The Quaker Wars?

Over on Quo­ra, a ques­tion that is more fas­ci­nat­ing than it might at first appear: What wars in his­to­ry were fought in the name of Quak­erism (Soci­ety of Friends)?:

This ques­tion is nei­ther sar­cas­tic nor rhetoric. As many peo­ple insist that vio­lence and atroc­i­ties are an inher­ent part of reli­gions, that reli­gions would cause wars, I real­ly want to know  if that is the truth. Per­son­al­ly I believe reli­gions can be peace­ful, such as in the cas­es of the Quak­ers and the Baha’i, but I might  be wrong. 

The obvi­ous answer should be “none.” Quak­ers are well-known as paci­fists (fun fact: fake can­non used to deceive the ene­my into think­ing an army is more for­ti­fied than it actu­al­ly is are called “Quak­er guns.”) Indi­vid­ual Quak­ers have rarely been quite as unit­ed around the peace tes­ti­mo­ny as our rep­u­ta­tion would sug­gest, but as a group it’s true we’ve nev­er called for a war. I can’t think of any mil­i­tary skir­mish or bat­tle waged to ral­ly­ing cries of “Remem­ber the Quakers!”

Quaker guns at Manassas Junction, 1862. Via Wikimedia.
Quak­er guns at Man­as­sas Junc­tion, 1862. Via Wiki­me­dia.

And yet: all of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion has been shaped by war. Our polit­i­cal bound­aries, our reli­gions, our demo­graph­ic make-up – even the lan­guages we speak are all rem­nants of long-ago bat­tles. One of the most influ­en­tial Quak­er thinkers, the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry min­is­ter John Wool­man, con­stant­ly remind­ed his brethren to con­sid­er those lux­u­ries that are the fruit of war and slav­ery. When we broad­en the scope like this, we’ve been involved in quite a few wars.

  • We like to remem­ber how William Penn found­ing the colony of Penn­syl­va­nia as a reli­gious refuge. But the king of Eng­land held Euro­pean title to the mid-Atlantic seaboard because of small wars with the Dutch and Swedes (and lat­er held onto it only after a much larg­er war with the French New World settlements).
  • The king’s grant of “Penn’s Woods” was the set­tle­ment of a very large war debt owed to Penn’s father, a wealthy admi­ral. The senior William Penn was some­thing of a scoundrel, play­ing off both sides in every-shifting royalist/Roundhead see­saw of pow­er. His longest-lasting accom­plish­ment was tak­ing Jamaica for the British (Bob Mar­ley sang in Eng­lish instead of Span­ish because of Sir William).
  • By most accounts, William Penn Jr. was fair and also bought the land from local Lenape nations. Most­ly for­got­ten is that the Lenape and Susque­han­nock pop­u­la­tion had been dev­as­tat­ed in a recent region­al war against the Iro­quois over beaver ter­ri­to­ries. The Iro­quois were skill­ful­ly play­ing glob­al pol­i­tics, keep­ing the Eng­lish and French colo­nial empires in enough strate­gic ten­sion that they could pro­tect their land. They want­ed anoth­er British colony on their south­ern flank. The Lenape land reim­burse­ment was secondary.

The thou­sands of acres Penn deed­ed to his fel­low Quak­ers were thus the fruits of three sets of wars: colo­nial wars over the Delaware Val­ley; debt-fueled Eng­lish civ­il wars; and Native Amer­i­can wars fought over access to com­mer­cial resources. Much of orig­i­nal Quak­er wealth in suc­ceed­ing gen­er­a­tions is indebt­ed to this huge land trans­fer in the 1680s, either direct­ly (we still hold some valu­able real estate) or indi­rect­ly (the real estate’s sale could be fun­neled into promis­ing businesses).

Not all of the fruits of war were sec­ond­hand and coin­ci­den­tal to Friends them­selves. Many wealthy Friends in the mid-Atlantic colonies had slaves who did much of the back­break­ing work of clear­ing fields and build­ing hous­es. That quaint old brick meet­ing­house set back on a flower-covered field? It was prob­a­bly built at least in part by enslaved hands.

