Get out the vote

Frank Zappa, 1988, photograph by Lynn Goldsmith
Frank Zappa, 1988, photograph by Lynn Goldsmith

AP, Associated Press

(AP) _ Rock ‘n’ roll singer Frank Zappa has pledged to register fans at his concert here tonight to vote, and the League of Women Voters couldn’t be happier.

The alliance prompted one elderly league member to joke that he would turn down the volume on his hearing aid during the concert, said Pittsburgh League President Marsha Bingler.

”I consider that an upbeat comment,” said Ms. Bingler. ”The gentleman who said that is about 70 years old. He does have trouble with his hearing.

”I’ve had no one in the league say anything other than that this is a worthwhile effort,” she said. ”The league encourages the widest participation in the electoral process.”

Zappa said 400 people registered at his recent concert in Boston, and about 380 registered at a stop in Hartford, Conn.

”The only way to change what is going on is to vote,” he said. ”Unless young people get involved, their decisions will be made by people older than them who don’t know or don’t care.”

In 1972, when the age requirement for voting was dropped to 18 years old, Frank Zappa began printing “don’t forget to register to vote” on his LP sleeves. I wasn’t aware that his huge voter drive, which began around 1985, was in partnership with the League of Women Voters. I’ve been thinking about voting in these perilous times, and about Frank Zappa, amongst other things.

Listening to the Looking Backward podcast with Chris Schwarz a few days back, he brought up an issue that I hadn’t heard him reference in any of his books or articles—the right of a workman to own his tools. During the time of the guilds, only “authorized” people could possess and use certain tools. To be truly free, access to tools is important. Frank Zappa famously quipped, “communism doesn’t work because people like to own stuff,” but at the same time, he also railed against the abuses of capitalism and fetishizing property. There really isn’t an either/or decision to be made about this issue. There is, however, a big decision to be made about participation.

I find it completely beyond my understanding that somehow, starting in the late nineteenth century, many anarchists insisted that it was wrong to participate in the voting process. Schwarz is among the contemporary anarchists that abides by this today. Watching another Ken Burns documentary, this time on Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony over the last few days reminded me of some parts of history that I had somehow let go of. The struggle for a woman’s right to vote began first as a property struggle.

I still remember fondly teaching, in first year composition at the University of Arkansas, the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments. It’s an astoundingly powerful document, penned by Elizabeth Cady Stanton for the First Women’s Rights Convention held at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York on July 19th and 20th, 1848. It’s written with a kind of force that should resonate to audiences then and now, and an outstanding gateway to teaching persuasion to writers. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence penned by Jefferson, it provides impeccable Lockean logic for the struggle which began there. The incredible thing is that only one of the signers of this declaration was alive at the time that women finally achieved the right to vote in 1920, as the crowning moment for a movement that began there in Seneca Falls.

The movement didn’t stop there. In 1919, before the amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified, the women of that struggle banded together to figure out how to continue the fight after achieving the right to vote. The new organization formed was the League of Women Voters.

In a democracy, voting isn’t the beginning or the end of the struggle for human rights. It’s simply a pivot point, and an important one at that. What’s the first step to freedom? The right to not be classified as property, e.g., the Emancipation Proclamation. Not far beyond this though, is the right to own property. This was a right that women in New York didn’t have until just before the convention. The New York Married Women’s Property Act was passed April 7, 1848:

Sec. 1. The real and personal property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents issues and profits thereof shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.

Sec. 2 The real and personal property, and the rents issues and profits thereof of any female now married shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband; but shall be her sole and separate property as if she were a single female except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted.

Sec. 3. It shall be lawful for any married female to receive, by gift, grant devise or bequest, from any person other than her husband and hold to her sole and separate use, as if she were a single female, real and personal property, and the rents, issues and profits thereof, and the same shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts.

Sec. 4. All contracts made between persons in contemplation of marriage shall remain in full force after such marriage takes place.

Step one was a hard fought battle—this law made it possible for women to own businesses, like newspapers, to attempt to get the full benefits of civil society. Step two, the vote, took another 72 years. Step three, equal opportunity, stalled in 1982. The history of this battle is full of reversals of fortune, and advances followed by movements backward— losses of rights. It can, and does happen. The only thing that changes that is the ballot.

