Dual-Fact Nation Part 2

Adam & Eve have no lower bodies and conveniently draped hair.

Dismediation is a new word for me I found it in a Religion Dispatches Newsletter article by Christopher Douglas. I should have mentioned the article in my last post since I divided the whole topic into two posts . Dismediation is a process using a medium to tear down that very same medium. So, if you use the TV news to complain about TV news coverage you are dissing the media covering you which academic folks label dismediation. It is a rhetorical technique similar to the one where you begin your speech by saying you are not going to talk about a particular topic; which you have obviously just done by mentioning the topic. “I refuse to discuss my opponent’s vile policies on strawberry flavored toothpaste, I will, however discuss the joys of mint toothpaste which I support wholeheartedly.”

Dismediation is not like those cartoons where the bridge falls apart piece by piece just as the last wheel of the caboose passes by. The bridge must remain an essential carrier. It’s more like complaining about the medium of news for doing what the speaker relies upon it to do, report the message. Trump constantly portrays the news media as being liars thereby discrediting the medium he needs to get his message out. He expects the bridge to remain available after his caboose has passed by so he can use and abuse it repeatedly. The news becomes a straw man that can be attacked repeatedly while whittling away at its viability. If you can convince enough people that the tracks are unsafe then fewer people will travel on the tracks ultimately destroying the effectiveness of the railway system.

The goal of “fake news” and “alternative facts” goes beyond providing different data. Their purpose is actually to destroy the notion that there could be impartial news and objective facts. Maria Bustillos calls this endgame “dismediation,” “a form of propaganda that seeks to undermine the medium by which it travels.”

The people most vulnerable to this rhetorical trap happen to be Fundamental Christians. They have been conditioned to do so by a lifetime process of indoctrination. It begins with an attitude of dislike for the elite, know-it-all, educated class that comes from family influences as well as social interaction with fundamentalist churches. Here, they learn of the inerrancy of the Bible, a blind obedience to its teachings and dis-trust of those who don’t share the same belief. There was little infrastructure to support this back in the late seventies when the fundamentalist evangelicals began their forays into politics through one particular luminary, Anita Bryant and her anti-gay campaign to Save the Family. Anita was not afraid to call gay folks names. Pick any, or all, of these descriptive terms found in The Anita Bryant Story:

Evil, sinners, perverted, an abomination, those with vile affections, reprobate minds, unnatural, deviant, flaunting, afflicted, regrettable, sad, tragic, apart, distorted, abominable, effeminate, ashamed, reproof, abhorrent, disgusting, licentious, lacking legal or moral restraint, marked by disregard of the rules.

If you want a complete list you will have to dig up her book because all this came from just one small part of one short chapter.I had to stop writing them down, it was too stressful.

Anita Bryant capitalized on her orange-juice spokeswoman fame and wrote several “Christian” books. She became both the beacon of her movement and its lightning rod. Jerry Falwell joined her and it became a launch point for truthiness and faux-scholarship of the bigoted religious. You see, she wrote a best selling book. A BOOK. If its in a book its got to be true! If it quotes the Bible a lot then its even more true. So, a whole slew of other anti-gay people started quoting her books as a credible source. They learned about footnotes and endnotes and citations and all those other image-enhancing rip-offs of credible writing. That lead to other bigot’s books quoting this “highly credible” authority (she wrote books you know); one who uses language that would make the Ku Klux Klan folks blush. Once this body of scholar-less-ship dismediation came to pass, evangelicals and fundamentalists started to realize there’s gold in them there books. If the Bible is quoted enough, then academic scholarship is not required. They would, of course reference one another’s work and soon there was a whole library of this stuff. In Christian schools a homogenization process of real and faux scholarship, religious ideology, and the Creation Museum hoopla all merged into “alt-reality” as we call it today.

Christian fundamentalist Bible colleges and universities, publishers and bookstores, newspapers and magazines, radio and then television shows, museums and campus ministries, together formed a set of institutions that resisted elite, secular expert knowledge. Recognizing the power of expertise’s infrastructure, Christian fundamentalists created this counter-infrastructure to cultivate and curate its alternative forms of knowledge. This alternative knowledge—the forerunner of today’s alternative facts— took the form of creationism and an alternative Bible scholarship demonstrating the Bible’s inerrancy and traditional authorship.

I’ve watched the Anita effect influence society in negative ways. Once, I took my students from the Gay Student Club I helped create at Bloomsburg University back in the ‘80s to hear a highly publicized Campus Crusade for Christ anti-gay speaker. We had a stake in this game but were naive as to the effect it would have on all of us. The speaker used a new rhetorical trick to enhance his credibility; it was the unkindest cut of all. He knew his audience would already be on his side, but just to foil the opposition, us, he made a big deal about how all his facts were well supported by references and documentation. He had a three-page list of those references available for all to see if we needed proof. His speech was as evil as Anita’s book and included all sorts of “studies” proving his points. We asked to see his references at the end, but he had unfortunately (read conveniently) left them at home while on his speaking tour. Was there credence to what he said in the speech? Well, it didn’t matter since it had already been given.  There was nothing he could prove and nothing we could do but disagree. We didn’t bring our list of actual studies and scholarship either so nothing we said would have convinced the audience who came with preconceived opinions at the start. It was despicable and cowardly and dishonest and oh-so-typical of the alt-mindset theology: “a lie for God’s side is not a sin.”

