Star Trek Over Time

I’m super curious about the new Star Trek show that will eventually be coming out, a bit delayed. The original is one of the shows I grew up with. And the entire set of series mark the changes of the world I’ve known over my life.

The Original Series is a cult classic. It’s Wagon Train to the Stars! It has the optimistic bravado of the early Cold War with a bit of an edge with the changing culture during the 1960s. It was largely escapist fantasy during a troubled era, but it was written and produced by those who remembered an earlier time. It resonated with the Golden Age of hard science fiction with its focus on technology and spaceships, exploration and adventure, along with some fun and imaginative ideas thrown in. It ended in 1969, before real world events turned even uglier in the 1970s, not to imply that American society wasn’t already taking a severe downturn.

I’ll skip over The Animated Series. It was a product of the 1970s, but it was very much an extension of The Original Series. I never watched much of it. The quality of the animation was equivalent of Scooby-Doo. The 1970s wasn’t known for its great animation, at least not on network tv, even if some of the cheap cartoons could be amusing for a child to watch. Anyway, Gene Roddenberry never considered The Animated Series to be canon.

Moving onto the 1980s and 1990s, there was The Next Generation. It revived the Star Trek world, brought the original out of status of mere cult classic and cheap rerun fodder. TNG was a truly high quality production. It made this future society much more compelling and realistic. The starship was an entire multicultural community with families, schools, entertainment, social events, etc. It was a utopian vision of technocratic socialism where the welfare state and social democracy had been pushed to their furthest extreme with all basic needs taken care of and all resources and opportunities made accessible, although a socialism that offered an alternative to the hard-edged communist totalitarianism of the Borg.

This particular futuristic imagining was the last gasp of Cold War optimism, the supposed end of history where capitalism had won and yet was becoming something entirely new. The show was initially produced during the last years of the Cold War and the beginning of the boom years that followed. It was a calmer time of history in the US and the West with no major wars or conflicts. Yet there was a growing edge of anxiety in the broader society. Threats of societal unease within the Federation mirrored the same in the United States, the tensions of a vast imperial-like civilization in both cases fraying at the edges with terrorism becoming an issue.

Interestingly, the Maquis were introduced in Deep Space Nine. That next series began in the last years of the previous series, The Next Generation. The Maquis were a terrorist group that arose at the frontier of the Federation, as some of the far-flung planetary colonists felt abandoned and betrayed by the centralized government. As TNG was still being produced, the Maquis storyline bled over into that series.

After the Cold War, Americans found themselves subjects of an empire and not sure what that meant. And those societies at the edge of the American Empire also were feeling on edge, as a new era of unchallenged neoliberalism came into dominance. It was a time of political conflict and culture wars. Without the global conflict of the Cold War, public attention turned toward these fractures within the Western world.

Years before the 9/11 terrorist attack, right-wing fanatics in the US and abroad were becoming central concerns. Ted Kazynski, the unabomber, continued his bombings through the early 1990s, the last two incidents killing the targeted victims, until he was arrested in 1996. The same year as Kazynski’s last bombing there was the Oklahoma City bombing, the largest act of domestic terrorism in US history. That was committed as retaliation for the 1993 violent conflict in WACO, involving the federal government and a religious cult that had been stockpiling weapons. There was also much violence by anti-abortion terrorists, including numerous murders in the 1990s. Outside of the US but in the English-speaking world, there was an upsurge of IRA bombings around that time as well, 28 attacks during the 7 years of TNG series.

On top of all that, it was a time of worsening racial and ethnic conflict. There was the police beating of Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The tension of that decade was maybe exacerbated by the Immigration Act of 1990, which greatly increased the number of immigrants for the first time in decades. There was a realization that WASP culture was once again under threat. Fox News took advantage of those fears not just with right-wing pundits but also with hiring tall blonde women who represented the stereotype of the Aryan ideal, the white male audience presumably were supposed to fantasize about these women bearing them a new generation of Aryan children who would save America and lead us into the future… or something like that.

It was in this atmosphere that DS9 was produced. It showed a different side of the Federation and presented the first main captain character of a Star Trek series that was black. It was set on a space station near a wormhole and a highly religious planet, former territory of the Cardassian Union. The issues of the show were about conflicts, often violent, between various societies and groups within societies. These conflicts were often religious and ethnic in nature, but it also portrayed a setting of a multicultural meeting point where key characters of different races worked together and formed friendships.

The future of the Federation was being threatened like never before, but the enemies involved weren’t what the Federation was used to dealing with. The challenges faced were less of the variety of mighty space empires or communist-like Borg, but instead primarily the dangers of local religious fanatics and the menace of a highly advanced and secretive race of shapeshifters. The Dominion was an enemy that could be anywhere and appear like anyone. It wasn’t always clear, in DS9, who were enemies and who were friends or at least potential allies, as everything was in flux. Relationships, personal and political, were sometimes strained to the breaking point. And it was the destruction of the Maquis, caught in the middle, that was a prelude to war with the Dominion.

Back in the world of the United States, the sociopolitical mood during the mid-to-late-1990s was beginning to sour with the rise of a new kind of reactionary and conspiratorial right-wing that was given a platform through talk radio and Fox News: Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc. The Cold War had been about American might expanding onto the global theater and also a time of exploration of space. But in the last decade of the century, American society had turned more inward. The United States was drifting along into the future, we Americans having lost our cultural bearings. Many sensed an impending doom with our civilization approaching the year 2000 and along with it the third millennium, a symbolic calendrical shift giving rise to a foreboding mood as if almost anything could happen, even the end of the world as we knew it.

The reason the Maquis had been brought into the Star Trek world was as a plot device for the then upcoming series, Voyager. That next series, having begun in 1995, took over when The Next Generation ended. The confident optimism of the earlier Star Trek series had entirely evaporated. The new storyline was about a Federation starship and a Maquis starship becoming lost in distant and unknown stretches of space. The stability and safety of the Federation are gone. The crews are forced to join together in hope of finding their way home again. They are thrown into the unintended role of explorers, a rough-and-ready crew reminiscent of the the Federation’s early years.

Like these former enemies who became necessary shipmates, the bitterly antagonistic two-party system of the 1990s found itself unprepared for a world not expected or understood. DS9 having ended in 1999, Voyager carried us into a new century and a new era. The last episode of Voyager was aired only months before the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Voyager had made its way back to the Federation and soon after, outside of the Star Trek world, the United States would regain a sense of national purpose. But the economic good times were already winding down with the bust of the Dot-com bubble. America’s sense of greatness would be militaristic, not economic.

In the new century, Americans became even more obsessed with the national history. Maybe unsurprising, the last aired Star Trek series, Enterprise, brought us to the beginning of the Federation or rather slightly before its formation. That series demonstrated the mood of simultaneously looking back and peering forward. The period of the Enterprise was the Federation’s past and our future. According to the Star Trek timeline, this present century will involve World War III and a period of post-atomic horror. Following that comes first contact with an alien species. Later this century, human society begins to recover. And it is in the next century that humans become a spacefaring civilization, the story told in the Enterprise series.

Watching that series is to see the initial fumbling steps of humanity moving toward maturity as a species, but humans at that point are still largely arrogant toward and ignorant of the world beyond Earth. Many mistakes are made, as humanity attempts to gain a moral compass. For example, the Enterprise crew are confronted with a situation where they have to decide about intervention and this is prior to any Prime Directive, as there is no Federation yet. The Prime Directive has often been interpreted as a criticism of American interventionism, such as during the Vietnam War, but it took on new meaning during the post-9/11 years when the Enterprise series was aired.

For various reasons, many fans disliked that series. It maybe doesn’t help that it is the only series involving a non-Federation crew. A Star Trek show minus the Federation is not quite the same. It is specifically the vision of the future offered by the Federation that has attracted so many fans. But maybe it would have been hard for Americans to feel much interest in any Star Trek series in that early period of the War on Terror, a time when dark and dystopian entertainment captured the public imagination.

Yet in its own way, the Enterprise series did resonate. It maybe resonated too well, in presenting a future that was too close for comfort. In the 21st century, we are entering into the future history of the Star Trek world and it ain’t pretty. The coming years are supposed to be a time of mass unemployment, poverty, and homelessness which leads to the formation of ghettoized Sanctuary Districts and ends up inciting the Bell riots of 2024. It’s a pivotal moment, the setting of the stage for the events that move us toward global disaster and rebuilding. In its inspiration, it mirrors another pivotal moment, as the idea of the Bell riots was based on two real world events from decades ago: the 1970 Kent State shootings and the 1971 Attica Prison riot.

