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Sunday, September 18, 2011

"I Am Prejudice"

To Kill A Mockingbird
I am the enemy of truth - I am prejudice.
- Ralph Van Kirk Von Brandt*
soleri, as he is wont, pointed me to a truthout essay that I had missed, Between Race and Reason: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. The article sent me to reverie (as I am wont) on just how impoverished, as a practical matter, the intellectual is in regards the battle against ignorance in the political arena, and perhaps in general.

(Pardon the "lofty" language - this auto-didact wishes to establish his credentials as a pointy-headed fellow-traveler. It is to snark.)

Before I proceed, I want to make the brief political note that the excellent essay below, written in 1911, reinforces my strong feelings against authority, which I associate with power, in principle. OK, noted.

Punching a spectre
Truth certainly would do well enough, if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom has received and, I fear, never will receive much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. Errors, indeed, prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours. But if Truth makes not her way into the understanding by her own light, she will be but the weaker for any borrowed force violence can add to her.
- John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (31 January 1689)
The first impoverishment is the general disinclination to engage with ignorance in the first place. From the point of view of rational thought, ignorance or prejudice appears to be self-negating. One is inclined to simply behold it, and wait for it to strangle itself. It always does, anyway.

Besides, having riposte with "I know you are but what am I?" is a decidedly ignoble endeavor.

Sadly, ignorance does a disproportionate amount of damage during its short life-span, kind of like the house-fly.

Tautological defeat

How do you fight against the ignorant when the ability to articulate your position correctly is precisely what you are being accused of? Even if you are right (perhaps even because you are right?)

I have been engaged in countless pub debates in my day, and rare is it that prejudice is discarded. I'm quite good at it, mind you, and most of the time I am successful in unraveling the illogic of my opponent, not just to onlookers (I make it a hard-and-fast rule to never play to the audience, that is insincere, disingenuous and really, quite cruel - it's always I and Thou with me.) When the truth begins to dawn, however, more often than not I receive some variation of "oh, so you think you're better than everybody else," which is the same as "smarty-pants" or "egghead." Or, "I know you are but what am I?"

Or, "Well, there you go again."

Triumph of the Will

Lastly, but most obviously and perhaps most potently, it is the ignorant, the prejudice, who are most fervently motivated to triumph. There are things on the line, man. This is in fatal counterpoint to the "Punching the spectre" amotivational tendencies of the enlightened. The learned man tends to become content with cataloging experience, rather than being engaged in shaping it.
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
- Karl Rove?
Of course we are accused - in that "I know you are but what am I?" way - of trying to effect reality when we attempt to educate. Of course, correcting fallacies is of quite different character than being in the business of creating reality, but good luck in 'splainin' that.


*(I have taken the liberty of transcribing fellow-Trentonian (I was raised in that city) Ralph Van Kirk Von Brandt's essay, as it appears to be only available, as of this writing, on line in scanned form at Google books. Colloquial spellings are preserved.)

I am prejudice
from Sociological and Other Essays by Ralph Van Kirk Von Brandt (1911)

     I AM PREJUDICE. I am the weapon of the church, all those that are crafty use me - I am prejudice. Kings, rulers and the capitalists all know my power and use me to further their own individual interests - I am prejudice. All those that seek power tenderly nourish me, I am a powerful ally - I am prejudice. I am the divine ruler of armies, navies, capital, church and the state - I am prejudice. I kindle the fires of hate under the heretic, athiest, and religious - I am prejudice.

     I am king, I govern all - I am prejudice.
     I am the enemy of truth - I am prejudice.
     I am the drag on progress - I am prejudice.
     I am the pillar of the church - I am prejudice.
     I reveal to none their smallness - I am prejudice.
     I am always with the opposition - I am prejudice.
     I pit the north against the south - I am prejudice.
     "Free love"[**] is my most useful phrase - I am prejudice.
     I am nursed from the breasts of mothers to infants - I am prejudice.
     I instill prejudice against life in favor of property - I am prejudice.
     I lend my power to everyone, I am the weapon of all - I am prejudice.
     I am the friend of ignorance, superstition and oppression - I am prejudice.
     I am more powerful than governments because I direct education - I am prejudice.
     I am so powerful that I prevent men from reading the other side of a question - I am prejudice.
     I am prejudice - profit is my real desire, my aim, I shall always work for profit - I am prejudice.
     I prejudice the whites against the blacks. I prejudice the blacks against the whites - I am prejudice.
     I stifle honest investigation, aye, the court even uses me in the interest of property - I am prejudice.
     I am courted, bought and sold, produced, cultivated and utilized more than any other thing - I am prejudice.
     I refuse to hear the other side, I refuse to investigate, my views are correct, I shall remain blind - I am prejudice.
     I know that capital is more powerful than government - that is why capital always seeks my aid - I am prejudice.
     Society does me honor by decorating and giving big rewards to my disciples that can create and direct prejudice with a master-hand - I am prejudice.
     I have many followers that are so faithful to my creed that I direct their mental process; I close all books to them that I do not control - I am prejudice.
     The battle-field is my harvest-field - both armies I have taught and controlled with prejudice. Heaps of the dead are my followers - I am prejudice.
     I know no flag, but I prejudice the followers of one flag against the followers of another flag. Leaders that know my usefulness smile - I am prejudice.
     I am prejudice - In times of war all sides call on my most reliable vehicle, God, that they may enroll prejudice on their side - I am all-powerful - I am prejudice.
     I make a boundry line for others, then I cross the boundry line and then thoroughly instill prejudice within a new boundry line which I create - because I am prejudice.
     I control men's minds, some I make fast, some I make eat fish, to some I refuse to give pork, I give unleaven bread to some, others I refuse to give beef to on certain days - I am prejudice.
     I prejudice society against the bastard and the prostitute, but if my victims, the bastards or prostitutes, contributes to the church or produces a profit for society, I greedily accept it for I am blind to prejudice when it pays - I am prejudice.
     When society has a surplus of children in time of peace I prejudice it against the bastard. When I need more men for cannon-fodder in time of war I remove the prejudice against the bastard to further my larger sphere of action, war - for I am prejudice.

     I am prejudice.

Trenton, N.J.
28 Broad Street

"Free love" is my most useful phrase - I am prejudice.
- Ralph Van Kirk Von Brandt
(OK, WTF? Well, the cant, "Free love," apparently has quite a storied history, associated with various Utopian endeavors, to which I assume Mr. Von Brandt took objection.)

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