Review of "The American Cause"

Russell Kirk’s book The American Cause purports to present the conservative values that inform and compose the best aspects of America in order to reinforce potentially “weak loyalties” and skeptical attitudes to America. Conceiving such viewpoints not just as an intellectual weakness but a social disease in need of treatment and prevention, the author outlines what he takes to be the quintessential values of American political and economic life. Taken at it’s own word, the book is largely successful in accomplishing this. As outlined by Kirk the American Cause is unabashedly capitalist yet also profoundly, legally conservative in nature. Though Kirk admits it is not perfect or some sort of Utopian paradise, this conservative/capitalist dynamic may as well be adjacent to utopia or at least a close approximation. However, in order to present this narrative of American exceptionalism and delineation of its superior values, a number of important distinctions are obscured, counter-factual episodes in history are not mentioned and potentially disruptive comparisons are not made. The result is that the American “fortress of principle” that Kirk describes is often smoke and mirrors.

Kirk begins his treatment of the laudable aspects of the American cause by foregoing discussion on slavery and the dispossession and genocide of indigenous people to outline how Americanism and Christianity are, if not the same, than are extremely similar. America is, to Kirk, a Christian nation if not in law than at least in principal and practice. The values and natural duties within the Bible are described as being the guiding force behind early American political life and civic institutions. Yet this Christianity and America Kirk describes is of such broad outline that it obscures the various groups which have struggled for political and cultural hegemony over such terms. The history is abstract and idealist. For one, the composition of the various churches and religious institutions are not given the most cursory outline. If we are to believe Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, the majority composition of early American religious groups was not intellectually informed Christian insight but personalistic salvation with presuppositions often at variance from the Bible. Additionally, the Jewish faith is not interrogated as being distinct from the Christian one and is simply subsumed within it as it is Abrahamic. The major variances between them is often something that I see goyim doing, but interestingly enough only done by those rabbi’s speaking at inter-faith dialogues. Additionally Quakers, Catholics and various other Christian denominations that have fought to achieve some degree of greater social justice or just legal parity are seemingly absent from America. Despite going into any of this Kirk, without proffering scriptural quotation or exegesis, instead states that the true Christian inheritance is “resignation: not to expect perfection in this world” (29). Based upon readings of the Tanakh and Talmud, I do know that this is alien to the Judaic concept of “tikkun olam” or “healing the world”. Also, the current Pope’s declamations that unfettered, market-based capitalism is tyranny, and equivalent to the worship of false gods would also bear examination in light of Kirk’s compression of Americanism/Christianity/Capitalism into one. While not able to address the intricacies of most of the other religious groups differing scriptural counter-interpretations, and mentioning only in passing the discriminatory laws enacted against several religious groups in early America I’ll say that this abstract, idealist conception of American history continues on in his treatment of the “Founders”.

In his treatment of those political figures which played a key role in composing the major tenants of life, liberty, etc. Kirk continues to blurring of differences. There are brief mentions of variations of political views, but this are fleeting and no serious discussion of divergences between Federalists and Anti-Federalists is given – nor the many other sharp divisions within early America. According to the image presented by Kirk, there was simply a number of enlightened politicians fighting for American’s inexorable movement towards an ever more perfect ordered liberty. He does state that this political movement was not abstract in its understanding of Rights, like the French Jacobins, but a conservative imposition of pre-established social principles previously enunciated and won by the British. Those that Kirk calls the “greatest principles” consist of justice, order and freedom. However, their contestation within a historical, legal framework is absent, thereby giving the impression that existed impartially – like concepts making their way into the world without deforming despite the harsh handling by the mothers and midwives who brought them into the world. In this noisy celebration on the freedom from caste and the liberty to buy and sell, analysis of counterfactual judicial and regulatory trends towards specific classes of people is negated in his presentation and the order of the market, inscribed with the police and the military is hidden. The war between the states, the conditions which allowed privatized police forces to repress workers striking, the judicial suppression of various perspectives, the backroom deal-making which saw vast swathes of public funds go to help private citizens and enterprises is not even given a cursory sweeping under the rug. As Kirk presents it, it simply never happened! These criticisms of Kirk should not be construed as signifying that America is guilty for not being perfect from inception, but that the presentation of American in the manner that Kirk presents it is unrealistic, idealistic and unfitting to the task that he sets for himself considering his opening statements critical against “ideology”.