TrumpFace, the Musical

I’ve had the most unusual idea for a new musical. Well, it will seem like a musical for the first fifteen minutes or so until a sudden shift occurs. Things will turn scary and the audience will experience fear. They’ll be magically transported to potential future events with dire outcomes if something isn’t done to fix the problems, just like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. The second act demonstrates how to get things done.

By first getting the audience on my side with the musical introduction, frightening them with a sample of totalitarian violence, explaining the consequences of increasing xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, and hostility toward others, then finally giving them a plan for a solution through thoughtful civil disobedience, they ought to be motivated to do something themselves, not just laugh at clever, humorous, frivolity. I mean, John Stewart really helped me get through the Bush years, but we’re in a much deeper pile of crap this time and it will take action from everyday people to get out from under Trump’s authoritarian proclivities.

The play begins as if it is a Minstrel Show.

The star will be Doxie Trump; sort of like Roxie Hart from the musical Chicago. Doxie will be the Donald Trump character in our show, get it, Donnie – Doxie? Ostensibly, each song will be about one of Donald Trump’s biggly lies. The performers will all wear “TrumpFace” instead of black face and have orange and yellow wigs.

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Trumpified Minstrel

It’ll start out fairly simple: Mr. Bones Trump, playing dried up rib bones on stage right and Mr. Tambo Trump, on tambourine stage left with a collection of Trump’s wives and daughters sitting on a row of bentwood chairs playing banjos and so forth. Mr. Interlocutor will be just like the shyster lawyer from Chicago, Billy Flynn, but his name will be Vlady Flynn and look just like Putin in TrumpFace.  He tries to rap his song, but he doesn’t quite get it. His jokes are awful.

The second number introduces the Velma Kelly character of our production, but we’ll just call him Vannon. This will be the only character not wearing TrumpFace; he’ll appear just like the real Steve Bannon who kind of looks like an alcoholic version of Trump anyway. Every time someone says ‘Vannon’ there’ll be a funny kettle drum hit quickly raised in pitch to remind us of his droopy drawers approach to life. This just seems appropriate, kind of like the horses and Frau Blucher in Young Frankenstein.

The third number will be just like the “Nowadays” number in Chicago with a Doxie and Vannon duet as they reminisce about the campaign. The song brings us up to the Inaugural Address. Before the speech begins we see the audience enter in their alt-right clothing, nazi tattoos, and red ball caps; a live mic picks up lines like, “ Finally, we can call ‘em fags again” and “fucking jews”.

Doxie gives a revised, Hitler-like version of Trump’s actual speech which leaves the theatre audience stunned and depressed. (Minstrels often had a malaprop filled “stump speech” bit in the third act.) The onstage audience of actors will gradually alter their clothing to become a uniformed “Springtime for Hitler” kind of high-kicking chorus line of Trump-faced Soldiers lined up down stage.

The on-stage lights will snap out while house lights come up revealing two soldiers at each theatre exit putting chains around the door handles. The real audience will start to get anxious. An elderly audience member attempts to go to the bathroom, but is knocked down by a guard. Everyone gasps! Is that part of the show? The onstage show stops, the lights become stark harsh white and the chorus stares at the audience while big shit-eating grins grow on their faces. They move up stage revealing Doxie, center stage. She takes off the wig, the TrumpFace and the Trump suit, revealing ‘him’ to be a black woman wearing blackface outlined with fluorescent colors. She comes forward to address the audience.

So, you think this is funny, don’t you? You are wrong. You’re trapped! [all the lights go out with a ‘ker-chunk’ type noise] You’re blind, [spot on Doxie’s head] and you have no choice but to listen to me! [as volume increases and her voice echoes harshly]. You paid to be here, you asked for it and now, you are not so sure what to do next. Am I right?

[Sarcastic] So, you thought humor would make Trump go away. Watch a little Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, or Samantha Bee and life becomes tolerable again. You’re pacified, you’re complacent and then you’re docile enough to go to work for one more day. [shouts] Well, that’s not going to happen here.

You. All of you, have just volunteered for the biggest challenge of ALL our lives. When you, and I, leave here, and, yes, you will leave here. [lights on guards removing chains] You will not be complacent or the least bit docile. You will be determined and you will be serious. You will have no need for pacification because you will commit yourself to the task at hand. You will be an active member of the Resistance. You will be the solution!

To drive home the stakes at play in this circumstance, the second part of act one will involve Doxie, the black-faced black woman, magically guiding the audience through dark and dramatic ‘future’ scenarios revealing Trump’s religious bigotry, anti-environment policies, and hostility. It will be like the audience is Scrooge and she is the ghost of things to come. The Tiny Tims of tomorrow will provoke the passions and anger of the audience.

