Part 1—Few episodes have matched this one: In 1913, Joyce Kilmer wrote “Trees.”
That’s not what we’re talking about.
In 1907, James Joyce published Dubliners, a famous set of fifteen stories which isn’t set in Ohio.
The fellow was 25 at the time. One year earlier, he had explained his purposes in a frequently-quoted letter.
For fuller text, see below. This was Joyce, with our emphasis added:
“My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to be the center of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under its four aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life. The stories are arranged in this order.”
At the tender age of 25, Joyce wanted to write the moral history of his country—or at least, one chapter of it. He seemed to feel the “indifferent public” wasn't much going to care.
No lack of self-confidence there! At The Modern World, we’re offered this account of what Joyce thought he saw in the various sectors of his city:
“A collection of short stories published in 1907, Dubliners revolves around the everyday lives of men, women and children in the Irish capital of Dublin during the late Victorian era. Generally unhappy tales, they form a chronicle of lost innocence, eroding faith, missed opportunities, subtle hypocrisies, devastating ironies, and paralysis—always moral and intellectual paralysis.”
That analysis, which we first read this weekend, had us at “moral and intellectual paralysis.” As you can see in Joyce's letter, the word “paralysis” was his.
Moral and intellectual paralysis! Here at The Daily Howler, we have often referred to the “moral and intellectual squalor” of the modern American “press corps.” In the fifteen years we’ve been doing this site, very few episodes—perhaps only one—matches the coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing for the breadth of the way this moral and intellectual breakdown has been put on display.
Other episodes have been more consequential, though nothing involving race is ever trivial, and this episode is highly important. But no other episode has put the breakdown on a wider display.
At age 25, Joyce presented a story cycle to display the “paralysis” he saw all through his country’s constituent parts. In this country, no episode has shown our own breakdown as it works its way through so many different elements of the population.
It started with baldly inaccurate, lurid claims made by some family lawyers. With lightning speed, those often disgraceful claims were adopted by the “press corps.”
(This same process occurred in the summer of 2001, when Levy family lawyers seem to have invented false claims about Gary Condit—false claims which were widely repeated on cable all summer. They too believed that the police weren't investigating their case hard enough. It would seem that they too began inventing false claims to paint the finger of blame at Condit, thus forcing additional action.)
The current case began with the lawyers, then with the guild we still call the press. From there, the moral and intellectual breakdown spread in a bit of a plague, as Camus might have put it. It extended through the wider community here in our own Oran.
We got to see how easy it is to get folk to believe, and then to repeat, certain types of false claims. We saw the urgency with which many people long for the chance to repeat false claims, as long as they're morally pleasing.
Eventually, we even got to see how doggedly many “liberals” will fight to defend the right to make false claims! And as always, we saw the problem which underlies this moral and intellectual breakdown:
We saw that the best and brightest among us will not describe this pestilent process, which has paralyzed our own Dublin, our own Oran, for at least the past twenty years now. More on this silence to follow.
According to The Modern World, Joyce saw “moral and intellectual paralysis” among his fellow Dubliners. He tended to attribute that condition to his country’s domination by a foreign power.
The fact that Joyce thought he saw that doesn’t mean it was actually there! But for our own moral and intellectual squalor, consider the editorial which ran in the Baltimore Sun on July 17, right here on the streets where we live.
What follows is pure journalistic porn, in an array of ways. The porn can also be found in other parts of the editorial. This is what we have meant, down through the years, when we have spoken about our own nation’s moral and intellectual squalor:
BALTIMORE SUN EDITORIAL (7/16/13): The only thing that is clear now is the same thing that has been evident from the beginning: that no one in the Twin Lakes development in Sanford, Fla., was at risk on the night of Feb. 26, 2012, until Mr. Zimmerman spotted Trayvon Martin, decided based on his appearance that he was a "punk" who didn't belong, and then disregarded the advice of a 911 operator and got out of his car to try to keep the teen from getting away. Regardless of who threw the first punch or who was getting the better of the struggle that ensued, it is indisputably true that Mr. Zimmerman overstepped his role, and that had he not done so, Trayvon Martin would still be alive.That was squalid work, in ways we’ll discuss a bit more tomorrow. For today, we’ll quickly cite two blatantly false assertions which came from The Standard Approved Story Book. Then we’ll link you to a subsequent event here in Baltimore.