The era of the early Starfleet is born out of the ashes of, from our perspective, a yet to happen near apocalypse. With the mood of America and the rest of the world right now, World War III and nuclear destruction seems all the more probable. Our present fearless leader, President Trump, is a dumbed down and even less competent version of our last demoralizing chief of state, President Nixon with his inglorious impeachment and resignation, providing yet another link between the events of the 1970s and contemporary developments in the 21st century. As we face the future, it’s an immense gulf between our petty American Empire and the grand galactic civilization of the Federation guided by wise leaders such as Captain Picard.

That leaves us with the next installment. Coming soon is the Discovery series. It will return us to the time period of the original Star Trek, approximately ten years before. So, this will involve a refocusing on exploration and, well, discovery. I’m not expecting a re-envisioned Wagon Trail to the Stars, but I suspect the recent movies in the franchise very well might be indicative of the direction being taken. It supposedly is intended to help bridge the 150 years between the Enterprise and the original. I must say that sounds rather ambitious.

I’ll be curious to see how it might touch upon contemporary issues. One thing that stood out to me is that the cast is described as diverse, including a gay character. I don’t recall homosexuality coming up in the original show, but Captain Kirk had interracial kisses in two separate episodes which was scandalous for mainstream tv at the time. Whatever kind of show it is, it will be nice to return to my favorite fictional universe. And I certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to escape dark and depressing present realities, by leaping forward a couple centuries into the future. Star Trek, at its best, has been a visionary show and even leaning toward the utopian. We Americans could use some confident optimisim at the moment.

Authoritarians in Authoritarianism

Recent articles I’ve read point toward a typical confusion about authoritarianism, what it is and what causes it. The confusion seems built into the way we frame and measure authoritarianism, in particular as seen in the earliest research. Some social scientists speak of ideological mindsets and personality traits in the way that race realists talk about races, such that there are ‘authoritarians’ and ‘non-authoritarians’ as clearly defined and demarcated types of people. But it’s beginning to occur to some of them that this is inadequate.

Maybe unintentionally, Amanda Taub gets at this point in her Vox piece, The Rise of American authoritarianism. She states that, “Non-authoritarians who were sufficiently frightened of threats like terrorism could essentially be scared into acting like authoritarians.” This is based on “researchers like Hetherington and Weiler, Stanley Feldman, Karen Stenner, and Elizabeth Suhay, to name just a few.”

It’s interesting research and I’ve read many of the scholarly writings on this and so I’m already familiar with what Taub is discussing, but my understanding of such things has shifted these past years. When we label something, we tend to reify the underlying concepts and forget that they are social constructs we project onto the data (and hence onto the world) in trying to make sense of complexity, which then can lead to increasing simplification as the reified concepts are fed back into further research design and analysis.

The quote above about ‘non-authoritarians’ gets at this. If non-authoritarians can act like authoritarians, then maybe there is no such thing as authoritarians and non-authoritarians. Instead, a more reasonable conclusion is that all people possess within their common humanity a wide variety of potentials for psychological traits, social behaviors, and ideological tendencies. If so, it wouldn’t be helpful then to speak of subsets and subgroups as if that adds further clarity and insight. To be fair, Taub touches upon the issue rather directly, albeit briefly:

“More than that, this early research seemed to assume that a certain subset of people were inherently evil or dangerous — an idea that Hetherington and Weiler say is simplistic and wrong, and that they resist in their work. (They acknowledge the label “authoritarians” doesn’t do much to dispel this, but their efforts to replace it with a less pejorative-sounding term were unsuccessful.)”

Immediately after that, Taub goes right back to the assumption that authoritarianism is an inherent “psychological profile” that can get activated. From this view, seeming non-authoritarians don’t become authoritarian but were secretly authoritarian all along, just waiting for the right conditions to make their true nature manifest. Sleeper agents of societal madness ready to be unleashed on the naively innocent, Manchurian candidates waiting for a trigger from an evolutionary demiurge lurking in human synapses. At any moment, so goes the dark fantasy, alt-right trolls could transform into goosestepping Nazis who will suddenly take over the country. But in reality that isn’t how it ever works, as these things gradually build up over time and involve the entire society. Authoritarianism is far from being a strange relic of abnormal psychology and social deviants, like an infectious Darwinian maladaptation that must be quarantined and studied by the intellectual elite standing above it all. Even if we were to think of it as a mind virus, the greater threat would be those intellectual elites becoming carriers and spreading it into polite society, as has happened throughout history.

Projecting authoritarianism onto individuals or narrow groups is the opposite of helpful. It’s a way for people like Taub to maintain their belief that authoritarianism is something that only involves those other people, not good liberals like herself. Here is the problem. Taub is a Democrat and has strongly supported Hillary Clinton. The Clinton campaign has shown how strong the authoritarian tendencies are built into the Democratic Party. In supporting corrupt oligarchs like Clinton, Taub demonstrates how easily supposed non-authoritarians can act like authoritarians and defend authoritarianism. It does appear that authoritarianism closely tracks with social conservatism, but social conservatism comes in many forms. Democrats, for example, can be extremely socially conservative in their defense of the status quo, no matter how ‘liberal’-sounding is their empty rhetoric.

The reality is that no individual is an authoritarian. Rather, it’s social systems that are authoritarian, whether we are talking about organizations or movements or parties. In the US, the two-party system has long had an authoritarian streak. Both parties create the conditions for increasing neoliberalism and neoconservatism, increasing inequality and police-surveillance state. And those conditions in turn create an oppressive atmosphere of fear that, for the general public, elicits authoritarianism. It’s a great means of ensuring submission and social control. Social dominance orientation types, such as the lesser evils of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, then attempt to use that to their advantage. If you’re looking for the least authoritarian Americans, you’d need to look entirely outside of the two-party system.

In a fairly authoritarian society such as ours built on a long history of oppression, it is meaningless to talk about ‘authoritarians’ as if they were a distinct group of people. Nor does it help to blame it all on a single issue like racism, as a way of dismissing the larger context of authoritarianism. Obviously, as Taub explains, various forms of bigotry and other factors can elicit and activate authoritarianism. It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to separate out all of the tangled threads of dysfunction.

Let me return to the significance of the racial order. It is true that, as we live in an authoritarian society, we also live in a racist society. Both authoritarianism and racism become internalized by everyone within this society, even if normally these remain hidden. It’s there in the background, shaping and informing our worldview. Research shows that it’s easy to find racial biases in almost anyone, but more than that it is how racism is woven into the social structures and institutions we are part of. Not as much research of this sort has been done on underlying authoritarianism, but it has become more of a focus and it would be expected to operate in a similar way. There is pervasive racism with a rather small minority of overt racists, and so it should be unsurprising that there can be pervasive authoritarianism that is not primarily dependent on the authoritarianism of individuals. The continuation of systemic problems don’t require vocal, active support since silent, passive complicity can be so much more powerful.

This is hard for people to grasp. We can’t see clearly the society we are inseparably a part of, that defines our entire sense of identity and experience of reality. This makes it difficult for researchers who are trying to understand the very problems they are implicated in, as members of the society under scrutiny. Many researchers, as with many journalists like Taub, are good liberals which creates another bias. Obviously, authoritarianism will operate differently among liberals than among conservatives or right-wing reactionaries. Yet we know from history that authoritarians often come to power when good liberals, out of fear, turn to authoritarian leaders. Clinton in calling her enemies deplorables (just like she did when calling young blacks ‘superpredators’) was intentionally provoking an authoritarian response of fear from her followers, framing the other side as an existential threat to the ‘liberal’ way of life… and it worked, even though it turned out that her establishment authoritarianism was less effective as she lacks charisma and raw force of personality.

It’s not hard, though, to understand the likely reasons for authoritarianism manifesting differently throughout the social order. Growing inequality (of wealth and opportunity, of power and influence) inevitably will lead to authoritarianism, but that authoritarianism will be expressed in disparate ways according to demographics and the historical legacies that they represent; lower classes or upper classes; or if middle class, downwardly mobile lower middle class or stable upper middle class; populations with high or low rates of unemployment, food deserts, incarceration, and lead toxicity; those directly impacted or not by the numerous negative externalities of neoliberalism and neoconservatism; et cetera.

