Monday, January 27, 2020

But Thinking is So Much Work!

Misinformation and misunderstanding and misreporting are going to be the death of us. From news sources reporting who was in the plane with Kobe Bryant before details were released to the families to an old article about Ebola resurfacing as if it's about Coronovirus, it's now up to Joe Public to read and scrutinize and think. That's a lot to ask in our busy lives of continuous news feeds! And it's clearly not happening. The Ebola article, introduced by a semi-popular Twitterer as if a couple in Canada, who immigrated from China, created the new virus in order to kill us all, elicited a ton of shocking (or, these days, to be expected) racism and anti-immigration sentiment so vile that it makes me more worried about a the creation of containment camps for anyone with Chinese ancestry popping up everywhere than about actually getting sick.

So this final example might seem trivial next to those two. But it's all part and parcel of the same mess.

Journalist Vicky Spratt wrote an article that was very unfortunately titled, "Dangerous Rise of Men Who Won't Date "Woke" Women."  Her concerns in the article are not remotely about her own dating life, a fact unacknowledged by, literally, hundreds of commenters.

What the article does say is that Laurence Fox, specifically, (an actor - I had to google him) is saying some very racist and sexist things. The dangerous part is that he has a huge platform now. Her point:
"There's nothing funny about the things Fox is saying. . . . It's dangerous. He is just one very privileged man and, as a result of said privilege, has been given a platform. And he has used that platform to legitimise a bigger backlash against diversity and progress which is unfolding every single day."
She does mention dating apps and how many men want women to "drop their obsession with 'social justice.'" She explains,
"Men are being "radicalised by anti-feminism. As the saying goes: 'When you're used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.' . . . a hostility towards feminism is feeding directly into far-right movements online. . . . [Fox] is legitimising hatred and division." 
He's part of what Angela Nagle might call the Alt Light. I'm on the side that believes this is a legitimate concern as this line of thinking can lead towards either acceptance of, provocation for, or actual involvement in murder sprees of the likes of El Paso, Poway, and Christchurch, as Spratt argues. She quotes Susan Faludi: 'When the enemy has no face, society will invent one." Nagle suggests that it's a tiny group of people online, but they both agree it has the potential to spread when they get an audience. Spratt explains,
"Make no mistake, the far right is already capitalising on Fox's words, gassing him up and turning him into an icon. He has added to their backlash and given it oxygen. Every time he is invited onto a TV or radio show to talk about it, that oxygen will cause the backlash to burn hotter and faster, irrespective of whether we're watching or not. It's important no to trivialise this anti-woke, anti-women backlash."
I've mentioned this before, but this conversation always reminds me of Chris Hedges's story about an elderly Jewish man humiliated in the market place in the mid 1930s. The fact that some in the crowd laughed and that nobody stopped the humiliation was enough for the viewer, Marek Edelman, the last survivor of the group that led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, to predict that something far worse would happen next.

Graham Dockery doesn't see it this way. He responded in RT, arguing that Spratt is taking a huge leap to suggest these types of racist and sexist comments cause murders: "That's quite the jump. And quite the accusation to make, considering Fox's statements aren't controversial." His proof that racist and sexist comments are uncontroversial is statistics about how few men and women support feminism.

That these aren't uncommon ideas, doesn't prove - in the least - that they aren't portending later destruction to the groups being slammed. In fact, quite the opposite. If these comments are commonplace, now, then how do we see clear of the damage except to rally against this ideology.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Martin Luther King Jr.

Chomsky praises him, saying he was vilified, but he was crucial to making change. Two years ago, the New York Times published an excellent transcript of his final sermon, annotated by Nikita Stewart to clarify the events that provoked some of his words. It's his "I've been to the mountaintop" speech made four years after the Civil Rights Act passed, and one day before his death. Here's an abridged version (or listen to it in full here). The bold is all mine; his words have been repeated by Chomsky and Hedges and Timothy Snyder. Hopefully we'll listen one day.
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. . . . 
We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity. . . . And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham . . . Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.” . . . And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there. . . . 
All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. . . . 
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. . . . And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. . . . We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. . . . I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. . . . 
[Jesus] talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. . . . The first question that the priest asked—the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question. . . . 
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."
He stood in line with picketing unions just on the cusp of Milton Friedman's tide coming in to bring the anti-union free market to South America, by force. He was fighting economic disparity just as the marginal tax rate was being lowered to allow the rich to get richer. He was at the starting point of neo-liberalism, fighting the very beginnings, prophetically explaining the results we were about to see, and then he was assassinated.

His approval rating had tanked with the people as he got more radical about poverty and the war in Vietnam. He wasn't content with just civil rights in a few states; he wanted to change American policies. Here's his 1967 speech with the famous line,
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." 
The Vietnam protests kept going, but inequality was sold to the middle class as a matter of weakness, stupidity, and laziness of those beneath them. Just as he predicted, the Pharaoh kept the slaves fighting amongst themselves, ignoring the wealth being accumulated for the top off their backs of those at the bottom.

And, as James Cobb reports, protesters got tired of the glacial pace of change through non-violent means. He describes what happened after his death:
"King's slaying meant the death of “all reasonable hope,” Stokely Carmichael warned, because he was “the only man of our race ... of the older generation who the militants and the revolutionaries and the masses of black people would still listen to” even if they no longer agreed with what he had to say. There would be no more “intellectual discussions.” Black Americans would now retaliate for the murder of one of their leaders by seeking their justice not in the courtrooms but in the streets. 
And so they did, in classically Pyrrhic fashion. Younger, more militant black spokesmen who had spurned King's commitment to nonviolence and peaceful negotiation proceeded to stoke outrage over the slaughter of someone so un-menacing and well-intentioned. A week-long orgy of violence raged across more than 100 cities, leaving at least 37 people dead and many more injured and millions of dollars in property destroyed. This was a bitterly ironic sendoff for someone who had sacrificed his life to the cause of achieving social justice by peaceful means."

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Chomsky's Optimism: On Climate Change, Nuclear War, and Activism

Truthdig's Scheer Intelligence series, hosted by Robert Scheer, recently posted a 3 hour podcast in two parts. I've summarized the gist of what Chomsky says below, in about a 15 minute read, with a few of my own thoughts and links added to the mix. You can listen to the whole thing here: Part 1 - "American has built a global dystopia" and Part 2 - "Chomsky makes the case for the lesser of two evils."

This is largely quoted but without asides and repetition of words or ideas to make it more fluid, and with headings for easier scrolling through bite-sized chunks!


Scheer starts by asking Chomsky if we're in the middle of Huxley's Brave New World or Orwell's 1984. Chomsky offers a third option: We, by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin. It's an amalgamation of Huxley and Orwell. We have tight surveillance, but we're also controlled through punishment and shame. Cars with screens in them know your shopping habits and will let you know if there's a Chinese restaurant nearby to manipulate your choices. There's also a move to control people at work through a point system. [It's Black Mirror's "Nosedive" episode.] The internet of things isn't just a convenience for you, but for the government and multi-national surveillance of you. There's no wall between Google, Amazon, and the government.

Monday, January 13, 2020

How to Be a Good Citizen

This is a Twitter thread, but I want to save it, so I'm putting it here. It's by Elle Maruska. (Here's her Patreon and Ko-Fi, whatever that is.)

"Here are some things you can do that, while maybe won't change the world will help you become more effective as a progressive and less likely to engage in harmful behavior in the name of social justice

1. Read Read read read read read read. Read books, read newspapers, read Twitter threads. Read carefully, critically, with purpose. Read scholars of color. Read words written by poor writers, disabled writers, queer writers. Look for reading lists regarding your area of interest

2. Find Experts. Follow Them. Listen To Them. For whatever cause you're most passionate about there are plenty of people who have been working to promote that cause and they're the voices you must seek out. These people will be best able to tell you where to send your support what resources are needed, what work has to be done, how you can best help. And the most important thing is to LISTEN. Don't demand an education. Don't argue. Don't insert yourself into a conversation between experts. Listen, and learn.

3. If You Want To Give, Give What Is Asked For Don't give what YOU think people need, give what people KNOW they need. Support is only support if its useful, if it helps. Know what the need is and if you can help fulfill that need then do it

4. Be Ok With Being Uncomfortable. You are going to be wrong. You're going to be wrong about a lot of things. And that's ok. No one comes into the world fully formed and knowledgeable about everything and you're gonna mess up. You're gonna make people mad. It's ok You're also going to learn things that make you question yourself, your place in the world, your beliefs. You'll be confronted with a reality that hurts, that makes you defensive, even angry. You'll want to defend yourself, to declare that you aren't one of the bad ones . Don't. Understand it's ok to feel these things but work them out on your own. Don't force your discomfort on people who are doing work and have been for a long time. Sit with your discomfort. Examine it. Accept that you will be uncomfortable, and that doesn't make you a bad person.

