Alt-Facts of Employment

 

Here is a topic I return every so often. It’s the related nexus of unemployment, permanent unemployment, and underemployment along with how it relates the larger economy, the black market, inequality, opportunity, welfare, poverty, homelessness, desperation, etc. I don’t have any new thoughts, but I was looking at a lot of articles and decided to share them.

There is so much disagreement over the data, what exactly is the data and what it means or doesn’t mean. The reason for this is that there is so little useful data. I’ve always been concerned not just about what the data includes but also what it excludes… and so who is excluded and for what or whose purpose. Still, much can be ascertained from what data is available, if one is willing to consider it honestly. The number appears to be shockingly low for adults working “good jobs” who potentially could work, if full employment was available (not to mention if full opportunity and economic mobility was available). So many Americans have given up on looking for work or the kind of work and many others, for various reasons, are simply not seen in the data.

So much of human potential goes wasted. This kind of data isn’t just numbers. It’s people stuck in place or running place, too often falling through the cracks. It’s people struggling and suffering, working hard and not being counted or else wanting to get ahead but feeling blocked. These people are frustrated and ever more outraged or else resigned. Many others are simply tired and just doing what they can, what they must to get by.

The poorest of communities, in a large number of cases, have the majority of their residents unemployed and the majority of their men caught up in the legal system. The main economy in these communities it the black market of drugs, prostitution, and other basic work paid under the counter.

The problems we face are far worse than gets typically recorded in the data and reported in the media. Some of these problems have been developing for decades, such as stagnating/dropping wages and the shrinking middle class. And they are inseparable from the problems of worsening corporatism, failed governance, lost public trust, growing national debt, crumbling infrastructure, externalized costs, and much else.

These problems are real and urgent for those who are most harmed by them. Data on such things as unemployment, however it is measured, is just the tip of an iceberg that sits teetering atop the tip of a vast oceanic mountain range.

* * *

Nearly Half of Millennials Say the American Dream Is Dead. Here’s Why.
by Natalie Johnson, The Daily Signal

One in five suicides is associated with unemployment
Science Daily

The Opioid Epidemic and the Face of Long-Term Unemployment
by Yves Smith, Naked Capitalism

Lack of jobs linked to gun violence at schools
by Megan Fellman, Futurity

Alternate Unemployment Charts
ShadoStats.com

The Invisible American
by Jim Clifton, Gallup

The Big Lie: 5.6% Unemployment
by Jim Clifton, Gallup

Gallup Is Right: The Unemployment Rate Is A Big Lie
by John Manfreda, Seeking Alpha

Only 44 Percent Of U.S. Adults Are Employed For 30 Or More Hours Per Week
by Michael Snyder, The Economic Collapse

Neither Employed, Nor Unemployed
by Bud Meyers, The Economic Populist
comment by Bud Meyers

Gallup CEO Blasts Press’s Complacency in Covering Unemployment and Underemployment
by Tom Blumer, NewsBusters

The Low Unemployment Rate Is A Momentary Calm Before The Coming Economic Storm
by Drew Hansen, Forbes

Long-term Unemployed Struggle as Economy Improves, Rutgers Study Finds
Rutgers Today

47% of Unemployed Americans Have Just Stopped Looking for Work
by Dan Kedmey, Time

US unemployed have quit looking for jobs at a ‘frightening’ level: Survey
by Jeff Cox, CNBC

In U.S., One in Four Unemployed Adults in Financial Distress
by Lydia Saad, Gallup

Nearly half of U.S. workers consider themselves underemployed, report says
bAlexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

Despite Reports, Unemployment Is Still A Major Issue For Veterans
by Dan Goldenberg, Task & Force

Unemployment rates are higher for young people, minorities
PBS NewsHour

UIC Study Shows High Unemployment Among Black, Hispanic Youth In Chicago
CBS Chicago

Nearly half of young black men in Chicago are neither in school nor working
by Rob Wile, Fusion

One in four black, Hispanic workers is underemployed
by Andrea Orr, Economic Policy Institute

Stuck: Young America’s Persistent Job Crisis
by Catherine Ruetschlin and Tamara Drau, Demos

Nearly Half Of Unemployed Americans Are Under 34 Years Old: Study
Huffington Post

Fed: Nearly half of recent college grads struggling
by Irina Ivanova, Crain’s

Untapped Talent: The Costs of Brain Waste among Highly Skilled Immigrants in the United States
New American Economy

ILO: Only one in four workers has a stable job
DW Akademie

New Study Predicts Nearly Half of All Work Will Be Automated
by Patrick Caughill, Futurism

* * *

A Sense of Urgency
America Is Not Great For Most Americans

Common Sense of the Common People
We’ve Been Here Before
Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
Minimum Wage, Wage Suppression, Welfare State, etc
Invisible Problems of Invisible People
Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration, Race, & Data
Worthless Non-Workers
Whose Work Counts? Who Gets Counted?
Working Hard, But For What?
To Be Poor, To Be Black, To Be Poor and Black
Structural Racism and Personal Responsibility
Race & Wealth Gap
Our Bleak Future: Robots and Mass Incarceration
End of Work as Endtimes
American Winter and Liberal Failure
Conservatives Pretending to Care About Economic Problems
Conservative Moral Order & the Lazy Unemployed
Conservatism, Murders & Suicides
Republicans: Party of Despair
Rate And Duration of Despair
Poor & Rich Better Off With Democrats
Unequal Democracy, Parties, and Class
‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany

‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Finland
Problems of Income Inequality

Immobility Of Economic Mobility; Or Running To Stay In Place
Not Funny At All

Mean Bosses & Inequality
The United States of Inequality
Economic Inequality: A Book List
The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates
From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations
Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good

Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media

When people make accusations of liberal bias in the media, what are they even talking about? Are they utterly disconnected from reality? The so-called mainstream media is corporate media owned by a handful of parent corporations. Their only motive is profit.

Anyway, it’s not as if there is a lack of US media with a clear political right bias, both conservative or right-wing. This includes major media with large audiences and immense influence, but some of it is more directed at niche ideological groups and demographics. There is: Fox News, Yahoo News, Newsmax, Drudge Report, The Blaze, Breitbart News Network, Rush Limbaugh Show, Sean Hannity Show, Glenn Beck Program, The Dennis Miller Show, Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, The New York Post, the Arizona Republic, The Detroit Free Press, Dallas Morning News, Cincinnati Enquirer, Reason, National Review, Cato Journal, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, The American, The American Conservative, City Journal, Chronicles, Human Events, The Independent Review, The National Interest, The New American, Policy Review, Regulation, Townhall Magazine, World, World Affairs, Newsweek, etc. And that doesn’t even include most of the moderate conservative media that gets labeled as ‘liberal’.

It’s not as if those on the political right are lacking media to support their worldview and confirm their biases. In fact, research shows that most media consumers on the political right exist within an echo chamber. The only reason they think the rest of media is biased is because the political right media that dominates keeps repeating this and, as the old propaganda trick goes, anything repeated enough to a large enough audience will be treated as if it were fact.

Here is one of the differences between ‘liberal’ media and ‘conservative’ media. On the political left, there is maybe more diversity of sources, none of which dominate all the others. But on the political right, Fox News controls the messaging, talking points, and framing for the rest of the news outlets that share a similar bias. Related to that, most Americans are further to the left on major issues than is the corporate media, as they are further to the left of both main political parties. When you are talking about media on the political right, that is bias that is extremely to the right of the general public. Maybe that is why more Americans are increasingly turning to alternative media, primarily available through the internet.

Another thing is that there is no simple relationship between media and viewers. Plenty of social science research shows that the liberal-minded tend to be more open and curious about the world, specifically about what is different. A large part of the audience of political right media is probably not people who are on the political right. I know that has been true of me. Because of curiosity, I can’t help but look at diverse sources, even when it just makes me angry. I doubt there are as many conservatives and right-wingers consuming news reporting from the New York Times, MSNBC, and NPR as there are liberals and left-wingers with the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, and Rush Limbaugh (although that would depend if one is talking about symbolic identities or operational ideologies).

According to Pew (Political Polarization & Media Habits), conservatives don’t get much news from a variety of political right media, as about half of the consistently conservative get most of their information from Fox News (with 84% having watched Fox News in the past week), a pattern not seen among consistent liberals. To put it in further context, the same Pew poll shows that those who are politically mixed get more of their news from sources that right-wingers claim to have a political left bias, which seems to indicate that centrists disagree with right-wingers about perceived media bias. In fact, the more liberal the demographic, the less they relied on a single news source (other data shows that the even more liberal and leftist young demographic relies on an even greater diversity of sources with more emphasis on alternative media and social media, including “approximately 85 percent of millennials regularly follow domestic and international current events both online and through print publications. Most millennials are following at least 10 topics at any one time and around 73 percent of young people are more interested in gathering information about viewpoints that they oppose than in learning more about stances they agree with.”). Also, that Pew data shows that most of the political left media clumps closer to the political center, at least in terms of viewers of mainstream media, whereas much of the political right media is far from the average viewer.

Comparing the two sides is false equivalency. All media is assumed to be liberal or leftist if it doesn’t strongly and ideologically promote some combination of:

  • blatant propaganda, political obstructionism, extreme opposition to democracy, voter suppression/purges/disenfranchisement, gerrymandering;
  • near-anarchist anti-government rhetoric, Ayn Rand Objectivism, right-wing (pseudo-)libertarianism, inverted totalitarianism, neoliberal corporatism;
  • proto-fascism, hyper-patriotism, war hawk neoconservatism, expansionist neo-imperialism, geopolitical interventionism, military adventurism, continuous war of aggression, military-industrial complex, intelligence-security-police state, gun nut militancy, oppressive law and order, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime laws;
  • religious fundamentalism, theocracy, Creationism, anti-Semitism, pro-Israeli, Social Darwinism, eugenics, hardcore social conservatism, white supremacy, ethnonationalism, scapegoating, dog whistle politics, race-baiting, red-baiting, attack politics, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, paranoid conspiracy theory;
  • climate change denialism, anti-science, anti-intellectualism, anti-immigration, anti-public education, anti-welfare, anti-immigration, basically anti-everything that involves social democracy, civil society, human rights, compassion and basic decency;
  • reverse political correctness, demagoguery, ideological purity, openly loyal Republican partisanship;
  • et cetera.

Everything else is part of a powerful secret cabal of leftist special interest groups, Jewish media moguls, journalist operatives, devious intellectual elite, and God-hating scientific dogmatists who have somehow taken over the global corporate media and are conspiring to push Democratic brainwashing, liberal indoctrination, left-wing propaganda, and the Communist-Islamic-Secular takeover of society. Yet oddly, when considering the details, that supposed liberal or leftist corporate media expresses views that are about the same as or to the right of majority public opinion.

The moderate-to-center-right media gets accused of being far left, the actual far left gets entirely ignored, and the far right media controls the entire framing of the debate about bias. Those who identify with or lean toward far right politics (liberarians, Objectivists, theocrats, etc) are regularly heard in the political right media. Many have their own shows, even on major outlets such as Fox News. When there are political campaigns and debates, we hear from panels that include these right-wing views. But when was the last time you noticed an equivalent openly ideological, hardcore left-winger (communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anti-imperialist, etc) with any prominent position in the supposed liberal-to-leftist media, with their own show or as a regular guest?

If you want to know the actual bias, look for who is making the accusation and getting heard. It is the right-wingers with massive backing from right-wing corporate media who are declaring that corporate media is left-wing. In their control of political debate, these right-wingers are using misdirection as part of their propaganda model. The fact of the matter is that all “mainstream media” is corporate media and, in our society, that means powerful big money corporatist media that is inseparable from the corporatist political system. There is no separation between the elites in government, corporations, and media. It’s all the same establishment of wealth and power.

It’s all rather pointless. According to corporate media and corporatist politicians, the views held by a majority of Americans—such as support for higher minimum wage, public option or single payer healthcare, abortion rights, stronger gun regulations, etc—represents an operational liberal bias (as opposed to the symbolic rhetoric so commonly used by the powerful to control debate and manipulate voters), which might be true in a sense if one is to call majority public opinion to be a bias. Maybe that is related to why, along with such negative opinions of ‘mainstream’ politics, only 6% of Americans (2% of young adults) trust ‘mainstream’ media. When we talk about bias, we have to ask who is being accused of bias, who is making the accusations of bias, what is the accuser’s bias, and how this relates to the biases of the general public along with various demographics. Compared to most Americans, the entire ‘mainstream’ media is biased toward the right-wing. But it’s unsurprising that, according to the right-wing, the rest of media and all of reality is biased to the left-wing. I’m not sure why we should take these right-wingers seriously. It does tell me much about corporate media that they love to obsess over and promote these right-wing accusations that largely come out of corporate media.

These days, with even NPR funded by big biz, where in the ‘mainstream’ media is someone supposed to look for hard-hitting news reporting and morally courageous investigative journalism about the wealthy and powerful who own the corporate media and control the corporatist political system? Once upon a time, back when newspapers were the main source of info for the majority of Americans, most newspapers had both a business section and a labor section. There also used to be prominent newspapers that were dedicated solely or primarily to labor issues. Is it surprising that as almost all ‘mainstream’ media has been bought up by big biz that the news reporting critical of big biz has disappeared from what has become corporate media pushing a corporatist worldview?

If there is a liberal bias among the corporate media gatekeepers, it is specifically the neoliberalism of inverted totalitarianism that is supported by a state-linked corporatist propaganda model. Calling that ‘liberal’ would comfort few liberals and even fewer leftists. There is a kind of liberalism that dominates in our society, including in ‘mainstream’ media, but the issue is about what kind of liberalism is this. Even many conservatives claim to be ‘liberal’ (e.g., classical liberals). So, what is this supposed ‘liberal’ bias? Is the corporate media actually biased to the left, considering the viewing public is itself biased even further to the left? So, left of what exactly… left of the right-wing?

It is true that the entertainment media is often rather liberal, but that is because it is seeking to make profit by entertaining the fairly liberal American viewing public. Liberalism sells because we live in a liberal society. There is nothing shocking about it. On a broad level, our entire society and everyone in it is liberal. Even American conservatives are, in this sense, just varieties of liberals. The liberal paradigm has dominated the West for a couple of centuries now. But it is a liberalism of the status quo, not a liberalism of left-wing revolution. This liberalism is not just neoliberal in its capitalism and corporatism. It also has much of that old school Whiggish progressivism favored by the classical liberals, the ideology that promoted imperialism, colonialism and genocide in order to spread freedom and democracy. It’s a paternalistic, authoritarian, and condescending liberalism that has become the heart of so-called American ‘conservatism’. The unscrupuous libertinism of our society may seem opposite of conservative ideals, but it is inseparable from capitalism and certainly not embraced by much of the political left.

Is the political right hoping to enforce right-wing bias onto the public, no matter what they’d prefer, just to make sure they are indoctrinated properly? The problem is those who complain the most about a ‘liberal’ bias are the very people who are the least conservative. Instead, they are right-wing reactionaries who in their radicalism want to push society even further into a skewed fantasy that has nothing to do with traditionalism.

Just listen to president Trump complain about the media and have his words parroted by the alt-right, even as he is the least conservative president in US history. In comparison, he makes Obama’s administration seem like a stalwart defense of traditionalism. After decades of capitulating to the far right and serving their corporatist interests, it’s amusing to watch some in the center-right corporate media finally protesting because their status quo is under attack by the far right. To the far right, the corporate media can never be far enough right, at least not until they are under authoritarian control of an Orwellian Ministry of Truth.

I wanted to finish with a different but connected issue. The Pew data I mentioned above offered something that right-wingers latched onto. Consistent liberals are more likely than consistent conservatives to stop talking to someone because of political disagreement. But what this misses is that liberals are more likely to talk to people who they disagree with. A larger percentage of conservatives, because they live in ideological isolation and are trapped in a media echo chamber, never interact with anyone they disagree with. They can’t stop talking to people they never started talking to in the first place.

As a typical person on the political left, I seek out diverse news sources and so interact with diverse people. For every person I intentionally stop talking to, I meet dozens of other new people with all kinds of views. So, I still end up interacting with more people I disagree with than the average consistent conservative.

This is relevant to the perception of bias. Conservatives are less likely to actively seek diverse sources of news and less likely to interact with diverse people. Maybe it’s partly because, as data has shown, the most consistent conservatives tend to live in homogeneous communities and so are never forced to acknowledge anything outside of their reality tunnel (whereas liberals are attracted to diverse communities for the very reason they are diverse). What this means is that the political right accusation of political left bias isn’t based on much if any actual familiarity with media outside of the political right.

From my political left perspective, it is a thousand times better to listen to someone even if you later decide the interaction is undesirable than to never listen at all, to preemptively shut out all views that disagree, to accuse others of bias before you can even honestly claim to know what their views are.

* * *

About this topic, there is a bad article by Ross Douthat, The Missing Right-of-Center Media.

I only mention it because the comment section is a worthy read, helping to explain everything wrong with articles like that. What makes it amusing is that it is an article from the New York Times, supposedly among the most leftist of the liberal media. The reality is that there is no missing right-of-center media. The New York Times, publishing writers like Douthat, is right-of-center media.

More helpful are two answers to a Quora question, Which media outlets in the USA are right-wing and which are left-wing? One answer is from William Goff and another from Mitchell Langbert.

I could offer tons of links to articles and such, of course. But there is no point. Besides, I’ve written about this enough before. The only reason I wrote this new post was because of the callers I heard on CSPAN who probably represent the minority of the population that still gets most of their news from corporate ‘mainstream’ media. I still retain the capacity to be shocked by how many people still don’t understand such basic things as how media bias actually operates.

Anywho, here are my previous posts:

Conservatives Watching Liberal Media
Bias About Bias

What Does Liberal Bias Mean?

This Far Left And No Further
Controlling the Narrative: Part 1
Response to Rightwing Misinformation
Black and White and Re(a)d All Over
NPR: Liberal Bias?
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Man vs Nature, Man vs Man: NPR, Parking Ramps, etc

* * *

 

 

On Infrastructure and Injustice

There is the issue of public infrastructure and who pays for it. My dad brought it up to me and it led to an argument. He couldn’t understand why there was a national discussion about fixing infrastructure. And he seemed to assume that it was citizens and local leaders demanding this. But I’m not sure why he made that assumption.

First, this ignores that it is being talked about because the Republican president made it a main point of his proclaimed agenda. Trump campaigned on progressive-sounding rhetoric, including a promise for a New New Deal program for rebuilding infrastructure. He and those representing him repeated this promise many times. So, considering Trump is now president, all of this is coming from a federal level. The kind of infrastructure being discussed is such things as bridges, the kind of thing that politicians like to focus on. But most people don’t sit around thinking about bridges.

That brings me to a second point. The kind of infrastructure that concerns people is much more basic. They want a paved road so that they can more easily get to work and more quickly get back home after work to take care of their family. They worry about affording basic healthcare for easily treatable diseases and having clean water so that their children don’t get brain damage from lead toxicity. They would like reliable access to electricity, phone lines, etc. These were the priorities of the New Deal and the War on Poverty. These are fairly basic things that we expect in a modern industrialized society, the prerequisite for a functioning social democracy for all citizens.

The people most effected with infrastructure problems are the poor. This leads to multiple problems in solving these problems. Many poor people live in poor communities, oftentimes because of a history of racial segregation. Poor communities have poorly funded governments. But more importantly, it’s not just poverty. It is how that poverty is created.

The government regularly gives away trillions of dollars of public wealth to corporations, not just subsidies and bailouts but even more through cheap access to natural resources on public lands, which is to say from the commons that belongs as much to future generations (not to mention the money spent help corporations on the international market, including using military force to ensure they also have cheap access to natural resources on foreign public lands). By the way, the infrastructure to access those publicly-owned natural resources is typically built by government for free, for the sole purpose of the benefit of wealthy private interests who just so happen to donate lots of money to key campaigns and political organizations. The poverty we have in the US is enforced by those in power, not natural or God-given.

People don’t have a right to demand that their government serves their interests, that is the argument my dad makes. It’s obviously an insincere argument. What he means is that he doesn’t believe a government should serve anyone’s interests but the privileged, the worthy and deserving, ya know, people like him. Everyone else should solve their own  problems or else suffer. But that is mind-boggling ignorance. Civil Rights leaders attempted to solve their own problems at a local level, but were met with resistance and oppression. Residents in poor communities dealing with lead toxicity have attempted to solve their own problems at a local level, but officials and governments have ignored them. It usually takes decades or generations of local struggle before higher levels of government ever take notice, assuming their is a large enough protest movement or legal case to force them to take notice.

The thing is my dad acts like we have a functioning democracy, even as he knows we don’t. Besides, the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t want a functioning democracy. His argument against federal government being involved in local affairs is an argument that the federal government should not be democratic, should not represent the public nor serve the public good, should not be of the people, by the people, for the people. But he can’t admit it, not even to himself, because his actual beliefs are so morally horrendous.

It isn’t just about federal government. The same argument applies at the state level and even further down. Why should state taxpayers help with the problems at the level of communities? As far as that goes, why should the taxpayers in urban areas of a county pay for the infrastructure of rural areas of the same county? Heck, why should the wealthy people in one neighborhood help the poor people in the same city have access to basic utilities? Why have public goods at all? Why not make every all infrastructure privately owned? Why have any government at all since, as the right-wingers claim, taxation is theft and government isn’t possible without such supposed theft? Why not instead have a world of individuals where it is a constant war of one against all? As Margaret Thatcher said, “there is no such thing as society.”

If you don’t have the money, then you shouldn’t be allowed to drive anywhere, drink clean water, or go on living — who is paying for that air you’re breathing, you pneumatic welfare queen! That is the principled libertarian solution. How dare those who suffer and struggle demand a basic response of human decency and compassion! It’s not the privileged controlling the government and the economy who are authoritarians. No, it’s the poor people crying out in desperation who are the real oppressors.

My dad (and people like him) don’t understand and don’t want to understand the very system he benefits from. But on some level, I know he understands. That is the thing that bothers me. My dad is not ignorant, even when he pretends to not know something. I know what he knows because of past discussions we’ve had. Yet each new discussion begins from a point of feigned ignorance, with a denial of what had been previously discussed. It’s frustrating.

If my dad didn’t have his privilege, if he and his family were being racially oppressed, economically segregated, and slowly poisoned by the only water they have access to, if he and his neighbors were politically suppressed and if the government refused to even acknowledge his existence other than to hire more police to keep him in his place, if there had been a long history of political failure at the local level, if wealthy and powerful interests almost always got their way no matter the harm to local residents, would my dad honestly resign himself with libertarian moral righteousness that it was all his fault and that he must be punished for his suffering because his poverty is proof of his inferiority? Would he watch his loved ones suffer and do nothing? Would he just lay down and die? No, he wouldn’t.

It’s not just conservatives such as my dad. I see the same thing with disconnected liberals, in their attitude toward poor people when they vote the wrong way or when a homeless camp appears in a nearby park, and then all the good liberal intentions quickly disappear. I see how easy people are turned against each other, no matter their ideology. And I see how easy ideology becomes rationalization. It reminds one of how quickly an authoritarian government can emerge.

As the desperate unsurprisingly act desperate, the upper classes will demand a response and it won’t be to help alleviate that desperation. It will be a demand for law and order, by violent force if necessary. Put them down and put them in their place. Put them in prisons, ghettos, internment camps, or maybe even concentration camps. Just make them go away or somehow make them invisible and silenced.

The line of thought my dad is following down can only lead to one place, increasing authoritarianism. Without a functioning democracy, there is nowhere else for our society to go. Either that or eventually revolution. So, apparently my dad is hoping for an authoritarian government so oppressive that it effectively stops both democracy and revolution, forcing local people to deal with their own problems in misery and despair. That is the world that good citizens and good Christians, the good people like my dad, are helping to create.

What happens when those who could have done something to stop the horror finally see the world they have chosen, their beliefs and values made manifest?

But Then It Was Too Late

They Thought They Were Free
by Milton Mayer
ch. 13

Suddenly it all comes down, all at once. You see what you are, what you have done, or, more accurately, what you haven’t done (for that was all that was required of most of us: that we do nothing). You remember those early meetings of your department in the university when, if one had stood, others would have stood, perhaps, but no one stood. A small matter, a matter of hiring this man or that, and you hired this one rather than that. You remember everything now, and your heart breaks. Too late. You are compromised beyond repair.

