling them my brothers and sisters may be a metaphor, but that doesn't make using deadly force, to the point of murder, to get them free nuts.

LB, I don't know if you're still around, but if you are, I'd be very grateful if you'd restate your argument.

If you go back to the original post, the main point (leaving the IRA bit to one side -- really didn't mean to say anything specific about the IRA beyond the fact that its political goals, good or bad in themselves, aren't discredited by IRA terrorism) was that a terrorist response to slavery does not seem to me to be morally disproportionate. (See the original post, and then 25.)

The 'transitivity of craziness' came up in response to Bitch's 190, which I understood as drawing a distinction between 'political' terrorism - people fighting for their own benefit because of 'mass desperation' -- and 'crazy people on a moral crusade' like Brown. I don't have any proof that Brown was sane, but I do know that people I'm sure were sane,like Douglass and Emerson, treated him and spoke of him with respect. That could have been bad judgment, but it's some evidence that his contemporaries didn't uniformly think he was a nutcase.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:43 PM
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Are 340 and 343 for real? Wowzers.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:43 PM
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343: Dude. "In cold blood" is commonly used to describe acts that occur outside of actual, physical battles. Killing people in the middle of the night, while they are sleeping--no matter how guilty they are (and does "known pro-slavery activists" mean the same thing as having actually participated in the Lawrence thing?)--qualifies.

Calling Ari a liar for using language in the way it is commonly used is really uncool.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:45 PM
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343: Calling me a liar is both ugly and unwarranted here. Brown dragged five men from their beds at P Creek, people he could not and did not know were guilty of any crime other than believing that slavery should be legal in Kansas, and he butchered them with a broadsword. And then we're back to Harper's Ferry, where Brown's men killed a slave as well as several other federal employees, whose sole crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody had declared war, had they? Except in Brown's head, I mean. If you've got a different view on "in cold blood" than that, share.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:45 PM
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Tubman was not insane. Tubman supported Brown, and Brown supported Tubman. So how was Brown insane?

Furthermore, you're conveniently ignoring all of the other people who actually picked up arms and fought slavery over the years. Was Nat Turner insane? Gabriel? Queen Nanny? Cudjoe? The Amistad rebels? The only thing that's different about Brown is that he wasn't Black. (Although many of his supporters were.) Propounding the "John Brown was insane" myth is just a way to let people off the hook for not being in solidarity with their oppressed neighbors.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:46 PM
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if the guy down the block has people chained up in his basement, calling them my brothers and sisters may be a metaphor, but that doesn't make using deadly force, to the point of murder, to get them free nuts.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:47 PM
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Tubman was not insane. Tubman supported Brown, and Brown supported Tubman. So how was Brown insane?

Okay, dude? This is crazy illogical.

I'm not "conveniently ignoring" anything. I'm trying to discuss one single thing without swanning all over the damn map.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:50 PM
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if the guy down the block has people chained up in his basement, calling them my brothers and sisters may be a metaphor, but that doesn't make using deadly force, to the point of murder, to get them free nuts.

Yes, it really does, LB. You could call the police, you know. Because what if it turns out, after you kill the guy down the street, that he didn't have anyone chained up in his basement.

it's some evidence that his contemporaries didn't uniformly think he was a nutcase

Did I make this claim? I've searched the thread and can't find it. But if I did, that was really stoopid of me.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:50 PM
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Look, what part of "during a guerilla war" do you not get? It's pretty straightforward. There were armed groups, roaming around the countryside, with varying degrees of government sanction/involvement. People were being killed. John Brown did not start anything in Kansas. If you are on one side of a guerilla war, and you kill some people on the other side, that is not, in any way shape or form, the same thing as "killing in cold blood". Calling it such is a falsehood. A lie. It's untrue.

Regarding Harpers Ferry: Yes, John Brown hatched that scheme, convinced other people it was a good idea, planned the logistics, led the combat and is responsible for the deaths of the people who were killed. But starting an abortive insurrection is not the same as "killing in cold blood". Calling it such is another falsehood.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:51 PM
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Well, and the fact that there were plenty of other 19th century figures who believed themselves to have been chosen by god to do his work who weren't crazy

To make one small point, not all 19th century Americans believed that all people who claimed God had chosen them to do His work were actually sane. Plenty of Americans thought Joseph Smith was insane, for a small example. Just because the possibility existed to be truly called by God in their world view does not mean that all people were deemed equally competent to actually be called by God and to understand His true message.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:51 PM
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people he could not and did not know were guilty of any crime other than believing that slavery should be legal in Kansas,

I'm doing research on wikipedia here, so I'm not claiming to know what I'm talking about, but assuming the wikipedia article isn't pure fiction from pro-Brown forces, there's at least some evidence that Brown knew of their connection to Lawrence, and feared that those specific people would attack his family:

Brown conducted surveillance on encamped "ruffians" in his vicinity and learned that his family was marked for attack, and furthermore was given reliable information as to pro-slavery neighbors who had aligned and supported these forces. The pro-slavery men did not necessarily own any slaves, although the Doyles (three of the victims) were slave hunters prior to settling in Kansas. According to Salmon Brown, when the Doyles were seized, Mahala Doyle acknowledged that her husband's "devilment" had brought down this attack to their doorstep - further signifying that the Browns' attack was probably grounded in real concern for their own survival.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:52 PM
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350: I've obviously made you really angry (the "Che" comment was totally in jest, a silly response to your calling me "professor"). And I'm genuinely sorry about that. As I said upthread, I think that Brown's racial politics were incredibly admirable. And I think that his radical abolitionism, short of murdering people, was both courageous and admirable. But we part ways at P Creek and Harper's Ferry. Beyond that, I'm sorry that I've said some mean things about one of your heroes. And again, I'm sorry that I've pissed you off.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:54 PM
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Fucking 351. That's the second time on this site I've typed a response to an italicized citation and had it disappear.

My response was basically that no, using force in and of itself doesn't make one insane. But if I do so because I think that the chained up people are literally my siblings (and there's no reason to believe that's true), then I am nuts--even though I may also be doing an admirable thing. Ditto if I do so because I believe that I am literally the hand of god. And frankly, ditto if I kill the neighbor because I think that he is Evil, rather than because that's the only way to get to the chained-up people and let them go. Maybe that last might be something that would be not "crazy" but rather a momentary act of passion, horror, disgust, whatever. But if I planned it? For, like, days or weeks? And not in a "planning this attack so I can get those people out safely" way but in a "planning this attack because that Evil Man Must Die, and plus it'll get those people out" way? Crazy.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:54 PM
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Did I make this claim? I've searched the thread and can't find it. But if I did, that was really stoopid of me.

Well, you claimed that "Again, the overwhelming majority of people* who shared his goals** thought he was a counterproductive lunatic." Which is pretty close.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:55 PM
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does anyone else have downloadable college classes they can recommend as entertainment?

There are a couple of courses at Berkeley that were mostly worthwhile: The Making of Modern Europe, 1453 to the Present (a decent survey course) and The Rise and Fall of the Second Reich (learned a lot).

They're also on iTunes, along with a lot of other classes. (iTunesU > UC Berkeley.) I wouldn't particularly recommend the one on U.S. History from the Civil War, though.

Also, look at Academic Earth. The Hebrew Bible course linked there is a good gloss. I'm starting to give up on waiting for the Philosophy of Death to take off.


Posted by: Margarita | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:55 PM
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So Harriet Tubman was not insane, thank you for granting me that major point.
Was Nat Turner insane?
Were the Amistad rebels insane?
Was Gabriel Prosser insane?

John Brown was not insane for using violence to free slaves. His tactics at Harpers Ferry, which, as I pointed out above, he himself admitted were less than stellar, are an entirely different matter.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:56 PM
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Okay, disengaging. Not trying to pick a fight. It's hot here and I'm sick and it's been a long week.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:57 PM
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356: Again, I have no books with me, but I'm 99% sure that neither DuBois nor Reynolds, whose biographies of Brown I think are the best, make such contentions. As I think about it, 99% is too high. Let's say 90% on the Reynolds, which I read and reviewed pretty recently, and 70% on the DuBois, which I haven't read for a couple of years.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:57 PM
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358: But thinking that violence is a reasonable response has nothing to do with taking 'brothers and sisters' literally, and everything to do with there being people literally in captivity. Which there were.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 6:57 PM
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364: The brothers and sisters thing was a response to someone else, probably Minnie.

*Thinking* that violence is an appropriate response isn't insane, necessarily. Though it can be very much in the "keyboard commando" realm, which isn't nuts, but is a little risible. And acting on those thoughts also isn't necessarily insane. It depends on a lot of other things, and the context. But my sense of John Brown--and again, not a historian of the period--is that, *in addition* to having beliefs that we by and large now think were the right ones, and acting on those beliefs in ways that were arguably not unjustified, he *also* had beliefs, that seem to me crazy, about his own moral place in the universe. And that those beliefs were part of his actions vis-a-vis slavery.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:03 PM
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341: Agreed that the "objectively crazy" question is a dumb one, even though I keep harping on it. Again: not a psychologist. Also "crazy" is not a medical term. Still willing to defend my use of the word, however.

I'd say you should give it up. It's not helpful; it obfuscates the matter. It drags in the question whether anyone who uses violence in furtherance of her or his ends is "crazy." Which introduces the question whether we, as a society, now believe that aside from these violent nutjobs, we are otherwise free of violence. Which we aren't. So I'd really drop it.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:04 PM
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IOW, I'm not arguing about the abstract contention that it's possible to act violently out of moral conviction and be sane. I'm arguing that Brown himself, specifically, was a bit nuts.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:04 PM
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This might be helpful contextual reading - it is just a preview so I'm not sure how much you'll be able to read but I think it is a better source at this level of discussion than wikipedia:

http://books.google.com/books?id=2w0rPUA4RPMC&lpg=PP1&dq=James%20Brewer%20Stewart%2C%20Holy%20Warriors&client=firefox-a&pg=PA175

In it, James Brewer Stewart essentially discusses the position that abolitionists found them in when 1859 came around. Of course, quite a bit had happened between Potawatomie and Harper's Ferry (including Dred Scott), as has already been noted.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:05 PM
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I've only read the very beginning and the very end of this thread, so it's possible this has already been gone over, but:

I'm finding it hard to come up with any way that terrorism can ever be morally justifiable or be a rational, proportional. I think LB's argument would make sense if you replace "terrorism" with "violence against the state." It's easy to come up with situations in which violence against the state, or against bad actors, is justifiable. But terrorism is committing acts of violence against civilians in order to get a state to change its policies, and that's always wrong.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:06 PM
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I'm arguing that Brown himself, specifically, was a bit nuts.

Might have been. My only evidence to the contrary is that sane people treated him as sane, or at least as sane enough to work with productively.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:08 PM
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366: Given that the original question was whether or not violence in furtherance of ends is justifiable, and that Brown was offered as an example, I think it's relevant. I'm not the one that brought Brown up. Also, my original comment on the original question about terrorism is that I think there's a distinction between terrorism as political action and the kind of solo nutso act that we might consider "terrorism" because it happens to have a political angle.

So yeah, I'll drop it because I have other shit to do and it's only pissing Minnie off. But I don't think I'm obfuscating at all, or dragging anything in. I have been attempting to make what I think is a useful and important distinction. I'm sorry my doing so offends.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:08 PM
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359: You've conveniently elided what my asterisks referred to. And you haven't provided a comment number, making it still harder to figure out. So here's that material:

* Again, we're now discussing a tiny, tiny minority of the anti-slavery reformers in the United States, who, themselves, were a small fraction of the overall population of northerners.

** We're talking about abolition, right? Because he had more than just one goal.* Again, we're now discussing a tiny, tiny minority of the anti-slavery reformers in the United States, who, themselves, were a small fraction of the overall population of northerners.

** We're talking about abolition, right? Because he had more than just one goal.

So once again, to be clear, we're talking about abolition of slavery as the goal, right? Because if so, yes, I stand by my claim that the majority of abolitionists would have deemed him a counterproductive lunatic after P Creek and perhaps Harper's Ferry, too. The majority of abolitionists, after all, were pacifists, as someone acknowledged upthread.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:09 PM
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370: Sane people treated him as useful, ideologically allied and sympathetic. And they did so before he started doing violent things (I think).


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:10 PM
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And this link is probably more useful if you're interested in the pre-Harper's Ferry stuff:

http://books.google.com/books?id=2w0rPUA4RPMC&lpg=PP1&dq=James%20Brewer%20Stewart%2C%20Holy%20Warriors&client=firefox-a&pg=PA151

(Yes, I know, html - I'm too lazy).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:10 PM
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366 obviously crossed with a couple of previous comments.

