American Violence

American Violence
American Violence
American Violence

Jon Eig: Lincoln and Django: The Way of the Gun

I started out to write about gun control. Halfway through, I realized I know little about the issue. I should probably read more on it before I write on it. So instead, this is about Westerns. Django comes from a deep American tradition. Even though it is nominally based on the Italian form of that American tradition, the Italians like Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci (who directed the original Django in 1966), were just borrowers. The classic American Western is built on classic American ideas: That the individual, and not the collective, is the most important component of a society, and that violence, especially gun violence, is the most legitimate way to settle both societal and personal grievances. Anyone wishing to have a meaningful dialogue with those who support gun ownership in this country had better understand that fundamental ethos.

I have often told my students that a great paper could be written tracing the last century of American culture by examining seminal Western films. From Stagecoach (1939) to The Searchers (1956); from The Wild Bunch (1969) to Unforgiven (1993), each says something profound about the way we see ourselves. John Ford’s Stagecoach was the first fully mature Western of the talking era, and its message is clear. The banker is evil, the bourgeois ineffectual. As the heroic couple (outlaw and prostitute) ride off at the end, they are said to be “free from the blessings of civilization,” perhaps the most succinct statement of the Western philosophy.

Jon Eig: Lincoln and Django: The Way of the Gun

Our moral choices are very often not made based on reason and judgment but by habit and practice. American history has left us patterns of behavior that we habitually use. The history of the American West has left several problematic behavior patterns. First, we have a worship of outlaws. Vicious scum like Jesse James and Billy the Kid occupy volumes of complimentary literature, films and television.

I was interviewing a criminal once while I was working at a U.S. Probation office. I asked him why he committed crimes. He told me that he was an outlaw, a man who could not be limited in his behavior by society, a man outside the law. I was looking at a pathetic wrongdoer, a man who had brought misery and pain into the lives of everyone who knew him, but in his mind he was a heroic figure out of the Old West. It is not unusual in criminal justice to encounter criminals who consider themselves heroic figures, who were only doing what they “had” to do.

There isn’t much allure in doing the intelligent, rational thing when your culture prefers irrationality and violence.

Fortunately, America has counterbalancing traditions as well. Democracy, the ballot over the gun, is also a force embedded in this culture.

To act ethically and morally, reason is a critical factor, but there must also be an awareness of the cultural habits that often (always?) influence our decision making. Historically, Americans tend to lean toward gun use when confronted with problems. This may have been more appropriate in the Old West than now. It probably made more sense at the time.

Acting with reason, using logic, understanding history, will eventually undermine the culture of violence. We have advanced as humans by limiting the use of violence by ritualizing it, making it inappropriate in most circumstances. That struggle continues.

Business ethics is as much propelled by culture and habit as it is by intelligence.

We by our writing and our actions are creating a different perceived reality in ethics. It will one day take its place as cultural habit.

Let us live in the knowledge that our action and beliefs in many ways create perceived reality. That a heavy responsibility that we should take seriously.

James Pilant

From around the web –

From the web site, Eyewitness Blues:

I think most Americans – left, right and center – can at least agree that there is something disquieting happening at the core of American public culture these days. It’s something that often pops up as public displays of anger and vitriol that many times flirts with paranoid delusion. Maybe it’s always been there and we just never were exposed to it on a mass scale before the Twitterverse.  Regardless, we live in a culture where violent rampages against strangers, though never condoned, are now simply not beyond the pale of American daily life. We call such acts unacceptable, and then by our continuing inability to address how to stop them, we quietly accept them.

Yeah so, humans are occasionally capable of unspeakable violence. News flash. Still, the nature of these incidents and their commonality suggest that this is an American thing, a revelation that puts an ugly stain on that old trope of American exceptionalism.

From the web site, Transition Times:

But I want to know why, as Americans, we tolerate and indeed seem to relish representations of violence, while at the same time we’re so fearful of actual violence that some of us are stockpiling weapons in our homes to prepare ourselves for the worst.

In the old days—not that long ago, in the scale of human history—a whole town used to turn out for a festive viewing of a hanging.

Today in places where conservative Islam reigns, women are stoned to death in public spectacles of participatory violence.

But how different is that, really, from the great American past-time of engaging in virtual violence of the most vicious sort?