What then? You must then shoot yourself. A few did. Or ‘adjust’ your principles. Many tried, and some, I suppose, succeeded; not I, however. Or learn to live the rest of your life with your shame. This last is the nearest there is, under the circumstances, to heroism: shame. Many Germans became this poor kind of hero, many more, I think, than the world knows or cares to know.

* * *

Later on, I was able to have a more fruitful conversation with my dad. That emphasizes what was so frustrating in that argument earlier. I know he is capable of understanding the point I was making. But something about it so often triggers him. It’s so easy for social conservatives to fall back on such things as Social Darwinism, as almost a default mode.

It’s not like I’m a great defender of big government. Most people aren’t for big government on principle. Few would turn to a government any larger than is necessary. The first response the average person has is to seek what solutions might be had nearby. They only turn elsewhere when all immediate possibilities are frustrated or denied. This isn’t about big versus small government. It’s simply about government that functions democratically, on any and all levels.

So, I finally found a way to communicate this to my dad. But it is always a struggle. If I don’t frame it in the exact right way, he reacts with right-wing ideology. I have to put it into conservative terms of community and social fabric.

I find that a shame because the framing I’d prefer is simple honest concern for other humans, as if they mattered. I don’t want to live in a society where I have to carefully frame every argument in order to not accidentally elicit knee-jerk prejudices. I wish we were beyond that point. I wish we could have discussions that went straight to the problems themselves, instead having to first somehow prove that those suffering are worthy of our compassion.

I did apologize to my dad for getting so upset with him and lashing out at him. It’s not what I want. But these debates aren’t academic. It’s real people suffering, millions of Americans. These people don’t care if it is local or national government that helps them solve problems. They just want a better life for themselves and their children. That shouldn’t be too much to ask for. I have no apology for caring.

Interestingly, one way I got my dad’s mind onto a new track of thinking is by sharing a passage from a book. It was something I had read yesterday, about old school progressives. For some reason, maybe because of the framing of religious moral reform, the following passage was able to shift our dialogue.

American Character
by Colin Woodard
pp. 134-135

When another terrible depression shook the country in 1893, reform movements sprang up across its northern tiers. Like the Massachusetts Brahmins, these turn-of-the-century Progressives weren’t opposed to free-market capitalism or Lockean individualism, but they did believe that laissez-faire was destroying both. Their philosophical mentor was the sociologist Lester Ward, the son of old New Englanders who had settled in the Yankee north of Illinois, and who became the greatest foe of Herbert Spencer and the social Darwinists. “How can . . . true individualism be secured and complete freedom of individual action be vouchsafed?” Ward asked in 1893. “Herein lies a social paradox . . . that individual freedom can only come through social regulation.” He elaborated a theory of collective action to maintain the conditions required to keep individuals free:

Such a powerful weapon as reason is unsafe in the hands of one individual when wielded against another. It is still more dangerous in the hands of corporations, which proverbially have no souls. It is most baneful of all in the hands of compound corporations which seek to control the wealth of the world. It is only safe when employed by the social ego, emanating from the collective brain of society, and directed toward securing the common interests of the social organism.

It was in essence the approach Massachusetts had been taking for decades, which would now be adopted by insurgents in other parts of Yankeedom (Jane Addams in northern Illinois, Charles Evans Hughes in upstate New York, and Robert LaFollette in Wisconsin), the Midlands (William Jennings Bryan in eastern Nebraska), and New Netherland (where Herbert Croly helped found the New Republic in 1914 and from whence came the movement’s greatest figures, Al Smith and Theodore Roosevelt).

Teddy Roosevelt, who served as president from 1901 to 1909, broke up Standard Oil, Northern Securities (which controlled both the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways), the American Tobacco Company, and other great corporate trusts; intervened in a major mining strike to secure a solution beneficial to workers; and founded the National Park Service, national wildlife refuges, and the U.S. Forest Service. He presided over the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and the Hepburn Act, which regulated railroad fares. His goal, he told a rapt audience at the laying of the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 1907, was to restore the spirit of the early Puritans, who yoked the individualistic Protestant work ethic to communitarian goals and institutions. “The Puritan owed his extraordinary success in subduing this continent and making it the foundation for a social life of ordered liberty primarily to the fact that he combined in a very remarkable degree both the power of individual initiative, of individual self-help, and the power of acting in combination with his fellows,” he said. “He could combine with others whenever it became necessary to do a job which could not be as well done by any one man individually. . . . The spirit of the Puritan . . . never shrank from regulation of conduct if such regulation was necessary for the public weal; and it is this spirit which we must show today whenever it is necessary.”

 

Polarizing Effect of Perceived Polarization

“You probably have the sense that polarization is getting worse in our country, that the divide between the left and the right is as bad as it’s ever been in any or our lifetimes. But you might also reasonably wonder if research backs up your intuition. And in a nutshell, the answer is sadly yes.”

That is how Robb Willer began his TED Talk, How to have better political conversations. A commenter said, “He never answered why the polarization has gotten so much worse though.” In my opinion, it hasn’t gotten worse.

The US presently isn’t more divided than it was during the 1960s, isn’t more divided than it was during the violent early 1900s, isn’t more divided than it was in the decades leading up to the Civil War, and isn’t more divided than among the founding generation of Federalists vs Anti-Federalists. This is another one of those simplistic, superficial, and misleading mainstream narratives. And yet it is an extremely compelling story to tell.

People aren’t disagreeing more than ever. It’s just that they are being heard more and hearing others more, because of the growth of mass media and social media. People are being faced with knowing what others think and believe, not being allowed to remain in blissful ignorance as in the past. People feel polarized because they see it in activist groups, mainstream politics, and corporate media. That experience shouldn’t be dismissed, as it feels all too real and does have real consequences. Still, this sense of conflict is misleading. In reality, most Americans agree more about most issues than they disagree. But it depends on how you frame it.

If you make Americans choose between the labels of liberal and conservative, most people of course will pick one of them and the public will be divided. You can use that to frame questions and so prime people to give polarized answers. But the fact of the matter is that if you give people another option such as independent, most won’t choose either liberal or conservative.

If you only give Americans two viable political party choices, many will consistently choose candidates of the same party from election to election. But most Americans identify as independents and would prefer having other choices. Consider the fact that some of the voters that helped Republican Trump win were supporters of Democratic Sanders. Few people are ideological partisans. That is because few people think in ideological terms.

Consider specific issues.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they are for or against tough-on-crime policies, polarization in public opinion is the inevitable result. But if you ask people about crime prevention and rehabilitation, most would prefer that. The thing is few polls ever give people the full, accurate info about the available choices. The framing of the questions leads people to answer in a particular way.

That is because those asking the questions are typically more polarized and so they have an self-interest in finding polarized answers (in order to confirm their own biases and worldview), even if their motivations are unconscious. The corporate media also likes to frame everything in polarized terms, even when it isn’t the best framing, because it offers a simplistic narrative (i.e., entertainment news) that sells advertising.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support pro-choice or pro-life, you will get a polarized response from the public. But if you ask people if they are for both women’s rights and abortion bans, you’ll find most Americans support both simultaneously. And if you ask people if they want to decrease abortions, you’ll find almost everyone wants to decrease abortions. It’s just people see different ways of decreasing abortions.

Most pro-choicers aren’t for increasing abortions (i.e., killing babies). And most pro-lifers aren’t for taking women’s rights away (i.e., theocratic authoritarianism). It’s just they see different policies as being more effective in achieving what pro-lifers claim to support. The two sides at worst disagree about methods, not goals or necessarily even fundamental values. Isn’t it interesting that so many pro-lifers support a women’s right to choose, depending on how the question is framed?

If you give people a forced choice question about whether or not they support same sex marriage, you get an almost evenly divided polarization of public opinion, with an ever so sleight majority toward support. But if polling is done differently, it is shown that the vast majority is tolerant of or indifferent toward this issue. People simply don’t care who marries whom, unless you intentionally frame it as a liberal agenda to use the government to promote gay marriage and force it onto the public. Framed as an issue of personal right of choice, most Americans are perfectly fine with individuals being allowed to make their own decisions. Even the average conservative doesn’t want to force their political views onto others, no matter what is asserted by the polarized GOP establishment and partisans who are reactionaries, authoritarians and social dominance orientation types.

If you give people a forced choice question about whether they support gun rights or gun regulations, you will get what appears to be polarization. But if you give them a third choice of supporting both stronger gun rights and more effective gun regulations, most will take that third option. That is even true with NRA members who disagree with ideologically polarized NRA leadership. And it is also true of liberals, a demographic shown to have surprisingly high rates of guns in the household.

Here is the takeaway. The general public is not polarized, as research again and again has proven. It is the mainstream media and political elites, the political parties and think tanks, the lifelong partisans and ideological activists who are polarized. In economic terms, it the middle-to-upper class and not the lower classes that are polarized.

The apparent hyper-partisanship comes from not increasing number of partisans, but from increasing number of moderates identifying as independents and increasing number of non-partisans entirely giving up on the political system. I’d also add that it isn’t that this has happened equally across the board. Studies show Democrats aren’t any more liberal than they were decades ago (more conservative, if anything; or at least more neocon and neoliberal), even as Republicans have moved ever further to the right. This has caused public debate to become disconnected from the public opinion, disconnected from the beliefs, values and concerns of most Americans. On many major issues, the general public has moved to the political left which exacerbates this disconnection, creating a situation where the two choices are a conservative Democratic Party and a right-wing Republican Party.

The problem is that the polarized (or rather polarizing) minority entirely controls public debate and the political system. Watching this meaningless spectacle of polarized conflict and dysfunction, the non-polarized majority is some combination of not registered, not voting, voting third party, voting semi-randomly, identifying as independent, politically apathetic, demoralized, hopeless, resigned, confused, overwhelmed, frustrated, etc. Some of the general public can be temporarily manipulated by polarization, such as when given forced choices and when threatened with fear-mongering, but in the end their basic values and concerns don’t support polarization.

Meanwhile the party insiders of both main parties, when the issue is important enough to the interests of themselves, their cronies and the donor class, always seem to find a way to agree and cooperate about passing bills and enacting laws that further push public policy toward neoconservatism and neoliberalism. The culture war framing makes for good stories to tell on the corporate media for mass consumption, but they aren’t what drive actual politics.

At the very highest level of wealth and power, there is very little polarization and a whole lot of collusion and cronyism. Some would argue that even the political elite aren’t actually more polarized. They may be arguing more about more issues, even as the substance of conflict might not indicate any greater disagreement overall than in the past. Others, such as myself, would see most of the partisan bickering as yet more political theater to keep the public distracted.

Certainly, there is no polarization in the deep state, the double government, or whatever you wish to call it. Major public policies aren’t left to chance. Research has shown that the general public has little influence on what politicians do. Some take this argument further, pointing that often even elected officials have little power to change things. That is because elected officials represent a miniscule part of the entrenched bureaucracy. Besides, many political elites don’t necessarily operate within the government itself, such as think tanks shaping policy and lobbyists writing bills. For those who aren’t part of the ruling elite, this discourages them from getting involved in politics or running for office.

How would we know if our society is more polarized, in what ways, what it means, and to whose benefit? Polls don’t just tell us what public opinion is. They shape public opinion and polling during elections can influence voting behavior. And what data the corporate media decides to report and how they frame it shapes the public mind. Some might call it public perception management. Is the public really polarized or made to feel polarized or that everyone around them is polarized? What is the agenda in making the public feel divided and individuals isolated?

One thing is so clear as to be beyond all argument. We don’t have a functioning democracy: gerrymandering, establishment-controlled nomination process, third parties excluded from debates, partisan corporate media, perception management, think tank propaganda, astroturf organizations, paid trolls, voter disenfranchisement and suppression, campaigns and political access determined by big money, revolving door politics, regulatory capture, legalized bribery, pervasive secrecy and unaccountability, etc. So, we don’t have elections that offer real choices and actual influence. And because of this, we don’t have political elites that represent the citizenry.

I’m not sure what polarization means within a political system that is oligarchic, plutocratic, corporatist, and inverted totalitarian. Is it really polarized or is it working according to design? And for the all too real divisions that exist, are they ideological or demographic? Are the majority of poor, white and non-white, politically polarized in any meaningful sense when most of them are so politically apathetic as to not vote? As inequality grows along with poverty and desperation, will our greatest concern be how polarized are the tiny minority of the remaining middle-to-upper class?

