Watch the Famous James Baldwin-William F. Buckley Debate in Full, With Restored Audio (1965)

When James Baldwin took the stage to debate William F. Buckley at Cambridge in 1965, it was to have “a debate we shouldn’t need,” writes Gabrielle Bellot at Literary Hub, and yet it’s one that is still “as important as ever.” The proposition before the two men—famed prophetic novelist of the black experience in America and the conservative founder of the National Review—was this: “The American Dream is at the Expense of the America Negro.”

The statement should not need defending, Baldwin argued, because it is so obviously true. The wealth created by hundreds of years of slavery has passed down through generations of families. So too has the poverty. These divisions have been strenuously maintained by Jim Crow, redlining, and racist policing. “Profits from slavery,” write Stephen Smith and Kate Ellis at APM Reports, “helped fund some of the most prestigious schools in the Northeast, including Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and Yale,” which happened to be Buckley’s alma mater and was founded by an actual slave trader.




Slave labor funded, built, and maintained nearly every part of the formative university system in the early U.S., and built the wealth of many other powerful institutions. Baldwin says it is “awkward” to have to point out these facts. Rather than recite them, he personalizes, speaking, he says, as “a kind of Jeremiah” in naming crimes gone unredressed for too long: “I am stating very seriously, and this is not an overstatement. I picked the cotton, I carried it to the market, and I built the railroads under someone else’s whip for nothing. For nothing…. The American soil is full of the corpses of my ancestors. Why is my freedom or my citizenship, or my right to live there, how is it conceivably a question now?”

Buckley’s response drips with condescension and contempt. He begins with a standard conservative line: deploring the acts of a few “individual American citizens” who “perpetuate discrimination," but denying that historic, systemic racism still exists. He then cites “the failure of the Negro community itself to make certain exertions, which were made by other minority groups during the American experience.” He damns an entire group of people with platitudes about hard work while also declaring loudly that race has nothing to do with it.

This contradiction—engaging in racist scapegoating while claiming not to see race—was part of the strategy of “colorblind” conservatism the National Review adopted after the passage the Civil Rights Act. Prior to the early sixties, however, Buckley had been a strident segregationist who publicly defended institutionalized white supremacy rather than claiming it had disappeared. In 1957, he wrote an editorial titled “Why the South Must Prevail” and argued that white southern politicians must “take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally” over black citizens.

Buckley had not fundamentally changed in 1965, though he positioned himself as a moderate middle ground between liberals and segregationists like Strom Thurmond, whom he considered crude. His position amounts to little more than a defense of domination, couched in what historian Joshua Tait calls the “racial innocence of intellectual conservatism” that deliberately ignores or distorts historical truths and present realities. “Bristling at Baldwin’s claim that the American economy was built by the unremunerated labour of Black people,” writes Joss Harrison, “Buckley cries: ‘My great grandparents worked too!’”

The debate “now stands as one of the archetypal articulations of the dividing line between US progressives and conservatives on questions of race, justice and history,” writes Aeon, who bring us the full version above with restored audio by Adam D’Arpino. Buckley responds to Baldwin’s powerful rhetoric with insults, out of context “facts and figures – as well as an ad hominem shot at Baldwin’s speaking voice.” He proposes that one road to equality lies in disenfranchising poor Southern whites as well as black citizens.

Buckley displays a “complete ignorance of the problems faced by black Americans in society,” writes Harrison. Such ignorance, "allied with power," Baldwin said elsewhere, constitutes "the most ferocious enemy justice can have." For Baldwin, Buckley's attitude simply confirmed the “great shock," that he movingly describes in his debate statement, "around the age of five, or six, or seven, to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you.”

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #49 Considers Conspiracy Theories as Pop

Ex-philosopher Al Baker works at the UK-based Logically, a company that fights misinformation.

He joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to try to answer such questions as: What's the appeal of conspiracy theories? How similar is being consumed them to being a die-hard fan of some pop culture property? What's the relation between pernicious conspiracy theories and fun speculation (like, maybe Elvis is alive)? Is there a harmless way to engage in conspiracy theorizing as a hobby? Is something still a conspiracy theory in the pejorative sense if it turns out to be true?

We touch on echo chambers, the role of irony and humor in spreading these theories, how both opponents and proponents claim to be skeptics, Dan Brown Novels, Tom Hanks, the Mel Gibson film Conspiracy Theory, and documentaries like Behind the Curve (about Flat Earthers) and The Family.

