Saturday, March 17, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-one Year Old History Teacher Inspired by "The Art of Loading Brush." #2


                Chapter 2 of "The Art of Loading Brush" is a letter to scientists that includes economic as well as technological sciences. In the letter, Mr. Berry points out the failure of economists and scientists to create a better tomorrow because of two major fallacies:
  • ·         Exploiting the producers (farmers) by destroying the local farmers who have a relationship with the land and creating agribusinesses that use machines to overproduce in order to sell as cheaply to the consumer as possible with little return to the farmer or the land.
  • ·         Growing one crop exclusively so that when overproduction occurs resulting in surpluses the farmer is left without income. Mr. Berry calls this lack of diversity.

In addition to this, Mr. Berry points out the fallacy in believing that any entity or group can ignore the past as an indicator of the present (the future of past events and behavior) to focus on well-controlled studies that predict a better tomorrow. In terms of the basis of any economic system (the production of food, clothing and shelter) the focus needs to be on the present and what local resources are available at this time for this production. This includes not only the water, soil, weather, air, and sunlight but also the living creatures including those we call our neighbors who rely on the same “raw materials.”

As rural communities decline and become no more than bedroom communities for farmers who have left farming to become blue collar workers, children have lost sight of this dependence on nature and how it functions in their very survival. Mr. Berry says, “I wish its children (rural America) might be taught thoroughly and honestly, its (local natural history), and its history is part of American history.” According to Mr. Berry, this is where change in education should begin. The new system would be based on the idea of “provision” which is at the heart of what Mr. Berry believes is agrarianism. Provision, as defined by Mr. Berry is, “caring properly for the good you have (now), including your own life.” Provision is “now oriented” and diverse. Mr. Berry cites the old adage, “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and says that answers don’t come from the future.  We need to study the past and present as the future of the past.

Therefore, Mr. Berry suggests that these are the solutions to the challenges that face the myriad of domestic problems facing the country today.
  • ·         Realize our dependence upon nature and the natural world instead of science and technology. This realization would bring about voluntary stewardship of the land and the environment around us.
  • ·         Realizing that the success of the American economy is dependent upon the local economies of farming, ranching, forestry, and fishing and mining.
  • ·         Realizing that the national economy is made up of local economies that are complete and self-sustaining – not dependent upon what happens globally.

·         In terms of production and waste, we must realize that production itself must not reduce productivity – no overproduction and no waste.
My own contribution to this would be that this is the kind of “nationalism” needed in the United States, not the jingoist, competitive, military dependent nationalism in operation under the current Administration. In regard to making statements about the current Administration, we all need to realize that what has happened recently is not the result of the actions of a particular political party that is “wrong;” according to provision this is what has happened as a result of past mistakes and that’s where we need to focus to make the changes that will benefit us today and lead to a sustainable way of life for all.  

How does agrarianism fit into this? Mr. Berry states that agrarianism is the practice that has resulted from a “primal wish for a home” that results in putting the highest value on the care of the land. In terms of provision, we must ask ourselves how much can we ask of this land, this farm without a diminishing response?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Musings of a Seventy-year Old History Teacher - about The Art of Loading Brush #1

