Books I’ve Known and Loved

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The Witching Hour, The Huntington Museum

EVIL: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister, Ph. D.

Do you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer or an executioner? You need go no further than your own mind. Well, you have to go a little further, but not much. Turns out people who do evil things are a lot like you and me.

Have you ever noticed when arguing with a spouse that you’re always right–until you’ve had a few quiet moments to think about the part you played in flooding the basement? Have you noticed too that when you drink the argument about how well the basement was cleaned after the flood gets more heated than it really needs to be ( you’ve been harboring the grudge about the ruined Christmas ornaments for a week now).

The first time we had to execute a rooster my husband sent me indoors because my crying was a distraction. The next time a rooster punctured my leg with his filthy spur when we had no health coverage I quite happily ordered him dead (and he was my favorite rooster).

Imagine a post-Civil War scene down south. A group of bored young veterans on the losing side of the war with no job prospects and stung egos get together for drinks. Someone comes up with the idea to dress up like ghosts to spook the newly freed and uneducated ex-slaves in their neighborhood. Just a boyhood prank, is all. They scare a black man the first time and off he runs, but the next time they do it the man is wise to their humor and waves them off with a laugh. The game is no longer fun. Putting a little fear into a man who used to be subordinate but now is equal was fun (and each young man is holding a grudge against the powers that be and the freed slaves). The mission becomes to scare the black man–a little more and a little more. Each time the black man sees through their pranks–they raise the stakes.

Are you that person in a group who stands up when everyone else is going down a bad path? Are you the person who jumps in the swollen spring river to save the young boy from drowning when everyone else waits to see who will get wet. Twice in my life I’ve witnessed someone drowning and both times I watched as if in a dream as someone else jumped in.

In Rwanda a mother of six participated in the clubbing to death of a group of neighborhood children because she thought it would put them out of their misery. A man responsible for killing Jewish children in WWII rationalized his job in the same way.

Why aren’t there more serial killers? The difference between “normal” people and evil doers comes down to a few key things: self-discipline, a sense of being responsible for one’s actions and feelings of guilt (which for normal people kick in often before they even contemplate doing something evil). People who tend to say, “I couldn’t help it” or “It’s because society made me do it” or:

“Guilt? It’s this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism–and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than . . . guilt.”

we need to worry about. The last quote comes from Ted Bundy–the serial killer.

The drugs made me do it, my genes made me do it, this country made me do it . . . I couldn’t help eating all those cookies! But here’s the thing: in order to kill someone with a gun you must think about getting a gun. You must walk towards the gun using the legs you make move, and you must pull the trigger. The gun doesn’t magically cling to you, take over your fingers and shoot someone.

An early 20th century study showed that most soldiers shot above the heads of their enemies. This was a problem to be solved. Another interesting study showed that playing video games did make for more short-term aggression in players, but only people who were already tending toward evil actually used gaming as an excuse for bad actions. Most people play video games and DON’T kill their cats.

Remember when your mother warned you about the slippery slope toward evil? Remember Jesus saying something about cleaning out one demon but letting 7 more in? Evil seems to be like that.The first kill is the toughest–but then the sirens and hand cuffs don’t arrive. Life stays pretty much the same. So you kill again.

Don’t think this book is a thoroughly depressing read. On the contrary if you like gallows humor you’ll love this book. I did. But it is scary how close to evil I can become.

Books I’ve Known And Loved

Confederate Soldier courtesy http://www.pbase.com

Confederate Soldier
courtesy http://www.pbase.com

“One surviving letter suggests that the men engaged in seizing black civilians may have had no uniform attitude toward the kidnapping.” And here lies a great truth: people are complex.

As much as we would like to think otherwise there are no super heroes–and villains while evil may only be slightly more blind to their imperfections than the rest of us. Most of us think we’re pretty good most of the time. It is the rare event that exposes us to the true nature of our selfishness and hypocrisy. We want to run from such exposure, but without it there is no impetus to change.