For expert opinions on the psychology of conspiracy theories, try The Conversation's Antill Podcast, which had a whole series on this topic. For even more podcast action, try FiveThirtyEight, BBC's The Why Factor podcast, Skeptoid, and The Infinite Monkey Cage.

Here are some more articles:

If you enjoy this, try Pretty Much Pop #14 on UFOs. The Partially Examined Life episodes referred to in this discussion are #96 on Oppenheimer and the Rhetoric of Science Advisers and #82 on Karl Popper.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

John Trumbull’s Famous 1818 Painting Declaration of Independence Virtually Defaced to Show Which Founding Fathers Owned Slaves

Statues of slaveholders and their defenders are falling all over the U.S., and a lot of people are distraught. What’s next? Mount Rushmore? Well… maybe no one’s likely to blow it up, but some honesty about the “extremely racist” history of Mount Rushmore might make one think twice about using it as a limit case.

On the other hand, a sandblasting of the enormous Klan monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia—created earlier by Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum—seems long overdue.

We are learning a lot about the history of these monuments and the people they represent, more than any of us Americans learned in our early education. But we still hear the usual defense that slaveholders were only men of their time—many were good, pious, and gentle and knew no better (or they agonized over the question but, you know, everyone was doing it….) People subjected to the violence and horror of slavery mostly tended to disagree.




Before the Haitian Revolution terrified the slaveholding South, many prominent slaveholders, Jefferson and Washington included, expressed intellectual and moral disgust with slavery. They could not consider abolition, however (though Washington freed his slaves in his will). There was too much profit in the enterprise. As Jefferson himself wrote, “It [would] never do to destroy the goose.”

What we see when we look at the Revolutionary period is the fatal irony of a republic based on ideals of liberty, founded mostly by men who kept millions of people enslaved. The point is made vividly above in a virtual defacement of Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull’s famous 1818 painting which hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. All of the founders’ faces blotted out by red dots were slaveowners. Only the few in yellow in the corresponding image freed the the people they enslaved.

These images were not made in this current summer of national uprisings but in August of 2019, “a bloody month that saw 53 people die in mass shootings in the US,” notes Hyperallergic. Their creator, Arlen Parsa sought to make a different point about the Second Amendment, but wrote forcefully about the founders' enslaving of others. “There were no gentle slaveholders,” writes Parsa. “Countless children were born into slavery and died after a relatively short lifespan never knowing freedom for even a minute.” Many of those children were fathered by their owners.

Some founding fathers paid lip service to the idea of slavery as a blight because it was obvious that kidnapping and enslaving people contradicted democratic principles. Slavery happened to be the primary metaphor used by Enlightenment philosophers and their colonial readers to characterize the tyrannical monarchism they opposed. The philosopher John Locke wrote slavery into the constitution of the Carolina colony, and profited from it through owning stock in the Royal African Company. Yet by his later, hugely influential Two Treatises, he had come to see hereditary slavery as “so vile and miserable an estate of man… that ‘tis hardly to be conceived” that anyone could uphold it.

There were, of course, slaveholding founders who resisted such talk and felt no compunction about how they made their money. But lofty principles or no, the U.S. founders were often on the defensive against non-slaveholding colleagues, who scolded and attacked them, sometimes with frank references to the rapes of enslaved women and girls. These criticisms were so common that Thomas Paine could write the case for slavery had been “sufficiently disproved” when he published a 1775 tract denouncing it and calling for its immediate end:

The managers of [the slave trade] testify that many of these African nations inhabit fertile countries, are industrious farmers, enjoy plenty and lived quietly, averse to war, before the Europeans debauched them with liquors… By such wicked and inhuman ways, the English are said to enslave towards 100,000 yearly, of which 30,000 are supposed to die by barbarous treatment in the first year…

So monstrous is the making and keeping them slaves at all… and the many evils attending the practice, [such] as selling husbands away from wives, children from parents and from each other, in violation of sacred and natural ties; and opening the way for adulteries, incests and many shocking consequences, for all of which the guilty masters must answer to the final judge…

The chief design of this paper is not to disprove [slavery], which many have sufficiently done, but to entreat Americans to consider:

With that consistency… they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretence of authority or claim upon them.

Jefferson squared his theory of liberty with his practice of slavery by picking up the fad of scientific racism sweeping Europe at the time, in which philosophers who profited, or whose patrons and nations profited, from the slave trade began to coincidentally discover evidence that enslaving Africans was only natural. We should know by now what happens when racism guides science....

