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Continued Influxes of Feeling and Directions of Thought, “Preface” to the second volume of Lyrical Ballads (1800)

The Preface of Lyrical Ballads (1800) is best known and most quoted for its declaration that all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. This is often taught mistakenly as if it were a definition of poetry (it’s not intended as a definition of what poetry is, but as a description of how good poetry is supposed to be composed). It’s also usually mentioned as a sort of campaign-button slogan for literary Romanticism, and in particular for the Romantics’ tilt toward the indulgence of emotion or raw passion over thought and consideration. But re-read it in context: the Writer of the Preface[1] really first introduces the phrase to make quite a different point, — if not exactly the 180-degree opposite point, then at least one at a very obtuse angle, — to the usual English lesson-plan take on Romanticism’s literary manifesto:

I cannot be insensible of the present outcry against the triviality and meanness both of thought and language, which some of my contemporaries have occasionally introduced into their metrical compositions; and I acknowledge that this defect where it exists, is more dishonorable to the Writer’s own character than false refinement or arbitrary innovation, though I should contend at the same time that it is far less pernicious in the sum of its consequences. From such verses the Poems in these volumes will be found distinguished at least by one mark of difference, that each of them has a worthy purpose. Not that I mean to say, that I always begin to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived; but I believe that my habits of meditation have so formed my feelings, as that my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them a purpose. For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; but though this be true, poems to which any value can be attached, were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility had also thought long and deeply. . . .

— Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads, Vol. II. (Boldface mine.)

The Writer goes on to argue for a nuanced view of the interrelation of thought and feeling under the influence of long-cultivated habits:

. . . For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and by contemplating the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, so by the repetition and continuance of this act feelings connected with important subjects will be nourished, till at length, if we be originally possessed of much organic sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced that by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits we shall describe objects and utter sentiments of such a nature and in such connection with each other, that the understanding of the being to whom we address ourselves, if he be in a healthful state of association, must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, his taste exalted, and his affections ameliorated.

— Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads, Vol. II.

He believed that it was necessary to assert this view against a problem of over-stimulation and over-indulgence, and that a great deal of the problem was down to cities and down to nations (or, down to urban ways of living and down to the absorbing clamor of national politics):

I will not suffer a sense of false modesty to prevent me from asserting, that I point my Reader’s attention to this mark of distinction far less for the sake of these particular Poems than from the general importance of the subject. The subject is indeed important! For the human mind is capable of excitement without the application of gross and violent stimulants; and he must have a very faint perception of its beauty and dignity who does not know this, and who does not further know that one is being elevated above another in proportion as he possesses this capability. It has therefore appeared to me that to endeavour to produce or enlarge this capability is one of the best services in which, at any period, a Writer can be engaged; but this service, excellent at all times, is especially so at the present day. For a multitude of causes unknown to former times are now acting with a combined force to blunt the discriminating powers of the mind, and unfitting it for all voluntary exertion to reduce it to a state of almost savage torpor. The most effective of these causes are the great national events which are daily taking place, and the encreasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies. To this tendency of life and manners the literature and theatrical exhibitions of the country have conformed themselves. . . .

— Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads, Vol. II.

He had some opinions on what this meant for contemporary trends in popular entertainment, but remained hopeful:

. . . The invaluable works of our elder writers, I had almost said the works of Shakespear and Milton, are driven into neglect by frantic novels, sickly and stupid German Tragedies, and deluges of idle and extravagant stories in verse. — When I think upon this degrading thirst after outrageous stimulation I am almost ashamed to have spoken of the feeble effort with which I have endeavoured to counteract it; and reflecting upon the magnitude of the general evil, I should be oppressed with no dishonorable melancholy, had I not a deep impression of certain inherent and indestructible qualities of the human mind, and likewise of certain powers in the great and permanent objects that act upon it which are equally inherent and indestructible; and did I not further add to this impression a belief that the time is approaching when the evil will be systematically opposed by men of greater powers and with far more distinguished success.

— Preface (1800) to Lyrical Ballads, Vol. II.

  1. [1]William Wordsworth. The first volume of Lyrical Ballads was issued anonymously; the second was printed under Wordsworth’s name, with an acknowledgement of Coleridge’s contribution of poems.

Listening To: “Weed The People,” Latino USA (Oct. 4, 2019)

I’ve been listening to Weed the People, an episode from late last year on Latino USA about the development of legally licensed marijuana markets — mainly with reference to California — and the way it interacts with local entrepreneurs, booming but hindered state and national markets, and the shadow of the racialized war on drugs for black and Latino weed dealers who bore the brunt of the war on drugs.

