Third Culture Queen vol. 15

Interesting Times | Commentaries on today’s culture and progress (or lack thereof)

Hey y’all,

I didn’t publish earlier this week, but you can find the latest editions of Superpower Struggle and Regional Resentments on Substack. Also, I’ve included the top stories surrounding China, Iran, and the US up top to highlight the pace at which many of these engagements are progressing this week. Most importantly, the economy is running on fumes.

Trump, Xi and Trade:

As I’ve said before, don’t hold your breath that anything will come of the latest trade talk progress. Both Trump and Xi are too egomaniacal to ever come to a true deal.

Iran and the Middle East:

We are unfortunate enough to live in interesting times.

– Kyle (@kgborland)

PS: The US has killed more civilians than the Taliban in 2019. And the past 24 hours.

Culture and Progress (or Lack Thereof)

  • A Black kingdom in postbellum Appalachia (Scalawag)

    In the violent years of anti-Black terror that unfolded in the wake of the U.S. Civil War, a group of freedpeople abandoned the place where they were enslaved in Mississippi and ventured into the nearby foothills of the Appalachian mountains in northeastern Alabama, walking north along the peaks and valleys in search of utopia. From Alabama to Georgia to South Carolina, dozens more freedpeople joined this collective march into the Mountain South.

    Several sources locate The Kingdom’s origin in 1866 when approximately 50 freedpeople traversed the mountains from the Deep South to a small mountaintop in Western North Carolina—the same year white supremacists established the Klu Klux Klan in nearby Tennessee while southern states passed the Black Codes to restrict freedom from the newly liberated Black American population. Over the next few years, The Kingdom is believed to have grown to a 200-person communal society with a king and a queen and a common treasury. The inhabitants were subsistence farmers and procurers of herbal liniments, namely a rheumatism treatment called Happy Land Liniment, which they sold in nearby towns like Hendersonville. Earnings from the liniment, harvested produce, and the freedpeople’s outsourced domestic labor were deposited in the common treasury with the intention of purchasing the land they had established as their visionary settlement. 

    All the sources make clear that Robert Montgomery and Luella, no matter their relation, were king and queen of the Kingdom of the Happy Land. All sources also confirm a communal society that valued spirituality, education, and wellbeing. But these diverse accounts of The Kingdom only raise more open-ended questions: What did it mean for a communal utopian society to have a king and queen? How was power imagined and distributed? Who controlled the common treasury? (Related: Scalawag)

  • A Forest Planted in a Soccer Stadium Incites Rightwing Backlash (Hyperallergic)

    In spite of the ongoing backlash, Littmann asserts that the stadium is now safe to visit. His hope for the project is that the living artwork will attract wildlife, and change with the seasons as autumn approaches.

    “I have been working on this idea for 30 years, and the fact that it landed right on the dot amid this whole climate discussion feels a bit eerie to me,” he says. “ […] I am producing a radical image through relatively simple means: by taking something and setting it in a new context, it challenges people’s perception. I want them to reflect on how they deal with nature.”

  • Americans Believe in the Military, But Don't Understand It (National Interest)

    Rarely in the nation’s history have there been enough volunteers to serve in uniform. This raises three fundamental questions for military and civilian leaders. First, what tasks does the nation absolutely need military personnel to accomplish? Second is a draft needed for that? Third, if a draft is unrealistic and the military cannot fill its ranks with volunteers, what are the other options available? This third scenario is a current focus for military and civilian leaders. Possible solutions range from more outsourcing to more automation to seeking new answers through advances in artificial intelligence. What is often missing from such proposals is any explicit discussion about their impact on military and service-specific organizational cultures, and the ethical considerations associated with them.

    Adding to the muddle are the additional oversight responsibilities assigned to the civilian-led Military Departments. All of this obfuscates where civilian control resides in the Department of Defense, and how it should be exercised at the cabinet level and below. As a result, civilian control has become a fluid concept, and one that could be manipulated by civilian or military leaders when debating contentious issues. 

    In a democratic country, how to provide for the common defense—and thus build and sustain the military—needs to be a broad conversation. This requires encouraging students to learn enough about the American military to engage competently and comfortably on such issues. Conversely, those who have devoted their professional lives to defense issues, also need help stepping back to look afresh at how their expertise shapes and limits their own understanding. 

  • My husband’s struggle w/ postpartum depression was my struggle, too (Gay Mag)

    Another good name for it would be postpartum aggression. When the sadness recedes, rage is often waiting to replace it. This is the more elusive villain. D knows my tolerance for rage is lower. He knows to hide it from me.

    The evidence is apparent, though, even when I try not to find it. There are the loud thumps coming from the living room when I’m feeding the baby in the nursery. The way he places the baby gently, so gently, in my arms and then slams the door so hard I think the walls of the house might come down around me.

    One morning the diaper pail won’t open correctly. I kneel to examine it. There is a dent the size of a cantaloupe in its metal belly.

    Did you kick the diaper pail? I ask.

    D nods and says, It was already broken.

    Once, he punches a hole through the drywall in our rented house. I’ll fix it, he says.

    I don’t ask if he means the hole in the wall, or the punching of the hole into the wall. I sit in our dark car in the cool garage and cry.

  • The West Has a Resentment Epidemic (Foreign Policy)

    The results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States illustrate a broader reality, which is that the gap between the cosmopolitan city and the economic periphery has become the new social class divide across the West. Where people live, as much as how they live, now increasingly determines their beliefs, values, and sense of tribal belonging.

    As the researcher Will Wilkinson explores in a recent report, such a “density divide” is not exclusive to the United States. It can also be found in the results of the 2016 British vote on membership of the European Union, where support for remaining in the EU was largely concentrated around London and its extended commuter belt, and the 2017 French presidential election, where support for the left-center candidate Emmanuel Macron clustered around the thriving cities of Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse.

    Changes in the global economy have spatially sorted voters into progressive urbanites with a large stake in a new technological future, globalization, and liberal values, and the left-behind who see their own identity and economic prospects threatened as never before. Rural areas and small towns may have always been more culturally conservative, but this divide, combined with the resentment generated by economic and wealth inequality, has triggered the most prominent recent political explosions across the West.

  • This Is Not the Sixth Extinction. It’s the First Extermination Event. (TruthOut)

    Through to the present, accumulation of capital has proceeded by the violent dispossession or outright murder of peoples, followed by the necrotic extraction of resources that destroys its local ecology for the sake of accumulation. The cumulative results of this process, replicated across the globe, have come to affect deep-time transformations to life at the planetary scale through its very erasure.

    This is how capital capitalizes on its own catastrophes, sustaining the production of “life” under its aegis every day and accelerating the death of life across the Earth. This is no “creative destruction”; it is simply self-annihilation.

  • War on the World: industrialized militaries and climate change (The Intercept)

    Ironically, given its own role in helping create this emergency, the Pentagon happens to be one of the few redoubts from the climate denialism now gripping the American government. “The only department in Washington that is clearly and completely seized with the idea that climate change is real is the Department of Defense,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Gen. Colin Powell, has said. The U.S. military is preparing for a grim future of climate-caused political instability, food shortages, resource wars, and massive refugee flows. Recognizing the strategic threat posed by its own dependence on fossil fuel, it has even taken steps to diversify its energy sources.

  • Who Gets Emily Dickinson? (LA Review of Books)

    Though she wrote almost 1,800 poems, only 10 were published while she lived, all anonymously. When her younger sister Lavinia found the rest, she first tapped Susan to oversee publication. Susan worked too slowly, however, so Lavinia turned to Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the author and abolitionist whom Emily had taken as a literary mentor. Todd and Higginson edited the first volume of poems, which Lavinia paid to have published in 1890. The book was a big success. Todd and Higginson edited a second book of poems that appeared in 1891. Todd alone edited a collection of letters in 1894 and a third volume of poems in 1896. The Dickinson family loaned Todd many of Emily Dickinson’s papers to support her editorial work.

    In other words, the poet’s lover was also her brother’s wife, and the editor of her first books was her brother’s mistress.

    The trouble started in 1895, when Austin Dickinson died. Todd came forward to claim that Austin had promised to give her a plot of land in Amherst, a strip of meadow 53 feet wide. Todd had a deed, but Austin had never signed it. Six months after his death, Lavinia signed it on her brother’s behalf. Later that year, though, Lavinia sued to get the land back, claiming she had been deceived into signing the deed and hadn’t understood it. Decades later, in a memoir, Todd’s daughter Millicent would characterize the land as Austin’s way of paying Todd for her editorial work, since she got no royalties. But the surviving Dickinsons would probably have viewed it as Austin’s way of spoiling his mistress, whom Susan and Lavinia resented for obvious reasons. In 1898, the courts sided with Lavinia Dickinson and returned the land to her.

    From that day to this, the manuscripts of Emily Dickinson have remained divided. Almost half stayed with Todd and her heirs, slightly more with the Dickinsons and theirs.

What I’m Reading