What We’re Reading

by Maha Rafi Atal

A bank holiday Monday means a Tuesday roundup of links for the week. Here’s what we’ve been chewing over at ITLR headquarters.

1. The mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, made a stirring address on historical memory, prompted by his administration’s decision to remove four monuments to the Confederacy from prominent locations in the city of New Orleans. The decision places Landrieu at the centre of an ongoing battle across the American South about the appropriate treatment of such monuments, which were largely erected not during or immediately after the American Civil War, but in the 20th century as part of the ‘Lost Cause’ movement which sought to recast the war as a matter of states’ rights and to deemphasize the significance of slavery and race in precipitating the conflict. Here’s a snippet, though the whole speech is worth a read. It has already garnered comparison to speeches by President Lyndon Johnson, another white Southern politician who spoke openly about American racism.


New Orleans was America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of forced labor of misery of rape, of torture. America was the place where nearly 4,000 of our fellow citizens were lynched, 540 alone in Louisiana; where the courts enshrined ‘separate but equal’; where Freedom riders coming to New Orleans were beaten to a bloody pulp. So when people say to me that the monuments in question are history, well what I just described is real history as well, and it is the searing truth. And it immediately begs the questions: why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans. So for those self-appointed defenders of history and the monuments, they are eerily silent on what amounts to this historical malfeasance, a lie by omission.

2. The philosopher Martha Nussbaum gave a lecture to the US National Endowment for the Humanities, drawn from her forthcoming book The Monarchy of Fear. The lecture considers the role of fear and anger in politics, and argues that they are “a poison to democratic politics,” even when marshaled by activists on the side of social or political justice. Using the example of nonviolent resistance work of Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, and drawing broadly on philosophy and literature from Greco-Roman times to the present, Nussbaum lays out the basis for a politics of ‘non-anger’ which might overcome popular feelings of helplessness in the face of injustice and oppression.

3. Over at Talking Politics, the Cambridge politics podcast, there’s a fascinating interview with Tim O’Reilly, the technology writer and entrepreneur. While the interview covers a wide range of issues, we’re particularly intrigued by what O’Reilly has to say about labor, and the way that technology’s potentially positive role in society has been undermined in recent decades.

We have to stop thinking about jobs and start thinking about work. Because ultimately, technology is the solution to human problems. We won’t run out of work until we run out of problems. But what has happened in our economy is that we have come to think that basically work is designed to improve the financial outcomes of companies, that ultimately when we look at technology, ‘well great, we can do the same old work with fewer people.’ But the future comes when we do new kinds of work…Somewhere along the way we got this bad idea, and the bad idea was the idea of shareholder capitalism.

4. Nuts have become a fashionable health food, full of protein and ‘good’ fats. At the wellness magazine Outside, Peter Vigneron reports on the dark consequences: nut prices have risen dramatically, and so they have become a tempting commodity for thieves, including a Russian crime syndicate. “The number and style of the thefts—quick and professional, as if the characters from Ocean’s Eleven had descended on the Central Valley—have drawn the attention of federal organized-crime investigators and prompted the creation of a regional task force,” Vigneron writes. “More than a half-dozen law-enforcement officials I spoke with said they strongly suspect that many nut thefts have originated with Armenian Power, a criminal group that is active in the Los Angeles area and linked to a broader Russian organized-crime network.” A fascinatingly strange caper begging for a film adaptation.

About the Author

Maha Rafi Atal

Maha Rafi Atal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge and the Senior Editor of In The Long Run.

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