Maybe turning those who willfully perpetuated the country’s most intractable, damning crime against humanity into civic saints no longer serves the U.S., if it ever did. Maybe elevating the founders to the status of religious figures has produced a widespread historical ignorance and a very specific kind of nationalism that are no longer tenable. Younger and future generations will settle these questions their own way, as they sort through the mess their elders have left them. As Locke also argued, in a paraphrase from American History professor Holly Brewer, “people do not have to obey a government that no longer protects them, and the consent of an ancestor does not bind the descendants: each generation must consent for itself.”

via Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Cleese’s Comedically Explains the Psychological Advantages of Extremism: “It Makes You Feel Good Because It Provides You with Enemies”

Extremist: in any political squabble, and especially any online political squabble, the label is sure to get slapped on someone sooner or later. Of course, we never consider ourselves extremists: it's the parameters of acceptable political discussion that wrongly frame our entirely reasonable, truth-informed views. But what if we were to embrace the extreme? "What we never hear about extremism is its advantages," says Monty Python's John Cleese in the television advertisement above. "The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good because it provides you with enemies." When you have enemies, "you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you."

If you "have a lot of anger and resentment in you anyway," you can justify your own uncivilized behavior "because these enemies of yours are such very bad persons, and that if it wasn't for them, you'd actually be good-natured and courteous and rational all the time." Sign on with the "hard left," Cleese says, and you'll receive "their list of authorized enemies: almost all kinds of authority, especially the police, the City, Americans, judges, multinational corporations, public schools, furriers, newspaper owners, fox hunters, generals, class traitors — and of course, moderates." If you prefer the "hard right," they have a list of their own, one including "noisy minority groups, unions, Russia, weirdos, demonstrators, welfare sponges, meddlesome clergy, peaceniks, the BBC, strikers, social workers, communists — and of course, moderates."

As Cleese tweeted this past weekend, "Hard to tell if I recorded this 30 years or 10 minutes ago." In fact he recorded it more than 30 years ago, as an endorsement of the centrist SDP-Liberal Alliance between the United Kingdom's Social Democratic Party and Liberal Party. Having formed in 1981 and gone defunct by 1988 (when it became the party now known as the Liberal Democrats), the SDP-Liberal Alliance leaves little in the way of a legacy, but this clip has only grown more relevant with time. As an extremist, Cleese reminds us "you can strut around abusing people and telling them you could eat them for breakfast and still think of yourself as a champion of the truth, a fighter for the greater good, and not the rather sad, paranoid schizoid that you really are" — a statement that, uttered in our internet era, would surely make more than a few enemies.

via BoingBoing

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When Punk & Reggae Fans Launched the “Rock Against Racism” Movement and Pushed Back Against Britain’s Racist Right (1976)

The UK of the late-70s was, in many unfortunate respects, like the UK (and US) of today, with far-right attacks against West Indian and Asian immigrants becoming routine, along with increased aggression from the police. Enoch Powell’s inflammatory 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech (denounced in the papers as a naked “appeal to racial hatred) energized the far-right National Front. Nazi punks and skinheads began violent campaigns in the mid-70s. A very hot summer in 1976 saw a riot at the Nottingham Carnival, when police attacked the West Indian festival. Carnival-goers fought back, including the Clash’s Joe Strummer and Paul Simenon, who describe the events below.




Strummer was inspired to pen “White Riot,” a call to arms for white punks against the police and far right, and the band moved increasingly toward reggae, including a cover of Junior Murvin’s “Police & Thieves.”

Into this boiling cauldron stepped Eric Clapton to drunkenly declare his support for Powell onstage in Birmingham and repeatedly chant the National Front slogan “keep Britain white!” In outraged response, photographer and former Clapton fan Red Saunders and others founded Rock Against Racism, publishing a letter in the NME to recruit people to join the cause. The short note addressed Clapton's glaring hypocrisy directly: “Come on Eric… Own up. Half your music is black. You’re rock music’s biggest colonist.”

The letter articulated the disgust felt by thousands around the country. Paul Furness, working as a medical records clerk in Leeds at the time, found the anti-racist declaration “positive” and “life affirming,” as he says in the short film at the top. He helped organize the first Rock Against Racism carnival in 1978 and was amazed “that there were thousands and thousands and thousands of people descending on London. The excitement of it, just this realization…. That you can change things, that you can could actually make a difference.”