When evil exposes itself how easy it is to ignore it. How easy it is to go with the flow. Only blind people do not recognize how thin the veil of goodness and integrity is over our weak frames.

Before the Battle of Gettysburg Southern troops slipped across the Pennsylvania line and into the close-knit towns and villages filled mostly with women and children. The men had gone to war or raced further north with their livestock and valuables in the mistaken belief that the men in grey would leave the young and female alone.

Black women worried with their neighbors. Some remembered escaping from slavery years ago. Some had manumission papers proving they’d been freed and some had never tasted slavery, but as the sound of cavalry horses clip-clopping just outside their nighttime windows alerted them to their danger they gathered their frightened children to their breasts in dread.

And dread they should as the mission of these men was to gather the darkies and herd them south. A witness to this mass kidnapping said that this more than all the political talk proved that the war was about slavery. The marauders refused to be convinced what they were doing was wrong. In a few cases  northern men left behind did fight the kidnappers and win the freedom of some crying children and their frightened mothers but in general the blacks were herded. White women watched unable to help and afraid for their own lives (and virtue as rape was a very real fear) and cried at the sight of their black women friends and neighbors being led away south.

“Do you not feel bad and mean in such an occupation?” a Pennsylvanian asked. The soldier replied that “he felt very comfortable.” A judge in the same town asked one of the invaders “if they took free negroes.” “Yes,” he replied, “and we will take you, too, if you don’t shut up!”

Smugly we look on. How brute-like these soldiers were! Never would I do the same. I ask myself: when was the last time I spoke out about cruelty not from some safe distance in a comment box on a blog post but in the public square? When was the last time I listened to a cruel remark and said nothing to defend the victim? When was the last time I risked myself for another?

A surviving letter from a soldier, Colonel William Christian from Virginia, to his family gives me hope, but not perfect hope: “We took a lot of Negroes yesterday. I was offered my choice, but as I could not get them back home I would not take them. In fact, my humanity revolted at taking the poor devils away from their homes. They were so scared that I turned them all loose.”

Note that his first instinct was selfish: how would he get them home? The second instinct, the braver and nobler: give them freedom. And how many of us get to that second instinct?

Men like William Christian are BETTER than SUPER HEROES because they show us that despite our basic instincts there is a way of choosing better even if it’s not what arises from our first thoughts.

THE WAR WAS YOU AND ME edited by Joan E. Cashin is full of humanity’s constant, invigorating and maddening complexity. Wars are you and me and they’re happening every day with every choice we make to look into another human’s eye with love or turn away.

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Weary of Running by Adrienne  Morris

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by Adrienne Morris

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“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.” John Swinton 1880

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

The paper and some smokes. Library of Congress

“One night, probably in 1880, John Swinton, then the preeminent New York journalist, was the guest of honour at a banquet given him by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:

‘There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.

‘There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty four hours my occupation would be gone.

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

Newsboy in Camp 1863. Library of Congress

‘The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?

‘We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”
(Source: Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, published by United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America, NY, 1955/1979.)

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Technology is Evil. Kill Mr. EDISON!

Yes, him!

Yes, him!

THE AEROPHONE. (The New York Times 1878)

“Something ought to be done to Mr. EDISON, and there is a growing conviction that it had better be done with a hemp rope. Mr. EDISON has invented too many things, and almost without exception they are things of the most deleterious character. He has been addicted to electricity for many years, and it is not very long ago that he became notorious for having discovered a new force, though he has since kept it care- fully concealed, either upon his person or elsewhere. Recently he invented the phone- graph, a machine that catches the lightest whisper of conversation and stores it up, so that at any future time it can be brought out, to the confusion of the original speaker. This machine will eventually destroy all confidence between man and man, and render more dangerous than ever woman’s want of confidence in woman. No man can feel sure that wherever he may be there is not a concealed phonograph remorseless gathering up his remarks and ready to reproduce them at some future date. Who will be willing, even in the bosom of his family, to express any but most innocuous and colorless views and what woman when calling on a female friend, and waiting for the latter to make her appearance in the drawing-room, will dare to express her opinion of the wretched taste displayed in the furniture, or the hideous appearance of the family photographs ? In the days of persecution and it was said, though with poetical exaggeration, that the walls had ears.

“Thanks to Mr. Edison’s perverted ingenuity, this has not only become a literal truth, but every shelf, closet, or floor may now have its concealed phonographic ears. No young man will venture to carry on a private conversation with a young lady, lest he should be filling a secret phonograph with evidence that, in a breach of promise suit, would secure an immediate verdict against him, and our very small-boys will fear to express themselves with childish freedom, lest the phonograph should report them as having used the name of “gosh,” or as having to “bust the snoot” of the long-suffering governess. The phonograph was, at the time of its invention, the most terrible example of depraved ingenuity which the world had seen; but Mr. EDISON has since reached a still more conspicuous peak of scientific infamy by inventing the aerophone–an instrument far more devastating in its effects and fraught with the destruction of human society.

NSA, you say?

NSA, you say?

“The aerophone is apparently a modification of the phonograph. In fact, it is a phonograph which converts whispers into roars. If, for example, you mention, within hearing of the aerophone, that you regard Mr. HAYES as the; greatest and best man that America has yet produced, that atrocious instrument may overwhelm you with shame by repeating your remark in a tone that can be heard no less than four miles. Mr. EDISON, with characteristic effrontery, represents this as a useful and beneficent invention. He says that an aerophone can be attached to a locomotive, and that with its aid the engineer can request persons to “look out for the locomotive” who are nearing a railway crossing four miles distant from the train. He also boasts that he will attach an aerophone to the gigantic statue of “Liberty.” Which France is to present to this country, provided we will raise money enough to pay for it, and that the statue will thus be able to welcome incoming vessels in the Lower Bay, and to warn them not to come up to the City in case Mr. STANLEY MATTHEWS is delivering an oration on the currency, or Mr. Cox is making a comic speech at Tammany Hall. Were the aerophone to be confined strictly to these uses, it prove a comparatively unobjectionable intstrument; but no man can loose a whirlwind and guarantee that its ravages shall be confined to Chicago, or to some other place where it may do positive good.

“Our present vocal powers are always used to their full capacity. Everybody talks with about the same volume of voice, and when the aerophone comes into use, people will universally talk as loudly as the instrument will permit. When ninety-nine people out of a hundred converse with the aerophone, there will be such a roar of conversation that the hundredth person, who may speak in his natural voice, cannot be heard. We can only faintly imagine the horrible results of the general introduction of the aerophone. Wives residing in suburban Jersey villages will call to their’husbands at their places of business in the City, and require information as to subjects of purely domestic interest. Mothers whose children have wandered out of sight will howl over a four-mile tract of country direful threats as to the flaying alive which awaits James Henry and Ann Eliza unless they instantly come home. From morning till midnight our ears will be tortured with the uproar of aerophonic talk, and deaf men will be looked upon as the favored few to whom nature has made life tolerable.

“The result will be the complete disorganization of society. Men and women will flee from civilization and seek in the silence of the forest relief from the roar of count- less aerophones. Business, marriage, and all social amusements will be thrown aside, except by totally deaf men, and America will retrogade to the Stone Age with frightful rapidity. Better is a dinner of raw turnips in a damp cave than a banquet at DELMONICO’S within hearing of ten thousand aerophones. Far better is it to starve in solitude than to possess all the luxuries of civilization at the price of hearing every remark that is made within a radius of four miles. It may be too late to suppress the aerophone now, but at least there is time to visit upon the head of its inventor the just indignation of his fellow-countrymen.”

