Preserved Stories Blog


What conceptual framework drove the British to establish themselves in Long Branch?

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, relatively little is known about Colonel Samuel Smith of Long Branch (Toronto not New Jersey) as a historical personality. There hasn’t been much of a mythology built around him.

Consequently, our attention isn’t taken up with Colonel Samuel as a brand. He doesn’t have a brand, as many of his contemporaries do. This means that in order to understand what he was about, a person will benefit from looking at what he did for a living – without having a concern about how the times in he lived is related to the mythology that may have developed around him.

That has led me to a study of military history, including British colonial history and a study of warfare and organized violence.

Part of the story, in this regard, concerns the processes by which Colonel Samuel Smith was granted land in the late 1700s encompassing all of Long Branch.

The great land rush

A book that addresses the underlying conceptual framework, or that provides a starting point for the understanding of it, is The great land rush and the making of the modern world, 1650-1900 (2003) by John C. Weaver.

A blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library website provides a good overview of Weaver’s analysis:

“The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-1900 describes the appropriation and distribution of land by Europeans in the new world. By integrating the often violent history of colonization of this period and the ensuing emergence of property rights with an examination of the decline of an aristocratic ruling class and the growth of democracy and the market economy John Weaver describes how the landscapes of North America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa were transformed by the pursuit of resources. He also underscores the tragic history of the indigenous peoples of these regions and shows how they came to lose ‘possession’ of their land to newly formed governments made up of Europeans with European interests at heart.”

The role of class

Another back story – aside from the above-noted conceptual framework – concerns the role of class as a key variable in British colonial history. Class is also addressed as a key principle by Hernando de Soto, author of The other path: the invisible revolution in the Third World (1989), in a study of world economic development.

Updates: A March 3, 2013 Toronto Star article is entitled: “The deadly mixture of guns and class in Toronto.”

A Dec. 7, 2013 Globe and Mail article is entitled: “Britain has an ethnic problem: the English.”

A March 22, 2014 Oxford University Press blog post is entitled: “the Normans and empire.”

[End of updates]

The mystery of capital

Two key themes – John Weaver’s analysis of Western property concepts and discussions by David Cannadine among others regarding the central role of class in the history of the British empire – come to mind when I read The mystery of capital: Why capitalism triumphs in the West and fails everywhere else (2000) by Hernando de Soto. Class and status are central to the context of the life of Colonel Samuel Smith and the few comments about his life and family that have been documented.

The online Toronto Public Library blurb for The mystery of capital (2000) notes:

“‘The hour of capitalism’s greatest triumph,’ writes Hernando de Soto, ‘is, in the eyes of four-fifths of humanity, its hour of crisis.’ In The Mystery of Capital, the world-famous Peruvian economist takes up the question that, more than any other, is central to one of the most crucial problems the world faces today: Why do some countries succeed at capitalism while others fail? In strong opposition to the popular view that success is determined by cultural differences, de Soto finds that it actually has to do with the legal structure of property and property rights.”

That is, de Soto argues, in effect, that what worked in North America and other settler economies in colonial times, as outlined by John Weaver, remains to be applied elsewhere.

After that, de Soto concludes (p. 228), “we can move beyond the limits of the physical world and use our minds to soar into the future.”

Geographical imagination

Weaver and de Soto, as I understand, agree that land and property, as characterized in Western society, are historically and conceptually related concepts.

A related underlying concept appears to be power - what it is and how it is used. Power is a topic of interest to many people. Donald J. Savoie argues that how power is conceptualized and used warrants close discussion. A June 4, 2013 Globe and Mail article outlines the value of such a study.

A March 2013 article in The Atlantic addresses power in the context of bullying. Emily Bazelon (2013) has contributed much of value to recent discussions about bullying through a book, interviews, and articles.

The city, which can be conceptualized as being everywhere and in everything, is the primary setting in which power in contemporary society is manifested.

Land, property, and power are the concerns of what James A. Tyner (2012) has conceptualized as the geographical imagination. As a blurb in his study, Genocide and the geographical imagination: life and death in Germany, China, and Cambodia (2012), notes, his research demonstrates “how specific states articulate and act upon particular geographical concepts that determine and devalue the moral worth of groups and individuals.”

Tyner’s concept of geographical imagination is the clearest and most cogent conceptualization of the relation among property, land, and power that I have encountered to date.

Updates: A July 30, 2012 post entitled “The medieval origins of 20th century anti-Semitism in Germany” at the Oxford University Press blog offers a valuable overview to round out the discussion.

A July 13, 2013 New York Times article discusses the motivations of members of Indonesian death squads in the 1960s. The article describes a documentary about the slaughter of as many as a million people in Indonesia following the military’s seizure of power there in 1965.

A Sept. 26, 2013 New York Times article reviews a book entitled The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013). 

A Dec. 7, 2013 Toronto Star article is entitled: “Child soldiers are early warning of genocide to come.”

A Jan. 21, 2014 CBC article is entitled: “Syria defector’s photos depict ‘systematic torture and killing’ of detainees: WARNING: Story contains graphic content, images.”

[End of updates]

The machine in the garden

A related concept – another valuable conceptual framework related to these topics – is the machine in the garden metaphor.

Among other things, the machine can be equated to the city that is characterized, in the formulation of Manuel Castells, as being everywhere and in everything.

Among other things, the garden can be equated with the physical environment, with what has in the past been called the natural environment including soil, sand, pebbles, rocks, streams and bodies of water, and the air we breathe.

The garden, we can say, is subject to the geographical imagination, which in the past has been a driving force associated with genocide and has the potential of being subjected to that imagination in the future.

We can say, as well, that the machine, and what has occurred in recent history to the garden, has historically been associated with the rise of instrumental reason. One can say that instrumental reason drives climate change, drives the machine in the garden, and drives much else that characterizes contemporary society.

A June 14, 2013 Financial Times article is of interest with regard to the machine in the garden metaphor.

Update:  An Oct. 14, 2013 New Yorker article is entitled: “How San Francisco’s new entrepreneurial culture is changing the country.” [End of update]

What can be done?

A range of formulations have been advanced concerning what can and cannot be done, with regard to land, property, and power.

My own views, which are not necessarily shared by many people, resonate with those of David Spangler (2011), Dorothy Maclean (2009), and other proponents of conscious gardening.

The views of Spangler and Maclean among others have influenced my own work, as a volunteer community organizer at the local, national, and international levels over the past thirty-plus years.

Around the late 1970s I attended a workshop in Toronto, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, organized by David Spangler and Dorothy Maclean among others.

I learned some practical concepts at the latter workshop, and through my reading of publications related to the work of the Lorian Association, that have stayed in mind in the years that have followed.

Presenter and audience

A concept that I retained, from above-mentioned Lorian Association workshop in Toronto, was that a presentation or a musical performance or any other event occurs because there is an audience willing to attend and participate. A presentation of any kind is a co-creative process. A performer and an audience come together to make it happen; each plays a central role, and sometimes the roles switch back and forth.

Many people are aware of this relationship between performer and audience; one doesn’t need to learn this through a workshop. Erving Goffman, by way of example, learned the details of such processes simply through his own powers of observation, in his study of everyday life.

It just happened that, for me, it was at this point in my life, around the late 1970s, that I gave the matter close attention and have applied it ever since.

One of the talks at the late-1970s or early 1980s Lorian workshop that I attended in Toronto involved a talk in which, before the presentation, people broke into groups of eight or so people and chose a question (or maybe more than one question; I don’t recall) to ask the presenter. The presenter might have begun by saying a few words; then the audience broke into the small groups, and each group presented their question(s). The presenter addressed each of the questions in turn. That is how the presentation unfolded.

In the years that followed, I had the opportunity to bring in speakers, for events that I organized as a volunteer in Toronto and elsewhere. In some cases, speakers would make their presentations based on the format that I’ve described in the previous paragraph.

Jane’s Walk as conversation

The Jane’s Walk concept is based upon a similar conceptual framework. In recent years I’ve become involved with organizing of Jane’s Walks in Long Branch. I much enjoy the concept that we can learn from each other on such walks, because a Jane’s Walk can be readily set up as a conversation, as contrasted to a lecture, and steps can be taken as well to ensure that a conversation doesn’t turn into a one-person monologue.

The underlying principle is that each of us has power, and each of us has the capacity to contribute to the wider conversation.

 

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