Created with the Anti-Nazi League, the April 1978 Rock Against Racism Carnival in London’s Victoria Park was the moment “punk became a populist movement to be reckoned with,” writes Ian Fortnam at Classic Rock. (Learn more in the documentary above.) “Never before had so many people been mobilized for that sort of cause,” headliner Tom Robinson remembers. “It was our Woodstock.” The Clash were there—you can hear their performance just above. It was, writes Fortnam, “their finest hour”:

The Clash were on fire, feeding off of an ecstatic audience and premiering as yet unrecorded material (eventually released on Give ‘Em Enough Rope the following November) like Tommy Gun and The Last Gang In Town. The show was a revelation.

The Rock Against Racism Carnival brought together punk and reggae bands, and fans of both, starting a tradition of multi-racial lineups at RAR concerts into the 80s that featured X-Ray Specs, the Ruts, the Slits, Generation X, Elvis Costello, Steel Pulse, Aswad, and Misty in Roots, among many others. "When you saw a band like ours jamming with Tom Robinson or Elvis Costello," says singer Poko of Misty in Roots, who played more RAR shows than any other band, "it showed that if you love music we can all live together."

That message resonated throughout the country and the sound systems of the streets. At the first Carnival, Fortnam writes, “phalanxes of police held back counter-demonstrating skinheads” while an estimated 80,000 people marched through the streets chanting “Black and white unite and fight, smash the National Front.” Rock Against Racism became a massive movement that did create unity and pushed back successfully against far-right attacks. But it wasn’t only about the politics, as photographer Syd Shelton recalls below. It was also a fight for what British punk would become—the music of fascism and the far right or a synthesis of sounds and rhythms from the former Empire and its former colonies.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Tom Morello Responds to Angry Fans Who Suddenly Realize That Rage Against the Machine’s Music Is Political: “What Music of Mine DIDN’T Contain Political BS?”

I, Dancing Bear,” a song by an obscure folk artist who goes by the name Birdengine, begins thus:

There are some things that I just do not care to know

It’s a lovely little tune, if maudlin and macabre are your thing, a song one might almost call anti-political. It is the art of solipsism, denial, an inwardness that dances over the abyss of pure self, navel gazing for its own sake. It is Kafka-esque, pathetic, and hysterical. I love it.

My appreciation for this weird, outsider New Romanticism does not entail a belief that art and culture should be “apolitical,” whatever that is.

Or that artists, writers, musicians, actors, athletes, or whomever should shut up about politics and stick to what they do best, talk about themselves.

The idea that artists should avoid politics seems so pervasive that fans of some of the most blatantly political, radical artists have never noticed the politics, because, I guess, they just couldn’t be there.

One such fan just got dunked on, as they say, a whole bunch on Twitter when he raged against Tom Morello for the “political bs.”

That’s Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, whose debut 1992 album informed us that the police and the Klan work hand in hand, and that cops are the “chosen whites” for state-sanctioned murder. That Rage Against the Machine, who raged against the same Machine on every album: "Bam, here’s the plan; Motherfuck Uncle Sam."

The poor sod was burned so badly he deleted his account, but the laughs at his expense kept coming. Even Morello responded.

Why? Because the disgruntled former fan is not just one lone crank who didn’t get it. Many people over the years have expressed outrage at finding out there's so much politics in their culture, even in a band like Rage that could not have been less subtle. Many, like former lever-puller of the Machine, Paul Ryan, seem to have cynically missed the point and turned them into workout music. Morello's had to point this out a lot. (Ditto Springsteen.)

This uncritical consumption of culture without a thought about icky political issues is maybe one reason we have a separate political class, paid handsomely to do the dirty work while the rest of us go shopping. It's a recipe for mass ignorance and fascism.

You might think me crazy if I told you that the CIA is partly responsible for our expectation that art and culture should be apolitical. The Agency did, after all, follow the lead of the New Critics, who excluded all outside political and social considerations from art (so they said).

Influential literary editors and writing program directors on the Agency payroll made sure to fall in line, promoting a certain kind of writing that focused on the individual and elevated psychological conflict over social concerns. This influence, writes The Chronicle of Higher Education, "flattened literature" and set the boundaries for what was culturally acceptable. (Still, CIA-funded journals like The Paris Review published dozens of "political" writers like Richard Wright, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and James Baldwin.)

Then there’s the whole business of Hollywood film as a source of Pentagon-funded propaganda, sold as innocuous, apolitical entertainment….

When it comes to journalism, an ideal of objectivity, like Emerson’s innocent, disembodied transparent eye, became a standard only in the 20th century, ostensibly to weed out political bias. But that ideal serves the interests of power more often than not. If media represents existing power relationships without questioning their legitimacy, it can claim objectivity and balance; if it challenges power, it becomes too “political.”

The adjective is weaponized against art and culture that makes certain people who have power uncomfortable. Saying "I don't like political bs in my culture" is saying "I don't care to know the politics are there."

If, after decades of pumping “Killing in the Name,” you finally noticed them, then all that’s happened is you’ve finally noticed. Culture has always included the political, whether those politics are shaped by monarchs or state agencies or shouted in rap metal songs (just ask Ice-T) and fought over on Twitter. Maybe now it’s just getting harder to look away.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Imagining the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X Debate That Never Happened

American history as it’s usually taught likes to focus on rivalries, and there are many involving big personalities and major historical stakes. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. These figures are set up to represent the “both sides” we expect of every political question. While the issues are oversimplified (there are always more than two sides and politics isn’t a sport) the figures in question genuinely represented very different perspectives on power and progress.

When it comes to the history of the Civil Rights movement, we are given another such rivalry, between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Their ideas and influence are pitted against each other as though they had shared a debate stage. In fact, the two leaders met only once, during Senate debates on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “King was stepping out of a news conference,” writes DeNeen L. Brown at The Washington Post, when Malcolm X, dressed in an elegant black overcoat and wearing his signature horn-rimmed glasses, greeted him.”

“Well, Malcolm, good to see you,” King said.

“Good to see you,” Malcolm X replied.

Cameras clicked as the two men walked down the Senate hall together.

“I’m throwing myself into the heart of the civil rights struggle,” Malcolm X told King.

Later, King would express his disagreement with Malcolm’s “political and philosophical views—at least insofar as I understand where he now stands.” The comment allowed for an evolution in X's thought that would, in fact, occur that year, while later events would push King in a far more radical direction. As Brown writes:

Although the two men held what appeared to be diametrically opposing views on the struggle for equal rights, scholars say by the end of their lives their ideologies were evolving. King was becoming more militant in his views of economic justice for black people and more vocal in his criticism of the Vietnam War. Malcolm X, who had broken with the Nation of Islam, had dramatically changed his views on race during his 1964 pilgrimage to Mecca.

“Much of America did not know the radical King—and too few know today,” writes Cornell West in his introduction to The Radical King, a collection of lesser-known speeches and writings. But “the FBI and US government did. They called him ‘the most dangerous man in America.’” Malcolm X’s extremely harsh criticism of King as “a 20th-century or modern Uncle Tom” is even more unfair and unwarranted against this background, especially given the title of King's final, undelivered, sermon: "Why America May Go to Hell."

In the years after X’s death, King fought for labor rights and advocated for “a better distribution of wealth,” writing in 1966, “America must move toward democratic socialism.” His anti-imperialist, anti-colonial stance alienated many former supporters and enraged the government, but “he refused to silence his voice in his quest for unarmed truth and unconditional love,” West writes. Maybe Malcolm’s unrelenting criticisms played a part in King’s radicalization.

The video “debate” above—actually a 9-minute edit of their interview discussions of each other—begins with one of Malcolm X's withering statements about King’s nonviolent resistance, which he characterizes as “defenselessness.” One can see, given the ad hominem attacks, why King refused requests for a debate. Had it happened, however, it might have gone something like this, with questions focused solely on violence vs. nonviolence as effective and/or morally justifiable tactics for the Civil Rights struggle.

The nuances and sickening historical ironies of the question get lost when disagreement is staged as a zero-sum prizefight, as the Rocky theme in the intro not-so-subtly suggests it is. King, X, and virtually every other civil rights leader throughout history, understood the practical importance of self-defense in a violently racist state. “Even the pacifist King was a firm advocate of black gun ownership,” writes John Merfield at Wisconsin Public Radio,” although he, like others, drew a sharp distinction between self-defense, which he saw as legitimate, and political violence, which he called folly.”

King also staunchly refused to address the question of violence outside the larger question of justice, without which, he said, there could be no peace. Movement leaders like Angela Davis who carried forward the radical, anti-imperialist analysis of both the later King and X would continue to push against the simplistic question of whether violence is justified as a response to brutal oppression. In a famous interview clip above, she demonstrates the absurdity of the idea that people subjected to racial terrorism by the authorities and groups protected by them should have to answer charges of committing political violence.

The history of racist killings is a long “unbroken line,” said Davis more recently during the Ferguson uprising. While Civil Rights leaders of the 20th century may have disagreed about the right response, all of them agreed it had to end immediately if the country is to survive and the promise of true freedom to be realized.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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