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A newly published short story of mine:
By Thomas J. Hubschman
“Which would you go back to? If you were forced to choose. Which of the two?”
The sun had so warmed the room that even naked he felt uncomfortable. She, who got a chill when others were going about in T-shirts, seemed to feel just right. He sometimes told her she was part reptile, only fully mobile after she had reached a body temperature well above what was adequate for warm-blooded creatures. But at the moment she looked very mammalian indeed, her pink skin traced with pale veins and selectively sprinkled with freckles and discreet moles. Propped up on one elbow, she could be the older sister of the woman who had lain beneath him a few minutes ago. But instead of drawn tight to her jawline, the flesh now gathered slackly to one side of her face. Her breasts, no longer spread hemispheres, strained earthward like weighted sacks.
“It’s an impossible question,” he said, fighting a keen urge to close his eyes.
“Why impossible? Just imagine you had to go back to one or the other.”
He knew what his response had to be as soon as she spoke, herself full of mischievous energy after their sunny lovemaking. Above all, his answer had to be plausible, even true if possible, the truth one told a woman being of a different kind than what one told a friend or even one’s child. But woman-truth was also the most difficult, bearing the dual burden of not being a lie and yet never being what the woman did not want to, or must not, hear.
“I wouldn’t go back to either one….”
Read the rest of “Sunbath” at:
“We should be called homo narrans, Storytelling Man, not homo sapiens. We spend our lives spinning narratives about everything, from how the universe began to why we were late for work. We make sense out of the reality we live in by making stories about it. Mind, I didn’t write “making up” but “making.” A narrative is not by definition a fiction, though we love that kind of story as well.
“We’re so immersed in our story-telling, we rarely acknowledge our dependence on it, or we think we use it just as a convenience. But despite our insistence that we are a reasoning creature, it is narrative we rely on to make sense out of virtually everything, even our most abstract scientific ideas….”
My latest in Eclectica. Read more: http://www.eclectica.org/v22n1/hubschman_salon.html
Does the US constitution ensure our freedoms even if those freedoms may occasionally cost the lives of others? Is sexual predation also about freedom, albeit of a different sort?
Numerous women came forward last year to say they were victims of acts of sexual aggression perpetrated by the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Similar allegations have been made against the sitting president, and a new charge surfaces almost every day against one or another male in the public eye.
Meanwhile, mass shootings by lone gunmen have become as predictable as the change of seasons. Each time one occurs we react with shock and horror and the usual debate about gun control is raised and then fades away. When recently an especially egregious slaughter occurred, 58 people with scores wounded at a concert in Las Vegas, we went through the usual ritual of trauma and grief with more calls for stiffer legislation on one side and the blockage of any such effort on the other.
But this time I heard something that caught my attention that may help explain our inaction about both gun violence and sexual predation. The World Service of the BBC in covering the shooting in Las Vegas interviewed some Americans about what they thought. Along with expressions of outrage at our lax gun laws and the countervailing insistence on our constitutional right to “bear arms,” the reporter came upon one man who calmly stated that incidents like the one that had just taken place in Nevada were deplorable but that the occasional shedding of blood was the price we pay for this precious freedom we enjoy under the constitution.
That honest statement may help explain both our unwillingness to change our attitudes toward both the possession of weapons capable of mass murder and sexual assault. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone who’s in favor of the freest interpretation of the Second Amendment is also a sexual predator. The correspondence between the two attitudes lies in our willingness to make a trade-off between security from gun violence/male predation and our “freedom” as Americans and/or males.
Freedom, as Orlando Paterson has pointed out in his classic work on the subject, is not just the absence of constraint. It can also mean the ability and the legal right to constrain. It was a freedom of the slaveholder to own other human beings while also enjoying the freedom not to ever be a slave himself. Sexual predation is freedom in this second sense, specifically male sexual freedom or power. We tolerate it for different reasons than we do gun ownership but with a similar reluctance to question its basis.
