21 March 2023

Pointed video post – ‘Киевская Русь’ by Big History

Back in 2005, Ukrainian melodic heavy metal band Big History put out their first and only album Perpetuum Mobile. The title of one of their songs on that album is literally “Kievan Rus’”. Here are the full lyrics to the song:
Будущего вряд ли хватит что бы прошлое объять,
А вдруг солнце на закате повернет сегодня в спять.
Грянет гром и лопнет небо чрева тайны обнажив,
Тайны прадедов и дедов ты мне чрево расскажи.
Как хватало их терпенья мудро и достойно ждать и
до последнего мгновенья врага ближе подпускать.

Время, стерпит, все стерпит и простит –
Забудет на всегда...
Солнце, светит на Киевской Руси и горе не беда, если все как один всегда.
Точит меч словян и не угостит огонь тысяч душ Киевской Руси.
Я несу свой крест, радость и в грусть,
Мне с тобой тепло Киевская Русь.

Горы в прошлое стремятся , будущего не бояться, нам
Завещано судьбой, пусть разрушать мы отстроим,
А хотят войны то к бою, нам собраться не в первой.
Утро - вечера мудрее, а призыв еще сильнее "Встань!"
Опять плетется сеть. Алчных, потных и строптивых,
Хитро-мудро нагло лживых норм, придется поучить
"Нет сил тепеть!"

Время, стерпит, все стерпит и простит –
Забудет на всегда...
Солнце, светит на Киевской Руси и горе не беда, если все, как один всегда.
Точит меч словян и не угостит огонь тысяч душ Киевской Руси.
Я несу свой крест, радость и в грусть,
Мне с тобой тепло Киевская Русь.
I’m not going to provide a full translation here, but Google does a fairly good job getting the gist. One thing that stands out about such a folk/power metal song is that the historical consciousness of Big History is not romantic or glorious, in no way nationalistic. This song is elegiac in tone, and laments how little has been learned since the heyday of the Kievan polity. It also acknowledges the ‘warmth’ of that time despite how the reality failed to match up to the ideal.

Big History broke up after this album. The main guitarist Evgenii Burykh and vocalist Viktor Vlasov formed the band Берег Неба, which was also located in Krasnodon, while the drummer Rodion Kushnir moved to Berdyans’k. Not sure what happened to bassist Igor Levchenko. The band members, who have this deep and tragic awareness of history, ultimately sided with the autonomists in the Donbass against the Ukrainian government, in part because of the critical love of their homeland which this song displays. The current war displays the same tendencies that Big History laments in ‘Киевская Русь’.

20 March 2023

Encouragement to new believers in other lands

Father Artemy Vladimirov, a popular Moscow-area priest, gave several interviews, epistles and other writings over the course of about twenty years while he was rector at All Saints’ Church in Moscow, which have a particular importance to an American audience. These were very kindly translated, compiled and edited by Sister Nectaria (McLees) and published by the Road to Emmaus journal as a single volume in 2010: Bright Faith.

One of the major draws of Bright Faith, at least for me, is the fact that Fr Artemy has a warm and understanding sense of humour. (Speaking of humour, Fr Artemy advises us to look at the motivation. He has little use for cynical or belittling humour, the sorts of laughter that cut others down, but he speaks very highly of self-deprecation and situational humour.) He clearly ministers to people who come from outside of Russia, and embraces them with empathy even while he also very much loves his own country. He is also, in a manner I’ve personally found to be the case with many Moscow Patriarchate priests, down-to-earth, approachable, genuine and sensible—without compromising on matters of importance to the faith. He sometimes advocates a kind of ‘tough love’ with people who aren’t sincere in their spiritual demands on him, but it’s love all the same. He also understands the temptation and pull of the ‘hyperdox’ tendency, and gently urges moderation in its place.

Fr Artemy firmly champions the traditional nature of the Orthodox faith. He cautions against the consumption of popular media, and he urges young people in particular to embrace chastity with burning zeal. However, there are times when he comes down firmly on the ‘left’ side of things. He has high words of praise, for example, for the radical anarchist priest and new martyr Saint Valentin (Sventsitskii), whom he cites as ‘one of the most interesting writers of the century’. Writing as he did during the 1990s, he laments the disappearance of government assistance programmes for the poor and the destruction of the social fabric in Russia, which accompanied the fall of communism. Even though he has very little good to say about the atheistic Soviet state or its ideologues, he still has a heart which is clearly moved by the people—widows and orphans—who were dispossessed by the ruthless cutthroat gangster capitalism which took its place.

One thing Fr Artemy is very good at in this collection of essays, is referring people to works by other authors whom he considers to be better informed and better suited to guide seekers than himself. Fr Artemy is not being falsely modest here—his perspective is informed by a historical understanding that the startsy in ages past were much more spiritually-refined than the present-day teachers, who seem to have all but disappeared. He is hopeful, however, that people who earnestly seek guidance will find it in the writings of the Russian bishops of the nineteenth century. Fr Artemy is particularly fond, it seems, of St Feofan the Recluse, Bishop of Tambov, and St Ignatii Brianchaninov, Bishop of the Caucasus and Stavropol. He recommends these bishops’ writings precisely because they are practical, and they do address questions which are applicable to the day-to-day life of new believers.

As a teacher, I was particularly gratified to note how well-attuned Fr Artemy is to the character and spiritual needs of young people. He talks about this at length in one of his essays, specifically about the spiritual life of teenagers. He strikes a very fine balance between the need for discipline (which all children do crave, at some level, for a sense of security) and the need for gentle guidance in self-motivated growth in the faith. Once again, he makes reference to St Feofan here: clearly there are some writings which I need to follow up on from this one. Fr Artemy’s Lenten reflections, as well, are of particular use and guidance to people approaching the sacrament of Confession.

This book is one I’d recommend, not necessarily to catechumens or the curious, but absolutely to new believers who are looking for a nudge in the right direction. Fr Artemy is a healthy and sane voice amid an English-language Orthodox Christian literary and social media landscape riddled with various neuroses and unhealthy fixations. Many thanks are owed to Nun Nectaria (McLees) and the folks at Road to Emmaus for making this volume available in English!