The liberal class tends to be relatively more economically secure and comfortable, and so authoritarianism is less often to be seen in overt ways on the personal level. Instead, good liberals will support the authoritarianism of the system that their lifestyle is dependent on. That way, their hands are kept clean. They let the professionals like the Clinton New Democrats do the dirty work of forcing punishment on minorities through racialized tough-on-crime laws, drug wars, and mass incarceration… through corporatism that maintains the class system and keeps the poor in their place… through war-mongering, CIA interventions, and neoliberal foreign policies that ensures the American Empire runs smoothly.

In basic ways, the liberal class even on the lower end of the economic spectrum are protected from what the rest of the country experiences. The greatest of privileges is never having to acknowledge one’s privilege. It is all taken for granted, not just as a privilege but a right — if required, to be protected from the dirty masses that demand to be treated with equality and fairness. When that privilege is challenged, the authoritarianism of good liberals becomes very much overt. It’s just that in recent history good liberals have been kept comfortable and content while the lower classes have been kept disempowered and silenced, but that has begun to change and so we are beginning to hear authoritarian rhetoric from establishment Democrats, in their fear of the coming backlash of righteous justice, outraged vengeance, and populist unrest. Status quo Democrats know that they have been on the wrong side of history and this all-encompassing anxiety has led them to lash out blindly, making them a dangerous animal (e.g., their paranoid conspiracy theorizing and war-mongering about Russia that could initiate World War III).

Sadly, liberals tolerate, help to create, and often defend the very conditions that make authoritarianism inevitable: hyper-partisanship, identity politics, increasing inequality, stagnating wages, weakening organized labor, loss of good job benefits, worsening job insecurity, scapegoating the poor, law and order politics, racist dog whistle rhetoric, war hawk policies, militarization of the police, drug wars, mass incarceration, etc. Major figures such as President Jimmy Carter have voiced concern that the United States has become a banana republic and, based on the overwhelming evidence, it is impossible to argue against those concerns. In Taub’s article, she discusses this as if the conditions of authoritarianism are new, but the reality is that they’ve been building for decades and generations. Democrats have done little if anything to stop this, often promoting policies that make it worse. Both parties have embraced a corporatism that somehow balances the requirements of an oligarchic police state and the demands of plutocratic inverted totalitarianism, all the while maintaining the endless spectacle of a banana republic.

What motivates supposed liberals to promote the policies that undermine liberal-mindedness and strengthen authoritarianism? That isn’t to scapegoat liberals, in opposition to those who would like to scapegoat some other group, but obviously many who sound liberal-like aren’t the enemies of authoritarianism that they pretend to be. This faux liberalism is what one would expect in an authoritarian society born out of classical liberalism. Most people on all sides don’t understand the kind of society they are in or how it shapes them. As with faux liberals, Trump’s followers and his election to the presidency are symptoms, not the disease. No single group can be blamed for what has become of this society. All of it has to be taken as a whole, including the role of good liberals and every other sector of society. It is the society that is authoritarian. In a non-authoritarian society, individual authoritarians would be powerless and insignificant. The source of of the problem is systemic and institutional.

There is no inborn psychological profile of authoritarians, just as I’d argue that there are no genetic-based personality traits of addictiveness, neuroticism, etc. There are simply authoritarian conditions, no different than there are conditions for other mindsets and behaviors. Authoritarianism along with so much else is latent in everyone, as a potential within a shared human nature.

I’ve long been fascinated by personality traits/types and other areas of social science. Myers-Briggs personality theory was what initially drew me toward using web searches to find info. The first website I ever became an active member of was a Myers-Briggs discussion forum, although such things as trait theory was also regularly discussed. Most fascinating of all was the research and the many correlations shown, but over time I’ve grown more circumspect.

These days, I feel less certain about what correlations might (or might not) indicate. It partly comes from years of seeing how research can be misused by race realists, but that is only possible because much of the research itself is problematic. Correlations are dime a dozen, whereas proving causation is often near impossible. It’s not easy to determine that a correlation is not spurious, that it is significant and meaningful, and then articulating a falsifiable hypothesis that leads to useful results that don’t merely confirm one’s biases and expectations.

My interest here goes far beyond only authoritarianism. This involves my growing appreciation for the power of all kinds of environmental influences. Not just influences, though. To be more accurate, we are environmental creatures to the core of our being. We are inseparable from our environments, both physical and social. This has become a major theme of my writing. It comes out in my discussions of race realism and capitalist realism, of rat parks and high inequality, of toxo plasmosis and lead toxicity, WEIRD research and ancient societies.

Authoritarianism is yet another lens through which to peer into the social nature of humans. Living in this society, all of us are products of our environment while also being participants in the social order. What if studying authoritarians holds up a mirror to our own psyche, individual and collective? What does this say about us?

* * *

Human Nature: Categories & Biases
Bias About Bias
Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition

Social Disorder, Mental Disorder
To Put the Rat Back in the Rat Park
Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park
Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams
Dark Matter of the Mind
Investing in Violence and Death
An Invisible Debt Made Visible
From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations
America Is Not Great For Most Americans
The Comfortable Classes Remain Comfortable
Immoral/Amoral Flynn Effect?
Uncomfortable Questions About Ideology
Bias About Bias

Inequality leads to authoritarianism: Why Trump is acting like “a generalissimo with a giant brass eagle on his hat”
by Edward McClelland

Everyday Authoritarianism is Boring and Tolerable
by Tom Pepinsky

The Social Origins of Authoritarianism
Frederick Solt

Authoritarianism’s Hidden Root Cause
by Matthew Wills

The Rise of the Servant Society
by Michael J. Thompson

Authoritarian capitalism in modern times
by Peter Bloom

Culture of Cruelty: the Age of Neoliberal Authoritarianism
by Henry Giroux

Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Authoritarianism
by Riad Azar

Inequality causes rise of authoritarian leaders
by Hamid Ansari

The Preschooler’s Empathy Void
by Alia Wong

People With This Personality Trait Literally See the World Differently
by Cari Romm

Creative people physically see and process the world differently
by Alice Klein

Public Health, Public Good

There is rarely genuine public debate about almost any important issue in American society. Listening to healthcare reform on the corporate media, I was reminded of this. It didn’t slip past my notice that the entire frame of discussion is seeking corporatist solutions to corporatist problems in a corporatist political and economic system. The fact of the matter is that there is no way to provide better and cheaper healthcare to more citizens, as other countries do, through the capitalist system. In particular, the last thing in the world we need is further aligning big business with big government.

Here is what is rarely brought up. Consider the simple fact that 40% of the deaths worldwide are caused by pollution. And that is one small part of externalized costs, externalized often by corporations that make immense profits from that externalization that goes hand in hand with internalizing benefits. Most of the people harmed by these externalized costs are the lower classes who are the least able to seek healthcare to treat health conditions caused by wealthy and powerful interests. First of all, we should stop these corporations from externalizing costs. But to the extent that isn’t always possible, we should tax these corporations to pay for those externalized costs, which is to say those who benefit the most from the system should pay the most to offset the costs of the system.

This is common sense. Only a sociopath could argue against it, but sadly we have a system that promotes the sociopathic mindset and gives a platform to the sociopathic rhetoric that justifies it. The plutocrats who are harming others for their own self-interest have the morally depraved sense of privilege to complain that taxes are theft. These are the same plutocrats who have spent their lives stealing from the commons, stealing from the public good. They internalize  and privatize the benefit from resources taken from public lands, from their dominant use of the public infrastructure, from highly profitable government contracts (often crony no bid contracts), from control of the government (through lobbying, revolving door, regulatory capture, legalized bribery, etc), from free trade agreements written in their favor to help them dominate global markets, from a military that serves to protect their interests (maintaining international relations, keeping open trade routes, ensuring access to natural resources on foreign public lands, etc), and on and on. All paid for with public wealth and resources. This gives the appearance of legitimacy to the illegitimate.

There is an important point that gets lost here. The plutocrats are half right about one thing. We shouldn’t rely on taxes of plutocrats to fund the public good. Rather, we simply shouldn’t allow plutocrats to steal from the public good in the first place, such that taxation becomes necessary. Once that theft has happened, the plutocrats will treat this theft as their right and privilege. As they see it, everything that is public is theirs to take, even the government itself. It’s all theirs and so if we don’t let them rape and pillage freely across the world, we are stealing from them just as the starving peasant was stealing from the lord when he gathered some food for his family from what once was feudal commons. They accuse others of theft out of bad conscience, knowing that their entire way of life is theft.

