Thursday, August 30, 2018

Hedges' Talk on America: The Farewell Tour

I was able to get a seat to see Chris Hedges at CIGI in Waterloo. It was a packed house with a full overflow room as well. He started his talk about his new book with a lecture on America. Here's the gist of his speech, loosely quoted and/or lightly paraphrased:
"Trump is the result of a long process of decay of democratic institutions. He's the natural consequence of a degenerate society. He's a symptom, not the disease, which is the death of the liberal class."
Hedges discussed the failure of the church to call out the religious right and described the "sacrifice zones" of the tar sands, coal fields, and impoverished areas. 

He said that John Ralston Saul calls neoliberalism "a corporate coup d'etat in slow motion." Hedges told the same story of free market policies that have been discussed by Chomsky at length, that Robert Reich outlined in Inequality for All, that Naomi Klein explained in Shock Doctrine, and that's illustrated in Inside Job: in the 1970s, the global multi-nationals began to roll back the excesses of democracy by deregulating industry, privatizing public services, and busting unions. The elites focused on taking out opposing voices, and the Powell Memo actually named Ralph Nader specifically. Corporate powers seized control of academia and media platforms, and then captured the political parties. We have one ruling party now: the corporate party. They seem like two parties with just one demonizing undocumented workers, and the other acting as a release value for citizen upset, but the structure is the same, which explains the continuity between Bush and Obama. When first elected, Obama had more corporate funding of his campaign than his Republican rival. The last ten minutes of Inside Job make this connection crystal clear.

There were radical group opposing the corporate monopolies on the eve of WWI, but they were soon crushed. There's been a breakdown of capitalism in the 30s and the 60s, but in the early 90s, under Clinton, the Democrats turned into Republicans and then repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which separated commercial and investment bankings, and the Republicans were pushed further to the right. Because Chretien didn't allow the barriers around banks to be destroyed, the mortgage crisis didn't affect Canada like it did in the states. Hedges said,
"We are captive to entertainment that has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Politicians are surrounded by fictional personalities. Political rhetoric is rife with clichés and slogans devoid of content. Trump is a manufactured personality who plays reality TV games better. The population has largely lost faith in the ruling elites. Trumps win was a cathartic expression of working class rage.The severe decay of democracy is rendered invisible by the burlesque of CNN feeding the reality presidency because Trump is good for ratings."
He visited communities hit by the economic assault and concentration of wealth. Income inequality is greater now than in the guilded age. His book was modelled after Emile Durkheim's study of suicide, for which Durkheim travelled across France interviewing the people and coined the term "anomie" to describe the condition of people feeling alienated and disconnected enough to lead them to suicide. Hedges saw opioid epidemics, gambling, suicides, and white hate groups. The common denominator was economic despair.
"If we don't restructure society, these pathologies will grow. We're flirting with another economic collapse, but this time, there's no plan B. We can't lower interest rates any lower, and it's impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. As far as dying empires go, we've checked off most of the boxes, including disastrous military adventurism. . . . Once the dollar drops, the empire contracts as imports become more expensive. It's different than the 30s when Roosevelt created jobs. Now there's no ideological vision to take the place of what was. As Paul Krugman wrote recently, the U.S. is on track to become another Hungary." 
The ruling elites are aware of their loss of credibility with the people, so they're pushing the broadcasters to the edges and attacking journalists. They've influenced social media algorithms to divert from leftist sites like Truthdig. "Alternet's traffic is down 63%. The ruling elites have run out of arguments and they're becoming more dangerous." Public Broadcasting is now funded by the Kochs. In the 1960s, Public Broadcasting showed Chomsky, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, etc. These types of thinkers have vanished from the American landscape. "In their place is a kleptocrat accelerated pillaging of the nation and the structures of government."

"Marx said of late capitalism that once capitalism is unable to extract profit from the exploited working class, it will start cannibalizing the very systems that make capitalistic democracy possible, by privatizing public education, war, and prisons."

