The death throes of Leviathan

***This is probably my last post here. Thanks to those who have read any of my bullshit.***

He might think of it as a worm, a giant worm, not a living worm but a carcass of a worm, a monstrous cadaver, its body consisting of numerous segments, its skin pimpled with spears and wheels and other technological implements. He knows from his own experience that the entire carcass is brought to artificial life by the motions of the human beings trapped inside, the zeks who operate the springs and wheels, just as he knows that the cadaverous head is operated by a mere zek, the head zek.

[…]

Everything is artifice, and whatever is not will soon be artifice. There is nothing outside but raw materials ready and waiting to be processed and transformed into Leviathanic excrement, the substance of the universe. Some raw materials resist the transformation more than others, but none can withstand the inexorable March of Progress.

I’ve long considered Fredy Perlman’s Leviathan to be a useful metanarrative for the totality of modern-day society (or culture, civilization, “the way things are,” etc.). In Against His-story Against Leviathan! he reimagines and recontextualizes the forms and functions of Hobbes’s Leviathan as it rampages across the globe. There have been numerous Leviathans throughout human history, continually configuring and reconfiguring, dissolving and recombining, but we have long since reached the point where it is One, containing most of humanity within its entrails.

With imagination, from the outside, one can perceive it in different lights, shimmering, obscuring – here it looks like a hellbeast despoiling the wild, there it looks like comfort and longer life spans granted to the fortunate. With imagination we can behold it as a collective whole – what it has done and what it is currently doing. Even then, we can only tenuously grasp the size and scale of its monstrosity.

There are many divisions within Leviathan, constantly warring against each other. Scraps are fought for by large conglomerations of entities – nation-states, corporations, revolutionary groups (both reactionary and otherwise). On a smaller scale, individuals and families fight for access to plush areas of Leviathan’s decaying interior in the hopes of remaining relatively free from the unsightliness of its worst excesses. Members of the fortunate classes do everything in their power to ensure that they and their progeny gain access to what they rightfully deserve. The unprivileged hordes, existing in the less desirable margins of Leviathan while being exploited for the benefit of their social betters, must know and accept their place for Leviathan to function properly.

Regardless of the manners in which classes of people are divided, within Leviathan we stagger ever ahead. The diffusion of control is such that there is no one person (no “head zek”), or collection of persons that can be said to have control over it. Sure, some may have more of a say in lurching this way or that, or conjuring different ways to execute its modus operandi, but it is accurate to say that it is largely autonomous. Its agenda consists of two primary components: depositing the raw materials of the earth into its gaping maw and, in its gut, cohering these raw materials into products which diffuse into every nook and cranny within the great creature. The primary concerns are related to how to go about doing this in the most profitable and efficient manner possible. These products – with their congealed and abstracted environmental destruction and human misery – find their way via labyrinthine pathways into every facet of human life. Surrounded by the fruits of mass production almost every second of every day, it is as impossible to conceive of the human/environmental costs of each and every product as it is to conceive of life without them.

In Leviathan’s wake, vibrant mountains are converted into poisonous slag heaps, bountiful estuaries into anoxic dead zones, biologically diverse forests into denuded greenhouse gas producing pasturelands. In short, converting the living into the dead. Capitalism and industrialization are the steroids that catalyzed pre-existing processes and kicked it into overdrive [1]. But it would miss the point to apportion blame solely to these hyperobjects – the origins of what we have wrought transcends both of these human creations, as elaborated by Perlman and many, many others.

Outside, there is no life, no existence – only materials waiting be consumed. Though that is not entirely accurate: there does happen to be some form of existence, however it is – as Hobbes contends – nasty, brutish and short. It is barely worthy of legibility to Leviathan, unless, at some point, it is determined that it stands in the way of Progress. Otherwise, there is little to no utility in its quasi-existence.

***

A few weeks back, the IPCC released yet another damning report about industrialized capitalism and its conduciveness to the continued existence of human and non-human life. Like this essay, its contents are broadly similar to what has been written, researched, and reported on 2, 5, and 10 years ago. More will be written – albeit with updated scientific data – 2, 5, or 10 years in the future. When confronted with this, many will shake their heads sadly and get on with their day. Because what else can you do? We are so habituated to “the way things are,” that we cannot conceive of how to live outside of the suffocating confines of Leviathan. This is unfortunate because there is the possibility that we will, out of necessity, be forced to do so.

To live with the prospect of impending, though vaguely defined doom is new to those of us that have never labored under the delusion of a religion-inspired apocalypse. It is also new to those too young to have lived with the threat of nuclear annihilation. What we are collectively facing is frustratingly vague – if it weren’t, if it were easy to comprehend its enormity, perhaps we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves. Perhaps more of us would actually perform meaningful actions to stop it.

I do not know what it’s like to believe that Jesus, with a flaming sword protruding from his mouth, will descend from heaven heralding the apocalypse. I do not know what it was like to live in fear of nuclear annihilation. The Bible’s vision of the endtimes is fantastical, but comprehensible. Nuclear annihilation is all too easy to understand. Both are less complicated and easier to grasp than what the depredations of the Anthropocene (the crystallization of Leviathan’s aforementioned modus operandi) and catabolic capitalism have in store [2].

***

Some see Leviathan for what it is and wish to extinguish its death-drive by any means short of violence against others. Thus far, despite scattered and localized success via direct action, their efforts have done little to so much as slow its gait. Their small numbers have left them largely unable to conjure tumors, or abscesses. When they do, they are easily ignored or scarred over. Moreover, Leviathan’s antibodies have proven to be very adept at infiltrating, entrapping, and mitigating infections.

Excepting illegal resistance – denied by most as desirable – leaves only the usual, unsuccessful means that have also utterly failed thus far: encouragement of responsible personal lifestyle choices and, especially in the heart of Leviathan, voting for the party that is partially less beholden to the same world-destroying interests as the grotesque party of rank bigotry, ignorance and gleeful earth annihilation. To think or believe this is sufficient is sheer wishful thinking – you may as well decide which god you find most likely to exist and get praying.

The balance of power in Washington has subtly shifted with the Democrats winning the house. Leaving aside what the political ramifications of this will be for the next two years, what if the Republicans maintain power in the next presidential election? Then what? Marches? Protests? Devastatingly witty and hilarious infotainment from celebrities and comedians? More liberal vote-shaming? More exhortations for mindful, “ecologically sound” consumerism? Not using plastic bags or straws? Will it be the same old shit that has proven unable to halt or slow our culture’s death march? Probably. And yet, much of the same things would happen under a more liberal administration but, insidiously, also containing the false sense of security that many will have with “the right people” regaining power. After all, 8 years of Obama did little to halt climate change, environmental destruction, and mass production/mass consumption (the same goes for income inequality, US imperialism, institutionalized racism, the Flint water crisis, the Dakota Access Pipeline, etc.).

On the heels of the latest damning report from the IPCC, millions are, as they have been for years, exposed to insipid bullshit like this:

See how easy it is? You can even feel a smug sense of superiority for your enlightened consumerism. After all, you’re doing YOUR part, and the only discomfort you need feel is in your pocketbook, as environmentally conscious products tend to be more expensive. (I kind of feel ripped off because I actually do many things considered to be “green” – and have for many years – but weirdly enough it hasn’t appeared to have made a difference (this should go without saying, but none of this should be taken as an argument against doing “green” things))

It should be obvious, but the vast majority of carbon emissions are the result of multinational corporations. So you reading this – assuming you are not a captain of industry – are not responsible for the existence of Leviathan and what it is doing to both its inhabitants and its host. What you do and don’t do within the context of living your day-to-day life probably doesn’t matter. You were born into a socio-politico-economic system you played no part in creating. However, you (and me) are responsible for attempting to stop those who maintain and perpetuate this destructive, fundamentally unequal/unjust socio-politico-economic system (that is, if you grant my premise, which I’m sure many of you don’t). Especially if you are a beneficiary of it. I won’t speak for anyone else but I know I’m failing.