The reality is that the US is the wealthiest country in the world. In global capitalism, the public wealth and resources regularly given away and wasted for private interests is easily in the trillions of dollars on a yearly basis. It might be trillions in just considering the direct benefits corporations have on US land and waters. The precise amount has never been calculated because the corporatist don’t want to know or rather don’t want the rest of us to know, although I’m sure they have a good sense of the approximate amount of what is being sucked out of the system. Whatever the exact amount, it’s guaranteed that it could pay for healthcare for every US citizen, along with so much else.

There is the basic problem that healthcare can’t operate as a free market for many reasons, the most basic of which is that sick and injured people aren’t in the mindset to be able to make rational choices, even if we had a system that offered real choices. The problem goes so much deeper than that, though. It’s the entire system that has failed and so no solution can be found within the system. In fact, this system is designed to fail according to the standard of public good for the simple reason that the interests it is designed to serve are not we the people.

This is what is never stated in a straightforward manner. There is no lack of public wealth and resources. The question is where is it going, when it is redirected away from the public good and siphoned off into the private sector. This question is not allowed to be fairly and fully discussed in the corporate media and corporatist politics that the plutocracy controls. The final proof that we live in a banana republic is that we the public are effectively silenced in public debate about our own public good, such that the majority has yet to realize it is a majority. The public majority demanding public healthcare reform that benefits most Americans should be heeded by the political system claiming to represent we the people.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
~ President Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Every time they raise your tuition you are paying for the cost of empire. Every time they cut funds to the state of Wisconsin you have to make up the difference. Everywhere I go… and, when I pick up the local newspapers, it often seems like the same paper and every paper has the same story for a while, factoring when the fiscal year was ending, it would say: ‘State facing huge deficits’, ‘City council voting cuts in budget’…
“That is the cost of empire. What happens then is our economic democracy is under attack.
“Not everyone, as they say, pays the costs. Some people profit immensely.”
~ Michael Parenti, Ph.D.

* * *

An Invisible Debt Made Visible
True Costs are ‘Punitive
Losses Outweighing Gains
Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good
Socialized Medicine & Externalized Costs
On Welfare: Poverty, Unemployment, Health, Etc
Athens is starved so that Sparta can be fed.
On Infrastructure and Injustice
Investing in Violence and Death
Government Efficiency: Public’s Lack of Knowledge
Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich
Most Oppose Cutting Social Security (data)
Public Opinion On Government & Tea Party
Democracy and Propaganda
Public Intellectuals As Thought Leaders
The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties
Corporate Bias of ‘Mainstream’ Media
What Does Liberal Bias Mean?
The Golden Rule and Reality
Homelessness and Mental Illness
A Sense of Urgency
A System of Unhappiness
Capitalism as Social Control
It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!
Social Disorder, Mental Disorder
Social Conditions of an Individual’s Condition
Rationalizing the Rat Race, Imagining the Rat Park
Frrrreeeeeddoommmm?????
Not Funny At All
Protecting Elections From Democracy
Of Dreamers and Sleepwalkers
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
By What Right?
But Then It Was Too Late
Then What?

The Less Fortunate And More Frustrated

Someone commented that, “there’s just something about alt-right that is extremely draining. I’m not even sure if it’s my own personal reactions. It’s just such a negative, cynical, and above all hopeless lens to view things from. Friends say it’s not healthy to get immersed in it, but I wonder if it’s also unhealthy for the alt righters themselves, not just for outsiders.” I agree, but I’d put it in context.

It’s draining because it isn’t natural, far from the normal state of humanity. It’s not tribal hate. If alt-righters ever met actual tribal people, the two groups would not recognize or understand each other’s worldviews. Alt-right isn’t really about tribalism, any more than it really is about race or any other overt issue. What it is about is frustration, anger, and outrage.

That isn’t to deny the racism. It’s just to point out that we have a severely messed up society where racism is inseparable from other forms of oppression and social control that harm most Americans. Very few people are privileged enough to entirely escape the shit storm. Heck, even the wealthy are worse off in a society like ours, as has been shown in the research on economic inequality. This is not a healthy and happy society.

Part of me has a lot of sympathy for these lost souls. I understand what turns the mind in such dark directions. We live in a society that chews people up and spits them out. Nothing in our society is as advertised. Many people actually want to believe in the American Dream of upward mobility, of a growing middle class, of the good life, of each generation doing better than the last. People can only take all of the bullshit for so long. Alt-right gives them a voice, in a society that seeks to silence them.

Such things as alt-right are an indication of societal failure, not just individual failure. If we had increasing upward mobility instead of worsening downward mobility, if we had a growing instead of shrinking middle class, if we had no severe poverty and extreme inequality, if basic needs were taken care of and people had a sense of their own value in society, if people were supported in their aspirations and could live up to their potential, no one would ever turn to ideologies like the alt-right.

The average alt-righter isn’t a poor rural hick, hillbilly, or redneck. The alt-right tends to draw from the middle class, which mostly means the precarious lower middle class. Many people in the alt-right are those who want to be part of the liberal class, to live the liberal class dream, but something failed along the way.

There is a white guy I know. He is in academia and, though liberal in many ways, he became drawn to the alt-right. He wasn’t making much money and he felt stuck. He didn’t want to be living here and yet couldn’t find good job opportunities elsewhere. Even as he technically was in the liberal class, he was economically struggling and his life was not going according to plan. Worse still, there is little hope that the economy is going to improve any time soon for people like him.

That is type of person in the failed liberal class that the rest of the liberal class would prefer to ignore. What the liberal class doesn’t get is that their dream is desirable for many people even outside of the liberal class. But when it becomes unattainable for most of the population that leads to frustration. There are many poor whites who would love to go to college or send their kids to college, to have professional careers, to work toward a better life for themselves and their families, and to have all the good things that are available in liberal class communities such as nice parks, well-funded schools, etc.

If the liberal class is serious, they shouldn’t be supporting policies that make it harder for people to join the liberal class. New Democrats like Clinton support tough-on-crime policies, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, endless wars, growing military-industrial complex, corrupt corporatism, international trade deals that harm the lower classes, and all the other ways that screw over average and below average people. Why is it that the liberal class can’t understand that supporting neocon and neoliberal candidates is actually self-destructive to the liberal vision of society?

Liberals often like to pride themselves on not being racist or whatever. I call bullshit. If many of these liberals ever faced the threat of serious economic problems, downward mobility, and constant frustration of their dreams and aspirations, the majority of them easily could be swayed toward racism and other similar forms of bigotry. Research shows that such biases lurk just beneath the surface. What the liberal class lifestyle allows is for such people to not just be oblivious of what is going on in the world but also oblivious to what is hidden within their own minds.

After a period of societal stress and economic uncertainty, if an authoritarian came along promising progressive economics along with law-and-order rhetoric, most in the liberal class would support him. That is what the liberal class did in Germany when they supported Hitler. You are ignorant of history and human nature if you think it can’t happen here. As I put it in an earlier post:

“By the way, if your concern about Trump voters relates to right-wing authoritarianism, there is a key point to keep in mind. Groups like the Klan and the Nazis drew their strongest support from the middle class. That shouldn’t be surprising, as it is the middle class that is the most politically engaged. One would predict almost any political movement will attract many from the middle class. Also, it’s not so easy to pin this down ideologically. What you should really fear is when the liberal middle class (AKA liberal class) submits to the authoritarian trends in society, as happened in the past. Never forget that the Klan and the Nazis were rather progressive in many ways. Hitler rebuilt infrastructure and promoted policies that helped many ordinary Germans. The Klan supported child labor laws, public education, etc.”

I could add much to that, as I did in some comments to that post. Consider the Progressive Era. Many progressives supported eugenics, immigration control, and similar policies. The New Deal institutionalized racial biases that impacted the generations following.

Overt racist bigots and white supremacists would be a lot less powerful without the tolerant complicity and sometimes direct support of the liberal class. This can be broadened to the oppression that liberals so often allow and promote, such as their participation in anti-communist red-baiting and witch-hunts. Minorities (racial, ethnic, and religious) along with poor people and the political left have always been favorite targets of the liberal class, at least when they feel their privileged lifestyle is being challenged or there is a threat of social disruption. The liberal class, first and foremost, will always defend the status quo that makes possible their liberal good life… even when their defense betrays their stated liberal values.

