One of the masterpieces of classical literature, the “Histories” describes how a small and quarrelsome band of Greek city states united to repel the might of the Persian empire. But while this epic struggle forms the core of his work, Herodotus’ natural curiosity frequently gives rise to colorful digressions – a description of the natural wonders of Egypt; an account of European lake-dwellers; and far-fetched accounts of dog-headed men and gold-digging ants. With its kaleidoscopic blend of fact and legend, the “Histories” offers a compelling Greek view of the world of the fifth century BC.
“Max Planck said consciousness is causal and consciousness is foundational .”]
“Ray Kurzweil’s singularity is based on a materialistic view of the world.”
–Stephen Schwartz paraphrasing Max Planck and minimizing Ray Kurzweil’s singularity
New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove Streamed live 6 hours ago Stephan A. Schwartz is a Distinguished Consulting Faculty of Saybrook University. He is the columnist for the journal Explore, and editor of the daily web publication Schwartzreport.net in both of which he covers trends that are affecting the future. His other academic and research appointments include: Senior Fellow for Brain, Mind and Healing of the Samueli Institute; founder and Research Director of the Mobius laboratory. Government appointments include Special Assistant for Research and Analysis to the Chief of Naval Operations. Schwartz was the principal researcher studying the use of Remote Viewing in archaeology. Using Remote Viewing he discovered Cleopatra’s Palace, Marc Antony’s Timonium, ruins of the Lighthouse of Pharos, and sunken ships along the California coast, and in the Bahamas. He is the author of more than 130 technical reports and papers. He has written The Secret Vaults of Time, The Alexandria Project, Mind Rover, Opening to the Infinite, and The 8 Laws of Change. To be notified concerning the release of Stephan’s next book on remote viewing the future, go to: https://mailchi.mp/stephanaschwartz/2… Here he discusses a project in which he was engaged from 1978 through 1996, asking individuals who attended his workshops and conferences to envision life in the year 2050. He describes the care that he took to avoid suggesting answers himself. The results consistently described situations that turned out to be true, but were hard for him to accept at the time — including the disappearance of the Soviet Union. He suggests that, in our future, virtual reality will become an accepted substitute for air travel. New Thinking Allowed host, Jeffrey Mishlove, PhD, is author of The Roots of Consciousness, Psi Development Systems, and The PK Man. Between 1986 and 2002 he hosted and co-produced the original Thinking Allowed public television series. He is the recipient of the only doctoral diploma in “parapsychology” ever awarded by an accredited university (University of California, Berkeley, 1980). He is also the Grand Prize winner of the 2021 Bigelow Institute essay competition regarding the best evidence for survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death.
Atypical university course in the history of philosophy surveys the great thinkers of Western civilisation as a stately procession from Plato to Aristotle to Descartes to Kant to Hegel to Nietzsche. These magnificent intellects offer their ideas in weighty philosophical tomes, stuffed with chiselled definitions, well-reasoned arguments and sustained critiques. In turn, instructors present the grand narrative of ideas to a new generation of students.
Immanuel Kant typifies this magisterial approach. In the closing pages of his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), the German philosopher narrates the history of Western philosophy from Plato to Aristotle to Locke to Leibniz to himself as a series of attempts to construct systems. Indeed, he is nothing if not a scrupulous architect of thought:
By an architectonic I mean the art of systems. Since systematic unity is what first turns common cognition into science.
That is, science turns what is a mere aggregate of random thoughts into something coherent. Only then can philosophy become a doctrine or method of judgment of what is knowledge and what is not. No systems, no real philosophy.
But might there be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Kant’s philosophy? What happens when we consider the history of philosophy not from the point of system-building, but through an alternative account that pays attention to the fragments of thinking?
