Monday, May 21, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr., and His American Dream

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“The assistant director of the Office of Economic Opportunity, Hyman Bookbinder, in a frank statement on December 29, 1966, declared that the long-range costs of adequately implementing programs to fight poverty, ignorance and slums will reach one trillion dollars. He was not awed or dismayed by this prospect but instead pointed out that the growth of the gross national product during the same period makes this expenditure comfortably possible. It is, he said, as simple as this: ‘The poor can stop being poor if the rich are willing to become even richer at a slower rate.’ Furthermore, he predicted that unless a “substantial sacrifice is made by the American people,” the nation can expect further deterioration of the cities, increased antagonisms between races and continued disorders in the streets. He asserted that people are not informed enough to give adequate support to antipoverty programs, and he leveled a share of the blame at the government because it ‘must do more to get people to understand the size of the problem.’ ”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.,
Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)

Martin Luther King, Jr [born in 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia– died in 1968 in Memphis,Tennessee], was a Baptist minister and a social activist, a vocal leader of the civil right movement. In this photo, on March 25, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a crowd of civil rights marchers, about 25,000 individuals in Montgomery, Alabama. This is the culmination of the famous 54-mile Selma-Montgomery March, where marchers left Selma on March 21 and arrived in Montgomery on March 25. (One of the individuals taking part was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.) The King Institute at Stanford University writes: “During the final rally, held on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, King proclaimed: ‘The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man’ (King, “Address,” 130). ” That day has yet to arrive in America, which is hardly at peace with itself. It is a nation beset with violence and hatred and many kinds of social inequalities. As a stark reminder, on another day—April 4, 1968—Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr was murdered, assassinated actually, at The Lorraine Motel in front of Room 306. He was only 39. This is one of those days I will remember, a sad day for a 10-year-old Jewish boy, when hope took a downturn. If this man is to remembered for anything, it is as a man of conviction and hope, who wanted to turn chaos into community. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, one of the few who actually deserved the honour. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: TIME; Stephen F. Somerstein; Getty Images

Albert Einstein: Why Socialism? (1949)

The Capitalistic Society & Alienated Man

Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin at at the Los Angeles premiere of the film City Lights, on January 30, 1931. “Chaplin was the one man in Hollywood Einstein wanted to meet,” the article (“Einstein in Hollywood; April 1931; p. 36) in Photoplay said. Chaplin’s political and social views on modern society are well known. That being the case, I would have liked to have met both men.

In 1949, the noted physicist and humanitarian wrote an article for Monthly Review (May 1949), a socialist publication, entitled Why Socialism? It was republished 60 years later, on May 1, 2009, for good reasons;  I cite the following the salient points from it that Dr. Einstein made:
I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.
For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.
Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.
How true is this last point, as is the complete article. The conman man and woman will find comfort in these words, knowing that what he felt all along was not mere imaginings, but yearnings validated decades ago by such an eminent thinker. Albert Einstein was not only a genius in physics; he well understood society and how it worked, and much better than many current “experts” on the source of our lingering societal malaise: “The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil.”

Well, it has not gotten better in the last 70 years, has it? It has actually gotten worse. Capitalism has now extended its tentacles into all areas of human endeavors: birth, education, work, marriage, retirement and even death. (Funerals are expensive.) Capitalism has become more avaricious; and Man more alienated. The supporters of Capitalism are still many, even found among those it hinders and harms, but they tend to be older.

Capitalism is pertinacious, but it is also pernicious and non-inclusive. This fact alone might lead to the beginning of the end of Capitalism’s rule, notably for those who are born between 1981 and 1996 (“The Millennials”). As many recent articles and studies show, support for Capitalism in America is diminishing over-all. The younger generation of  Millennials hate Capitalism, preferring instead socialism. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].

When a system creates so many poor people, who, despite higher education, remain poor, what else can you expect but a rejection of the system that, in many cases, has shut them out. I could go on and on, but a much better mind than mine has stated it with much clarity and humaneness. You should and can read the whole article that Prof. Einstein wrote almost 70 years ago [here]. I would highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Prophetic Voice of Kindness

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 “There is immense silent agony in the world, and the task of man is to be a voice for the plundered poor, to prevent the desecration of the soul and the violation of our dream of honesty. The more deeply immersed I became in the thinking of the prophets, the more powerfully it became clear to me what the lives of the Prophets sought to convey: that morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement” (1972)

Abraham Joshua Heschel [born in 1907 in Warsaw, Poland–died in 1972 in New York City, New York] is known for his stand against the Vietnam War, for his support of Black Civil Rights—including taking part in the Selma–Montgomery March in 1965—for his scholarship, and for finding the middle ground between the legalism of Orthodox and the leniency of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Heschel was, by all accounts, a most humane thinker and individual, who left a legacy of goodness, thoughtfullness and kindness, illuminated in his teachings, actions and writings, notably in such influential works as Man is Not Alone (1951), The Sabbath (1951), God in Search of Man (1955), and The Prophets (1962). Robert D. McFadden writes for The New York Times (in 1972) about the many parts that made up Rabbi Heschel: “Standing before a class, he was by turns a scholar who could elucidate fine points of the Talmud, a philosopher who could compare the metaphysics of Hegel and Kant and a Hasid, who could evoke the mystery of God's concern for man in tales and parables.” In Who is Man, Rabbi Heschel writes about the search for meaning, never easy but always necessary for thinking man: “The sense of meaning is not born in ease and sloth. It comes after bitter trials, disappointments in the glitters, foundering, strandings. It is the marrow from the bone. There is no manna in our wilderness.” True enough.
For more go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Commonweal

The Eternal Light: Abraham Joshua Heschel (1972)


This is Post No. 2,500.

Abraham Joshua Heschel interviewed by Carl Stern (on December 10, 1972) for “The Eternal Light” (1944–1989) show on NBC-TV.  The interview took place a couple of weeks before Rabbi Heschel’s death (from a heart attack on December 23, 1972); he was 65. The interview was shown on February 4, 1973.
     In a wide-ranging discussion, Rabbi Heschel talks about free will, wonder, discipline, meaning, prayer, the prophets, messianic redemption, God, loneliness, and the “celebration of life.” All serious talk. “Without holiness, we will sink into absurdity. …God is not limited to one nation, one people,” Rabbi Heschel says in this interview. “God is the Father of all men.” It might seem like a paradox, but Rabbi Heschel was both very Jewish and very universal, an understanding that came about by the study of the Prophets and by the life he led. When I watch this interview, I am led to the conviction that Rabbi Heschel is a sincere intelligent humane man. Here is what he said near the end of the interview, which validates this statement: “When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
    The Eternal Light, conceived by the Jewish Theological Seminary, began on radio in 1944, with radio dramas and continued on TV with interviews such as this one in 1952. It was broadcast by NBC as part of its Sunday morning religious programming until 1989. For more on The Eternal Light, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Via: Youtube

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Jean Améry, A Tortured Body, A Tortured Mind

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Jean Améry [born as Hans Maier in 1912 in Vienna, Austria–died in 1978 in Salzburg, Austria]. Amery’s most famous book of collected essays, which he began writing in 1964, in German, is Jenseits von Schuld und Sühne: Bewältigungsversuche eines Überwältigten; Trans: Sidney Rosenfeld and Stella P Rosenfeld), or in English, At the Mind’s Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities, published in 1966 and re-issued ten years later. The title describes so much, including whhat happens when someone has been tortured, as Améry was by the Gestapo. A person who has been tortured forever remains tortured, notably a person of the mind who relies on abstractions and imagination. When the blows of harsh reality strike, immediately his trust in humanity is not only diminished, it is forever gone. Amery writes in “Die Tortur,” one of the essays in the book noted above: “At the first blow…trust in the world breaks down. This other person, opposite whom I exist physically in the world and with whom I can exist only as long as he does not touch my skin surface as border, forces his own corporeality on me with the first blow. He is on me and thereby destroys me. It is like a rape, a sexual act without consent […].” Torture always defeats trust. It might be that one man ruling over another is not humane; torture is its full and complete antithesis, the negation of man. For that reason alone, there is no moral reason that torture should ever be used. Améry killed himself on October 17, 1978; he was 65. Whether his was an act of defiance or of despair, one can never know with certainty; it was, however, an act of a man who had reached his limit. I have not read this book, only excerpts, but it is on my list of books to order. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Patti Smith: Because The Night (1978)

Patti Smith: “Because The Night” (1978) on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” (OGWT), a British TV show dedicated to serious rock music, which aired on BBC2 from 1971 to 1988. The song was written by Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith. Springsteen’s version can be heard [here] in a 1978 performance in Houston, Texas. Fast forward 40 years later. You can watch a version with Smith and Springsteen, at the Tribeca Film Festival at the Beacon Theatre in New York on April 23, 2018, [here]. Of course, this is a love song, and a personal one, Smith completing what Springsteen started to write. Allow me to wax poetic, with a philosophical bent, stretching the song further. The day might belong to business and politics, with all that it entails; the night to love and lovers, with all that this brings. All in ALL, this is just a wonderful rock song.
Via: Youtube

Friday, May 18, 2018

Viktor Ullmann, A Life Composed of Dissonance

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Viktor Ullman [born in 1888 in Teschen, now Cieszyn, Poland–died in Auschwitz in 1944] shown here in this undated photo, perhaps from the late 1920s, but undoubtedly in better times. In an excellent article for the Orel Foundation, Gwyneth Bravo writes: “Prior to his death in 1944, he wrote that ‘[artistic] form’ must be understood from the perspective of Goethe and Schiller as that which ‘overcomes matter or substance [and where] the secret of every work of art is the annihilation of matter through form—something that can possibly be seen as the overall mission of the human being, not only the aesthetic but ethical human being as well.’”
     His life was marked by dissonance, the last few years only more so, but what he did with this material, chiefly what resided in his brain and his heart, is remarkable. One site dedicated to Viktor Ullmann writes: “Viktor Ullmann was transported to Terezín on 8 September 1942. In the squalor of the ghetto he organised lectures, wrote critiques, performed as a pianist, and continued to compose. He created more than twenty works in captivity, including three piano sonatas, songs and choruses, the melodrama The Song of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke based on the poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, and the opera The Emperor of Atlantis, which he did not have time to stage (it was first performed in altered form in 1975, in its original form in 1992). On 16 October 1944 he found himself bound for Auschwitz in a transport which included the conductors Rafael Schächter and Karel Ančerl, the actor Gustav Schorch, composers Pavel Haas, Hans Krása, Gideon Klein, the poet and painter Petr Kien (the librettist of Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis), and many other artists. On 17 or 18 October 1944 Viktor Ullmann was murdered in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.”      For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Orel Foundation

John Berger: Ways of Seeing (1972)

John Berger and “Ways of Seeing,” Episode 1 (1972).  A person's social status changes the way he sees. For example, the wealthy look down and the poor look up. Money can buy many things, material goods and comfort, no doubt, but a sure way to kill any creativity is to become wealthy. There is a reason why, all things being equal, the poorest artist produces the greatest art. A good reason is that happiness and contentment in an individual is the enemy of creativity. One of the great ironies of the modern world is that masterpieces, painted by poor artists, can only be afforded by the wealthy, who would not have given these bohemians the time of day when they were alive. Episode 2 can be found [here]; episode 3 [here] and episode 4 [here].
Via: Youtube

Thursday, May 17, 2018

John Berger’s Way of Being

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John Peter Berger [born in 1926 in London, England – died in 2017 in Paris, France) was, Wikipedia notes, “an English art critic, novelist, painter and poet. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism, Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series, is often used as a university text. He lived in France for more than half a century.” To be precise, he lived in Quincy, the tiny village in the Alps where he had lived since 1973. Berger, who was born into a prosperous middle-class family, was no capitalist, far from it; he critiqued it as an aggrieving force for humanity. Jacob Brogan for The New Yorker writes: “Berger was a committed Marxist—‘Capitalism survives by forcing the majority, whom it exploits, to define their own interests as narrowly as possible,’ he wrote in ‘Ways of Seeing,’ a representative statement that still seems remarkable in a book produced to accompany a popular television series—and his attention to materiality had a political aspect. His writing often focussed on problems of labor; artists, Berger reminded his readers, are actors in the world, each creation a worldly performance. As Robert Minto puts it, ‘Berger takes art out of the sanitizing temples where we store it and drops it firmly back onto the easel, in a messy studio, where a sweaty artist bites her lip and stores her way of looking in an object.’ ”  Like many, Berger saw the brutal side of capitalism, how it dispossess the weak, and how it can make the world ugly, when, for example, to build another unsightly high-rise condo or office tower, it dislocates Man from Beauty. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: The New Yorker

Dead Poets Society (1989)

Dead Poets Society is a 1989 film starring the late-great Robin Williams as John Keating, an unorthodox English teacher at an all-boys preparatory school (Welton Academy in rural Vermont), set in the year 1959. This scene, “Mr Keating’s First Class (the carpe diem lecture),” is how English teachers should teach, and how they ought to teach poetry. “We don't read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for,” Keating says. If only more English teachers today would (want to) emulate Mr. Keating, but timid and cowardly school administrators fail the students time and time again. Instead, students have to sit through boring lectures that even the teachers themselves would find boring if they themselves were students; and then there is the constant testing and exam taking, which only makes marks important and learning subservient to it. Some aspects of education today are no better than they were in 1959, while others are worse. The film was directed by Peter Weir and written by Tom Schulman.
Via: Youtube

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Paul Celan, Poet of Suffering & Sadness

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Paul Celan [born as Paul Antschel in 1920 in Czernovitz, Romania–died in 1970 in Paris, France] was the son of German-speaking Jews, spoke several languages, including Romanian, Russian, and French.  The death of his parents (at an internment camp in Transnistria, then part of Romania) and The Holocaust (Celan was taken to a forced-labour camp during the war) are evident in Celan’s poems, as is the dark, brooding mood of someone who has suffered the kind of losses that he cannot ever recover or even reconcile as acceptable. Such might describe the antithesis of life, a failure of the poet, but how can we judge? Is it not the sensitive souls, who, even if they survive tragedy, carry their sufferings internally and cannot mask it well? (“Death is a master from Deutschland.”) Perhaps, he was courageous for 25 years, and his courage ran out. Celan committed suicide by jumping from the Pont Mirabeau, thus drowning himself in the Seine River in Paris on April 20, 1970. He was 49, leaving behind a wife (Gisèle de Lestrange, a French-Catholic woman from a noble family) and son (Eric, born in 1955). For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].

Leonard Bernstein: Teachers & Teaching (1988)

Leonard Bernstein [1918–1990]: Teachers and Teaching: An Autobiographical Essay by Leonard Bernstein. Learning and teaching are similar words in both German and in Yiddish, thus Bernstein says they are interchangeable. “When I teach I learn; when I learn I teach,” he says rather convincingly. Unfortunately, most teachers fail to understand this essential dictum, and thus they also fail as teachers and probably as humane human beings. Watch the full video. It is a delight, and it is only 57 minutes.
Via: Youtube

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Amedeo Modigliani, and Unconscious Beauty

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Amedeo Clemente Modigliani [born in 1884 in Livorno, Italy–died in 1920 in Paris, France] is here shown on September 11, 1905, before his arrival in Paris, in 1906. Modigliani epitomized the artistic life in its romantic myth, dying at an early age, in poverty, unrecognized. He had only one solo exhibition in his short life. He sold his paintings for restaurant meals and drink. After his death, his paintings became sought after by collectors, selling for tens of millions of dollars. For example, La Belle Romaine (Nude Sitting on a Divan) a painting of a nude, part of a series of nudes Modigliani created around 1917, sold for more than $68.9 million at a 2010 auction in New York—a record then for the artist’s work. A private collector purchased the work. And “Tete,” a 65-cm limestone sculpture was sold for $52.6 million in 2010. Recent works have sold for much more, including Nu Couché (Reclining Nude) for $170.4 million in 2015. If the modern art critics haven’t taken a liking to him, the public undoubtedly has. If some view him as an arrogant individual, it is only an impression that he made, borne out of poverty and a creative child-like view of the world that few would understand, let alone enter. (See here for a list of some of his notable paintings.)  For more, go [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

A Terrifying Life of Loneliness

Social Isolation

I came across an interesting academic paper recently; it is an oft-cited paper on loneliness and its relationship to mental illness, written by Dr. Frieda Fromm-Reichmann [1889–1957], which was originally published in Psychiatry: Journal for the Study of Interpersonal Processes (Psychiatry, 22:1–15, 1959)—almost 60 years ago.

