Hancock Shaker Village © 2013 Jeff Ward

I make it a point to visit historical sites whenever possible. Being in a place, for me at least, often gives a feeling for others that have been there before me. Few places have felt as right to me as Hancock Shaker Village.

The place feels happy somehow, in contrast to other utopian sites like Oneida Community Mansion House. It’s not that Oneida feels bad, it simply feels strange in comparison. It’s hard to talk about without resorting to terms like “spirit” or “essence”. It’s as if the objects, commissioned or made by previous inhabitants, hold something of the character of their creators long after the possessor has turned to history.

It’s a common sentiment. Tool collectors are particularly prone to it; the concept of heirloom tools is based on the idea that these useful objects are more than simple artifacts, they somehow retain a connection with the users and objects that they have interacted with. The worst fate for an old handsaw is to get painted and hung on a wall as a mere decoration.

Reconstructions of old objects, though they don’t have the same aura, still provide a sort of genetic connection to previous modes of thought and being. The feeling of there being something else there, often hazy and receding into the distance even when you’re holding the object in your hand, persists at a guttural level even when to connection is only conceptual. Artifacts, at the root level, are concepts that have been made into facts.

The idea that Shaker objects feel right is hardly unique to me. When you’re working at a lathe or using a spokeshave to shape a curve on a Shaker reconstruction, you just know when the curve is right or wrong. There’s a correctness to the object when done right, as if there’s an essence you’re aiming at.

What deserves consideration is the origin of this feeling: does it strike a chord in the craftsperson or consumer, or is it the communication of some sort of deep historical feeling? I suspect it’s both. There is a paragraph in Marx’s notes on Mill that I quoted earlier that bears revisiting:

Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person. 1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt.

As a craftsperson, making an object objectifies individuality in that there is a specific character to the choices and selections that I have made which reflect my tastes and appetites, not to mention my level of skill and attention to detail. There’s an imperfection to human work, but that isn’t the center, really. It’s a question of what imperfections are tolerated or embraced— a matter of taste. That a craft object reflects a “power beyond all doubt” takes on layers of meaning when it is considered that craft is always embedded in tradition, reflecting not only individuality but tacit social agreements about what is desirable in an object.

Traditional objects reflect power as a social phenomenon, as Arendt has proposed, rather than simply a reflection of personal expression. What is clear here is that it isn’t about individual strength through expression, but rather participation in a social exchange, a participation in “another man’s essential nature” which typifies true power.

2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man’s essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man’s essential nature.

Craftwork, i.e. the production of objects, can affirm common needs making them visible in the form products we surround ourselves with. Recognition of these needs is central, and Marx places the craftsperson in the role of mediator between individual and species.

3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognized and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love.

The basic thrust of this form of direct exchange (as opposed to exchanges mediated by money or the complexities of other intermediaries) is a solidly grounded polis. “Production as human beings” as contrasted with “production as productive instruments” has the character of a gift rather than a social transaction. Bondareff’s argument for the necessary character of individual bread labor was also married to a social commitment to provide bread for others who were unable to produce their own, as a gift commanded by Christian charity. Charity should also be factored into craft labor.

4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realized my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature.

Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature. (Marx)

Certain objects seem to feel right, I think, because we see not only ourselves but rather a plausible way of life in them. It is a form of sociality that is tied to participants that are no longer present, except perhaps in spirit. But spirit is too weak a word for the sort of genetic connection that is possible within craft traditions.

These are objects I can use to feel a part of something larger than myself. These are artifacts that will shape me into the sort of person I want to be, simply by association. The material circumstances of my environment are not chance— they are a choice— driven by a desire to belong.

The acceptance of traditional artifacts is subject to the properties of memory. We hold the objects close, overcoming their uniqueness, using them as tokens where the face of the craftsman has long since worn away. We cannot know the true source, conflated from so many identities, lost with the distance of time.

Artifacts collect scars, they fade, they are repaired and repurposed. Only pedants insist on “authenticity” in artifacts. Most interpolate data as best they can, integrating the personal with artifacts as they become living material history.

