Women’s Eyebrow Fashions

Women in the courts of the T’ang Dynasty (618-907) painted their eyebrows green; the standard of beauty was brows as delicately curved as the antennae of moths. Foreheads were powdered yellow with massicot, a lead oxide, for yellow was the color of vitality.

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There are at least 24 hairstyles mentioned in the poetry, some a foot high, held together by lapis lazuli hairpins, clattering with pearls, with silk flowers and birds of gold perched on the top. As the empire was crumbling, the most popular styles had names such as “Deserting the Family” and “Uprooting the Grove”.

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Yang Kuei-fei, the emperor Hsan Tsung’s beautiful courtesan whose machinations set off a civil war, kept a tiny jade fish in her mouth.

–Eliot Weinberger, Oranges and Peanuts for Sale

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Anti-Psychiatry and Community Care

One thing that visitors from other countries–-we see a lot of Finns in our house––notice is that there are a lot of homeless people on our streets here in San Francisco, and that many of them are clearly mentally ill.

I was reading this article on Mute (whose tagline is the intriguing “WE GLADLY FEAST ON THOSE WHO WOULD SUBDUE US”) on the anti-psychiatry activities of an Italian psychiatrist in the 1960s, Franco Basaglia, and a book about him, The Man Who Closed the Asylums: Franco Basaglia and the Revolution in Mental Health Care.

All of this led me to look up the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, and then to this Timeline of Deinstitutionalization and its Consequences–all which made made ever clearer that mental health care in this country has gone from abuse to neglect, that more people in need of care are on the streets or in jails rather than in hospitals, all of which is a terrible crime against already suffering people.

Basaglia: ‘It seems important that people know that beyond “health” and “illness” there are human beings and there are contradictions that we cannot master individually.’

Remember the Story of Guillermo Rodriguez

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On Aug. 19, 2015, shortly after midnight, the brothers Stephen and Scott Leader assaulted Guillermo Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been sleeping near a train station in Boston. The Leader brothers beat him with a metal pipe, breaking his nose and bruising his ribs, and called him a “wetback.” They urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported,” they are said to have declared during the attack. The brothers were fans of the candidate who would go on to win the Republican party’s presidential nomination. Told of the incident at the time, that candidate said: “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country, and they want this country to be great again.”

– Teju Cole, A Time for Refusal

Tyranny comes from democracy

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I read Chris Hedges’ book The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, many years ago, and I was impressed by his strong statements and his searing condemnation of the educated class to which we belong, and how we lost the people by the cynically serving them spectacle, and how that spectacle would eventually become indistinguishable, to them, from reality.

In his trademark manner he articulated and clarified many things that had been vague, unformed ideas I’d entertained, writing of a future characterized by a widening gulf between the literate and the illiterate, complexity no longer understandable by the masses. His writing was hyperbolic, dire, doomsday. It seemed like an apocalyptic screed and much too dark. No more. His prognostications have been realized, the day he warned of has arrived.

Chris Hedges writes again, with many more now hopefully listening, that neoliberal kowtowing to corporate masters destroyed the underclass and opened the doors for fascism. He writes in an August 2016 article:

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades.

On behalf of corporations indeed. He excoriates the press too, in this interview with my former boss David Talbot, dismissing most journalists as stenographers for the powerful.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

These Americans want a kind of freedom—a freedom to hate. They want the freedom to use words like “nigger,” “kike,” “spic,” “chink,” “raghead” and “fag.” They want the freedom to idealize violence and the gun culture. They want the freedom to have enemies, to physically assault Muslims, undocumented workers, African-Americans, homosexuals and anyone who dares criticize their cryptofascism. They want the freedom to celebrate historical movements and figures that the college-educated elites condemn, including the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederacy. They want the freedom to ridicule and dismiss intellectuals, ideas, science and culture. They want the freedom to silence those who have been telling them how to behave. And they want the freedom to revel in hypermasculinity, racism, sexism and white patriarchy. These are the core sentiments of fascism. These sentiments are engendered by the collapse of the liberal state.

The freedom to hate has arrived and we can see it in the streets, in stores, in classrooms today, unleashed by the election of Trump.  All over the internet you can find innumerable examples of rising fascism such as this, which happened yesterday in Queens:

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Hedges quotes Richard Rorty, an old favorite of mine, whom I encountered because of his chapter “The Barber of Kasbeam”about cruelty in the work of Vladimir Nabokov in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity particularly “the potential of cruelty inherent in the quest for autonomy”. Rorty writes in his 1998 book Achieving Our Country a prediction of our current state of affairs:

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. All the sadism which the academic Left has tried to make unacceptable to its students will come flooding back. All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.

But we can go even farther back than 1998 for this prediction.  Plato, in his Republic, warns that democracy is the very birthplace of tyranny. “Too much freedom seems to change into nothing but too much slavery, for both private man and city.” The Third Reich rose out of an era of great liberality and decadence, particularly in the cities, among the elite, a society of great freedom for women, gays, and Jews. At the time there was what people were calling a “überfremdung”–an “overpowering”–a great influx of foreigners into Germany.

There is a section, if you can bear to read it, on page 789 of your Bollingen edition of Plato, and continuing onto page 790 that describes a former oligarch, become a democrat, now shameless and resplendent in his freedom, sharing “equality” all around. See if you don’t recognize us in it:

“And does he not,” said, I, “also live out his life in this fashion, day by day indulging the appetite of the day, now winebibbing and abandoning himself to the lascivious pleasing of the flute and again drinking only water and dieting, and at one time exercising his body, and sometimes idling and neglecting all things, and at another time seeming to occupy himself with philosophy. And frequently he goes in for politics and bounces up and says and does whatever enters his head. And if military men excite his emulation, thither he rushes, and in his existence, but he calls this life of his the life of pleasure and freedom and happiness an cleaves to it to the end.”

“That is a perfect description,” he said, “of a devotee of equality.”

It is not reminiscent of the now classic description of the liberal elite as “tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, body-piercing, Hollywood-loving”? And, too, this “devotee of equality” is not unlike Hedges’ description of liberals lavish in their inclusion, but excluding one group in particular:

These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

This game has ended indeed, and not how we thought it would. We’re paying attention now. These have been bad days, and after my sorrow and shock, I begin working on a plan.

I seek relief in poetry, Plato and the care and feeding of children and small dogs.

Drunk people respect authority

Really interesting research by Laura Van Berkel shows that people who are drunk, tired, or suffering other types of cognitive impairment such as distraction or stress are more likely to be vulnerable to “those in charge” and when asked, affirm that “control or dominance over people or resources” is  a “guiding principle in your life.”  Equality is something a calm, leisurely person is more likely to support. We revert to hierarchy under cognitive stress.

According to a 2009 review, conservatives tend to support hierarchy andauthority more than liberals do. Van Berkel, working with Chris Crandall and other colleagues, found that, in terms of how the hundred and seven subjects interviewed outside the bar thought about hierarchy, drunk people gave more conservative responses while sober people gave more liberal ones. Over the next few years, she and her team ran five more experiments, exploring the relationship between mental effort and support for hierarchy. In each case, they found that cognitive impairments, such as being stressed or distracted, made people more likely to favor hierarchy. Even encouraging “low-effort thought”—by forcing respondents to think quickly, say—made people more respectful of those in charge.

There may be some sub-category of people for whom being drunk arouses their own need to dominate. We’ve all seen belligerent, brawling drunks domineering drunks and aggressive drunks. And people who are stressed at work are also more likely to do what the boss says. Equality, the article notes, may be a state of mind.


Further Reading

Also mentioned in the New Yorker article:
 Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior by Christopher Boehm. A 1999 book in which Boehm, an anthropologist theorizes egalitarianism is in effect a hierarchy in which the weak combine forces to dominate the strong. Domination does not disappear, it just gets distributed.

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