Shared Article from NPR.org

Weed The People

Throughout his decades of selling weed, Ramón García never thought he'd see the day marijuana became legal in California. But while he now owns a le…


Proviso: the NPR story admits that, as far as their reporters were able to determine, there isn’t much hard data to prove racial disparities in access to or profits in legalized weed markets. I wish there were some effort to gather the hard data; until there is some, take this as the usual anecdotal reporting — it seems like there might be a racial disparity here; here are, definitely, some anecdotes of black and Latino weed dealers who have had to put up with a lot more crap in their lives than they ever should have had to put up with, and who now face a lot of obstacles that don’t serve any obviously beneficial purpose in the effort to go legit. (Even if there isn’t a systematic racial disparity when you tally everything up, there are lots of individual cases of injustice; if there is a systematic racial disparity, so much the worse, and if so that would tells us something about how policing and legalization work in American society.)

Obviously, no matter what ends up happening here, it’s hard to deny that the situation now — whatever its flaws — is not as bad as the situation that proceeded liberalization; obviously, nobody should want a halt to the process or a return to Drug War policing. But there’s also a sort of Against Legalization point that needs to be made here — about the effects that unsurprisingly, naturally occur when liberalization is only allowed to happen when and where it can be refracted through an elaborate, expensive, in some ways highly conservative regulatory regime for permitting and controlling the sale of weed to willing customers — something which, need we recall, is really just fine, and does not actually need to be controlled by the state, and should never have been treated as a crime in the first place.

The city government in Oakland has approached the issue by trying to manipulate the issuing of permits — by implementing a priority queue that’s explicitly intended to benefit racial minorities, and operationally designed in favor granting licenses more quickly to people who had been arrested for drug crimes and people from neighborhoods where a lot of other people were arrested for drug crimes. But what if the permits themselves — and the drive to maintain social and economic control behind those permits — are part of the problem?

There are really a couple of different angles from which you might look at this story. (a) A social justice-oriented Leftist is probably going to see this story mainly from the angle of racial justice.[1] People like Ramón Garcia are struggling to make their way into above-ground cannabis market, whereas white-owned dispensaries and well-financed businesses[2] are moving in much more easily. If you want to know why, a lot of the reason has to do with the white privilege, with the history of racist motives behind Nixon’s or Reagan’s War on Drugs and mass incarceration policies, and with the long shadow of racist overpolicing and imprisonment in communities of color — black and Latino folks like Ramón Garcia have faced decades of racist drug policies, generations of criminalization, violence, police harassment, etc.; they are disproportionately likely to bear criminal records and to bear economic costs that make it harder to go into business, harder to meet the permitting requirements, etc. You’re going to look at the fears that caused regulations on legalized weed and dispensary licensing to be written in the narrow, restrictive way that they have been written; on the disparate legacies of drug policies in different communities; and on the micro-scale effects of police and prison, as well as the macro-scale structural factors, which conspire to make it hard to access funding or do the other things that you would need to do to start or expand any kind of business.

(b) A market freedom-oriented libertarian is probably going to look at the same story and see it mainly from the angle of overregulation and barriers to entry. Weed could have been legalized by just getting the government out of the business of policing and controlling weed sales. Prohibition could have been replaced by freedom and governmental indifference. But instead, prohibition was replaced by regulation and permitting. Part of the reason for this is for the government to make sure it can extract sin tax revenues from weed sales. Part of the reason is a busy-bodying regulatory state trying to control how the legal weed market shaped up. So if you want to know why well-funded, big businesses are moving into this market so rapidly, while smaller-scale entrepreneurs like Ramón Garcia are struggling to make their way into the above-ground cannabis market — even though many of them, like Garcia, have extensive pre-existing acumen, resources and business connections from their years as underground weed dealers — then you’d look to the punitive legal legacy of drug prohibition, and to the extent and invasiveness of the regulations that now screen who can enter the formal industry and who can’t. Ramón was arrested 20 years ago because of an over-aggressive police search and a bullshit gun control charge, and he had to keep his business in the shadows for years because he didn’t have the capital to meet the state’s marijuana regulations until only a couple of years ago. The state and city governments limit the number of permits that can be given out. Keeping your permit requires dealing with a lot of complex and expensive regulations — many of them about some really chickenshit requirements.[3] The state legalizes cannabis only so long as you get in the queue for a tightly limited number of permits, pay inspection fees and taxes, pay out for a storefront location and insurance, and lay out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars at a go because you’ve just been informed that you have to make sure your weed van is street-legal, up to a standard set by some state policy. It’s not too surprising that this hurts bottom-up entrepreneurship and helps people who are ensconced within existing formal business worlds and who have access to extensive funding. Regulation and licensing mean overwhelming complexity barriers to entry, tight rationing barriers to entry, and huge financial barriers to entry. That helps the well-resourced and formal businesses, and it hurts the poor, marginalized, and informal-sector entrepreneurs.[4]