America is the most violent, militarized society on Earth and Americans are the greatest exporters of violence, both physical and virtual, to the rest of the world.

Most perpetrators of violence—again, both real and virtual—are men.  Men are the greatest victims of violence too, though women and children bear a disproportionate share, given that they are far less likely to be pulling the triggers.

We need to start looking much harder at the way our culture encourages violence by selling us the story that real men enjoy violence and can handle it with insouciance.

From the web site, 90.9 WBUR:

The real solution however, Gilligan says, is treating violence as a public health issue or as part of preventive medicine.

“In preventive medicine, we learned 150 years ago that cleaning up the water supply and the sewer system was much more effective in preventing epidemics of cholera and other infectious diseases than all the doctors and medicines and hospitals in the world just dealing with people one individual at a time.

“And I say here too, rather than focusing on primarily, say, trying to identify which individuals are maybe most at risk of becoming violent, the more efficient method of reducing the level of violence in our society would be to look at our environment and change it,” Gilligan said.

It’s no easy task. Gilligan said a first step for him would be to ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines. But he said the bigger picture is to tackle socioeconomic issues.

“We do have epidemics of violence when the unemployment rate increases, when economic inequality increases … And these tend to come down when we either ameliorate the effects of unemployment — for example, unemployment insurance — or find ways to protect people from utter humiliation and loss of status,” he said.

He went even further, saying that society as a whole needed to adopt a perspective “that we will not abandon or neglect or ignore anyone, that we will regard ourselves as responsible for the welfare of everybody.”

“I realize this sounds like pie in the sky … But I think it is possible to create a less aggressive and less violent society,” Gilligan said. “It’s just that it’s a matter of generations. It’s not something that happens overnight.”

And finally from the web site, Reflections – Deepak Tripathi’s Diary:

While all eyes are on Newtown for a few days, killings continue around the United States without much notice. Trigger happiness is an instinct difficult to separate from the ease with which guns can be obtained. Their availability in America is in abundance, price is cheap, the reasons to possess them many. To show off as trophies, to hunt, to “protect,” to satisfy one’s macho instinct; or because it is every American’s right to carry arms. Such mindset is absolutist. Such faith in the superiority of culture, which feeds on the idea of “American exceptionalism” that gives the United States a divine mission, is fatally flawed. For man cannot remain unaffected by what he does to fellow humans. At this time of sorrow, it would be appropriate to also think of the many young and the innocent killed in America’s foreign wars.

In a Boston Review article titled “The Power and the Glory: Myths of American Exceptionalism” in the Summer 2005 edition, Howard Zinn wrote these words: “Divine ordination is a very dangerous idea, especially when combined with military power (the United States has 10,000 nuclear weapons, with military bases in a hundred different countries and warships on every sea). With God’s approval, you need no human standard of morality.” It is this state of mind that haunts America today.

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Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics

Lincoln accepted fees that he regarded as fair, sometimes even refusing to accept fees. He was certainly not a “job creator,” not rich, by the standards of the time, and his wife tended to spend money freely. Certainly with a growing family and some political ambitions, he could have used more money but he was unwilling to treat his clients in what he regarded as an unfair manner whatever the professional customs of the time dictated. When confronted by an ethical dilemma, he went his own way. He did not appear to be concerned with the question, “What does everybody else do?”

James Pilant

Abraham Lincoln’s Legal Ethics

“CATCH ‘EM AND CHEAT ‘EM.”

The lawyers on the circuit traveled by Lincoln got together one night and tried him on the charge of accepting fees which tended to lower the established rates. It was the understood rule that a lawyer should accept all the client could be induced to pay. The tribunal was known as “The Ogmathorial Court.”

Ward Lamon, his law partner at the time, tells about it:

“Lincoln was found guilty and fined for his awful crime against the pockets of his brethren of the bar. The fine he paid with great good humor, and then kept the crowd of lawyers in uproarious laughter until after midnight.

“He persisted in his revolt, however, declaring that with his consent his firm should never during its life, or after its dissolution, deserve the reputation enjoyed by those shining lights of the profession, ‘Catch ’em and Cheat ’em.'”

And another story –

CREDITOR PAID DEBTORS DEBT.

