Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Jorie Graham, Samuel Huntington, Victor Davis Hanson and Danny Vendramini


In the current issue of the London Review of Books I read the poem Time Frame by Jorie Graham.  Never having heard of Graham I took the first line, “The American experiment will end in 2030 . . .”  After reading the poem I looked her up in Wikipedia: “Jorie Graham (nee Pepper, born May 9, 1940) is an American poet.  The Poetry foundation called Graham ‘one of the most celebrated poets of the American post-war generation’ . . . She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1996) for The Dream of the Unified Field; Selected Poems 1974-1994 . . .”  Thus, she inadvertently qualifies as part of my desultory interest in (major) award winning writers.  

If Graham’s “Time Frame” is a current poem, I can imagine its pessimism deriving from fear of China’s surpassing the U.S. economically, of Covid’s refusal to be extinguished, and of Putin’s seeming maniacal interest in defeating and incorporating the Ukraine.  

The other day I watch the UK Youtube Telegraph channel interview of Victor Davis Hanson who is “guardedly optimistic about America’s future”:

The elements about which Hanson is pessimistic are associated with American movements which strive to overturn traditional governmental elements.  He didn’t sound fearful of China, Covid, or Putin.  I am merely guessing here, perhaps Graham is fearful of something else in our environment, but I took her poem to be about the major current elements alarming a major number of Americans.  

As to China, while they won’t match the U.S. militarily by 2030, they do have an interest in “reacquiring” Taiwan.  I have that in quotes because the Communist government never held Taiwan.  The nationalist government which opposed Mao Tse tung was driven from the mainland and established itself on Taiwan.  The U.S. has since that time supported Taiwan’s independence.  And since that time the Communist mainland has denied that it is independent.  However, the mainland has not so far mustered the boldness to attempt an invasion of Taiwan.  Will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inspire Communist China to become equally bold?  If I were a Chinese Communist, I wouldn’t find Putin’s boldness inspirational.  His Ukrainian goals have in the very least dwindled.  Also, it isn’t just the U.S. that Communist China needs to worry about.  Japan is rapidly arming itself “just in case,” as is South Korea but perhaps South Korea will only act if North Korea supports China in an invasion of Taiwan.  Other nations in the region such as the Philippines might be a threat to China if the war against Taiwan was drawn out and dwindled as the Russian war against Ukraine seems to have.  Perhaps Russia will ultimately claim victory over some part of the Russian-speaking eastern segment.  But it seems unlikely that something like that could be carved out of Taiwan to satisfy Communist China.  So, Graham, worry about China if you like (if that is one of your worries), a lot of people are, but some of us are not.

As to Covid, I have been hiding out like a lot of people.  It is all the congestion out there that annoys me personally.  I would hate to be hospitalized in the midst of it.  I don’t feel especially vulnerable despite the warnings that mostly old people and those with compromised immune system are most at risk.  If one looks into their definition of “old people” one finds the assumption that most old people have underlying symptoms that make them especially vulnerable.   But here I noticed (from the Wikipedia article) that Graham “addressed human frailty and family challenges in her 2017 book Fast.  Aging, sickness, the decline of her parents, as well as her own cancer diagnosis pockmarked this slim volume.”  

I looked up the ages of Graham’s parents.  Her mother, Beverly Pepper was a famous sculptor who received several awards and died at the age of 97.  Her father Curtis Bill Pepper was an American journalist and author who served during WWII in army intelligence in both the British and American armies.  He died at age 96.  Here I am, at age 87, fancying that I have already done my duty as an example of longevity to my children but inasmuch as I am not feeling in any immediate risk of demise, 96 or 97 seems quite a satisfactory time to shuffle off my mortal coil.  Furthermore I would think it rude if any of my children were sad over my “aging, sickness and decline” if I made it all the way to 96 or 97.  However, after giving the above summary of Graham’s Fast some more thought, it was probably the case that her parents didn’t have easy deaths, and if that were true then indeed she would have been challenged.  [All this after not having read Fast, or any of her other poetry, but I just now order her most recent collection, Runaway: New Poems as a form of apology.]

In regard to Putin’s adventure after about 55 days, I recalled Samuel P. Huntington’s comments in his The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, copyrighted in 1996.  He considered the relationship of Russia and Ukraine.  He thought it likely that Ukraine might be split with the eastern segment sticking with Russia and the Western becoming independent. “If civilization is what counts . . . violence between Ukrainians and Russians is unlikely.  These are two Slavic, primarily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships for centuries and between whom intermarriage is common.  Despite highly contentious issues and the pressure of extreme nationalists on both sides, the leaders of both countries worked hard and largely successfully to moderate these disputes.  The election of an explicitly Russian-oriented president in Ukraine in mid-1994 further reduced the probability of exacerbated conflict between the two countries.  While serious fighting occurred between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting between Russians and Baltic peoples, as of 1995 virtually no violence had occurred between Russians and Ukrainians.

“A second and somewhat more likely possibility is that Ukraine could split along its fault line and two separate entities, the eastern which would merge with Russia. . .”

Huntington saw the conditions correctly, but he failed to anticipate the war which would occur 26 years after he published his book.  He envisioned a peaceful resolution of the Russian/Ukrainian conflict.  I’m reminded here of the thesis of Danny Vendramini’s Them and Us: How Neanderthal predation created modern humans (published 2011).  There is scant evidence, but traditional anthropologists assumed Neanderthals were peaceful hunter-gatherers and were eventually overcome by bad luck, bad weather and the more aggressive homo sapiens who had the help of dogs.  Those theories aren’t contradicted by any of the evidence.

Vendramini, using the same evidence assumes that Neanderthals, eaters of more meat than their omnivore cousins found it convenient to raid homo sapiens for food.   Neanderthals were initially the apex predators and not like the more peaceful homo-sapiens.  Neanderthals were so successful in eating and/or raping homo sapiens that the later was almost wiped out.  The survivors composed of homo sapiens/ Neanderthal hybrids managed through important changes in their evolution to survive.  Vendramini argues that Neanderthals were hairy, more like chimpanzees.  Something remarkable had to happen for homo sapiens to become relatively hairless.  The disguised estrus of humans, the fake breasts (always seeming to be full of milk) of our women to make them seem to be always nursing, confused the apex predator Neanderthals.  Also we became fastidious about our scent, being relatively hairless helped with that so that the always-hungry Neanderthals couldn’t smell us,  hunt us down and eat us.  Our history with the Neanderthals was such that when we became the apex species, roving bands of cro magnons hunted Neanderthals to extinction.  Whether one accepts Vergamini's arguments or embraces the idea that war-like homo sapiens killed off peaceful Neanderthals, it is inescapable that we homo sapiens like to fight.  Years ago the thesis that we were scavengers and not hunters was popular, but that idea has been largely discredited.  Few scholars, if any, believe that at the present time, but perhaps when Huntington wrote he held that view.  He was as we see wrong.  Russia and Ukraine are solving their conflict in the traditional homo sapiens fashion.  We in these modern times, as a species, don’t seem to be able to accomplish wars of conquest (despite our modern weapons) as successfully as our ancestors did in the past.  

To return to Graham’s poem, there is a political sense in which the “American Project” could end in 2030, if Hanson’s fears our realized and the American constitution and form of government are modified such that they conform to the ideals of those on the “revolutionary” (to use Hanson’s term) left.

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