Nobody Rules

Indiana Evening Gazette, Feb 21, 1940

It’s always frustrating to show up and vote here in CNY, because although the vast majority of voters are registered Democrats, without fail Republicans secure all the major offices. One of the reasons for that is poor voter turnout, but this year even with record turn out in an off-year election, Republicans still swept the ballots. But every year I show up, and vote against them. It would be great if anybody else were to win. Frequently, the Republicans run unopposed, but that was not the case this year. Ultimately, nobody wins when local politicians are primarily focused on maintaining the status quo. I was reminded of the first election I voted in, back in 1976. Nobody ran, but I voted for Jimmy Carter.

The last presidential election prompted the  resurrection of an antiquated term to describe our present form of government: kakistocracy (government by the worst). What reading Hannah Arendt lately has done for me is point out that there is, indeed, such a thing as rule by nobody. No, it isn’t anarchy or libertarianism (anarchy for rich people). Most people who like conveniences like roads and indoor plumbing (and have thought about it) recognize that some form of the modern state is not only necessary, but desirable.

Power, strength, force, authority, and violence are the core political definitions that Arendt begins from, the modes of rule.

In terms of our traditions of political thought, these definitions have much to recommend them. Not only do they derive from the old notion of absolute power that accompanied the rise of the sovereign European nation-state, whose earliest and still greatest spokesmen were Jean Bodin, in sixteenth-century France, and Thomas Hobbes, in seventeenth-century England; they also coincide with terms used since Greek antiquity to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man- of the one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, and of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy.

After this review, the key concept leaps of the page:

Today we ought to add the latest and most formidable form of such domination: bureaucracy or the rule by an intricate system of bureaus in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could properly be called rule by Nobody. (If, in accord with traditional political thought, we identify tyranny as government that is not held to give account for itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. (137)

Arendt identifies this as the primary reason for the political unrest sweeping the globe in the 1960s. It hardly matters if the bureaucracy is communist, capitalist, or socialist. If there is no responsibility taken, it is tyranny. The “Nobody for President” campaigns were primarily tongue in cheek, meant to drive voter registration and involvement in saying “no” to the status quo. The platform centers on having a “none of the above” option when choosing our leaders. But choosing tyranny seems the stupidest choice of all. Curtis Spangler, Nobody’s campaign manager, states it well:

There is one story I would like to share with you about the media and our 1976 arrival in Washington, D.C. They told us “if we wanted more or better coverage” _then_ “we would have to become more political”. We decided Nobody was an AKA (also known as) for “None of the Above” and should be included on the ballot. We figured if a majority of people voted for ‘None of the Above’ rather than “voting for the lesser of two evils”, it might force a situation where Americans would have to find someone competent to lead them. The media said, “Nobody could argue with that logic”.

Finally, to reiterate, the Campaign was not an endorsement of mass apathy. It was a humorous approach to the elections designed to encourage people to register and vote. (history)

I was happy to see so many Democratic candidates this year. However, without fail the campaigns centered on “vote against the Republicans,” and that simply wasn’t enough. I look forward to voting for somebody again next election.


Hannah Arendt’s discussion of force, when defining vocabulary in “On Violence” is specific.

Force, which we often use in daily speech as a synonym for violence, especially if violence serves as a means of coercion, should be reserved, in terminological language, for the “forces of nature” or the “force of circumstances” (la force des choses), that is, to indicate the energy released by physical or social movements. (143-4)

This sentence packs a lot of complexity in a tight space. Forces of nature are elemental and arbitrary, but in a way different than violence, once energy is released. It occurs to me that one thing that these energies have in common is that they are frequently beyond human understanding and control. But the alternative defining energy, “force of circumstances,” deserves deeper consideration. Citing it in French alludes to a 1963 autobiography by Simone de Beauvoir, with the additional suggestion that the energy released by physical or social movements are potentially beyond understanding and control. I think this reading is fair, given Arendt’s implication that power (also released by social movements/moments) is intelligible and not particularly arbitrary.

