The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months

We are controlled with lies. Corporate media, both news and entertainment, indoctrinates us into the Christian theology of fallen humanity.

We are inherently sinful and selfish, so we are told. Based on this propaganda, the ruling elite create a psychopathic society that enforces this oppressive and demoralizing vision onto our shared reality.

What if we told different stories based on the truth of human nature? What if we instead envisioned compassion, kindness, and cooperation?

O Society

IMG_20200517_074409When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding’s bestseller.

by Rutger Bregman  edited by O Society May 17, 2020

For centuries western culture has been permeated by the idea that humans are selfish creatures. That cynical image of humanity has been proclaimed in films and novels, history books and scientific research. But in the last 20 years, something extraordinary has happened. Scientists from all over the world have switched to a more hopeful view of mankind. This development is still so young that researchers in different fields often don’t even know about each other.

When I started writing a book about this more hopeful view, I knew there was one story I would have to address. It takes place on a deserted island somewhere in the Pacific. A plane has just gone down. The only survivors are…

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Victimization Culture and Lesser Evilism

“…it rises up before raining down.”
~ rauldukeblog

Let us consider once again the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in, not only politically but culturally. What does this say about our society, both nationally and locally? What kind of social and political order do we live in? And what kind of mindset, what kind of values does it represent? We’ll begin with the national level in how it dominates the public mind. As we move toward yet another uninspiring election, we are offered the same old lesser evilism that has ruled our society for so long. Yet one can’t doubt that there is a certain appeal to the lesser evil when faced with the possibility of President Donald Trump being reelected and so leaving the American public to deal with another four years of his mental illness, some combination of psycopathy, narcissism, and dementia. Claims of a lesser evil sounds more reasonable and persuasive than ever before.

Then again, Joe Biden is a corporate whore with his own bigoted and creepy tendencies and what appears to be a far worse case of brain deterioration (Biden’s Corruption and Dementia) — Govert Schuller stated it well: “Joe Biden is so cognitively challenged that he can’t answer a question about whether he’s cognitively challenged without sounding profoundly cognitively challenged” (comment in response to interview). Not only is it a choice between two evils but two pathetic and depressing evils (Pick Your Poison). The absurdity of it causes one to laugh and then to immediately follow that up with a long sigh. Both men are so old and senile that it’s unclear that either could maintain even modest mental balance and political competence for the next four years. This means the actual election is between the two candidates competing to be vice president. It’s the vice president who will likely become the next president, eventually.

Be it presidents or vice presidents, one does not sense much excitement in the air about this election. Both parties seem halfhearted at best in their support for their respective candidates. It’s not clear that either side really wants to win all that much because maybe even to win would be to lose, to an even worse degree than last time. Besides the inferior quality of these two senile senior citizens, consider the immense problems of a dangerously declining empire that the next president or rather next vice president will inherit. One might add that it’s SNAFU, situation normal all fucked up, that is to say we’ve been in this societal tailspin for a long time… and it doesn’t look like there is going to be a Captain Sully to land us safely.

It’s not as if President Trump can be blamed for most of it. It was a mess when he came into the office. Sure, he has made absolutely everything worse and made America the laughingstock of the world, but it was going to get worse no matter what. That is because the ruling elite won’t allow anyone into power who could and would do anything to fundamentally lessen the dysfunction, much less implement positive change. Everything is working perfectly according to design and intention of those in power. We are living in a neoliberal utopia, the supposed best of all possible worlds — to use another acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher infamously put it. The likes of Trump and Biden are products of this neoliberal dominance. They are creatures of the swamp and their brains have become rather swampy at this point.

Still, one has to admit that, of the two, Trump is a special kind of crazy stupid. His degree of cognitive functioning, social behavior, and moral development is what one would expect of a below average elementary school child. He was born into immense wealth and basically has had a personal staff of nannies and butlers, assistants and attendants to babysit him since childhood. They take care of all his needs, solve his problems, protect him, eliminate or silence those who threaten him, and probably even dress him and wipe his butt or even jerk him off. The guy is at the special needs level of incompetence. If he were poor, he most likely would be dead, homeless, imprisoned, or otherwise institutionalized. Being filthy rich is the only thing that saves him from a horrible fate. He can cheat business partners, refuse to pay workers, lose money, go bankrupt, and have endless business failures… and yet his handlers ensure he always more money to play with.

The last election, of course, was a bit different. Whatever one thinks about Hillary Clinton, at the very least it has to be admitted that she is not senile nor is she an old white man, although an old white woman of the plutocracy is not necessarily better. Besides, she is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but she is a standard professional politician who still has a functioning brain. So, you have to give her credit for that much, not that it’s exactly a great accomplishment. If elected, she would’ve been guaranteed to have gotten the job done as president in the fashion expected of any other Clinton Democrat, but on the downside the job she would have gotten done was to further corporatocratic hegemony. It’s not exactly certain that would be a net gain for the country. Trump’s incompetent failure is, in a sense, an advantage since the damage he can do is limited, particularly as he motivates his opposition to organize and protest.

Criticism of Clinton Democrats aside, one has to question the moral and intellectual quality of those who supported Trump, voted for him, helped get him into power, and then cheered him on — and probably will vote for him a second time. Such people must be almost as mentally deranged as Trump himself. Let us consider a specific example, which brings us to the local level. The nearby town of West Branch has become a bedroom community of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, but it maintains many of the original families that have lived there for generations, including the so-called ‘Old Dinosaurs’ who ruled its government until quite recently. It’s the childhood hometown of President Herbert Hoover who was a decent man, if incompetent in his own way according to some. Though long past its heyday as a bustling railroad stop, West Branch still has the feeling of a pleasant rural community surrounded by bucolic farmland.

So, how do the residents vote? “Cedar County,” in which is located West Branch, “was once Republican turf, but the county voted for President Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Countywide nowadays, there is an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats holding office” (Jeff Zeleny, Iowa County Has Unique Result: A Tie). That was from 2000, but 12 years on Republicans regained their hold to a degree, at least locally. “Voters in Cedar County tend to be moderately conservative. The county generally votes for Republicans in local elections, but statewide races, and the presidential, are tossups” (Grace Wyler, These Eight Counties Will Decide The Presidential Election). It’s not a hardcore partisan population, but it appears to be slightly more conservative than Iowa in general. Although more often going to Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Iowa was won by Trump with a decent margin of slightly less than a 10% lead. His margin of victory, however, was much larger in Cedar County at more than 18% (Politico, 2016 Iowa Presidential Election Results).

For most Iowans, the situation was probably more about Hillary Clinton having lost the election than Donald Trump having won, but in Cedar County it was a solid victory for Trump’s vision and rhetoric, Make America Great Again. What would cause this population to be so friendly to Trump’s bloviating and bad behavior? Iowans tend to favor more moderate politics, whereas Trump is the complete opposite of the stereotype of Iowa Nice. “The obvious explanation is that relative to the country, Iowa has a higher proportion of white residents without a college degree (Trump’s base). The same factors may explain why Iowa’s best bellwether county lost that status in 2016” (Bleeding Heartland blog, Iowa’s no bellwether anymore–and neither is Cedar County). This can be seen in the demographic details, as further described in that article:

“This year, Cedar County voters backed Trump over Clinton by 55.5 percent to 37.7 percent. That’s a larger victory for Trump than one would expect based on the latest voter registration numbers for the parties. On the other hand, non-Hispanic whites make up 96.0 percent of Cedar County’s population, compared to 86.7 percent of all Iowans, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. Approximately 20.8 percent of Cedar County adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Iowa, the corresponding figure is 26.4 percent. Clinton’s vote share was higher among college-educated voters.Cedar County also has a slightly larger proportion of residents over age 65 than Iowa does, which probably worked in Trump’s favor.”

Mentioned above was the Old Dinosaurs, as they are known in West Branch. They are the aging white guys from the established families that have been there, in many cases, since the 1800s. They are the ruling patriarchy and for decades became a force of reactionary politics, in fighting against any and all progress, improvement, and outside influence. For example, they refused federal funding to fix sidewalks because there was a stipulation that made it impossible to direct that money to local business owners. They preferred to have decaying infrastructure than to pay a non-local company to fix it. The federal funds were lost and the broken sidewalks remained a public hazard, though some of them have been fixed since.

As an insular community, cronyism was how these guys were used to doing business and ensuring this cronyism was more important than all else. Basic public good like infrastructure maintenance didn’t inspire them. Yet they always could find money to buy expensive fire trucks and to build a new fire station (Old Forms of Power), a point of pride in having a shiny new truck for parades. This is because the volunteer fireman association is filled with members from the old families and one of the Old Dinosaurs, Dick Stoolman, held the paid position of fire chief. As an illegal demand in seeking retirement, he stated in reference to his son that, “I wouldn’t give it up unless he got it” (Gregory R. Norfleet, 40-year chief Stoolman stepping down July 1). Indeed, as goes the incestuous politics of a small town, his son did inherit the job. The new fire station has been used as a country club for this multi-generational local ruling elite, where they go to socialize and clean their personal vehicles, a situation that became a minor scandal. These aren’t people who put much stock in functioning democracy, especially as outsiders grew in their midst with liberal Iowa City a short drive away.

This xenophobia toward perceived outsiders is apparently not a new phenomenon. As I wrote elsewhere, “A longtime friend of mine grew up there for much of her early life and she recalls the racism that was common there. Loewen briefly discusses Cedar County in his discussion of presidential hometowns (as Hoover lived in West Branch as a child). West Branch did and does have a large Quaker presence and the Quakers sought to help blacks after the Civil War. According to the census data, there were 37 black residents of Cedar County in 1890, but only 2 in 1930” (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). That disappearance of blacks is typical of sundown towns, although in this case it is unknown what happened. For whatever reasons, most of the black population suddenly decided it was best not to remain there, likely because of some violent action or threat, such as a mob or a burning cross.

The census data certainly fits the profile of a sundown town, according to similar examples across the Midwest. At a later date, I talked to that same friend about the case of the disappearing blacks. “I told her that Loewen had no evidence of West Branch being a sundown town, even though it used to have something like 5 black families. She told me that it probably wasn’t an accident that the blacks left. She had many negative experiences in that town. People weren’t accepting of those who were different. Back then, there was two minority families with children, one black and the other Asian. She says they were treated badly and both families left. That is one way to get rid of minorities. You don’t need a sundown sign, threatening cops, mob violence, arson, or anything so crude. You just have to make people’s lives difficult and unhappy, bully their children and ostracize them” (comment at Spirit of ’76).

This friend personally experienced the bullying and abuse, as her family was relatively new to West Branch. She did grow up there as a child, but her parents had not. Although she is white, she was considered an outsider and so worthy of being targeted. The other kids in town could be cruel, of course. The thing is that the kids were often following the lead of respected authority figures, one man in particular. She was living there in the early to mid-80s. It was in 1983 that James “Butch” Pedersen — born and raised in West Branch as a son of one of the old farm families — was hired as the replacement for the position of head football coach and he quickly gained a reputation for winning games. Some of his former players have gone on to play in college and professional football or else now work as coaches themselves. There is no doubt that he is a great coach. Obviously, he has inspired and continues to inspire many people.

He has become well known and widely respected far beyond that dinky town, such as having been “recognized for his lifetime commitment to coaching when he was named 2017 National Football Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association” (A Coaching Legend: Iowa’s Butch Pedersen). At the University of Iowa in nearby Iowa City, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz offered praise: “Butch has done such a great job. Our state is, in my mind, really rich in coaches like that. They’re doing it because they really love kids and they love coaching. They’re not doing it because they’re trying to be whatever. But all those guys, in my mind, are legends, and Butch is certainly in that category. Those guys are rare people” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). Why would a Big 10 coach even know a high school coach from a small town? It turns out the influence is personal —- Ferentz explains that, “Butch was one of my grade school teachers, junior high track coach and HS football coach and one of the bigger influences on my life” (Hawkeye Nation, tweet).

For decades, he has made many residents proud of their town and so that has made him untouchable, above reproach. He began his West Branch career as a coach and teacher in 1975 when he was only 25 years old, and he was focused in this direction prior to that: “When he finished his degree, he already was a volunteer assistant coach at West Branch” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). As such, besides coaching football and along with helping coach basketball, he also worked as a teacher in the local schools and so came in contact with students who weren’t athletes. His career began in that town and has continued there ever since. That is a 45 year stretch spent entirely in his hometown. It was in this latter capacity as a teacher that my friend was exposed to what she experienced as a sadistic streak. She was in early elementary school at the time where she was placed in one of his classes.

Let’s consider some background, so as to give a sense of this individual’s character. Butch, as he is known in West Branch, is an old school manly man. “Football is a tough sport that is played by tough people,” he said in explaining his football philosophy (Bears Football, Butch Pedersen). “Not everyone is tough enough to play it.” In describing a former player of his went onto college football, he said that, even though he was forced to play in positions he didn’t prefer, “he never bawled about it” (Marc Morehouse, No crying in linebacking – Bo Bower’s return). That is because real men don’t cry. They just take it, suck it up, and do what they’re told. Being a hard-ass coach is part of his reputation and he has expected his players to meet his high standards. He does not like weakness and the other side of his reputation, according to some, is that he is known for attacking the weak — that is to say those who can’t fight back.

My friend remembers how Coach Butch would pick out the kids who had few friends, specifically those who weren’t members of one of the old families of intermarried solidarity. As a lifelong resident of West Branch, he knew who to victimize and who to leave alone. This often meant his going after poor kids or anyone else considered an outsider to the community. She was such a kid and so she often got the brunt of his abuse. He had a variety of methods, two of which stood out in her memory. One of the worst things he’d do was to mock and shame his favorite victims. He’d do so in front of the whole class and encourage the other students to join in on the bullying. For example, he would line up all the kids around the edge of the classroom and then make the victim run the gauntlet as the other kids threw stuff at them. She only experienced this on occasion, she recalled, whereas some even less fortunate classmates of hers were tormented in this manner on a weekly basis. Another aspect of this was that he’d make up cruel names for these particular kids and use the names in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the kids would copy his behavior in using these demeaning nicknames.

In one incident, my friend had the entire lunchroom full of kids chanting the name of abuse he had given her. Coach Butch along with other adults stood by as it happened and they did nothing (although on a happy and inspiring note, as her childhood self passed by him, she sought to exact revenge by having punched him in the balls). That is the thing, his abusive behavior was known by the other school staff and people in town. Maybe it was expected. Coaches were supposed to be tough and toughening kids up was considered a good thing back then, especially in a conservative small town in farm country. His harsh ‘disciplinarian’ approach seems to have been an open secret, but I guess no one talked much about it, as it was normalized as part of the local culture. The art teacher who happened to be a lesbian tried to protect my friend, but this lady was also new to the town and may have found herself targeted as well, considering she didn’t last long before she was fired. * The school counselor also tried to offer protection and my friend had the sense that she may have tried to intervene at one point but, if she did, she was forced to back down. Coach Butch was golden and so he got a free pass. No one would be allowed to challenge his authority or smear his reputation, as he had friends in high places. He was part of the old boys network, what would later become known as the Old Dinosaurs.