A certain rich man in Springfield, Illinois, sued a poor attorney for $2.50, and Lincoln was asked to prosecute the case. Lincoln urged the creditor to let the matter drop, adding, “You can make nothing out of him, and it will cost you a good deal more than the debt to bring suit.” The creditor was still determined to have his way, and threatened to seek some other attorney. Lincoln then said, “Well, if you are determined that suit should be brought, I will bring it; but my charge will be $10.”

The money was paid him, and peremptory orders were given that the suit be brought that day. After the client’s departure Lincoln went out of the office, returning in about an hour with an amused look on his face.

Asked what pleased him, he replied, “I brought suit against ——, and then hunted him up, told him what I had done, handed him half of the $10, and we went over to the squire’s office. He confessed judgment and paid the bill.”

Lincoln added that he didn’t see any other way to make things satisfactory for his client as well as the other.

And another –

NEVER SUED A CLIENT.

If a client did not pay, Lincoln did not believe in suing for the fee. When a fee was paid him his custom was to divide the money into two equal parts, put one part into his pocket, and the other into an envelope labeled “Herndon’s share.”

And still one more –

“RATHER STARVE THAN SWINDLE.”

Ward Lamon, once Lincoln’s law partner, relates a story which places Lincoln’s high sense of honor in a prominent light. In a certain case, Lincoln and Lamon being retained by a gentleman named Scott, Lamon put the fee at $250, and Scott agreed to pay it. Says Lamon:

“Scott expected a contest, but, to his surprise, the case was tried inside of twenty minutes; our success was complete. Scott was satisfied, and cheerfully paid over the money to me inside the bar, Lincoln looking on. Scott then went out, and Lincoln asked, ‘What did you charge that man?’

“I told him $250. Said he: ‘Lamon, that is all wrong. The service was not worth that sum. Give him back at least half of it.’

“I protested that the fee was fixed in advance; that Scott was perfectly satisfied, and had so expressed himself. ‘That may be,’ retorted Lincoln, with a look of distress and of undisguised displeasure, ‘but I am not satisfied. This is positively wrong. Go, call him back and return half the money at least, or I will not receive one cent of it for my share.’

“I did go, and Scott was astonished when I handed back half the fee.

“This conversation had attracted the attention of the lawyers and the court. Judge David Davis, then on our circuit bench (afterwards Associate Justice on the United States Supreme bench), called Lincoln to him. The Judge never could whisper, but in this instance he probably did his best. At all events, in attempting to whisper to Lincoln he trumpeted his rebuke in about these words, and in rasping tones that could be heard all over the court-room: ‘Lincoln, I have been watching you and Lamon. You are impoverishing this bar by your picayune charges of fees, and the lawyers have reason to complain of you. You are now almost as poor as Lazarus, and if you don’t make people pay you more for your services you will die as poor as Job’s turkey!’

“Judge O. L. Davis, the leading lawyer in that part of the State, promptly applauded this malediction from the bench; but Lincoln was immovable.

“‘That money,’ said he, ‘comes out of the pocket of a poor, demented girl, and I would rather starve than swindle her in this manner.'”

From – LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES

A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)

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Abraham Lincoln and the Bottom 47%

Abraham Lincoln and the bottom 47%

Abraham Lincoln and the Bottom 47%

Recently, a presidential candidate referred to bottom 47% of the American population as self identified victims. Abraham Lincoln had a different view of the poor. He had a deep concern for the less fortunate in society as is illustrated by this story (below). Would we lived in such times that this kind of judgment (and the kind of man who would make it) were honored and esteemed. Instead we are told to worship and respect the “job creators,” the PR name for what are often little more than predators.

James Pilant

 

“AND YOU DON’T WEAR HOOPSKIRTS.”

 

An Ohio Senator had an appointment with President Lincoln at six o’clock, and as he entered the vestibule of the White House his attention was attracted toward a poorly clad young woman, who was violently sobbing. He asked her the cause of her distress. She said she had been ordered away by the servants, after vainly waiting many hours to see the President about her only brother, who had been condemned to death. Her story was this:

 She and her brother were foreigners, and orphans. They had been in this country several years. Her brother enlisted in the army, but, through bad influences, was induced to desert. He was captured, tried and sentenced to be shot—the old story.

 The poor girl had obtained the signatures of some persons who had formerly known him, to a petition for a pardon, and alone had come to Washington to lay the case before the President. Thronged as the waiting-rooms always were, she had passed the long hours of two days trying in vain to get an audience, and had at length been ordered away.

 The gentleman’s feelings were touched. He said to her that he had come to see the President, but did not know as he should succeed. He told her, however, to follow him upstairs, and he would see what could be done for her.

 Just before reaching the door, Mr. Lincoln came out, and, meeting his friend, said good-humoredly, “Are you not ahead of time?” The gentleman showed him his watch, with the hand upon the hour of six.

 “Well,” returned Mr. Lincoln, “I have been so busy to-day that I have not had time to get a lunch. Go in and sit down; I will be back directly.”

 The gentleman made the young woman accompany him into the office, and when they were seated, said to her: “Now, my good girl, I want you to muster all the courage you have in the world. When the President comes back, he will sit down in that armchair. I shall get up to speak to him, and as I do so you must force yourself between us, and insist upon his examination of your papers, telling him it is a case of life and death, and admits of no delay.” These instructions were carried out to the letter. Mr. Lincoln was at first somewhat surprised at the apparent forwardness of the young woman, but observing her distressed appearance, he ceased conversation with his friend, and commenced an examination of the document she had placed in his hands.

 Glancing from it to the face of the petitioner, whose tears had broken forth afresh, he studied its expression for a moment, and then his eye fell upon her scanty but neat dress. Instantly his face lighted up.

 “My poor girl,” said he, “you have come here with no Governor, or Senator, or member of Congress to plead your cause. You seem honest and truthful; and you don’t wear hoopskirts—and I will be whipped but I will pardon your brother.” And he did.

From – LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES

A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)

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Abraham Lincoln’s Business Ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s business ethics

Abraham Lincoln’s Business Ethics

Abraham Lincoln on being presented with a moral conundrum chose to “bend” the rules. Generally speaking, it is wrong to break the rules but it is also wrong to unquestionably obey them under all circumstances. Lincoln knew when to bend the rules. 

James Pilant

HE “SKEWED” THE LINE.

When a surveyor, Mr. Lincoln first platted the town of Petersburg, Ill. Some twenty or thirty years afterward the property-owners along one of the outlying streets had trouble in fixing their boundaries. They consulted the official plat and got no relief. A committee was sent to Springfield to consult the distinguished surveyor, but he failed to recall anything that would give them aid, and could only refer them to the record. The dispute therefore went into the courts. While the trial was pending, an old Irishman named McGuire, who had worked for some farmer during the summer, returned to town for the winter. The case being mentioned in his presence, he promptly said: “I can tell you all about it. I helped carry the chain when Abe Lincoln laid out this town. Over there where they are quarreling about the lines, when he was locating the street, he straightened up from his instrument and said: ‘If I run that street right through, it will cut three or four feet off the end of ——’s house. It’s all he’s got in the world and he never could get another. I reckon it won’t hurt anything out here if I skew the line a little and miss him.”‘

The line was “skewed,” and hence the trouble, and more testimony furnished as to Lincoln’s abounding kindness of heart, that would not willingly harm any human being.

From – LINCOLN’S YARNS AND STORIES

A Complete Collection of the Funny and Witty Anecdotes that made Abraham Lincoln Famous as America’s Greatest Story Teller With Introduction and Anecdotes

By Alexander K. McClure

(This material is in the public domain.)

 

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An Abraham Lincoln Story for the New Year, 2012

CREDITOR PAID DEBTORS DEBT.

A certain rich man in Springfield, Illinois, sued a poor attorney for $2.50, and Lincoln was asked to prosecute the case. Lincoln urged the creditor to let the matter drop, adding, “You can make nothing out of him, and it will cost you a good deal more than the debt to bring suit.” The creditor was still determined to have his way, and threatened to seek some other attorney. Lincoln then said, “Well, if you are determined that suit should be brought, I will bring it; but my charge will be $10.”

The money was paid him, and peremptory orders were given that the suit be brought that day. After the client’s departure Lincoln went out of the office, returning in about an hour with an amused look on his face.

Asked what pleased him, he replied, “I brought suit against ——, and then hunted him up, told him what I had done, handed him half of the $10, and we went over to the squire’s office. He confessed judgment and paid the bill.”

