"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Guillotine And Learning History–Build More Statues To The Old South

A 1959 picture of French children playing High Executioner with a scale model guillotine at first seems a bad idea, sending the wrong message, etc.; but on second thought, probably a very good way of teaching history. The French, no matter how hard they try, cannot airbrush The Terror from the history books that children read.  After the glorious days of storming the Bastille heads rolled by the hundreds – aristocrats, loyalists, sympathizers, and suspected sympathizers.  The Terror was McCarthyism in blood, a post-revolutionary gory excess to match any in history.

The armies of Genghis Khan decapitated thousands and impaled their heads on pikes on the high road into town, raped, pillaged, and marauded from Bulgaria to China.  The Crusades slaughtered everyone in their path as they entered the Holy City of Jerusalem.  Millions were killed or murdered by Stalin in his political purges and Siberian gulags; millions more by Mao in the Great Leap Forward and the famines that resulted; and six million by Hitler, and many millions more by Pol Pot.  Russians, Germans, Cambodians, and Chinese need to a moral reckoning.  Even in the amoral sweep of history, a series of coincidental, random, or planned events which resulted in mayhem, destruction, and death need to be considered, if not remembered.

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Guillotine for Kids

Here in the United States, we want no part of our history.  Many are on a juggernaut to remove any and all references to the antebellum South, the Civil War, or anything to do with the slavery, Jim Crow, punitive Reconstruction. and Radical Republicanism that tore the country apart and continues to divide us.  It never happened.

Of course it did; and if the juggernaut retains its momentum and gains some, revisionists might indeed be successful in sweeping most of the unpleasant past under the rug; but it will never be gone.  A look at the inner cities of Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Washington, and Chicago are testament to our regretful past.  There is no greater testament to the failure of Reconstruction.  These dysfunctional neighborhoods are an indirect but clear result of punitive policies – the arrogant attempt by Northern, vengeful idealists to impose their idea of racial equality, free labor, and Puritan enterprise on the South.  How could these Radicals have so badly underestimated the South’s resentment and the power of its landed, vested interests? What did they expect when they elevated newly-freed slaves to state legislatures? Or attempted to gut the Cavalier system of the South?  Had it not been for Lincoln’s assassination, the ascendancy of Andrew Jackson, and The Terror of Reconstruction, we might be in a far better place.

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So rather than take down the statues of Southern statesmen, war heroes, and political leaders, we should put them up.  It is better to be reminded of the folly of men’s ambitions then to forget them.  Instead of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway, Jeb Stuart High School, and Fort A.P. Hill, we should name other institutions, roads, and parks not in honor of the South or in fond remembrance of it, but as a reminder of what men can do.

The South was America and after the Civil War it was again.  Lincoln’s greatest challenge was keeping the Union intact; but the greater challenge was accommodating it once it returned.  As much as Northerners love to vilify the South, land of bass boats, rednecks, bass boats, and megachurches, it is us.  As ugly, untamed, retrograde, and un-woke as the South may seem to Northerners, it is America; and unless we understand what it is, where it came from, how it has persisted, and where it is going,  we will never understand American history or America.

Statues and names are usually reserved for heroes, and since Virginia was part of the Confederacy, it is not surprising that there are more statues to Southern heroes than elsewhere.  It might not have been the first to secede, but it was the seat of the Confederacy, and until Richmond fell, the war would not be over.

History is, after all, an amoral enterprise.  Anyone trying to sort out moral from immoral actions on the part of kings, princes, emperors, and popes will have a hard time.  Europe was aflame from the Medieval onward – the Hundred Years War, the War between the Roses, the wars between England and France, England and Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire against all were common, perennial, and expected.  There was no better or worse.  Laurel wreaths were given to the victors, purely and simply; and the tendency to extend that glorification by statues and naming is understandable.  Yet in an amoral struggle, are not both sides commendable or at least significant? No one pretends that Spain never existed before or after the Armada.  It was a great imperial power who happened to be outmaneuvered by Nelson and the British fleet.  No one in England consigned Spain to the dust bin of history.

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How is it then that such a censorious, ignorant, and self-serving political movement, bound and determined to remake history in its own fashion, has gained so much influence?

The progressive Left in the United States has attempted to cloture all contrary (offensive) speech, to re-write history to exclude the nasty bits, ignore biology, sexual imperatives, and demographics, and to carry on as if the past never happened, that there are no lessons to be learned, and that only the future matters.

Pol Pot claimed once his troops had taken Phnom Penh  that it was The Year Zero – all that had come before existed no longer.  There was no past, only the glorious socialist Cambodian future.  His internment and concentration camps were nothing new.  Every autocratic regime before Pol Pot  had isolated dissidents in punitive, and unremittingly harsh labor camps in what was publicized as education but which was nothing but a torturous attempt to get them to recant.