The thing that struck me the most in the Ken Burns documentary is the voices of those early women voters who proudly proclaimed that they had voted a straight republican ticket. Since that time, the parties have of course exchanged positions. My father and mother generally voted a straight democratic ticket, and my father remembered fondly that he managed to vote for F.D.R. once; he didn’t remain in office long, but at least my father felt like he had made a difference.

I got that same feeling when I managed to vote for Al Franken in my last vote before leaving Minnesota. Then I knew what my father really meant. That particular election was a hotly contested fight with an incumbent, which went through an arduous recount. It mattered, and Al has hung onto that seat and spoken out for issues that really matter to me. It hurts, physically hurts me, when people like Schwarz claim that this sort of civic participation doesn’t matter because they prefer to “opt out” of the system. There is no “outside” the system.

I note with terror that Donald Trump briefly formed the “Lions Guard” to protect people at his rallies, a direct analog to the brown shirts. I had suspected that this was coming. My wife just pointed out to me that the comparison, as far as efficacy goes, must be handed to Hitler because at least he had a coherent agenda. And the first move of any dictator is to suspend elections; first that goes, and soon your right to property disappears. The pathway to human rights can lead both ways. How can anyone opt out?

Home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls, NY. Park Service Photo

Yesterday, my wife and I stood in front of this house. It’s a small house, really. Apparently it was larger when she lived there, with an equal wing with front porch on the opposite side. Just down the street is the Seneca River, just past the falls. We both marveled that besides being such a profound writer, she also raised seven children in this house, and at least one of her daughters continued the fight into the twentieth century.

Voting is central to freedom, not something that you can simply ignore while you dream of a better world. I was amazed to read her daughter, Harriot Eaton Stanton Blatch’s book Mobilizing Woman-Power from 1918. Obviously, it central concern is World War I. The pragmatism of the women’s movement, 70 years on, is well considered:

Let us admit the full weight of the paradox that a people in the name of peace turns to force of arms. The tragedy for us lay in there being no choice of ways, since pacific groups had failed to create machinery to adjust vital international differences, and since the Allies each in turn, we the last, had been struck by a foe determined to settle disagreements by force.

Never did a nation make a crusade more just than this of ours. We were patient, too long patient, perhaps, with challenges. We seek no conquest. We fight to protect the freedom of our citizens. On America’s standard is written democracy, on that of Germany autocracy. Without reservation women can give their all to attain our end.

There may be a cleavage between the German people and the ruling class. It may be that our foe is merely the military caste, though I am inclined to believe that we have the entire German nation on our hands. The supremacy of might may be a doctrine merely instilled in the minds of the people by its rulers. Perhaps the weed is not indigenous, but it flourishes, nevertheless. Rabbits did not belong in Australia, nor pondweed in England, but there they are, and dominating the situation. Arrogance of the strong towards the weak, of the better placed towards the less well placed, is part of the government teaching in Germany. The peasant woman harries the dog that strains at the market cart, her husband harries her as she helps the cow drag the plough, the petty officer harries the peasant when he is a raw recruit, and the young lieutenant harries the petty officer, and so it goes up to the highest,–a well-planned system on the part of the superior to bring the inferior to a high point of material efficiency. The propelling spirit is devotion to the Fatherland: each believes himself a cog in the machine chosen of God to achieve His purposes on earth. The world hears of the Kaiser’s “Ich und Gott,” of his mailed fist beating down his enemies, but those who have lived in Germany know that exactly the same spirit reigns in every class. The strong in chastizing his inferior has the conviction that since might makes right he is the direct representative of Deity on the particular occasion.

The overbearing spirit of the Prussian military caste has drilled a race to worship might; men are overbearing towards women, women towards children, and the laws reflect the cruelties of the strong towards the weak.

Whether the comparison is with the conditions leading to the first, or the second world war, we have no need for another tyrant who places the strong over the weak. The head macho-man himself, Teddy Roosevelt puts it succinctly in his introduction:

No man who is not blind can fail to see that we have entered a new day in the great epic march of the ages. For good or for evil the old days have passed; and it rests with us, the men and women now alive, to decide whether in the new days the world is to be a better or a worse place to live in, for our descendants.

In this new world women are to stand on an equal footing with men, in ways and to an extent never hitherto dreamed of. In this country they are on the eve of securing, and in much of the country have already secured, their full political rights. It is imperative that they should understand, exactly as it is imperative that men should understand, that such rights are of worse than no avail, unless the will for the performance of duty goes hand in hand with the acquirement of the privilege.

I was taught that voting was a basic “performance of duty.” Without that sense of duty, we stand to lose whatever privileges we have gained so far. Being a member of civil society means that you fulfil your duty, even if you may have “a tendency to mistrust organizations.” Without organization, the law would still sanction (as it does in many parts of the globe) women being bought and sold or being treated as the property of a husband.

Tools, Jigs, and Fixtures

I went through a little research tangent a few months ago regarding precise definitions of tools, jigs, and fixtures. As near as I can nail it down, a tool is the device that actually cuts, abrades, splits, or simply impacts the material at hand. A fixture, according to machinist’s encyclopedias from the late 19th century forward, is a device that holds the material while it is being subjected to tools. Jig is a much more difficult term to nail down, from the standpoint of both usage and etymology.

Matthew Crawford, in The World Beyond Your Head, uses jig in an interesting way—when a cook lays out his tools and ingredients in a precise spatial array, he is creating a “jig” for the particular task he is performing. Crawford’s usage seems intuitively correct, although reading and internalizing David Pye’s discussion of “self-jigging” tools in his infamous elaboration of the workmanships of risk and certainty makes Crawford’s unorthodox usage an interesting twist, moving the term jig beyond the use of tools. Just what does jig mean precisely?


Scalia’s re-introduction of “jiggery pokery” into the popular lexicon highlights the dual nature (and root) of the term. Time Magazine’s etymology doesn’t seem completely right:

Editors at the Oxford English Dictionary traced this particular phrase back to the Scottish word jouk, which means to skillfully twist one’s body to avoid a blow—to manipulate oneself like an acrobat. Scalia, in this case, insinuates that his colleagues bend themselves and dissemble in order to work around the truth by misinterpreting words of the law.

Among the Scots, the word jouk led to the notion of joukery or jookery to describe underhanded dealing or trickery. Pawky is another Scottish word, meaning artfully shrewd. A pawk, on its own, is a trick. And by 1686, some inventive Scottish speakers had combined the words in the phrase joukery-pawkery, which they used to refer to clever trickery or slight of hand.

One key feature of this etymology is that movement is featured, i.e. “twisting to avoid a blow.” This would mesh genetically with the received usage of “jig” as a method for guiding a tool, or in Crawford’s usage, guiding action through a placement that facilitates specific movements. What’s missing in this definition though, is that the English had a completely different  usage (and spelling) for “joak.” And, what seems more connected to the matter at hand, a “jig” is also a dance— a rhythmic movement up and down, which connects with the English usage of joak in a rather suggestive way.

Joak, in England and Wales at least, meant female pubic hair. There were many popular bawdy songs like “The Black Joak” from the 17th and 18th century. Joak is also spelled “joke,” as in “The Nut Brown Joke”:

No Magick has so mighty a Force,
Both Person and Heart, for Better and Worse,
In a Circle to lock,
As her Nut-brown Joke
Where Ages are lost,
And Pleasures engrost,
Where Soul and Sense their Paradise find.

Jokes of many colors were popularized in song, a fact that I find quite amusing. Jig, as reported by other online etymologies has a similarly checkered past:

From 1580s as the music for such a dance. The extended sense “piece of sport, trick” (1590s), survives mainly in the phrase the jig is up (first attested 1777 as the jig is over). As a generic word for handy devices or contrivances from 1875, earlier jigger (1726). Other senses seem to be influenced by jog, and the syllable forms the basis of colloquial words such as jiggalorum “a trifle” (1610s), jigamoree “something unknown” (1844), also jiggobob(1620s), jiggumbob (1610s); and compare jigger (n.). “As with other familiar words of homely aspect, the senses are more or less involved and inconstant” [Century Dictionary].