* * *

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects
Political Elites Disconnected From General Public
Wirthlin Effect & Symbolic Conservatism
Warmongering Politicians & Progressive Public
Racial Polarization of Partisans
Most Americans Know What is True
Liberalism: Label vs Reality (analysis of data)
Non-Identifying Environmentalists And Liberals
US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism
Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party
Claims of US Becoming Pro-Life
Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
The Court of Public Opinion: Part 1 & Part 2
Vietnam War Myths: Memory, Narrative, Rhetoric & Lies

* * *

7 in 10 Americans ‘Not Upset’ with Gay Marriage, New iMediaEthics Poll Finds
by Andy Sternberg and David W. Moore

Liberal Policy Preferences are Everywhere
by Yeggmen

America Is Much Less Conservative than the Mainstream Media Believe
by Eric Alterman

America Not as Politically Conservative as You Think
by Lee Drutman

Why most conservatives are secretly liberals
by John Sides

You’re Probably Not as Conservative as You Think
by Tom Jacobs

You May Think You’re Right … Young Adults Are More Liberal Than They Realize
by Ethan Zell and Michael J. Bernstein

The End of the Conservative Movement (Still)…
by George Hawley

Ideological Labels in America
by Claassen, Tucker, and Smith

Political Ideology
by Jost, Federico, and Napier

Operational and Symbolic Ideology in the American Electorate
by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson

The Ideological Right vs. The Group Benefits Left
by Matt Grossmann

In Search of the Big Sort
by Samuel J Abrams

Who Fits the Left-Right Divide?
by Carmines, Ensley, and Wagner

Despite Headline, Pew Poll Does Not Show a Polarized America
by Todd Eberly

Most experts think America is more polarized than ever. This Stanford professor disagrees. And he thinks the 2016 election has only buttressed his interpretation.
by Jeff Stein

Polarized or Sorted? Just What’s Wrong With Our Politics, Anyway?
by Alan I. Abramowitz and Morris P. Fiorina

Disconnected: The Political Class versus the People
by Morris P. Fiorina

Has the American Public Polarized?
by Morris P. Fiorina

America’s Missing Moderates: Hiding in Plain Sight
by Morris P. Fiorina

Moderates: Who Are They, and What Do They Want?
by Molly Ball

Politics aren’t more partisan today–we’re just fighting about more issues
by Heather Hurlburt

Preference Change through Choice
by Petter Johansson, Lars Hall, and Nick Chater

(Mis)perceptions of Partisan Polarization in the American Public
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil Malhotra

(Mis)perceiving Political Polarization
by Nathan Collins

Americans overestimate political polarization, according to new CU-Boulder research
by Greg Swenson

The Effect of “False” Polarization
by Matthew S. Levendusky and Neil A. Malhotra

Your opinion on climate change might not be as common as you think
by Leviston, Walker, and Morwinski

Constructing Public Opinion
by Justin Lewis

Does Media Coverage of Partisan Polarization Affect Political Attitudes?
by Matthew Levendusky and Neil Malhorta

Do Partisan Media Add to Political Polarization?
by Anne Kim

The Limits of Partisan Prejudice
by Yphtach Lelkes and Sean J. Westwood

Elite Polarization and Public Opinion
Joshua Robison and Kevin J. Mullinix

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship
by Harry J Enten

Elite Polarization, Partisan Ambivalence, and a Preference for Divided Government
by Lavine, Johnston, Steenbergen, and Perkins

Ideological Moderates Won’t Run: How Party Fit Matters for Partisan Polarization in Congress
by Danielle M. Thomsen

How party activists, not voters in general, drive political polarization
by Gillian Kiley

Polls of Persuasion: Beware of the Horse Race
by Alicia Wanless

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.
by Jordan Michael Smith

Christians Dancing

In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich writes that (p.58):

From a Roman perspective, Christianity was at first just another “oriental” religion coming out of the east, and, like others of similar provenance, attractive to women and the poor. It offered direct communion with the deity, with the promise of eternal life, but so did many of the other imported religions that so vexed the Roman authorities. In fact, there is reason to think that early Christianity was itself an ecstatic religion, overlapping the cult of Dionysus.

The Roman Empire looked east, to the “Orient”. Almost everything of significance was came from that direction where most of the other great empires, societies, and cities were to be found: Persia, Greece, Alexandria, etc. Jews and early Christians, to the Roman mind, were perceived as Easterners. A practice like circumcision made Jews stand out in Rome, but in the East there were other religions and ethnic groups that did the same thing.

Jews and Christians, along with Stoics and the worshippers of Dionysus, Isis, and many others — they were all hard to tell apart. Before the Romans came to power, the Greeks developed a worldview of everyone who wasn’t Greek was therefore a Barabarian. In the ancient world, it was only the ruling authorities of the empires that eventually became concerned about sorting people into the proper box and labeling them accordingly.

So, if you vaguely looked like or did anything approximating the behavior of some known group, that is who you’d get lumped with. Simply refusing to eat Pork because you were a vegetarian could get you accused of being a Jew. At times, being Jewish had great advantages and so large numbers converted to Judaism. And at other times, some other identity was preferable. Ancient people were often taken at their word. If you claimed to be a member of a particular religion, ethnicity or nationality, you’d likely be treated as such.

It wasn’t usually a matter of deception, though. Most ancient people had fluid and overlapping identities. The distinction between one group and another was often rather fuzzy. The various populations were constantly intermingling, borrowing traditions from each other, incorporating foreign elements into their religions, and otherwise shifting their identities and cultures as social and political conditions changed.

Ancient people didn’t think in modern terms. But there was beginning to be changes. With the rise of colonial and expansionist empires during the Axial Age, the greater contact put greater emphasis on identity. This can be sensed most clearly in the late Axial Age when religions like Christianity arose. If you were in the growing Roman Empire, how a group defined themselves and were perceived became increasingly important. This is why, “The obvious parallel between the Christ story and that of pagan victim gods was a source of great chagrin to second-century Church fathers” (p. 58). Paul, as a Roman citizen, was particularly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Roman authorities and within Roman society.

This was a challenge. It was obvious to everyone involved that Christianity had borrowed heavily from diverse religious and philosophical traditions. There was nothing unique about early Christianity. There were thousands of small cults like it. The worst part about it, from a Roman perspective, is the stark similarities and connections to Eastern groups. And how could it be denied. The first Christians were themselves Jews who were from the East.

The Jews had spent centuries mixing up various oral traditions with elements of nearby religions before writing any of it down. Then the Jews became heavily enmeshed in Greek culture. In the centuries immediately prior to Christianity, many Jews were worshipping pagan deities, including the ancient practice of conflating deities. Yahweh, for many Jews and non-Jews alike, had become identified with Zeus and/or Dionysus, the relation between those two Greek gods laying the ground work for the relationship between Yahweh and Jesus. Ehrenreich briefly quotes from Robert M. Price’s “Christianty, Diaspora Judaism, and Roman Crisis” and here is the passage she quoted from:

What about the challenges of Diaspora assimilationism? There surely was such a thing as Jews taking attractive features of Gentile faiths and mixing them with their own. My caveat is just to say that wildly diverse Judaism already existed back in the Holy Land. And I would say the mythemes later assimilated from Hellenistic Mystery Religions were able to gain entry because they answered to elements already present in Judaism, perhaps all the more attractive once they had become forbidden fruit in the wake of Javneh. In other words, when the family next door celebrated the death and resurrection of Osiris or Adonis this might appeal to a Jew who was dimly aware that his grandfathers had celebrated pretty much the same rites in honor of Baal, Tammuz, or even Isaac, years before.17 2 Maccabees 6:7 tells us that Antiochus converted large numbers of Jews to the worship of Dionysus. One suspects it was no arduous task, given that some Greek writers already considered Jehovah simply another local variant of Dionysus anyway. The Sabazius religion of Phrygia is plainly an example of worshipping Jehovah as Dionysus. The Phrygian Attis was another version of Adam, his mother and lover Cybele a cognate form of Eve. No wonder the Naasene Document identifies the resurrected Jesus with both Attis and Adam. No wonder we have Jewish sarcophagi from this period depicting both the menorah and the symbol of the resurrected Attis.18

The temptations and challenges of the Diaspora only served to increase the diversity of ancient Judaism, a diversity directly reflected in emerging Christianity, which demonstrably partakes of Jewish Gnosticism,19 Zoroastrianism,20 the Mystery Cults, etc. As Rodney Stark has shown, Diaspora Jews remained a major and continuous source of new Christian converts on into the fifth century.21 Christianity would have been, Stark very plausibly surmises, the ideal assimilation vehicle, since the “new” faith allowed one to retain the cherished ethical monotheism of Judaism yet without keeping up the walls of purity rules that separated one (arbitrarily, as it seemed, and as it would seem again to nineteenth- and twentieth-century Reform Jews) from one’s neighbors. It seems to me that adherence to Christianity (the “true Israel”) would also have been the natural way of clinging to traditional elements of popular Judaism upon which Orthodoxy had frowned but which, as Barker shows, had never died out. I suspect that such Christian-leaning Jews eyed emergent Rabbinic Javneh Judaism as a modern product and viewed it as most pious non-Pharisaic Jews had always viewed the stricter party of the Pharisees (and the Essenes). It would have been entirely natural for Christianizing Jews, hanging on to cherished “underground” mythemes, etc., to have viewed themselves as the real Judaism, the old-time religion. We have, again, been too eager to take the Rabbinic claims to pedigree and originality at face value. Perhaps one more piece of evidence that this is a proper way to view matters is the otherwise odd fact that many Christians continued to attend synagogue for centuries, alongside church, often to the great consternation of their bishops. This implies that the synagogue-attenders viewed the defining label for their religiosity as Judaism, not as a new, split-off religion. Their Christianity was Judaism in their eyes, even if Christian bishops (like Chrysostom) and Jewish Rabbis alike bemoaned the fact.

That fascinates me endlessly. It was such a different world. Monotheism had yet to become monolithic because monotheism itself was a rather fuzzy concept. Sure, you could believe there is one true god, but which god and how many forms could he take. In practical terms, there is no absolute distinction between monotheism and polytheism. Even the Jews often referred to their god using a word that was plural, Elohim. There was a polytheism within Judaism that was very much within living memory of many ancient Jews. And it seems a cultural memory of this continued into the early centuries of Christianity, which maybe explains why there came to be so many violent purges by the heresiologists who gained power. In order to make Christianity into a new religion, they had to annihilate the last remnants of the old time religion. They were never entirely successful, but not for a lack of trying.

An area of struggle was the ecstatic tradition of Christianity. That is part of Ehrenreich’s focus in her book. What has dancing and related practices meant to humans over the millennia. We modern Westerners, especially Americans, don’t associate dancing with the Christian tradition. But there has been a long struggle about this within Christianity itself. And this struggle has taken many forms. One site of struggle has been the dancing so typical of carnivals and festivals. These ecstatic forms of religiosity have sometimes been included within Christianity, at other times they were merely tolerated, and at yet other times they were forbidden. There is evidence that in early Christianity dance was considered by many as a normal expression of worship and devotion. But it isn’t entirely clear what kind of dance it was. Ehrenreich discusses this in great detail (pp. 65-66):

Most of what Christians of the first and second centuries actually did together—whether they even possessed a standardized form of worship, for example—is unknown to us today, but the general scholarly view is that “church services were noisy, charismatic affairs, quite different from a tasteful evensong today at the parish church.”20 They met in people’s homes, where their central ritual was a shared meal that was no doubt washed down with Jesus’ favorite beverage, wine.21 There is reason to think they sang too, and that the songs were sometimes accompanied by instrumental music. 22 Justin Martyr, a gentile convert who died at the hands of the Romans in 165 CE, once wrote that children should sing together, “just as in the same way one enjoys songs and similar music in church.”23 Very likely, Christians also danced; at least this is how the historian Louis Backman interpreted various statements of the second-century Church fathers. Clement of Alexandria (150-216 CE), for example, instructed the faithful to “dance in a ring, together with the angels, around Him who is without beginning or end,” suggesting that the Christian initiation rite included a ringdance around the altar. At another point Clement wrote that in order to invoke the “zest and delight of the spirit,” Christians “raise our heads and our hands to heaven and move our feet just at the end of the prayer—pedes excitamus,” where, according to Backman, pedes excitamus is “a technical term for dancing.”24

So Christians sang and possibly danced, but did they dance ecstatically, as did members of the old Dionysian cults? The evidence for ecstatic dancing, such as it is, hinges on Paul’s instruction, in his letter to the Corinthian congregation, that women should keep their heads covered in church (1 Cor. 11:5). This may represent nothing more than a concern that Christianity remain within the normal pagan and Jewish bounds of gender decorum. After all, Paul did not want women prophesying or even speaking in church, despite the fact that he worked with women as fellow proselytizers and had at one point proclaimed that “male and female are one in Christ.” An alternative explanation for the head-covering rule, proposed by the theologian E. S. Fiorenza, is that the women of Corinth were becoming a little too exuberant for Paul’s tastes.

It seems that during their ecstatic-pneumatic worship celebrations some of the Corinthian women prophets and liturgists unbound their hair, letting it flow freely rather than keeping it in its fashionable coiffure, which often was quite elaborate and enhanced with jewelry, ribbons and veils. Such a sight of disheveled hair would have been quite common in the ecstatic worship of oriental deities.25

Roman women spent hours on their tight coiffures, leaving the long, unbound look to the worshippers of Dionysus, Cybele, and Isis. If we know one thing about Paul, it is that he was greatly concerned about making Christianity respectable to the Romans, and hence as little like the other “oriental” religions—with their disorderly dancing women—as possible.

This may seem like a rather tenuous inference, but the association between hair-tossing and ecstatic practice is widespread and was well established in the ancient world.

All that we know of early Christianity, along with most other early religions, is a fading memory of what came before. It was that fading memory that was written down and typically written down by those who were attempting to eliminate the traces of that memory. All that we can be certain of is that modern Christianity probably has little if any resemblance to early Christianity, in either substance or form.

 

* * *

Dance of the Savior

The Round Dance–text and commentary
by Michael Howard

Singing with the Savior: Reconstructing the Ritual Ring-dance in the Gospel of the Savior
by Erik Yinglin

The Evolution of Sacred Dance in the JudeoChristian Tradition
by Jade Luerssen

Greek Dance: An Ancient Link — A Living Heritage
by Athan Karras

Jesus as Lord of the Dance
From early Christianity to medieval Nubia

by Paul Dilley

MSMsplaining Poor Whites.

There is a Vox video about the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare) and Trump voters. The article that goes along with it was written by Sarah Kliff.

The author is an award winning journalist who has interviewed Obama about the ACA, although her education isn’t in journalism. She is now a senior editor at Vox and regularly reports on healthcare. Vox, owned by Vox Media, is a major news website founded in 2002 by Ezra Klein. It is serious journalism of the mainstream variety. Their model is what they call “explanatory journalism”, the above mentioned video and article being prime examples.

Vox has received both praise and criticism. There is plenty of negativity toward Vox from the political right, but that is mostly a disagreement about which ideological bias is preferable. More interesting is a statement made by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept. He writes about, in relation to the Democratic Party, the liberal media such as Vox “suppressing reporting that reflects negatively on them and instead confines itself to hagiography.”

I state all of that as a way to frame Sarah Kliff’s journalism. She has acted as a cheerleader for Obamacare. I’m not against people supporting what they believe in, but it isn’t what I’d prefer from journalism. The video ends up less interesting for this reason. Kliff is telling a story and it falls into a mainstream narrative framing that is somewhere between unhelpful and irritating.

This has to do with the mainstream media’s recent obsession with poor whites, especially poor rural whites. It isn’t limited to the liberal media. Everyone has been turning the spotlight on this minority population, as if their existence is supposed to explain everything. Charles Murray wrote about poor whites in Coming Apart and J.D. Vance did so in Hillbilly Elegy, both of which largely downplay economic realities and portray this population as a failure, having supposedly failed not just economically but also according to morality and culture, imagination and self-initiative. Going by Vance’s account, you’d think that if you look at poor whites wrong they might shoot you or beat you up, that is when they aren’t doing drugs and slutting around.

It’s been bugging me. Leave the poor whites alone. Or if you feel that understanding them is really going to help you understand the sorry state of America, at least look to authors worth reading such as Joe Bageant or Nancy Isenberg. To be honest, I don’t see anything particularly special about poor whites. They aren’t all that different from any other variety of poor people. Poverty sucks. I suppose it’s nice that the upper classes are noticing, for whatever that is worth.

It’s not that Kliff’s journalism is horrible nor what is seen on the political right. I actually did like Kliff’s video at first, but it bothered me the more I thought about it. I have no reason to think she wasn’t trying her best to be fair. The problem is that the upper classes (including the upper middle class) are so disconnected from reality on the ground that they bring so many biases to any attempt at understanding. This is why they fall back on stale narratives. The mainstream media view of race and class hasn’t fundamentally changed since the early 20th century. We keep being told the same basic stories over and over, as if the stories were all that meaningful in the first place and as if nothing has changed in all that time.

* * *

Let me give a detailed response to the video. But first I should explain what the video focuses on.

The setup is this. Sarah Kliff visited some white people in a particular area of Kentucky, Whitley County. The reason the county is relevant at all is because a woman living there, Kathy Oller, who has worked signing people up for Obamacare. This woman, horror of horrors, admitted that she voted for Trump in the hope that he would improve Obamacare. One unstated assumption is that the few people she interviews in that place can be generalized to all Trump voters. Another unstated assumption is that Obamacare was a primary reason or factor behind most people voting for Trump.

It would have been nice if she had talked to Whitley County residents who supported or voted for candidates other than Trump. What percentage of this population would have voted for Sanders, if he had been nominated? It would have been even better if she had talked to the majority who probably didn’t vote at all. I doubt most eligible voters voted for Trump because most poor eligible voters don’t vote. Why didn’t she talk to people who didn’t vote and ask them why they didn’t?

I’d also like to hear from those who aren’t eligible voters such as prisoners and ex-cons. Poor rural areas have high rates of incarceration. There is a detention center in Whitley County and a federal prison in adjacent McCreary County. Many people move to live near where their family members are incarcerated, to make visitation easier. I wonder what those people thought about the various candidates and about politics in general, specifically political reform. Why do we treat these people as if they are irrelevant? Are they not also citizens who will be effected by public policy?

Also, it would have been useful to hear from the 3% of blacks (and other minorities) living in Whitley county. It’s easy to forget that there are still large populations of rural blacks in the South. Besides maybe Hispanics, blacks were the last large racial/ethnic group to become majority urban. Whether rural or urban, with a population of 35,637, Whitley County includes over a thousand minorities. Plus, there are thousands of minorities in the surrounding counties, along with around 700,000 minorities in Kentucky (about half being black). Minorities are among the poor in Kentucky and they too have been hit hard by economic problems. Yet not a single minority was interviewed, as if minority Kentuckians don’t exist because they don’t fit mainstream stereotypes. The words ‘blacks’ and ‘minorities’ weren’t even mentioned. And the only non-white person shown in the video and discussed in the article was Barack Obama. There were minorities who voted for Trump. Who were these minorities? And what were the expecting from such a vote?

We’ll never know from this kind of “explanatory journalism”.

* * *

I always wonder about the background.

I know quite a bit about Kentucky from doing genealogical and historical research of the state. I had family there from the late 1700s to the late 1800s (some of my earliest Kentucky family came from Pulaski County which is adjacent to McCreary County and nearly touching the corner of Whitley County). Kentucky used to have a large number of blacks, about a quarter of the state’s population, and they were mostly rural. When I visited there a few years ago, I didn’t see a single black person in any rural area.

Most blacks either left the state or moved to the cities, as the early 1900s began a violent time in Kentucky. There was racial cleansing and the enforcement of sundown towns—see: James Loewen’s Sundown Towns, Elliot Jaspin’s Buried in the Bitter Waters, and George Wright’s Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940. All three of those books discuss a well documented Whitley County incident in Corbin, Kentucky that happened in the fall after the Red Summer (1919). Loewen notes that a least certain residents were still trying to maintain it as a sundown town into the 1990s and some suspect that it is still a sundown town.

On a positive note, I’d point out two things about the 1919 incident. The Corbin mob violence was immediately condemned by the then editor of the local newspaper. And the mob leader was prosecuted by the state. But less positive, the moral atrocity of this incident was wiped from the public memory in the local population and recent local officials have fought anyone attempting to bring it to public attention. Even so, the reputation of these places aren’t forgotten by blacks, as to this day many fear going near towns like Corbin.

In terms of demographics, Jaspin offers the details (Kindle Locations 2874-2877):

“In fact, census records show that the black population in Corbin, which had been sixty in 1910, was exactly three in 1920: Emma Woods and her sixty-five-year-old boarder Steve Stansbury and the affectionately nicknamed “Nigger” Dennis. Beyond the city limits, there was a lesser but still substantial drop. Laurel County saw its black population cut in half from 657 to 333 between 1910 and 1920. Whitley County’s black population went from 1,111 to 600. By 1930 it would be cut in half again, and after 1960 it would never again rise above 150.”

To put this in a larger context, Loewen writes (pp. 71-72):

“In the first two decades of the twentieth century, whites expelled African Americans from almost the entire Cumberland Plateau, a huge area extending from the Ohio River near Huntington, West Virginia, southwest through Corbin, Kentucky, crossing into Tennessee, where it marks the division between east and middle Tennessee, and finally ending in northern Alabama. In most parts of the plateau throughout most of the twentieth century, when night came to the Cumberlands, African Americans had better be absent.69 The twenty Cumberland counties in eastern Kentucky had 3,482 African Americans in 1890, or 2% of the region’s 175,631 people. By 1930, although their overall population had increased by more than 50%, these counties had only 1,387 black residents. The decline continued: by 1960 the African American population of these counties had declined to just 531, or 0.2%, one-tenth the 1890 proportion.”

This is far from ancient history, as Loewen explains (p. 381):

“Corbin, a sundown town in the Kentucky Cumberlands, had not relented as of 1990. In his 1991 movie on the community, Trouble Behind, Robby Heason asked a young white man if it would be a good thing for blacks to move into Corbin. “Black people should not live here,” he replied. “They never have, and they shouldn’t.” He did not know that African Americans had lived in Corbin until whites drove them out at gunpoint in 1919, and his attitude surely boded ill should a black family try to move in. As of 2000, almost none had; Corbin’s 7,742 people included just 6 African Americans; adjacent North Corbin had just 1 African American among 1,662 inhabitants. Around 1990, McDonald’s brought in an African American to manage a new restaurant, but he and his family left before it even opened, reportedly after a cross was burned in his yard.”

Apparently, since that time, one black man moved to Corbin and has remained. So, I guess it is possible for a black man to not entirely fear for his life now in that town. But few blacks want to press their luck. Still, maybe this signals a positive change, however slight.

I would put all of this in perspective. This kind of oppressive racism was as bad or worse all across the Northern and Western United States, including in Solid Blue states. Oregon is the only place that was officially a sundown state, excluding minorities entirely by law. Oregon also has high rates of white poverty and unemployment. How has Oregon voted in presidential elections for several decades? Democrats every time. Racial cleansing and sundown towns is how so many blacks ended up concentrated in inner cities. The point being that this doesn’t make Whitley County atypical in any way. It doesn’t seem to have made the residents any more strongly and consistently partisan, as I note further down. Besides, much of the exodus was at least partly for economic reasons, causing many whites to flee as well. It was often the economic stress that led to or fed into racial conflict.

I was looking at a map of the percentage of blacks in each Kentucky county. Whitley County is way down in the southeast part. It is mostly surrounded by counties that have relatively higher percentages of black population. McCreary County next door has 5.8% blacks and nearby Clay County has 4.4%. What is interesting is that, according to the 2000 census, McCreary only had 0.63% blacks. The video says there are 97% whites in Whitley and I assume that means the other 3% is mostly blacks, but in 2000 there were 0.34% black residents.

Maybe some of the harshest racial tensions are beginning to break down. The living memory of racial cleansing is gone with our only being a few years away from the hundred year anniversary of the Red Summer.

Anyway, the changing demographics seems to indicate some shifting of populations, since birth rates couldn’t have that kind of impact. There has been increasing numbers of Northerners, black and white, moving South. That has to do with cheap housing and employment. I’m sure there is cheap housing in the poorest counties. But obviously there is much unemployment, at least in Whitley. The question is why would there be population shifts, unless the changing racial percentages has as much or more to do with who is moving out than who is moving in.

There is something odd going on here. The unemployment rate now there is 5.7%. That isn’t particularly high compared to the national average at 4.9. It is about half of what it was in the years following the Great Recession and about the same as it was before. It was much higher back in the early-to-mid 1990s, almost to the levels following the Great Recession. Then it dropped below the present national average in the late 1990s.

Sure, the people living there are poor. But the vast majority of them are working and they live in an area that has cheap living costs. They may not have affordable healthcare now, but most of them never had affordable healthcare at any point in their lives. In objective terms, there is nothing obviously worse about their lives now than in the past. Yet these are the populations that for some reason are experiencing worsening mortality rates. It’s not loss the loss of good mining jobs that has changed recently, as good mining jobs have mostly been gone for decades.

So, what’s happened? Drug addiction and suicide rates are unsurprisingly high. And they are worsening for these poor rural populations. But these are results, not causes. They are indicative of something going on that is making many of these people’s lives seem intolerably bad.

* * *

It’s also interesting to look at voting patterns.

Whitley County is far from being a Solid Red county. In the last 20 presidential elections, the county has half the time gone to Republicans and the other half to Democrats. They voted for Bill Clinton twice and voted for Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, among other Democratic candidates. Of course, it was a way more Democratic state in the early 20th century. It was even more Democratic not that long ago. In the county, 15% are now registered as Democrats, but more than a third were back in 2000. It would have been even higher during the Clinton administration and earlier.

Whitley County is party of the Eastern Kentucky Coalfield. Coal mining is known for its history of militant labor organizing and labor unions are known for their support of the Democratic Party (along with radical left-wing politics): “During the Great Depression, New Deal programs and the organizing of the United Mine Workers of America made many of the eastern counties Democratic” (Wikipedia). Even as other regions turned toward the political right, the labor solidarity in coal country helped maintain for much longer that old school Progressivism. Maybe it is unsurprising that, as coal mining jobs disappeared and local labor power was broken, the longstanding Democratic alliance faded.

It’s not like these people are ignorant partisans. When a candidate speaks to their concerns, they’ll vote for either party. Once upon a time, that meant Democrats. It isn’t as if they didn’t vote for Obama just because he was a black guy. They also didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Al Gore. The Democrats have ignored them since Bill Clinton and even he only gave them lip service, which was still more than what most Democrats offered. According to inside sources, Hillary ignored Bill’s advice to focus on working class whites. Why exactly would these people vote for a party that treats them like they don’t exist or don’t matter?

It’s rather unsurprising that they voted for Trump, considering they’ve voted Republican in the last several presidential elections. It might have had nothing to do with Trump (nor with Obama and Clinton). That is what is wrong with the video. It portrays their voting for a Republican candidate this time as somehow different than when they voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George W. Bush. The better question is why did they entirely stop voting for Democrats after Bill Clinton left office.

Here is a major problem with this kind of news entertainment, as I mentioned earlier. It is falling into a mainstream narrative. It doesn’t really explain anything, focusing as it does on one single narrow issue, that of Obamacare in relation to the presidential election. It tells a story and tries to cram the lives of real people into the storyline. But the narrative framing doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

Why is the mainstream media looking to rural whites to explain Trump? Most whites aren’t rural. And more specifically, most whites who voted for Trump aren’t rural. Actually, the earliest and strongest supporters of Trump during his campaign were economically above average, compared to the general population. How is looking at a poor county in a rural state supposed to explain Trump as somehow different when that county has voted for Republicans in the previous four elections?

The implication is that this is about poor rural people. But it isn’t even clear what percentage of whites in that county are rural. The unemployment rate is close to the national average and most of the population would work in whatever major cities are nearby.

More interesting to know would be to look at the places that voted for Obama in one or both of the last elections but then voted for Trump. Those places would be better indicators of what has changed. The problem is many of those places are urban, suburban, and exurban. They don’t fit into the mainstream narrative. Why did strongly Democratic states such as Wisconsin and Michigan go to Trump? Wisconsin isn’t known for its desperately poor white population and Michigan has a large population of minorities and union members. How would any mainstream narrative explain that?

Also, explain to me a rural state like Minnesota that is majority white. Why has Minnesota not gone to a Republican presidential candidate since 1972? And why is Minnesota the only state to not have voted for Ronald Reagan either time? Similarly, why did so many majority white states in the rural Midwest vote for Obama, even after Obamacare? And then why did some of those states then vote for Trump? Riddle me that, Batman.

* * *

Out of curiosity, I looked at the Whitley County data for rural versus urban. It is mostly rural, at 65% of the population. I’d first emphasize that this also means 35% are urban. And urbanites vote at higher rates, partly because they have easier access to polling stations.

A second thing is that rural can describe a diversity of residential situations. Barely outside of the city I live in are many ‘rural’ residents living in old farm houses and trailer parks (my parents’ house is in a fully urban upper middle class neighborhood within the city limits and it is just a few blocks from rural country roads among vast stretches of farmland). Most of those ‘rural’ folk work here in the city and often with decently paying jobs, only living outside of the city for cheap housing. With that in mind, what percentage of that rural population in Whitley County lives near an urban area or commutes to a job in a city? More importantly, what kind of jobs are they working? What is the pay and benefits? And what are the costs of living?

Here is another thought. I know there is a difference between the reported unemployment rate and the real unemployment rate. The data I was looking at probably was only the reported data. Around 95% of the population there isn’t reported as unemployed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are employed either. We’d need to differentiate between the percentage employed and the percentage permanently unemployed, both sets of data not shown in the standard unemployment data.

My guess is that the permanently unemployment rate is higher there. If so, how high? Even so, the real unemployment data has been kept hidden since the Reagan administration. It’s not anything new. The fact remains that unemployment was lower by the time Obama left office, unless there really has been an increase in the permanently unemployed in such counties.

It’s hard to find accurate data. And even harder to determine what it means. On what basis are we to conclude that Whitley County is representative of the average white person, the average poor white person, the average rural white person, and/or the average Trump voter? Also, how do we know the people interviewed in that video are representative of the average person in that county, in that state, or in that region? It would have been nice if they had used the interviews alongside public opinion data.

Some historical background would have been helpful as well, even simply for the sake of telling a good story. There were many angles that could have been taken that would have offered far more depth of analysis and insight. By Vox’s asserted standard of explanatory journalism, the video and article was rather miserly with the explanatory details. I’m left with more questions than answers. It fails as worthy news reporting. It certainly doesn’t meet the standards of investigative journalism. Instead, it ends up being yet another human interest story, eliciting from viewers some combination of sympathy, outrage, and perplexity. Whatever the viewer response, it sells advertising and makes profit.

These criticisms wouldn’t be so important if they weren’t so widely applicable to all of mainstream media. This is just one example among many and far from the worse. It stood out to me for the reasons that, by the standards of mainstream media, it is above average in quality. It is a well made video and interesting to watch. It does have some basic value, even if only in hearing a few ordinary Americans explain how they view the political situation, just as long as you keep in mind that they aren’t necessarily representative of anyone else.

* * *

As fun as it is to chastise MSM hacks for their lack of curiosity and vision (or whatever exactly they are lacking), I feel like ending on a different note. Let me bring in the personal, by offering some observations from my own experience. After that, I’ll add some concluding thoughts.

I find no difficulty or resistance to pointing out the problems of whites who are some combination of Southern, poor, and rural. I have some sense of who these people are. My paternal grandmother was from the Deep South. Much of my mother’s family spent a couple of centuries in Kentuckiana, an area I’ve often visited. My mother, a Hoosier by birth, had a Southern-sounding accent when she was younger. I was born right at the edge of Appalachia in Ohio where I spent my earliest years of childhood. I’ve lived in the Carolinas, South and North. I’ve been friends with rednecks, dated hillbillies, and fraternized with lower class whites of a diverse variety. I live in a majority white state in the Midwest where rural life is a common experience.

Since the video is about Kentucky, let me deal with that. A few years back, my parents and I took a trip down there and it gave me felt sense of a part of the South that I didn’t know as well, even though I already indirectly knew of it from visiting my Hoosier family over the decades. In doing genealogical research, we went to many rural counties, including in southern Kentucky. I did see in some places a kind of rural poverty I hadn’t often come across before, but overall it didn’t seem like a bad place to live. Despite how it gets portrayed, Kentucky isn’t a hellhole of hopeless poverty. There are thriving big cities there, even a metropolitan area that extends up into Indiana. The county seats seemed like nice towns like found anywhere else—with public schools and public libraries, along with civic organizations.

What stood out to me most of all was how friendly and helpful people were. Kentucky has some of the feeling of the Midwest. In many ways (geographically, historically, and culturally), it is as much part of the Lower Midwest as it is part of the South. It is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and the state government never sought to secede during the Civil War (initially declaring neutrality and then joining the Union). I didn’t meet a single person who fit the stereotype of a mean redneck or threatening hillbilly, as J.D. Vance described his own family.

In doing genealogical research and traveling around back roads, my parents and I experienced nothing but kindness. Complete strangers went out of their way to help us, again and again and again. I’m not just talking about the staff at public libraries, genealogical centers, and county courthouses. Random people were simply nice.

While looking for an old family cemetery, we stopped to talk to people on a country road. I knocked on one rundown house and an entire family peeked out at me, but they didn’t have a snarling vicious dog nor did anyone point a gun at me. They politely answered my questions. Another guy I talked to was mowing his lawn and, after questioning him as well, he directed me to a nearby house. Once again, I knocked on a stranger’s door in this rural area and one of the nicest guys you could ever meet answered the door. He was so welcoming that he welcomed us onto another neighbor’s land by taking us to where the old family homestead was located. After that, he invited us back to his home.

When further down south in Kentucky, probably in Putnam County, we were looking for another family cemetery. It too was on private property. We drove down this lane where it opened up on someone’s yard. We parked and a guy came out to greet us. He didn’t act fearful or aggressive toward us. If anything, it was plain old Southern hospitality, more than I ever experienced when living in South Carolina. He didn’t mind us being on his property and showed us around and told us what he knew about the property.

These random people we met in rural Kentucky seemed like basic working class whites. I don’t know where they were in relation to the poverty line, but they were decent people. The guy who guided us around the neighbor’s property at one point spoke of someone as being a “good Christian”. That is different from the Midwest where, when praising someone, it is more typical to hear it said that the person is a “hard worker” or some such thing.

I must admit that I like the attitude of judging people by their moral worth, not their work status. Blaming people as lazy for being unemployed when jobs are scarce is neither fair nor compassionate. And then blaming their economic conditions for their voting patterns is plain pointless. People vote for the best option they see, but the sad state of affairs is that our political system rarely offers many good choices.

That was the one thing the Vox reporting got right, if it was only briefly acknowledged. The main person interviewed, Kathy Oller, explained her reasons:

“Oller likes the idea of universal coverage. She supported President Obama in 2008 and 2012 specifically because of his promises to expand affordable health insurance. But in 2016, she decided to vote for Trump. In part, she felt it was a bit of a toss-up. She kept describing voting as something akin to “Russian roulette” — you never really know what you’ll get with a candidate, she argued.”

That is what US elections are. They are a gamble where your life is on the line, as with “Russian roulette” (in the video, she describes it as pulling the lever on a slot machine; an election is a gamble where you don’t know whether you’re pulling a slot machine lever or a gun trigger, not until after it’s already too late). There is almost no way to rationally choose, under such conditions. It’s the attempt at blindly weighing of harms versus benefits and so deciding who is the lesser evil. It should be a wake up call for Democrats that so many Americans perceived Donald Trump as a lesser evil than Hillary Clinton.

This isn’t about poor rural white people, those who get called hillbillies, rednecks and white trash. It’s simply about ordinary people facing impossible decisions that can’t and will never lead to good results. Most people vote out of a desperate sense of hope, despite all the evidence that politicians of both major parties mostly ignore the public while doing the bidding of monied interests.

If journalists are going to attempt to explain something, then that might be a good place to start.