Statues should be erected to Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler as reminders  of what can be and what will most certainly be unless we learn their lessons.  Movements to remove them from public memory are sure to resurrect them, if not in person then in spirit.  The past will come again.

Would we feel comfortable with statues to Pol Pot, Genghis Khan, Tamburlaine, Hitler, Stalin and Idi Amin? No, but that is not the point.  Feeling uncomfortable with history is the only way of assuring reflection upon it and  avoiding repetition of it.

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There has been a movement to rename Yale Colleges  Historians have found that John C Calhoun was a slaveholder, ardent racist, and anti-abolitionist; but so were the men whose names appear on almost all of the residential colleges; and, most troubling of all so was Elihu Yale, the founder.  The reason why residential colleges were named after these men was not because of slavery but statesmanship, patriotism, duty, and excellence.  In this censorious era, we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Thomas Jefferson, perhaps the most worthy and brilliant member of The Founding Fathers owned slaves in an age when Southern gentlemen all owned slaves; and yet there are those who prefer to sully his memory with Sally Hemmings.

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We need more dioramas of Simon Legree and of Charleston slave-trading markets.  We need to be a witness to history as it was, not how we imagine it should have been.  There is no movement to remove Charlemagne and Roland from the French pantheon because they beat back the Muslim hordes and saved Europe from Islam.  On the contrary, they saved Europe from the assault of an anti-liberal, fundamentalist pretender.  Despite multiculturalism and the increasing heterogeneity of French society, there is a limit to revisionism.  Statues to Charlemagne, Roland, and the heroic victory over the Saracens at Roncesvalles will be and need to be preserved.

Political progressives assume progress towards an inevitably better world, and therefore the detritus of the discredited past is of no interest and should be discarded.  Conservatives assume no such thing and conclude that to simply moving  in any direction requires a look from all angles.

If anything, we are simply products of our past, one in a long line of unknowing, reproducing organisms influenced by what came before.  Nothing more, nothing less; but since few of us believe that nihilistic destiny and are still persuaded by our important place in human society, then not only our future and our present matter, but our past  Nabokov wrote that since the future is only a possibility and the present infinitesimally short, it is only the past that defines us, that matters. He wanted no moral filters on the past - it wasn't so much why and how things mattered and what they meant, but that they happened.

This is why remembering the past is so important - not to prove the old adage ('Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it'), but to validate existence.  As Tolstoy wrote in his Epilogue to War and Peace we are simply the sum of the events, and circumstances of the past.  We are part and parcel of the Antebellum South, the Civil War, and Reconstruction - our human nature contributed to the fiasco and the misery that followed.  We are all complicit in history.

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The Radical Republicans in Congress during Reconstruction had no less arrogance, sanctimony, and righteousness as any of the rest of us who over-zealously espouse a cause.  We are no different from the plantation owners of the South who responded with resentment, vengeance, and anger at a righteous imposition.  We all are violent, territorial, aggressive, and punitive; but we never like to recognize or admit it.  Forget progress, Utopia, or a better secular world.  Such understanding is existential, helping us to orient ourselves in the world, in the universe, and before God.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

D.H.Lawrence, Sexual Epiphany, And Ambitious Affairs - Women Will Always Be Women

Randall Davis had been married for only a few years when he had an affair with Maya Desai, an accident of circumstance rather than anything deliberate.   She ran an upscale boutique in a Delhi five-star hotel (fine silk, gold embroidered saris, tailored shalwar kamiz, gold bangles, and something tasteful for the foreign men who shopped for their wives), was a beautiful secular Hindu woman with advanced degrees from Oxford who had come home, in good South Asian tradition, to look after her aged parents.  Her father, a wealthy industrialist bought the Oberoi shop for his daughter, wondering only slightly how this highly educated British lawyer would do as a shopkeeper and caretaker of the family.

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He needn’t have worried, for Maya was consummate in everything she tried, firsts at Cambridge, law review at Oxford, and first-rate seller of luxury items here in India’s capital.  It took her but a a few months before she had cleaned out the old inventory, ordered new fabrics from Tata and Birla Mills outlets, bought Thai silk and Indonesian batiks, and decorated the store with a Broadway set designer’s taste and palette.  Nirmila, the name she gave the shop in honor of her maternal grandmother, was an overnight sensation.  She could barely keep up with the demand.

She had a spare social life, unused as she was to Delhi after so many years abroad, eager to make her way in the new, secularizing India, to leave behind the tepid English lovers who had courted her at Oxford and Cambridge, and perhaps eventually to get married.  She was young, ambitious, and sexually adventurous, and it wasn’t long before she took Randall home to her flat in one of Delhi’s new, upscale neighborhoods.

Why she chose this simple American World Bank economist in India to oversee a non-performing loan and staying at the Oberoi, neither he nor she was sure.  It may have been one of those delightful Lawrentian coincidences – his male confidence and her willful female complaisance – or the impossibly hot pre-monsoon torpidity or simple boredom, neither one asked.  After tea one day, a civilized lunch at The Woodlands the next, and a dinner in the Diplomatic Enclave the third, they slept together in her flat, chilled under the covers, and pleasantly surprised.

There was nothing in Maya’s flat to betray much of who she was – severe portraits of her great-grandfather who had helped to build Bombay, her grandfather who had invested with the Mafatlals  in the burgeoning textile industry, and her father who had set up one of the first private gynecological clinics in the country.  There were incidentals – pictures at a Cornwall wedding, an ocean crossing, and shooting in Assam – but nothing which suggested anything specific or relevant about her.

Randall was just as happy to have it this way, married as he was but  adulterous in body and mind with never a niggling second thought about his wife back in Washington.  Still in the back of his mind a concern about commitment, something unspoken and unknown about the woman he was in bed with that could come back at him, shake the pillars of his small, private establishment, and cause him more trouble than any affair was worth, there were questions.

The affair with Maya went on for the three weeks that Randall was tending to Bank business and renewed during the three times of year he had to return to adjust the loan, write new conditionalities, and negotiate a new contract with the slacking Ministry of Finance.  Getting way from Washington was easy – the Bank was a perfect cover.  Most Bank Project Officers travelled at least fifty percent of the time, for there was no way to manage difficult loans thousands of miles away.  It took tea, vodka, wine, and schnapps with the client, drunk over many hours to conclude anything like a Bank-favorable loan; and even then, as most Project Officers knew, even what looked to be the most favorable conditions for the Bank were never so.

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So off he went with a kiss to the children and a hug for his wife, First Class on British Air, a stopover in London, a five-star meal in South Kensington, an opening in Mayfair, another First Class flight to Delhi, and in the arms of the lovely Maya before nine. 

Such affairs were par for the course for an international banker like Randall. While other more uxorious workers in the Africa, Middle East, or China Departments stayed pretty much to hearth and home when they travelled, Randall saw sexual adventure as one of the many Bank benefits offered. He had had affairs in every country for which he was responsible – Haiti, Pakistan, and Palestine among others – and none ever came back to bite him, another perk of the international consultants’ life.  Everyone was on the same amoral plane, leaving responsibilities behind and enjoying every moment of an unusual, delightful independence.  All of these consultants, men and women both, couldn’t believe how lucky they were to have it all – beautiful, stable families, loving husbands and wives, and three to four months of the year of total personal and sexual freedom. 

‘An amoral plane’ was the term often used to describe the scenes at the Kigali bar, the tea room of the Calcutta Grand, the Warsaw and Bucharest Novotel patios.  A series of engagements as free from guilt and responsibility as anyone could devise – no strings attached, no questions asked.

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Until questions were asked, not by wives and husbands but by new lovers who had somehow become unhealthily attached despite the disclaimers it was an idyll.   Love has no prescription, said one of Randall’s Indian friends, or more aptly put, you never know about women.  Despite the apparent level playing field, it was nothing of the sort.  Many women on the tour had bad marriages, dismissive husbands, corporate friends and only a few cackles of gossip and innuendo on weekends.  Many men were especially happy to get away from needy, emotionally dependent wives; so love, despite demurrals and evasions always seemed to enter the equation.

It came up only once with Maya who knew that any further relationship with a married American World Bank executive was impossible.  Yet he did something for her did some Lawrentian sexual thing that made her think grandly and feel happy.  Randall never tried to do this, never made emotional overtures or romantic gestures, never suggested or promised anything, but Maya began to fall in love with him anyway.  She confided in him, wrote to him, said she desperately wanted to be with him, and couldn’t they possibly go away together next time he was in India.

He demurred, said they would talk about it, but the first night in her Nishantishan flat, she broke down and told him she couldn’t do without him.  She must have him, she said.  He had touched and awakened something in her she never thought she had.  Lawrence was right after all. 

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None of this would have been surprising given the number and frequency of infidelities in the world occurring under exactly the same circumstances; but it was still surprising that what started off as a direct, honest, uncomplicated and temporal affair could have turned so serious.