In the midst of all the controversy and loud discussion about safety and gun rights, I started reading "The Art of Loading Brush" by Kentucky poet and essayist Wendell Berry. I have only read a few pages but the book has been written to begin a conversation about agrarian culture, especially in the South, its beginnings, its relationship to racism and perceptions outside the South and how a dialogue based on local, neighborly economic systems and changing the pursuit of one's life work from job to vocation can make significant strides in reversing an out of control military as well as a materialistic, corporate controlled economy that is at the root of the continual destruction of our physical environment as well as the peaceful, social fabric in this country  So far, and I have only started, the book seems to be in line with what I attempted to write about when I wrote “The Peacemaker” and its sequel “New Pangaea – An Evolution into the Fifth World.”
Berry begins the book with a series of quotes and assessments of the misperceptions prevalent in American society based on the loss of any basic knowledge of agrarian society due to the rise of urban economies based on accumulation of money and wealth from a job as opposed to a vocation. As I read these initial quotes and intellectual musings I thought of how Hitler rose to power by shutting down institutions of learning and muting the voices and writings of the intellectuals attempting  to get the people of Germany to remember. Hitler captured the youth of Germany with his propaganda about Aryan superiority and the need for “lebensraum” all the while burning books and sending those intellectuals to concentration camps along with the Jewish population. So much of that is happening in our society today. I read with horror President Trump’s appointment of the new CIA director who has been shown to support water boarding and other tortures while interrogating our “enemies.”
Although I have great compassion for the trauma of high school students rising to action against a fear for their safety in school, I am hesitant to think they should label themselves as leaders and voices of the future when they are so disconnected from their past and rely on social media and peers to move through this trauma instead of looking for the causes of this disease that is sweeping our nation and cannot be cured simply by getting rid of the National Rifle Association and its control over our legislators preventing sensible gun control. As leaders and parents of those killed at  Columbine and Newton have discovered over the years, the cures lie in the creation of a school culture and climate that promotes values of dialogue based on reading and critical thinking, accountability for actions, respect for all living beings and the value of life in general. Addressing these issues in their microcosm of society would send a larger message to society as a whole and after graduation from high school they can be the leaders of a new revolution of meaningful change.
Therefore, I offer some quotes and assessments of our society presented at the beginning of “The Art of Learning Brush” for you to think about as I have done so over the past twenty-four hours that have not been free of noise and conflict from neighbors living in the apartment across the hall from me and, in conjunction with the school walk-outs have prompted me to share these thoughts with you as our nation and families continue facing violence and loss on a daily basis.
·         “You had to be here then to be able to don’t see it and don’t hear it (anymore) now. But I was there then, and I don’t see it now . . .” Ernest J. Gaines, “A Gathering of Old Men.”
·         “We are responsible for what we remember.”  Professor John Lukas talking with students at the University of Louisville, March 9, 2011.
·         “Whatever agrarianism is, it is too important to be a movement. Movements leave little room or dissent.” Wendell Berry
·         Leaders of movements have tunnel vision- their ideas are right and the others are wrong. They leave no room for debate to come together to create meaningful solutions.  Wendell Berry.
·         Agrarianism is about home, field, garden, stable, prairie, forest, tribe, village . . . and cottage rather than castle. It is not about money, it is about culture and how that culture sustains itself with its relationship to land and community. No public conversation about this exists now nor has it existed for the last 60 or 70 years.  Wendell Berry. Therefore, if our young are to know about this, they will have to read and study history and relearn these relationships. Brenda Duffey.
·         Our language needs to develop into a local, neighborly language that speaks about a vocation instead of a job and a local instead of global economy. Wendell Berry. This means we need to initiate programs and methods of food production and jobs that begin within individual neighborhoods and communities and neighbors need to come together for the good of the neighborhood first. Brenda Duffey.
·         “. . . it has now been a long time since an agrarian or any advocate for the good and economic and ecological health of rural America could be listened to or understood or represented by either of the political parties.” Wendell Berry.
I intend to do a series of blogs as I read “The Art of Loading Brush” to share with you my thoughts, my remembering and stimulate your thoughts and remembering as well that you might like to share with me.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Well Regulated Militia and The Federalist Papers

“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Amendment 2

As I listened to the debate about what the Founding Fathers meant about a well-regulated militia between history teachers and the representative of the National Rifle Association on CNN’s Town Hall last night, I thought I needed to offer something that might give an understanding of what The Founding Fathers meant in adding the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution by using the material I read in The Original Argument which was a complete compilation of The Federalist Papers written under a pseudonym by three of the Founding Fathers.

These papers were written over a period of time as essays to justify the need to have a central, federal government that would have sovereignty over the states in order to create a national economy and a “national police force” (military) that would protect the country from the threats that existed by foreign nations as well as insurrections like the Whiskey Rebellion that occurred during George Washington’s administration. In addition there was a need to have a militia that could support the new settlers in the Northwest Territory against Indian uprisings with arms being supplied by our enemy Great Britain.

 Groups supporting the opinions of the essays were called Federalists. Those opposed were called Anti-Federalists – thus setting the stage for the development of political parties in this country – something George Washington warned about in his Farewell Address. Despite these brilliant, convincing arguments, the Founding Fathers were well-aware of the abuses of the absolute monarchies in England that had used their power and control to deny individual citizens their inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Therefore, they were cautious about surrendering power to a central government.

It is ironic that when the Constitution was written speaking about these inalienable rights, the only people that had these rights were the White Anglo-Saxon Christian males who owned property and could vote. It has taken a long time for the other disenfranchised groups to secure these rights for themselves but the way it has been done is through a Living Constitution that can be amended and the power of a non-political judicial branch of government that can strike down laws that deny people their basic rights and declare them null and void. Such was the case with the Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that declared the separate but equal segregation laws of Plessy vs. Ferguson null and void.

The Constitution itself was structured in such a way to spread the powers of this central government over three branches with each branch having a power that would keep each of the three branches check. But that was not enough for the people in 1791. These men knew only too well how the abusive monarchs of England had abused their powers to deny Englishmen certain rights and despite the explanation of a need for a central government the states were unwilling to ratify the Constitution without a set of amendments known as The Bill of Rights – the first ten amendments that became part of the Constitution. Our history is one in which groups denied these rights and full participation in society have used these ten amendments to incorporate all of the various ethnic and cultural groups that make up our society into full participation. Perhaps the last group of people that will come under the protection of the “right to bear arms” is the African-American black living in urban ghettoes across the nation and subject to abuse by the police force that protects them. The Black Panther Movement of the 1970’s is a good example of this.

The men who met in Independence Hall in 1787 went to revise the first form of government established after the Revolution the “Articles of Confederation,” which by the way, was based on the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy which was destroyed during and after the American Revolution. As they met, the consensus of the Founding Fathers was that the loose league of friendship of 13 sovereign states was not working.

The economy was failing because each state wanted its own currency. Next, there were violent protests like the Whiskey Rebellion that needed addressing. In addition, the new government needed to get rid of the Native American uprisings in the Northwest Territory that were being supported by the British supplying the “terrorist” Indians with guns. The British were supplying the Indians with guns to maintain control of their forts along the Great Lakes which gave them control of vital transportation into the interior of the country. The settlers needed to have their Kentucky long rifles and weapons to use against the Indians in order to settle the land that the United States said, for some reason, belonged to them after the Revolution. So, these Founding Fathers went to Philadelphia to come up with a government that would establish a national economic system and a national army. Neither of these were popular among the Sons of Liberty who had just fought a war to be free of the abuses of an absolute monarch. So, the meetings were held in secret throughout the summer of 1787. Neither was the absured notion that African-American slaves should have the right to bear arms or any of the rights eventually listed in the Bill of Rights considered.

After the Constitution was written that established a federal government that would control the money and have a standing army, the Founding Fathers set about “selling” the idea of federalism to the governments of the 13 sovereign states. Three-fourths of the states had to ratify or approve the Constitution before the new government could proceed. That’s why Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay wrote a series of articles that became known as “The Federalist Papers” under the pseudonym Publius. This debate over a strong central government versus a government of loosely connected sovereign states led to the development of political parties and ultimately to Civil War. 

The Federalist Papers which I read in a book entitled “The Original Argument” set forth all the reasons why the new United States should surrender power to a central government. The arguments were highly contested and even led to several duals between men like Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. The bottom line soon became apparent. Before any approval of a Constitution that would give sanction to a central government certain rights had to be guaranteed in the Constitution. These rights were listed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution and became known as the Bill of Rights. Amendment 2 was the protection of the individual citizen to bear arms in order to protect themselves against a government that had federal forts and arsenals of weapons that could easily be used against them.  

So, today, we have Amendment 2 still in operation which, if interpreted as I interpret its meaning, assault rifles are certainly allowed to private citizens to protect citizens from the abusive military. That also means citizens have the means to nuclear weapons and dirty bombs of all types. That’s how powerful our military has become. What should be done about Amendment 2 then? To what extent should the government or even private citizens have access to weapons whose only reason for existence is to kill? Kill whom? Only those the government deems our enemies or perhaps the emissaries of the government who have used these weapons against Native Americans, African Americans, and women for centuries?

As an added note, private citizens in this country are protected by the second Amendment to the Constitution from a powerful military. What about the third world countries that do not have that protection and where citizens face the daily terror of weapons manufactured and supplied by the United States to governments that dole out the weapons at will to all kinds of corrupt and hateful organizations?  The people of these countries live with endless war and death and must flee to other countries that will allow them to enter in order to find security. I find it ironic that our country now sees these refugees as “terrorists” and wants to treat them in many ways like the Native Americans were treated in the 19th Century. Build walls (forts) to keep them out and continue to fuel hate and fear while supplying the hate groups with weapons forged in the United States and supplied to these corrupt factions all over the globe. Some of them even end up back in the United States and when used to massacre our citizens the public outrage begins.

Therefore, the debate that is centered around the 2nd Amendment should start to address the issue of how do we regulate this military that has made the United States a super power with the weapons of mass destruction powerful enough to destroy our planet and in the name of the second amendment people having access to all the methods of making and using any or all of these? Yes, we need to discuss the many complex problems surrounding those to whom no access to these weapons (people like Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan for example) as well as others who are mentally disturbed and amenable to using anything to kill when aroused, but there first needs to be an examination of our own attitudes about the military and the continual idea that having super weapons is the way to make a country strong and that those who disagree with us in any way are the enemy.