Mission Statements: Elite Harvard, Middle-Class Chico, and Working-Class Butte College

Schooling Childhood Cover

Education is an inherent paradox. At its most explicit, it assumes that students are trained for a fair, meritocratic, and competitive labor market in which learning is valued without reference to who they are or their social connections. This is why fair markets are “anonymous”….

But schools do not operate in anonymous markets. Schools emphasizing the visible honors of academic achievement, teacher-student relationships, are often the opposite. The tensions between the utility of skills in an anonymous labor market while monopolizing the distribution of visible status honors in the broader community is at the heart of the educational enterprise (see Weber 1920/2010).

As anyone who has ever perused US News and World Reports college rankings issue knows, raw anonymous human capital is not the only thing peddled at elite colleges—so are “connections,” status, and habitus of elites. Ross Douthat [currently an influential New York Times columnist], in fact addressed this tension—that between visible honors and the anonymous labor market in which productivity is the measure—at Harvard University. He concluded that any success he would have in the future was related to connections as much as anything else:

 

I understood the secret of Harvard’s success—which is that it doesn’t end with college, that it still exists out in the wider world, and that all of my adult life, all the people I would know, the jobs I might have, and the worlds I would conquer, would be nothing more than an extension of my four years in Cambridge . . . Harvard had made me to be elite and connected, and successful, to be inside, you might say . . .(Douthat 2005, 250).

 

[For Douthat, being inside included an internship at the National Review, and a trip on William F. Buckley’s boat where they went skinny dipping together, a rite of male bonding]  In other words, education at Harvard is not simply about the creation of skills, brain power, and the wisdom as sorted out in an anonymous meritocracy; it is, as Bourdieu wrote, also about the dominant preserving the dominant. Elites depend on institutions like Harvard to create the habits and symbols with which they can recognize each other. These symbols determine which worlds can be conquered. The Harvard pin is ultimately about inclusion for insiders who share and recognize a style of life, and exclude the rest of us.

And such habits echo downward in the stratification system. Just like the Harvard pin, the symbols, habits, and styles of life of working and middle class lives described in Annette Lareau’s book Unequal Childhoods:

 

Class, Race, and Social Life reproduce social class among middle- and working-class children in Pennsylvania. The difference is that the elite set the standards that reflect the overall shape of the status pyramid. Harvard sets the tone for the game; what is valued at the top reflects downward, shaping the habitus of those lower down and what they think, say, and do.

 

Mission Statements: Elite, Middle Class, and Working Class

Despite Ross Douthat’s bluntness about understanding ”the secret of success” being rooted in Harvard’s role in sorting people, there is nothing about elite exclusivity in the mission statement of Harvard College. Instead qualities like productive cooperation, full participation, and even the liberation of students (or at least Harvard’s students) is emphasized, even as they try to sneak in a statement about “self-reliance.” In fact the entire subject is missing of elites, buried in abstract statements about the centrality of advancement, encouragement, and rejoicing about responsibility:

 

The Mission of Harvard College

Harvard College adheres to the purposes for which the Charter of 1650 was granted: “The advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences; the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences; and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the . . . youth of this country. . . .” In brief: Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities. To these ends, the College encourages students to respect ideas and their free expression, and to rejoice in discovery and in critical thought; to pursue excellence in a spirit of productive cooperation; and to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions. Harvard seeks to to remove restraints on students’ full participation, so that individuals may explore their capabilities and interests and may develop their full intellectual and human potential. Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead. The support the College provides to students is a foundation upon which self-reliance and habits of lifelong learning are built: Harvard expects that the scholarship and collegiality it fosters in its students will lead them in their later lives to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society. (http://www. harvard.edu/siteguide/faqs/faq110.php)

 

Harvard’s latent mission is very clearly an elite one, untethered to the pragmatic utilitarian goals of a more anonymous marketplace as, say, the community college system, where the message is about “skills,” and not “responsibility.”