We've outsourced factories within our own borders in the bonded labour of the prison system. 94% of inmates never went to trial.
"They can't strike, complain, or take vacations. If they make trouble, they end up in solitary confinement for a year or two. The cabal of oligarchs and corporation redirected mechanisms towards profits for themselves, seizing systems with propaganda fed to the working class. This began under Reagan who said, 'The government is not the solution; it's the problem,' but government is the only way citizens can defend themselves."
And the government is inciting violence between citizens:
"The proliferation of nihilistic violence is seen with hate groups given license by the White House. Trump incited violence in his speech to evangelicals when he told them their opponents intend to carry out violence. The moment the dollar drops, political forces will create a dystopia, which will make the U.S. unrecognizable. It's a nation founded on genocide and slavery. Violence is in our DNA and seen in the remaining idea of "purification" and the fetishized gun culture that sees the solution to gun violence in giving kindergarten teachers handguns. . . . "
We need to take to the streets:
"Unless the U.S. builds mass movements that can carry out civil disobedience, like Standing Rock, Canadian First Nations groups, or the Quebec students, Canada will feel the ripple effect of this. Canada's not an imperial power, so it's more self-contained, but you still elected Ford, and Trudeau refused to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. The subtext to climate change articles is that it's happening faster than predicted. . . . " 
"We have to resist in order to have hope, AND we have to understand how bleak the situation is. There's a moral element to resistance. You don't fight fascism because you're going to win; you fight fascism because it's fascist [Sartre, The Age of Reason]We have to fight the corporations or face extinction. To be complacent is to be complicit. We may fail, but at least we must try."
Asked about the utility of anger, Hedges said compassion comes through anger and quoted Augustine,

American exceptionalism is making a resurgence, and it's toxic. He paraphrases James Baldwin: "the longer white power refuses to confront who they are, instead hold on to faux innocence and virtue, the more monstrous they become."
"Trump is unable to be self-critical or truthful. The corporate assault on public education and the humanities is because they teach us how to think; they're subversive in their critique of the structures of power. Now, education is all vocational. At the bottom, you're stacking shelves, but at the top, you're a computer scientist working as a systems manager. You've got more money, but you're still just maintaining a system, not questioning it. We could have redesigned the banking system to offer new mortgages to people who lost their homes, but that requires thinking outside the system. Elites are unplugged from the real world. They don't live in American; they live in "Richistan." Joseph Tainter says when societies collapse, elites retreat, then maintain their lives by pushing the population harder until it collapses."
He immersed himself in the Christian Right, even taking a course in teaching creationism to see the inner working of the cult (according to Singer's definition). They make a fortune off promising magical solutions which are endemic to all forms of totalitarianism. They invite people into service, then suck them into systems of indoctrination. But their stories are heartbreaking: evictions, unemployment, addictions. There's a lust for end times because of their economic struggle. It's a political movement like the German Christian Church of the Nazis. The only way to break this movement is to re-integrate them in society to give them reason to hope.

Liberals are hypocrites who want to appear moral without the struggles and risks. Martin Luther King saw that at the end of the civil rights movement when it was okay to desegregate, but not okay to ask for economic justice. Hedges called himself a radical Keynesian, but thinks it's highly unlikely we'll get a socialist party in America. We must forgive student debt, which is over $1 trillion. Scandinavia in the 80s were able to eradicate poverty. 25% of our prisoners have mental health problems and are just drugged all day. Politicians never debate health care because we spend the most and have the worst care because it's all for profit. Only 6% of people are in labour unions. In 1928, the Nazis were in the single digits, but exploded after the market crash. They were as buffoonish as Trump, but people were angry at the system. Trump's incitement to violence is similar to that used by Milosevic in the lead up to war.

His solution is what Reich advocates, we need to tax the rich at 90% like it was under Eisenhower, and revolt peacefully.
"And we have to slash the bloated military. People can't learn to manage money without any money.We need to take to the streets, but moral forces are on our side. The elites know they're corrupt. Revolution is fundamentally non-violent. Once significant sectors of control fall, the Czar's finished, like when paratroopers refused to shoot citizens. We can't win violently. Antifa was effective only in allowing the state to demonize the resistance. They played into the hands of the state. During the Chicago teacher's strike, cops let teachers use their bathroom. That scared the elites. That's the only mechanism that will take them down. Every community has an area of corporate abuse. Resistance will begin locally. Maybe local food or power. Be aware; build relationships with others face to face, and organize."
The tipping point of a revolution is ineffable:
"Leaders of revolutions scramble to understand what's happening, but nobody knows. It can't be predicted. The tinder is there, we don't know what will light it or when, but it's there. The population is more cognizant that appears on the surface. Faith is the belief that the good draws int eh good. Resistance is an act of faith. Our job is to keep that narrative alive."
And he left us with a few lines of Auden,

Monday, August 27, 2018

On Culture Wars

I just finally got around to Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies. It's a comprehensive book outlining the history and categorization of various groups online that have seeped into real life, but, although she mentions numerous scholars in her analysis, with zero endnotes and nary a reference section, it didn't surprise me to find that she's been accused of plagiarizing (see herehere, and here for some undeniable examples of lifted sentences and paragraphs). Some speculate that the book was rushed in order to be first out with this kind of content. The cribbing seems to be primarily explanations of terms or descriptions of events, but the analysis and compilation of these ideas into a whole appears to be her own work. I wouldn't let it slide in a classroom, and her editor/publisher should have caught it, but, as a reader, it's still compelling to see the various ideas assembled so succinctly.

There are so many terms being used to describe various views, so here's a brief and incomplete table of people, media affiliations, and basic characteristics I compiled as I read Nagle's book. It's all a little slippery and contentious, but it's a starting point. She's weeded out the racist alt-right from the more playful, yet shockingly offensive and sometimes harmful alt-light. I'm not convinced there's any clear consensus on any of this, though. We're all using the terms in slightly different ways, further muddying up the waters of the whole mess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On the Climate Emergency

Lots of bleak news these days. The fires sweeping through Canada and the U.S. this year, at least, for the thinnest of silver linings in these devastating tragedies, have woken more people up to the reality of climate change. We need the U.S. on board on this, and that will only happen when they start to see the consequences out their living room windows. Richard Smith explains the solution to our current issues in New Politics,
"Scientists tell us we face a climate emergency . . . Suppressing emissions means closing down the producers of those emissions – the oil companies, auto manufacturers, power plants, chemical companies, construction companies, airlines, etc. . . . Corporations, typically limited to one line or field of production, like oil production for example, can’t be expected to provide new jobs in an entirely different field for displaced workers and have no mandate to do so. Society has do this. . . . This is the public conversation the whole nation and the whole world needs to be having right now." 
Yup. Except he says scientists have been warning us since the 80s, but we actually had a much longer timeline to get our shit together. Here's the Washington Post, page 2, from November 2, 1922:

And this one is from a New Zealand paper, dated August 14, 1912:

Yesterday, Craig Welch published an extensive overview of the effects on the permafrost in National Geographic:
"Arctic experts are weighing a troubling question: Could a thaw of permafrost begin decades sooner than many people expect in some of the Arctic's coldest, most carbon-rich regions, releasing trapped greenhouse gases that could accelerate human-caused climate change? . . . By the time some changes are detected, a significant transition may be underway, he says. That means the public and policymakers may not grasp the real risks. "Most models don't project major carbon releases until beyond 2100," Walter Anthony says. That may be the case. But it's also possible, she says, that they "could actually happen in my children's lifetime—or my own."
The data isn't 100% at this point or extensively collected, but,
"Even scientists uncomfortable with the limited data say the possibility that something so fundamental could change so quickly gives them pause. . . . When we see things happening that haven't happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern."
Meanwhile, in today's New York Times, Lisa Friedman reports on how new US policies will cost lives:
"The proposal, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, is a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was an aggressive effort to speed up the closures of coal-burning plants, one of the main producers of greenhouse gases, by setting national targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and encouraging utilities to use cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. The new proposal, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, instead seeks to make minor on-site efficiency improvements at individual plants and will also let states relax pollution rules for power plants that need upgrades, keeping them active longer."
Well, we had a good run.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Censorship Quiz