The trial shed little definitive light on the events surrounding Mr. Martin's death. But two undercurrents are clearly responsible for what happened that night and for the way the case has played out since: racial prejudice and Florida's reckless stand-your-ground self-defense law.
Mr. Zimmerman's defense attorneys didn't explicitly invoke stand your ground in his defense; to do so would have undermined their story that Mr. Martin had pinned Mr. Zimmerman to the ground and was reaching for Mr. Zimmerman's weapon at the moment of the fatal shot. But Mr. Zimmerman was clearly aware of it before the confrontation. The existence of such a law, and of lax rules for the carrying of concealed weapons, are emboldening to the vigilante. The law also played no small part in the Sanford Police Department's shoddy investigation of the killing and the local prosecutor's initial decision not to pursue any charges. Such a law renders the notion of justice irrelevant. Imagine if Mr. Zimmerman had been the one who wound up dead that night; a strict reading of stand your ground would suggest that Mr. Martin wouldn't have been guilty of anything either.
Mr. Zimmerman's defenders note that he does not have a history of overt racism and that he used profanity and epithets but no racial slurs in describing Mr. Martin to a 911 operator. But something made him decide based on no evidence that Mr. Martin was a troublemaker who had to be apprehended so desperately that Mr. Zimmerman could not wait for police to arrive. Mr. Martin was a black teenager wearing a hooded sweatshirt. If he had been a white teen in khakis and a button-down, would Mr. Zimmerman have jumped to the conclusions he did? Almost certainly not. A black youth automatically registers as suspicious, and now, thanks to the Zimmerman defense team, he will automatically be considered armed and dangerous, even if he is holding nothing more menacing than a bag of Skittles.
The second way race factors into this case is in how it has been perceived by the public. A black youth is killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer, the police conduct a shoddy investigation, prosecutors put on a bumbling case, and an all-white jury in the South acquits. It is a story so familiar in its outlines that the particulars cannot overcome the sense for many justice is impossible when race is involved.
Good lord! According to the editors. Zimmerman was acquitted by “an all-white jury in the South.”
As everyone knows, and always knew, that statement isn’t true. In an act of remarkable moral squalor, the editors served that gruel anyway.
An all-white jury in the South! Surely, they knew that was false.
Needless to say, the editors also said, seventeen months later, that Zimmerman “disregarded the advice of a 911 operator and got out of his car” on that fateful night. With some horror, we note that this statement is written in such a way that it can imaginably be defended, though only absurdly, as being technically accurate.
Can it possibly be that the squalor runs so deep that the editors deliberately crafted their statement that way? We pray that isn't true.
(By the spring of 2012, almost every major news org had debunked the notion that Zimmerman was told to stay in his car that night. To see the New York Times explain the chronology, click this. To see the hometown Orlando Sentinel do the same, click here. Almost everyone reported, once, what the real chronology was. Then, Dubliners went back to describing these events in the way they much preferred. This formed part of the moral/intellectual squalor of that Sun editorial.)
Surely, the editors knew that wasn’t an all-white jury. Were they really still misinformed about the chronology of that exchange with the police dispatcher? Beyond these rather obvious problems, the editors stated, in several places, that Zimmerman decided “based on no evidence/based on appearance” that Martin was a suspicious person that night, although they of course understand that Zimmerman reported suspicious behavior.
Like the editors, we have no way of knowing how Martin did or didn’t behave that night. We do know this—the behavior of the editors is journalistically pornographic and morally squalid.
We’ll cite a few more parts of that editorial tomorrow. For today, let’s consider what sometimes happens when Dubliners behave this way with others looking on.
On the same day that editorial appeared, Baltimore Sun reporter Carrie Wells described a street attack in east Baltimore. The editors have managed to withhold their concern about this reported event:
WELLS (7/16/13): Tensions have run high, and Baltimore police said Monday they are investigating an alleged beating of a Hispanic man that, according to a witness, came at the hands of a group of black youths who were saying "This is for Trayvon" while they attacked him.Did that street attack happen that way? Like the editors of the Sun, we have no way of knowing. By the next day, the Baltimore police seemed to be saying they think that Dudley is wrong in what she says she heard. To see her interviewed, click this ABC report.
In a Facebook post that drew nearly 50 comments, real estate agent Christina Dudley said she was walking to her car just before 9 p.m. Sunday when she saw several young black males and two black females chasing a 37-year-old Hispanic man west on North Linwood Avenue past East Fairmont Avenue.
"One of the boys had a handgun out, and it was pointed at the back of him," Dudley said in an interview.
They caught up to the man at the corner of Fairmount and North Streeper Street, and the male with the gun appeared to beat the victim with it while others kicked and stomped him, Dudley said. Police confirmed they are looking into whether the perpetrators' reaction to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial played a role in the incident. A police report on the beating does not mention the alleged comments.
"They were just yelling and calling him names as they ran after him, but once they were hitting him and after that, they started yelling, "This is for Trayvon," said Dudley, who said she heard the chant repeated multiple times.
Dudley and a woman walking her dog across the street told the group to stop and warned that they were calling 911. The group scattered before police arrived. Police have no arrests or named suspects. The victim suffered abrasions to his elbows and forearms but refused medical attention, according to the police report.
Dudley, who lives in the neighborhood, said she worries about her Hispanic neighbors and said she and other residents were looking for ways beyond Facebook to warn them of the incident. Patterson Park has one of the city's highest concentrations of Latinos and is home to the annual Latino Fest.
The Baltimore Sun’s editorial couldn’t have triggered that street attack. (We try not to fake our chronologies here.) But Dubliners have been affected in many ways by the moral and intellectual squalor surrounding the Zimmerman trial.
We’ll be surprised if no other attacks are triggered by this widespread misconduct. Late last week, one juror described the way she broke down when she saw the way she was being attacked by fellow Dubliners.
(“I literally fell on my knees and I broke down. My husband was holding me. I was screaming and crying,” she told the self-involved Robin Roberts. We don't blame her for being upset. Do you feel sure that no other attacks will result from our widespread bad conduct?)
In 1947, Albert Camus imagined the way the citizens of Oran reacted to an imagined plague (The Plague). In 1958, Chinua Achebe imagined events in Umuofia, a fictional group of Nigerian villages in a colonial trap (Things Fall Apart).
In 1836, Hans Christian Anderson imagined the way the citizens of a mythical empire reacted to an awkward event involving a major authority figure (The Emperor’s New Clothes).
All these writers tried to convey the way we humans behave as we are asked to confront various parts of the human condition. For this week, we’ll stick with Dubliners as our leading model.
Joyce saw a “paralysis” running through the various elements of his nation. We have long described a wide moral and intellectual squalor here in our own Oran.
In the past month, this squalor has run through many parts of our nation. It has involved the lawyers, the journalists, the professors and even a shitload of us liberals.
Is the breakdown general all over this country? In our next post, later today, we’ll describe an act of child-rearing by two Dubliners.
Maybe you'll think they did the right thing. In the end, there's no way to say.
Tomorrow: More from the hometown Dublin Sun
The fuller passage from Joyce: Here is a fuller passage from that letter by Joyce:
“My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to be the center of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under its four aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity, and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written in for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, what he has seen and heard.”
Joyce said he refused to alter the various things he had seen and heard. The editors of the Baltimore Sun dine at a different table.
Concerning that earlier murder probe: Gary Condit played no role in Chandra Levy's death. All through the summer of 2001, pundits invented and massaged facts. This helped them pretend that he did.
We'd call that “moral squalor.” As in the famous Anderson tale, most of us Dubliners chose to pretend that this had never occurred