365: You're digging yourself a hole here, I think. Now you're into his motivations for his beliefs and behavior as a measure of whether he was crazy in acting on those beliefs -- and therefore presumably condemnable. That's not going to go anywhere.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:11 PM
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Well, I made a total hash of that. It's all about civil procedure, right? So I guess I lose this one.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:12 PM
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375.2: Do me a favor and stop policing me, 'kay?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:14 PM
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373: No, they treated him like a useful tool, a loaded gun, after he became violent as well. Whether they treated him like he was sane is anyone's guess. Douglass certainly was willing to be around him, but I'm not sure, as I noted upthread, what that tells us.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:14 PM
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The majority of abolitionists, after all, were pacifists, as someone acknowledged upthread.

Really? I'm sure you don't mean 'pacifists' in the sense of 'opposed the Civil War', or, if that's what you mean, I'm really surprised. What do you mean?

Because if so, yes, I stand by my claim that the majority of abolitionists would have deemed him a counterproductive lunatic after P Creek and perhaps Harper's Ferry, too.

You keep on saying this. I can name a bunch of abolitionists who didn't treat him as or refer to him as a counterproductive lunatic. I'm sure that there are some abolitionists who did think he was a counterproductive lunatic, but I don't know any of their names or when they said so.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:15 PM
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What do you mean?

Check the link I posted in 374. Most abolitionists believed in Christian non-violence well into the 1850s.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:17 PM
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380: Right, I would have figured out what Ari meant more easily if he'd said non-resistance. "Pacifist" threw me in the context of the Civil War. (My lack of education, not his fault.) Still, majority?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:20 PM
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Yes, majority. Of a very, very tiny minority (Abolitionists).


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:22 PM
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377: Sorry, I was lagging behind by several comments. As for "policing," no, I was just commenting.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:27 PM
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Of a very, very tiny minority

Ari keeps on saying this, and now you. I'm not following what the point is of saying that there were very few abolitionists. I'm sure there is a point, but it's gone over my head.

From some very sketchy reading, I had the impression that non-resistance was fading as an abolitionist principle by the 1850s, given the intensification of the conflict. Would it still have characterized an 'overwhelming majority' of abolitionists by the time we're talking about?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:27 PM
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The link in 368 is terrific for providing context for John Brown.

William Walker revoked emancipation in Nicarauga, 1855. Evil evil fuckers, those Southerners.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:29 PM
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The historic roots of abolitionism were very much hand-in-hand with pacifism, and were all about that "brothers and sisters in christ" thing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:33 PM
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384: The reason I say it is that it's important to think about what it was possible to think and believe within the worldview of mid-19th century America. I think it's particularly important in the case of slavery and abolitionism, because to us it seems so manifestly correct that slavery is wrong. But, you know, there was not an overwhelming majority of Americans at the time who agreed that slavery is wrong and needed to be ended, which is why it is useful to point it out, so that you can see where these people fit in the spectrum.

I had the impression that non-resistance was fading as an abolitionist principle by the 1850s

I think by 1859 - Harper's Ferry - yes, but not by Potawatomie. But I'm as ill-informed as any, and I don't really have a dog in the fight - I was just trying to provide helpful links!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:33 PM
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I think the point of the tiny tiny minority is that abolitionism of any stripe was seen as radical, even by people who thought that slavery was a bad thing.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:35 PM
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Yeah, 388 says it better than how I ended up putting it.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:36 PM
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"The raid on Harper's Ferry can perhaps best be understood, not as Brown's supreme act of will, but as the predictable result of the abolitionist's mounting desire for confrontation and their flirtation with violence after the Compromise of 1850." ...Stewart, link 368


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:38 PM
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387: Few as they were, though, it was manifestly possible to believe, in the 19th C, that immediate emancipation was morally necessary, and not uncommon at all to believe that slavery was wrong. Once we've got that much, Brown's abolitionist beliefs don't tell you anything about how unstable he was.

But, you know, there was not an overwhelming majority of Americans at the time who agreed that slavery is wrong and needed to be ended,

Certainly, hence the need for the whole war about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:40 PM
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But in the context of this conversation, what's the point of saying that abolitionism was seen as radical? It's certainly true, but I don't see where you go from there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:42 PM
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354

... If you are on one side of a guerilla war, and you kill some people on the other side, that is not, in any way shape or form, the same thing as "killing in cold blood". ...

"Killing in cold blood" refers to killing that is planned and not the result of an angry impulse. Lots of killing in guerilla wars (as in other wars) is in cold blood.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:42 PM
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p 177 in linked 368 Stewart is terrific on Lincoln's whoring himself to the slavers for election purposes.

Despicable.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:42 PM
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Brown's abolitionist beliefs don't tell you anything about how unstable he was.

Only Ari and I are arguing that he was nuts. And we have both said repeatedly that this isn't because he was an abolitionist per se.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:43 PM
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391: I'm not in the argument about whether or not Brown was unstable. I think it is beside the point.

I do think that Brown was on the extreme radical end of things, which is why I emphasize that there weren't that many people that thought the same way as he did.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:44 PM
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Absolutely, Brown was as radical an abolitionist as you could get. Anyone arguing that he wasn't radical, and didn't have very minority political opinions, would be completely wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:45 PM
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But in the context of this conversation, what's the point of saying that abolitionism was seen as radical? It's certainly true, but I don't see where you go from there.

Right. I don't actually get this conversation at all. I was just adding in information where I thought you all could use it.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:45 PM
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From reading the Stewart, abolition looks no more radical than say single-payer. Horace Greeley was not fringe. nor was Emerson.

Abolition was politically inconvenient for the business class and their political whores, like Lincoln.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:46 PM
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Republican party leaders went to every effort possible to disavow John Brown and "radical" abolitionism, including Lincoln led anti-John Brown rallies. They needed racist and slaver votes, and business money.

But apparently the broad mass of the Republican base especially in the territories and west were so obviously abolitionist that Southerners did not believe a word Lincoln said.

They were probably wrong about Lincoln, but right about Republicans in general.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:54 PM
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Brown's abolitionist beliefs don't tell you anything about how unstable he was

Holy hell, LB, I'm not saying he was nuts because he was an abolitionist. And please stop implying that, okay? I'm saying he was nuts because he was a mass murderer who believed that his God told him to kill people in cold blood. Those killings, accomplished with a fucking broadsword in one instance, were, to his mind, the very embodiment of God's will. So sure, he might have believed that people were going to hurt his family. But lots and lots and lots of people believed that. Very few of them, though, butchered a bunch of folks they couldn't be sure were going to perpetrate a crime that hadn't yet occurred. And yup, there were lots of people in the nineteenth century who believed that they talked to God, or that they were God's instrument on earth, but not many of them killed bunches of people in cold blood.

Not to mention, the juries on Law and Order would almost certainly acquit Brown based on an insanity plea. You know it's true, so you might as well admit it already.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:55 PM
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Or, you know what? He wasn't nuts. I honestly couldn't care less. But then he sure as shit was both evil and ineffective. I'm happy to circle back to ineffective and add a dash of evil for spice. Because I'm seeking comity.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 7:56 PM
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I am still trying to understand why the South seceded in 1860 adter the election, if as said above, abolitionists were a tiny tiny minority and Lincoln had made every effort to reassure them.
>i>Dred Scott was the law, enforced regularly all across America by Federal Marshalls.

What the heck did the slavers have to worry about?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:01 PM
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I mean, seriously, your argument is that sane people didn't treat him like a pariah. And my argument is that he believed that God spoke directly to him, and that He had chosen him as a kind of avenging angel, and that he killed* a bunch of people who might or might not have been guilty of anything other than believing that slavery should have been legal in Kansas. (As for Harper's Ferry, I think we can all, except maybe minnie, agree those folks weren't guilty of anything at all.) And you're still at it. I'm really, really impressed. You must be one hell of an advocate.

* With a broadword! In the dead of night!


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:01 PM
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403: Lincoln had promised that slavery wouldn't be allowed to expand into the West. And if slavery didn't expand, it was doomed. Or so the slaveocracy believed. Plus, planters were fucking bonkers (but not bonkers like John Brown) by then.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:03 PM
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And please stop implying that, okay?

Ari, chill. I apologize for implying anything about what you think of abolitionists. I said that because first you, and then Parenthetical, repeatedly brought up what a small minority position abolitionism was. I couldn't figure out what work that assertion (true though it is)was doing in this conversation about John Brown's craziness, so I asked.

and lots and lots of people believed that. Very few of them, though, butchered a bunch of folks they couldn't be sure were going to perpetrate a crime that hadn't yet occurred.

'Couldn't be sure' is doing a lot of work in that sentence. This was 'bleeding Kansas' -- you can certainly argue that the massacre was unjustified, but you're making it sound as if he was killing random people in a peaceful region, rather than people who had come to Kansas to engage in a conflict with the potential for violence. That's not random mass-murder.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:06 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:07 PM
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274:That which is not just, is not Law; and that which is not Law, ought not to be obeyed.

ari would stand by and watch someone beat his slave to death. The law is the law.

I would shoot the fucking slaver before he raised his whip. Crazy and fucking proud.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:08 PM
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And as evil as i have to be.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:09 PM
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a small minority position abolitionism was.

I realized that there's another reason I bring it up; I think I prickled at the idea that many people* supported Brown in absentia, when I just don't think that was the case, given his radical politics.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:11 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:11 PM
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Oops, the dangling * in there should be struck from the record.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:11 PM
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410:And I simply don't believe it, and Stewart gives me support. The South was crazy, but not so crazy as to go to fucking war without a pretty clear immediate threat.

I suppose if you include the entire country, like the South; take the attitude that all the free states weren't interested in the abolitionist fight though still opposed to slavery maybe abolitionism wasn't a majority position. And if you understand that many politicians were lying about the depth of their committment.

But the South knew what was coming.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:16 PM
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And my argument is that he believed that God spoke directly to him, and that He had chosen him as a kind of avenging angel,

This doesn't seem like all that unconventional rhetoric for the period and the circumstances. Sounds loony to us, but I'd bet I could find a lot of 19th century generals talking about what God had chosen them for.

and that he killed* a bunch of people who might or might not have been guilty of anything other than believing that slavery should have been legal in Kansas.

And of actively trying to expand slavery into Kansas. Resulting in actual individual human beings being chained up and beaten. Would I kill someone over that? No, not personally. But I'm not convinced that it's indicative of insanity, or that it was necessarily wrong.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:17 PM
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406: If you want to apologize for something, please do so without telling me to chill, okay? Put another way, I wasn't even a bit annoyed until you started handing out injunctions. My point in requesting that you stop putting words in my mouth (this is too strong; sorry about that) was that I don't like the implication, in print no less, that I think abolitionism can be equated with insanity. That you implied that, more than once, seemed to merit a request that you stop doing so. And really, your doggedness is both totally inspiring and also exhausting. I think your argument is completely empty, but I kneel before your incredible energy.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:17 PM
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414: Yup, this is where we part ways. Honestly, it's been totally fun. Thanks for helping me while away the hours.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:19 PM
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408: Bob, I literally don't know how to reply to what's clearly the worst thing anyone has ever said about me. I'd like to think that what you've written is very far beneath you, but I really have no idea. Regardless, I'm sorry that I've gotten so deep under your skin that you've chosen to sacrifice your dignity in service of a very cheap shot.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:24 PM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:25 PM
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If you want to apologize for something, please do so without telling me to chill, okay?

I asked you to chill because you were saying "Holy hell, LB" in response to something that wasn't addressed to you, and that was an attempt to understand what Parenthetical's point was. (And also because of the accusation in 372 that I was misleadingly quoting you out of context, which seemed unjustified to me.) That was a mistake, I should know that asking someone to chill is always going to be counterproductive, but you're being frustratingly unhelpful here, and I've gotten a little cross.

I still don't know if you have any particular abolitionists in mind who thought of Brown as a counterproductive lunatic. You may, but I don't know who they are.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:27 PM
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417:So, ari, are you saying you would shoot the slaver before he raised the whip? Like John Brown?

Or not.

I told you and the crowd that you and hilzoy made my skin crawl. Your worship of the state, the law, and liberal proceduralism is as ugly a fanatacism as I have ever seen.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:29 PM
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It's seriously about time we all ganged up on Ari and drove him off.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:32 PM
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408 is made even weirder by the unclear antecedent on "his". The first time I read it, I thought it was supposed to be ari's slave, and I'm all, why is bob accusing ari of both liberal passivity and insufficient possessiveness?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:32 PM
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I haven't caught up with this thread, but I did stop by a library on the way to my car and looked at a couple of books. The recent Reynolds biography of Brown is really long and I'm not reading all of it for this thread. However:

Reynolds comes down on the very religious/not insane side of things and tries to justify Pottawatomie. But he also notes that there really isn't a consensus on the insanity question - some say yes, some say now. As I remember it, the reviewers didn't think Reynolds settled it either (some think yes, others no, etc.) But I could be wrong about the reviewers. In any case, there are quotes from contemporaries who said Brown was insane (or at least insane during the summer of 1856) and others who say he was always sane. There doesn't seem to be a dispute that one of his sons went insane temporarily following Pottawatomie. But that's a slightly different point.