Intermission allows time to process the weirdness of the first act. The second act brings us to our current reality where we constantly hear the rumor of unnecessary deportations, bigotry and religious exclusions. The scene will be a community center’s meeting room, It is filling up with folks from the neighborhood.  Doxie enters in regular street make-up this time, no longer the ghost of a scary future, but her clothes have hints of the fluorescent colors of her mask in act one. She’s a somewhat plain average person. She is the present day leader of this small group of neighbors. She has brought them together to solve the problem of Trump. This will be the first meeting of the local Resistance. The everyday folks who attend this meeting will work collaboratively to create a goal and build a plan of action. This act will be modeled somewhat on Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty where, at the end, the whole audience stands and chants: Strike, Strike, Strike” with fists raised in defiance! Except that, we’ll be shouting: Resist, Resist, Resist! The spirit of shared purpose and possibility will cause our spirits to soar!

(We would do a big splashy production number for a curtain call except that the audience will have moved too far beyond the artificial pretense of musicals. The entertainment is over; now it is time to do something.)


 

P.S. The Minstrel Show was the most vile, racist propaganda our country has ever experienced. The most horrible stereotypes were presented on stage. Many of those images remain today. Some performers continue to perpetrate the minstrel mentality, especially in the music business. At first, all the minstrel performers were whites in blackface. Black actors were eventually allowed on stage years later, but they still had to wear blackface. Think about the mental dissonance required to perform absurd parodies of your own culture while wearing a mask that ridicules your very own being! Doxie takes that mask and makes it something else by trimming it with fluorescent colors – she becomes a magical guide warning us of possibilities. Remember, she removes the minstrel mask of TrumpFace in order to guide us to the future. In act two she is a normal person, but she still carries with her the strength of her cultural  heritage and the knowledge that going back can never happen again. The metaphor of removing masks to allow our true selves to take action presents a powerful lesson in personal growth leading to communal strength.

Feeling Daffy Duck-ish

The animator’s pencil comes into the frame, eraser first, as it starts to remove the black and yellow duck known as Daffy from the screen. The duck continues a conversation with the unseen animator complaining about being erased. It’s a surreal, existentialist cartoon from Warner Brothers that plays with the conventions of the dramatic art of cartooning.

To enjoy a cartoon, you, the audience, must first accept the illusion of reality as presented in the animator’s product. Once you realize the conventions of the illusion: bright colors, stylized scenery, animation, funny voices, sound effects etc. you can choose to go along with it or not. The natural inclination is to disbelieve things that are so blatantly artificial, so you must temporarily suspend your disbelief to give the artist the opportunity to present his art. Duck Amuck, pokes fun at the cartoonist’s own rules through a number of techniques calling into question what reality is, and other existential dilemmas. The image of a god-like pencil and unseen power controlling it could be frightening in another circumstance.

I’m feeling a little Daffy Duck-ish today, speaking of other circumstances. The omni-twitter-present power controlling our government’s pencil is erasing me. After fighting my whole lifetime for the opportunity to be recognized in society and especially by the government, Trump is erasing me from the picture. I know it’s not personal, he is erasing a whole category of which I am apart. I am old, gay, disabled, and I have no children. This category of individual is being erased from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP). The love that dare not speak its name from my youth is being told to shut up again. Well, not exactly told so much as the questions about us have disappeared from the questionnaire. We won’t statistically exist any longer. Poof, gone!

We know it is a planned effort on the part of the administration for a number of reasons:

  1. They are doing the same thing on the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living which evaluates services that help people with disabilities to live independently. No statistics specific to the gay population will be collected this time.
  2. They lied about the changes made in the surveys. The Administration for Community Living (ACL) oversees the surveys.  They give a new reason for the dismissal of questions while contradictory statements about these issues remain on their own website. They describe the current questionnaire as not being any different from the last one.
  3. “An anonymous administration official confirmed to the AP that the agency targeted LGBT questions in the surveys” according to Zach Ford’s post in Think Progress yesterday.
  4. The LGBT rights web page disappeared from the WhiteHouse site on Trump’s inauguration day.
  5. A HUD survey on LGBT homeless was dropped completely. No data there!
  6. And of course, all the pull back on transgender issues in education and in North Carolina.
  7. This is a continuation of the homogenization of our culture. I have mentioned it before. No attempts to recognize diversity are being made. We are all the same – worker bees. Our distinctive characteristics are diminished while our commonality is reinforced.  There is no point in recognizing any sub-group because Trump, really doesn’t want any identity to define Americans other than American. Ignore the “Special Interest” to remove its power as a sub-group. He spelled this out in his inaugural address.

Those of us of a certain age are quite familiar with a closet. We know it when we see it. This is the database version of the closet. If there is nothing to find in the database then it doesn’t exist. If the questions aren’t asked in the research then there is no data to report. When there is no search information to find, the query provides no answer, so a default answer is applied. Our society is so reliant upon searchable data that even our religious institutions have trouble relating to the humanity of their belief system. Take, for example, the Pope’s recent Apostolic Exhortation on love, it is designed to fit into a database. Lawyers must have written it given the legalistic nature of statements defining the rules of Catholic love. It is a forceful anti-LGBT document dressed up in the flowery language of condescension.

