- There is no concept of justice in Cree culture. The nearest word is kintohpatatin, which loosely translates to “you’ve been listened to.” But kintohpatatin is richer than justice – really it means you’ve been listened to by someone compassionate and fair, and your needs will be taken seriously. [Edmund Metatawabin, Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History (Knopf, 2014), Chapter Twenty-Seven.]
“I abhor what that man did but he is a human being and should be treated with respect and dignity.” This statement is an illustration of respect for a person’s worth. As angry as we may be toward someone, a commitment to the worth and dignity of every person implies that we do not seek the gratuitous or pointless suffering of others.
Are doctors of divinity blind, or are they hypocrites? I suppose some are the one, and some the other; but I think if they felt the interest in the poor and the lowly, that they ought to feel, they would not be so easily blinded. A clergyman who goes to the south, for the first time, has usually some feeling, however vague, that slavery is wrong. The slaveholder suspects this, and plays his game accordingly. He makes himself as agreeable as possible; talks on theology, and other kindred topics. The reverend gentleman is asked to invoke a blessing on a table loaded with luxuries. After dinner he walks round the premises, and sees the beautiful groves and flowering vines, and the comfortable huts of favored household slaves. The southerner invites him to talk with these slaves. He asks them if they want to be free, and they say, "O, no, massa." This is sufficient to satisfy him. He comes home to publish a "South-Side View of Slavery," and to complain of the exaggerations of abolitionists. He assures people that he has been to the south, and seen slavery for himself; that it is a beautiful "patriarchal institution;" that the slaves don't want their freedom; that they have hallelujah meetings, and other religious privileges.
What does he know of the half-starved wretches toiling from dawn till dark on the plantations? of mothers shrieking for their children, torn from their arms by slave traders? of young girls dragged down into moral filth? of pools of blood around the whipping post? of hounds trained to tear human flesh? of men screwed into cotton gins to die? The slaveholder showed him none of these things, and the slaves dared not tell of them if he had asked them.
There is a great difference between Christianity and religion at the south. If a man goes to the communion table, and pays money into the treasury of the church, no matter if it be the price of blood, he is called religious. If a pastor has offspring by a woman not his wife, the church dismiss him, if she is a white woman; but if she is colored, it does not hinder his continuing to be their good shepherd.
[Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), Chapter XIII, The Church and Slavery.]
- Michael Herz and Peter Molnar, eds., The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
- Darnell L. Moore, No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America (Nation Books, 2018): “ . . . a deeply personal memoir of growing up in the cross hairs of racism and homophobia in Camden, N.J., in the 1980s and ’90s.”
From the dark side:
Histories of Imperialism:
- William Dalrymple, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). The British “underestimated the resentment that their presence would arouse, and inflamed Afghan hostility by their overbearing behavior.”
- Julia Flynn Siler, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America’s First Imperial Adventure (Monthly Press, 2012). “ . . . Hawaii’s fraught history, from Captain Cook to American annexation.”
- Daniel Immerwahr, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2019): “Immerwahr devotes several chapters to the ensuing five decades, as the United States annexed Puerto Rico and the Philippines, brutally crushing independence movements, torturing Filipino insurgents with ‘the water cure’ and giving mainland doctors veritable carte blanche to treat Puerto Rico as a medical laboratory.”
Other dark side narratives:
- Paul Kramer, ed., The Last Manchu: The Autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, Last Emperor of China (Skyhorse, 2010): a rich and privileged child-emperor becomes a poltical prisoner, and the one constant is that he is treated more like an object than a person.
- Gary J. Bass, The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013): an account of “the terrible and little-known story of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, and of the sordid and disgraceful White House diplomacy that attended it. . . . an essential reminder of the devastation wrought by the hardhearted policy and outright bigotry that typified much of the diplomacy of the cold war.”
- Jonathan Daniel Wells, The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War (Bold Type Books, 2020): “describes the circle of slave catchers and police officers who terrorized New York’s Black population in the three decades before the Civil War. They snatched up children, as well as adults, and sold them into slavery.”
- Claire Prentice, The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century (New Harvest / Houghton Mifflin, 2014): “Thirteen hundred Filipinos from a dozen tribes were put on display at the St. Louis Exposition, in replicas of their home villages, intended to reinforce an underlying message that our ‘little brown brothers,’ in the words of William Howard Taft, were not ready to govern themselves.” Eventually, they were in Coney Island, “where they became the hit of Luna Park in the summer of 1905.”
- Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2014): “Where Baptist breaks new ground is in his emphasis on the centrality of the interstate trade in slaves to the regional and national economies and his treatment of the role of extreme violence in the workings of the slave system.”
- Gabrielle Glaser, American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption (Viking, 2021): “Adoption Used to Be Hush-Hush. This Book Amplifies the Human Toll.”
- Ada Ferrer, Cuba: An American History (Scribner, 2021): largely a history of exploitation of a small island and its people.
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Jeremy Waldron, The Harm in Hate Speech (Harvard University Press, 2012): an argument for punishing hate speech as a violation of human dignity.
- Michael Herz and Peter Molnar, eds., The Content and Context of Hate Speech: Rethinking Regulation and Responses (Cambridge University Press, 2012).
- Anthony Lewis, Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (Basic Books, 2008): a more traditional American legal view in the classical liberal model.
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mlle. Irène Cahen d’Anvers (1880)
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Artist's Mother (1860)
- Paolo Veronese, Respect (c. 1575), from his Four Allegories of Love
Music: songs and other short pieces
- P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley: A Novel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011): “A proud, clever girl . . . is pursued, reluctantly, by a dashing, arrogant wealthy man . . . who loves her but considers her beneath him. ‘Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections?’ he rudely asks, grudgingly confessing his love and demanding her hand in marriage. He’s stunned when she refuses him. Eventually, Lizzy teaches him more ‘gentlemanlike’ manners and they marry in a double wedding . . . ”
- Geraldine Brooks, Caleb’s Crossing (Viking, 2011): a young woman’s respect for a native American tribe places her at odds within her community.
- Karen Jennings, An Island: A Novel (Hogarth, 2022): “. . . a 70-year-old hermit who’s increasingly paranoid and delusional, Samuel spends the duration of the story contending with the alarming presence of this living newcomer — a man who, unlike so many others, treats him with a trust and even a kindness he can’t perceive or hope to return.”
Novels and stories from the dark side:
Éponine and Azelma did not look at Cosette. She was the same as a dog to them. These three little girls did not yet reckon up four and twenty years between them, but they already represented the whole society of man; envy on the one side, disdain on the other. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume II – Cosette; Book Third – Accomplishment of a Promise Made To a Dead Woman, Chapter VIII, The Unpleasantness of Receiving Into One’s House a Poor Man Who May Be a Rich Man.]
"Well, since you must know all, it is so. I have agreed to sell Tom and Harry both; and I don't know why I am to be rated, as if I were a monster, for doing what every one does every day." [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume 1, Chapter 5, “Showing the Feelings of Living Property on Changing Others”.]
As, for example, Mr. Haley: he thought first of Tom’s length, and breadth, and height, and what he would sell for, if he was kept fat and in good case till he got him into market. He thought of how he should make out his gang; he thought of the respective market value of certain supposititious men and women and children who were to compose it, and other kindred topics of the business; then he thought of himself, and how humane he was, that whereas other men chained their “niggers” hand and foot both, he only put fetters on the feet, and left Tom the use of his hands, as long as he behaved well; and he sighed to think how ungrateful human nature was, so that there was even room to doubt whether Tom appreciated his mercies. He had been taken in so by ‘niggers’ whom he had favored; but still he was astonished to consider how good-natured he yet remained! [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume I, Chapter XII, “Select Incident of Lawful Trade”.]
The catching business, we beg to remind them, is rising to the dignity of a lawful and patriotic profession. If all the broad land between the Mississippi and the Pacific becomes one great market for bodies and souls, and human property retains the locomotive tendencies of this nineteenth century, the trader and catcher may yet be among our aristocracy. [Harriett Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly (1852), Volume I, Chapter VIII, “Eliza’s Escape”.]
Novels from the dark side:
- Sharon Applefeld, Until the Dawn’s Light: A Novel (Schocken Books, 2011): “Despite being Jewish herself, Blanca shares a certain degree of his distaste for Jews, and their marriage represents another departure: from her parents’ house and faith. Not long after their wedding, Adolf begins to beat Blanca, ostensibly to purge her of the last vestiges of her Judaism and to drive Austrian strength into her. His brutal abuse soon reduces her to a state of paralytic fear.”
- Affinity Konar, Mischling: A Novel (Little, Brown & Company, 2016): “This man had a secret torture chamber lined with the eyes of those who had succumbed to his torments. One by one, he took the children to his torture chamber and did terrible things to them. Eventually the children were freed — at least, those who were still alive. But they could never be quite whole again.”
- Teddy Wayne, Loner: A Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2016): about a stalker at Harvard
- Kiran Millwood Hargrave, The Mercies: A Novel (Little, Brown, 2020): “A reader might guess where a story involving a stern Scottish witch hunter and a divided village of bereaved women might go. The novel delights not with surprise, but by pursuing its course of action with precision and purpose. Hargrave spares the reader no gory details, whether of birth, miscarriage or the scent of a body burning at the stake.”
- Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (1934), a classic lust-driven novel.
- Frederick Turner, Renegade: Henry Miller and the Making of “Tropic of Cancer” (Yale University Press, 2012): inside Miller’s misogyny and indifference.
- Cara Blue Adams, You Never Get It Back: Stories (University of Iowa Press, 2021): “Through the stories of a young woman named Kate . . . Cara Blue Adams shows the impossibility of innocence in a world that doesn’t recognize your worth.”
- Julia May Jones, Vladimir: A Novel (Avid Reader Press, 2022): “Sex, Lies and Infidelity on a Small College Campus”.
Film and Stage
- Driving Miss Daisy, in which a Southern matron learns to respect her black chauffeur
- Moolaadé: six young women in a Senegalese village challenge the “purification” ritual of female genital mutilation, and villagers face the inevitable conflicts between tradition and group-pressure on the one hand and respect for human worth on the other.
Fundamental values like respecting the worth of others often are presented from the dark side, as in these films:
- Welcome to the Dollhouse, on the horrors of being unfashionable and not cool in “the hell of junior high school”
- Sansho the Bailiff, a tale from eleventh-century Japan on the shadow side of respect
- The Wild Child (L’Enfant Suavage), a story that examines the dividing line between helping another and glorifying or gratifying oneself.
- That Obscure Object of Desire, Buñuel’s final film, in which he took “satiric aim at a decadent, decaying society riddled by political unrest and moral bankruptcy” through a “game of sexual cat-and-mouse”
- A Clockwork Orange, in which people are molded to suit society’s desires
- Black Robe, about the arrogant disrespectfulness of a zealous missionary
- Coming Home, examining the treatment of returning soldiers
- Contempt (Le Mépris), about the dissolution of a marriage
- The Girl Can’t Help It, a film that “lampoon(s) the American male's fixation on female bosoms and bottoms”
- The Last Emperor: about how the last Manchu emperor of China was like a pawn caught first in privileges and then in political turmoil
- The Leopard (Il Gattopardo), about people using each other “at the passing of an age”
- The Madness of King George: the king as pawn
- Sex, Lies, and Videotape: about how people use each other in “intimate” relationships
- Sid & Nancy, about an unhealthy relationshipbased on dependence and attachment
- The Wages of Fear, about men desperate for moneywho accept low-paying, life-endangering work to survive
- Alfie: a contemporary Don Juan without much of a conscience
- I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang: a film that exposed abuses in the chain-gang systemin the United States, leading to their abolition
- The Magdalene Sisters: a dramatization of true stories about women who were placed in convent-like asylums to atone for supposed “sins”
- I, Daniel Blake: Unable to work due to a recent heart attack, a man navigates through the absurdities of an uncaring bureaucracy.
- Malcolm X: The criminal disrespect shown to Malcolm’s family as a child shaped his career as a civil rights advocate.
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Four operas, at least, explore respect for human worth from the dark side:
- Wagner, Tristan Und Isolde (1859): a tragic story of medieval chivalry and disregard for human feeling (performances conducted by Bodanzky, Furtwängler, Carlos Kleiber and Barenboim)
- Ponchielli, La Gioconda (1876): a young woman is sought after, to her destruction. (performances conducted by Fabritiis, Patané, [starring Dimitrova and Pavarotti] and Rapalo)
- Verdi, Otello (1853): jealousy, an antithesis of respect (performances conducted by Muti, Pesko and Palumbo)
- Rachmaninoff, Aleko (1892): a community casts out a man who has killed two people out of jealousy (performances conducted by Svetlanov, Golovanov and Nancy).
- Arnold Rosner, The Chronicle of Nine: The Tragedy of Queen Jane, Op. 81 (1984): a 17-year-old young woman is made queen, over her protests, then after nine days is executed – she was a pawn in other people’s political plans.
- Antheil, String Quartet No. 2, For Sylvia Beach, with love (1927)
- Malcolm Arnold’s Dances for orchestra pay homage to several regions of the English isles.
- Borodin, Piano Quintet in C Minor (1862)
- Trio da Kali & Kronos String Quartet, “Ladilikan”: this disc is a collaboration between West African aritsts and a Western string quartet. The melding of these two traditions produces a sound that suggests a deep respect for each other.
- Diana Baroni & Simon Drappier, “Pan Atlantico”, presents a fusion of Latin, North American and European styles.
- Sarah Aroeste, “Monastir”: titled after an Ottoman city whose Jewish population had a difficult history, this album pays homage to those people.
From the dark side:
- Beholder, “Claim No Native Land” album
The pure contralto sings in the organ loft, / The carpenter dresses his plank, the tongue of his foreplane whistles its wild ascending lisp, / The married and unmarried children ride home to their Thanksgiving dinner, / The pilot seizes the king-pin, he heaves down with a strong arm, / The mate stands braced in the whale-boat, lance and harpoon are ready, / The duck-shooter walks by silent and cautious stretches, / The deacons are ordain'd with cross'd hands at the altar,
The spinning-girl retreats and advances to the hum of the big wheel, / The farmer stops by the bars as he walks on a First-day loafe and looks at the oats and rye, / The lunatic is carried at last to the asylum a confirm'd case, / (He will never sleep any more as he did in the cot in his mother's bed-room;) / The jour printer with gray head and gaunt jaws works at his case, / He turns his quid of tobacco while his eyes blurr with the manuscript; / The malform'd limbs are tied to the surgeon's table, / What is removed drops horribly in a pail; / The quadroon girl is sold at the auction-stand, the drunkard nods by the bar-room stove, / The machinist rolls up his sleeves, the policeman travels his beat, the gate-keeper marks who pass, / The young fellow drives the express-wagon,
(I love him, though I do not know him;) / The half-breed straps on his light boots to compete in the race, / The western turkey-shooting draws old and young, some lean on their rifles, some sit on logs, / Out from the crowd steps the marksman, takes his position, levels his piece; / The groups of newly-come immigrants cover the wharf or levee, / As the woolly-pates hoe in the sugar-field, the overseer views them from his saddle, / The bugle calls in the ball-room, the gentlemen run for their partners, the dancers bow to each other, / The youth lies awake in the cedar-roof'd garret and harks to the musical rain, / The Wolverine sets traps on the creek that helps fill the Huron, / The squaw wrapt in her yellow-hemm'd cloth is offering moccasins and bead-bags for sale, / The connoisseur peers along the exhibition-gallery with half-shut eyes bent sideways, / As the deck-hands make fast the steamboat the plank is thrown for the shore-going passengers, / The young sister holds out the skein while the elder sister winds it off in a ball, and stops now and then for the knots, / The one-year wife is recovering and happy having a week ago borne her first child, / The clean-hair'd Yankee girl works with her sewing-machine or in the factory or mill, / The paving-man leans on his two-handed rammer, the reporter's lead flies swiftly over the note-book, the sign-painter is lettering with blue and gold, / The canal boy trots on the tow-path, the book-keeper counts at his desk, the shoemaker waxes his thread, / The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him, / The child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions, / The regatta is spread on the bay, the race is begun, (how the white sails sparkle!)
The drover watching his drove sings out to them that would stray, / The pedler sweats with his pack on his back, (the purchaser higgling about the odd cent;) / The bride unrumples her white dress, the minute-hand of the clock moves slowly,
The opium-eater reclines with rigid head and just-open'd lips, / The prostitute draggles her shawl, her bonnet bobs on her tipsy and pimpled neck, / The crowd laugh at her blackguard oaths, the men jeer and wink to each other, / (Miserable! I do not laugh at your oaths nor jeer you;)
The President holding a cabinet council is surrounded by the great Secretaries, / On the piazza walk three matrons stately and friendly with twined arms, / The crew of the fish-smack pack repeated layers of halibut in the hold, / The Missourian crosses the plains toting his wares and his cattle, / As the fare-collector goes through the train he gives notice by the jingling of loose change, / The floor-men are laying the floor, the tinners are tinning the roof, the masons are calling for mortar, / In single file each shouldering his hod pass onward the laborers; / Seasons pursuing each other the indescribable crowd is gather'd, it is the fourth of Seventh-month, (what salutes of cannon and small arms!) / Seasons pursuing each other the plougher ploughs, the mower mows, and the winter-grain falls in the ground; / Off on the lakes the pike-fisher watches and waits by the hole in the frozen surface, / The stumps stand thick round the clearing, the squatter strikes deep with his axe, / Flatboatmen make fast towards dusk near the cotton-wood or pecan-trees, / Coon-seekers go through the regions of the Red river or through those drain'd by the Tennessee, or through those of the Arkansas, / Torches shine in the dark that hangs on the Chattahooche or Altamahaw,
Patriarchs sit at supper with sons and grandsons and great-grandsons around them, / In walls of adobie, in canvas tents, rest hunters and trappers after their day's sport, / The city sleeps and the country sleeps, / The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time, / The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband sleeps by his wife; / And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them, / And such as it is to be of these more or less I am, / And of these one and all I weave the song of myself.
- Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1891-92), Book XV, “A Song for Occupations”
- Theodore Roethke, “Elegy for Jane”
From the dark side: