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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Payne (Dolley Madison's Father): A PARRHESIASTES Who Helped Start the Abolition of Slavery Movement

No Image for John Payne, Dolley Madison's  Father
History has given us Dolley Madison with her bravery in the White House as it was pillaged and burned by the British in the 1812 War. She saved Stuart's painting of George Washington.
COURAGE LIGHT as Zizek might say.

But what her father did has been lost in the folds of history.
 He was a Parrhesiastes like Edward Snowden.
And like Snowden, he with others began a national debate.
William Penn was given Pennsylvania as a land grant. As a Quaker Penn forbid the trafficking of slaves in Pennsylvania and fair purchase prices for Native American land. Philadelphia was already established when he got it and Pennsylvania was to be a haven for Quakers to practice their religion with freedom from persecution.

A number of Quakers left Pennsylvania for the Carolinas (liberal Constitution) and Virginia where land was cheap, the weather milder, and slave ownership possible. But the slavery debate continued in the Quaker meetings.

Anyone who was involved in the Viet Nam war protests in the 60's and 70's in Philadelphia was aware of the leadership of the Quakers in the Resistance Movement. No longer in any kind of political control the Quakers were a moral force at that time and a center for attracting revolutionary minded dissidents and draft resisters.

In  other words THEY WERE DANGEROUS!
And they were dangerous in the time of the colonies also. So much so in Virginia that in 1760 Virginia passed this law on slavery:

In 1760 in Virginia the Law as passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses read "that it was illegal to emancipate a slave in Virginia except by Government act. Virginia Quakers and their meetings could oppose slaveholding and support emancipation, but they were prohibited by law from freeing their slaves. If a slave was freed, by a Quaker or anyone else, he or she could be captured and sold as a runaway."

The Law reads what you can't do. You can't free your slave. Assuming you are a decent person if you want to free your slave, what are the consequences if you do this. Capturing/kidnapping and being resold to the highest bidder, and very likely a far worse situation from which you are freed. 

You can beat, maim, kill, rape, torture, breed, set dogs on, force fights to the death, well just about anything the perverse imagination can come up with, you can do. 

The only thing you can't do is FREE  this slave. And if you do this slave will never really be free. This slave will always be looking over her/his shoulder as there are stories of abductions and disappearances. 

This Law also has an emptiness. The only thing you are not allowed to do is FREE your slave. 

Dolley Madison's  father was disturbed by the fact that he owned slaves to work his plantation in Virginia. About 50 of them. A large holding. He had converted to the Society of Friends after he married Mary Coles who had been disowned by the Quakers for marrying him, an Anglican. He becomes more Quaker than a Quaker as converts often are wont to do. And his conscience is troubled by the fact that he owns slaves. 

It is a colonial law of the colony of Virginia. There are certainly similar laws in Alabama,Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, etc. But this is Virginia, the place where Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe all have family plantations with enslaved workers. And these men are 4 of our first 5 presidents. I am stunned.

At the base of our legal system by 1760 is pure sophistry. A Law by Pharisees. It contains a poison pill. It puts the person of integrity in a CATCH-22 situation. Unable to keep a slave or free the slave. It forces hypocrisy. 

Now who is responsible for this law? Does anyone think that the largest plantation owners in Virginia, the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, and Monroes were innocent of this law? We know James Madison's grandfather served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1761-1769. He would have had to have known of this law. Who formulated it like this? And why? 

And why this law at this time? Foucault teaches to look at what else is going on. To look at the intersections of different "comings to be" and in this case it is the influx of Quakers from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas (liberal Constitution) and Virginia to farm large tracts of cheap land through the use of slave labor. Quaker meetings are not about listening to someone give a sermon. They involve silence and the necessity someone feels to speak to the group. So one can expect there were many raised discussions about slavery, and surely the well known founding fathers of the Anglican persuasion knew about these dissenting discussions, as these meeting books were impounded during the Revolution as they looked for traitors. The Quakers refused to bear arms. Most of them anyway. They were found innocent.

Virginia was a bastion of slaveholding.  In 1765, the Quaker minister John Griffith wrote that "the life of religion is almost lost where slaves are numerous....the practice being as contrary to the spirit of Christianity as light is to darkness." (p. 64) By 1769 the Paynes had come to believe that slaveholding was morally indefensible.  Three months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Payne, Dolley's father freed one of his slaves in a formal declaration leaving no doubt as to his intent. Then he freed the rest of them. In defiance of Virginia Law. 

In Full:

I, John Payne of Hanover County, Virginia, from mature, deliberate Consideration, and the Conviction of my Own mind, being fully persuaded that Freedom is the A Natural Condition of all mankind, and that no law, moral or Divine, has given me a right Or property in the persons of my fellow Creatures; and being desirous to fulfill the Injunction of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by doing unto Others as I would be done by; do therefore declare that having Under my care a Negro man Named Cuffe, aged about Twenty-four years, I do, for myself, my heirs, Executors and Administrators, hereby release Unto him the said Cuffe all my right, Interest and Claim Or pretension of Claim  whatsoever, as to his person, or to any Estate he may hereafter Acquire, without any Interruption from me, or any person Claiming for, by, or under me. In Witness whereof I have Hereunto set my hand and Seal this third day of the Twelfth month in the year of our Lord One thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy Six. (p. 65)

This is both a statement and an act of PARRHESIA, following from the time of Socrates in the Western World - and only in the Western World. It is our heritage and our tradition. 

Frankness:The word parrhesia, then, refers to a type of relationship between the speaker and what he says. For in parrhesia, the speaker makes it manifestly clear and obvious that what he says is his own opinion. And he does this by avoiding any kind of rhetorical form which would veil what he thinks. Instead, the parrhesiastes uses the most direct words and forms of expression he can find. …in parrhesia, the parrhesiastes acts on other people’s minds by showing them as directly as possible what he actually believes.

…..To my mind, the parrhesiastes says what is true because it is really true. The parrhesiastes is not only sincere and says what is his opinion, but his opinion is also the truth. He says what he knows to be true. The second characteristic of parrhesia, then, is that there is always an exact coincidence between belief and truth.

If there is a kind of “proof” of the sincerity of the parrhesiastes, it is his courage. The fact that a speaker says something dangerous — different from what the majority believes — is a strong indication that he is a parrhesiastes.

Danger: Someone is said to use parrhesia and merits consideration as aparrhesiastes only if there is a risk or danger for him in telling the truth. …when a philosopher addresses himself to a sovereign, to a tyrant, and tells him that his tyranny is disturbing and unpleasant because tyranny is incompatible with justice, then the philosopher speaks the truth, believes he is speaking the truth, and, more than that, also takes a risk (since the tyrant may become angry, may punish him, may exile him, may kill him.) And that was exactly Plato’s situation with Dionysius in Syracuse….

So you see, the parrhesiastes is someone who takes a risk….Parrhesia, then, is linked to courage in the face of danger; it demands the courage to speak the truth in spite of some danger. And in its extreme form, telling the truth takes place in the “game” of life or death.
Quotes from Foucault
It is because the parrhesiastes must take a risk in speaking the truth that the king or tyrant generally cannot use parrhesia; for he risks nothing.
When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself; you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to the Other. But the parrhesiastes primarily chooses a specific relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself.
I am saying that John Payne is a PARRHESIASTES of his time.

His risk was great as he defied the law. It began the beginning of financial ruin for him. He would never recover from the loss of about $45,000 and in 1776 that was a huge sum. And yet history does not record his courage. Only the online internet has been able to protect Edward Snowden and keep him safe and known throughout the world due to Assange's work with wikileaks. Snowden will not be forgotten as John Payne was. He is buried in the Free Quaker Cemetery in Philadelphia. I cannot find a gravestone image. Perhaps someone will send it to me or post it in a comment. He was a great man who is only known as the father of Dolley Madison.

For more on this reading through 12 Years A Slave LINK because the capture and reselling continued for almost 100 years afterwards as the law had no teeth. New York Law got Northup back to his family and it was a complicated legal process to free him.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Reading Change From A Turtle's Perspective

Deborah Yarock With Turtle

Deborah Yarock, MFT
Oakland, CA
(510) 214-6951

Rilke: You must change your life
Foucault: You must change the way you think.
Foucault - Straddling the Abyss

The turtle carries all possessions around with it. 
It is inseparable from its shelter. 
The turtle lumbers on land and lays its eggs there. 
Then leaves them. 
Some get eaten, some hatch and then get eaten. 
Some make it to the water to swim, to live. 
On land the turtle survives. 
It is an ancient species that owes its longevity to its conservatism, its perfect inability to change. 
In this way it survives a thousand years, another thousand, and another and another, a very ancient species. 

The turtle does not change but it continues in its static life. 
It does not risk, it endures. It survives
but it does not live. 
It does not migrate far nor seek other lands that might be happier climes. 
It remains where it is until some impossibility forces it elsewhere.

And some people prefer to do the same.
Are you one of them?
Or do you want to change your life?
Do you want to change the way you think?
Do you want to challenge yourself, to risk what is sure with the unknown?
Are you possessed with the Nietzschean "will to know?"
Are you driven by this "will to know?"
This inner longing for Other?
Agnes Martin Painting - Grid;The Matrix

Cynthis Ozick wrote an article in The New Yorker once. She shocked by taking Otto Frank to task for causing his daughter Anne's death.
Because he had the means and the knowledge to get out of Europe in time.
Instead he moved his family into an attic, with their furniture and belongings
to set up the same life they had had.
Ozick says that he could not leave his bourgeois life
to flee into the unknown
so they all perished save himself. 
-Like the turtle he carried his possessions on his back- 
up the stairs to the attic
until flight to more hospitable climes became impossible,
and he could no longer even endure.

These are questions to be asked.
What are your answers?

The world is not continuous, progressive, historical. The world is ruled by EVENTS! Events come from nowhere. They are unpredictable. They cannot be anticipated. They surprise us. They have consequences, and these consequences have additional consequences. You cannot be prepared for Events. They just happen. 
Pearl Harbor
The death of a loved one.
The loss of your health.
Meeting someone you never expected to know and love.
An escape from Death.

And these moments of Kairos where your historical life and your Destiny cross will change your life.
Are you ready for them?
Can you welcome them?
Can you come out of your shell and embrace the Other?

Mark Tansey - Continental Divide
I once shared an office with someone who experimented on turtles. He kept them in a large tank.
One day I just stood and watched them swimming in the tank.
Their grace stunned me as they moved their legs and feet/hands waving them, circling, and they looked like birds flying in the sky. Effortless. Joyful. Just playing. Living. Weightless.

Play is the work of the child. Work is the play of the adult. 
Is this true for you?
Do you want it to be?
If you can imagine it, you can desire it.
If you can desire it, you can live it.
By Maria Spelterini
I'll Hold Your Hand
I'll be your balancing pole.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Island of a Book - Jacques Rancière's The Ignorant Schoolmaster, Don De Lillo's Cosmopolis

In 1818, Joseph Jacotot, a professor of French literature, was begining his lecturing days in the University of Louivain, expecting those to be a calm, uneventful period in his eventful life and career which begun when he was 19 and teaching rhetoric at the University of Dijon.

The students loved him and there were Flemish students who wanted him to teach them, but he knew no Flemish and they spoke no French. So Jacotot decided to give it a try, a bilingual edition of the French classic, Fénelon's Télémaque, being published at the time.

The students were given a book and asked to learn the French text using the translation. Jacotot entered the experiment with low hopes but having the bilingual edition (what Jacques Rancière in his work The Ignorant Schoolmaster refers to as the minimal link of a thing in common), he thought it worth a try.

" He expected horrendous barbarisms, or maybe a complete inability to perform. How could these young people, deprived of explanation, understand and resolve the difficulties of a language entirely new to them? No matter! He had to find out where the route opened by chance had taken them, what had been the results of that desperate empiricism. And how surprised he was to discover that the students, left to themselves, managed this difficult step as well as many French could have done! Was wanting all that was necessary for doing? Were all men virtually capable of understanding what others had done and understood?*
*Fénelon’s didactic and utopian 24~volume novel, Télémaque (1699), recounts the peregrinations of Telemachus, accompanied by his spiritual guide, Mentor, as he attempts to find his father, Odysseus. In it, Fénelon proposes an “Art of Reigning” and invents an ideal city, Salente, whose peace-loving citizens show exemplary civic virtue. The book was extremely displeasing to Louis XIV, who saw himself in the portrait of Idomeneus. But it was much admired by Enlightenment philosophers, who proclaimed Fénelon one of their most important precursors. In terms of Jacotot’s adventure, the book could have been Télémaque or any other.
(The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pg.2)

The Ignorant Schoolmaster is a book about Jacotot's curious educational adventure. It is about teaching as a process not between the teacher as the master of knowledge and understanding and the student as the ignorant one, not between the intelligences of the teacher and the student locked in hierarchical opposition of higher and lower, better and worse, more and less. 