This is relevant to Trump for obvious reasons, considering Trump is also a bully and an abuser. What does this say about our society? Here is another thing to consider. West Branch is a conservative town and yet there are Democrats who live there. My friends’ parents are Clinton Democrats and, in fact, her mother worked at the local school with Coach Butch. Her mother knew what was happening and she was friends with the art teacher who tried to help, but her mother never did anything to challenge the coach or stop the abuse. Her mother couldn’t find the moral courage to face the reality of her child being traumatized partly because she was married to an abusive man. She had learned to rationalize abuse by focusing on the positive, as my friend told it to me, based on a faith in humanity that placed hope in the potential for people changing for the better, apparently even when the bad actors in question showed no remorse. This is how even good liberals with good intentions can become complicit in authoritarian and patriarchal systems.

Many years later when my friend was an adult, her mother who was still working as a teacher at the time insisted that Coach Butch had changed and she’d create situations where my friend would have to interact with this guy who was her childhood tormentor. It could be interpreted as a form of gaslighting, in that my friend wanted to trust her mother and believe what she was told, that he really was a different person now. However, it seems that this was all bullshit, a rationalization her mother had invented to make herself feel better in knowing she had betrayed her daughter’s trust in allowing so much harm to have been done when she was younger. My friend still struggles with that childhood trauma. The sad part is that, going by such accounts, it sounds like she was just one among many kids who were hurt by Coach Butch and almost a half century later he is still coach in West Branch, he is still treated like a local hero.

I know another family with children presently living in West Branch. The daughter attends high school where Coach Butch is currently employed. This young girl was talking about him and I suddenly remembered my friend’s experience from the 1980s. I told this high schooler about my friend’s sad childhood in West Branch and she said nothing has changed. This guy still has a reputation as abusive and is still targeting weak loners who can’t fight back. Later on when I told my friend about this, it hit her hard because of her mother having lied to her. To think of how many generations of kids have been hurt by this one guy. She speculated that the psychiatric costs incurred from his sadism probably amounts at least to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then after some thought, she expressed surprise that none of his victims have yet committed suicide or become school shooters, although maybe some of them have had sad endings without anyone connecting it to the original cause of trauma. She made me promise to warn this other family about how dangerous is Coach Butch, in her opinion, as their youngest child fits the description of his preferred targets (she knows this family). And she said if a legal case ever comes up, she would gladly testify.

As another example of Coach Butch’s less than optimal behavior, the high schooler said that if one of his players quits the team he will emotionally cut them off and treat them like they no longer exist. A child’s value in his eyes, one might suspect, is largely about whether they can help him win another championship or otherwise boost his social identity as coach, or else maybe if that child is a member of one of the old families, part of his community as ‘us’ and so not an outsider. It is his hard-nosed approach that has won him not only so many victories but, more importantly, so much support and praise among those who share this identity of ‘us’. He apparently knows what he can get away with and so rarely steps across the line. A rare case happened last year, according to the aforementioned student, when he was kicked out of a game for shoving one of the high school players. That didn’t tarnish his reputation in the slightest and he is still beloved or so the local media reports — the question being about the news stories not published, the statements left unquoted, the allegations never allowed to be heard, the investigations that never saw the light of day.

It’s not that he has necessarily ever done anything illegal. Even his worse abusive behavior my friend describes from the 1980s may have been considered perfectly allowable by the standards of the time or even commendable by the other respected authority figures in town. The police might have known about it without any concern. That was simply the rough nature of a rural community, as many of the older generation like Butch grew up with a hard life on farms. It’s only been in recent years that most schools have concerned themselves with curtailing abuse and bullying, whether from children or adults. The kinds of behavior teachers and coaches used to get away with in many places is amazing by today’s standards (for a truly extreme example, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers). That is to say Coach Butch wasn’t unusual, even if his ‘tough love’ was a bit more harsh than average.

It’s not to pick on this one guy as evil incarnate or even particularly horrific, in the big scheme of things. No bad intentions are required since bad actors can remain unconscious of the bad consequences of their actions. The most depressing part and the key point being made here is how normal this is in our society, specifically among the older generations — since as a typical product a post-war 1950s childhood in rural America, Butch embraced the identity of hyper-masculinity and patriarchy. The purpose of this post is not to bring him down low by shitting on the happy memories of many who have known this truly great coach, but it is to remind people that not everyone’s memories were happy. It’s not that the unhappy are more worthy of being heard than the happy, that we should only listen to the critics and naysayers. Still, maybe they should be given an opportunity to be heard, at the very least. What stands out is that the local media has completely shut out anyone who has a different opinion or else they’ve certainly not sought them out, as if they don’t exist and as if what they experienced never happened — the silence is deafening.

This exclusion is salt on the wound of trauma. According to these accounts, it has been those who are isolated who get targeted and, indeed, the feeling of being isolated is very much real. To have the other students mimic this bad behavior modeled by them, to have other authority figures condone it by default of ignoring it, and then on top of that to have the local media constantly praise this man who did so much harm to you and so much harm to others you’ve witnessed — all of that would make one feel all the more isolated. It would feel further traumatizing and, as mentioned before, it would have the effect of gaslighting in a collective denial of what you know is real in your experience. When insanity becomes the social norm that is enforced, those who fall outside the demands of conformity can come to the false belief that they are the crazy ones.

It could cause someone to doubt their own experience, their own sense of reality… and that is the most damaging result of all. Once you no longer trust yourself and the world around you, that can lead to blaming yourself for what happened and so to think you are at fault, that you are the problem, that there is something wrong with you. In a highly conformist society, this is how dysfunctional authoritarianism takes over, as everyone fears becoming one of the excluded and targeted. The targeted victims are not only scapegoats but are used to set an example. Others quickly learn to not be like those victims and so they all the more make sure to do what they are told and do what is expected. Fear is a motivating force and for good reason, but when part of a dysfunctional culture it becomes highly destructive to the human soul.

If we want to judge a society, look to the least among us. Look to the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely. See how society treats those people and then you’ll know the moral quality of the culture, community, and leadership. Don’t attack the victims of oppression for speaking out, for protesting, and for defending themselves. In an oppressive society where the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism) holds sway, it takes amazing courage to challenge the powerful and their defenders who will close ranks. The reaction of power to the powerless can get brutal and it often doesn’t end well because few want to hear. But that is all the more reason we should also have the moral courage to listen to those voices that make us uncomfortable, that tell us things we’d rather not know. Look to the outsiders, the minorities, and the downtrodden — take seriously their suffering.

Let’s get straight to the point. What kind of values does Butch Pedersen represent? Someone doesn’t gain that much power, authority, and respect by not embodying something important within a community. In one article, he is described as “continually molding and shaping a family atmosphere full of people eager to help in any way possible” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). “No matter the role,” this journalist of a local newspaper concludes, “those who’ve been part of Pedersen’s run have a unified message: The dean of West Branch football has made their lives better.” Sounds great! Kevin Braddock, a former player now on Butch’s staff, is quoted as saying, “You’re talking hundreds of kids, thousands of kids that he’s impacted.” The question is what exactly has been the impact not only on certain individuals who found his favor as a coach but the greater impact on the atmosphere created in that community, the culture of silence and silencing as Derrick Jensen would describe it. Not everyone’s lives were made better and the consequences extend beyond a few victims as lone voices.

“Butch can be kind of scary, especially when you’re a freshman or sophomore,” adds John Hierseman, another former player and present staffer. His victims would likely agree with that assessment, if in a way not intended. The coach himself is not shy about admitting to his behavior, as he takes it as a point of pride. “Sometimes in today’s society, people are afraid of discipline and tough love. I’m not afraid to do that,” he said. “Some people think we’re too tough. I don’t think that all. I think a lot of other people are too soft. And I think that’s society in general.” Well, my friend would be among those who thinks he is “too tough” and that would be an understatement. “Football,” as Coach Butch said, “is a tough sport that is played by tough people.” But apparently this applies to life in general. Kids needed to be toughened up. If some of them can’t take it and are broken and scarred instead, he can’t be blamed for their inferiority and weakness, at least according to his own view apparently shared by others who support and defend him.

He goes on to say that, “You can’t always be the nice guy. Sometimes, you have to get a little tough with them. And in the long run, they’re going to come back and say thank you. I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve gone on to the military and said basic training is really similar to some of our camps at the beginning of the year. You break them down mentally, but you always love them to death. Then you bring them back strong.” If a fraction of the observations and criticisms heard about him are true, one suspects that more than a few who have experienced his tough love have not always been made better by the experience. How many have been harmed? Will we ever know? Will they ever be heard?

Southard quotes the coach one last time — “It’s not me. It’s all of us together.” — and says, “That’s just how West Branch rolls.” Maybe so and that might not be such a good thing. He talks a lot about ‘we’ and ‘us’, and he obviously loves his community as his community loves him, though not all of his community. He comes across as the real deal, a true community leader as once was far more common. As he told it, “I wanted this to be a community tradition. I wanted to have as many people involved in the football program as possible. If you go to the homecoming ceremony, and they ask all the people involved in the football program to come down on the field, there’s no one left in the bleachers” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). Yet the “all of us together” might be far more exclusionary as is all too often found in small town life. The shadow side of ‘us’ is ‘them’, those who are othered.

That is how Donald Trump came to power. He has attacked the weak and targeted perceived outsiders as scapegoats, like he did in ridiculing a reporter with a disability at one of his rallies. And similar to Coach Butch, Trump has a talent for coming up with names to mock people, as he did with Biden in calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’. With all of this in mind, it is maybe expected that someone of Trump’s character would also be so popular in Cedar County (to be fair, a significant minority did not vote for him; it would be interesting and probably telling to find out if those who voted for Trump correlate to those who most strongly support Coach Butch). That patriarchal abusiveness may simply be part of the social fabric. The moral degradation of our society has been going on for a long time. Those like Coach Butch and President Trump don’t come out of nowhere. And there is a reason they are revered by many, a reason they are able to gain power and get away with behavior that one can easily argue is reprehensible and inexcusable. From small towns in the Heartland to Washington D.C., it’s part of the victimization culture that so darkens our society, that corrupts the American soul.

The deeper problem is this. Where are the numerous victims in our society going to turn to in the hope of fighting back against powerful and respected victimizers? As with the bullied and abused students in many American communities and minorities in the oppressive racial order, as with the perceived outsiders and members of the permanent underclass, those harmed rarely feel confident in turning to authority figures for help, as the system of authority defends and rationalizes away the problem. That is what has motivated recent years of moral outrage and civic unrest — from the Me Too movement to the Black Lives Matter protests. For certain, none of the ruling elite of either major political party is a friend to the oppressed and disenfranchised. Lesser evil voting ends up feeling light on the ‘lesser’ and heavy on the ‘evil’. Here is the rub. Why do so many tolerate people like Butch and Trump? What do they hope to gain?

It’s simple. These social dominators know how to play the game of success and their old white male status gives them immense privilege, albeit often oblivious and belligerent privilege. Such people grasp, consciously or not, the power of the role they inhabit and they wield that power to great effect. In return, they offer their supporters and co-conspirators the opportunity to be on the winning side, to be part of ‘us’ — and the rhetorical narrative can sometimes be quite inspiring, especially when the ‘us’ symbolizes your own community, your own people. If you are one of Coach Butch’s favorites or when President Trump directs his schmoozing toward you, I’m sure to be the recipient of such glowing paternalism can feel like being on top of the world. That is what Coach Butch gave West Branch, a town otherwise in decline from its former glory as a bustling economic center. He gave them a sense of being winners again, specifically during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. President Trump has attempted to do the same thing on a grander scale, to take a declining America and promise to make it great again, a post-Reagan revival declaring that it’s Morning in America.

On the other side, the moral cost of this deal with the Devil is immense. But once the deal has been made, it’s near impossible to renegotiate and remedy. Hidden behind the sense of shared pride is an ever looming shadow of collective shame. It takes much effort and constant vigilance to keep such dark secrets forever a secret, even when they’re open secrets, to hide what is really going on and what it means for a community and for society. Complicity in a culture of victimization creates a culture of silence. We can point out President Trump’s buffoonery, but what is much harder is to admit that his behavior has long been normalized, if often in less obvious ways. This authoritarian streak in American culture goes back centuries. And it will continue until we face this moral failure. Until then, victimizers will continue to rise into power and the rest of us will go on enabling them.

– – – – –

* About ‘us’ vs ‘them’, one wonders about what happened to that lesbian art teacher who was fired. Small towns are known for being harsh, to say the least, toward those who are different, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender. To demonstrate this, the West Branch Times newspaper published an article by Gregory R. Norfleet, Soapbox Philosophy: A desire within, and a choice, to which one commenter responded: “I love how his column mixes worship of a high school football coach with a fear of homosexuals. It’s just so small-town Iowa” (from Another letter to the West Branch Times at the DailyDisgust blog).

What conclusions would I draw about you if I didn’t know you?

“When you say things like “people dying is unfortunate, but this destruction of property is unacceptable” instead of “property damage is unfortunate, but the killing of innocent people is unacceptable…”

“What conclusions would you draw about you if you didn’t know you?”

lullaby pit

George-Floyd

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? – Matthew 7:16

Let’s say I don’t know you personally. All I have are your social media feeds.

I start on Facebook and read everything you’ve posted since early May, along with your interactions in the comment threads.

I find zero posts about the Police killings of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. I find nothing at all expressing concern for the challenges facing any minority in our country, or even an awareness that they have challenges.

I find things encouraging me to support the Police, though.

I read further. As demonstrations sweep the country you express alarm over acts of vandalism. I find no mention at all of the times violent rioters are revealed to be white supremacists posing as demonstrators.

Oddly, I see no comment anywhere on the Boogaloo Bois, an…

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What is the lesson of COVID-19?

The US has been reacting to this public health crisis of COVID-19. But one can’t remain in emergency mode permanently. So, we’ve suddenly switched to the opposite reaction of reopening everything as a free-for-all as if everything is fine and normal again. Then there will likely be a massive upswing again of infections, followed by another period of fearful reaction.

We are stuck in this cycle because we are unprepared, both in terms of public policy and public health. But a major factor is the population is so unhealthy with 88% of Americans being metabolically unfit, not to mention environmental risks to the health of poor communities. Even in the best of times, that would eventually be devastating simply in terms of financial costs. Some predict we might eventually go bankrupt from treating all those sick Americans, along with the increasing costs of sick days, disability pay, etc.

The main thing that COVID-19 is showing us is how weak of a position we are in. It’s multiple factors that are putting us in a difficult bind. And this is a rather minor pandemic. If a truly deadly pandemic hits, which is inevitable, our society is going to be totally crippled and devastated. We barely can manage public health issues and healthcare costs without a pandemic. This situation is only going to get worse, specifically as the rates of metabolic disease continue to rise.

If we don’t become pro-active about dietary policy and healthcare quickly, we could be facing an existential crisis as a society. So, why is no major official or expert talking about public health in terms of factors we can control, specifically comorbidities such as diet-related and pollution-related suppression of the immune system? We can try to control external risk factors through public policies on social gathering and such, but we’d be wiser in the long term to improve public health by improving the metabolic and immunological health of Americans so that we are less susceptible to infections in the first place.

Being unhealthy is not only a threat to the individual. When magnified across an entire society, most of the population being unhealthy is a much greater threat. Every single unhealthy individual is a risk factor, is a threat of infectious spread to their family, friends, neighbors, fellow church congregants, etc. Personal health is a public health issue. But Americans seem only to know how to react to such things, or else scapegoat individuals for failure of public policy. Even those who want to dismiss it all are likewise trapped in an opposite reaction. Both sides have their head in the sand about the most central factor.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic fizzles out in the end with maybe only a million or so dead in the United States, it doesn’t change the basic public health crisis that will continue to get worse. Imagine when even more people in the United States and worldwide have metabolic diseases, and imagine when an even more virulent infectious disease hits. If we make no changes before then to improve individual and public health, we will be in a worse position than now and we will still be unprepared. Are we going to learn any lesson from this crisis?

None of this is to consider the potential combination of other factors. We are likely entering a period of one crisis after another with each crisis as bad or worse than the one before. Besides pandemics and other public health problems, there will be climate change events with worsening and increasing number of superstorms, along with floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, etc that will lead to refugee crises, social instability, civil wars, political coups, international conflict, fight over resources, and on and on.

That could be on top of the crises of destabilizing inequality, loss of public trust, and weakening political authority; not to mention various backlashes of reactionary politics, authoritarianism, riots, terrorism, and so much else. In the end, worsening health concerns, even pandemics, might be the least of our worries. But certainly a great enough public health crisis alone could unleash a cascade of stresses, conflicts, and failures within American society and across the geopolitical order.

This situation with COVID-19 is a warning we should heed. This could be, as some claim, the new normal. Or else a mere suggestion of the new normal yet to come.

The White Privilege of Guns

In the ongoing protest movement against racist police brutality, there have been white right-wing individuals and groups showing up with guns, often military-style guns that are designed to kill humans. Many of these people don’t have ill intent and certainly perceive themselves as the good guys. When asked, more than a few of them would say they are there to protect peaceful protesters, as they will protect all members and businesses of their community, and there isn’t necessarily any reason to doubt them. Still, some of the gun-toting vigilantes are crazed Trump supporters, conspiracy theorists listening to Alex Jones, and general right-wingers riled up by Fox News while others have been identified as members of white supremacist groups, militias, gangs, etc. One can’t assume peaceful results from armed groups of people seeking to violently stop the violence they fear in their over-active imaginations. Bringing a gun to a protest you disagree with is sending a clear message.

It’s true there hasn’t been many confrontations between protesters and counter-protesters, in that the protests nationwide have remained largely peaceful. But the mere presence of guns as a potential threat of violence — similar to when police show up in riot gear ready to rumble — understandably makes many people feel uncomfortable and unsafe, including some local business owners and local officials (Kip Hill & Chad Sokol, Armed presence in North Idaho towns questioned by some politicians, business owners; Adam Shanks, Elected officials condemn ‘armed vigilantes’ attending Spokane protests). Certainly, it hasn’t always been peaceful. “People wielding everything from bats to firearms have appeared at protests in Philadelphia, San Antonio and other cities. At times, their presence has led to confrontations with protesters. Sometimes there has been gunfire: In Boise, an 18-year-old white man was arrested after allegedly firing his rifle into the ground during a protest outside the capitol” (Isaac Stanley-Becker & Tony Romm; Armed white residents lined Idaho streets amid ‘antifa’ protest fears. The leftist incursion was an online myth.). It’s hard to see how mobs of intimidating whites bringing heavy-duty weapons to largely black protests against racism promotes a shared and communal experience of peace and safety, free speech and democratic engagement.

Look at the news reporting on various protest events over recent years and these kinds of white right-wingers are what one finds, but it rarely gets the same kind of attention or framed in the same way. It’s racist bias that is regularly seen in the news, such as how studies show black criminals are more likely to have their photographs shown on tv than white criminals, even as most crime is committed by whites. When there is a black gang violence in Chicago, it’s national news as part of an ongoing narrative of those kind of people in Chicago, despite violence in Chicago actually being low compared to other large cities — Chicago is far down on the list of violent cities with Beaumont and Houston in Texas having higher violent crime rates than Chicago (Andrew Schiller, NeighborhoodScout’s Most Dangerous Cities – 2020). Yet white biker gangs in Waco, Texas had a shoot out where 9 died, all charges were dropped against those involved, and it disappeared from national news and public memory as if it never happened. Then the next event in Chicago is obsessed over in the news cycle. Everyone knows that an equal number of weaponized blacks in similar military-style gear or gangster-like outfits as seen with these right-wing ‘concerned citizens’ would not get the same treatment by the media or by the police. Everyone knows this is true and it is the precise issue of racism motivating the protests that we can’t publicly, honestly, and fairly talk about as a society.

This is not anything new (Anti-Defamation League, Small But Vocal Array of Right Wing Extremists Appearing at Protests). Armed whites is pretty much the totality of American history going back long before the Klan, whether violence by militant groups, lone actors, or the police. There has been generations of homegrown terrorism from white right-wingers — besides the Klan and similar groups: kidnapping, attacks, and murder of family planning nurses and doctors, not to mention bombings and arson of clinics; Oklahoma City bombing, Charleston church shooting, Charlottesville car attack, and on and on. Even during the Bush administration when Republicans gained support for their War on Terror, two FBI reports specifically warned that terrorism was likely to come from U.S. citizens who were right-wing militants and veterans, as that has been the demographic of most terrorism in this country. In terms of numbers of groups and their membership, there is no equivalent history of violently radicalized left-wing groups. Even the Black Panthers, the most famous left-wing group, never came anywhere close to being as large, powerful, and violent as the Klan. And the most notorious left-wing terrorist group in the United States was the Weather Underground whose members strove to avoid harming life. Left-wing activists when violent have tended to target property, not lives. Right-wingers, on the other hand, haven’t always made a distinction between lives and property, sometimes going out of their way to intentionally target people so as to enact punishment, create terror, and set examples.

In general, white militant groups on the political right when not committing violence are often threatening it or implying such threat. Think of the Bundy gang and religious death cult that committed armed protest and revolt over many years, in having repeatedly challenged the Federal government in the hopes of forcing a firefight and becoming martyrs. This included the 2014 Bundy Ranch standoff in Nevada where supporters pointed guns at federal agents, the 2015 armed conflict with the U.S. Veteran’s Administration in Priest River, Idaho, and the 2016 armed armed seizure of the federal building at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. These altercations ended peacefully, but only because the police and federal agents treated these dangerous white people with kids’ gloves, in a way they never would have done for Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, or Arabs. Also, these aren’t minor events for major figures were involved such as the veteran and Republican D.C. politician Matt Shea who was charged with domestic terrorism in his direct involvement through militarily training some of the individuals for what he said was a Holy War, and yet Representative Shea remains in power.

This same pattern of white right-wing violence has been seen during the coronavirus pandemic, such as the terrorist plot by Timothy Wilson (Anti-Defamation League, White Supremacists Respond to Coronavirus With Violent Plots and Online Hate). The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 was more likely to infect and kill poor minorities and poor people in general, but it was whites, largely middle class, who protested the shutdowns (Coronavirus Protest Rallies Draw Extremists, Conservative Activists and Guns; & Boogaloo Supporters Animated By Lockdown Protests, Recent Incidents). Consider the white gunmen in bulletproof vests who occupied state capitols to demand the end of lockdowns. These were white people complaining about tyranny while, in one case, being given full cooperation from the government in their armed takeover of a government building. They acted tyranically in refusing to tolerate other viewpoints and, given the long and bloody history of right-wing terrorism, their actions of aggressive intimidation pose a real threat to democracy. They are demonstrating that, in being armed to the teeth, they are able and willing to fight against democratically-elected governments representing the people in order to get their way as a vocal and privileged group, even though the government is simply doing what most Americans want them to do as the shutdowns have been widely supported by the majority.

The white privilege flaunted on the public stage is mind-boggling. “This is the great irony, of course—that these men are enjoying a surfeit of justice, though they refuse to recognize it. It is impossible to imagine people of a different skin color angrily marching with military-style weapons and being treated with similar generosity by law enforcement. As Representative Rashida Tlaib noted on Twitter, “Black people get executed by police for just existing, while white people dressed like militia members carrying assault weapons are allowed to threaten State Legislators and staff” “ (Firmin DeBrabander, The Great Irony of America’s Armed Anti-Lockdown Protesters). “Unfortunately, while these armed protesters benefited from the rule of law, they unwittingly undermined it. For their demonstration certainly looked lawless—or made the rule of law seem absent, or tenuous at best. […] Whether they admit it or not, when these men carry military-style guns in protest, they send the message that they have occupied the public sphere, and that others are not really welcome. The public sphere is less public in that regard—and these protesters are fed up with a diversity of viewpoints. Armed protesters don’t want to deliberate or debate, or even tolerate the opposition. When they appear, democracy ends.”

Now the right-wing display of weaponry has increasingly shown up at the George Floyd protests against racist police brutality. As a counter-protest, one suspects that some of them are advocating racist police brutality and a more than a few have made their racism blunt. For certain, there is a movement of far right extremists hoping for race war, as they openly admit, and a number of them have been arrested for causing destruction and committing violence in the protests, including attempts to incite riots — for example, there are those loosely organized around the ‘Boogaloo’ meme (Jason Wilson, Protesters across US attacked by cars driven into crowds and men with guns; editorial staff, Right-wing extremist group ‘Boogaloo boys’ poses real threat during protests; Mehdi Hasan, How the Far-Right Boogaloo Movement Is Trying to Hijack Anti-Racist Protests for a Race War; & Clarence Page, While Trump blames antifa, a menacing far-right ‘boogaloo’ movement rises). There are also violent actors from more well organized groups such as the neo-Confederate bikers gang that is variously referred to as the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ (SCV), Mechanized Cavalry, or Mech Cav (SPLC, North Carolina Protest Shooting Suspect Appears To Have Ties to Organized Neo-Confederacy, Hate Groups). Claiming to be a Klan leader, Harry Rogers drove into a crowd of protesters. There are many other militant and militia groups with white membership that promote such right-wing extremism and violence.

In cities across the country, armed right-wingers showed up at protests in response to fake news created by fake social media accounts, including the right-wing group Evropa posing as antifa (Aaron Holmes, An ‘ANTIFA’ Twitter account that called for looting ‘white hoods’ was actually run by white nationalist group Identity Evropa). False rumors of “ANTIFA agitators” being bused in were spread on social media, including in the social media accounts of some Republican politicians, such as Senator Jennifer Fielder, along with President Donald Trump trying to get antifa officially listed as a terrorist group (Could you imagine the right-wing outrage if President Barack Obama had Tweeted that white militias were taking over the Tea Party protest movement and that they should be designated as a terrorist group?). Who believes this obvious bullshit, such blatant tactics of cynical divisiveness and attacks on democracy? It’s not clear who actually believes it, but it is known who is promoting it and it comes from respected officials. “QAnon theory builds on this, suggesting that all of it — the protests, the police reaction, the presence of antifa — has been preordained as part of a coming mass destruction. And QAnon isn’t just a niche conspiracy theory. Tweets from its proponents are regularly retweeted by the president. At least 50 current or former candidates for Congress, plus the Republican nominee for the US Senate in Oregon, are public QAnon supporters. And that doesn’t even include candidates running on the state or local level. As Adrienne LaFrance argued in the Atlantic, QAnon has become a religion, with clearly defined sides of good and evil, hungry for converts. The antifa fantasy functions similarly. Whether you’re in Lewiston, Idaho, or Klamath Falls, Oregon, it’s so, so easy to believe” (Anne Helen Petersen, How The Antifa Fantasy Spread In Small Towns Across The US).

The reports of antifa as a terrorist group have, of course, been greatly exaggerated. “The most important thing to understand about antifa is that there are very, very few of them: According to the Washington Post, when the group tried to gather nationally, they topped out at a few hundred” (Petersen). All that antifa means is anti-fascist and the boring reality is most people opposed to fascism aren’t seeking to provoke mass violence and revolution. If asked, the vast majority of Americans surely would agree that fascism is bad and should be opposed. “Anarchists and others accuse officials of trying to assign blame to extremists rather than accept the idea that millions of Americans from a variety of political backgrounds have been on the streets demanding change. Numerous experts also called the participation of extremist organizations overstated” (Neil MacFarquhar, Alan Feuer & Adam Goldman, Federal Arrests Show No Sign That Antifa Plotted Protests). So, it’s not clear why the vague label of ‘antifa’ been turned into a boogeyman. There aren’t likely many people who identify as antifa in any of the protests. “The Daily Beast also combed through the first 22 criminal complaints federal agents filed since May 31 that were related to the protests. None of them list antifa or anti-fascist ideology as being a motivating factor for the alleged crimes” (Sonam Sheth, The GOP’s claim that antifa is infiltrating George Floyd protests is a right-wing ‘bogeyman’ that bears all the hallmarks of a domestic disinformation campaign). Of these complaints, only 3 listed a specific political ideology claimed by the guilty party — one was anti-Trump, another anarchist, and a third involving several Boogalooers.

“Indeed, local officials in the state confirmed to the Post that not a single participant in the rallies was known to have defaced homes or storefronts in the name of antifa. […] Meanwhile, the FBI’s internal situation report which found “no intelligence” indicating antifa’s involvement in the May 31 protest violence did warn that people associated with a right-wing social media group had “called for far-right provocateurs to attack federal agents” and “use automatic weapons against protesters.” […] Politico also reported earlier this month that a Department of Homeland Security intelligence note warned law-enforcement officials that a white supremacist channel on the encrypted messaging app Telegram encouraged its followers to incite violence to start a race war during the protests” (Sheth). “Actual cases of Antifa violence, however, have been few and in nearly all instances in response to violence or threats of violence from their opposition. Most accusations of its involvement in violence at protests around the country have proven unfounded. The FBI, for example, looked into Washington, D.C.-area violence last week and found “no intelligence indicating Antifa involvement/presence.” “ (Randy Stapilus, The Antifa is coming! The Antifa is coming!).

As far as that goes, unlike some of these right-wing groups, antifa is not the name of a specific group, much less a national organization with fees and a membership roll. Research indicates that antifa, in intentionally being unorganized, mostly takes form as small groups in response to local events. There is no national system by which to organize, much less leaders to bus antifa around the country. “Antifa operates as a designation similar to the way someone might describe themselves as a punk rocker,” says Joan Donovan, a Harvard media expert (Nate Hegyi, Spurred By Debunked Antifa Rumors, Armed Men And Women Stand Watch Over Protests). It’s not clear who is antifa, since anyone can claim it; and those genuinely anti-authoritarian aren’t necessarilly attracted to clearly-defined group identities and organized movements. Heck, numerous fake antifa accounts were created by right-wing hate groups, specifically to promote conflict and create the false perception of a dangerous and well-organized antifa movement. “Twitter determined that a tweet promising antifa would “move into residential areas” and “white” neighborhoods was sent by the white supremacy group Identity Evropa. The tweet was shared hundreds of times and cited in online news articles before Twitter removed it, a company spokesperson said. Facebook, using information shared by Twitter, announced it also took down a handful of accounts on its platform that were created by white supremacy groups like Identity Evropa and American Guard, some of them posing as part of the antifa movement” (Associated Press, False Claims of Antifa Protesters Plague Small U.S. Cities). It turns out the only active antifa groups promoting riots, destruction, and violence are in actuality right-wing groups. If we eliminated all the right-wingers posing as antifa, there might not be much of an antifa left remaining.