***

If I’m correct that we are neither close to nor will ever be close to voluntarily reigning in Leviathan’s worst excesses, what is most likely to occur is a series of Hail Marys on a global scale. Geoengineering is inevitable – leave it to the First World to put our hopes in fixes that will allow us to maintain our lifestyle. In doing so we will, as we approach nearly every systemic problem, address only the symptoms while leaving the root causes undisturbed. It’s the easy way out (not that the specific geoengineering projects will be easy). We won’t abandon our hyper-consumptive lifestyles without being forced to do so. Perhaps these projects will enable “the way things are” to continue for the foreseeable future, and thus prolonging the inevitable need to confront the contradiction implicit in capitalism’s “infinite economic growth on a finite planet” ethos. Maybe this new Scientific Revolution could enable the oppressed classes to lead better lives – though if neoliberal capitalism continues as the global economic system this is almost impossible to believe.

In addition to the widespread implementation of geoengineering and its promises for a better tomorrow, there are two other broad paradigms that could be in store: the proliferation of dictatorships as resources dwindle and the consequences of climate change become impossible to ignore [3]; or collapse, as efforts to prop up Leviathan fail, leaving large amounts of people, land and resources outside of centralized state control.

If a series of collapses were to occur, the resulting communities would be kaleidoscopic in how they develop over time and depend on an uncountable number of variables: population density, environmental conditions, access to land and water, culture, religion, food acquisition techniques, self-defense abilities, base of knowledge of the natural world, and, perhaps most importantly, the extent to which any specific community is able to deal with breakdowns in the product distribution networks that are the hallmark of modern-day civilized life. Some will be violent and tyrannical. Some less so. Some friendly, others insular. Some will flourish, others will suffer and die. Some will defy conventional means of description. Most will be mixtures of every trait imaginable. And none will be static, as human communities are fluid and continuously changing.

Looking to the past, human societies have existed in countless forms throughout our history as a species [4]. To continue with the thematic narrative of the previous paragraph, some have been more egalitarian, some less so. Some relatively peaceful, some warlike. Some completely vegetarian and others almost entirely carnivorous. There have been socially stratified hunter-gatherers, and egalitarian agricultural villages. There have even been many societies that walked away from collapsed central power and thrived. Most of them haven’t rendered wide swathes of the planet uninhabitable for their human and non-human neighbors (the WWF recently determined that we have “wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970.”). And, perhaps, a number of post-collapse communities will tap into that legacy.

***

Cycling back to our present-day quagmire, to channel comrade Lenin, what is to be done? Shall we seize power and transition to some kind of eco-socialist economy that equitably distributes goods and services in a way that doesn’t destroy the biosphere [5]? Vote actual leftists into power in the hopes of mitigating at least some of the detrimental effects of mass production (and institutionalized racism, economic inequality, etc.)? Is it sufficient to merely find concrete ways to dissuade those who profit the most off of earth’s destruction? Should we myopically enact doomsday prepper fantasies? Participate in decentralized mutual aid networks in preparation for inevitable discrete and ongoing disasters that states are unable/unwilling to adequately address? Should we destroy oil extraction infrastructure? Torch gas guzzling vehicles and aircraft? Dismantle power-plant apparatuses? Or do we sit back, cling to our lifestyles based on extraction and consumption, and hope that Science and Technology, in conjunction with the friendlier capitalist political party, will save us?

Such is the immensity of Leviathan that there is an infinite number of things one can do. Such is the immensity of Leviathan that it is unknown to what extent anything one can do will actually matter – both globally and, to a lesser extent, locally. What is to be done?

There is one possible endgame – some of Leviathan’s inhabitants may claw their way out of its corpse, behold the world in a new light, and build societies on top of its decomposing remains. They may use the putrefying entrails, but these communities can work to ensure that they are never able to recombine into another monstrous iteration of Leviathan, and thus begin the world-destroying process anew. Maybe they’ll dance on the rotting husk of what used to be a world-encompassing death machine.

One may write this off as utopian and naïve. And you are very justified in thinking this, at least for those of us firmly entrenched in Leviathan. But for the indigenous the world over – from the Sentinelese in the Andaman Islands, to the San in southern Africa, to the Sami in northern Scandinavia, to the Mohawk Nation in Akwesasne straddling the border of the U.S and Canada (to say nothing of exploited, terrorized and endangered nonhuman animals) – it’s not at all inconceivable. Their hope lies in the death throes of Leviathan not taking them down as it feeds upon itself.

Perhaps I’m just plain wrong – a wild-eyed, Nietzschean madman stumbling about, howling “industrial civilization is killing the planet!” instead of “God is dead!” Steven Pinker might just be right about the likes of me. As I write this in my office cubicle, I can’t fathom how anyone in my vicinity would seriously consider more than a few things I’ve written to have merit (the same goes, I think, for many readers who’ve made it this far). Like me, they want to finish their work, go home, and live their lives. They have other things to worry about. Broadly, tomorrow will be like today. Next week will look like last week. Next month will be similar to last month. But it seems as if we are inching closer to… something. After all, our culture’s doomsday prophesiers are not the charlatans of yore; instead, they are those to whom we in the West have entrusted the empirical study of the totality of existence to.

In closing, I’m reminded of Ishmael, by the late Daniel Quinn, which is sadly even more relevant today than it was in 1992. The novel features a series of conversations between Ishmael, a gorilla-sage, and the unidentified narrator, a surrogate for the privileged, civilized man who senses things maybe aren’t so great:

Ishmael frowned […] “As long as the people of your culture are convinced that the world belongs to them and that their divinely-appointed destiny is to conquer and rule it, then they are of course going to go on acting the way they’ve been acting for the past ten thousand years. They’re going to go on treating the world as if it were a piece of human property and they’re going to go on conquering it as if it were an adversary. You can’t change these things with laws. You must change people’s minds. And you can’t just root out a harmful complex of ideas and leave a void behind; you have to give people something that is as meaningful as what they’ve lost — something that makes better sense than the old horror of Man Supreme, wiping out everything on this planet that doesn’t serve his needs directly or indirectly.”

I shook my head. “What you’re saying is that someone has to stand up and become to the world of today what Saint Paul was to the Roman Empire.”

“Yes, basically. Is that so daunting?”

I laughed. “Daunting isn’t nearly strong enough. To call it daunting is like calling the Atlantic damp.”

“Is it really so impossible in an age when a stand-up comic on television reaches more people in ten minutes than Paul did in his entire lifetime?”

“I’m not a stand-up comic.”

“But you’re a writer, aren’t you?”

“Not that kind of writer.”

Ishmael shrugged. “Lucky you. You are absolved of any obligation. Self-absolved.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What were you expecting to learn from me? An incantation? A magic word that would sweep all the nastiness away?”

“No.”

“Ultimately, it would seem you’re no different from those you profess to despise: You just wanted something for yourself. Something to make you feel better as you watch the end approach.”

[…]

“One thing I know people will say to me is ‘Are you suggesting we go back to being hunter-gatherers?’ ”

“That of course is an inane idea,” Ishmael said. “The Leaver life-style isn’t about hunting and gathering, it’s about letting the rest of the community live — and agriculturalists can do that as well as hunter-gatherers.” He paused and shook his head. “What I’ve been at pains to give you is a new paradigm of human history. The Leaver life is not an antiquated thing that is ‘back there’ somewhere. Your task is not to reach back but to reach forward.”

“But to what? We can’t just walk away from our civilization the way the Hohokam did.”

“That’s certainly true. The Hohokam had another way of life waiting for them, but you must be inventive — if it’s worthwhile to you. If you care to survive.” He gave me a dull stare. “You’re an inventive people, aren’t you? You pride yourselves on that, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Then invent.”

__________

[1] It is both tragic and somewhat fitting that the home city of the Venetian Octopus (Perlman’s term for pre-modern sea-based Leviathans), which played an integral role in the rise of globalized capitalism, will likely be rendered uninhabitable by it.

[2] Craig Collins describes catabolic capitalism as “a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it. As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.” This already exists in parts of the world – the question is to what extent the affluent West will experience it. The article is well worth reading in full and I can’t help but quote a bit more of it:

Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

[…]

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking nature for profit. Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one. [emphasis added]

[3] Again I quote Collins:

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism [the most recent example being the absolutely vile Bolsonaro in Brazil]. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

[4] One can find sources just about anywhere. While writing this, I had in mind Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States by James C. Scott and Worshiping Power: An Anarchist View of Early State Formation by Peter Gelderloos. I don’t expect anyone to actually purchase them so, if interested, check out this rather long article by David Graeber and David Wengrow.

[5] Unlike the Soviet and Maoist Leviathans – both as adept at world destruction as the capitalist West – hopefully this new “dictatorship of the proletariat” would actually progress towards a state in which the very scaffolds propping up Leviathan wither away. Seems unlikely.

Evangelical haunted houses

The Cut has an article about the traumatizing and manipulative world of evangelical haunted houses, replete with scenes of mass shootings, abortion, suicide, and domestic violence. I’m writing about this because it’s both interesting and features my wife (under a pseudonymous first name):

I don’t exactly remember how it started, but I think at the beginning of the scene you were watching a guy talk to himself, or something. And after a couple minutes of this, it was like they broke the fourth wall — you could hear the cast and crew in the background talking louder and louder, and then people with headsets started to race through the crowd. And they’re going, “We’ve gotta get out of here! Somebody’s got a gun!”

[…]

And then the room went black, and a gun noise went off, with a flash. It sounded exactly like somebody had come in and started shooting in the room. People were crouching, and people were screaming. Because we all thought it was real. We all really thought we were going to die.

I grew up Catholic and had no idea of such things before we met. Some time ago we tried to find one to go to, but the closest was two states away. So it seems these aren’t very prevalent anymore. It’s probably for the best.

Good Guy With a Gun fails to stop Bad Guy With a Gun because “whites don’t shoot whites”

You’ve probably already heard the story:

Gregory Alan Bush, a 51-year-old white man, was arrested and charged with two counts of murder and 10 counts of felony wanton endangerment, according to Wave 3 News. He reportedly walked into the supermarket in Jeffersontown—a suburb of Louisville—and fired multiple shots at one man before walking outside and firing more shots at a woman in the parking lot. Jeffersontown Police Chief Sam Rogers confirmed that both victims died at the scene.

[…]

The victims of the shooting have been identified as 69-year-old Maurice Stallard and 67-year-old Vicki Lee Jones, both of whom are black.

[…]

Ed Harrell, who was waiting in the parking lot for his wife, Elaine, to come out of the store, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that when he saw Bush exit the store with a gun in his hand, he pulled his own revolver, crouched beside his car and asked Bush what was going on.

“Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites,” Bush told him.

Harrell “wasn’t sure what to do but said as the gunman moved a little, he dived behind a car and watched as the shooter got in a vehicle and drove off.

I just wonder what was in the mind of the gun fucker on the receiving end of the white brotherhood speech. These assholes fantasize about being in positions like this – after all, he felt the need to bring a gun to a grocery store. When presented with a chance to stop the bad guy with a gun, he chose not to even try. Hopefully it was cowardice. Better that than the alternative: perhaps he felt the gunman made a salient point.

Or maybe I’m being too judgmental. God knows I’d probably piss my pants and run for cover were I in that situation. And, well, I’m not too comfortable with guns. But I’d like to think if, gun in hand, I had the chance to kill a white supremacist on a shooting spree I’d pull the fucking trigger.

Elizabeth Warren

While I have thoughts on Elizabeth Warren taking and releasing the results of a DNA test that “proves” her Native American heritage (apparently between 1/32 and 1/1024th), this post is primarily concerned with highlighting responses from those who know far more than I.

The following, from Kim TallBear, author of Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science, has been retweeted by multiple people today:

The tweet thread, which I don’t know how to embed, continues

more rarely they claim to be “part” choctaw, blackfoot, apache….but most often it’s a claim to be cherokee.

many people ask me for advice on which DNA test to take to prove they have a Cherokee ancestor. #ElizabethWarren is NOT unique in her claim.

‏where do i begin in responding? it is always a similar story, similarly vague. there’s a deep need that a lot of folks have to be an Indian.

i see a pervasive fetishization of ancestry alone, and very little notion that a tribal or indigenous community actually matters.

i like to quote peter dwyer: “the idea of evolution has conditioned an odd understanding. that we are what we were, and not what we became.”

many of the cherokee DNA test takers in fact will find no or very little indigenous ancestry. many will find no name on a record.

….ask yourself why it matters so much. lots of white folks who newly ID as “multi-racial” on the US census are checking the Native Am box

are folks trying to escape whiteness? trying to claim in addition to all of the land & resources a right to our IDs via claims to our DNA?

white people who want to be cherokee, challenge white supremacy where you see it instead. has the settler-state not already taken enough?

indigenous bodies/DNA shouldn’t be a refuge from discomforting whiteness, nor for POC who seek DNA a response to white supremacist exclusion

if folks privilege DNA company declarations of who is indigenous they’re saying (mostly white) geneticists have the right to define us.

debated as citizenship rules are globally, privileging geneticists’ criteria alone over more complex tribal criteria, is a colonial move.

basic genetics is difficult. basic tribal enrollment more so. don’t expect to understand quickly. but both knowledges are essential.

geneticists don’t get tribal citizenship. most Natives don’t get genetics. IMO training indigenous scientists is key to tribal sovereignty.

clarification: scientists w/ indigenous community exper, not just indigenous ancestry will do science that cares for indigenous social life.

Today she tweeted “oh fun! waking up to the first media inquiry of the day on #elizabethwarren. she’s like michael myers. no matter the weapon, this story WILL NOT DIE. i tweeted everything i had to say in june 2016. here’s the wakelet if you missed it.”

The link for that is here.

From journalist Jacqueline Keeler:

This “race-based” argument was recently cited by a federal judge in Texas to declare ICWA unconstitutional and in violation of the 14th Amendment. The goal here is to declare TRIBES unconstitutional because they are “race-based.” #ElizabethWarren #Indigenous #Termination 2/5

The writing is on the wall: Tribes need to get rid of blood quantum or disappear politically.

Also, who knows how many DNA tests she took before getting the result she wanted?  #ElizabethWarren #Indigenous 4/5

The net result? She’s fighting for HER political ascension but at the cost of OUR political credibility. #ElizabethWarren #Indigenous #Termination 5/5

From writer Rebecca Nagle:

This is very true – I wasn’t able to really find anything from a Native perspective, both in articles I read as well as any written by a Native person. Nagle wrote the following last year:

In defending her supposed Native identity, Warren has drawn from both racist stereotypes and easily refutable stories about her familyAt a 2012 press conference Warren stated that her family knew her grandfather was “part” Cherokee because “he had high cheekbones like all of the Indians.” Cherokee genealogists have pored through her family history to find that “None of her direct line ancestors are ever shown to be anything other than white, dating back to long before the Trail of Tears.” To add insult to injury, despite Warren’s public claims of Native American heritage, she has decidedly avoided talking with Native leaders and, in 2012, refused to meet with a group of Cherokee women at the Democratic National Convention.

