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“Justus Schwab Mourned: Anarchists Forget Their Differences at His Funeral,” in the New York Times (December 21, 1900)

Yesterday’s post mentioned Justus Schwab, a German-American radical and a fixture of the New York Anarchist milieu, who kept a radical “Beer-Hole” on First Street where Anarchists, socialists, writers, artists, and other radicals and misfits met to drink and talk into the night. Emma Goldman later described his saloon as “the most famous radical center in New York.” Here is an item from the December 21, 1900 issue of the New York Times, on Schwab’s death and his funeral, which brought together New York radicals across factional lines and putting aside schisms and personal breaks to celebrate his memory.

JUSTUS SCHWAB MOURNED

Anarchists Forget Their Differences at His Funeral.

The Tribute of John Swinton—Most in Tears—Emma Goldman Looks Calmly On.

The disciples of extreme Socialism and Anarchy in this city were assembled in harmony yesterday under one roof. This, it is declared, is without a precedent. The occasion was the funeral of Justus Schwab.

The Anarchists gathered in a dingy hall on East Fourth Street. All differences were forgotten, and there was not a single man or woman who gave evidence of any feeling other than sorrow at the loss of the dead disciple. At times during the speeches which were made over the body almost every one there broke down and wept. Dark, bearded faces that had worn a scowl of discontent for years were softened with grief, and men who had been bitter enemies of Justus Schwab while he was alive cried like children.

Emma Goldman, the woman Anarchist leader, who had been the dead man’s closest friend, was the only one present who did not give some indication of emotion. She sat calmly throughout the ceremonies, although John Most, who had been opposed to Schwab for years, gave way completely to his grief several times.

The funeral services were held in the assembly room of the Labor Lyceum at 64 East Fourth Street. The body was taken from the room over the saloon at 50 First Street, where Schwab had lived, early in the day and placed on a bier in the middle of the assembly room. The coffin was open so that the face of the dead man could be seen, and coffin and bier were draped with flags. The emblem of Anarchy was wrapped around the coffin and thrown over the lower part of it, and flags from various labor unions hung below. There was a pile of flowers that brightened up the dark hall, arranged on a table at one end. There were wreaths from Cigar Makers’ Union No. 90, from an Italian Anarchist society, and from the Social Science Club.

The funeral service was marked by the absolute absence of any religious ceremonial, and consisted of speeches by various friends of the dead man. The band of the Carl Sahm Club, which was stationed at one end of the hall, played a dirge that seemed to harmonize with the sombre surroundings, and the Lieber Tafel Singing Society, which the dead Anarchist had founded, sang Eventide. George Biederkapp, the author of a book of Socialist poems, recited an original poem eulogizing Schwab, entitled, The Storm Has Passed, and when he had taken his seat almost every one in the room was in tears. Alexander Jonas, a Socialist leader, made a short speech in German and was followed by John Swinton, who spoke in English.

I am entirely overcome, he said, when I attempt to speak of our dead brother. I have never known a man so self-sacrificing, so faithful, so noble.

John Most, who had been the leader of the Anarchist faction opposed to Schwab, was the next speaker. He spoke in German and in the most dramatic manner. When he had completed his speech he was evidently exhausted, and sank into a chair as the pall-bearers lifted the coffin and carried it out to the hearse, which was waiting for it.

As the hearse started slowly down Second Avenue, followed by a few carriages, nearly 2,000 people, many of them in tears, fell in line behind it. The procession passed by the little saloon where Schwab had lived and then proceeded slowly to the ferry at the foot of East Houston Street. All along the route the windows of the tenements were filled with people. At the ferry the carriages followed the hearse and the Anarchists on foot dispersed quietly. The body was taken to Fresh Pond, L. I., for cremation.

Source

“Defeat of the Communists,” in The New York Times (January 14, 1874)

Here’s another account from the mainstream New York press — this time, from the New York Times — on the New York “Committee of Safety” and on the police attack on labor protesters in Tompkins Square. Like the previously posted stories from the Herald, the paper treated the protest as a project of “The Communists,” in the midst of the United States’ first great Red Scare. Also notable here is an early press appearance for Justus Schwab, here arrested with a red flag around his waist, later known and beloved by the Anarchist community in New York City as the owner of a “Beer-Hole” on First Street, which provided a meeting-place for radicals, political refugees, writers and artists that Emma Goldman remembered as “the most famous radical center in New York.”

Here’s the story, printed in the New York Times, on January 14, 1874.

DEFEAT OF THE COMMUNISTS

THE MASS-MEETING AND PARADE BROKEN UP.

ENCOUNTER BETWEEN THE MOB AND THE POLICE—ARREST OF RIOTERS.

The Police Commissioners wisely refused permission to the Communists to parade yesterday. There would have been no objection to an honest working men’s parade, but the great majority of the working men, through their acknowledged representatives, disclaimed all connection with the projection display, and it was therefore considered unadvisable to permit a few malcontents to disturb the peace of the City. The events of yesterday sufficiently proved the wisdom of the prohibition, and the bad spirit that unfortunately is rife among the more worthless sections of the community. In spite of the refusal it was stated early in the day that the meeting would be held, and by 10 o’clock Tompkins square and vicinity were occupied by perhaps 3,000 persons of the lowest class, most of whom, however, were probably there out of idle curiosity. At 10:15 the Police, under Commissioner Duryee and Capts. Walsh, Murphy, Tynan, and Allaire, with platoons from their respective precincts, the Seventeenth, Eleveneth, Eighteenth, and Twenty-first, marched into and cleared the square, while a mounted squad scoured the streets in the vicinity. Capt. Walsh, with Sergts. Cass and Berghold and twenty-two men, made for the largest crowd, assembled round a banner inscribed The Tenth Ward Working Men’s Organization, and here there was a fray, in which Sergt. Berghold had his head broken, and his assailants fared no better. They told their stories afterward at the Seventeenth Precinct Station-house, corner of Fifth street and Second avenue, where they were conveyed, and at which thenceforward the interest centered. Christian Meyer, who struck the Sergeant, confessed his misdeeds with much naivete, as he was sitting with head bandaged and a broken wrist in a sling in the officers’ quarters. He said he was a painter by trade, belonging to an association with 3,000 members; that there were about 100 of them only present; that every one was armed in some way, his own weapon being a claw-hammer, with a thong to put his hand through; and that they had orders not to fight unless they were attacked. The Sergeant pushed him, so he obeyed orders and hit the Sergeant. Justus Schwab, another captive, who wore a red flag around his waist, said his father had served four years’ imprisonment for riot at Frankfort, Germany: that he had been four years and eight months in the country, and fourteen weeks out of work. He thought every man should defend the State, and that the State should provide for every man. He thought the working men would triumph, and commenced to sing the Marseillaise, a performance which was checked. On Hofflicher, another leader, was found a somewhat elaborate Communistic badge. The vicinity of the station-house for several blocks was thronged until quite late in the afternoon, and in the Bowery as far down as Canal street, knots of men were gathered on the corners as late as 2 o’clock, waiting for the procession. In the vicinity of the Seventeenth Precinct Station-house the task of dispersing the multitude kept the officers well employed. There were incessant skirmishes in which clubs were judiciously applied with seasonable but not excessive severity, and prisoners were continually being brought in. The scrambles of the mob as the officers advanced were not unamusing; in fact, it seemed as if they rather enjoyed the exercise. The housetops and windows for blocks were crowded with patient spectators.

At 3:45 P. M. the prisoners were marched to Essex Market Police Court, and arraigned before Justice Flammer, who held them in default of $1,000 bail each. The schools soon after filled the streets with children and a more respectable class of citizens appeared. The trouble was evidently over. It was at no time beyond easy control. The forbearance and good humor of the Police were admirable. There were unpleasant incidents, however, which showed plainly that a neglected spark might have been fanned into a dangerous flame amid the unamiable passions abroad. Alderman Kehr, about noon, was passing through Fourth street, when he was recognized, and as the cry was raised, Here’s an Alderman—go for him! he jumped on an Avenue A car, but was again recognized, the car boarded, and he had to jump off again and run for his life. Police Commissioners Charlick and Gardner visited the Seventeenth Precinct in a coupé at 4:30 P. M.

THE COMMITTEE OF SAFETY BEFORE THE MAYOR

The Mayor arrived at his office at noon. When he had taken his seat, his Secretary handed him a card containing the request, Mr. Leander Thompson would like to have an interview with his Honor. The Mayor recognized the name as that of a member of the Working Men’s Committee of Safety, who had previously called upon him as a representative of the labor movement, and at whose request he had promised to address the laborers at Union square. The Mayor told his Secretary to admit Mr. Thompson, and the latter, accompanied by Messrs. John McMichael, George Buck, John Halbert, and Luceen Saniel, entered the office. Gen. Duryee, the Police Commissioner, was in an adjoining chamber, and, the moment Thompson entered, the Mayor called him to his side.

Well, gentlemen, said the Mayor, I am ready to hear what you have to say.

Mr. Thompson, in response, said the deputation represented the Committee of Safety, and they had called to escort his Honor to Tompkins square where, they hoped, he would address the people.

Mayor Havemeyer—I have heard what occurred this morning, and I do not desire to address crazy or excited people, who might be anxious to send brickbats flying.

Mr. Thompson—The people would like to hear your views. We will take you in a carriage. The working men are a peaceable and orderly class. They made an attempt to meet and express their views and were forcibly ejected by the Police, who clubbed and trampled upon them.

Mr. McMichael here stepped forward and said, Mr. Mayor, I hope you will come with us. We promised the people that you would speak to them, and they will be much disappointed if you do not. The meeting this morning was intended to be peaceable and orderly, but the Police interfered and clubbed every one they met. there were 20,000 persons in the square and its vicinity, and they were driven back without cause. I believe that it is absolutely necessary for you to come up and speak to the working men. They are very much excited about the treatment they have received from the Police, and consequences which we would wish to avert may follow if they are not spoken to.

Gen. Duryee interposed here. He said that all law-abiding citizens would act peaceably, and that he did not believe there would be any further trouble. But, resumed Mr. McMichael, the Police treated the meeting most mercilessly. Without a moment’s warning they clubbed them off the ground.

Gen. [sic]Duryea[/sic], (warmly)—No, Sir; the Police did not act until a man came forward and struck a Sergeant on the head with a heavy hammer, which he had rigged so completely that it was taken from him with difficulty. Then an attack was made upon a Captain, so that it was time to disperse the crowd.

Mr. Thompson—The Park Commissioners gave us a permit to meet in Tompkins square, and they rescinded it last night, so that we had no time to tell the people to keep away.

Mr. McMichael—The meeting was intended to be peaceable: we promised the people that you would address them, and it is necessary for something to be done to allay the feeling that exists.

Mayor Havemeyer—I would have addressed the working men to-day if they carried out the programme they submitted to me. They agreed to march from Tompkins to Union square, and I told you that I would speak to them before they were dismissed at the latter place. Instead of doing what they agreed to do, they held a mass-meeting at Tompkins square without authority.

One of the deputation here remarked that the programme was changed on the previous night, so as to enable the working men to hear addresses.

Mr. Thompson—Our original intention was to march down to the City Hall, so as to see the authorities about getting employment.

Commissioner Duryee—But the Police Commissioners had to forbid that, because a large procession would interfere with business in the crowded thoroughfares below Canal street.

Mr. Halbert—This is a diversion. We desire to know if your Honor will come with us to address the working men.

Mayor Havemeyer—I must leave the matter to Commissioner Duryee.

Commissioner Duryee—I think it would be unadvisable for you to go. Let these gentlemen come again, and I am sure that all that can be done for the unemployed will be done by the City.

Mr. McMichael—We have been denounced by the press without cause. We have been called Communists, and our objects have been misrepresented. All we want is work.

Mayor Havemeyer—Well, there is one difficulty in the way. The market in this City is glutted with labor, and men will not work unless they can get the price they ask. I believe that there is work enough for everybody, but not at the wages demanded. (To Mr. McMichael.) What is your business?

Mr. McMichael—I am a painter.

Mayor Havemeyer—Well, many a man who can’t, at the present rates, get his house painted for less than $300 would willingly give $200 to have it done. But, as he has got money, he can afford to wait until he can have the painting done at the sum he wishes to pay for it.

Mr. McMichael—It is necessary to get good prices to live now.

Mr. Thompson—The working men can’t demand employment from private parties, so they must demand it from the Government.

Mayor Havemeyer—It is not the purpose or object of the City Government to furnish work to the industrious poor. That system belongs to other countries, not to ours. We can’t tear down the City Hall so as to furnish work to the unemployed. We have to open streets and proceed with other works such as are rquired, and it takes time to authorize these according to law.

Mr. Thompson—But is it not the duty of the Government to furnish rations to starving men and their families?

Mayor Havemeyer—I agree with you that rations should be furnished to those who need them, and I am ready to advance a movement of that kind to the full extent of my power. The people of this City are too large-hearted to allow any person to suffer from starvation.

Mr. Thompson—Well, perhaps it’s better for your Honor not to come with us to-day; so we shall not urge you. But we must see the people, lest they should blame us for not bringing you to Tompkins square. Will you (turning to Commissioner Duryee) give us a letter to the other Commissioners, so that we may procure a pass to enter Tompkins square. If we don’t get a pass, we’ll get clubbed by the Police.

Commissioner Duryee—There is no necessity for a note. See Commissioner Smith. You can easily see him.

The deputation then left. Immediately after they had retired, the Mayor said: I am in favor of raising subscriptions from merchants and others, so as to alleviate any suffering that may exist among working men and their families. Money would be soon forthcoming for the purpose, and a hall could be hierd and a clerk engaged to serve out rations of all kinds to the hungry. Money could also be advanced to those who were unable to pay their rent.

THE RIOTERS IN COURT.

Essex Market Police Court was particularly lively yesterday afternoon when Capt. Walsh, of the Seventeenth Precinct, assisted by twenty-five patrolmen marched in the prisoners whom they had arrested for riotous conduct around Tompkins square. The would-be Communists looked dogged and obstinate, evidently thinking that they would be at once discharged. They were considerably disappointed, however, when it was made known to them that the full penalty of the law would be meted out to them. They all expected friends would come forward and exert mysterious influence in their favor, but their expectations were all in vain. Some few of them, more impudent than others, said, Oh, the Judge dare not do anything to us; we are too powerful, and the people would tear down the prison. After the ordinary business had been disposed of, Justice Flammer directed the prisoners in charge of Capt. Walsh to be brought before him. The rioters were then all marched up to the desk, and formal complaints were entered against every one of them, charging them with assault and battery and riotous conduct. Justice Flammer, after the complaints of the officers were taken, committed all the prisoners, in default of $1,000 bail each, to stand their trial. They were all taken into the prison, and when there were visited by a Times reporter. They appeared only to be realizing the fact that they had committed very serious offenses against the law, and many of them regretted that they had ever been drawn into joining the demonstration.

Sources

New York Herald, 18 January 1874: “The Communists of New York—Their Secret Meetings and Movements,” and “The Communists: Meeting to Arouse the Second Assembly District”

Here are a pair of stories from the New York Herald in 1874, on “The Communists” and their meetings. The stories are typical examples of mainstream journalism reporting on radical movements in the wake of the United States’ first great Red Scare — the reaction to the Red uprisings in France in 1871 and the proclamation of the Paris Commune. Although the communards had been conquered, massacred and exiled by the Versailles government years before in 1871, the economic depression following the Panic of 1873, and an upsurge in worker protests and labor organizing, left many mainstream papers panicked about the prospects for conspiracy and insurgency in the United States.

Many thanks to Jesse Walker for pointing me to this issue of the Herald.

These stories appeared on Sunday, January 18, 1874. First, on p. 6, the column advertising “To-Day’s Contents of the Herald” includes the following item:

THE COMMUNIST SNAKE “SCOTCHED” NOT KILLED: AN ALARMING PRONOUNCEMENT! THEY “WILL HAVE BREAD!” — Tenth Page.

More on that in a minute. But first, in another column on p. 6:

The Communists of New York—Their Secret Meetings and Movements.

That there exists in the city of New York a disturbing element known as the “Communists” was demonstrated on Tuesday last in Tompkins square, and again last night in Cosmopolitan Hall. Although frustrated in Tuesday’s open attempt to defy the lawful authorities which forbade their assembling, or at least their parading the streets in procession, there is no knowing at what hour or by what preconcerted and secret action they may commit some overt act and cause widespread consternation among the community.

These dangerous conspirators against society are not confined to New York nor to Paris; they are spread the world over. They declare, as one of the prisoners arrested on Tuesday last did, that the red flag is their only flag; that they spit upon all other flags; that they demand equal rights in all things, the equalization of property, the apportionment of “good things,” and “free love,” as it is commonly known, in its broadest sense. They have no religion and no respect for person or station. In New York the body is controlled in a mysterious manner by an unseen so-called “Committee of Safety,” only a few of whom have appeared upon the surface. The movements of this committee are as secret and mystical as those of any known secret organization. Their leaders attempt to cover their own peculiar objects and schemes by advocating—nay, “demanding”—the employment of laborers upon the public works. These laborers, it is known, are mostly Irish Catholics, and if by their demands they succeed in securing employment for this class of people they take all the credit therefor, and hope thereby to win the Catholic laboring element to their side and obtain their assistance in their machinations. In these ridiculous demands, however, they have thus far failed. And when the Irish Catholic laborers are made to realize the hideous conduct of these Communists during their reign of carnage and terror in Paris, when the highest prelate in their Church in that unfortunate metropolis—the beloved Archbishop Darboy—together with other venerated and venerable magnates of the Church, was savagely butchered by these frenzied semi-barbarians, and the sacred shrines of their churches ruthlessly robbed of their precious jewels and treasures, they shun, as they would a pestilence, all affiliation with these foes of Christianity and civilization as well as of law and order. Evidence of this may be gleaned from the fact that of the large number of arrests at Tompkins square on Tuesday not a single Irish Catholic was found among the number. And another significant fact may be mentioned here—that of all those arrested, with only two or three exceptions, none were either native born or adopted citizens or foreigners who had declared their intentions of becoming citizens; in short, the great majority were men who recognized only the “red flag” as the flag of their nationality, and who “spat upon all others.” The Communists attempt to cajole the German laborers in the same way they have the Irish; but they to almost as great an extent have failed with them as with the Irish. It is even intimated that the Communists have threatened to burn schoolhouses in order to give employment in their reconstruction to both Irish and German laborers.

It may be asked, where does all the money come from to support the extraordinary operations of these men—men who work like machines, or as an engineer moves his locomotive, with people’s passions for tramways? They must have money, though professedly poor and starving, for if allowed to appear in procession they are ready to make a gorgeous display of banners and legends, of regalia, gold shields and other paraphenalia that must have cost thousands of dollars. At their meetings, which are seldom held twice in the same place or at the same hour when the places are changed, they have a free lunch at which many a poor fellow, out of work and out of money, is glad to get the wherewith to appease the pangs of hunger. These cost money, and it is the best possible way for them to spend it. The leaders—the engineers of the “Committee of Safety”—do not seem to be very impecunious, one of them (if not of this, of some other similar, if not so radical an organization) exhibiting in his shirt bosom on a certain occasion a thousand dollar breastpin while shrieking for “bread or blood.” The money to support all these things, we say, must come from some source, or may it not be here already? May not the booty of the plundered churches of Paris be now furnishing the material aid to carry on these nefarious projects—projects so menacing to the peace and safety of this whole community? It is known, as has been before intimated in this paper, that large amounts of precious stones, without setting, and concealed in balls of wax, together with numerous other treasures, the spoils of the Paris churches we refer to, were secretly conveyed to this country during the temporary but sanguinary régime of the Communists in Paris. Hence is it not reasonable to suppose that the product of these treasures of the sanctuaries is employed in the work of these incendiaries, conspirators and revolutionists?

We do not think that there is any immediate cause for serious alarm in regard to the operations of these desperate people; but it manifestly behooves the authorities to take such steps as will prevent their obtaining the upper hand in any single demonstrative movement they may undertake.

On the first column p. 10, the Herald carries its second story:

THE COMMUNISTS.

Meeting to Arouse the Second Assembly District.

Startling Words for the City Authorities

RESOLVED TO HAVE BREAD.

Several Addresses from Members of the Committee of Safety—What the Commune Intends To Do.

The Communists, it would seem, are moving and organizing in reality, and, judging from the speeches delivered at the meeting which took place last evening at Cosmopolitan Hall, corner of Catharine street and East Broadway, are determined upon asserting their rights to assemble in the public parks of the city. Quite a number of the organization were present, representing almost every nationality. Applause was freely given whenever any of the speakers alluded to the Police Commissioners or the police as tyrants and despots.

