Asylum, Love, & Slavery


I was just popping by to tell you lot about a brilliantly fun new entry in the Amicus podcast from myself and Lee Russell, which you'll find here and will offer you just the tonic. If you like old Doctor Who, this sort of stuff is right up your alley. And if you don't, you'll probably dig it too.

I was just going to do that and be on my way, but I noticed that there was no Friday post from that wine chugging layabout J. Graham, so I thought I'd be your subsitute leftist for the week and post this recent essay that had previously been exclusively available to those who support me on Patreon. Feel free to throw paper airplanes and leave tacks on my chair in the comments below.


All over the world, white supremacists are flexing their pale, flabby muscles in this new age of online organising. In America, an emboldened, far-right Republican party controls the government. The Southern Strategy has made the Republican Party as hard right, as racist, and as popular as it is now. The strategy was (and is) the winking and ever more thinly veiled appeal to racist whites in the South and elsewhere. Vote for us, it promised with seductive gestures towards prejudice against blacks, and we'll take care of crime and immigration.

The Southern Strategy was pioneered by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the 1960s and took thousands of anti-civil rights bigots away from their traditional home in the Democratic Party. Credit is also due to the now-dead, once-sentient hemorrhoid, Roger Ailes, who was later an instrumental force behind the shaping and running of the Fox News network and all of its crimes against humanity. The Republicans subsequently had crushing electoral success in 1968 and rode the strategy again and again to the Presidency. 

The logical endpoint of moving further and further in this toxic, backward direction is the kind of Presidential campaign run with intolerant and vicious effectiveness by Donald Trump, New York millionaire and media personality, in 2016. There is no need to dredge once more over the motherfucker's worst moments on the campaign trail here. 

Donald Trump now squats in the White House (built by people who were whipped, beaten, and enslaved because of the tint of the colour of their skin) thanks mostly to the suppression of votes from non-whites, the new Jim Crow, and the work of one of the United States' most cerebral slaveholders. James Madison advocated for the Electoral College as a way to give the slave states an advantage against the more populous so-called free states in the choice of President. 

Plantation slavery in the US was not that long ago, however much the black and white photographs may tie it in our minds to some prehistoric era that doesn't need consideration, like the Roman destruction of Carthage. That we all still live with slavery's malignant after effects is evidence enough of its closeness. To get the beginnings of an idea of what that simple word 'slavery', which we can be in danger of eliding over, meant (as well as  its intrinsic link to the growth of capital) I recommend Edward E. Baptist's unforgettable, searing The Half Has Never Been Told. To quote very briefly from that essential book;

"...the worst thing about slavery as an experience, one is told, was that it  denied enslaved African Americans the liberal rights and liberal  subjectivity of modern citizens. It did those things as a matter of  course, and as injustice, that denial ranks with the greatest in modern  history. But slavery also killed people, in large numbers. From those  who survived, it stole everything. Yet the massive and cruel engineering  required to rip a million people from their homes, brutally drive them  to new, disease-ridden places, and make them live in terror and hunger  as they continually built and rebuilt a commodity-generating empire—this  vanished in the story of a slavery that was supposedly focused  primarily not on producing profit but on maintaining its status as a  quasi-feudal elite, or producing modern ideas about race in order to  maintain white unity and elite power. And once the violence of slavery  was minimized, another voice could whisper, saying that African  Americans, both before and after emancipation, were denied the rights of  citizens because they would not fight for them.”

We're only three human lifetimes away from the rape and torture of the African American holocaust. The reigning monarch of the United Kingdom's (Queen Elizabeth, 1926 - ) first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965), who, as a young man, listened intently to William Gladstone (1809 - 1898) from the polished wooden seats of the House of Commons viewing gallery. These mammals lived on the same land mass and breathed air in the same exalted rooms as one another. Gladstone spent the majority of his life in a world where slavery in the United States was suffered to continue. Indeed, Gladstone's life overlapped James Madison by 17 years, but they were seperated by an ocean.

