Both Sides Now — The Value of Data Exploration

Over the last several months I have authored a number of stillborn articles that just did not live up to the standards that I set for this blog site. After all, sometimes we just have nothing important to add to the conversation. In a world dominated by narcissism, it is not necessary to constantly have something to say. Some reflection and consideration are necessary, especially if one is to be as succinct as possible.

A quote ascribed to Woodrow Wilson, which may be apocryphal, though it does appear in two of his biographies, was in response to being lauded by someone for making a number of short, succinct, and informative speeches. When asked how he was able to do this, President Wilson is supposed to have replied:

“It depends. If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

An undisciplined mind has a lot to say about nothing in particular with varying degrees of fidelity to fact or truth. When in normal conversation we most often free ourselves from the discipline expected for more rigorous thinking. This is not necessarily a bad thing if we are saying nothing of consequence and there are gradations, of course. Even the most disciplined mind gets things wrong. We all need editors and fact checkers.

While I am pulling forth possibly apocryphal quotes, the one most applicable that comes to mind is the comment by Hemingway as told by his deckhand in Key West and Cuba, Arnold Samuelson. Hemingway was supposed to have given this advice to the aspiring writer:

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself.”

Though it deals with fiction, Hemingway’s advice applies to any sort of writing and rhetoric. Dr. Roger Spiller, who more than anyone mentored me as a writer and historian, once told me, “Writing is one of those skills that, with greater knowledge, becomes harder rather than easier.”

As a result of some reflection, over the last few months, I had to revisit the reason for the blog. Thus, this is still its purpose: it is a way to validate ideas and hypotheses with other professionals and interested amateurs in my areas of interest. I try to keep uninformed opinion in check, as all too many blogs turn out to be rants. Thus, a great deal of research goes into each of these posts, most from primary sources and from interactions with practitioners in the field. Opinions and conclusions are my own, and my reasoning for good or bad are exposed for all the world to see and I take responsibility for them.

This being said, part of my recent silence has also been due to my workload in–well–the effort involved in my day job of running a technology company, and in my recent role, since late last summer, as the Managing Editor of the College of Performance Management’s publication known as the Measurable News. Our emphasis in the latter case has been to find new contributions to the literature regarding business analytics and to define the concept of integrated project, program, and portfolio management. Stepping slightly over the line to make a pitch, I recommend anyone interested in contributing to the publication to submit an article. The submission guidelines can be found here.

Both Sides Now: New Perspectives

That out of the way, I recently saw, again on the small screen, the largely underrated movie about Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 moon landing, “First Man”, and was struck by this scene:

Unfortunately, the first part of the interview has been edited out of this clip and I cannot find a full scene. When asked “why space” he prefaces his comments by stating that the atmosphere of the earth seems to be so large from the perspective of looking at it from the ground but that, having touched the edge of space previously in his experience as a test pilot of the X15, he learned that it is actually very thin. He then goes on to posit that looking at the earth from space will give us a new perspective. His conclusion to this observation is then provided in the clip.

Armstrong’s words were prophetic in that the space program provided a new perspective and a new way of looking at things that were in front of us the whole time. Our spaceship Earth is a blue dot in a sea of space and, at least for a time, the people of our planet came to understand both our loneliness in space and our interdependence.

Earth from Apollo 8. Photo courtesy of NASA.


The impact of the Apollo program resulted in great strides being made in environmental and planetary sciences, geology, cosmology, biology, meteorology, and in day-to-day technology. The immediate effect was to inspire the environmental and human rights movements, among others. All of these advances taken together represent a new revolution in thought equal to that during the initial Enlightenment, one that is not yet finished despite the headwinds of reaction and recidivism.

It’s Life’s Illusions I Recall: Epistemology–Looking at and Engaging with the World

In his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Daniel Dennett posited that what was “dangerous” about Darwinism is that it acts as a “universal acid” that, when touching other concepts and traditions, transforms them in ways that change our world-view. I have accepted this position by Dennett through the convincing argument he makes and the evidence in front of us, and it is true that Darwinism–the insight in the evolution of species over time through natural selection–has transformed our perspective of the world and left the old ways of looking at things both reconstructed and unrecognizable.

In his work, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle, Stephen Jay Gould noted that Darwinism is part of one of the three great reconstructions of human thought that, in quoting Sigmund Freud, where “Humanity…has had to endure from the hand of science…outrages upon its naive self-love.” These outrages include the Copernican revolution that removed the Earth from the center of the universe, Darwinism and the origin of species, including the descent of humanity, and what John McPhee, coined as the concept of “deep time.”

But–and there is a “but”–I would propose that Darwinism and the other great reconstructions noted are but different ingredients of a larger and more broader, though compatible, type of innovation in the way the world is viewed and how it is approached–a more powerful universal acid. That innovation in thought is empiricism.

It is this approach to understanding that eats through the many ills of human existence that lead to self-delusion and folly. Though you may not know it, if you are in the field of information technology or any of the sciences, you are part of this way of viewing and interacting with the world. Married with rational thinking, this epistemology–coming from the perspectives of the astronomical observations of planets and other heavenly bodies by Charles Sanders Peirce, with further refinements by William James and John Dewey, and others have come down to us in what is known as Pragmatism. (Note that the word pragmatism in this context is not the same as the more generally used colloquial form of the word. For this type of reason Peirce preferred the term “pragmaticism”). For an interesting and popular reading of the development of modern thought and the development of Pragmatism written for the general reader I highly recommend the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand.

At the core of this form of empiricism is that the collection of data, that is, recording, observing, and documenting the universe and nature as it is will lead us to an understanding of things that we otherwise would not see. In our more mundane systems, such as business systems and organized efforts applying disciplined project and program management techniques and methods, we also can learn more about these complex adaptive systems through the enhanced collection and translation of data.

I Really Don’t Know Clouds At All: Data, Information, Intelligence, and Knowledge

The term “knowledge discovery in data”, or KDD for short, is an aspirational goal and so, in terms of understanding that goal, is a point of departure from the practice information management and science. I’m taking this stance because the technology industry uses terminology that, as with most language, was originally designed to accurately describe a specific phenomenon or set of methods in order to advance knowledge, only to find that that terminology has been watered down to the point where it obfuscates the issues at hand.