Consider Heraclitus’ ‘Nature loves to hide’; Blaise Pascal’s ‘The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me’; or Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘If a temple is to be erected, a temple must be destroyed.’ Heraclitus comes before and against Plato and Aristotle, Pascal after and against René Descartes, Nietzsche after and against Kant and G W F Hegel. Might the history of thought be actually driven by aphorism?
Much of the history of Western philosophy can be narrated as a series of attempts to construct systems. Conversely, much of the history of aphorisms can be narrated as an animadversion, a turning away from such grand systems through the construction of literary fragments. The philosopher creates and critiques continuous lines of argument; the aphorist, on the other hand, composes scattered lines of intuition. One moves in a chain of logic; the other by leaps and bounds.
Before the birth of Western philosophy proper, there was the aphorism. In ancient Greece, the short sayings of Anaximander, Xenophanes, Parmenides or Heraclitus constitute the first efforts at speculative thinking, but they are also something to which Plato and Aristotle are hostile. Their enigmatic pronouncements elude discursive analysis. They refuse to be corralled into systematic order. No one would deny that their pithy statements might be wise; but Plato and Aristotle were ambivalent about them. They have no rigour at all – they are just the scattered utterances of clever men.
Here is Plato’s critique of Heraclitus:
If you ask any one of them a question, he will pull out some little enigmatic phrase from his quiver and shoot it off at you; and if you try to make him give an account of what he has said, you will only get hit by another, full of strange turns of language.
For Plato, the Heracliteans’ stratagem of continual evasion is a problem because they constantly produce new aphorisms in order to subvert closure. In this sense, Heraclitus is opposed to Plato in at least two fundamental ways: first, his doctrine of flux is contrary to the theory of Forms; and second, the impression one gets is that his thinking is solitary, monologic, misanthropic, whereas Plato is always social, dialogic, inviting.
Plato’s repudiation of his predecessor’s gnomic style signals an important stage in the development of ancient philosophy: the transition from oracular enunciation to argumentative discourse, obscurity to clarity, and thus the marginalisation of the aphoristic style in favour of sustained logical arguments. From Socrates onward, there would simply be no philosophy without proof or argument.
Yet I think it is possible to defend Heraclitus against Plato’s attack. Perplexity arising from enigmatic sayings need not necessarily lead one to seizures of thinking. On the contrary, it can catalyse productive inquiry. Take this well-known saying:
Nature loves to hide. [or] A nature tends to hide.
These words have invited much commentary. What is ‘nature’? What is ‘hiding’? What is ‘love’? The French philosopher Pierre Hadot in TheVeil of Isis (2004) suggests that there are at least five interpretations: the true meaning of something is hard to know; its meaning wants to be hidden; nature is origins, and it is hard to retrace; death follows birth; and, finally, appearances deceive. The nature of Heraclitus himself – and the nature of language in general – loves to hide. As such, we can claim two corollaries: ‘Aphorisms too love to hide,’ and ‘Interpretation loves to illuminate.’
The nature of Heraclitus’ microform is true for the aphorism in general. The aphorism both resists and invites fuller articulations, and so hermeneutics – a conduit between the text and the reader – is demanded from every reader. Fragments are both antithetical and propaedeutic to argumentative philosophy: antithetical because they are too enigmatic; and propaedeutic because they cannot but prompt us to think about the origins and nature of things.
Good aphorisms demand to be interpreted. And in their interpretation is an invitation for the readers to engage in their own philosophical enterprise – to do philosophy themselves. Aphorisms, then, are at once before, against and after philosophy.
All finite things are fragments, for they are nothing but pieces torn from infinity
In the 17th century, Descartes inaugurated modern philosophy by offering rules and directions for clear thinking. Yet a few decades later, Pascal offered a powerful corrective. Perhaps, he wagered, order is overrated. By all accounts, Pascal was a genius of his time. At a young age, he made landmark contributions to geometry and algebra. Plagued by ill health, he had a religious conversion in his late 20s, and spent the last 10 years of his short life in vain attempts to construct a justification of Christianity intended as an ‘Apology for Religion’, published posthumously as the Pensées (1670).