Taking the first alternate definition, forces of nature there is the implication of individuated forces (i.e. earth, air, water, fire) making the term potentially singular in nature. The second, force of circumstances  seems more like a plural term although it is expressed as singular. Power is a plural term (humans acting in concert) while strength is individuated as a potential energy of a single human. Such distinctions are difficult to make with force.

If, as we say in Star Wars terms, the force is strong in a Jedi, then in that universe we are speaking of a sort of power similar to that defined by Arendt, but a power that is not human. Recall that Dagobah is a planet of murky swamps teeming with life which Yoda draws upon to perform acts of will. The force, in Star Wars, is a force of life generally beyond understanding and control, except by Jedi masters As such, it is plural without any discernible singular forms.

While I initially found it tempting to argue that force was demarcated by being inhuman in nature, it isn’t possible to embrace that with a Star Wars example. After all, humans are alive too. Looking closer at the Arendt, it seems clear that she sought to include the social aspects of force as well– and if we can concede that there are social forces beyond human control, then accepting this seemingly overlapping definition is still possible.

There are no Jedi here. Force, as a term, represents energy outside human understanding and control, even if it is derived from human instruments (productive forces) or social interaction (political forces). For Arendt, violence is derived from human instruments and ultimately beyond human control due to its arbitrary and often unintelligible results.

Defining power to be of a different category from violence is crucial to the understanding of political states, particularly when most theorists have tended to conflate them. In her lead-in to her definition of these concepts, Arendt cites The Notion of the State by Alexander Passerin d’Entrèves as one of the few who suggests  a separation, though she feels he does not adequately address it:

If the essence of power is the effectiveness of command then there is no greater power than that which grows out of the barrel of a gun, and it would be difficult to say “which way the order given by a policeman is different from that  given by a gunman.” . . .”We have to decide whether  and in what sense ‘power’ can be distinguished from ‘force’, to ascertain how the fact of using force itself presents us with an entirely different picture of human relations,” since “force, by the very fact of being qualified, ceases to be force.” But even this distinction, by far the most sophisticated and thoughtful one in the literature, does not go to the root of the matter. (“On Violence” 136-7)

Suddenly, I am getting flashbacks to all those years of reading Foucault, all those circular discussions of power that never brought me closer to understanding it. Somehow, this makes more sense to me now. It’s couched in a notion of states as the nexus of power (violence, deployed by the state, becomes institutional force, better defined as power) Arendt’s argument is that violence justified in this manner destroys power rather than demonstrates it.

Short version: “Please don’t use the force.”

Who is it deploying the force? Just where is this force/power coming from? People, obviously, but organized as states. That’s a matter for another day.

Means of Production

In classical economics, “Means of production” are the necessary conditions for producing things that do not include financial capital or human beings– together, all three elements are termed “factors of production.” Interestingly, Marx apparently used factors of production interchangeably with productive force (paralleling List’s use of political force). Because Marx and Engels proposed that economics were primary, concern over production was central to their technological theories.

Marxist theory is substantially an instrumental theory in that factors of production include instruments of labor and subjects of labor (raw materials). Encountering this usage, I find myself wondering if it’s actually possible to sort instruments into these niche categories. Recall that Engels had argued that instruments of violence  were the source of all political power; a hammer can be used to produce a house, or to bash in someone’s skull. Given that, are such these terms useable in a coherent manner?

It bears noticing that List’s National System  fed directly into National Socialism as it nationalized industry in the name of the Fatherland, seizing not only the factories but also the raw materials to produce a war machine in the name of political force. Mao and Stalin used Marxist theory to justify deploying their workforce in camps and cooperative farms in the name of national economic force. These developments are part of the reason why by the time Hannah Arendt was approaching her terminology in “On Violence” she chose to avoid the term force to describe this type of means, because force had become synonymous with violence.