I wasn’t able to confirm that the road that leads out of a mine was also once called a “jig” though I found reference to that a few places, and I also found it interesting that the most extensive discussion of mechanical jigs in the 19th century referred to mining jigs, which were devices that directed the ore over a screen and moved it mechanically to separate material by size. Jokes aside, in every case definitions of jig seem to be connected to movement of one kind or another, lascivious or not.

To this day, prostitutes turn tricks, so the term jig seems to be caught up in a universe of terms that are layered in meanings that may or may not be relevant to the usage at hand. From a craft standpoint, it seems suffice to say that a jig is a device that guides or facilitates the motion of a tool. That’s the best I can come up with, after all that (admittedly fun) research.

For some reason, Scalia’s death reminded me of it all, so I felt compelled to write it down.


Eichten's Cheese and Bison, Center City MN
Eichten’s Cheese and Bison, Center City MN

Someone favorited one of my pictures on flickr this morning. It was a nondescript photo of a package of rohu fish taken at Dragonstar market in St. Paul in 2009. I have no idea why the photo was of interest to them, but I paged through a bit to remember that I photographed a wide variety of fish packages there, during the few months before I left the Twin Cities and moved to Syracuse. I wanted to save a few reminders about the things I loved most about the the place I spent around five years in. I felt more at home there than I’ve ever felt anywhere.

Paging backwards, I found a photograph of a banner on an apartment complex on Dale street advertising an “automatic fish scaler” not far from Dragonstar. Venturing further still down memory lane, I found this photo taken looking back at the highway from Eichten’s Cheese and Bison. The fish photos were well viewed in the seven years or so they’ve been online; rohu fish apparently have been searched for over 350 times. But this lonely bison by the side of the road, just a ways down the road from the Franconia sculpture park outside of Forest Lake (where I used to drive to buy live fish all the time) had only been viewed five times in seven years.

There’s a sort of loneliness to public exposure. I haven’t been taking pictures for a long time, other than little household memories. I guess it’s because no one really seemed to want to look at them anyway. No audience for quirky observations in the real world. People search for what they need rather than having much concern about what other people find interesting.

So much for the “interactivity” of electronic communication platforms. It’s not a platform for self-expression, really. It’s just a place to file things, with the random hope that some stranger might stumble upon them.

Crisis of Confidence

Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do?

First of all, we must face the truth, and then we can change our course. We simply must have faith in each other, faith in our ability to govern ourselves, and faith in the future of this Nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence to America is now the most important task we face. It is a true challenge of this generation of Americans.

One of the visitors to Camp David last week put it this way: “We’ve got to stop crying and start sweating, stop talking and start walking, stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.”

Full transcript

Treating the household as the center of the polis persists from Aristotle to Jimmy Carter and beyond. Jerome Segal points to Carter’s speech for its indictment of the excesses of material wealth and their impact on the psyche of the American people. This speech wasn’t effective at the time, but it’s an incredibly interesting thing to revisit.

As global energy markets are disrupted not by OPEC, but with the overwhelming efficiency and superior technology of American energy companies. We’re producing too much now, and instead of lines at the gas pumps we’ve got falling prices. But we still have, by most measures, a lack of faith in the future.

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our Nation and ourselves.

Familiar Territory

Screen-Shot-2014-03-03-at-5.03.37-PMI’m often a long way behind the curve with movies, and last night we finally watched 12 Years a Slave. It was an odd confluence to watch this while reading the various justifications for slavery in Aristotle, but it was even weirder to figure out that (according to the movie, at least) that Solomon Northrop was from Saratoga, New York. I hadn’t heard of Saratoga, only Saratoga Springs. So of course I had to research it. The Wikipedia entry notes that Northrop owned property in Hebron. Turns out that’s just about 8 miles from my favorite place to buy milk just outside of Salem, NY—Battenkill Valley Creamery.