Pascal’s lifelong task became an exercise of endlessly reducing words to their essence, in order to probe a pure nothingness and bring us to its edge. For him, all finite things are fragments, for they are nothing but pieces torn from infinity. All the same, the nature of finitude is such that not even a vast quantity of fragments could ever approach wholeness, ‘a unit added to infinity does not increase infinity at all, any more than a foot added to an infinite length’. The Pascalian lack of order is an acknowledgment of the failure of the human intellect to understand such infinity. As such, the Pensées operate within a poetics of the fragment.
When Pascal died in 1662, there were more than 800 slips of paper in various stages of disorder. These fragments are, in a large part, a direct consequence of his rejection of the Cartesian insistence on order and clarity. The saying ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason does not know’ is one clear case. Pascal’s principal criticism is that Descartes reduces philosophy to an all-too-rational system. For Pascal, the proposition ‘I think, therefore I am’ rests on shaky grounds, for this self that Descartes posits to be the foundation of all reasoning is but an impoverished thing. This is Pascal’s view of the human condition:
What a monster, what chaos … weak earthworm; repository of truth, and sewer of uncertainty and error; the glory and garbage of the universe!
The glorious heap that makes up the Pensées might then be conceived of as a monumental rejection to Cartesian reason’s supreme confidence in itself.
The dialectic between aphorisms and philosophy reaches its apex in 19th-century Germany. After Kant, thinkers as varied as Friedrich Schlegel, Arthur Schopenhauer, Søren Kierkegaard and Nietzsche all used the microform to grapple with how to do philosophy after systems. The Romantics loved ruins, the unfinished, shadows. Think of Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes, Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, or the obsession with classical antiquity. This cult of the fragment is a response to Kant’s relentless system-building. Confronted with how to adequately represent the unity of transcendental knowledge, the Romantics insist that the only possible way of doing so is in parts. Thus, aphoristic thinking : systematic thinking :: the micro : the macro.
In a series of dazzling essays, reviews, dialogues and manifestos published over just three years – 1798 to 1800 – the German journal DasAthenaeum established Romanticism as a unified aesthetic reaction and a viable philosophical alternative to idealism. On one hand, as an Athenaeum fragment holds, ‘all individuals are systems, at least in embryo and tendency’. On the other, ‘a dialogue is a chain or garland of fragments’. Hence, ‘it’s equally fatal for the mind to have a system and to have none. It will simply have to decide to combine the two.’
Nietzsche is a late descendant of this Romantic strain of thought. In Twilight of the Idols (1889), he declares:
I mistrust all systematisers and avoid them. The will to a system is a lack of integrity … The aphorism, the apothegm, in which I am the first master among Germans, are the forms of ‘eternity’; my ambition is to say in 10 sentences what everyone else says in a book – what everyone else does not say in a book.
Nietzsche’s life began as a classicist collecting the fragments of early Greek philosophers. So formidable was his erudition that, in 1869, it earned him a full professorship of Greek philology at the University of Basel at the age of 24.
His philology on fragments became a philosophy of fragments when he abandoned his profession as a classicist in the late 1870s. Rather than just studying aphorisms, he started producing them. In the most fertile stretch of his life, from Human, All Too Human (1878) to Ecce Homo (1888), he composed thousands upon thousands of pithy sayings and maxims. The fragmentary form became the preferred style for the rest of his life. The prophet in Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883-85) speaks in enigmatic dithyrambs reminiscent of the wisdom literature of antiquity.