"The pedagogical myth, we said, divides the world into two. More precisely, it divides intelligence into two. It says that there is an inferior intelligence and a superior one. The former registers perceptions by chance, retains them, interprets and repeats them empirically, within the closed circle of habit and need. This is the intelligence of the young child and the common man. The superior intelligence knows things by reason, proceeds by method, from the simple to the complex, from the part to the whole. It is this intelligence
that allows the master to transmit his knowledge by adapting it to the intellectual capacities of the student and allows him to verify that the student has satisfactorily understood what he learned. Such is the principle of explication. From this point on, for Jacotot, such will be the principle of enforced stultification."
(The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pg.7)

" It is this word that brings a halt to the movement of reason, that destroys its confidence in itself, that distracts it by breaking the world of intelligence into two, by installing the division between the groping animal and the learned little man, between common sense and science. From the moment this slogan of duality is pronounced, all the perfecting of the ways of making understood, that great preoccupation of men of methods and progressives, is progress toward stultification. The child who recites under the threat of the rod obeys the rod and that’s all: he will apply his intelligence to something else. But the child who is explained to will devote his intelligence to the work of grieving: to understanding, that is to say, to understanding that he doesn’t understand unless he is explained to. He is no longer submitting to the rod, but rather to a hierarchical world of intelligence. For the rest, like the other child, he doesn’t have to worry: if the solution to the problem is too difficult to pursue, he will have enough intelligence to open his eyes wide. The master is vigilant and patient. He will see that the child isn’t following him; he will put him back on track by explaining
things again. And thus the child acquires a new intelligence, that of the master’s explications. Later he can be an explicator in turn. He possesses the equipment. But he will perfect it: he will be a man of progress."
(The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pg.8)

It is about teaching as a process of emancipation and as a process in which one teaches what one doesn't know.

" Jacotot decided to devote himself to this. He proclaimed that one could teach what one didn’t know, and that a poor and ignorant father could, if he was emancipated, conduct the education of his children, without the aid of any master explicator. And he indicated the way of that “universal teaching”— to learn something and to relate to it all the rest by this principle: all men have equal intelligence." (The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pg.18)

Like Télémaque, Cosmopolis is just another book. 

The book. Télémaque or another one. Chance placed Télémaque at Jacotot’s disposal; convenience told him to keep it. Télémaque has been translated into many languages and is easily available in bookstores. It isn’t the greatest masterpiece of the French language; but the style is pure, the vocabulary varied, and the
moral severe. In it one learns mythology and geography. And behind the French “ translation,” one can hear the echo of Vergil’s Latin and Homer’s Greek. In short, it’s a classic, one of those books in which a language presents the essential of its forms and its powers. A book that is a totality: a center to which one can attach everything new one learns; a circle in which one can understand each of these new things, find the ways to say what one sees in it, what one thinks about it, what one makes of it."
 (The Ignorant Schoolmaster, pg. 21)

To learn something and relate to it all the rest.
Everything is in everything. 
There is no outside.
How many readings of Cosmopolis on this blog, how many things in the thing, the book, itself? 

No man is an island, 
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
  - John Donne

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Reading the Boston Bombing Through the Panopticon - Foucault

Bentham designed the Panopticon as a Prison
By seymourblogger/abbeysbooks
Foucault is emphasizing that the Panopticon is a TECHNOLOGY of Surveillance.

Surveillance is the primary and most important variable to reduce the occurrence of crime. 

Foucault has told us that surveillance is our most crucial danger today and that resistance should be targeted there in the grid of power/knowledge/capital/normality

Edward Snowden has employed a strategy worthy of Baudrillard.
He has not resisted.
He has imploded the secrecy of the NSA and its spying on American citizens and the rest of the world. 
The American government can no longer stand for the principles on which it was founded: the rule of Law, equality, freedom, liberty, private use of property.

Because the case of the Tsarnaev brothers follows the Snowden Event, It is taking place in a world where the US government is known to lie, assassinate, torture, fabricate evidence, a world in which no one anywhere believes in anything the US government says, writes, proclaims. 
A government disrespected by its people and by the world. This will help influence US and world opinion about the guilt or innocence of the Tsarnaev Brothers. We owe Edward Snowden a lot.

