This is a struggle for power.

“[D]espite their misgivings, conservatives have reconciled themselves to capitalism because the expansion of the market has also meant the growth of the private sphere of domination and control. . . . [C]onservatism is about the freedom and ability of some people to dominate, control, and extract from others, which capitalist inequality and hierarchy make possible.”
Peter Kolozi

The United States is a plutocracy. But ultimately that means oligarchy. The reason that the wealthy rule is because wealth is power. I would clarify a point, though. Wealth isn’t limited to direct power over the masses for it also allows the wealthy to control all aspects of society, even those not directly related to wealth.

The plutocrats aren’t powerful merely because of wealth. It is that they are part of a ruling elite that works together to shut out everyone else, to exclude the majority not just from wealth but more importantly from power. This means maintaining their control of privileges and resources, by controlling the system of politics, economics, media, and education.

This is why the United States is such a brutally oppressive society. Much of what the ruling elite does comes at great costs to themselves, although at even greater costs to everyone else, which is the point in always ensuring others are harmed more. First and foremost, the purpose is social control. Wealth is a means to that end, but there are many other means to that end: military imperialism, police-intelligence state, mass incarceration, media propaganda, and much else.

It’s not so much class war, in the simple sense. “This is a struggle for power,” as Caitlin Johnstone makes clear in the piece below. And at present most Americans are losing the fight. This isn’t a metaphor. Millions of Americans are victims — locked away or otherwise trapped in the legal system, struggling in poverty and homelessness, sick and dying because lack of healthcare. Millions more are barely getting by and, out of fear, kept in their place as slaves to the system. The power and its consequences are concretely and viscerally real.

It is a war with growing numbers of casualties. But if the American public could realize the power that exists in numbers, it could instead become a revolution.

On a related note, thoughts along these lines lead straight to issues of inequality. As with oligarchy, inequality isn’t only about who has most of the wealth. As a divide in wealth indicates a divide in power, what this means is a divide in political membership and representation. It becomes harder for most Americans to participate in politics, partly because they don’t have the time or money to participate.

It requires ever larger amounts of wealth and resources, not to mention crony connections, to engage a successful campaign. And for those who do get elected, they do so either by belonging to the oligarchy or by becoming indebted to the oligarchy. This is why, as Johnstone points out, studies have shown that politicians mostly do whatever the rich want them to do.

As the rich gain greater power, they gain greater leverage to take even more power. It’s a cycle that has only one end point, total authoritarianism. That is, unless we the public stop it.

Some ask why does it matter that an elite has more money than everyone else. What an unbelievably naive question that is. To anyone who is confused on the issue, I’d suggest that they simply open their eyes.

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The Real Reason The Elites Keep Killing Single-Payer
by Caitlin Johnstone

The word “oligarchy” gets thrown around a lot in progressive discourse, usually to highlight the problem of money in politics, but not many people seem to really settle in and grapple with the hefty implications of what that word actually means. If you say that America is an oligarchy (and it certainly is, which we’ll get to in a second), you’re not merely saying that there is too much money in US politics or that the wealthy have an unfair amount of power in America. Per definition, you are saying that a small class of elites rule over you and your nation, like a king rules over his kingdom.

You’ve studied history, in school if nowhere else. How often have you read about kings voluntarily relinquishing their thrones and handing power to their subjects out of the goodness of their hearts? Once someone makes it to the very top of a society, how often have you known them to eagerly step down from that power position in order to give the people self-rule?

This isn’t about money, this is about power. The wealthiest of the wealthy in America haven’t been doing everything they can to stave off universal healthcare and economic justice in order to save a few million dollars. They haven’t been fighting to keep you poor because they are money hoarders and they can’t bare to part with a single penny from their trove. It’s so much more sinister than that: the goal isn’t to keep you from making the plutocrats a little less wealthy, the goal is to keep you from having any wealth of your own.

Power is intrinsically relative: it only exists in relation to the amount of power that other people have or don’t have. If we all have the same amount of government power, then none of us has any power over the other. If, however, I can figure out a way to manipulate the system into giving me 25 percent more governmental power than anyone else, power has now entered into the equation, and I have an edge over everyone else that I can use to my advantage. But that edge only exists due to the fact that you’re all 25 percent less powerful than I am. If you all become five percent more powerful, my power is instantly diminished by that much, in the same way a schoolyard bully would no longer enjoy the same amount of dominance if everyone at school suddenly grew five percent bigger and stronger.

Here’s where I’m going with all this: the ruling elites have set up a system where wealth equals power. In order for them to rule, in order for them to enjoy the power of kings, they necessarily need to keep the general public from wealth. Not so that they can have a little more money for themselves in case they want to buy a few extra private jets or whatever, but because their power is built upon your lack of power. By keeping you from having a few thousand extra dollars of spending money throughout the year, they guarantee that you and your fellow citizens won’t pool that extra money toward challenging their power in the wealth-equals-power paradigm that they’ve set up for themselves. […]

You can see, then, why the oligarchs must resist socialism and populism tooth and claw. You can see why their media propaganda outlets are so ferociously dedicated to tearing down any sincere attempt to fight the Walmart economy or allow an inch of ground to be gained in bringing any economic power to ordinary Americans. By asking for economic justice, you may think that you are simply asking for a small slice of the enormous pie the billionaire class could never hope to eat in a single lifetime, but what you are actually doing is asking for their crown, their throne and their scepter. You are making yourself a direct existential threat to their dynasty.

This is why they fought so hard to stomp out the Sanders movement. It wasn’t that Sanders himself was a threat to them, it’s that a large group of the unwashed masses was pooling their wealth together and leaping over seemingly insurmountable obstacles using nothing but tiny $27 donations as fuel. Imagine if Americans had more disposable income to invest in a better future for their kids by pointing it at changing America’s political landscape? Imagine a populist movement where Americans pushing for economic justice can suddenly all afford to pool a bunch of $270 donations to support a beloved candidate or agenda? Or $2,700? Under the current money-equals-power paradigm, the will of the people would become unstoppable, and the US power establishment would be forced to reshape itself in a way that benefits the people instead of benefitting a few billionaires.

* * *

Basalat Raja, Jun 24

This is why you will find them behaving in ways that are opposite to their “direct interests” — if you assume that their “direct interests” are making more money. A prosperous middle class will make the rich even richer, because more of us will be able to buy the products from the companies that they own large amounts of shares in, leading to more profits for those companies, and obviously, lifting share prices, making them richer.

But that means less control, since economically contented people are harder to herd. If you have a decent job and a decent house, it’s harder to tell you that Mexicans/Muslims/Russians/gays/etc. have stolen your job, etc.

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The Master’s Tools Are Those Closest At Hand

For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.

That is an awesome quote by Audre Lorde. It was published in the 1984 Sister Outsider, but originally was written as comments to a 1979 feminist conference. It has stood the test of time. If anything, it is more relevant than ever.

In discussing Ursula K. Le Guin’s take on it, I wrote a long piece a few years ago exploring what it means. It is a deceptively simple metaphor, the master’s house and the master’s tools, but the implications are hard-hitting. As Le Guin considered,

“Are there indeed tools that have not been invented, which we must invent in order to build the house we want our children to live in? Can we go on from what we know now, or does what we know now keep us from learning what we need to know? To learn what people of color, the women, the poor, have to teach, to learn the knowledge we need, must we unlearn all the knowledge of the whites, the men, the powerful? Along with the priesthood and phallocracy, must we throw away science and democracy? Will we be left trying to build without any tools but our bare hands?”

All around us are the master’s tools for this is the master’s house. Everything here is the master’s, unless someone has smuggled something in from elsewhere. Otherwise, we’ll have to get out of the master’s house in order to find new tools. But how do we escape without using the tools we have at hand, even if they belong to the master?

Lorde was writing as a black lesbian and radical feminist. I’m a straight white guy who, in my heart of hearts, would love to be in a world where sane moderate liberalism ruled — a rather utopian vision, I know. I’m a reluctant radical, at best. I’ll join the revolution when it starts, but I don’t see myself trying to start a revolution, even as I increasingly see it as inevitable. White male privilege aside, I’m no more happy dwelling in the master’s house than anyone else. If all that white male privilege gets me is a working class job along with severe depression and growing hopelessness, I’d like to get a refund.

That is the problem. In reading Lorde’s essay, she obviously wasn’t speaking to people like me. I wasn’t the intended audience. As a white guy, I guess I’m supposed to feel identified with the masters, but what does my skin color matter when the powerful don’t see me and what does my masculinity matter when I feel politically impotent. It’s not like I’m going to find comfort and inspiration from a new white patriarch elected to rule over the land.

Whites right now are the only demographic with worsening mortality rates. Plus, suicide and homicide always get worse under Republican administrations, as the data shows. Drug addiction, specifically opioid addiction, for whatever reason hits whites more than minorites and right now Americans are dropping like flies from opioid overdose. These are probably not accidental deaths, considering that whites have disproportionate rates of both drug addiction and suicide. Some of the data indicates that the worsening mortality rates among whites is at least partly caused by drug addiction.

Yet Lorde writes in the same essay that,

“Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educated men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”

I get the point she is making. It is true, if limited.

Most poor people are white. Most welfare recipients are white. Most police brutality victims are white. And most prisoners are white. This was even more true several decades ago when Lorde wrote the above words. Yet no where in her collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, does she talk about poor whites and their plight. Why is it the responsibility of poor whites to stretch across the gap of the ignorance of middle class black feminists?

The problem is that even radicals like Lorde don’t take their radicalism far enough. Being a poor white single mother, a mentally ill homeless white veteran, or a politically disenfranchised white ex-con is also about intersectionality. Someone like Lorde had more in common with the middle class white feminists she complained about than she had in common with the majority of whites on the bottom of society. These poor whites apparently were invisible to her. Or worse, she simply dismissed them out of hand. It didn’t mean she was a bad person. It just shows she was a human like the rest of us, with cognitive biases and blindspots. What she didn’t fully appreciate is that identity politics is yet another of the master’s tools.

That was something Martin Luther King, jr very much understood. Right before his assassination, he reached out to poor whites in the hope of creating a movement that cut across racial divides. Even early Black Panthers somehow were able to realize that their fate was tied with the fate of poor whites. In expressing his gratitude, William Fesperman said in 1969,

“Our struggle is beyond comprehension to me sometimes and I felt for a long time [that poor whites] was forgotten … that nobody saw us. Until we met the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party and they met us and we said let’s put that theory into practice.”

Identity politics is one of the master’s most useful tools. The political right will always be better at wielding such a tool. Consider Clinton’s clumsy attempt to use racial and feminist identity politics, as compared to Trump’s ease with identity rhetoric. Identity politics is a blunt tool that leads to blunt results. It smashes everything down, inevitably being turned against those who are different.

The oppression we face is not demographic. It’s systemic. Angela Davis, long known for her early association with the Black Panthers, wrote that,

“More than once I have heard people say, “If only a new Black Panther Party could be organized, then we could seriously deal with The Man, you know?” But suppose we were to say: “There is no Man anymore.” There is suffering. There is oppression. There is terrifying racism. But this racism does not come from the mythical “Man.” Moreover, it is laced with sexism and homophobia and unprecedented class exploitation associated with a dangerously globalized capitalism. We need new ideas and new strategies that will take us into the twenty-first century.”

To be fair, Lorde touched upon this insight by way of a related observation about the human condition. Another piece from the collection is “Age, Race, Class and Sex”. In it, she wrote:

“The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion.

“For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

“As Paulo Freire shows so well in The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors’ tactics, the oppressors’ relationships.”

From one of the last pieces in Lorde’s book (“Learning from the 60s”), she furthers this thought. She states that,

“As Black people, if there is one thing we can learn from the 60s, it is how infinitely complex any move for liberation must be. For we must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves. Through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision. Not to condemn that vision but to alter it, construct templates for possible futures, and focus our rage for change upon our enemies rather than upon each other. In the 1960s, the awakened anger of the Black community was often expressed, not vertically against the corruption of power and true sources of control over our lives, but horizontally toward those closest to us who mirrored our own impotence.”

So, she realized the danger. The easiest target for the oppressed has always been other people who are oppressed. Those in power, no matter the political party, want nothing more than to keep the American public divided. The specific danger is that the master’s tools are those most familiar to us, the ones nearest at hand. We should never forget that, if we ever hope to find different tools to build a new society.

But Then It Was Too Late

“This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter. […]

“The dictatorship, and the whole process of its coming into being, was above all diverting. It provided an excuse not to think for people who did not want to think anyway. I do not speak of your ‘little men,’ your baker and so on; I speak of my colleagues and myself, learned men, mind you. Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies,’ without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us. Unconsciously, I suppose, we were grateful. Who wants to think?

“To live in this process is absolutely not to be able to notice it—please try to believe me—unless one has a much greater degree of political awareness, acuity, than most of us had ever had occasion to develop. Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that, unless one were detached from the whole process from the beginning, unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’ that no ‘patriotic German’ could resent must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.

“How is this to be avoided, among ordinary men, even highly educated ordinary men? Frankly, I do not know. I do not see, even now. Many, many times since it all happened I have pondered that pair of great maxims, Principiis obsta and Finem respice—‘Resist the beginnings’ and ‘Consider the end.’ But one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings. One must foresee the end clearly and certainly and how is this to be done, by ordinary men or even by extraordinary men? Things might have. And everyone counts on that might.

“Your ‘little men,’ your Nazi friends, were not against National Socialism in principle. Men like me, who were, are the greater offenders, not because we knew better (that would be too much to say) but because we sensed better. Pastor Niemöller spoke for the thousands and thousands of men like me when he spoke (too modestly of himself) and said that, when the Nazis attacked the Communists, he was a little uneasy, but, after all, he was not a Communist, and so he did nothing; and then they attacked the Socialists, and he was a little uneasier, but, still, he was not a Socialist, and he did nothing; and then the schools, the press, the Jews, and so on, and he was always uneasier, but still he did nothing. And then they attacked the Church, and he was a Churchman, and he did something—but then it was too late. […] It is clearer all the time that, if you are going to do anything, you must make an occasion to do it, and then you are obviously a troublemaker. So you wait, and you wait.

But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. If the last and worst act of the whole regime had come immediately after the first and smallest, thousands, yes, millions would have been sufficiently shocked—if, let us say, the gassing of the Jews in ’43 had come immediately after the ‘German Firm’ stickers on the windows of non-Jewish shops in ’33. But of course this isn’t the way it happens. In between come all the hundreds of little steps, some of them imperceptible, each of them preparing you not to be shocked by the next. Step C is not so much worse than Step B, and, if you did not make a stand at Step B, why should you at Step C? And so on to Step D.