Citizen Banks

was on hand at an early hour, and as each newcomer made his appearance he would immediately rise and grasp him by the hand, and at the same time whisper to him in a subdued tone information of a secret character. About eight o’clock there were about sixty or seventy present. Citizen Banks then stepped up to the table at the further end of the room and called the meeting to order. He proposed that Mr. Roger Burke be requested to act as chariman. The motion was seconded and carried, and

Mr. Burke mounted the rostrum.

All eyes were now turned upon Citizen Burke, and as he prepared to deliver his address of thanks a faint applause greeted his ears. As soon as order was restored Citizen Burke delivered himself of hte following speech:—

Citizen Burke’s Speech

Gentlemen—I am thankful to you for having elected me to this position. It is not the first time that I have held similar positions among workingmen. I am sorry to state that last evening one of our meetings was broken up by the police, and several of those present were “pulled.” I am happy to be able to announce to you that every district in the city is undergoing a thorough organization. This district, however, is more behind than any other, and we must endeavor to protect our organization here also. The police have endeavored again to infringe upon our rights, for to-day, hearing of our proposed meeting this evening, they were sent around to dissuade the workingmen from putting in an appearance. I understand that at this very moment policement in citizens’ clothes are placed around the building to watch us, and that detectives are also in our very midst prepared to note down every word we may give utterance to. The Committee of Safety desire, for the purpose of perfecting our organization, that every one present this evening step forward and transcribe his name upon the roll. At this juncture onf of the audience requested information of the speaker as to whether or not the police of New York city had been empowered to amend the constitution of the United States so as to prevent the right of free speech. This remark was received with applause by the entire assemblage.

Having concluded his remarks, Citizen Burke then introduced

Citizen Elliott.

Citizen Elliott announced the fact that the German wards were already thoroughly organized and that the only thing which remained to secure a thorough and effective organization was the enrolment of the English speaking wards. The proper manner of procedure, the speaker stated, for those in sympathy with the movement now on foot to redeem the workingmen was to perfect district and ward organizations throughout the entire city, the same as is done previous to the holding of the political elections. Rumors had gone abroad that the Committee of Safety had determined to resign their trust, but such was not the case. The

Committee of Safety

would always remain in active existence. The members of that committee had pledged themselves to remain true to the principles which led to their organization. They would never relax their efforts, but would work night and day to promote the great cause of the workingmen. Not one of them sought any office, and they were all pledged never to accept any. The Committee of Safety have, moreover, determined to carry the cases of the men now in custody who were arrested for participation in the meeting on Tuesday last before the State courts, and no labor nor expense would be spared to free them from bondage. On last Tuesday the country at large had seen a most dastardly outrage perpetrated upon the rights of the workingmen.

Commissioner Duryee

had charged his police upon inoffensive workingmen like so many “bulldogs” (Voice in the audience—“Shame! Shame!”) When a demonstration is made again let the workingmen go out in large numbers so that the police or military will not dare to resist them. (Loud applause. I request that those who are present here this evening will, before they depart, come forward and sign the roll so that we can form a good nucleus to perfect a solid organization in this ward.

Citizen Banks

was then introduced. During the interval between the organization of the meeting and the conclusion of the speech of Citizen Elliot the audience was considerably increased by the entry of quite a number of prominent Communists.

Citizen Banks immediately opened his remarks by alluding to the outrage committed by the police on last Tuesday. He then continued in the following strain:—To-night, again, it appears to me that an attempt is being made to intimidate us from holding our meetings as citizens and workingmen, and a second outrage is being perpetrated upon us. We are denied the right of even meeting in peace and quietness in this hall. Police guard all the entrances, and detectives have been placed in our midst to watch our every movement. This I consider even a greater outrage than the one which was perpetrated on Tuesday last; for they have even busied themselves in warning the workingmen to keep away, telling them that if we met there would be trouble. The committee, however, have met here in defiance of the police. We are not to be terrified. We are not to be coerced into giving up our rights as citizens. Outrages such as these leave men no other remedy than military action and to be prepared militarily, in order that we can meet whenever we desire to exchange opinions and prepare for action. At Tompkins square they prepared an anbuscade for us, and without a word of warning began an indiscriminate clubbing. Those who were endeavoring to run in order to escape laceration were clubbed unmercifully—one workingman being killed outright and another now lies at the point of death. The time has come and we

must now prepare for the worst.

We must resist as workingmen, and as such we must endeavor to put down all monopolies. Under the present laws which govern society how much better off are we than the former slaves in the South? (Voice in the audience—“They were well fed.”) Yes, they were well fed, and they were cared for and provided with work, which we are denied. We are not even as fortunate as were the negroes. Talk about free America and the Stars and Stripes! Why, the Stars and Stripes are in disgrace. We must prepare to

fight those opposed to us.

We are tired of political demagogues. We have had enough of them. They talk about the Communists. The Communists are the only ones who look after the rights of the workingmen. (Loud applause.) Nowadays the workingman who dares to say a word draws down upon his head the anger of the press. The competitive system in existence makes all the trouble. We want the system of universal co-operation, and to this opinion we must all incline. The man who does not labor robs the man who does. He hires you for his good only and robs you of the profit which belongs to your labor. Independent action on the part of the workingmen is the only way we can gain our ends, and if we cannot meet pacifically we must organize militarily. We must have no sympathy for anybody but our families, and if the police will not allow us to meet quietly we must go armed to our meetings.

Other Speakers.

Citizen Samuels, of the Committee of Safety, then addressed the meeting, and was followed by Citizen Leander Thompson, chairman of the Committee of Safety, and Citizen McGuire. Subsequent to the speech of Citizen McGuire, Citizen Elliot offered and read the following resolutions, which were unanimously adopted:—

Resolutions.

Whereas we are passing through a great financial crisis which has thrown us suddenly out of employment; and whereas there is no destruction of the real wealth of the country, but speculation in gold, stocks and the people’s lands, sanctioned by the government, has been the sole cause of the panic; and whereas we are industrious, law-abiding citizens, who wish to avoid all outrage on person or property, and deprecate violence or injustice in any form; and whereas we desire only the means of obtaining the necessities of life, not as objects of charity, but as law-abiding citizens, whose right it is to demand work of the government which we have always protected and supported; therefore, we are

Resolved. That we will not eat the bread of idleness nor starve in the midst of plenty; but that we demand work, and pay for that work, now and without delay.

Resolved. That we demand the rigid enforcement of the eight-hour system on all private as well as public work, and the instant and entire abolition of the whole government contract system.

Resolved. That if the government will not furnish work for the unemployed, we, through our Committee of Safety, will in this our time of need supply ourselves and our families with proper food, shelter and clothing and will send all our bills for the same to the City Treasury to be liquidated, until such times as we shall obtain work and pay.

Resolved. That we demand an immediate and permanent reduction of twenty-five per cent on all house rents until the 1st of May to the unemployed of all classes.

Resolved. That, in the furtherance of the objects set down in the above resolutions, we will enroll our names and organize, not in the interest of any political party, but in the interest of all the people who are suffering from the present condition of affairs.

Resolved. That we will appoint from this mass meeting a committee of twelve workingmen, residents of the ward, to organize the working classes of the ward and co-operate with the German ward organizations.

Resolved. That we will support and sustain the Committee of Safety in its work of securing the above objects.

Adjourned.

After a somewhat lengthy address from Mr. McMicken, of the Committee of Safety, the meeting adjourned. Those who had not already signed the roll of membership were then again invited to do so. Some fears had been entertained that when the meeting was over some altercation, if not a serious disturbance, might occur between the police and the men who had attended the meeting, but nothing took place that could in any way be considered reprehensible. The men quietly dispersed to their homes, without even hovering around the building.

A little further down p. 10, in the column on court reports, there is the following report from the Court of Special Sessions:

Court of Special Sessions.

The Tompkins Square Rioters.

Before Judges Kilbreth, Flammer and Kasmire.

Benjamin Sugden, Peter Ackerman, Charles Green, Lorenzo Solestro, Jacob Eickhoff, Herman Zizachefsky, Thomas McGraw, Terence Donnelly, James Donohue and Joseph Hoefflicher were arraigned at the bar of Special Sessions yesterday, charged with assault and battery on several different officers and with aiding and inciting riot.

They were arrested last Tuesday, in and near Tompkins square, at the time of the workingmen’s demonstration, and have been locked up in Essex Market Prison ever since. Counsellor Theodore E. Tomlinson appeared for all of them except Hoefflicher and demanded for his clients a trial by jury. Their cases were, therefore, sent to the Court of General Sessions. Counsellor Price appeared for Hoefflicher and asked that his case might be tried in the Court of Special Sessions. The trial was set down by the presiding magistrate for next Tuesday, when all the witnesses are expected to be present. The prisoners were then removed to the Tombs prison and are at present confined on the fourth tier of that institution. Some of them are accused of felonious assault and battery, while others have no complaint against them except meting and talking wildly in the streets.

Sources

Letter from Eugene V. Debs to Joseph Labadie, May 5, 1908

This is a letter from the labor organizer and Socialist Party of America leader Eugene V. Debs to his fellow organizer, the individualist anarchist Joseph A. Labadie, in reply to an earlier letter from Labadie about misrepresentations of Anarchism coming in from Socialist Party members. The letter also refers to Debs’s correspondence with Voltairine de Cleyre. At the time, Debs was running for President of the United States on the SP ticket.

May 5, 1908
Girard, Kansas

My dear Joe:—

Some days ago a letter came from you which I had but time to glance at and meant to answer later, but to my regret I am now unable to find it. In the thousand or more letters which pour in here daily yours seems to have gone astray. I remember, I think, the substance of your letter and regret you felt that ytou had cause for writing it. It is quite probable that there is good ground for your complaint. I do not justify nor attempt to justify any misrepresentation of anarchism or anarchists. But this sort of thing has been engaged in on both sides. At Chicago and some other places there are those who call themselves anarchists who are to be found in every election with the money of capitalist politicians in their pockets and doing the service of ward-heeling politicians, denouncing Socialists and visiting their wrath on the Appeal to Reason and other Socialist papers. Between elections of course, they have no use for politics and denounce all politics as corrupt but when there is an opening to make a few dirty dollars they are in the thick of the vilest kind of politics. But I know you do not defend this and I am simply mentioning it to show that there are those on both sides who are engaged in the reprehensible work which you and I both condemn.

I have a letter from Voltairine de Cleyre on the same subject and have just answered her. Of course you know that I am not an anarchist and do not agree to the anarchist philosophy, but I can none the less admire such a comrade as Voltairine de Cleyre, in whose letter which lies before me there is everything that is commendable and not one word to which any fair and decent person could take exception.

I have often defended anarchists and I think no one more fully appreciates the moral heroism of the Chicago anarchists who were legally murdered than I. Certain anarchists have at times treated me unfairly but I have rarely paid any attention to them for the very reason that I do not wish any personal controversy with those who are opposed to capitalism. So far as we can work together well and good. Where we cannot do this we can each pursue his own course with all due respect for the other. I number some anarchists among my warmest personal friends and the only change I could wish in them is that they were Socialists.

I appreciate the kindly spirit in which you have written me and you may rely upon me to do what I can to prevent any misrepresentation of anarchism on the part of Socialists.

I am glad your mail has been held up by the government. This gives you fresh credentials and increases, if possible, my personal regard for you. In any such fight, if it became serious, I need not assure you that you could count on me without fear of disappointment.

I hope you are well and cheerful, and with all good wishes, remain as ever,

Yours faithfully,

E. V. Debs

The letter is printed in Letters of Eugene V. Debs, Vol. 1, ed. J. Robert Constantine (University of Illinois Press, 1990), pp. 264-266. It is preserved in the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan.

Countereconomics on the shopfloor

So lately I’ve been reading through a cache of syndicalist and autonomist booklets that I picked up a couple years ago from a NEFACker friend of mine who was soon to move out of Vegas. Partly for my own edutainment, but also because I am doing some prep work for possibly introducing a sort of Little Libertarian Labor Library to the ALL Distro.[1] Anyway, here’s a really interest passage I ran across in a booklet edition of Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers — a talk by the Detroit auto-worker and autonomist Marxist Martin Glaberman — on the difference between asking workers to vote on an issue and asking them to strike over it, taking as an example the internal conflicts over the union bosses’ no-strike pledge during World War II.

One of the things I want to start with, because it does provide a framework, and is not simply an event from the past, is something I did some work on a number of years ago about auto workers in the United States during World War II, the kinds of struggles that went on on the shop floor, within the union, between the workers and the government, a complex reality. What it revolved around was the struggle against the no-strike pledge in the UAW When the United States entered World War II, virtually all of America’s labor leaders graciously granted in the name of their members a pledge not to strike at all during the war.

In the first months of the war, the first year, there was an actual drop off in strikes. The end of 1941 through 1942 was a period that put a finish to the late thirties, the massive organizational drives, the sit-down strikes, the violence, all the things that created the big industrial unions. The job hadn’t been entirely done. Ford wasn’t organized until early 1941. Little Steel wasn’t organized, unionized, until the war was well under way, and so on.

Gradually, however, as the war went on, the number of strikes, (by definition all of them were wildcats, all of them were illegal under union contracts and under union constitutions) began to escalate until by the end of the war, the number of workers on strike exceeded anything in past American labor history. What was distinct about the UAW wasn’t just that the wildcat strikes were larger in number and more militant, but the fact that something took place which made it possible to make a certain kind of record. It was the only union in which, because there were still two competing caucuses, leaving rank and file workers a certain amount of democratic leeway to press for their point of view, an actual formal debate and vote took place on the question of the no-strike pledge.

A small, so-called rank and file, caucus was organized late in 1943 and early 1944, to begin a campaign around a number of issues, but the central issue was the repeal of the no-strike pledge. … So[2] they proceeded to have a referendum. This referendum was in some respects the classic sociological survey. Everyone got a postcard ballot. Errors, cheating, etc. were really kept to a minimum. Everyone on the commission thought that it was as fair as you get in an organization of a million or more members. It took several months to do. When the vote was finally in, the membership of the UAW had voted about two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge.

The conclusion any decent sociologist would draw is that autoworkers on the whole thought that patriotism was a little bit more important than class interests, that they supported the war rather than class struggle and strikes, etc. There was a little problem, however, and this is why this is such a fascinating historical experience. The problem was that at the very same time that the vote was going on, in which workers voted two to one to reaffirm the no-strike pledge, a majority of autoworkers struck ….

To visualize it is fairly simple: you’re not voting on the shop floor; you get this postcard, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, you’re listening to the radio news with the casualty reports from Europe and the Pacific and you think, yes, we really should have a no-strike pledge, we’ve got to support our boys. Then you go to work the next day and your machine breaks down and the foreman says, Don’t stand around, grab a broom and sweep up, and you tell him to go to hell because it’s not your job and the foreman says he’s going to give you time off and the next thing you know, the department walks out. … The reality is that in a war which was probably the most popular war that America took part in, workers in fact, if not in their minds or in theory, said that given the choice between supporting the war or supporting our interests and class struggle, we take class struggle.

— Martin Glaberman, Shopfloor Struggles of American Workers (1993?)

Glaberman puts this out as a distinction between what workers say in their minds or in theory and what they say or do in fact. I’m not sure that’s right — doesn’t the story about the foreman involve the workers’ mind and beliefs just as much as the story about the kitchen table? — but I think the most important thing here is Glaberman’s attention to the context at the point of decision, and how that shapes what kind of decision a worker thinks of herself as making. Not just the outcome of the choice, but really the topic, whether the worker is asked to make some kind of political choice about what she ought, in some general and detached sense, she ought to value (isn’t Patriotism important?), or she finds herself making an engaged, personal choice about what’s happening — what’s being done — to her and her fellow workers right now, on the margin. There is a lesson here for counter-economists.

Freedom is not something you vote on. It’s something you struggle for. And what’s far more important than trying to figure out how to get people to endorse the right ideology, or, worse, the least-bad set of policies and candidates to each other across the kitchen table, is figuring out how you and your neighbors can best cooperate with each other, practice solidarity and withdraw from maintaining and collaborating with the state. People who would never respond to a smaller-government candidate or a libertarian ideological pitch often will act very differently when you open up opportunities to support grassroots alternatives and withdraw from the day-to-day inhumanities of war taxes, regulations, police, prisons, borders, and the state-supported and state-supporting corporate capitalist economy. Meanwhile, those who talk all day about changing votes, and building parties to more effectively capture a few more votes here and there, and have nothing else to offer, are wasting time, resources, and organizing energy on efforts that are not merely futile, but in fact actively lethal to any hope of motivating and coordinating effective practical action.

See also:

  1. [1] The basic idea: L4 would encompass some of the material we already have (Chaplin’s General Strike, Carson’s Ethics of Labor Struggle) and a lot of new and classic material, with new titles published at regular intervals, all with the basic underlying goal of (1) providing some decent labor-oriented materials for ALL locals, and (2) providing a decent source (mostly, currently, lacking) for IWW local organizing committees and other radical labor efforts to find some decently produced, low-cost booklet-style materials for lit drops and outreach tables, beyond just the IW, Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, and the relatively expensive books you can purchase through GHQ.
  2. [2] [After an inconclusive floor debate in convention. —RG]

Friday’s Reading: one on post-WWII bohemian-anarchism, one on early anarcho-capitalism, and some mutualist portraits

I spent most of the day booked with a consulting client and doing some house-cleaning, which was much-needed anyway but especially so in light of an impending family visit from Michigan and from Maine. Still, I had the time to catch up on some things I’ve been meaning to read. It all turned out to be PDFs I’d accumulated, but now that I have a Kindle (thanks to a Christmas present) it’s actually no longer excruciating for me to sit around reading PDFs. In any case:

  • I got the chance to read The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy (!), Mildred Edie Brady’s shocking exposé of the emerging Northern California counter-culture — of 1947. (The article went into the April 1947 issue of Harpers. (Suggested by Jesse Walker.)

    This is, roughly, the intellectual and artistic milieu that the Beats would eventually emerge from, and monopolize in the public consciousness; but that particular coffeeklatsch was still 10 years away from their public breakthrough, and in 1947 there was a lot more attention on Henry Miller, California surrealism, and the occasional cameo by Man Ray and Kenneth Rexroth. I should say that the article is not as stupidly alarmist as the title that some editor no doubt inflicted on it; maybe the whole thing would have read like more of an awful calumny when the story was published, on the eve of the Great Sexual Backlash, when sexualism was something more hotly contested than it now is.

    Anyway the sex part in the article has to do with the author’s obsession with the bohemian mens’ obsession with Wilhelm Reich. The anarchy part refers, by turns, either to an artistic radical indifference to State and social authority; or, at times, to genuine intellectual anarchism. Anyway, I don’t know that the article will offer you any really deep insights, but it’s fun, and a nice time-piece, and also a rare glimpse (even if distinctly from the outside) of the anarchist/bohemian milieu, such as it was, in the now-rarely-discussed, now-mostly-forgotten years just after World War II. It also told me little about, but gave me the titles of, a number of new little publications to chase down. Anyway. Here’s some of the interesting, and some of the ugly, on the part of the subjects:

    Pacifica Views was openly anarchist and its influence was enhanced by the sympathetic representation of the [Conscientious Objector’s] position in the community. Its editor, George B. Reeves, successfully accomplished this not only through the magazine itself but also in the Human Events pamphlet Men Against the State. Even in Pacifica Views, however, the anarchism-sexualism tie was aired by several weeks’ discussion of Wilhelm Reich’s thesis and the magazine’s political position was embellished with a sure come-on for the young—sexual freedom for the adolescent and the deep political significance that lies in developing a healthy sexuality among the masses of the people who are endemically neurotic and sexually sick.

    ANARCHISM is, of course, nothing new to the West. There have been in both Seattle and San Francisco small anarchist groups ever since the first World War and before, and remnants of them have persisted. Some are hangovers from the days of the Wobblies. Others are made up of first and second generation European immigrants—like the San Francisco group, the Libertarians, which is largely Italian. All during the thirties these small groups existed without benefit of attention from young intellectuals who in those days were most apt to be thumping their typewriters on behalf of the United Front.

    Not long after December 7, 1941, however, the poet Kenneth Rexroth left the ranks of the Communists in San Francisco and turned both anarchist and pacifist. Around him, as around Miller, there collected a group of young intellectuals and writers who met weekly in self-education sessions, reading the journals of the English anarchists, studying the old-line anarchist philosophers like Kropotkin, and leavening the politics liberally with psychoanalytic interpretations from Reich. It was and is, however, a decidedly literary group in which politics is all but submerged by art, where poems, not polemics, are written, and where D. H. Lawrence outshines Bakunin—Lawrence the philosopher, of Fantasia and the Unconscious rather than Lawrence the novelist.

    Nevertheless, the anarchism of this group is taken seriously enough to call forth tokens to the political as well as the sexual; and at meetings of the Libertarians, today, you will be apt to find young intellectuals sprinkled among the moustachioed papas and bosomed mamas [sic! Really? —R.G.] who, until recently, had no such high-toned co-operation. In this particular group around Rexroth, the Henry Miller kind of anarchism is held to be irresponsible, for Miller goes so far on the lonely individualistic trail as to sneer at even anarchist organization.

    To the outside observer, however, the differences between the Miller adherents and the Rexroth followers are more than outweighed by their similarities. They both reject rationalism, espouse mysticism, and belong to the select few who are orgastically potent. And they both share in another attitude that sets them sharply apart from the bohemians of the twenties. They prefer their women subdued—verbally and intellectually.

    No budding Edna St. Vincent Millay or caustic Dorothy Parker appears at their parties. If the girls want to get along they learn, pretty generally, to keep their mouths shut, to play the role of the quiet and yielding vessel through which man finds the cosmos. Although there are a few women writers found now and then in Circle [a prominent literary magazine from the San Francisco scene] — Anais Nin is a favorite and Maude Phelps Hutchins (wife of Robert Hutchins, chancellor of the University of Chicago) has appeared—the accepted view of both the wome nand the men seems to be that woman steps out of her cosmic destiny when the goal of her endeavor shifts beyond bed and board. This doesn’t mean that the women are economically dependent, however. Most of the girls hold down jobs. But the job is significant only in that it contributes to a more satisfactory board.

    — Mildred Edie Brady (1947), The New Cult of Sex and Anarchy, Harper’s (April 1947).

    Well, nobody could say that revolooshunerry chauvinism is some kind of new problem in the scene; Manarchy abides.

  • I also finished off Jarret Wollstein’s Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization (1969), one of the first documents (to my knowledge) to advocate self-described, self-identified anarcho-capitalism. Wollstein was a dissident Objectivist (less dissident and more uniformly Objectivist-influenced than, say, Roy Childs). It’s been suggested that Wollstein was the first to coin the phrase anarcho-capitalism. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but in any case here’s some of his reasons for employing the term; in this one he mentions it as a term already floating around the circles he’s a part of.

    2.4 Naming A Free Society

    To name the social system of a free society is not as nominal a task as at first it may appear to be. It is not only the existence of complete social freedom which is absent from today’s world, but also the idea of such freedom. There is, in truth, probably no word in the English language which properly denotes and connotes the concept of the social system of a free society.

    A number of persons who have recognized the fallacies in the advocacy of not just this or that government, but who have also recognized the inherent contradiction in government itself (such as Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess) have decided that since archy means rule, or the presence of government — which they are against — they will designate their sociological position as anarchy — no rule, or the total absence of government. This decision is unfortunate, to say the least, since it embodies several epistemological fallacies. Firstly, the term anarchy is a negative one; to say that one is for anarchy is only to say that one is against government. It is not to say what are the positive social forms which one advocates. This may be perfectly fine if one, in fact, advocates no positive social forms. However, if one advocates freedom and its economic expression laissez-faire capitalism, the designation anarchy or anarchism, of itself, will hardly suffice. Secondly, anarchy merely means no rule not no coercion. It is perfectly possible to have an anarchist society with coercion initiated by random individuals and robber gangs. So long as these persons do not claim legal sanction or create formal and enduring institutions, one would have a very coercive anarchist society. Further, it is possible for there to be an anarchist society in which no force was initiated, although due to the personal irrationality and mysticism of its occupants, no rational person would want to live in it. For example, imagine a society occupied exclusively by non-violent schizophrenics, or equivalently, by Zen Buddhists. [sic. Really? —RG]

    Less important, but also significant, is the fact that the term anarchy, in present usage, has come to mean not only no rule but also has come to imply social chaos and senseless violence. This is a corruption of the original meaning of the term, but nevertheless it makes the word anarchy an impediment rather than an implement to communicating the concept of a free society. When one wishes to defend in principle and implement in reality a free society, it is irrational to deliberately choose a term which one knows will alienate, at the outset, persons with whom one eventually intends to deal.

    Another term has been suggested by Robert LeFevre, advocate of the free market and founder of Ramparts College [sic—RG] in California. Mr. LeFevre rejects the term anarchy primarily because of its past close association with collectivism and, recognizing the fallacy of limited government, proposes in its stead the word autarchy, meaning self-rule. Again this term suffers several epistemological faults. It fails to state how one should rule oneself, and in fact says nothing about the nature of social order.

    Next we have the term voluntarism, also advocated by many proponents of the term anarchism. This expression is superior to the term anarchy in that it does exclude coercion from its subsumed concept of social order. It is therefore acceptable for this communicative purpose. However, several necessary differentia in the valid concept of a free society are still lacking. Conceivably one could have a voluntary collectivist society (at least for a while), in which individuals voluntarily become slaves, as well as a voluntary individualist society, in which the individual is his [sic —RG] own master. Consequently, this term is not fully satisfactory.

    A phrase in increasingly popular use which I advocate as the best presently available specification of the socio-economic position of persons advocating a society of consistent rational freedom is anarcho-capitalism. Here the prefix anarcho indicates the lack of coercive government, and the word capitalism indicates the positive presence of free trade based upon respect for man’s [sic] rights. This term is not ideal: the prefix anarcho has negative semantic value, and the term capitalism is intimately associated with the present American statist mixed economy. However, it would seem to be the best term which we now have, and consequently we will use it (and in more limited contexts voluntarism) in the remainder of this essay.

    — Jarret B. Wollstein (1969), Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization. Society for Rational Individualism. 21-22.

    A bit further down there’s also some material on strategy. After rejecting retreatism, and purely theoretical education, Wollstein advocates counter-institutions. Sort of….

    4.1 Alternatives to Government Institutions

    How often have you presented a brilliantly stated, logically air-tight thesis to a collectivist only to have him [sic] say, That’s fine in theory, but in practice it wouldn’t work. THis of course is an absurdity, but it is next to impossible to convince most collectivists of this fact by purely forensic ability. Clearly, if we are to convince the great majority of American intellectuals, something more than logical theorizing is necessary.

    What I propose is the actual creation of alternatives to government institutions — initially schools, post offices, fire departments and charity; later, roads, police, courts and armed forces. Libertarians recognize that government services are hopelessly obsolete and inherently economically unsound. With the present system it is patently impossible to assess the costs of education and police investigations at all. Rather than trying to politically convince two hundred million Americans that this is so on the basis of rational economic theory, libertarians should instead demonstrate the fact by actually creating the far superior institutions of a free society. Fire departments, schools and post offices should immediately be set up by men and women who understand the free market and who are competent as businessmen [sic].

    One way to do this would be for rational businessmen [sic] to cooperate with libertarian students and theorists in order to establish such enterprises as franchise operations, using all of the skills of modern industry. Simultaneously, libertarians should act politically to free the market to facilitate these enterprises; meanwhile theoreticians should attempt to infiltrate the mass media, or start their own popular magazines and telecommunications facilities to emphasize to the American people that these institutions are working far better than their governmental equivalents; and then to explain why they are doing so. Such a dramatic demonstration of the efficacy of the free market might well accomplish what mere talk alone is unable to do: free America.

    How can the men and women of America fail to understand the value of freedom in all areas of human enterprise when private post offices, roads and police are actually providing far better services than government is capable of delivering?

    — Jarret B. Wollstein (1969), Society Without Coercion: A New Concept of Social Organization. Society for Rational Individualism. 40.

  • Finally, I got a start on Dear Tucker: The Letters from John Henry Mackay to Benjamin R. Tucker, which run from 1905 to 1933 (ed. and trans. by Hubert Kennedy, 2002). I haven’t gotten deep enough in for any interesting pull-quotes from the text. But I did come across these rad portraits of Clarence Lee Swartz (a frequent contributor to Liberty and author of What Is Mutualism?) and Steven T. Byington (another frequent Liberty correspondent, founder of Liberty’s Anarchist Letter Writing Corps, and the translator of Stirner). Both photos are from the Labadie Collection.

    Clarence Lee Swartz (1868-1936)

    Steven T. Byington (1869-1957)

Ignorance and Markets

This is an unsigned editorial from the January 2009 issue of Philosophy (vol. 84, no. 327). Submitted for comment, without much commentary from my end. (Yet.)

Editorial: Ignorance and Markets

It may not be true that no one predicted the recent crash in the financial world. But it is certainly true that most well-informed observers and participants, including most importantly those who believed they were actually running things, were caught unawares. If they had been aware, they would have been able to avoid the worst consequences, at least for themselves, and even profit from the situation.

The 2008 financial crash has been compared to the fall of the Berlin Wall, in that just as the one signalled the end of an uncritical belief in socialism, at least of a centralised sort, the other signals the end to an uncritical belief in markets.

Let us leave aside the point that the markets of 2008 were actually heavily regulated in all sorts of ways, and so hardly unfettered. There is in fact an interesting parallel between 1989 and 2008 in one significant respect. Both events were largely unforeseen.

In one sense this is encouraging. For all our knowledge and technology there is much, even in human affairs, which is unpredictable and uncontrollable. This is, in a sense, judgment on hubris. It can also be liberating, particularly for those who do not see themselves as masters of the universe.

But should 2008 be seen as a decisive moment as far as belief in markets is concerned? Much will depend on what is meant by a market, no easy question when, as already mentioned, no markets to-day are unfettered, and are not likely to be in the foreseeable future.

We should, though, not forget that for followers of Adam Smith, such as Hayek, one of the main philosophical arguments in favour of markets was precisely the unpredictability of human action and of events more generally. From this perspective markets are not seen as perfect predictors, which there cannot be. But in situations of uncertainty they are seen as the most efficient and least hazardous way of disseminating information in a society and of responding to what cannot be predicted. It would be somewhat paradoxical if a failure of prediction was in itself taken to be an argument against a system which takes unpredictability as its starting point.

— Philosophy 84 (2009), 1. Cambridge University Press.

Thoughts?

Now online: Full text of two more issues of MOTHER EARTH — Vol. VI., No. 11 (January, 1912) and Vol. VII., No. 12 (February, 1913)

Three months ago, I happily announced that the complete text of the November 1914 issue of Mother Earth had been made available at the Fair Use Repository. To-day, I’m pleased to follow up that announcement — with the announcement that the Fair Use Repository now features the complete text of three issues of Mother Earth. The two issues recently made available are:

Mother Earth, Vol. VI., No. 11 (January, 1912)

This issue is mainly occupied with the arts and revolution. It leads off with Blaming the Fester, a poem by Rebekah E. Raney. The New Year is a fundraising appeal on the occasion of Christmastime and the New Year, while Observation and Comments includes short reports on current events — delays in the publication of Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, the trial of the bosses who’d locked workers into the the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, strikes and conspiracy trials around the country, Big Bill Haywood’s feud with the Socialist Party of America, and more.