Arendt’s vocabulary is attractive because it makes it possible to argue from definitions, which does not seem possible with loose categories like instruments of production and instruments of violence. For example, if we define power as separate from strength then it isn’t possible to talk of the “strength” of a nation-state, because strength is defined as an individual characteristic. Power, on the other hand, could be attributed to the confluence of people working together in the nation-state. Her move to distance violence from either of these categories (by definition) contributes a lot to our understanding of it. However, making the claim that violence is instrumental in nature without clearly differentiating it from instrumental production is a dangerous oversight. I’m discovering that Marx has quite a bit to contribute in this area, if not through a clear frame of reference, through demonstrating just how fraught the terminology is.

Force vacillates between productive and destructive impulses that aren’t teased apart easily. Another aspect is deciding if it is singular (like strength) or plural (like power). Questions for another day.


Alan Gross, my advisor in graduate school at University of Minnesota, frequently accused me of wrestling with pudding. Of course, he also demanded precisely considered and systematic vocabulary for discussing whatever problem/research question at hand. That’s what I find most attractive about Hannah Arendt. The problem is that most terms become slippery under pressure.

Often, people trace the lineage of the instrumental view of technology to Heidegger and stop. Arendt directly cites Engel’s 1877 text, Anti Duhring, which provides a completely different sort of slippage. Why assert that violence requires instruments/technologies? What grounds that? Oddly enough, Engel’s example (taken from Eugen Duhring) is from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as a refutation of Duhring’s completely different definition of force. Recall that Arendt considered force to be a term reserved for elemental/non-human means. Duhring (as cited by Engels) had different ideas:

The formation of political relationships is historically the fundamental thing, and instances of economic dependence are only effects or special cases, and are consequently always facts of a second order. Some of the newer socialist systems take as their guiding principle the conspicuous semblance of a completely reverse relationship, in that they assume that political phenomena are subordinate to and, as it were, grow out of the economic conditions. It is true that these effects of the second order do exist as such, and are most clearly perceptible at the present time; but the primary must be sought in direct political force and not in any indirect economic power. (Anti-Duhring)

It’s pretty easy to see what got Engels upset. He (and Marx) were certain that economics was primary. Engels summarizes Duhring’s position, which he sees as unexplained and unargued:

The whole affair has been already proved through the famous original sin, when Robinson Crusoe made Friday his slave. That was an act of force, hence a political act. And inasmuch as this enslavement was the starting-point and the basic fact underlying all past history and inoculated it with the original sin of injustice, so much so that in the later periods it was only softened down and “transformed into the more indirect forms of economic dependence” {D. C. 19}; and inasmuch as “property founded on force” {D. Ph. 242}, which has asserted itself right up to the present day, is likewise based on this original act of enslavement, it is clear that all economic phenomena must be explained by political causes, that is, by force. And anyone who is not satisfied with that is a reactionary in disguise. (Anti-Duhring)

Engel’s proof that Duhring’s assertions are ridiculous rests on his reading that Friday was enslaved by Crusoe at the point of a gun, a gun that had been manufactured by technological progress brought about through economics. His analysis is fascinating, and of course wraps around to suggest that in the end all carefully wrought political and economic systems can be destroyed by someone in possession of a superior gun. The idea that violence is instrumental, then, at least partially stems from a particular reading/counter-reading of Robinson Crusoe. In detail, Engel’s analysis goes like this:

The childish example specially selected by Herr Dühring in order to prove that force is “historically the fundamental thing”, therefore, proves that force is only the means, and that the aim, on the contrary, is economic advantage. And “the more fundamental” the aim is than the means used to secure it, the more fundamental in history is the economic side of the relationship than the political side. The example therefore proves precisely the opposite of what it was supposed to prove. And as in the case of Crusoe and Friday, so in all cases of domination and subjection up to the present day. Subjugation has always been—to use Herr Dühring’s elegant expression—a “stomach-filling agency” (taking stomach-filling in a very wide sense), but never and nowhere a political grouping established “for its own sake”. It takes a Herr Dühring to be able to imagine that state taxes are only “effects of a second order”, or that the present-day political grouping of the ruling bourgeoisie and the ruled proletariat has come into existence “for its own sake”, and not as a “stomach-filling agency” for the ruling bourgeois, that is to say, for the sake of making profits and accumulating capital.

However, let us get back again to our two men. Crusoe, “sword in hand” {D. C. 23}, makes Friday his slave. But in order to manage this, Crusoe needs something else besides his sword. Not everyone can make use of a slave. In order to be able to make use of a slave, one must possess two kinds of things: first, the instruments and material for his slave’s labour; and secondly, the means of bare subsistence for him. Therefore, before slavery becomes possible, a certain level of production must already have been reached and a certain inequality of distribution must already have appeared. (Anti-Duhring)

Being the kind of guy I am, of course I had to look at the interlude in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe that they insist on pointing at. The course of events that binds Crusoe and “his savage” whom he names Friday is the man’s escape from a group of cannibals, assisted at one point by Crusoe. Crusoe shoots one of the pursuers, nervous that the other thirty cannibals might hear. But he felt threatened because the native had pointed a bow and arrow at him and was about to fire; the second pursuer was laid low by the butt of Crusoe’s rifle. The escapee was grateful:

I beckoned him again to come to me, and gave him all the Signs of Encouragement that I could think of, and he came nearer and nearer, kneeling down every Ten or Twelve steps in token of acknowledgment for my saving his Life. I smiled at him, and looked pleasantly, and beckon’d to him to come still nearer, at length he came close to me, and then kneel’d down again, kissed the Ground, and lead his Head upon the Ground, and taking me by the Foot, set my Foot upon his Head;  this seemed to be in token of swearing to be my slave forever; I took him up, and made much of him, encouraging him all I could. (188)

The gesture, at least the way I read it, is one of fealty. Crusoe interprets it as consent to be a slave; as the native who has been clubbed stirs on the ground, the escapee gestures at a sword at Crusoe’s side and he hands it to him. The escapee then beheads his pursuer, as Crusoe marvels at the ability of the “savage” to wield Western technology. None of the conditions Engels argues from are actually apparent in the novel. Crusoe is barely surviving; he can barely offer even subsistence to his new companion, and only when Friday joins him does he then work out the means that he might enjoy some comforts. Emphasis on the slave dynamic, and superior force are roundly dismissed by Defoe– though Crusoe was initially worried that his companions access to instruments might result in violence, he quickly finds his cares unfounded. Theirs is clearly a political relationship. He is a “slave” through consent, not force.


Trying to work my way through the terminology offered by Hannah Arendt in “On Violence” (1968) because they seem quite useful: power, strength, force, and violence. I got sidetracked searching for an umbrella term to group these terms as, and the closest word I could arrive at was means. The O.E.D. had an interesting obsolete definition of mean, which disappeared just after Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” circa 1616.

A condition which permits or is conducive to something; an opportunity. In early use also plural: conditions or offered terms (of peace). Obsolete.

Arendt is speaking directly to the human condition in “On Violence.” Power is something that is defined as being a condition that emerges from human beings acting in concert. It is not a property of an individual, or a structure, or an apparatus– power is a motive term reserved for specific moments of human beings acting or having the potential to act in concert. This contrasts with strength, which is the ability/potential for individuals to provoke an action or response. Force is reserved as a term used for elemental forces, such as the wind, which cannot be possessed by humans only exploited.

What is interesting to me about the early definition of means is that it conflates with opportunity. Rather than offering the criminal justice proposal of means, motive and opportunity, for a short time, means was taken to imply opportunity. Thus, if people have the power they also have the opportunity– Sí se puede! Yes we can!  

Violence, in Arendt’s reasoning, is the opposite of power. Following Engels, Arendt asserts that violence  requires instruments. This is the intersection with technology, and technological theories. Specifically, weapons of violence are instruments that multiply speed, strength, and reach in order to inflict harm. They have an element of arbitrariness, and inflict harm usually with unpredictable consequences, save one– they destroy power.

