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.

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.

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.

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Content Warning: suicide.

I was dicking around on my phone before showering last Friday when a news pop up alerted me to Anthony Bourdain’s passing. At that point I knew roughly two things about him: he was some kind of bad-boy chef on cooking/traveling reality shows, and he said the following about Henry Kissinger:

Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.

This was in 2001. The quote was unearthed this year, went viral and, once it caught his attention, Bourdain refused to back off statements made so long ago:

As someone who thinks things like this about any number of US war criminals, I thought this pretty awesome.

In regards to the second thing I knew about him – his “bad-boy image – it seems he had recently done a little introspection and critiqued the macho culture he participated in:

To the extent which my work in Kitchen Confidential celebrated or prolonged a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently is something I think about daily, with real remorse.

(I should note I have no idea how his specific behaviors manifested within our toxic patriarchy and how much he contributed to it)

Up until this weekend, I had no grasp of the extent of his popularity. Friends and acquaintances of mine, writers, bloggers, journalists, athletes, comedians, and people from all across the political spectrum expressed their sadness at his passing. Even America’s beloved president was shockingly able to muster a semblance of humanity by not saying terrible things about Bourdain, which is hilarious because he had “utter and complete contempt” for the dear leader, and joked about wanting to serve him hemlock.

***

Had he not died by suicide, I’m not sure this would’ve affected me as much as it has, and I wouldn’t have written anything about it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a morbid interest in suicide. That’s more or less because, at several points in my life but thankfully not in the recent past, I’ve wanted to die, or wanted to hurt myself. The former was a distinction I made between wanting to actually kill myself and merely not wanting to live or not caring if I died. This all feels really weird to actually write.

What had always kept me from walking further down that path was a combination of what I perceived as a lack of courage to go through with it and knowing what it would do to the people who loved and cared about me (apologies if anyone is offended by seeing suicide discussed in terms of courage – in my case it’s just a recounting of how I felt when I was younger). I don’t know if any of this necessarily counts as being suicidal, but it is suicide-adjacent.

For me, underlying everything it all was (and sometimes still is) a lack of self-esteem and outright self-hatred. This has been more difficult to banish. That sentiment is liable, at any time, to bubble to the surface and spew its noxious fumes all over my psyche. Even now, there’s a small voice in my head saying “why the fuck would anyone want to read anything you have to say?” (this is far from the first time; the answer is usually “I don’t know, fuck off.”)

It’s incredibly irresponsible for me to sit here and speculate about the specifics of why someone I’ve never met chose to end their life. But with the amount of Bourdain-related media I’ve recently consumed, I can’t help but highlight part of an episode of Parts Unknown from 2016. In it, he went to a psychotherapist, because he “need[ed] somebody to talk to”:

Bourdain admitted to his therapist that he felt like “a freak,” further explaining that he felt isolated. “I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible with communicating with people I care about,” he said. “I’m good with my daughter. An eight-year-old is about my level of communication skills, so that works out. But beyond, that I’m really terrible.”

[…]

Bourdain also revealed to his Argentinian therapist that he believed the likelihood of him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder was high. “I tell stories for a living. I write books. I make television,” he said. “A reasonable person does not believe that you are so interesting that people will watch you on television.

***

This past rainy weekend, my wife and I watched a lot of Parts Unknown. Normally I have a reflexive antipathy to all reality shows, but I found it pretty enjoyable. Though, in light of the circumstances of that led to us having an interest in watching, it was hard not to watch without a sense of melancholy.

His desire to show Western audiences places that they’ve never thought about, and in many cases couldn’t place on a map, was extremely admirable and, I would argue, important. He displayed a preternatural ability to both empathize with and humanize people featured on the show. It’s not surprising that so many with roots in the places he visited were affected by the news of his passing:

In our hyper-connected, late capitalist hellscape where so many have neither the desire nor the disposition to regard the Other as worthy of any modicum of compassion, the loss of a person who had ample amounts of it and went to the trouble of sharing it on such a massive scale is pretty fucking sad.

Not sure how else to end this except to say that The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours/day at 1-800-273-8255.

 

A palate cleanser for that terrible NYT piece about the “Intellectual Dark Web”

A recent episode of Revolutionary Left Radio (which I’ve previously fawned over) takes a deep dive into the commonalities and differences between three of the Status Quo Warrior’s described in the NYT: Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker (whom only makes a brief appearance in the article).

To me, it’s refreshing to listen to them being discussed in this format, because they all cater to different types of reactionary audiences coagulating around the center of the political spectrum that is ever shifting to the right: Peterson for the sad and lost, Harris for the arrogant, and Pinker for the starry-eyed optimist.

But! Know that by listening to Rev Left’s critiques you are contributing to the tragic misunderstanding and ultimate silencing of these precious, delicate snowflakes. If you don’t mind having that on your conscience, perhaps give it a listen.

There have only been two openly gay male cast members in the 40+ year history of SNL

James Adomian is a great comedy person more people should know about. In a recent interview he discussed, among other things, the lack of LGBT representation on SNL:

Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that there hasn’t been an out gay male full-fledged cast member on SNL since Terry Sweeney became the first and only one more than 30 years ago [As noted at the end of the article, John Milhiser was the second, appearing in 2013-2014]. He only lasted one season, from 1985-1986, and has since been more or less lost to history. It was another 26 years before the show brought on its next out cast member, current star Kate McKinnon. In 2016, Chris Kelly became the first openly gay co-head writer (along with Sara Schneider) in SNL’s history, but they left to create a new show for Comedy Central the following year.

“It would be nice if they put a gay man on camera on that show,” Adomian tells me over lattes in the lobby of his hotel in Austin. “I’ve been out of the closet the whole time since I auditioned 13 years ago. You would think that they would have tried to put someone else on that was a gay man. It’s about time.”

SNL declined to comment for this piece on the record. However, a source with knowledge of the situation says Adomian auditioned several times but the show decided his comedy wasn’t the right fit.

I believe SNL when they say he wouldn’t be a good fit. To me, SNL is where comedy goes to die (i.e. Amy Poehler, who was in Upright Citizens Brigade before SNL), while actual funny people exist in a state of arrested development until they leave (i.e. Will Forte and Bill Hader). But to each their own, of course.

I think a lot of people, myself included, have affinities for the cast of their formative years – for me the 90’s. Right around when Jimmy Fallon joined the show is when I stopped watching. Looking back, out of a sense of nostalgia, I can laugh at the likes of Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider but recognize it’s pretty bad (though some of the stuff from that era I think has stood the test of time). All of this is to say Adomian is too funny for SNL.

Despite being very well thought of in the comedy community and really fucking funny, he hasn’t been able to break through:

Adomian tells me that he has a lot of larger ideas for television and film, but he’s “not able to make them” because he’s never been given the opportunity. During his Bernie Sanders show last Friday night, he momentarily “broke the fourth wall” to reveal that he had recently pitched a show to Netflix, but was ultimately rejected because they are “only interested in doing deals with famous people.”

He tells me he’s had meetings with “every single network” that a comedy fan might be familiar with and they said no to his TV show ideas every time.

That he hasn’t been at least prominently featured on a show or gotten a Netflix special is bullshit. Despite having what I think is a solid roster (Another Period, Nathan For You, Broad City, Detroiters and Corporate), Comedy Central is apparently floundering and hasn’t had a sketch comedy since Key & Peele, something Adomian would excel at. Netflix is seemingly giving specials to everyone. Adomian thinks homophobia is one of the culprits:

“We are in a golden age of gay male comics, at live shows, around the country and at festivals like this. We are very well-presented at live shows and on the internet. Television? Not so much.” He jokes that gay men hosting TV shows is “almost illegal” in the U.S. (Andy Cohen notwithstanding).

Adomian chalks some of this up to “overt homophobia,” but says most of it is due to the “cowardice” of executives who will say, “I’m not homophobic, but I’m afraid that my audience is.”

Whereas the success of a film like Black Panther is making Hollywood reconsider its racist preconceptions about what audiences want to see, Adomian says it is “impossible to even imagine anything like Black Panther for gay people.”

The rest of this post will be a collection of his brilliance.

He’s a very frequent guest on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and show, where he’s done a plethora of different characters:

  • Christopher Hitchens:

  • Slavoj Žižek:

  • Paul Giamatti

  • Gordon Ramsay

I believe he started doing Sebastian Gorka first on Chapo Trap House and has recently portrayed him on the Chris Gethard Show and Comedy Bang! Bang! (as a side note, he portrayed Elon Musk on the most recent Chapo episode, most of which was about Jordan Peterson)

Paul F Tompkins had a wonderful podcast with the premise of H.G. Wells having a working time machine which allowed him to interview dead authors. Adomian did two episodes, one as Nietzsche, the other as Walt Whitman

http://thedeadauthorspodcast.libsyn.com/chapter-28-walt-whitman-featuring-james-adomian

http://thedeadauthorspodcast.libsyn.com/appendix-b-friederich-nietzsche-and-h-p-lovecraft-featuring-james-adomian-and-paul-scheer