The Foucauldian Grid is a spiral of power/knowledge/capital/normality
There is no escape
We are trapped like insects in a spider web and can only resist
Today we are informed that:

(Reuters) - Three college friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty on Friday to charges that they helped cover his tracks when the FBI was trying to find the people responsible for the April 15 attack.
Dias Kadyrbayev  
Azamat Tazhayakov
Robel Phillipos

These three have just stepped into the Foucauldian Grid

Canetti and Baudrillard have opined that no one thinks to the end of something. 
All the way to  the end. No way out. 

This recent action of our government has chilling consequences if we think through it to the end. To Death.

You go to university, even have a roommate from a different country, say Chechnya for example. 
That person is now under surveillance by you.
What if they are secretly terrorists and you have been friends with them. You too will be implicated, faced with proving your innocence, tried and condemned.
Or at least subjected to financial ruin by lawyering up.

Avoid persons who look different, who come from other countries than our western allies. 

Become paranoid of these other persons.
Become paranoid.
While the other will become paranoid also.

It is to teach a fear, a distrust of the Other.
This is the mental template of families who practice incest. Sex with daughters, sisters, mothers is safer than sex with the OTHER, the outsider, the stranger, the unknown.

This kind of surveillance is far worse than spying on your emails, phone calls, internet use. It is insidious and invisible and it is constant. It is like God's eye described by Gaddis in The Recognitions. 

God sees everything, even the dewdrop on the rose at dawn. God has morphed into the technology of the Panopticon.
Do you see where this is going? 
This is incredibly more frightening and dangerous than NSA spying. It is relentless and comes from below, through the interstices of power/knowledge,normality.

And all because three friends are being prosecuted so prosecutors can put 3 more notches on their belt.
It will look great on their CV.

Thinking through to the end, to a metaphoric death, is to know the US Empire is tottering.
It is destroying the integrity of its people. 
The one variable Toynbee found invariant for all 
disintegrating empires.
Therefore, in a totally sickening, mind-fucking way, Edward Snowden might end up being the best thing that ever happened to the NSA and “national security”. His revelation has the power to instill fear and constant vigilance into people, essentially scaring them into submission in a way that the surveillance programs themselves couldn’t.
Couldn't Resist.

When I first read Foucault's account of the panopticon, where the individual at the 

centre can simultaneously see and judge a whole multitude of other individuals, I 

thought it was brilliant but overheated. Now, it actually seems like somebody's 


That's what we risk becoming: a society which is in crucial respects a giant 

panopticon, where the people with access to our secrets can see, hear, intercept 

and monitor  everything. LINK HERE

Welcome to the Hunger Games. May the 

odds be always in your favor.

NOTE:  Please scroll down to leave a comment in the box.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reading The Tsarnaev Brothers Through Sacco and Vanzetti

BAEZ Singing
INDb film site
"If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men.  I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure.  Now we are not a failure.  This is our career and our triumph.  Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man's understanding of man as now we do by accident.  Our words--our lives--our pains--nothing!  The taking of our lives--lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish-peddler--all! That last moment belongs to us--that agony is our triumph." - Vanzetti

The story of two anarchists who were charged 
and unfairly tried for murder 
when it was really for their political convictions.




  (story),  (story),4 more credits »


Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev
That's us folks!
Which is much worse than Santayana

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Reading Snowden As ParrhesiastesThrough Le Carre and A Delicate Truth

Edward Snowden

The latest book – A Delicate Truth – is centered in modern Britain, on a supposed threat to national security and the use of dubious means towards a justifiable end; the challenge to an individual oppressed by the power of the state. It’s a political tale, appreciated across the political spectrum
On a sunny Sunday early in that same spring, a thirty-one-year-old British foreign servant earmarked for great things sat alone at the pavement table of a humble Italian cafe in London's Soho, steeling himself to perform an act of espionage so outrageous that, if detected, it would cost him his career and his freedom: namely, recovering a tape recording, illicitly made by himself, from the Private Office of a Minister of the Crown whom it was his duty to serve and advise to the best of his considerable ability. 

His name was Toby Bell and he was entirely alone in his criminal contemplations. No evil genius controlled him, no paymaster, provocateur or sinister manipulator armed with an attache case stuffed with hundred - dollar bills was waiting round the corner, no activist in a ski mask. He was in that sense the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider: Of a forthcoming clandestine operation on the Crown Colony of Gibralter he knew nothing; rather, it was this tantalizing ignorance that had brought him to his present pass. (ADT p. 47)

This is Edward Snowden who becomes an employee of BoozAllen in order to steal secrets - the truth - from the NSA

This is not the situation Toby Bell, the reluctant whistle-blower, finds himself in by relentless circumstances. His awareness begins slowly, well, here is a quote explaining how.