“[T]he group the Trump administration has labeled a menace has mostly been nonexistent, experts and law enforcement officials say, and certainly has not been orchestrating what have been largely peaceful protests. Despite warnings of antifa incursions in scores of cities, there is no evidence linking outbursts of violence to an organized left-wing effort. And those associated with the autonomous groups that went up against far-right figureheads four years ago — and whose roots go back to earlier left-wing causes — say there is no such centralized organization. Federal and local arrest records in dozens of cities make virtually no mention of antifa. Law enforcement officials who had braced for the purported invasion of antifa militants in cities large and small now mostly acknowledge the threat has not appeared. […] The absence of antifa from protests roiling Berkeley — a crucible of left-wing activism — is a sign, Arreguín said, of the scale and possible significance of the protests. They are not driven by left-wing zealots, he said, but by multiracial and multigenerational crowds seeking a reckoning with systemic problems of racism and policing. […] The difference was expressed another way by Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley middle school teacher charged in 2017 with felony assault for allegedly punching a man with a neo-Nazi flag. (The assault charge was later dropped.) “Trump has turned everybody into antifascists,” Felarca said. “There’s no organization called ‘antifa.’ It was always just people prepared to take action against fascism. It turns out, that’s a lot of people.” (Isaac Stanley Becker, Scant evidence of antifa shows how sweeping the protests for racial justice have become).

It’s really bizarre. The paranoid mind will believe almost anything. If President Trump had told these white right-wingers that elephant agitators were going to invade from Mexico or be bused in by George Soros in order to take over the protests and trample their towns, he could make a small wealth from selling elephant repellent. The consequences of these conspiracy theories, however, are not a joke. The rumors of armies of antifa planning to destroy cities all over the United States were taken seriously, including by some rural Sheriffs (Ryan Burns, Sheriff Honsal Stands By ‘Antifa Bus’ Reports Despite Evidence That It Was All a Hoax). “The Associated Press has catalogued at least five separate rural counties where locals have warned of imminent attacks, although none of the rumors have been substantiated” (Russell Brandom, ‘Antifa bus’ hoaxes are spreading panic through small-town America). Sheriff of Curry County, Oregon called on local vigilantes to take action: “Without asking I am sure we have a lot of local boys too with guns that will protect our citizens and their property.”

That irresponsible fear-mongering online instantly elicited comments threatening violence (Nicole Blanchard & Ruth Brown, Police: No, antifa not sending ‘a plane load of their people’ to Idaho to incite riots) — one man was arrested because he made his intentions too clear when he stated on Twitter that he would “personally kill” any “antifa soldiers” (Isaac Stanley Becker, Scant evidence of antifa shows how sweeping the protests for racial justice have become). Later at the protests, in several cases, it did lead to serious altercations. Some of the armed white right-wingers haven’t merely threatened but acted out with violence. Roving gangs of armed white men have already started fights and attacked people in various protests. With fears of antifa, many protests have had a large influx of well-armed white people showing up to violently stop the left-wing violence that social media has told them is coming. Innocent people were caught in the crossfire, such as a mixed-race family traveling in a converted bus who were accused of being antifa and harassed to the point they feared for their lives (Peter Aitken, Washington family accused of being Antifa members, followed by armed citizens; & Deborah Hastings, Fake ‘Antifa’ Social Media Posts Incite Fear and Anger Across the Country). As in many other states, cities in Montana have had masses of white people with guns looking for trouble. In Missoula, this led to one black teen being chased down an alley where he was attacked by right-wing goons carrying AR-15s. They thought a young black kid riding a bicycle was suspicious and believed he was ‘antifa’ apparently because he was black.

It turns out this young black had lived most of his life in that town, but it makes no difference where he lived. Black people should be free to travel in the United States without fear of being attacked by the equivalent of the Klan. The sad irony of attacking an innocent black kid at a protest against racial violence was lost on these right-wing terrorists. “I feared for my life,” he told a reporter (Seaborn Larson, UPDATE: Teen: Armed group wanted ‘reason to hunt me down’), “I could have been killed or could have been taken out.” This self-appointed militia handed the boy over to the police and, after brief questioning, they released him as obviously not being a threat. He immediately called Quentin Robinson, an adult he trusted. “Robinson was not at the protest last week, but said the dynamic of armed white men surrounding an anti-racism protest reinforces the system in which white people are the de facto authority. […] The problem is on display when police do not pursue the men who conducted a citizens arrest of the teen for seemingly no reason.” Imagine if men who looked like black gangsters or a Black Panther militia attacked a white boy at a Tea Party protest and tried to hand him over to the same group of white policemen. One suspects it would have ended quite differently.

The greatest privilege of all is being oblivious to one’s privilege, to have one’s privilege taken for granted by you and everyone around you, including authority figures like the police. There have been some arrests when right-wing extremists undeniably go over the legal boundary, but otherwise they are allowed to menace citizens freely. The police have, in some instances, attacked peaceful protesters with no apparent reason or provocation or sometimes have beat on innocent bystanders such as old man who couldn’t move out of the way quickly enough. Such attacks don’t seem to happen to armed right-wingers. Why not? Is it that police only attack innocent citizens when they are unarmed? Or is the main factor the color of one’s skin? Maybe it’s the combination of the two, some magical power that is formed from white skin touching the metal on a gun. In that case, could we stop police brutality by carefully placing in key locations white people with guns who are allies with minorities? If that is all it takes, we should have taken this simple step years ago.

The beauty of paranoid fantasies is that they are non-falsifiable because they create reality and enforce their own truth. The fantasy of violence works if violence does erupt as a self-fulfilling prophecy or if it doesn’t in that one becomes a hero in claiming to have prevented it. But that they are fantasies is the main point, fantasies as melodramatic spectacles on the public stage (Violent Fantasy of Reactionary Intellectuals; & The Fantasy of Creative Destruction). They create a narrative of self-importance with little personal cost or consequence. That no buses full of antifa is likely to show up is the whole point. Most of these right-wingers want to keep it a fantasy that can be repeated. “The Idaho Public Television journalist Melissa Davlin tweeted on Tuesday: “After searching, I saw a number of bots posting about Antifa heading to (Coeur d’Alene), which spurred the armed people to ‘protect’ downtown. Antifa never showed, and now the armed people are claiming victory. Meanwhile, a few bots are still posting that CdA is under siege from Antifa.” “ (Stapilus). So, even in self-perceived right-wing victory, the bots of the social media machine go pumping along, mindlessly spewing their hateful conspiracy theories and fearful visions of destruction.

“Militia members get to plan, anticipate, and enact the idea at the foundation of their existence. And they get to do it in a way that positions them as “the good guys,” fighting a cowardly bogeyman easily vanquished by show of force alone. As a popular meme circulating in North Idaho put it, “Remember that time when Antifa said they were coming to Coeur d’Alene / And everyone grabbed their guns and they didn’t come? That was awesome!” It doesn’t matter if antifa was never coming in the first place. They didn’t come, and that’s evidence of victory. And that victory can then be leveraged into further action — and a means to extend the fantasy. On the Montana Militia page, a man named Tom Allen, whose home is listed on Facebook as Wibaux, Montana, posted that he’d spent the night in Dickenson, North Dakota, “protecting” the veterans monument during a planned protest. A group of bikers showed up to guard the nearby mall, protecting “all of Antifa’s usual targets.” There was no incident” (Petersen).

These are staged events orchestrated by whichever puppet masters are writing the scripts and programming the bots. These ordinary white right-wingers are willing puppets, as long as they get to be in the leading role. The protests that were in response to the racist maltreatment of blacks can be reframed once again about the heroic victimhood of whites. And like some of the white police officers who brutally kill blacks, these self-styled white vigilantes get to feel powerful in carrying their guns and demonstrating their racial privilege. Meanwhile, the police go on shooting black men and boys for carrying cellphones, candy, or nothing at all — in the racist suspicion that they might be carrying a gun and so must be put down for the good of the community or simply because the officer felt ‘threatened’. Even a black person running away in terror for their life is considered by some cops as justifiable cause for being gunned down. One of the other white privileges is getting to choose your own narrative, rather than having someone with power impose their narrative upon you.

“Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There’s a lack of recognition of the difference in our system. Chris Rock used to do a great bit: ‘‘No white person wants to change places with a black person. They don’t even want to exchange places with me, and I’m rich.’’ It’s true. There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building with rifles, shouting: ‘‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them.”
~Jon Stewart, NYT interview by David Marchese (June 15, 2020)

The Empire Within Us

In a review of Buddy Levy’s book Conquistador, Chuck Pezeshki uses it as an opportunity to discuss the sociopolitical implications of psychopathic power, cruel sacrifice, and the loss of empathy (Learning from Aztecs and Bon Vivants — Empathy in the Time of the Coronavirus (VIII)). Levy describes, in taking Spanish accounts at their word, the claimed atrocities of human sacrifice supposedly committed by the Aztecs and how Cortés put on a pretense of moral outrage.

Levy writes that, “Some of Cortés’s men reported being shown a morbid place, an ossuary of human skulls, constructed to resemble a viewing theater of slain sacrifice victims. Set in stacks of five, on tiered poles between large supporting towers, were some 136,000 skulls, all the heads facing outward, the open-mouthed faces bleached to a bone-white patina from the high-altitude sun. For the Spaniards, it was a macabre and chilling sight. During his tour of the palaces and marketplace, Cortés would also have heard about other equally gruesome ritual practices, including the slashing open of the throats of infants, the beheading of young women, and the dressing of teenagers in recently flayed human skins. The shock and disgust that he felt (notwithstanding his own recent personal acts of barbarity) must have fueled his sense of mission and righteousness.” Was that true? Were the accounts accurate? Before answering those questions, let’s consider Hernán Cortés’ rhetoric and rationalizations given right before battle, from another section of Conquistador:

“Before departing, Cortés assembled the entire allied force—the Spaniards in clanking and shimmering armor, the Indian warriors in feathers—at the central square of Tlaxcala. By now more than proficient in rousing oratory, Cortés spoke to his men (translated to the Tlaxcalans through Malinche and a few pages who had learned Nahuatl) reminding them of (and cleverly providing legal precedent for) the task ahead. They embarked on a “just” cause, he said, simultaneously appealing to honor, faith, and greed. “The principal reason for us coming to these parts,” he bellowed across the plaza, “is to glorify and preach the Faith of Jesus Christ, even though at the same time it brings us honor and profit, which infrequently come in the same package.”

“Cortés went on, attempting to justify, both to the crown and in accordance with Spanish law, his proposed military actions by suggesting that the Aztecs were not a liberated nation but rather were vassals of Spain in rebellion, murderers of Spanish citizens who therefore required “a great whipping and punishment.” While the argument was weak and rather dubious, it achieved the desired effect: the army rallied with whoops and cheers. Cortés closed this portion of his speech with a salient reminder of the Aztecs’ vile practices of human sacrifice, cannibalism, and even sodomy (this last an appeal against a taboo, seemingly for punctuation). Then he called upon a crier to shout out a list of seventeen rules of engagement, recently scribed by his new war secretary. The irony of some of them is so egregious, given Spanish brutality and duplicitous behavior, that in reading them, one does not know whether to laugh or to cry.

“The highlights of this list, which Cortés called “ordinances for good government and other matters concerning war,” include the following. The purpose of the war was to impart to the local inhabitants of Mexico a “knowledge of our holy faith” and to “subjugate them, under imperial and royal yoke and dominion of His Majesty, to whom, legally, the lordship of these parts now belongs.” The terms “subjugate,” “dominion,” and “belongs” betray Cortés’s true intention: to bring this land to its knees and possess it.”

Basically, Cortés was not a nice guy, much less a trustworthy source on his own motivations. Spanish accounts were intended as imperial propaganda, but that is as expected. Of course, Cortés was also trying to advance his own career and reputation. “In effect, he was a rogue, a rebel, a pirate. Arguments about his relative morality will persist: he was manipulative, duplicitous, and egomaniacal. He was barbarous in his own way, using his religious faith and convictions to justify brutalities including torture, branding, execution, unprovoked massacre, and slavery.” He was ambitious, if nothing else, and would do anything to promote that ambition. The accusations of brutality were pretext to justify the brutality that was to come, as Levy explains:

“For the next three weeks, fueled perhaps by a desire for vengeance for La Noche Triste, and certainly wishing to make a show of unyielding power, Cortés terrorized the region, ravaging villages and cities with brutal impunity. He turned his ferocious armored war-hounds loose on any Aztecs or their allies who refused to submit; the snarling, blood-crazed animals tore them to shreds. Hacking and burning a wide and deadly course, Cortés took prisoner-slaves and exacted fealty from leaders until, as the thick smoke of sacked towns choked the horizon, he had subjugated the entire province of Tepeaca. Cortés would say of this bloody carnage, “Although…this province is very large, within twenty days we had subdued and pacified many towns and villages, and the lords and chieftains…offered themselves as your majesty’s vassals.” Cortés would later justify his brutality and the taking of slaves by arguing that it was in response to widespread regional cannibalism, which both he and the crown despised, but this claim rang false, sounding like an excuse. The campaign reached, even for Cortés, shocking levels of atrocity and barbarity. In one city he is said to have lined up and killed two thousand civilian men, while four thousand women and children watched—and the latter were then branded and enslaved.”

That was a brutal era of clashing empires ruled by the Dark Triad: psycopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. There wasn’t much allowance made for compassion or even pity. That apparently is what attracted Pezeshki to Levy’s book. Empathy is a central theme of Pezeshki’s blog and of his scholarship. According to his About page, he is “a published professor in the field of design theory and high performance work teams. […] And I’m also one of the second-wave pioneers in understanding nonlinear dynamics and complex system theory [… with] an extensive background in environmental policy [… and] experience up and down the governmental food chain.” His writings are more than worthy of studying, specifically his application of v-memes or value memes. He also has fascinating posts on diet and nutrition as they relate to society (see an earlier post, Diets and Systems, from this blog in response to that), although that is an entirely other topic. Anyway, the context of the recent post by Pezeshki is how empathy should be part of our discussion of COVID-19, specifically as a way of understanding different responses and what they mean. The focus is on human sacrifice and I agree with his larger point:

“Aztecs sacrificed victims regularly to make sure the sun would rise and set, as well as almost every other reason imaginable. That is never a good feedback loop to make. Once a society institutes Divine Rationalization justifying any depravity, the end is near. What such constant, chronic sacrifice certainly did was destroy empathy, and create a massively dissociated nation. […] What is interesting is that such treatment of people, both within, and very much without their society, destroys the ability of a society to have more evolved empathy. The last thing you would ever want to do is connect to someone having their heart cut out and then subsequently decapitated. […]

“Yet instead of being future focused, the psychopaths in charge created an entire civilization run off the rails by trauma. […] Through promotion of a class of highly sophisticated psychopaths who could both manage, exult in and design the grisly daily rituals of suffering and death, unmoored from their obvious consequences, should serve as a warning to all of us. Current Wall Street dynamics, anyone? […] This blog typically does not talk about moral justice in all of this. But it’s very hard to argue that the Aztecs didn’t have it coming. Something we might think about when we have our own version of sacrificing the poor as morally justifiable in order to keep our civilization running. What is the end game here? What can history teach us?”

He really isn’t talking about the Aztecs. Rather, he used a foreign society that is distant from us in time and place in order to give us the emotional distance to gain new perspective on our own society. I applaud what he is attempting and the ongoing project it’s part of, but I’m not sure the Aztecs are a good example for this purpose. That history of European conquest is mired in the unreliable accounts of the violent Spaniards, arguably far more brutal and psychopathic than the Aztecs. The Aztecs might have lost because they weren’t psychopathic enough compared to the Spaniards or else because they lacked the ambitious quality of psychopathy as seen in Spanish colonial imperialism, military expansionism, and genocidal exploitation — not to mention the Inquisition that led to the torture, persecution, and killing of millions. That isn’t to lessen the moral crime of human sacrifice that was practiced by the Aztecs, even if at a much smaller scale compared to the Spaniards at the time. But as we seek proper perspective toward our own society, we should also seek a fuller understanding of the societies of others.

There is much discussion and debate about Aztec human sacrifice. The archaeological record apparently hasn’t so far supported the claims made by the Conquistadors who would’ve been motivated to exaggerate. Three sites have shown the remains of individuals numbering 35, 123 and 150, not the thousands upon thousands of sacrificial victims from the Spanish accounts, much less the 100,000 that some have suggested nor even close to the ‘conservative’ estimates of 20,000. There was ritual sacrifice, but it was rather limited according to the evidence. Besides, most sacrifices were animals and, among humans, the most common practice was self-sacrifice. Even captured enemies who were sacrificed were kept for long periods of time during which they were well fed, trained in special dances, and much else. It was an immense investment and so, as this intriguingly involved knowing cooperation by the intended victim, these highly prized sacrifices were rare. Anyway, to put it in context, Cortés and his army killed more natives in battle than the most exaggerated number ascribed to human sacrifice by the Aztecs — according to Levy: “The clash of empires that followed culminated in the bloody siege of Tenochtitlán, to this day considered the longest and costliest continuous single battle in history, with estimated casualties of 200,000 human lives.”

As for Aztec cannibalism, it appears to have been much more rare, quite likely far more rare than the medical cannibalism practiced in Europe for many centuries and into the modern period, having fallen out of favor during the 19th century although it continued into the 20th century: “From creating candles made of human fat in the 1880s, to drinking blood at the scaffolding (still happening in 1908)” (Eddie Wrenn, Europeans indulged in cannibalism until the 1900s, two new books claim; Richard Sugg, Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: the History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians; & Louise Noble, Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture). As a side note, similar to human sacrifice, cannibalism has been more common than previously acknowledged. Weston A. Price, in searching diverse traditional societies, couldn’t find a single example of veganism but many examples of cannibalism (Being “mostly vegan” is like being “a little pregnant.”). European history is no exception when it comes to cannibalism. As with a supposed cannibalistic elite among the Aztecs, European aristocrats, royalty and popes partook of human flesh (Keith Veronese, The UncLouiseomfortably Common Practice of Medicinal Cannibalism; & Bess Lovejoy, A Brief History of Medical Cannibalism). European scholars, priests, and peasants also joined in such morbid activities, not limited to eating human flesh but also smearing human fat and sprinkling human blood on their bodies. This might be unsurprising since Europeans at the time took seriously the idea that a symbolic ritual of eating the blood and body of a sacrificed godman would bring them eternal life.

Consider that “Europe boasts the oldest fossil evidence of cannibalism,” albeit of Neanderthals, and “the world’s first cannibal incident reported by multiple, independent, first-hand accounts took place during the Crusades by European soldiers” (Sarah Everts, Europe’s Hypocritical History of Cannibalism). To Europeans, the university lecturer Richard Sugg points out, “The question was not, ‘Should you eat human flesh?’ but, ‘What sort of flesh should you eat?’ ” One might argue that European cannibalism was far more barbaric in how it dehumanized the human body. “The one thing that we know,” says Beth A. Conklin, “is that almost all non-Western cannibal practice is deeply social in the sense that the relationship between the eater and the one who is eaten matters. In the European process, this was largely erased and made irrelevant. Human beings were reduced to simple biological matter equivalent to any other kind of commodity medicine” (Maria Dolan, The Gruesome History of Eating Corpses as Medicine). The human body was made into mere matter, the result of the new ‘Enlightened’ thought. Such European cannibalism became common practice — in Eating Your Enemy, Richard Sugg writes:

“Though Christian Europeans shunned the cannibalism of the New World, they themselves in fact practised cannibalism more systematically than any tribes in Canada or Brazil. Until around 1750, human fat, flesh, bone and blood (preferably drunk warm) were widely used and esteemed forms of medicine. Advocates and consumers included Francis Bacon, Robert Boyle and Charles II. Meanwhile, from the early sixteenth century, Protestants and Catholics in northern Europe  denounced and slaughtered one another with tribal ferocity, even as each side attacked the ‘cannibal barbarity’ or inhumanity of the other. Frank Lestringant (1997) tells how, around 1580, a French Protestant was killed and eviscerated by Catholics. His heart was next ‘chopped in pieces, auctioned off, cooked on a grill and finally eaten with much enjoyment’.

“Elsewhere such savagery might be inspired by social antagonisms. Historian Piero Camporesi (1988) tells of violent aristocratic feuds in early-modern Italy. In one case, a victim’s disembowelled heart was bitten. In a second, the narrator tells us, ‘lucky was the man who might grind the entrails between his teeth’. In a third instance, a man was tortured and killed before being disembowelled. After gnawing his intestines, his attackers proceeded to ‘cut him up into small pieces to remove his fat because he was young, being probably twenty-eight years of age, tall and slim in build’. In Camporesi’s view, the emphasis on the victim’s youth and stature betrays an intention to sell this fat to ‘pharmacologist-doctors’ who would find it ‘beneficial to all nervous ailments’. Given the trade in cannibalistic medicine, the inference looks all too plausible.

“In these incidents the aggressors do not actually eat, but enact their dominance by cannibalistic gestures. Such gestures violently break taboos, yet avoid the possibility of being contaminated by the substance of their victims. In a broadly similar way, selling Orsi’s fat is a form of derisive exploitation, and one that procures someone else to do the actual consumption.”

With that in mind, let us return to what supposedly so horrified the Conquistadors, men who weren’t squeamish about blood and guts and the screams of the innocent. Pezeshki argues, based on Levy’s book, that human sacrifice and cannibalism were central factors in the downfall of the Aztecs. The assertion is based on the evidence of an uprising among the subordinate populations who would’ve been the source of victims offered to the bloody rituals demanded by an authoritarian elite. That surely played some role, although maybe not as much considering the evidence is skimpy for a large-scale death count. Revolt might have had more to do with basic reasons such as a starving and unhappy peasant class, similar to what incited the French Revolution. A lack of empathy would still be involved, even if no dramatic large-scale violence was necessarily involved. Standard authoritarian oppression is brutal enough by itself to instigate unrest, as the Spanish would experience themselves when oppressed people fought back with Haiti being a key case in point.

Whatever may have been behind uprisings that helped the Spanish invaders, some argue that the Conquistadors were so able to defeat the Aztecs because so many of the enemy soldiers were already sick and weak from an outbreak of typhoid-like salmonella enterica bacterium, “the second of three epidemics” that killed 15 million people, as compared to the bubonic plague that did away with 25 million (Agence France-Presse, 500 years later, scientists discover what probably killed the Aztecs). By the time the would be conquerors arrived, the city was in a chaotic state where an organized defense was no longer possible. Imagine if a large empire with a population immune to bubonic plague had attacked Europe while mass infection and death was taking hold. It would’ve been an easy victory even for a small invading army, with or without local revolt. Furthermore, the higher rate of deaths in the rural areas of the Aztec empire would’ve added to the social instability for the Aztec ruling elite living in the central city. There already had been drought, malnutrition, and famine preceding the arrival of the Conquistadors. This would’ve made the population susceptible to infectious diseases and rural areas might have been affected more harshly, a situation the Conquistadors were able to take advantage of.

To return to the issue of human sacrifice, that is a complex issue. At around same the time, as I pointed out, the Spaniards were committing human sacrifice as well, even if by other means. Between the Inquisition and genocide, many millions were killed, far beyond the scope of Aztec brutality. Public torture, quarterings, hangings, burnings, etc was common practice in Europe during that era, from feudalism to colonialism. There was systemic persecution and mass decimation of entire populations and religions like the Cathars. That moral depravity and lack of empathy didn’t stop these countries from creating advanced societies and rising into empires. If anything, too much empathy would have been a hindrance for the Spaniards in seeking to conquer and enslave other societies, far from limited to the Aztecs. Psychopathy was their key to success.

Interestingly, it was during this period of mass oppression, violence, and suffering in Europe that the ideals of empathy were emerging. It had more to do with a new understanding of individuality and psychology, such as what developed in the violently warring Italian city-states in the Renaissance. Some believe the changes in mindset had more to do with changes in technology and media, such as the printing press that made books more widespread. Also, there were changes in how text was written, as seen in the introduction of punctuation and spaces between words that allowed silent reading in the privacy of one’s own mind. The conditions that create psychopathy can simultaneously inspire new attitudes, ideals, and visions of empathy. Thomas Paine, to take an example from another empire, could see from his house the almost daily public killings at the gallows which included the death of a childhood friend and it probably helped to later shape him into a revolutionary who proclaimed himself to be a citizen of the world. By the way, what became of the executed? “In Great Britain, the body supply was easily replenished by using the corpses of criminals. The Murder Act of 1752 allowed executed murderers to be dissected for science. After the bodies were dissected, they were sent to apothecaries and were made into corpse medicine. Almost every single body part was used in one way or another” (Nichole K., Cannibalism in Europe: The Hypocrisy of Corpse Medicine in the 17th Century) — Paine was a teenager when this barbarism was put into law and so this was likely the fate of the corpse of his childhood friend. Brutality can deaden the soul but it can inspire others instead, as demonstrated by the martyrdom practiced by Stoics and inherited by Christians.

Empathy developed in spite of or maybe even in response to a dominant social order that was the complete opposite of encouraging empathy. The conditions that make greater empathy possible are complex and can take long periods to accrue. Julian Jaynes explored how the earliest signs of a more modern empathy appeared after the fall of the Bronze Age civilizations. Others have studied this in terms of the Axial Age societies and religions that came out of that prior period of dark ages, often using the Greeks as the key example. Interestingly, the Bronze Age civilizations became most brutally violent right before their collapse. Jaynes argued this change was caused the weakening of the bicameral social order. Empathy, as we understand it, had not been necessary to the communally-oriented bicameral mind with its collective identity of external voice-hearing. For that same reason, the early communitarian societies of small city-states were far less violent with no evidence of mass torture and slaughter. A new kind of violent hierarchy only rose later on with the tentative signs of a new individualistic and introspective consciousness that, so goes the argument, also made empathy as we know it possible. Violence might become more common and brutal in response to the radical potential of empathy that challenges it.

By the way, Jaynes does discuss the Aztecs. He was writing at a time when info was more limited and so he didn’t know about the drought, famine, and disease that preceded the Conquistador attack. His suggestion was that the Aztecs were still a bicameral society or beginning transition out of bicamerality and that their defeat partly came from an incomprehension about the mentality of the Conquistadors. Bicameral societies operated in a very different way. According to theory, individuality and hence sacrifice wouldn’t be experienced as is done with Jaynesian egoic consciousness. Here is what he wrote:

“The conquered Aztecs told the Spanish invaders how their history began when a statue from a ruined temple belonging to a previous culture spoke to their leaders. It commanded them to cross the lake from where they were, and to carry its statue with them wherever they went, directing them hither and thither, even as the unembodied bicameral voices led Moses zigzagging across the Sinai desert.

“And finally the remarkable evidence from Peru. All the first reports of the conquest of Peru by the Inquisition-taught Spaniards are consistent in regarding the Inca kingdom as one commanded by the Devil. Their evidence was that the Devil himself actually spoke to the Incas out of the mouths of their statues. To these coarse dogmatized Christians, coming from one of the most ignorant counties of Spain, this caused little astonishment. The very first report back to Europe said, “in the temple [of Pachacamac] was a Devil who used to speak to the Indians in a very dark room which was as dirty as he himself.” And a later account reported that

” “… it was a thing very common and approved at the Indies, that the Devill spake and answered in these false sanctuaries … It was commonly in the night they entered backward to their idoll and so went bending their bodies and head, after an uglie manner, and so they consulted with him. The answer he made, was commonly like unto a fearefull hissing, or to a gnashing which did terrifie them; and all that he did advertise or command them, was but the way to their perdition and ruine.” “

Even if it were true the Aztecs had been as violent and superstitious as portrayed with a lingering bicameral mindset, maybe they offered a mirror to the invading soldiers in which to gaze upon their own distorted visage. It was the familiarity of such a society that might have so frightened those simple Conquistadors. The vestiges of bicameralism were still strong in the European mind of that era when individualism was barely taking hold, not that long after the so-called Dark Ages. The threat of a still functioning bicameral society might have been that it awakened the still living voices that exerted so much power over these religious Europeans, at a time when worship of idols and corpses was still widespread in the Catholic church.

Those bicameral voices might not be so distant for us modern Westerners either. In reading the Spanish accounts of the Aztecs, it also holds up a mirror to our own repressed dark fears and depraved fantasies. We’ll never know the objective reality of who were the Aztecs and it ultimately doesn’t matter. We don’t have to look outside of the West to know the bloody origins of the psychopathy that rules our own modern world. The Empire never ended, as Philip K. Dick said — call it Roman, Spanish, Aztec, or American. It’s all the same Empire and we carry it in our soul and psyche, our shared humanity, in the shadows of the unconscious. It’s not whether or not those others lacked empathy but, as Chuck Pezeshki would agree, if we will allow ourselves to empathize with our own darkness, what we’ve denied in ourselves. The Other is to be found within.

* * *

Ancient Aztec skull rack discovered in temple complex in middle of Mexico City — decapitated victims’ skulls used in mortar and used like bricks
Ahhuatl:
A good demonstration of the disconnect between what the Spanish claimed and the actual empirical evidence.

ictlantecuhtli:
They found 35 skulls so far. Hardly close to 100,000.
The Spanish were quite awful at estimating things in their accounts. A lot of the numbers have been inflated to make things sound grander.
And Diaz wrote his book decades after the event when he was an old man. His account comes into conflict with Cortes’ letters on numerous accounts, probably because Diaz wanted to make things more exciting to get more money for his book.

Britannica Book of the Year 2014
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.
p. 194

In central Mexico, north of the Maya world, archaeologists discovered another mass grave, in what appeared to indicate the largest human sacrifice in Mesoamerican prehistory. This finding, published in the December 2012 issue of Latin American Antiquity, garnered significant press after its initial publication. Christopher Morehart (then of Georgia State University) and colleagues—while investigating ancient canals and irrigation systems in proximity to Lake Xaltocan (now drained), about a half hour’s drive from Mexico City—discovered a looted site. This site, which appeared to have included a ritual shrine, produced evidence of more than 150 human skulls—some of which included the first and second cervical vertebrae—carefully placed in linear rows. The crania that were analyzed showed that most of the victims were male. Radiocarbon dating indicated that these individuals were sacrificed sometime between 600 and 850 CE, beginning about the time of Teotihuacan’s collapse. Teotihuacan was located just 15 km (9 mi) southeast of the shrine, and its collapse was attributed to social disruptions caused by massive drought. If indeed drought conditions were affecting the broader region at this time, then the region’s inhabitants may have intensified their ritual practices in an effort to appeal to deities that could intervene on their behalf. The site’s ceremonial nature was indicated by the presence of the shrine, which contained such ritual objects as incense burners, figurines depicting water deities, and pottery embellished with agricultural imagery. The sacrifice of so many male individuals within this ritual context suggested that the drought must have been severe along Lake Xaltocan.

Aztec sacrifice and the blood fetish
u/AlotOfReading:

Primary sources surrounding the Conquest of Mexico are a tricky thing to interpret. They were the product of a set of social and political environments vastly different than today’s. Even our best primary sources are far from comprehensive or accurate. Diaz is neither. There have been many different attempts3 to convey the context of Diaz’s writings to the modern reader, but none that can be understood by taking quotes out of context. It’s this difficulty with interpreting primary sources of the conquest that schools often teach guided interpretive readings of primary sources to help students navigate their biases. As /u/Ahhuatl and /u/Mictlantecuhtli (both flaired users on /r/Askhistorians) correctly note, Diaz’s claims are not archaeologically substantiated. I will defer to /u/Ahhuatl’s previous post to explain the issues with the scale of sacrifice and death in precolumbian Mexico.

Why did Mesoamericans sacrifice people, and why was it not because “the gods don’t bleed?” – A further analysis of the flaws of “The Road to El Dorado”
Ahhuatl:

“What’s unique is the scale and its centrality, not the act itself.”

This is actually a fairly debatable point. It is important to contextualize our understanding of Mesoamerican culture – specifically to recognize that our understanding of the scope and nature of human sacrifice in Mesoamerica is almost wholly derived from colonial era sources. The once source we have that actually interacted with Precolumbian Mesoamerica comes from the Conquistadors themselves – Cortes, Diaz, et al. These sources don’t do much in the way of granting us a sense of the number of people sacrificed by the Aztecs or any Mesoamerican culture and they, just like later colonial sources, had every incentive to exaggerate the scale of human sacrifice in Mesoamerica. The conquest of the Aztec Empire fueled a firestorm of controversy that was already taking place in Europe regarding the morality of subjugating people as the Spanish were doing. Emphasizing the supposed devilry inherent to Mesoamerican religion helped bolster the reputation of the Spanish in the eyes of the Church and the rest of Europe. This isn’t to lend the impression that all of the sources we have on Mesoamerica were deliberately distorting the truth. There are several other mitigating factors which call the accuracy of Spanish depictions of human sacrifice into question as well. Most notably, texts from the Middle Ages routinely involved the inflation of statistics for the sake of dramatic purpose. The Spanish themselves would claim that they claimed millions of people in the Conquest. Most damning however is that our most valuable sources – Sahagun, Duran, Motolinia – were all writing decades after the fall of the Aztec Empire. In that time period, a huge swath of the people who had actually lived prior to the arrival of the Spanish had died. The Spanish frequently relied on people who either claimed to be members of the Aztec elite or stories passed on to younger generations to form their understanding of what life was like before the Conquest.

I’m going to take a controversial stance here, so you should take what I say with a grain of salt. To be frank, I don’t find the figures provided by most Mesoamerican historians to be much more than baseless speculation. […] There is an elephant in the room when it comes these proclamations about the supposedly unparalleled scale and brutality of Aztec sacrifice: archaeology.

Lets play a guess game, shall we? In 2012, Archaeologists discovered the largest example of human sacrifice ever recording in Mesoamerica. If you had to guess how many unique individuals identified in that excavation, how many would you guess there were? More than 150,000? Nope. More than 15,000? Nope. More than 1,500? Nope. The largest example of mass human sacrifice ever found in Mesoamerica contained more than 150 skulls. 150 skulls. What Berdan is alluding to in his quote is the enormous gap that exists between the reported scale of Aztec human sacrifice and actual, physical evidence we have of human sacrifice in Mesoamerica. Given the scale and intensity of Aztec sacrifice (and note that the aforementioned discovery date to a period before the Aztecs were even around) to say nothing of Mesoamerican sacrifice as a whole, there should be vast quantities of sacrificial remains all over the region – yet there aren’t. Right now there are several flimsy explanations for this huge discrepancy, the most pervasive of which actually derives from the Harner if I remember correctly. It has been suggested that the befuddling absence of sacrificial remains can be attributed to cannibalism.

Cannibalism in Mesoamerica is an area of even more dubious credibility that discussions of human sacrifice. While there is no question that cannibalism did take place in Mesoamerica, what we know about its practice really does not explain the absence of subsurface sacrificial remains. […] Beyond this, only particular portions of the human body were consumed in ritual cannibalism. Other parts, like the skull, were displayed or ritually buried, so we should STILL be seeing more evidence of sacrifice than we are.

I don’t want to lend the impression that the Aztecs or other Mesoamericans did not practice at notable amount of human sacrifice. Rather I want to emphasize to you and other readers that we academics are still coming to terms with this complex issue on our own. When you look at the hard data we have about Mesoamerican human sacrifice and then look around at other cultures and realize the verifiable scale of Mesoamerican human sacrifice is barely greater than anywhere else in the world, your perspective on the matter changes significantly. It is fascinating to me how unequal the treatment of Mesoamerican human sacrifice is to say, Ancient Greek sacrifice. When people think of human sacrifice, they immediately think of the Mesoamericans. The entire legacy of this truly remarkable region has been polluted by this perception of Mesoamericans as a particularly bloodthirsty, cruel, superstitious, and barbaric group of people. Yet the reality that the Ancient Greeks practiced human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism is something that is functionally erased from the collective mindset of the West. We still envision the Ancient Greeks as the inherently good an enlightened people – even though they subjugated a far wider array of people than the Aztecs did and even though held many of the same cultural practices as the Aztecs. Yet there is a deep, almost obsessive, need among not just the public but scholars as well to focus in on Mesoamerican sacrifice. I think if anyone ever suggested that the limited archaeological evidence of Greek human sacrifice stems from the founders of Western civilization simply eating all of their sacrifices, they’d be laughed out of the room. Yet these extreme explanations, so divorced from the evidence and rational explanations, are eagerly embraced by the West. Why?

The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction
by David Carrasco
Chapter 4: Cosmovision and human sacrifice
pp. 77-82

No topic has caused more controversy and confusion about Aztec life than human sacrifice. Chroniclers, priests, anthropologists, journalists, filmmakers, and creative writers have repeatedly focused on it, some to condemn it, some to refute it ever took place, and some to understand the indigenous purposes and cultural meanings of ritual killing and the ritual ingestion of human flesh. That the Aztecs practiced ritual human sacrifice is beyond doubt, but it is also clear that Spanish chroniclers exaggerated the numbers and purposes of these sacrifices as a strategy to justify their own conquests and prodigious violence against Mesoamerican men, women, and children. Scholarship also reveals that many ancient cultures including the Romans, Greeks, Japanese, Chinese, Africans, Andeans, and Egyptians practiced human sacrifice, often in very large numbers. Even though the Aztec image in Western thought ranks them as the biggest sacrificers in the world, there is no substantial archaeological or documentary proof that they ritually killed more people than other civilizations.

Evidence of human sacrifice

[…] This kind of eyewitness observation can be combined with Aztec pictorial and alphabetic sources, the detailed accounts of elders interviewed by Spanish friars, as well as archaeological evidence, to show that ritual violence was a basic part of Aztec life. We now know that ritual killing long predates the Aztecs with the earliest Mesoamerican evidence coming from hunter-gatherers in the Tehuacán Valley at around 5000 bce. It is also likely that many city-states before the Aztecs practiced some form of human sacrifice. But there is a huge discrepancy between the numbers that the Spanish “eyewitnesses” tell us and what careful archaeological work in this area has revealed. For instance, here is what the record shows at the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan, the most thoroughly excavated Aztec site in Mesoamerica, where the largest numbers of sacrifices most likely took place:

  • Two sacrificial stones ( techcatl ) stood at the entrance to the two shrines at the top of the Great Temple. Each rose from the floor about 50 centimeters and served as altars for ritual killings, just as Díaz del Castillo described them.
  • More than a thousand ritual knives, mainly of flint, were uncovered in the excavation of different stages and offering caches. They are carefully decorated and often transformed into the face of a deity awaiting the sacrificial moment. Evidence shows that these knives were not used in the ritual killings but rather were symbolic offerings.
  • Traces on the surfaces of statues, altars, and floors of certain ritual chambers reveal that sacrificial blood was smeared on divine images and spilled in significant quantities.
  • The human remains of 126 people were buried throughout the site. Forty-two are children who, suffering from various diseases, had their throats slit so the blood could be used as an offering to the gods. Forty-seven adult heads with the top vertebrae connected were found in various offerings. Only three complete human skulls have been uncovered. They were perforated at the temples probably indicating that they had previously hung on a nearby skull rack. Thirty-three facial skull masks decorated with shell-and-pyrite eyes and representing the Lord of the Underworld, Mictlantecuhtli, were deposited in the floors of the Great Temple.

This is the sum total of all sacrificial human remains found in over thirty seasons of intensive excavations in the main ritual precinct of Tenochtitlan. It is remarkable that more human remains have been found at the site of Teotihuacan (1–550 CE ) than at this central ritual landscape and capital of the Aztec empire. A Spanish account claims that more than 80,000 enemy warriors were sacrificed in a four-day ceremony, and yet no evidence approaching one-hundredth of that number has been found in the excavations of Tenochtitlan. […]

It may come as a surprise that the most common form of sacrifice was autosacrifice. This involved the use of maguey thorns or other sharp instruments to pierce one’s earlobes, thighs, arms, tongue, or, in the case of sinners and priests, genitals, in order to offer blood to the gods. The most common type of killing was the beheading of animals like the quail. But the most dramatic and valued sacrifices were those of captured warriors, women, children, and slaves. These victims were ritually bathed, carefully costumed, often taught special dances, and sometimes either fattened or slimmed down during the preparation period. In one of the most fascinating examples, during the feast of Toxcatl, great care was taken to choose a male with the most perfect body who would ritually become the prodigious god Tezcatlipoca before he was sacrificed. […]

Moreover, this person lived in luxury for an entire year as he promenaded, with guards, throughout the city, playing his flute, greeting people in gracious prose, for he was the living image of one of the most powerful of Aztec gods.

About thirty years ago, a heated debate broke out in academic and popular journals about the extent and purpose of Aztec cannibalism. Some argued that the Aztecs ate large numbers of people as a necessary source of protein. The Aztec state was called the “Cannibal Kingdom” by an anthropologist who unfortunately did a very limited study of the evidence. The opponents of the protein argument stated that cannibalism in Aztec Mexico was primarily a ritual need to feed the gods and renew their energy, not a gastronomic need of humans to feed themselves. This meant that in the Aztec understanding of sacrifice and cannibalism, it was the gods who were nurtured through the ritual offerings of blood and human flesh. The Aztecs had abundant protein sources in their environment, thus only small amounts of human flesh were consumed, primarily by nobles, on relatively rare occasions.

Bullshit Jobs and Essential Workers

“In our society, there seems to be a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it”
~David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs

“Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dockworkers would soon be in trouble…It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEO’s, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.”
~David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs

States are bailing out privately owned corporations’ #bullshitjobs with public money. No doubt austerity measures down the line will hit the very public sector workers we now call ‘essential’.”
~Tashina Blom

“What if an economy that forces poor people of color to wear diapers all day processing chicken parts during a pandemic isn’t an economy worth saving?”
~love one another

David Graeber: “Will we then pretend that everything was just a dream?”
from Zeit Online

David Graeber: Because the market is not so much based on supply and demand as we are always told – who makes how much is a question of political power. The current crisis makes it even clearer that my wages do not depend on how much my profession is actually used.

ZEIT ONLINE: This is the issue in your current book Bullshit Jobs : Many socially indispensable jobs are poorly paid – while well-paid employees often doubt whether their office work makes any sense at all or whether they are only doing a “bullshit job”.

Graeber: What is important to me: I would never contradict people who feel that they are making an important contribution with their work. For my book, however, I have collected voices from people who do not have exactly this feeling: They are sometimes deeply frustrated because they want to contribute to the good of all of us. But to make enough money for their families, they have to do the jobs that don’t work for anyone. People said to me: I worked as a kindergarten teacher, it was great and fulfilling and important work, but I couldn’t pay my bills anymore. And now I’m working for some subcontractor that provides health insurance with information. I tag some forms all day, no one reads my reports, but I earn twenty times as much.

ZEIT ONLINE: What happens to these office workers who are now doing their bullshit jobs because of the corona virus from their home office?

Graeber: Some people now contact me and say: I always suspected that I could do my job two hours a week, but now I actually know that it is. Because as soon as you do this from home, for example, the meetings that don’t do anything are often dropped.

Coronavirus Unmasks the Lie That You Have to Work in London to Succeed
by Aimee Cliff

Remote working is set to expose more than a few fallacies about our working life. At one end of the spectrum, it might lift the veil on the nature of white-collar work itself. Manual workers and non-office-based professionals are risking the lives of their loved ones to continue working while others – like me – are quickly able to dismantle and digitise our office cultures. As anthropologist David Graeber’s 2018 book Bullshit Jobs pointed out, a huge amount of our economy is predicated on the illusion that many people have to come into an office from 9 AM to 5 PM every day in order to create content, send messages, and schedule social media posts.

Or, as Twitter user @MikiZarzycki put it for the coronavirus era: “Everyone with a fake job gets to stay home and get paid to drop funny GIFs into Slack, everyone with a real job has to be a frontline pandemic worker or get fired.”

Coronavirus – Is telework identifying our Bullshit Jobs?
from GenX @ 50

The epidemic has resulted in statewide lockdowns in more and more states. With schools, businesses, and government offices closing or being limited in their services, people are teleworking if it is possible, being laid off if it is not possible, or still working if they perform an “essential” function. The truly essential jobs – keeping the food supply chain intact, medical work, trash collection, and other life sustaining and disease preventing professions clearly are not bullshit jobs. Other jobs like teaching, restaurant work, or manufacturing, are not bullshit, but can’t be done when under quarantine.

But the Bullshit Jobs associated with Graeber’s categories – flunky, box ticker, taskmaster – are all easily done when working remotely. In fact, if you can do your work remotely, it might be a good sign that you have a Bullshit Job!

I would argue that many of these bullshit jobs add negative value to an organization, creating useless paperwork, internal regulations, and otherwise throwing sand in organizational gears that might otherwise run more smoothly. Having these things not be done might improve overall productivity. Will anyone examine how things worked after the COVID-19 telework is over and decide that many of these administrative jobs were unnecessary? Perhaps it might be worth it to the bottom line to continue to pay some flunkies, goons, box-tickers, and taskmasters to not come in to work when this is over.

The COVID-19-Induced Crisis and Three Inversions of Neoliberalism
by Roderick Condon

If neoliberals truly understood economics they wouldn’t be neoliberals. Against Friedrich Hayek’s assertion that socialists don’t understand economics, Covid-19 exposes the neoliberal location of social value exclusively in the profit-making activities of private enterprise as misapprehending the essential basis of value creating activity in the reproduction of society itself. Suddenly, it is automatically and immediately apparent those services necessary for the continuity of society as a going concern as those, to appropriate a phrase from Louis Althusser, reproducing the conditions of production.