She even helpfully drafted an apology:

I am deeply sorry to the Native American people who have been greatly harmed by my misappropriation of Cherokee identity. I want to especially apologize to the over 350,000 citizens of Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the United Keetoowah Band. In my family, there is an oral history of being Cherokee, however, research on my genealogy going back over 150 years does not reveal a single Native ancestor. Like many Americans who grew up with family members claiming to be Cherokee, I now know that my family’s stories were based on myth rather than fact. I am not enrolled in any of the three Federally recognized Cherokee Tribes, nor am I an active member of any Cherokee or Native American community. Native Nations are not relics of the past, but active, contemporary, and distinct political groups who are still fighting for recognition and sovereignty within the United States. Those of us who claim false Native identity undermine this fight.

I am sorry for the real damage that Native Americans have experienced as the debate about my false identity has revived the worst stereotypes and offensive racist remarks, all while Native people have been silenced. I will do my part as a Senator to push for the United States to fully recognize tribal nations’ inherent sovereignty and uphold our treaty obligations to Native Nations. I will use my national platform to advance the rights of Native Americans and I commit to building real relationships in Indian Country as an ally and supporter.

But nah, why apologize? Instead, Warren had to do the whitest thing possible. Sorry Elizabeth, we suck ass and this further proves you are one of us.

Finally, here’s a different perspective, from Ruth H. Hopkins, former journalist for Indian Country Today:

Elizabeth Warren has stood up against Trump from day 1, sometimes alone. I respect that. She’s also come out to protect the good name of Pocahontas, who was a prepubescent Native girl who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted and held hostage by European invaders.

DNA tests do not make one Native. We are so much more than that. Natives belong to over 570 different tribes in the U.S. alone. No DNA test can point toward what tribe(s) you’re from. Each tribe has its own language, culture, history and system of kinship.

Warren is not claiming tribal membership. Rather, distant descendancy. This is her truth. She has shown that she is not fraud in that she has not used Native heritage to gain employment. Time to put down the pitchforks. I will support Warren as long as she fights for my People.

Let’s clear this up now: tribal membership is NOT race based. It’s a distinct political classification distinguished by the fact that tribes are sovereign nations that predate the U.S. & made treaties with the U.S.Claiming Native ancestry is NOT the same as being a tribal member.

Tribes themselves determine what qualifies individuals for membership.

For context, this is what she’s referring to in the initial tweet:

The voter ID law was introduced just months after Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, eked out a narrow upset victory in 2012, winning by less than 3,000 votes. Republican lawmakers responded by passing restrictive voter ID legislation that all but guaranteed that large numbers of Native Americans — who tend to vote Democratic — wouldn’t be able to participate in the political process. Specifically, the law requires voters to bring to the polls an ID that displays a “current residential street address” or other supplemental documentation that provides proof of such an address.

This may seem like an innocuous requirement, but in practice, it’s likely to disenfranchise thousands of Native Americans, many of whom live on reservations in rural areas and don’t have street addresses. Since the U.S. Postal Service doesn’t provide residential mail delivery in remote areas, many members of North Dakota’s Native American tribes list their mailing addresses, like P.O. boxes, on their IDs. And some also don’t have supplemental documentation, like a utility bill or bank statement, because of homelessness or poverty. Now, because the Supreme Court refused to block the law, people who show up at their polling station with a P.O. box on their ID will be turned away.

Possible solutions include:

According to the ND state government as written in a statement with a regarding line tilted “Helping Native Americans to be able to vote in North Dakota Elections,” residents without a street ID should contact their county’s 911 coordinator to sign up for a free street address and request a letter confirming that address.

In response, other organizations are jumping to the cause.

Native Vote ND

The Facebook page of Native Vote ND has been sharing the official instructions.

“If you encounter anyone who says to you that they do not have a residential street address to provide to either the DOT or the tribal government to obtain an ID, please encourage them to reach out to the 911 Coordinator in the county in which their residence exists to start the simple process to have the address assigned,” says the post in part.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians – Free Tribal ID Days

Jamie Azure, the tribal chairman of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, who calls the ruling “horrible timing” tells of the tribe’s current ‘Free Tribal ID Days, in which residents can get an updated tribal ID with a residential address at no charge.

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is informing their tribal members to get in touch if they need help obtaining a residential address. The tribe will also be offering drivers to take residents to the ballot boxes on Election Day.

Tribal Voting Letter with name, birthdate and address available at ND Government Offices

According to the Bismarck Tribune, “Bret Healy, a consultant for Four Directions, which is led by members of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the organization believes it has a common-sense solution.

“The group is working with tribal leaders in North Dakota to have a tribal government official available at every polling place on reservations to issue a tribal voting letter that includes the eligible voter’s name, date of birth and residential address.”

The Tribune told tribal leaders that such letters would be accepted as proof of residency.

Getting back to Hopkins’s tweet thread; though I do not have a political ax to grind, I am very much guilty of doing what she described, as I agree with the TallBear, Keeler and Nagle and highlight their arguments. Hers was the last argument I came across during the process of writing this. Rather than omitting it, or junking the whole blog altogether, I thought I should include it. It’s something to keep in mind for sure.

For what it’s worth, I’m not coming from the perspective of someone supporting X Democratic candidate, as I dislike them all to varying degrees. And I certainly don’t give credence to the ways in which the right view this story (of course they’re using it to double down on being gross).

Overall, Warren would have been better off dropping it, or better yet engaging with actual Native Americans with valid criticisms of her claims, rather than confronting a rotten ghoul who sits at the head of a political party whom would never, under any circumstances, accept any semblance of proof or facts in her favor.

There exists a world in which Elizabeth Warren wins the Democratic primary in 2020, and Trump will attempt to dominate, mock, and humiliate her – perhaps he’ll literally start whooping with his hand on his mouth to the glee of his repulsive horde. At any rate, since she’s very likely running, this isn’t the last we’ll hear about it.

Arguments over the legacy of Howard Zinn

I consider A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Though I haven’t so much as looked at it in 15 or so years, I can’t understate how much it has affected my worldview.

With my admission of bias out of the way, let’s move on.

Slate published an article from Sam Wineburg, Professor of Education and History at Stanford, that discusses how APH is problematic on many levels, bereft of references, and all-around bad history:

But in other ways—ways that strike at the very heart of what it means to learn history as a discipline—A People’s History is closer to students’ state-approved texts than its advocates are wont to admit. Like traditional textbooks, A People’s History relies almost entirely on secondary sources, with no archival research to thicken its narrative. Like traditional textbooks, the book is naked of footnotes, thwarting inquisitive readers who seek to retrace the author’s interpretative steps. And, like students’ textbooks, when A People’s History draws on primary sources, these documents serve to prop up the main text but never provide an alternative view or open a new field of vision.

Zinn’s undeniable charisma turns dangerous, especially when we become attached to his passionate concern for the underdog. The danger mounts when we are talking about how we educate the young, those who do not yet get the interpretive game, who are just learning that claims must be judged not for their alignment with current issues of social justice but for the data they present and their ability to account for the unruly fibers of evidence that jut out from any interpretative frame. It is here that Zinn’s power of persuasion extinguishes students’ ability to think and speaks directly to their hearts.