Some other impressions:

  • Marc Maron:

  • Jesse Ventura:

  • Chris Matthews:

Stand-up:

And, finally, here he is on Homophilia where he talks about his life:

Betty Boop, Meeting at the Counter and Looking for Role Models

 

Guns

I’ve only fired a gun once or twice in my life. I don’t really know if that’s more or less than most. In my family, all of the males, and a few females learned to hunt at an early age. I’m hazy on the temporal details, but it must have been around middle school. At that time, my brother and similarly aged immediate cousins were formally introduced to hunting as a thing to do. I was the only one that was unable to comprehend why it would feel good to kill an animal. At that point, I had no ethical issues with it, or anything like that – I just didn’t want to kill anything. I’ve generally understood on an intellectual level, but I can’t fathom feeling it.

My grandpa, a hard man who looked down on soft city living of which I was accustomed to, took me and others to a shooting area. I was given the gun, and a few instructions. I have no idea if I shot anywhere near the target. All I remember is the gun smashing into my face, and the subsequent pain and embarrassment. I was told I needed to hold the gun tighter, something that should have been self-evident. I can’t remember if I took a second shot.

***

At my house, we have no weapons, unless you count a cracked wooden baseball bat that I’ve somewhat inexplicably kept through the years. Up until recently I counted it as a viable weapon. That is, until I took a swing and instantly realized that I would only get the one, which would almost certainly break it. There’s also the fact that I don’t think there’s enough open space that have enough room for a hard swing. So the vague plan is to use a fire extinguisher, which I think could double as a weapon in self-defense.

For myself and family, I’m not convinced that having a gun would actually increase my safety. This is grounded in a fear of weapons and distrust in my abilities to use them adequately when the time comes. It’s not just guns. I’m deeply uncomfortable with sharp objects and fire. I can be clumsy and am prone to dropping things. In the event that a weapon may be necessary, I have a hard time believing I could use it effectively.

However, there is a part of me that DOES want a gun. The alluring narrative of guns providing a sense of safety is apparently seared into my brain but is contrasted with my unease at having that kind of destructive power. Nonetheless, if I wanted to, I could very easily get a gun now and in the future – even in the event that gun laws are strengthened.

***

What we are doing (or not doing) is not making things better in terms of gun-related violence. There are two general, opposing sentiments voiced on either side of the divide in terms of increased regulations:

  1. If someone wants to commit violence with a gun, they will get one no matter what. People have a right to defend themselves and should be able to do so without, or with very little governmental restrictions.
  2. Increased restrictions will increase the difficulty in procuring guns. These difficulties will curb violence since it could lead to a “cooling off” period or altogether prevent those whom would enact violence from having guns in the first place.

These are inherently simplistic characterizations, and neither should be seen as completely true or completely false. If there are X amount of incidents of gun violence, it stands to reason that there are Y amount that may not have occurred due to the inability to procure weaponry. How large of a proportion that is is impossible to say. So it appears that certain regulations, such as policies preventing children from gaining access to guns and bans on assault rifles, might be warranted – after all, the status quo is not working.

But does it necessarily follow that any kind of change would be beneficial? We don’t really have enough data to say one way or the other. A new report by the RAND corporation summarizes the state of the research. Via NPR’s synopsis:

They found, for example, no clear evidence regarding the effects of any gun policies on hunting and recreational gun use, or on officer-involved shootings, or on mass shootings or on the defensive use of guns by civilians.

There were some categories with better data, however, Morral says. There is relatively strong evidence, for example, that policies meant to prevent children from getting access to firearms — such as laws that require guns to be stored unloaded, or in locked containers — reduce both suicide and unintentional injury and death.

Previous work has also found that places that require a permit (issued by law enforcement) for the purchase [of] a firearm do reduce violent crime.

There is also some evidence that prohibitions against purchase by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness reduce violent crime, and that “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first, lead to an increase in violent crime.

In general, however, good studies were few and far between, the RAND researchers say.

[…]

[T]hose surveyed varied widely in their predictions about how different policies would affect each outcome.

“Where they disagree is on which laws will achieve those those objectives. So this is a disagreement about facts,” says Morral. “And the facts are sparse.”

I understand the sentiment that change is needed, but this should give one pause before accepting as fact that increased legislation is the ultimate panacea.

***

Unexamined by RAND are the effects of gun policies on marginalized communities, whom are disproportionately more likely to experience violence and may wish to arm themselves for protection. How would stronger gun laws affect them? Alex Gourevitch, professor of political science at Brown University stresses that

[H]ow our society polices depends not on the laws themselves but on how the police – and prosecutors and courts – decide to enforce the law. Especially given how many guns there are in the U.S., gun law enforcement will be selective. That is to say, they will be unfairly enforced, only deepening the injustices daily committed against poor minorities in the name of law and order.”

This is further explicated by Natasha Lennerd at The Intercept, who bluntly (and rightly in my opinion) states that

there’s no reason to think new legislation and bolstered government profiling in the name of gun control would suddenly take aim at dangerous white supremacists, instead of continuing to criminalize people of color.

Given the history of policing in America, this should be intuitive. One only needs to consider law enforcement’s racist beginnings, and then compare the State’s treatment of the Black Panthers to Cliven Bundy’s gaggle of dipshits. Even today, the FBI is apparently more concerned with “Black Identity Extremists” than white nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact of which is responsible for higher body counts.

From what I can tell, the above isn’t much considered by those calling for more gun control. The totality of the carceral state has been and will continue to be a categorical failure that is unequipped and unable to address the underlying structural problems brought about by capitalism and institutionalized racism. That its traditional victims would likely be subject to even more adversarial involvement with the authorities  as a result of increased gun laws is worthy of intense scrutiny.

On the other hand, there are portions of the dominant class that are unable to leverage their privileges to achieve what they are led to believe they deserve, and scapegoats are needed. This can be due to personal failures, trauma, or, more likely, some mixture of both. Such damaged persons exist in an increasingly atomized, alienating and hyper-competitive social structure that can be a breeding ground for latent fury when desires – valid or invalid (such as access to women’s bodies, the denial of which can lead to violent responses) –  are thwarted. However, in contrast to this widespread atomization/alienation, the ubiquity of social media has made it much easier for the angry and violent to locate and feed off of each others’ heretofore impotent rage against society at large.

The problems that emerge from the foundational issues described above are as numerous as they are varied. We graft solutions onto them while neglecting the rot festering beneath the surface. But if those issues are unlikely to be meaningfully addressed, much less solved, in the foreseeable future, what can be done in the meantime? For solving the gun crisis, any kind of reform is likely to be akin to a band aid on a gaping wound.

(None of this should not be seen as a negation of the admirable Parkland students and the awesome things they’re doing. Likewise, none of this negates the utter contempt and scorn that should be directed at the NRA and their gun fetish cult at every opportunity.)

***

I don’t presume to know what state and federal governments should do with regards to guns. I’m not very knowledgeable in this area and I can’t say I’m too confident in anything I’ve written other than my anecdotes and quotations of those who know much more than I. I do think I should be able to get a gun if I want. I’m lucky enough that stricter laws would not exclude me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about increased scrutiny from the authorities.

One of the more interesting findings from RAND is on the banning of assault rifles and high capacity magazines: it’s inconclusive if it actually curbs mass shootings and violent crime. It’s hard to say, in light of the above hypotheses that increased regulations would disproportionately affect marginalized populations, if this would be beneficial – especially in light of the dearth of research that answers authoritatively in the affirmative. But I can’t help but think that would at least be worth a shot, as is restricting the access of children, for which there is some evidence for its efficacy. Both seem like common sense measures that should be adopted.

When they’re not busy securing money and power, and bickering along party lines, politicians throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. If/when they decide to throw more restrictive gun laws against the wall, who can say whether they will stick or not (stick being synonymous with “work” in this tortuous metaphor)? Maybe gun violence will decline, but if history is any indication it will fucking stink for many.

Or maybe we can just stay with the tried-and-true blueprint of the last decade or so: thoughts and prayers from the ignorant and spineless, and their subsequent, righteous flagellation by those whom are sick of insipid thoughts and prayers by duplicitous cowards.

Remembering Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael

It had been a long time since I thought about Daniel Quinn and his book Ishmael when I learned of his passing on February 17th.

Ishmael is an incredible, profound book that examines the mythological elements underpinning modern civilization. The narrative is framed as a conversation between a man and a telepathic gorilla. A central theme is the dichotomous separation of mankind into Takers and Leavers, and from there branches into different areas of philosophical inquiry. One can guess which group the majority of modern humans are categorized under.