Intense, difficult maxims strike at the heart of readers, destabilising their habits of thought
Nietzsche’s aphoristic form becomes his way of training his readers not to subscribe to a doctrine or a particular Nietzschean view of life, but rather to create and craft their own philosophy of life. He writes that ‘in books of aphorisms like mine there are plenty of forbidden, long things and chains of thoughts between and behind short aphorisms’. What this means is that Nietzsche will not spoon-feed his readers. His method is like Heraclitus’ – intense, difficult, aporetic maxims and arrows that strike at the heart of readers, seizing or destabilising their habits of thought. They are required to do much work, to investigate what is ‘between and behind’ his sharp words. Here is one such piercing insight:
We have already grown beyond whatever we have words for; in all talking there lies a grain of contempt … The speaker has already vulgarised himself by speaking.
Nietzsche here forces us to think about the tenuous continuity between inner thoughts, speech and writing. The production of thought – the movement from ideas in our minds to ideas expressed in writing – is never seamless; there is always a fidelity problem of transmission. Our inmost thoughts cannot be captured in any language: the true aphorism is beyond words. In Schlegel’s elegant formulation:
A fragment ought to be entirely isolated from the surrounding world like a little work of art and complete in itself like a hedgehog.
It is no accident that, when Schlegel compares an aphorism to a hedgehog (ein Igel), the most famous hedgehog in Western thought comes from a fragment of Archilochus that Isaiah Berlin later popularised:
The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.
Though an aphorism by definition is succinct, it almost always proliferates into an innumerable series of iterations. By nature, the aphorism – like the hedgehog – is a solitary animal. Striving to cut out all verbiage, its not-so-secret wish is to annihilate its neighbour so that its singular potency would reign supreme.
Yet aphorisms also have a herd mentality. From the wisdom literature of the Sumerians and Egyptians onward, they find strength in the social collective of anthologies. Each aphorism might very well be ‘complete in itself’, as Schlegel claims, but it also forms a node in a network, often a transnational one with great longevity, capable of continuous expansion. And the best modern aphorists never wrote just one aphorism, but almost always a great many: François de La Rochefoucauld, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Pascal and Nietzsche himself had notebooks upon notebooks filled with them, and often had trouble finishing them.
So while a single aphorism might be a hegemonic hedgehog, a collection of aphorisms morphs into a multitude of cunning little foxes.
Etymologically, ‘aphorism’ is composed of the Greek apo– ‘from, away from’ + horizein ‘to bound’. A horizon is defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as:
a: the apparent junction of Earth and sky; b: the great circle on the celestial sphere formed by the intersection of the celestial sphere with a plane tangent to the Earth’s surface at an observer’s position.
It is impossible to ever arrive at the horizon; it is infinitely receding, both immanent and imminent. Ever transcendent, as a line it is without beginning or end, cutting the visible and invisible.
Is not a well-wrought aphorism precisely that which walks, leaps, climbs, and dances?
An aphorism makes a definitive statement, sets boundaries, establishes property. Yet any good definition is aware of its own limits, what is within and without. To define anything, after all, is to delimit it. The curvature of the globe, like the shape of thinking, means that there is always a limit to our field of vision. An aphorism, in this sense, is a mark of our finitude, ever approaching the receding horizon. Beyond the horizon of language, thinking can go no further.
In times of great difficulty, we might not have the powers of concentration to read weighty tomes – even Either/Or (1843), the magnum opus of Kierkegaard, that great philosopher of fragments, runs to twovolumes totalling 1,200 pages in the Princeton University Press translation. Hegel’s ThePhenomenology of the Spirit (1807) is 600 pages; Plato’s Republic is 500; Kant’s three Critiques (1781; 1788; 1790) add up to some 2,400. Michel Foucault also wrote big books – Madness and Civilization (1961), The Birth of the Clinic (1963), Discipline and Punish (1975), The Order of Things (1966) and The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), among others. Toward the end of this life, Foucault reflected on a more modest genre of writing in antiquity called ‘hupomnemata’, the sayings of the Stoics, the Epicureans, Jesus. In ‘Self Writing’ (1983), Foucault said:
In this period there was a culture of what could be called ‘personal writing’: taking notes on the readings, conversations, and reflections that one hears or has or does; keeping notebooks of one sort or another on important subjects (what the Greeks call hupomnemata), which must be reread from time to time so as to reactualise what they contain …
To practise self-care, then, is to think about aphorisms and to think aphoristically.