More interestingly, looking at Reynolds' bio and David Potter's Impending Crisis, it turns out that responsibility for Pottawatomie was not actually officially attributed to Brown until 1879 when one of the guys on the raid publicly stated it. People in Kansas knew and reports reached the east in 1856, but many supporters tried to downplay it as much as they could. Originally, Brown was charged for the murders, but that was changed to one of his men. There was a Congressional investigation but the conclusion that Brown was responsible was put into the minority report. And there was talk of Brown's involvement, but nothing in official records. Also important: Brown appears to have supervised the killings without physically carrying them out himself.

So abolitionists in the east could have known about it and some surely did, but it's not clear exactly what they knew. Reynolds doesn't think it's that important whether they knew the details, but the details - pulling people out of their house, decapitation, etc. - are what distinguish that from what I suppose you could call the normal civil warfare going on around them. For Reynolds it's enough that they supported him while fully knowing that he preached violence. But few of them joined him in actually carrying it out, of course. Reynolds also notes the case of a staunch Brown defender who, after the revelation of 1879, turned against Brown. For his part, Brown played up his and his family's persecution following Pottawatomie, while letting supporters deny his involvement.

Potter also reports that antislavery people in Kansas weren't quite happy to see Brown again in 1857 after he came back from the east because by then the violence had died down and they didn't really want to start it up again.

All of this is from memory, though I have the Potter book here. But now I have to go again so maybe I'll check in later.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:32 PM
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401

Not to mention, the juries on Law and Order would almost certainly acquit Brown based on an insanity plea. ...

I doubt Brown would have been onboard with an insanity plea.

I haven't seen much evidence that Brown was crazy in a medical sense. I am not willing to call all killers insane.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:33 PM
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Hey, Ari? I'm really sorry that this conversation has gotten unpleasant. Please remember that I'm not Bob. I disagree with everything he's said about you, and wish he wouldn't talk like that.

Bob, could you chill? I really hate it when I'm on roughly the same side of an argument with you, and you're saying grotesquely unjustifiable stuff.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:33 PM
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This is so hilzoist, this dedicated impassioned attack on John Brown.

Not the Simon Legree's, that is not where your attention and passion are directed. The flawed idealist who fights and kills outside your bounds of approved civility is where your anger is directed.

A man is defined by his enemies, ari.

I really don't consider you my enemy, exactly. My hate is for those I don't give names. But I do think you are in the way.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:34 PM
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425:Okay. Sorry. Bye.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:35 PM
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425: on the other hand, I hear he's a whiz at pub trivia. Good guy to have around!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:35 PM
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and 421 cracked me up.

This has been a bad week for picking fights with EOTAW -- you know I'm very fond of you guys, right?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:36 PM
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419: And I've told you, LB, at least two (three?) other times that Garrison wasn't happy with the man after P Creek (if memory serves). As for other abolitionists, how many leading figures in the movement do you think there were at the time? Five? Ten? Twenty? Surely not more than that. And do you think we have any record at all of what any of them thought about Brown after P Creek? My guess, based on my looking around the web earlier today, is the answer is no. But I really can't say for sure. What I can say for certain is that David Reynolds thinks Brown was a hero, but even he recognizes that P Creek made him an outcast for a time. I can also tell you that he had no speaking tour, that there were no heroic narratives in which Brown figured, and that no fictional characters were based on him. But yes, years later, he did become a martyr -- after the South proved itself even more bloodthirsty and crazed than he was.

Finally, sorry for the "holy hell". Like I said, I was just amazed that you were sticking to your guns without the slightest bit of compelling evidence on your side. As I've noted repeatedly, I'm struck by the emptiness of the transitive property of sanity. But it's not that big a deal. I genuinely thought that I was writing in good humor. Apparently that tone didn't come across, and again, I'm sorry. I also didn't like the implication that I think abolitionism was crazy, but that didn't figure into my holy hell, I don't think.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:42 PM
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429 to 430, and now ari is totally going to feel slightly guilty all night.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:43 PM
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Crap, I wrote 430 before seeing 425. Now I'm even sorrier if my tone, at any time, has been anything other than playful. This whole thing has turned into an excellent reminder of why I don't come around here during daylight hours. The night time is the right time.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:48 PM
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Not to mention 429! Argh, 431 gets it completely right.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:49 PM
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Heh. Nothing like ending an argument with a shrewdly placed guilt-trip.

Friends?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:51 PM
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Tee hee.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:52 PM
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Friends?

Only if you agree to help me spread the rumor that bob's dogs have mentioned on the qt that they hate him and are plotting his demise.

More seriously, of course.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:54 PM
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they hate him and are plotting his demise. are going to pursue liberal goals through procedurally reasonable means

Just to piss him off.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 8:56 PM
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437 really did make me laugh out loud. And now, to work. This chapter won't write itself, the lazy fucker.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:00 PM
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Oh great. I went to the library for nothing.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:22 PM
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Not for nothing, eb, not for nothing!


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:23 PM
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439: No, that was awesome. And full disclosure, here's my review, mentioned above, of Reynold's book. I mean, since we're sharing.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:36 PM
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Oops, "Reynolds's".


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:36 PM
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With God as my witness, ari, I'm going to top 408. Someday, you'll feel good about yourself, and then bam! I'm going to drop 408++ on you.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:52 PM
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Has anyone read Russell Banks' John Brown book? Cloudsplitter? Should I try to get it back from whomever I lent it to?


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:56 PM
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I had Jim Stewart as a Prof in undergrad. He was pretty awesome and did me the kindness of taking me aside and telling me that I might have the chops for this history thing.

That's all.


Posted by: Jimmy Pongo | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 9:56 PM
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You're pretty late to the party, JP. We could have used you. And Wrongshore, I liked Cloudsplitter. But maybe not enough to spend time trying to track it down.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:00 PM
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Ari is horrible and degenerate.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:11 PM
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440, 441. Thanks, but knowledge outside of random threads has no utility.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:16 PM
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It's for the best. I would have wandered into that IRA sub-fracas and gotten kicked. Or not. I wasn't entirely clear on what basis those were being distributed.


Posted by: Jimmy Pongo | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:20 PM
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Ari is horrible and degenerate.

Doesn't even rate an honorable mention.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:35 PM
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Well, of course not. Horrible and degenerate is the new wizard cocksucker.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 10:38 PM
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I thought "hiking the Appalachian trail" was the new "wizard cocksucker"???

I even wrote "Ari is sooo hiking the Appalachian trail, IYKWIM, AITTYD, NTTAWWT" on the bathroom wall ATM!


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-25-09 11:38 PM
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LizardBreath: Tell me, if you saw a woman about to kill her five-year old child, would you think deadly force was justified to stop it? I don't think it's immediately obvious that it wouldn't be justified.

"That woman wants to have an abortion? Take her out, put her up against a wall, and shoot her dead! We are justified in using deadly force to prevent her murdering her unborn child!"

I think it's fairly obvious why using lethal force to stop women having abortions isn't in any way justifiable: it's because killing a pregnant woman (thus also ending the fetal life she carries) is really a stupid way to try and stop women having abortions.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 4:44 AM
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Two thoughts:

my god, the thread is HOW long already?
Oops: 453 was me.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 4:45 AM
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I was just up at Harpers Ferry with European guests, on Sunday, and got the chance to argue this out. In broken German.

One immediate consequence of the raid was that 85,000 rifles were distributed to a couple of southern militias before the war, while if there had been no raid, they would have been in federal possession at the time of Fort Sumter. Obviously, we can't know how that would have played out.

I'm also not sure that the southern states would have been as flipped out by Lincoln's election absent both the raid and the appearance of a number of influential folks in the North who seemed 'soft on Brown' by late 60. Again, unknowable.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:20 AM
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CharleyCarp, while not particularly familiar with American mythology, I was aware of John Brown - and had never seen him referred to, in fiction or in memoir, as other than a violent fanatic who was "devilish", a "villain", etc.

What occurs to me, looking at some of the historical links for the first time, is that Brown's strategy may have been misguided - as you note, that's unknowable - but that I see no more reason to suppose he was more of a violent fanatic than any white Southerner who was prepared to go to war over their right to own slaves. He is a devilish villain in the popular perception of him because it's the slaveowner's popular perception that won the argument.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:44 AM
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456. Exactly. I tried to make the reverse point near the beginning of this thread. The actual responsibility of many heroes of the anti-colonial liberation movement for activity which would be and was described by their enemies as terrorism at the time is undoubted. But these were good guys, on the side of the angels. You can't go around describing Nelson Mandela as a terrorist. Personally I wouldn't want you to.

But in the case of Brown, as you say, the North won the war, but the South won the peace. So his reputation was shredded. But did he do anything more morally objectionable than MK?

His truth is marching on.


Posted by: OFE | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:21 AM
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Just popping back in to say that I'm sorry I got carried away last night. John Brown is, along with reproductive freedom, immigration, the situation in Palestine and radical history in general, one of those subjects where I often have a disproportionate response.


Posted by: minneapolitan | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:12 AM
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Disproportionate response in the face of asymmetric argumentation is no vice! Rhetorical moderation in the pursuit of historical justice is no virtue!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:31 AM
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458: No worries on my end. I was mostly having a good time. (But seriously, that lizardbreath is a bitch, isn't she? Pass it on.)


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:34 AM
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All Commenters Are Bastards.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:35 AM
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461: That's certainly what my mom told me!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:39 AM
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Man, I forgot ari was back east, and was briefly freaked out to see his comment on the sidebar.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:01 AM
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Neither here nor there, but Brown had 20 children (11 survived to adulthood). It probably didn't extend as far as Shaker Heights, but his local connections led me to dieting on a somewhat different narrative of "Old Osawatomie" as a kid. In fact Akron has just this month kicked of some John Brown sesquicentennial events. All of it generally nuanced and cognizant of the controversy, but I was interested to read the following, In Akron, on the day of his execution, flags flew at half mast. Church bells tolled, the courts adjourned, and stores closed. That night, "a great indignation meeting" was held in Empire Hall and speeches were made by Akron's leading citizens. If they could have, I bet they would have put up indignant blog posts!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:01 AM
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I bet they would have put up indignant blog posts!

Talk about your madmen!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:04 AM
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I can't help but laugh every time Ari or B tries to make certain classes of killing seem worse than "normal" killing by adding "in cold blood!" or "with a broadsword!" If only John Brown had had the courtesy to do his killing as part of a fully-sanctioned multinational peacekeeping force, preferably via remote-controlled predator drone.


Posted by: inaccessible island rail | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:26 AM
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466: here, let me help you off your high horse... "in cold blood" is pretty obviously worse than "normal" killing because it isn't done in self-defence against an immediate threat, but at will and at leisure.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:41 AM
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"in cold blood" is pretty obviously worse than "normal" killing because it isn't done in self-defence against an immediate threat, but at will and at leisure.

I don't think you are defining "normal" killing the same as IIR. Is "killing as part of a fully-sanctioned multinational peacekeeping force, preferably via remote-controlled predator drone" something "done in self-defence against an immediate threat"?

(Not to say that I agree with IIR that "in cold blood" is a morally meaningless distinction.)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:52 AM
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466: Yes, iir, I'm for predator drones, and endless expansion of settlements in Palestine Greater Israel, and torturing detainees, and a re-implementation of apartheid in South Africa, and calling Mumbai Bombay, and...and...drowning kittens. Isn't life so much easier when the people you disagree with are monsters? I sure think so. (Which, I know, has been the subtext of much of this thread.)


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:57 AM
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when the people you disagree with are monsters?

Who use broadswords! (Which is indeed a lame rhetorical touch.) But to play Rodney King for a moment, you are both way overreading each other's comments.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:01 AM
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You don't think the tool someone uses to kill says anything about their mental state at the time they kill? That was my point.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:06 AM
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Isn't life so much easier when the people you disagree with are monsters horrible and degenerate?


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:07 AM
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Also, who's the "you" in your comment? And why are you playing Rodney King? I'm not getting annoyed, by the way, but it seems like there's been an unusual amount of nannying in this thread.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:08 AM
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But to play Rodney King for a moment

GET YOUR BLACK ASS ON THE GROUND, STORMCROW.


