BrothersJudd.com
Loading

Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

Listen to a bestseller for $7.49 at audible.com!
Download and Listen to any Audiobook for only $7.49. Save 50% for 3 months on over 100,000 Titles.

This short, but overlong, book, which (God help us) comes from something called the Library of Contemporary Thought, offers pulp fiction writer Walter Mosley the opportunity to share his opinion on how to reform America culture and politics.  Sadly, he proceeds to embarrass himself utterly.

The chain gang of the title is his completely inapt metaphor for modern economic life.  Imagine the disdain with which folks like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Jr.Malcom X, and other genuine heroes of the fight for civil rights for blacks would greet Mosely's bizarre assertion that we are all enslaved in modern America :

    Everywhere I look I see chains, from the planned obsolescence that binds us to an endless line of
    ever more useless machines to captivating television shows about nothing to the value of the dollar
    bills insecurely nestled at the bottom of my pocket.

For hundreds of years, Africans (an estimated 10 million) were captured, chained and sold; taken by force to America in the festering bowels of transport ships; sold again and enslaved by white masters; denied all rights and freedoms; forced to work from cradle to grave; beaten; raped; murdered; their families split apart on a whim.  This entire system is a stinking blot upon the nation's honor, one which whites had a chance to expunge with the bloodshed and destruction of the Civil War, but which was immediately replenished when frightened and embittered Southerners, with the willing acquiescence of their Northern countrymen, imposed a system of apartheid on the newly freed black population.  This time, the outrage of Jim Crow persisted until blacks themselves, in an awe inspiring display of moral and physical courage, used peaceful civil disobedience to shame white America into finally giving them the equal rights they'd long been promised.  How can anyone compare this legacy of genuine and horrifying oppression to such trivial matters as overconsumption of appliances and watching too much Seinfeld ?

Mosley actually has the temerity at one point to say that : "There is an echo of Jim Crow in the HMO..."  One needn't love HMOs to recognize the difference between a mostly successful effort to provide cheap health care, on the one hand, and, on the other,  the systematic and official enforcement of political and economic discrimination against an entire segment of the population based solely on the color of their skin.  The effort to equate the two is so absurd as not to deserve to be taken seriously.

Equally unserious is Mosely's prescription for what should be done to free us from the bondage of capitalism :

    (1)    Take a self-imposed break from electronic media (though for some reason print media is
            allowed)

    (2)    Tell the truth once a day.

    (3)    Make a list of the things you demand from the system.

Please...

By the time he gets to his presidential platform you're unsure whether the whole book isn't just an elaborate hoax.  Here's what he proposes : educate children; take care of the aged; pay doctors' medical malpractice premiums; educate more doctors and nurses; either legalize drugs or stop their importation into the country; have a conference on capital punishment; create rights to a living wage, health care, and an equal share in the Gross Domestic Product; and enter into international agreements to assure the same to all foreign workers too.  As a candidate he would be some kind of weird melding of Bill Clinton, proposing only programs that everyone supports, and Lenin, reintroducing socialism.

What's most surprising, or maybe not, about all of this, is that the radical egalitarianism that he envisions would essentially return him, and the rest of us, to the plantation.  He calls it utopian, but at every step his politics requires that the freedom of some be curtailed in order to benefit others.  In his great autobiography, Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington talks about the terror with which many newly freed blacks faced the prospect of freedom, after the Civil War.  A people who had been completely, though involuntarily, dependent on the largesse of their masters was suddenly thrust out into the world and told to fend for themselves.  How could this not have been frightening ?  And, indeed, freedom, in the words of the old 60s slogan, isn't free.  It requires that each of us take responsibility for ourselves and inevitably some will do better than others.  But it is deeply discouraging that, some 150 years later--after a 20th Century in which his ideas were already tested and found to lead not to Utopia but to the Gulag--at least one of their descendants is no more prepared to leave the plantation than they were.

There's a scene at the end of the movie version of Devil in a Blue Dress that is one of the most ineffably poignant in all of film.  Ezekiel Rawlins (Denzel Washington) is standing in the street in front of his house, just looking around his middle class neighborhood.  The viewer is achingly aware that where the scene depicts nuclear families, homeowners, workers, a people whose great achievement is to have survived all that the white man tried doing to them and to have built this community in the face of those odds, in just a few short years that was all destroyed by the presumably well-intentioned replacement of the ideal of self-reliance by a system of Big Government paternalism.  You can't help but wonder if that community might have continued to thrive if they'd simply been left to themselves, rather than being submitted to the Great Society.  What a high price was paid when freedom, however challenging, was replaced by security.  Apparently, Mosley believes it's worth paying again.  I beg to differ.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (F)

  

Websites:

See also:

