Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The End of Victory Culture

Roll the dice, lady. Roll the dice.

Title: The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (New York: Basic Books, 1995)

Author:
Tom Engelhardt, a former journalist and book editor, now working as a fellow for the Nation Institute and writing for/editing the alternative news site TomDispatch.com. One of the things he works on for Metropolitan Books is called The American Empire Project and looks really awesome.

Argument:
The time between the Cold War and Vietnam marked the beginning of the end of American triumphalism, which was at a high point at the end of WWII, but marred by the existence of the bomb. Combining a bunch of different previous scholarship about American exceptionalism (see Nash Smith), Native Americans (see Slotkin), narratives of war and racism (see Dower, Drinnon), as well as his own childhood reflections, Engelhardt seeks to answer the question of how Americans lost their loving feeling toward their own country - and especially, how children who grew up during that 1950s got to the point where they began to question the country's mission. All of this questioning added up to what Engelhardt terms The End of Victory Culture. (Problem: Weren't there dissenters and disbelievers in American culture all along? Anti-imperialists and war protestors? Socialists? Communists? Yes, there were... Also, there's still a Victory Culture: just ask any random person on the street in Concord, New Hampshire.)

Chapter-by-chapter:
I. War Story
1. Triumphalist Despair:
Basic argument laid out.

2. Story Time: Real-life war stories of America, whose parameters are determined by the victors (see Lepore). Native Americans as central to these stories, while the black story is elided (and haunting in its absence).

3. Ambush at Kamikaze Pass: War stories in the movies. Short history of the Western, pre-1960, and its similarities with the war movies of the 1940s. A bit about captivity narratives; a bit about the "victim complex" (we are always the transgressed upon, never the aggressor).

4. Premonitions: The Asian Death of Victory Culture: How Asia became "the frontier", and how Korea became a precursor of/warning of what was to come in Vietnam.

II. Containments (1945-1962)
1. War Games:
How the 1950s mixed wartime with peacetime objectives (see May). Includes section on children's war games (81).

2. X Marks the Spot: Articulation of tensions between inclusionary and exclusionary tactics during the Cold War (how are we safe? by assimilating difference, or rejecting it altogether?)

3. The Enemy Disappears:
The invisibility of Cold War adversaries; coverage of the HUAC hearings and blacklisting (emphasis on the performative nature thereof).

4. The Haunting of Childhood:
Childhood, during the Cold War, was the "symbolic meeting place" for two fears: the fear of infection by the Other (see juvenile delinquents); and the propensity of the media to "concretize the fantasies of the young and the nightmarish fears of grown-ups into potent products" (137). "Twilight Zone" seen as example of how these secret fears/fantasies emerged in the public eye.

5. Entering the Twilight Zone:
The atomic stalemate "reflected the limits of what the American story, American national identity, could withstand" (157): we couldn't picture ourselves killing so many people without "provocation". This meant that adversaries had to be more careful, talk about things more, and that "a certain amount of control over the American war story...was placed in enemy hands" (161). Interesting piece on the invention of the Peace Corps as JFK's plan to Americanize far places through youth (164).

III. The Era of Reversals (1962-1975):
1. The First Coming of GI Joe:
Evolution of GI Joe figures seen as marker of how American ideas of heroism and enemy-ship evolved during this time.

2. The Invisible Government:
JFK's assassination, and subsequent conspiracy theories, indicated that Americans could now conceive that their government would keep things from them purposefully.

3. Playing with Fire: The story of Morley Safer's atrocity reports from Cam Ne, and how the response to it (people thought he was a Communist plant, and hey, he was Canadian) indicated America's inability to accept the possible moral bankruptcy of their mission in Vietnam.

Morley Safer at Cam Ne, 1965.

4. Into the Charnel House of Language: Vietnam's "backwardness" in the American war story led to linguistic machinations intended to help Americans process what was happening: an interesting analysis of the use of the word "quagmire", which holds that the word implies American victimhood, once again: Who's in the wrong, when men are being "sucked into" a war? The thing doing the "sucking", for sure. I'm never calling Iraq a quagmire again. (199)

5. The President as Mad Mullah: Nixon told advisors that he wanted the Vietnamese to see him as an evil madman so they would lose their nerve - a concept which fascinates Engelhardt, given American need to see their leaders as upright moral beings.

6. The Crossover Point:
More on the American state of mind in Vietnam, including the "logic" of body counts, which built on itself, and the idea that America wanted to impose a "story" on Vietnam, not just political rule (214).

7. "Something Rather Dark and Bloody":
The story of the My Lai massacre, and response to it. Interestingly, Engelhardt points out, everybody on either side of the protestor/establishment divide was interested in comparing the other side with Nazis.

8. The War Crimes of Daniel Ellsberg: Ellsberg, who worked for RAND and then leaked the Pentagon Papers, is seen as an exemplar of a young American who fell out of love with the war story he'd been raised upon.

D. Ellsberg.

9. Ambush at Kamikaze Pass (II): Reflections of the Vietnam War in film. Also, story of how young war protestors singlehandedly realized the twin fears of the Cold War era: Communism, and the vulnerability of the young.

10. Besieged: How the war protestors used the national media by manipulating symbols such as "Good War" paraphenalia in order to create a sort of living MAD magazine: a subordination of the accepted narrative. Those in charge were horrified: not only the war, but also the home agenda, was slipping from their grasp, due to the death of Victory Culture.

11. Reconstruction:
How did post-Vietnam Americans, robbed of their self-image of conquering righteousness, think to recoup their self respect? Through the children, of course...

IV. Afterlife (1975-1994):
Attempts to rehabilitate American self image include Star Wars, the first Gulf War (in its spectacular, TV-ready execution). More on GI Joe, and a bit of interesting, if slightly out of place, musing on the way that children's culture seems to drive all meaning before it in the creation of an apolitical, timeless global state of conflict (do I agree? don't know) (301).

Reviews: In Contemporary Sociology, George Lipsitz wrote (a bit scathingly, but rightly) that Engelhardt draws "sporadically and unsystematically" on recent scholarship, pointing out holes in interpretation caused by ignorance of such work as that of Eric Lott and David Roediger. Furthermore, Lipsitz continued, Engelhardt's unfamiliarity with the methods of cultural studies led him to write in a narrow, Myth-and-Symbol-style framework, ignoring contradictory or complicating aspects of his Overarching Narrative; and his lack of context for each cultural object (no analysis of the actors involved in production, etc) leads him to make unsupported guesses about their meanings. In the Journal of American History, Stephen Whitfield wrote that the book's analysis was "sprightly", if thin, and that Engelhardt's overall theory about triumphalism was worth encapsulating in book form. Both reviewers called Engelhardt a "leftist". It's interesting to see how differently a "popular" book is reviewed in scholarly publications...

Vocab words:
"osculation" ("close contact, an instance of this; spec. (a) the mutual contact of blood vessels (obs.); (b) Geom., contact of curves or surfaces which share a common tangent at the point of contact (also used analogously of spaces of higher dimension)" - also, "kissing").

Books to follow up on:
Primary: Books: Textbook from 1953: America Before Man; Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Diane E Levin, Who's Calling the Shots: How to Respond Effectively to Children's Fascination with War Play and War Toys (1990); MIA Hunter series ("Vietnam snuff novels"). Toys: GI Joe "Soldiers of the World" (p 175) and animal enemies. Movies: "North by Northwest"; "The Long Telegram"; "Fail Safe"; Morley Safer's reports on "The Burning of Cam Ne"; "The Dirty Dozen"; "The Wild Bunch"; "Bonnie and Clyde"; "Little Big Man"; "Soldier Blue"; "The China Syndrome"; "Coming Home".

Secondary: Stephanie Coontz, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (1992); Leslie Daikin, Children's Toys Throughout the Ages (1953); Ruth Miller Elson, Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century (1964); Frances Fitzgerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (1979); Antonia Fraser, A History of Toys (1966); Trudier Harris, Exorcising Blackness: Historical and Literary Lynching and Burning Rituals (1984); John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925 (1975); Sydney Ladensohn and Ted Schhoenhaus, Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry (1990); Edward Tabor Linenthal, Sacred Ground: Americans and Their Battlefields (1991); June Namias, White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier (1993); David Nasaw, Going Out: The Rise and Fall of Public Amusements (1993); Michael Paul Rogin, Ronald Reagan, The Movie and Other Episodes in Political Demonology (1987); Michael Sherry, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon (1987); Keith Thompson, Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination (1991).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Homeward Bound

For May, bomb shelters exemplify the "containment" metaphor, showing how public fears intersected with (created?) domestic ideologies of the hothouse nuclear family.

Title: Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic Books, 1988)

Author:
Elaine Tyler May, history, University of Minnesota (PhD, UCLA, 1975). She writes: "I am a historian of the United States in the twentieth century, with a particular interest in the intersections of politics and private life. My research and teaching focus on the areas of women's history and history of the family, exploring the ways in which gender and sexuality reflect and express American political, cultural and social values." Her other books include Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America (1980) and Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness (1997), which I really, really want to read.

Argument:
Dominant historical and cultural narratives have normalized the 1950s way of marriage and family life, but in reality, the 50s paradigm (early marriage; rigid gender roles; nuclear family) was different from anything before or after - and, of course, the social relations of the time period were constructed, like those of any other. May asks why, after the Depression and WWII, when women worked outside of the home in large numbers, the pendulum swung so far toward the other, more traditional configuration during the 1950s. The larger theoretical point here has to do with the way that political ideology, or national political "direction", can be reflected/refracted in ideas of domestic relationships. Specifically, during the postwar years, ideas of "containment" (on the international level) manifested themselves in the domestic sphere.

Chapter-by-chapter:
1. Containment at Home: Cold War, Warm Hearth:
Beginning with the story of the Nixon/Khruschev "kitchen debates", May describes what deeper meanings or usefulnesses the domesticity of the 1950s had for the society: "The appliance-laden ranch-style home epitomized the expansive, secure lifestyle that postwar Americans wanted. Within the protective walls of the modern home, worrisome developments like sexual liberalism, women's emancipation, and affluence would lead not to decadence but to a wholesome family life. Sex would enhance marriage, emancipated women would professionalize homemaking, and affluence would put an end to material deprivation..." (19-20) Also, this lifestyle, when available to (or idealized for!) many people, would make Communism look unattractive and unnecessary to the majority of Americans. Here, May also introduces the Kelly Longitudinal Study, the survey of married couples begun in the 1930s which will serve as an important part of her evidence for the book.


Nixon v. Khruschev, 1959 Kitchen Debates. But why did Moscow allow an exposition of American culture in the first place? Anybody know? (Also, Khruschev said, when Nixon showed him a TV, "This is probably always out of order...Don't you have a machine that puts food into the mouth and pushes it down? Many things you've shown us are interesting but they are not needed in life...they are merely gadgets" [quoted on page 163]. And then Nixon proceeded to go see about inventing that food-pusher...)

2. Depression: Hard Times at Home: Context for the 1950s model of domesticity includes the Depression years, during which many more women went to work, but which, May says, also "created nostalgia for a mythic past in which male breadwinners made a decent living, and homemakers were freed from outside employment" (38). May discusses Depression-era Hollywood depictions of working women, which always managed to emphasize flexibility and problem-solving in marriages strapped for cash, without proposing a fundamental shift in the way marriages worked.

3. War and Peace: Fanning the Home Fires: Again, during WWII, women worked in greater numbers; however, this "emergency suspension" of gender roles (see Gail Collins, who probably got this idea from May) is revoked at the end of the war. May returns to Hollywood to show how women working in the film industry were depicted as domestic (and includes an awesomely memorable picture of Joan Crawford washing the floor in full eyebrowed splendor). The emphasis on domesticity during a time when many women worked was due to a desire to contain the female sexuality which was seen as being "on the loose" during the wild wartime years (see: paintings of bombshells on planes and, well, bombshells). May also writes about the real dilemmas of women who decided whether or not to work during this era, pointing out that opportunities for women - whether college-educated or not - were slim, and may have made domesticity seem like a more appetizing solution to the question "What do I do with my life?"

4. Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb:
During the postwar years, women's sexuality was linked pervasively with the power of the bomb, "a symbolic connection that found widespread expression in professional writings, anticommunist campaigns, and the popular culture" (93). Many people in many levels of government sincerely believed that there was a "direct connection between communism and sexual depravity" (94). Male power needed to be exercised in the home as well as in the public sphere, so that the power of sex could be harnessed and channelled in positive directions: men would be fulfilled, and not subject to temptations of pornography, homosexuality, and prostitution; women would be fulfilled, and would raise healthy kids, like good republican mothers. Here May talks about the bomb shelter and its meanings for idealized family "togetherness" and insularity.

Marilyn Monroe, she of the totally uncontrollable sexuality, in Niagara (1953).

5. Brinkmanship: Sexual Containment on the Home Front:
Following the paradigm set up in the previous chapter, May returns to the Kelly data, attempting to see how postwar couples were affected by ideologies of containment. Discussing ideas of the acceptability of premarital sex, she writes that many couples got married early to avoid the disasters that were supposed to happen when you did engage in intercourse before getting hitched. May outlines the paradox of expert advice on sex and marriage in this time period: the recommendation was for complete virginity before marriage, and then mutual bliss within - a combination which didn't really seem to work in the real world, or at least the real world as reported by Kelly. All in all, sexual containment had an "ambiguous legacy" (134) - it did not guarantee security or fulfillment, but the consequences of non-adherence (loss of status, stigma, "the economic hardship of divorce") were too great for many people to risk.

6. Baby Boom and Birth Control: The Reproductive Consensus: During the Cold War, having babies was a way to exercise civic values. Pronatalism, rampant during these years, held that having children was the number one way to be happy, and to contribute to the growth of the nation. To this end, ideas of maternity being the ultimate sexual fulfillment for women were widely held, but also (and this is interesting) people thought that men should be fathers - as May contends, fatherhood was seen as an antidote to an office life that might be overwhelmingly depersonalized. For the first time, the family was supposed to fulfill all human emotional needs - a microcosm unto itself. Again, May returns to H'wood to describe how these ideas grew in movie-world.

Still from the pronatal film "Penny Serenade", starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne (1941)

7. The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home: Returning to the kitchen debates, May shows how consumerism was tied with stability and anti-Communism, and how investing in the home became the best way of "planning for the future" (even if it put financial burdens on the family in the present). May writes that part of the way Americans, still adhering to a Puritan model of pragmatism and guilt, justified spending as much as they started spending was that if it was the home they were investing in, consumerism was seen as unselfish (it's for the kids, not for me!) Good point.

8. Hanging Together: For Better or for Worse: Returning to the Kelly couples, May goes straight to the heart of some bad marriages, asking why the couples in question stayed together, and finding that the answer was usually status, stability, and security.

9. Epilogue: The Baby Boom Comes of Age: Starting with Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963), May writes about responses to the domestic ideal, beginning with those who lived it (women who wrote to Friedan after the publication of the book) and moving into the responses of their children. She eventually concludes that domestic containment moved out of fashion after the Cold War political conditions changed, and that there was, after the 1950s, no "consensus" idea of how family life would be lived - at least, not the way there was back then.

Reviews:
Joseph Hawes, writing in the Journal of American History, wrote that May used the "perfect" data set provided in the form of the Kelly survey to great effect, comparing her work to that of Nancy Cott in Bonds of Womanhood (1977). Hawes also liked May's use of the Civil Defense images in chapter 4. The only possible quibble: May seemed to focus on unhappy couples, but, Hawes wrote, "the 60s rebirth of feminism fully justifies her emphasis". In Signs, Susan Ware wrote that the use of the Kelly data was the strength and the weakness of the book - the data's concentration in the white middle class, for example, was a drawback (but one of which, as Ware admits, May is fully aware). More important, Ware wrote that the somewhat imperfect chronology of the Kelly survey - which began in the late 30s - meant that many of the 50s ideologies described in the book could not be said to apply directly to the experiences of these couples. Overall, though, Ware appreciated May's interest in placing these 50s experiences in a chronology which included the 30s and 40s.

Sources to follow up on: Primary: Movies: "The Atomic Cafe"; "Niagara".

Secondary:
Linda Gordon, Woman's Body, Woman's Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America (1976); Robert J. Lifton, The Broken Connection: On Death and the Continuity of Life (1979); Lary May, Screening Out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (1983); Ellen Peck and Judith Senderowitz, Pronatalism: The Myth of Mom and Apple Pie (1974); Ellen Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (1984); Leila Rupp, Mobilizing Women for War: German and American Propaganda, 1939-1945 (1978); Viviana Zelizer, Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (1985).

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fundamentalism and American Culture

A dispensationalist chart, depicting the eras of human history as told by the Book of Revelation.

Title: Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth-Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925 (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006; originally published in 1980)

Author:
George M. Marsden, of the history department at Notre Dame. Teaches "American religious and intellectual history."Has a PhD in American Studies from Yale, 1965 (minted seven years after Tom Wolfe). Author of several other books on fundamentalism, and a couple of books on the state of higher education (The Soul of the American University, 1994; The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, 1997). Most recently, author of a much-lauded biography of Jonathan Edwards.

Argument:
Most fundamentally (ha), Marsden argues that fundamentalism needs to be seen (and studied) as a cultural phenomenon, not just a religious aberration; and as a fluctuating cultural organism, not a monolithic set of responses. This history of the evolution of fundamentalist Protestant activity in the era of modernization hits on three major themes, as Marsden writes in his introduction: the tendency of fundamentalists to identify "sometimes with the establishment, and sometimes with the outsiders" (6); ambivalence about major questions such as the church's relationship to society, faith in human intellect, and the organization of the church itself can be traced to fundamentalism's strong ties to the intellectual and theological ideas of its eighteenth and nineteenth century forebears, which emphasized revivalism and pietism; and, finally, as hinted at in the second "theme", major questions about religion's relationship with science and with intellectual activity in general. Marsden argues that fundamentalists' dismay at the way in which modern society developed had much to do with the fact that, with the onset of Darwinism, they were almost immediately demoted (in the eyes of public culture) from keepers of the intellectual flame to foolish, bumbling rubes.

Chapter-by-chapter (These are going to be short, because the sections are numerous):

Part One: Before Fundamentalism
Evangelical America at the Brink of Crisis:
Marsden introduces the underpinnings of the fundamentalist movement in the 1870s: the influences of Common Sense philosophy, which held that "common sense" could reveal the truth of the universe to any diligent observer, and of revivalism, which prized the emotional conversion of the individual. He then writes of the crisis which faced the old order in the shape of Darwinism and those within the church who attempted to find ways to reconcile religion with it.

The Paths Diverge:
Henry Ward Beecher is an example of a preacher who reaches beyond the boundary of acceptable doctrine, defending evolution and equating religion more with morality than with strict Scriptural interpretation. Meanwhile, the Blanchard family of preachers and educators, father and son, provide examples of how more conservative strains in the church reacted to this challenge. While the father (Jonathan) was initially postmillennial in his thinking (he believed that society could be reformed in order to bring about the second coming of Christ), the son (Charles) took to premillennialism, "seeing little hope for society before God returned to set up his kingdom" (27).

DL Moody and a New American Evangelism:
Moody, a transitional figure and extremely popular revivalist, is cited as an important progenitor of fundamentalism - he believed in premillennialism and Biblical infallibility; and he believed first and foremost in individual conversion (as opposed to helping with bodily needs) as part of the "holiness" movement.

Part Two: The Shaping of a Coalition

This Age and the Millennium
Prologue: The Paradox of Revivalist Fundamentalism:
Here, Marsden refers to the central tensions in fundamentalism: first, the conflict between exclusivist doctrinal preaching, and the belief that any person can achieve salvation/a holy state through their effort. (Moody, for example, came down firmly in the second camp.) He goes on: "Sometimes [fundamentalism's] advocates were backward looking and reactionary, at other times they were imaginative innovators. On some occasions they appeared militant and divisive; on others they were warm and irenic. At times they seemed ready to forsake the whole world over a point of doctrine; at other times they appeared heedless of tradition in their zeal to win converts. Sometimes they were optimistic patriots; sometimes they were prophets shaking from their feet the dust of a doomed civilization" (43).

Two Revisions of Millennialism:
The cultural context of the ideas of dispensationalism and premillennialism, which had the advantage, for evangelicals who saw the faith as shaky and in need of shoring up in the post-Civil War era, of being totally "explicit and concrete" - see, for example, the charts included in this entry, which show how this perspective simplified and concretized the Bible and faith itself (51).

Dispensationalism and the Baconian Ideal:
This idea is most interesting! Empirical scientific analysis, in the pre-Darwinian nineteenth century, was associated most firmly with Francis Bacon and his idea that all you had to do to know the "truth" of the world was to process the information available to you. (This also echoed ideals of Scottish Common Sense philosophy, which Angela Miller also talks about in regards to Frederic Church's paintings and the cultural belief that New England and its scenery could be made to "stand in for" the nation as a whole - a belief derived from Common Sense ideas of proof.) Dispensationalism (and fundamentalists, in general) saw the Bible as their trove of information to be processed, and thus believed that they themselves were scientific - more scientific, in fact, than the Darwinists, who were acting on a mere "hypothesis". By looking at the Bible, they believed that they could break human history up into eras - or "dispensations" - and thus, predict exactly when the end of the world would arrive.

History, Society, and the Church:
Further describing the fundamentalist context, Marsden points out that contrary to contemporary ideals of progress, fundamentalists believed that civilization was in decline. "The rapid spread of premillennial thought must have reflected some disillusionment with the progress of society," Marsden reflects (67). This complex of thought associated the fundamentalists with the more secular antimoderns, such as Henry Adams, or those described by TJ Jackson Lears, for example. This chapter also discusses reasons why premillennials did not feel compelled to abandon their churches (as a strict adherence to their doctrine might prescribe) - Marsden says that this is because for American religion, the key unit is the individual, not the institution (71).

Sir Francis Bacon.

Holiness
The Victorious Life:
Basic ideas of "holiness", as preached by DL Moody, AC Dixon, and the Keswick theologians: "a profound personal experience of consecration, a filling with Spiritual power, and a dedication to arduous Christian service" (73). Especially pre-WWI, "experience and practice" were at the center of the movement. The major conflict over this concept had to do with whether or not the individual was seen to have the capacity for perfection.

The Social Dimensions of Holiness:
In the 1890s, holiness teachings led fundamentalists to work among the poor and working class. Postmillennialists were not alone in this project; some premillennialists, Marsden is careful to report, also took it upon themselves to work for prohibition and for humanitarian causes (though most did not).

The "Great Reversal":
Why did this interest in social concerns practically vanish by the 1920s? Reactionary reasons, Marsden says. "The factor crucial to understanding this 'Great Reversal'...is the fundamentalist reaction to the liberal Social Gospel after 1900" (91). The fundamentalists saw the Social Gospel as "emphasizing social concern in an exclusivistic way which seemed to undercut the relevance of the message of eternal salvation through trust in Christ's atoning work" (92).

Holiness and Fundamentalism:
More on American theologians influenced by Keswick's emphasis on the experiential, personal, and joyful, and the conflicts and confluences between these and conservative Protestants who were ready to fight intellectual and theological battles.

The Defense of the Faith
Tremors of Controversy:
Overview of the conflicts which arose within American denominations between the late 1870s and WWI, most of which saw traditionalists ally with dispensationalists and holiness advocates to battle modernists or progressives. (Interestingly, Marsden writes that Southern denominations simply did not have these debates, because dissent was "not tolerated" [103].)

Presbyterians and the Truth:
In Presbyterianism, the conflict was between infallibility (Common Sense-influenced views of The Truth) and previously upstanding Presbyterians who were accepting Darwinism and beginning to reject ideas of the miraculous and supernatural.

The Fundamentals:
The story of a series of volumes published between 1910 and 1915, funded by a "Southern California oil millionaire" (Lyman Stewart) and characteristic of fundamentalism's opposition to modernism. "These volumes...represent the movement at a moderate and transitional stage before it was reshaped and pushed to extremes by the intense heat of controversy" (119). This moderation was exemplified by the fact that evolutionary ideas were not totally rejected out of hand.

Christianity and Culture

Four Views Circa 1910:
1. This Age Condemned: The Premillennial Extreme:
In fundamentalist thinking at this time, the furthest-out idea was that everything about the modern age - including science and technology - indicated that the world was about to end, and that therefore true believers should just give up hope.

2. The Central Tension:
This tension was between the ideals of dispensational premillennialism - see above - and the constant commitment to evangelism. "These two...were fused together in spite of the basic tension between them" (128).

3. William Jennings Bryan: Christian Civilization Preserved:
Marsden sees WJB as a "representative of the culturally dominant evangelical coalition which took shape in the first half of the nineteenth century" - a coalition whose values held that America, as a Christian nation, had a destiny to guide the world ("Citty on a Hill" style) (132).

4. Transforming Culture By the Word:
Baptists and Presbyterians believed that Christianity had "an important mission to civilization" (136), and could provide society with a basis for true faith and thus moral action. Thus, many denominations were bound together by this affinity, despite their lack of a single total understanding.

Part Three: The Crucial Years: 1917-1925
World War I, Premillennialism, and American Fundamentalism: 1917-1918:
Why did fundamentalists become more militant after WWI? Marsden argues that this was partially a reaction against theological liberalism, and partially because during and after WWI, evolutionism was seen as more and more dangerous to American society: WWI had been instigated by a German barbarism which was seen to have sprung from the loins of social Darwinism. "The argument was clear: the same thing could happen in America" (149). The war also brought together various factions of conservatives who believed in different doctrinal points, uniting them all under the banner of attempts to save "Christian civilization".

Fundamentalism and the Cultural Crisis: 1919-1920:
During this time, after most Americans were returning to an antebellum state, fundamentalists saw their chance to revive a long-gone religious consensus.

The Fundamentalist Offensive on Two Fronts: 1920-1921:
Marsden's two fronts were the denominations themselves and the culture as a whole (especially the schools, where they tried to stop the teaching of evolution - a crusade which brought many more non-affiliated civilians into the conservative church, especially in the South). Here Marsden also discusses the importance of the mission in the maintenance of conservatism and dispensational premillennialism.

Would the Liberals be Driven From the Denominations? 1922-1923:
Coverage of the crises in Presbyterian and Baptist denominations.

The Offensive Stalled and Breaking Apart: 1924-1925:
Liberals began to break up the coalitions aimed at getting them out of the denominations, Marsden argues, by "appealing to the strong American tradition of tolerance" (180). Also, many fundamentalists were unwilling to purge the denominations at the expense of evangelistic efforts.

Epilogue: Dislocation, Relocation, and Resurgence: 1925-1940:
Interestingly, the Scopes trial, which had a tremendous impact on fundamentalism's place in the national scene, is relegated to an epilogue. The imagery of "small town, backwoods, half-educated yokels" which emerged into the popular eye was indelible, says Marsden (185). Marsden posits that this popular image, which ignored the urban and Baconian-scientific roots of the fundamentalist idea, began somehow to *become* what the movement was like - because so many moderate fundamentalists were embarrassed by the negative publicity and dropped out of the movement. Where did the rest of the fundamentalists end up? Marsden believes that some remained within the denominations, committed to them despite the presence of inextirpable liberals; some found themselves in the South, in Pentacostal churches, etc; and some formed their own denominations or churches.

William Jennings Bryan. (Are those guys behind him laughing at him, or with him? Hard to tell.)

Part Four: Interpretations
Fundamentalism as a Social Phenomenon:
Rejecting the idea of a rural vs. urban divide creating the fundamentalist movement, Marsden proposes that fundamentalism was founded by groups of "Anglo-Saxon" Protestants - especially of the lower middle class - who found themselves, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, filling the role of "immigrants" in their own land. "Faced by a culture with a myriad of competing ideals, and having little power to influence that culture, they reacted by creating their own equivalent of the urban ghetto" (204).

Fundamentalism as a Political Phenomenon:
The theological movement's drift toward conservatism was, Marsden contends, partially motivated by the liberalism of the Social Gospel-ites, but was also fundamentally motivated by the idea of saving a "Christian civilization" (which meant that they would reject Marxism, Jewish people, etc.)

Fundamentalism as an Intellectual Phenomenon:
This section is basically a recap of the ideas put forth in the section on dispensationalism and Baconian thought. Interestingly, Marsden uses Thomas Kuhn to explain the problems that arise at the junction of the end of one paradigm and the beginning of another.

Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon:
Why did this happen in America? Social factors: ethnic diversity and its threat to a narrowly evangelical religious culture; the recent displacement of fundamentalists from the throne of social dominance. Religious-cultural traditions: The overwhelming influence of revivalism on American religion "contributed to a tendency to see things in terms of simple antitheses": saved or not saved, evil or good (224). Intellectual tendencies: An anti-modern view of history, which did not partake in the idea that "history was natural evolutionary development...and the present can best be understood as a product of the past" (226; again, see Miller on the difference between Cole and his successors), contributed to a tendency to believe in eschatological interpretations of the Bible.

Part Five: Fundamentalism Yesterday and Today (2005):
An afterword that focuses mostly on increased political involvement on the part of fundamentalists and the paradox this implies when it comes to premillennial beliefs.

Another dispensationalist chart.

Reviews: In the Journal of American History, Donald Scott wrote that Marsden's book's strengths lie in the visualization of fundamentalism as both a genuine religious phenomenon and a legitimate cultural happening, one which could be analyzed in the same way as other cultural movements. Catherine Albanese, in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, wrote that the number of intellectual currents to which Marsden ties fundamentalism means that his interpretation can become confusing - but adds that since his writing is clear, the difficulty lies in the subject matter itself, and Marsden's book only clarifies the unclarity of the phenomenon. Meanwhile, the book was named one of Christianity Today's 100 "Books of the Century".

Vocab words:
"cynosure" ("something that serves for guidance or direction; a ‘guiding star’"; "irenic" ("pacific, non-polemic"); "Pelagian" ("a believer in the doctrines of Pelagius or his followers, esp. in the denial of the transmission of original sin, and in the principle that human will is capable of good without the assistance of divine grace"); "chiliasm" ("the doctrine of the millennium; the opinion that Christ will reign in bodily presence on earth for a thousand years").

Books to follow up on: Primary: Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970); HL Mencken's writings on the Scopes Trial.

Secondary: Anne Loveland, Evangelicals and the US Military (1996).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Waste and Want


Fresh Kills 3, by the photographer Susan Wides (2000).

Title: Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Henry Holt, 1999).

Author: Susan Strasser, of the history department at the University of Delaware. She calls herself a "historian of American consumer culture" and is currently a Senior Resident Scholar at the Hagley Museum and Library’s Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society (at Delaware). Her other books include Never Done: A History of American Housework (1982); Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (1989); Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century (1998); and Commodifying Everything: Relationships of the Market (2003).

Argument:
Trash, which is a culturally defined category, has meant wildly different things to Americans from colonial times through today. Before about 1900, American households were "closed" systems: domestic objects were used and reused and split up into parts and used again, reflecting the scarcity of...everything...in the pre-industrial era. Strasser adopts Levi-Strauss' idea of "bricolage", writing that Americans who re-worked dresses and made soap out of fat and fed chickens with food waste were bricoleurs, playing with available materials in order to serve their needs. After the turn-of-the-century tipping point, however, Americans, aided by advertisers and marketers eager to sell products, became more and more accustomed to the convenience of disposal, beginning to see it as their right (convenience equalling freedom which equalled the American way). Trash disposal became the province of experts, and bricolage became the province of the poor. (There are a lot of small details in this book, which is rich in description, so the chapter summaries below may be shorter.)

Chapter-by-chapter:
Toward a History of Trashmaking:
Here Strasser introduces the basic elements of her argument (see above), using anthropologists Mary Douglas, Claude Levi-Strauss, and Sidney Mintz.

One: The Stewardship of Objects:
Nineteenth-century uses of old clothing, food waste, worn-out sheets, and packaging material, as recommended by household advice manuals such as Catherine Beecher's.

Two: Any Rags, Any Bones:
Nineteenth-century "recycling" practices facilitated the "return of household wastes to manufacturers for use as raw materials" and were "inherent to production in some industries, central to the distribution of consumer goods, and an important habit of daily life" (72). Using the example of the rag industry, which gathered rags from householders to make paper, Strasser shows how one type of waste that we would now call "trash" formed a link in the early industrial economy. She also describes the relationships between rural households and peddlers, who would gather their rags in return for goods, and talks about the "recycling" trades in iron and bones.

Jacob Riis, Home of an Italian Ragpicker (1894): Ragpickers in the cities, especially when juvenile, were considered dangerous and corrupt (Strasser cites Charles Loring Brace on child ragpickers as an example).

Three: Trash and Reuse Transformed:
During the transition period at the turn of the century between a culture of bricolage and one of consumerism, "new ways coexisted with old": people in the cities and those with money adopted packaged goods before poor country cousins; young people changed habits before old. Some cities began to take charge of refuse disposal, and with this separation came new class anxieties: middle-class people who were horrified by the idea of being "like" Riis' "Italian ragpickers" "learned to toss things in the trash" instead of reusing (113). Meanwhile, the Salvation Army and Goodwill began to take advantage of the new trends, offering to take the job of reusing trash off the hands of the individual householders (and do some good in the meantime). The first World War momentarily reversed upward trends in disposal, but the curve resumed at the cessation of hostilities.

Rather than being a radical requirement, Strasser argues, recycling is just a new version of the old "sorting" that people used to do with household waste.

Four: Having and Disposing in the New Consumer Culture:
Strasser uses the evolution of the use of Kotex disposal "sanitary napkins" as an example of what advertisers had to deal with when attempting to persuade people to abandon old ways of reuse (she cites Roland Marchand's idea of the advertising man as the "town crier" of modernity). In the 1920s, she writes, attitudes attendant to the development of products such as Kotex "equated handy new inventions with ease and prosperity" (170). "Cleanliness" was a major selling point for paper products, and the idea of "technological obsolesence" came into play as part of a new "ethos of disposability" (173). Convenience in household products came associated with freedom and assurance - "an amalgam of luxury, comfort, and emancipation from worry" (184). Often, household products were advertised as being like "servants", harkening back to 19th-century ideals of genteel householdery.

Five: Making Do and Buying New in Hard Times:
Depression-era attitudes toward disposal and consumerism were altered, but Strasser argues that although people tried to cut down on their buying, they were still inextricably intertwined in a culture of consumption: "few people made soap anymore; most bought clothing, and sewing was becoming a hobby...when hard times came, most younger people, at least, were thoroughly consumerist. Their versions of 'making do'...were framed by consumer concerns and consumer possibilities" (204). Two major consumer items - autos and refrigerators - even ceased being considered luxuries during this time period. (This chapter also cites several quilt patterns incorporating technological themes, like airplanes and electric fans...p 218.)

Six: Use It Up! Wear It Out! Get in the Scrap!:
WWII-era scrap drives, though often considered exemplars of patriotic recycling, were actually, Strasser argues, not so much of a sacrifice for homeowners, and the industrial donations were actually far more cost-effective. Although some homefront rhetorics emphasized sacrifice, they also promised that when the war was over, good ol' consumer days would return again (as they did!) Roosevelt's Four Freedoms included "Freedom from Want", which promised that after the war, everybody would have a turkey in a refrigerator. Meanwhile, women's household activities were seen as another "front" in the war - by participating in scrap drives and rationing, women could be seen to be "supporting" their soldiers.

The awesome movie "Idiocracy" (2006), in which one of the signs of societal collapse is that humans are regularly buried in huge trash avalanches.

Seven: Good Riddance:
Strasser wraps up the book with perhaps the most familiar part of the story: the expansion of waste in the postwar era. "New materials, especially plastics of all kinds, became the basis for a relationship to the material world that required consumers to buy things rather than make them and to throw things out rather than fix them...nobody made plastic at home, hardly anybody understood how it was made, and it usually could not be repaired" (267). Strasser sees Vance Packard's The Waste Makers (1960) as a harbinger of the environmental movement, one of the first social critiques of the waste culture. She ends the book with a discussion of "garbage" art (see below) and some ideas for future change in how Americans see waste: "We are not likely to revive the stewardship of objects and materials, formed in a bygone culture of handiwork. But perhaps new ideas of morality, utility, common sense, and the value of labor - based on the stewardship of the earth and of natural resources - can replace it" (293). Artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the unsalaried "artist in residence" of the NYC sanitation department, in one phase of her "Touch Sanitation" project (1978-80), which involved shaking hands with every member of the department.

Reviews:
In Technology and Culture, JD Lindeberg wrote that while it's interesting to think about changing attitudes toward personal waste, industrial waste continues to outpace household waste at huge margins. Thus, he wrote, Strasser's analysis would appeal to both academics and those in the political world with the power to shift policy and therefore industrial practice: "Academics may focus on the detailed analyses of changing sociocultural attitudes toward waste. But professionals and policymakers will be struck by how current behaviors are clearly the outcome of the economic policies of the middle twentieth century. Successfully creating change in those behaviors will require economic policies no less profound in their effects." In the Business History Review, Timothy Spears particularly liked Strasser's discussion of bricolage, but wishes she'd extended it beyond the world of women's work into the more masculine realms (mending farm equipment, etc).

Vocab words:
"nahptha".

Books to follow up on:
Primary: Kevin Lynch, Wasting Away: An Exploration of Waste—What It Is, How It Happens, Why We Fear It, How to Do It Well (1990); Mary Lillian Patterson, How to Teach Thrift: A Manual for Teachers and Parents (1927).

Secondary: Jane Becker, Selling Tradition: Appalachia and the Construction of an American Folk, 1930-1940 (1998); Simon J. Bronner, ed., Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920 (1989); Faye Dudden, Serving Women: Household Service in Nineteenth-Century America (1983); Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (1988); Stephen Gelber, "Do-it-Yourself: Constructing, Repairing, and Maintaining Domestic Masculinity", American Quarterly 49 (March 1997); Robert H. Haddow, Pavilions of Plenty: Exhibiting American Cultulre Abroad in the 1950s (1997); Suellen Hoy, Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (1995); Claudia B Kidwell and Margaret C Christman, Suiting Everyone: The Democratization of Clothing in America (1974); Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (1994); Carl Husemoller Nightingale, On The Edge: A History of Poor Black Children and Their American Dreams (1993); Michiel Schwarz and Michael Thompson, Divided We Stand: Redefining Politics, Technology, and Social Choice (1990); Michael Thompson, Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value (1979); Nancy Tomes, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women, and the Microbe in American Life (1998); William Tuttle, "Daddy's Gone to War": The Second World War in the Lives of America's Children (1993).

Trash art by German artist H.A. Schult (late 90s) gets displayed in traditionally exalted locales, such as this cathedral in Cologne, the Matterhorn, and the Great Wall of China.

"The Beast"

I came to a great door,
Its lintel overhung
With burr, bramble, and thorn;
And when it swung, I saw
A meadow, lush and green.

And there a great beast played,
A sportive, aimless one,
A shred of bone its horn,
And colloped round with fern.
It looked at me; it stared.

Swaying, I took its gaze;
Faltered; rose up again;
Rose but to lurch and fall,
Hard, on the gritty sill,
I lay; I languished there.

When I raised myself once more,
The great round eyes had gone.
The long lush grass lay still;
And I wept there, alone.

--Theodore Roethke (from Words for the Wind, 1958)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Changes in the Land

Pictures of my own altered (altared?) New England landscape, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, summers of 2005 and 2006.

Title:
Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983).

Author:
William Cronon, of the history department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Author of Nature's Metropolis (1991) and editor of Uncommon Ground (1996). Cronon penned the paradigm-shifting essay "The Trouble With Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature", which was included in Uncommon Ground, and which I will write more about when I get to that book. Also author of the awesomest-ever essay on abandoned towns in the West: "Kennecott Journey, or, The Paths out of Town" (in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking the Nation's Western Past [1992], which he co-edited with Jay Gitlin and George Miles). "KJ" is available in PDF form on Cronon's site.


Argument: The ecological transformation of the New England countryside after the arrival of European settlers was intimately tied up with the worldviews, expectations, and social structures of the two major human groups inhabiting the area: the settlers and the Indians. Cronon asks how this transformation, which was so great that "the Indians' earlier way of interacting with their environment became impossible", came about. In the process, he describes the processes used by the Indians and the settlers to shape the landscape to their needs, and examines the ecological effects of these processes (which included agriculture, burning of forests, use of water, and the husbandry of livestock).


Chapter-by-chapter:

Part 1: Looking Backward
1. The View from Walden
: Using Thoreau to exemplify a later European romantic misunderstanding of the nature of the land before European settlement, Cronon seeks to establish the terms of his examination, which will emphasize the point that the Native Americans, too, had evolved a set of practices of living-on-the-land: "The choice is not between two landscapes, one with and one without a human influence; it is between two human ways of living, two ways of belonging to an ecosystem" (12).

Part 2: The Ecological Transformation of Colonial New England

2. Landscape and Patchwork
: What did settlers find when they arrived in New England? Cronon here focuses on both attitudes of settlers and on the actuality of the landscape (as opposed to Kolodny, who sticks closer to attitudes). The land was not "untouched", but rather was a "patchwork", he argues, due to Indian use of agriculture and of burning to create more favorable forest configurations.