Posted by: OPINIONATED OFFICER KOON | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:09 AM
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468: I didn't address the peacekeeping force point because I didn't understand what iir was trying to say, or, indeed, if it was trying to say anything at all.

And I'm entirely in favour of broadswords. Abe Lincoln almost fought a duel with broadswords, in a pit six feet deep.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:09 AM
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473 to 470. Di, of course, is right in every way.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:09 AM
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474: Twelve feet deep, I'm pretty sure. But as noted above, I don't have my books with me, so I can't promise.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:15 AM
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"You" was iir and ari. And yes I am nannying a bit. But no one doubts that John Brown was there in person with intent to kill by means quite personal, whether it be done civilized-like with a gun or with a sword. (I do see that there are some relevant "state of mind" aspects to choice of weapon.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:17 AM
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Brown really believed in an eye for eye. He really believed that God was angry. And he really believed that he was God's vessel on earth. That's some scary shit, my friend, the kind of megalomania that leads to people meting out justice with a broadsword.

Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts in one or other of her memoirs of De Smet that the preacher, Reverend Edward Brown, was a cousin of John Brown of Kansas.

Although she recalls that when Reverend Edward Brown married her to Almanzo Wilder, he did not use "obey" in the marriage service (Laura says she told Almanzo that though she did not want the vote, she would never obey him against her better judgment and wouldn't promise to do so) Laura didn't care for Reverend Brown, and recalls from the 1930s that he looked like a fanatic - like his cousin.

In an earlier memoir, in the long list of Things Laura Did Not Write About:

Mrs. Wilder claimed that a cavalry troop rode in one day and warned Pa to vacate or be evicted, since the house was located just inside the Osages' diminished reservation. But that could not have been the reason the Ingallses left Kansas and moved back to Wisconsin. The U.S. Army had not moved one squatter off the Osages' land when it was their reservation, so why would that happen when there no longer was an Osage reservation in Kansas?

The Ingallses' neighbors were not through with the Osages yet. Nearly twenty mixed-blood Osages had decided to remain on farms they had developed and improved over the years, and to formally enter the white man's world by becoming U.S. citizens. They secured a special treaty with the good citizens of Independence to allow them to stay. But in the weeks after the main body of Osages left Kansas, the mixed-bloods' farmhouses, one after another, were burned down.

One night, the white neighbors of Joseph Mosher broke into his house--a mile or two from the Little House on the Prairie--dragged him, his wife and children out of their beds and into the yard, where they beat them and torched the house.

Then they took the Osage man to the nearby woods, and pistol-whipped him to death.


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:19 AM
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Dammit, why don't multi-para blockquotes work here?


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:19 AM
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480: Because of the patriarchy.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:21 AM
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Multi-para everything doesn't work here. You have to restart the tag at the beginning of every paragraph.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:22 AM
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Note to self: avoid nannying, or rather, frame it in such a way that it looks like something other than nannying.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:27 AM
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478: That's fair enough. I was mostly just messing with iir because he likes to demonize the opposition. Anyway, Shaq to the Cavs: thoughts?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:29 AM
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477: I thought it was twelve feet square -- part of the point was that Abe's wingspan, plus a broadsword, would occupy the whole pit. Definitely the best choice of dueling weapons possible, short of 'hand grenades in a clothes closet'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:32 AM
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480: So that when somebody forgets to close a tag, the entire rest of the comment thread doesn't go all hinky. When I do multi-paragraph blockquotes, I put them <p></p>tags around the paragraphs and remove all the breaks between them. This also makes the font consistent.

this is your blockquote with p tags

this is your blockquote on drugs without p tags

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:34 AM
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Shaq to the Cavs: thoughts?

They're paying a whole lot of money for highly questionable knees. However, drafting Danny Green in the 2nd round is going to look like a steal in a few years.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:36 AM
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485: I think the pit was supposed to be 10 feet across and 12 feet deep. At least that's what I have in my lecture notes, which I just found in the bowels of an old external hard-drive sitting around my folks' place. Really, though, I'm guessing there's no definitive source on this one. Or maybe there is. All I know is that Lincoln was crazy -- like a fox*. Oh, and you're right: the story goes that Lincoln was trying to create the most absurd rules that he could, rules that would be both supremely silly and also guarantee victory against James Shields, a much shorter** opponent.

* Please substitute actual funny joke here.

** Who wasn't?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:40 AM
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484: Desperation, probably too old to do much other than help keep LeBron around, but at least they are trying. In retrospect, last year's Cavs were one of the best bad team beating teams ever. Their record against good teams was below average, they just happened to play two bad teams in the playoffs and get everyone prematurely excited.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:42 AM
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487: I worry more about Shaq poisoning the locker room. Also, is he the guy you want whispering in LBJ's ear as the latter considers whether to walk for a bigger market? That said, I think you're right about Green. What about Indiana drafting Hansbrough so high? The usual case of Larry Bird trying to find himself? Or the simpler explanation: racism? Or is Hansbrough going to surprise people?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:45 AM
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488: thanks for the details...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:55 AM
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And further to 489, it was having no one who could even come close to matching up to someone like Dwight Howard where they really looked weak. A player like Ilgauskas can only be a role player at most on a truly good team. So even if Shaq just stands around in there and makes teams with good centers somewhat alter their trajectories to the basket and semi-slow down the LeBron double/triple team collapse, he is helping them on the court. I don't think Shaq will "poison" anything, but, yeah, when push comes to shove he will be sure to have some "realeconomik" advise for LeBron (not that that would have been in short supply otherwise).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:00 AM
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Hansbrough will do better than people expect, though he's going to have to learn to play facing the basket. Certainly he'll have a better NBA career than Sean "Knees of Balsa" May, who was also a 13th pick.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:01 AM
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a better NBA career than Sean "Knees of Balsa" May

That's a high bar you've set. Anyway, I hope you're right about Hansbrough; I sort of like him. And I hope you're right, JP, about Shaq. I've grown to despise him in recent years -- all the worst attributes of a young punk combined with those of a bitter old man -- and worry that he's going to be Yoko to LBJ's John. Too sexist? Probably.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:34 AM
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he's going to be Yoko to LBJ's John

Can't wait for this recreation.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:40 AM
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However, drafting Danny Green in the 2nd round is going to look like a steal in a few years.

Plus he's going to add a lot to the pregame warmups. . Lebron + Shaq + Danny Green will be one of the best clown combos ever on an NBA team.

The Shaq trade is a one-year rental in the hope of a championship, which Lebron puts the Cavs so close to by himself that it just might work. But you've used up your trading chips for a player on his way out of the NBA. I would have liked to see Richard Jefferson -- the Spurs, as always, are the sharpest team around.

I'd really like to see some evidence of the former, because in past I've provided you many of the latter.

Evidence?? Look, you...ah, screw it.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:50 AM
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the Spurs, as always, are the sharpest team around

Getting DeJuan Blair with the 37th pick is crazy good fortune. And they seem to do it every single year.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:00 PM
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497: I'm mixed on Blair in the NBA (as seemingly a lot of teams were), he's clearly strong enough to hang in there, but just don't know if he will have the footwork to really shine and longevity is a question. I think he will be a decent "lot of minutes off the bench" guy in his career, but I don't think you can hang your hat on him. I'd like better, what with the P'burgh connections 'n' at, but that is my prognosis. (But he can still be a valuable addition to the right team, probably best that he did not go to a bottom feeder that wanted too much too quickly from him.)


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:10 PM
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If basketball had been invented before Lincoln died, how would it have changed the course of the Civil War?


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:18 PM
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Given that Lincoln would have been a natural, and so would have been shooting hoops rather than going to the theatre in the spring of '65, it certainly would have changed the course of Reconstruction.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:20 PM
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Union in a sweep. Who could have guarded Lincoln? Plus, one assumes that the Yankees would eventually have allowed African-Americans to play. At which point, see the 1966 NCAA championship game.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:22 PM
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Semi-pwned. But not really, I don't think.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:23 PM
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501: see the 1966 NCAA championship game.

When the criminals beat the nice white kids?*

*No kidding, that is how a co-worker characterized it to me many years ago.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:26 PM
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And I'm feeling really good about myself today talking about *authentic* American history and sports. See y'all down at the Red Lobster.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:27 PM
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"Criminals": I assume you were thankful for small favors.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:27 PM
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505: The context of the discussion an upcoming UNLV v. Duke matchup, so the racial part was a bit "nuanced" ... also they were an educated person (well, an engineer) who was "above" anything so crassly direct.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:32 PM
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See y'all down at the Red Lobster.

Say hi to Lisa and Brenda for me.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:33 PM
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506: Look, as long as the guy wasn't killing people -- with broadswords -- he doesn't have to apologize to me for preferring nice white people over black criminals.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:38 PM
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497, 498: I understand the reluctance around DJB, but 37th? Please. The man made Whatsisface from UConn look like a punk not once, but twice. That doesn't come from anyplace you can fake. I mean, he's certainly not a franchise player, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if he has a better career than 25 of the guys picked ahead of him.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 12:43 PM
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492 is much better if you assume it's about fighting in a pit with broadswords instead of basketball.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 1:10 PM
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what isn't ?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 1:11 PM
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511: A doctor's recommendation that you undergo a vasectomy?

Although now that I think about it, vasectomy by basketball doesn't sound very pleasant either.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 2:01 PM
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My failure to identify myself in 512 is much better if you assume it's because I am presently in a pit fighting someone with a broadsword.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 2:02 PM
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vasectomy by basketball doesn't sound very pleasant either

Puts "cutting off the passing lanes" in a new light, though.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 2:07 PM
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513: See? It really is near universal, at least.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 2:07 PM
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Other than the overtime, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the game?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 3:48 PM
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It occurred to me earlier today that if you think the Civil War was justified, and that Lincoln is a heroic figure, you pretty much have to believe that John Brown was at least entitled to use violence. I mean, all the things things people said John Brown was a terrible person for doing were done on a scale ten thousand times larger in the Civil War itself. This gets back to the line attributed to Wolverine: Terrorist? That's just what the big army calls the little army.

As I recall, the last time we had a justified war discussion, Brock and I were the only ones who even suggested that the Civil War could have been avoided, or that slavery could be ended by nonviolent means. Ari, in particular, said it had to happen.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 4:47 PM
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517.2: A position he reiterated in this thread.

I stayed out of the John Brown stuff earlier, mainly because defending the IRA is something a bit more novel and scintillating for me than talking about abolition, but really: I get why Minneapolitan was getting irritated about all the moral fussiness in re: John Brown's violent approach to what was after all a massively violent (and yes, cold-blooded) institution. Who the fuck cares if he was 'crazy,' when it comes right down to it? What does it mean to call him 'evil' when measured
against the gargantuan engine of violence, misery and dehumanization he was confronting? It really is faintly ridiculous.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 4:56 PM
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517.2: Lincoln tried, on a small scale, to free the slaves by buying them (so-called compensated emancipation). But even in Delaware, where slavery was relatively unimportant, slaveholders wouldn't go for it. He really didn't want the war, in other words; it was thrust upon him. And at that point, he had to decide whether to give up the Union or fight. He fought. Nearly 150 years later, I sometimes wonder if it was worth it, apo notwithstanding. But in context, in the moment he made the decision, it's impossible to imagine him choosing any other way and being considered anything but a traitor to the Revolutionary inheritance. Not to mention, if he hadn't fought, the slaves would have remained in chains at least until 1888*, when Brazil finally liberated its slaves.

518: As for the brutality of slavery, you'll get no arguments from me. But Brown's notions about how to free the slaves were completely whacked out and counterproductive, as I said above.

Honestly, that I'm still fighting this fight suggests that I'm just as crazy as Brown. I literally can't help myself.

* This is a guess, of course, but I think it's a pretty safe bet.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:30 PM
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Hi DS!

I should try to add value, but I think it's all been said. It is indeed faintly ridiculous to debate Brown's mental stability as proxy for his moral status as though that somehow marginalizes his response to a very large and pressing state of affairs.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:37 PM
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520: That wasn't my intent, parsimon. I'm not sure, based on my what I've written, where you get that.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:40 PM
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Which is crazier: to continue a pointless argument, or to continue pointing out that a pointless argument is pointless long after everyone's dropped it?

More to the point, which is more likely to revive the pointless argument? And if it's the latter, then is it *really* pointless?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:42 PM
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What does it mean to call him 'evil' when measured
against the gargantuan engine of violence, misery and dehumanization he was confronting?