And today, it’s impos­si­ble to step free of war. Most of our hous­es are set on land once owned by oth­ers. Our com­put­ers and cell phones have com­po­nents mined in war zones. Our lights and cars are pow­ered by fos­sil fuel extrac­tion. And even with solar pan­els and elec­tric cars, the infra­struc­ture of the dai­ly liv­ing of most Amer­i­cans is still based on extrac­tion and con­trol of resources.

This is not to say we can’t con­tin­ue to work for a world free of war. But it seems impor­tant to be clear-eyed and acknowl­edge the debts we have.

Some thoughts on the Twitter expansion

Twit­ter has always been a com­pa­ny that suc­ceeds despite its lead­er­ship. Many of its land­mark fea­tured start­ed as hacks by users. Its first apps were all cre­at­ed by third-party design­ers, whose good will to the curb when it about-faced and killed most of them by restrict­ed its API. Top-down fea­tures like Twit­ter Music have come and gone. The only inter­est­ing grass­roots inno­va­tion of recent years has been users using image attach­ments as a way of going past the 140 char­ac­ter limit.

I’ve been get­ting less patient with Twit­ter in recent months. Then-CEO Dick Costel­lo acknowl­edged their fail­ure han­dling abu­sive sit­u­a­tions ear­ly in 2015 but noth­ing much seems to have changed. Hav­ing co-founder Jack Dorsey come back this in Job­sian fash­ion has been encour­ag­ing but only to a point — there’s a lot of weird ego involved in it all. Twitter’s inabil­i­ty to pro­mote diver­si­ty and the tone-deafness of hir­ing a white man as diver­si­ty chief last month makes me won­der if it’s just final­ly going to do a full Yahoo and implode in slow motion.

But today some­thing new: we’re look­ing at doing away with the 140 char­ac­ter lim­it. My ini­tial reac­tion was hor­ror but if done well it could be inter­est­ing. I’ve always won­dered why they didn’t part­ner with blog­ging plat­form Medi­um (found­ed by anoth­er co-founder, fea­tur­ing sim­i­lar core prin­ci­ples). The key will be keep­ing the feed at 2 – 3 lines so we can scan it quick­ly, with some sort of but­ton or link to expand past 140 or so characters.

One could argue that these “fat­ter tweets” is Twitter’s way of build­ing the pop­u­lar long-text pic­ture hack into the sys­tem. Could Twit­ter man­age­ment be ready to look at users as co-creators of the wider Twit­ter culture?

Camp Acagisca

A two-night scouts camp­ing trip with two of my kids to the coun­ty facil­i­ties at Camp Acagis­ca nears Mays Land­ing turned into a one night with one kid affair (my 11yo got way too mouthy when it came time to decide who was going to share a tent with dad and went home imme­di­ate­ly; the 9yo end­ed up in a melt­down mid morn­ing on the sec­ond day.)

 

Rain camp­ing

A video post­ed by Mar­tin Kel­ley (@martin_kelley) on

 

And while I assumed the name was some sort of Lenape con­struc­tion, it’s appar­ent­ly an amal­gam of Atlantic City Area Girl Scout Camp.

Digging into the first selfie, from Philly!

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This guy in Streetview is stand­ing near the spot where the world’s first #self­ie por­trait was tak­en in 1839.

Robert Cor­nelius was one of the first peo­ple to try to repro­duce Louis Daguerre’s pho­to­graph­ic tech­nique after news of the break­through reach Philadel­phia. A chemist work­ing at his family’s gas light­ing com­pa­ny, Cor­nelius start­ed exper­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal com­bi­na­tions until he found a way to reduce expo­sure times so that a per­son to sit still long enough for a por­trait. In Octo­ber 1839 he took a pic­ture him­self “in the yard back of his store and res­i­dence, (old) 176 Chest­nut Street, above Sev­enth (now num­ber 710), in Philadel­phia,” accord­ing to an oral his­to­ry pub­lished half a cen­tu­ry lat­er (PDF). Cor­nelius recounts:

It was our busi­ness to make a great vari­ety of arti­cles of plat­ed met­al. Very soon after­wards, I made in the fac­to­ry a tin box, and bought from McAl­lis­ter, 48 Chest­nut Street, a lens about two inch­es in diam­e­ter, such as was used for opera pur­pos­es. With these instru­ments I made the first like­ness of myself and anoth­er one of some of my chil­dren, in the open yard of my dwelling, sun­light bright upon us, and I am ful­ly of the impres­sion that I was the first to obtain a like­ness of the human face.