In The Gay Science (1887), Nietzsche wrote that:
We do not belong to those who have ideas only among books, when stimulated by books. It is our habit to think outdoors – walking, leaping, climbing, dancing, preferably on lonely mountains or near the sea where even the trails become thoughtful.
In these days of COVID-19 lockdowns, many of us are housebound. Is not a well-wrought aphorism, supple and limber, precisely that which walks, leaps, climbs, and dances? Perhaps by reading more aphorisms, and composing some of our own, we can improve our art of living in these dark times. After all, who can really read Hegel outdoors anyway?
In literature, when a storyline involves victim and a persecutor, we call it a drama. In life, most acts of aggression or complaint (which are two sides of the same coin: the emotional currency of existential malcontentment), most tantrums thrown by otherwise reasonable adults, most blamethirsty fingers pointed at some impartial reality, involve the self-victimization of drama. People prone to drama have not only cast themselves as victims of a perpetrator in a plot, but have tacitly conceded that there is a plot, which presupposes a playwright — some external entity scripting the story in which they feel done unto. The person self-cast into a drama is resigned to being a character, insentient to Joan Didion’s fundamental law of having character: “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.” Wherever there is drama, there is a deficiency of self-respect and too shallow a well of self-knowledge.
The ways in which we are all susceptible to drowning ourselves into drama, and what it takes to float free, is what Iris Murdoch (July 15, 1919–February 8, 1999) explores in her subtle, splendid 1978 novel The Sea, the Sea (public library) — the story of a talented but complacent playwright approaching the overlook of life, who is ultimately overcome by his tragic flaw: Despite his obsessive self-reflection (or perhaps precisely because of it), his egotism ultimately eclipses his creative spirit — that brightest and most generous part of us, the part rightly called our gift, the part that extends the outstretched hand of sympathy and wonder we call art and invites, in Iris Murdoch’s lovely phrase, “an occasion for unselfing.”
Dame Iris Murdoch by Ida Kar (National Portrait Gallery)
Looking back on his life, the elderly playwright reflects on his own art and its relation to life itself:
Emotions really exist at the bottom of the personality or at the top. In the middle they are acted. This is why all the world is a stage.
Murdoch’s entire body of work, from philosophy to fiction, can be thought of as one cohesive inquiry into the meaning of goodness and the meaning of love, lensed through the meaning-machinery of art. She understood uniquely that we act out the messy middle of emotion because it is often too complex, contradictory, and category-defying for us to know what we are really feeling. Perennially half-opaque to ourselves, we feign surety and confidence in our reasons. Unwilling to fully live into what we are — anxious and uncertain creatures, tender and terrified throughout so much of life — we act ourselves into being, taking the stage costumed in false certitudes.
As Murdoch’s protagonist sets out to write his memoirs — those sad shallows of literature, where art drifts to die as vain self-obsession — his cousin and boyhood playmate, now an old men himself, urges him to allot ample room for the eternal subject of human vanity, which renders us blinder to reality and more opaque to ourselves than any of our other confusions:
We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. But we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. Most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. We are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value. The heroes at Troy fought for a phantom Helen… Vain wars for phantom goods… People lie so… though in a way, if there is art enough it doesn’t matter, since there is another kind of truth in the art.
More than anything, we lie to ourselves. Peeled back far enough, even the most layered self-delusion springs from the same source — our illusion of free will amid a world in which, at the most basic level of reality, we control none of the fundamental forces and therefore have extremely limited agency in events. As the precocious teenage Sylvia Plath understood, our latitude of free movement in life is paralyzingly limited “from birth by environment, heredity, time and event and local convention”. In such a reality, choice is only a narrative, and a retroactive one at that — it is the story we tell ourselves, in the vanity-light of hindsight, about why our lives went one way and not another.
What a queer gamble our existence is. We decide to do A instead of B and then the two roads diverge utterly and may lead in the end to heaven and to hell. Only later one sees how much and how awfully the fates differ. Yet what were the reasons for the choice? They may have been forgotten. Did one know what one was choosing? Certainly not.
A subset of the illusion of choice is the illusion of closure — the alluring but ultimately vain idea that, as life lives itself through us in ways far beyond our control, in a complex and by definition ever-fraying tapestry of story-lines, we can tease out any one narrative thread neatly enough to tie it into a complete and permanently valid conclusion. Murdoch dispels the vanity:
Loose ends can never be properly tied, one is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgements on people are never final, they emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us.
“The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti (May 12, 1895 – February 17, 1986) was a philosopher, speaker and writer. In his early life, he was groomed to be the new World Teacher, an advanced spiritual position in the theosophical tradition, but later rejected this mantle and withdrew from the organization behind it. Wikipedia
Event on Mondays: Intro Empathy Café: Find out how to listen to others and how it feels to speak without interruption or fear of interruption. Meet people from around the world. Mondays at 10 a.m. Pacific time. Zoom Room: https://zoom.us/j/9896109339
New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove May 6, 2022 Howard Eisenberg, MD, is author of Inner Spaces: Parapsychological Explorations of the Mind and, most recently, Dream It To Do It: The Science and the Magic. Here he describes his early work in parapsychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He points out that the findings of parapsychology suggest that our conventional view of reality is seriously out-of-touch. He discusses the Hindu notion of Maya, or the illusion of the world. He suggests that consciousness (not ego) is fundamental and that love is the basis of reality. He suggests that we can solve many of our serious problems by taking small steps every day. New Thinking Allowed host, Jeffrey Mishlove, PhD, is author of The Roots of Consciousness, Psi Development Systems, and The PK Man. Between 1986 and 2002 he hosted and co-produced the original Thinking Allowed public television series. He is the recipient of the only doctoral diploma in “parapsychology” ever awarded by an accredited university (University of California, Berkeley, 1980). He is also the Grand Prize winner of the 2021 Bigelow Institute essay competition regarding the best evidence for survival of human consciousness after permanent bodily death. (Recorded on April 22, 2022)
Inner spaces: Parapsychological explorations of the mind
Dr. Eisenberg has many credentials. He is a medical doctor who is a psychotherapy specialist. He is also an expert with graduate research in parapsychology and teaching that subject. Inner Spaces concerns the area of parapsychology and a new paradigm of understanding reality.
New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove Jul 29, 2022 This video is a special release from the original Thinking Allowed series that ran on public television from 1986 until 2002. It was recorded in about 1993. A Course in Miracles is a home study system to enable people to unlearn the attitudes that separate them from their potential for spiritual unity. Judith Skutch Whitson was president of the Foundation for Inner Peace, the organization which published and distributed the now classic Course. Mrs. Whitson discusses the origin, history, goals and worldwide impact of the program. Now you can watch all of the programs from the original Thinking Allowed Video Collection, hosted by Jeffrey Mishlove. Subscribe to the new Streaming Channel (https://thinkingallowed.vhx.tv/) and watch more than 350 programs now, with more, previously unreleased titles added weekly. New!! Free month of the classic Thinking Allowed streaming channel for New Thinking Allowed subscribers only. Use code THINKFREELY.
