Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Fortunate Life

What was it like to have a Fortune in December of 1930?  

Apparently back then even the well-to-do could be expected to not only shop for themselves, but to walk in the snow.

Well, at least they do not have to ride on the top of a bus, where the commoners (who nevertheless have gift-wrapped packages) are found packed in on the roof like luggage.
A car having "coachwork and interiors of rare beauty" could set you back $3795 to $4895.

General Motors probably could have charged more, but they clearly forgot to have bikini-clad babes draped over the car, rather than a woman in a fur coat hovering overhead.  

At least they don't have to worry about the driver daring to look in their direction.
Sure, Egypt had camels, Rome had chariots, but the empires of "the machine age" have "grinding" factory wheels!

It's fascinating to see these wheels presented as lords of the sky, as if factory machines were meant to be worshipped (or perhaps feared) rather than seen as Capitalist cogs.

Yet that it is made clear the camel, the chariot, the train, the zeppelin, the motorcar, and the bi-planes are all inexorably heading towards the factory in the distance, with its smoke stacks guiding them like a lighthouse of pollution, perhaps reveals some anxieties about these grinding wheels after all.
Not to be undone, the greatest symbol of "machine age" imperialism: The Empire State Building.  

However, it is shown here not yet ready for occupancy, without its well-known crown, and described as merely the "world's largest office building."  Where is the grandeur of the art deco behemoth that we know and love today?

Indeed the use of this photo rather than an artist's depiction or an architect's rendering seems to betray instead a sense of a dawning of a new age in New York, but perhaps an age that was not wholly desired.  The information about the building is further presented as an arrowhead driving its point into the center of the city, pushing the building itself off to the left, and the other skyscrapers almost off the edge of page in the distance on the right.
"In all Packard's thirty years of building fine motor cars for a discriminating clientele Packard distinction have never been more pronounced, more enviable than it is today."

How could the Packard not have lasted to today?  Clearly even the 1930's version of the "Most Interesting Man in the World"—a Flemish cartographer apparently—wanted to be seen in a Packard.  And yet...

"Any Packard man can, and will be pleased to show you with detailed figures that it really costs no more to have a luxurious Packard Standard Eight than any car of like size and power—if you will but follow the example of most Packard owners and keep your Packard a little longer."

Well there's your explanation!  The car is being advertised for "discriminating clientele" and you're telling them that it's a good value and to not try to replace it ASAP?  That's commoner thinking!

It's hard to see this map and not immediately think it's describing the route of the Luftwaffe during World War II, but in fact it's a map of the telephone availability in Europe at the time.

Not that's not AT&T, but IT&T, the company that has apparently saved Spain and Romania from the socialist government-operated telephone service of so much of the rest of Europe.

As the caption indicates, IT&T is apparently succeeding in defeating socialism, having already earned "$70,000,000" in "manufacturing revenue in 1930."  

Perhaps it's not an accident that a map representing the growth of a company so well resembles a map of an invading army in wartime...
"The ability to shoot rapidly and accurately is an essential qualification for the position of treasure guard. United States Trucking has among its custodians a former general in the Russian Army and seventeen former captains, U.S.A."

That "rapidly" comes before "accurately" could perhaps be meaningless, but I like to think of it as a subtle reference to the preference for killing any potential criminals who would dare steal from the rich rather than concern oneself with things like aiming.

Furthermore, that a "former general" has achieved the level of "treasure guard" surely indicates that this is not seen as a demotion rather than a promotion.  Or rather that he has made a horizontal move, acting as the "custodian" for the wealthy in one tank rather than another, for one empire rather than another.