19 March 2023


- 杜甫,《羌村(3)》

The flock of chickens starts to call wildly,
As guests arrive, the chickens begin to fight.
I drive the chickens up into the tree,
And now I hear the knock on the wicker gate.
Four or five elders from the village,
Ask how long and far I have been travelling.
Each of them brings something in his hands,
We pour the clear and thick wine in together.
They apologise because it tastes so thin,
There’s no one no-one left to tend the millet fields.
Conscription still continues without end,
The children are campaigning in the east.
I ask if I can sing a song for the elders,
The times so hard, I’m ashamed by these deep feelings.
I finish the song, look to heaven and sigh,
Everyone around is freely weeping.

17 March 2023

The Prayer of a Broken Heart: a review

Fr Paul Abernathy’s new book, The Prayer of a Broken Heart, is a splendidly multifaceted exploration—from a perspective rooted in the Orthodox Christian tradition—of the religious history and spiritual character of African slaves in America and their descendants. Speaking as a white American Orthodox Christian, I’m sure that what I got out of it would be very different than what a black American would get out of it. And I’m sure that a ‘cradle’ Orthodox Christian from within one of the traditionally-religious immigrant communities that came here after slavery had been abolished would get something else entirely out of it. However, the fact that The Prayer of a Broken Heart has something to say to each of these groups is a mark of its strengths. Although it is an adaptation of his seminary master’s thesis, precisely as a work of religious history it stands firmly on its own merits.

The Prayer of a Broken Heart may be said to have three strands. The first strand is an apologia of African-American Christianity as an, if not the, authentic and valid expression of African-American culture (as opposed to being a ‘white man’s religion’ or a ‘slaveowner creed’ foisted upon the slaves by their masters). The second strand is a portrait of African-American spirituality as it was formed through and the experiences of slavery, race-based terrorism, segregation and informal discrimination. And the third strand is an exploration of the commonalities between the African-American religious experience and the historical witness of the Orthodox Church. Interspersed through all of these strands are the accounts of pastoral experiences Fr Paul himself has had, working as a priest in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The men and women whom he encounters have lives shaped by profound grief and loss. But that same suffering leads them, just as it has led many generations of their ancestors, before the Cross.

The historical aspect of the book is logically presented and carefully argued from primary source materials—slave narratives in particular. Olaudah Equiano, Frederick Douglass, Charles Ball, Josiah Henson, Harriet Jacobs, William Wells Brown and others are given space to speak in their own words from their own experiences. If Fr Paul’s authorial voice is somewhat more distant in these passages, that is all to his credit, as these narratives have their own power. The picture he draws out of these narratives is one which complicates and deflates both triumphalist-panglossian white accounts of slavery as a ‘civilising mission’, and anti-Christian tendencies in black-nationalist thought that portray Christianity as a ‘white man’s religion’. It becomes quite clear in these accounts that slave-owners had no interest whatsoever in edifying their slaves or leading them to Christianity. Their sole interest in their slaves was as productive property. In fact: slave-owners feared slaves’ expressions of religiosity, as the prayers of slaves were a powerful implicit witness to their spiritual equality before God.

Slave-owners were known to hold dances and parties with music and secular entertainments for their slaves to keep them ‘happy’. But religious gatherings were feared and forbidden. It was common for slave-owners to have slaves beaten cruelly or even killed for praying. Slaves would therefore organise prayer meetings in ‘hush harbours’: backwoods or basement locations hidden from the eyes of masters and overseers. For two hundred years, African-American Christianity was by necessity an ‘invisible institution’—a phrase borrowed from the religious historian Albert J Raboteau, whom Fr Paul Abernathy quotes at length. The message that he draws from this is clear: African-American Christianity, far from being received by slaves from masters, was attained and held in spite of the suppression of Christianity by their masters. Fr Paul tells us outright that the first records we have of slaves converting in any significant number to Christianity occurred during the first Great Awakening, when ‘New Light’ itinerant preachers would draw mixed-race crowds to revival meetings… often over the strenuous objections of the supine ‘Old Light’ pastors who were the representatives of the slave-owners’ religion.

This leads Fr Paul to open a descriptive account of the character of the Christianity of black America. Because it was an ‘invisible institution’—a church of the catacombs, shaped by the ever-present reality of persecution—it quickly became characterised by a radical trust in the will of God; an extended hope of justice however long deferred; a reliance upon the power of prayer; deference to the witness of elders who had experienced God’s action in their own lives; and an emphasis on salvific suffering and the openness of a ‘broken heart’ to God.

This provides an opening for Fr Paul Abernathy to explore the parallels between the African-American religious experience and Orthodox theology. To a certain extent, he counts on the Orthodox Christian section of his audience to have a great enough familiarity with the rudiments of hesychasm and the words of Psalm 50 to make certain connexions on their own. But he deftly illustrates how the sublative, broken-hearted and penitential character of African-American Christianity shares fundamental similarities with Orthodoxy—drawing upon numerous Patristic writings from Saint Isaac of Nineveh through Saint Gregory Palamas to Saints Silouan of Athos and Sophrony of Essex for demonstration.

Here Fr Paul Abernathy has a much clearer and direct case to make for a connexion than does, say, Hieromonk Damascene Christensen in Christ the Eternal Tao. Fr Paul has enough respect for the tradition he examines to acknowledge the clear differences between it and the Orthodox tradition. At the same time, though, he makes an honest appeal for the Orthodox ‘case’ with African-Americans. He notices in the remnants of African religion which were carried over into Christianity still more similarities with Orthodoxy: communality, the person as a web of relationships, the closeness of the human world to the Divine. And he notes in the tradition of African-American Christianity certain unmet needs and expectations in itself, most notably: a desire for self-denial, for discipline (explaining the appeal of the Nation of Islam), for mystical communion with God. And he argues that the Orthodox Church is capable of meeting these needs and expectations, as Protestant churches are quickly finding themselves deficient of these things.

Ultimately, though, this book is a labour of love. I use that term advisedly. Fr Paul Abernathy is not a nationalist of any sort: indeed, he considers pride (including national pride) to be the very source of many of the ills which the love of Christ must heal. For him, the most salient and salvific features of African-American Christianity are its insistence on forgiveness and on love of enemies: both insistences which are shared by the best aspects of Orthodox Christianity. And it is clear that he himself speaks from a position of love, even when he issues criticism.

His analysis is not without its critical dimension. Although he has nothing but words of praise for the musical tradition of the black spiritual (that true cry from the bottom of a broken heart, expressed in a cappella harmony!), he waxes particularly critical of modern African-American culture when it comes to popular music and consumption habits. He considers much of modern black musical and popular culture to be a form of propaganda which weakens the spirit—in much the same way as the secular dances and parties held by the slave-owners kept their slaves docile. I was rather surprised and a bit dismayed to read the harsh words he had even for blues and rock-‘n’-roll music, both of which (instrument-driven, individualistic, disillusioned and worldly) he views as a qualitative falling-away from the otherworldly hope and communal fellow-suffering epitomised by the spirituals.

Many thanks to Fr Paul Abernathy for publishing this work in a form which makes it available to a broad audience outside the academy. The Prayer of a Broken Heart is very much worth the time taken to read. For American Orthodox Christians in particular (and anyone interested in the history of American religion and constructive modern approaches to race relations generally), it is an excellent source to ingest, to ponder, and to begin conversations from.

16 March 2023

Portrait of a monk

One of the books I’ve taken care to read this Lent, on the advice of my father-confessor, has been The Monk of Mount Athos by Saint Sophrony of Essex, who was glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2019. It is a spiritual biography of Venerable Silouan of Athos, a monk who lived for most of his life in the Saint Panteleimon Monastery on the Holy Mountain. I found it to be an intensely powerful portrait of a spiritual struggler, and an important exposition on the importance of humility and love for enemies.

Bearing in mind that this is a book which was written by a monk, about a monk, it has a usefulness which extends considerably further than a small audience of Orthodox monastics. Humility is, after all, one of the virtues which is accessible to all regardless of their lot in life. In addition, the idea of what it means to be a person (any person) is explored at great depth in this work, making its appeal to a certain degree universal.

Saint Silouan was born in 1866 with the name of Semyon, very soon after the emancipation of the serfs, to the peasant Antonov family. His father Ivan, a gentle and hospitable man, was a formative early influence on his son’s spiritual growth. Of his father, Saint Silouan said:
I have never reached my father’s stature. He was quite illiterate: he even used to make a mistake in the Lord’s Prayer which he had learned by listening in church. But he was a man who was gentle and wise… When I think of my father, I say to myself: “This is the sort of staretz I would like to have.” He never got angry; he was always even-tempered and humble.
Saint Silouan recalled to Sophrony two stories which illustrated his father’s character—one in which he spent a night in fornication with a girl he liked, and the next morning his father didn’t scold or beat him, but merely asked after him and told him that his heart was troubled for him. This mild rebuke from Ivan Antonov caused the young Semyon more mortification than either yelling or blows would have done. In another instance, Semyon gave his father some pork to eat on a Friday, and his father waited until six months later to correct him on that point, out of care for him.

Semyon, as can be seen from these stories, never became an atheist or a ‘freethinker’, but he passed his youth in a somewhat careless way. He was strong, tall, handsome and a bit over-sure of himself. However, he had a troubling vision of himself swallowing a snake, and heard the voice of the Theotokos calling him to repentance in the wake of this dream, after which he was never quite the same. He joined the military at his father’s behest, but his true desire was to become a monk. After finishing his term of service, he visited the church of Saint John of Kronstadt, where in a letter he besought the priest’s prayers for him as he journeyed to Mount Athos.

He joined the monastery of Saint Panteleimon as a novice, and his struggle to master himself began in earnest. He went to work carrying heavy sacks of grain up to the mill to be ground into flour for the monks’ nourishment. He recounts how on the journey he was tormented the entire way there by visions and sensations of the flames of hell. He endeavoured long to cleanse his heart, in order to escape from these visions, but ultimately it was only an act of grace from above which delivered him—a vision of Christ. This grace came to him, and left him again—leaving him to struggle against the demons. However, he received this wisdom from the visions: ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.

This wisdom was salutary for Saint Silouan, and the proof that it came from God consisted in this: that it didn’t stoke his pride, but rather helped him to cultivate a spirit of humility. When he kept his mind in hell, it spurred him to compassion for those around him whose salvation he desired. The true mark of humility, Saint Silouan came to realise, was to be found in love for enemies. His prayers were therefore directed not only to his own salvation, but to the salvation of the world. One can see this in such episodes that Saint Sophrony relates:
I remember a conversation between [Father Silouan] and a certain hermit who declared with evident satisfaction:

‘God will punish all atheists. They will burn in everlasting fire.’

Obviously upset, the
Staretz said:

‘Tell me, supposing you went to paradise and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire—would you feel happy?’

‘It can't be helped. It would be their own fault,’ said the hermit.

Staretz answered him with a sorrowful countenance.

‘Love could not bear that,’ he said. ‘We must pray for all.’
And again:
Among the stewards was a capable monk, Father P, who was outstandingly capable, yet somehow always unlucky—his initiatives usually met with no sympathy among the fathers and his undertakings often ended in failure.

One day, after one such enterprise had resulted in disaster, he was subjected to harsh criticism at the stewards’ table. Father Silouan was present, but took no part in the ‘prosecution’. One of the stewards, Father M, turned to him and said:

‘You are silent, Father Silouan! That means you side with Father P and are indifferent to the interests of the monastery. You don’t mind the damage he has caused the community.’

Father Silouan said nothing but quickly finished eating and then went up to Father M who by that time had also left the table.

‘Father M—how many years have you been in the monastery?’


‘Did you ever hear me criticise anyone?’


‘Then why do you want me to begin with Father P?’

Disconcerted, Father M replied shamefacedly:

‘Forgive me.’

‘God will forgive.’
And yet again:
Father Silouan’s attitude towards those who differed from him was characterised by a sincere desire to see what was good in them, and not to offend them in anything that they held sacred. He always remained himself, convinced that ‘salvation lies in Christ-like humility’, and in the strength of this humility he strove with his whole soul to understand every man at his best. He found the way to the heart of everyone—to his capacity for loving Christ.