I've been reading Bob Altermeyer's book on authoritarianism written in 2006. Here's a censorship quiz (p 84) that perhaps can help people recognize that few of us actually want every to have total freedom to say whatever we want wherever we choose. There might be a few places that could use some limits. To some, any limit at all is tantamount to totalitarianism, but I belief what matters is what we choose to limit, when, where, and why.
1. Should a university professor be allowed to teach an anthropology course in which he argues that men are naturally superior to women, so women should resign themselves to inferior roles in our society?
2. Should a book be assigned in a Grade 12 English course that presents homosexual relationships in a positive light?
3. Should books be allowed to be sold that attack “being patriotic” and “being religious”?
4. Should a racist speaker be allowed to give a public talk preaching his views?
5. Should someone be allowed to teach a Grade 10 sex education course who strongly believes that all premarital sex is a sin?
6. Should commercials for “telephone sex” be allowed to be shown after 11 PM on television? [What about in the middle of the day?]
7. Should a professor who has argued in the past that black people are less intelligent than white people be given a research grant to continue studies of this issue?
8. Should a book be allowed to be published that argues the Holocaust never occurred, but was made up by Jews to create sympathy for their cause?
9. Should sexually explicit material that describes intercourse through words and medical diagrams be used in sex education classes in Grade 10?
10. Should a university professor be allowed to teach a philosophy course in which he tries to convince his students there is no God?
11. Should an openly white supremacist movie such as “The Birth of a Nation” (which glorifies the Ku Klux Klan) be shown in a Grade 12 social studies class?
12. Should “Pro-Choice” counselors and abortion clinics be allowed to advertise their services in public health clinics if “Pro-Life” counselors can?
His analysis of high right-wing authoritarians compared to low RWAs:
"I hope you’ll agree that half of the situations would particularly alarm liberals, and the other half would raise the hackles on right-wingers. Would low RWAs want to censor the things they thought dangerous as much as high RWAs would in their areas of concern? It turned out to be “no contest,” because in both studies authoritarian followers wanted to impose more censorship in all of these cases--save the one involving the sex education teacher who strongly believed all premarital sex was a sin. How can this be? It happened because the lows seldom wanted to censor anyone. They apparently believe in freedom of speech, even when they detest the speech. Some low RWAs may insist on political correctness, but the great majority seemingly do not. Authoritarians on the other hand, spring-loaded for hostility, seem all wound up to clamp right down on lots and lots of people. So when authoritarians reproach other people who call for censorship, the reproach may be justified. But a lot of windows probably got broken in the authoritarians’ own houses when they flung that stone."

On Internet Haters

Here's how I see it: If two people who are equally matched have a fight, the loser can still save face. It was a fair fight and someone had to lose. He might win next time. But if two people unequally matched have a fight, and the weaker of the two wins, it's a humiliating defeat. If a man sees women as inferior, then, when he fights with them, he has to win. The risk of losing is far too huge. It would be like getting beaten up by a four-year-old. So he scrambles for anything that will knock her off balance, take her away from her focus on the issue and out of that arena entirely the second he's surprised by a move and starts to question his ability to win fairly. So he dekes the hit and flashes a blade. It's not about the issue anymore. It's about winning at any cost. He looks for a new way to attack, a weak spot unrelated to the initial conflict: her fear of rape, her fear of not being able to protect her children, and her fear of being murdered.

So, obviously, the foundational problem is that women are perceived as four-year-olds in this analogy. It's only humiliating to lose an argument to a woman if someone sees them as inferior in status and ability. If you would be humiliated to lose an argument to someone, it's because you see them as beneath you. If they're your equal, then losing an argument means learning something - it's enlightening, and we feel admiration for the points being made. Pivotally, it's our capacity for admiration that's turned off when we encounter any sign of lower status. That might be something to watch for.

So this is what I thought about while I read Laurie Penny's excellent article "Who Does She Think She Is?" She explores online vitriol intermingled with observations from various stages in her personal experiences of this hot mess,
"The internet hates women. Everyone knows that by now, and nobody precisely approves, but we’ve reached a point of collective tolerance. . . . one in five young women has been sexually harassed online . . . over three-quarters of women and girls expected violence and abuse if they expressed an opinion online. . . . The internet doesn’t hate anyone, because the internet, being an inanimate network, lacks the capacity to hold any opinion whatsoever. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity. . . . The internet lets us be whoever we were before, more efficiently, with fewer consequences. . . . The primary reason there have been so few “great women ______” is not merely that greatness has been undeveloped or unrecognized, but that women exhibiting potential for achievement are punished by both women and men. The “fear of success” is quite rational when one knows that the consequence of achievement is hostility and not praise. . . . In fact, committed hatred of successful women and a destructive obsession with women who step outside their lane seem to be the sole point on which the entire political spectrum is in absolute agreement. . . . More than 40 percent [of female parliamentarians] had received threats of death, rape, beatings, or abduction while serving their terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children. . . . This is why recreational racism and mob misogyny are given space online: Because they are still seen as acceptable offline. . . . any woman in the remotest corner of the public eye who wants to be treated with a sugar-pill of respect must find a way to dress which is neither too conservative nor too revealing, not too frumpy nor too frivolous, a way of speaking which is neither “aggressive” nor simpering, and a way of behaving which at no point discomforts any man in her vicinity. . . . It’s not that women in the public eye never make mistakes. It’s that the punishments are out of all proportion."

I've written about this before. I looked at Aristotle's take on it all where I concluded: "His behaviour is bullying, but that's not who he is, necessarily, it's how's he's reacting to the cognitive dissonance perpetuated from seeing the world's expectations of him compared to his own unfulfilled reality." And I scrutinized a comment I got that blamed everything on feminism, and concluded: "It's especially hard when your expectations of relationships don't come close to matching the real world. You know that real world, where women are more than just jizz buckets who make sandwiches; they're actually people worthy of the same respect given to men." That one got a trolling comment I left up and engaged with, attempting civility in the face of cruelty. Social expectations of our roles have to shift in order to accommodate this new reality of equal status, so the media has to change. Unfortunately healthy adults talking civility to one another isn't particularly entertaining to the masses.

There is a thrill of the take-down involved as well. They want to regain power and control and reestablish a position of respect, ironically. It's the pleasure of owning someone. Penny says,
"I’ve come to the conclusion that when you get down to it, people who enjoy hurting other people are not worth your time or mine. . . . Many of us were once that naive — naive enough to think that if people only knew how much they were hurting you, if they could only understand that you were a human being, they’d stop. . . . The point is to scare women and girls out of social and cultural spaces, because when women and girls occupy those places, well, some people get scared."
She suggests writing them off for the sake of our own mental health. I agree that letting them know they're hurting you doesn't help. They're in competition mode and out to win. You can't win if you're worried about harming your opponent. And we're not going to significantly shift that perception of status to lessen the humiliation any time soon - that's a glacial-paced movement (back when glaciers were more stable). But what makes this even hard to solve is, if we accept that behind anger is fear, and that addressing the fear can dissipate the anger, the fear is that men have twice as much competition now. We can't obliterate that fear because we're not going anywhere. We can only hope to acknowledge that it's real, that things are more difficult for people who don't think they should have to compete with a lesser class, and that they'll have to find ways to cope with this radical change that's been evolving over that last few centuries.

Penny's finish:
"Peek through your clammy hands at what women have done and at what they have created despite spending their entire careers fending off trash-mobs and negotiating outright abuse and still getting paid less than they deserve for doing twice the work. Take a look, if you dare, at how many of us are surviving and thriving despite being punished for being a little bit too ambitious, and then ask yourself what we might do if we didn’t have to waste our time on bullshit. Ask yourself how culture might change if the women in it weren’t living under constant, critical surveillance, if we were allowed to be vulnerable, to be difficult, to be strange, to take risks, and to make mistakes. . . . As you’ve got older, you can’t tolerate a lot of the toxins you used to swallow a decade ago — including entitled male bullshit. You are tired, but no longer afraid. Instead, you are angrier than you could possibly have imagined. And not just on your own behalf."

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On Transgressions

I've been enjoying a podcast "This Jungian Life," in which three Jungian analysts discuss various questions. This one in particular discusses the difference between sin and transgression, but then it goes further to help us understand the state of the world today.

A transgression is an act of stepping across a boundary. To feel any guilty for our actions, we have to know that there was a cultural or internal boundary. And we often know we're crossing a boundary and doing something immoral, but we do it anyway, like having an affair. But Jung isn't puritanical. Known transgressions aren't necessarily bad things. Life is too complex for morality to be so certain.

To determine the value of a transgression, one of the analysts suggests to ask, 'Will this action make my life bigger, or will it make it smaller?' Sometimes a transgression can significantly improve our lives and our society. Holding hands with a partner of a different race or of the same gender was a transgression that helped develop equity in our culture.

But even if we realize the action is making our lives smaller, then it's important to benefit from recognizing that fact and becoming aware of our moral fallibility. It's vital to us individually and to society collectively for us to get to know our deepest darkest shadow side. There's a gravitas to being fully aware of our worst parts. And then once we see it, the simple effect of suffering guilt is profoundly transformative.

What seems to be happening more and more, instead, is scapegoating. It's a false resolution that seeks to ignore any possibility of a personal flaw, avoid that painful experience of guilt, and transfer it through vengeance on others. They want to shift their sin to another, the way we once had animal sacrifices to help us atone for our actions. The result is that individuals aren't going to begin the process of  'individuation,' as Jung would say, but, in plain language, too many of us are just not growing up.

It takes courage to see ourselves clearly, especially when the leaders in our society are choosing otherwise.