"And the safest commodity in the world to transport is money."  How true...
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Discursive Violence, Simone Weil, and "Asking Congress to Send a Message to the World"

What message is President Obama "asking Congress to send" here?
From the August 31st Statement by the President on Syria:
Here's my question for every member of Congress and every member of the global community:  What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?  What's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the Congress of the United States is not enforced?  
Ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time; it’s about who we are as a country.  I believe that the people’s representatives must be invested in what America does abroad, and now is the time to show the world that America keeps our commitments.  We do what we say.  And we lead with the belief that right makes might -- not the other way around.
I’m ready to act in the face of this outrage.  Today I’m asking Congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation.
Much has been written about President Obama's decision to use retaliatory strikes against the Assad regime in Syria over the use of chemical weapons—because of just war theory, because the use of chemical weapons is a "game changer," because of the Responsibility to Protect—but I have not yet seen much of anything written about the intrinsic rather than consequentialist meaning of this decision.  In other words:

What does it mean to use military force "to send a message"?  What does it mean to kill or to be killed "to show the world that America keeps our commitments"?

Whether or not the retaliatory strikes achieve whatever desired effect Congress and the international community might hope for from them—ending the use of chemical weapons or tipping the balance of power in Syria—and whether or not the retaliatory strikes are even voted for by Congress and supported by the international community, discursive violence has already been done to Syria.

As George Yancy recently argued with regards to the Travyon Martin case in his piece entitled "Walking While Black in the 'White Gaze'":
Zimmerman later said: “Something’s wrong with him. Yep, he’s coming to check me out,” and, “He’s got something in his hands.” Zimmerman also said, “I don’t know what his deal is.” A black young male with “something” in his hands, wearing a hoodie, looking suspicious, and perhaps on drugs, and there being “something wrong with him,” is a racist narrative of fear and frenzy. The history of white supremacy underwrites this interpretation. Within this context of discursive violence, Zimmerman was guilty of an act of aggression against Trayvon Martin, even before the trigger was pulled. Before his physical death, Trayvon Martin was rendered “socially dead” under the weight of Zimmerman’s racist stereotypes. Zimmerman’s aggression was enacted through his gaze, through the act of profiling, through his discourse and through his warped reconstruction of an innocent black boy that instigates white fear.
According to Yancy, Zimmerman had already done grave harm to Martin before even getting out of the car just by how he saw and spoke of Martin.  This act of discursive violence, this act of "render[ing] 'socially dead'," is similarly what we are currently doing to the people of Syria.  By seeing and speaking of Syria as to-be-bombed we are putting the people of Syria in a situation tantamount to the box in which Schrödinger put his hypothetical cat.  While we debate, they are both simultaneously living and dead, for as President Obama declared, "this mission is not time-sensitive; it will be effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now."

However, whereas the lethal violence done to Schrödinger's cat was a "choice" made by the laws of physics, the symbolic violence done to the Syrian people is a choice made by us, and thus a choice that we need to think about in different terms than the consequentialist framing currently dominating this debate, for the very act of debating whether or not to strike is already an act of violence, is already a framing of human beings as worthy of being attacked, and moreover as worthy of being attacked in order to "send a message."

If, as President Obama declared, we view the use of chemical weapons as "an assault on human dignity," then we should "send a message to the world" not by perpetuating the degradation of human dignity by allowing it to be "rendered 'socially dead'" but by showing the world that we respect human dignity.  The members of the military who are to carry out these symbolic strikes and the people of Syria who are to be symbolically struck are not having their dignity respected in our current debate.  Dignity is not respected by forcing human beings to exist not knowing if their potential deaths will be "effective tomorrow, or next week, or one month from now."

An Encounter with Simone Weil
As Simone Weil wrote in her brilliant essay "The Iliad, or Poem of Force":
Here we see force in its grossest and most summary form—the force that kills.  How much more varied in its processes, how much more surprising in its effects is the other force, the force that does not kill, i.e., that does not kill just yet.  It will surely kill, it will possibly kill, or perhaps it merely hangs, poised and ready, over the head of the creature it can kill, at any moment, which is to say at every moment.  In whatever aspect, its effect is the same: it turns a man into a stone.  From its first property (the ability to turn a human being into a thing by the simple method of killing him) flows another, quite prodigious too in its own way, the ability to turn a human being into a thing while he is still alive. 
A man stands disarmed and naked with a weapon pointing at him; this person becomes a corpse before anybody or anything touches him.
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