This could ring true for any youth who doesn’t get the “interpretive game,” and certainly applies to every textbook in every history course. Why Zinn is singled out says a lot about Wineburg. Moreover, by virtue of Zinn’s iconoclastic portrayal of American history, it may force the student to actually think far more than they would when receiving the turgid received wisdom of mainstream American doctrine – whether that’s the catalyst for further investigation, or constructing a reactionary defense for the venerable stars and stripes. One might even say it jump-starts the “interpretive game.” It definitely played a part in that for me.

In the 38 years since its original publication, A People’s History has gone from a book that buzzed about the ear of the dominant narrative to its current status, where in many circles it has become the dominant narrative. It shows up on college reading lists for economics, political science, anthropology, cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic studies, Chicano studies, and African American studies courses, along with history. A People’s History (in its various editions and adaptations) remains a perennial favorite in courses for future teachers, and in some of these classes, it is the only history book on the syllabus.

A citation is sorely needed for this (something he accuses Zinn of not doing). Anecdotally, I know of no one who had to read it for any high school or college course, much less it being the ONLY one. Noted douchebag Jonathan Chait tweeted the following about this:

After receiving responses akin to what I wrote, he qualifies his initial tweet by saying he “received several replies like this from MSM journalists. I have no idea if using Zinn as a primary text is common, but i’s [sic] a thing that happens.” One response I enjoyed comes from Professor of Russian History at Georgetown, Greg Afinogenov:

The tweet thread devolves from there as one expects from Twitter with many proponents of many viewpoints tearing each other apart. Regardless, the prevalence of APH as a primary text doesn’t seem to have much evidence.

For what it’s worth, in 2015 Politifact, in response to a claim made by Rick Santorum, rated the question “Is book by Howard Zinn the ‘most popular’ high-school history textbook?” as mostly false.

The final point of Wineburg’s I bring up in order to introduce a rebuttal written by David Detmer, Professor of History at Notre Dame, and author of the recently released Zinnophobia. Wineburg writes:

In many ways, A People’s History and traditional textbooks are mirror images that relegate students to roles as absorbers, not analysts, of information—only at different points on the political spectrum. In a study that examined features of historical writing, linguist Avon Crismore found that historians frequently use qualifying language to signal the soft underbelly of historical certainty. However, when she looked at historians’ writing in textbooks, such linguistic markers disappeared. A search through A People’s History for qualifiers mostly comes up short. Instead, the seams of history are concealed by the presence of an author who speaks with thunderous certainty.

One of Detmer’s more devastating critiques comes in response to this:

How, then, does Wineburg demonstrate that Zinn’s text is “closed-minded,” and exhibits “undue certainty”? He argues that, whereas “historians frequently use qualifying language to signal the soft underbelly of historical certainty,” Zinn does not do so: “a search in A People’s History for qualifiers mostly comes up empty”; Zinn’s approach “detests equivocation and extinguishes perhapsmaybemight, and the most execrable of them all, on the other hand.”

Well then, are Wineburg’s claims true? For example, does Zinn’s text “extinguish” the word “perhaps”? To the contrary, his book employs that term a total of 101 times, not counting instances in which the word appears in quotations, or in Zinn’s paraphrases of the views of others. Zinn uses this “extinguished” word on pages 2, 5, 11, 16 (twice), 17, 18 (three times), 21, 22, 29 (twice), 32, 36 (twice), 37, 47, 49 (twice), 60, 67, 77, 81, 99, 110, 112, 114, 120, 138, 141, 162, 172 (three times), 174, 185, 188, 208 (twice), 233, 236, 238, 242, 249, 268, 273, 281, 289, 294, 326, 331, 340, 354, 357 (twice), 360, 366, 372, 387, 395 (three times), 404, 422 (twice), 426, 427, 428, 443 (twice), 449, 459, 463, 484, 486, 501, 506, 510, 511, 514, 517, 519, 557, 564 (twice), 567, 585, 591, 594, 596, 597 (three times), 598, 619, 636, 638, 648, 655, and 679.

Similarly, while it is true that Zinn uses “maybe” and “might” infrequently, he makes up for it by using “seem,” “seems,” and “seemed” to qualify many of his assertions. Excluding the use of these words in quotations from others, Zinn himself employs them in A People’s History 130 times. They can be found on pages 5, 14, 15, 19, 35, 40 (three times), 47, 50, 53, 54, 60, 61, 65, 66, 68, 70 (twice), 72, 79, 80, 83, 86 (twice), 90, 95, 99, 100 (three times), 103, 104, 106, 109, 136, 142, 150, 160, 164, 198, 219, 228, 235, 264, 273, 295, 301, 303, 346, 353 (twice), 359 (twice), 374, 382 (twice), 395, 402 (twice), 409, 410, 411, 414, 418, 419, 422, 424, 425, 426, 428, 434, 440, 441 (twice), 442 (twice), 450, 453, 459, 463, 474, 476, 479, 492, 499, 504 (twice), 506, 510, 512, 523, 524, 536, 541, 546, 548, 553, 554, 555 (twice), 559, 561, 562, 564, 565 (twice), 575, 576, 579, 582, 584, 585, 594, 595, 596 (twice), 597, 599, 610, 611, 612, 613, 621, 638 (three times), 676, and 679 (twice).

Even “on the other hand,” the qualifying phrase that Wineburg claims to be, from the standpoint of a dogmatist like Zinn, “the most execrable of all,” is not “extinguished,” but rather appears fifteen times in A People’s History, not counting its use in a quotation from another writer. More to the point, the idea that there is another “hand,” that is, another side to things—evidence that points in a direction other than, and often opposite to, what Zinn has been saying, is expressed often in his text. It is just that he doesn’t usually mark this with the phrase “on the other hand,” preferring “still,” “yet,” “and yet,” “though,” “although,” “nevertheless,” “but,” and several other words and phrases. Sometimes he simply begins a new sentence or paragraph by laying out counterevidence to what he has been saying or arguing, without indicating this with any special word or phrase.

This, to me, is pretty strong evidence against one of Wineburg’s main theses (in my opinion, the rest of them are also pretty much demolished by Detmer). Detmer further singles out specific events and painstakingly shows why Wineburg’s interpretation of Zinn’s presentation of the event in question appears to be faulty.

Detmer continues:

What might a more complete analysis reveal? First, by nearly all accounts, including those of Zinn’s critics, A People’s History is clearer, and written in a more agreeable style, than other standard American history texts. Secondly, Zinn’s text, because of his definite point of view and strong authorial presence, exhibits a coherence and consistency of tone that greatly enhances its readability. In this respect it differs markedly from the competitor texts, many of which are written by committee. These texts typically strive to be “objective” and inoffensive, with the result that they largely consist of masses of facts piled promiscuously on top of one another, in such a way as to make no point, tell no story, and hold no one’s interest. Clear, well-written books with a consistent point of view are more likely to be read than are bland, play-it-safe, compendiums of unthreatening facts. Thirdly, Zinn’s book pays substantial, and largely positive, attention to people who are often slighted in traditional texts: women, blacks, other racial and ethnic minorities, laborers, artists, writers, musicians, and political radicals. Students who are members of these groups, or are children of parents who are, may well as a result take a greater interest in A People’s History than they would in a book that excludes, marginalizes, or denigrates them [emphasis added – this more than anything is what has stayed with me over the years; it’s what I loved most and thought was so important about APH]. Fourthly, Zinn’s book offers an understanding of American society that runs counter to the dominant narrative that one encounters relentlessly throughout the culture. Accordingly, it seems likely that it would challenge some readers (principally those who have accepted the dominant narrative) and inspire others (primarily those who have been marginalized by that narrative, or who, for some other reason, have regarded it with suspicion). All of these factors seem likely to result in Zinn’s book being read, analyzed, pondered, discussed, quarreled with, and argued about much more than is the case with traditional texts.