Moral Panics of 1878

Tesla Wasn’t a God and Thomas Edison Wasn’t the Devil

http://www.nps.gov/edis/faqs.htm

Tesla rationalizing Eugenics

Play Date at the Zoo; The Sad Tale of Ota Benga

Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo

Ota Benga at the Bronx Zoo

Ota Benga lived in a cage at the Bronx Zoo with the monkeys in 1906 and became a hugely popular exhibit as proof of evolution. Ota was a Pygmy from the Congo when the Congo was the playground and money making property of King Leopold of Belgium.

The pygmies were competitors in the ivory trade and  were systematically killed off; the rationale being that the pygmies,  so small and stupid, were obviously just one evolutionary tick away from the little monkeys. Darwin once wrote: “The civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace, the savage races throughout the world.”  No biggie. Science was the new religion–minus the love and compassion.

Ota came to America after he was purchased by a noted American explorer from South Carolina, Phillips Verner, who planned to exhibit him at the 1904 World’s Fair. Falling on hard times, Verner searched for someone to take Ota off his hands. In New York Herman Bumpus the director of the Natural History Museum gave him a home with the stipulation that he’d have to entertain the richie riches when they came for lunch. When Ota threw a chair at Florence Guggenheim Bumpus was like, ” I’m so done with you.”

Off Ota was sent to the Bronx Zoo. When Christians (especially southern black ones) protested that evolution was at best an unproven theory and at worst an invitation for race extermination The New York Times retorted: “It is most amusing to note that one colored brother objects to the curious exhibition on the grounds that it is an impious effort to lend credibility  to Darwin’s dreadful theories . . . The reverend colored brother should be told that evolution, in one form or another, is now taught in the textbooks of all the schools, and that it is no more debatable than the multiplication table.”  And: “As for Benga himself, he is probably enjoying himself as well as he could anywhere in his country, and it is absurd to make moan over the imagined humiliation and degradation he is suffering.”

Eventually Ota was freed. He went to see how much it would cost him to sail back home and shot himself in the chest.

http://www.creationresearch.org/crsq/articles/30/otabenga.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/06/nyregion/thecity/06zoo.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

history of human zoos

Story retold from The Political Gene by Dennis Sewell

 

It’s Not Your Fault That You’re Evil–Or Is It?

Escape

Escape

I was going to write about a charming little bookstore I visited recently, but then I happened upon the horrifying photos of beheaded Christian children still in their adorable kid clothes. I really wanted to just escape back into the past or at least into a charming bookstore. I wanted to flip through books that showed how people bandaged wounded soldiers who are long since dead. I wanted to see books on genocide and pass them by because, thank God, the holocausts were over. I wanted to still be able to imagine that I could use the word evil lightly as if the meaning of the word had lost it’s essence and was just a funny remnant from the past.

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I bet most Germans browsed bookstores, wrote novels and gossiped as the powers of evil rolled by carrying people to camps. My neighbor sends his beef cows to market but I never see them shoved into the truck that carries them away.

Finished and safe worlds

Finished and safe worlds

We see. Everyday we see things on television. How many innocent people are murdered every week in Chicago? Would a big counter in the corner of our screen make us give a damn? If we want we can read Bertrand Russel’s disturbing idea’s about education and see as we sit before our computers that his ideas may have become reality. I’m just as dumb as the next person–the person who thinks that couldn’t happen here; that couldn’t happen now. And why is my coffee cold?

Dead people neatly stored away--handled gently

Dead people neatly stored away–handled gently

What is that numbness that so paralyzes us all? That sense that it might be a bit rude to question evil? But once questioned the problem still exists for the sort who like quiet bookstores–what’s to be done?  Do we have a right to say someone is evil or is that a little too judgmental? Maybe the very same people who manage to write sonnets and invent telescopes and love their children have no control over their actions. Bookstores magically appear and child butchering is explained away–they couldn’t help it.

Why do we embrace death when God's glory is all around us?

Why do we embrace death when God’s glory is all around us?