5. Choose A Cause. Don't Put Down Other Causes. We all have things we're passionate about. Maybe it's prison reform, or climate change, or healthcare, or immigration. We can't do everything, we can't support every cause. It's ok to specialize and it's probably necessary BUT Do not come into discussions regarding OTHER causes and try and claim your cause is more important, more deserving of support. Don't derail conversations. Don't put down other people, other experts. Respect the work people do across all causes. It's all connected.

6. Pay People For Their Labor. I mean this should go without saying but I'm gonna say it. The articles/twitter threads you read don't just appear. They're work someone's done, labor someone's performed and then posted to allow free access. If you can, pay people for that work Subscribe to Patreons. Support people's Ko-Fis. Donate to GoFundMes. Leave tips in digital tip jars. Even if it's only a little bit it makes a difference and shows you respect and understand the work being done, the effort and cost of creating free content.

7. The Local Is As Important As The Global.  Big issues like climate change seem way too immense for one person to address and they are. But you can make a difference on the local level in so many different ways. Pay attention to local politics, local issues, local elections What is your local school board doing? What is your town/city doing about affordable housing? Homelessness? Community healthcare? So many decisions are made at the local level. Figure out what you can do to help make the right decisions

8. If You Can Take Part In Public Action Do It. Mass public action is one of the most effective ways of protesting. In fact mass public disruptions are pretty much the only really effective methods of getting the attention of those in power & making them afraid. Of course we can't all march and that's fine. But we can help in other ways. We can donate to organizations that provide legal aid to protesters. We can share information. We can send supplies. There are lots of ways to show support with those who are marching and importantly we can normalize mass public disruption as a legitimate method of protest Remember Occupy Wall Street? So many people--even those on the left--treated it as a joke. We need to change that attitude and SUPPORT those willing & able to disrupt the machinery of power

9. Elevate Marginalized Voices. Remember that for every Greta Thunberg there's an Autumn Peltier or Mari Copeny. When you support activists make sure you're not just supporting white activists, western activists, conventionally attractive/acceptable activists. Assess who you're most often retweeting or sharing and make an effort to promote marginalized activists who may not get the same level of public acceptance as white/cis/abled activists

10. Above All Remember: Systems Are The Enemy. It's easy to focus all our ire on Trump and to pretend one person can be responsible for all the wrong we're fighting but the problems we have go back far longer than 2016. From climate change to violence in the Middle East systemic forces like capitalism & white supremacy are the enemies we must dismantle. Which means we always have to look beyond the current president, the current super-villain and ask how we can change the system, not the person Don't get caught up in attacking one man attack the system that allowed that man to assume power, and will continue to allow cruel brutal racists to claim control

And here are some basic bits of advice 
     -even your favs can mess up & should be held accountable
     -but we're all human & messing up is unavoidable
     -don't believe a single person can save us 
     -take care of yourself 
     -don't be afraid to be a jerk. don't be afraid to be kind

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Age of Oblivion, Part 2

Chomsky has said, over and over, that the two things we should be worried about are climate change and nuclear war. We're doing well at exacerbating both! Our obliviousness to these catalyses of catastrophe will propel us into total oblivion. Defense stock is up, though.

Hedges on Iran:
"The strike may temporarily bolster the political fortunes of the two beleaguered architects of the assassination, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is an act of imperial suicide by the United States. There can be no positive outcome. It opens up the possibility of an Armageddon-type scenario relished by the lunatic fringes of the Christian right. . . . The generals and politicians who launched and prosecuted these wars are not about to take the blame for the quagmires they created. They need a scapegoat. It is Iran. The hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed, including at least 200,000 civilians, and the millions driven from their homes into displacement and refugee camps cannot, they insist, be the result of our failed and misguided policies. The proliferation of radical jihadist groups and militias, many of which we initially trained and armed, along with the continued worldwide terrorist attacks, have to be someone else’s fault. . . . The chaos and instability we unleashed in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, left Iran as the dominant country in the region. Washington empowered its nemesis. It has no idea how to reverse its mistake other than to attack Iran. . . . Trump and Netanyahu, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are mired in scandal. They believe a new war would divert attention from their foreign and domestic crises. . . . 
We, as citizens, must hold our government accountable for these crimes. If we do not, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that would have terrifying consequences. It would be a world without treaties, statutes and laws. It would be a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, would be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. Such a new order would undo five decades of international cooperation—largely put in place by the United States—and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. Diplomacy, broad cooperation, treaties and law, all the mechanisms designed to civilize the global community, would be replaced by savagery."

And a bit from an Bill Perry video, a few years old, for perspective: