Monday, May 2, 2011

Epigraphs, Part 2

Do you know the song "The War Criminal Rises and Speaks" by Okkervil River? It's been in my head a lot lately, coincidentally. I'd include a video but YouTube only has live clips of crappy quality. It's an amazing song.

More epigraphs! From The Economy of Cities, by Jane Jacobs (1969):
A few years ago the United States and the European Common Market engaged in what was called a chicken war. Each was trying to push its surfeit of chickens off onto the other. But this does not mean that the industrialized and urban economies of the United States and Western Europe were built upon surfeits of chickens.
From "Why I'm a Pacifist" by Nicholson Baker in the May issue of Harper's:
When are we going to grasp the essential truth? War never works. It never has worked. It makes everything worse.


  1. Epigraph 1 seems a bit of a non sequitur w/o more context. (I realize it's _literally_ a non sequitur in the sense that it's saying Y doesn't follow from X, but it's not clear why anyone would think Y followed from X.)

    I wonder if there's ever been a boar war.

  2. I found it funny out of context. She's arguing that cities developed first, then agriculture, not the other way around, which people assumed for many years.

    The sentences just preceding are: "The most thoroughly rural countries exhibit the most unproductive agriculture. The most thoroughly urbanized countries, on the other hand, are precisely those that produce food most abundantly."

  3. I wonder what he means when he says war doesn't "work"... For one thing there's a big difference between starting a war and being forced to fight a war someone else started.

    In another sense, if killing is your goal, war can definitely "work" as a means to this end. The war "worked" for Germany and Japan...until it didn't. And then the war "worked" for the U.S. and allies. The A-bombs that fell on Japan "worked" to kill thousands of innocent people and end the war. The U.S. achieved the result it desired.

    In Iraq, war "worked" for the insurgents because they were able to keep the U.S. from claiming victory for 8 years (aside from that time when they did claim victory, of course, which was eventually rightly ridiculed).

    I've noticed that people on the left are always pacifist until someone they like is fighting against the U.S., and then they put on their Che Guevara t-shirts and suddenly violence is okay. Not saying you're one of those people, but this is something I have noticed.

  4. I know that song, and it *is* amazing. I need to read that Nicholson Baker article.

  5. Also? NB is coming to DePaul on May 16th! Can't wait. I'll be sure to have read the article by then.

  6. In the US (and elsewhere, I presume), war is usually justified as a way of achieving peace and ultimately saving lives (not purely, as you imply, with the goal of killing people). NB argues that in practice it doesn't work that way.

  7. Thanks, it all makes sense once you realize she's talking about the correlation between agricultural _productivity_ and urbanization.

  8. Friedrich Engels (the guy who is usually listed as co-author, with Karl Marx, of the Communist Manifesto) suggested in one of his other books that in ancient times agriculture tended to occur before cities began to take shape -- prior to the rise of agriculture, human beings tended to be more nomadic, living as hunters and gatherers, moving around as needed to follow the sources of food.

    As he outlines it, the development of agriculture led to a gradual change from a nomadic life to a life settled in one place; and this eventually gave rise to cities. (There was more to it than that -- Engels talks about the role of economies based on human slavery in the emergence of the first cities, among other things.)

    The book I referred to above is Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Engels relied in the book on the archaeology and anthropology availabe in the later part of the 1800's, and he gets some things wrong (and others that have since been overturned by more recent thinking). But the overall outline he presents, I found more or less persuasive.

  9. "I found it more or less persuasive" -- as did everybody up until Jane Jacobs, I believe. Her thesis was rather radical.

  10. I really DO love that song. These are some apropos epigraphs.