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Measured against a garguantuan engine of violence, misery and dehumanization like slavery, what moral limits to action do you think there are on the part of those opposed to it?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:50 PM
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Am I the only one who is getting ticked off by this fetishization of ineffective political violence by a bunch of people sitting around at their computers? Seriously, people, there's a lot of bad shit in the world right now and if you want to go around acting like John Brown or the IRA and start bumping people off like a maniac, you can get out and live your fantasy tomorrow. Nothing's stopping you. Go out and stab some Republican state legislators, or try and blow up a Monsanto factory. It will kill some people and not do any good, but it's understandable. Apparently, some folks here won't even think you're insane!

Or, you could, you know, try and work for change through nonviolence and persuasion.

OK, I know this comment is horribly unfair and I'm regretting it as I type, but seriously, come on.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:54 PM
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Am I the only one who is getting ticked off by this fetishization of ineffective political violence by a bunch of people sitting around at their computers?

Some of us just stopped reading the thread.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 5:59 PM
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Ezra Klein incremental optimist extraordinaire, express deep frustration and despair.

John Brown was not ineffective, even if he did not achieve the immediate goals he imagined for himself. Read ari's reviews, JB and the other radicals may have panicked the South into seceding and refusing to negotiate, thereby JB was a partial cause of the war, and a partial factor in emancipation.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:04 PM
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522: Oh, I'm not saying the argument was pointless. I'm just saying Minneapolitan was, on balance, right and those disagreeing with him were wrong.

519.2: For that matter, none of the recipients of slavery's violence wanted it, it was thrust upon them. Brown was 'fanatical' enough to see that as a matter requiring some urgent response, just as though the people in question were being attacked. And after all, they were. Literally. Constantly. Every day. Sometimes, it takes the madmen to point out simple facts like this and advocate radical responses.

And how is Brown supposed to have been "counterproductive"? He lost, he got killed, but losing and getting killed isn't the same thing as "being counterproductive." If in fact his actions helped precipitate the Civil War, as many claim, then they effectively precipitated a final confrontation with pro-slavery forces in America more than twenty years before it would otherwise have happened by your own assessment. That seems like a pretty productive outcome to me.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:04 PM
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Who the fuck cares if he was 'crazy,' when it comes right down to it?

I could be wrong, but you seem to care.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:05 PM
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524: I only fetishize effective political violence, Rob.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:07 PM
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M/tch, stop being so likeable.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:08 PM
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Sometimes, it takes the madmen to point out simple facts like this and advocate radical responses.

So he *was* crazy?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:09 PM
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531: Stop policing me, you horrible, crazy degenerate.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:10 PM
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527 pwnd ya

I am not fetishisizing. I am in whatever hopeless and febrile manner, trying to instigate. Instigate what? Well, anything from whipping the house through demonstrations and marches to whatever. I believe in the Overton window, in which violent radicalism empowers progressives. This is what I get from history.

I will not talk about specifics, and think much of 524 really dumb and offensive.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:10 PM
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528: About craziness? No. Madness in pursuit of justice is no, ummm, pathology. Or something. The crazies are sometimes right, is what I'm saying.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:11 PM
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534: No, you seem to care about whether JB is labelled crazy or not.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:13 PM
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534: And sure, all sorts of people are sometimes right. So?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:14 PM
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532: I think you mean 530. Not that I'm policing you or anything.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:14 PM
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Oh, and 524: OK, I know this comment is horribly unfair and I'm regretting it as I type

You know, especially because if anyone's done any "fetishizing" on this thread it's gotta be you and MK, so the sentiment is really a bit rich. I mean, I grew up with posters of Nelson Mandela on the wall and No Easy Walk to Freedom on my bedside table and I don't even have that rosy a view of them.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:16 PM
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536: You can connect that dot on your own, M/tch. I have faith in your capacities.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:17 PM
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If our wildest leftist faction is Waxman, Baucus, and Obama I suspect we are all gonna die.

Gawd, this was a horrible bill today. The best said about is that it is a beginning, and makes Obama look good.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:17 PM
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DS, he wasn't trying to start the Civil War. Because he trusted the North little more than the South. This was true of most radical abolitionists, by the way, many of whom viewed the Constitution as a compact with the Devil. Were they wrong? Sometimes I wonder. Anyway, he was trying to free the slaves. And freeing the slaves wasn't on Lincoln's radar when the war started. He only got there when he decided he had no other choice. It was an accident of history that Brown's actions hastened emancipation, in other words. You have to get into some crazy-ass (written with a little wink, okay?) teleology to think otherwise.

Or here's another version that also works: P Creek made abolitionists look lousy in the public eye, diminished the moral standing of free-soilers in Kansas, and therefore hurt the causes Brown claimed to care about. It was only because he had the right kind of enemies, enemies even crazier than he was, that Brown later helped precipitate the changes we all identify as positive. And seriously, if you're saying that hastening the onset of the Civil War makes him a good guy, I don't know how to reply to that. Maybe, but when Brown acted there were still other avenues open to people (unlike, say, Lincoln in 1861).


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:18 PM
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Who is MK? This is not an abbreviation I recognize.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:21 PM
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I heard John Brown had like 30 goddamn broadswords.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:25 PM
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543: I don't know about that, but I do know that he could molder with the best of 'em.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:28 PM
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As best as I can tell, your argument for John Brown's "effectiveness" is that the plan was to:

1) Kill a bunch of random, innocent people, which
2) Makes everyone hate you, which
3) Helps (in some unknown way) to escalate tension and create a gigantic, bloody civil war, which
4) Eventually makes things better

Even assuming that this was John Brown's actual plan as opposed to an ex post justification (an unwarranted assumption), there are huge problems in steps 1 (killing innocent people), 2 (you've hurt the broader appeal of your cause), 3 (creating a civil war in which, what, around 600,000 people died) and even 4 (the civil war did end slavery but did not, in fact, liberate African Americans). I think calling John Brown an effective figure is a real stretch.

The argument for the IRA's supposed "effectiveness" is even more ridiculous. In the IRA's case, they lacked a cause even remotely comparable to John Brown's, and had reasonable non-violent options much more readily available.

I do get it that there is something viscerally appealing and understandable about a person being driven so mad by oppression that he resorts to violence, but the argument for effectiveness is just not there.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:31 PM
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I guess one really can't expect the moderate incrementalists and extremists to judge each other and each's contributions fairly and accurately since they have such different assumptions and preceptions.

It was only because he had the right kind of enemies, enemies even crazier than he was

As I said last night, it should be obvious that John Brown had the more accurate assessment of the pro-slavery forces than his incrementalist or appeasing critics. Cause, ya know, secession and happened, soon, and I have a hard time giving Brown all the credit.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:35 PM
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540 If our wildest leftist faction is Waxman, Baucus, and Obama I suspect we are all gonna die.

Gawd, this was a horrible bill today. The best said about is that it is a beginning, and makes Obama look good.

It's hard to fault Waxman. As Yglesias said recently, he seems pretty good at finding good progressive causes and passing the best possible legislation that can be passed. I'm sure if he had any chance of getting the votes, he would have pushed for a much better bill.

But yeah, the bill sucks. My hope is that it's a bargaining chip for reaching deals with other countries that will help quash the Republican "make China and India do it first!" petulant bullshit, paving the way for better legislation in the future.

Still, the prospects for it getting through the Senate seem bleak. Can we burn down the Senate?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:35 PM
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OK, pwnd in the worst way by Ari, who is actually a knowledgeable historian. And I'll take DS's point about my comments about MK earlier in the thread. To be honest, I don't really know enough about the history of South Africa to comment usefully.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:36 PM
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542: umKhonto weSizwe. The military wing of the ANC.

541: No, Brown was quite specifically hoping to stir civil conflict over slavery even if he himself failed. (At least if Stephen Oates has anything like the measure of the man.) Which ultimately was what happened, thanks to the cooperation of the pro-slavery faction -- and instead of dismissing it as just 'accident' that he had 'the right kind of enemies,' we might do well to wonder if he hadn't in fact taken the correct measure of those enemies in a way that others at the time hadn't done.

As for hastening the onset of the Civil War making him "a good guy," well, let me see your little wink and raise you a companionable nudge when I suggest that if you believe slavery would not have ended until 1888 without the Civil War, and you find that state of affairs as distasteful as you appear to find it (and I'd be completely with you on that), it's hard not to conclude that John Brown's hastening its onset was a productive outcome. That would be true even if he were a bad guy who raped babies for casual entertainment, really; his being a "good guy" has nothing to do with it.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:36 PM
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3 (creating a civil war in which, what, around 600,000 people died) and even 4 (the civil war did end slavery but did not, in fact, liberate African Americans)

Not to mention that there was no guarantee at the outset that the Civil War would be won by the North, much less that it would end slavery.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:38 PM
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Ooh! If JB were a baby-raper would that make him crazy in and of itself? Or are there possible scenarios where baby-raping is an acceptable political act?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:40 PM
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549: We're in agree to disagree territory. So long as you're not claiming that Brown was sane because Frederick Douglass was sane and liked him enough to offer him a roof over his head, I think I can let it go. Until parsimon comes back to stir the pot, that is. Then I'm going off.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:40 PM
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545:It is one tactic of non-violent resistance or to provoke the disproportionate response. This was in part the aim of Freedom Summer and the goal of MLK, to get firehosed.

This is also insurgency and asymmetrical warfare 101.

The Russian anarchists of the turn of the century helped provoke the brutality of 1905, which led to the Duma and other more ineffective measures before the October Revolution.

There are tons of successful examples, and manym like the Maccabees, less successful.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:41 PM
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549: I will say this, though, the Oates book ain't great. You should totally read DuBois and Reynolds, preferably back to back.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:41 PM
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551: "IOKIYAR"


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:44 PM
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545: If you view the continuing suffering of uncountable years of slavery as of little or no account, the specter of civil conflict would deter you. Once you come to view slavery as a violent assault being committed daily -- which IMO is the more empirically descriptive view -- that argument loses a lot of its force. And no, abolition did not liberate African-Americans, OTOH we do rather have to concede that ending slavery was nonetheless something of a result, right?

McManus is right about "provoking the disproportionate response" being a fairly common tactic. This isn't, as you appear to believe, so outlandish and impossible a tactic that it's ridiculous to believe anyone could ever utilize it effectively.

About the IRA I've nothing further to say that I didn't already say in 334.

554: Was there anything in particular you didn't like in the Oates book?


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 6:54 PM
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If you view the continuing suffering of uncountable years of slavery as of little or no account

Awesome. Clearly that's how people who disagree with you on this thread view the matter.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:00 PM
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556: Oates is a big fan of potted history and not much for reading documents. He also likes heroic narratives way too much. Read Oates's Brown and then his Lincoln biographies; they're remarkably similar in terms of tone and trajectory. It's a formula, in other words, like Behind the Music.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:02 PM
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557: I wasn't saying anything about "people who disagree with me on this thread." Just that bastard Halford.

And look, I'm sure that's not something he believes, but you can't exactly evaluate Brown's moral legacy without putting The Whips and The Chains and The Mmmmglayven on the scale. Eventually, you're going to have to offend somebody by reminding them that they've forgotten to put this little item on the scale and are therefore a horrible racist. That's a sacrifice I'm willing to make, by Jove.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:03 PM
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558: But... Behind the Music is awesome...


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:05 PM
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560: Totally true. But it's not great history. And once you've seen a few episodes, it's kind of predictable, right? Not that that's a bad thing.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:07 PM
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(And yes, Halford, I'm aware that I've been a total bastard to you this entire thread. I'm sorry about that. I owe you a brew if I ever meet you.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:07 PM
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557:See 546.1

I was going to say something about the "relative tolerance of injustice" but I suppose that is another offensive framing. I need to give more though about why radicals and moderates have so little empathy for each other, assuming I am capable of objective analysis.

I assume ari is very pleased that it is the radicals like rosa who get killed by the moderates. He wins. It is his world.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:10 PM
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bob, please stop accusing me of delighting in the suffering and death of other people, especially my heroes.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:17 PM
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Eventually, you're going to have to offend somebody by reminding them that they've forgotten to put this little item on the scale and are therefore a horrible racist.

Well, it's offensive when they haven't actually forgotten to put it on the scale.

I assume ari is very pleased that it is the radicals like rosa who get killed by the moderates. He wins. It is his world.

That's some weak ass trolling, bob. I'm sure you can do better. Maybe you'll even provoke a disproportionate response!


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:18 PM
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564: Dammit ari!


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:18 PM
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566: Wait, I thought that was proportionate. I deleted the disproportionate response. Or maybe that one was proportionate? It's just so confusing once the badass commandos like bob begin engaging in assymetric warfare.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:21 PM
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565: Oh, I'm sure you would remember to put it on the scale, M/tch, have no fear. But it was rather conspicuously not being given much weight in the assessment in 545.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:22 PM
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Well now that ari's started it, bob, I'm assuming you're talking about Rosa Luxemburg? Which moderates killed her exactly?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:23 PM
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567: I was just assuming you'd written 564 after driving over to Bob's house and shooting it up with AK-47.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:24 PM
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But it was rather conspicuously not being given much weight in the assessment in 545.

