Martin Luther King Day, 2015

Last week, National Public Radio reported on a study by Indiana University professor Sara Konrath and others.  Professor Konrath and her co-authors showed that, while Americans of all races think warmer thoughts about African Americans in general on Martin Luther King Day than they do the rest of the year, their opinion of General Colin Powell and President Barack Obama goes down on that day.  Professor Konrath’s theory is that this is because Mr Powell and Mr O are prominent male African American leaders, and Dr King was a prominent male African American leader, so we compare them to him on that day.  Since Dr King is presented on his birthday as a saint of America’s civic religion, that sets an impossible standard for any living person to meet, and they look bad by contrast.

I am sure there is much truth in Professor Konrath’s theory.  At the same time, I would point out that Messrs. Powell and Obama are particularly ill-chosen as comparisons with Dr King.  Dr King was a thoroughgoing pacifist, while Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 war against Iraq and Secretary of State during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  And Barack Obama is one of the most warlike US presidents ever, responsible for ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, for injecting the US into wars in Libya and Syria, and for sponsoring a coup in Honduras that constituted an act of aggressive war against that country, among many other acts of extreme violence.  If people actually listen to Dr King’s message on the day America sets aside to remember him, one would expect their opinion of warlords like Mr Powell and Mr O to be very low indeed.

In honor of this MLK Day, I’d like to post this statement of Dr King’s on the power of nonviolence:

Freedom of thought is always freedom for the thought we hate

Discussion of the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo would, I think, benefit from a focus on Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1929 dictum that freedom of thought is necessarily “freedom for the thought we hate.”  It’s only when a good many people hate a thought that private violence or state-sanctioned coercion against the people who insist on expressing it is likely to attract support.

Charlie Hebdo has long specialized in airing thoughts that range from the unpleasant to the disgusting.  Not only Muslims, but decent people of any sort are unlikely to read much of any issue of the paper without a sense of revulsion.  To say, as so many have done in these last 48 hours, Je suis Charlie or Nous sommes tous Charlie is rather a bold act, or would be if 99% of those saying it had ever seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo.

I affirm that freedom for the thought we hate, that is to say, the assurance that one will not suffer violence because one has expressed ideas that someone finds obnoxious, is indispensable to a free society, and that without it no other freedom can long survive.  In that sense I would be tempted to join in saying Je suis Charlie. What, then, do we say about Anwar al-Awlaki?  In 2011, President Barack Obama openly ordered the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and justified that killing on the grounds that Mr al-Awlaki had spoken in favor of terrorist attacks against Americans and that terrorists had sought him and his words out for comfort.  No evidence was presented that Mr al-Awlaki had been involved in any terrorist act, and there was no judicial process regarding him whatever.  Mr Obama simply ordered a drone strike, and the killing was done.  The following year, Mr Obama was reelected president.  The most prominent candidate to call for a criminal investigation of the killing of Mr al-Awlaki, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, received 0.03% of the votes cast in that election; Mr Obama’s leading opponent, former Massachusetts governor Willard “Mitt” Romney, enthusiastically supported the president’s deadliest policies, and promised to expand them.

As an American, I would ask my countrymen: If we as a people sincerely believed in protecting the freedom of the thought we hate, where would Mr Obama be today?  How can we say Je suis Charlie if we are not prepared at the same time to say “I am Anwar al-Awlaki”?

If we cannot take that step, then the freedom we actually support is not the freedom of the thought we hate, but the freedom of people of whom we approve to express their contempt for people of whom we disapprove. That is an odd sort of freedom.  Political freedoms as traditionally conceived require the established authorities to renounce parts of their power, to subject themselves to various sorts of accountability, and to recognize that the rights of minorities, even minorities of one, sometimes take precedence over the will of the majority.  The freedom of the approved to scorn the unapproved does none of those things. On the contrary, it gives more power to those authorities who take part in deciding who will and who will not be invited to join the charmed circle of the approved; it prevents the authorities being held to account for anything they might do to those outside that circle; and it elevates the majority to an unchallengable, virtually divine status.  Nothing could be more totally alien to the irreverent spirit that Charlie’s newfound champions claim to cherish than this kind of pseudo-freedom.

Uh-oh

I added a comment to my post below that I decided I should put into a post in chief.  Remarking on the elevation of Argentina’s Cardinal Bergoglio to be Pope Francis, I wrote that I hope he will:

say the phrase “Malvinas/ Falklands” in a high-profile forum very soon. Another war between Britain and Argentina over the islands may not be particularly likely just now, but it is by no means impossible. And that a churchman who has so emphatically identified himself with Argentina’s claim to the islands should have been elevated to the papacy the day after the Falklanders voted almost unanimously to remain a UK territory does threaten to create the impression that the Vatican is something other than neutral regarding the dispute. Such an impression can do no good and could raise the potential for conflict from its current, rather low order of probability to a significant danger.

I made a similar remarks as a comment on Mark Shea’s blog.  I suspect that if Pope Francis waits more than a few hours to make it clear that he will not be bringing his nationalism with him onto the international stage he now occupies, any statement he makes later will inflame Argentine public opinion.

I’ll also link here to Michael Brendan Dougherty’s piece in Slate magazine expressing his reservations about Francis.  I’m not familiar with the issues Mr Dougherty raises, but it shares the crispness and force of all his writing.

Time and cartoons

In the comic books, Superman is quitting his day job as a newspaperman.  The company that publishes the Superman titles, DC Comics, explains that, as part of an effort to make the character more relevant to “the 21st century,” he will become- a blogger!  Evidently the part of the 21st century they want him to be relevant to is the part that ended about 6 years ago.

Nina Paley summarizes the history of the Levant in 3 minutes and 32 seconds of animation.

Despite what you’d expect from a webcomic with its name, Doghouse Diaries rarely deals with dogs.  Yesterday’s strip is therefore in rare company.

Neither Zach Weiner nor Randall Munroe is at all impressed with the level of statistical discourse in mass media.

 

The respectable voice

The Nation magazine has a pretty clear line about US policy towards Israel; it is whatever the Israeli Left, especially the Meretz Party, is calling for at any given moment.  Any number of influential groups in the USA are willing to speak up for whatever position the Israeli Right, especially the Likud, might take, so it’s useful to have a nationally circulated weekly with an impressive list of writers and editors that will provide that view to an American audience.  The magazine has a far less clear view about US policy towards the Arab states.  In fact, sometimes they are just muddled, as for example in this recent editorial about the violence that has been perpetrated ostensibly as an objection to some video a guy in California posted on YouTube.  There are some good remarks in it, like these:

While it is true that freedom of expression has not been as firmly established, either culturally or constitutionally, in the Muslim world as it has in the West, this is far from a clash of civilizations, and there’s much more behind the demonstrations than rage at one bigoted YouTube clip. For one thing, the video was first widely disseminated by Salafi media outlets, which called for the first protests at the US embassy in Cairo. And the Salafis, who preach a fundamentalist strain of Islam, are motivated as much by domestic politics as by US policy or obscure videos (for more, see Sharif Abdel Kouddous’s report “What’s Behind the US Embassy Protests in Egypt”). Among the many seismic reverberations set off by the more democratized politics of the Arab Awakening are fierce contests between Salafis and more moderate Islamists, notably the Muslim Brotherhood, to define political Islam. For the Salafis, the video was useful both to rally followers and as a wedge issue against Egypt’s vulnerable Brotherhood, which is torn between the desire to placate Washington and the IMF—which hold the purse strings to billions in desperately needed aid—and a domestic constituency fed up with decades of imperial manipulation and support for autocrats.

So far, so good.  The video may be obnoxious and stupid, but so are millions of other videos, including thousands that insult Muhammad and Islam.  No one can explain what quality this particular specimen of idiocy exhibits that elevates it above the general run of ignorant garbage that fills the internet.  It is patently the case that individuals engaged in power struggles within predominantly Muslim countries chose it at random as a tool with which to provoke a confrontation in which they would be able to present themselves as the defenders of Islam.  I think Kenan Malik put it more forcefully on his blog than The Nation puts it here:

It is true that Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude, bigoted diatribe against Islam. But the idea that this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till this month is the source of worldwide violence is equally risible. As in the Rushdie affair, what we are seeing is a political power struggle cloaked in religious garb. In Libya, Egypt and elsewhere, the crisis is being fostered by hardline Islamists in an attempt to gain the political initiative. In recent elections hardline Islamists lost out to more mainstream factions. Just as the Ayatollah Khomeini tried to use the fatwa to turn the tables on his opponents, so the hardliners are today trying to do the same by orchestrating the violence over Innocence of Muslims, tapping into the deep well of anti-Western sentiment that exists in many of these countries. The film is almost incidental to this.

Of course, that “deep well of anti-Western sentiment” is fed from the groundwater of imperial ventures like the recent war on Libya that brought down the Gadhafi regime and created a power vacuum that many groups are now jockeying to fill.  In Egypt also, the US has long been a violently intrusive presence in the country’s internal affairs.  As the Egyptian army’s 60-year grip on power weakens, a political space therefore opens in which anti-Western voices are likely to be heard.  And, as it is unclear who will emerge as Libya’s new leaders, so it is unclear who will rise to the head of affairs in Egypt.  One hears much about the Muslim Brotherhood, but of course the Brotherhood is not organized along lines of command and control like an army or the Communist Parties of the century gone by.  So even we knew that the Muslim Brotherhood would provide Egypt’s leadership, we would be very far from knowing who the members of that leadership would be or how they would relate to each other, to the population at large, or to Egypt’s neighbors abroad.  There is therefore much to play for in the politics of these countries, and it is hardly surprising that many political actors there are eager to establish themselves as the defenders of Islam.

The Nation‘s editors seem to agree with that assessment in the paragraph above, about the “Salafi media outlets” that were the first to pick the video up and publicize it.  Things get a little bit shaky in the next paragraph, however:

Indeed, the deepest wellsprings of resentment lie in US policy on the region. From backing dictatorships, to the strangulation by sanctions and eventual evisceration of Iraq, to drone strikes across the Muslim world, to steadfast support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine, now in its fifth decade—the list of grievances is long (see Adam Baron, “Yemen Inflamed,” for insight into the roots of the latest protests in one country). And Muslims are well aware of the Islamophobia permeating American society and government (for more, see our special issue “Islamophobia: Anatomy of an American Panic,” July 2/9). The video is just one particularly nasty example of a bigotry that has become pervasive throughout the Western world. Mitt Romney’s attack on President Obama for “sympathizing” with those who attacked the US consulate in Benghazi was, of course, a grossly opportunistic slander. But [Mr. Romney’s] ridicule of those who would “apologize” for America reflected an all-too-common cultural insensitivity toward Muslims—a bigotry many would not tolerate if leveled against Christians or Jews.

The first sentences here are pretty good, if oddly selective- the most violent episodes have occurred in Egypt and Libya, so why not mention US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs and the recent war on Libya?  Why only mention specific US actions in Iraq, Palestine, and Yemen, waving a hand at every other country, including the two countries most affected, with general remarks about “backing dictatorships” and “drone strikes across the Muslim world”?  Surely the more information one provides about the harm that US policy has done to these countries under administrations past and present, the clearer it becomes that “the Islamophobia permeating American society and government” is a clear and present danger to the well-being of their inhabitants.   In that way, anti-Islamic sentiment in the USA is at present in a different category than “bigotry” that might from time to time be “leveled against Christians or Jews”; the USA is not, at least at the moment, waging war in multiple countries where the majority is associated with these religions.  The comparison at the end of the paragraph is therefore another example of odd selection of material.

Meanwhile, the president who has ordered the vast majority of the drone strikes the US has committed in majority-Muslim countries, who was the author of the war on Libya, and who has made clear time and again that he will continue all of the other policies that the paragraph opens by condemning figures in it only as the victim of a “grossly opportunistic slander” emitted by his chief opponent in the upcoming election.  I would say that this presentation of Mr O as a poor maligned statesman explains the other oddities of the paragraph.  The Nation is edited, written, underwritten, and read by people most of whom would very much like to support Mr O for a second term as president.  At the same time, the magazine’s whole purpose is to denounce unjust policies pursued by the US government and powerful interests associated with it.  This creates a bit of tension.  How can one be simultaneously an uncompromising opponent of US policy and a vigorous supporter of the US’ chief policymaker?  One way is to be loudest about expressing one’s opposition to policies that had run their course before he took office.  So, note the emphasis on the 1990-2003 sanctions against Iraq, sanctions that were imposed when Mr O was still in law school and that dissolved in an invasion staged when he was a not-very-senior member of the Illinois state legislature.  Another is to dilate on those aspects of policy that had been in place for decades when he took office and to leave out the fact that he has done nothing to change them.  So, “backing dictatorships,” “steadfast support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine,” etc, appear by themselves, not as verbs with subjects or agents, but as abstract noun constructions untethered to the action of any person.

There is also a weasel word in the last sentence of the paragraph.  That word is “many.”  Mr Romney is judged guilty of “a bigotry many would not tolerate if leveled against Christians or Jews.”  Who are these “many,” and what form would their intolerance take?  That vagueness becomes the more troubling as we turn to the next paragraph:

Washington’s support for the Arab Spring was too inconsistent and came too late to outweigh America’s troubled history in the region. The collapse of longstanding dictatorships has allowed antipathy against the United States to surface more visibly; it has also left weapons and money in the hands of Islamist radicals, many of them funded by the Persian Gulf monarchies. Indeed, Washington must finally confront the fact that our oldest regional ally, Saudi Arabia, happens to be controlled by Wahhabi fundamentalists who have spent billions spreading their ideology throughout the Muslim world. We should hardly be surprised when it blows back in our face.

This is the sort of thing one sees on the editorial page of The New York Times, or would see there if one were sufficiently masochistic to read the editorial page of The New York Times.  As in those columns, logical consistency is thrown to the winds and the empty slogans familiar in the corridors of power take the place of facts.  “Washington’s support for the Arab Spring” was too little and too late, apparently; yet “the collapse of longstanding dictatorships” which was the point of the Arab Spring “allowed antipathy against the United States to surface more visibly” and “left weapons and money in the hands of Islamist radicals.”  What possible Washington government could regret its tardiness to promote these outcomes?  Also, note the change of direction- earlier, the piece had explained that groups which it designates by the labels “Salafis” and “the Brotherhood” (a ridiculously simplistic taxonomy to be sure, but come on, they’re trying) are jockeying with each other for power and that their positions on the controversy regarding this preposterous YouTube clip are to some extent the product of this jockeying.  In the quote I gave from Mr Malik, I saw this same point taken much further.  Now, however, it seems that the “Islamist radicals” were already there, already in their present condition and posture, with nothing added except weapons and money.  Finally, notice the complaint about Saudi Arabia’s promotion of the ideology of “Wahhabi fundamentalists” abroad.  Given the fact that the paragraph starts with a lament that “Washington” (presumably not meaning President George Washington, whose administration ended in 1797, but his current successor, whatever his name might be) was not fast or aggressive about supporting the Arab Spring,* I can only assume that their preferred response to Saudi promotion of Wahhabist ideology is not learning from the example of that policy’s bad effects and refraining from official promotion of ideologies, but a contest in which the USA, led by the president who must not be named, will try to outdo the Saudis in the promotion abroad of an official US ideology.  What this ideology might be is too depressing to contemplate, given the dismal state of intellectual life and the political system in the United States.  I can’t stifle a suspicion that such a thing, were it ever announced, might make even Wahhabism look appealing by contrast.

The conclusion of the editorial is as follows:

The United States needs a radically new Middle East policy, based on respect for the democratic aspirations of Arabs and Muslims, with economic assistance focusing on jobs and justice, and an end to military solutions that seek control rather than cooperation. If we want a change in attitudes, we need a change in policy.

How about a radically new Middle East policy based on the fact that the USA is on the other side of the world from the Middle East, has a culture that is deeply discontinuous with the predominant cultures of most Middle Eastern societies, and has no business telling Middle Easterners what sort of “aspirations” they are allowed to have, or what economic policies “justice” permits them to adopt?  How about we start minding our own business and letting the rest of the people in the world mind theirs, in other words?  Don’t look for that proposal in this piece.  It sounds good to call for “an end to military solutions,” but to qualify that call with “that seek control rather than cooperation”- who’s kidding whom?  “Military solutions” is a euphemism for war.  As the saying goes, “War means fighting and fighting means killing.”  Replace “military solutions” with “killing,” and the editorial is calling for “an end to killing that seeks control rather than [killing that seeks] cooperation,” and you see what nonsense that expression is.  Killers can use the fear of death to control a population, but they can hardly expect cooperation.  In that nonsense, as in the rest of the New York Times editorial page-style sloganeering that crops up so often when Americans try to sound respectable, one finds a wish to be simultaneously known as a peacemaker and to be received respectfully among warmakers.  Before we can change the policies that sow such fear and anger in the Muslim world, the idea that these two wishes are compatible is the first attitude we must stamp out.

Elsewhere in the issue,  Eric Alterman notices that nobody with many interesting things to say is appearing on television in support of Mr Romney’s presidential campaign.  Apparently Mr Alterman takes this to mean that there are, really, no conservative intellectuals.  Indeed, the title of his column is “The Problem of Conservative ‘Intellectuals,'” and every time he mentions supporters of Mr Romney he calls them “conservative ‘intellectuals,'” with quotation marks suggesting that these two terms don’t go together.  Readers of this site know that I am continually reading and talking about conservative intellectuals; magazines like Chronicles and The American Conservative are written and edited by thinkers who are highly intellectual and, with some exceptions, very, very conservative.  Mr Alterman’s focus on Campaign 2012 may have misled him, as none of these intellectuals is at all enthusiastic about Mr Romney.  More contributors to The American Conservative will probably vote for third party candidates than for Mr Romney, and several contributors to Chronicles might demand that their states to secede from the Union if either he or the president wins in November.

Akiva Gottlieb reports from the Whitney Biennial’s 2012 exhibition of American cinema, and puts forth a sobering hypothesis: “from now until the final reel of celluloid is shot and projected, every film’s primary subject will be film itself.”  Arid as this prospect is, it gets worse.  Apparently film’s primary subject will be low-quality film stock, as Kodachrome and other excellent brands of film are no longer in production and projection equipment suited to them will soon be hard to find.  For some reason, the only film that can be produced during this period when digital is rising is film that is in no way way superior to digital.

*May I put scare quotes around the phrase “the Arab Spring”?  I would very much like to put scare quotes around the phrase “the Arab Spring.”  It is precisely the sort of phrase for which scare quotes were invented.

Good editing separates a sage from a provocateur

I’ve seen some good stuff on the internet lately.  There are people who read this blog who won’t like some of it.

1. Kenan Malik writes:

One thing should be clear. The violence across the Muslim world in response to an American anti-Islamic film has nothing to do with that film. Yes, The Innocence of Muslims is a risibly crude diatribe against Islam. But this obscure film that barely anyone had seen till last week is no more the source of the current violence than God is the source of the Qur’an.

I don’t presume to know whether God is the source of the Qur’an, but Mr Malik is surely right to argue that these acts of violence spring from efforts by their perpetrators to present themselves as the champions of Islam.  As such, they are symptoms of the internal politics of the countries where they take place, politics which may well be shaped by military and other interventions from outside powers, but which must always be analyzed in terms of the interests and understandings of their actual participants.

2. An article about cartoonist R. Crumb in Vingt Paris Magazine lists many of Mr Crumb’s more unwholesome obsessions, then goes on:

I suppose the uncomfortable truth about Crumb’s reputation as a comic satirist is that he’s no good when he really needs to be. Unlike, say, Dick Gregory or even Randy Newman (whose song Rednecks is also written from a racist’s point of view), Crumb is too happy to wield irony like a sledgehammer when it comes to discussing race.

As a result of Mr Crumb’s lack of subtlety, his irony often collapses and his depictions of racist imagery are left without satiric point, as racism plain and simple.  Likewise, his sadomasochism-inspired sexual imagery rarely has much point beyond the confessional, and is merely disgusting.

Mr Crumb does not attempt to defend his work; last year, faced with the prospect of demonstrations against him, he canceled plans to appear at the Sydney Opera House, saying “‘I can’t explain why I drew all those crazy pictures’, he told the press. ‘I had to do it. Maybe I should have my pencils and pens taken away from me. I don’t know.'”  The author of the article mentions that Mr Crumb had given him the identical response when he’d asked him to justify his work some years previously, then remarks “It’s a stock response that’s so polished it shines. It makes you wonder if, one day, he might get bored of saying it and try for an answer instead.”

I would not defend the racial imagery in Mr Crumb’s work.  I still chuckle when I think of the moment in the 1994 documentary Crumb when one of his critics looks at a comic strip depicting the crudest possible African American stereotype and says “This is actually an attack on black people.”  What made me laugh then and now is the word “actually.”  As if it were apparently something else, but a close analysis by the most sophisticated methods available would show that it was actually an attack on black people.  It was so obviously an attack on black people that the existence of a debate about the question of whether it is such an attack is hilarious.

The article summarizes Mr Crumb’s attitude towards his subject matter thus:

Using racial stereotypes in his work is something that Crumb freely admits to, saying that ‘there’s a perverse part of me (that) likes to take the heat for all that stuff’. One of his most famous examples is here in the exhibition – a picture called Jive with Angel Food McSpade. It’s a drawing of a freakish, thick-lipped, bug-eyed woman, who seductively raises her leg and claims she was ‘Attacked in the mud because I was a SEXY TEASE’.

The arguments about drawings like Jive with Angel Food go like so: ‘He’s subverting those images and throwing our own racism back at us’. Or ‘he’s just trying to shock you, Liberal’. Or ‘he’s genuinely a racist. He’s not even being ironic’. And they play out like a game of rock, paper, scissors that nobody knows how to stop.

For his part, Crumb says the controversial stuff pours out of him because it’s wired into his brain, from all the pop-imagery he saw on television and in comics and magazines. He’s certainly not a racist, he says, but he’s even less of a censor – and if this kind of stuff is in there, then who is he to keep it in?

This strikes me as a fair statement, and a sad one.  At his best, as in his illustrated version of Genesis, Mr Crumb shows that the feverish, undigested contents of his psyche are unsettlingly similar to the feverish, undigested ideas at the heart of the most powerful ideologies in the modern world.  It is a shame that Mr Crumb has not been consistently subject to a stringent and demanding editor who fully understands his project and capabilities.  It is unreasonable to expect the same person to serve as author and editor of the same work; in that sense, Mr Crumb is quite right to ask “who is he to keep it in?”

3. Blogger Steve Sailer lists the following as the categories of Americans whose opinions about foreign policy are taken seriously in official Washington:

Today, the acceptable limits of foreign policy discourse in America are set by:
– The good old military-industrial complex
– Saudi bribery
– Liberal Democratic Zionists
– Right 2 Protect liberal crypto-imperialist/busybodies
– Angry Likudniks
– Quasi-CIA “democracy” endowments that organize color-coded revolutions
– Foreign policy thinktanks (who are more important the more activist the foreign policy)
– White guys who need to serve in the military so they can get affirmative action points to become firemen
– Yahoos who should be apprised that when football isn’t on TV, professional wrestling can always be found year-round, so there’s no need to watch the news
– Oil companies (who are left to quietly play the “Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King role)
They are all overseen by a national media that sometimes seems most concerned about the looming threat that an isolationist Father Coughlin could arise again.
So, the only feasible foreign policy alternative to stake out is: “The President’s foreign policy isn’t quite crazed enough!”

When Mr Sailer expresses his right-wing opinions about race or sex or economics, I can usually find good reasons to disagree with him.  I wish I could disagree with him here as well.

4. Via Arts & Letters Daily, here’s a sensational little essay about Ezra Pound by Luciano Mangiafico at Open Letters Monthly.  Mr Mangiafico presents the following as an “excerpt from Canto 81”:

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage…
Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
Learn of the green world what can be thy place…
Pull down thy vanity
How mean thy hates
Fostered in falsity,
Pull down thy vanity,
Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down…

These lines do appear in Pound’s Canto 81, but Mr Mangiafico has edited them heavily.  Here is how of the ending of the poem looks in the edition of the Cantos I read (New Directions, 1996):

What thou lovest well remains,

the rest is dross

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage

Whose world, or mine or theirs

or is it of none?

First came the seen, then thus the palpable

Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,

What thou lovest well is thy true heritage

What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.

Pull down thy vanity, it is not man

Made courage, or made order, or made grace,

Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.

Learn of the green world what can be thy place

In scaled invention or true artistry,

Pull down thy vanity,

Paquin pull down!

The green casque has outdone your elegance.

“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”-

Pull down thy vanity

Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,

A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,

Half black half white

Nor knowst’ou wing from tail

Pull down thy vanity

How mean thy hates

Fostered in falsity,

Pull down thy vanity,

Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,

Pull down thy vanity,

I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing

This is not vanity

To have, with decency, knocked

That a Blunt should open

To have gathered from the air a live tradition

or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame

This is not vanity.

Here error is all in the not done,

all in the diffidence that faltered…

Last night I read Pound’s original aloud to Mrs Acilius; it is undeniably thrilling, but just as undeniably Mr Mangiafico’s redaction, spare and direct, takes on a splendor that fades in Pound’s profusion of images and references.  And the first half of the poem is Pound’s usual, barely tolerable, complete with quotations from Theocritus and John Adams.  I only wonder why he neglected to tattoo it with Chinese characters.

Pound, like Mr Crumb, reminds me of the old story about the town with only two barbers.  One barber is faultlessly shaven, with a perfectly presented head of hair; the other wears stubble on half his face, and a shapeless mop of hair.  The discerning customer goes to the slovenly barber, since he is the one who cut the well-coiffed one’s hair.  Likewise, as an editor of poetry Pound made inestimable contributions to the works of T. S. Eliot and other eminences of the High Modern; it is our great loss that Pound found no one to do for his work what he did for theirs.

Laughing at Hitler

It was the first of September, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland; in the eyes of the British and French governments, that event marked the beginning of the Second World War.  By that point, a great many people in Europe and Asia had already for years been fighting wars that would be subsumed in that conflict; a great many more were still years away from being drawn into it.  Nonetheless, that date has come to be widely accepted as marking the first day of the war.

Since it was the late Adolf Hitler who, as they put it in The Rutles, “invented World War Two,” he often comes to my mind on this date.  There’s been a marked trend in pop culture these past few years to laugh at Hitler.  So, about three or four years ago, there was a craze for posting videos on YouTube that added silly subtitles to the scene in the movie Downfall where the Hitler character learns that his plans for the final defense of Berlin have collapsed and shouts hysterically at his staff.  The only specimens I thought were worth watching were this one and this one; this one and this one give the same treatment to other scenes from the movie.

At about the time the Downfall parody craze was at its height, a webcomic called Hipster Hitler made its debut.  I saw a reference to it the other day; evidently it is still going.  I’d thought the first strip exhausted its potential, and as I looked through the archive I found that I was correct.  The image of Hitler in an ironic T-shirt and fedora seems to be making a point of some kind; I’ve spent a fair bit of time wondering what that point might be.  Hitler is a symbol of the evil that extreme authoritarianism makes possible; hipsters present themselves as extreme anti-authoritarians; so showing Hitler as a hipster means… something?  Maybe?  Be that as it may, I doubt anyone actually laughs at the strip.

More recently, there was a short-lived strip on tumblr called Ignore Hitler.  That one was closer to being funny than is Hipster Hitler, although it wasn’t as thought-provoking, or as interesting to look at.

Some jokes involving Hitler do make a clear point.  For example, this video  is a spoof of conspiracy theories concerning the birth of US President Barack Obama, which does some funny stuff with Hitler’s picture.  Some of the theories about President Obama’s birth that people actually believe are just as silly as the one in the video, so the spoof works quite well.

The Nation, 17 September 2012

The current issue of The Nation carries a piece in which JoAnn Wypijewski remarks on the low probability that the rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be investigated in a proper fashion.  Ms Wypijewski points out that Mr Assange’s status as an enemy of the US national security state renders any criminal action taken against him suspect:

This is not about the particulars of oppression; it is about the political context of law, the limits of liberal expectations and the monstrosity of the state.

Liberals have no trouble generally acknowledging that in those [early twentieth century] rape cases against black men, the reasoned application of law was impossible. It was impossible because justice was impossible, foreclosed not by the vagaries of this white jury or that bit of evidence but by the totalizing immorality of white supremacy that placed the Black Man in a separate category of human being, without common rights and expectations. A lawyer might take a case if it hadn’t been settled by the mob, but the warped conscience of white America could do nothing but warp the law and make of its rituals a sham. The Scottsboro Boys might have been innocent or they might have been guilty; it didn’t matter, because either way the result would be the same.

With Assange, the political context is the totalizing immorality of the national security state on a global scale. The sex-crime allegations against Assange emerged in Sweden on August 20, 2010, approximately four and a half months after WikiLeaks blazed into the public sphere by releasing a classified video that showed a US Apache helicopter crew slaughtering more than a dozen civilians, including two journalists, in a Baghdad suburb. By that August, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the reputed source of the video and about 750,000 other leaked government documents, was being held without charge in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, subjected to what his attorney, David Coombs, describes in harrowing detail in a recent motion as “unlawful pretrial punishment.” In plain terms, Manning was tortured. He faces court-martial for aiding the enemy and has been denounced as a traitor by members of Congress.

I am not at all convinced that the charges against Mr Assange cannot be investigated and prosecuted fairly.  Ms Wypijewski acknowledges several times that the comparison with the Scottsboro Boys is inexact; in view of the level of support Mr Assange enjoys and the conditions of the criminal justice system in Sweden, it strikes me as, well, silly.  I do lament the fact that so many people seem to think that we must choose between support for Mr Assange’s anti-imperialist activities and support for the investigation of the charges that have been brought against him.  Not so very long ago, Western publics would have responded to the sequence of events Ms Wypijewski describes above with deep suspicion of the national security state, even as the case worked its way through the courts.  So, when in 2003 it was made public that Major Scott Ritter, then an outspoken critic of the invasion of Iraq, had been arrested on suspicion of soliciting sex from an underaged girl, the news proved more embarrassing to the Bush-Cheney administration than to Major Ritter himself.  Some years later, the major was proven guilty of similar charges, and sent to prison.  In the Ritter case, I see a model for a healthy public reaction to the Assange case.  By all means one should be suspicious; if the American people were still as jealous of their liberties as they were in 2003, the Obama administration would be experiencing a public relations nightmare as long as the case is pending.  But the case should nonetheless be handled in the best manner available to the criminal justice system, and if Mr Assange is guilty of the charges against him, it would be no injustice to punish him as Major Ritter has been punished.

The best manner available to the criminal justice system in this case may be far short of what we would hope, but, as Lissa Harris points out in an unforgettable piece on The Nation‘s website, that is so for virtually every rape case.  At the age of five, Ms Harris was raped on several occasions by a sadistic teenaged boy.  Apparently the facts became known to the authorities, but no charges were ever brought.  Over the years, Ms Harris has been presented with many explanations as to why they did not act.  What she considers most noteworthy is that while she knows many women and girls who have been raped, but cannot think of one whose assailant was sent to prison for the rape.  Not one.  So, while she is horrified by the prospect that the laws against rape will be rewritten by men like Congressman Todd Akin, who recently proclaimed that “legitimate rape” rarely produces pregnancy, Ms Harris admits that she cannot see how much damage men like Mr Akin can do to the criminal justice system when the system simply does not function most of the time.  She argues that ideologies thrive on both left and right that allow us to turn a blind eye to rape, to minimize rape, to accept as normal a status quo in which the rapist faces little risk of punishment and the women and girls he has attacked can expect little support and less  respect.

In the same issue, a cartoon pokes fun at novelist-cum-ideologist Ayn Rand.  Rand did make a couple of contributions that I find valuable; I’m fond of the expression “anti-concept,” a term she introduced and defined as “an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding.”  Mr Akin’s immortal phrase “legitimate rape” comes to mind under this heading; unnecessary and rationally unusable, it may well enable a person indoctrinated in one of the rape-minimizing ideologies Ms Harris calls out to replace and obliterate a realistic understanding of rape with some vague approximation that makes it impossible to imagine useful action against it.

One of the examples Rand gave of an anti-concept was the term “isolationist.”  This term, never a self-description adopted by any political movement, was used in the late 1930s and early 1940s by advocates of US intervention in the Second World War to label their opponents.  Since the interventionists eventually had their way and, by most people’s lights, it is just as well that they did, the term has continued to be useful in the decades since as a means of smearing and belittling all anti-war and anti-imperial voices, especially those that emanate from right of center.  I bring this up because the issue carries Jackson Lears’ review of Christopher McKnight Nichols’ Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age.  On its face, the term “isolationist” is absurd.  Nothing could be more isolating than a habit of bombing, invading, and occupying countries; the neighborhood bully is always the most isolated of figures.  Mr Nichols writes a history of American anti-imperialism starting with those who opposed war with Spain in 1898 and leading to those who tried to prevent the rise of a permanent war economy after the First World War.  Mr Lears focuses on the book’s depictions of William James, Randolph Bourne, and Senator William Borah.

Mansplanations

The other day, Rebecca Solnit (a.k.a. America’s National Treasure) wrote a column for TomDispatch that The Nation‘s website picked up.  The title is “Men Still Explain Things to Me.”  Ms Solnit tells a little story about a strange man who responded to some comment she’d made about photography pioneer Eadweard Muybridge by chastising her for not having read a new book about Muybridge that had come out earlier that year.  It turned out that the book he had in mind was River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, by- Rebecca Solnit.   Ms Solnit’s friends repeatedly tried to tell the man that the woman he was scolding for not knowing the book was in fact its author; that didn’t slow him down a bit.  Ms Solnit gives other examples of men shutting women down by loudly and persistently “explaining” to them.  Acknowledging that not all men use this passive-aggressive technique and that those who do use it  sometimes use it against other men, Ms Solnit mentions that young women nowadays call the technique “mansplaining.”

Ms Solnit posted this piece shortly before a truly spectacular example of mansplaining burst into public view and briefly dominated the US political news cycle.  US Congressman Todd Akin, Republican of Missouri, is his party’s nominee for the US Senate from that state in this year’s election.  In response to a question from a television interviewer, Mr Akin said that he did not believe that abortion should be legal.  Asked about women who become pregnant as the result of rape, he said that he would not make an exception for them, in part because he believes that such a scenario is rare.  “The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down,” he said, launching into an explanation of physiological processes that, according to him, prevent women who are the victims of what the congressman called “legitimate rape” from becoming pregnant.

In the aftermath of Mr Akin’s remarks, several prominent Republicans, including presidential nominee Willard “Mitt” Romney, criticized him harshly.  At this writing, it is unclear whether Mr Akin will remain a candidate.  A Google search estimates over 900,000 results for “Akin vows to stay in race”; usually candidates vow to stay in a race shortly before they announce their withdrawals.

A couple of interesting pieces have appeared in response to this matter.  On The Nation‘s website, health columnist Dana Goldstein contributes a handy guide to “How the Body Reacts to Sexual Assault” (spoiler: not by spontaneously producing contraceptives.) Ms Goldstein explains that ideas about sexual response that are not informed by biology lead many people, victims of rape among them, to draw distinctions between women who are more worthy or less worthy of support and respect after sexual assault.  These distinctions, Ms Goldstein argues, turn rape exceptions to abortion bans into a means by which other people can exercise unwanted control over a woman’s body.  As such, they reenact the original offense.

And at Religion Dispatches, Sarah Posner writes a fascinating analysis of “The Theological Roots of Akin’s ‘Legitimate Rape’ Comment.”  Mr Akin is an outspoken member of the Presbyterian Church in America (or PCA,) the second-largest Presbyterian denomination in the USA.  Unlike the larger and quite liberal Presbyterian Church USA, the PCA is fiercely traditional both in its general theology and in its views of relations between the sexes.  Posner cites a series of PCA position papers on abortion which mirror Mr Akin’s remarks very closely.  They even go into detail about the unlikelihood of pregnancy resulting from rape, details unsupported by documentation.  Ms Posner links to a column by Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic; Ms Franke-Ruta describes some of the political infrastructure that has been developed to popularize the idea that rape rarely causes conception, including a group called “Physicians for Life” which seems to consist of physicians who trained and practice in some parallel universe.   A parallel universe which sends representatives to the US Congress, for some reason.

“There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.”

Way back in the 4 June issue of The Nation, William Deresiewicz published a review essay about Kurt Vonnegut.  As I read Mr Deresiewicz’ piece, it dawned on me that I had never read Slaughterhouse-Five.  I’d read several of Vonnegut’s novels and miscellaneous writings, but had missed the most famous one.  Embarrassingly enough, I had talked about Slaughterhouse-Five with a number of people over the years, conversations in the course of which I sincerely, if somewhat vaguely, believed that I had read the book at some point.   Once, while still in high school, I even suggested to a friend that we co-author a tribute to Slaughterhouse-Five in comic book form.  If he’d taken me up on that, I suppose it would have become clear to both of us quickly enough that I hadn’t read it, but we settled on a tribute to Froissart’s Chronicles  instead.

So, not long after I read that issue, I reported to the library and checked out a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five.  It was well worth reading.  Mr Deresiewicz says that the novel’s real subject is not the firebombing of Dresden, but the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that the firebombing bequeathed to Vonnegut and other survivors.  Mr Deresiewicz quotes a remark from the beginning of the novel, “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.”  The novel is great, he argues, because Vonnegut doesn’t try to offer answers or find meanings.  He looks directly at an unintelligible world, a world in which human beings by the thousand can be incinerated in their homes, and does not flinch by looking away to something else, something reassuring in its logic.  Instead, the novel’s Billy Pilgrim, like Vonnegut in his own authorial voice, says simply, “I was there.”  Mr Deresiewicz writes:

“I was there,” he says. And he adds, “So was my old war buddy, Bernard V. O’Hare.” The moment prefigures the novel’s moral climax a few pages before the end. Billy’s in a hospital in 1968, after the plane crash. His roommate is a former Air Force general who is working on a history of the Army Air Corps in World War II. He is wealthy, healthy, masterful, accomplished (his name is Rumfoord, by the way), and he dismisses Billy, in his quasi-comatose state, as so much human refuse. He is telling someone that the raid on Dresden had been kept a secret for so long

“For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts…might not think it was such a wonderful thing to do.”
It was now that Billy Pilgrim spoke up intelligently. “I was there,” he said.

“I was there.” Meaning not, I suffered, but simply: It happened. It doesn’t fit the story that we tell ourselves about the war, but it happened. And I alone escaped to tell the tale. But not completely alone: my old war buddy was there as well, which means you can’t dismiss me as a lunatic. I was there. Or as the novel’s famous invocation, thrice repeated, puts it: Listen.

“I was there”—not, “The death of Dresden was a bitter tragedy, needlessly and willfully executed.” The sentence comes from a short, unpublished manuscript, included in the Library of America edition, that Vonnegut had worked on in the years immediately following the war. Before he could write the novel, I believe, he needed to surrender that sense of judgment. “It had to be done,” Rumfoord finally says to Billy. “I know,” Billy replies, “everybody has to do exactly what he does.”

Elsewhere in the novel, Vonnegut explicitly disavows judgment of the pilots who carried out the raid.  He never did blame them, he says; he has known bombers and admired them.  He describes the bombs as if they acted on their own, unassisted by human agency.  In the novel, that description figures not as a psychological evasion,  but as the facing of a supreme horror.  A world dominated by malevolence and permeated by guilt would have a structure, and so would be intelligible.  As such, even a realm of villainy would be easier to bear than the realm of sheer absurdity into which the massacre introduced its survivors.

In a bit of the novel that Mr Deresiewicz does not quote, Billy Pilgrim and his fellow prisoners are herded into Dresden.  The crowd gives Billy dirty looks; one man confronts him and demands to know if he “thought we would laugh”?  Billy is confused, then realizes that the miscellaneous items of clothing he has scavenged to cover his nakedness in his weeks as a prisoner adds up to a clown’s costume.  Here, Billy parallels his creator.  Cobbling together a way to tell his story, Vonnegut has gathered up bits of wartime memoir, of science fiction, of midlife-crisis narrative, of soft-core porn, of half a dozen other genres,  and pasted them together.  The result is a very odd book, at first glance an aggregation as clownish as Billy’s costume.   It is precisely because Vonnegut is entirely willing to play the fool, to make himself as much a stranger to smart rhetoric as the war has made Billy a stranger to smart attire, that Slaughterhouse-Five is a possession for the ages.

As the Periodicals Notes section of this website attests, I read a lot of magazines.  After the attacks of 11 September 2001, I dropped several titles from my list of regular reads.  These included The New Statesman, The National Review, The London Review of Books, and The American Spectator.  Each of these magazines carried a number of piece about that series of massacres.  There were many things to find objectionable about those pieces; certainly the right-wing publications did not cover themselves in glory by arguing that the appropriate response was to adopt policies that would punish all Muslims everywhere, and the others did their reputations no favors when they published remarks such as “the United States had it coming.”  What I found most rebarbative about all of them was something I couldn’t put into words at the time, but Vonnegut crystallizes it perfectly.  Each of those commentators, left and right, treated the massacres and their aftermath as a continuation of their lifelong quest to display their own brainpower to the utmost possible advantage.  Because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre, the result of this contest to be the smartest one was an exhibition of moral idiocy on a spectacular scale.

If we don’t endeavor to make intelligent remarks about a massacre, how do we honor the dead it leaves behind?  This is typically a religious question, so let’s see what we can say about Vonnegut and religion.

As Mr Deresiewicz documents, Vonnegut was raised to be skeptical of conventional religion*:

Vonnegut saw our spiritual anxiety, in the postwar chaos, and as a former public relations man, he knew our mass gullibility. He had also studied anthropology, an experience, he later said, that “confirmed my atheism, which was the faith of my fathers anyway. Religions were exhibited and studied as the Rube Goldberg inventions I’d always thought they were.” Now machines were taking control, so we needed to pretend that something else was in control. Or as he puts it in The Sirens of Titan, “Gimcrack religions were big business.” The Age of Aquarius surely came as no surprise to him—the age of crystals and gurus and mystical hucksters. Charles Manson and Jim Jones surely came as no surprise, and neither did L. Ron Hubbard, a man who started writing science fiction but decided he was writing Scripture.

If we reject the belief systems and hierarchies of traditional religions and the rites that go with them, how do we go about honoring the dead?  I think I detect a kindred spirit in the Vonnegut/ Deresiewicz emphasis on “I was there, and so was Bernard V. O’Hare.”  We honor the dead by remembering them.  To do this we must turn our attention from ourselves and focus it on them, on them as they were individually and as they interacted with each other in groups.  To sustain this focus we must resist the temptation to retreat into distractions, whether those distractions take the form of ideologies that make our losses bearable or of activities in which we ourselves become again the center of attention.  We must give the dead our undivided attention, if only for a moment, if we are to honor them.

Religions can certainly be fruitful source of excuses for keeping the focus off the dead.  Many funerary rites focus attention on clergy or other performers; many include invitations to dwell on recondite theological doctrines about the relationship between life and death.  So I sympathize with opponents of religion like T. H. Huxley who say that respect for the dead requires us to renounce the conventional forms of religion.  On the other hand, for many mourners these things quiet their minds and take them outside of themselves, enabling them to maintain a clear, unwavering focus on the dead.  And there’s nothing to say that persons who find the ritual elements a distraction can’t learn to respond to them in the desired way.  After all, the others learned it; no religious practice comes instinctively to anyone, even if there is an instinct for something called religion in general.  So even proceeding from my idea that mourning should be a matter of focusing our attention on the dead, we don’t find an argument against funerary rites.

Of course, funerary rites do something else as well.  They reassure the mourners that the remembrance of the dead is not a burden they will carry alone, but a bond they share with their community.  Funerary rites aren’t the only social practices that give that assurance; one of the reasons we want medical professionals to make heroic efforts to save our loved ones is that we want to know that those professionals will remember them, at least as an interesting case.  When someone is to blame for the death of a loved one, we want the same attention from the criminal justice system, in part for the same reason.  That’s probably why murder mysteries are so popular.  Some time ago, I saw an episode of Columbo on some cable TV channel that specializes in nostalgia.  Lieutenant Columbo had caught the murderer hiding the victim’s body.  In his bizarrely friendly way,  Lieutenant Columbo was trying to keep the murderer from feeling too bad about himself, telling him, “Dead bodies have a way of turning up.”  In reality, of course, they don’t.  The only thing dead bodies actually have a way of doing is decomposing.   Given enough time, it will be as if the dead had never lived.  That may well be the world’s most unbearable fact.  Many years ago, my wife lost her closest friend to an act of violence that was never investigated; with each passing year, fewer people remember her, and her family’s burden grows more obvious.

Medicine and the criminal justice system, whatever their virtues, are never entirely satisfactory substitutes for funerary rites.  A course of medical treatment is an exercise in technology and finance that revolves around the person of a patient, but is never simply a tribute to that patient; a criminal proceeding is an exercise in institutionalized conflict in the course of which a person who is unavailable to participate actively is likely to vanish from view altogether.

Many people recommend political action as a way to honor the dead.  I’m all for democracy, and I understand the power of martyrs to arouse a citizenry to action.  So I’m not opposed to the idea of waging a campaign for reform in the name of some dead person.  But consider.  Every political dispute is complex; every political issue shades into other, related issues, and every person who takes part in a political disagreement is pursuing several objectives at once.  To turn a person into a political symbol, therefore, is likely to make it virtually impossible to focus our undivided attention on that person.  Again, not everyone sees that focus as the essence of honoring the dead; some may define honoring the dead in a way that begins and ends with the political utility of martyrdom, or in other ways that put a low priority on memory of them as they were.  But for me, and perhaps for Vonnegut, the key thing is to meet the dead on their own terms, not to impose our preconceived notions on them or to lose sight of them in the midst of some other activity.

If we say that our ways of honoring the dead are part of our religion, whether we belong to any recognized religious tradition or not, then Vonnegut and I may share a religion.  Moreover, at least in my version of that unnamed religion, politics is not part of the funerary rites by which we honor the dead.  The rites of the various religious traditions that do have names and belief systems and hierarchies aren’t really part of it either, though they can serve the same purpose.  What is a part of it?  How do we go about focusing our attention simply on a person, not on desires and ideas of our own that we may associate with that person?

In a post a few years ago, I quoted a man who had said that his way of praying for a person was to hold an image in his mind of that person against a plain white background.  This meditative exercise does not involve any words; that way he isn’t tempted to wish things on the person, or to try to recruit God as an ally in an effort to make the person do what he thinks is right.  Instead, it enables him to see the person clearly, to listen to what the person is actually saying, to accept the person as s/he is, and to respect his or her journey in life.  I’ve tried this exercise myself on many occasions, and can recommend it highly.

So that exercise is part of my religion, if you call it that.  Science is part of it, too.  Richard Feynman said in his 1974 commencement address at Caltech that in science, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself- and you are the easiest person to fool.”  My favorite living philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre, argues that healthy religious traditions represent lines of inquiry that guide their followers away from particular forms of self-deception.  I don’t really understand how that is supposed to work; MacIntyre’s own religious tradition, as embodied in the Roman Catholic Church, seems to me to be an ever-flowing fountain from which self-deception springs in forms unimagined anywhere else.  Be that as it may, science offers its practitioners tools unmatched in any other avenue of human pursuit for disabusing oneself of one’s pet ideas.  Thomas à Kempis said that the highest reward of the contemplative life was that it had enabled him to free himself of a multitude of opinions; to the extent that Thomas’s words apply to religious practice in general, scientific inquiry is the most efficient of all forms of worship.

*To be precise about it, the Vonneguts were members of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana when the novelist was growing up.  At that time, the congregation met in a building designed by architect Kurt Vonnegut, Senior.  In his maturity, Kurt Vonnegut, Junior did not identify even with the creedless religion of the Unitarians, or the Unitarian-Universalists as they became in 1961.