Lincoln added that he didn’t see any other way to make things satisfactory for his client as well as the other.

 

This story is from Alexander K. McClure’s collection of Abraham Lincoln Stories entitled: Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories.  It has long ago passed into the public domain.

James Pilant

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Business Ethics in History – Abraham Lincoln

… An old acquaintance in Illinois, having organized a bank under the new National Bank Act, wrote offering some of the stock to Lincoln, who replied with thanks, saying he recognized that stock in a good national bank would be a good thing to hold, but he did not feel that he, as President, ought to profit from a law which had been passed under his administration. “He seemed to wish to avoid even the appearance of evil,” said the banker.

Carl Sandburg’s

Abrahm Lincoln – The War Years, 1861-1864

Page 344

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Should President Obama Enforce The Law Against The Great Mortgage Companies?

The banks will suffer if a moratorium is declared on foreclosures and this will cause economic problems that will filter down into the rest of the country making our recession worse. This is probably true.

If we penalize, punish these huge financial organizations for their violations of the law, we will also have economic problems very similar to those associated with a moratorium. Mortgage companies will have to slow down foreclosures reducing bank profits across the nation. If there are prosecutions, key players who understand the system and have repeatedly proved themselves moneymakers would be out of play and their vital skills unavailable to maintain bank profits at the current high level.

It is said that while the violations of the law were especially cruel to the occasional mortgage holder, generally speaking the process is sound and few were actually harmed. Their are no statistics bearing this out because mortgage companies did not look at (in fact, ignored) the records before they foreclosed. Nevertheless this is a common belief. And common beliefs are often true.

And while the courts were directly lied to on hundreds of thousands of occasions, these were purely procedural matters. In the vast majority of cases, nothing would have changed, the foreclosures would have taken place. Should we penalize the great financiers upon which this nation’s prosperity depends on for what is really a purely procedural violation? While obviously there is some moral failing in filing cases without any actual knowledge of the facts, the facts were generally routine.

Further, no large organizations were harmed. Without any large corporations or other large economic players damaged the recovery can proceed. Does it really matter that there were procedural irregularities in which only small economic units were harmed? Can this really be really worth actual prosecutions costing time and money? Can we afford to damage the reputations of the top figures in American finance during this period of slow growth and economic uncertainty?

Is it not reasonable to pass over this unpleasant episode with as little fanfare as possible, of course, having some review of some mortgages that have gone wrong? There was no intent to defraud these individuals. The only reason documents were processed without examination was to speed the process. Looking at the documents would not have allowed the firms to foreclose on tens of thousands of homes a month. Let me ask you, really, how can a mortgage company compete with other companies doing as little process as possible? Following the law would have cost billions of dollars and threatened the very existence of companies in compliance. Have some compassion! These companies employ tens of thousands of individuals whose salaries and expenditures go to support this economy.

Be reasonable. The law is merely a tool, sometimes to be raised (perhaps when there a bank robbery, you know a violent crime) but at other times to be laid aside. Sometimes the harm of enforcement is greater than that of justice.

Reasonable! When did that word become a tool for those contemptuous of the law.


When did threatening our economy with ruin become a successful strategy to avoid prosecution?

When did lying to the court become a routine matter? When did taking peoples’ home become so routine that when we don’t know whether they should have been taken or not, no one is supposed to care?

When did the importance of competition become so important that it overrode the needs of the nation’s people and simple justice?

Where is justice? Can it be found? Does it exist?

Here, listen to this fellow and his thoughts on the law –

Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap — let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs; — let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.
–January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.
–January 27, 1838 Lyceum Address

That was Lincoln.

And then there was this guy –

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”

“In the absence of sound oversight,responsible businesses are forced to compete against unscrupulous and underhanded businesses, who are unencumbered by any restrictions on activities that might harm the environment, or take advantage of middle-class families, or threaten to bring down the entire financial system.”

We didn’t become the most prosperous country in the world just by rewarding greed and recklessness. We didn’t come this far by letting the special interests run wild. We didn’t do it just by gambling and chasing paper profits on Wall Street. We built this country by making things, by producing goods we could sell.

That guy was Barack Obama.

Where’s justice?

James Pilant