Well then I guess you're rather conspicuously not giving much weight to those killed and maimed in the Civil War. Unless you're claiming that that number was inevitable no matter what happened?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:27 PM
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571: How'd you know my nickname? "A to the motherfucking K"?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:28 PM
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568:I am not here to teach history, MM. Try Wiki.

564:So you oppose futile revolutionary gestures but Rosa & Karl are heroes to you? The infinite nuance of your politics are apparently beyond my abilities.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:28 PM
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And seriously, if you're saying that hastening the onset of the Civil War makes him a good guy, I don't know how to reply to that. Maybe, but when Brown acted there were still other avenues open to people (unlike, say, Lincoln in 1861).

Howabout this: Harriet Tubman was effective in freeing slaves, which was in turn helpful in bringing on the Civil War (if you think that's important) without behaving like a serial killer. On one raid, John Brown killed one slaveowner and freed 11 slaves.

On balance, I think killing innocent civilians is wrong. I think when you are specifically targeting innocent/non-combatant civilians, you are going wrong, particularly if you think God has told you to do that. However, I find it easy to sympathize with Tubman, even when she killed people, because she wasn't finding random people to hack up, she went after the actual target. (Obviously, Southerners would not consider even that legitimate. Oh, well.)

Generally, my reading of the detailed history of 20th century (and the 19th as well) indicates that when you begin intentionally killing civilians/non-combatants for The Cause, it never works out, either because you fail to move the ball, or worse, you end committing much more monstrous things than the acts you were trying to prevent. When you start saying that X monstrous act resulted in Y wonderful thing when it was not a direct result, such as saying blowing up people caused reform in Russia (did it? Or was there a large movement for reform, and such a large group of people invariably contains a few nuts?), you are getting close to the position of saying Hitler caused long-term peace in Europe by killing a bunch of Jews.

max
['Not a place I think you wish to be.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:29 PM
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573: I know who killed Rosa Luxemburg, bob. You're claiming that her killers were moderates?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:30 PM
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569: I once named a cat Rosa, after Rosa Luxemburg. I also once named a dog Meg, after the little girl in A Wrinkle in Time. I'd cry at the memories -- if I wasn't so busy manning the battlements.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:30 PM
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But of course I had the cat declawed. Because, you know.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:31 PM
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So you oppose futile revolutionary gestures but Rosa & Karl are heroes to you?

Futile? You think that's what they were after?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:32 PM
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573.2: I contain multitudes, bob. I really do. And you haven't even scratched the surface.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:32 PM
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I think the real point here is that if M/tch goes crazy--OR NOT--and kills a bunch of commenters, it'll be totally justified.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:33 PM
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And wait, which Karl? Reiner? Yes, I think he's fucking great.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:34 PM
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And wait, which Karl? Reiner?

George Karl.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:35 PM
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innocent/non-combatant civilians

You know, this is generally a good distinction. I find it's sticking in my craw a little in this specific context, though -- how innocent/non-combatant do slaveholders count as, individually, civilian or not?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:35 PM
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582: I hate that fucker. Apologies to Tarheel Nation.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:37 PM
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571: No, I weighed it against the continued suffering of a population of almost four million chattel slaves (potentially up to five and a half million by 1888 at previous rates of increase).

572: Lucky guess, Ari. Lucky guess.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:38 PM
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Leibkbecht

578:They were smashed easily and instantly, at whim & will. I don't know that I care what they were after.

I actually like the Bavarians and Viennese better.

And Lenin and Trotsky best.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:39 PM
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583:


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:39 PM
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Would you hate him more if he made some futile revolutionary gestures?


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:40 PM
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Oops.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:41 PM
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587: I have a feeling we're about see why they call him A to the motherfucking K.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:41 PM
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588: It's hard for me to think of a more futile revolutionary gesture than slowing it down against the Lakers, when the games were being played at altitude.

Also, 587 was a byproduct of the difficulty I have in typing while simultaneously digging trenches.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:42 PM
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575:What would you call them, monarchists?

Are you saying the Freikorps killed them, not the ones who gave the orders?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:43 PM
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590: Ari Kelman, at your service. Do you require any moderation with your "slow and steady wins the race"?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:45 PM
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The focus on Pottawatomie and not on the rest of bleeding Kansas suggests that the case against John Brown isn't about just the use of violence. No one says, as far as I know, that he shouldn't have participated in the battles in Kansas at all - or, at least, that it was crazy to have done so. The questionable stuff has to do with, against the counsel even of some of the men who joined him, leading a secret party away from the main fighting unit one night, dragging people out of their houses, and then directing that they be killed and their bodies mutilated. And then a few years later attempting to take a federal arsenal with 19 men, believing that a massive revolt was imminent and reinforcements would soon be recruited, and again against the counsel of even some of his closest allies.

Oh, is this thread back to NBA again? Oh well.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 7:57 PM
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Well, you have to admit that a massive revolt was imminent.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:10 PM
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Huh? You means slaves fleeing to union lines after the war started? Because Brown was expecting a massive slave revolt (as I should have noted above).


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:14 PM
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Small joke. The unpleasantness that started up in the spring of '61 counts as a revolt, even if not a slave revolt.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:19 PM
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562 -- YES. Free beer. Mission accomplished. I knew there had to be a reason why I waste so much time here.

Max's 574 is a pretty good summary of my thoughts. Going around killing innocent people -- yes, even slaveholders -- in the hope of blowing shit up is not a great idea, and I think questions of historical causation and ex ante vs. ex post are getting pretty seriously confused here.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:21 PM
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Looking this up yesterday, I learned that Gerrit Smith, one of the Secret Six supporting Brown, had a breakdown after Brown was caught and had himself committed to an asylum for a while. He later denied knowing exactly what Brown was up to. And after the war he was part of a group of Northerners who helped Jefferson Davis - who had wanted him prosecuted for Brown's raid, no less - post bail in 1867.

This doesn't have much bearing on Brown, but it's interesting. Smith seems to have been one of those abolitionists who thought emancipation by itself was enough.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:24 PM
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Also, George Karl did an OK job w/the Nuggets in that series, I thought. Take out a few clutch plays from Odom and Ariza and that series easily goes the other way. Much better than SVG's atrocious coaching in the finals.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:26 PM
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Were the Pottawatomie settlers slaveholders? I assume they were - but perhaps their slaves were not in Kansas - but they seem always to be described as pro-slavery and no slaves seem to have been freed that night (unlike a later Brown raid). And the accounts have Brown asking the men who were killed about violence against free-soil settlers, not about slavery. But I could have missed some details.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:27 PM
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Until this discussion I thought the case that Brown was crazy was a lot stronger than it was.

Something that I find curious is that from a certain remove deaths in war don't count. They carry a weight of zero in any utilitarian calculus. If the October Revolution led to a Civil War that killed 98% of the population of Russia, but the other 2% went on to live in harmony then the whole thing would be regarded as an unalloyed good. Planning ahead, killing 600,000 to liberate 5 million is clearly an insane trade. You'd have to be Curtis LeMay to like those numbers. Yet this long after the fact the suffering of the slaves seems real, but the Civil War deaths don't.

I don't mean this as a criticism. I have the same visceral reaction. My own attitude towards the Civil War is that expressed by the Lincoln in the Second Inaugural, that "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether".


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:28 PM
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601: I have the impression that there weren't any slaves in the area; it seems unlikely that people to came to Kansas for the purpose of making it a slave state unless they were slaveholders back in Missouri or whereever they came from. But I don't think there's any allegation at all that the goal of Pottawatomie was to free individual slaves present that night.

I still think 583 holds. Someone trying to spread the institution of slavery may be a civilian, but they're not an innocent bystander.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:34 PM
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602 is interesting.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:36 PM
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Planning ahead, killing 600,000 to liberate 5 million is clearly an insane trade.

Huh. One death, for about nine lives in freedom versus slavery. I'm not sure that I'd call that clearly insane -- a ghastly price to have to pay, but not obviously incommensurate.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:36 PM
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592: Well, do you think the people who ordered the killing, and those who actually carried it out, were following the dictates of procedural liberalism or some other moderate agenda?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:47 PM
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The Pottawatomie Massacre was insanity... in a territory that had gone insane and was effectively being occupied by pro-slavery forces who were forcibly occupying polling places, rigging the vote, and sacking and looting towns that dared defy them with Pierce's tacit backing. So, not exactly the "John Brown was the Devil" fodder that many people seem to want it to be.

602: The 600,000 Civil War deaths seem pretty real to me, as much as deaths at that remove can, and I think seem more real to a lot of people than the realities of slavery, which are the stuff of abolitionist speeches so infinitely recycled that they've become cliche, easy to dismiss. "Sure... the slaves suffered... BUT..."

And... but what? Even by the standards of other forms of history slavery, American slavery ranked high as a delivery system for consistent, nigh-inescapable sadism, brutality and dehumanization. One measure of it is how important the issue obviously was to people who had direct experience of both the slavery and the death and dying the war involved: 180,000 blacks served in the Union army with substandard pay and often-abonimable treatment, and collectively they contributed a tenth of the war dead. The Unionist Yanks could well be accused of carpet-bagging and ulterior motives, but I'd contend it's naive to think the black soldiers were fighting for anything other than ending slavery. If they thought it was worth that much death and dying, maybe it'd be wise to pay some heed to their perspective.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:48 PM
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Plus it isn't just numbers. Aside from the fact that the 5 mil doesn't include their descendants, and their descendants' descendants, even on the 1:1 level, I'd take a death in wartime--including, say, months of starvation and forced marches and gangrene and dysentery--over a lifetime of slavery including rape and the sale and lifetime enslavement of my children.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:50 PM
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"history slavery" s/b "historical slavery" of course, and I'm pretty sure there's a more-correct spelling of "abonimable."


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:50 PM
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No, I weighed it against the continued suffering of a population of almost four million chattel slaves (potentially up to five and a half million by 1888 at previous rates of increase).

Yeah, I knew that. But I also think it's pretty clear that Halford weighed the continuation of slavery. Him coming to a different reckoning than you isn't actually an indication that he didn't think to consider slavery in his calculations.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:50 PM
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LB is more bloodthirsty than I'd thought (kidding).

To push the conversation into horrible analogy land, Eastern Europe in the 1950s featured millions of people living in horribly repressed conditions, including hundreds of thousands who were literally being worked to death as slaves in bondage. Would it have been worth 600,000 US lives to have engaged in a policy of rollback? Or, if nuclear war with the Soviets is what kills that analogy, should we have sent up to 600000 people to die to liberate North Vietnam (which also featured fairly extensive slavery)? How many people should we kill now to liberate folks in the Congo? Should we have invaded Brazil in 1870?

These killing calculations get very complicated very quickly.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:51 PM
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And 608 is totally right.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:51 PM
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""abonmimnable."

Now I'll be able to sleep tonight.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:51 PM
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614

Fuck you, DS.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:52 PM
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611: The comparisons get a lot less interesting if you don't concede (as one shouldn't) an equivalence of life under communist rule to chattel slavery, and don't ignore the added complications of attacking and attempting to rule countries with foreign cultures and politics that you don't know / understand.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:54 PM
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614 to the pwnage of 607. Not 612. Fucking slow goddamn iPhone.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:54 PM
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614: Smooches!


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 8:54 PM
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Until this discussion I thought the case that Brown was crazy was a lot stronger than it was.

Yeah, but I don't think the case as it's been made in this thread or in more detail elsewhere is that he was a psycho serial killer insane or totally stark raving incoherent lunatic insane. Just that he crossed a few lines that others with similar beliefs didn't. Parenthetical and others are almost surely right above that the specific insanity question is sort of beside the point. But that's what threads are for!


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:00 PM
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619

Through good times
And bad times, I'll be flaming you for ever more
For sure... that's what threads are fooorrr....


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:03 PM
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620

Has anyone said that violence in service of emancipation was wrong? Because if so, I'd like to disagree with that person. The question (just one among many, I guess) has been, when was violence warranted?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:04 PM
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621

Sorry, all violence in service of emancipation was wrong?


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:05 PM
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622

I read an interesting article in a volume devoted to Anscombe about her positions on war that made much of the distinction between innocents and noncombatants.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:06 PM
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Fucking slow goddamn iPhone.

pwnage is the wages if tech hipsterdom, bitch.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:07 PM
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607: I don't think they really do seem real to most people. People like to talk about all of the Civil War dead because nice big numbers add to the air of moral seriousness. If the death toll had been equal to that of the Football War, the Civil War would seem less important (at least to white America), even if it ended slavery. Southerners only care about the Civil War because their ancestors lost it. If the death toll had been twice as much but they had won it, the Confederate History Channel would air 24-hour odes to the awesomeness of it.

No one outside of Stormfront questions the visceral awfulness of slavery, which is why Confederate apologists have to work overtime to write it out of history. It was all about the tariff, you know.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:08 PM
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I'm just pointing out that chattel slavery, while horrible, was by no means unique on the overall scale of modern historical atrocity. I mean, there were, literally, hundreds of thousands to millions of actual slaves in the Communist countries between 1930 and 1955 -- many of them in slavery, in effect, because of the US Army's (correct, IMO)refusal to move quickly into Eastern Europe in 1945.

I'm not arguing against fighting the US civil war, by the way. I think it was effectively forced on the North by the South, and, once joined, had to be won. But I do think the principle that war is the option of last resort is a critically important one.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:08 PM
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New question. Should Slack be banned for 619, or just shunned temporarily?


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:09 PM
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620: Jesus, Ari. I can't believe that you'd think that all violence in service of emancipation was wrong. What about the slaves? WILL NO-ONE THINK OF THE SLAVES???!???


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:09 PM
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626: Oh, bitchy, give him one more chance . . . .


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:11 PM
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607 and 610. And as 625 demonstrable, it was being weighed in sufficiently light and abstract manner that it's supposed to be comparable to life under communism (sorry, I'm back to being a dick to you, Mr. Halford: that's stupid), so I feel much better about standing by the initial remark.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:12 PM
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618: I was taught that he was literally insane. "Crossed a few lines" seems a long way from that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:12 PM
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Huh. Let's try that opener again: "607 to 610. And as 625 demonstrates"

That's better.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:13 PM
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Somewhat relevant, from Dominic Lieven's Empire: The Russian Empire and its Rivals:

The history of empire is far too important to be value-free. The rise and fall of empires to a great extent determines which values and ideologies will dominate an era. The study of empire says much about the contemporary global order, its origins, its moral and political bases, and the manner in which it may evolve. It is important to study empire in as many-sided, objective and 'sympathetic' a way as one can manage. It is neither possible nor desirable to be neutral about its history. In this subject neutrality would be equivalent to indifference to the fate of the human race. Judgements are inevitably influenced by who one is and by the dominant perspectives and values of the time at which one is writing. The descendent of a West Indian slave may have a rather different perspective on the British Empire from that of a European liberated from Nazi rule by British and imperial armies. It is certainly possible to condemn outright the hideous suffering of those subjected to Stalin's rule but idle to pretend that history would not have mitigated this condemnation had the society he created endured for generations and resulted ultimately in ever higher levels of material prosperity, Soviet global power and even some degree of individual freedom. In writing this book I have done my best to be objective and to present as rounded a picture of empire as possible.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:13 PM
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Sorry, all violence in service of emancipation was wrong?

Come and see the violence inherent in the system!


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:14 PM
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WILL NO-ONE THINK OF THE SLAVES???!???

I try not to. Too icky.

(See? I wrote that in the same thread that I asked LB not to imply that I equate abolitionism and lunacy. And I asked her not to do that, because, believe it or not, I have some minor concerns that someone, some day, will use threads like these to hurt me professionally. So why do I make jokes like the one above, you ask? Courage, my friend, pure unalloyed courage. Oh, and I'm a radical; I like to throw caution to the wind.)


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:14 PM
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626: Darlin', I... I can't get enough of Unfogged, baby...
I don't know why... can't get enough of Unfogged, baby...

Yes, I am banned.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:16 PM
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I cut and pasted and then posted the quote in 632. I don't quite endorse it, but I think it's the good sort of provocative.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:16 PM
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630: People make that claim, yeah, but not very often any more. Psychohistory (or whatever dumb name that school had) is pretty much out, leaving most people interested in Brown scratching their heads and saying, "How should I know if he was literally crazy? Wild eyes, though."


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:17 PM
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But I will flout my self-imposed ban to note that 627 should be used to roundly mock any further protestations that M/tch makes about how offensive it is to assume slavery is sufficiently abstract to some moderns that they treat it more lightly than they should.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:23 PM
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628, he had 635. BANNED.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:24 PM
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640

639 pwned by a comment it references, yeesh.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:26 PM
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641

I knew Slack wouldn't honor it.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:29 PM
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638: Serious question, DS, you think people can't take a historical injustice very seriously, perhaps even to the point of empathizing with the victims/survivors, and still make jokes about it? That's utter nonsense. My mother survived Hitler, and I make jokes about the Holocaust all the time. Not to mention my non-stop anti-Semitism.

So now we're into the in-group, out-group discussion, I know, and maybe there's something to that. But still, it's unfogged; people make jokes about all kinds of things here that they know are very serious. I mean, I just joked about Josh's impotence in the other thread. And the fact that he hasn't been able to make sweet, sweet love to me for months is serious business. Honestly, I'm surprised at your comment.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:30 PM
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641: I'm trying! I keep trying to get out, and they pull me back in.

638 was a joke, Ari.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:32 PM
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641: True enough. On the other hand, if he keeps making these little medlies he'll just be band.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:32 PM
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Wild eyes, though

There seems to be a whole school - in the stylistic, if not interpretive sense - of Civil War historiography that involves long hours staring at portraits. Who knew black and white photography would reveal so many steely gray eyes?


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:32 PM
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sorry 'bout that. I hang my head.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:32 PM
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Now I feel foolish. Again. I hate myself. Because I'm a Jew!


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:33 PM
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(A bad joke, obviously. I'm doubly-banned. To the point where I might even stop commenting.

After this one.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:33 PM
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pshaw, DS. people have been like 30 goddam banned and not iven up. You don't get off that easy.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:36 PM
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605

Huh. One death, for about nine lives in freedom versus slavery. I'm not sure that I'd call that clearly insane -- a ghastly price to have to pay, but not obviously incommensurate.

So killing 10% of the slave population to move them from 1855 conditions to 1875 conditions would have been ok?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:45 PM
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Hey, dude, I didn't claim that chattel slavery as practiced in the US was equivalent to "life under communism," fuck you very much. It's not obviously completely incomparable to the ACTUAL slavery in Eastern Europe or the USSR -- like, slave labor camps where people were worked to death -- endured by hundreds of thousands to millions. This wasn't the same thing as chattel slavery in the US, but it's not trivializing the horror of chattel slavery in the US to point out that historical atrocity does not automatically justify violent war AT ANY COST, which seems to be where you're headed.

In fact, I'm really starting to lose my cool about the constant implication that I'm somehow trivializing the experience of US chattel slavery, despite the free beer, and am now more inclined to punch you in the face, which I admit is hypocritical given my position in this conversation. Seriously, though, those aren't light accusations, so lay the fuck off.

Modern war is hell, and there's a lot to be said for maintaining peace even in the face of injustice, while working for change through peaceful means. That's one of the key principles that guides my own politics. Advocating ineffective violence, even in the service of a just underlying cause, is not a good idea, and your arguments for the effectiveness of John Brown are just not very good. Nor are the arguments for an easy and obvious tradeoff between lives killed in war and good political results. None of that means that anyone here, and especially not me, are trivializing how bad slavery actually was.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:48 PM
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618

... Parenthetical and others are almost surely right above that the specific insanity question is sort of beside the point. ...

I don't think it is beside the point at all. If you could show that John Brown was probably for example a paranoid schizophrenic that would be interesting. If you have no such case then perhaps you shouldn't claim he was insane.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:51 PM
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652: There's pretty much no way to definitively diagnose insanity under some now-current official designation in any historical figure prior to a certain point in time, and I think Brown falls on the "no way" side of the timeline. (Though there was already such a thing as the insanity defense by then, I believe.) So you end up with cases built up from contemporaries saying he was insane or suffering from "monomania" and other contemporaries saying he was sane and monomania is just another way of describing his single-minded dedication to a cause. You're not going to get much farther than concluding that it was a question at the time and a question that still gets debated now and then.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 9:58 PM
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If you could show that

That's a terrible load of work to ask an "if" to do, James.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:00 PM
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649 emboldens me to respond to 651, which deserves a serious response in any case.

All bullshittery aside: I don't mean to give the impression of justifying violent war at any cost, far from it, and I absolutely agree with you that there's a lot to be said for nonviolence. Going back, waaaaay back now to the original post, I've mainly been concerned to point out (along LB-style lines, because I think she has an interesting point) that there are in fact coherent, contextually-convincing and not easy-to-dismiss arguments -- along the lines of "just war" arguments -- for phenomena like the IRA (to whose defense I leapt because I thought she threw them to the wolves too precipitously) or crazy old John Brown. (If you find my arguments not that good, that's fine... I'd be more convinced by more detail, though.)

I admit to having been somewhat passive-aggressively offended by what seemed to me to be a too-light attitude on your part toward chattel slavery. Plainly that was unjust. I was wrong, and I apologize unreservedly.

And with that, I depart into the wildernesses of true bandom. Never to be heard from again, for at least fifteen full minutes.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:02 PM
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654

That's a terrible load of work to ask an "if" to do, James

Isn't it likely you could make such a case if John Brown was in fact a paranoid schizophrenia?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:11 PM
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(Some further elaboration of 655: I am, it's probably evident, inclined to cut some slack to people who are responding to violence by belligerent parties, for all that I believe nonviolence would be the more laudable response where practicable. The pro-slavery faction were the belligerents in Bleeding Kansas, the Unionists were the belligerents in the Troubles, so I do tend to look somewhat askance at moralistic condemnations of those who answered that violence with their own. That doesn't mean I'm endorsing violence as the best solution... it does mean I think the greater part of the condemnation ought to hang on the people who initiated the violence.)


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:23 PM
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655 -- Thanks for that kind response, seriously. I now officially call off the war and will return to my own beer. These historical conversations are frustrating and emotional, perhaps because they can seem like Kabuki theater for political arguments that aren't being made explicitly (I'm not saying you're doing this, just that the emotions at stake here are likely high for reasons having little to do with people's dispassionate assessment of historical figure John Brown, but that's what we're talking about directly, and confusion results). I do suspect that faced when any actual, contemporary call for political violence we'd almost certainly be on exactly the same side.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:24 PM
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The border ruffians in Bleeding Kansas were surely the villiains in the story, DS. But I just don't see how that lets Brown off the hook for P Creek. And by the way, on Robert's behalf, I accept your very gracious apology


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:26 PM
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658: These historical conversations are frustrating and emotional, perhaps because they can seem like Kabuki theater for political arguments that aren't being made explicitly

Very true. I think some of this can be present even if we don't consciously know we're doing it.

I do suspect that faced when any actual, contemporary call for political violence we'd almost certainly be on exactly the same side.

I suspect the same.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:28 PM
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I'd like to note, for the record, that bob is right: I'd have my boot on both of your necks.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:30 PM
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I mean, metaphorically. Because my feet aren't big enough that my boot could be on both of your necks at the same time.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:31 PM
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662: God gave you two feet for a reason, ari.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:38 PM
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656: at this remove I don't believe it's remotely plausible, no. But one of the historians could probably convince me otherwise.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:39 PM
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I come from a long line of run-for-the-hills types, myself.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:49 PM
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John Brown was THE DEVIL!!


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:50 PM
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I come from the Long Line.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:51 PM
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666, 667: The proof of John Brown's devil-ness is that his head was a horned sphere.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:54 PM
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667: You'll never make it to the hills in time.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 10:57 PM
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I come from a long line of run-for-the-hills types, myself.

You're just trying to get Halford to sing you a song so you can get DS's depredations out of your head, aren't you?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 06-26-09 11:20 PM
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You got me.


Posted by: Bitchphd | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:22 AM
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668: [insert joke about the hairy ball theorem here]


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 2:04 AM
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618: Huh. If no one other than me was talking about crazy in the 'if we got him to a modern day psychiatrist, he would have been diagnosed as seriously mentally ill' sense, my whole argument with Ari was talking at cross-purposes. I'd had the impression, like Walt in 630, that Brown was conventionally thought to be literally mentally ill.

That was all I was doing with the 'transitivity of craziness' bit -- not that associating with sane people means you're right, or sensible, or not misguided, but that if sane people are treating your plans with respect, you're probably (not certainly, but probably) not acutely mentally ill.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 5:41 AM
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Will Self riffs on that sort of topic (transitivity of craziness) in his early 'Quantity Theory of Insanity', which is quite amusing.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 5:54 AM
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There are no jokes about the Hairy Ball Theorem. That's some serious business.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 6:27 AM
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I can't say I approve of folks being pretty loose with the lives of countless thousands, whether of the collateral consequences of the planned slave revolt, or of the Civil War. Most of the 600,000 soldiers dead can be counted 'innocent' as of October 1859, and this number is grossly low anyway, not taking into account the consequences on hundreds of thousands more seriously wounded, not to mention widows, orphans, and other civilan casualties. You can say that some starving orphan in Maine deserved his fate for having been born in a country that allowed slavery. Count me out, though.

Alternative history is a fool's errand, but if you're going to play, you have to measure the thing that happened against more possible outcomes than simple continuation of the status quo. I don't think continuation of status quo 1859 up to and including 1888 would have been viable. Would the sin have been purged but by blood? Maybe not, but how much, and whose, are questions that only the most casual can either pass over or assume to answer.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 6:40 AM
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I can't say I approve of folks being pretty loose with the lives of countless thousands, whether of the collateral consequences of the planned slave revolt, or of the Civil War

And that's a very conventional position. Where I was going in the original post is that the kind of cautious political response that people of the time largely took in opposition to slavery, itself looks like it's being pretty loose with the lives of millions. There's not an easy position to take, either then or in retrospect, that unambiguously treats all of the competing issues (deaths in war, ongoing slavery) with the seriousness they deserved.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 7:15 AM
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Wow, 170 more comments on the NBA draft?

Oh, apparently not. You people!


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 7:32 AM
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Also, 667 etc. reminds me that my dad the math major said that topology was the hardest thing he ever studied. By a lot.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 8:05 AM
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I don't think continuation of status quo 1859 up to and including 1888 would have been viable.

I think the point of ari's contention is that the best case - in terms of avoiding open battle - you could imagine would be peaceful emancipation post-1888, however you get there. So that when you're balancing the IRL Civil War against alternatives, you can't just say things like, "If Lincoln had been more conciliatory, the slaves would have been freed in 1865, and 600k lives saved." Not that the choices on the table were War in 1861 or Peaceful Emancipation in 1888 (even between those 2 extremes, it's a non-obvious calculus).

Given that everyone* in 1861 expected the Union to win quickly and relatively painlessly, it's hard for me to credit any alternate history that entails a war less bloody than the IRL one.

* OK, presumably not the Confederates. But my impression is that they were counting on the Union blinking, not on defeating the Union outright


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 8:13 AM
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The most important thing is the moral complexity of this stuff. John Brown may be crazy, but the state often is too, and while it's easy to see the craziness of the wild-eyed dude with the broadsword it's hard to see the madness of the state because we're immersed in it. Taking state violence seriously doesn't necessarily mean revolutionary violence is justified, but the two should be judged by something like the same pragmatic standards.

I think in a pragmatic sense the state generally comes out better than revolutionaries, but only because there are so often such serious practical costs to disrupting state structures. (That supposed Iraqi proverb: "better a thousand years of tyranny than one year of anarchy"). This is like Weber's "ethic of responsibility" -- the near-omnipresence of corrupt means in running human affairs forces you into the intense ethical consequentialism in how you reach your ends. I just find the whole set of questions very disturbing, especially now that states have nukes.

Bye. I'm outta here for a while.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 10:02 AM
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It may be interesting to speculate on John Brown's sanity, but is it all surprising that one of the people at the vanguard of the rupture of civility was somewhat on the edge? That it was a somewhat messianic personality who had a trade (wool) which exposed him to places and people who were stalwart abolitionists? Alternate histories are particularly fraught (although inescapable in real-time for consequentialists), but I am quite sure that no oe really thinks that if Brown had been rammed to death in a tragic woolgathering accident in the early 1850s that the shape of the next decade would have been appreciably different.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 10:54 AM
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It would be interesting to look at the teaching of history (to children, who get the boiled-down version acceptable to the people who vet textbooks) at various periods in relation to the events of the time.

In the early sixties, in a Catholic school in Detroit, I was taught that John Brown was an awesome martyr, and no one dreamed of suggesting he might be insane. Of course we only got the vaguest story of what he did (tried to start a slave rebellion). I think this (the early sixties) was a time when the possibility of domestic terrorism was not very much on the average American's radar.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 11:00 AM
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If anyone is keeping count, put me down on the side of 600,000 or more dead being a bad thing.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 11:07 AM
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682 -- You know, I have to say that we can't say. History, and life, are filled with 'want of a nail' situations of one kind or another. You can't say that the US would've invaded Iraq in the first half of this decade if either (a) the butterfly ballot had been differently designed or (b) the Gore campaign had known in the immediate aftermath of election day what we now know about overvoting in Duval County.

680 -- The Civil War might have been less bloody if Lee had been half the man his many modern apologists take him for. (I think his conduct in 1864 and 65 inexcusable, because I don't think playing for Lincoln's defeat in the election was viable enough to justify the expenditure in lives. That's just me, though). Hell, you don't have to postulate much change for Richmond to fall in an alternate Seven Days, which surely Changes Everything.

In any event, you can't balance the suffering looking back, because you can't tell what alternatively would have happened (including backing out some measure of Jim Crow that followed from defeat). And you certainly can't measure it going forward. The choice facing the person in John Brown's position, though, seems clear enough to me: he knows he's going to harm the specific people he's intending to harm, and any good that can come of it -- even looking at only one side of the ledger, which you can't morally do -- is only speculative.

OK, back to the grind.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 11:14 AM
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685.1 History, and life, are filled with 'want of a nail' situations of one kind or another

Of course. I am not arguing for the complete irrelevance of individual actors. But without going into detail, I find the particular counterexample you have chosen to be utterly uncompelling with regard to shedding any light on alternatives as to how the passions and feeling surrounding slavery in the US in the mid-nineteenth century might have gotten resolved. And I suspect that if you think about it a little longer you would join me in this.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 11:39 AM
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This thread prompted me to re-read "March" by Geraldine Brooks. John Brown only briefly appears in the novel but his presence is heavy over much of it. The topic(s) discussed here are central to the novel. I recommend it.


Posted by: jakie | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:07 PM
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685.2:

Those are fightin' words, Maryland/Montana boy.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:12 PM
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ok, I actually agree with Carp about Lee. Despite his impeccable blood lines, I do not think his actions in those times hold up well under review.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:14 PM
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689 -- I agree. Despite his excellent bloodline, Courtney Lee totally botched that play at the end of game 2 of the finals, which is probably why he's now playing for New Jersey.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:21 PM
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In the early sixties, in a Catholic school in Detroit, I was taught that John Brown was an awesome martyr, and no one dreamed of suggesting he might be insane.

In the 70s, in Virginia, I was taught that he was a psychotic killer who set back any cause that he was allegedly fighting for.

I've been thinking about how I was taught since this thread came up. I think somewhere around middle school or high school Caroline and Joey and I are going to have to read Howard Zinn in parallel with whatever they are being taught in school, which may not endear me to teachers.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:36 PM
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682 is right.

Yeah, by far the biggest flaw in my whole "John Brown's effectiveness" argument is that it requires a concession that John Brown was particularly necessary to / at fault for the Civil War. Which of course he wasn't, especially; he was just a specific catalyst out of thousands of possible candidates. If we're really concerned about being careless with thousands of lives, we should look to what-ifs on the side that -- careless of thousands of lives -- instigated Bleeding Kansas and from that point on made the Civil War at some point nigh on inevitable. Per my tendency to prefer finger-wagging to focus on the belligerents, let's talk a little less about what John Brown oughtn't to have done and a little more about what the South oughtn't to have done.

OTOH, pace Charlie, if the South had been smarter American slavery would most probably have lasted much longer. So maybe we don't want a history in which they were smarter. I don't really know. That's one of those "it ain't right and it ain't wrong... it just is" sort of situations, I think.


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-27-09 12:55 PM
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I'm bored. Where is everybody.

I could try to run this thread to 1000 with my reading of Rousseau. That way I can avoid reading Rousseau. "Amour-propre" vs "interet personel vs "egoisme"." Yeah I know, no carats whatever. Hutchinson & Smith's "self-love" vs Helvetius Rouchefecauld etc etc. Backs and forths across the channel in the 17th & 18th. Moral sentiment got removed from economics right there, the French translation of Smith around 1800.

Learn French? French-French dictionary, grammar, Michelet, what poet? Valery & Mallarme too weird.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 7:05 AM
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You ought to like Baudelaire, Bob.


Posted by: mcmc | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 7:23 AM
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If l'amour propre is your thing then La Rochefoucauld is your guy. (I think I may have mentioned before that I used to have a tshirt that said "La Rochefoucauld is not a salad dressing.")


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 7:33 AM
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Here's the pdf about the Smith translation and amour-propre.

"The connotations of "amour-propre" in 17th and 18th centuy moral philosophy are rich and complex. Amour-propre" is the translation of a technical term used by Renaissance humanists, philautia. It is used by Pascal, Rochefoucauld, Nicole, Bayle, Voltaire, Rousseau, among many others. The English equivalent of "amour-propre," throughout the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries, from Hobbes to Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Butler, and Hume is "self-love." In other words, when French readers see "self-love" in Shaftesbury or Hume, they read "amour-propre", and when English readers see "amour-propre" in Nicole or Bayle, they read "self-love." ...Pierre Force

This is the kind of thing that made me hesitant about learning French by translating. I have done "facing-page" readings of Rimbaud etc and never got enough French, and somehow I hoped I could work off context. But I visited a decent Fr-Fr dictionary this morning and I think I am gonna need a base, a core.

Baudeaire would be a great poet. There is a terrific site, with a facing page of Fleurs de Mal.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 9:36 AM
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Fleurs de Mal Very fine.

"20 English translations of Le Balcon" ???

I think I'd just rather read it, think it, in French. Even badly.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 9:43 AM
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Wow. After reading this thread over the course of several days, I still find myself on the side of LB, Bob, Minneapolitan, and DS, despite my own queasiness with violence of any sort and my family's ancient tradition of running away (the non-Mormon side fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War, and the Mormon side, well, you know). Harper's Ferry was badly planned, sure, but Kansas did end up a Free State. And didn't someone mention that the Kansans killed with the infamous broadsword were former slave hunters? If so, "innocent" really, really doesn't apply. "Cold blood"---maybe.

That said, I don't hate Ari.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 10:28 AM
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You might enjoy Baudelaire's "petits poemes en prose," Bob. I do, anyhow.


Posted by: Jackmormon | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 10:30 AM
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688 -- I believe the technical term is Northern scum.

686 -- I am not saying that I think it would all have been puppies and rainbows. Obviously, there were strong passions. It's really unknowable, though, how the continued economic development in the North, and technological progress, would have changed things in the absence of catalyzing figures like Brown and Lincoln. One need only imagine that Seward of Chase had won the nomination instead -- easily within the range of possibility -- to come to a very different (and maybe even bloodier, in the latter case) place. Douglas wouldn't have gone to war at all, and probably wouldn't have faced secession anyway. So do you get to bloodshed through a series of new Browns and Turners?

692 -- No one has ever accused me of being soft on Southerners, and I'm hoping you're not starting that. Ask me my opinion of Brown, though, and you can expect to get it. 'The other guys are much worse' is exactly the kind of misdirection that leads to people invading Iraq, torturing captives, and the like. I don't care how awful the other guy is; we always have to make the choices for ourselves about what we're going to do about what is going wrong.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 11:14 AM
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That said, I don't hate Ari.

Don't rush to judgment. Give yourself a few more days. You'll get there.


Posted by: ari | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 11:28 AM
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have to read Howard Zinn in parallel with whatever they are being taught in school

A People's History of the United States has long been approved for AP American History. I don't know if it's required, though. I know a lot of people who were taught it in high schools of varying repute.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 12:02 PM
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Given the events of/in Bleeding Kansas, something or other was going to shift the uneasy balance between unionists and abolitionists in the North. It's obviously arguable that John Brown inspired the shift that occurred; it's equally arguable that the guy who caned Senator Sumner nearly to death on the floor of the Senate triggered events. Really, yes, this is arguing which flap of the butterfly's wings sent things in the direction they went. The South tried poking the North in the eye, repeatedly and hard, and when that wasn't working, they wanted to walk away (secede). Maybe the North should have let 'em. Certainly many Northerners at the time thought so.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 06-28-09 12:44 PM
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(Not that anybody's still reading this thread, but 657 to 700, BTW. Your point about "hey, look at the other guy!" is of course, precisely correct and I would argue not incompatible at all with a need to focus on the belligerents in a given situation. And there is no "us" and "them" in the ACW for me; from my vantage point all the parties are "them.")


Posted by: DS | Link to this comment | 06-29-09 8:51 PM
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693: Alternatively, we could start an argument about the evils of treating children as chattel property, which is usually good for at least a 300-comment argument from parents who say they only do it for the best...


Posted by: Jesurgislac | Link to this comment | 06-30-09 4:07 AM
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