The liberal class in a society like the US are among the fortunate few. Most of them don’t know what it is like to deal with tough times. They don’t know what is in their own hearts, what could emerge under much worse conditions. None of us ever knows what we are capable of until our back is against the wall, but many people are privileged enough to never find out. That is no reason for feeling self-righteous toward the less fortunate and more frustrated.

What We Believe, What We Are

Humans perplex me. We are complicated creatures. We not only know not what we do but know not what we are.

The politicians in both parties are so obviously full of shit, such that their rhetoric has no resemblance to reality. If liberals and conservatives actually believed what they claim to believe, none of them could vote for either major political party. In that case, we’d have a far different kind of political system, even if it required a revolution to create it for nothing could stop us from acting on what we truly believed.

It’s not just mainstream politics, of course. Libertarians for damn sure rarely act according to any genuine principle of liberty, often promoting a supposed free market capitalism that ends up being as authoritarian and bureaucratic as so much else. As for left-wingers in the US, they are saved from having to face the implications and consequences of their own beliefs because they have no power within the political system, but the history of communist statism doesn’t offer much hope.

The same basic thing goes for religion. For example, you’d be hard put finding many Christians who live according to Jesus’ teachings and example, since anyone who attempted such a thing would likely be deemed crazy in our society. Could you imagine Christians giving all their wealth away, letting the dead bury the dead, turning the other cheek, and relying upon God as do the birds in the field? They would end up impoverished, homeless, and wouldn’t likely have long lives. Their reward might be in heaven, but they would get no reward in this world. If most Christians of all varieties actually believed they were to meet a God when they die, they would live in utter terror of the horrific actions they’ve committed and been complicit in, as God would know their every sin.

This applies to other religions. Maybe only the simplest of religions, such as Buddhism, might be exempt from this fatal human flaw for the reason that Buddhism doesn’t require much in the way of belief, making it harder fall short of an ideal. But in reality Buddhists are like anyone else and have beliefs that they no doubt never live up to.

In general, the only way religion can avoid hypocrisy is by lowering the standard of morality, as in theologically rationalizing away one’s failure or somehow making it impersonal such as with original sin or karma. Religion easily serves the purpose of giving people a way of escaping responsibility with arguments that failure is inevitable or to be blamed on outside forces. But is a belief in failed belief, a faith in excuse-making really all that much of a comfort? Even that seems like an avoidance of what is actually believed, whatever it is.

It’s clear that very few, if any, people act according to their stated beliefs and ideological identities. This indicates that their self-awareness and self-knowledge doesn’t amount to much. Most people don’t consciously know what they actually believe, what they actually support and value, what they actually desire and fear. But you can easily determine their genuine commitments and certitudes by observing their behavior. In making such observations, what people do prioritize tends to be more basic than ideological principles and beliefs, such as: social identities and position, comforts and privileges, basic sense of control and normalcy, avoidance of the awareness of mortality and other endless distractions, etc. All the rest is mostly stories we tell ourselves.

This assessment includes me. I don’t claim to have everything figured out. In fact, realizing how people are typically so clueless and oblivious and ignorant, I must assume that I’m probably the exact same way. Like anyone else, I surely deceive myself and make up convincing rationalizations. But I at least have the advantage of acknowledging this sad state of affairs, for whatever good that does. I’d like to think that, in knowing that I’m in a trap of my own making, it might allow me some semblance of hope in escaping it or at least in coming to terms with what it means.

If nothing else, I don’t want to lie to myself, assuming that is possible. The kind of hypocrisy that endlessly promotes harm and suffering in the world is a fate worse than death.  I’d like to at the very least not embrace hypocrisy. I despise hypocrisy. We should be as honest with ourselves as we are capable. The only evil that is real is what is to be found in our hearts, when we allow our minds to be ruled by darkness. Multiply that evil by the number of people on the planet. That is why the world is so utterly fucked up. And it is this reality that we are constantly trying to escape and in the process we make it worse. We can’t escape ourselves, as our haunted psyches travel with us.

This is a simple insight. It’s not an ideology, not a belief system, not even all that profound. It’s just humbling to be reminded of. If we aren’t what we think we are, then what are we? If people can be judged by their actions, what do our individual and collective actions say about us, in the kind of world we have created and are creating? Just some thoughts to consider as we hurtle into the future with a world war, climate change, or who knows what looming on the horizon. Whether or not we claim it, it will claim us.

Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

During the presidential campaign season, the American public acts like an engaged citizenry, as if what they say and do really does have an impact. But after an election ends, so many people retreat from the public forum and bunker down in their isolated private lives. It’s as if winning the election was all that concerned them, as if democracy were nothing more than voting for your preferred celebrity-politician. Not everyone can be so detached, indifferent, and oblivious. Not everyone can pretend that political issues begin and end with elections.

Racism, religious bigotry, xenophobic policies, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, food deserts, toxic dumps in poor communities, lead in drinking water, unaffordable healthcare, underfunded schools, school-to-prison pipeline, militarized police, police abuse, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, war on drugs, military-industrial complex, war on terror wasting trillions of dollars, aggressive US militarism that kills thousands of innocent people a day, US alliance with brutal authoritarian states, pollution being the number one killer in the world, ecosystem destruction, climate change, droughts, refugee crises, corporate takeover of the government, corporations stealing from the commons, endless externalized costs that are beyond calculation and imagination…

…and on and on. None of this ends for those most victimized and harmed. Elections mean very little to those who are silenced, suppressed, disenfranchised, and excluded — other than a fleeting opportunity to express outrage and maybe, just maybe be heard before being dismissed and ignored once again. Yet the comfortable classes momentarily obsess over the team sports of partisan politics and then go on as if none of it actually matters, as if these problems aren’t real, as if it is all just about campaign rhetoric and political talking points. Well, I disagree. Just because social problems are not seen and moral outrage not heard doesn’t mean they stop existing, once the votes are counted and the voters disappear from news reporting of corporate media.

That is all the more reason we must make ourselves be heard. Everyone has a voice. Use it. There are many who are in need of help and no one listens. First listen to the silenced and then add your voice, until the growing noise can’t be ignored. Don’t make excuses about being only one person. The majority of the world’s population who are affected by these problems, as separate individuals, are each only one person. But change happens when people demand that change happens, one voice at a time, until it becomes a roar of defiance. Don’t go quietly along, as so many others suffer. Rather, make the comfortable uncomfortable, until they are forced to acknowledge reality.

There is no other path forward, other than toward growing authoritarianism and other terrible ends. By staying silent, you are choosing a dark path for yourself and your loved ones, for your fellow citizens and the following generations, for your children and grandchildren, for your nieces and nephews. Never stay silent, not even for a moment for there isn’t a moment to lose. The consequences grow by the second, as do the opportunities for change pass us by.

It’s only after an election is over that the majority has their greatest power to force change. This is the moment. The best way to break out of your apathy and isolation is to make your voice heard. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Talk about things that actually matter and act on them as if they matter. Politics isn’t a game. Lives are at stake, in a literal sense. Your voice is your greatest weapon and tool. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

Self-Care of Summer Soldiers and Sunshine Patriots

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.

There is the issue of self-care. It’s something never far from my mind, as I deal with severe depression. Self-care is the only way I’ve lasted this long in life. But I also know that high rates of such things as depression are only found in high inequality societies. The ultimate self-care would mean undoing the cause of the problem, not just treating the symptoms, case by case. As social creatures, self-care is never about mere individual concern. As Thomas Paine explains above, that cheapens what should most matter.

The importance of self-care came up in an article that argued that hatred is self-harming, even if the other side deserves your hatred. That is fair and I’d agree to an extent. Still, the emphasis seems wrong. What matters is that we come from a place of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Only from that position of strength can we envision something radically better and move toward it. We should always give voice to the truth, especially when uncomfortable, even to ourselves. Speaking from a place of truth is always a compassionate act, whether or not it makes us feel warm and fuzzy with idealized notions of how we should feel. First we should be honest with ourselves about what we actually feel, not what we are told we are supposed to feel. Political correctness certainly shouldn’t be applied to our feelings, for that would be the opposite of self-care.

Besides, no large-scale positive change ever happened in the world without a whole lot of angry people. Societies (or rather the ruling elite and comfortable classes) tend to resist change and the more they resist the more frustrated so many people become. Sadly, that is how it tends to go, until a breaking point is reached.

Those who are already being harmed by the status quo are usually less concerned about mere self-harm, as the greater harm is what others are doing to them. Whereas those talking about self-care tend to be individuals in a privileged position to not be victimized by the even greater harms. The comfortable tend to only become overly motivated toward change when comfort is no longer an option. But for the most victimized, comfort was never an option. Yet many others find themselves somewhere in between these two extremes. That is a tough place to find oneself. Slowly, over time, more and more people will fall further and further out of what little comfort (and security) they might have. As the harm grows, the number of harmed will also grow. Admonitions about self-care will sound ever more empty, pointless, and irrelevant.

Self-care in a narrow individualistic sense becomes increasingly difficult and, at some point, moot. This is even more true when personal problems are inseparable from societal and political problems. What if the only possibility of self-care is to fight those doing harm to you, to your loved ones, and to the majority of others in your society? When the American colonists started a revolution, they did so out of self-care. It was difficult and many paid the ultimate sacrifice. But what other option was there, besides accepting increasing harm from authoritarian oppression, growing corporatism, an impoverishing economic system, and demoralizing loss of power over their own lives?

Consider Thomas Paine. When still in England, he joined other excise officers in bringing a petition for better pay and working conditions to Parliament and consequently lost his job, sending him into poverty and barely avoiding debtors’ prison. Later in America, after the revolution started, he gave all of the proceeds from his publications to the war effort. He also risked his life numerous times, giving everything for making a better world. And after all of that, he died in humble obscurity with few caring enough to attend his funeral. But that was irrelevant, since what he had sought was freedom and justice, not fame and wealth. As he explained it, “I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.” These words were spoken by someone who had seen his own child die, along with the child’s mother. So, he was really speaking of other people’s children.

Was Paine and those like him committing self-harm? Or were they seeking a greater good beyond themselves, the greater good for all of society, the greater good for their neighbors and fellow citizens, the greater good for their children and grandchildren? In response to those soldiers who abandoned the revolutionary cause for self-care, Paine called them summer soldiers and sunshine patriots. They were those who only fought when it was easy, when no great sacrifice was required of them. Paine’s point is that we can never separate care for ourselves from care for others. The point he was making wasn’t philosophical but practical. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Or even more powerfully articulated in a different context, there are the oft-quoted words of Martin Niemöller… the danger of narrow self-care until there is no one left to care about you:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

“Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Distrusting Those Promoting Mistrust

There are endless arguments about diversity being bad. Many such arguments are made by racists. But others come from well-meaning people who lack much information and imagination, unable to see outside of mainstream opinion. One such example is a 2010 dissertation by Maureen A. Eger, Ethnic Heterogeneity and the Limits of Altruism (University of Washington):

“Taken together, the analyses in this dissertation provide empirical support for the diversity-altruism hypothesis. The comparative strategy reveals that immigration-generated diversity depresses support for welfare state attitudes regardless of a country’s institutional features. However, these analyses also demonstrate that the relationship between diversity and altruism manifests itself in country- specific ways. Results suggest that countries’ historical institutions and experiences with ethnic diversity play a more important role than contemporary national institutions in how diversity affects attitudes.”

How does that explain that multicultural Western social democracies have stronger, more well funded welfare systems than most of the homogeneous countries in the world?

Only by cherry-picking examples and data (along with not controlling for confounding factors) can you make an argument that multicultural Western social democracies are failures, relative to most other sociopolitical systems. There are plenty of severely dysfunctional and oppressive societies out there with governments that don’t take care of their citizens, no matter how homogeneous the population.

Also, as always, context matters. There is a vast difference between freely chosen immigration of those seeking opportunities of betterment and enforced immigration because of refugee crises caused by civil conflict, international war, terrorism, genocide, climate change-caused droughts, etc. We are living at a time of vast global instability. That doesn’t lead to good results for anyone. But let’s keep in mind that this vast global instability was largely caused and supported by the Western elites now discussing whether diversity and immigration are beneficial (e.g., Why are there refugees at the US southern border?).

Those in power like to complain about dangerous brown-skinned others, even as their power is dependent on the neoliberal exploitation of cheap labor that impoverishes and makes desperate those people, turning them into immigrants and refugees. That neoliberalism backed by the neocon war machine has harmed and destroyed so many societies, bleeding them dry of their natural resources and externalizing the costs of Western industry. These foreigners are on the frontlines of climate change with the harsh reality of environmental destruction, ecosystem collapse, drought, food shortages, social instability, political weakening, economic problems, and the ensuing refugee crises.

Many of the Middle Eastern refugees right now are escaping droughts in particular that have made farming impossible in what was once the bread basket of the world. What are all these poor, unemployed farmers to do when they can’t even grow food to feed themselves, much less to make a living? And if these countries can no longer feed their own people and their economies are in free fall, what exactly are they supposed to do? These people are struggling for survival, in dealing with problems largely caused by others. Meanwhile, the Western elites are debating whether climate change is real and debating whether diversity is good. These elites are either entirely disconnected from reality or they are sociopaths, authoritarians, and social dominance orientation types — surely, a combination of all of these, going by what they say and do.

Here is an idea. Maybe stop destroying people’s lives in other countries and then we can discuss the problems caused by past and ongoing failures of political vision and moral accountability. Just a suggestion.

I made a rule about this a while back:

“We can only deny immigration to citizens of countries where the US government and military has never meddled in their society. We will demand any immigrants to go away and leave us alone, if and only if we have done the same to them.”

If we are serious about trust, then we should quit implementing the very policies that destroy trust. We already know what builds and destroys a culture of trust. This isn’t exactly a new area of study. Besides, it’s all rather common sense, if one can free one’s mind from dogmatic rhetoric and ideological ‘realism’.

As Eric Uslaner explained (from Segregation and Mistrust, Kindle Locations 65-73):

“[C]orrelations across countries and American states between trust and all sorts of measures of diversity were about as close to zero as one can imagine… [L]iving among people who are different from yourself didn’t make you less trusting in people who are different from yourself. But that left me with a quandary: Does the composition of where you live not matter at all for trust in people unlike yourself? I had no ready answer, but going through the cross-national data set I had constructed, I found a variable that seemed remotely relevant: a crude ordinal measure (from the Minorities at Risk Project at my own university, indeed just one floor below my office) of whether minorities lived apart from the majority population. I found a moderately strong correlation with trust across nations – a relationship that held even controlling for other factors in the trust models I had estimated in my 2002 book. It wasn’t diversity but segregation that led to less trust.”

(*begin rant*)

Let me explain something for those a bit slow in the head, cold in the heart, and stunted in imagination. It isn’t diversity that harms a society. It is division.

This typically is caused by segregation, no matter what form it takes: race, ethnicity, religion, nativism, class, regionalism, etc. In American society, racism and classism have been inseparable. But even without racism, international studies have shown that high economic inequality leads to vast social problems and political dysfunction.

When a society separates itself into social groups and communities that don’t interact with each other, the natural human impulse of empathy shrivels up and conflict inevitably follows. When people see their fellow citizens and humans as enemies, the results are never pretty. Division and divisiveness go hand in hand.

Wake the eff up, people! This isn’t rocket science. It’s Human Nature 101.

(*end rant*)

I’m not arguing that a kind of exclusionary, authoritarian ‘trust’ can’t be created in a bigoted, closed society. Germany under the Nazis was a high trust society, in a severely limited sense, even though Jews who had lived their for centuries weren’t trusted. Many authoritarian societies are high trust because the citizens/subjects are obedient from some combination of propaganda, violent rule, external threat, xenophobia, scapegoating, and a collective Stockholm syndrome.

No one is doubting that such ‘trust’ can be created and enforced. And in the case of Nazi Germany, the average German was initially doing quite well and was comfortably oblivious to the suffering of those in the concentration camps, at least until it was too late. The average citizen in most reasonably functional societies wants to trust their government. Such basic trust isn’t hard to achieve and authoritarians easily take advantage of it.

The question is: What kind of trust? And to what end?

That is a particularly difficult question in a society like that of the United States. North America has been an immigrant destination for a half millennia and, for that reason, it is diverse in terms of culture, ethnicity, race, religion, language, etc. Diversity is the very heart of American culture. Yet contrary to the beliefs of some people, the United States rates way above the global average in terms of culture of trust, functioning social democracy, and strength of welfare state. We are far from a perfect country, but we are even further from being one of the worst.

Immigration and diversity is an American tradition, the very foundation of our society. We have many centuries of practice (i.e., learning by way of mistakes) in dealing with diversity, tolerance, and assimilation. Why scrap the one thing that has made American a great or at least interesting, albeit imperfect, experiment?

Besides, if not for multiculturalism and the welcoming of the huddled masses to American shores, what moral justification is there for our present American imperialism that seeks to rule over the entire world? How are we to pay the moral debt to the victims of Western policies, if we are to refuse them even the basic right of refuge from the problems we helped cause? Why do elites assume their opinions matter at all, these elites being the very people who are most responsible for and most benefiting from this state of injustice and unfairness?

(*crickets chirping*)

Maybe the greatest threat we face isn’t from immigrants and diversity but from those who fear-monger and scapegoat to push their self-serving agenda of cronyism, authoritarianism, plutocracy, oligarchy, corporatism, and neo-imperialism. Is the concern about what makes the world a better place for all or how the elite can maintain their wealth and privilege, power and control? Those are opposing purposes to be pursued with far different kinds of methods, policies, and actions. What if we average people, the common masses choose to disagree with those who presume to be our masters, the self-proclaimed meritocratic elite?

If anyone bothered to ask me, I know the kinds of people I’d deport and imprison. In seeking to create a culture of trust, it is exceedingly clear the oppressors who undermine trust and so who are a threat to a culture of trust. Those who disseminate mistrust should not be trusted. There is the source of the problem that needs to be taken care of with extreme prejudice.

* * *

The Golden Rule and Reality
Origin of American Diversity

The Root and Rot of the Tree of Liberty
Midlands Mestizo: Pluralism and Social Democracy
The Fight For Freedom Is the Fight To Exist: Independence and Interdependence
“Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America.”
“…from every part of Europe.”
Incentives of Individualism
How do we make the strange familiar?
Good Liberals vs Savage Nihilists
Cost of War
The War on Democracy: a simple answer
A System of Unhappiness
Costs Must Be Paid: Social Darwinism As Public Good
Ideological Realism & Scarcity of Imagination
The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness
“just a means to that end”
It’s All Your Fault, You Fat Loser!
Capitalism as Social Control

The Moral Imagination of Fear
The Living Apocalypse, A Lived Reality Tunnel
Racial Reality Tunnel
Race Realism and Racialized Medicine
More Minorities, Less Crime
The Desperate Acting Desperately
From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations
Are White Appalachians A Special Case?
Opportunity Precedes Achievement, Good Timing Also Helps
Moral Flynn Effect?

Sleepwalking Through Our Dreams

…a sense that our memories and perceptions have been misplaced or replaced, that our lives are not our lives, that our minds are not our minds and that we are all part of some collective nightmare being played our on a stage not of the world but of some simulated shadow stage of which we know nothing.
~S.C. Hickman, The Telecratic Imperative

The notion of sleep has been used by poets and Gnostics alike throughout time as the leitmotif of ignorance, bliss, and innocence. Asleep in one’s ignorance goes the saying. To be asleep is to be so immersed in the normalization process of the worlds ubiquitous systems that one no longer has that critical acumen to be able to step away, step back, step out of one’s environment and see it for what it is: an artificial construct within which one is imprisoned. All the Zombie films from Romero’s classic to the latest edition have one theme: the mindless hunger and desire of the consumer for its next meal ticket, the endless feeding frenzy of a mindless horde in search of filling the emptiness of its depleted flesh, its desiring machininc life. Like sleeping zombies we move to the puppet strings of invisible codes and algorithms that supplement, decide, and program our lives within a 24/7 dreamworld constructed to fulfill our deepest desires.
~S.C. Hickman, The Governance of the World

Those words of S.C. Hickman captured a deeper aspect of my mood. That our minds are not our minds. That we don’t know what our minds are. It is almost a haunted feeling of the mind being something separate from us. The unconscious is the nameless name of something we never experience directly. The realm of mind that is not quite human, a demonic possession or mind parasite. We can sleepwalk through our entire lives.

Are we really disconnected, dissociated? Or is this simply our ‘normal’ state? We don’t know what we are or what makes us tick. We don’t know how to resolve our unknowing, because we can’t step outside of ourselves. And if we somehow dig down into the psyche, what do we hope to find? Is there anything below our delusions and fantasies? What ground might we stand upon?

When we speak of a social construct, what exactly is that? Social constructs are the seams that hold our minds together, the buttresses of our identity, the mortar of the social order. Take away that stuff of imagination and what seemed solid would fade away. We aren’t what we believe ourselves to be, but we can’t be anything at all without those beliefs. We aren’t the stories we tell, even as telling stories is at the heart of what we are.

Our secret identity is in the disjuncture or dislocation, the slippage or elision. It is the interstitial, the liminal, the threshold. Not what we are but what we are becoming, reality being out of alignment with perception, always slightly off, a fraction of delay. The ground shifts below us and we don’t notice, for we also shift at the same time, all the world shifting around us. And no matter how quickly we turn, we’ll never see what is behind us. The person who sees is not what is seen, but nothing can be seen that is separate from the person who sees. There is no objective standpoint, no outside vantage.

This is why we are so easily manipulated and misdirected.

My thoughts have been circling around a few issues, ever returning to my theory of symbolic conflation. It has to do with a symbolic ordering of the mind, as expressed through social order and social control, social construction and social identity. There is a mystery there that resists close inspection, and yet draws one’s attention elsewhere.

One of the best ways I’ve found to describe it is like a bird fluttering away from its nest, pretending to be injured. Or think of another example from nature. A deer can outrun a human, but only over short distances. Humans are awesome long distance runners and a deer will eventually tire out, maybe one of the earliest hunting techniques. Deer have a way of avoiding this fate. One deer will make itself seen to get the attention of the predator. That deer will slip out of sight to slow down and another deer will then take that position. It requires a highly observant predator to lock in on one deer and to not get deceived by the switch.

That is how symbolic conflation works. The symbolic issue acts as a framing. It draws the focus in a particular way, making it difficult to see what is being hidden by misdirection. It’s truly brilliant. The reason it works so well is that we tend to think without full consciousness and so act on autopilot. We see without really seeing and it rarely occurs to us what we aren’t seeing by the very nature of how we are looking or rather being made to look. This can create the illusion that we are acting under our own volition, completely oblivious to how we are being deceived and manipulated. The power of it is that framing becomes enculturated into the very fabric of our being and of our society. We see what is framed rather than seeing the frame.

So much of our lives are symbolic. No aspect of our identities is free from this: nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, class, etc. We are shaped to the core of our being. Yet there is a superficial quality to this. We feel forced to conform to an ideological worldview, but in a sense some part of us remains free of this. Such identities wouldn’t be necessary, if they weren’t hiding something.

The majority of Americans are symbolic conservatives, even as they are operational liberals, which is to say on specific issues the general public tends to support liberal positions, but the rhetoric of symbolic conservatism remains immensely powerful (such that, obscured and divided and isolated by false identities, the majority doesn’t realize it is a majority). The American Dream offers symbolic aspiration that remains unfulfilled for most, in that American kids dream big and yet have lower upward mobility than kids in many other Western countries who have a more realistic assessment of their future opportunities, which never manages to undermine the symbolic narrative. The political right loves to obsess over symbolic constitutionalism, having very little to do with the actual history of the U.S. Constitution beyond some cherry-picked quotes from founders, ignoring all contrary evidence. And to pick on the other side, there is symbolic rhetoric of democracy and liberalism, too rarely resulting anything that comes close to reality, as liberalism is simply the other side of the conservative symbolic conflation.

There are also symbolic family values based on the recent invention of the nuclear family detached from the long history of extended relationships of kinship and community. Along with that, there are other symbolic culture wars that rarely if ever amount to any actual politics nor have much to do with the issues themselves, such as how so-called pro-lifers won’t support policies that have been proven to decrease abortions. Similarly, there is symbolic religiosity and symbolic happiness. Conservatives report higher rates of religiosity than what matches the actual data on church attendance. And research shows that conservatives, although reporting higher happiness than liberals, smile less often than liberals. Symbolic identities have to do with how people perceive themselves and want to be perceived by others, according to social expectations and norms, the entire social order enfolding us in its embrace.

We also can’t forget all the symbolic wars on poverty, drugs, Terror, etc; inevitably ending up distracting from the real issues and problems, the most fundamental causes and contributing factors. And of course, there is the symbolic hyper-individuality of the autonomous self, the rational actor, the self-made man, the self-interested consumer-citizen.