I remember a conversation he had with a certain archimandrite engaged on missionary work. Hearing from the latter’s own lips how severe he was in his sermons, how harshly he pronounced judgement upon other faiths, the Staretz said to him:

‘Father, people feel in their souls when they are doing anything right, so that if you condemn their faith they will not listen to you. But if you were to confirm that they were really doing well, and then gently point out their mistakes and show them what they ought to put right, then they would listen to you. God is love, and therefore the preaching of His Word must always proceed from love, and both preacher and listener will profit. But if you do nothing but condemn, the soul of the people will not hear, and no good will come of such preaching.’
As we can see from such passages, the visions which Father Silouan was given when he was younger, far from turning him harsh or prideful, instead developed in him those qualities which he had so loved in his [biological] father: meekness, tenderness, and an open heart ready to condole the suffering. He retained these qualities all his life, being able to turn his thoughts back upon Christ with a movement of the mind downward and inward, but at the end of his life he said sadly of himself: ‘I have not yet learned humility.

I found that this book was also of interest on account of Saint Sophrony’s meditations, in reflecting upon the life of Saint Silouan, on the Orthodox Church’s vision of humanity. Because the human being is made in the image of God, and God is Three Hypostases in One Essence, it follows therefore that ‘according to the second commandment, Love thy neighbour as thyself, each of us must and can comprise all mankind in his own personal being, in the same way as each of the three Persons of the Godhead contains the fulness of Divine Being’. The cold, callous individualism of a Jordan Peterson or a Joel Osteen finds no daylight with the self-emptying, neighbour-seeking, fellow-suffering spirituality of a Saint Silouan. ‘Each time we refuse to take on ourselves the blame for the common evil, for the deeds of our neighbour, we are repeating the [sin of Adam] and likewise shattering the unity of Man.

At the same time, attaining to the second commandment in its plenitude as shown in this spiritual biography, is a lifelong struggle for most. Only those who are perfect, those who are entirely like Christ, may be called human beings in the full theological depth of the word; most of us are in fact human becomings. The image of God is stamped indelibly upon us, and therefore we are capable of receiving grace. This capability is deserving of its full measure of respect, even if it is abused or neglected. But we still struggle to attain the Edenic likeness of man to God in this life, and we find we are not capable of it on our own. Yet many who are in the Orthodox Church, and even the leadership of the same Constantinopolitan jurisdiction which glorified Saint Sophrony three years ago, are seeking to downplay or obviate this ‘hard saying’—in order to conform the Church’s anthropology to a model more amenable to secular accounts and discourses of rights.

(It can be an understandable reflex to take refuge in a language of individual rights in order to safeguard against secular-statist tyrannies. However, the experience of the last forty-five years of economic history in the West shows that this reflex does not and cannot answer the increasingly urgent and dire challenges that arise to the dignity of the person from powerful and unaccountable non-state agencies. More so than from the state, the human person is nowadays in the most danger from: banks; multinational energy, pharma, telecom and food corporations; social media platforms; and media monopolies which cater to emotions over reason. These do not operate by means of legal threats or open encroachments on rights; they operate on a more insidious level of stirring the passions at a subconscious level, rendering legal threats unnecessary.)

Going back to the point about this writing from Saint Sophrony being applicable to more than just monks, I’m finding that this monastic portrait ‘pairs’ quite nicely with the book I’m currently reading, The Prayer of a Broken Heart by Fr Paul Abernathy of Pittsburgh. The Prayer of a Broken Heart speaks of the spiritual tradition of the descendants of African slaves in the Americas, and makes particular note of how the intuitive nature of that spiritual tradition, finding redemption in the midst of physical and moral and political suffering, ‘rhymes’ in many ways with the witness of the Orthodox Church. (Fr Paul Abernathy even quotes directly from Saint Sophrony’s biography of Saint Silouan!) The importance of humility, forgiveness and enemy-love to the African-American spiritual tradition, far from being a ‘weakness’ of the ‘white man’s religion’, is in fact one of the major sources of spiritual strength which black Americans continue, as generations of their ancestors have done, to draw upon.

I will review Fr Paul Abernathy’s book in the very near future, as it deserves its own space for discussion. I find, however, that The Monk of Mount Athos is a very worthy read. If for no other reason, than that it shows me how much further I have yet to climb in order to begin to love my neighbour—and to spur me to action in making that effort.

09 March 2023

Saint Sophrony on personality vs individualism

A free, non-pre-determined hypostasis can only be created as pure potentiality, intended to be actualised subsequently. So, then, we are not yet entirely hypostases: we are going through the more or less lengthy process of becoming--of converting an ‘atomised’ into a hypostatic form of being. The concept of Person [hypostasis] must not be confused with the concept of the individual--(in Greek ἄτομον, the result of the fall of man). They are actually two poles of the human being. One expresses the last degree of division, the other indicates the ‘image of God’ in which Adam was made, in whose entrails all mankind was potentially enclosed. This is the pattern manifested to us by the Word made flesh. In our apprehension of God, therefore, we do not transfer our experience of the limitation of the individual to Divine Being, in order afterwards to deny in Him the hypostatic character and, consequently, cast about for a Supra-Personal Absolute.
- Saint Sophrony (Sakharov) of Essex

07 March 2023

The Skidelskys: toward a theory of satiety

My latest Lenten reading—and to be sure, it very much is Lenten reading—comes from two non-religious Britons: Robert Jacob Alexander, Baron Skidelsky, and his son Dr Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Robert Skidelsky is an economist, and his son Edward is a philosopher, but between them Skidelsky père et fils here have given us a remarkable piece of writing that sits directly at the crux between the two disciplines.

It is also not entirely devoid of religious interest. The Lenten advice of the Holy Fathers is to ‘eat not to satiety’, but the Skidelskys point out with some degree of alarm that the very concept of satiety has been all but demolished in modern consumer culture. The wants of even the most wealthy and productive societies seem to be bottomless, creating ever newer and more ingenious ways of satisfying them—and yet our median quality of life has not improved accordingly. To the Skidelskys, this is not so much an economic problem in itself, as it is a humanities problem—one might go so far as to call it a philosophical or even religious problem.

The starting point for Robert Skidelsky, of course, is Keynes: in particular, a forward-looking utopian essay he delivered in 1928 entitled ‘Economic Possibilities’. He predicted that with greater means and capacities, the dynamo of capitalism would putter out, ushering an era of more humane and human-sized values:
I see us free to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue—that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take the least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field, who toil not neither do they spin.
Keynes’s prediction, according to all of the empirical data available to hand in the OECD countries as of 2012 (when this book was written), went very badly awry. The rich nations are wealthier and more technologically-advanced than ever, but working hours, far from having decreased, have gone up. Wages have stayed stagnant. Life satisfaction has not improved with increased productivity. The consumer culture is characterised by unfulfilling conspicuous consumption among the rich and increasing desperation among the poor. The utopia of plenty and ease that the capitalist dynamo promised has grown further and further from view, while the dynamo keeps churning away under the banner of the elusive concept of ‘utility’.

The Skidelskys take note that the idea, let alone possibility, of unlimited growth without purpose is something very recent and unprecedented in human experience—and would have been an object of horror to the best and brightest minds of the classical civilisations. Aristotle, Confucius, the Dharmasutras, and later the Christian Gospels and the epistles of Saint Paul, all take a very dubious view of the whole enterprise of wealth acquisition—and although each of these classical sources held that the mercantile profession had its place and was necessary to the flourishing of any society, it was in no case the most virtuous of pursuits, and presented unique dangers to the holistic well-being of the one engaged in it. The Skidelskys sketch out a brief—but accurate and engaging—treatment of each of these three world philosophical traditions and their attitudes toward wealth, showing in each case that wealth is not considered an end in itself but always a means to some greater end. The Skidelskys, returning to Keynes’s essay and his hearkening to those who ‘pluck the day virtuously and well’, call the object of this Aristotelian-Confucian-Christian-Dharmic striving ‘the good life’.

They take observance, as well, of two of the major challenges to the growth-at-all-costs model of late capitalism. The first challenge to the late-capitalist model is the idea of the ‘gross national happiness’. The second challenge is that posed by the green movement, by environmental economics and both ‘deep’ and ‘shallow’ ecology.

The Skidelskys raise two objections to the ‘happiness economics’ approach. The first one is empirical. How do we know that the ‘happiness’ which people self-report on surveys of life satisfaction, for example, is actually reflective of their circumstances and overall well-being? Ultimately, despite the good intentions of said surveys and the people making use of them, what they’re doing is swapping out one black box (that of ‘utility’) for another (that of ‘happiness’). We don’t get to look inside that black box to see what makes it tick, and ultimately we are called on to accept the tautological reasoning of such surveys if we are to make use of that data.

The other objection the Skidelskys raise is moral. What if someone were to invent a wonder drug like the soma from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, or what if someone were to invent a mechanical method of stimulating the pleasure centres of the brain (like BTL chips in Shadowrun, or Garak’s Obsidian Order endorphin implant in the DS9 episode ‘The Wire’)? What if a cheap and easy way were found to fool the brain into thinking it’s happy, even if the actual conditions of the user’s life were miserable? The Skidelskys assert that happiness economics, despite happiness economists’ protestations to the legal and rights-based limits of their focus, provides no real answer to this. If such ‘quick fixes’ made their way onto the market, it wouldn’t take a jaded cynical cyberpunk to understand that an innumerable, and intolerable, number of people would be tempted by them. Ultimately, the Skidelskys assert, with Solzhenitsyn, that it simply isn’t a good enough solution to replace the idol of growth with the idol of happiness.

They then turn to the ‘green’ approach. Of the Skidelskys’ three critiques, this one is the mildest and most sympathetic, although they do take intense issue both with some of the more-moderate and some of the more-radical environmentalist postures. Against the moderates, the Skidelskys assert that the logic they deploy is ultimately the same utilitarian cost-benefit logic deployed by mainstream neoclassical economists, only extended to a longer term. The moderates treat nature as something instrumental to a black-box ideal of human utility. Against the radicals, they assert that the totally-ascetic deontology of the ‘deep ecologists’ is a kind of frenzied Puritanism in the style of Cromwell and Savonarola. They detect—and in some cases they don’t have to dig very far to find made explicit—a fire-and-brimstone sermonising and warnings of all humankind as sinners in the hands of an angry goddess (said goddess being, naturally, Gaia).

The Skidelskys do want us to take a ‘deep’ consideration of nature, however. They are actually not too far in their actual understanding of ecology from writers like EF Schumacher or Wendell Berry. Unlike the moderates who approach nature with the detached attitude of dilettantes, and radicals for whom all human activity which exerts a force of change on nature is by that very fact ‘sinful’, the Skidelskys issue a call for active human engagement with and investment in nature—by farming, by fishing and by gardening, for example. Appreciation for nature on a local and personal scale is both salutary for ecosystems and healthy for the human soul.

After having launched a full broadside against the broken promises of capitalism and the growth ideology, a strong critique against the ‘happiness’ economists, and a milder and friendlier critique against the ecological economists, the Skidelskys lay their cards on the table. They articulate, over-against the liberal advocates (such as Rawls and Nussbaum) of the value-neutral state, a need for a positive doctrine of the ‘good life’ supported by public policy. This concept contains the basic goods of: health, security, respect, leisure, friendship (including family both nuclear and extended), personality and harmony with nature.

This is precisely the point at which How Much Is Enough? becomes something of a Tory radical altar call—and a remarkably effective and stirring one at that, one which made me want to dust off the old Cavalier regalia (figuratively speaking). It is not accidental that, despite the Skidelskys’ clear and insistent intellectual debt to Keynes, they deliberately make mention and use of a rather older, venerable but neglected strain of English economic thought in John Ruskin and William Morris. They anticipate, and to a certain extent welcome, the objection that they are advocating paternalism. Yes, say Robert and Edward Skidelsky, we are paternalists, but our paternalism is of a non-coercive sort which is compatible with life in a democratic society. What’s more: in making our choices about what the state should value explicit (rather than the implicit values which get smuggled in with the pursuit of growth or happiness), at least we’re being honest paternalists rather than ‘backdoor paternalists’.

Honestly, I find the Skidelskys’ modest and understated, but at the same time heartfelt, embrace of what winds up as a ‘crunchy conservative’ or a ‘red Tory’ position a bit more palatable than the recent offerings from, say, Milbank and Blond. The Skidelskys affirm their admiration for and inspiration from Catholic social theory, and they are at the very least willing to articulate a positive concept of the good life while allowing for alternative models elsewhere. They certainly aren’t advocating for cultural (or any other kind of) imperialism aimed at Africa, India, China or Russia—they in fact welcome alternative positive conceptions of the ‘good life’ which are applicable to different cultural contexts. (In fact, I was pleasantly tickled by their approving quote of Met. Anthony Bloom when discussing the paucity of black-box accounts of ‘happiness’.) On the other hand, the very same modesty of their approach to policy manifests in a similar modesty when it comes to policy recommendations.

The spread of policy fixes that Robert and Edward Skidelsky put forward are, as one might expect, a mixture of social-democratic supports to family life and leisure on the one hand, and social-conservative disincentives to conspicuous consumption on the other. They advocate for legislation enforcing a maximum work week for most businesses (with SMEs and family-run shops being possibly exempt), and also for a universal basic income, though their preference—in line with Keynes’s preference for the socialisation of investment—is for that basic income to be in the form of a capital dividend rather than a monthly cheque. They advocate for a range of taxation schemes meant to incentivise various aspects of the good life and disincentivise threats to it: including Tobin taxes on financial instrument transactions (whose proceeds would fund an endowment furnishing the capital dividend for all citizens) and a progressive consumption tax, as well as the elimination of tax policies which allow businesses to write off expenditures on advertising. Although they don’t object to immigration on principle, as well, they see the wisdom of taking certain legal precautions against mass immigration—they (quite rightly) don’t want to see their society bifurcate into another Dubai, with a permanent underclass of migrant helots.

If there’s a weak spot in How Much Is Enough?, I find it’s this last chapter. The sheer mildness with which these policy proposals at the end are put forward seems quite frankly quaint (eleven years out from its date of publication, when all the problems they observe in the capitalist dynamo have worsened dramatically). Personally (and this is me being more ‘red’ than ‘Tory’ again) I’d have liked to see them stump for some good old rabble-rousing schemes like Social Credit, the Safety Fund, the Subtreasury Plan, postal savings banks or nationalisation of rail and telecom. But perhaps that isn’t the point. This book sets out to raise the valid philosophical questions which should lie at the very heart of the economic discipline—what is our wealth for? What is our time for? This book is at its most powerful and thought-provoking when it is not only raising these questions but exploring their implications.

06 March 2023

When we fast, we fast together

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson recently Tweeted in response to Pope Francis, who was speaking of the Church’s obligation to uphold human dignity: ‘There is nothing Christian about #SocialJustice. Redemptive salvation is a matter of the individual soul.’ Needless to say, I—and, I would hope, most other Orthodox Christians—demur on this particular point.

‘Redemptive salvation’ (something of a linguistic redundancy there) is very much so a communal matter in the Orthodox Church. As Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory very aptly and pithily put it: ‘You cannot live the Christian life alone. The only thing you can do alone is go to hell.’ It is worthy of note that he said this in the midst of a lecture on the uniqueness and unrepeatability of each person and the irreducibly-personal work each human being is given of using his or her gifts for the glory of God. But that work is also inescapably social—we work out that salvation by being, in Fr Tom’s words, ‘faithful to, accountable to, answerable to’ and ‘responsible for’ each other.

The communality and sociality of the work of redemption, the work of salvation, is particularly important to understand and embrace during our period of the fast of Great Lent. Even though the discipline of fasting is intensely personal and even private—no one can fast for you, you have to do it yourself—there is nonetheless a public and communal dimension to its observance. I am posting here a couple of excerpts from an op-ed by Oriental Orthodox commentator Natnael Yeibyo:
[Lenten] fasting is not eating and drinking, but as a religious duty it is an act of sacrifice — an act of self-denial and humiliation. It is denying comfort to the flesh but feeding strength to the spiritual personality. The fast should be kept not by the mouth alone but also by the eye, the ear, the feet, the hands and all parts of the body: the eye must abstain from impure sights, the ear from malicious gossip, and the hands from acts of injustice.

How do people fast?

As fasting is a way to subdue the flesh for the sake of the spirit it must be done sincerely and should be kept private. The person fasting is not supposed to reveal it to anyone. For those who fast, the first week is probably the hardest. By the second week, without noticing, they have already gotten used to eating shiro, made from ground chickpeas, ades (lentil), a lot of vegetables and fruits …

When I was a kid, I used to love Ramadan of all other similar fasting seasons of other religions, for during the month of Ramadan our daily supply of dates, pastry and other sweet meals was assured. The Asmara shuk (marketplace) would be busy with street vendors hawking their sweet scented merchandise displayed on a long table for all to see and smell.

Feturek Yasaim! (Eat with healthy relish, O thou who are fasting!) they would shout. We enjoyed the show, the smell, the chanting from the nearby Mosque, the hustle and bustle of the people, bicycles, wheel barrows, taxis, etc. We toured the food sites with our small allowance, we bought some pastry and ate them on the spot, a practice unthinkable to our Muslim friends; for they had to wait until a white thread became impossible to detect in the dusk.

However, this year we will be all fasting at the same time and having a go at a meat sambusa some of our Muslim friends bring for us will be unacceptable. Perhaps they will bring us sambusa made completely from vegetables.

At the end of the day, we Eritreans eat together no matter where we are from or what we believe in. It is a testament to the close knit society Eritreans display everywhere in the world. Fasting, whether it is Lent or Ramadan, is done to further foster love, peace and unity among us.
Note that although the personal reasons for doing the fast, and the rules of the fast, are different between Islâmic Eritreans and Christian Eritreans, nonetheless they still encourage and respect each other in their spiritual strivings. How much more so should it be the same among Christian believers ourselves! Lynette Horner describes for us in her blog that the very structure of the Lenten fast is corporate: we individually don’t decide ‘what to give up’ for Lent—in the spirit of humility, we follow the path on which the Church directs us.

Additionally, Lent isn’t ultimately about food. Abstaining from flesh meats, animal products and alcohol is the basic and necessary means—but it is not the end goal. The end goal is unity with God. This is why we do so many prostrations during Clean Week as we listen to the exhortations to the soul of Saint Andrew. This is why the Holy Fathers, particularly Saint Basil and Saint John Chrysostom, speak so much about the importance during Lent, not only of redoubling our prayers, but also redoubling our charitable efforts, and fasting from evil words and deeds. Here is the Golden Mouth:
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works! Is it said by what kind of works? If you see a poor man, take pity on him! If you see in enemy, be reconciled to him! If you see a friend gaining honour, envy him not! If you see a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.
And again, here is Saint Basil:
Do not, however, define the benefit that comes from fasting solely in terms of abstinence from foods. For true fasting consists in estrangement from vices. “Loose every burden of iniquity.” Forgive your neighbour the distress he causes you; forgive him his debts. “Fast not for quarrels and strifes.” You do not eat meat, but you devour your brother. You abstain from wine, but do not restrain yourself from insulting others… For neither through greed do you attain to righteousness, nor through wantonness to temperance, nor, in short, through vice to virtue.
Let us consider the example of the man who takes the Lenten fast as an opportunity to draw nearer in love and peace to his Muslim neighbours. Let us take upon ourselves the humility of the converted woman discovering for herself the humble approach of fasting according to the Church’s will, not of her own will. And let us listen with the appropriate reverence to the Holy Fathers who insist that fasting is not merely an abstinence from food and drink, but has much more to do with how we treat others. ‘Loose every burden of iniquity’—this is very much the point of the fast. And this cannot be done except socially, in communion with others.