There are clear edges on each rule starting with the first sentence. “The Joy of Love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church.” This says what they mean it to say, but further explanation of the fine points is necessary. It’s a declaration that the church and the family are inseparable, making love impossible without the church and its database of rules. There can be no love in a family unless it follows the rules in his book. My reaction to this is one of eww yuck – I don’t want the church in bed with me. I envision a creepy priest peeking under the covers of each bed while the family is asleep.  The Exhortation is a long list of rules that fit in the database and become absolute criteria for love to exist. I was never a Catholic, but once I had read this manual for love I was appalled at the audacity of those pompous men in robes for demanding this from human beings. I’ve never read anything so pretentiously cruel. You see, a database has no way to turn emotion into data. The church disregards, denies or ignores the feelings of the humans it overlords.

Trump is formulating his own exhortation on being a subject under his rule. His first criteria is that every commoner will be regarded in the same way unless they are rich. Money is the deciding factor in whether distinctiveness shall be noticed. Are the rules for belonging to Mara Lago that different in their exclusivity than the Pope’s Exhortation? In the Pope’s realm the excluded masses go to hell; in Trump’s realm the excluded masses become the homogenous 99% citizens of America. The only distinction that matters has already been made. No need to gather the data of distinction.

So, the end of Duck Amuck reveals the unseen hand of God controlling the eraser to be Bugs Bunny. Who knew Bugs, the Pope and Trump have so much in common? The final line in the cartoon is Bugs’: “Ain’t I a stinker?” The answer is three times yes.

Thats all folks!trio

Still willing to suspend your disbelief?

 

Ceremonial Deism and Alternate Facts

God, so prominently mentioned on our currency and in the Pledge of Allegiance, is an ambiguous term. It is so devoid of spiritual significance in either context as to be absolutely meaningless. But that doesn’t stop the atheist community from being upset by its omnipresence in society, nor does it keep the evangelical community from going ballistic when people try to take it away. Maybe we should relax about this. Maybe the degradation of this particular word is a good thing – let them make God bland.

A word looses its original meaning when it becomes overly commonplace, mundane and familiar; in this case the god we purport to trust on our pennies and quarters is just a slogan – “God” becomes routine, not special, just a word. It looses significance because of rote repetition. Ceremonial Deism is the legal word-of-art that excuses this phenomenon. The legal system invokes this theory to justify the use of a generic god in secular public life, thereby, bypassing the constitutional establishment of government religion. The courts created what Trump’s folks call an alternate fact version of God. When god is mentioned in public it doesn’t mean the God of any particular religion. It is ceremonial. It refers to whatever supernatural entity an individual subscribes to, and that is up to the individual, no one else. The alternate god no longer means anything specific so why ban it?

‘In God We Trust’ is a powerful sentiment for those who already have a clear idea of a god, but those with a secular perspective find it pointless. That’s the beauty and the intent of this shared delusion – everyone takes from it what he or she already believes. Franklin Graham believes the government publicly supports his version of a god, so he defiantly mentioned Jesus in the closing of his prayer at Trump’s inauguration. This had the effect of making Jesus generic!! Jesus was formally neutered of Christian significance by Graham’s act and made ‘ceremonial’ if the logic of the courts holds true. I am sure Franklin had the opposite intention, but that is the trap of alternate facts, if we put it on our money and in our pledge and justify its use through the removal of its meaning, then we are left with a shell. Christians can believe in this alternate shell of their faith and the followers of Zeus (if any exist) can believe the same thing. Everybody comes away happy. Well, maybe not the Hindus who might prefer the plural: In Gods We Trust.

Still the shared delusion is maintained. Humanity’s natural tendency to seek comfort in groups of like-minded people while avoiding the use of reason, is the order of the day. Nobody’s gonna look foolish due to a supernatural “belief” if everybody else is affirming their own irrational belief. The only people who don’t fit into this scheme are the people who don’t have an irrational belief, those who prefer rational exploration. But, their numbers are small and they think too much, so don’t worry about that complaint. At least, that is what the courts, the legislature and our president want. So lets give it to them!

generic

Let them create their semantic utopia. Let posters adorn each classroom with the milk-toast pabulum of trust in god. Let them force this word into the daily life of all of us so that we give it no more notice than a crack in the sidewalk. The more commonplace the aphorism the less significant is its message. Bumper sticker moralizing turns God into a greeting card message – all sentiment, no substance, and totally impersonal.

Look how willingly evangelicals abandoned their principals to get Trump elected. He hooked them into believing he shared the minimum, a ceremonial deist’s faith. “See, he’s just like a penny: in God he trusts.” (Although, he may not even capitalize the ‘g’in god, we don’t really know.) “He’s one of us. Let’s place our faith in him.”

Perhaps we could surreptitiously sponsor a new ‘religious’ cover for secular humanism – Ceremonial Deism. Its sole purpose would be to homogenize theology into a pasty-sweet, mind-numbing form of the narcotic: soma as Aldous Huxley presents in Brave New World. Appease the masses with the comfort of a shared illusion. Alternate facts taken to a theo- logical conclusion. ‘God’ officially becomes significance-neutral when anyone can interpret it as they see fit.

Where are the adults?

Remember back in school when the teacher lefty the room for a few moments and all hell broke loose? The girls started talking, the bullies started picking on the nerds and guys would start telling dirty jokes. I was the nerd in that scenario. I really didn’t want to get in trouble so I was probably the only kid there hoping the teacher would come back right away.

I’ve been re-living that same sensation during the whole presidential campaign. When is an adult going to come and restore order? The teacher has been gone so long now that the bully is in charge, the guys are acting out their dirty jokes and the girls have made one another cry so often that they’ve started doing it all over again.

Seriously, the adult has to come back and tell the bully that working with the Russians is bad, then make him sit in the corner until he gets it. Tell him to stop lying. Use the dictionary. Be polite to guests, immigrants and German Chancellors. Stop killing the poor, young, sick, old and disabled by taking away their health care and polluting the environment. Don’t start any wars or threaten nuclear nations with leaders wackier than you are. Finally, take him off Twitter.

Alpaca Rhetoric

Words are meant to lead. The mother of a baby alpaca will repeatedly click her tongue and make a noise similar to, but quieter than an alpaca’s alarm call. The baby, or cria, learns the mother’s voice first, and knows what and who to pay attention to within moments of birth. The cria will be able toalpaca copy walk within the first hour or so; those noises from the mother must be understood in case the herd happens to move to a different spot. The kid must find her mother during the journey. A newborn straggler would become an easy lunch for predators.

The ‘words’ of the alpaca mother are, “come here kid” and “stay with me”.  Words that command the cria to follow. While a baby will take months to learn the human version of this same communication, the alpaca will pick up just a few more ‘words’ before reaching the limits of its lifetime vocabulary. Humans have a much more complicated relationship with language.

Rhetoric, the use of language to persuade, is a primary component of daily life. We place most of our trust in leaders who use the language well. I recall the opened-mouth fascination of watching Mario Cuomo’s speech from the 1984 Democratic Convention, or Reagan’s ‘Shinning City on a Hill’ Speech. Barack Obama wrote and delivered superior speeches that moved the soul on both an emotional and intellectual level.

Lets take a side track for a moment and talk about Theatre of the Absurd. It ties in with the topic at hand. So, if your family were farmers in certain parts of Europe it is possible that during both WWI and WWII your farm was destroyed by the fighting in the wars. After facing the reconstruction of your property for a second time you start to wonder – What’s life all about? Each bloodied soldier sitting on your crops could tell you their version of truth but none of it matters because you still have to bury the bodies, rebuild the fields and the fences and regrow the garden from scratch. Trying to make sense of this puts you in a state of existential shock. Your existence seems to be without purpose, illogical, out of harmony, useless, devoid of reason, meaningless, hopeless, chaotic, lacking order, and uncertain. Playwrights try to illustrate this frustration on stage through the use of Theatre of the Absurd.

A key theme in this genre is the futility of language. When language doesn’t convey commonly understood meanings, communication becomes futile. Illustrating that on stage is baffling and frustrating to the audience who search for meaning in the words. The characters proceed on to the next event whether the communication is clear to the audience or not. It’s like the farmer watching the soldiers destroy the family farm again. No explanation is provided that answers the question, Why? Or, What is life about? Or, How can God exist in this horror?

7738585Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker is an example. The audience watches domination and submission games played by the characters who engage in somewhat mundane conversations.  One of its main themes is about family bonding without the help of dialogue between the two brothers. They speak, but what is spoken is not understood, resulting in isolation. There are long moments of silence in the play which create a menacing feeling. The characters deceive one another and themselves. Self deceptions are repeated throughout the play, creating an artful motif. The menace, lies and solitude suggest a world where the foundations of co-existence: time, place, and identity are as ambiguous and as fluid as is the language.

So, now we have a President and Republican Congress invading our farm. When Trump speaks, the futility of language is exposed. He deceives everyone along with himself, mostly with lies and delusions. Consequently, he feels isolated, even from his wife. He communicates through incomplete thoughts tweeted to the world in the middle of the night. His un-indicted and soon to be indicted co-conspirators pretend like it all makes sense. They proceed on to the next event as if nothing odd has happened. It’s like one big improvisational absurd theatre piece playing out for the world right in our own back yard.

A playwright gives a play structure, there are themes and metaphors and plot. The play may be enigmatic in meaning, but at least there is a structure to the story telling process. Events occur throughout the play in some sort of formalized manner, following at least some of the basic conventions of the theatre. Meanwhile, on Trump’s stage, the conventions of leadership have been torn asunder to such a degree that even a fairly conventional speech to congress can’t be taken at face value, or any value for that matter. He has teased the audience way too much with lies and misdirection. He has reached a point where his shtick no longer represents an artful tale of existential questioning. The time has come for the director of the production to say: We stopped being credible a long time ago, let’s go back and fix it. The essential function of Trump’s absurd communication is not sufficient to lead anyone anywhere, not even a cria to her mother.