Walter Mosley (3 books reviewed)
Economics
Politics
CSPAN Booknotes
Walter Mosley Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Walter Mosley (Time Warner Book Group)
    -EXCERPT: from The Wave by Walter Mosley
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Walter Mosley (NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOKNOTES : Author : Walter Mosley Title : Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History. (C-SPAN)
    -REVIEW: of TWO CITIES By John Edgar Wideman (Walter Mosley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of FUGITIVE NIGHTS by Joseph Wambaugh (Walter Mosley, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of CYBERPUNK Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier. By Katie Hafner and John Markoff (Walter Mosley, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Writers on Writing series, Walter Mosley talks about the first important lesson the writer must learn: "Writing a novel is gathering smoke." (NY Times Book Review)
    -INTERVIEW : Working on the Chain Gang : Walter Mosley examines what a world without consumer capitalism might look like (Online Newshour, PBS)
    -ESSAY : Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress (Marilyn C.  Wesley, African American Review, March 22 2001)
    -PROFILE: Socrates of the streets: Raised in South Central LA, Walter Mosley dropped out of college and worked in computers. After taking a writing course, he penned a series of best-selling mysteries which drew plaudits from Bill Clinton. But his new book, a critique of the US war on terror, finds little favour among America's current political establishment. (Maya Jaggi, September 6, 2003, The Guardian)
    -PROFILE: Black male authors: smart, sexy & successful (Nikitta A. Foston, Dec 2002, Ebony)
   
   
-ARCHIVES: "walter mosley" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of The Wave by Walter Mosley (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review) -REVIEW: of A Red Death by Walter Mosley (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of White Butterfly by Walter Mosley (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Black Betty by Walter Mosley (Barry Gifford, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of RL'S DREAM By Walter Mosley (Gary Giddins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED By Walter Mosley (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of ALWAYS OUTNUMBERED, ALWAYS OUTGUNNED By Walter Mosley (Sven Birkets, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Blue Light by Walter Mosley (Nicholas Blincoe, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Blue Light by Walter Mosley (Mel Watkins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Walkin' the Dog by Walter Mosley (Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Walkin' the Dog by Walter Mosley (Adam Goodheart, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley (Richard Bernstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley (Jesse Berrett, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Futureland by Walter Mosley (NIKKI DILLON, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosley (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Bad Boy Brawly Brown by Walter Mosley (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Fear Itself by Walter Mosley (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley (Duncan Campbell, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Little Scarlet (Tatiana Siegel, USA Today)
    -REVIEW: of Little Scarlet (Valerie Wilson Wesley, Essence)
    -REVIEW: of Little Scarlet (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley (Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, Crisis)
    -REVIEW: of The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley (Robert MacFarlane, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley (Janet Maslin, NY Times)

Book-related and General Links:
    -AUTHOR PAGE : Walter Mosley (Time Warner Bookmark)
    -EXCERPT : First Chapter  of Walkin' the Dog by Walter Mosley
    -REVIEW : of Cyberpunk by Katie Hafner and John Markoff (Walter Mosley, NY Times Book Review)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Workin' on the Chain Gang (Radio Nation)
    -INTERVIEW : Walter Mosley Meets Colson Whitehead (Book)
    -INTERVIEW : On the Chain Gang (Elizabeth Farnsworth, Online News Hour, April 6 , 2000, PBS)
    -INTERVIEW : Lone gunman : Author Walter Mosley shoots no blanks in his first-time reaction to the historic Zapruder  Film. (David Templeton, 11/24/99, Detroit Metro Times)
    -INTERVIEW : Mr Easy gets difficult : President Clinton loves his books - so what's making Walter Mosley, creator of sleuth Easy Rawlins, so angry?  (Michael Shelden, 13 March 1999, booksonline)
    -INTERVIEW :  Mystery Stories Are Novelist's Route To Moral Questions  (D. J. R. BRUCKNER, September 4, 1990, NY Times)
    -INTERVIEW : with Walter Mosley (Book Browse)
    -INTERVIEW : with Walter Mosley (ALDEN MUDGE , Book Page)
    -INTERVIEW : One sentence and then another... (April 11, 1999, The Observer)
    -PROFILE : Gentleman's agreement : His own success notwithstanding, best-selling novelist Walter Mosley charges the publishing industry with "passive racism." (RICHARD REGEN, December 1995, Salon)
    -PROFILE :  AT DINNER WITH: Walter Mosley; Heroes in Black, Not White (SARAH LYALL, June 15, 1994 , NY Times)
    -PROFILE : Walter Mosley Breaks Out of the Box : The author of the Easy Rawlins series proves he's more than a man of mystery (Dan Epsteink, October 1998, Book)
    -PROFILE : Rewriting History  (Liz Belile, 11/04/1999, Houston Press)
    -PROFILE : Writer Mosley wrestles with history, dead and alive (Nate Guidry, November 18, 2000, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
    -Walter Mosley (Stop You're Killing Me)
    -WALTER MOSLEY (1952-) (Guardian Unlimited)
    -Blue Light Mysteries of Walter Mosley
http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/mosley/mosley_walter.html
    -The Logicalthinker's Walter Mosley site
    -ESSAY : Power and Knowledge in Walter Mosley's Devil in a Blue Dress (Marilyn C.  Wesley, African American Review, March 22 2001)
    -Darker Shade of Noir (LA New Times)
    -P.I.s, Dicks, and Mystery Men (Jesse Sublett, Weekly Wire)
    -Readings From the Fringe (Mike Shea, Weekly Wire)
    -BOOKNOTES Teacher Guide : Workin' on the Chain Gang
    -ARCHIVES : "Walter Mosley" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "Walter Mosley" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang ( Dorman T. Shindler, The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang (Jo Ann Heydron, Sojourners)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang (Caroline Heldman, The Associated Press)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang (Sam Ashman, Socialist Worker page)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang (Frank Smitha)
    -REVIEW : of Workin' on the Chain Gang (Marie Cora, Field Notes : The Restraints of Capitalism)
    -REVIEW : of Walkin' the Dog by Walter Mosley (Adam Goodheart, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Walkin' the Dog (Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Walkin' the Dog (Jesse Berrett, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of Gone Fishin' (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of Blue Light (J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, Metro Active)
    -REVIEW : of Always Outnumbered (JOHN B. CLUTTERBUCK, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of RL's Dream (Jon Mitchell, Richmond Review)
    -REVIEW : of Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley (Jesse Berrett, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Fearless Jones by Walter Mosley (David Lazarus, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of Fearless Jones (Valerie MacEwan, Pop Matters)

FILMS :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Walter Mosley (Imdb)
    -INFO : Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) (Imdb)

GENERAL:
    -African American Mystery Page
    -Can You Dig It? The Original Black Eyes (Thrilling Detective)
    -Can You Dig The New Breed? The New Black Eyes (Thrilling Detective)
    -ESSAY: hot chicks, cool dudes and bad muthas : Our definitive guide to blaxploitation by Charles Waring, Crime Time Online)
    -ESSAY : Something To Talk About : The Library of Contemporary Thought hopes to spark a series of national conversations about provocative ideas. Is that a hopeless cause, or what? (Scott Stossel, AUGUST 10, 1998, Boston Phoenix)
    -ESSAY: America's Cultural Quagmire : The next president needs to know that America's  economic prosperity masks a dangerous condition of cultural rot. (Herbert I. London, American Outlook)

Comments:

Which nice homes no longer exist thanks to the Democrats making blacks dependents of the state.

- oj

- Jan-08-2006, 10:38

*******************************************************

"Mr.Mosely is entitled to his opinion as are you. The only part of the review I disagreed with(and the part that inadvertently reveals the race of the reviewer to be white) is your take on the last scene of "Devil in a Blue Dress". "The Great Society propgrams did not create poverty and hopelessnes black communities. To say so reveals an ignorance of history beyond my power to dispel. There are many middle class and working class black enclaves all across the U.S. These were achieved DESPITE the efforts of many racist americans. Easy is simply carrying on the battle that so many of us fight everyday and his look of satisfaction at the end of the movie is his simple happiness in getting to keep his home.

- Neoptolemus

- May-23-2003, 21:58

*******************************************************

"Mr.Mosely is entitled to his opinion as are you. The only part of the review I disagreed with(and the part that inadvertently reveals the race of the reviewer to be white) is your take on the last scene of "Devil in a Blue Dress". "The Great Society propgrams did not create poverty and hopelessnes black communities. To say so reveals an ignorance of history beyond my power to dispel. There are many middle class and working class black enclaves all across the U.S. These were achieved DESPITE the efforts of many racist americans. Easy is simply carrying on the battle that so many of us fight everyday and his look of satisfaction at the end of the movie is his simple happiness in getting to keep his home.

- Neoptolemus

- May-23-2003, 21:58

*******************************************************

"Mr.Mosely is entitled to his opinion as are you. The only part of the review I disagreed with(and the part that inadvertently reveals the race of the reviewer to be white) is your take on the last scene of "Devil in a Blue Dress". "The Great Society propgrams did not create poverty and hopelessnes black communities. To say so reveals an ignorance of history beyond my power to dispel. There are many middle class and working class black enclaves all across the U.S. These were achieved DESPITE the efforts of many racist americans. Easy is simply carrying on the battle that so many of us fight everyday and his look of satisfaction at the end of the movie is his simple happiness in getting to keep his home.

- Neoptolemus

- May-23-2003, 21:58

*******************************************************

you are an ignorant probably upper class white man who wants to protect your family's current status and are t he exact problem with this capitalistic nation

love poor scottish american (no im not "white" there is no such thing)

- poor scottish american

- Nov-17-2002, 20:43

*******************************************************