 

Butte College provides quality education, services, and workforce training to students who aspire to become productive members of a diverse, sustainable, and global society. We prepare our students for life-long learning through the mastery of basic skills, the achievement of degrees and certifications, and the pursuit of career and transfer pathways.

 

Or at the middle class Chico State where I teach, just down the road from working class Butte College, where a middle ground is sought in which graduates will both assume responsibility and also be “useful”:

 

California State University, Chico is a comprehensive university principally serving Northern California, our state and nation through excellence in instruction, research, creative activity, and public service. The University is committed to assist students in their search for knowledge and understanding and to prepare them with the attitudes, skills, and habits of lifelong learning in order to assume responsibility in a democratic community and to be useful members of a global society. (emphasis added)

 

…[But] [t]he missions of Butte College and Chico State do not exist in a vacuum, because middle-class values are profoundly influenced by the actions, wants, and needs of those above them and even those at social distant Harvard. Robert Frank’s book Falling Behind (2007) is among the most articulate in describing the very nature of economic inequality and the ideological interrelationships that develop in a fashion that, in Bourdieu’s words, “are identical to the interests of the dominant.” In other words the values of Chico State satisfy the needs of Harvard for midlevel managers who will be “useful members of a global society.” And finally down to the graduates of Butte College who can do the tasks that require “mastery of basic skills” and are needed by those above them in the system of hierarchical dominance….

Source; Tony Waters, Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child.  Palsgrave Books 2012.  Pages 112-115.

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Gallows Tale V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike in 1924-1926?

 

Gallows File I The Extra “Whack”

Gallows File II Escape?

Gallows File III Are We Hanging the Right Man?

Gallows File IV The Advantages of Executing Locally!

Gallows File V: Did Tanganyika’s Hangmen Go on Strike?

 

It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.

This is my last of the Gallows Tales of Tanganyika Territory, at least for a while. And as with most endings, there is a surprise. Which is that, after enthusiastically designing, gallows with humane trap doors, calculating the savings from having hangings done locally rather than across Lake Victoria, worrying about hanging the wrong man, and speculating that a man marched five weeks to the gallows might be a flight risk, the bureaucrats of the Office of the Commissioner of Police and Prisons missed one thing that could break down the whole system: The lack of hangmen. You see, after an enthusiastic push to construct gallows (stationery and mobile), and proceed post-haste with executions, they soon found out that the job of hangman was objectionable—and that the fees they paid were inadequate to keep the trap doors swinging downwards.

In the memo below from 1926, the Commissioner of Police and Prisons laments this condition, which according to some documents was due to an insistence that only a European operate the trap door (Africans were used to truss and bind the prisoner as well as position him on the trap door—but the final flip of the trap door was the responsibility of a European). But no Europeans could apparently be found to do this, at least for a short time. So thus after the enthusiastic kick off of hangings in Bukoba in 1923, by 1924 a de facto moratorium was declared due to the lack of willing hangmen. The same happened in British Kenya, according to the memo.

This was not of course the complete end to hanging in British East Africa (i.e. Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika). Indeed, a whole book, The History of the Hanged, has been written about how enthusiastically the British executed purported Mau Mau rebels in the 1950s. But at least in this small corner of East Africa, apparently the strike of the hangmen led to at least a temporary moratorium in 1924-1926. The memo is below. Tony Waters.

 

OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND PRISONS,

DAR ES SALAAM 11TH January 1926

 

 

Telegrams: Crime                                                      Registered No. H.Q. 27/71

Telephone: No. 73

 

The Hon’ble

 

The Chief Secretary to the Government,

Dar-es-Salaam.

 

Execution Gallows

 

With reference to your 3093/56 dated 8/1/26, gallows have been erected at Morogoro, Lindi, Tanga, Mwanza, Bukoba, Songea and Tukuyu.

 

  1. The following list shows the districts which they serve:-

 

Execution Gaol Districts Served
Morogoro Daressalaam, Bagamolyo, Kilwa, Utete, Morogoro, Kilosa, Dodoma, Iringa,
Tabora Mahenge and Kigoma ?Ufipa
Lindi Lindi
Tanga Tanga
Mwanza Mwanza
Bukoba Bukoba
Songea Songea
Tukuyu Tukuyu

 

  1. There should of course, be a gallows at Dar-es-Salaam, but with the present construction of the gaol it is impossible as there is no space available, and the situation in the middle of the commercial and partly European residential area makes such a course undesirable.

 

  1. I think that perhaps a permanent gallows might be erected at Tabora to serve Tabora and Kigoma and Ufipa districts; otherwise, so far as the stations off the line are concerned at which there are no gallows, the number of executions is negligible. It would be possible, also, to keep a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam for transport, as required, to Bagamoyo, Utete, or Kilwa, but in other cases I do not think the number o executions, elsewhere, makes such a course necessary.

 

  1. It must be remembered that quite apart from the question of gallows, the difficulty of persons to carry out the executions is exceedingly acute. A great number of people have the greatest abhorrence of the job, and no compulsion can be used where there is any conscientious objection. In Kenya, the Prison staff decline altogether to undertake the work and they have the greatest difficult in finding a hangman. It has always been surprising to me that so many of our staff have undertaken the work without complaint, as I now the majority dislike it. At Bukoba it has been found impossible to carry out the executions on the gallows there for the last two years, because the Prison officials who have happened to be stationed there have had strong scruples against acting as executioner.

 

  1. In conclusion, I consider the present unsatisfactory position cold be ameliorated by erecting another gallows at Tabora; (this will entail erecting a new building completely) and by providing a portable gallows at Dar-es-Salaam

 

 

 

signed (illegible)
Commissioner

Tanganyika Polic

Ethnography, Stigma, and Protecting a Potentially Spoiled Identity

Originally published here at e.com in April 2007. It’s one of my favorites and still makes me laugh out loud, I hope you enjoy it too. -Julie

This blog is about why ethnographer Erving Goffman’s observation of stigma are important not just to ex-cons, but also to professors like me on foreign exchange programs. Goffman, as many sociologists and anthropologists know, observed the maneuvers of the marginalized and stigmatized in society, and then wrote about how they thought about their disability. He saw that the marginalized were constantly managed their spoiled social identities because they feared public exposure of their disability. To make his point he wrote about ex-cons, ex-mental patients, prostitutes and others. Such stigmatized people, he wrote, are acutely conscious that at any moment any pretense they maintain of being a “normal person” can be unceremoniously disclosed. Mental patients, ex-cons, and prostitutes always wonder if a passing person knows them from their “other” life, simply recognizes the habits and tics they carry with them from that life. What this creates is a “hyper-vigilance” on the part of the stigmatized as they move through their daily routines. They watch everything, and are always wary. To control the stress, the stigmatized avoid situations where they are easily exposed—they fear being the fool, humiliated, or even attacked. Their greatest desire is to be socially invisible, even as they move through the necessary routines of daily life.

In fact, I was mulling over Goffman’s wisdom when walking to the bus stop on my way home two weeks ago. My mind though switched off when I realized that once again, as it is with many new American residents of Germany, I needed to manage my identity with respect to my highly imperfect, ungrammatical, and accented German. I can of course manage this by remaining mute in many social situations. This is surprisingly easy in places like supermarket checkout lines where the numbers on the cash register, hand gestures, and smiles help me pass without disclosing my stigmatized status. But finding the right bus home creates higher risks of disclosure than the supermarket checkout line.

Because I have yet to master bus schedules, I arrived thirty minutes early at my stop that day. Not wanting to stay on my feet, I spied an almost empty bench—only one fellow there to ask “permission” to share. I did this with hand motions, eye contact, a nod, the universal “ok,” and then scrunched into the furthest corner possible from my fellow bench warmer. Terrified at the thought that my bench mate would initiate a conversation, I took the only English language book in my backpack out (Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, no less) and buried my nose into it. This was effective, and the man sharing my bench ignored me. But five minutes later we were approached by an older man who politely asked if the spot between us was “free.” I nodded, smiled, motioned, and grunted, protected once again from having to say anything. But the situation was now more hazardous. There were now three of us on the bench sitting uncomfortably close, and the potential for being unmasked as a linguistic incompetent had uncomfortably increased.

Anyway, I soon decided I wasn’t that tired anyway, and got up and wandered back to the bus stop, even though I was still 15 minutes early. There I leaned against a post, and again tried to bury my nose back in my book. Soon though, I was distracted by what happened next at the bus bench. A woman with dogs on leashes came up. One of the dogs started to sniff at the older man’s bag. There was a brief exchange, and then the woman with the dogs went on. The older man then stood up, picked up his bag, and walked over to where I was standing and then, horror of horrors, he began talking to me. I more or less understood what he said, but could only muster the barest of responses:

Man: Did you see those dogs? They sniffed through my bags!
Me: Grunt.
Man: People should control their dogs, shouldn’t they!
Me: Grunt.
Man: Don’t you think it is an invasion of privacy that dogs will sniff through my bags?
Me: Certainly.

Thankfully, the bus then arrived, resulting in a change of subject. We got on the bus, and then further horrors, he sat near me! What would I do? Too nervous for Max Weber, my hyper-vigilance sensors went up, and I studiously avoided his occasionally friendly gaze, fearing that my incompetence could be further revealed. In this context, I bolted for the door when five minutes later we arrived at the place where I needed to transfer buses. I rushed off the bus, eager to re-embrace the anonymity that would be available on the next bus. But then things became worse. The man was following me onto the bus—he was going in the same direction I was!

With relief, I saw him settled with his bag into a seat far from mine. But still my anxiety did not dissipate until I reached my final stop ten minutes later. Off I stepped, and finally regained my anonymity as just another normal person, anonymous and obscure on a busy German street.

Such hyper-vigilance is exhausting, but also routine when you are a discreditable minority of any kind. Goffman’s mental patients, ex cons, prostitutes, and others were always aware that someone from their former life will strip away the sense of normalcy they desired . But the same principles applies to foreigners in all places, linguistic minorities, ethnic minorities, racial minorities and others who fear a part of their identity will unceremoniously at any time subject them to ridicule, or a loss of honor.

Like the ex-con and mental patients, I seek the comfort of blending and belonging while here in Germany, something I take for granted at Chico State. The sad thing for me was that as a result, I passed up language learning opportunities on my bus ride. In retrospect, I know that I should have bravely plowed ahead, and attempted a conversation with both my fellow bench warmers. After all, intellectually I know that Germans are almost always unfailingly kind to foreigners attempting to learn their language. I know too that it is educationally correct to have a conversation with the two men at the bench, rather than avoiding them. It would also have been enriching to engage the man the one who “followed” me on my two bus rides in small talk about the weather, dogs, his bag, or anything else. I didn’t of course because I value the anonymity of being normal more. As a result, I hid my stigma behind props like Max Weber’s book, and avoid the random encounters of social life which in English, I often delight in.

Both sociologists and anthropologists glamorize the intellectual stimulation of the cross-cultural experience I am having. I still believe it is glamorous, and I will continue to encourage students to go abroad and study languages. But there is another value to study abroad experiences, particularly for students who are from the default normative category of their own country. At Chico State, this includes me, as well as the many middle class suburban white students in my undergraduate classes. But studying abroad is also about becoming an outsider who will evaluate every potential social encounter for its capacity to strip away the comfortable anonymity we gain when we hang with people like us. My chance to be an exchange scholar in Germany is of course partly glamorous. But my story is also the one that Goffman wrote about. I am sure that in one year, I will speak better German, and the memories of my constant hyper-vigilance dissipate. But in the meantime, I look forward to the mental exhaustion of both language learning, and stigma management.

For what it is worth, I sleep more here in Germany despite the pleasant Fall weather. Hyper-vigilance is mentally exhausting!

Reference

Goffman, Erving. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity.

Why I Chose Not to Get a PhD

This was originally published here on ethnography.com in April, 2012. Why did you choose to get a PhD (or not)?

I got to spend some time with a friend recently that decided some time ago to restart her PhD work.  She is already ABD, but is starting the dissertation over from scratch.  My question was “Why?” She is a well-respected professional, and within the her field a PhD will likely be of limited benefit professionally compared to the mountain of work ahead of her, not to mention the expense involved.

In the course of the conversation I was reflecting on my own choice to not get a PhD and thinking that it might provide food for thought for a larger audience. Not to mention the pitfalls of getting to attached to getting one.

When I started my graduate work in anthropology, I had the same expectations as most people: I thought I would wind up teaching at a university or maybe in some kind of think tank. Rather than going directly into a PhD program (I already had a B.A and MS.Ed in other areas), I chose what was then a terminal master’s program at the University of South Carolina. I thought at the time, doing a MA first would enable me to get into a better PhD program, in reality I don’t think it makes a difference either way. Future graduate students should also take note USC now has a full-fledged PhD program that started several years after I finished my M.A.  Well, as time went by, my interests and goals evolved.  Not an unexpected thing to happen as you spend a couple of years learning about the in’s and out’s of a discipline. Looking back, I believe that one of the most significant course changes was when I decided that I was more interested in applied work rather than working in academia. I won’t mince words, once it got around the department that I was not planning on pursuing an academic path, it felt like I was pretty much dropped like a hot rock as far as most of the professors were concerned.  One professor [to remain nameless] didn’t mince words either, she told me flatly that any student that was not planning on a professional academic career as an anthropologist should not expect any interest on the part of the instructors. My thesis advisers promptly dropped any interest in my thesis work as well, and it shows. Before you think it was awful, I am talking about significant small moments in time that occurred during my grad work, not the entire school experience. I got an excellent education, I had some great instructors and I would go back to South Carolina again.  At that time, quite simply, applied anthropology as looked down on as well as only getting an MA. Things have become considerably more enlightened in the discipline overall since then.

Compounding the issue of being primarily interested in applied work, my research interests in two divergent areas were not seen as worthy of anthropology: One was the area of intentional violence. My graduate thesis was based on intensive research with a prison population, and that evolved into interest in two areas: terrorism on the one hand and serial homicide on that other. Both of which I was curious to see if they could be studied almost as a cultural language or the semiology of the acts. The second was in a totally different area; due to my long-standing technology interests (I had always put myself through school as a computer jock) I was becoming much more interested in the intersection of culture and technology. It turns out that the latter interest would serve me very well later in ways I never imagined.

But given all that, I STILL wanted that PhD.  Why?Well, as it has and had for so many others it became for me the difference between success and failure.  I was $150,000 in debt and looking at more, I had years of education behind me and more to go.  To me, getting those three little letters was the difference between being a legitimate scholarly person and a nobody.  I got so nutty about it that I wouldn’t even date someone that was not getting some advanced degree (That stupid arrogance likely cost me some excellent relationships.). A PhD was a ticket too studying the topics I wanted, a life of scholarship and (the applied part) once I got the ticket, I would be able to pursue applied endeavors at will.  Yes, I was indeed blind to how the life of a university professor really looks.

So what happened? Shatteringly, but in reality lucky for me in the long run, I did not get into my first two choices for a PhD program, but was accepted to the applied PhD program at the University of South Florida. Given my interests were then more fringe topics, there was no one there that was doing work even remotely related and I was concerned I would be suffering from a real lack of mentor-ship.  Also, the connections you make in your PhD program can be very important when job hunting, having dissertation advisers that can make introductions later was a concern.

Then, the proverbial last straws. I went to a AAA meeting and on the job board were four or five lonely looking position announcements for very low paying positions (as they usually are), seeking scholars of a few countries in Africa. The next factor was watching from a distance as the USC anthropology department was fielding applications for a new position. There were not dozens of applications – there were hundreds, and from people with long publishing histories, all from the top tier programs at the time.

I realized quickly after that I could not justify continuing on with more graduate school. The math was fairly stark: Endure additional crushing debt load, to take that fairly small chance that I might get the job I want, at a salary that would barely cover my debt, rent and food, in an environment that I really didn’t like all that much.

Understand, I was never much for the publish or perish game, or the nasty politics that can emerge in academic departments, so I was ill suited to the profession anyway.  But that is not the reality I was thinking about at the time. I remember the moment I knew I was going to quit pursuing the quest for a PhD.  It was devastating.  I called up a friend of mine that had made the same choice after going ABD and bawled my eyes out.  “It has all been a complete waste,” I told her, “All the years, all the work, all the money has all been flushed down a toilet and I have nothing to show for it.” I don’t remember what she said to be honest.  I am sure it was supportive and reassuring and none of what I was thinking was true.

I can tell you this much: all of the thoughts I had about not getting my PhD equaling failure were and are utter bullshit. Why do I say that? Here is what happened once my head cleared, I got the emotional cobwebs out and started to assess what I wanted to do.

I wanted to keep studying culture, I wanted to be involved in technology and I wanted to get my hands dirty using anthropology to actually do something. First I got a job working full-time at the university as a computer jock, and I started by regaining my life: I got involved in the local old-time and Irish music scene in the area, I made friends that had nothing to do with anthropology, I worked with a friend leading canoe trips on the local river and started rock climbing and generally having a pretty happy life.

And I also did research, lots of research into the life I wanted. I scanned journals and periodicals, professional trade journals looking for any connections of people working in anthropology or social science and technical fields.  Design Anthropology was in its infancy then, and I was lucky enough to find an article about some anthropologists combining anthropology and technology skills to help companies develop new products. Then by coincidence, another graduate student appeared in my office and showed me an article about the very same company and said “I think I found your job.” She was right of course, after that it was just about the job hunt (another long post). Was all my education and training a waste? Hardly. I was a trained anthropologist, with extensive technical expertise, had years of experience watching how people interact with technology, and had a couple of years’ experience in a consulting environment from my previous graduate degree. Those were all qualifications people were looking for. Once I cracked the code of what I wanted to do, and where it was valued, I was fielding multiple offers precisely due to all the effort I initially thought I had wasted by not getting the PhD.

For me, it was far and away the best choice then and is now. I have had a great career, multiple actually, and for all of them that MA in anthropology has been a major factor in my getting those positions. At this point, I really don’t have a personal or professional need for a PhD, and a vanity PhD seems like a waste of everyone’s time on already strained university budgets.

So, that’s why I didn’t get a PhD.

With or Without Scorn or Partiality? Why Politicians and Bureaucrats Don’t Get Along

There is always a tension between our political leaders, and the bureaucrats who implement the political policies. Civil servants are habituated to do a task “without scorn or partiality.” It does not matter who they punish, reward, or the task they undertake. They are to do it without passion, and without scorn or partiality.

But politicians are different: Their job is to seek control over the levers of power, by generating a passion in the people who will follow them. For this reason, being a politician involves seeking followers, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies. In short, where the civil servant is to act without scorn or partiality “sine ira et studio,” while the politician is to act “ira et studium,” that is with scorn and partiality.

Here is how we translated Max Weber’s description of this paradox, which he writes about in his classic essay “Politics as Vocation.”

 

   The Beamte [civil servant] should preside over his Amt [office] “ sine ira et studio ,” that is “without scorn or partiality.”

In fact, the Beamte should in no case do the very thing that defines a politician, and The Leader [Führer ] and his followers: fighting.

Because partisanship, battle, and passion— ira et studium —is the essence of a politician.

And above all, such scorn and passion are the basic tools of Leaders [Führer]. (Weber and Rationalism, p. 159).

No wonder every politician campaigns for office passionately promising to reform the bureaucracy. No wonder they never quite do it.

Gallows Tale IV: The Hanging File of Tanganyika, the Financial and Psychological Advantage of Executing Locally!

Bukoba and Mwanza are on the shore of Lake Victoria—and Mwanza was town nearest to the British colonial office and at the time probably the larger of the two cities. As a result in 1922, the police in Bukoba were required to hang the condemned prisoners in Mwanza, which involved having three prison officers transport the prisoner to his execution by the ferries that operated between the cities. In other words, four third class tickets from Bukoba to Mwanza, and three tickets back to Bukoba.

In such a context, the Bukoba decided it needed its own gallows. As described in the memos below, an argument was made to the Commissioner of Police and Prisons in Dar Es Salaam, that erecting a gallows would pay for itself in a year, if the rate of executions was four per year as it had been in 1922. Doing their own executions in Bukoba would have, as a “responsible native” explained to the British District Officer in Bukoba, important benefits for security. This would be because “as the news of public execution by hanging or shooting has an extraordinary psychological effect on the native from end to end of the district.”

By the end of 1923, the gallows were erected, and Bukoba was proudly able to boast that on 7 November, 1923, five prisoners were hanged locally.

 

Extract from the monthly report for the month of April 1922

 

  1. 3 Crime

 

“ c. A responsible native, discussing the possible effect on public security arising from the transfer to Mwanza of all death sentences for execution, expressed his disagreement with the procedure, stating as his opinion that execution should be carried out not only locally but also in public, as the news of public execution by hanging or shooting has an extraordinary psychological effect on the native from end to end of the district. Similar opinions have been expressed to me at other times both in this district and elsewhere. It is hoped to produce an adequate effect by means of notices posted in all Courthouses, market and beer shops, throughout the district announcing the execution of a sentence of death on any local criminal.”

 

(sd) D. L. Baines

Senior Commissioner

Bukoba

7-26-22

 

 

Cost of Escorts and Fares.

Bukoba Executions at Mwanza

 

Pay of Escorts:-

1 Corporal      15 days…Shs. 23/-

3 Constables   15   “     …57/-Shs. 80

 

Fares

4     3rd class Return        47/68

1     “       “     Single             5/96

 

Four Executions for one year would cost Shs. 534/56

 

 

 

 

OFFICE OF THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND PRISONS

                        DAR ES SALAAM 2nd August, 1922

Telegrams: Crime

 

Telephone: 73

 

The Hon’ble

 

The Chief Secretary to the Government,

Dar-es-Salaam

 

Re: Gallows at Bukoba.

 

I have the honour to inform you that the Superintendent of Police, Mwanza has made urgent representations for the erection of gallows at Bukoba. When the question was first raised, I ascertained that last year there were only 4 executions from Bukoba which were carried out at Mwanza, and I did not think that this number justified a separate gallows at Bukoba.

 

  1. The Superintendent of Police, Mwanza has, however, been discussing this question further with the Senior Commissioner, who urges on Political grounds that executions should be carried out locally. In support thereof, I enclose an extract which has been forwarded to me from his monthly report for April 1922. The Superintendent of Police states that he will personally supervise the erection of these gallows which are supplied by the Public Works Department would be approximately 400/-.

 

  1. Further, he submits a statement showing that the cost of the escort and the fares between Bukoba and Mwanza in connection with the condemned man works out at Sh. 133/64 for 4 executions during the year quite apart from the question of delay in carrying out executions. I think in these circumstances, the Superintendent of Police has made out a good case in support of his request, and accordingly I recommend that sanction should be given for the erection of the gallows at Bukoba.

 

Signature illegible

Commissioner

Tanganyika Police and Prisons

 

 

From THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND PRISONS

 

DAR ES SLAAAM, TANGANYIKA TERRITORY

 

Ref. No. H. Q. 55/D/23/16

 

To: The Hon’ble

 

The Chief Secretary to the Government, Dar-es-Salaam

 

Date 18th December, 1923

 

Execution by Hanging-Bukoba

           I have the honour to inform you that the gallows erected at Bukoba are complete, and that execution by hanging can now be carried out in that prison.

  1. Five such executions were so carried out at Bukoba on 7.11.1923.

But a problem will emerge—the best-laid plans of the British in Bukoba to undertake executions will be undermined, and the practice in Bukoba, at least, by 1924 or 1925 had ceased. More on the reason why next week, in the final extract (for now) from Gallows File V, The Hanging File of Tanganyika.

Previous Postings in this series

Gallows File I

Gallows File II

Gallows File III

 

 

Bruce Wayne and George Orwell Philosophize, or “Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.”

     Colonial Burma has a strange hold on the colonial British imagination—it is a remote and exotic place where the British were not very successful in holding sway. And the place it emerges occasionally is in the inability of the west to “understand” the east. Alfred Pennypacker, Bruce Wayne’s butler in the film Batman Returns (2008) had some experience in colonial Burma which is sheds some light on how the British might have though about their imperial adventure there. Indeed, he is even able to relate it to he problem of The Joker, a maniacal character who savaged Wayne’s own Gotham City.

Bruce Wayne: “I knew the mob wouldn’t go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.”

Alfred Pennyworth: “You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them. You hammered them to the point of desperation. And, in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”

Bruce Wayne: “Criminals aren’t complicated, Alfred. Just have to figure out what he’s after.”

Alfred Pennyworth: “With respect, Master Wayne, perhaps this is a man that you don’t fully understand, either. A long time ago, I was in Burma. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders by bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. So we went looking for the stones. But, in six months, we never met anybody who traded with him. One day, I saw a child playing with a ruby the size of a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.”

Bruce Wayne: “So why steal them?”

Alfred Pennyworth: “Well, because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn. …”

Bruce Wayne: “The bandit, in the forest in Burma, did you catch him?”

Alfred Pennyworth: “Yes.”

Bruce Wayne: “How?”

Alfred Pennyworth: “We burned the forest down.”

I picked this exchange out of a Thomas Friedman column, in which he advocates intervention in Arab states which are “decent,” but oddly concludes that outsiders can indeed use their military power to intervene in such circumstances. This is an odd conclusion, because what Alfred is saying, I think, is that the danger of massive over-reaction (burning the forest down), can be a disproportionate response to an evil, which only makes the evil worse.

Had Alfred been on his toes though, he might have gone on to recommend the short story of his colleague in the Burman colonial service, Eric Blair a.k.a. George Orwell, to Bruce Wayne and Friedman. “Shooting an Elephant” is part of Orwell’s memoir of colonial Burma, where he was once a colonial officer developing a skepticism about the imperial project. A domesticated elephant had come into its period of “must,” and began to wreak havoc in the town, killing a low-status man. But when he arrives, the elephant’s period of must had passed, and it was placidly browsing, as elephants will do. Orwell (or his character) must make a decision. Does he shoot the peaceful elephant as the crowd expects, or does he let it browse—since it is no longer dangerous to anyone.

As the representative of British colonial power, Orwell, is widely despised by the crowd—he recalls:

I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter.

But the crowd wants blood revenge taken on the poor elephant. And besides if it is killed, they can take the meat.

So if Orwell shoots the elephant, he will satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd, but continue to be despised for killing the valuable property of a local mahout. If he lets the elephant go, the crowd will think him a coward, and still despise him. So the choice of the young Orwell is, do I shoot and be hated, or do I not shoot and be hated? By shooting the elephant, he is symbolically burning down the forest and therefore making a fool of himself. By not shooting the elephant, he is being a wimp, or in his word, a fool.  Some choice.

So what does he do and why?  No spoiler alert, you will have to read the brief original essay yourself to find out.  I will note though that Orwell himself noted that there was a division of opinion about what to do among the Europeans:

Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said [it was right to shoot the elephant], the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie.

But isn’t this the same choice that Alfred Pennypacker presented to The Dark Knight? Both burning down the forest and shooting the elephant may satisfy immediate short-term needs, but are they really in the longer-term interest of anyone?