“And one day, too late, your principles, if you were ever sensible of them, all rush in upon you. The burden of self-deception has grown too heavy, and some minor incident, in my case my little boy, hardly more than a baby, saying ‘Jewish swine,’ collapses it all at once, and you see that everything, everything, has changed and changed completely under your nose. The world you live in—your nation, your people—is not the world you were born in at all. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves; when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. Now you live in a system which rules without responsibility even to God. The system itself could not have intended this in the beginning, but in order to sustain itself it was compelled to go all the way.

“You have gone almost all the way yourself. Life is a continuing process, a flow, not a succession of acts and events at all. It has flowed to a new level, carrying you with it, without any effort on your part. On this new level you live, you have been living more comfortably every day, with new morals, new principles. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things that your father, even in Germany, could not have imagined.

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

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

~ Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free (ch. 13)

Who Is To Blame?

Identity politics too often distracts from the real issues and can even make problems worse. My focus is as much on the victimization cycle as on the victims and victimizers. The victimization cycle puts into context and so offers a larger vantage point.

All of us humans all over are caught up in a globally-connected system of victimization. That isn’t to say all suffer equally, but it is to say we all are equally fucked in the long term on a shared planet with limited resources. What goes around comes around.

I’ve been arguing with one racist guy who keeps saying that American blacks are more violent. I can argue with that on one level by pointing out that whites are more likely to be child molesters, school shooters, bombers, serial killers, etc. But that misses a bigger issue. Why is the entire American society violent? Why is the world in general such a violent place? Why are the wealthiest countries so war-mongering? Why are so many of the post-colonial countries troubled by near endless internal conflict?

Limiting our view to the US, blacks do commit high rates of homicides, although most of their victims are also blacks. It is violence within a community. But how did so many poor black communities become so violent? Before someone committed murder, they were a kid being raised in a particular environment in a particular society. Some thing shaped them.

We know what some of those factors are. We also know that most victimizers were once victims themselves. If we looked at most people arrested for violent crime, we’d probably most often find a personal history of violent victimization: friends, neighbors, and family members murdered; police targeting and brutality; systemic and institutional racism; oppressive poverty and economic hopelessness; et cetera.

We can extend this argument to Native Americans. Native American communities also have high rates of violent crime that goes hand in hand with being the victims of large-scale violence across recent centuries.

As far as that goes, this argument also applies to poor white communities such as in the rural South, specifically Appalachia. They also have high rates of violent crime. All poor communities in this country have high rates of social problems, especially in places of high economic inequality.

Most Americans forget that the raw numbers of poor whites is massive. There are more whites on welfare than any other race. Some of these populations have been in a permanent state of poverty for centuries or longer, going back to the British Isles and Europe.

Race becomes a proxy for class. We talk about the problems of poor blacks when we really mean the problems of poor people, the problems of poverty and economic inequality, which goes hand in hand with historically oppressed groups, even though oppressed in vastly different ways.

Here is my main point:

Every victim has a victimizer. And likely most victimizers were once victims. You can keep going back and back. Where you stop as the original source of victimization can be arbitrary or else ideologically biased.

To focus on those in power: Who is to blame for the world’s present system of imperialism? The first empires who invented this social order? The later empires that introduced it to new populations such as into tribal Europe? The even later empires that turned it into colonialism? Can anyone today take responsibility for the past, whether imperialism forced onto Native Americans or imperialism forced onto earlier Europeans?

Instead of blame, who will take responsibility? What does it even mean to take responsibility for problems so far beyond any individual, for cycles of victimization that extend across centuries and millennia?

Us versus them mentalities are how authoritarian social orders maintain their power. Even many people who fight imperialism and oppression end up internalizing the dysfunction. This is why so many revolutions fail and end up with authoritarian states, sometimes worse than what came before.

All I know is that the world is a lot more complex and a lot more fucked up than most people want to admit. The world is complex. Humans are complex. It is impossible to put people into neat little boxes. We all have immense potential, for both good and evil. That is what many people are afraid to confront, the immense potential that lurks within.

Authoritarians couldn’t get away with most of what they do if not for all those complicit, including among the victimized groups. Take for example the history of blacks. The slave trade was dependent on Africans selling other Africans into slavery, not unusually people selling their neighbors or even family members in hope of saving themselves. Later on, many blacks who, after being freed following the Civil War, became Indian fighters and in doing so violently and genocidally promoted US imperial expansion across the continent.

Both poor whites and poor blacks have been willing participants in American power. These disadvantaged people have always been the majority of the soldiers who fight the wars for the rich and powerful. That is the power of nationalism, of patriotism and propaganda. Even the rich end up buying the rhetoric they use to manipulate others for their minds get warped by the same basic media that warps the minds of all of us. We are all stuck in the same reality tunnel, unable to see beyond it.

If not blame, how is responsibility to be taken? Who will take the first step?

State Violence For Hire And Profit

Nicole Flatow, in a recent Think Progress article, brings up the topic of recent developments in police power. Police officers increasingly moonlight for private corporations, a practice that had previously been banned in some places.

This is put into new light with the emphasis on how pervasive has become police brutality. Most Americans didn’t realize how little oversight exists. The police are in the position of policing themselves, which generally means that the problems of the system get ignored by those in authority and hidden from public view.

There is no official data collection in place to even determine how many Americans are regularly killed by cops. The federal government claims to not know and demonstrates no concern about this self-proclaimed ignorance. I find that disturbing to the extreme, especially in an age when the government is keeping massive data on almost everyone and everything. I’m not sure if I’m bothered more by the fact that the government is probably lying about what it knows or that it might actually not know and not want to know.

“Individuals employed as police officers typically carry their police powers 24 hours a day in their jurisdiction, whether they’re on the job or not. That includes the power to arrest, use force, and the power to shoot. But they are explicitly hired to use this power “off duty” when private firms contract with them to perform security work.”

It is a strange world where public officials with the full authority of the state can moonlight as security for corporations. It demonstrates the thin line between state and corporate power. The revolving door between big gov and big biz isn’t just about politicians, regulators, lobbyists, and corporate management. State violence is for hire and that should concern us.

“When the St. Louis officer stopped Myers on the street, he was working a second job for a security company. The vehicle in which he followed Myers was marked with the name of the company, not a police car. And scenarios like this are increasingly common. Police officers are desirable for private security jobs precisely because they carry their training and police power wherever they go, and many police departments encourage their cops to take on secondary employment, University of Missouri-St. Louis criminology professor David Klinger explained to ThinkProgress.

“At least in most major cities and counties, officers are typically required to have those jobs cleared with the police department, which may set its own rules about how and when cops can take second jobs. This means police departments consent to have officers acting as law enforcement officials in these other capacities, Klinger said.

“In some cities, police departments even set up a database in coordination with local employers that officers can access if they want to work extra hours.”

This type of thing brings back the historical memory of the bad ol’ days of the Gilded Age. The labor movement and other movements fought against often violent force being used to oppress dissent and protest. This was part of a broader use of force. At one time, private security companies employed more field agents than did the federal and local governments.

These and other companies not unusually worked closely with the government officials. It went hand in hand with political corruption and crony capitalism. It was also an even more violent time when public transparency and accountability was almost nonexistent. We should worry about our society drifting back to old kinds of oppression.

This is even more distressing as the America has increasingly become a police state and a militarized empire. The violence used toward other countries always gets turned back against the citizenry at home. This is inevitable, but patriotic propaganda has blinded Americans for far too long. It is the same difference if our military guarantees easy access to cheap foreign oil for big biz or police departments guarantee state violence for big biz back in the states.

Oppression and violence is the same no matter where it happens. There is either freedom for all or freedom for none, a simple truth that can never be repeated too often.

“While officers may be subject to the same criminal rights and liabilities regardless of who they’re working for, firms may be subject to different rules and different levels of civil liability. As the New York Times explained in a 1989 report on the phenomenon, “These private forces .. are not bound by all of the regulations and civil liberties concerns imposed on the public police to protect both complainants and defendants. Yet by hiring off-duty city police, these companies gain access to the power of arrest and the mantle of official authority that other agencies lack.””

Reform happened over this past century. It happened for good reason.

“When officers are working second jobs for which they have gotten approval from their departments, they typically still wear their police uniform, as the St. Louis officer was when he shot Myers. This means that individuals perceive these cops as being on duty even though they are working private jobs. In many instances they are. At one time, New York City didn’t like the look of this perception, and prohibited officers from wearing their uniforms while working in the private sector, and also banned them from working in their own precinct. In fact, until the 1960s, New York City banned “moonlighting” altogether. But the practice of officers taking second security jobs is now exceedingly common. And today, NYPD oversees the “Paid for Hire” program.”

It is long past time for a new era of reform. Or failing that, what other option is left in the fight for freedom and justice?

Shadow of the Golden Rule

Mass incarceration isn’t just about criminals. Racism isn’t just about minorities. Economic inequality isn’t just about the poor. Animal abuse isn’t just about animals. Et cetera.

This touches upon a fundamental truth, a truth that has been stated in many ways by many people, from Jesus to Gandhi: You can tell a lot about a society by how are treated the least powerful and privileged, the most unfortunate and disenfranchized.

There is no such thing as a moral society that doesn’t treat all citizens justly and fairly. There is no such thing as a free people that denies basic rights and freedoms to a permanent underclass. There is no such thing as a democratic country that is also a police state and a military empire.

Any rhetoric to the contrary is blatant hypocrisy and self-deluded rationalization.

These issues are never about a single demographic. This is for two reasons. 

First, these problems are shared by everyone who is one way or another implicated or even complicit. No person goes unaffected. These are social problems in the largest sense.

Second, these issues are representative of a vast web of issues. They are symbolic of something fundamental to a culture and political system. How the least among us are treated speaks to how we are all treated. It gives hint to how a society is actually structured and operates.