3. Seasons of Want and Plenty: This chapter contains information about agricultural practices on both sides of the settler-Indian equation. Englishmen expected to be able to live in America much the same way that they lived in England, which led to what you could call "misunderstandings" between them, the Indians, and the land itself. Instead of following seasonal abundancies of natural resources, as the Indians did, settlers expected to be able to control rhythms of agricultural production and to be able to keep livestock year-round. This was a moral issue for them: they didn't see why Indians went hungry in winter, if they could over-produce in summer and save for the lean times of February. (Settlers also thought Indians were barbarous for giving their women complete control of the fieldwork.) Meanwhile, the kind of monoculture that the settlers practiced would eventually prove destructive to the soil. Here is more on the Indian patterns of burning, and on settler perceptions of the same (they didn't see it as directed, but rather characterized it as out-of-control or wild).

4. Bounding the Land: Settlers pointed to Indian habits of moving villages depending on times of year or fertility of land when citing the principle of "vacuum domicilium" in order to take Indian land. This idea held that the Indians did not actually improve upon the land, but merely hunted it, and thus did not deserve to keep it (in this case, "hunting" was given negative connotations of unplanned leisure or sport, rather than being seen as an essential survival activity, which it was). Here, Cronon discusses conflicting ideas of property on the two sides: Indians would often sell or give what they assumed were usufruct rights, while Englishmen took the sale to mean that they now had control over entire pieces of tribal land.

5. Commodities of the Hunt: Cronon enters the realm of debates over the involvement of Indians in the fur trade. For his part, he argues that epidemics had destabilized the Indian social order to the point where some Indians saw the prestige goods offered to those who would hunt beaver as an opportunity to establish themselves as powerful in a new, post-sickness order. "Animals...had fallen victim especially to the new Indian dependence on a market in prestige goods...the Indians, not realizing the full ramifications of what that market meant, and finally having little choice but to participate in it, fell victims too: to disease, demographic collapse, economic dependency, and the loss of a world of ecological relationships they could never find again" (107).

6. Taking the Forest: Here, Cronon describes the marketing of the New England forest, for fuel, buildings, or for exporting as the masts of ships. The deforestation of the landscape caused runoff, no longer controlled by the roots of trees; the reduction of edge-dwelling animal species; changed the species composition of forests; and, writes Cronon, "where forests were destroyed, the landscape became hotter in summer and colder in winter" (126).

7. A World of Fields and Fences: A further description of settlers' agricultural practices, including particularly their use of livestock, which caused conflicts between settlers and Indians over ranging (see Coleman; Lepore; also Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire) and continued the process of soil erosion.

Part 3: Harvests of Change
8. That Wilderness Should Turn a Mart: Cronon asks WHY these major changes of species composition, extirpation, deforestation, soil erosion had to take place, and answers that "capitalism and environmental degradation went hand in hand" (161) - but notes that this analysis "makes that change seem too sudden and unicausal", when, in fact, the diseases brought by Europeans had a major effect on social composition in the new world, and pastoralism had predated capitalism in the Old World by thousands of years. However, he sums up, none of these factors would have come into play if the Europeans had never taken it upon themselves to move onto their "new" continent: "Economic and ecological imperialisms reinforced each other" (162).

Reviews:
In the Journal of American History, Karen Kupperman liked the way Cronon synthesized diverse sources and focused them "through the lens of ecological concerns", but faulted him for being too credulous while interacting with his colonial sources, and for failing to incorporate any information about larger-scale climate change during the time period, which might also have caused ecological shifts. Meanwhile, in the Western Historical Quarterly, Bernard Sheehan called this new ecological focus on mostly-old material a "revelation" for most historians, but called Cronon out for what I noticed, too: that although he's careful not to call the Indians "more ecological", he still betrays a certain preference for their way of living on the land. (Hard not to do, considering the evidence.)


Vocab words:
"coppice" ("a small wood or thicket consisting of underwood and small trees grown for the purpose of periodical cutting"); "usufruct" ("the right of temporary possession, use, or enjoyment of the advantages of property belonging to another, so far as may be had without causing damage or prejudice to this"); "severality" ("individual or particular points, matters, or objects").

Books to follow up on: Secondary:
David Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies (1970); Calvin Martin, Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relationships and the Fur Trade (1978); Ronald Tobey, Saving the Prairies: The Life Cycle of the Founding School of American Plan Ecology, 1895-1955 (1981).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Sand County Almanac

Title: A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1949)

Author: Aldo Leopold, 1887-1948, who formed an important part of the early conservation movement. A transitional figure, Leopold first worked in the US Forest Service during a time when activities such as killing wolves on sight were accepted and encouraged - a much more drastic, human-oriented management style.

"I shall now confess to you that none of those three trout had to be beheaded, or folded double, to fit their casket. What was big was not the trout, but the chance. What was full was not the creel, but my memory. Like the whitethroats, I had forgotten it would ever again be aught but morning on the Fork." (40)

By the end of his life, Leopold had come around to a more biocentric environmental ethic, as showcased in this book. He was involved in the founding of the Wilderness Society in 1935. Leopold taught at University of Wisconsin, Madison as a professor of game management from 1933 through the time of his death. He lived in Madison during the week and on the farm described in the book on the weekends. He died while fighting a brush fire on a neighbor's farm. Two of his sons, Luna Leopold and A. Starker Leopold, were also scientists notable for their conservation efforts.

Basic characterization: The book consists of a series of essays concerning biotic life on the Wisconsin farm owned by AL's family. They manifest a deep love of these "wild things", and question the "progress" which strips them from the land - not only on the basis of their inherent right to live, but also on the basis of the right of what he sees as the biophilic minority of humanity ("for us...the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech" [vii]). The essays manifest a strong critique of the ways of modern society, which Leopold likens to "a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy" (ix).

Leopold at work.

Things that surprised me, or that I liked, or would follow up on:

Leopold's emphasis on the transnational nature of biotic life ("the international commerce of geese") (23).

The characterization of the prairie settler as another kind of "animal" - Coleman makes the same move in his description of the conflicts between wolf and man (29).

AL's constant emphasis on the insufficience of biological /historical/botanical education, when it comes to creating an ecologically aware and ethical citizenry (46, 207). Meanwhile, ETHICS is his main bag: he believes that the "extension of ethics" to the land is "an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity" (203, also 214).

What makes a conservationist, he writes, "is a matter of what a man thinks about while chopping, or while deciding what to chop" (68) - all about stewardship and domain.

His own sort of conflicted, maybe-elitist relationship with his desire to see nature: "All conservation of wildness is self defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish" (101).

His idea that subversion of evolutionary rules is what renders us human/better (spoken on the topic of his sadness about the passing of the passenger pigeon): "For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn our loss. Had the funeral been ours, the pigeons would hardly have mourned us. In this fact, rather than in Mr. DuPont's nylons or Mr. Vannevar Bush's bombs, lies objective evidence of our superiority over the beasts" (110). My question: can you feel yourself to be superior, and still subvert your needs to those of the "beasts"? If you set yourself up over them, do you risk not caring? (See Matthew Scully, Dominion.)


