Historian Paul Hudon of Lowell is back with his diary that he’s been sharing with our readers.
Diary in the Time of Coronavirus (10)
by Paul Hudon
August 2, 2020
Trump promoted a biological threat to his own species for partisan interest. A category error. When a man is foolish in ways he cannot comprehend, is he still a fool?
The Paris daily, Libération, has been publishing the latest findings in the matter of what we are as a species. Under the headline, “Since the Year 2000 the History of Humanity has been Revised,” the piece lists no fewer than 48 studies in the first 20 years of this century that have rewritten the basic text on the origins of homo sapiens. “The story of the evolution of mankind looks nothing like it did only a few years ago.” There is a short paragraph to describe each of those 48 research projects, dated month and year, together with a link to a site offering more detail. Overall, an impressive piece of reporting. Mostly, the changes deal with the addition of new species to the genus hominid and a general push-back in the chronology. A lot of the research involved exploring DNA.
Dividing the twenty years at five-year intervals we notice a pronounced acceleration. Eight in the first five years, three in the second, thirteen in the third, and a whopping twenty-three in the fourth—from 2016 to 2020.
Pour en finir avec Marx. If ever we integrate these new findings in our self-image, we may be able, finally, to leave the nineteenth century behind. Again, Joshua Lederberg, “Without a clear-cut map of man’s present understanding of his own nature, no frontier of innovation is definable.”
On this day in 1789 the French National Assembly abolished feudalism. As good a date as any to mark this monumental change from dynastic state to nation state. Through the night a succession of clerics (First Estate) and nobles (Second Estate) stood and gave away their privileges which was, in real terms, giving up their income. An orgy of self-sacrifice. There followed the August Decrees that put the spirit of that evening’s event into an institutional framework. These Decrees destroyed the society of corporate identity—guilds, provinces, cities, etc.—each with its unique ‘liberties,’ and erected instead a society of individuals with equal legal status. Citoyen—citizen—replaced all other titles and rank. In time, when the monarchy was abolished (1792), popular sovereignty displaced divine right as the basis of legitimate government.
Similar, nearly parallel, developments were operating on this side of the Atlantic. Washington took his oath as the first president of the New Republic in April 1789 in New York. Here, no titles of nobility were abolished because none had ever been. Equality was presumed, provided only you were white and male. And now we have a president working that same constituency, and a Republican Party coddling a society of corporate entities though the corporations are now purely fiscal.
I just love finding new places to wear diamonds.
Lorelie Lee (Marilyn Monroe), Gentlemen Prefer Blonds (1953)
The 75th Anniversary of Hiroshima.
“If you look today at the world, what strikes me most is that nobody, as far as I can tell, nobody on either the left or the right, has any serious, meaningful vision for where humanity will be in 2050. Most of what you get is nostalgic fantasies about the past; but you don’t get a serious vision which takes into account AI and biotechnology and climate change and all that, and really looks clearly at what [or] where can we be in 2050.— Yuval Noah Harari, October 2018
When a man or an assembly, caught in pressing and embarrassing circumstances, is forced to act, their deliberations consider far less the actual state of things as they’ve never existed before, than they do their imaginary past.—Paul Valéry, Observations on the world as it is (1921).
Regards sur le monde actuel. Italics in the original.
Every town in New England was founded as a corporation. We’re reminded of this every time we cross a town line and note the familiar signs with the name of the town along with “inc” and a date. Corporations in the 1600s were not as they are today. Then they were defined in law as “bodies politic.” The Tudors (1485-1603) used them as dynastic tools, granting charters of incorporation to groups of men who took on functions the crown didn’t want to take on itself. To charter a corporation—from the Latin verb comporare, to form into one body—was a sovereign act, and in medieval times this was done by the lord of the place, sometimes by the king.
The point is the law did not recognize individuals. An individual was a biological fact and a theological actor, it had its own bodily functions and performed its own salvation. But in the social and political swim, the individual did not exist. Corporations were people, Mitt Romney said. In fact, corporations were people before people were people, except that person would get closer to the sense of it than people does.
All of this held true in colonial Massachusetts. It was the town in its corporate standing that was represented at the General Court. And all the inhabitants of the town were members of the corporation though not all in equal measure. Members with disabilities, unable to work, might be provided for but none too gently. They might be hired out to any household in town able to pay the town for the hire. But towns were legally bound to make some provision for them. This was not the case with corporations as they evolved in law in the nineteenth century. These recognized no responsibility, legal or otherwise, to the hired help. One sector, the larger part of the workforce, was in effect dis.corporatized.
Corporations have not always been as they are today. Like the individual, they are a legal fiction. It may be useful to keep that in mind when we configure ways forward, in our “interesting times.”