Chiefs, Indians, Slavery & Tocqueville

Leonard R. Rogers was the subject of a 1954 article called “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches, was radically revamping the mega-corporation. When Rogers took over the company founded 50 years earlier by his grandfather he quickly realized that some of the long time company executives knew nothing about anything that was happening outside their department (bubble). Thus, he made the decision to re-organize the company by rolling heads and dissolving positions, i.e. Too many chiefs and not enough indians.

Catalan human-towers

Human towers in the traditional Catalan Festival

Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” was also the phrase my father liked to use. When we were down in Brazoria County, Texas, working my paternal grandparents cattle and land during one or two of the 3-4 holidays of the year, every one of my cousins, myself, and all my uncles and one aunt of the family had/wanted to accomplish all the needed and necessary work and never-ending repairs as efficiently as possible given the usually short few days everyone had while there. With so many cousins running around wanting to play or do our own “work tasks,” that was when he’d often use the phrase on us. I have to note here, however, that with his family the chief-indian concept reflected more the later 1996 concept “It Takes A Village” by Hillary Clinton. His family had rotating or periodic leadership and supporting roles. Everyone had to do and know all positions and their functions. Dad said it many times during my school and select-league soccer games he’d attend when we’d play bad or lose.

In the exceptional 2008 animated film WALL-E, Earth has become a trashed garbage planet due to unfettered free-enterprise which led to human hyper-consumption of everything corporate manufacturers and retailers convinced and sold the poorly educated masses they HAD to have to be “truly happy.” The upper-echelon executives left Axiom starliner people_1Earth on giant starliners and charged lower-echelon humans the same type of prices they charged for all their earthly GNP goods. As a result of the never-ending, rising land-fills from impulsive, Keeping Up with The Jones consumers they ironically created, Earth was no longer inhabitable. The starliner Axiom returns to Earth to retrieve another garbage compactor EVE that is not functioning. WALL-E becomes a stow-away onboard the Axiom and when he finally sees his predecessors/creators, humans. Every single one of them are grossly obese, immobile, and totally dependent on automation to do everything for them — the consequence of widespread chief-dome and no one wanting to rotate into the support roles, the blue-collar roles, the farmer roles, the plumber and garbage roles, or janitor roles. The ‘indians‘ roles.

All the chieftain-humans on the starliners had become slaves to convenience, leisure and having anyone or everything robotic perform all the daily, humdrum labor they themselves were too lazy to do. It was below them and their pay-grade.

Slavery. Oh the irony. In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian and political scientist, wrote a book about the young United States of America while examining a spreading trend of democracy and equality in Europe as well as North America. The book was Democracy in America and Tocqueville was intrigued by America’s system of governing and its nurturing of individualism. He thought the U.S. was a leading example of liberty, equality, a stable economy, and governing in action. He noted too how popular its churches were to social life. Yet, with all those “good marks,” he couldn’t help but notice how a freedom-loving nation despicably treated Native American Indians and African slaves. With all the theoretical perks of democracy, capitalism, and individualism, Tocqueville warned that too much equality would or could lead to intellectual dilution and a mediocrity of majority rule. Regarding independent, provocative thought, theory, and debate he wrote:

The majority has enclosed thought within a formidable fence. A writer is free inside that area, but woe to the man who goes beyond it, not that he stands in fear of an inquisition, but he must face all kinds of unpleasantness in every day persecution. A career in politics is closed to him for he has offended the only power that holds the keys.

alexis de tocquevilleOn the other hand, the pendulum can swing too far the other way to plutarchy and oligarchy if there is an insufficient, low-quality public education system and lack of economic opportunities/mobility to hedge against such tyrannies. If or when that occurs, some “individualized” Americans independently wealthy and above a struggling majority — what is currently the case in America today — often have the delayed pragmatic realization that looking after the welfare of others is not only good for the soul, but actually is equally good for their business and wealth. Those individualized elite who never realize this profound truth, eventually watch their empire and ivory towers crumble. Just ask the Roman Empire’s aristocracy, ask the 18th century opulent French monarchs such as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, or ask those executive heads of Leonard R. Rogers’ mega-tobacco corporation, or let’s ask a modern, Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this has been something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Often, however, they learn it too late.

