A Lesson from Devon Avenue


While little appreciated and little studied, there is a gigantic difference between forced associations and free associations. But if you pay attention to the issue, you’ll find that the very act of forcing people together carries a poison in itself. And that poison inevitably bears bad fruit, whether in ethnic hatred, the formation of street gangs, or simply the evils of bullying. Whenever it is that forced associations are examined scientifically, they will be condemned as anti-human.

Free associations, on the other hand, have a magic to them. Leave people alone to do as they wish, in unforced conditions, and even ancient hatreds drain away. This has happened – quietly – in a hundred places and in a hundred times. Wherever free commerce (aka, free human interaction) isn’t forcibly opposed, strangers learn how to get along.

In ancient times, it happened in Rome and Alexandria and Athens and Corinth. In the Middle Ages, it happened in Paris and Hamburg and Lubek and Antwerp. And it will happen again, whenever and whenever people are free to trade and interact as they wish.

And this is what happened on one of the commercial streets of my youth, Devon Avenue. (Devon, by the way, was and still is pronounced da-VON, however incorrectly.)

Where Ancient Hatreds Faded

I have been told by those older than me that Devon was once a very German street. Then the Jews moved in as most of the Germans moved away. The Greeks came too, though mostly just to the south. Koreans as well, but a little to the southwest. And then, directly to Devon, came the Russians and Georgians and Croatians. And then came the Indians and the Pakistanis.

All of this happened in my lifetime, on a mile-or-so stretch of Devon Avenue. And here’s the thing: absolutely no one was ever forced to move into the hundreds of apartment buildings just off Devon Avenue, and no one was ever forced to rent a storefront there.

As a result, these people learned to get along.

The Russians who hated the Croatians (or Jews or whomever) didn’t have to live there or open a store there; they could choose another neighborhood or another commercial street.

None of the Pakistanis and Indians had to go there. They could have avoided the place altogether, and no doubt many have. And it’s important to remember that in the late 1940s, these two groups (Muslims and Hindus) hated each other so badly that a few million people – and overwhelmingly farmers and townspeople – were killed in thousands of small conflicts.

But given some space – one by one and two by two – people who were raised with anger and hate found ways to let it slip away. And now, you can see this on Devon Avenue:

A store catering to both Indians and Pakistanis:


A storefront mosque next to a Jewish bakery:


A Muslim market next to a Georgian bakery:


And the most promising thing I saw recently on Devon, a poster for a joint Hindu-Muslim concert, and at a major venue:


The Lesson

The lesson from Devon Avenue is this:

People tend to come together naturally, if you leave them alone long enough.

I’ll close with a short passage from my book, Entropy & Divinity:

When women and men are not forced together and are not forced to follow the will of others, they soon seek out their fellows and seek to cooperate. When left alone – in their natural, individual state – they begin to use their creative capacities and to cooperate with others.

Think of people scattered in a wild area: they naturally begin to observe the real world, to interact with it, to shape it, and they seek to work together.

Devon Avenue was a place where foreign peoples were not forced to come together. And yet – over time – that is exactly what they did.

Human beings generally get along, once you remove them from collectives and forced groupings. It seems otherwise only when we ignore the good and focus only on the bad.

Paul Rosenberg

The War Drums Are Beating

war in syriaLast year, lots of powerful groups tried to get a war going in Syria. It seemed to me that the necessary ground work hadn’t been done and that they might not be able to pull it off. Thankfully, that’s how it happened.

And by “necessary ground work,” I’m not referring to the military operators the US government had in Syria for a year or two prior; I’m talking about making the American populace eager for a new war. That’s a crucial and often ignored factor.

What has been catching my eye the past week or so is a new series of efforts to stir up war fever in the US, and I’d like to give them some coverage. Since the mainstream ‘news’ in the US has become almost completely trivialized and neutered, I think it’s important for the rest of us to fill the gap as best we can.

First Points

Before I get to what I see as the new war propaganda, I want to point out what all the ‘respectable’ voices are ignoring:

This leaked recording (embedded in video) is from February 6 – before the deposing of the Ukrainian boss that started the current mess. In it, you’ll hear US State Department officials deciding who should be the new boss of the country, once they’ve had their way. This is clear, uncontested proof that it was the State Department who got things going in the Ukraine. Whatever we think of Putin, it must be acknowledged that these guys stirred it up.

This leaked recording (embedded in video) features an Estonian foreign minister talking to an EU official. In it, he says that the snipers who were said to be killing on Putin’s orders were actually working for the people the US was putting into power.

This video contains conversations of high Turkish officials planning a fake attack to start a war with Syria.

Leaked documents have shown that the Saudis are pushing very hard for a war in Syria (intended, presumably, to weaken Iran). They go so far as to tell Putin that they control terrorist groups, including those who could attack in both Russia and in Syria. (Think about that!) Here’s a direct quote from what they said to Putin:

The Chechen groups that threaten the security of the [Olympic] games are controlled by us, and they will not move in the Syrian territory’s direction without coordinating with us.

Any coverage of Ukraine or Syria that ignores these facts disgraces itself.

The New Message

The new message I’ve been seeing lately is this:

Obama is screwing up and making us look like wimps! We need to be powerful, not wimps!

What that actually means is, “We should confront Putin and show him who’s tough! We’re still the biggest badass!” That kind of emotion, of course, leads toward war.

Along with this emotionalism travels a peculiar fear found in empires: If we don’t rule the world, everything will break down into death and darkness. The Brits believed this not too long ago, as did many others, going back to the Romans and beyond.

Here are a few passages from mainstream media that have caught my eye:

“The collapse of the Pax Americana under Obama has freed up Russia and China to begin their campaigns of territorial expansionism.”

“Instead of a post-American world ushering in a stable multilateral order, it will revert back to a chaotic Lord of the Flies situation.”

“Russia has taken over Crimea and threatens further aggression. Now is the time to act…”

“Putin has given speeches almost identical to Hitler’s 1938 Berlin address.”

“Fear That Obama Will Let Russia Seize Control Of Internet.”

To this I’ll add one more thing: Millions of people currently believe that Russian troops have invaded the Crimea, which is completely false.

Honestly, I’m not sure that this will work. However hungry the military-industrial complex may be, Joe and Jane Average are just not eager for another war. And I think Putin’s smart enough to withhold any Pearl Harbor-like attacks.

Even a big terrorist attack might only prove that the intel state has failed again. I’m not sure that people can maintain an endless blind faith in Jack Bauer; at some point, they will say, “That was only a TV show.”

That said…

That said, “Washington Worship TV” continues and they’re still working toward war.

Obama just paid a call on the Saudis, who remain desperate for their war in Syria. They’re so desperate, in fact, that they’re working with the Israelis on it. (War makes for strange bedfellows.)

And on his way to Arabia, Obama called on the Pope. What these meetings were really about, who knows.

Backroom deals between intel agencies take place all the time. No one’s going to admit what the conversations are about, but one can certainly imagine that a deal was underway to give Putin the Crimea in return for the war in Syria that NATO and its friends wanted.

The leaks mentioned above (especially the Turkish leak) may have delayed matters, but since it has never appeared on “the news,” most people have never heard about it. Perhaps the push for war in Syria will continue.

But, it may be that NATO and their allies have given up on their war in Syria and are trying to punish Putin for standing in their way. (It’s likely that Russia was the source of those leaks.) That would involve bloodshed in the Ukraine… as if the Ukrainians haven’t suffered enough in the past eighty years.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that several groups are very eager for a new war. Toward that end, they’re working to stir up emotions. Rationally convincing people to kill and be killed, of course, isn’t terribly effective.

What we have to do now is to keep our heads and be a voice of reason for our friends and neighbors, even if they don’t like it.

War is not salvation; it’s hell.

Paul Rosenberg