She loved him and her father was wealthy and powerful.  He could help him dissolve his unhappy marriage and provide for his children and set his own daughter and new husband in the best possible conditions in Delhi.  With but a phone call, Randall could become the new Deputy Mission Director of the World Bank in India, with promises of advancement within a year.  The couple would have a new house, a shooting lodge in Assam, and a summer home in the Nilgiri Hills – all that they could possibly wish for.

Randall knew of course, that such promises did not come without codicils or even downright threats.  India, regardless of social status was still not that different from the Ozarks where angry fathers stalked out of log cabins with a double-barrel 10-gauge aimed low.  These promises came dear.
So now, despite all his confidence and ease, and despite his honest efforts to keep the affair sexual and uninvolved, here was this desperate, clinging, crying woman with an Indian Mafioso father behind.

He had misjudged her, her situation, her position, her background, everything.  Nothing of her premier education,  her high caste birth, and her international sophistication had muted her millennia-old female instinct.  Randall had become too used to American women who, despite more natural inclinations, had become male stand-ins.  No marriage would be secure unless they ruled the roost, managed the finances, and kept wayward husbands in check.  Sex, sexual destiny, sexual epiphany, or any of Lawrence’s pithy observations were worth nothing in this new, feminist, female American world.  One had to be careful of these women, Randall knew, they were shrewd, canny, and vindictive. 

Therefore he was unprepared for an unreconstructed Indian woman, a traditional woman brought up in the Hinduism of sexual polarity, yoni and lingam, Siva and Parvati, the metaphysical union of sexual complements, and the five septs to sannyasi.  She was a woman of the world – not in the narrow, ironic American sense of worldliness, but in the belief that she had never left her femaleness, her femininity, and her female instincts at the door when the sexual revolution began. At first he was delighted at her innocently feminine, natural responses to him – Lady Chatterley to his Mellors – but then concerned at the increasingly complex international affair from which he now saw it would be difficult to extract. 

And at the same time there was Maya, a full-bodied, unashamedly female woman, dependent on him sexually, primitively heterosexual and demanding because of it.  There was no talk of the gender spectrum, questionable sexuality, or existential doubts.  She was a Lawrentian woman bound only by the limitations of Hindu caste, family, and culture – a challenge in the old days but now that he was tethered at home with a wife and children, not too appealing and a bit disconcerting to say the least.

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Lady Chatterley’s Lover ended badly, Randall knew.  Connie and Mellors had overreached and overestimated the famous mutual orgasmic love that Lawrence promised.  The practical, outside world awaited and there wasn’t much room for a gamekeeper and a high-society mistress.  They professed undying love, but both knew that they had come to the end of the line.

But that understanding was mutually agreed upon.  This thing with Maya was one-sided.  She was the one who wanted more love, longer love, and more permanent love while he was quite happy to slide back to America, take up where he left off, and head to Mali in March. Yet, he could not shake the Ozarks.  He could fairly easily change his Bank beat from India to Sri Lanka or Pakistan – swap places with colleagues desperate to put the Islamic Republic of Pakistan with all its blasphemy rules, corruption, and political instability in the rearview mirror – but he was unsure how much pull Maya’s father had at the Bank.  The Indian mafia was notorious for getting what they wanted, and shared no expense, no intimidation, no threat to come out on top; so it was not implausible that Mr. Desai grease a few palms, pull a few strings and get him fired.

Her father did nothing, after all.  Perhaps he came to his senses and realized that fussing over a foreigner was a silly enterprise and that his daughter, no matter how much she thought she was in love with him would come to her senses too.

She wrote impassioned entreaties for a year or so, letters in which she expressed the most revealing, intimate Lawrentian feelings.  Randall had indeed awakened a sleeping sexual dragon, she wrote, and no cultural divide mattered at all.   She would never be complete again without him, and that was that.

After a year, her letters became fewer, and although she never wrote a good-bye, he knew that the end, like that of Mellors and Lady Chatterley,  had finally come.

What became of her, he never knew.  He only had Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a guide, and as he knew, that didn’t turn out well.  Sexual epiphany and mutual orgasmic passion was all well and good, opening as it did the kundalini and essential spirit, but when it was over, when the dishes had to be cleaned, and clocks to be punched, it didn’t matter much at all.

What Randall realized from and what he remembered about the affair with Maya was her absolute, undeniable, irrefutable female spirit – woman, purely and simply.  A throwback to a more primitive patriarchal era, feminists would say, and Lawrence to the dust bin; but Randall knew better.  Some woman are women to their core.  Their femaleness defines them and only through heterosexual, passionate sex can it be fully realized.  Ying and yang, yoni and lingam, Tantrism and Mesoamerican sacrifice.  A lesson Randall thought he knew early on, but never so well until he met Maya.