This is the reason that as mass incarderation increases the U.S. increasingly takes on characteristics of a police state such as a militarized police force. A prison shows starkly something that is true about all of U.S. society. The more citizens are imprisoned the larger and more pervasive the entire system of social control becomes.

The Golden Rule states that we should treat others as we’d like to be treated. There is a shadow cast by this nice-sounding aphorism. How we choose to treat others is how we ourselves will be treated. Or to state it colloquially, what goes around comes around. We can’t escape the consequences of our own actions, which is even more true on the collective level.

Revolutions: American and French, Part 2

I’ve been reading many books and listening to some lectures on the revolutionary era. It is fair to say that these sources are educating me in a way my schooling didn’t prepare me for. I’m constantly amazed how, like most Americans, I’ve been so ignorant throughout my life. Not just ignorant, but ignorant of how ignorant I was.

I really had no clue about the French Revolution, that is for sure. Anything you think you know about the French Revolution is probably wrong or severely limited. As always, context is freaking everything.

I wrote a bit about what I had learned a while back, but I have since learned so much more.

One interesting fact is the part the Basque played during the revolutionary era. The Basque region is located in the border region of Spain and France. The Basque are a separate people from the Celts and they have lived in that region for a very long time. The Irish descend from the Basque which is interesting as the English used their policies toward the Irish as a blueprint for their later colonizing efforts. The Basque and the Irish are both a proud people that had long struggles against imperialism.

The Basque were a highly respected people since for most of their history they remained unconquered. Neither the Romans nor the Moors could put them down, partly because they had a good defensible location in the mountains. This is what formed their republican tradition which inspired John Adams thinking about republicanism in America. (As a side note, many Basque immigrated to the Americas and later on helped shape the cowboy culture of open range cattle ranching; so they were the original cowboys.)

The Basque supported the French Revolution early on, like most people (like most Americans and most British). It was only later on that they experienced oppression as well and lost their independence (and only later that the French Revolution got a bad reputation during the era of anti-revolutionary backlash).

The early years of the French Revolution were more about political reform than the revolution we know from the Reign of Terror (the revolution began in 1789 and the use of the guillotine didn’t begin until 1793). Even so, keep in mind that more people died in the American Revolution than died in the French Reign of Terror. Also, keep in mind that more people suffered oppression and died because of the results of the American failure to abolish slavery than did with the entire French Revolution.

Originally, the revolutionaries were pushing for a constitutional monarchy and that would have worked out just fine except King Louis XVI didn’t want to have his power constrained, as neither did King Charles I when facing the English Civil War, and so likewise regicide followed. The revolutionaries also weren’t trying to get rid of the aristocracy, take their land or take their wealth. They simply wanted the aristocracy to be treated like everyone else with no special privileges. Also, the revolutionaries had no desire to get rid of the church. The clergy were among the strongest supporters of the early revolution.

This early period of reform lasted for several years.

So, what went wrong? I’m not sure if anything went wrong exactly. Revolutions are always a gamble. There was nothing that guaranteed the American Revolution wouldn’t have had  a similar fate. Revolutions happen because all other recourses have failed, and that was even more true for the French than for the Americans.

The French people were truly desperate in a way Americans at that time couldn’t have imagined. They were living in a severely oppressive society and the people were starving. Americans before the Revolution were among the most free people in the world. It was because Americans were so used to being free that they felt affronted by having that freedom even slightly lessened. The French, on the other hand, were dealing with problems that literally were life and death for many of them. The French government wasn’t a far off institution as was the British government. It was an everpresent reality. American colonists knew no equivalent to the Bastille.

Also, consider how much more the French revolutionaries had going against them.

Besides the constant threat of starvation, they had more enemies than allies. The French are the only reason American revolutionaries won their war. Thousands of French citizens fought and died in the American Revolution. There is no equal number of American citizens who returned the favor by fighting and dying in the French Revolution. Nor did the French Revolutionaries have a major empire on its side as the American revolutionaries had with France. Instead, the French were facing enemies from without as they were facing enemies from within. Many of the European Empires sought to attack France during its moment of weakness and so the French were forced to fight wars as a nation even as they were attempting to rebuild their nation.

It was a nearly impossible situation for a revolution. It is a miracle that it didn’t turn out worse.

Early Americans had it easy in comparison. If the American Revolution had been similar to the French Revolution, American revolutionaries would not only had to fight the British government on its own territory but simultaneously fight the Native Americans and the Spanish Empire while being abandoned by the French Empire. On top of that, American revolutionaries would have had to deal with a larger population that was facing starvation as well.

How well would the American Revolution have turned out under those conditions? Probably not so well.

When a clueless asshole like Edmund Burke complained about the French Revolution, what would he have preferred? Should the French just accepted their fate by starving to death and allowing themselves to be continually killed and imprisoned by an oppressive government? The British Empire later on killed more Irish than the number of people killed in the Reign of Terror. As an Irishman and defender of the British Empire, what answer would Burke have for that? Would he have suggested the Irish to have just taken it and not to have fought back? Of course not.

Context is everything. And to understand the context one needs to know the facts.

Equal Opportunity Oppression in America

I was listening to the audio version of The Mis-Education of the Negro by Dr. Carter G. Woodson. The narrator isn’t the best, but the book is worthwhile. It is an older book, having been published in 1933, which is part of what makes it interesting. I came across a passage that showed its age (p. 73):

Again, one observes in some of these catalogues numerous courses in art but no well defined course in Negro or African art which early influenced that of the Greeks. Thinkers are now saying that the early culture of the Mediterranean was chiefly African. Most of these colleges do not even direct special attention to Negro music in which the Negro has made his outstanding contribution in America. The unreasonable attitude is that because the whites do not have these things in their schools the Negroes must not have them in theirs. The Catholics and Jews, therefore, are wrong in establishing special schools to teach their principles of religion, and the Germans in America are unwise in having their children taught their mother tongue.

The author is discussing “Negro colleges”. At that time, apparently many of them were managed and operated by whites. Some of these whites were consdescendingly paternalistic and some were indifferent to the the plight of the students in their schools. For many of them, working at a Negro college was probably the last place they hoped their career would bring them. They didn’t want to be there and they certainly didn’t want to help African-Americans to better themselves, much less strive for equality.

That isn’t, however, what dates this passage. Dr. Woodson argues that African-Americans should have the right to teach about their own culture and accomplishments. As a comparison and contrast, he references as one example German-Americans who in many cases still used German in their German-American majority schools, including public schools in German-American majority cities.

Sadly, that world was quickly changing. What the author didn’t realize was that the following decades would become the most culturally oppressive era in all of American history. German culture wouldn’t continue to be celebrated. The German voice in America would be nearly silenced and teaching in German would be outlawed. Nearly all references to the German language and culture would be obliterated, from street names being changed to newspapers being closed down.

The oppression in America has never just been about African-Americans. But back in 1933 maybe that was harder to discern from the perspective of an African-American.

12 Years a Slave, 4 Centuries an Oppression

I watched, along with some friends, the movie 12 Years a Slave. We all enjoyed it or rather appreciated it, in spite of the depressing and horrifying quality of the narrative. Part of its impact is knowing it is based on an autobiography which is being portrayed with as much historical accuracy as is possible in a mainstream film, gruesome whippings and lynchings included.

There is great power in a story. Even a fictional story like Uncle Tom’s Cabin was able to spark a political transformation across an entire nation. An autobiographical narrative is able to cut even deeper.

It put into context the books I’ve been reading about race and racism. Many of them are great books, but even the most insightful analysis can’t compete with a compelling and heart-rending personal narrative. Only Black Like Me by Griffin comes close to 12 Years a Slave and it does so by coming from a very personal angle.

This is the challenge of non-fiction. I love knowledge. There is nothing greater than truth expressed, most especially an uncomfortable truth and even moreso when it challenges power or breaks a oppressive silence. At times something can be explained and given voice so as to make it tangible and real, something that was only vaguely felt before.

A book as I describe can be found in the example of The New Jim Crow which is one of the most important books I’ve read in a long while, but I wonder how many people it will reach simply because it is a dense book filled with data. If the world was just or if most people cared enough about trying to make the world more just, The New Jim Crow would be read far and wide. Yes, it is dense with data, but oh what mind-blowing data it is and what a damning case the author makes with that data. What many only suspected before is made absolutely clear with this book.

Still, even that book doesn’t even come close to the soul-despairing indictment made in the best books by Derrick Jensen, an author not part of my present reading project. He doesn’t as directly focus on the issue of race and racism for his scope is more broad while also being more personal. I was thinking that only Jensen has ever touched me as deeply as a movie like 12 Years a Slave, more deeply actually in that he shows how the horror of violence and oppression isn’t a thing of the past or even just an issue of a single race.

We need someone equivalent to Jensen with a more direct focus on race and racism. A closer equivalent would be What’s the Matter with White People? by Joan Walsh. She connects personal experience and larger issues in a way that is useful, but nowhere near as profound or insightful as Jensen.

There are many good books and movies out there. If anything, we are swamped in worthy works. In the past, many people were ignorant because of a lack of info or lack of access to info. But that is no longer the case. No one has an excuse to not understand the problems of our society, the racism and other prejudices, the oppression and violence, the victimization and impoverishment, etc.

One of my friends I went to the movie with made a comment that I thought was problematic or misses something important. She said that those slave-owners had to have been insane. No, they weren’t insane, well no more insane than most people at that time and I’d argue no more insane than most people today. We all are largely blind and indifferent to the immoralities and injustices all around us, even when they directly involve us. If we were to face the immense suffering of our society, we’d be overwhelmed by despair (or that is the fear). But maybe there is no way forward except through that despair, scary as it seems.

Even more than that, we are afraid of the guilt that would follow, guilt about what has been done and continues to be done, guilt about what hasn’t yet been done and should be done. This is our shared society. We are all responsibility for the way things are. None of us are innocent. There is no place in this world for innocents. Only those who are able to feel guilt will be able take moral action. As there is power in a story, there is power in guilt. Shame is disempowering, but guilt when deeply felt creates a moral imperative.

How do we as a society move past shame and denial? How do we let go of our fears and face what must be faced? We are filled with potential more immense than any despair. We can continue to re-create the same old problems and failures or we can find a new path forward. I’m not alone in understanding this choice. In many different contexts, I hear people saying the same thing across the political spectrum. We feel stuck, but the necessary insight is to realize that we are stuck in a trap of our own making. If whites were to let go of their shame and blacks to let go of their anger, how might we redirect our focus on solving our shared problems?

Society and Dysfunction

on anxiety & modernity by isthmus nekoi

I still think about trauma these days, although I tend to think more about the anxiety spectrum. There is afterall, something very fetishized or at least, detached about anxiety. Anxiety is not an emotion oriented towards something present, but rather, is future oriented. Anxiety is our fear of the future. It is a ghost fear, a fetish fear, it is at once less present yet more pervasive than fear itself. It is fear intellectualized, no, grotesquely magnified beyond reason by a reason derailed.

Modern society has no roots, no history, no grounding. We drift in a perpetual freefall, this strange sensation of exhilaration, panic, and numbed boredom, that tight feeling in our chests, the wind in our faces. The dream and the nightmare of the modern man, his most deepest desire and most fervent fear, that which lies below our perverse fusion of lust, anxiety and reason, is the belief that he might actually be falling into something…

+ + +

atomic-bomb

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Nice article!

It makes me think of certain people: Arnold Mindell, Paul Shepard, Derrick Jensen, etc.  I’m also reminded of someone like Carl Jung.

Both Jung and Reich were students of Freud and also both were interested in the significance of UFOs in terms of society.  Jung saw UFOs as a symbol of change, of potential.  UFOs became popular during a very traumatic era of world history.

I mention all of those people because they either have an alternative view on trauma or they see the problems of modern life as being part of a larger context.  Paul Shepard would trace the problems of society back to the beginning of civilization.  Along with Derrick Jensen, Shepard would say our traumatized state isn’t merely personal nor merely an issue of our human condition but instead about our relationship to the larger world.

That is where I see the ideas of Jung and Mindell fitting in as they present humans as being essentially interconnected.  The problems of society can be seen in the individual, and vice versa.

I would add that, similar to Shepard’s view, the Axial Age was a particularly traumatic shift in society.  That was the historical period when cultures were clashing and urbanization was developing.

The foundation of the modern self was being set at that time.  For example, religious practitioners of the time were attracted to a rootless lifestyle with ascetic monks and preachers who would travel from town to town.  Also, this is when people started idealizing a perfect world that was located elsewhere.  This world and human nature was flawed.

It seems to me that the industrial age and the 20th century international conflicts are the delayed effects of the Axial Age.  The ideals of that time (equality, freedom, etc.) took a couple of millennia to fully take hold.  But humans have never really adapted to this social change in a healthy way and maybe it isn’t even possible.  The human animal simply isn’t designed for modern civilization.

Of course, people are traumatized.  All of human society is traumatized.

Related to the above article, here are some additional thoughts from another blog and from a forum thread:

The Mad Liberation Front from the Red Star Cafe blog

R.D. LaingWith the exception of Freud’s eccentric disciple Wilhelm Reich, it was not until after WW II that a school of  psychology appeared that was willing to take Freud’s hypothesis of collective insanity seriously and to launch out along a different route. R.D. Laing, whose background was as much Existentialist-Marxist as it was Freudian, was among the first to assume an adversarial position on the issue of insanity.

Convinced that the mad, or at least some portion of those designated schizophrenic, may be a rare and endangered species desperately in need of protection, Laing argued that psychological breakdown could be the first step toward enlightened breakthrough. It might be an incipient assertion of true sanity by those who were still at least resilient enough to feel the pain of society’s oppression. It is therefore the psychiatrist’s responsibility to take the side of the mad against wrong-headed social authority.

“We live”, said Laing, in the midst of  “socially shared hallucinations…our collusive madness is what we call sanity”.

orwell’s 1984 and the early theories of wilhelm reich (starting post by peebo in a thread on the Wrong Planet forum)

it appears to me that one of the main premises of george orwell’s 1984 is the idea of sexual repression rendering the population open to oppression by the party. the repression of freely expressed sexuality by the party is clearly an overt theme in the novel. junior anti-sex league, winston and julia’s “subversive” affair, etc. this idea is very similar to the ideas put forward by wilhelm reich in his “the mass psychology of fascism”.

http://www.whale.to/b/reich.pdf

reich’s main point in this book is that oppressive fascist regimes are manifest only in situations where sexual repression is endemic in a society. he covers more than this, but this is the main thrust. i wonder whether orwell had been exposed to reich’s ideas, or whether they just came to a similar conclusion independently?