The British actress Emma Thompson stated in an interview she gave following the Weinstein revelations that virtually every fifteen-year-old girl has already been groped on a crowded train or otherwise sexually abused. But without a sense of license to exert their sexual privilege if only anonymously on a crowded train, males would not behave as they do. Society, male-dominated and male-protective, gives them the permission to gratify their sexual urges, and it does so from a very early age.
If, for whatever the reason, we choose to let things remain as they are it’s because not enough of us are willing to tip the balance between containing sexual predation and gun violence and the sacrifice of our (mostly male) freedom such restrictions would entail. For a similar reason we don’t care to acknowledge the modern economic and social disenfranchisement African Americans have endured under modern federal, state and local government policy over the last hundred years, as documented by Richard Rothstein in The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – and then face up to the substantial efforts required to make amends. Such a recognition would mean supporting a substantial national program to make up for those disenfranchisements, and that would entail a diminishment of white freedom – i.e., white economic and social preeminence.
So, we will likely go on enduring the occasional shedding of blood that gun-holder frankly accepts, along with recurrent tales of men in high places abusing women (preferring not to look at the daily abuses that take place right under our noses) as well as the next entirely predictable instance of an unarmed African American being killed by a policeman without cause. We will not acknowledge why we endure them: our refusal to tolerate any restriction on a constitutional liberty however dangerous, our protection of male dominance, the privileges we enjoy as whites. To act otherwise just wouldn’t be American.
“My mother believed in spontaneous generation. She thought spiders were produced out of balls of dust. My mother was an intelligent woman. Had she been born a couple generations later, I don’t doubt she would have been a successful professional. In the matter of spiders she was simply reasoning from the evidence she had before her: leave some dust alone in a corner for a while (something she never willingly did; she cleaned every day) and you’ll find a spider in it….”
My latest at Eclectica.
Click HERE to read more.
What gets my cranial juices flowing is when two ideas expressed in two different places (usually in books) come together like a couple pieces of wood tongue-in-groove.
I’d like to share the most recent of these experiences with you.
The ancient Greeks used to conduct warfare among themselves in a very gentlemanly, Marquis of Queensbury kind of way. They settled a dispute between city states by sending out a phalanx of heavily armed soldiers (drawn from the higher classes because they had to provide the armor themselves) and have a pitched battle in an open field at an appointed time. Whoever won the battle won the dispute. Casualties only occurred during actual fighting. No gratuitous killing. A surrender meant the violence was over.
Then came the war between Athens and Sparta, the so-called Peloponnesian War that went on for decades and ended with the defeat of Athens. In the second year of that war a plague broke out in Athens, already overcrowded with rural people who were sheltering there from invading Spartans. The illness killed off possibly a third of the population, military and civilian alike.
Athens was not the same afterward. The one man who could hold the city together, Pericles, eventually died himself. Law and order broke down. Citizens began to behave in barbarous fashions. Thucydides, a general who survived the plague and wrote a history of the war, says it was the experience of this lawlessness, the breakdown of civilization, that set the stage for the atrocious way Greeks behaved from then on: ethnic cleansings (a euphemism for the slaughter of entire populations) and other acts of violence that would have been unthinkable in the pre-plague period.
Now, here’s the bit of information that links up neatly with what I’ve already written. European powers from the early years of the nineteenth generally avoided the killing of civilians until the second world war. What happened in between that earlier period and the carnage of the second world war? Hannah Arendt in her The Origins of Totalitarianism makes a good argument that what changed was a result of the colonial polices of some of those powers at the end of the 19th century.
During that period, roughly 1880 to 1914, imperialism became a major political and economic force, as did nationalism (nation-states as is France) as well as ethnically homogeneous if not geographically contained nationalisms (Germans, Slavs.) The victims of this imperialism were the peoples of Africa and Southeast Asia. It was there that nations like Britain, France and Belgium began to practice genocide on a large scale. The Belgians are purported to have killed anywhere between three and fifteen million Congolese. The probable number is about ten million. They and other Europeans did so under the banner of racial superiority, a claim first put forth in an intellectually respectable way by the Frenchman Comte de Gobineau in the early half of the nineteenth century that remained a text for racist ideologies right up through the 1940s.
This kind of slaughter of on a mass scale, Arendt maintains, broke down the veneer of European civilization and paved the way for Nazism, which claimed to be acting as an agent of Evolution by speeding up the survival of the fittest, and for the mass killings of Stalinism, which claimed to be acting on behalf of historical necessity.
Of course, the killing of innocent non-combatants continues right up to the present day. We have euphemisms for it: ethnic cleansing, of course; collateral damage. We carpet-bombed Afghanistan out of pique because that government would not turn over Osama Bin Laden without following due process of law. We destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq in the first Gulf War, and then invaded in 2003 on the false pretext of that nation possessing weapons of mass destruction with intent to use them against us and our allies. The destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure, along with conventional bombing, cost the lives of close to a million people, most of them children who died in the 1990s from diseases caused by our destruction of the sanitary systems during the First Gulf War and for the decade afterward — sewage, water purification plants, etc. And, of course, in addition to terror campaigns we supported and funded in the 1980s in Central America, there was the genocide of millions of Southeast Asians during the Vietnam War. Plus other deadly foreign adventures we have undertaken or sponsored.
Our leaders never speak of any of this with any sense of shame or even regret. We certainly don’t hear or read about this behavior as being the result of the breakdown of the “thin veneer of civilization,” as Thucydides spoke of it. We have become inured to these horrors by their horrible precedents in the twentieth century. The bombing of civilian populations during WWII started as a modest tit-for-tat but within a few years had turned into a massive project to incinerate entire cities, culminating with the use of atomic bombs.
That has become for us what war is, a fact of life like carnivorousness. The idea of gentlemen-soldiers settling their disputes by pre-arranged battles that were over in a few hours seems preposterous to us, a laughable dream. Meanwhile, we deplore individual acts of terrorism as if they were the most egregious acts of violence anyone can experience — because it is We who experience them, not They. What an F-15 or a B-52 does does not qualify as terrorism. But what was unthinkable less than two hundred years ago for nation-states is now conventional.
Can we really call ourselves civilized when we behave in this manner? Has not what occurred in ancient Athens due to plague happened to us, that “thin veneer” that made human beings recognize their mutual humanity, been stripped away without our even realizing it?
The moral of my story: Don’t read serious books. You’ll only get depressed.
The obvious answer to that question is that they’re the group who are neither rich nor poor but are sandwiched in between those two, a kind of stabilizing alternative to which the poor or “working class” can aspire to rise to and a safety net for those who have lost greater wealth so they need not fall all the way into poverty. We like to believe a middle class is essential to a democracy because it is they who make up the bulk of a prosperous and supposedly well-educated majority capable of making the kinds of decisions a well-ordered republic requires.
But what is the purpose of such a class beyond the maintenance of a national myth of political rule by a rational majority? Other cultures speak of a bourgeoisie, or more properly a petite bourgeoisie. To Marxists the former is likely to be synonymous with “capitalists,” the class we in American associate with the upper class, the latter with our own middle class. But other societies are also more class-conscious than our own, even rigidly so. Our way of ranking our population is much less fixed, open to free movement certainly in the economic sense and to a much larger extent than other societies in the social sense too.
The original idea of who deserves to be in the ruling, i.e. the bulk, of the voting class was seen in a very different way by the framers of our constitution than it is today. Back then it was exclusively free white landholding men. Today it is any citizen, rich or poor or in-between. But has the function of that voting class, mostly middle-class, changed from the one it served for Madison and Hamilton? And what is its function, if it has any beyond just a sociological and economic designation?
I see historical evidence that shows the purpose of a middle class like our own is crucial to maintaining a buffer between those who hold most of the nation’s wealth and those who possess very little of it. Without such a class the so-called one percent would have to rely upon brute force to keep in line and protect themselves from the so-called lower classes. With the disintegration of our middle class we can see a tendency toward more and more oppressive rule with the militarization of the police and with incarceration on a scale not practiced by any other nation on earth – a lurch toward a new feudalism.
The fact that the police and other governmental agencies obviously protect the privileges of the middle class does not mean they are not there ultimately to protect the interests of the upper class. It’s a function the middle class has performed wherever it has been constituted and allowed to prosper, not just in America. Consider the situation in the slave states of the Caribbean. Without a substantial white population to rely on to keep the large slave population in line, the ruling class had to resort to creating a middle class out of free blacks to serve as a buffer between themselves and those in chains. This is why West Indians tend to be better educated and more self-confident than our own African Americans. More than two hundred years ago Black West Indian men were already receiving the kinds of educations and professional opportunities we have not yet provided for our own descendants of slavery. Even West Indian women could become solid members of the middle class by opening shops and other small businesses.
A similar effort was made in the South to form a buffer, middle class of European-Americans between landowners and African-American indentured servants after the two had repeatedly combined forces against their owners. Only, promises of freedom, land and “whiteness” made to rebellious European-Americans in exchange for their acting as police to previous comrades of African and mixed descent never fully materialized, consigning them permanently to a landless state of poverty with only their “whiteness” to console them. Even so, they remained faithful to their new “race,” protecting their previous masters’ interests as if those interests were their own.
Almost a century ago Walter Lippmann published a well-thought-out book about the American political scene in which he concludes that public opinion – by which he meant the opinion of those that vote – needed to be carefully manipulated by those with the best understanding of what was best for the nation. The possibility of such manipulation, though not new, was at the time greatly enhanced by the advent of the public relations/advertising industry that had just come into its own during the Wilson WWI administration. “Manufacturing consent” has since became part and parcel of how the powerful elite have co-opted the middle class into accepting their, the elite’s, political agenda. Until recently no oppressive security force was required to effect this control as it has been in other nations. The media does the job virtually without coercion from outside, automatically.
The result has been a perfect pas de deux between upper-class moneyed interests and middle-class willingness to serve their masters as long as they are themselves guaranteed a comfortable living standard and access to unlimited upward mobility. If this requires the impoverishment of one-sixth of the population who typically don’t vote in the same percentages as their betters, that’s a trade-off the guilt for which can be ameliorated by token welfare policies or simply by blaming the victims.
My first substantive encounter with the oppressive Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories came several years ago at an event held in the local Dutch Reformed Church here in Brooklyn, New York. Till then, what I knew about Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank and in Gaza had relied heavily on mainstream media reports. But the event that night featured two speakers, both Israelis, one an 18-year-old about to be drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces, the other a middle-aged American who had lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before moving to Israel. The younger man intended to refuse service in the Israeli army and expected to receive a jail sentence in consequence. The older man had already served time in the reserves. The church was mostly full, the pews largely filled with people sympathetic to the Palestinian plight. But a substantial contingent critical of what the speakers had been saying later turned up in the rear of the church and made themselves heard. One woman was especially vocal, shouting “cal-UM-ny! cal-UM-ny!” in an attempt to drown out the speaker. A lone policeman assigned to the event restored order….
A few years back I heard a brief interview on the BBC with the mother of a child who had been sexually abused by a Catholic priest, aired at a time when the church’s sexual abuse scandal was at its height. New revelations were occurring almost every day, entire dioceses were going bankrupt as a consequence of having to pay out millions in compensation to victims, some of them now middle-aged. It wasn’t unusual to hear the voice on the the air of someone who had been sexually molested by clergy, sometimes many years earlier, and had only just come forward. What was very unusual, indeed unique in my experience, was the response this particular mother gave to the BBC presenter when asked how she felt about what had happened to her son.
She said that, as appalling as the physical abuse was, it was nothing in comparison with the psychological trauma he had suffered as a result of the religious “education” he had suffered at the hands of the church.…