Detmer ends by circling back to the idea of “certainty” and critiques Wineburg’s unwarranted certainty and contrasts it with his conception of how much of it is supposedly displayed by Zinn:

But Wineburg exhibits no doubt that he knows better than the hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers [out of some 3.2 million high school teachers (the fraction of which teach history I don’t know) plus another 21,000 professors of history, this is a pretty small percentage of the total] who seem to think that they are achieving good educational outcomes by teaching Zinn’s text. As a measure of his certainty, consider the following chart, which shows, both in his original American Educator essay and the updated Slate version, the number of times he uses “perhaps,” “maybe,” and “on the other hand” (not counting their use in quotations from others) when he is writing about Zinn:

“perhaps”  “maybe” “on the other hand”
American Educator article 0 0 0
Slate article 0 0  0

Oops! I forgot that in arriving at these statistics I also had to exclude Wineburg’s use of these words in sentences in which he claims that Zinn’s failure to use them condemns him as a closed-minded dogmatist.

In sum, Wineburg’s essays do indeed succeed in calling attention to work that is “closed-minded” and guilty of “undue certainty.” But this work is that of Sam Wineburg, not Howard Zinn.

The arguments in Wineburg’s article might make sense if APH is widely used and recognized as the be-all end-all of how one learns about US history. I don’t think this is the case and I don’t think many actually think it. This is not to say APH is beyond reproach – I’m certain if I reread it I would find faults with it. But I doubt they would line up with what Wineburg thinks.

Finally – Detmer may want to consider sending Wineburg a thank you note for lofting up easily refuted softballs right before the release of his book. Unfortunately, a quick Google search shows that his response has only shown up in George Washington University’s History News Network and Counterpunch. Neither of which has the readership of Slate. It’s pretty shitty to think how many were introduced to Zinn this way.

Teen Vogue: your mainstream source for radical leftist politics

Without doing any research whatsoever, I believe Teen Vogue to be some kind of a fashion magazine targeting teenagers that is probably related to Vogue magazine. So it is not exactly the type of place one would expect to find a very cool, well written, and succinct anarchist primer.

This is something you would never see in respectable mainstream or center-left media. I get the feeling that they detest having to report on the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both of whom are far more palatable than any anarchist (with the possible exception of David Graeber). Unfortunately for them, with the failures of centrist liberalism leading to many shifting leftward, they are increasingly forced to take notice.

Despite this increased popularity, if you consider trash political festivals or op-eds in prestige mainstream media, you’ll rarely, if ever, see prominent socialist/communist/anarchist thinkers being featured. As douchebags like Malcolm Gladwell cry about deplatforming the likes of Steve Bannon, you can rest assured that they could not care less about representation coming from the other side of the political spectrum.

But it’s easy to understand one of the reasons why the left is ignored or reluctantly tolerated when there’s enough of them making noise. While the far-right merely wants to use the institutions for their ends – emblematic of this is how cozy they are with the police – the far left is a threat to those very entities. Different strands are more likely to want to smash it all in order to build something better.

Getting back to the Teen Vogue article, the nature of its very existence highlights the truism that capitalists will absolutely sell you the ideological ropes to hang them with because they do not foresee you actually being able to do so. On the other hand, anticapitalists (which I believe the author to be) aren’t averse to using capitalism to spread their propaganda. This leads to the idea of whether or not the “master’s tools can be used to dismantle the master’s house.” For slavery in the antebellum south – sure. Take the master’s gasoline and matches and destroy his fucking house. For capitalism, such things are not so simple. But I have to say I like the idea of anarchism as a counterbalance to pervasive mainstream political culture worming its way into impressionable minds via unconventional means.

Maybe give it a read and join the preeminent blogger of FtB in raising the black flag.

A heartwarming tale of redemption for the singer of a shitty Christian metal band

To be a fan of metal can be annoying if you care at all about supporting people who aren’t terrible. The vast majority of bands in the genres (and genre crossovers, and subgenres, and subgenres of subgenres, etc.) are composed of cishet white dudes. Because of this, one has to be – again, if they even care – on guard against supporting racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, rapists, and garden variety garbage people. I suppose in this regard it’s not all that different from supporting the work or art of any person you don’t know – artists, politicians, comedians, scholars, bloggers, etc.

As I Lay Dying – God, what a terrible name – is a Christian metalcore band. Metalcore is basically a hybrid of hardcore (itself an offshoot of punk) and metal that began in the early 90’s and whose best days were over by the end of that decade. One might think that Christians wouldn’t be very good at playing such evil sounding music, but Christian bands are among the genre’s best: Zao, Disciple, Living Sacrifice, Strongarm, Overcome. Not among those bands, in my opinion, is AILD, who began in 2000 and signed to Metal Blade Records in 2003 (this is indicative of their popularity within the context of the underground metal scene).

But the good times didn’t last as the singer, Tim Lambesis, was convicted of trying to have his wife killed in 2013 – I’m not certain, but I don’t think is something Jesus approves of. I don’t want to get too into the convoluted timeline, but it seems he stopped being Christian without telling anyone in the years leading up to the attempted murder-for-hire. He further claimed the band wasn’t really Christian, which they vehemently denied (I love the idea that he pretended to be Christian just to sell his band’s music and merchandise to Christians). Anyways, it seems it was during his “atheist phase” that he tried to have his wife killed.

Lambesis served his time – 2 whole years – and was released in 2016. Somewhat hilariously, he sued the State of California for $35 million because they wouldn’t provide a prescription to combat his withdrawal from steroids (the toxic mixture of atheism and steroid usage are the true culprits in all of this). But, whatever, he’s out now and AILD has triumphantly reunited (check the comments for how to be a terrible online atheist)! In the months leading to the reunion, Lambesis had this to say

I cannot say for certain what life looks like going forward as so much is different now and I’m still learning. Music always has and always will be a part of me, and has helped me get through the darkest parts of my journey. However, this apology is not a part of promoting anything [Sure, right]. Rumors circulate, and that’s something I’ve learned to accept, but this apology is just that, an apology to everyone around me.

I’ve remained silent to the public since expressing remorse at my sentencing because time seemed like the best way to promote healing. Today marks the first opportunity to freely apologize without any motivation to gain favor from the courts, as I have now completed the entirety of my legal sentence (including the completion of all parole/probation requirements). Let it be clear that no amount of time served can right my wrongs. I do not feel deserving of a second chance and am not asking for anyone’s trust [Several months later, he apparently made the decision that he very much deserves a second chance; though, no doubt, he will make no such claim publicly]. The way many people feel about me makes sense, and only time will tell if my future actions line up with my remorse, something I pray for every day. In the last five years, the ripple effect of all my actions has extended further than a written statement can address. Thus, I will continue to apologize in both words and actions moving forward.

People who like bad music are really psyched – shows are selling out, or being put in larger venues.

The band claims that the singer might be a Christian again:

[Lambesis] has spent much of the last year re-evaluating what originally convinced him to abandon belief in God. After much brokenness and repentance he sees things differently, considers himself a follower of Jesus, someone submitted to the will of God, or whatever you want to call it,” adding, “That’s for him to talk about when he’s comfortable and only time will tell if he is sincere.

That was from 2014 and occurred a couple months after his conviction. It does not appear he’s addressed his faith, or lack thereof (aside from the reference to praying in his statement above), but I can’t wait for the interview where he explicitly blames his atheist lapse for leading him astray. Because who among the godless readers of this blog hasn’t used their non-belief to justify orchestrating the murder of someone close to them?

I checked out a few Christian sites to see how this is being handled among those types. A sampling:

I, for one, am hoping Tim is a changed man and becomes a productive member of society once more. Often the greatest stories of redemption carry the heavy burden of failure. Tim will have to earn people’s trust and prove he’s different. He has a long road ahead of him and his crime will always haunt him. Yet, I’m hopeful. My story is marked by failure and shortcoming, but people were kind enough to believe in me when I was at my worst.

You don’t have to listen to or support As I Lay Dying’s return, but I think we can all agree that the best hope for a broken world, is reformed healers who mend the parts they’ve shattered [I, for one, don’t agree with this simplistic nonsense].

If that happens, we might just see more people’s evil actions become a story of redemption and reconciliation. [Right]

[L]ambesis points to his embrace of atheism as precipitating the whole thing. There’s a long and storied argument about whether objective morality can exist in a universe without a creator, and a lot of atheists take personal offense at it because they think it implies that atheists are inherently immoral. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case [THANKS BRO!], but I have encountered plenty of people in my own life who, upon losing their religious faith, used it as an excuse to do horrible and ugly things to the people around them. What I am fairly certain of is that a rupture in worldview seems to make people behave abominably [ESPECIALLY when Christians morph into atheists]. When our ideological presuppositions come out from under us, our true, ugly selves are revealed [I love the idea that he apparently thinks Christians like himself are “ugly” and need their religion to keep their “true” selves locked below the surface. I almost wished I gave a shit about being Catholic so I could have went fucking wild when I rejected it. Sad]

That’s a scary thing. Scarier than after-school-special-style ‘roid rage, almost.

Scary stuff indeed. I’m scared.

Lambesis, of course, will be fine – there are many who fucking love redemption stories of men coming back from the bad things they’ve done. That’s what makes it so galling when people like Michael Ian Black (“we’re in a cultural moment in which some men who do terrible things have no pathway for redemption”) mewl about how it’s apparently a difficult thing for men to regain their lost status. Motherfucker, the roadmap for doing so is very well established. One only needs to have the requisite social capital in relation to whatever it is they did/said. Add in a dose of real or feigned contrition and you can be well on your way to regain lost status.

There are many, many bands that are far better than AILD in the underground metal scene. Due to this, I actually am a bit shocked at the response because they are so derivative, so generic. I should add I think it would be unfair to single out the Christian portion of their fan-base as they have wide crossover appeal to the non-religious. How nice that shitty, banal music can unite them in supporting someone who was thankfully too inept to coordinate the murder of his wife during a protracted phase of atheism and ‘roid rage.

After many harrowing months the redemption of Louis CK has commenced

Louis CK is back! Fittingly, he performed unannounced, forcing himself on an audience that didn’t know they were paying to see him. But that was no matter because, in a situation similar to Milwaukee cheering their heroic formerly racist pitcher who was forced to feel bad about bad tweets, Louis was greeted with rapturous applause.

That this would happen sooner than later was a virtual certainty because he was, and still is beloved. Many, many people (myself included) thought he was great and funny. Of these, many flat out do not care about the allegations or think they weren’t a big deal; many are convinced that any female accuser is a lying, vindictive, fame-seeking whore; and then there are many that actually think what he did was bad – but they will prioritize his inevitable redemption over anything else related to the situation so they can go back to being entertained by someone they like. The first two groups are too far beyond the pale to warrant comment. But the last is especially depressing – they are essentially shrieking “what about the man? He feels bad and everyone deserves second chances!” Such sentiments can be found everywhere on social media, but this one from Michael Ian Black is emblematic of that perspective:

He’s currently being excoriated and I don’t have anything to say that hasn’t already been said to him, but I do want to highlight a great response by Michelle Biloon:

I don’t know how to embed a tweet thread so here is the rest of it:

And it is a fear grounded in reality. It is TOO SOON for him to return. And honestly I don’t think he should return. He can do something else. He fucked up. Bye. Make room for others. I care more about the silencing and shaming of the victims than him. (3/x)

Also, why does his pathway to redemption have to be through standup? There are many actually redeeming things he can do or any of these offenders can do. And if you just have to have standup, maybe wait five years and then we’ll see. (4/x)

Also, he’d been jerking off in front of women for YEARS and managed with help to keep it under wraps and continue to have a wildly successful comedy career. He already had his comeback but it was just that the general public didn’t know or believe his offenses. (5/x)

Fuck yes. Do something else. It is an incredible privilege to be granted a life of wealth and luxury for telling jokes. If it were up to me, he’d lose that privilege. Or – let me put it another way – I wish we lived in a world in which there wasn’t an ocean of paying consumers that are all too eager to enable a comeback from persistent reprehensible behavior that ruined lives. And behavior which, with a nod and wink, he impishly referred to in his stand-up and TV show for years.

https://www.businessinsider.com/louis-ck-clip-on-masturbation-circulates-after-allegations-of-sexual-misconduct-2017-11

So this is going to continue to be a thing. He’ll sporadically do smaller unannounced shows, and then bigger shows, and then Netflix will gladly have him back. Of course I’m not alone in predicting this. It was practically ordained the moment everything came out. If one has enough social capital, they can get away with just about anything. The penance is typically a varying amount of time spent out of the public eye. The lives they’ve shattered do not matter – talented men getting second chances does (a good way to discern an asshole is one whom emphasizes the latter over the former). That’s what’s so absurd about Michael Ian Black’s assertion that we need to figure “out a way for the men who are caught up in it to find redemption:” if they’re good enough, they ALWAYS get multiple chances so there’s really nothing to figure out.

Aziz Ansari performed in two cities in my state. The demand for tickets was so great that he ended up doing 5 shows (3 in Madison, 2 in Milwaukee).

TJ Miller, a garbage person, is still doing shit after the many allegations against him.

Chris Hardwick, whom I’ve never been able to determine why anyone likes, got his terrible hack shows back after being “exonerated.”

These men will be fine. They still have wealth. They still have adulation. The most discomfort they’ll face is some people writing/saying mean things about them, or reading thinkpieces about themselves in which the author wrings their hands over the ethics of consuming their entertainment. But the true fans will dig their heels and stand up for the men who say the funny things. Because that’s our fun and good world.

Siri, show me hell on earth

Weird there isn’t anyone from the Intellectual Dark Web

ETA – Mostly everyone on the list I either don’t know, find repulsive, or am very confused by their presence (Henry Winkler?). Thankfully, the only person I actually like – Cameron Esposito – is no longer appearing:

 

The trauma of child separation

A recent dream was the impetus for this post. While I pretty much never want to hear about someone’s dream, against my better judgment, I’m going to begin with it:

I was doing some kind of an internship and was tasked with detaining children alone. I showed up to an apartment. I had some kind of miniature truck that had a flat tire and I was frantically trying to use my phone to call for help. A woman helped, and I slowly realized this was the mother. I took out a crinkled sheet of paper with scribbles on it and asked if this was her. She said yes and I told her I had to take her kids. She sadly acquiesced and started getting them ready. At this point, the large, angry dad started berating me. I remained calm, and tried to reason with him. I exhorted him to be friendly to social workers, case managers, and judges. Be nice to the system – for they can make your life even worse should you choose to direct your venom at it. While this was happening, the kids escaped and I began freaking out over this. Usually, once I start to panic in a dream I wake up.