As I traveled to locations across the U.S. over the last three months, I found general agreement among IT professionals who are dealing with the issues of “Big Data”, data integration, and the aforementioned KDD of this state of affairs. In almost every case there is hesitation to use this terminology because it has been absconded and abused by mainstream literature, much as physicists rail against the misuse of the concept of relativity by non-scientific domains.

The impact of this confusion in terminology has caused organizations to make decisions where this terminology is employed to describe a nebulous end-state, without the initiators having an idea of the effort or scope. The danger here, of course, is that for every small innovative company out there, there is also a potential Theranos (probably several). For an in-depth understanding of the psychology and double-speak that has infiltrated our industry I highly recommend the HBO documentary, “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.”

The reason why semantics are important (as they always have been despite the fact that you may have had an associate complain about “only semantics”) is that they describe the world in front of us. If we cloud the meanings of words and the use of language, it undermines the basis of common understanding and reveals the (poor) quality of our thinking. As Dr. Spiller noted, the paradox of writing and in gathering knowledge is that the more you know, the more you realize you do not know, and the harder writing and communicating knowledge becomes, though we must make the effort nonetheless.

Thus KDD is oftentimes not quite the discovery of knowledge in the sense that the term was intended to mean. It is, instead, a discovery of associations that may lead us to knowledge. Knowing this distinction is important because the corollary processes of data mining, machine learning, and the early application of AI in which we find ourselves is really the process of finding associations, correlations, trends, patterns, and probabilities in data that is approached in a manner as if all information is flat, thereby obliterating its context. This is not knowledge.

We can measure the information content of any set of data, but the real unlocked potential in that information content will come with the processing of it that leads to knowledge. To do that requires an underlying model of domain knowledge, an understanding of the different lexicons in any given set of domains, and a Rosetta Stone that provides a roadmap that identifies those elements of the lexicon that are describing the same things across them. It also requires capturing and preserving context.

For example, when I use the chat on my iPhone it attempts to anticipate what I want to write. I am given three choices of words to choose if I want to use this shortcut. In most cases, the iPhone guesses wrong, despite presenting three choices and having at its disposal (at least presumptively) a larger vocabulary than the writer. Oftentimes it seems to take control, assuming that I have misspelled or misidentified a word and chooses the wrong one for me, where my message becomes a nonsense message.

If one were to believe the hype surrounding AI, one would think that there is magic there but, as Arthur C. Clarke noted (known as Clarke’s Third Law): “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Familiar with the new technologies as we are, we know that there is no magic there, and also that it is consistently wrong a good deal of the time. But many individuals come to rely upon the technology nonetheless.

Despite the gloss of something new, the long-established methods of epistemology, code-breaking, statistics, and Calculus apply–as do standards of establishing fact and truth. Despite a large set of data, the iPhone is wrong because the iPhone does not understand–does not possess knowledge–to know why it is wrong. As an aside, its dictionary is also missing a good many words.

A Segue and a Conclusion–I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: Why Data Integration?…and a Proposed Definition of the Bigness of Data

As with the question to Neil Armstrong, so the question on data. And so the answer is the same. When we look at any set of data under a particular structure of a domain, the information we derive provides us with a manner of looking at the world. In economic systems, businesses, and projects that data provides us with a basis for interpretation, but oftentimes falls short of allowing us to effectively describe and understand what is happening.

Capturing interrelated data across domains allows us to look at the phenomena of these human systems from a different perspective, providing us with the opportunity to derive new knowledge. But in order to do this, we have to be open to this possibility. It also calls for us to, as I have hammered home in this blog, reset our definitions of what is being described.

For example, there are guides in project and program management that refer to statistical measures as “predictive analytics.” This further waters down the intent of the phrase. Measures of earned value are not predictive. They note trends and a single-point outcome. Absent further analysis and processing, the statistical fallacy of extrapolation can be baked into our analysis. The same applies to any index of performance.

Furthermore, these indices and indicators–for that is all they are–do not provide knowledge, which requires a means of not only distinguishing between correlation and causation but also applying contextualization. All systems operate in a vector space. When we measure an economic or social system we are really measuring its behavior in the vector space that it inhabits. This vector space includes the way it is manifested in space-time: the equivalent of length, width, depth (that is, its relative position, significance, and size within information space), and time.

This then provides us with a hint of a definition of what often goes by the definition of “big data.” Originally, as noted in previous blogs, big data was first used in NASA in 1997 by Cox and Ellsworth (not as credited to John Mashey on Wikipedia with the dishonest qualifier “popularized”) and was simply a statement meaning “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.”

This is a relative term given Moore’s Law. But we can begin to peel back a real definition of the “bigness” of data. It is important to do this because too many approaches to big data assume it is flat and then apply probabilities and pattern recognition to data that undermines both contextualization and knowledge. Thus…

The Bigness of Data (B) is a function (f ) of the entropy expended (S) to transform data into information, or to extract its information content.

Information evolves. It evolves toward greater complexity just as life evolves toward greater complexity. The universe is built on coded bits of information that, taken together and combined in almost unimaginable ways, provides different forms of life and matter. Our limited ability to decode and understand this information–and our interactions in it– are important to us both individually and collectively.

Much entropy is already expended in the creation of the data that describes the activity being performed. Its context is part of its information content. Obliterating the context inherent in that information content causes all previous entropy to be of no value. Thus, in approaching any set of data, the inherent information content must be taken into account in order to avoid the unnecessary (and erroneous) application of data interpretation.

More to follow in future posts.

Sunday Contemplation — Finding Wisdom — John Steinbeck (Part 1)


John Steinbeck

“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say — and to feel — ”Yes, that’s the way it is, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought.” — John Steinbeck, “In Awe of Words”

John Steinbeck was both one of the most influential voices in American arts and letters in the 20th century, and served as America’s conscience.  Every thoughtful and precise in his use of language, he asserted in the same essay quoted above that…”(a) man who writes a story is forced to put into it the best of his knowledge and the best of his feeling. The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty. A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator. Of course, there are dishonest writers who go on for a little while, but not for long—not for long.”

Few writers have managed to hone their skills and to discipline their minds to the level of Steinbeck.  His steely-eyed and honest observations expressed in his writing cut through the lies that people told themselves about themselves and their times.  Despite attempts by various ideologues of various stripes, his writing defied easy categorization.  This is, I think, because he was a practical man and, as such, this practicality was revealed in his writing.

There are also two major influences in his life that made him what he was.  The first is the place where he grew up, and which informs his great novel East of Eden and his other major works, which was Salinas, California.  Anyone who has been to Salinas and the Monterey Peninsula cannot but help be impressed with the topography and natural beauty of the land, especially as it must have been during his formative years.  Some of the most productive and verdant farmland is found in the Salinas Valley.  During the time of his growing up California was a progressive frontier much different that the bi-polar thinking of our own times.  People tended to be both practical and, if it could be said that they had an ideology, it was mostly based in what has come to be called American Pragmatism in practice and deed, though perhaps not in conscious affect.

The other major influence on his writing occurred through his friendship with the marine biologist Ed Ricketts, who co-founded Pacific Biological Laboratories in Monterey.  From all contemporaneous accounts “Doc” Ricketts was an extraordinary and largely self-educated man.  He influenced not only Steinbeck but also the American mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, and Henry Miller.  His philosophy combined an advanced sense of ecological thinking and a kind of naturalistic Pragmatism in the collection of knowledge and in determining the essence of truth from that knowledge, which both he and Steinbeck labeled “speculative metaphysics.”  His interests were wide ranging, his knowledge of zoology and biology extraordinary for his time, and his thinking clear and straight.  He never made much money, served his country dutifully in two world wars, experienced long periods of heartbreak, tragedy and disappointment, and from all accounts at the time of his death while driving across a train crossing–was content in his condition, and loved his life.  He was beloved and his influence on Monterey and its environs long-lasting.  So influential was he on Steinbeck as both mentor and alter-ego that one can see a slow decline in the writing of the author after his friend’s death in 1948, though he did manage to complete East of Eden.

Of John Steinbeck’s major and most influential works I would list To A God Unknown (1933), Tortilla Flat (1935), In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), the short story collection The Long Valley (1938), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the autobiographical non-fiction work The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (1941), The Pearl (1947), the non-fiction Log of the Sea of Cortez (1951), East of Eden (1952), and the later undervalued Winter of Our Discontent (1961).  Even the lesser works such as Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1947), Sweet Thursday (1954), and the non-fiction work Travels With Charley: In Search of America (1962) all have something important to say to the reader.  In 1962 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature which was roundly condemned by the literary critics at The New York Times in what can only now be seen as an embarrassing bit of vitriol, but it shows that even in their own times great writers are oftentimes undervalued.

This does not mean that we should place Steinbeck beyond criticism.  At his best, when he achieved his own standards for writing, no one could and can touch him for his ability to both tell the story and to both connect and shock the reader.  At his worst he could be preachy and his prose the most purple hue found in the English language.  Still, at its most purple, much of this prose is both beautiful and transcendent; and when he was passionate or angry and wants to make a point he takes you with him.  It was well known that “Doc” Ricketts had a significant library in Monterey that was destroyed during a Cannery fire that also wiped out his laboratories.  Among those works were not only important scientific papers and books, but also a significant library of poetry.  As such, and knowing the connection, we can trace the influence of poetry in Steinbeck’s prose.  Let Faulkner have his due with his obscure prose structure, and Hemingway with his short, clipped sentences.  Reading Steinbeck is like reading a man who knows his place in the vastness of the universe and is still both awed and puzzled by it.

The works after the Second World War and after Rickett’s death, save East of Eden are also, no doubt, lesser ones or are gentle comedies centered on human weakness, and more than a little nostalgia expressed by the author for a Monterey that had long since passed.  One cannot criticize the man so much as criticize the author for taking this path.  There is no doubt that the war that brought us death camps, the unrestrained destruction of entire cities, and suicide attacks affected him greatly.  The later simultaneous loss of both his best friend through death, and his wife through separation and divorce upon his return from Ricketts’ funeral, certainly drove him into a deep depression that lasted for at least a couple of years.  It is no small irony, then, that many of the works which are considered his lesser ones are also among his most beloved, gave him a measure of economic security, and led people to read his earlier, lesser known, and somewhat more controversial works.  At the same time, the lesser works didn’t pander, nor did they compromise his vision.  They are part of the whole.

Part One:  From To A God Unknown through The Grapes of Wrath

At the center of Steinbeck’s novels and writings is the theme of connection.  These connections include the individual’s connection to another, be that “other” family, friend, or stranger, to nature, and to the vastness of the universe.  The struggle with which his characters (and he) grapple are their relationship to the world.  When they do not think and consider these interconnections, acting from a lack of thought and concern, they fail as human beings.  Conflict and tragedy soon follows.

This theme is first encountered in To A God Unknown (1933).  The main character, Joseph Wayne, moves to California as a homesteader after receiving a blessing to strike out on his own from his father, who dies shortly after his departure.  He builds his home in a fertile Nuestra Senora Valley under a giant oak tree.  Mourning his loss and his absence during his father’s death, Joseph comes to feel as if the oak tree has become both the protecting spirit of his father and symbolizes his connection to the land.  He pays homage to the tree and celebrates an annual fiesta at the homestead commemorating its founding.  He soon convinces his brothers to join him in California and they find land adjacent to Joseph’s homestead.  Not long afterward, he convinces a school teacher named Elizabeth from a nearby town to marry him and join him in running the remote homestead and building a family.  The remainder of the story concerns the connections of the characters to one another, and their connection to the legacy of the brothers’ father symbolized in the oak, which also symbolizes their connection to the land.  When one of the brothers destroys the connection to the oak through the intervention of his religious beliefs, the land runs dry and innocents are killed.  Even Joseph fails to understand his unique role in the story until the very end, when only the most extreme measures will restore things to their rightful order.  As such, To A God Unknown is a brave and unflinching book, borrowing heavily from both biblical and Greek mythology.

