The Ozarks bear some resemblance to their cultural cousin southern Appalachia and to any other spot where poor white Americans live on soil too rocky to farm. These lands get lumped into what demographers call Southern Highland culture—a nice term for “hillbilly.” People hunt and fish, quilt and crochet, weave baskets and can summer vegetables, and play banjos and dulcimers. Of course, the modern world is mixed in: Hillbillies also drive Fords, eat McDonald’s, and own iPhones. But there is a sense that no one here has stopped relying on the land. The handicrafts celebrated in museums weren’t revived by young hipsters; they’ve been practiced in an unbroken chain.
What sets the Ozarks apart from other hill country is a trait of the early 19th-century generation that first settled there.
What sets the Ozarks apart from other hill country is a trait of the early 19th-century generation that first settled there. All that rich farmland farther west, being taken by the government and sold at a discount to white Americans? Ozark settlers never made it that far. Tired and scared, they didn’t so much settle as stop. From the start, the Ozark spirit was passive, nagged by a vague feeling that life was beyond control: Sit down, and wait for the black sadness to settle in. The folksongs are about hard times, dead children, and men and women murdered for love. Peaks and hollows—like Petit Jean Mountain and Goodnight Hollow, are named after little kids lost in the woods. Though people worship God, they are obsessed with the devil and warn of the spooky caves he dwells in.
As a person of undefined faith, it’s not my place to advise the Catholic Church on the direction and type of man they should elect, but this could be a great opportunity to advance the modern world. I hope the new Pope can see women as equals and LBGT as people worthy of recognition as human beings like the rest of us. The Church could take the lead and advance a new age of religious enlightenment, or follow the current trend of fundamentalism which is separating us from science, common sense and each other.
… in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
Finding myself for three or four months at a loose end on the island of Jersey, a tax haven in the English Channel, I decided to go into the archives and write a short book about three murders that took place there in as many months between December 1845 and February 1846, including that of the only policemen ever to have been done to death on the island, George Le Cronier. He was stabbed by the keeper of a brothel known as Mulberry Cottage, Madame Le Gendre, who, a true professional, struck upwards rather than downwards with her specially sharpened knife, exclaiming expressively as she did so, “Là!” Le Cronier staggered outside and said to his fellow policeman, Henri-Manuel Luce, “Oh mon garçon, je suis stabbé!” (the language of most people of the natives of the island at that time being a patois). He died a day later, and Madame Le Gendre was transported to Van Diemen’s Land for life, outraging the righteous residents of Jersey with the elegance of her dress as she left the island, never to return.
Among the books I consulted in my researches in the library of the Société jersiaise was La lyre exilée, a book of poems published in 1847 by a French exile to the island, L. D. Hurel. All that I was able to find out about him (Hurel was a pseudonym) was that he arrived several years before the most famous French exile to Jersey, Victor Hugo; the reasons for his exile are unknown.
La lyre exilée contained a funeral ode to Le Cronier, as well as an ode to the abolition of the death penalty. Hurel published the former ode separately just after the murder, when feelings ran high on the island; according to the author, it sold out in two editions of two thousand copies each, which means that one in twelve of the population bought it.
Having left the island, and now writing the book, I discovered that my notes from La lyre exilée were incomplete and I needed to consult it again. Where could I go to do so? Books don’t come much more obscure: there were only twelve copies known in the world. (It is what the sellers of antiquarian books call very scarce, without ever letting on that people who are interested in it are scarcer still.) To return to Jersey was out of the question; then I discovered to my surprise, and initial pleasure, that the book had been digitized. I could consult it without leaving my study, without even shifting in my chair. I was briefly reconciled with and to the modern world.
Soon, however, my pleasure gave way to a melancholy, an unease, and even a slight bitterness. If a book as obscure as La lyre exilée were available online, did it not herald the extinction of the book itself, an article rendered redundant like the goose quills of old or fine sand to dry ink on paper?
Once the Wild Is Gone: Nature Conservation Is Still Obsessed With the Pristine. It Needs to Learn to Love This Mongrel World
The scene could have been repeated in a thousand protected areas in Africa: a small line of visitors walking carefully in the savannah, accompanied by a local game guard with a rifle. We were approaching an old female elephant on foot, in an area set aside for wildlife in a remote corner of the Zambezi Valley. I had seen plenty of elephants in the wild before, but always from the safety of a vehicle. I felt intensely aware of the noise of my movements and highly conscious of the direction of the wind. It struck me that the tree I stood behind was about the same size as the one the elephant had just gently pushed over.
The elephant population in Zimbabwe was buoyant at that time, and the thorn bush around us crackled as the rest of the group moved around the old female we were watching. The country was empty of people, with only visitors and managers allowed to enter. As a result, the landscape looked wild, but in fact it had once been grazed and farmed, and was now carefully monitored and managed for wildlife conservation.
Conservationists love charismatic species such as elephants. They appear on brochures, websites, and logos. The catastrophic decline in elephant numbers due to illegal hunting in the 1970s (and again now) provides one of the longest-running and most clear-cut stories about the plight of wildlife in the modern world. Who could forget the images of elephant carcasses, with their tusks removed, rotting in the bush? Or the huge pile of confiscated ivory set on fire by Daniel Arap Moi, Kenya’s President, in 1989?
Tourists also love elephants, and wildlife holidays in game reserves and parks offer a deeply romantic experience of wild creatures and people in apparent harmony in a remote, unspoiled land. In establishing protected areas for species such as elephants, conservation creates special places where the normal destructive rules of engagement between people and nature do not seem to apply.
The ‘British Empire’ was the name given by imperialists in the late 19th century to Britain’s territorial possessions. It was meant to create an image of unity and strength. But such a view is illusory, argues Bernard Porter.
‘From the Cape to Cairo’, Puck, 1902. Britannia leads civilising soldiers and colonists against Africans as Civilisation conquers Barbarism. Library of Congress
With the British Empire finally dead and buried - give or take a Falkland or two - now may be a good time to pause and try to take stock of what it was while it still had breath in it. This won’t be easy. For a start, it may be too early. Historical judgements take a while to bed down. Even then they are subject to revision by successive generations, influenced by new discoveries and their own historical environments. Subjects like imperialism are complex and can be approached from many different angles. In the case of the British Empire the problem is exacerbated by the fact that its death is still too recent to be looked on dispassionately and its legacy too present to be ignored. Hence the controversy that rages today between the broadly pro-imperial Niall Ferguson (Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, 2003) and the uncompromisingly anti-imperialist Richard Gott (Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt, 2011). That debate would not be so heated if the ghost of the old empire was not felt to be haunting us still.
The ghost of yet another empire lurks behind it. British imperialists often made comparisons between their empire and the much longer-dead Roman one. It was the image of this great empire, present in popular culture and in contemporary school syllabuses, much more than the British Empire ever was, that largely determined perceptions of imperialism. It was where the word ‘imperial’ came from: a Latin term (imperium) associated with notions of power, authority and control. It is a big, strong, singular word, implying a big, strong, singular thing. That is why British imperialists liked it. One of the issues that needs to be determined before making any assessment of the effects and legacies of the British Empire, therefore, is how big, strong and singular it really was.
In 1899, a contingent of nuns journeyed into the malarial forests of southern Africa to set up missionary schools. They mastered the clicking language of the Ndebele tribe, baked communion bread in brick ovens they built themselves, and steered clear of the subject of monogamy so as not to enrage the polygamous local chief.
In 1911, another group of sister-pioneers set sail for the islands of Fiji to run a clinic for lepers. In 1929, nuns in black habits rode a steamship up the Yangtze River into the heart of China, braving insufferable heat, flying termites, and warring generals.
Without the resourcefulness and courage of these extraordinary women, the Catholic Church would never have been able to spread its teachings around the globe or staff its unwieldy empire of schools, churches, and hospitals.
Sanctions against nuns spark backlash
So it is odd to hear the Vatican denouncing the largest group of nuns in America for promoting “radical feminist” ideas. The statement is shockingly out of touch with the modern world. But it is also willfully blind to important parts of the church’s own history.
A profound faith in women’s capabilities — in the world, in the classroom, and in God’s eyes — lies at the core of what nuns have always been. Long before Betty Friedan kicked off the modern feminist movement in the 1960s, nuns were earning medical degrees and running complex institutions, often without financial support from Rome.
The last half century has not been kind to Christopher Columbus. Drawing on a study of exhumed skulls from fifteenth-century Europe, an article in the most recent Yearbook of Physical Anthropology found that syphilis, first diagnosed in Europe in 1495, was carried back to the continent by Columbus’ crew. Within a decade, the bacterium had spread to European soldiers in India, who then infected Asians, making syphilis the first global epidemic. Once the great explorer, Columbus was now just an agent of venereal disease.
Columbus has long stood at the center of debates about globalization: when and how it began, and who it has helped and hurt in the five centuries since he made landfall in 1492. His discovery of the Americas was central to the process of integration and growing interdependence of the various parts of the world, one that continues to this day.
For many years, historians and the public viewed Columbus as a visionary, a heroic discoverer, and a defier of orthodoxy. In the 1960s, however, the prevailing academic view of the Genoese mariner became less flattering. Columbus was slathered with blame for all the destruction that followed in his wake: tens of millions of Native Americans dead and another ten million Africans enslaved. Yes, Columbus connected the hemispheres and ushered in the modern world, but the benefits accrued mainly to Europeans. Revisionist historians, such as Kirkpatrick Sale, captured this mood. Sale’s popular 1990 account, The Conquest of Paradise, argued that Columbus spearheaded a campaign to plunder and destroy the Edenic world of the Americas. Instead of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the American landfall, Sale and others lamented it, echoing the growing public discontent with globalization itself.