Traffic is diverted down the Esplanade Avenue exit following an accident on the elevated Interstate 10 expressway that runs above Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. The expressway was built directly on top of Claiborne Avenue in the late 1960s – ripping up the oak trees and tearing apart a street sometimes called the ‘Main Street of Black New Orleans’. Photograph: Gerald Herbert/AP
The freeway removal movement is being boosted by $1bn in federal funding. Will it be enough to reverse decades of damage?
by Edwin Rios Fri 29 Jul 2022 03.00 EDT (TheGuardian.com)
Amy Stelly can see the on-ramp for the Claiborne Expressway from the second-floor porch of her childhood home, a block and a half away from the highway. She lives in Treme, a historic Black neighborhood in New Orleans. For decades, the highway has devastated her neighborhood. Stelly is an urban designer and co-founder of the Claiborne Avenue Alliance, which is advocating for its removal.
“Claiborne has not been maintained at all,” she says of the highway on the brink of disrepair. “Not only do we have the dire economics, we have the actual physical atrocity. It’s dirty. It’s loud. It’s polluted.”
So, when the US transportation department recently announced a $1bn five-year pilot program to aid communities racially segregated by US government-sponsored highway projects, Stelly responded with a mix of optimism and tempered expectations. Joe Biden singled out the Claiborne Expressway when the program, known as Reconnecting Communities, was first announced.
Experts and advocates question whether the initial investment is enough to reverse the devastation in Black neighborhoods in the name of connection. The amount unveiled by the transportation department is a far cry from the original $20bn proposed. But advocates agree that it’s an unprecedented and welcome step in pursuit of highway reparations.
“It’s the beginning, not the end, of the process,” Stelly told the Guardian.
Under the department’s program, announced in late June, cities, states, non-profits, tribal governments and city planning organizations can seek grants to conduct traffic studies, encourage public input on highway plans and pursue other planning activities “in advance of a project to remove, retrofit, or mitigate an existing eligible facility to restore community connectivity”. Communities can apply for $195m in grants in the first year, $50m for planning studies, the remainder for capital construction.
“[W]e can’t ignore the basic truth that some of the planners and politicians behind those projects built them directly through the heart of vibrant, populated, communities – sometimes in an effort to reinforce segregation,” the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said during a speech announcing the program in Birmingham, Alabama. “While the burden is often greatest for communities of color, Americans today of every background are paying the price of these choices.”
The wreckage wrought by America’s highways began after the second world war, when President Franklin D Roosevelt approved the construction of 40,000 miles of interstate highways. By the time President Dwight Eisenhower took office, in 1953, just over 6,000 miles had been built. That accelerated after Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which authorized $25bn to construct a “modern, interstate highway system”.
Deborah Archer, co-faculty director of New York University’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, says that the federal program “destroyed vibrant Black communities” and “cut the heart and soul out of many Black communities by taking their homes, churches and schools”.
Back then, the US government provided little assistance to displaced communities, forcing people farther away from economic opportunity and toward already segregated and financially disenfranchised communities. “Our highway system was a physical realization of the racialized norms and values in our country. So much of that was really intentional,” says Archer, who wrote a paper on the historical damage highways have done to Black communities.
By the time the Claiborne Expressway opened in 1968, more than 500 houses had been cleared, according to the Congress for the New Urbanism, which supports “people-centered places”. The oak trees that lined Claiborne Avenue were replaced with concrete.
“It’s only right that the federal government seeks to correct the mistake that it made decades ago. So I applaud them for doing it. But we have to follow through,” Stelly says. “The key is to continue funding the efforts once this $1bn is exhausted, because we all know that it’s not going to get us to the final goal.”
Guardian graphic. Sources: American Community Survey 2019 five-year estimates; Richmond University’s Mapping Inequality; Bureau of Transportation Statistics; OpenStreetMap contributors; photo from the New Orleans Public Library via AP.
This map shows the current borders for New Orleans, Louisiana.
In the 1930s, the federal government categorized each residential neighborhood by how “hazardous” it would be to give loans to homebuyers in that area.
The red areas were deemed the highest risk. But in reality it just meant that these were Black neighborhoods.
Shortly thereafter, planning for Interstate 10 began – and residents in some of the oldest African American neighborhoods didn’t have the resources or political power to have a voice in where it was constructed.