Given what we know about our society, its competitive nature and its alienating harsh uncompromising nature, it is not surprising that it remains highly relevant today. Fromm-Reichmann writes:
The characteristic feature of loneliness, on which I shall elaborate later, is this: It can arouse anxiety and fear of contamination which may induce people —among them the psychiatrists who deal with it in their patients—to refer to it euphemistically as “depression.” One can understand the emotional motivation for this definition, but that does not make it conceptually correct.  
People who are in the grip of severe degrees of loneliness cannot talk about it; and people who have at some time in the past had such an experience can seldom do so either, for it is so frightening and uncanny in character that they try to dissociate the memory of what it was like, and even the fear of it. This frightened secretiveness and lack of communication about loneliness seems to increase its threat for the lonely ones, even in retrospect; it produces the sad conviction that nobody else has experienced or ever will sense what they are experiencing or have experienced.
Even mild borderline states of loneliness do not seem to be easy to talk about. Most people who are alone try to keep the mere fact of their aloneness a secret from others, and even try to keep its conscious realization hidden from themselves. I think that this may be in part determined by the fact that loneliness is a most unpopular phenomenon in this group-conscious culture. Perhaps only children have the independence and courage to identify their own loneliness as such—or perhaps they do it simply out of a lack of imagination or an inability to conceal it. One youngster asked another, in the comic strip “Peanuts,” “Do you know what you’re going to when you grow up?” “Lonesome,” was the unequivocal reply of the other.
The first fact to get straight is that loneliness is not depression, and yet many doctors mistake depression for loneliness. Loneliness is a stand-alone diagnosis. Sadly, this is a truth, an everyday reality, for many people worldwide, from young to old.

If I have written often and periodically about loneliness and social isolation [e.g., see here and here and here], it is chiefly because I think it is a major problem that affects our society, and more so in societies that have undergone industrialization and the adoption of capitalism as an economic system, thus increasing alienation and dislocation of the individual. Such is my current view, and it is not by any means a scientific view, though science might one day validate my ideas on this matter.

Here is a revolutionary thought. Fromm-Reichmann determined, writes Judith Shulevitz, in The New Republic (2013) “that loneliness lay at the heart of nearly all mental illness and that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world.” If you can get a hold of this article by Dr. Fromm-Reichmann, I would highly recommend that you read it in its entirety. You will not be disappointed.

And, equally important, if you think or suspect that someone is lonely, reach out to him or her. You can be saving his or her life, and you might make a good friend, too. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Helen Keller, Political & Social Activist

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Helen Adams Keller [born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama–died in 1968 in Easton, Connecticut], circa 1913, possibly at the International Flower Show, New York City, April 1913. Keller was the first deaf-blind person to graduate from university, having graduated with a B.A., cum laude, from Radcliffe College, at the age of 24 in 1904. The story of how she achieved this is told in The Miracle Worker, about the companionship and close friendship between Keller and Anne Sullivan, the resourceful and demanding teacher who introduced her to education. After graduation from university, Keller became a known lecturer, political activist and socialist, fighting for labour rights among other things, writing in 1911, what is still true today: “The few own the many because they possess the means of livelihood of all ... The country is governed for the richest, for the corporations, the bankers, the land speculators, and for the exploiters of labor. The majority of mankind are working people. So long as their fair demands—the ownership and control of their livelihoods—are set at naught, we can have neither men’s rights nor women’s rights. The majority of mankind is ground down by industrial oppression in order that the small remnant may live in ease.” For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: Smithsonian Magazine; Library of Congress

Sorry to Say, But School Is Boring


“A lack of education is the mother of all suffering.”
Aristotle, Pythagoras 2.31.96 

Most students today find that school is boring, and it has been for some time. [see here and here and here and here]. There are many reasons offered by pedagogues and teachers, but if you listen to the students, they say that there is not enough classroom discussion, teachers lecture (drone on) too much, teaching what is called “for the test,” and there is really too much testing. Such a combination would make any classroom boring. In other words, school has become primarily (if not only) about taking tests. Wow, this is not education!

No wonder that by the time they are in Grade 10, it becomes increasingly difficult to sit there in boredom. I daresay no one could, without any incentive (like money) to do so. Even that might not be enough. Think of all the boring business meetings and conferences you have attended in your life.

There is also what is being taught, which starts in the younger grades. Schoolchildren, for the most part are being taught to serve, Neil Postman writes in The End of Education (1995), “the false gods” of modern education—economic utility, consumerism and technology—all geared to the ideas inherent in American capitalism and its corporate interests, of making every individual into bound, obedient, willing consumers, who know how to “write code.” So can a machine. Or, to be plugged into jobs that companies say will be needed in 10 or 15 years—as if companies (employers) can predict such things. You and I know they can’t.

The “need” for greater specialization in so many fields or disciplines is itself a symptom of a certain way of societal thinking that is itself problematic, lacking an understanding of humaneness, thus forcing people to become narrower and narrower in their thinking. One result is that persons become dispassionate human automatons. An example is the emphasis on STEM education, or in some cases, STEAM (the addition of Art), which my youngest son’s school started to promote when he was in Grade 3. While I myself studied and worked in engineering a number of years ago, it came about on my own, without any emphasis from school, without any programs like STEM or STEAM. This way worked fine for hundreds of years.

Education ought to have a purpose beyond gainful employment, as shocking as this sounds to some people. If information is not anchored in a grand transcendent narrative, such as is found in the Bible, in Great Literary Works, in Art, in Music, in the pursuit of knowledge and a moral education, it becomes discarded eventually as information overload. This is obviously true in science and technology, where new information replaces old, but it is also true (sadly so) today in the humanities (e.g. philosophy, religion, literature, art, music), where you would expect otherwise.

It does not get much better in university, where in the humanities theory has overtaken any love of reading literature or of listening to music, with the result that “the humanities” has become politicized for narrower and narrower interests. The grand narrative and the grand moral vision that long marked the humanities and a liberal arts education has been shelved and forgotten—seen as part of an old social order—as has been the understanding of human moral failings, and what is required to have a humane society. It is hard to find meaning in any modern humanities course offered today, but there is sure enough blame to go around. Students are often angry and disappointed in their education, but they have reason to, since many have been sold a false bill of goods.