In coded discussions in Whitehall's sealed basement rooms, new rules of engagement with suspected terrorist prisoners are cautiously thrashed out. ...The word enhance , once used to convey spiritual exaltation, has entered the new American dictionary, but its meaning remains willfully imprecise to the uninitiated, of whom Toby is one. All the same he has his suspicions. Can these so-called new rules in reality be the old barbaric ones, dusted off and reinstated, he wonders? And if he is right, which increasingly he believes he is, what is the moral distinction, if any, between the man who applies the electrodes and the man who sits behind a desk and pretends he doesn't know it's happening, although he knows very well?

But when Toby, nobly struggling to reconcile these questions with his conscience and upbringing, ventures to air them - purely academically you understand - to Giles over a cozy dinner at Oakley's club to celebrate Toby's thrilling new appointment on promotion to the British Embassy in Cairo....Oakley quotes his beloved La Rochefoucauld:

'Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, dear man. In an imperfect world, I fear it's the best we can manage.'(ADT p.53)

In a half-hearted effort to find excuses for Crispin, Toby even wondered whether, deep down, the man was just plain stupid....And from there, he wandered off into an argument with Friedrich Schiller's grandiose statement that human stupidity was what the gods fought in vain. Not so, in Toby's opinion, and no excuse for anybody, whether god or man. 

What the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain wasn't stupidity at all. It was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody's interests but their own.(ADT p. 296)

"The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change. People will see in the media all of these disclosures. They'll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society. But they won't be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests." - Edward Snowden

And then they get Toby Bell:

The first blows were undoubtedly the most painful and the most surprising....But it was the hail of blows to his stomach, kidneys, groin and then his groin again that seemed never to end, and for all he knew it continued after he had lost consciousness. But not before the same unidentified voice had breathed into his ear in the same tone of command:

'Don't think this is over, son. This is for appetizers. Remember that.'

Le Carre

“I do think we live in most extraordinary period of history,” he says now. “The fact that we feel becalmed is the element that is most terrifying, the second-rate quality of leadership, the third-rate quality of parliamentary behaviour.”

That sense of correctness has a broader resonance, informing, when we discussed it recently, his views about Edward Snowden’s revelations of the extraordinary scale of US surveillance of its own citizens as well as those of other countries. He tells me he is horrified: “There seems to be no limit to the violations to their hard-won liberties that Americans will put up with in the catchall name of counter terror.” But he also recognises that “no country can allow its secret servants to whistle-blow with impunity”.

He has long disabused me of the sense that his family background might have been an impediment to joining the British intelligence services. The attraction of someone with a semi-criminal background was irresistible to the spooks, he says. They were looking for recruits with a broad sense of morality, individuals who were unanchored and wayward, who hankered for discipline (“his father’s a bit bent, we could use a bit of that”).

If the secret service produced so many bad eggs, he tells me, it’s because they looked for them.

Gove probably didn’t pick up on the book’s strong attack on the secret courts for which his government voted (allowing matters of “national security” to be heard behind closed doors). Le Carré is greatly concerned about such courts, which undermine the rights of some individuals while making it easier for others to make the wrong choices. 

 He “smuggles this kind of stuff” into his best-selling stories, conscious that subliminal influence lasts longer than a news story. There is a political agenda, born of personal experience.

Who is his greatest hero? Andre Sakharov, father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, who came  
to recognise the dangers of his own work (“He realised he’d given the bomb to a bunch of 


And if you have seen Dirty Wars you will know that american Special Ops are in 75 different countries in order to destabilize them. A country in chaos is an easy takeover to exploit their resources.

And the beginning of A Delicate Truth:

Forgive me, Minister: What field would that be, exactly?'

'Private defense contractors. Where've you been? Name of the game these days. War's gone corporate, in case you haven't noticed. Standing professional armies are a bust. Top-heavy, under-equipped, one brigadier for every dozen boots on the ground and cost a mint. Try a couple of years at Defence if you don't believe me.'(ADT p. 9)

Philippe Sands is a writer and barrister who teaches international law at University College. To comment on this article email magazineletters@ft.com

What I want to emphasize here is that Snowden is a parrhesiastes not a whistle-blower. Toby Bell is dragged into it by his conscience, Snowden by a compelling sense of duty from the beginning. to practice parrhesia.