Boris Johnson stepped in yesterday to stop the “battle of the buses”, banning a campaign by the Core Issue Trust — which promotes controversial therapies designed to turn gay people straight — and the evangelical pressure group Anglican Mainstream. The decision is likely to increase feelings of persecution and marginalisation among a minority of traditionally-minded, and increasingly assertive, Christians.
Johnson told the Guardian that his London was “intolerant of intolerance”. The proposed slogan (“Not gay! Ex-gay, Post-gay and proud. Get over it!”), whatever its intention, was at least open to interpretation as an assertion of crude homophobia, or at least of heteronormative triumphalism. It was intended, however, as a direct riposte to similar-looking advertisements being run by Stonewall with the slogan “Some people are gay. Get over it!” — a campaign that implicitly targets opponents of gay marriage as reactionary bigots unable to come to terms with the modern world.
Some bigots may, indeed, hide behind religion. Yet Stonewall’s slogan, it strikes, me, misses an important point, which is that some people, who are gay, cannot “get over it” that easily. A devout religious believer, who belongs to a tradition that says firmly that homosexuality is wrong, but who feels a strong inclination towards members of the same sex, is faced with an agonising dilemma. Demands to “get over it”, while not directly aimed at such people, can easily come across as insensitive and bullying.
Say you’re a young gay Catholic. The Pope has said, quite firmly, that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered” and represents an “inclination towards an intrinsic moral evil”. Well then, ignore the Pope: many Catholics do, after all, when it comes to birth control, and some gay Catholics will be comfortable with that option. But not all, because obedience to church teaching is, for many Catholics, a crucial dimension of their faith. At the very least, so long as Catholic teaching remains what it is (and there’s no evidence of any change on the horizon) many gay Catholics will feel conflicted.
Or say you’re a Bible-believing Evangelical, and your reading of scripture tells you that homosexual practices are an abomination unto the Lord. That isn’t the only way to interpret the Bible, of course, and some gay Christians are fortunate enough to belong to churches that are welcoming of their sexuality. But some of the Biblical verses that speak about same-sex sex are pretty plain, to say the least.
And of course commitment to a religious faith involves more than just intellectual assent to a set of belief-propositions. It involves heart and soul, family and community. There may be partners and children involved, if a gay believer has already “chosen” to ignore their same-sex inclinations. Leaving all these things is not just potentially traumatic, it may well be something that the believer, however painful their internal struggles with sexuality, is not willing to contemplate. And yet their inner turmoil is damaging to themselves and to those around them.
When I visited Costa Rica the tour guide told me that the poor in the disheveled huts had color tv and cell phones, but my photos also show that their security system against howler monkeys was a dog on a chain, their door a burlap sack, and their children in need of new shoes, more nourishment, and new clothes. Derek Thompson destroys a powerful meme that makes its rounds mostly in elderly conservative circles.
There is a strain of conservatism that suggests that the march of technology has made life so good for people at the bottom that we don’t have to worry much about income inequality. Tens of millions of Americans are living in poverty, “but it’s okay, because they have more microwaves than ever before,” is an argument that exists, and is widely persuasive. It’s accurate to say today’s poor own stuff that yesterday’s poor wouldn’t recognize. But the ubiquity of microwaves doesn’t displace the moral obligation of the richest country in the history of the world to protect people who literally can’t afford food to put in that microwave. Medical bankruptcy is hardly alleviated by the falling price of flat screen televisions.
One hundred ago, what is now the modern world was considerably more vulnerable to agricultural crisis. After poor seasons of weather, thousands would starve. It was a tragedy. But this tragedy occurred in the context of what were then amazing new technologies. As Bill Bryson wrote in At Home, the world had never been more brilliantly lit by gas or more reliably cleaned by plumbing. Nobody today would claim that gas lamps and plumbing technologies obviate the need for welfare. And yet, I do often hear it said that microwaves and TVs have partially or wholly relieved us of the burden of worrying about the poor. If the position isn’t simply wrong, it is at the very least historically myopic.
THE historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.
“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”
And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.
This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.
So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that. Look at Egypt: More than half of its women and a quarter of its men can’t read. The young Egyptians who drove the revolution are desperate for the educational tools and freedom to succeed in the modern world. Our response should have been to shift our aid money from military equipment to building science-and-technology high schools and community colleges across Egypt.
Yet, instead, a year later, we’re in the crazy situation of paying $5 million in bail to an Egyptian junta to get U.S. democracy workers out of jail there, while likely certifying that this junta is liberalizing and merits another $1.3 billion in arms aid. We’re going to give $1.3 billion more in guns to a country whose only predators are illiteracy and poverty.
In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave. Is there anything funnier? Afghan men need to be trained to fight? They defeated the British and the Soviets!