These symbolic conflations and frames burrow into our psyche. They are memes, mind viruses and parasites. They don’t merely use our minds for their own purposes of self-replication, so as to infect others. They restructure our minds, causing us to come to identify with them. There is often no clear distinction between the behavior of parasites and symbionts. We can only know them by their results; but the nature of the relationship is that, in coming to identify with them, we rationalize their existence as part of who we are. The sense of self becomes splintered with our lives divided into different aspects, leading to dissociation along with the strange phenomenon of knowing and not knowing all kinds of things, and in some cases even leading to varying degrees of psychosis.

The modern self is not normal, by historical and evolutionary standards. Extremely unnatural and unhealthy conditions have developed, our minds having correspondingly grown malformed like the binding of feet. Our hyper-individuality is built on disconnection and, in place of human connection, we take on various addictions, not just to drugs and alcohol but also to work, consumerism, entertainment, social media, and on and on. The more we cling to an unchanging sense of bounded self, the more burdened we become trying to hold it all together, hunched over with the load we carry on our shoulders. We are possessed by the identities we possess.

This addiction angle interests me. Our addiction is the result of our isolated selves. Yet even as our addiction attempts to fill emptiness, to reach out beyond ourselves toward something, anything, a compulsive relationship devoid of the human, we isolate ourselves further. As Johann Hari explained in Chasing the Scream (Kindle Locations 3521-3544):

There were three questions I had never understood. Why did the drug war begin when it did, in the early twentieth century? Why were people so receptive to Harry Anslinger’s message? And once it was clear that it was having the opposite effect to the one that was intended— that it was increasing addiction and supercharging crime— why was it intensified, rather than abandoned?

I think Bruce Alexander’s breakthrough may hold the answer.

“Human beings only become addicted when they cannot find anything better to live for and when they desperately need to fill the emptiness that threatens to destroy them,” Bruce explained in a lecture in London31 in 2011. “The need to fill an inner void is not limited to people who become drug addicts, but afflicts the vast majority of people of the late modern era, to a greater or lesser degree.”

A sense of dislocation has been spreading through our societies like a bone cancer throughout the twentieth century. We all feel it: we have become richer, but less connected to one another. Countless studies prove this is more than a hunch, but here’s just one: the average number of close friends a person has has been steadily falling. We are increasingly alone, so we are increasingly addicted. “We’re talking about learning to live with the modern age,” Bruce believes. The modern world has many incredible benefits, but it also brings with it a source of deep stress that is unique: dislocation. “Being atomized and fragmented and all on [your] own— that’s no part of human evolution and it’s no part of the evolution of any society,” he told me.

And then there is another kicker. At the same time that our bonds with one another have been withering, we are told— incessantly, all day, every day, by a vast advertising-shopping machine— to invest our hopes and dreams in a very different direction: buying and consuming objects. Gabor tells me: “The whole economy is based around appealing to and heightening every false need and desire, for the purpose of selling products. So people are always trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in products.” This is a key reason why, he says, “we live in a highly addicted society.” We have separated from one another and turned instead to things for happiness— but things can only ever offer us the thinnest of satisfactions.

This is where the drug war comes in. These processes began in the early twentieth century— and the drug war followed soon after. The drug war wasn’t just driven, then, by a race panic. It was driven by an addiction panic— and it had a real cause. But the cause wasn’t a growth in drugs. It was a growth in dislocation.

The drug war began when it did because we were afraid of our own addictive impulses, rising all around us because we were so alone. So, like an evangelical preacher who rages against gays because he is afraid of his own desire to have sex with men, are we raging against addicts because we are afraid of our own growing vulnerability to addiction?

In The Secret Life of Puppets, Victoria Nelson makes some useful observations of reading addiction, specifically in terms of formulaic genres. She discusses Sigmund Freud’s repetition compulsion and Lenore Terr’s post-traumatic games. She sees genre reading as a ritual-like enactment that can’t lead to resolution, and so the addictive behavior becomes entrenched. This would apply to many other forms of entertainment and consumption. And it fits into Derrick Jensen’s discussion of abuse, trauma, and the victimization cycle.

I would broaden her argument in another way. People have feared the written text ever since it was invented. In the 18th century, there took hold a moral panic about reading addiction in general and that was before any fiction genres had developed (Frank Furedi, The Media’s First Moral Panic). The written word is unchanging and so creates the conditions for repetition compulsion. Every time a text is read, it is the exact same text.

That is far different from oral societies. And it is quite telling that oral societies have a much more fluid sense of self. The Piraha, for example, don’t cling to their sense of self nor that of others. When a Piraha individual is possessed by a spirit or meets a spirit who gives them a new name, the self that was there is no longer there. When asked where is that person, the Piraha will say that he or she isn’t there, even if the same body of the individual is standing right there in front of them. They also don’t have a storytelling tradition or concern for the past.

Another thing that the Piraha apparently lack is mental illness, specifically depression along with suicidal tendencies. According to Barbara Ehrenreich from Dancing in the Streets, there wasn’t much written about depression even in the Western world until the suppression of religious and public festivities, such as Carnival. One of the most important aspects of Carnival and similar festivities was the masking, shifting, and reversal of social identities. Along with this, there was the losing of individuality within the group. And during the Middle Ages, an amazing number of days in the year were dedicated to communal celebrations. The ending of this era coincided with numerous societal changes, including the increase of literacy with the spread of the movable type printing press.

Another thing happened with suppression of festivities. Local community began to break down as power became centralized in far off places and the classes became divided, which Ehrenreich details. The aristocracy used to be inseparable from their feudal roles and this meant participating in local festivities where, as part of the celebration, a king might wrestle with a blacksmith. As the divides between people grew into vast chasms, the social identities held and social roles played became hardened into place. This went along with a growing inequality of wealth and power. And as research has shown, wherever there is inequality also there is found high rates of social problems and mental health issues.

It’s maybe unsurprising that what followed from this was colonial imperialism and a racialized social order, class conflict and revolution. A society formed that was simultaneously rigid in certain ways and destabilized in others. The individuals became increasingly atomized and isolated. With the loss of kinship and community, the cheap replacement we got is identity politics. The natural human bonds are lost or constrained. Social relations are narrowed down. Correspondingly, our imaginations are hobbled and we can’t envision society being any other way. Most tragic, we forget that human society used to be far different, a collective amnesia forcing us into a collective trance. Our entire sense of reality is held in the vice grip of historical moment we find ourselves in.

We are afraid of what we don’t know. And so in fear, we huddle closer. The darkness in our own minds becomes shadows enveloping us. Anything that was able to pierce through our defenses would feel like violence and, in response, our reactions are out of proportion. We never see anything for what it is, as the narratives playing in our heads never stop. Those stories are our comfort or so we believe and therefore those stories are our fate.

But what if even only for a moment we saw the flame that casts the shadow? What then?

Genealogy as Family History, Not Genetics

I was reading some articles about the writing of the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, co-written with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. On a discussion board, a couple of scenes were mentioned where someone asked for or demanded to have the baby or child of another person. A few people mentioned how this used to be common for people to ask for and raise other people’s children.

There were various reasons for this. A couple who couldn’t have kids might have wanted a kid. Also, because of farm life, having lots of kids around was necessary. And there were many reasons for a couple to give up a kid. They might have been compensated for giving away their child. Or they might simply have hit hard times and couldn’t afford all their children. Or one parent got sick or died.

It was a rough world in centuries past with sickness and death being a near constant factor in people’s lives. Most people didn’t live long and many women died in childbirth. Kids being raised by people who weren’t their parents was extremely common. And no one thought much about it. People used to be a lot less sentimental about children and childhood, largely because most children died in the first few years. For this reason, it was common for children not to even be given names until they survived past toddler age.

This made me think about the problems of genealogy research. It is usually impossible to prove your actual genealogy more than a century back. In the past, birth records, baptismal records, etc were rare. And until the latter half of the 19th century, wives and children weren’t even named in the United States census records. Plus, proving paternity was impossible until the recent development of genetic tests. I remember reading about how many men came home after the Civil War to find their wives pregnant or with children who were born while they weren’t around. The same thing happens in every war, especially major wars like the two world wars. Most people don’t talk about such things, much less leave records indicating questionable paternity.

Most of genealogy is probably fictional. It represents generations of family identity, not genetic inheritance. An child who is adopted or of uncertain paternity is still part of the family they were raised in. That is what genealogy is about.