Two insights follow from this. First, the devaluation – in both material and symbolic terms – of use-values by exchange-values under neoliberalism. Financial activity, only barely distinguishable from compulsive gambling, has been elevated to the highest social importance while vital reproductive activity has been, in effect, beaten down, raped and systematically pillaged. Second, David Graeber’s aptly conceptualized ‘bullshit jobs’ are now exposed as the very foundation of a farcical social order in which all activity must constitute itself in exclusively economic terms and measure itself accordingly. The decelerated pace of economic life induced by Covid-19 directly reveals the superfluity of a great deal of what constitutes ‘productivity’ under neoliberalism as in reality socially unnecessary labour-time, to refashion Marx. Furthermore, the forced imposition of such activity by the social order is itself revealed as a type of hidden tax (something the neoliberal economists show a great deal of disdain for) on real, lived life-time; that is, the time available in each individuals’ lifespan for activities that truly matter.

The bullshit economy II: Bullshit-ish jobs and the coronavirus recession
by Andrew Mackay

I will revisit the difference between “the economy” (the method by which people obtain goods and services, through work or a welfare state) and “the Economy” (a reified concept based on a few stock indexes and how well billionaires and their conglomerates are doing) at a later date. I will focus on this post in how much the economy has been stripped down. Finding out which jobs are “essential” (largely the supply chains for food and medical equipment, along with education, though they are full of administrative layers and do-nothing middlemen skimming money off the top) and which are not is instructive. This is a natural experiment to go beyond the Bullshit Jobs framework, which relied on above-mentioned pollinga few hundred people who emailed about the bullshit parts (or wholes) of their jobs, and Graeber’s mastery of theory creation from an anthropological lens.

Landlords? Pure parasites, who get others to pay their mortgages and expansion, avoiding providing services as much as possible, which could be done collectively by tenants anyways.

Office jobs? Bullshit-ish, at the very least, if not total bullshit. The mass movement to working from home and teleconferencing within a couple of weeks indicates what a useless, environmentally-destroying artifice the office is. The office is an instrument of social control, whereby the bosses use the magic of at-will employment to add unneeded stress on people who know how to do their jobs infinitely better than management. With a huge drop in commuting, Los Angeles has some of the cleanest air it has ever had in the automobile era. Millions of hours of commuting and busywork have been cut, and people are able to balance whatever workload they actually have with accomplishing creative pursuits or otherwise having more time in the day. Graeber perceptively points out that many jobs have huge amounts of busywork because some jobs (like system administrators) require people to be on-call for a certain number of hours, but may frequently have no urgent work to do. Management hates to pay people to do nothing of substance, so they use the artifice of the office as a social control mechanism to feel they are getting their money’s worth and justify their existence.

It is clear that many jobs have bullshit-ish aspects to them. Some aspects, like interminable face-to-face meetings that could be sorted out in a ten-minute Slack chat, still persist. The “essential”, who are generally treated like dirt when there isn’t a crisis, show how little match-up there is between pay and social usefulness. A grocery store truck driver has orders of magnitude more importance than his superiors, and they could collectively management the supply chain with their co-workers, having so many years of combined experience on how food goes from farms to shelves. Countries like Denmark are paying a majority of laid-off workers’ salaries, though it should be re-evaluated what these workers should be paid given the social value of their work. 75% of salary seems okay (not ideal, but better than the nothing coming from America), but 75% of what, exactly? Marx’s labor theory of value has come into acute relevance in the past month, as it becomes clear who actually creates value (workers), and who is expendable (administrators, corporate executives, and industries like cruises and shale oil that have no future in a decarbonized economy).

What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures
by Simon Mair

The key to understanding responses to COVID-19 is the question of what the economy is for. Currently, the primary aim of the global economy is to facilitate exchanges of money. This is what economists call “exchange value”.

The dominant idea of the current system we live in is that exchange value is the same thing as use value. Basically, people will spend money on the things that they want or need, and this act of spending money tells us something about how much they value its “use”. This is why markets are seen as the best way to run society. They allow you to adapt, and are flexible enough to match up productive capacity with use value.

What COVID-19 is throwing into sharp relief is just how false our beliefs about markets are. Around the world, governments fear that critical systems will be disrupted or overloaded: supply chains, social care, but principally healthcare. There are lots of contributing factors to this. But let’s take two.

First, it is quite hard to make money from many of the most essential societal services. This is in part because a major driver of profits is labour productivity growth: doing more with fewer people. People are a big cost factor in many businesses, especially those that rely on personal interactions, like healthcare. Consequently, productivity growth in the healthcare sector tends to be lower than the rest of the economy, so its costs go up faster than average.

Second, jobs in many critical services aren’t those that tend to be highest valued in society. Many of the best paid jobs only exist to facilitate exchanges; to make money. They serve no wider purpose to society: they are what the anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”. Yet because they make lots of money we have lots of consultants, a huge advertising industry and a massive financial sector. Meanwhile, we have a crisis in health and social care, where people are often forced out of useful jobs they enjoy, because these jobs don’t pay them enough to live.

The coronavirus pandemic might have a silver lining. People might wake up to what’s really important.
by Peter Bolton

What jobs are really ‘essential’?

The first big question is: what jobs does society really need? Could it be that some are not only unnecessary but also harmful? And if so, could we just get rid of them? In the US healthcare industry, for example, private health insurance companies have ‘claims teams’ that determine whether the company will cover the cost of treatments for their policyholders. Such workers are even rewarded by their bosses for saving the company money by finding (often spurious) reasons for denying payment. Transitioning to a public system of universal care would eliminate this needless overhead and, in turn, lower healthcare costs.

Many jobs in the finance sector, meanwhile, are equally worthless. The 2007/8 financial crash, for instance, was caused in part by the bundling and trade of ‘subprime mortgage’ debt. And as The Canary has previously argued, financial markets increasingly resemble an imaginary world that bears no relation to actual production. This raises the question of whether jobs such as ‘stockbroker’, ‘currency trader’, or ‘speculator’ could simply be abolished. […]

Who really benefits?

If many jobs are pointless and many goods and services are unnecessary, then that ultimately raises a follow-up question: why do they exist? Scholars across various disciplines have tried to answer this question. In his 2018 book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, anthropologist David Graeber suggests that the existence of pointless jobs is part of a deliberate strategy by the ruling class to keep the masses occupied so that they won’t have the time or inclination to question (or, worse, organize to dismantle) the power structures of the status quo. He says:

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger. …

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how he or she could have done a better job. […]

Time to reflect

Ultimately, the coronavirus outbreak has shown that society can continue to function without certain kinds of work being performed – so long as governments intervene to provide for the social good. At the same time, many people in wealthier countries have realized that they can live just fine with less. And on both counts, this is exactly what socialists have been arguing all along.

Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus
by imothyt

Bullshit jobs have turned into a sort of “workfare” for the educated classes.

That’s a fact that seems inescapable now as the Coronavirus pandemic has deemed essential and non-essential. The essential people are the folks stocking shelves in the supermarket, driving long-haul trucks, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, people manufacturing essential goods (medical and otherwise), farm workers, and food workers. The rest of us are told to stay at home, shelter in place, and devise new things to do with our time, to prove that we are productive.

The pandemic has forced us all to become task-masters, box-tickers, and duct tapers for the very (probably) bullshit jobs we held before so that we could all continue to exist at a high-level of universal basic income.

I’m not an economist but the whole system always seemed deeply flawed to me. When I was in the Army in the 80’s it was patently obvious that we were all there on a sort of welfare system. And as the military-industrial complex rose and as “pork-barrel” spending increased at the Federal level, I started wondering how many of the jobs which supplied the military and infrastructure projects (the bridge to nowhere) were just versions of workfare? If you build missiles you’re kind of just a Goon, aren’t you? The only reason we need rockets and bombs is because others have rockets and bombs!

And, all of this government “red-tape” that people says kills jobs? In my lifetime it does the exact opposite. It creates jobs! Millions and millions of jobs. Jobs for people to process oversight paperwork, efficiency modeling, insurance claims, and so on. […]

Graeber quotes President Obama after the USA passed the worst healthcare plan ever devised in human history*, “everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork. That represents one million, two million, three million jobs.” And all politicians know this for a fact. Running for president, Howard Schultz called universal healthcare “not American,” adding, “What industry are we going to abolish next — the coffee industry?” And said that single-payer would “wipe out the insurance industry.”

And not just the insurance industry (which is completely useless, Goon, work) but think about what Medicare for All really means. It says that it will save money – and it would – but it would do so by eliminating millions of jobs in insurance, middle-management, billing departments, claims-negotiators, oversight officials, and so on. All of those people make middle-class incomes which in turn support the people who do that actual work of our society.

That’s why Trump needs so many people to just go back to work and why he literally doesn’t care if we live or die from this virus or really from any of the existential threats we face (global warming, etc.). I’ve long held the sneaking suspicion that most of human endeavor (especially in the West) is a con of some sort. Getting people to do stuff that they probably wouldn’t want to do by tempting them with baubles like Harleys or new cars. The economy relies on people doing all of these bullshit jobs because the economy is bullshit and only functions as long as we are producing bullshit wealth for a bullshit class of top bullshitters!

Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
by Jonathan Carp

Millions of us have what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs,” jobs that produce nothing, create no wealth, but exist merely to help circulate money so goods can be distributed. Even white-collar workers with real jobs are chained to 19th-century notions of work, with a desk in a building and appointed hours at which they must sit there. We rise to alarm clocks, get into cars, belch carbon into the atmosphere, and alternate between working and goofing off as we wait for the time to pass.

But not under coronavirus. Under coronavirus, we wake with the sun, we take leisurely morning strolls, we fit our work around our children and our spouses. Instead of furtively scrolling Facebook when we get bored working, we play or make love or create. For many of us, coronavirus has been liberating amidst the quarantines. How ghastly that it has taken the threat of a global pandemic for our bosses to take advantage of technology that has existed for twenty years, at least. How cowardly of us not to demand it sooner.

What if we never went back? Imagine roads clear of traffic around the clock. Imagine air cleansed of the emissions of millions of cars. Imagine the demand for gas dropping first the price, then the environmentally devastating production. For my fellow office drones, imagine every morning waking up naturally, not to an alarm clock, and spending each day doing at each moment what you most wanted to do, not whatever would pass the time while waiting for five o’clock. That could be ours, if only we insist on it.

And what more could we imagine? Could we imagine, as my former colleague Kevin Carson has described in his work, a world of decentralized production, where “going to work” is for almost everyone a strange anachronism from a dimly remembered past? Could we imagine a world of automation that serves people rather than displaces them? Or will we be content to fritter with the margins of neoliberal capitalism, pushing for “oversight” on massive giveaways to corporations while villains like Ben Sasse clutch their pearls at the idea of a fast-food worker making more on unemployment than she does flipping burgers?

Adrian Ivakhiv: Pandemic politics, or what a disaster can do for us
by Adrian Ivakhiv

For me, this is in part a reaction against the push for “business as usual” in these strange, new times. “Keeping calm and carrying on” works for some, but easily becomes an excuse for disaster capitalism: if you can’t work normally, we’ll have you work from home. (That your kids are suddenly there with you all day, “zooming” into their classes, and that you’ve just brought your mother-in-law home from her precarious seniors’ community, and that the fridge is getting empty, is all irrelevant.) We’ll have you work harder to learn new tools that we can then require you to use when things have returned to “normal” (and if you don’t, then someone else can fill your shoes).

The other strategy is to stop and ask ourselves what’s really important. What do you need to do to protect your loved ones? Do you even know who your loved ones are? (How wide does that circle extend?) What work will keep you going in a world where business-as-usual has become an unaffordable luxury? When there’s so much to do to be happy and safe, some “bullshit jobs,” as anthropologist David Graeber call them (no mincing words), might start to look expendable.

Taking stock, for me, means asking: how can institutions of higher learning reach out to the communities we serve to help us transition into times of likely scarcity, in which the temptation for hoarding, closing borders, and “disaster capitalizing” — the temptation of the Handmaid’s Tale — will be all too palpable? How do we re-engineer our societies to preserve and enhance democracy, equality, and ecological integration when things get bad, as any good “disaster environmentalist” knows they will? That’s the challenge ahead of us, and COVID-19 is its messenger.

What’s the point?
by Anne-Sophie Moreau

Coronavirus acts like a daunting mirror, reflecting the sheer pointlessness of what we do. It exposes a phenomenon described by anthropologist David Graeber as “bullshit jobs”: most of us, he argues, occupy positions which at best, make no difference to society, and at worst, can be downright harmful. He says the ranks of big firms are filled with minions whose sole purpose is to flatter their boss’ ego, or fill in charts as part of painstaking but ultimately pointless “processes”. That’s when they’re not busy selling goods and services that empty the consumer’s pocket whilst exhausting the planet’s natural resources. In short, entire swaths of professional activity shouldn’t even exist at all! Surely that should put you off organising yet another meeting during the coronavirus crisis. […]

After all, “bullshit jobs” haven’t put an end to “shitty jobs”, Graeber explains. On the contrary – and this is why he thinks our societies are paradoxical –, the more useful we are, the less we’re paid. How many of our government ministers are truly interested in the foot soldiers of our digital platforms? Not many; and when they do speak to them, it’s to tell them to get to work! Bullshit jobs at home, shitty jobs on the front – this is the sad dystopia we’re living in. Not to mention that many service industry jobs will likely be replaced by AI, and that central banks are thinking of showering us with “helicopter money” to avoid a global recession… Will tomorrow’s office workers be forced to stay at home, force-fed with Netflix and free money? […]

Paradoxically, this crisis might help us rediscover the real reasons why we work. By hitting the rock bottom of uselessness, we might find a way to rise back to the surface of our ambitions. And yes, these might indeed seem futile. But even the act of drawing dinosaurs can be useful, Graeber argues. Does this surprise you? “I lean towards Spinoza’s theory of work, where the aim is to increase or preserve other people’s freedom”, he told me, when I expressed my surprise at him classifying entertainment as “useful”. He went on: “The paradigmatic form of freedom is chosen activity – in other words, play. Somewhere Marx wrote that you only attain real freedom when you leave the realm of necessity and work becomes an end in itself. That might be the new paradigm of social value: to care for others, to make sure everyone leads a freer, more leisurely life.”

Notes from a Pandemic
by Tammy Sanders

One refrain I keep hearing from friends with stock portfolios and retirement funds is that we’ve got to reopen the economy. But really, is that the best we can think to do, reopen an economy that typically disenfranchised the most valuable people in it?

Instead of reopening the economy, why not rethink it, rework it, redesign it toward the more ethical, just and sensible society so many of us want to have.

An example: I wonder now that so many men, millions of them, have for the first time in their adult lives spent the majority of their waking hours in the company of their children, could we see a fundamental shift in policy norms and standards around parental leave and flexible work. Conceding that some men cannot wait to get back to being away for 14-hour days, I also wonder how many more will no longer abide prioritizing their professions at the expense of their families.

In his book Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber talks at length about the notion of care-related work, particularly how and why our society devalues that work. Nowadays, we’re honking horns and applauding health care providers and grocery store cashiers as “heros” — but are we willing to insist they be paid a hero’s wage, perhaps 1/16th what an MLB pitcher or NFL quarterback earns?

Might we refuse to send children back to school, or better yet, might kids strike and refuse to go back to school until adults sort out school shootings?

Might we, as Graeber suggests in his book, commit whatever effort we can to stop making so much of what has until now made life unlivable for so many: unbearable traffic, inflexible work, toxic air, a ruthless pursuit of achievement at the expense of connection?

We crafted the world we lived in on 1 March 2020. Then, we stopped that world. If there was ever a time to point the world toward wellness, wholeness, more positivity, less polarization, now is that time.