The next novel Tortilla Flat (1935), presents the life of a group of paisanos (literally countrymen)–people of Mexican-Indian-Caucasian-Spanish background, who reside in a poor neighborhood of Monterey known as Tortilla Flat, about the time just after the First World War.  Both comedic and tragic, the book consists of a series of tests or quests that the protagonists must face in the vein as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  Once again, the theme of connectedness is introduced, but for a group of individuals who become one in the face of a hostile world in which they are poor and a minority, with one goal–to live and enjoy life to the fullest.  In the words of Steinbeck at the beginning of the novel, “This is the story of Danny and of Danny’s friends and of Danny’s house. It is a story of how these three become one thing…when you speak of Danny’s house you are to understand to mean a unit of which the parts are men, from which comes sweetness and joy, philanthropy and, in the end, a mystic sorrow.”  Because they never stray from their connections to one another, the people of Tortilla Flat remain happy and vital, even when one of their own group falls to tragedy.

Recently Tortilla Flat has been criticized for perpetuating ethnic stereotypes.  I think, however, that reading the text itself fails to convince one that this is the case.  Ad hominem attacks on the author’s own ethnicity and background are poorly disguised types of bigotry, separating people of their humanity in favor of ethnic identity.  Much as in the case of Huckleberry Finn, ethnocentric critiques tend to impose on the book interpretations based on a type of prejudice and dogma no less offensive and nonsensical than the type of opinions that attached to the characters by those who did hold such prejudices in his own time.  In the latter case, this reaction caused the author to write a forward in the 1937 Modern Library edition in which he stated: “ did not occur to me that paisanos were curious or quaint, dispossessed or underdoggish.  They are people whom I know and like, people who merge successfully with their habitat…good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes.  If I have done them harm by telling a few of their stories I am sorry.  It will never happen again.”

In Dubious Battle (1936) was introduced to many readers as Steinbeck’s proletarian novel, with charges in later years that he had been influenced by Communists or Communism in its writing.  Once again, however, the novel and the novelist fail to be successfully categorized by this critique (Steinbeck’s own dislike of Communism and Communists personally is well documented), and it has rightfully been hailed as one of his best and most realistic novels.  The story centers on the poor working conditions of the fruit pickers in the mythical Torgas Valley of California, which he based on a real strike among pickers in Tulare County.  Among this discontent come two organizers, Jim Nolan, a young man whose father had a strong reputation for red organizing, and the more seasoned Mac MacLeod.  Both work for “the Party” which is never identified.  Both Nolan and MacLeod infiltrate the group of pickers, who are attempting to organize a strike for better conditions, with the intention of provoking more direct and violent confrontations with the growers for their own purposes.  Here Steinbeck studies the behavior of the people who are soon transformed from a disorganized and vulnerable group of individuals, into an organized group of self-governing union men and women, and then, through manipulation, whipped into an unthinking mob.  The novel progresses in supporting this transformation through the often familiar action and response: the workers organizing, the owners taking stronger and more violent measures, scabs being hired, vigilantes and police attacking the strikers and organizers, and the strikers fighting back.  The story ends on a note of uncertainty as the actions of the Party bring unnecessary death and suffering–and a shockingly orchestrated murder–as the goals of the Party become paramount and disconnected from the needs of the people.  We are left with hoping for the best for the strikers, and for the worst for both the Party and the growers.

Of Mice and Men (1937) today has the distinction of being one of the most censored books in the country and, thus, appears on the American Library Association’s (ALA) list of Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009.  That such a simple and profound story could rouse such ire speaks loudly about the effectiveness of the subject matter and the writing.  What the novel highlights more than anything else is human loneliness and alienation due to the boundaries created by race, class, circumstance, ignorance, and disability.

At its core the story revolves around the friendship between the small, intelligent and self-educated George Milton, and the simple-minded giant Lennie Small.  The men are migrant workers who have found a job at a ranch near Soledad, California, after being run out of Weed due to charges of attempted rape by Lennie’s obsession with stroking soft things.  In this case the soft thing was a dress worn by a young woman, which Lennie refused to let go.  The dream of the two men, which they share, is to earn and save enough money to buy a small farm.  For George the dream will give him a sense of accomplishment and security: to “be someone.”  For Lennie, the farm will provide him countless opportunities to stroke soft animals, especially rabbits.  But we learn very early on in the story that Lennie cannot be trusted not to harm that which he desires.  While they are stopped at a stream just prior to entering the ranch, George, who has become Lennie’s erstwhile guardian, notices that Lennie is holding a dead mouse.  Lennie protests that he just wanted to stroke the mouse and is not responsible for its death.

Upon entering the ranch we meet the rest of the characters–though grotesques may be a more appropriate term to use Sherwood Anderson’s idiom–whom are equally driven by loneliness, but for a plethora of reasons.  The main antagonist is Curley, the boss’ son, a man with an inferiority complex only intensified by the actions of his flirtatious wife who, in the story, has no identity of her own except as “Curley’s wife.”  He takes an instant disliking to Lennie, who he views as an easy foil and target, beating him with impunity at the least provocation.

The other ranch hands mostly keep to themselves except for Candy, a one-handed aging handyman with an aging dog, Slim, the main driver of the mule teams who is a natural leader and befriends both George and Lennie, and Crooks, a black stable-hand.  After Candy’s ailing dog is shot by another, unfeeling ranch hand to put him out of his misery, it is Slim, whose bitch has given birth to a litter, who in an act of kindness gives him one of the puppies.  This act and overhearing George and Lennie’s dream of a farm motivates the men to begin to fight off their loneliness and isolation in forming bonds with one another.  Candy, worried about security in his last years, offers to contribute his life savings toward the purchase of the farm in exchange for living there with them.  Crooks, the black stable hand, offers to hoe a garden for them if he is allowed to join them, seeking a sense of autonomy and self-respect in escaping from his degraded condition.

It is in Lennie, however, that the tragedy, which is the story, eventually returns.  Not knowing his own strength, he has killed the puppy given to him by Slim.  Like clockwork enter Curley’s wife, who seems unaware of Lennie’s mental disability, seeing only innocence.  She confides to the unknowing man-child that she is lonely on the ranch, that Curley is not the supportive man she had hoped he would be, and that she flirts with the men only because of her discontent.  She is preoccupied with her own beauty, seeking to escape her circumstances and seeing the strong man as a possible ticket to her dreams.  It is this one-dimensional factor that leads to death, and a selfless act borne of love that still shocks readers today.

The short story collection The Long Valley (1938) is composed of twelve short stories that, on first reading, do not seem to be completely cohesive or well matched.  But on further reading one can discern a shift in the tone of these stories that were important to his developing themes that were to coalesce in The Grapes of Wrath.  The long valley of the title is the Salinas Valley.  But rather than the somewhat affectionate portrayals of common folk found in works such as Tortilla Flat, we find the darker side to the lives of the people of the valley–if not in always in their actions–in their thoughts and motivations.  Steinbeck, despite the comedy and lack of malice in his writing, was always unblinking in his portrayals of his characters, presenting them without judgment, though the descriptions and consequences of their actions would act as their judgment, sometimes deserved, sometimes not.  The stories of most interest are “The Chrysanthemums”, about a woman who is drawn to an itinerant laborer out of loneliness and insecurity; “The Murder”, about an act of murder committed during an act of infidelity and the consequences, or lack thereof; “The Vigilante”, about the lynching of an accused black man; and the Red Pony stories, about the cruelty of children and the cruelty that is tolerated against animals.

A journal notation during this period probably best summarizes his views up to this point:  “In every bit of honest writing in the world,” he wrote, “there is a base theme.  Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other.  Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love.  There are shorter means, many of them: there is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme.  Try to understand each other.”  Steinbeck sought to understand these characters, which oftentimes were based on true stories, for he understood that a reprehensible as well as a likeable character must at some level be sympathetic if they are to be successful characters, if their stories are to be told straight and true, and if they are to be seen, unwavering, for what they are.  But, more significantly, his belief was that if people understood their interdependence, the connection and interconnections of everyone and everything in the natural world, that such knowledge would make it hard to commit an act of injustice or aggression against another, would make it hard to destroy the natural environment, to destroy the thing that defines our humanity.  Much like Camus, he saw injustice and cruelty as forms of extreme ignorance.  Like Hannah Arendt, he saw unthinking and unremorseful action in regard to another human being as a form of inhumanity–and of the perpetrator denying their own humanity in the process.  To Steinbeck at this time, it is the application of knowledge, thoughtful reflection, and the acknowledgement of another’s basic humanity that is essential to human society.  His books are not free of seeking justice and atonement, but it a justice and atonement borne of righting the ship, of defending what is good and right, in lieu of some punitive action.

This then leads us to The Grapes of Wrath (1939).  Of all of the “Great American Novels”–and there are several–this one stands in stark contrast to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for it is almost like a bookend of an era.  Where Gatsby chronicled the distorted American drive for wealth and prestige at any cost during a time of perceived plenty, The Grapes of Wrath chronicled the reality of day-to-day survival by the common people in the aftermath of that time of excess.  Where Gatsby showcased the grotesque opulence of the upper classes during the Jazz Age, The Grapes of Wrath revealed the corruption and remorseless greed that left the nation a wasteland of human suffering in their wake.

Steinbeck accomplished this by writing the story of the fictional Joad family of Sallisaw, Oklahoma.  He had been writing a series of articles for the San Francisco News about the plight of migrant workers coming to California for work from the region hit hard by the Dust Bowl.  In doing his research he was given individual case histories and reports from the Farm Security Administration, which was a Depression-era public agency formed to provide relief to farmers hit hard by the depression.  He later came to put this information together in development of the book.

The story follows the travails of the Joad family as they are forced by the bank off of their land.  Seeing a bill offering good paying jobs to pickers in California, the extended Joad family loads up all of their belongings and head to California.  Along the way they are largely treated as pariahs.  Once landing in California they find that the promise of jobs was a bald attempt to flood the state with cheap labor.  As such, people become a commodity like a piece of machinery–in actuality less than a piece of machinery–and all efforts on the part of people to exert their humanity, express their displeasure, or attempt to bargain for fair wages is met with oppression and violence.  Perhaps more than any other novel, The Grapes of Wrath demonstrates that even here, in a nation founded on the principles of human rights and human dignity, can treat its own citizens as an alien entity.

In the end, though, there runs a basic optimism in the book among all of the indignities that are chronicled to have been suffered by the Joads, and the other migrants who were part of that wave of humanity.  It is found in the words of Tom Joad as he is about to leave his family to continue the fight of the dead preacher Casy:  Wherever they’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever they’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. If Casy knowed, why, I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ — I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready. An’ when our folks eat the stuff they raise an’ live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.”  At the end of the book, having lost everything, at the end of their tether, it is Ma Joad’s daughter, Rose of Sharon, who provides the book’s last, shocking end.

The Grapes of Wrath was a controversial book during its time, censored and banned in many parts of the country.  But it was to propel public opinion to continue the New Deal policies which were institutionalized to ensure a more equitable distribution of income that would result in a rising middle class, housing programs that created widespread home ownership, price supports in farming, and other ameliorative measures to address the excesses of economic power.  That we have seen the slow undoing of those brakes to economic power, which resulted in another great economic dislocation, has made The Grapes of Wrath both relevant and a cautionary tale to the issues we face today.

Steinbeck wrote about the common people.  His faith was in the native intelligence of those people to figure things out if given the opportunity to both think and understand.  He was no idealist.  He didn’t believe in ideologies that promised nirvana at some unspecified time in the future given just a little sacrifice and suffering today.  Like Jefferson, he opposed all ideologies, religions, and governments that hindered free inquiry.  He chronicled with a steely eyed gaze and an honest writer’s pen everything there was to put down on paper, regardless of how it reflected on humanity.  In the end, the basic decency of humanity won out.  Let us hope that today we learn the wisdom of seeing our common cause as a people–the basic humanity that we all share. 