* * *

As for poor rural whites, specifically the Appalachian hillbillies, below are some more edifying pieces about who are these people and communities, what it all means or symbolizes, and why there is such obsessive concern by outsiders, specifically the moralizing paternalism among elites.

Appalachia this election year: So many stories, so little depth
by CD, The Homesick Appalachian

There is no neutral there: Appalachia as a mythic “Trump Country”
by Elizabeth Catte

Hillbilly Elitism: The American hillbilly isn’t suffering from a deficient culture. He’s just poor.
by Bob Hutton, Jacobin

J.D. Vance, the False Prophet of Blue America
by Sarah Jones, New Republic

Hillbilly Shuffle: Don’t Blame Appalachia For Trump
byJeff Biggers, Common Dreams

Author too removed from culture he criticizes
by Brandon Kiser, Lexington Herald-Leader

* * *

Some of my previous posts:

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics
Trump is not the White Savior
On Rural America: Understanding Is The Problem
WASP Elegy
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
American Class Bigotry
Whites Understanding Whites
Joe Bageant: On the White Underclass
On the White Trash Heap
What Is Kentucky?
Are White Appalachians A Special Case?
On Racialization of Crime and Violence
The Desperate Acting Desperately
Fearful Perceptions
Union Membership, Free Labor, and the Legacy of Slavery
Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

Reconstruction Era Race Relations

In Rebirth of a Nation, Jackson Lears captures a moment in history. The world we know was taking shape. But before any of that had yet fully taken hold, a different kind of experience was common and it is hard for us to imagine.

Most Americans in the nineteenth century were rural. They were mostly poor and living in small communities. In the South, this included blacks and whites living in close proximity and often working side by side. After the Civil War, most blacks remained in rural areas and continued farming. Many of them bought their own land and gained financial independence.

There wasn’t much conflict at the time. The KKK arose right after the Civil War and yet a few years later the federal government had destroyed it, not to be resurrected for another half century. There was remarkably little violence between blacks and whites. Rural black violence was almost non-existent. The main violence actually was among rural whites, but even that was rather limited. As for the cities, the fear about violence was focused on ethnic whites such as Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans. The greatest perceived threat by the WASP upper classes were the waves of poor European immigrants, many of them Catholic and speaking foreign languages.

Before the last years of that century, there was no large-scale systematic persecution of blacks and even then it took decades to develop into all-out race war. Lynchings didn’t become a serious issue until the 1890s. And the Second Klan wasn’t established until 1915, not gaining prominence until the 1920s. For the decades immediately following the Civil War, race relations were doing quite well, considering slavery had ended not long before. Freed blacks sought lost family members, farmed their own land, built houses, educated their children, elected politicians, formed militias, and published newspapers.

Many whites at the time didn’t see this as a serious threat. People were just happy that the Civil War was over and that everyone could get back to living. The average white person wasn’t sad about the destruction of slavery and the aristocracy that once controlled it. Most whites were no better nor worse than they’d ever been. Life went on.

It was primarily the middle-to-upper class whites who were most bothered by the changes. The old plantation owners, of course, experienced great loss. But the social order had been challenged more broadly. It must be remembered that the Second Klan, like the one before it, wasn’t a populist movement. Most Klan members were professionals and other respectable people: businessmen, managers, ministers, judges, lawyers, police chiefs, etc. These were the same men who pushed for Jim Crow and re-enslavement through forced prison labor, with blacks regularly imprisoned on false charges.

Poor whites, on the other hand, had little to gain from any of this. Wealthy Southerners always looked down on poor whites. And the Second Klan targeted ethnic whites more than it did blacks. But the powerful were highly resourceful in turning the poor against each other. When Reconstruction ended with the removal of US military from the South, the ruling elite were quick to re-establish the racial order.

This coincided with the Gilded Age when the Robber Barons turned brutal. There was a new kind of equality where hundreds of thousands of American workers, both black and white, were violently oppressed and sometimes killed in labor conflict. Some groups like the Knights of Labor nationally organized across racial and ethnic divides (“By 1886 20% of all workers were affiliated with the KOL, ballooning to nearly 800,000 members.”~Wikipedia). But they were ultimately fighting a losing battle.

American society became fractured. And average Americans began to see each other as enemies, almost as a premonition of the ethno-nationalistic world wars to come. As always, in the ensuing conflict, minorities struggled the most and suffered the worst. Yet in that golden moment after the Civil War, the future looked bright for most Americans with a promise of continuing progress and betterment for all. There was nothing inevitable about that coming to an end. It didn’t die of natural causes. It was killed by a ruling elite fueled by greed and lust for power. Bigotry was just a convenient means to that end.

* * *

Rebirth of a Nation:
The Making of Modern America, 1877-1920
By Jackson Lears
pp. 92-93

One baking-hot Georgia afternoon in 1877, the Methodist minister Atticus Haygood took the Macon and Brunswick Railroad from Jesup to Macon and chanced upon a memorable scene. “The smoking car,” he recalled, “was packed full with a rare and racy, if not rich crowd of lumbermen,” returning home to Macon after delivering a load of timber to Brunswick. “We saw a very black negro and a fair-haired youth drinking alternately out of the same black-bottle,” Haygood wrote. “They sat promiscuously and drank, smoked, laughed, sang, whistled, and danced together. One young fellow knew the potent notes and they sang ‘fa, so, la’ while he beat time…. He sings a sort of wild tenor we used to hear at camp-meeting.” The scene typified the easy race-mixing that characterized everyday life in parts of the rural South into the 1880s. Hunting, fishing, cooking, shucking corn, tending to the sick and midwifing babies—all involved cooperation and sometimes camaraderie between the races.

Consider another scene, a country picnic at Pitman’s Mill. Georgia in 1896. A young boy named Mell Barrett was about to listen to an Edison talking machine for the first time. “With the tubes in my ears, the Pitchman was now adjusting the needle on the machine…. My excitement increased, my heart was pounding so I could hardly hold the tubes in my ears with my shaking hands…. ‘All Right Men, Bring Them Out. Let’s Hear What They Have to Say,’ were the first words I understood coming from a talking machine…. The sounds of shuffling feet, swearing men, rattle of chains, falling wood, brush, and fagots, then a voice—shrill, strident, angry, called out ‘Who will apply the torch?’ ‘I will,’ came a chorus of high-pitched, angry voices…[then] the crackle of flames as it ate its way into the dry tinder…My eyes and mouth were dry. I tried to wet my lips, but my tongue, too, was parched. Perspiration dried from my hands. I stood immobile.” What Mell Barrett heard was several black men being burned alive, after they had confessed at gunpoint to an interracial rape. It was one of hundreds of such lynchings that scarred many parts of the South between the late 1880s and the early 1900s—a mass ritual of racial revitalization through violence.

The difference between these two scenes underscores the transformation of race relations in the Gilded Age South. The earlier period was hardly an era of biracial harmony, characterized as it was by systematic white efforts to drive blacks from public life. Yet as the lumbermen’s frolic suggests, even after Reconstruction, as white Democrats returned to power, race relations remained fluid among the folk. By the 1890s, the fluidity was gone. Lynching was only the most brutal and sensational example of a concerted white effort to reassert absolute dominance by drawing the sharpest possible boundaries between the races. This effort was part of a campaign by the prosperous to purify the Southern body politic, rendering it fit for inclusion in the parade of economic progress. In sum, it was all too appropriate that the first sound young Mell Barrett heard from that modern marvel, the talking machine, was the baying of a lynch mob. Southern lynching in the 1890s, like the incandescent racism that spawned it, was a product of modernity.

To be sure, the consciousness of racial difference had existed for centuries, at least since the earliest European encounters with the dark-skinned inhabitants of the New World. But there was something profoundly different about the racism of the late nineteenth century—it was more self-conscious, more systematic, more determined to assert scientific legitimacy. The whole concept of race, never more than the flimsiest of cultural constructions, acquired unprecedented biological authority during the decades between Reconstruction and World War I.

The Sting of the Scorpion

There is continuous failure in American society, continuous for my entire life. This past campaign season and election has been a wake up call for me, even as others continue to sleep and dream. I’ve been shocked by how so many people, especially among the well educated, don’t seem to grasp what is going on. No matter how bad it gets, they always find new ways to rationalize it and make themselves further complicit in making it worse. They can’t see what has been happening, what has caused it, and where it is heading.

It isn’t a refusal but an inability to understand. They just don’t get it. I doubt they will ever get it, at least not until it’s too late to doing anything about it. That might be intentional on an unconscious level. These people realize they aren’t capable of the changes that are necessary, that must and will happen. Repressed desires can get expressed in odd ways, oftentimes in the form of resistance and fear that makes the desired outcome inevitable. I’ve previously observed this pattern in human behavior. Sometimes people know a change needs to happen. But on a conscious level they can’t take responsibility for making the change happen. So they create situations that will force the change to happen.

An example of this is people who obviously don’t like a job. They have the skills to work other jobs and there are other jobs available. Yet they won’t quit the job they have, instead acting in ways that will get them fired. To an outside perspective, it is clear the person is trying to get fired. It is what they want, even if it isn’t what they can admit to wanting.

Trump’s election is like that. On a conscious level, Democrats didn’t want a crazy demagogue Republican as president. Even so, everything they’ve done has created the conditions to put Trump into power, even going so far as the DNC promoting him into the Republican nomination. Trump will force the changes to happen, good or bad, and so force us all to take action. He will accomplish for Democrats what no establishment Democrat ever could. Democrats needed to make manifest the unseen, to exacerbate and exaggerate the situation so that it would be so overwhelming as to not be denied. Trump is playing the role required of him, a role taken to the extreme of caricature.

Arnold Mindell has a theory about this. If something goes unclaimed in the collective psyche, it must find a way to manifest in our collective experience. It’s similar to the process of a patient’s transference and a pscyhotherapists countertransference, but on a larger scale of our shared humanity — a group dynamic. This sometimes means an individual person needs to embody the issue that the group needs to confront. Trump has taken all of the problems we are facing and made them visible and visceral, made them concretely and personally real. That is what was needed. All our problems are now unavoidable. Trump is in power because, as a society, we didn’t know how to face our problems in a different way. Trump is holding a mirror up for Americans to see themselves.

As with Trump, Democrats, the liberal class, and the mainstream media are also playing roles. Few of them understand this. But that is irrelevant. For those of us who do understand, it is our responsibility to act accordingly and to treat them accordingly.

Consider the fable of the scorpion and the frog. The scorpion asked the frog to carry him across the river. Even though knowing scorpions are dangerous, the frog thought he was safe because he assumed the scorpion wouldn’t sting him while carrying him across. He was wrong and the scorpion did sting him. As the frog faced the reality that they both would drown, he asked the scorpion why he did it. The scorpion said because it was in his nature.

Like the scorpion, those in power and their minions on the pseudo-left can’t help themselves. It’s in their nature or, rather, it’s in the role they are playing. They’ve become fully identified with that role with its scripted behavior. But like the frog, the rest of us have a choice. There is nothing forcing us to carry the scorpion on our backs. It would be the wise thing to do keep as far away from the scorpion as possible. We already know how that story ends.

That leaves us in a situation of uncertainty. Those of us who saw it all coming didn’t chose this fate. But it is the shared fate that has chosen us, by default of being part of the same society that includes those who did make that choice. It is irrelevant what we’d prefer. We have to deal with what is before us. Knowing the nature of those involved, knowing the roles that are being played, how do we respond? What do we do?

It does no good to blame the scorpion. The scorpion simply acts in the way any scorpion would act, as scorpions have always acted since time immemorial. The scorpion isn’t evil. Likewise, we know that it is in the nature of pseudo-liberal Democrats to betray us when it matters most. It is simply what they do. They can’t be trusted any more than a scorpion. But they aren’t evil. It’s just a role they’ve taken on and the script they are playing out.

It is up to us to understand our own nature. No one can do that for us. We have to choose our own role and take responsibility for what it entails. Anger, outrage, frustration, and even hatred are normal human responses. It’s fine to feel the full range of your humanity, including that of hope and longing. The issue we face is how might we act, rather than merely react. In this scenario, what role is being ignored and is demanding to be fulfilled. What might that role represent? And are we capable of playing it?