Moreover, I do not think creativity can be taught, though it can be encouraged, but not in today’s classroom, which is overly programmed. Which makes me think how much spontaneous fun and creativity there is in most schools, when classroom discussion is limited so as to move on to the next lesson of a government-mandated curriculum. There is also a high degree of conformity in what is expected in the way of thought, which is not surprising given the way society is today structured and the way teachers themselves are taught. Where is the emotion? Where is the passion?

If teachers hate teaching (many do!), and if teachers have no passion for knowledge (many don’t!), students will quickly notice. Small wonder, then, that many kids say school is boring, and understandably so, because the way my oldest son, in Grade 10, describe his day, it seems like he is in a “house of detention.” Shame on the adults, the pedagogues who attend conferences, taking every faddish idea back with them, and yet know nothing about their students, who by mulishness and foolishness are destroying the minds of the young, by failing to properly educate them. School is boring, but education is not. There is a better way. [e.g., see my idea, “A Plan for Education;” April 7, 2015]

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Henry Roth, Happily Exiled in New Mexico

Photo of the Day

Henry Roth [born in 1906 in Tysmenitz, Galicia; and now part of Ukraine–died in 1995 in Albuquerque, New Mexico] came with his parents to America and New York City in 1908. Roth is famous for the Jewish immigrant novel, Call it Sleep, published in 1934, which examines the alienation and the dislocation of the individual in America and his search for self in light of the pulling forces of assimilation and acculturation—and the spiritual cost of freedom. His initial novel, published when he was 28, was drawn from his childhood experiences growing up in the slums of New York City’s Lower East Side, from which he escaped and to which he never physically returned. There was a publication silence for a long time, as Roth the writer had to wrestle with the demons of Roth the man. It would be 60 years before he would publish another novel, the epic four-volume, Mercy of a Rude Stream, the first volume  published in 1994. For most of his adult life, Roth lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, secluded from the East Coast literary establishment, and a good part of that time in a mobile home. If anything, Roth was not conventional, which makes him endearing to more than a few people who are seeking humaneness and forgiveness. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: CNN

Neil Postman: The End of Education (1995)

Moral Education

Neil Postman on “The End of Education” (1995), based on his book of the same name. In Prof. Postman’s talk, the word “end” also means purpose. Such describes the crux of the problem; whatever purpose modern educators have ought to be re-examined in light of what he says in his book, The End of Education, published in 1995. “The preparation for making a living... is well served by any decent education” (32–33). “Here it is necessary to say that no reasonable argument can be made against educating the young to be consumers or to think about the kinds of employment that might interest them. But when these are elevated to the status of a metaphysical imperative, we are being told that we have reached the end of our wits—even worse, the limit of our wisdom” (35–36).
For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Us and Them

Poetry of the Heart

Us and Them
by Perry J. Greenbaum

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Other
Who were always not Us

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Lonely
Who were always Mad

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Strangers,
Who were always Sad

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Poor Ones,
Who were always Bad

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Same Ones,
Who were always Had

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Same Ones,
Who were always ’n-Need

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Same Ones
Who you had to Feed

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being the Same Ones
Who never much Had

It was always
Us and Them,
Them being only Us
Who were always Them

Humans become
Insane or Humane
Then, and only Then,
Them Begins t’-be Us


—©2018. Perry J. Greenbaum

Dan Pagis’ “Testimony”

Holocaust Poetry

Dan Pagis [born in 1930 in Bukovina, Romania—died in 1986 in Jerusalem, Israel]. Poetry International writes: “Pagis reached Mandatory Palestine in 1946, after spending part of his adolescence in a Nazi concentration camp. He was at first a teacher on a kibbutz. He received his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he later became professor of medieval Hebrew literature, the author of eight books of poetry and six volumes of scholarship.” Pagis needed some distance, not only in space bit also in time, to write about the Holocaust, which he started to do with his third book, Gigul (“Transformation”), published in 1970. .I was a shade/A different creator made me. (And millions of others, too.) For more go [here] and [here] and [here].
Photo CourtesyPoetry International & Voices Educational Project

by Dan Pagis

No no: they definitely were
human beings: uniforms, boots.
How to explain? They were created
in the image.

I was a shade.
A different creator made me.

And he in his mercy left nothing of me that would die.
And I fled to him, rose weightless, blue,
forgiving–I would even say: apologizing–
smoke to omnipotent smoke
without image or likeness.

Friday, May 11, 2018

O The Night of the Weeping Children! by Nelly Sachs

Holocaust Poetry

When I first read the poem, I read it as for the children of the Holocaust, a tragic event for Jews, which is what the poet writes about. Then I read the poem again, and again. And again. I realize, then, that as much as this is true for the weeping children of the Holoacust—and I have written about this countless times—the Holocaust was also a tragic event for humanity. Thus, this poem is also for weeping children of all wars, where-ever they are today occurring. There has been too much sadness in the world, and not enough happiness.

O The Night of the Weeping Children!
by Nelly Sachs

O the night of the weeping children!
O the night of the children branded for death!
Sleep may not enter here.
Terrible nursemaids
Have usurped the place of mothers,
Have tautened their tendons with the false death,
Sow it on to the walls and into the beams—
Everywhere it is hatched in the nests of horror.
Instead of mother's milk, panic suckles those little ones.

Yesterday Mother still drew
Sleep toward them like a white moon,
There was the doll with cheeks derouged by kisses
In one arm,
The stuffed pet, already
Brought to life by love,
In the other—
Now blows the wind of dying,
Blows the shifts over the hair
That no one will comb again.

From In de Wohnungendes Todes (1947)
─Translated from the German by Michael Hamburger

Nelly Sachs, Nobel Poet of The Holocaust

Photo of the Day

Nelly Sachs [born as Leonie Sachs in 1891 in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany—died in 1970 in Stockholm Sweden]. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1966, the same year this photo was taken. Sachs had a close friendship with Paul Celan, another poet of the Shoah. The poems speak of the world’s ruin and the insanity of humanity who bring this about. This is completed, the ruination, that is, when the voices of humaneness are silenced, when love is silenced, when the heart grows cold, and when expediency for the sake of expediency becomes the norm. (“We are just following orders;” “The system doesn’t allow it;” “There is nothing I can do.”). All that is left is atonement and redemption. From where and by whom this will come about is an open question. As one reviewer explains: “All of Sachs's writing, with the exception of some light-hearted pre-war poems that she later requested remain out of print, can be seen as a struggle for catharsis in the wake of the horrors of the Holocaust. She stated that she felt compelled to write, describing the creation of her first post-Holocaust works, the poetry collection In den Wonungen des Todes (In the Houses of Death) and the verse play Eli, as a brutally painful process which she was powerless to stop. All of her work is concerned with the themes of sin (particularly human brutality), redemption or atonement, and death as a re-lease from the suffering of life. Her poetry is characterized by rich symbolic imagery, often violent and often drawn from the Bible or the Zohar, and concerned with the phenomenon of voicelessness in an individual, an artist, or a people.” For more, go [here] and  [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Primo Levi, the Italian-Jewish Chemist

Photo of the Day

Primo Levi [born in 1919 in Turin, Italy–died in 1987 in Turin, Italy]. Although I have read a number of books by Levi, my favourite is The Periodic Table, originally published in Italian as Il sistema periodico, in 1975; and translated into English, by Raymond Rosenthal, and published in 1984. The book is beautifully and elegantly written (and translated, as well), an admixture of poetry and science, a book that could only have been written by a man like Primo Levi, who suffered as he did, who had a heart as he did. This is unquestionably the best science book I have ever read, an idea that echoes what many many other writers have said over the years. If you have not read it yet, I implore you to do so. It will change your life; it will increase your understanding and knowledge. For more, go [here], [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy: The New York Times & Gianni Giansanti; Corbis

Born Poor, Staying Poor

The Human Condition

This is Part 2; Part 1 was Careless People(January 24, 2018).


“The millions who are poor in the United Stares tend to become increasingly invisible. … It takes an effort of the intellect and will even to see them.” 
Michael Harrington [1928–1989], an American democratic socialist, 
The Other America: Poverty in the United States, chapter 1, 1962

“In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied in a single garment of destiny. All life is interrelated, and all men are interdependent. The agony of the poor diminishes the rich, and the salvation of the poor enlarges the rich. We are inevitably our brothers' keeper because of the interrelated structure of reality.”
“The Quest for Peace and Justice,” December 11, 1964 

“There are millions of Americans whose suffering, through material poverty and poor health, is as bad or worse than that of the people in Africa or in Asia.” 
Angus Deaton, a professor of economics at Princeton University
& Nobel laureate in economics (2015),
The New York Times, January 24, 2018

There are the stats to consider. I am not going to bore you with too much figures, because these tend to bog down the argument in a sea of numbers, which after awhile become meaningless. I will just give a few salient facts—just five—about what it means to live in poverty in America:
  • Food insecurity: According to the latest government stats from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA, 12.3 percent (15.6 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2016. This consists of 41 million people, including 6.5 million children. The most dire numbers show that “703,000 children (1.0 percent of the Nation’s children) lived in households in which one or more child experienced very low food security.” There are higher rates of food insecurity in the American southern states.
  • Lack of Access to Dental Care: The main point is found in an article (“The tragedy of ‘Mountain Dew mouth’ and the U.S.’s insane approach to dental care;” June 20, 2017) in Salon on how poor oral health affects millions of Americans. More than one-third of Americans do not have dental insurance. “Yet throughout the United States, from remote areas of Alaska and across the contiguous 48, poor people struggle to get access to regular dental care, relying on charity clinics and hospital emergency rooms.”
  • Higher incidences of poor health: The main point to take away is that not only do the poor generally suffer poorer health, but that the poor die young; such is stated in an article (“Why the Poor Die Young;” April 12, 2016) in The Atlantic.
  • Lower educational achievement: The main point is that money can help academically poor students do better. A 2011 study by the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) shows a widening gap between the wealthy and the poor in educational achievement (“The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor: New evidence and possible explanations; 2011); in it, the author writes: The gap appears to have grown at least partly because of an increase in the association between family income and children's academic achievement for families above the median income level: a given difference in family incomes now corresponds to a 30 to 60 percent larger difference in achievement than it did for children born in the 1970s. Moreover, evidence from other studies suggests that this may be in part a result of increasing parental investment in children’s cognitive development.” Simply put, wealthy parents have the means to pay for extra tutoring in subjects like math and science, where students usually have difficulty. This is found in the publication, Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality and the Uncertain Life Chances of Low-Income Children (2011).
  • Lower prospects for a decent job: The main point is that poor people are less likely to both attend and graduate from college, which leads to poorer prospects for a decent job in an economy where education matters. So says an article (“The Growing College-Degree Wealth Gap;” April 25, 2016) in The Atlantic: “Graduates who hailed from households with incomes of at least $116,000—the top quarter—represented more than half of all the degrees awarded in 2014 among 24-year-olds. Students from households that earned less than $35,000—the lowest quarter—represented just 10 percent of all the degrees awarded.” The cost of higher education must be a  deterring factor, even with the availability of grants and scholarships. 
One leads to the other in a downward spiral to the bottom: food insecurity and poor health, including oral health, leads to inability to focus in the classroom, and an inability to get outside tutoring, which leads to not doing well in school, which leads to poor job prospects, etc. You get the picture; it’s not a pretty one. The American system makes success for the poor more difficult, placing more and more barriers to success in their way. The result is already evident after many decades of neglect: the fabric of society begins to tear and then large rips begin to appear. Social unrest does not suddenly appear ex nihilo. Even The World Economic Forum, the place where machers, knakkers and tokhes likkers congregate, has raised the issue in its 2018 report (“Global Risks 2018: Fractures, Fears and Failures”).

I am not here suggesting that the poor are noble, though they can act noble; there is assuredly no nobility in poverty. The poor often act against themselves and their best interests. They make mistakes and often have poor judgement. A cycle of poverty and despair can weaken anyone’s resolve and lead to bad decisions, which often have a negative over-all effect. The poor, I would argue, deserve at least some dignity, which simply means not rubbing their faces in it. Martin Luther King, Jr’s Nobel Lecture (1964) reminds us that both rich and poor are “tied in a single garment of destiny,” that ignoring the cries of the poor imperils the nation in which they live, by diminishing its moral state and sense of justice.

Which leads me to wonder out loud how much has changed in the last fifty years. Things improved in America after Michael Harrington wrote The Other America (1962), which influenced President Lyndon B. Johnson to publicly declare two years later an unconditional War on Poverty. There was initial success until about 1978, and then America in the last 30 years began to regress, regardless of which political party was in power, thereby eroding any gains that the poor previously made. Under the politics of neo-liberalism, The War on Poverty became The War on the Poor. 

After decades of such cruel policies, falling into poverty has become and is now a growth industry, with the number of poor at about 22 per cent of the U.S. population (if we use the same metric as was used in 1962), the same as when Harrington’s book was published and when King delivered his Nobel words. Angnus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, confirms that poverty remains very much a problem in America. As astounding as this is, more astounding is how normalized this has become, as if it acceptable for a wealthy nation to have millions and millions of people mired in poverty, while a small minority are extremely wealthy. 

As to the reason why, the short answer is the nature of American politics, where the poor do not have much power and thus are not heard in the corridors of Congress. The poor are invisible, and if the wealthy have their way, they shall remain in this state for eternity. The actions of the politicians speak volumes; they do evil in the light of day, but do so with deception and duplicity, without any thought of the cruel consequences to the common man and woman, the average Jill or Joe. 

Cui bono? Again, thinking out loud, I doubt that any of these critics of democratic socialism have ever faced poverty; I doubt that any have lived poor with food insecurity for most of their child-hood, or with a parent or both parents worrying about paying the bills for the basics of life like food and shelter; I doubt that any witnessed their father unemployed for long periods because there was no work; I doubt that they worried about getting a good university education. If they had, they would most assuredly think differently about it—being born poor and the suffering it entails.

Poverty in childhood marks you for life. The poor in America are worse off than the poor in Africa or Asia, Nobel laureate Angus Deaton points out above. Such is not an easy statement to accept, but nevertheless true. In the United States, a nation with great wealth, there is accompanying great poverty. The wealthy are presented as good and virturous; the poor as its polar opposite. What are we to make of it? What is its underlining message?

It is hard to understand how the United States, founded on Christian principles, which many Americans say they still follow and cherish, has become as it has become. Jesus himself spoke passionately about the poor and their place of importance in a future messianic kingdom (e.g., Matthew 5;3; Luke 1.46–55; Luke 12;33). His message is as well received today as it was then. 

Oh, they talk a good talk, and they squawk a good squawk. I do not mean here to be unfair to the birds; they are lovable creatures. One lives with us, a beautiful young male cockatiel. It is American Capitalism, unfeeling and unloving, to whom they bow down, to whom they bend the knee and to whom they serve as their god, which they view as noble and true. Since the second half of the 20th century, Christianity has been co-opted by capitalism as it is practiced and worshiped in America; and a few have gotten wealthy as a result.

As for what today’s kings, and what today presents itself as our rulers, the council of the wise, if you will, in democratic nations, and what they ought to do, I am reminded of the Book of Proverbs. The last chapter in fact contains such an admonition: “Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Chapter 31; verse 9). Has not this always been the hope of the poor and despairing ones—for their cause to be judged righteously? Even as I write this, I do not think the poor will find any justice here on earth. Neither will anyone who is not wealthy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Leonard Cohen’s Montreal Was Always Home

Photo of the Day

Leonard Cohen [born in 1934 in Montreal–died in 2016 in Los Angeles] is here pictured, in 1974, sitting on the wooden stoop in back of his home (at 28 rue de Vallieres) in the old Jewish neighbourhood, near the Main and Marie-Anne, and across from Parc du Portugal. While Cohen left Montreal to pursue fame and fortune, which he achieved, afterward he bought this modest home in the 1970s. An article in The New York Times says: “I feel at home when I’m in Montreal — in a way that I don’t feel anywhere else,” he told an interviewer in 2006. “I don’t know what it is, but the feeling gets stronger as I get older.” Fittingly, Cohen asked to be buried in Montreal, where he is at a family plot at the Shaar Hashomayim Cemetery on the slopes of Mount Royal. For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].
Courtesy John Rowlands; The (Montreal) Suburban

The Unloving and Unfeeling Nature of Capitalism

Modern Society

“Economic injustice is perhaps the most obvious evil of our present system. It would be utterly absurd to maintain that the men who inherit great wealth deserve better of the community than those who have to work for their living. I am not prepared to maintain that economic justice requires an exactly equal income for everybody. Some kinds of work require a larger income for efficiency than others do; but there is economic injustice as soon as a man has more than his share, unless it is because his efficiency in his work requires it, or as a reward for some definite service. But this point is so obvious that it needs no elaboration.”
Betrand Russell [1872–1970], 
Capitalism and the Wage System,” Chapter II
Political Ideals (1917)

“We are inclined to confuse freedom and democracy, which we regard as moral principles, with the way they are practiced in America—with capitalism, federalism, and the two-party system, which are not moral principles but simply the preferred and accepted practices of the American peoples.”
James William Fulbright [1905–1995], 
“Speech in the U.S. Senate, ”March 27, 1964

Greed is a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.”
Erich Fromm [1900–1980], 
Escape from Freedom (1941)

In the absence of human love and acceptance, money and power becomes a substitute, obtained under capitalism by faithfully serving its economic goals. Life and decisions become easier, uncomplicated; if for example others stand in the way of the pursuit of achievements and success, you try to defeat them, you try to get there first, you try to get all the money. The world is, after all, competitive and resources are limited. Supporting your simple thought life is a slogan that says “greed is good” and a feel-good idea that says there is no such thing as “economic injustice.” It’s just capitalism, baby!