Bureaucracy, the Lesser Bully

Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gates and asked Mr. ronald-reagan-brandenburg-gate-west-berlin-june-12-1987-pictureGorbachev to “Tear down this wall”. It was an act of bravery. The risk he took was less than it may have seemed. The Soviet Union was ripe for collapse. A key bit of evidence for this was found in the products made by this cumbersome bureaucracy. A tractor was worth more in raw materials than it was fresh off the assembly line. There was no motivation for quality control in the massive State Committee for Planning’s centralized control system due to a lack of competition and overwhelming bureaucratic inertia. At the time I was predicting the same thing would happen here in the United States, except that it may take longer.

Bureaucracy – the structural processes of organizational operations – becomes entrenched and grows into mammoth entities with an insatiable need to expand. For example, when I started teaching in 1982, Universities employed mostly professors along with minimal administrative support. Now, professors are almost an afterthought to the management bureaucracies that have taken over. The priorities have ballooned to include satisfying the ‘customer experience’ and ‘job training,’ all of which can be done by staff or adjunct professors to lower the cost of running the school’s ever-growing bureaucracy. Students and faculty alike are intimidated by the intractability of the systemic bully.

When I think of a new start to a clogged up, non-functional system, I’d start with the goal first. What is this system meant to do? Then I’d look at what it actually is doing, then I’d start digging to find the obvious clog points, identify them and collect my observations. I’d study what I have found and then research the ways the same thing is being done elsewhere. A plan would be created for addressing the goals. I wouldn’t destroy the old system until the new plan is ready. The solution could call for anything, from a small patch job to total reconstruction, but destruction first and ask questions later is foolish.

Trump has brought in bulldozers to deconstruct the ‘administrative state’ as Bannon said at CPAC. Cabinet heads were chosen to dismantle the government bureaucracy. We have yet to learn how it will happen in each area but given the haphazard behavior of Trump, I doubt they will do due diligence first. There is no attempt at hand to make things better, at least no one is talking about ‘improvement,’ they talk about ‘change.’ They talk about elimination of burdensome regulations and compliance checks. They talk about privatization and freedom for business. They talk about making it the ‘best’ without defining best. Remember Trump promised us: “the ‘best’ people will be in my cabinet” and look who we got.

greedI can see how people whose singular concern is making money would prefer the anarchy of the Robber Baron era, where each person fends for themselves.  Why not disregard the safety and security of the worker and her health and his family, and their ability to breathe and drink clean water and endure radical weather changes? The Trumpian moral god is me-first GREED. Humanity is what they exploit and consume to make money; it’s a necessary inconvenience on the path to wealth and dominance by the 1%.

Now, I hate the bully, bureaucracy, but the government’s is a necessary inconvenience I happily choose over being consumed by rich people. It is my preferred bully. It’s not perfect, but it is not meant to be malicious. A component element of greed is the damage it does to other humans. Greed is purposefully malicious.

The Moral Value of Posters at Westminster High

The cross is probably the most ubiquitous symbol of human society. It’s held that status well before Christians began using it. It is simple, easy to make and to understand. From a swastika to a four-leaf clover, two lines crossing one another have symbolized innumerable gods, mysteries, theologies and political entities. There exists a cross with an anchor on the bottom and one with a head-like shape on top called an ankh. There is a cross with a star, a yin-yang symbol, a flame, a chalice, a dead naked man, a star of David, and even one that identifies an artist formerly known as Prince. Each of these diverse symbols holds meanings far greater than the simplicity of their design. Whole armies gathered around some of them and wars have been fought for them. Such is the power of a symbol.

Ask Christians if their cross is a symbol of torture and cruelty or a sign of love and peace. I’ll bet they choose the latter. If you ask those who endorse the stars and bars of the Confederate flag “What does it symbolize?”, you will likely get a muddle of opinions on the topic. I find it hard to come up with anything of a positive nature to say in its behalf; the connotations of slavery overwhelm any good it may represent. People fight hard to keep it part of their southern heritage in spite of this. Its significance regarding violence and oppression of vast cultures of people has caused its removal from many public buildings and schools.

New symbols appear in our midst all the time. From a protest march in Oregon to a classroom in Maryland you can see marvelous illustrations of a women of color asserting themselves in a poster series called “We the People” by the artist Shepard Fairey, the artist who made the iconic Obama poster. They speak of liberty and freedom and diversity. They have deep significance for the gender and cultures who are oppressed in our society. The symbols in these posters do not use the image of a cross. They are new, so they have no established place in our history as the Confederate flag does. They are simply portraits of confident minority women asserting themselves in our society. They represent the diverse multi-ethnic population of the United States struggling to survive. They connote an altruistic and moral point of view.

That school in Maryland, Westminster High School, has removed the posters from the classroom as if it were the same as the confederate flag. The stated reason for this is that the symbol was also carried in opposition protests to Donald Trump’s politics. The denigrating bias of Trump’s politics on women, minorities, poor folks, Muslims and people of color turns these symbols, the posters, into something tainted by politics. The posters provide support for these moral values that Trump has made too controversial for this school.

Steven Johnson, the school’s assistant superintendent for instruction told HuffPost. “The Confederate flag in and of itself has no image of slavery or hatred or oppression, but it’s symbolic of that,” “These posters have absolutely no mention of Trump or any other political issue ― it’s the symbolism of what they were representing. They were carried in these protests.”

So, by carrying a symbol in a protest, that symbol becomes invalid as a conveyor of moral concepts for society and our children? The symbol – the posters – expressed a moral significance so succinctly that is was used in opposition to an oppressive political ideology. The well-made symbols of clearly articulated moral ideals must be suppressed in schools simply because those symbols have also been used in political campaigns on the side of those who lost the election. What would Vaclav Havel say about this?

I’m sure he would recognize the technique from his time under Communist rule. He speaks eloquently about this very situation when he discusses, in a letter to then President Gustav Husak of Czechoslovakia that his government had chosen “the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity.”

So, if that school deadens the brilliantly stated evocation of an ideal that happens to be part of its own mission statement which includes preaching “tolerance [and] acceptance of diversity”,  then there will be uniformity and compliance and consequently, inner decay. The richness of life will be replaced with clip-art posters of similar words and the homogenization of young minds will perpetuate blandness and complicity.

What about the Confederate flag? Doesn’t Steven Johnson’s equivalency of symbols argument hold true. Well, if they plan on using that argument there are a ton of images they will need to eliminate from the school in addition to those posters. They can start with any version of a cross that is not Donald Trump’s Presbyterian cross and any other religious symbols, especially Muslim symbology. They can clear out most of the art history department. The library can remove any literature, well, some can stay – pro-racist alt-right stuff. Get the point? They also marched with the American Flag, should that be replaced with a cartoon drawing too!

Look, the issue with the Confederate flag is that it is a symbol of oppression and domination and that it harshly reminds everyone of slavery. It screams its immoral history. On the other hand, the Fairey posters scream the morally valuable ideals of acceptance, diversity, equality, respect, and religious freedom. These are American values that belong to no single political party. There is no equivalency.

America needs to wake up to the subtle intrusion of inner decay. The purpose of school is not the homogenization of young minds. It’s not blandness nor is it complicity. Education is not about deadening life for the ease of uniformity. If educators, and all of us, do not learn to recognize it while it is happening and bother to stand up to this intrusion then we can expect decay.

To PC or Not To PC

A recent commenter has me thinking about the nature of Political Correctness(PC). So, I found an article about the topic by Moira Weigel in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/nov/30/political-correctness-how-the-right-invented-phantom-enemy-donald-trump. The history of the term is fascinating. My question is: What does it mean to be accused of political correctness? It seems to me that Donald Trump uses those two words to call people smart!

I don’t mind being called smart, but PC carries with it many connotations. By using this trick of rhetoric – naming an imaginary opponent: The PC – he envisions a triad of straw men. There is the stereotype PC person: upper middle class liberal, academic or urbanite, personified as a snobbish, middle-aged, bald, goateed, guy in glasses wearing a corduroy jacket with leather elbow patches, and reading Proust. There is the good, clean Christian farmer of hearth and home, with ball cap, bib overalls, a Bible, a hound dog, a wife and a blunderbuss. (I was a farmer for eight years, sans wife and blunderbuss. And a non-theist so the Bible stayed on the shelf!) Then there is the savior class of rich folks: Trumpites. Or as Trump promised: “I’m going to hire the best people for my Cabinet”; best does not mean a ‘qualified expert,’ it means wealthy. Money, apparently gives one superior knowledge of any and all things.

Trump has convinced the farming third of the triad he would help them. He complains about Political Correctness, but then – he lies often and blatantly. His behavior suggests that the lie – an immoral, deceitful, attack-on-civility – is preferable to the cautious, respectful, moral, civility of being politically correct . Honestly, he won the election by advocating dishonesty. I’ve spoken on this blog about why I think this behavior is appealing to Evangelicals and other Trump supporters in spite of the obvious conflict. They are moralist who have almost nothing to moralize about without fags to pick on, or muslims, or women or whatever is on their list that day. They are willing to make faustian deals with anyone just to get an ounce of the superiority that gay-bashing provides. Their identities are based upon their ability to look down on someone “lesser” than themselves. The low-caste groups they love to hate are protected by political correctness. But, the moralists really want to call them names, pick on them and abuse them. The urge to bully others is a primary driver once it takes over.

They either can’t think for themselves or don’t want to; sometimes they are guided by religious dictates that require thoughtless allegiance to antiquated rules excluding “others”. They desperately try to maintain a status quo that has passed them by. Verbal meanness is something they have been denied by political correctness and it burns their biscuits. Trump has opened the floodgates of their anger and allows them to be as condescending as they want now. This will likely be their only reward from him.

Inbred prejudice is partly a survival mechanism; they are using what god gives them to survive. When they think about it, I mean seriously and objectively think, they realize that they aren’t treating others the way they would want to be treated and are embarrassed by their thoughts. It clashes with their prime religious directive, “Do unto others…” At least I hope that they are embarrassed, the future will be irredeemable if they are not. That dissonance makes them angrier. They see that they are on the poop end of the stick where it is quite unpleasant so they lash out at what they consider oppression. Passions are raised when they see gays getting legal protections and the muslims getting away with a normal life, and women as bosses so their gut level reaction is anger.

Unfortunately, their role-model is Donald Trump, who wears the facade of money well. His behavior is not the least bit polite. He looks great in a tux, but don’t mistake that for being civil. Dressing up a bully does not make the ill effects of his behavior any easier to take. Unless, of course, you have never stayed at a hotel as fancy as his, or worn your own tuxedo, or flown in your own jet. Those people fall for the shtick and the bluster. They know they are bound to this devil by their faustian bargain and at some point will begin to regret the deal. The politically correct people will eventually accept them back and forgive them because it is the PC thing to do. Until that happens Trump’s battle with civility must play out.

The hard part for evangelicals is that they gave up any moral high ground they may have had. In the past, they could at least say God was on their side. They can’t say that now, they made a deal with the devil and their’s is a vengeful god!

Win or Learn

On one hand is the idea that any moral code has certain noble and universal qualities. On the other hand, well, it’s full of the shit commonly known as reality.

‘Sweet mercy’ may indeed ‘be nobility’s true badge,’ so naturally, we are disillusioned by the vigor of Republicans and the Plutocracy they promote. Greed tramples mercy into oblivion. Our leaders, of all stripes, have no nobility. The conversation has been usurped by truthiness and deception.

If the Christian ideal of teaching by example were truly observed by the youth we would have a generation of lying, deceitful hypocrites who pray on Sunday and abuse mercy the rest of the week like the rich, well-heeled Plutocracy that now dominates America’s government.  What am I saying? Those people could be my freshman peers from the hyper-religious Grove City College in the 70’s who earned degrees in hypocrisy ostensibly by studying Biology or Spanish.  Mandatory chapel 35 times a semester only helped justify the debauchery at the frat house the night before.  Each student organization was labeled with the word: ‘Christian’ pointing out the impotence of the word itself. What isn’t ‘Christian’ if everything is labeled as such regardless of its true merit?

I taught Theatre Arts for a living. My students would study techniques for presenting metaphors of great ideas to a live audience. Now, the technology of my art has been stolen for nefarious purpose. The Plutocracy has scripted a fantasy of truthiness and dispersed it throughout mass media where it has taken hold of the gullible and lazy. I know of their tricks of illusion and persuasion, so it pains me to see them misused for deceitful political and theological purposes.

Persuasion has replaced discourse. Two sides are not ‘both alike in dignity’ when one says: “I am here to grow in understanding” and the other says: “I am here to win at all cost”. There is no nobility in the pretense of honest discourse when the only goal of one side is to persuade through deception. In the debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump you could almost see the library of knowledge and experience behind her as she discussed policy with detail. He, on the other hand, was steaming with red-faced passions and vitriolic pettiness shrouded in orange and yellow hair. As she spoke we were all focused on the melodrama, not her. She was upstaged. He gave a hyperbolic voice to frustrations and she said a lot of smart stuff. Which sells more? The spectacle, of course!

So, you take a block of styrofoam and carve it into a shape and paint it with gold paint and Ta Da! You have the substance of: TRUMP. Majestic, isn’t it? A genuine facade! Look, it’s gold! That’s impressive isn’t it? Well, maybe not to someone reading this, but much of America doesn’t see past the surface veneer.

When having a conversation with evangelical Christians, are they there to grow in understanding, or to win at all cost? Isn’t their mission to win? Christian Dominionists “believe they have a biblical mandate to control all earthly institutions including government” http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/02/14/dominionism-is-the-new-religious-freedom/#sthash.oZOGjF8a.dpuf. A conversation with them is the same as with a used car salesperson, “What will it take to have you drive out of here with a shinny newish Toyota?” Perhaps not as brash but certainly as determined and aggressive. They already know, with certainty, all they need to know. They are there to persuade, not to learn and grow together.

Due to their label, Christian, they have a facade as artificial as the gold-painted styrofoam that Trump has. The problem is that the word Dominionist is attached and that means dominate. God mandates that they control all of mankind until Christ returns. If this reminds you of Sharia Law then you’ve got the plan. Label everything “Christian” even if it is just waste removal or whatever, force attendance at chapel, require bible study in school, and turn a blind eye toward the human parts of life.

Money, gods, and racism are all tied up together in this Presidency. They all want dominance, and they don’t want to grow beyond their certainty. Truthiness has the upper hand right now. Does Democracy have what it takes to counter this stupidity or do we destroy and rebuild?