Paul Orleneff offers a celebratory review (unsigned, but probably written by Emma Goldman) of the actor’s performances in New York. A Review of the Year, by Harry Kelly, and the continuation of a serialized article by Voltairine de Cleyre on The Mexican Revolution, discuss revolutions and uprisings flaring up throughout the world in 1911. In The Right to Live M. B. argues that political rights are empty without workers’ material control over the means of their own survival (the organization of society in a manner to insure to each the material basis of life and make it as self-evident as breathing). Max Baginski reviews the Autobiography of Richard Wagner, taking it as evidence of the old commonplace that one can be a great artist and yet small as a man, and concluding that The suffocating dependence of artistic production upon wealth and patronage should cause the true artist—who is not content to produce mere market ware—to turn relentlessly rebel against the existing standards, to become a communist. … The dream that Wagner once dreamed in Art and Revolution will some day be realized by the people,—nor will they need the aid of philosopher or king. The issue concludes with a continuation of the serialized article Economy as Viewed by An Anarchist by C. L. James, on the historical emergence of the bourgeois system and its connections with past forms of economic hierarchy, as well as with the subjection of women.

Mother Earth, Vol. VII., No. 12 (February, 1913)

The February 1913 issue has a few things to say about the State and a lot to say about the union struggle, Syndicalism, and government repression of striking workers. The issue leads off with To Our Friends, an appeal for readers to help widen the circulation of the journal, followed by another monthly instalment of short reports in Observations and Comments — including remarks on the inauguration of Woodrow Wilson, the futility of appeals to the law, the advantages of direct action, new strike arbitration laws in New Zealand (among the first such labor laws in the world), the legal repression of Anarchists in the U.S., police scandals in Denver, and the incorporation of the Rockefeller fund.

James Montgomery’s The Black Hundreds of Plutocracy and Government discusses the use of private security forces, with tacit or explicit government approval, to inflict large-scale violence on striking workers. The New Idol, a translation of an excerpt from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, declares the State the coldest of all cold monsters. Theodor Johnson’s Help Save These Comrades! reports on the case of a group of striking Swedish dock workers, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for a bomb plot, and calls for international solidarity to get their sentences commuted. Making a Strike a Crime government’s assault on the rights to picket and speak freely, with the imprisonment of dozens of peaceful picketers and speakers in Little Falls, New York during a textile mill strike. Intolerance in the Union comments on growing regimentation and bureaucratic control within conservative trade unions and reprints a letter from a comrade discussing his objections to a corrupt bargain made by his union’s labor bosses, which resulted in his being persecuted by the labor bosses and expelled from the union. Syndicalism: Its Theory and Practice concludes a long article by Emma Goldman on state-free Syndicalist organizing, with a discussion of Syndicalism’s characteristic methods — Direct Action, Sabotage, and the General Strike. The issue concludes with Anarchist writer and teacher Bayard Boyesen’s review of Alexander Berkman’s Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, and with an announcement of dates for Emma Goldman’s lecture tour through the Midwest.

Onward

These issues complete a set of three reprinted issues of Mother Earth that I picked up from a table at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. I’d very much like to make available more of Mother Earth’s print run online. A number of partial and complete issues — mostly earlier issues — are currently available from The Anarchy Archives, and a fair amount is available for browsing in Google Books. But I’d like to liberate the latter from the Google Books’s inaccurate automatic markup, often capricious behavior, and hypertext-unfriendly environment. And in any case, there are a lot of gaps to fill in. If you have any suggestions on issues to prioritize, or good lines on copies to be transcribed, please feel free to leave a comment here, or contact me with the details.

Read, cite, and enjoy!

Now online: two British labor manifestos on World War I

Continuing our collection of historical sources and political documents from the 1910s, especially those related to World War I, I’m happy to announce that the Fair Use Repository now features the complete text of two manifestos from British labor organizations taking on the outbreak of World War I.

  • On August 1, 1914, the British Section of the International Socialist Bureau published the Manifesto to the British People, written by J. Keir Hardie and [Arthur Henderson], arguing that Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the sudden, crushing attack made by the militarist Empire of Austria upon Servia, it is certain that the workers of all countries likely to be drawn into the conflict must strain every nerve to prevent their Governments from committing them to war.

  • In September 1914, the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress issued a Manifesto to the Trade Unionists of the Country, supporting the war, praising the Labour Party’s role in the government’s military enlistment campaign, urging working-class men to enlist voluntarily in order to demonstrate to the world that a free people can rise to the supreme heights of a great sacrifice without the whip of conscription, and calling on the government to ensure that enlisted men receive at the hands of the State a reasonable and assured recompense, not so much for themselves as for those who are dependent upon them, and to take a liberal and even a generous view of its responsibilities toward those citizens who come forward to assist in the defence of their country.

The manifestos are taken from versions reprinted in the wartime anthology, Labour in war time (1915), by George Douglas Howard Cole; I initially put them up in order to fill out the references made to each of the two manifesto’s in Guy Aldred’s That Economic Army, which refers to each of them in the course of Aldred’s analysis of economic conscription, and how it had turned virtually all of English politics and civil society towards support of the war machine.

Claim Chowder: Ray Kurzweil, “2009,” in The Age of Spiritual Machines

Welcome to The World of Tomorrow, everyone. This is from Chapter 9 of Ray Kurzweil’s 1999 exercise in Singularity futurism, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. The chapter is entitled 2009, and it’s supposed to tell us what the world would be like by, well, now. It’s long, so I’ll let you know now that I have some commentary below.

(Oh, and in case you’re curious, the weird exchange at the end is this goofy technique that Kurzweil uses at the end of each chapter in the book. It’s supposed to be a dialogue with his imagined reader. So, yeah.)

2009

It is said that people overestimate what can be accomplished in the short term, and underestimate the changes that will occur in the long term. With the pace of change continuing to accelerate, we can consider even the first decade in the twenty-first century to constitute a long-term view. With that in mind, let us consider the beginning of the next century.

The Computer Itself

It is now 2009. Individuals primarily use portable computers, which have become dramatically lighter and thinner than the notebook computers of ten years earlier. Personal computers are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry such as wristwatches, rings, earrings, and other body ornaments. Computers with a high-resolution visual interface range from rings and pins and credit cards up to the size of a thin book.

People typically have at least a dozen computers on and around their bodies, which are networked using body LANs (local area networks).[1] These computers provide communication facilities similar to cellular phones, pagers, and web surfers, monitor body functions, provide directions for navigation, and a variety of other services.

For the most part, these truly personal computers have no moving parts. Memory is completely electronic, and most portable computers do not have keyboards.

Rotating memories (that is, computer memories that use a rotating platen, such as hard drives, CD-ROMs, and DVDs) are on their way out, although rotating magnetic memories are still used in server computers where large amounts of information are stored. Most users have servers in their homes and offices where they keep large stores of digital objects, including their software, databases, documents, music, movies, and virtual-reality environments (although these are still at an early stage). There are services to keep one’s digital objects in central repositories, but most people prefer to keep their private information under their own physical control.

Cables are disappearing.[2] Communication between components, such as pointing devices, microphones, displays, printers, and the occasional keyboard, uses short-distance wireless technology.

Computers routinely include wireless technology to plug into the ever-present worldwide network, providing reliable, instantly available, very-high-bandwidth communication. Digital objects such as books, music albums, movies, and software are rapidly distributed as data files through the wireless network, and typically do not have a physical object associated with them.

The majority of text is created using continuous speech recognition (CSR) dictation software, but keyboards are still used. CSR is very accurate, far more so than the human transcriptionists who were used up until a few years ago.

Also ubiquitous are language user interfaces (LUIs), which combine CSR and natural language understanding. For routine matters, such as simple business transactions and information inquiries, LUIs are quite responsive and precise. They tend to be narrowly focused, however, on specific types of tasks. LUIs are frequently combined with animated personalities. Interacting with an animated personality to conduct a purchase or make a reservation is like talking to a person using videoconferencing, except that the person is simulated.

Computer displays have all the display qualities of paper—high resolution, high contrast, large viewing angle, and no flicker. Books, magazines, and newspapers are now routinely read on displays that are the size of, well, small books.

Computer displays built into eyeglasses are also used. These specialized glasses allow users to see the normal visual environment, while creating a virtual image that appears to hover in front of the viewer. The virtual images are created by a tiny laser built into the glasses that projects the images directly onto the user’s retinas.[3]

Computers routinely include moving picture image cameras and are able to reliably identify their owners from their faces.

In terms of circuitry, three-dimensional chips are commonly used, and there is a transition taking place from the older, single-layer chips.

Sound producing speakers are being replaced with very small chip-based devices that can place high resolution sound anywhere in three-dimensional space. This technology is based on creating audible frequency sounds from the spectrum created by the interaction of very high frequency tones. As a result, very small speakers an createvery robust three-dimensional sound.

A $1,000 personal computer (in 1999 dollars) can perform about a trillion calculations per second.[4] Supercomputers match at least the hardware capacity of the human brain—20 million billion calculations per second.[5] Unused computers on the Internet are being harvested, creating virtual parallel supercomputers with human brain hardware capacity.

There is increasing interest in massively parallel neural nets, genetic algorithms, and other forms of chaotic or complexity theory computing, although most computer computations are still done using conventional sequential processing, albeit with some limited parallel processing.

Research has been initiated on reverse engineering the human brain through both destructive scans of the brains of recently deceased persons as well as non-invasive scans using high resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of living persons.

Autonomous nanoengineered machines (that is, machines constructed atom by atom and molecule by molecule) have been demonstrated and include their own computational controls. However, nanoengineering is not yet considered a practical technology.

Education

In the twentieth century, computers in schools were mostly on the trailing edge, with most effective learning from computers taking place in the home. Now in 2009, while schools are still not on the cutting edge, the profound importance of the computer as a knowledge tool is widely recognized. Computers play a central role in all facets of education, as they do in other spheres of life.

The maority of reading is done on displays, although the installed base of paper documents is still formidable. The generation of paper documents is dwindling, however, as books and other papers of largely twentieth-century vintage are being rapidly scanned and stored. Documents circa 2009 routinely include embedded moving images and sounds.

Students of all ages typically have a computer of their own, which is a thin tabletlike device weighing under a pound with a very high resolution display suitable for reading. Students interact with their computers primarily by voice and by pointing with a device that looks like a pencil. Keyboards still exist, but most textual language is created by speaking. Learning materials are accessed through wireless communication.

Intelligent courseware has emerged as a common means of learning. Recent controversial studies have shown that students can learn basic skills such as reading and math just as readily with interactive learning software as with human teachers, particularly when the ratio of students to human teachers is more than one to one. Although the studies have come under attack, most students and their parents have accepted this notion for years. The traditional mode of a human teacher instructing a group of children is still prevalent, but schools are increasingly relying on software approaches, leaving human teachers to attend primarily to issues of motivation, psychological well-being, and socialization. Many children learn to read on their own using personal computers before entering grade school.

Preschool and elementary school children routinely read at their intellectual level using print-to-speech reading software until their reading skill level catches up. These print-to-speech reading systems display the full image of documents, and can read the print aloud while highlighting what is being read. Synthetic voices sound fully human. Although some educators expressed concern in the early ’00 years that students would rely unduly on reading software, such systems have been readily accepted by children and their parents. Studies have shown that students improve their reading skills by being exposed to synchronized visual and auditory presentations of text.

Learning at a distance (for example, lectures and seminars in which the participants are geographically scattered) is commonplace.

Learning is becoming a significant portion of most jobs. Training and developing new skills is emerging as an ongoing responsibility in most careers, not just an occasional supplement, as the level of skill needed for meaningful employment soars ever higher.

Disabilities

Persons with disabilities are rapidly overcoming their handicaps through the intelligent technology of 2009. Students with reading disabilities routinely ameliorate their disability using print-to-speech reading systems.

Print-to-speech reading machines for the blind are now very small, inexpensive, palm-sized devices that can read books (those that still exist in paper form) and other printed documents, and other real-world text such as signs and displays. These reading systems are equally adept at reading the trillions of electronic documents that are instantly available from the ubiquitous wireless worldwide network.

After decades of ineffective attempts, useful navigation devices have been introduced that can assist blind people in avoiding physical obstacles in their path, and finding their way around, using global positioning system (GPS) technology. A blind person can interact with her personal reading-navigation systems through two-way voice communication, kind of like a Seeing-Eye dog that reads and talks.

Deaf persons—or anyone with a hearing impairment—commonly use portable speech-to-text listening machines, which display a real-time transcription of what people are saying. The deaf user has the choice of either reading the transcribed speech as displayed text, or watching an animated person gesturing in sign language. These have eliminated the primary communication handicap associated with deafness. Listening machines can also translate what is being said into another language in real time, so they are commonly used by hearing people as well.

Computer-controlled orthotic devices have been introduced. These walking machines enable paraplegic persons to walk and climb stairs. The prosthetic devices are not yet usable by all paraplegic persons, as many physically disabled persons have dysfunctional joints from years of disuse. However, the advent of orthotic walking systems is providing more motivation to have these joints replaced.

There is a growing perception that the primary disabilities of blindness, deafness, and physical impairment do not necessarily impart handicaps. Disabled persons routinely describe their disabilities as mere inconveniences. Intelligent technology has become the great leveler.

Communication

Translating Telephone technology (where you speak in English and your Japanese friend hears you in Japanese, and vice versa) is commonly used for many language pairs. It is a routine capability of an individual’s personal computer, which also serves as her phone.

Telephone communication is primarily wireless, and routinely includes high-resolution moving images. Meetings of all kinds and sizes routinely take place among geographically separated participants.

There is effective convergence, at least on the hardware and supporting software level, of all media, which exist as digital objects (that is, files) distributed by the ever-present high-bandwidth, wireless information web. Users can instantly download books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, movies, and other forms of software to their highly portable personal communication devices.

Virtually all communication is digital and encrypted, with public keys available to government authorities. Many individuals and groups, including but not limited to criminal organizations, use an additional layer of virtually unbreakable encryption codes with no third-party keys.

Haptic technologies are emerging that allow people to touch and feel objects and other persons at a distance. These force-feedback devices are widely used in games and in training simulation systems.

Interactive games routinely include all-encompassing visual and auditory environments, but a satisfactory, all-encompassing tactile environment is not yet available. The online chat rooms of the late 1990s have been replaced with virtual environments where you can meet people with full visual realism.

People have sexual experiences at a distance with other persons as well as virtual partners. But the lack of the surround tactile environment has thus far kept virtual sex out of the mainstream. Virtual partners are popular as forms of sexual entertainment, but they’re more gamelike than real. And phone sex is a lot more popular now that phones routinely include high-resolution, real-time moving images of the person on the other end.

Business and Economics

Despite occasional corrections, the ten years leading up to 2009 have seen continuous economic expansion and prosperity due to the dominance of the knowledge content of products and services. The greatest gains continue to be in the value of the stock market. Price deflation concerned economists in the early ’00 years, but they quickly realized it was a good thing. The high-tech community pointed out that significant deflation had existed in the computer hardware and software industries for many years earlier without detriment.

The United States continues to be the economic leader due to its primacy in popular culture and its entrepreneurial environment. Since information markets are largely world markets, the United States has benefited greatly from its immigrant history. Being comprised of all the world’s peoples—specifically the descendents of people from around the globe who had endured grea risk for a better life—is the ideal heritage for the new knowledge-based economy. China has also emerged as a powerful economic player. Europe is several years ahead of Japan and Korea in adopting the American emphasis on venture capital, employee stock options, and tax policies that encourage entrepreneurship, although these practices have become popular throughout the world.

At least half of all transactions are conducted online. Intelligent assistants which combine continuous speech recognition, natural-language understanding, problem solving, and animated personalities routinely assist with finding information, answering questions, and conducting transactions. Intelligent assistants have become a primary interface for interacting with information-based services, with a wide range of choices available. A recent poll shows that both male and female users prefer female personalities for their computer-based intelligent assistants. The two most popular are Maggie, who claims to be a waitress in a Harvard Square café, and Michelle, a stripper from New Orleans. Personality designers are in demand, and the field constitutes a growth area in software development.

Most purchases of books, musical albums, videos, games, and other forms of software do not involve any physical object, so new business models for distributing these forms of information have emerged. One shops for these information objects by strolling through virtual malls, sampling and selecting objects of interest, rapidly (and securely) conducting an online transaction, and then quickly downloading the information using high-speed wireless communication. There are many types and gradations of transactions to gain access to thes products. You can buy a book, musical album, video, etcetera, which gives you unlimited personal access. Alternatively, you can rent access to read, view, or listen once, or a few times. Or you can rent access by the minute. Alternatively, access may be limited to a particular computer, or to any computer accessed by a particular person or by a set of persons.

There is a strong trend toward the geographic separation of work groups. People are successfully working together despite living and working in different places.

The average household has more than a hundred computers, most of which are embedded in appliances and built-in communications systems. Household robots have emerged, but are not yet fully accepted.

Intelligent roads are in use, primarily for long-distance travel. Once your car’s guidance system locks onto the control sensors on one of these highways, you can sit back and relax. Local roads, though, are still predominantly conventional.

A company west of the Mississippi and north of the Mason-Dixon line has surpassed a trillion dollars in market capitalization.

Politics and Society

Privacy has emerged as a primary political issue. The virtually constant use of electronic communication technologies is leaving a highly detailed trail of every person’s every move. Litigation, of which there has been a great dea, has placed some constraints on the widespread distribution of personal data. Government agencies, however, continue to have the right to gain access to people’s files, which has resulted in the popularity of unbreakable encryption technologies.

There is a growing neo-Luddite movement, as the skill ladder continues to accelerate upward. As with earlier Luddite movements, its influence is limited by the level of prosperity made possible by new technology. The movement does succeed in establishing continuing education as a primary right associated with employment.

There is continuing concern with an underclass that the skill ladder has left fare behind. The size of the underclass appears to be stable, however. Although not politically popular, the underclass is politically neutralized through public assistance and the generally high levels of affluence.

The Arts

The high quality of computer screens, and the facilities of computer-assisted visual rendering software, have made the computer screen a medium of choice for visual art. Most visual art is the result of a collaboration between human artists and their intelligent art software. Virtual paintings—high-resolution wall-hung displays—have become popular. Rather than always displaying the same work of art, as with a conventional painting or poster, these virtual paintings can change the displayed work at the user’s verbal command, or can cycle through collections of art. The displayed artwork can be works by human artists or original art, created in real time by cybernetic art software.

Human musicians routinely jam with cybernetic musicians. The creation of music has become available to persons who are not musicians. Creating music does not necessarily require the fine motor coordination of using traditional controllers. Cybernetic music creation systems allow people who appreciate music but who are not knowledgeable about music theory and practice to create music in collaboration with their automatic composition software. Interactive brain-generated music, which creates a resonance between the user’s brain waves and the music being listened to, is another popular genre.

Musicians commonly use electronic controllers that emulate the playing style of the old acoustic instruments (for example, piano, guitar, violin, drums), but there is a surge of interest in the new air controllers in which you create music by moving your hands, feet, mouth, and other body parts. Other music controllers involve interacting with specially designed devices.

Writers use voice-activated word processing; grammar checkers are now actually useful; and distribution of written documents from articles to books typically does not involve paper and ink. Style improvement and automatic editing software is widely used to improve the quality of writing. Language translation software is also widely used to translate written works in a variety of languages. Nevertheless, the core process of creating written language is less affected by intelligent software technologies than the visual and musical arts. However, cybernetic authors are emerging.

Beyond music recordings, images, and movie videos, the most popular type of digital entertainment object is virtual experience software. These interactive virtual environments allow you to go whitewater rafting on virtual rivers, to hang-glide in a virtual Grand Canyon, or to engage in intimate encounters with your favorite movie star. Users also experience fantasy environments with no counterpart in the physical world. The visual and auditory experience of virtual reality is compelling, but tactile interaction is still limited.

Warfare

The security of computation and communication is the primary focus of the U.S. Department of Defense. There is general recognition that the side that can maintain the integrity of its computational resources will dominate the battlefield.

Humans are generally far removed from the scene of battle. Warfare is dominated by unmanned intelligent airborne devices. Many of these flying weapons are the size of small birds, or smaller.

The United States continues to be the world’s dominant military power, which is largely accepted by the rest of the world, as most countries concentrate on economic competition. Military conflicts between nations are rare, and most conflicts are between nations and smaller bands of terrorists. The greatest threat to national security comes from bioengineered weapons.

Health and Medicine

Bioengineered treatments have reduced the toll from cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other health problems. Significant progress is being made in understanding the information processing basis of disease.

Telemedicine is widely used. Physicians can examine patients using visual, auditory, and haptic examination from a distance. Health clinics with relatively inexpensive equipment and a single technician bring health care to remote areas where doctors had previously been scarce.

Computer-based pattern recognition is routinely used to interpret imaging data and other diagnostic procedures. The use of noninvasive imaging technology has substantially increased. Diagnosis almost always involves collaboration between a human physician and a pattern-recognition-based expert system. Doctors routinely consult knowledge-based systems (generally through two-way voice communication augmented by visual displays), which provide automated guidance, access to the most recent medical research, and practice guidelines.

Lifetime patient records are maintained in computer databases. Privacy concerns about access to these records (as with many other databases of personal information) have emerged as a major issue.

Doctors routinely train in virtual reality environments, which include a haptic interface. These systems simulate the visual, auditory, and tactile experience of medical procedures, including surgery. Simulated patients are available for continuing medical education, for medical students, and for people who just want to play doctor.

Philosophy

There is renewed interest in the Turing Test, first proposed by Alan Turing in 1950 as a means for testing intelligence in a machine. Recall that the Turing Test contemplates a situation in which a human judge interviews the computer and a human foil, communicating with both over terminal lines. If the human judge is unable to tell which interviewee is human and which is machine, the machine is deemed to possess human-level intelligence. Although computers still fail the test, confidence is increasing that they will be in a position to pass it within another one or two decades.

There is serious speculation on the potential sentience (that is, consciousness) of computer-based intelligence. The increasingly apparent intelligence of computers has spurred an interest in philosophy.


… Hey Molly.

Oh, so you’re calling me now.

Well, the chapter was over and I didn’t hear from you.

I’m sorry, I was finishing up a phone call with my fiancé.

Hey, congratulations, that’s great. How long have you known ….

Ben, his name is Ben. We met about ten years ago, just after you finished this book.

I see. So how have I done?

You did manage to sell a few copies.

No, I mean with my predictions.

Not very well. The translating telephones, for one thing, are a little ridiculous. I mean, they’re constantly screwing up.

Sounds like you use them, though?

Well, sure, how else am I going to speak to my fiancé’s father in Ieper, Belgium, when he hasn’t bothered to learn English?

Of course. So what else?

You said that cancer was reduced, but that’s actually quite understated. Bioengineered treatments, particularly antiangiogenesis drugs that prevent tumors from growing the capillaries they need, have eliminated most forms of cancer as a major killer.[6]

Well, that’s just not a prediction I was willing to make. There have been so many false hopes with regard to cancer treatments, and so many promising approaches proving to be dead ends, that I just wasn’t willing to make that call. Also, there just wasn’t enough evidence when I wrote the book in 1998 to make that dramatic a prediction.

Not that you shied away from dramatic predictions.

The predictions I made were fairly conservative, actually, and were based on technologies and trends I could touch and feel. I was certainly aware of several promising approaches to bioengineered cancer treatments, but it was still kind of iffy, given the history of cancer research. Anyway, the book only touched tangentially on bioengineering, although it’s clearly an information-based technology.

Now with regard to sex—

Speaking of health problems…

Yes, well, you said that virtual partners were popular, but I just don’t see that.

It might just be the circle you move in.

I have a very small circle—mostly I’ve been trying to get Ben to focus on our wedding.

Yes, tell me about him.

He’s very romantic. He actually sends me letters on paper!

That is romantic. So, how was the phone call I interrupted?

I tried on this new nightgown he sent me. I thought he’d appreciate it, but he was being a little annoying.

I assume you’re going to finish that thought.

Well, he wanted me to kind of let these straps slip, maybe just a little. But I’m kind of shy on the phone. I don’t really go in for video phone sex, not like some friends I know.

Oh, so I did get that prediction right.

Anyway, I just told him to use the image transformers.

Transformers?

You know, he can undress me just at his end.

Oh yes, of course. The computer is altering your image in real time.

Exactly. You can change someone’s face, body, clothing, or surroundings into someone or something else entirely, and they don’t know you’re doing it.

Hmmm.

Anyway, I caught Ben undressing his old girlfriend when she called to congratulate him on our engagement. She had no idea, and he thought itwas harmless. I didn’t speak to him for a week.

Well, as long as it was just at his end.

Who knows what she was doing at her end.

That’s kind of her business, isn’t it? As long as they don’t know what the other is doing.

I’m not so sure they didn’t know. Anyway, people do spend a lot of time together up close but at a distance, if you know what I mean.

Using the displays?

We call them portals—you can look through them, but you can’t touch.

I see, still no interest in virtual sex?

Not personally. I mean, it’s pretty pathetic. But I did have to write the copy for a brochure about a sensual virtual reality environment. Being low on the totem pole, I really can’t pick my assignments.

Did you try the product?

I didn’t exactly try it. I just observed. I would say they put more effort into the virtual girls than the guys.

How’d your campaign make out?

The product bombed. I mean, the market’s just so cluttered.

You can’t win them all.

No, but one of your predictions did work out quite well. I took your advice about that company north of the Mason-Dixon line. And, hey, I’m not complaining.

I’ll bet a lot of stocks are up.

Yes, the boats keep getting higher.

Okay, what else?

You’re right about the disabled. My office mate is deaf, and it’s not an issue at all. There’s nothing a blind or deaf person can’t do today.

That was really true back in 1999.

I think the difference now is that the public understands it. It’s just a lot more obvious with today’s technology. But that understanding is important.

Sure, without the technology, there’s just a lot of misconception and prejudice.

True enough. I think I’m going to have to get going, I can see Ben’s face on my call line.

He looks like a St. Bernard.

Oh, I left my image transformers on. Here, I’ll let you see what he really looks like.

Hey, good-looking guy. Well, good luck. You do seem to have changed.

I should hope so.

I mean I think our relationship has changed.

Well, I’m ten years older.

And it seems that I’m asking you most of the questions.

I guess I’m the expert now. I can just tell you what I see. But how come you’re still stuck in 1999?

I’m afraid I just can’t leave quite yet. I have to get this book out, for one thing.

I do have one confusion. How is that you can talk to me from 1999 when I’m here in the year 2009? What kind of technology is that?

Oh, that’s a very old technology. It’s called poetic license.

1 A consortium of eighteen manufacturers of cellular telephones and other portable electronic devices is developing a technology called Bluetooth, which provides wireless communications within a radius of about ten meters, at a data rate of 700 to 900 kilobits per second. Bluetooth is expected to be introduced in late 1999 and will initially have a cost of about $20 per unit. This cost is expected to decline rapidly after introduction. Bluetooth will allow personal communications and electronics devices to communicate with one another.

2 Technology such as Bluetooth (see note 1) will allow computer components such as computing units, keyboards, pointing devices, printers, etc. to communicate with one another without the use of cables.

3 Microvision of Seattle has a product called a Virtual Retina Display (VRD) that projects images directly onto the user’s retinas while allowing the user to see the normal environment. The Microvision VRD is currently expensive and is sold primarily to the military for use by pilots. Microvision’s CEO Richard Rutkowski projects a consumer version built on a single chip before the year 2000.

4 Projecting from the speed of personal computers, a 1998 personal computer can perform about 150 million instructions per second for about $1,000. By doubling every twelve months, we get a projection of 150 million multiplied by 211 (2,048) = 300 billion instructions per second in 2009. Instructions are less powerful than calculations, so calculations per second will be around 100 billion. However, projecting from the speed of neural computers, a 1997 neural computer provided about 2 billion neural connection calculations per second for around $2,000, which is 1 billion calculations per $1,000. By doubling every 12 months, we get a projection of 1 billion times 212 (4,096) = 4 trillion calculations per second in 2009. By 2009, computers will routinely combine both types of computations, so if even 25 percent of the computations are of the neural connection calculation type, the estimate of 1 trillion calculations per second for $1,000 of computing in 2009 is reasonable.

5 The most powerful supercomputers are twenty thousand times more powerful than a $1,000 personal computer. With $1,000 personal computers providing about 1 trillion calculations per second (particularly of the neural-connection type of calculation) in 2009, the more powerful supercomputers will provide about 20 million billion calculations per second, which is about equal to the estimated processing power of the human brain.

6 As of this writing, there has been much publicity surrounding the work of Dr. Judah Folkman of Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and the effects of angiogenesis inhibitors. In particular, the combination of Endostatin and Angiostatin, bioengineered drugs that inhibit the reproduction of capillaries, has been remarkably effective in mice. Although there has been a lot of commentary pointing out that drugs that work in mice often do not work in humans, the degree to which this drug combination worked in these laboratory animals was remarkable. Drugs that work this well in mice often do work in humans.

See HOPE IN THE LAB: A Special Report. A Cautious Awe Greets Drugs That Eradicate Tumors in Mice, New York Times, May 3, 1998.

— Ray Kurzweil (1999), The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, Chapter 9, 2009, pp. 189-201. New York: Penguin.

Oh, well, whatever.

I think what’s interesting about this is not so much what Kurzweil predicts which hasn’t come to pass, but rather the number of things he failed to predict which have come to pass—and why the things he predicts coming to pass haven’t come to pass. Sometimes it’s because Kurzweil is too optimistic about technologies that never materialized, or which are still in their incipient stages at best. But a lot of the time, it’s just that people found they have better things to do with their limited time and resources. So it turns out that a lot of people do book travel reservations online now, but nobody books it by talking with some animated virtual customer service agent. Not because it would be impossible for clever folks to program that sort of thing, if they’d spent the last 10 years working on it. But rather, even if they did, who would want to waste time on that kind of goofy shit, when you can just get the tickets through Kayak? Similarly, I’m sure that if folks had spent the last 10 years working on virtual reality games, or on establishing fancy new paperless Information Superhighway channels for great big established media companies to push their DRMed-up chosen publications, you probably would have seen something like what Kurzweil predicts. But instead of that, we have people who put their time into developing IndyMedia, Craigslist, blogging software, and Flickr, MySpace, and so on—tools which, technically speaking, are mostly dead-simple HTML over HTTP. The real awesomeness of the future — so far, at least — turns out to have not nearly so much to do with technical fireworks and the kinds of techno-conveniences that brute-force computational power can achieve, but rather with the new lifestyles, new patterns of autonomy, and the new forms of social relationships that relatively simple but increasingly pervasive technologies, have helped facilitate. And which are going to continue to grow, and transform, and, ultimately, are going to turn this old world upside-down and inside-out.

Have an awesome new decade, y’all.