Remark­ably, in 2014, the Cor­nelius and Co. build­ing is still there on Chest­nut Street, though bare­ly rec­og­niz­able, with an extra floor on top and exten­sive façade changes. It’s a dis­count drug store. The back is the nar­row alley named Ion­ic Street, home to dump­sters and peo­ple want­i­ng to stay out of sight. The yard is to the right of these dump­sters. With #self­ie such a pop­u­lar hash­tag, Cornelius’s pic­ture has cir­cu­lat­ed on a lot of inter­net lists as the “world’s first self­ie.” But it’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance is far greater: it is the first pho­to­graph­ic por­trait of our species. I’m not typ­i­cal­ly one for hyper­bole, but we humans start­ed see­ing our­selves dif­fer­ent­ly after that portrait.

I orig­i­nal­ly assumed the build­ing on the right of the alley stood where the yard had been but a satel­lites turns up a sur­prise: the yard is still there! Look­ing at the 710 prop­er­ty from above, the build­ings fac­ing Chest­nut and Ion­ic are sep­a­rate – with a large open space in between! There are two sec­tions that look almost to be gar­den beds.

Yo Philly, how has 710 Chest­nut Street not been snatched up and turned into a muse­um of pho­to­graph­ic his­to­ry? The first floor could focus on nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Philadel­phia inno­va­tion, with the still-existent inner court­yard turned into a tourist des­ti­na­tion? It would be like cat­nip. What self-respecting mod­ern tourist wouldn’t walk the few blocks from Inde­pen­dence Hall to take their pic­ture at the very site of the world’s first self­ie? I know Philly typ­i­cal­ly doesn’t respect any his­to­ry past 1776 but come on!

Bono’s Christianity

U2’s singer talks about God:

Reli­gion can be the ene­my of God. It’s often what hap­pens when God, like Elvis, has left the build­ing. [laughs] A list of instruc­tions where there was once con­vic­tion; dog­ma where once peo­ple just did it; a con­gre­ga­tion led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spir­it. Dis­ci­pline replac­ing dis­ci­ple­ship. Why are you chuckling?

More on Frank Viola’s blog

The language and testimony of the fire alarm

Care­ful and delib­er­ate dis­cern­ment held in a man­ner of unhur­ried prayer is fine in most instances, but what’s a group if Quak­ers to do when a fire alarm goes off? Do we sit down in silence, stay cen­tered there some num­ber if min­utes, and then open up a peri­od of min­istries to reach toward discernment. 

Of course we don’t. Who would? Like any group if peo­ple in the mod­ern world, we assem­ble with­out ques­tion and leave the premis­es. But why? Because of shared lan­guage and testimonies. 

A ring­ing bell does not, by itself, con­sti­tute a call to action. Pow­er up your time machine and bring your battery-powered alarm sys­tem back a few thou­sand years and set it off. Peo­ple would look around in con­fu­sion (and might be afraid if the alien sound), but they wouldn’t file out of a build­ing. We do it because we’ve been social­ized in a lan­guage of group warning. 

Ever since our school­days, we have been taught this lan­guage: fire alarms, flash­ing lights, fire pull box­es. We don’t need to dis­cern the sit­u­a­tion because we already know what the alarm means: the like­li­hood of immi­nent danger. 

Our response also needs lit­tle dis­cern­ment. We might think of this as a tes­ti­mo­ny: a course of action that we’ve real­ized is so core to our under­stand­ing of our rela­tion to the world that it rarely needs to be debat­ed amongst ourselves. 

I must have par­tic­i­pat­ed in a hun­dred fire drills in my life­time, but so far none of the alarms have been fires. But they have served a very real purpose. 

When we do media in an advo­ca­cy sense, most of our time is spent devel­op­ing and rein­forc­ing shared lan­guage and obvi­ous courses-of-action. We tell sto­ries of pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions and debate the con­tours of the tes­ti­monies. We’re ready­ing our­selves for when we will be called to action.