It is the unfairness inherent in Madison's electoral college - the extreme mainstream of the United States' political world - that allows a moronic thug to rule over a country where the majority voted against him. Trump does not pay any lip service to noises he made about less foreign military intervention or standing against the neoliberal onslaught of the past 30-40 years. He governs like Reagan without the handsome mask of charm and affability. Which makes him far, far more objectionable to the centre of political discourse. At least, they say, President Ronald Reagan was a nice man as he did all that reprehensible evil shit. Trump is an ur-Republican, whatever those in the party who are holding tightly to their masks to different degrees may say. 

The struggle against the modern Republican party, and their allies of all classes, is the same one towards emancipation that the radicals of the nineteenth century fought against the Confederacy, and is the continuation of the civil war that radicalised Lincoln and turned him into the only tolerable President. It was John Brown with his inability to accept living next to a modern torture machine and his righteous midnight insurrection who did more to emancipate his comrades than scolding John Quincy Adams in the senate, politely opposing the peculiar institution in accepted, clever parliamentary manoueverings. 

As quiet and as fringe as they may have seemed since the hard work of civil rights achieved incredible victories in the 1960s, the racists have never really gone away. The make-up of the United States' laws and law enforcement has not had any revolutionary change since the Civil War. Having an explicit white supremacist as President has shaken up and raised the voices of those who were always the most pampered and accomodated to, and somehow also the most aggrieved in the American system. Trump's Presidency has, as many predicted, turned the undertones of the entire edifice into its overture. Like their ancestors and near contemporary villainous countrymen before them, they deny the basic humanity of those with the most surface difference to themselves. The problems in their lives - and we all have problems - would be better solved if they took aim at the millionaires like their beloved President, but this is a issue for almost every other day. They hate and they do not think. 

The centre and those who proudly call themselves the resistance talk again and again of love and of love winning, hate being beaten. But love, as Massive Attack sang, is a verb. Love is not a magic spell and a rich, privileged person standing behind the statement of "love wins" while they do nothing else to combat the tide of racism and exploitation that the worlds we live in (the US, Europe, Australasia, etc) are founded on (and continue to be driven by) is counterproductive. 

As anyone in a long-term loving relationship of any description (romantic, familial, friendship, even love of yourself, and all through those different Greek ideas of love) will tell you, to share love, in its wonderfulness, takes constant work all the time and there will be occasions when you have to graft harder than anything through painful struggle. Love is action and the best kind of action is love. 

Hollywood films and pop music tell you that love is only a longing, a yearning that eventually yields to a powerful wave which encompasses you and finally leads to your life becoming complete and rewarding. This is an untruth. As rewarding as it can be, it is also equally capable of fucking you up mightily. Phil Spector, in my opinion the greatest creative behind this kind of love song and a giant of 20th century art, was an abusive murderer who deserves no quarter. Those who propagate this position are damaged people lying poisonously for profit. Or worse, for those they love or who love them, are deluded into expecting this impossibility and wreck lives as they are inevitably disappointed. 

Love will win and it will beat hate if it is tied to action and is nurtured. In the political world, it must be tied to direct action, with mobs of the best-intentioned on the streets holding power to account. Lying back and eating cake is a selfish luxury which we cannot indulge as our survival and that of our most vulnerable is at stake. The historic forces which are moving throughout the world on the side of intolerance have to, and are, being fought. And those who are not actively fighting the legacy of slavery are not showing love. What they're doing is avoiding the work of emancipation and justice. 



Get early access to content like this as well as exclusive audio and writing for as little as $1 a month at my Patreon. I've just exploded out of the only job I've ever been good at, so any help is particulary gratefully received just now. Thank you.


Comment deleted 3 years, 4 months ago

John G. Wood 3 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for that, James - I don't have much to add, but didn't want this essay to pass by without comment. The three lifetimes example was striking (I've already quoted it to other people), and the rest contained important reminders that we need to fight for people rather than just principle, something that often gets lost. My wife's off to an anti-racism event soon, and I'm going to try to get her to read this first, or failing that summarise it for her.

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Steve Martin 1 year, 7 months ago

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