In either case, it’s hard to deny that a whole lot of black and Latino people have been victimized by the racial politics and the police violence of the drug war. The state owes them reparations for the years of damage that it has done. And the way they’ve tried to go about legalization risks excluding many of them from a market where — despite the risks and the costs and the violence unjustly inflicted on them under Prohibition — they had at least made something of a living up to now. But the best thing to do is not to try to tweak the licensing scheme to favor a different class of legal weed dealer; it’s to get rid of the restrictions and licensing entirely — to let as many people as possible enter the legal weed market, with a minimum of interference or monitoring by police, city governments and state regulators.

See also.

  1. [1]You could also see it from the standpoint of socioeconomic class, but in America these are going to be all tangled up together, and most of the time a social justice ideology is going to go more quickly to race than to class as a default way of understanding problems of power and criminalization in American history.
  2. [2]Some of these are incumbents from the Medical Marijuana market; others are new green-rush startup businesses.
  3. [3]For example: Check the segment beginning at 16:06, at a trade show for the legal weed business in Oakland. The city government in Oakland is sponsoring a trade conference to try to help POC weed entrepreneurs show off their wares and meet up with investors; but meanwhile Ramón’s business is stalled. He hasn’t been able to distribute any weed recently, because the state started enforcing a rule that requires compliant distribution vehicles. Or in other words, Ramón needs a new van — with specs the state approves — before he can distribute any more weed. He was supposed to have the van already but it took a while to raise the money. Man, all the paperwork is signed. We were supposed to get it delivered yesterday; now they’re telling us early next week, man… It’s the issues of doing business, right? …
  4. [4]The typical thing to say here from a libertarian standpoint would be that it helps incumbents and hurts startups — and to point to the problem of regulatory capture — but that needs to be taken with a certain amount of nuance, since erstwhile illegal drug dealers are incumbents in the weed market; while many green-rush investors are newcomers. It would be better to say that licensing and regulation help incumbents within the formal business world, and hurt people who are trying to break into that world, even if it’s in a line of business they’ve been practicing for years in the informal or illegal sector.

No War Against Iran

Here's a poster: NO WAR ON IRAN

No war against Iran. No more escalation. Not another war in the Middle East. Not again.

Get U.S. soldiers out of Iraq. Get U.S. soldiers out of the Middle East. Get U.S. soldiers out of everywhere.

Get people, and the world, out of harm’s way.

“Five white men, seven black men, and three Assyrians”: Reading Sidney de la Rue (1930) on the Syrian-Lebanese Diaspora in Liberia and Racial Ambiguity and Intermediacy in a Racial Republic

A while back, I was preparing a research prospectus for a paper on race, citizenship, and the formation of Lebanese Ethnic Communities in the Republic of Liberia, 1899-1997.[1] Here’s a bit of what I was looking at:

In 1984, Liberia’s ruling military junta issued a new constitution for the Republic of Liberia. The new Constitution sparked a wave of protests in Liberian cities by ethnically Lebanese and Syrian merchants: in spite of a thoroughgoing overhaul of the old [1847] Republic of Liberia Constitution — led by explicit promises of national integration and of full citizenship for Liberians outside of the Americo-Liberian settler elite — the junta chose to retain a racial prerequisite clause on Liberian citizenship. This clause, stating that only persons who are Negroes or of Negro descent shall qualify by birth or by naturalization to be citizens of Liberia, used language closely modeled on the racial prerequisites that had restricted Liberian citizenship from the founding of the Republic in 1847. Lebanese immigrants first began to arrive in Liberia in 1899, as part of a larger Lebanese and Syrian diaspora throughout West Africa. They formed ethnically distinctive, politically marginalized, but economically powerful multi-generational communities, specializing in coastal and inland trade. At the same time that Libano-Liberians began to form a noticeable middleman minority community, the Liberian state was also beginning assertively to formalize tribal and racial distinctions, to encode ethnic categories in law as a technique of administration over the Hinterland, and to manipulate and mobilize officially recognized ethnic groups as components of a system of political patronage. In this research project, I will examine the strained relationship between Libano-Liberian communities and the Liberian state’s recognition of ethnic and racial categories. I will argue that the ambiguous or intermediate status of Libano-Liberians shaped political debates over Liberian citizenship, while racial exclusions from citizenship shaped Lebanese community formation, notably in attitudes toward gender and mixed marriages. . . .