So, here is the interesting part. Although not always put in such crude words, such a view is one commonly held by a good number of persons in America, even if they themselves are being exploited or on the receiving end of said injustice. This is an absurd belief, no doubt, but capitalism continues to be strongly supported, which says much about the system’s strong-hold on people, who fear any change to it, even if it improves their lot. The truth is that very few will succeed, and effort has nothing to do with it. The system is structured to favour the already-wealthy and their children.

Even so, millions of people try at the exclusion of everything important. When a society is structured like this—and America is only the prime example; there are many others, including my country of Canada—human solidarity, which is not only necessary for society, but also for individuals, becomes eroded. Friendship is a good example of social solidarity. Many men today have forgotten about, even denying themselves, friendship in pursuit of financial goals. They have, in effect, traded love, friendship and solidarity for the pursuit of money, often doing so with an insatiable appetite. This is akin to a man eating a large meal alone in a restaurant.

Whether it is greed or gluttony, excesses have long been rewarded in America, hence the poor state of affairs, making America an unhealthy divided nation, where greed is rewarded and economic injustice is ignored. In The Art of Loving, published in 1956, Fromm states such a truth, one that is still true and even more relevant today than when it was written, because we have moved further away from the individual and the solidarity of individuals that makes up a well-functioning society. The individual has been subsumed, and in his place is the automaton:
Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves. All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function. If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place.
The economic machine must serve him, rather than he serve it. He must be enabled to share experience, to share work, rather than, at best, share in profits. Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it. If it is true, as I have tried to show, that love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problem of human existence, then any society which excludes, relatively, the development of love, must in the long run perish of its own contradiction with the basic necessities of human nature.” 
The system, however, has not perished, but has become emboldened and stronger, despite the inherent contradictions. It is strong and it survives, but survival does not mean that it is humane, nor excellent nor even good. Despite it being only an economic system, capitalism has been made into a virtue, a noble belief system, notably in America.

It is true that a few can and do live by such a harsh and unforgiving system, but many good and hard-working individuals cannot, many sensitive, intelligent and creative souls cannot. It is understandable that all beliefs fail when they serve only the few instead of the many. Such is the case of American Capitalism. It has contributed to much unhappiness, disappointments and mental breakdowns, without acknowledging its responsibility in the matter.

It has contributed to health problems and a litany of social ills, including making or compelling people to be cruel, nasty and inhumane in the service of the economic machine. Every year, studies show that most Americans hate their jobs. It is the same year after year. People who hate their jobs have difficulty hiding it, and it comes out when serving customers and clients. It has infused and infected every aspect of life in America, not only business and politics where it predominates, but also schools, sports, hospitals, and homes. It has made intelligent people stupid; and honest people into liars.

The sane, who criticize the staus quo, American Capitalism, as greatly contributing to poor mental health, depression and loneliness, are viewed as malcontents and curmudgeons and, of course, mentally unfit. (“They are just not tough enough.”) In short, such persons, if they are deemed still useful are often managed with a patronizing pat on the back reserved for the dull-witted and the imbecile. The rest are medicated or ignored.

There is no forgiveness in American Capitalism; there is no love in American Capitalism; it is but an unfeeling automaton. When I was young and naive, I used to favour capitalism, even the American kind; then as I got older I saw what it does to people, and how people suffer, often unfairly and unjustly. My heart became alive, and I, too, began to change my thinking. An unease and a dissatisfaction with the staus quo then set in. In other words, I became human.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman an American Dream

Photo of The Day

“The tragic right is a condition of life, a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself. The wrong is the condition which suppresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct. Tragedy enlightens—and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man’s freedom. The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts. The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies. In no way is the common man debarred from such thoughts or such actions.”

Arthur MillerTragedy and the Common Man (1949)

Arthur Asher Miller [born in 1915 in Harlem, New York City–died in 2005 in Roxbury, Connecticut] with Marilyn Monroe [born Norma Jeane Mortenson; 1926–1962] circa 1950s. Miller and Monroe were married for five years, between 1956 and 1961; she converted to Judaism to become part of the family. Monroe no doubt is a tragic figure, who wanted freedom and love while living in a capitalistic system devoted to neither, which is what Miller’s plays are primarily about. Death of a Salesman (1949), All My Sons (1947) and The Crucible (1953) are the three stage dramas that I remember most by Miller, and I remember them in that particular order. I suspect that many readers of literary dramas tend to name these three, although the order might differ, as most memorable. Who could ever forget Willy Loman?  He is not high-born, but low-born, the representative of the common man as the tragic figure, an idea that Miller wrote about in an essay, Tragedy and the Common Man (1949). I here cite the last line in this essay: “It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possibly lead in our time-the heart and spirit of the average man.” This is what makes Miller's plays so memorable and moral and humane; it about the common man’s search for dignity. The search is always difficult and filled with unbearable sadness, but it is also heroic. One can’t run away from sadness. Lee J. Cobb [born Leo Jacoby] was the first Willy Loman; the play opened at The Morosco on February 10, 1949.  For more, go [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here] and [here].