Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Not Dead Yet

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Yes, yes.  I know.

I disappear for weeks at a time, and then who knows what’s going on?

The unfortunate reality–or maybe the fortunate one–is that I sometimes have actual work to do. 

Lately there’s been more than usual.

For one thing, I’m teaching an actual upper level course this term, one I have  never taught before, which means I’ve spent a lot of the last two weeks trying to write a syllabus that makes sense, sticks to the academic level the course is supposed to present, and still doesn’t scare them all out of their gourds.

When I was first assigned this course, the cap on enrollment was 15.   That made a certain amount of sense.  An upper level course means a higher standard for acceptable work, longer assignments, more complex rubrics.

By the time I hit the room yesterday, the enrollment cap had been raised to 27, and I had 25 people in a very small room. 

The small room isn’t, in and of itself, a big problem–a little claustrophobic, but not a big problem–but the lack of any kind of tech is.   My place has put out a great effort over the last five years or so to install “smart” classrooms everywhere, and most of the classrooms on the floor of the building where I teach have at least got built in audio visual equipment and a computer at the teacher’s desk.

My room has none of that, which means no projecting articles or student papers on a screen so that the whole class can work with them. 

I’ll admit–I started out working in classrooms without computers.  I know how to do it, and I’m sure I can do it again.

I’ve just gotten very used to the conveniences, and I’m going to miss them.

But part of the reason I haven’t been writing is that I’ve  been enormously depressed. 

There are some ways in which only American life can make be enormously depressed, and the whole Ferguson thing is doing a great job of it.

Both the left and right, here, are doing their usual–the left by running around yelling about how everybody is racist, which is frustrating because it’s a) true in a sense but b) not in the sense they mean it and c) largely both irrelevant and trivial to what’s going on here.

And the right is…well, what the hell.

For about a week, Fox News was behaving as if it existed in an alternate universe, playing the story (when playing it at all) as if it was minor.  Then it went on with the “and why doesn’t anybody ever talk about black on black crime” thing.

Which is also irrelevant and trivial to what’s going on.

And today, of course, the NYT is full of all that vile nonsense about “white privilege.” 

I’ll say it again–anybody who advocates that line should be completely and thoroughly ashamed of themselves.  It’s not only a lie, it can only make everything worse.

The only really interesting thing about this whole mess comes from the people of Ferguson and the surrounding towns who go on television and say things like “this isn’t about race” and “we support the police, they’re the only ones who keep us from being completely slaughtered” and “what can Ferguson expect if the community won’t get out and vote?”

That last one, by the way, was delivered by the African American mayor of one of the surrounding towns, who used his time on MSNBC to complain about the fact (and it apparently is a fact) that African Americans don’t get out to vote, and as a result a majority-black town has a majority-white elected administration and a majority-white police force, because it’s your town government who gets to pick the police.

And no, this did not come about because of “voter suppression,” unless the Missouri right wing somehow targeted voters only in Ferguson and not in the other minority-majority suburbs.

The Enlightenment gave us a set of rules by which it might be possible for a nation to be both diverse and functional–something that had never happened up to then in the history of the world.

It said that we had to treat each other as individuals and not as members of groups.   It said that all justice is individual–guilt and innocence consist of what an individual person has actually done,  not what their ancestors did and or what the ancestors of somebody else who sort of looks like them did.

It said we must give up our “accidental” identities for a common identity, as Americans together and not black/white/Baptist/Jew/Catholic/Asian/female/whatever.

And, of course, it’s never been possible for anybody to do that completely.  But we did get close for a while.

I think that’s gone.

I think we will go the way of every other society that has tried to be multiethnic–we’ll fall apart.

What happens when we fall apart presents questions nobody seems to bother to think about.

Both piracy on the high seas and slavery ended because the British Empire ended them, and then used its vast military power to make sure they stay ended.

When the British Empire fell apart, we were there, and we did the same thing.

I look around now, and I don’t see anybody able or willing to take on those particular jobs if we’re not doing them, and we are increasingly not doing them.

China is a police state that has no problem enslaving its own people, and no interest in interfering with slavery anywhere else.

It turns out it’s the Communist country that wants to operate on the profit principle above all else.

Throughout the history of the world, slavery has been the default mode.  Every society that has developed to the point of having language–and quite a few that have not–have bought and sold human beings.

That changed only so long as somebody was willing to spend the blood and treasure to make it change.  And now nobody is.

And slavery is back.  It’s back across half the Muslim nations in Africa and in some in the middle east.

And we do nothing about it that could actually cause us pain, because–well, because why should the US be the world’s policeman? 

The problem is that if nobody is the world’s policeman, then nothing gets policed–and the result is not happy anarchical creatures dancing on the lawn.


I warned you that I was depressed.




Written by janeh

August 28th, 2014 at 5:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Not Dead Yet'

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  1. Welcome back. Can I ask what higher level course you are teaching?

    I have been careful not to read about Ferguson. That is easy to do in Australia.

    Jane wrote “I think we will go the way of every other society that has tried to be multiethnic–we’ll fall apart.” I don’t think multi-ethnic is the sole problem. The maps of blue states vs red states and the term “flyover country” terrify me.

    Is slavery coming back? Perhaps for some things but I wouldn’t want to drive over a bridge designed by a civil engineer who was a slave. Or trust my life to a surgeon who was a slave. I can see having the floors of a hospital mopped by a slave.


    28 Aug 14 at 10:45 pm

  2. I know in certain quarters “the Enlightenment” covers everything this side of fire and the wheel, but let’s think for a moment about Rome, Imperial Austria and even the Ottoman Empire. The stendestaat–the one in which each hereditary category of citizens has its own rights and duties–has often been pretty good at maintaining order, providing justice, collecting taxes and protecting borders–often for longer than we seem likely to do so. If there’s another definition of “functional” it will have to be spelled out for me. Do I prefer the Enlightenment way of running a state? Of course. I’m a child of the (British) Enlightenment.

    I’m also part of what used to be a majority of the population. If you are primarily an American, a Briton or an Indian, there is much to be said for the combination of treating everyone as an individual and democracy, If you are primarily Scots, Black or Muslim respectively in these instances, all it is is a way to ALWAYS be outvoted. In a centralized state, you can’t even win worthwhile local victories.

    As for maintaining the Enlightenment system–I’m afraid that ship sailed somewhere between the Easter Rising and Black Power–the dissolution of Yugoslavia at the outside. Build a “diverse” state today, and you have a Lebanon in waiting.

    Sometimes you won’t have to wait long.

    Someone might enjoy this, particularly as it relates to American inequality:



    29 Aug 14 at 4:07 am

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