The American founders are not alone in their cavalier, ahistorical treatment of differences. Communism, the enemy of Americanism for Kirk, is equally given poor treatment. Again a variety of political tendencies, in this case those that claim guidance from the writings of Marx, are compressed into a singular word. However in the history of Soviet Communism the varieties of political governance and practice represented by Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Bukharin, etc. reach a level of polarization not found in the United States until the Civil War. Here the real and imagined differences that would lead to political trials, purges, mass incarceration, forced labor and judicial executions, are all merely one and the same thing: Communism. To Kirk it is seemingly of no consequence that the Stalin’s OPGU, later the NKVD, was formed explicitly to monitor, undermine and destroy any group in any country associated with Trotsky’s Fourth International. While Kirk does later make allowances for differences between Socialism and Communism, the latter for him has no proper referent outside the Soviets. Euro-communists are not mentioned at all. And though it may be a stretch it’s worth pointing out that Social and Christian Democrats, who have a much lees boosterish relationship to capitalism, are not mentioned and yet provide an example that one need not be merely an ideological capitalist or a dirty communist. This type of polarization, recently used by extreme right wing groups in discourse over Obama’s implementation of the ACA, a document largely inspired by the Heritage Foundation, is illustrative of the intellectual dangers of such over-simplifications. And these vulgar generaliztions exist not only in the content of Kirk’s history, but also in his presentation of Marxist thought, which he dismisses as not being worth the time of interrogating as it is, quoting Kirk’s use of Alexander Gray, “in the last resort, sheet waste of time; for when we consort with Marx we are no longer in the world of reason or logic” (95). This is, of course interesting as according to Indiana University’s scholarship database project findings in November of 2013, Marx was named as the most personage in academic literature. This surely bolsters the very minimal claim that even if he “was wrong” about some things, than he was clearly right about enough to still be considered worth studying and writing about.

Considering Kirk’s celebration of capitalism and the recognition that it under attack from outside and within by “weak loyalties”, it’s worth checking if his general claims about the American conditions is true. On page 5, for instance he states that: “Struggle among classes rarely has been fierce in the United States; Americans have been content with their domestic pattern of life and politics.” If this is true, this begs the question as to why it is that the American Cause needs assistance. That it needs such intellectual bolstering suggests that it might not be so conflict free as Kirk might wish it to be. In fact, Kirk’s instance that the American labor experience was some sort of quasi-paradise is highly contested by Philip Taft and Philip Ross in their work The History of Violence in America: A Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence where they state based upon their years of research that:

“The United States has had the bloodiest and most violent labor history of any industrial nation in the world. Labor violence was not confined to certain industries, geographic areas, or specific groups in the labor force, although it has been more frequent in some industries than in others. There have been few sections and scarcely any industries in which violence has not erupted at some time, and even more serious confrontations have on occasion followed.”

Kirk’s history at this point, repeating so many of the same tendencies, if not to be categorized as bald fabrications can at best be described as ideological. The charge of ideology against Kirk is a significant not only unto itself, but as throughout his work he asserts that ideology is a problem that only “they” have. They being communists, or they being those that take a critical stance to the extension of American power and influence. And yet, as I have pointed out, the majority of Kirk’s examples are precisely that ideology which he rails against. A similar transition away from Kirk’s idealist history of global “communism” into a materialist history of domestic, American “communism” shows additional issues.

In describing the reason for their being a small number of professed socialists in the United States, Kirk hints that the reason for this was the existence of economic freedom and upward mobility. While agreeing fully with him that their numbers were small, some of the material conditions that contributed to this are important to mention and lacking them Kirk again presents an ideological history. Failing to factor in the wide scale political censorship, government and corporate collusion in targeting and neutralizing radicals, numerous frontiers, a linguistically fragmented industrial proletariat struggling with racial and ethnic divisions as well as a white aristocracy of labor that reinforced capitalists prerogatives, as just some of the reasons which explain this numerically small number of professed activists gives a false presentation of what America is and what it’s cause is as well. While it’s understandable to place limits when writing on a topic such consistent oversights harm the American Cause by its misrepresentation and misinformation.

Review of "Totch: A Life in the Everglades"

Lauren “Totch” Brown’s autobiography Totch: A Life in the Everglades provides a fascinating insight into the daily lives of those on the periphery of the network of capitalist relations in South West Florida near the beginning of the 20th century. In this frontier region the settlers extracted value from the plant and animal life of the region – be it in hides, fish – and small distillery operations in order to self-reproduce and to enter the network of capitalist relations.

Totch describes this particular situatedness and his father’s guidance as instilling within him a distinct ethos that does not kill indiscriminately, but only does so based upon the need for food or the accumulation of capital. The rational behind this is simple: recognition that capacity to sustain life is intimately tied to the living beings there. Totch claims that only once did he violate this ethical position. This belief system is vastly divergent from the urban one and is more proximate to the Seminole values – a fact that explains in part his admiration for them. However, though Totch and the Seminoles may be neighbors on the ethical/locational level, there is still quite a large divide between the two.

This divergence is evident not only in Totch’s participation in the hides trade, wherein he would let animal meats waste due to their low to nonexistent exchange value, and in the form of goods he would trade for the capital he’d accumulated. Natives would primarily traded for goods of symbolic or consumptive value, whereas Totch purchased items of a primarily utilitarian use-value, such as guns, boats, motors, etc. that assisted in greater extraction of capital in the form of animals within his immediate surroundings.

As it was a financially unviable for Sears-Roebuck to showcase physical goods in such a small town, their catalog served as a means for transitioning the capital accumulated by trappers and fishers like Totch into commodities. This presents an irony unrecognized or unacknowledged by Totch. While he may declaim the closing of the region to limited hunting periods by the Federal government, construed of as outsiders, it was the logic of those businesses outside the Everglades that incentivized the massive culling of wildlife that led to the subsequent calls to preserve them.

The freedom within this regulatory periphery that Totch enjoyed diverged little from the once similarly lawless Alaskan fisheries and Appalachian still regions. Fishing grounds are not regulated by the permit or catch allotment but instead by personal initiative, i.e. showing up first in a place, local tradition and if need be capacity to mobilize a superior display or enactment of violence. This is evident when Totch and several of his employees travel south to the region and then, facing contestation of his extraction from the fishery, much shows off with a group of local fisherman. Limited regulatory capacity, in the form of small numbers of topographically knowledgeable park agents, is contested by frontier entrepreneurship that takes various forms. First it is in the alligator hides trade that soon enough, like the alligators, dies off and then it is in the marijuana trade. Once the Everglades region and the fisheries around it become regulated to the point of near or real prohibition for anything other than chartering or high-capital intensive fishing, Totch and others in the Everglades City community are able to capitalize on their social capital and investments in boats in order to become marijuana smugglers and stevedores.

South Florida Regional Development

Over the past 50 years Florida has seen some of the most rapid population growth in the United States. This growth and concomitant development can been predominantly characterized as decentralized and anarchic in nature. Those familiar with the state are aware of the many issues this has engendered, be it poor public transportation, non-optimal use of public resources for infrastructure, an archipelago of very small town governments, construction standards that often lack consideration of a future rise in the ocean’s level, low levels of population density, etc. One of the recent attempts to address these issues is the Seven-50 project, the seven referring to the seven counties of South Florida while the 50 refers to the next 50 years of development. As Florida will continue to be one of the leaders in population growth in the country over the next 50 years, this is clearly an important subject to consider.

Recognizing that without a regional governance, environmental and economic development plan will exacerbate the issues listed above the plan, which is open to comment and alterations based upon public input, seeks to provide a framework for local politicians and advocates to guide policy for South Florida. There are nine more days before the final findings are compiled and considered complete. I would highly recommend that those living in South Florida – especially the tri-county region – and who are interested in playing a role in it’s future development familiarize themselves with the plans outlined by Seven-50 so that they can provide input. Their documentation makes wide use of graphs to make comprehension of the complex issues facing Florida easy to understand and their forums offer space for any clarification of issues.

Review of "Raising Cane in the 'Glades: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida"

Gail Hollander’s book Raising Cane in the ‘Glades: The Global Sugar Trade and the Transformation of Florida assesses the various historical and market forces that converged such that the Glades area came to be conceptualized and actualized as the American Sugar Bowl. Sugar, the first non-luxury commodity to be widely consumed that was not sourced locally, became more than just a sweetener. During the lead up to and during World War I sugar came to be used in explosives, ammunitions and soldiers food rations. The need for a dependable supply of sugar was thus seen as intimately connected with national security. This theme would later wane in importance however it would also transform in a different context. In the late 1990’s, when there was a potential for disruption of crude oil supplies in Venezuela following the ascension of Hugo Chavez to the presidency. At this point sugar, the base component for ethanol, was considered as one of the primary vegetable products that could provide a modicum of energy independence. As such, the importation of sugar from sources domestic and abroad, the need to maintain a certain degree of price stability to prevent vast market fluctuations, and the ecological and political economy of regions as close as Cuba and as far away as Hawaii and the Philippines became enmeshed in a large bureaucratic regime in America tasked with managing the sugar market. As Hollander shows, the free-market system was strictly aspirational, and often influenced by political rather than economic consideration. Thus while the black cane workers in Glades fields were the only ones with sweat on their brows and sap on their hands, they were only ale to find such employ as there also existed a significant network of political advocates mobilized to grip, grease and dirty hands for the benefit of the sugar plantation owners, America’s modern barons.

Following America’s takeover of Spanish colonies after the Spanish-American War, capital investment in Cuba increased exponentially. Despite the clear endogenous advantages, however, regionalist boosters in Florida advocated for massive publicly financed programs that would benefit a small class of planters. In the imagination of many a local politicians, such as Governor Broward, if the swampy, miasmic Everglades were not turned into a sugar producing region it would be sinful. Surely the only sub-tropical region in the United States could not be allowed to support only the creatures and native population that had lived there for thousands of years! That would be a waste! As such domestic capitalists began advocating for assistance to tame their newly purchased holdings by drainage, canals and levee barriers as it was impossible for small, private owners – the class then appealed to due to the influence of the Populists – to be able to do this profitably on their own. They appealed for assistance at the state and Federal level, with the latter obtaining price guarantees because, they claimed, their labor was better treated. While this may have been true, it was only so by a difference of degree, as many sugar operations were not able continue were it not for the enforcement of Jim Crow policies.

While the Cuban Revolution was a traumatic loss for many Cuban and American capitalists with heavy investments in the country some, such as the Fanjul family, were able to capitalize on the new geo-political situation. Importing their knowledge of the industry and their trans-national connections while simultaneously exploiting the Cold War context that would soon mean the cessation of trade relations with Cuba, these new South Florida cane growers exponentially increased their holdings in anticipation of the new sourcing percentages they were advocating. In a five-year period, land devoted to growing sugar cane in South Florida expanded five-fold while the number of companies involved fell due to consolidation. The effect that this had on other domestic suppliers was swift. Beets grown for processing into sugar had always been an option that was maintained as it was faster growing, not requiring a two-year investment cost, it had the support of the “Sugar Czar,” House Committee on Agricultural Chair Harold D. Cooley, and had the support of was soon priced out while other international suppliers soon petitioned for a large share of what was once Cuba’s contribution of imports.

It is in this institutional analysis of US sugar policy’s origins and delineation of the various actors involved that Hollander focuses on throughout the text. While the workers and their conditions do concern her, they are often not considered in the text except to point out their low wages and, with the H-2 Visa controversy following the large influx of Haitian immigration to Miami, their precariousness. I do not think that this is necessarily a fault of her for their struggle is not the main issue when it comes to the American Sugar Kingdom. Without seeking to minimize those workers sufferings, the battles for quotas amongst what are basically regional fiefdoms for quotas. This play amongst financial groups and policy discontinuity amongst the government in the end created a lot of problems. While no one is quite willing to say that sugar definitively caused the Cuban Revolution, it’s clear that the United States helped to exacerbate a bad situation there at the cost of the Glades so that a few well-connected, generous to political party capitalists could be made wealthy. While Hollander doesn’t delve into this per se, I find behind her presentation of sugar’s political economy and the numerous negotiations it entailed a number of chilling considerations.

Finally, I want to add to this that while Hollander uses quantitative data throughout the book in order to illustrate developments, such as the expansion of acreage devoted to sugar cane in Florida compared to Louisiana during, the costs of various Army Core of Engineers projects or the net imports from various countries, the accounting of the sugar trade is absent. This is understandable as her concern is not with this but connecting the various political and economic actors involved in the sugar industry such that their global assemblage is outlines. However, in closing, I wanted to suggest a future avenue of research related to the Hollander’s research: an analysis of the profitability of the Florida sugar industry were it actually subject to market forces. A cliometric assessment of the sugar industry would make an interesting case study as it speaks to the relationship between government disbursements of financial aid to private enterprise and, I would imagine, hints at the essentially unprofitable nature of the industry were it not given significant subsidies in a variety of forms. Hollander hints at this throughout her book in the numerous examples of the high costs of the dredging and canalization, the disproportionate payment for use and maintenance of water management, scientific research into soil and secondary uses for cane, downstream cleanup, avoidance of paying a sectoral wage averages by using black prison labor or labor imported from the abroad via domestic political influence, price competition were Cuba and later Brazil not respectively barred and limited from competition. Thus the American sticker price for sugar is artificially low, as collectively already a significant amount of money has gone into subsidizing the prices. While recognizing the need for a degree of market management at times to keep the price stable, the interrogation of the economic feasibility of government intervention evokes thoughtful consideration on democracy and how it was that what was potentially a losing enterprise was supported simply because it was politically expedient. As Hollander points out on page 269, “although it accounts for only 1 percent of U.S. farm receipts, sugar is the single largest agricultural donor to political campaigns.” Considering the above, I would expect to find that the greatest rate of return for investments made by the sugar industry would not be from equipment that creates the best practices but in the donations they’d funneled from the collected surplus-value of cane-cutters into the pockets of politicians setting quotas and supporting various sugar-industry specific infrastructure assistance.

Review of "The Enduring Seminoles"

The Enduring Seminoles by Patsy West explains the manner in which the Seminoles were able to economically reproduce following the seizure of much of their traditional lands, the collapse of Glades rookeries from over-hunting and the decline in demand for pelts caused by World War I. Their transition to traditional-craft produced goods, spectacular attractions such as dances, alligator wrestling and tribal ceremonies along with environmentally oriented tourism helped unify different clans and tribes traditionally separated into a single, evolving political unit. As a result of this unity it was possible for the Council, the ruling body of the Seminoles, to prevent individuals from signing away certain land rights, as other native peoples to the west had done, and they were able to consolidate their holding rights and capital to such a degree that they were able to financially flourish despite the Miccosukee and Seminoles pursuit of divergent paths – which was perhaps an inevitability considering their different tribal customs and language.

As the Seminoles still sought to trade within the cash nexus, new conditions of the late 19th and early 20th century meant that new forms of labor were required of them. While seasonal agricultural work was still an option pursued by some, the majority of the Seminoles instead accelerated the production of traditional goods for sale at their reservations that had a dual function as exhibition grounds. At these places simulacra of traditional ceremonies and life was on display for tourists paying to see the “unconquered Tribe” that after three wars with Uncle Sam would still make bellicose claims.

The completion of the Tamiami Trail in the late 1920s reinforced the identity creation that had previously been more regionalized while also causing disruption of the traditional methods of movement for the Seminoles. Because of the conditions which the road created, it also provided them with a means for expanding their economic reach and a setting in which concentrated habitation patterns helped lead them to gain an increased sense of identity. Whereas previously the Indian campgrounds were in competition with each other and organized by clan, with the only outsiders being “the husbands who came to live at the matrilocal residence,” the trail helped instill a Seminole consciousness (28). With so many settlements of various types within miles of each other organized around the exchange of money and people, now occurring at an increased pace, leaders within the tribes realized that their interests and capital were better used if pooled together and combined with a united political front. The Seminoles were thus able to exploit the lessons from other tribes in the Plains region that had been dispossessed by deferring to legal council in their actions and presuming sovereignty.

Despite this being a good source of income for them, their roles here were contrary to the ones conceptualized by many of the whites working for the New Deal government. Their productionist orientation saw this mode of economy both as demeaning and contrary to their goals reorganize the land for agriculture, and had the finances which were to support these efforts later subsumed to the wishes of the Seminoles (103).

Jung's Shadow-Self and You

After every FICAM training weekend my head stirs with new thoughts and concerns as it relates to individual and group psychology. This weekend we focused on the Jungian notion of the “shadow-self,” or the qualities of our personality that we seek to declaim, repress and deny. The tension between this and the better angels of our nature can lead one to feel as if they are torn between two opposing forces. The inability to reconcile this divide can become a barrier to positive self-growth. This occurs when one’s previous history has been reified in a personal narrative that is given a life of it’s own, and usually occurs around signpost moments in our lives.

These qualities coming to have a negative effect on our present-self is ironic, as these aspects of our personality that we conceive of as being negative, contaminated, careless, self-destructive or in other ways detrimental to our living our life in accordance with the image we wish is often materialized from what we conceive of as it’s opposite: positive intentions. For instance the “shadow” can manifest as an increased selfishness or neediness in order to assist one at a time when it’s recognized at some level of the consciousness as necessary to extract oneself from a damaging relationship. Perhaps a feeling of debilitating pain and guilt emerges during an episode of significant loss of something or someone significant. In either case, these coping mechanisms can endure in the unconscious and subsequently impinge on the conscious-self in unwanted ways. In the cases of the two examples I gave this can take the form of a generalize selfishness in relationships or aversion to the give-and-take required of serious romantic relationships or a generalized depression and feelings of worthlessness.

If these aspects of our consciousness are not dealt with properly, such forces can become almost like a possessive spirit. We become trapped in stories, whose lessons don’t now apply and debilitate us. While simply to deny this “shadow self” is attractive and suits well our vanity, for from such a position we are able to claim enlightenment, rationality and superiority for not having that in us, the truth is it is a specious reality that is sometimes insufficient to wrest control from that spirit within us.

Instead, at times we must acknowledge this shadow-self is a recurrent force popping up at various times throughout our lives with various degrees of intensity. Additionally we must learn to accept it, neigh embrace it, as a part of us that is sometimes helpful, but also sometimes hurtful. With greater insight into our own internal motivations, fears, and values, we are able to have greater control over them and thus work to adjust ourselves to our consciously desired state.

In the course of our group work over the weekend myself and other FICAM students drew our shadow-selves to depict our own personal conception of the shadow so that we may encounter it with our rationality, for leaving it solely to the realm of the unconscious is to allow it to express itself through us without our full awareness. Not wanting to be imbalanced, we also drew pictures of our “light-self” so we could face that as well. What followed were a number of neuro-linguistic programming, bioenergetics and formative psychology exercises, as well as traditional talk therapy intervention, using Jung’s work as a foundation. The experiences people had were powerful, encouraging us to move beyond the self-degradation and towards self-empowerment. I greatly enjoyed the weekend and look forward to one day soon being able to share these powerful tools with clients.

European Union Politics Research Project Proposal

To what extent does the EEC affect wages and labor conditions in the EU?

Since the beginning of the global economic crisis, European political parties have had to respond to new market and political conditions. Despite the fact the 1957 treaty establishing the EEC included provisions aimed at reducing economic inequalities between subnational regions, economic convergence between and within countries has been unequal. What explains the differences between regions where inequality has worsened and where it has been decreased? Using an institutionalist approach to markets, inter-governmentalist theories of welfare and state capacity, as well as EU Regional Policy Working Papers on patterns of investment, I will use quantitative and qualitative methods to look at changes of investment and costs of living. I expect to find that the increased size of the regional polity results in higher competition amongst workers and that regions associated with higher levels of unionization will have decreased levels of inequality and increased levels of political representation.