Letters to the Editor

(October 24, 2005)


[Ed. As a reminder to Letter writers: If you want your letters to be published, you must include your first and last names and your city and state of residence. Thank you.]


Bill Bennett's Comments: Gerard Donnelly Smith's The Insurgent Word: Genocide

Thanks for Gerard Donnelly Smith's words on Mr. Bennett. Racism is something we all experience in one form or another, and we all have, at one time, done, or said something we now regret. We regret it because we realize, in our shame, that we are all the same, every last one of us; from thousands of different cultures come people of all colors, all of us brothers and sisters. From a humanistic point of view racism is abhorrent, from a pragmatic point of view it is imbecilic. We need to come together as a unified power to be reckoned with, not divide ourselves with nonsensical hate based on the color, or lack of color, someone's skin might be. Methinks Mr. Bennett spoke his thoughts and, who knows, maybe this stupidity will have the affect of a more humane outlook as he is humbled -- that would be my hope amidst the insanity we find ourselves in.


Burnie Metzen
Bend, Oregon, USA - October 12, 2005


Love & Hate: Louis Proyect's Bob Dylan's Chronicles Volume One
To the Editor:

Re: bike smashups and religious conversions.

What a burden his autobio lifts from past and future biographers! No need any longer to assess what "broken neck" means to various people (it's clear from Chronicles that Dylan didn't break neck, spine, or pelvis in the accident, that he considers himself worse injured at other times than the motorcycle accident). No need to take, I would argue, either religious re-dedication/conversion seriously, as he portrays his renewal of his Judaism as a means to throwing those hounding him off the scent, period. Think then what, following the 1974 tour and then the entirety of his Rolling Thunder experience(s), his "Christianity" actually meant to him.

I mean, when I watch the Australian "In the Garden/Solid Rock" from 1986-87, or read about his encounters with Bloomfield at the Warfield, I no longer attach any of my contemporary feelings of betrayal and weirdness to something that never was intended that way (his "born again" status). It's actually kind of a burden lifted from some of us, too, if we were fans of a certain stripe.

Richard S. Piedmonte
Concord, California, USA - October 10, 2005


Dear Editor,

After reading Louis Proyect's review of Bob Dylan's Chronicles Volume One, and being a Dylan fan for many years, I take issue with a couple of Proyect's opinions. Proyect writes: ". . .Dylan still has enormous talents although arguably singing and songwriting are no longer among them." Some of Dylan's major works happened after the 1960s. Blood on the Tracks and Love and Theft, for examples, are the equal of any early Dylan recordings. Without getting into a debate about whether Dylan can sing or not, I believe that you either appreciate his singing or you don't. For those of us that do, his singing is as good as it gets. Proyect also asserts: "The records he made afterwards were inferior to earlier efforts." Dylan efforts for the more than three decades after the 1960s add rather than depreciate the man's talents. Love and Theft, for instance, is an album only someone like Dylan could create. It's also an album that he could not have created in the 1960s. Finally, Dylan is still out in the marketplace inventing and reinventing his craft. His concerts, even as I write, are a revelation. For those who suggest that Dylan can't sing, play guitar, or write, a careful listening of "Ballad of a Thin Man" might be in order.

Otherwise, I agree that Chronicles is a major work.


Noel Trujillo, teacher
Los Alamos High School, New Mexico, USA - October 12, 2005

Louis Proyect responds: It all boils down to a matter of taste. I find all of Miles Davis's rock fusion records unlistenable although some critics swear by them. I was really trying mostly to motivate people to read the Chronicles and to shed light on Dylan's relationship to the left in the period before 1966. I am not really a music critic and subscribe mostly to "à chacun son goût" on matters such as these.


Obscene Wealth: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips from the Martian Desk
Dear Editor:

Just caught your commentary on yacht-envy among the awesomely affluent. Very nicely done!

Did you catch the recent piece in the Financial Times that touched on similar themes? The FT confused Paul Allen with Microsoft's current CEO, but did include a classic quote on the new consumption bar that the Octopus has set.

Take care.

Sam Pizzigati
Editor, Too Much, an online weekly on excessive income and wealth
Author of Greed and Good: Understanding and Overcoming the Inequality That Limits Our Lives
Kensington, Maryland, USA - October 12, 2005

Gilles d'Aymery responds: No, I've not seen the FT report. But I've heard of another obscene display of wealth: A guy in California, David Duffield (#320 on the Forbes list), wants to build a 72,000 sq. ft. house with an additional 25,000 sq. ft. for barn, guesthouse, etc. See, "Home makes Taj Mahal seem puny," by C.W. Nevius, SF Chronicle, Oct. 8, 2005.

Poor Bill Gates, who only owns a 40,000 sq. ft. adobe...


Marie Louise Berneri, Utopias, Fascism & Poverty: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #27
Dear Mr. d'Aymery:

In the Blips section, you wrote: "Poverty is becoming the plague of the well-to-do conscience, from the horrors of Africa to American neighborhoods, passing through all corners of the world." But hasn't it been so for quite some time? I've copied the introduction to Marie Louise Berneri's Journey Through Utopia below, because it relates to this thought as well as those on American Fascism. It's good reading and hopefully I've not broken any intellectual property laws or caused any aggravation by sending such a lengthy e-mail . . .

Staci Stinson
St. Louis, Missouri, USA - October 10, 2005

Journey Through Utopia
By Marie Louise Berneri
First American Edition, 1951
The Beacon Press, Boston

(Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107. This text may be in the public domain.)

OUR age is an age of compromises, of half-measures, of the lesser evil. Visionaries are derided or despised, and "practical men" rule our lives. We no longer seek radical solutions to the evils of society, but reforms; we no longer try to abolish war, but to avoid it for a period of a few years; we do not try to abolish crime, but are contented with criminal reforms; we do not try to abolish starvation, but to set up world-wide charitable organisations. At a time when man is so concerned with what is practicable and capable of immediate realisation, it might be a salutary exercise to turn to men who have dreamt of Utopias, who have rejected everything which did not comply with their ideal of perfection.

We shall often feel humble as we read of these ideal states and cities, for we shall realise the modesty of our claims, and the poverty of our vision. Zeno advocated internationalism, Plato recognised the equality of men and women, Thomas More saw clearly the relationship between poverty and crime which is denied by men even to-day. At the beginning of the seventeenth than century Campanella advocated a working day of four hours, and the German scholar Andreae talked of attractive work and put forward a system of education which could still serve as a model today.

We shall find private property condemned, money and wages considered immoral or irrational, human solidarity admitted as an obvious fact. All these ideas which could be considered daring to-day were then put forward with a confidence which shows that though they were not generally accepted, they must have been nevertheless readily understood. In the late seventeenth and the eighteenth century we find even more startling and bold ideas concerning religion, sexual relations, the nature of government and of the law. We are so accustomed to thinking that progressive movements begin with the nineteenth century that we shall be surprised to find that the degeneration of utopian thought begins then. Utopias, as a rule, become timid; private property and money are often judged necessary; men must consider themselves happy if they work eight hours a day, and there is rarely any question of their work being attractive. Women are placed under the tutelage of their husbands, and children under that of the father. But before utopias became contaminated by the "realist" spirit of our time, they flourished with a variety and richness which may well make us doubt the validity of our claim to have achieved some measure of social progress.

This is not to say that all utopias have been revolutionary and progressive: the majority of them have been both, but few have been entirely revolutionary. Utopian writers were revolutionary when they advocated a community of goods at a time when private property was held to be sacred, the right of every individual to eat when beggars were hanged, the equality of women when these were considered little better than slaves, the dignity of manual work when it was regarded and made a degrading occupation, the right of every child to a happy child-hood and good education when this was reserved for the sons of the nobles and the rich. All this has contributed to make the word "Utopia" synonymous with a happy, desirable form of society. Utopia, in this respect, represents mankind's dream of happiness, its secret longing for the Golden Age, or, as others saw it, for its lost Paradise.

But that dream. often had its dark places. There were slaves in Plato's Republic and in More's Utopia; there were mass murders of Helots in the Sparta of Lycurgus; and wars, executions, strict discipline, religious intolerance, are often found beside the most enlightened institutions. These aspects, which have often been overlooked by the apologists of utopias, result from the authoritarian conception on which many utopias were built, and are absent from those which aim at achieving complete freedom.

Two main trends manifest themselves in utopian thought throughout the ages. One seeks the happiness of mankind through material well-being, the sinking of man's individuality into the group, and the greatness of the State. The other, while demanding a certain degree of material comfort, considers that happiness is the result of the free expression of man's personality and must not be sacrificed to an arbitrary moral code or to the interests of the State. These two trends correspond to different conceptions of progress. For the anti-authoritarian utopians, progress is measured, as for Herbert Read:

"by the degree of differentiation within a society. If the individual is a unit in a corporate mass, his life is not merely brutish and short, but dull and mechanical. If the individual is a unit on his own, with space and potentiality for separate action, then he may be more subject to accident or chance, but at least he can expand and express himself. He can develop -- develop in the only real meaning of the word -- develop in consciousness of strength, vitality and joy."

But, as Herbert Read also points out, this has not always been the definition of progress:

"Many people find safety in numbers, happiness in anonymity, and dignity in routine. They ask for nothing better than to be sheep under the shepherd, soldiers under a captain, slaves under a tyrant. The few that must expand become the shepherds, the captains and the leaders of these willing followers."

The authoritarian utopias have aimed at giving shepherds, captains and tyrants to the people, whether under the name of guardians, phylarchs, or samurai.

These utopias were progressive in as much as they wished to abolish economic inequalities, but they replaced the old economic slavery by a new one: men ceased to be the slaves of their masters or employers, to become the slaves of the Nation and the State. The power of the State is sometimes based on moral and military power, as in Plato's Republic, on religion, as in Andreae's Christianopolis, or on the ownership of the means of production and distribution as in most of the utopias of the nineteenth century. But the result is always the same: the individual is obliged to follow a code of laws or of moral behaviour artificially created for him.

The contradictions inherent in most utopias are due to this authoritarian approach. The builders of utopias claimed to give freedom to the people, but freedom which is given ceases to be freedom. Diderot was one of the few utopian writers who denied himself even the right to decree that "each should do as he wills"; but the majority of the builders of utopias are determined to remain the masters in their imaginary commonwealths. While they claim to give freedom they issue a detailed code which must be strictly followed. There are the lawgivers, the kings, the magistrates, the priests, the presidents of national assemblies in their utopias; and yet, after they have decreed, codified, ordered marriages, imprisonments and executions, they still claim that the emotions and people are free to do what they like. It is only too apparent that Campanella imagined himself to be the Great Metaphysician in his City of the Sun, Bacon a father of his Salomon's House, and Cabet the lawgiver of his Icaria. When they have the wit of Thomas More they could express their secret longing with much humour: "You cannot think how elated I am," he wrote to his friend Erasmus, "how I have grown in stature and hold my head healthy, happy, higher; so constantly do I imagine myself in the part of sovereign of Utopia; in fact I fancy I am walking with the crown of corn-ears upon my head, wearing a Franciscan cloak, and carrying the corn sheaf as a sceptre, attended by a great throng of the people of Amaurote." Sometimes others have to point out the in-consistencies of their dream, as when Gonzalez in The Tempest tells his companions of the ideal commonwealth which he would like to create on his island:

I' the commonwealth I would by contraries
Execute all things; for no kind of traffic
Would I admit; no name of magistrate;
Letters should not be known; riches, poverty
And use of service, none; contract, succession
Bourne, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none;
No use of metal, corn or wine or oil;
No occupation, all men idle; all;
And women too, but innocent and pure;
No sovereignty; --

Yet he would be king on't.

The latter end of his commonwealth
Forgets the beginning.

Another contradiction of authoritarian utopias consists in asserting that their laws follow the order of nature when in fact their code has been arbitrarily constituted. Utopian writers, instead of trying to discover the laws of nature, preferred to invent them, or found them in the "archives of antient prudence." For some of them, like Mably or Morelly, the code of nature was that of Sparta, an instead of basing their utopias on living communities and on men as they have known them, they built them on abstract conceptions. This is responsible for the artificial atmosphere prevalent in most utopias: Utopian men are uniform creatures with identical wants and reactions and deprived of emotions and passions, for these would be the expression of individuality. This uniformity is reflected in every aspect of utopian life, from the clothes to the time-table, from moral behaviour to intellectual interests. As H. G. Wells has pointed out: "In almost every Utopia -- except, perhaps, Morris's News from Nowhere --one sees handsome but characterless buildings, symmetrical and perfect cultivations, and a multitude of people, healthy, happy, beautifully dressed, but without any personal distinction whatever. Too often the prospect resembles the key to one of those large pictures of coronations, royal weddings, parliaments, conferences and gatherings in Victorian times, in which, instead of a face, each figure bears a neat oval with its index number legibly inscribed."

The setting of the utopia is equally artificial. To the uniformed nation must correspond an uniform country or city. The authoritarian love of symmetry causes utopians to suppress mountains or rivers, and even to imagine perfectly round islands and perfectly straight rivers.

"In the utopia of the National State (says Lewis Mumford) there are no natural regions; and the equally natural grouping of people in towns, villages and cities, which, as Aristotle points out, is perhaps the chief distinction between man and the other animals, is tolerated only upon the fiction that the State hands over to these groups a portion of its omnipotent authority, or 'sovereignty' as it is called, and permits them to exercise a corporate life. Unfortunately for this beautiful myth, which generations of lawyers and statesmen have laboured to build up, cities existed long before states -- there was a Rome on the Tiber long before there was a Roman Imperium -- and the gracious permission of the state is simply a perfunctory seal upon the accomplished fact . . . .

"Instead of recognising natural regions and natural groups of people, the utopia of nationalism establishes by the surveyor's line a certain realm called national territory, and makes all the inhabitants of this territory the members of a single, indivisible group, the nation, which is supposed to be prior in claim and superior in power to all other groups. This is the only social formation which is officially recognised within the national utopia. What is common to all the inhabitants of this territory is thought to be of far greater importance than any of the things that bind men together in particular civic or industrial groups."

This uniformity is maintained by a strong national State. Private property is abolished in Utopia, not merely to establish equality among the citizens or because of its corrupting influence, but because it presents a danger to the unity of the State. The attitude towards the family is also determined by the desire to maintain an unified State. Many utopias remain in the Platonic tradition and abolish the family together with monogamous marriage, while others follow Thomas More and advocate the patriarchal family, monogamous marriage and the bringing up and education of children within the fold of the family. A third group effect a compromise by retaining family institutions but entrusting the education of the children to the State.

When Utopias want to abolish the family it is much for the same reasons as they want to abolish property. The family is considered as encouraging selfish instincts and as having a disintegrating influence on the community. On the other hand the advocates of the family see in it the basis for a stable State, the indispensable cell, the training ground for the virtues of obedience and loyalty required by the State. They rightly believe that the authoritarian family, far from presenting a danger by inculcating individualist tendencies in the children, accustoms them, on the contrary, to respect the authority of the father; they will later obey just as unquestioningly the orders of the State.

A strong State necessitates a ruling class or caste holding power over the rest of the people, and, while builders of ideal commonwealths took great care that property should not corrupt or dis-unite this ruling class, they did not see, as a rule, the danger of the love of power corrupting and dividing the rulers and oppressing the people. Plato was the chief offender this respect. His Guardians were entrusted with all the power in the city, while Plutarch was aware of the abuses which could be carried out by the Spartans, but offered no remedy. Thomas More put forward a new conception: that of a State representing all the citizens, except for a small number of slaves. His regime was what we would call democratic; that is to say, power was exercised by the representatives of the people. But these representatives had the power of administrating the laws rather than framing them, since all the major laws had been given to the country by a law-giver. The State therefore administered a code of laws which the community had not made. Furthermore, in view of the centralised nature of that State, the laws are the same for every citizen and every section of the community, and do not take into account varying personal factors. For this reason, some utopian writers, like Gerrard Winstanley, were opposed to the community delegating its power to a central body, for fear that it would in fact lose its liberty, and wanted it to retain its autonomous government. Gabriel de Foigny and Diderot went even further by abolishing governments altogether.

The existence of the State also necessitates two codes of moral behaviour, for the State not only divides people into classes but also divides humanity into nations. Loyalty to the State often demands the negation of the feelings of solidarity and mutual aid which naturally exist between men. The State imposes a certain code of behaviour governing the relations between the citizens of the commonwealth and another governing the relations between the citizens and the slaves or the "barbarians." All that is forbidden in relations between equals is allowed towards those who are considered inferior beings. The utopian citizen is gentle and courteous towards his peers but cruel to his slaves; he loves peace at home but carries out the most ruthless wars abroad. All the utopias which follow in Plato's footsteps admit this duality in man. That this duality exists in society as we know it is true enough, but it may seem curious that it should not have been eliminated in a "perfect society." The universalist ideal of Zeno who, in his Republic, proclaimed the brotherhood of men of all nations, has rarely been adopted by utopian writers. The majority of utopias accept war as an inevitable part of their system, as indeed it must be, for the existence of a national State always gives birth to wars.

The authoritarian Utopian State does not allow of any personality strong and independent enough to conceive of change or revolt. Since the utopian institutions are considered as perfect, it goes without saying that they cannot be capable of improvement. The Utopian State is essentially static and does not allow its citizens to fight or even to dream of a better utopia.

This crushing of man's personality often takes a truly totalitarian character. It is the law-giver or the Government which decides the plan of cities and houses; these plans are prepared according to the most rational principles and the best technical knowledge, but they are not the organic expression of the community. A house, like a city, may be made of lifeless materials, but it should embody the spirit of those who build it. In the same way utopian uniforms may be more comfortable and attractive than ordinary clothes, but they do not allow for the expression of one's individuality.

The Utopian State is even more ferocious in its suppression of the freedom of the artist. The poet, the painter, the sculptor must all become the servants and propaganda agents of the State. They are forbidden individual expression either on aesthetic or moral grounds, but the real aim is to crush any manifestation of freedom. Most utopias would fail the "test of art" suggested by Herbert Read:

Plato, as is too often and too complacently recalled, banished the poet from his Republic. But that Republic was a deceptive model of perfection. It might be realised by some dictator, but it could only function as a machine functions -- mechanically. And machines function mechanically only because they are made of dead inorganic materials. If you want to express the difference an organic progressive society and a static totalitarian regime, you can do so in one word: this word art. Only on condition that the artist is allowed to function freely can society embody those ideals of liberty and intellectual development which to most us seem the only worthy sanctions of life.

The Utopias which pass this test are those which oppose to the conception of the centralised State, that of a federation of free communities, where the individual can express his personality without being submitted to the censure of an artificial code, where freedom is not an abstract word but manifests itself concretely in work, whether that of the painter or of the mason. These utopias are not concerned with the dead structure of the organisation of society, but with the ideals on which a better society can be built. The anti-authoritarian utopias are less numerous, and exerted a lesser influence than the others, because later thinkers they did not present a ready-made plan but daring, unorthodox ideas; because they demanded each of us to be "unique" and not one among many.

When the utopia points to an ideal life without becoming a plan, that is, a lifeless machine applied to living matter, it truly becomes the realisation of progress.


(Published under the provision of U.S. Code, Title 17, section 107. This text may be in the public domain.)


Case of mistaken identity: Swans's getting in the plastic surgery biz, eh? (published unedited)

hellow my name is vanessa lance i live in scappoose oregon i am a 23 year old mother iam a diabtic and have had one chid iam a active women with some restriction on live but love to be the next canidate for the swans i am 5'2 and about 135 i have ahd on c-section and one surgery for a cist that i had on my right breast and i need somethong to help me get back my girlish body instead of an older women body and have all my body there and not just half of it i would thank you so much if i was allowed or talk to or something

Thank you for your time

Vanessa Lance
Scappoose Oregon, USA - October 12, 2005
[ed. Mieux vaut rire que pleurer... We are not The Swan reality show on Fox TV. Evidently, it is simpler to transform people's abdomens and breasts than their ideas, thoughts and opinions.]


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Published October 24, 2005
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