Apparently, he moved into Saratoga Springs in 1834. However, the businessmen that freed him from captivity were from Saratoga, which is next door. I’ve travelled around there quite a bit and I was familiar with the Revolutionary War battlefield to the south of there, though we just drove through it. I didn’t remember a “city” of Saratoga. Turns out the northeast corner of the town of Saratoga is the village of Schuylerville. Now, the weirdness of all this is that I usually stop in Schuylerville  for lunch when we’re on our way to the dairy, which is about a three hours from where we live.

It’s beautiful country, and I always thought it was an interesting town. I was bit shocked to find this tidbit in Wikipedia:

In the March 25, 1990 issue of The New York Times, writer James Howard Kunstler published a piece entitled “Schuylerville Stands Still”. This piece used Schuylerville as an example of rural “rot and disrepair”, citing unemployment, broken sidewalks, and dented cans at the local mini market, Mini Mart. Reaction to the article from members of the community was strongly negative. Kunstler also used Schuylerville as an example of a town in decline in a chapter titled “The loss of community” in his 1993 book, The Geography of Nowhere.

I never thought of Schuylerville as “nowhere” in any sense of the word. The country around there is simply beautiful, right on the edge of the Hudson. I wasn’t aware of the PCB spill, or any of the contemporary history; I was equally ignorant of the deep history of the area, including Solomon Northrop. My main intercourse with the Saratoga Springs area has been to go to a woodworking show there, and pass through on the way to the dairy. On a trip there not long ago, we drove past the front gate of Yaddo, another feature of the area that I was unaware of until my wife schooled me about it.

My enduring memory of Schuylerville is this. On our last stop there at a really nice local lunch establishment, The Over the Moon Cafe and Bakery, we sat next to an older couple. Slowly, we realized that on our first trip there, we sat next to the exact same couple. They were regulars, and after some chat about how delicious the food was (it really is, the place is well worth a visit), we got to talking about the area. They had a place they wintered in Florida, but had mostly lived in Schuylerville their whole lives. It was incredible to hear the description of all the changes in the town, including previous businesses that had occupied the building we were eating in, and all the places in direct sight.

I admired them so much for being around to see the changes. They had travelled, yes, but they had also simply paid attention to the changes all around them. It was then that I really began to appreciate that in order to understand change you really have to sit still. Travel can always show you differences—when you go from place to place you always notice how different it is from where you were before— but to understand change, you just have to stand still. Standing still is much harder than moving.

That area is simply beautiful. I could really understand why Solomon Northrup would feel heartbroken being ripped from it and taken to the south. The film emphasises the beauty of the South, which I have spent some time in— but where he came from was beautiful too. I just couldn’t shake the thought of just how much he really must have missed it.

Don’t worry about the government

It’s an old cliche among my more conservative acquaintances that the scariest sentence on the planet is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I’ve never seen things that way, and I suppose I owe that to my father. He was no  political revolutionary, by any means, and his experience with “government” consisted of simply trying to be an informed voter. He belonged to a union, and in his younger days did try to serve the union a bit, but he tired of it pretty rapidly. He never wanted to speak for other people. He wanted people “smarter” than him to do all the governing; he wasn’t a fervent individualist seeking endless personal freedoms, although he really did think it was best that the government should stay out of most peoples’ business.

He was proud that he managed to vote for Franklin Roosevelt once before he died. He firmly believed that it was the role of the government to help people; why else would we bother having one? He grew up across the tail end of the Great Depression and really felt that most of the New Deal ideas were good, especially social security. He would have cringed at the thought that wanting social programs, like Head Start and funding for community colleges and public libraries made him a socialist. He was completely fine with the idea of government as an employer of last resort— programs like the WPA built the majority of the infrastructure in this country, and funding that was not what he would have called “socialism.” I suppose the older I get, especially after having studied the New Deal pretty intensely for a time, the more I become like my father. I suppose you could label me a Roosevelt democrat.

When the FSA people showed up in migrant camps and said that they were from the government, there wasn’t the general aura of suspicion we have today. I wish that we could go back to that. Governments are instituted by people to serve people, and it seems weird to me that currently the libertarian and conservative factions find it their job to completely dismantle what protections we do have against the raging capitalist storm that engulfs us. I’m not convinced that capitalism is completely bad, but I do believe that there needs to be a system of checks and balances in place to keep our air breathable, and our roads and services safe. In short, government should help people.