If it turns out we don’t like any of the roles on offer, that takes us down another level deeper. The roles available are based on the story we are collectively living and manifesting. Every story has a particular ending. To change the ending, we’d have to change the story. In telling a new story, we would have different roles to choose from. And in choosing some other role, we’d enact a worldview that would displace what came before. Enough people do the same and all of society will follow.

You can listen to the stories told to you. Or you can tell your own story.

Very Serious, Important Thoughts

(1) There is Amazon’s “The Man In the High Castle”, HBO’s “The Young Pope” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”. They all seem quite relevant to the present. But it would be better to keep authoritarianism in fiction and not let it seep into reality.

(2) It is nice getting one thing cleared up. During Trump’s campaign, there was a question that was on many people’s minds. Is Trump actually crazy or is it all an act? Well, it turns out it isn’t an act.

(3) This is what scares me. Republicans want law and order without rule of law. That is an accurate working definition of authoritarianism.

(4) The positive side of this is that we’ve now seen the beast for what it is. Democrats like Obama going back to Republicans like Reagan put a friendly face on growing fascism. Most Americans simply didn’t want to know.

That was the situation we were stuck in for decades. But the stark reality can no longer be ignored. Now that Americans have been forced awake from their dreams, an opportunity is before us but an opportunity that requires a choice be made.

(5) Democratic partisans and establishment ignored the political left, excluded third parties, and attacked reform candidates. They did this for decades. And they were successful in disempowering and frustrating progressive change.

So now they have right-wing reactionaries to contend with. Those who have gained power will make us all pay attention. And the coming years won’t be a happy time to be alive.

This all could have been avoided. But it is what the Democrats chose. They threatened that they either would get their way in everything or they would unleash a madman on us. I hope they’re satisfied with their Pyrrhic victory.

(6) What then? That is one of my favorite questions. After thinking about one thing or another, it often comes to mind.

It can be applied to almost any issue or concern. Trump has been elected president. What then? The dog ate the cookies including the wrapper. What then?

It’s an important question.

(7) As I’m Mr. Optimism, here is another positive for you.

For as long as I can remember, many on the political right have argued that if only a real businessman were made president he would clean house and show how it is done. Well, now we know. Trump is showing us all how a businessman does politics.

It’s good to clear things up. I’m all for experiments. We tried it and that is that. No one has to speculate about what would happen if a businessman was given ultimate power. That ends that particular argument, at least for the next several generations.

What’s our next experiment? Maybe we could see how well our country continues to function after our government collapses from within. Isn’t experimenting fun!?! It is sort of like science, but without the controls. I think the peer review process will have to be done by other countries, though.

Just stick with me. I’ll keep you updated on the positives as they roll in.

* * *

Bonus questions:

  • You’re in a bear pit. Which is worse, the large dangerous bear who is angry and hungry or the person who shoved you into the bear pit?
  • Everyone loves monkeys. Two scenarios: The Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz being torn apart by the witch’s army of flying monkeys. And the gangster in Bruce Almighty who experiences the exiting and returning ‘home’ of a little anal-dwelling butt monkey. You must choose the lesser of two evils. Which one do you prefer?
  • What is worse, that which weakens the immune system such as HIV or that which kills so many with weakened immune systems such as pneumonia? If you could only eliminate one of these, which would it be?

A Neverending Revolution of the Mind

In a recent book, Juliet Barker offers new perspective about an old event (1381: The Year of the Peasant’s Revolt, Kindle Locations 41-48):

“In the summer of 1381 England erupted in a violent popular uprising that was as unexpected as it was unprecedented. Previous rebellions had always been led by ambitious and discontented noblemen seeking to overthrow the government and seize power for themselves. The so-called ‘Peasants’ Revolt’ was led by commoners— most famously Wat Tyler, Jack Straw and John Balle— whose origins were obscure and whose moment at the forefront of events was brief. Even more unusually, they did not seek personal advancement but a radical political agenda which, if it had been implemented, would fundamentally have transformed English society: the abolition of serfdom and the dues and services owed by tenants to their lord of the manor; freedom from tolls and customs on buying and selling goods throughout the country; the recognition of a man’s right to work for whom he chose at the wages he chose; the state’s seizure of the Church’s wealth and property. Their demands anticipated the French Revolution by four hundred years.”

Our understanding of the origins of modernity keep being pushed back. It used to be thought that the American Revolution was the first modern revolution. But it was preceded by generations of revolts against colonial elite. And before that was the English Civil War, which increasingly is seen as the first modern revolution. We might have to push it even further back to the Peasant’s Revolt.

It makes sense when you know some of the historical background. England had become a major center of wool production. This unintentionally undermined the feudal order. The reason is that an entire community of feudal peasants isn’t necessary for herding sheep, in the way it had been for traditional agriculture. So, by the time the Peasant’s Revolt came around, there had already been several centuries of increasing irrelevance for much of the peasant population. This would continue on into the Enlightenment Age when the enclosure movement took hold and masses of landless peasants flooded into the cities.

It’s interesting that the pressure on the social order was already being felt that far back, almost jumpstarting the modern revolutionary era four centuries earlier. Those commoners were already beginning to think of themselves as more than mere cogs in the machinery of feudalism. They anticipated the possibility of becoming agents of their own fate. It was the origins of modern class identity and class war, at least for Anglo-American society.

There were other changes happening around then. It was the beginning of the Renaissance. This brought ancient Greek philosophy, science, and politics back into Western thought. The new old ideas were quickly spread through the invention of the movable type printing press and increasing use of vernacular language. And that directly made the Enlightenment possible.

The Italian city-states and colonial empires were becoming greater influences, bringing with them new economic systems of capitalism and corporatism. The Italian city-states, in the High Middle Ages, also initiated advocacy of anti-monarchialism and liberty-oriented republicanism. Related to this, humanism became a major concern, as taught by the ancient Sophists with Protagoras famously stating that “Man is the measure of all things.” And with this came early developments in psychological thought, such as the radical notion that everyone had the same basic human nature. Diverse societies had growing contact and so cultural differences became an issue, provoking difficult questions and adding to a sense of uncertainty and doubt.

Individual identity and social relationships were being transformed, in a way not seen since the Axial Age. Proto-feudalism developed in the Roman empire. Once established, feudalism lasted for more than a millennia. It wasn’t just a social order but an entire worldview, a way of being in and part of a shared world. Every aspect of life was structured by it. The slow unraveling inevitably led to increasing radicalism, as what it meant to be human was redefined and re-envisioned.

My thoughts continuously return to these historical changes. I can’t shake the feeling that we are living through another such period of societal transformation. But as during any major shift in consciousness, the outward results are hard to understand or sometimes hard to even notice, at least in terms of their ultimate consequences. That is until they result in an uprising of the masses and sometimes a complete overthrow of established power. Considering that everpresent possibility and looming threat, it might be wise to question how stable is our present social order and the human identity it is based upon.

These thoughts are inspired by other books I’ve been reading. The ideas I regularly return to is that of Julian Jaynes’ bicameralism and the related speculations of those who were inspired by him, such as Iain McGilchrist. Most recently, I found useful insight from two books whose authors were new to me: Consciousness by Susan Blackmore and A Skeptic’s Guide to the Mind by Robert Burton.

Those authors offer overviews that question and criticize many common views, specifically that of the Enlightenment ideal of individuality, in considering issues of embodiment and affect, extended self and bundled self. These aren’t just new theories that academics preoccupy themselves for reasons of entertainment and job security. They are ideas that have much earlier origins and, dismissed for so long because they didn’t fit into the prevailing paradigm, they are only now being taken seriously. The past century led to an onslaught of research findings that continuously challenged what we thought we knew.

This shift is in some ways a return to a different tradition of radical thought. John Locke was radical enough for his day, although his radicalism was hidden behind pieties. Even more radical was a possible influence on Locke, Wim Klever going so far as seeing crypto-quotations of Baruch Spinoza in Locke’s writings. Spinoza was an Enlightenment thinker who focused not just on what it meant to be human but a human in the world. What kind of world is this? Unlike Locke, his writings weren’t as narrowly focused on politics, governments, constitutions, etc. Even so, Matthew Stewart argues that through Locke’s writings Spinozism was a hidden impulse that fueled the fires of the American Revolution, taking form and force through a working class radicalism as described in Nature’s God.

Spinozism has been revived in many areas of study, such as the growing body of work about affect. Never fully appreciated in his lifetime, his radicalism continues to inform and inspire innovative thinking. As Renaissance ideas took centuries to finally displace what came before, Spinoza’s ideas are slowly but powerfully helping to remake the modern mind. I’d like to believe that a remaking of the modern world will follow.

I just started an even more interesting book, Immaterial Bodies by Lisa Blackman. She does briefly discuss Spinoza, but her framing concern is the the relationship “between the humanities and the sciences (particularly the life, neurological and psychological sciences).” She looks at the more recent developments of thought, including that of Jaynes and McGilchrist. Specifically, she unpacks the ideological self-identity we’ve inherited.

To argue for or to simply assume a particular social construct about our humanity is to defend a particular social order and thus to enforce a particular social control. She makes a compelling case for viewing neoliberalism as more than a mere economic and political system. The greatest form of control isn’t only controlling how people are allowed to act and relate but, first and foremost, how they are able to think about themselves and the world around them. In speaking about neoliberalism, she quotes Fernando Vidal (Kindle Locations 3979-3981):

“The individualism characteristic of western and westernized societies, the supreme value given to the individual as autonomous agent of choice and initiative, and the corresponding emphasis on interiority at the expense of social bonds and contexts, are sustained by the brain-hood ideology and reproduced by neurocultural discourses.”

Along with mentioning Spinoza, Blackman does give some historical background, such as in the following. And as a bonus, it is placed in the even larger context of Jaynes’ thought. She writes (Kindle Locations 3712-3724):

“Dennett, along with other scientists interested in the problem of consciousness (see Kuijsten, 2006), has identified Jaynes’s thesis as providing a bridge between matter and inwardness, or what I would prefer to term the material and immaterial. Dennett equates this to the difference between a brick and a bricklayer, where agency and sentience are only accorded to the bricklayer and never to the brick. For Dennett, under certain conditions we might have some sense of what it means to be a bricklayer, but it is doubtful, within the specificities of consciousness as we currently know and understand it, that we could ever know what it might mean to be a brick. This argument might be more usefully extended within the humanities by considering the difference between understanding the body as an entity and as a process. The concept of the body as having a ‘thing-like’ quality, where the body is reconceived as a form of property, is one that has taken on a truth status since at least its incorporation into the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 (see Cohen, 2009). As Cohen (2009: 81) suggests, ‘determining the body as the legal location of the person radically reimagines both the ontological and political basis of person-hood’. This act conceives the body as an object possessed or owned by individuals, what Cohen (2009) terms a form of ‘biopolitical individualization’. Within this normative conception of corporeality bodies are primarily material objects that can be studied in terms of their physicochemical processes, and are objects owned by individuals who can maintain and work upon them in order to increase the individual’s physical and cultural capital.”

In her epilogue, she presents a question by Catherine Malabou (Kindle Locations 4014-4015): “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?” The context changes as the social order changes, from feudalism to colonialism and now capitalism. But phrased in various ways, it is the same question that has been asked for centuries.

Another interesting question to ask is, by what right? It is more than a question. It is a demand to prove the authority of an action. And relevant to my thoughts here, it has historical roots in feudalism. It’s like asking someone, who do you think you are to tell me what to do? Inherent in this inquiry is one’s position in the prevailing social order, whether feudal lords challenging the kings authority or peasants challenging those feudal lords. The issue isn’t only who we are and what we are allowed to do based on that but who or what gets to define who we are, our human nature and social identity.

Such questions always have a tinge of the revolutionary, even if only in potential. Once people begin questioning, established attitudes and identities have already become unmoored and are drifting. The act of questioning is itself radical, no matter what the eventual answers. The doubting mind is ever poised on a knife edge.

The increasing pressure put on peasants, especially once they became landless, let loose individuals and identities. This incited radical new thought and action. As a yet another underclass forms, that of the imprisoned and permanently unemployed that even now forms a tenth of the population, what will this lead to? Throwing people into desperation with few opportunities and lots of time on their hands tends to lead to disruptive outcomes, sometimes even revolution.

Radicalism means to go to the root and there is nothing more radical than going to the root of our shared humanity. In questions being asked, those in power won’t be happy with the answers found. But at this point, it is already too late to stop what will follow. We are on our way.