I’ve never worked at a job that detained children, but I’ve worked directly with those who are actively in the process of doing so. I’ve worked directly with families navigating the messy aftermath. Even today, though my job is more administrative-focused, there are still a few functions I perform which entail seeing frustrated clients stuck in the labyrinthine child welfare system.

One of things I periodically do is administer family court-mandated drug tests. This is not something they generally like having to do several times a week. Sometimes they vent, and I let them – often this is about their shitty case managers, an asshole judge, or how difficult it is to make time for the tests –  and I sometimes find myself giving the same advice I gave in my dream: no matter how much you think the system is bad, be nice to the people in it because they can make things much worse. I don’t know if this is good advice. Warring inside my head are thoughts of “yes, I would hate it if I were treated like this” (which is what I verbalize), and “well, you brought this on yourself,” or “maybe you should have thought of this before you did whatever it was that endangered your kids and brought state involvement into your life.” Also in the back of my mind is the ever-present aversion to bootlicking.

Some may choose to ignore the litany of nuances related to American children being removed from their homes and say “fuck these child abusers,” a condemnation that parallels a common conservative response to the immigrant crisis: those parents are endangering their children by breaking the law – they have no one to blame but themselves. If you are one of those people I have sad news for you: uncompromising measures like locking up parents, or less restrictive measures, which are still formidable obstacles, all prolong the time kids spent in out of home care. This is usually very bad, and we aren’t remotely close to having an effective system in place to manage such massive amounts of human misery. The end result is that many children lost within the child welfare system – whether it’s for a few weeks or a few years – grow up facing even more hurdles than before they were detained.

***

In many, probably most, experiences I’ve had in child welfare, children love their parents, no matter what they’ve done. I’ve worked on many cases that ended in sobbing which continued until the children were dropped off at their foster homes. I can’t stress this enough. As bad as child abuse and neglect is, the trauma of separation is not to be dismissed or trivialized. This has historically been largely invisible to the general public (as I’ve stressed in other blog posts, most people give next to no passing thought to child welfare).

On the other hand, child welfare as it related to family separation at the border has rightfully gained visibility. ICE scumbags are fucking up an entire generation of children:

“It’s not like an auto body shop where you fix the dent and everything looks like new. We’re talking about children’s minds,” said Luis H. Zayas, professor of social work and psychiatry at the University of Texas at Austin.

[…]

Children who have undergone traumatic separation often cling desperately to their parents after they are reunited and refuse to let them out of their sight, say therapists and child psychologists. Many suffer from separation anxiety, cry uncontrollably and have trouble sleeping because of recurring nightmares.

Others develop eating disorders, problems with trust and unresolved anger, in some cases against their parents.

“You see some children even strike out at the parents. They don’t always understand why their parents abandoned them and sometimes blame them. So they have difficulty reattaching,” Zayas said.

[…]

Left untreated, such trauma can lead to deeper problems like post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, alcoholism and even suicidal behavior, said Jodi Berger Cardoso, an assistant professor at the University of Houston who studies the effects of trauma on immigrants.

Children intercepted at the border are often especially vulnerable to developing PTSD and other disorders because their families are fleeing violence and catastrophe.

[…]

Studies have shown that boys held in detention, even for short periods of time, such as two or three weeks, can develop anti-social behavior, violence and substance abuse problems. Teenage girls more often show depressive disorders and substance abuse.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is very prevalent among and greatly inhibits a person’s ability to form positive relationships

Much of this is also applicable to American children that have been separated from their families.

***

Of late, I’ve often found myself thinking, in one regard, like the xenophobic nativists that I revile. In the halcyon days of the George W Bush era, I recall having arguments about how I felt far more affinity to Iraqi civilians than American soldiers shooting at them. At the root of this sentiment is the simple idea that there is nothing inherently better or worse about people born in the same geographic area as I.

With that in mind, it is jarring how I reflexively respond internally to the recent outcry against U.S. immigration policy. People are (justly) moved to tears and anger over non-American children experiencing trauma at the hands of their government, but I can’t help but find myself thinking “what about actual American children who are going through this?”

As I noted above, American children separated from their parents deal with much of the same traumas as immigrant children, though they broadly occur within in different historical contexts. American children are subject to varying degrees of the structural issues underpinning their specific situations: suffocating economic inequality, institutionalized racism and all that these paradigms entail. The families arriving at our border contain in their very being the ongoing legacies of European colonialism, American imperialism, and more recently, neoliberal capitalism and its continuing devastation of the developing world.

Though every family separation is a veritable snowflake where no two are the same, similarities abound in the results. Some children will never find a stable home and, if they are not deported, age out of the system:

  • More than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year.
  • After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.
  • Only 1 out of every 2 foster kids who age out of the system will have some form of gainful employment by the age of 24.
  • There is less than a 3% chance for children who have aged out of foster care to earn a college degree at any point in their life.
  • 7 out of 10 girls who age out of the foster care system will become pregnant before the age of 21.
  • The percentage of children who age out of the foster care system and still suffer from the direct effects of PTSD: 25%.

More generally, childhood trauma related to separation increases

the risk of alcohol use by age 14 and illicit drug use by age 15. Childhood trauma also contributed to the likelihood of adolescent pregnancies and adolescent suicide attempts.

But the story doesn’t end there. ACEs [adverse childhood experiences] were also found to be associated with multiple adverse outcomes in adulthood, such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, suicide attempts, alcohol dependence, marital problems, intravenous drug use and many more.

If there is one common thread to many of the preventable diseases we face in the U.S., why are we not paying closer attention?

An excellent question really, but with an obvious answer [1]. Victims of child abuse and neglect are mostly poor and disproportionately children of color. We as a society don’t really give a fuck about them, unless they rise from their racially and economically segregated neighborhoods to become worthy of notice and acclaim – perhaps as an athlete, entertainer, or business mogul. Then we can collectively valorize the Horatio Alger-like elements of their life – in the land of the free and the home of the brave anyone can make it if they just work hard enough.

Just as good, if not better, is when a white family shepherds them to the promised land. Consider the popularity of The Blind Side. Briefly, the movie is based on the true story of Michael Oher, adopted by a saintly white family after bouncing around foster homes, and eventually making it to the NFL. This is widely thought of as a feel-good story, at least for white people who relish any opportunity to view themselves as benevolent forces for good.

Or perhaps they’ll commit crimes and become noteworthy that way. Perhaps, their childhood will provide context for whatever it is that they’ve done. But whatever the crime is will almost always override their upbringing. Whether that’s fair or not depends on the situation and the eye of the beholder.

***

In the end, it’s hard not to feel that the advice from my dream rings hollow, even if there’s a degree of utility to it. Because the social/economic/political systems that these families exist within have set them up to fail and are ill equipped at mitigating the fallout. The well-to-do within those systems are likely to feel the consequences of those failures – perhaps by tax dollar, perhaps by crime. Perhaps they’ll feel rage, and perhaps that misguided rage will lead to health problems.

The following is particularly apt:

To pretend that separated children do not grow up with the shrapnel of this traumatic experience embedded in their minds is to disregard everything we know about child development, the brain, and trauma.

One should keep in mind the sheer breadth this sentiment encompasses: refugees from the Middle East, Africa, and Central America fleeing violence; First Nations children of Canada; children in the enlightened social democracy of Norway; and, of course, children in the belly of the world-eating Leviathan that is modern-day techno-industrial society.


[1] I understand one of the reasons why: there is an unending churn of terrible things – contemporary and historical – in the world. With only a finite amount of time and energy to dedicate to learning about such things, it’s silly to think everyone will expose themselves to the same horrors as I. So, while I lament the (what I regard) as fact that people don’t give much thought to American child welfare, I get why this is.