Researching the early days of the socialist movement in the UK (through William Morris) and listening to the rants of the current crop of libertarians, over and over the chants of revolution seem to be the common core. There is no use for incremental change, all change must be revolutionary. My father wouldn’t have agreed, and I don’t think I do either. Opting out of the system, subscribing to “individualist anarchism” or “tea party conservatism” seems like the quickest way to have zero constructive impact on the world. The system which surrounds us may be a large and uncomfortable ship, but jumping overboard really doesn’t seem to me to be a solution.

Apologies for the rant, but as I thread through the writing of many smart people who claim that opting out is the only solution (both contemporary and historical), I feel the need to affirm my desire to be warm and safe in the ship of state.

Social Studies

My father, circa 1975.
My father, circa 1975.1

I’ve rehearsed these stories many times to friends, but I searched and found that I never really wrote them down.  I vividly remember them from high school, around 1974 or 75, I got tossed out of social studies class several times. There were several contentious moments. We were visited by a policeman during one class, and I refused to remain in the room because the man was wearing a sidearm. I didn’t like being around guns, especially when there was absolutely no need for it.2  I’m sure I pitched a fit and left. On another occasion, I got thrown out for arguing with the teacher about Karl Marx.

The cold-war era textbook we were using attempted to refute Marx’s theory of alienation by claiming that the benefits of living under capitalism negated any estrangement from work; we can improve ourselves by working for tokens by which to better itself. I watched my father grow more and more detached from his job in the oilfields every day, despising every moment he had to spend there. He was, for me, a textbook case of an alienated worker. I remember getting really upset to the point that I was simply asked to leave the classroom.

The benefits of capitalism really hadn’t shined down on us with glowing beacons of community as far as I was concerned; my dad wanted out of the system bad. He only survived in it for about three more years.

Work was not something to be avoided for him; he worked hard every day. He just couldn’t stand working for someone else, lording power over him. He took great pleasure in working and improving the five acres of land we lived on; he didn’t enjoy being told what to do by a fresh batch of new college graduates who were working with the new process management computer systems. They understood the electronics and software, but not the mechanics of extracting fluids from the ground.

There was no pleasure in this work, and in the end a $400 a month pension for 40 years of service. Later, I discovered that it wasn’t even possible for me to hope for that. As a retail/management slave I was lucky to simply make it week to week. After retirement, my father gained great benefit from the capitalist system, as an investor— not as a worker. At many points in my life, I have wondered why it’s so hard to simply find good work.


1. My father hated this photo, as did my mother. I always loved it, because it really is what he looked like when he got home from work. It was taken in the dining room of the trailer we lived in while fixing up the old farm house to live in.

2. A year later, after I had purchased my first camera, I refused to tour the county jail in my government class because they wouldn’t let me take photos. I reasoned if they didn’t allow cameras, it wasn’t a place I wanted to see.


Solnit: I feel a great affinity for photographers and I was told gently early on that I wasn’t  good at interpreting paintings and I never had a real affinity for them. You have to get into the cult of painting, both the craft of it and the lineage of it, neither of which interest me very much. Photography and non-fiction feel very close because, as you say, there is a very direct relationship to subject matter, which was taken in earlier eras as meaning they weren’t creative. There is a tremendous responsibility that goes with that. As a photographer I know if I take a photograph of you and I make it public, people will expect it to be true. If I Photoshop it so that you look like you are snorting coke, I know that will impact what people will believe, the historical record, and your life. Therefore I have tremendous creative possibility but I also have tremendous creative responsibility. When that responsibility is seen as confinement it bugs me—when people who are supposed to be doing non-fiction tweak the facts I feel that is a creative failure. You do not have to make shit up or misrepresent what happened to tell a fantastic story that has literary form. You just have to be good at it, be good at your job and let the constraints give you a more interesting solution. Constraint is often read like the word compromise, but there is a way of compromising that is like collaborating, finding common ground, where you serve truth and vision both, and those feed rather than sap each other.

