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In Memoriam

Harper’s Magazine is saddened by the loss of Nelson W. Aldrich Jr., who served as an editor at the magazine from 1971 to 1975. Best known as the author of Old Money: The Mythology of Wealth in America, Aldrich contributed several pieces to Harper’s Magazine over the years, including the pseudonymously written “A Drunkard’s Progress,” a chronicle of his experiences in Alcoholics Anonymous. He will be deeply missed.

 

 

Higher-Border Thinking

Reading James Pogue’s report, I was pleased that, rather than resort to the sanctimony expressed in press coverage at the time, he spent time with the secessionistsin an effort to understand their grievances [“Notes on the State of Jefferson,” Letter from Shasta County, April]. I wonder whether the alarmism of liberal outsiders, if not entirely misguided, might ultimately signify admiration for the willingness of right-wing insurgents to question fundamental structures in ways that the left has forgotten how to do.

County-level proposals to form a new state are met with reflexive pearl-clutching. But what is so sacred about California’s northern border or Oregon’s eastern border? Many state lines are the inheritance of seventeenth-century royal decrees, eighteenth-century surveys, or nineteenth-century railroads. Efforts to redress grievances as old as those in Shasta County should be considered on their merits, not dismissed out of hand. In fact, a devolutionary federalism liberated from such arbitrary bequests might be just the thing to resolve our national dysfunction.

Richard Kreitner
Beacon, N.Y.

 

Despite their attempts to fashion themselves as patriotic rural folk, Pogue’s subjects may have more in common with limousine liberals and Bay Area transplants than they would care to admit. Libertarian secessionism has suffused Silicon Valley politics for the past two decades. In 2013, the entrepreneur Balaji S. Srinivasan called for the valley—or at least the tech community—to secede from the United States. At the 2017 Startup Societies Foundation meeting, he suggested ways for fellow tech-bros to identify places around the globe where they could pressure local governments to modify legal and economic structures in their favor. Rather than threats of violence, tech libertarians use their outsized economic power to shape political possibilities. Neither case is good for democratic politics.

Although their values might diverge, the disdain of secessionists in both Shasta County and Silicon Valley converges on the usual suspects: taxes, the federal bureaucracy, and any slights to individual freedom. But the freedom they sell is an anemic one that privileges individual choice over communal solidarity and collective flourishing.

Raymond Craib
Professor of History, Cornell University
Ithaca, N.Y.

 

 

Field of Dreams

Michael Clune ably summarizes the rich creative potential of attending to dreams, but I was disappointed that he focused largely on high-tech approaches [“Night Shifts,” Report, April]. For instance, while discussing lucid dreams, Clune mentions a method known as electrical brain stimulation, which, he correctly observes, hasn’t succeeded. But low-tech approaches have, including the “daytime reality check,” in which dream practitioners periodically read texts or check the time while awake. When such a check becomes habit, the dreamer can try it while dreaming, which may lead them to encounter strange hieroglyphics or nonsensical time.

Though Clune mentions ancient dream incubation, he seems unaware of modern experiments that employ suggestions and visualizations at bedtime. Researchers including William Dement, Tadas Stumbrys, Gregory White, and myself have demonstrated that these techniques can result in creative problem-solving. In one of my studies, university students incubated real-world problems for one week; half of them ended up dreaming about their topic and a quarter of them dreamed of a solution.

Clune also speculates about what a community of incubators sharing dreams might achieve, but such a community already exists: there’s the International Association for the Study of Dreams, as well as various dream researchers and enthusiasts. We’re already here, dreaming.

Deirdre Barrett
Lecturer on Psychology, Harvard University
Cambridge, Mass.