02 March 2023

The life and frustrated politics of John B Rayner

For Black History Month last month, I read a biography by Gregg Cantrell: Feeding the Wolf: John B Rayner and the Politics of Race, 1850-1918. As with a lot of books about race relations in America at the time of and after the Civil War, it’s a rather bracing and sobering read. But it says some fairly valuable and needful things that we should pay attention to now, if we want to actually improve things in America for poor people of all races. There are some specific messages which the modern-day left (particularly left anti-war voices) would do well to heed.

John Baptis Rayner was the illegitimate son of a slaveholding white North Carolina planter, Kenneth Rayner, in the year 1850. His mother, 15-year-old Mary Ricks, was at the time Kenneth Rayner’s slave—and a mulatto, herself the product of an exploitative union between white master and black slave. Even though he could pass for white, John B Rayner spent the first thirteen years of his life as his biological father’s property.

There were certain elements of Rayner’s upbringing which were clothed in layers of genteel mendacity. Such occurrences were all too common, as one quickly realises upon reading Frank Tannenbaum’s history Slave and Citizen. Biracial children—mulattos—occurred wherever slavery occurred. However, how they were treated depended a great deal on the cultural context they grew up in. Although the African slave trade and chattel slavery were every bit as brutal and exploitative in Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries as they were in English-speaking countries, attitudes toward freedmen and mulattos were very different. In general, Latin American mestizos were accorded the rights of free men, and their social status was not considered automatically inferior to white men of a similar class—partly on account of residual, humane Catholic sensibilities that had never sat too comfortably alongside the brute fact of slavery and colonial expansion. This was not the case for English-speaking mulattos of slave parentage, who were automatically considered slaves under the law, and who were socially considered inferior to whites.

Such was the case with John B Rayner’s upbringing. His father Kenneth Rayner was dynamic, energetic, well-spoken, well-educated, independent-minded, politically-active and (considering his time, place and social position) fairly humane, albeit possessed of a certain degree of condescending paternalism. These were all traits he passed on to his illegitimate son. Rayner received a high-quality education at his biological father’s behest, grounded in the classics of the Western canon (from which he frequently enjoyed quoting). But despite his clear intellectual and political talents, on account of his mixed-race parentage he was both legally unfree, and barred irrevocably from the upper echelons of Southern society in which his father moved, in which he was considered a ‘white n—r’. And then, after the Civil War and the defeat of the landlord class, Kenneth Rayner packed up and moved his family northward, leaving his former slaves, including his own son, behind without any further social contact, without any compunctions or qualms.

Rayner himself moved to Texas after a brief flirtation with political life under Radical Reconstruction. His clear talents managed to be noticed by the postwar state government, and he attained office as a Republican justice of the peace. He also became a Baptist minister and enjoyed a certain degree of prominence sermonising against alcohol. However, after marrying, he moved to Texas and quickly became involved in the fledgling People’s Party there.

Throughout his life, the one constant that defined Rayner’s political sympathies was that he was squarely against the Dixiecrat contingent that clung to white supremacy. Not only did he personally suffer from the laws and unwritten rules which held him to be an inferior on account of his ancestry, but he also held from his own education that such a caste system was senseless and self-defeating. There’s every reason to believe that Rayner embraced with the zeal of the converted all the economic principles of the new People’s Party—including chartalism, the graduated income tax, the Subtreasury Plan, and state ownership of transit and communication infrastructure. But his primary goal was to build up a political vehicle for black people which would neither deliberately oppress them and consign them to second-class personhood (as the Democrats did), nor abandon them to the vagaries of the political and economic winds (as the Republicans had after the engineered ‘failure’ of Reconstruction). Even though the People’s Party never managed to actively advocate for full social equality between blacks and whites, their emphasis on economic betterment and their opposition to centralised financial and political power seemed to Rayner to offer blacks the best hope for social and political advancement.

Rayner charged headlong into the political field on the behalf of his new party. He was the single most active and popular public speaker on the East Texas circuit, and he bent his formidable energies, intelligence and oratorical skill toward spreading the Populist gospel among poor black tenant farmers and day-labourers, and bringing them into the new sheepfold. He was admired on this account both by his black and his white colleagues, and his speeches invariably drew a mixed-race crowd, who stood together without segregating. It was particularly interesting to read about how poor white East Texas tenant farmers would stand up and protect John Rayner with their bodies if he came under threat by armed enforcers from the old ‘Democracy’, the moneyed political opposition.

Two conditions conspired to thwart and scatter the Populist insurgency in 1890’s East Texas. The first condition was the heated and desperate appeal by the Democratic Party to the racial paranoia of poor whites. In lurid language the Democratic party machine and its agents in the press described the coming upheaval and overthrow of all civilised institutions, if the Populists came to power and handed the organs of the state over to a mongrel, mixed-race mob. The Texas Populists, to their credit, had taken a firm and principled stand on equal jury representation for blacks—but they wouldn’t go further than that. And even that was too far for many poor white Texans. But through a concerted campaign of fearmongering, race-baiting, open ballot fraud, armed intimidation, violence and even murder, the Democratic party machine managed to turn back the Populist tide in several key districts.

The second condition which thwarted the Texas Populists was the fateful decision by the national People’s Party to pursue a tactic of fusion with the Democratic ticket. Although the Democrats were still in many senses the party of old Southern money and furnishing merchants, within the party there were reformist voices like William Jennings Bryan who could effectively channel the popular anger against the coastal plutocracy in their rhetoric, while remaining conveniently flexible on matters of actual policy. The Populists acceded, fatally, to a deal whereby they would endorse Bryan on the national Democratic ticket in exchange for a ‘bimetallic’ plank in the Democratic platform (itself a gelding of the chartalist principles of the Omaha Platform). The entire contingent of Texas Populists greeted this news with dismay and horror—and pursued the opposite policy to the national party: advocating a Republican vote for McKinley at the national level in exchange for Republican support for the Populist candidate for Texas governor, Jerome Claiborne Kearby. Kearby lost, on account of the dirty and desperate Democratic campaign against him described above. And the Populists never recovered from their losses in 1896, either nationally or at the state level.