Telling the story of a lightning storm that almost got him while he was in New Mexico in his youth, Leopold ends with: "It must be poor life that achieves freedom from fear" (126). A direct hit at FDR?

He writes much on the incapicity of "recreational areas" to develop habits of perception - yet he advocated their creation (esp. p 174-5). Solution: he wants us to experience wild life unmitigated by "machinery" - processed only by "modern mentality" (187). Snowmobiles in Y'stone, take that.

On the gap between concepts of scientific power and actual ability of scientists to "manage" the environment: "The ordinary citizen today assumes that science knows what makes the community clock tick; the scientist is equally sure that he does not. He knows that the biotic mechanism is so complex that its workings may never be fully understood" (205).

Vocab words:
"pasque" ("a spring-flowering herbaceous plant, Pulsatilla vulgaris [family Ranunculaceae], with finely divided leaves and purple bell-shaped flowers clothed externally with silky hairs, found locally on calcareous grassland in Europe. Also: any of various similar Eurasian and North American plants of the genus Pulsatilla [formerly, and sometimes still, included in Anemone]; esp. P. patens var. multifida of North America (also called prairie crocus, prairie smoke"); "precocial" ("of an animal, esp a bird: able to move about and feed independently soon after hatching or birth; having young which are able to do this"); "anserine" ("of, pertaining to, or of the nature of a goose"); "tyro" ("a beginner or learner in anything; one who is learning or who has mastered the rudiments only of any branch of knowledge; a novice").

The pasque flower.

Books I've read that mention it:
Coleman, Vicious (use of the "Thinking Like a Mountain" wolf anecdote).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Acts of God


New Orleans, 2005

Title:
Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Author: Ted Steinberg, professor of history at Case Western Reserve, whose interests lie in "19th and 20th-century US environmental, legal, and social history". Some of his other books seem as though they should also be on my lists: American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn (2006); Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History (2002); Slide Mountain: Or, the Folly of Owning Nature (1995). Steinberg also seems to have an active career writing and commenting in the popular press (as his subject matter would seem to call for).

Argument:
Arguing from a political-economy standpoint, Steinberg writes that the way disasters caused by hurricane, flooding, tornado, earthquake, and heat waves have been naturalized in the past century has obscured the fact that much of the human damage done is exacerbated by decisions made by government and corporate interests. This argument is much the same as the one made by EJ activist Robert Bullard in the speech I saw him give at the ASLE meeting about H. Katrina: namely, that the way we talk about the complex of damage associated with Katrina has taken blame off of FEMA and state, local, and federal government, and instead put it on God/nature, meaning that few or no changes in infrastructure are likely to be made. Of course, there is a strong class element to this argument: Steinberg and Bullard both say that because those likely to be lastingly affected by disasters tend to be poor, and sometimes black or Native American or Latino, this rhetoric has meant that natural disasters just intensify immiseration in these communities - an intensification which is seen as "nobody's fault".

Chapter-by-chapter:

Return of the Suppressed
One: Last Call for Judgment Day:
The Charleston earthquake of 1886 serves as an example of a transition event between an earlier way of imagining natural disasters - as punishments from God - and a more neutralized "nature did it" stance. Steinberg says interesting things about how the intense reaction of the black community in Charleston was pathologized as superstitious and primitive, especially by a business class which was eager to dismiss the catastrophe and move on with commerce.

Charleston, 1886

Two: Disaster as Archetype: This chapter covers the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the effects of which were, Steinberg says, covered up by a business community interested in maintaining the viability of SF as a city (they blamed the fire for the damage, not an earthquake, since the latter would be harder to explain away as a one-time event).

Three: Do-it-Yourself Deathscape: Just as wealthy San Franciscans attempted to keep their city from being classified as an "earthquake zone", developers in Florida in the early twentieth century defied all evidence that the state was in a hurricane epicenter, a pattern which has continued throughout the state's history. Here, Steinberg calls out such invested actors as the Miami Herald for keeping the community in a state of denial about the true impact of the disasaters that have befallen it, greatly affecting its poorest members.

Interlude: Body Counting: Reasons why the natural disasters which occurred in the fifty years between 1880 and 1930 were so deadly; and forecasts about the deadliness of future events.

San Francisco, 1906

Federalizing Risk
Four: Building for Apocalypse:
Back to Florida, and an examination of new federal insurance programs which amortized expense of rebuilding after hurricanes onto federal taxpayers, easing the way for developers to build in riskier and riskier locations. Steinberg writes: "As risk and space diverged it became harder to locate blame when calamity did strike and more difficult to discern that the federalization of risk did not benefit everyone equally" (81). Among the people who definitely don't benefit: those living in mobile homes. Steinberg includes quotes from "manufactured housing" industry spokespeople, who excuse their shoddy buildings by arguing that poor people LIKE the "value" of these houses (and, implicitly, don't mind living in conditions that rich people would reject as unsafe).

Five: Uncle Sam - Floodplan Recidivist: A local story about St. Charles, Missouri, where mobile homes situated on floodplains were especially hard hit in the 1993 flooding. Steinberg uses the tale to explore the ways in which the poor end up living in more dangerous locales, and the way they are then undercompensated or even blamed for damage from "natural" disaster.

Interlude: The Perils of Private Property:
Examination of upward trends in insurance claims from weather events, and the idea that although these trends are undeniable, and unassociated with natural activity, official rhetoric still holds that increased activity - and not unwise building policy - is to blame for the problem.

Missouri, 1993

Containing Calamity
Six: The Neurotic Life of Weather Control:
The story of those who would hope to change the course of hurricanes and other storms by "seeding" clouds (this was also mentioned in Ross, Strange Weather), thereby manifesting complete control over weather. The chapter also includes the voices of those who oppose this kind of activity on the grounds of religion or ecological feeling.

Seven: Forecasting at the Fair Weather Service: Another social cause of damage from natural disaster: the unequal funding of weather forecasting and warning systems, and technocratic trust placed in technological fixes at the expense of proper funding and staffing.

Eight: Who Pays?: The answer: Poor people. This chapter talks about why this is the case, pointing to underfunding (see chapter seven), and the idea that "relief officials have tended to embrace a wrong-headed set of assumptions of about the poor" (174) which holds that they will only squander or misuse any funds disbursed to them to rebuild after disasters.

Reviews:
In the Journal of American History, J. Brooks Flippen found little to critique, writing that Steinberg's book features an interesting combination of social, cultural, and political history, even if his argument becomes a bit "polemical".

Vocab words:
"nosology" ("a list or catalogue of known diseases"); "caissons" ("a large water-tight case or chest used in laying foundations of bridges, etc., in deep water"); "groins" (in the context of a building element: "a deep trench, or excavation"); "pluvial" ("of or relating to rain; characterized by much rain, rainy").

Louisiana, 2005

Books to follow up on: Primary:
Weatherwise magazine.

Secondary: Charles Bates and John Fuller, America's Weather Warriors, 1814-1985 (1986); Steven Biel, Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster (1996); Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers (1982); Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics and Other Essays (1965); Mark Monmonier, Cartographies of Danger: Mapping Hazards in America (1997); Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (1979).