Holiday Contemplation — Finding Wisdom — W. E. B. Du Bois


”There can be no democracy curtailed by race and poverty. But with all we accomplish all, even peace.”  — W. E. B. Du Bois

This weekend is capped by Martin Luther King’s birthday holiday, so it seems fitting to derive the wisdom from one of the most prominent precursors to Dr. King whose work still influences us to this day.  The photo and quote that begin this post have been on a poster that has followed me in the various I have lived across the United States.  It hung in my office when I taught at the old Navy School in Athens, Georgia.  It hung in my office at the Naval Air Systems Command in Arlington.  It hung in my office at the Pentagon.  And it has hung in my offices since leaving the Navy.

I keep it with me so that I can look at the portrait of the man who penned them, see the quiet desperation in his eyes to be recognized for the man that he is.  I have studied the formality of his clothing and the fastidiousness of his grooming, all outward devices to show:  “look at me, I am a person of accomplishment and intelligence, worthy of acknowledgment and decency.”  I read his words as a reminder of the connection between the two great unresolved issues born into our societal DNA when we were formed as a nation–those of race and class.  We embraced democracy and republicanism, but not so much on these two issues that would threaten the powerful institutions and people that could undermine the whole undertaking.  And so the founders punted them down the road, leaving them to later generations, and to us.

To me, were it not for W. E. B. Du Bois the impact of Martin Luther King’s actions would not have been successful.  King was the embodiment of the emotional and moral urgency behind civil rights.  Du Bois provided the intellectual and ethical foundations upon which King acted.  Political movements often rely on propaganda, but when they only have propaganda and no firm basis in the world of fact to give them foundation, they must either fail or devolve into some great tyranny.  As such, W. E. B. Du Bois was part of the great American Pragmatist line of philosophical thought, which continues to be a powerful force for advancement, progress, and socio-economic change.  All of us owe a great depth of gratitude to W. E. B. Du Bois.

Both Dr. Du Bois and Dr. King came to the conclusion that the attainment of civil rights for African Americans was only one revolution in the chain of American revolutions extending American freedom and the promises inherent in the Declaration and the Preamble of the Constitution.  The first of these revolutions was the original War for Independence which marked the slow undoing of the Divine Right of Kings and the presumptions of lordship and ladyship, which continued with the extension of universal male white suffrage.   The second was the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery.  The third was the extension of the franchise and civil rights to women, who were chattel up until that time.  The fourth was the completion of the work of emancipation to extend full civil rights to African-Americans and other previously disenfranchised groups.  We still see the work of that revolution working today in the extension of human and civil rights to the LGBT community.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, which contained a small free black population for some time.  According to his own autobiographical reminisces in “My Evolving Program For Negro Freedom” published in 1944, his early life and schooling was free of racial prejudice, but he did experience a growing awareness of his own “differentness.”  He demonstrated great intellectual ability and had many friends among the wealthier families of the town. He graduated high school with high honors at the age of 16.  The mother who had nurtured him, however, suddenly died from a stroke.  Finding himself an orphan and with no relative to assist in his desired educational pursuits, the people of the town and his relatives raised the money for him to go to college.  Since he graduated at a relatively young age–and with no financial resources–it was determined by the adults around him that he would work for a season, which he did as a timekeeper for the building of a mansion by the widow of a local millionaire.  There he experienced his first taste of the world of work and labor, and the stratification of society.

Du Bois had selected Harvard as his choice of school but the father of one his friends, the Reverend C. C. Painter, who had worked in the Indian Bureau, had seen the failure of Reconstruction and felt that Du Bois could best apply his intellectual talents to the problem of the American South.  The town thus arranged for him to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, from funds donated by his neighbors and the members of the First Congregationalist Church of Great Barrington.  It was during his time in Nashville, from 1885 to 1888, that he experienced southern racism for the first time, institutionally borne of the Black Codes and Jim Crow, and its de facto racism in societal interaction; both enforced by the threat of vigilantism.

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree at Fisk, he then attended Harvard College back in Massachusetts from 1888 to 1890 by raising funds through his own labor, loans from friends, scholarships, and an inheritance.  He completed a second degree at Harvard in history, graduating cum laude.  It is during this time that he was greatly influenced by the philosopher William James and the historian Albert Bushnell Hart, who were his professors.  It was James who convinced him to change his concentration from philosophy to history in order to make a living.  He pursued additional degrees from Harvard in sociology that was interrupted by some time at the University of Berlin in Germany.

He his first teaching engagement at the African Methodist Episcopal Church-run Wilberforce University in Ohio where, due to his things did not go as well as he had hoped.  According to his interview by Moses Asch in 1961, which informs a good deal of this post, he spent two years there but it was at that point that he received the opportunity that would change both his life and the arch of history.

The Year That Changed History

That year was 1896.  It was the year in which he became the first African-American to receive a PhD. from Harvard with the publication of his thesis entitled The Suppression of the African Slave-Trade to the United States of America, 1638-1870, which became the first volume of the Harvard Historical Series.  It is still considered to be the definitive work on its subject, so meticulous its research and methodology.  In it Du Bois outlines the southern plantation economy, the role of Northern traders and industrialists in the slave trade, and the efforts to eliminate it.

It was also the year he was invited by the University of Pennsylvania to provide a study on the Philadelphia Negro population of the city’s 7th ward.  Philadelphia was a city with the reputation of being one of the most poorly run and corrupt cities in the country.  Despite this widespread acknowledgment, it was the opinion of many of the city’s politicians and citizens that the actions and living conditions of the Negroes in this slum area was the basis of many of the city’s ills.  While it was widely believed that this was the case, there was no scientific basis for the belief.  The University of Pennsylvania could not offer Du Bois a position to teach on the faculty, so they made him as “Assistant Instructor” of Sociology and gave him great freedom to conduct his study, which was his only assignment.

The result was the first sociological study of African-Americans, later published in 1899 entitled, The Philadelphia NegroAside from the subject matter Du Bois’ methods were revolutionary for the time, applying quantitative methods and statistics to derive his conclusions.  His use of bar graphs and charts, delineation of the population characteristics, and the application of empirical methods to the field of sociology were unique for the time, admired, and used as the analogue for similar studies for many years.  Du Bois’ experience in Philadelphia had its challenges.  He was not entirely welcomed by the African-Americans of the 7th Ward, who viewed him with suspicion.  Despite these frustrations, he was able to objectively and scientifically identify the social conditions of the population and offer suggestions at amelioration through education, and overcoming the effects of slavery and discrimination.  Rather than accepting the deterministic sociology of Spencer, Du Bois refuted this quasi-ideological assertion masquerading as science through the use of empirical methods.

In “Strivings of the Negro People,” which appeared in the August 1897 edition of Atlantic Magazine, he outlines the combined weight of slavery and other injustices on African-Americans that came out of his study.  “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships. He felt the weight of his ignorance, — not simply of letters, but of life, of business, of the humanities; the accumulated sloth and shirking and awkwardness of decades and centuries shackled his hands and feet. Nor was his burden all poverty and ignorance. The red stain of bastardy, which two centuries of systematic legal defilement of Negro women had stamped upon his race, meant not only the loss of ancient African chastity, but also the hereditary weight of a mass of filth from white whoremongers and adulterers, threatening almost the obliteration of the Negro home….A people thus handicapped ought not to be asked to race with the world, but rather allowed to give all its time and thought to its own social problems.”  He goes on later that “while sociologists gleefully count his bastards and his prostitutes, the very soul of the toiling, sweating black man is darkened by the shadow of a vast despair. Men call the shadow prejudice, and learnedly explain it as the natural defense of culture against barbarism, learning against ignorance, purity against crime, the “higher” against the “lower” races. To which the Negro cries Amen! and swears that to so much this strange prejudice as is founded on just homage to civilization, culture, righteousness, and progress he humbly bows and meekly does obeisance.”

In these words Du Bois clearly outlines the desired explanation that is defeated by the facts.  These words also expose the artifice in similar writings in our own time such as the execrable 1994 book, The Bell Curve, by Herrnstein and Murray; which attempted to reintroduce the discredited ideas of social Darwinism and racial determinism.  Old playbooks and old cons sometimes find themselves introduced by new cons to a later, less vigilant, generation that has forgotten or never learned about those of the past.

After the University of Pennsylvania, Du Bois received an offer from Atlanta University in 1897 for his next teaching assignment.  There he developed a curriculum dedicated to the “history of the American Negro.”  But it is in Georgia, where for many years lynching averaged one a week, that, in his own description, his emphasis changed from that of “knowledge” to one of advocacy with the lynching of a man by the name of Sam Hose.

Thus Du Bois represented a different set of African-American voices than the reassuring one Booker T. Washington provided to racist society.  Under Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise” that grew out of his 1895 speech at the Atlanta Exposition, the limitations dictated by Jim Crow would go unopposed in exchange for African-Americans receiving the bare essentials of citizenship–not including the franchise or personal safety, of course.  Instead a very basic definition of the concept of education would be provided, and a modicum of economic opportunity.  Washington himself advocated for such an education for African-Americans restricted to practical disciplines in business, education, agriculture, and the industrial arts.

Washington’s rationale was that taking this position was the only acceptable course of action after the failure of Reconstruction.  He feared that a more aggressive stance in white society would only create a backlash that the African-American minority could not withstand.  This accommodationist stand was a Devil’s bargain, of course, and Du Bois saw it as such.  Instead he advocated full equality, but–unlike what he saw as the full assimilationist position of Frederick Douglass in which black identity is completely obliterated in favor of white European norms–one in which black people maintain their ideals and identity in gaining a seat at the table of American society.  This was not black nationalism or separatism, which he vehemently opposed during his lifetime.  It was, instead, the advocacy that the nation in embracing equality had to accept people simply as they were.

The Souls of Black Folk

Thus this was a very fertile and active time for Du Bois.  In 1903 he published his classic, The Souls of Black Folk.  This treatise consists of a thirteen essays and one work of fiction, sandwiched between a foreword and an afterword.  Some of the essays had been published in periodicals previously, but were revised and expanded for the book.  Each of the chapters is headed by a poem by a white author or a passage from a black folk song which he calls “Sorrow Songs,” that has the effect of showing both similarity and separateness.   This is a theme that is common to all of his writings: the two identities of being black in America–both black and separate but American and the same.  “It is a peculiar sensation,” he writes in Chapter 1, “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”

The book begins very powerfully in the foreword in which he lays out the thesis of the book which he labels “The Forethought”:

“HEREIN lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”  — W. E. B. Du Bois, Foreword to The Souls of Black Folk

He describes black people as living within the “Veil.”  This Veil is what separates white from black–the perspective of each toward the other borne from the color line and prejudice–which distorts the way in which the world is viewed: its possibilities, its limitations, its fears.  For African-Americans this Veil is both a blessing and a curse because it both limits them but also provides them with comfort and “second sight.”

In the first two chapters he discusses the effects of emancipation on African-Americans, what it meant to them, and its aftermath.  In the third chapter he takes on the accommodationist stance of Booker T. Washington, carrying on the argument “both within and without the Veil” in the next two chapters regarding education to include the liberal arts in order to create leaders.  This position went on to support his concept of the “Talented Tenth,” the 1 in 10 members of the African-American community that would pursue a classical education in order to write and become active in social change.

The next three chapters concern a historical overview of the slave trade and sociological studies of African-Americans, the negative stereotypes of them that are belied by the facts, and the deleterious effects of segregation, racism, and terrorism from white vigilantism.

He then steps within the Veil and in Chapter X discusses the central and essential role of the black church to African-Americans: it’s organizing principles and characteristics in maintaining black social structure and black hope against overwhelming odds.  He follows this with a heartbreaking autobiographical essay on the untimely death of his small son that explores the meaning of life and death within the Veil and a short biography of Alexander Crumwell, a black Episcopal priest lost in a white world.

Chapter XIII, “Of the Coming of John,” is a fictional work about a black man from Altamaha, Georgia, which lies near the Atlantic coast, who is sent north to be educated and soon begins to become aware of the condition to which he was born.  He returns to his home to work, which he been part of his long term plan, only to find that he is isolated from the world of his people and hated by the white society around him for his education.  A chance encounter with his white playmate from when he was a child, who does not recognize him, results in an act of racial discrimination that hastens his return to Altamaha.  Another encounter in the town with that same childhood friend ends in tragedy.  The last chapter discusses the black music, the Sorrow Songs, which he defends as not simply an artifact from slavery to be discarded, but the only native music of the nation that deserves preservation and continued development.  That this did occur in what today we identify as jazz and blues demonstrates once again the prescience of this powerful mind.

It is amazing to me that Du Bois could, in the space of such a small volume, so effectively sum up the complicated history and sociology of the black condition in America.  It is also a lesson in history that, despite such honest and powerful depictions and arguments, that it would be another 60 years before many of ills about which he writes would not be addressed–and then only with concentrated commitment and persistence, and the additional spilling of blood sacrifice.

From Scholar to Civil Rights Leader

Thus we see the development of a first rate academically-centered mind to someone who is becoming a leading voice of the civil rights movement.  After the publication of The Souls of Black Folk his already sizable reputation blossomed.  He helped to create the Niagara Movement in 1905, which organized to place into action the alternative course from that laid out by Washington.  The next year President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged 167 black soldiers based on the specious allegations of the racist white citizens of Brownsville, Texas, who resented the presence of black troops.  Later that same year in September, Atlanta was overwhelmed by riots by white males, who hunted down, beat, shot, lynched, and raped black citizens, burning their houses and their businesses over allegations of the rapes of several white women–a charge instigated by competing candidates for governor.

The ramifications from these events had both short-term and long-term effects.  Most immediately, it was viewed by the African-American community as a breach and repudiation of Washington’s accommodationist approach, which placed Du Bois and other more aggressive advocates of civil rights at the forefront.  Roosevelt’s action began the long disassociation of African-Americans from their support of the Republican Party, which they had overwhelmingly supported up to that time due to the actions of Lincoln.  This shift was a swift one, coming as it did with the simultaneous abandonment of the party by the progressives toward Democratic candidates in the north, the farm states, and in the west, presaging their long domination of 20th century American politics, combined with Republican Progressives, that revealed itself briefly with the election of Woodrow Wilson, but which overwhelmingly dominated American politics for more than two generations beginning in 1930.

The flowering of Du Bois during this period cannot be completely summarized without taking note of two additional works that he authored that have since been viewed as groundbreaking.  The first was John Brown, published in 1909, in which he traces the roots of Brown’s antislavery views and actions, countering the “Lost Cause” legend promulgated by southern historians who dominated the period, which characterized Brown as either a dangerous fanatic or madman, or both.  The book was largely ignored by his contemporaries not only for its contrary stance but also because, according to one of his biographers, the editor of The Nation, who was working on his own Brown biography, gave it a scathing review.  But it was influential within the civil rights movement, which saw their work as completing the emancipation project begun by Brown.

Du Bois was the first African-American to be invited to attend the annual convention of the American Historical Association (AHA).  At the December 1909 annual conference he presented his paper, Reconstruction and its Benefits, which would become the magisterial Black Reconstruction, published in 1935.  As with his work on John Brown his research and conclusions went well against the grain of the dominant view at the time, which characterized Reconstruction as proof of the inability of African-Americans to handle full citizenship or to govern.  So controversial was his presentation, that laid the blame for the failure of Reconstruction squarely on the inability of the federal government to effectively support the Freedman’s Bureau, the AHA would not invite another African-American to their conference for another 31 years.  In addition, he pointed out that the state legislatures that came to be dominated by newly elected African-Americans expanded the intent and meaning of the Declaration and the Constitution, expanding democratic participation, instituting public education, and addressing socio-economic ills.  Today, with additional research and scholarship–and the passions of the time long since gone–it is Du Bois’ view that is the dominant one in historical interpretation.

By 1910, Du Bois’ position in Atlanta, due to his criticism of Washington and his strong advocacy for civil rights, was in peril.  He then moved to New York and in attending the National Negro Congress he helped to create the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People–the NAACP.  Du Bois specifically the word “colored” in lieu of black to include the hues of all dark skinned disenfranchised groups.  This universal acknowledgement of the civil and human rights of everyone is a theme that was to continue to the remainder of his life, to include his opposition to the European colonial empires.

Beginning that year and for the next 23 years served as the Director of Publicity and Research for the NAACP, which included editing The Crisis, the monthly magazine of the organization.  From there it is very difficult to summarize the life of this man.  So involved was he in effort major issue of the 20th century that one must write about each of those issues in order to fully address the influence and impact that he had on American thought and action.  His giant intellect and amazing perspicacity served not only his cause but the nation as a whole.

His detractors and those who tried to slime him as a radical and Communist, especially on the right during the McCarthy years and under the psychopathy of J. Edgar Hoover, fall away before the achievements and humanity that he demonstrated, his commitment to education and the advancement of knowledge wherever it leads, to human rights, to peace, to democracy, to human dignity.  He passed away on August 27, 1963, in Ghana working on his “history of the Negro,” one year before the Civil Rights Act would achieve his life’s work.

“Where Do We Go From Here”

But the work is not over, which will go against the grain of the many self-congratulatory speeches and editorials that have come to mark this day.  Not simply because of the issues of societal separateness that we still see among the ethnic groups within our own society in places like Sanford, Florida; Ferguson, Missouri; and New York City–and the fear that these differences apparently spawns; but also the tremendous issues of economic inequality that the latest economic revolution–the Information Revolution–has created.

Both Du Bois and King saw the strong linkage between the enjoyment of civil rights once attained and the ability to exercise and enjoy those rights in the economic system.  Thus, we are back to the issue of class, after race.  The fact that recidivist and reactionary groups–using the money power, police power, the surveillance power, and the war power–would turn the clock back, provides sufficient evidence that the democratic experiment and its series of revolutions that have expanded human rights and dignity, must continue to move forward into the economic realm.  Only then can human conflict deriving from the instincts of fear borne of self-preservation and survival be overcome.

To me, just as Lincoln observed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand…permanently half slave, and half free,” so too the contradiction between a political system founded on democratic processes and republican institutions, and an economic system based on a command system build under the presumptive oligarchy of money and power.  It is left to this generation to grapple with this contradiction–all under the shadow of the existential threat of global warming, which has a direct link as well to that issue.  These are the overriding problems of the 21st century.