To sum up: politically speaking, it is insufficient to say that power and violence are not the same. Power and violence are opposites; where one rules the other is absent. Violence appears when power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance. This implies that it is not correct to think of the opposite of violence as nonviolence; to speak of nonviolent power is actually redundant. Violence can destroy power; it is utterly incapable of creating it. (155)

There is much to think about here. It is tempting to think that the arbitrariness of violence is brought about through the arbitrary nature of its instrumental means– technologies always have unintended consequences, but that would be a logical fallacy. Equivocating technology and violence is dangerous, I think. But it is hard not to wonder if all multiplications of speed, strength and reach (even in, for example, communication technology) aren’t violent in one way or another.

Arendt asserts categorically that violence cannot create or increase power because it promotes disunity. The arbitrary way that communications technologies, in the name of promoting unity, have increased polarization and disunity, promoting distrust and creating variations on a hallucinatory vision of reality makes me wonder if the idea that technology can lead to a better future dubious at best.

Can technology empower people?

I’m beginning to suspect not. People already have the power.

On Violence

Hats on parade
I’ve driven from Minnesota on I-35 across Iowa to Kansas City and then down the length of Missouri to Arkansas so many times in my life it’s hard not to be sick of it. In June 2018, attempting to make things at least a little different, we were going to cut across to central Iowa and down through the heart of Missouri. We pulled off at a truck stop a little north of Ames and a bit past the crash site of Buddy Holly’s airplane (the day the music died). Anticipating arriving in Arkansas through Harrison (perhaps the white supremacist capitol of the midwest), I snapped a photo of a hat display. Krista bought ice cream and pulled out a book to read.

She was working on an essay dealing with digital aggression, and felt that she needed to read “On Violence” by Hannah Arendt. She asked me if I’d like to be entertained, volunteering to read it aloud. I realize that this isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but for us, it qualifies.

Written in 1969 in reaction to the movement toward violent methods in student protests, the essay was amazingly relevant to thinking about technology and a fine gateway into a number of oft recited truisms that I was considering. Assistive technologies are often born during wartime. Oliver Wendell Holmes, in the heart of the civil war, found inspiration in the new forms of mechanical limbs being created in his essay The Human Wheel, its Spokes and Felloes, for example, and Krista’s focus on hearing aids has meant facing how involved Bell Laboratories wartime listening technologies are in these peaceable devices. However, I never considered the possibility that technologies themselves are inherently bound to violence, an idea presented as fact at the outset of this essay.

Since violence– as distinct from power, force or strength– always needs implements (as Engels pointed out long ago), the revolution of technology, a revolution in toolmaking, was especially marked in warfare. The very substance of violent action is ruled by the means-end category, whose chief characteristic, if applied to human affairs, has always been that the end is in danger of of being overwhelmed by the means which it justifies and which is needed to reach it. (106)

“He who lives by the sword, dies by sword,” as the cliché goes. Arendt goes on to also connect violence with arbitrariness; the action of instruments of violence are almost always bound to an unpredictability of outcome. Something can always go wrong. Arendt connects this with violence itself; others have laid the blame for this characteristic on technology. The introduction of technology always has unintended consequences, and frequently technologies simply fail.

Since the end of human action, as distinct from the end products of fabrication, can never be reliably be predicted, the means to achieve political goals are more often than not of greater relevance to the future world than the intended goals. (106)

We left the highway and headed across Iowa towards the center, pausing for another stop near Pella– one of the largest window manufacturers in the country. Big trucks and bleak landscapes. Iowa is flat, and the signposts are artificial landmarks in an indistinct, unnatural terrain.


At the onset of the anthropocene, this was tallgrass prairie. There are no interstate highways, only two lane state roads. As we crossed the border into Missouri, it dawned on me that I’d never been here before. The major highways run along the Mississippi, through St Louis to the east and through Kansas City on the western border. The landscape there is different. Just north of Kansas City there’s a tourist trap dedicated to the outlaw Jesse James, the James Farm– just off of the route I usually took. But closer to the center, it’s greener with a bit more agriculture. Krista noted that they were beginning to mow hay in early June.

Jesse James Ranch

In the nineteenth century, farmers were frustrated by their ability to penetrate the dense sod with wooden plows. John Deere of Illinois developed the steel plow, which allowed the destruction fo the tallgrass prairie to turn it into more “productive” land, which in turn lead to the muddying of the Mississippi river and more intense flood cycles downstream. In the early twentieth century, the boom and bust of flooding had altered the landscape of the entire center of the country, ultimately turning it into a place that people simply pass through on the way somewhere else. Jesse James and John Deere are symbols of two different sorts of violence. Swords and plowshares are violent implements.


Arendt rightly points out that framing history as the progression of one state of being to another created by antagonistic forces rests on a metaphor (rather than a fact) of continuity:

Of course, there are a few melancholy side effects in the reassuring idea that we need only march into the future which we cannot help doing anyhow, in order to find a better world. There is first the simple fact that the general future of mankind has nothing to offer the individual life, whose only certain future is death. (128-9)

Krista continued reading across Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, etc., all the way into Virginia where we visited James Madison’s slave-built mansion. The hay harvest proceeded, apace.


Maud Gonne, three-quarter length oval portrait, with right hand on hip, wearing black dress and celtic brooch cropped, by J.E. Purdy

William Butler Yeats was obsessed with Maude Gonne. It’s hard to imagine/understand the milieu they moved through, cloaked in the mystique of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. But it’s easy to understand, and appropriate his caution to her:

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

Yeats was rejected by Maude Gonne, repeatedly, as he proposed marriage to her across his life. Though it seems a stretch, I feel a similar relation between myself and technology. I’ve always wanted to feel closer to it, but it seems to reject me every time.

Building an electric motor, I think, from a kit
As a kid I loved building little technology-based kits. We didn’t have a lot of money, so these were usually gifts from my eldest brother at Christmas time. My parents primary gift was regular trips to the library, were I entertained myself by checking out a lot of science books (I’m of my own mystical time– we were landing on the moon and such). Science books that I found were the stuff of dreams– publications distributed at low cost to libraries published by UNESCO. Their mission in science education hasn’t changed since they were founded in 1945.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture.

The dream of a better life was always, for me, connected with the positive deployment of science and technology. As a child of the 60s and 70s, I benefited greatly from their efforts. The United States withdrew from participation in UNESCO in 1984, along with the UK and Singapore.

Why? Because the United States wanted no part of The New World Information and Communication Order. “Many Voices, One World,” a report authored by the McBride Commission was seen as a threat to freedom of the press, though it actually was more of a threat to domination of corporate media.  Sean McBride, a nobel prize winner and son of Maude Gonne, chaired the UNESCO committee responsible for the report, which counted Gabriel Garcia Marquez among its members. The phrase suggested that to cure the unbalanced flow of information between developed and undeveloped world, a new order would be necessary. Apparently, this tread on the dreams of mass media, so promoting education worldwide would have to continue without the financial support of the US and UK.

The concerns, rooted in the radical context of the 60s, over the distortions of reality inherent in the selective deployment of news and information, and possibility of the spread of outright falsehoods through limited media were remarkably prescient. It did not escape notice, also, that the entire communications infrastructure of the time was built upon the foundation of military and commercial surveillance satellites. Hannah Arendt’s 1969 proposal that “all technologies are violent” comes to mind here. The third world was getting the short end of the stick, but they would continue to attempt to address the inequalities across the 80s and 90s.

At its core, the idea of equal education and equal access to technology seems to be a good one, and eventually when the radical movement to provide this through government rather than private action was quashed at UNESCO (and, coincidentally, the Internet broke the stranglehold of mass media) the UK and the US found it safe to return financial support to UNESCO in 1997 and 2003. But the romance of technology, especially regarding “equality” seems hopelessly trampled by the march of progress.