Rayner became deeply disillusioned with politics after this. He grew particularly bitter against the poor whites who had, in his view, abandoned the Populist cause and left their poor black brothers to the (in some cases very literal) dogs. But he also became more and moreso an advocate of political quietism and gradualism in the black community. This was where the old paternalistic instincts he’d inherited from his white planter father came back to the fore. From the Southern black perspective, such messages might come credibly from, say, a Booker T Washington who shared the class and cultural background of the men he addressed; but they weren’t regarded as kindly when they came from a man of high-flown oratory who could pass for white. From the sobering experience of the thwarted Populist insurgency, he maintained (at least in public) that black men in the South had to build up better habits of life and become more virtuous before they could begin to be trusted with political power. And so he turned his energies instead to establishing black schools in East Texas: Conroe Normal and Industrial College and the Farmer’s Improvement Society.

In his pursuit of funds and patronage for these schools, Rayner had to forge relationships with some of his old adversaries—including the wealthy Dixiecrat and Houston lumber magnate John Henry Kirby. Rayner’s public speech and writing at this point in his life grew increasingly pathetic on account of these new ties. He began forging an image of himself as a contented black man of the Old South, a former ‘faithful slave’. He began holding forth that the poor black man has no better friend than the Southern white man, and he incessantly cautioned against black people moving too fast or agitating too loudly. These efforts to win the patronage of wealthy whites earned his new school projects very little material remuneration, and came at—as appears from the writings Rayner left toward the end of his life—a considerable cost to his sense of self-worth.

Both Conroe and FIS eventually severed their ties with Rayner, though Cantrell informs us that the primary sources don’t really give us a clear picture of the reasons. He surmises that it could have been because of Rayner’s sycophantic public speeches (which were becoming increasingly annoying to a younger generation of black men who were struggling against incessant campaigns of racial violence as well as legal segregation), or it could have been because of Rayner’s involvement with anti-Prohibition activism (which, given the heavy moralistic demands on the behaviour of poor black men, was an embarrassment to these schools).

At the same time, Cantrell paints us a very credible picture of why Rayner joined forces with the East Texas brewers. From the perspective of a Southern black man at the dawn of the twentieth century, the most dangerous kind of Dixiecrat was the reformist, ‘progressive’ Bryan-style Dixiecrat. Bryan himself may or may not have harboured the more odious and violent kind of white-supremacist sentiments, but he certainly opened the floodgates to a particular brand of new Democrat who did. The reformist Democrats who came after William Jennings Bryan often championed silver coinage, women’s suffrage, anti-imperialism and (white) labour unions, as well as Prohibition. But they also gave voice to some of the most vicious and vitriolic forms of anti-black bigotry, defended lynching and intransigently opposed even the smallest concessions to blacks’ political liberties. Rayner evidently decided that it was better to side with (plutocratic, reactionary, laissez-faire, but only mildly anti-black) ‘wet’ Democrats, than with (producerist, ‘progressive’, interventionist, but virulently-racist) ‘dry’ Democrats.

Rayner did make one final push for integration of the armed forces during the Great War. But his final years were frustrated, lonely and miserable. His health began to fail. When he was out walking his dog, the white sheriff beat the elderly Rayner for not having a tag on his pet—and he never recovered from the beating. In his last years his only solace lay in writing collections of aphorisms which were published only long after his death—and which showed that he had never truly given up on his old Populist convictions, that he was convinced of the vileness and stupidity of white supremacy, and that what hopes he had left were in the practical education of ordinary black men and women. However, as far as we know, at the end of his life none of his black acquaintance outside his immediate family circle knew of this. To them, Rayner was an embarrassing anachronism bereft of self-respect, ‘feeding the wolf’ of white supremacy, which would never be sated on what he sacrificed to it. To the white acquaintance whose opinions (and funds) he courted with too little success, Rayner was hardly remembered at all.

There is little that one can call encouraging in the story of John B Rayner,’ writes Gregg Cantrell, ‘for it is mostly a story of injustice, failure, and the humiliation of a man whose lifelong efforts to do good met with repeated frustration—primarily because of the distorting power of racism.’ The high point of Rayner’s career was the Populist insurgency of the 1890s, a rare period in Southern history when poor blacks and poor whites stood side-by-side and demanded fair and equal treatment against a bipartisan political establishment which held both groups in contempt.

Rayner’s story should be taken as a cautionary tale to modern populistic movements which are trying to bridge the left-right gap in the same way the late nineteenth-century People’s Party did. It would be naïve to assume that the old dynamics of American politics have ever disappeared completely. The critique offered by black commentators of—to give one recent example—the ‘Rage Against the War Machine’ rally rhymes in a particularly uncomfortable way with the old internal disputes within the original People’s Party, and the betrayal of true-believing, full-platform, midroader Populism by the (exclusively-white) advocates of ‘fusion’ with the Democrats. Although cross-ideological coalitions to urge action on one particular issue are a common and necessary feature of any kind of mass-based politics, there is a particular danger which comes when good causes entertain the notion of ‘fusing’ with political forces that are entirely inimical to one’s goals. In the case of Populism, the two major parties were able to use the wedge of racism to split the movement. The anti-war movement should take care not to let the same happen to it.

I’d say that this biography is one that I’m happy I read, though it was by no means particularly happy reading. On the other hand, Gregg Cantrell’s book also introduced me, in its afterword, to the brilliant and colourful career of John B Rayner’s Catholic grandson: Lt Ahmed Arabi ‘Sammy’ Rayner, Jr. Sammy Rayner had a career in the United States Air Force as one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, became a mortician in Chicago where he assisted his father’s business—including the open-air casket funeral of Emmitt Till, protested against the Vietnam War, was investigated by the FBI for supposed links to the Black Panthers, and ran against the Daley machine in Chicago and won as an Independent alderman. There’s another biography I’d be more than happy to read.