The Pandemic Now And Going Into The Future

“I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years.”
~Michael Osterholm, infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

“Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
~Devi Sridhar, public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh

A week ago, the highest daily Covid-19 death count for the US was more than 2,000. Now it reached over 4,500 over the past day. That is an expected exponential increase. And that is with strong measures like lockdowns taken place across the country. When doing a recount by adding in all deaths now known, China increased their Wuhan deaths by 50%. That is probably true in many places where hospitals were overwhelmed and many died without medical care.

This isn’t to imply China was necessarily being deceptive in covering up the real numbers. For a while now, medical staff in the US have said the same thing about hospitals here underreporting Covid-19 deaths. Healthcare worker deaths may also be higher. In another article, there was shared the photographs and stories of some of these people who died while helping others. I noticed that all of them looked overweight, indicating metabolic syndrome which is one of the main comorbidities.

By the way, one expert talks about five stages for the pandemic. We are in the second phase which is mitigation following the initial containment. After that will be another period of containment while we wait for a vaccine, other treatments, and improved lab testing. That could take us into next year, but the economy will begin to restart during this time.

As communities begin to open up again, the government will have to become very strict, systematic, and targeted in quarantining the infected. Cleaning and disinfection of public places will become a priority, as will the use of protective gear. The fourth stage comes when we have a vaccine, assuming we get one in the relatively near future. The hope is to be in a more advanced situation of containment before a second wave of infections might hit in the fall.

With everything reasonably under control, we end with the last stage where we assess the situation, determine successes and failures, and then prepare for the next pandemic. That means making pandemic preparation central to national security.

This situation, of course, has long term consequences. Donald Trump being president exacerbates this. Even before the pandemic, his actions as leader were driving a wedge between the US and its allies. Many foreign governments were seeing the US as no longer trustworthy and reliable. Trump’s attacking and defunding the WHO, if somewhat deserved, has further undermined US authority — specifically among the G7. The US might never recover its position in the world. This might be the end of US hegemony.

Now most likely Trump will be re-elected. So four more years of more of the same, precisely at the moment when confidence has been shaken in national leadership and the federal government. The main promise Trump made was that he would make the American economy great again, but now it will be in shambles. All his scapegoating will only go so far. While Americans suffer, people will want actions and reform, not snarky blame games for political gain.

For years and maybe decades to come, we might not only be recovering from the pandemic and all that is related to it but a more general sense of decline and malaise, if not further catastrophes that become existential crises. If we are to enter a re-building phase, it’s going to require entirely new leadership in both of the main parties. We can hope for an era of large-scale reform that will transform our society, but it’s hard to see hope at the moment.

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Some articles of interest:

Some Thoughts On Thinking Critically In Times Of Uncertainty, And The Trap of Lopsided Skepticism: Coronaspiracy Theory Edition
by Denise Minger

In case you didn’t notice, the cyber-world (and its 3D counterpart, I assume, but we’re not allowed to venture there anymore) is currently a hot mess of Who and what do we believe? This is zero percent surprising. Official agencies have handled COVID-19 with the all grace of a three-legged elephant—waffling between the virus being under control/not under control/OMG millions dead/wait no 60,000/let’s pack the churches on Easter!/naw, lockdown-til-August/face masks do nothing/face masks do something, but healthcare workers need them more/FACE MASKS FOR EVERY FACE RIGHT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU/oh no a tiger got the ‘rona!; on and on. It’s dizzying. Maddening. The opposite of confidence-instilling. And as a very predictable result, guerrilla journalism has grown to fill the void left by those who’ve failed to tell us, with any believability, what’s going on.

Exercising our investigative rights is usually a good thing. You guys know me. I’m all about questioning established narratives and digging into the forces that crafted them. It’s literally my life. Good things happen when we flex our thinking muscle, and nothing we’re told should be immune to scrutiny.

But there’s a shadow side here, too—what I’ll henceforth refer to as “lopsided skepticism.” This is what happens when we question established narratives… but not the non-established ones. More specifically, when we go so hog wild ripping apart The Official Story that we somehow have no skepticism left over for all the new stuff we’re replacing it with.

And that, my friends, is exactly what’s happening right now.

The dangerous conservative campaign against expertise
by Michael Gerson

Motivated reasoning is usually just tiresome. At its worst, it can be dangerous. Sometimes drawing the wrong lesson badly obscures a right and necessary lesson. Sometimes the interpretation of a crisis is so dramatically mistaken, so ludicrous and imprudent, that it can worsen the crisis itself.

Such is the case with conservatives who look at the coronavirus outbreak and see, of all things, the discrediting of experts and expertise. In this view, the failures of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have brought the whole profession into disrepute. The judgments of health professionals have often been no better than the folk wisdom of the Internet. The pandemic is not only further proof of the fallibility of insiders; it has revealed the inherent inaccessibility of medical truth. All of us, scientists and nonscientists, are walking blindly on the same misty moor and may stumble on medical insights.

This argument assumes an intellectual fog that is just lifting. Though we are still relatively early in the pandemic, this much seems clear: The medical experts recommended aggressive social distancing to bend the curve of infections and deaths downward. Americans generally trusted the experts. By all the evidence, aggressive social distancing is bending the curve of infections and deaths downward. And places that were earliest and most aggressive in this approach have seen the best results.

This outcome doesn’t strike me as murky. It is difficult to see how experts whose advice clearly saved tens of thousands of lives can be called discredited. It is easy, however, to see how making this false claim might undermine public adherence to their advice, which still matters greatly in the crisis.

Our Pandemic Summer
by Ed Yong

If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.”

Even in the optimistic scenario, a quick and complete return to normalcy would be ill-advised. And even in the pessimistic scenario, controlling future outbreaks should still be possible, but only through an immense public-health effort. Epidemiologists would need to run diagnostic tests on anyone with COVID-19–like symptoms, quarantine infected people, trace everyone those people had contact with in the previous week or so, and either quarantine those contacts or test them too. These are the standard pillars of public health, but they’re complicated by the coronavirus’s ability to spread for days before causing symptoms. Every infected person has a lot of potential contacts, and may have unknowingly infected many of them.

The Pandemic Will Cleave America in Two
by Joe Pinsker

When someone dies, there are three ways to think about what caused it, according to Scott Frank, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. The first is the straightforward, “medical” cause of death—diagnosable things like heart disease or cancer. The second is the “actual” cause of death—that is, the habits and behaviors that over time contributed to the medical cause of death, such as smoking cigarettes or being physically inactive. The third is what Frank refers to as the “actual actual” cause of death—the bigger, society-wide forces that shaped those habits and behaviors.

In one analysis of deaths in the U.S. resulting from “social factors” (Frank’s “actual actual” causes), the top culprits were poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. “Each of these has been demonstrated to have independent effects on chronic-disease mortality and morbidity,” Frank said. (Morbidity refers to whether someone has a certain disease.) He expects that the same patterns will hold for COVID-19.

To begin with, the physical effects of COVID-19 are far worse for some people than others. There are two traits that seem to matter most. The first is age. Older people are at greater risk of experiencing the more devastating version of the pandemic, in part because the immune system weakens with age. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, in the U.S., the risk of dying from the disease begins to climb at around age 55, and is especially acute for those 85 and older. “I think the pattern we’re going to see clearly is an age-related pattern” of mortality, Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, said. (Younger people aren’t invulnerable to the disease, though; the CDC found in mid-March that 20-to-54-year-olds had accounted for almost 40 percent of hospitalizations known to have been caused by the disease.

The second trait that puts someone at increased risk is having a serious health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. These conditions seem to make cases of COVID-19 more likely to be severe or fatal, and the risks rise considerably for older adults who have any of these conditions, Frank told me.

But while everyone ages, rich and poor alike, these health conditions are not evenly distributed throughout the population. They’re more common among people with less education, less money, and less access to health care. “We know these social and economic conditions have a profound effect on chronic disease,” Frank said, “and then chronic disease has a profound effect on the mortality related to COVID.”

We Need a Left-Wing Understanding of Fake News

The subtitle of HBO’s documentary After Truth is “Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News”. It’s a worthy topic, but this was not a worthy take on it. Many well known examples of fake news were covered and that was fine as far as it went. Right-wingers complain that it was biased, even that it was fake news. I’m a little more sympathetic to the selection of news stories used because it is simply a fact that the political right has gone crazy in recent decades. Nothing detailed in After Truth was entirely false, something even many critics of the documentary admitted. The focus simply was narrow and intentionally so to hew closely to the ‘mainstream’ narrative.

That isn’t to say the corporate media giants don’t push their own fake news, but I’d simply point that just because the corporate media is to the left of far right extremist bullshit does not mean they are left-wing propaganda. The likes of CNN and MSNBC, NYT and WaPo regularly defend the interests of corporations, beat the war drums for the military empire, and openly attack anyone who is even moderately progressive. If that is left-wing propaganda, God help us! I might be fine with calling all of the corporate media fake news, if not in the way that most reactionary right-wingers would be comfortable to admitting.

In being superficial, the documentary was deceptive more by omission. Historical context, as always, is needed. First off, some of the leading lights of the American founding generation were masters at fake news. Benjamin Franklin stands out and he was devious, a role model for propagandists ever since. Fake news is not a new phenomenon. More recently, there is the FBI and CIA pushing propaganda campaigns over the past century, such as simultaneously promoting conspiracies to muddy the water and attacking alternative views as “conspiracy theory” — as shown in publicly released government documents (see last linked post below).

Left-wingers have analyzed fake news for a long time. Fake news isn’t a false accusation because the news media does lie, distort, and propagandize. Other corporations and private interests sometimes even pay news outlets to produce series of stories with a particular spin. The main political parties have operatives in the corporate media that they use to attack opponents, control public perception, and win elections. Intelligence agencies around the world have a long history of using news media, as with entertainment media, to propagandize.

None of that is mentioned in After Truth, not even in passing. There is a good reason so many Americans are paranoid, a good reason so few Americans trust the government and media. There has been generations of betrayal by those in positions of authority, power, and influence. It’s not only that some right-wing fringe has fallen into the Dark Triad for the shadow of this moral failure and corrupt complicity has fallen upon the entire ruling elite and their minions. The reason conspiracy theories proliferate is because conspiracies dominate and everyone knows this is true, even if in our discomfort we pretend otherwise.

Here is the thing about conspiracy theories. They typically have a kernel of truth. That is what makes them compelling. This is true even of the most crazy of stories spun in the paranoid mind. In After Truth, Pizzagate is prominent and the conspiracy behind it was all about pedophiles ruling the world. But the fact of the matter is that the past decades have shown how widespread is pedophilia among the those who hold power over us, from Catholic priests to the major figures connected to Jeffrey Epstein, or go back to the pedophile ring covered up by British politicians and police over a period of decades. Rather than a kernel of truth, that is a several hundred ton boulder of truth with an avalanche following behind it.

There is another kind of truth that gets lost in all of the arguments and counter-arguments. It’s not simply about objectively provable facts. What conspiracy theory touches upon is the entire system of lies and deceit in how it affects us psychologically and sociologically. This is the deeper truth that conspiracy theories touch upon. Consider a different case from the documentary, the Jade Helm 15 training exercise the military conducted in some Texas small towns.

From a purely factual perspective, the conspiracy theories about Jade Helm 15 were pure lunacy and some of them really far out there. One amusing angle had to do with closed Walmarts, about which there was much wild-eyed and fearful conjecture. The military was using them to stockpile weapons for Chinese troops who would disarm Americans. Maybe they were guerrilla-warfare staging areas, processing facilities, and FEMA camps. Or what about the tunnel systems connecting the empty Walmart buildings for covert movements of who knows what. Why doesn’t the Soros-owned Zionist media ever tell you about the tunnels?

This is the reactionary right-wing fantasies that fill the vacuum of the ignorance created by our society, by the failed (or, depending on the purpose, successful) education system, corporate media, and all the rest. It’s also been a failure of the political left that has the knowledge and analysis to explain what has gone so wrong in our society, but has failed to communicate this to those who most need it. Instead of seeking to inform those who have been intentionally deceived, the righteous left has instead too often attacked and mocked them.

What happened to the strong political left that spoke to the working class? Earlier last century, a leftist understanding of social and economic problems was much more widespread among the masses, even in the Deep South. The loss of that kind of understanding has left a vacuum that has often been filled by the worst kind of conspiracy theory. In the past, leftist critique and conspiracy theory went hand in hand, as it was understood that corrupted power regularly conspired. Respectable leftists used to take it as their purpose and responsibility to explain those very much real conspiracies.

Think about the military exercise and Walmarts. It intuitively captures an important truth, that the neocon war machine and the neoliberal corporatocracy are two sides of the same threat to a free society, that they are joined through deep state and inverted totalitarianism, and that this threat is not only statist but global. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the conspiracy mentality as dark and demented fantasizing. The underlying intuition needs to be respected, acknowledged, and affirmed. Ridiculing people does not help, especially as the corporate media really is gaslighting them and gaslighting us all. What we need more than ever is a meaningful left-wing response, in offering the insight and meaning that people so crave after a lifetime of being deceived and disinformed.

As a society, we have yet to seriously talk about fake news and where it comes from. Until we do, the likes of Alex Jones and Donald Trump will take advantage of this failure and they will use it to push dangerous agendas. We on the political left need to find a way to be heard more widely, to speak in a simple and compelling way. We need new narratives that capture the imagination and make sense of what everyone intuitively senses as true.

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Related to fake news, see my previous posts on conspiracy theory and propaganda:

Conspiracy: Experience and Reality
Conspiracy Theory And Fact
Skepticism and Conspiracy
Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets
A Culture of Propaganda

How American Democracy was Strangled in the Crib

March 1, 1781 – Ratification of the Articles of Confederation
This was the first Constitution of the United States, preceding our current constitution by eight years. Provisions included:
-Unicameral legislature with only one house of the Congress.
-No system of national courts or executive branch
-One vote per state irrespective of the size of the state.
-Levying taxes in hands of the state government
-Power to coin and borrow money
-Time limits on holding public office
-No standing army or navy
-No provision for national government interference in commerce and trade – each state could impose tariffs on trade.

This last provision regarding decentralized decision-making on commerce and trade was the pretext for a gathering to “amend” the Articles. Once gathered, the delegates replaced entirely the Articles with an entirely new proposed constitution that was, in many respects, more top-down and favorable to commercial interests.

February 25, 1791 – Creation of the First Bank of the United States
The federal government issued a 20-year charter (very unusual at the time since most corporate charters, or licenses, were issued by states) to create the first national private bank. The bank was given permission to create money as debt. Its paper money was accepted for taxes. Eighty percent of its shares were privately owned, and 75% of those were foreign owned (mostly by the English and Dutch). Alexander Hamilton championed the first national private bank; Jefferson, Madison and others opposed it.

February 24, 1803 – U.S. Supreme Court establishes supreme authority of the U.S. Supreme Court
Marbury v. Madison (5 U.S. 137) established the concept of “judicial review.” The Supreme Court ruled that they were supreme, and Congress did not contest it. This gave them the power to make law. President Jefferson said: “The Constitution, on this hypothesis, is a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary, which they may twist and shape into any form they please.”

A fine article explaining the problems of judicial review is “The Case Against Judicial Review: Building a strong basis for our legal system.”
https://www.poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_FALL.html

From:
REAL Democracy History Calendar: February 24 – March 1