Tocqueville had a lot to say about the bright and dark sides of “democracy” in 1835. I think he still has a lot to say about it today, along with WALL-E, Leonard Rogers, and my Dad. Everyone deserves the right to be well-educated, helped and prepared by a team/village for their rotation as a chief and as an indian. When you stand-in and walk in someone else’s shoes, that is when understanding begins. That is when appreciation begins. That is when compassion and empathy begins. That is when true empowerment with humility begins.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Excursion to Perversions – III

This continued blog-journey from Part II was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added some modernized twists.

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Pilgrim Life, Amusements, and Opinions At Sea

For a week or so there were no conflicts of jurisdiction between the many various captains onboard, surprisingly on such a pleasure ship at sea. However, there was as much sameness as there was intrigue. Many pilgrims began acquiring sailor terminology:

“Half-past six was no longer half-past six to these pilgrims from New England, the South, and the Mississippi Valley, it was “seven bells”; eight, twelve, and four o’clock were “eight bells”; the captain did not take the longitude at nine o’clock, but at “two bells.” They spoke glibly of the “after cabin,” the “for’rard cabin,” “port and starboard” and the “fo’castle.””

I feared we’d soon have as many Ensigns as we had Captains and most were still miserably seasick. Where is the pleasure in that? Many found various games to play such as dominoes and identifying distant ships through opera-glasses. One very popular game was “Horse-billiards,” though popular I suppose only if winning or as a casual spectator. Horse-billiards “affords good, active exercise, hilarity, and consuming excitement. It is a mixture of “hop-scotch” and shuffleboard played with a crutch.” What makes the game so entertaining is scientific timing and calculations. With a long gangly crutch players vigorously thrust their wooden disks forward — right, not what you’re thinking — for different points in different squares; no points if your disk stops on a line. You must cross the line or stop short of the line. Easy, right?

starlight dancingNo. One must account for the reeling of the ship starboard, port, fore, or aft. Many a scientific calculation resulted in a disk going off the entire hopscotch board, down a gangway, or worse slip back to where you thrusted… or apparently not. The ladies seemed to enjoy this mishap the most.

By half-past 7 o’clock when the bell tolled for… prayers, we pilgrims would promenade to the handsome saloon, otherwise known as the “Synagogue” by the unregenerated. Our “hymns were accompanied by parlor-organ music when the sea was smooth enough to allow a performer to sit at the instrument without being lashed to his chair.” Not too unlike those twitchers in front of long-winded ministers I suppose.

“Several times the photographer of the expedition brought out his transparent pictures and gave us a handsome magic-lantern exhibition. His views were nearly all of foreign scenes, but there were one or two home pictures among them. He advertised that he would “open his performance in the after cabin at ‘two bells’ (nine P.M.) and show the passengers where they shall eventually arrive”—which was all very well, but by a funny accident the first picture that flamed out upon the canvas was a view of Greenwood Cemetery!”

On the upper deck we performed what should appear as ballroom dancing underneath the canvas awnings with rows of lanterns hung from the ship’s deck-posts. But with all the brilliant lighting underneath the glittering stars, the dancing was not so brilliant nor graceful.

“Our music consisted of the well-mixed strains of a melodeon which was a little asthmatic and apt to catch its breath where it ought to come out strong, a clarinet which was a little unreliable on the high keys and rather melancholy on the low ones, and a disreputable accordion that had a leak somewhere and breathed louder than it squawked—a more elegant term does not occur to me just now. However, the dancing was infinitely worse than the music. When the ship rolled to starboard the whole platoon of dancers came charging down to starboard with it, and brought up in mass at the rail; and when it rolled to port they went floundering down to port with the same unanimity of sentiment. Waltzers spun around precariously for a matter of fifteen seconds and then went scurrying down to the rail as if they meant to go overboard.”

In order to save some level of dignity, we gave up dancing.

It seemed quite appropriate that what should follow our meager attempts of ballroom music and dancing would be a mock trial. Naval tradition dictates a dummy crime, law-enforcement, an accuser and defendant, a courtroom, a judge, and of course witnesses. Witnesses that are unsure of what they witnessed which makes for gripping amusement onboard a presently mundane pleasure excursion on the high seas. The judge hammers his gavel.

“The purser was accused of stealing an overcoat from stateroom No. 10. A judge was appointed; also clerks, a crier of the court, constables, sheriffs; counsel for the State and for the defendant; witnesses were subpoenaed, and a jury empaneled after much challenging. The witnesses were stupid and unreliable and contradictory, as witnesses always are. The counsel were eloquent, argumentative, and vindictively abusive of each other, as was characteristic and proper. The case was at last submitted and duly finished by the judge with an absurd decision and a ridiculous sentence.”

mock trialShortly after the guilty purser was catapulted overboard for his overcoat crime, a debate club was formed to argue the benefits of human catapults. But it failed. It was no less successful than the evening’s dancing, for there were no oratorical talents to be found anywhere on the ship. Perhaps the fear of being catapulted into the raging sea for lack of oratory skill or grasp of an elementary vocabulary — reminiscent of an American President who can’t read a teleprompter — dashed their ambitions.

Had the debate club been successfully created, the first issue addressed would most certainly be the singing. There are some passengers that question the quality of song, myself included, and its consequences during our precarious voyage. Many a superstitious sailor and unregenerated passengers would attribute our strong head-winds to unhappy muses of Apollo. Should this mockery of song and dance continue, there could be retribution to pay:

“There were those who said openly that it was taking chances enough to have such ghastly music going on, even when it was at its best; and that to exaggerate the crime by letting George help was simply flying in the face of Providence. These said that the choir would keep up their lacerating attempts at melody until they would bring down a storm some day that would sink the ship.

There were even grumblers at the prayers. The executive officer said the pilgrims had no charity: “There they are, down there every night at eight bells, praying for fair winds—when they know as well as I do that this is the only ship going east this time of the year, but there’s a thousand coming west—what’s a fair wind for us is a head wind to them—the Almighty’s blowing a fair wind for a thousand vessels, and this tribe wants him to turn it clear around so as to accommodate one—and she a steamship at that! It ain’t good sense, it ain’t good reason, it ain’t good Christianity, it ain’t common human charity. Avast with such nonsense!””

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Land-Hoh, Sketchy Mathematics, and Cheer Restored

The twenty-four hundred nautical miles from New York Harbor to the Azores was in good naval terms:  by and large pleasant. Yes, disgruntled sea gods blew unfavorable head-winds upon our vessel and asthmatic singing. Yes, well over half our passenger manifest were seasick from the Quaker City being thrown to and fro — which ironically enough helped with our ballroom dancing. But for the most part, the first leg of our journey had temperate summer days and finer evenings under starlit heavens with a full moon that followed us at the same hour every night. “It was becoming an old moon to the friends we had left behind us, but to us Joshuas it stood still in the same place and remained always the same.” This caused quite the stir to some unknowing gazers as if we had the celestial white balloon tethered to our mast.

Then the trip’s charm ended at a most unfortunate hour.

“At three o’clock on the morning of the twenty-first of June, we were awakened and notified that the Azores islands were in sight. I said I did not take any interest in islands at three o’clock in the morning. But another persecutor came, and then another and another, and finally believing that the general enthusiasm would permit no one to slumber in peace, I got up and went sleepily on deck. It was five and a half o’clock now, and a raw, blustering morning. The passengers were huddled about the smoke-stacks and fortified behind ventilators, and all were wrapped in wintry costumes and looking sleepy and unhappy in the pitiless gale and the drenching spray.”

Why a mound of mud in the water was such a sight to sacrifice sweet slumber, I can only guess. Perhaps the fine entertainment on our tossing and turning ship had been enough to find hope and relief on land? For the unregenerated, sleep can easily serve the same purpose.

scetchy mathWe pilgrims soon moved on to the island of San Miguel and Fayal. Mr. Blucher was so overjoyed that we were finally on firm, unmoving ground that he proposed a grand feast with fine food and flowing spirits.

[Blucher] had heard it was a cheap land, and he was bound to have a grand banquet. He invited nine of us, and we ate an excellent dinner at the principal hotel. In the midst of the jollity produced by good cigars, good wine, and passable anecdotes, the landlord presented his bill. Blucher glanced at it and his countenance fell. He took another look to assure himself that his senses had not deceived him and then read the items aloud, in a faltering voice, while the roses in his cheeks turned to ashes:

“‘Ten dinners, at 600 reis, 6,000 reis!’ Ruin and desolation!
“‘Twenty-five cigars, at 100 reis, 2,500 reis!’ Oh, my sainted mother!
“‘Eleven bottles of wine, at 1,200 reis, 13,200 reis!’ Be with us all!

“‘TOTAL, TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED REIS!’ The suffering Moses! There ain’t money enough in the ship to pay that bill! Go—leave me to my misery, boys, I am a ruined community.””

All seemed lost for the Blucher lad. What prison cell awaits this pilgrim? As the clichés go, a dropped pin could be heard or a mouse sniffing in the corner the silence was so deafening. Blank stares everywhere at one another, wine glasses slowly returned to the table-top, their paletted beauty untasted. Fingers no longer held their cigars dropped into their smoke-trays. There seemed no looks of hope or encouragement about, only thoughts and glances of a quick escape, scatterment through the nearest exits. Blucher stood up and exclaimed loudly:

“Landlord, this is a low, mean swindle, and I’ll never, never stand it. Here’s a hundred and fifty dollars, Sir, and it’s all you’ll get—I’ll swim in blood before I’ll pay a cent more.”

Our spirits rose and the landlord’s fell—at least we thought so; he was confused, at any rate, notwithstanding he had not understood a word that had been said. He glanced from the little pile of gold pieces to Blucher several times and then went out. He must have visited an American, for when he returned, he brought back his bill translated into a language that a Christian could understand—thus:

10 dinners, 6,000 reis, or $6.00
25 cigars, 2,500 reis, or $2.50
11 bottles wine, 13,200 reis, or $13.20

Total 21,700 reis, or $21.70

Though one might wonder in bafflement the mechanisms of Christian mathematics, and that foreign exchange rates serve a particular purpose, and that it is indeed wise to have at least a basic understanding of these global concepts, happiness and frolicking returned to Blucher’s party and another round of drink was ordered!

Three cheers for native math and ignorant travellers! Hip-hip… HOORAY!

Now for my modern version of fine Victorian ballroom dancing as our pilgrims progress to Paris… “Giuchie, Giuchie, ya ya dada.”

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To be continued…

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No More Nation States?

Author, social philosopher, historian, and speaker Roman Krznaric is one of my most favorite writers. I have utilized much of his work in my blog-posts, especially his writing, theories, and organizations promoting a more significant, impactful life with friends, family, coworkers, and community. On Roman’s website he writes an intriguing, thought-provoking article about the modern signs of returning, rising city-states similar to that of 14th – 17th century Renaissance Era”s Venice and Florence, Italy. Are there more advantages than disadvantages to this possible/probable trend?

City-State vs. Nation-state

Britannica.com defines city-state as “a political system consisting of an independent city having sovereignty over contiguous territory and serving as a centre and leader of political, economic, and cultural life.” There is a large consensus that the term does apply to at least three different modern cities:  Singapore, Monaco, and Vatican City. What distinguishes the three city-states comparatively are their higher degrees of sovereign autonomy.

Singapore

Singapore is considered one of the most successful, happiest city-states in the world

A nation-state according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “a form of political organization under which a relatively homogeneous people inhabits a sovereign state; especially : a state containing one as opposed to several [ethnicities and] nationalities.” Naming examples of nation-states is not an exact science. It is hotly debated due to the many complexities that make up a nation or a state. Dr. Atul Kohli of Princeton University describes them as “Legitimate states that govern effectively and dynamic industrial economies are widely regarded today as the defining characteristics of a modern nation-state.” Perhaps what differentiates the nation-state from other forms of governing is to what degree it utilizes its complex social, cultural, and economic instruments in unison. Historically these factors morph and change, further fueling contrasting debates. For instance, does a culture of North and South or Confederacy/Union still exist today in the “nation-state” called United States? What does a current approval rating of only 17% for the U.S. Congress indicate?

John Fullerton, founder and president of Capital Institute and contributor to Huffington Post, explains our current nation-states this way:

Ideological rather than pragmatic, a political abstraction that has no grounding in the concrete reality of where and how we live and how life-supporting ecosystems function, the Nation State, together with its political party structure, is not well equipped for today’s most important globally interdependent challenges that cannot be solved through inter-State rivalries where self-interest and might rule the day.

The “City State” predates the Nation State; it endures. Rome is older than Italy, Alexandria is older than Egypt. Cities are expanding as we know. They are already home to more than half the world’s population, and 80% in the developed economies. They are home to 85% of the global economy (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) and much of the evolution of our culture. Like it or not, we have become an increasingly urban species. Visionaries like Jonathan Rose are showing the way to regenerative cities with his timely publication of A Well-Tempered City. At the same time, rural culture, small towns, and life-sustaining rural landscapes, historically understood as essential extensions of the City State, have never been more vital…

Film producer Sharon Chang is optimistic of a more pronounced city-state political, economic, and cultural movement that is more quickly in tune with its citizen’s needs and unleash their ingenuity.

Our political, educational, and industrial systems to date have been designed to operate with constraint rather than abundance. These systems encourage and reward behaviors defined by a zero-sum attitude. Even the most brilliant innovations have been limited within the mindset of arbitrary, war-born lines on centuries-old maps. For some reason, they’re untouchable. We’d never dare to think — let alone color — outside the lines.

[…]

When we put modern industry and technology into a new design of city-state, we cross-pollinate two extremely powerful concepts: exponential growth and diversity. We forge a path of least resistance to true abundance.

In Krznaric’s article The Return of the City State, he cites three contributing factors for the modern rise/need of the city-state. His last and most compelling factor is that nation-states are no longer well-structured for adaptability:

They have failed to deal effectively with issues arising from migration, climate change, wealth inequality and terrorism. This failure partly explains the declining faith in traditional political parties in many countries and in the value of democratic government itself. But it is also behind the rise of cities, which are much more effective at pragmatic problem-solving on issues ranging from flood management to dealing with increasing numbers of refugees.

These are all valid arguments for the removal or reduction of nation-states and the need for a modern return to city-states — that is “valid” in a perfect world of equality, extensive understanding, and overall peace.

300: Rise of an Empire

Fall of Athens, 404 BCE

The Historical Record of City-States

Probably the most notable city-states in history were those of ancient Greece:  Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes. Others were those of Mesoamerica:  Chichen Itza, Copán, Monte Albán, Tikal, and then the cities, or metropoles, of Renaissance Italy like Florence, Genoa, Milan, Pisa, Venice and several others. Though it can be argued that these cities far outlasted their empires which surrounded them and subjugated them — several are still in existence today — they lacked the natural and human resources to defend themselves against large empires or nation-states. Almost every single historical city-state has fallen to mega-states or empires at least once, in certain cases several times.

If our modern world is to return to forms of city-states, hence allowing freer ingenuity and progress, yet weakening or hollowing out present nation-states, how do we avoid the envious big bullies around the corner or on the next continent? Do we make “unbreakable” alliances with all other progressive city-states around the globe to come quickly to our rescue if Goliath attacks? Is that even possible? Will there ever come a day when all imperialistic-minded, narcissistic megalomaniac males are extinct or psychologically pathologically reprogrammed and their potential gullible (like-minded?) masses or followers redirected?

As a diverse species, are we ready internationally for this sort of change or return to a much more localized form of mercantilism, culture, technology, and governing?

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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