Five wihte men, seven black men and three Assyrians: Race, Citizenship and the Formation of Lebanese Ethnic Communities in the Ethno-National Integration of the Republic of Liberia, 1899-1997
Research Prospectus (2017/2019)

That paper’s on hold, at best, for the immediate future, but I have had some time recently to start dipping back into the research. Here’s a passage from one of the primary sources I was looking at; this is from Sidney de La Rue’s book on his time in Liberia, Land of the Pepper Bird, Liberia (1930). De la Rue was a white American; he lived in Liberia for about six years during the late 1920s as Financial Adviser to the Liberian government (as part of a de facto receivership protectorate, demanded and administered by the U.S. State Department) — although in the book he never does get around to spelling out why he was in Liberia in the first place. Anyway, this is his passage on the Syrian diaspora, which is one of the primary sources that I would be looking at for evidence of the cultural reception of Syrian and Lebanese as an ambiguous, or third and intermediate racial group, in between white men and black Africans.

Chapter XV.

Palm Oil Ruffians.

. . . The demand for cheaper ways of retailing to the native has been to some extent satisfied from an unexpected direction: After the World War, Syrian [296] subjects of France worked their way down the West Coast,[2] first establishing themselves in the larger cities and then working up country. Today many Syrians will be found along the entire Coast, usually living in little shacks or native huts and displaying a stock of bright cloths, salt, tobacco, gin where permitted, and cheap wares generally known as trade-goods. They usually start by buying for cash from one of the big factories. As business increases, they bring in friends and relatives, and throw out a line of little shops along the travelled roads and thickly settled native districts. In the last five years they have become the middlemen between the factories and the natives, taking the place, to a very great extent, of the old sub-factories.

In railroad work and in the building of harbours or the clearing of great plantations, the Syrian is acting as a small labour contractor. He can live on the food products of the country, and he has a considerable immunity to both sun and fever. While from another point of view he is also particularly suited to the Coast as he has little or no colour prejudice, but mingles freely and intimately with the natives. His racial position for this reason is not clear to the natives and reminds me of an amusing story.

One day a Kru headman from an incoming [297] steamer was asked how many passengers had been brought up the Coast.[3] He answered, Massah, dey be five white men, seven black men, and three Assyrians.

— Sidney de la Rue, Land of the Pepper Bird, Liberia (1930)
Chapter XV, Palm Oil Ruffians, 295-297.

  1. [1]1899 is the conventional approximate date for the first arrivals of Lebanese migrants in Liberia; the 1997 elections are the conventional date for the end of the First Liberian Civil War.
  2. [2]The World War is World War I; the Syrian subjects of France are migrants from the League of Nations Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, then occupied and administered by French forces. They included both people who we’d call Syrians today, but also a lot of people who we’d now call Lebanese, especially among those who settled in West Africa. –RG.
  3. [3]The Kru people are one of the officially recognized native tribes in Liberia. –RG.

Reading/Giving: GiveDirectly’s 2019 Annual Non-Report and End-of-Year Matching Donations

Received to-day in my inbox. Check this out:

From: Piali Mukhopadhyay info@givedirectly.org
Date: Sat, Dec 28, 2019 at 1:57 PM
Subject: GiveDirectly’s annual non-report (+ final match)

Dear giving community —

Our team has never loved the idea of glossy annual reports: expensive magazines with more pictures than words, vanity statistics in lieu of evidence, lists of wins with no misses.

We think it’s important to give you a sense of how it’s really going at GiveDirectly. So this year, our team put together a simple deck looking back at 2019 — we’ve been calling it our “annual non-report.” We hope you’ll take a look and continue holding us accountable.

In the spirit of being transparent about our progress: we’re now four days from the end of 2019 and 93% of the way to $50M. If we miss this threshold, we risk underperforming against our fundraising performance in 2018, meaning fewer dollars raised for people living in extreme poverty year over year.

Given how close we are to either hitting or missing this target, one anonymous donor surprised us by offering to match $350,000 in donations made through Dec. 31st (up to $20k).

To have your online donation matched, simply click on the link below. If you’d like to donate by check or wire, reply to this email for instructions.

Thank you for the trust you put in our team to deliver your donation, and the trust you put in recipients to spend it.


Piali Mukhopadhyay
COO, GiveDirectly

–Correspondence, received 28 Dec. 2019 at 1:57 PM

If you’re not familiar with GiveDirectly, or their approach — direct, unconditional cash aid to people living in extreme poverty — check out their operating model, an independent rating of their effectiveness from GiveWell, and recent peer-reviewed RCT findings on the effectiveness of direct cash aid in rural Kenya. They have recently launched new programs in Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Malawi.

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