A stretch of the highway, known as the Claiborne Expressway, cut directly through the Black neighborhoods.
This photo, taken in 1968 shortly before construction began, shows what was often called the Main Street of Black New Orleans. These trees would soon be replaced with the highway.
Even today, these neighborhoods are where Black people predominantly live.
The Freeway Fighters Network, a coalition supported by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), estimated that more than 70 projects are under way to remove or revamp highways and prevent expansions throughout the US. The group started in 2019 when activists lobbied lawmakers in Washington to support infrastructure legislation. It has since grown to an informal network that meets regularly on Zoom to discuss their projects and share strategies.
Ben Crowther, who led CNU’s advocacy for the reconnecting communities program, says it will take years of sustained funding to see how these highway removal campaigns play out. He says the funding is “not going to solve the inequities or the problems that we’ve created with the highway system in one fell swoop”. Transportation department officials have estimated that the money could only support from three to 15 projects involving demolition and construction.
What’s unique about the new federal program, says Crowther, now advocacy manager of AmericaWalks, is that it gives non-profit organizations the chance to pursue funding to study what highway removal means for the surrounding community, which state transportation officials typically don’t consider. He said it often takes public pressure to inspire change, like what happened during “freeway revolts” in the 1960s and 1970s when communities blocked proposed highway projects.
It’s ultimately up to state lawmakers and governors to approve project funding, a prospect that often leads to even further delays, leading state transportation agencies to pursue this new pot of funding.
In St Paul, Minnesota, the group ReConnect Rondo has advocated for turning a stretch of Interstate 94, which cuts through the historically Black neighborhood of Rondo, into a 21-acre land bridge over the freeway.
Keith Baker, the group’s executive director, described the Rondo neighborhood, where his family often visited, as “a small town”. But like freeways across the country, Interstate 94, built between 1956 and 1968, “tore out the social, economic, environmental and cultural fabric of the community”, he says. More than 300 businesses closed and more than 700 houses were demolished, according to the group. Baker estimates that those houses represented at least $157m in lost wealth. “That equity never got realized for people who own those homes,” he says. “Before the freeway came through, Rondo was the enterprise district of the African American community. The freeway ultimately destroyed them.”
Baker says his group plans to pursue grant funding to conduct a study on what their proposal would mean for the surrounding areas. The land bridge, he says, can bring houses and businesses back to the neighborhood, cultivating a green gathering space for the surrounding neighborhoods. A feasibility study released in June 2020 shows that the effort, which could cost an estimated $458m, could attract 1,800 jobs.
Deborah Archer, who also serves as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, cautions that the transportation department funds, though unprecedented in scope and intent, would not fully rectify the damage in Black communities caused by the loss of wealth. Future removal projects need to ensure that anti-displacement protections are in place to guard families living by highways and ensure they are not replaced in the name of economic investment.
“The conditions that the highways created have been built over decades,” Archer says. “It’s not going to be easy to weave back communities that were torn apart by these highways. The funding recognizes that rebuilding is not just about the absence of these physical dividers. It’s even more about creating the conditions for a community to flourish.”
For Stelly, the funding would give the Claiborne Coalition the opportunity to conduct an updated study to see how a highway removal project would affect the surrounding community. It offers a chance to gather community input on what the future could hold, to examine ways to ensure people are not displaced by future highway projects and to forecast the economic impact of removing the highway.
Stelly reflected on what the community her family has called home for decades lost: the convenience stores, the small family businesses, the neighbors. A funeral home is one of the few businesses that survived the aftermath of the highway’s construction.
“When my family bought this property almost 70 years ago, this neighborhood was very different. It was beautiful. It was tree-lined. It had a host of professional services and had places to buy fresh food. It was clean,” Stelly says. “I would like to receive reparations for what my family has lost because when they made this initial investment, they didn’t do it thinking that it was going to be derailed.”
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