I sense, just beneath the surface of this response, the core of the “Q” question— can rhetoric be defined as “a good man speaking well”? I hadn’t really thought of “truth” as a constraint before, but yes, I suppose it is. I’ve always felt that constraints are often a good thing.

Education of a Woodworker

At the utmost, the active minded young man should ask of his teachers only the mastery of his tools. The young man himself, the subject of education, is a certain form of energy; the object to be gained is economy of his force; the training is partly the clearing away of obstacles, partly by the direct application of effort. Once acquired, the tools and models may be thrown away.

The Education of Henry Adams (2007), xiv

In the author’s preface, Henry Adams sets up a model of the author/narrator as a mannequin, a stand-in that should be discarded once an adequate level of skill is achieved. This device has replicated itself over time, but has frequently been ignored or overlooked. Chris Schwarz, in his first book The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, declares his “anarchist” manifesto with the admonition “disobey me.” It is difficult, however, to discard or disobey his assemblage of a tool kit that he substantiates historically, even annotating it across other authors covering centuries. Just what does “disobey me” mean when all paths, apparently, lead to the same conclusions as he has reached?

I think I have read the opening chapters of Schwarz’s book a few dozen times in the past few years. In fact, I am putting the finishing touches on the sort of English tool chest he describes right now, not because I think it’s the best solution to the problem of tool storage but simply because it seemed  like the right thing to do. He’s right of course, this sort of chest makes a lot more sense once you start to use it. It’s rich with the sort of “economy of force” that Henry Adams was on about. The patience and practice that you acquire while pursuing this sort of project is priceless, really. But the fact that Schwarz looms large as a person instead of a persona obscures the “anarchist” agenda that he seeks to pursue. The more I visit the book, the more I see how he got there. Like his basic tool assortment, Schwarz’s anarchist disposition is an easy journey to support historically.

Right about the time of the first publication of The Education of Henry Adams, at the dawn of the twentieth century there was a basic shift in the perception of “craft” among its proponents. William Morris, a devout socialist saw the onslaught of industrial production driven by capitalism as an evil to be defeated by traditional crafts.  Interrogating the social benefits of “hand” crafts versus machines was a the center of a lot of writing in the late nineteenth century (particularly Hawthorne). However, as the Arts and Crafts movement began to falter in the early twentieth century, socialists were replaced by anarchists (and capitalists like the Stickley brothers) with a more machine friendly stance.

The anarchist Herbert Read, writing in Art and Industry (1949) suggests that Morris was simply asking the wrong question. We shouldn’t be asking if the machines are damaging our society, but rather if the machines can give us the art we need. He thought yes. The merits of individualism/anarchism vs. socialism frequently generate ripples across the discussion; they are models that seem to consistently provide a sort of touchstone to rub. Is this really useful in the long run? I have mixed feelings. As Henry Adams remarks, politics as a practice has always been the systematic organization of hatreds (6). However, as the truism goes, the personal is always political.

For myself, perhaps the strongest urge is always what I’ve come to call the “hunter gatherer” impulse. The draw of The Anarchist’s Tool Chest is its well researched set of tools; most people reading the book, I suspect, use it as a starting point to figure out what tools they should be proficient with. It’s much easier to hunt and gather tools than it is to develop skills, so we gather them up and then and only then attempt to use them. Overcoming the frustration when they don’t work the way we think they should, well, that’s a problem.

Schwarz is really no help there; he and most of the dons of the the woodworking forums online suggest that you simply must have the best tool. There is no substitute. Schwarz, as he so succinctly points out in his book, due to the circumstances of his profession, found himself buried alive in tools. His book is about stripping away those things that he found he didn’t need, including “tool-resembling objects.” For most, readers they’re gathering tools, not getting rid of them.

For some reason though, I just keep coming back to Schwarz’s first book. I’ve read and enjoyed his latest book, Campaign Furniture, and there is much to say about it. But the more I read around, the more I can see why that first book had to happen for him.

Manifestos usually bore me, but for some reason this one doesn’t; it irritates me in the best sense of the word. I constantly wonder if there is a better way to get there. The path that his education follows is fairly straightforward, and in its own way traditional. But I do not think that you can cast away your tools and models once you get there, which makes it flirt dangerously with dogma.