It’s been well over a decade since I read it, and I decided to leaf through it. Looking at some of my past blogs, I can see the subtle influence it had on me, despite my rarely thinking of it. I consider it odd that Ishmael was the only thing I’ve read of Quinn’s. There must have been reasons why this is so, but whatever they were I don’t remember.

There are a few things I take issue with in Ishmael, one of them being the book’s conception of contemporary “Leaver” cultures as existing since time immemorial, which isn’t always the case – some of the extant “Leavers” are indeed descended from former agriculturalists. Also, there is a certain amount of romanticization of life without agriculture that I’m not sure is entirely warranted. I think this is a line of thinking that many of the authors in the broad milieu to which Quinn belonged are guilty of. Of course, I haven’t reread the entire book, so perhaps I’m off in my very short critique.

Here are some excerpts (“I” always refers to the narrator/human character and not Ishmael, the gorilla):

“Famine isn’t unique to humans. All species are subject to it everywhere in the world. When the population of any species outstrips its food resources, that population declines until it’s once again in balance with its resources. Mother Culture says that humans should be exempt from that process, so when she finds a population that has outstripped its resources, she rushes in food from the outside, thus making it a certainty that there will be even more of them to starve in the next generation. Because the population is never allowed to decline to the point at which it can be supported by its own resources, famine becomes a chronic feature of their lives.”

The people of your culture cling with fanatical tenacity to the specialness of man. They want desperately to perceive a vast gulf between man and the rest of creation. This mythology of human superiority justifies their doing whatever they please with the world, just the way Hitler’s mythology of Aryan superiority justified his doing whatever he pleased with Europe. But in the end this mythology is not deeply satisfying. The Takers are a profoundly lonely people. The world for them is enemy territory, and they live in it like an army of occupation, alienated and isolated by their extraordinary specialness.

The story the Leavers have been enacting here for the past three million years isn’t a story of conquest and rule. Enacting it doesn’t give them power. Enacting it gives them lives that are satisfying and meaningful to them. This is what you’ll find if you go among them. They’re not seething with discontent and rebellion, not incessantly wrangling over what should be allowed and what forbidden, not forever accusing each other of not living the right way, not living in terror of each other, not going crazy because their lives seem empty and pointless, not having to stupefy themselves with drugs to get through the days, not inventing a new religion every week to give them something to hold on to, not forever searching for something to do or something to believe in that will make their lives worth living. And — I repeat — this is not because they live close to nature or have no formal government or because they’re innately noble. This is simply because they’re enacting a story that works well for people — a story that worked well for three million years and that still works well where the Takers haven’t yet managed to stamp it out.

***

“Leaver peoples are always conscious of having a tradition that goes back to very ancient times. We have no such consciousness. For the most part, we’re a very ‘new’ people. Every generation is somehow new, more thoroughly cut off from the past than the one that came before.”

“What does Mother Culture have to say about this?”

“Ah,” I said, and closed my eyes. “Mother Culture says that this is as it should be. There’s nothing in the past for us. The past is dreck. The past is something to be put behind us, something to be escaped from.”

Ishmael nodded. “So you see: This is how you came to be cultural amnesiacs.”

“How do you mean?”

“Until Darwin and the paleontologists came along to tack three million years of human life onto your history, it was assumed in your culture that the birth of man and the birth of your culture were simultaneous events — were in fact the same event. What I mean is that the people of your culture thought that man was born one of you. It was assumed that farming is as instinctive to man as honey production is to bees.”

“Yes, that’s the way it seems.”

“When the people of your culture encountered the hunter-gatherers of Africa and America, it was thought that these were people who had degenerated from the natural, agricultural state, people who had lost the arts they’d been born with. The Takers had no idea that they were looking at what they themselves had been before they became agriculturalists. As far as the Takers knew, there was no ‘before.’ Creation had occurred just a few thousand years ago, and Man the Agriculturalist had immediately set about the task of building civilization.”

***

“The gods have played three dirty tricks on the Takers,” he began. “In the first place, they didn’t put the world where the Takers thought it belonged, in the center of the universe. They really hated hearing this, but they got used to it. Even if man’s home was stuck off in the boondocks, they could still believe he was the central figure in the drama of creation.

“The second of the gods’ tricks was worse. Since man was the climax of creation, the creature for whom all the rest was made, they should have had the decency to produce him in a manner suited to his dignity and importance — in a separate, special act of creation. Instead they arranged for him to evolve from the common slime, just like ticks and liver flukes. The Takers really hated hearing this, but they’re beginning to adjust to it. Even if man evolved from the common slime, it’s still his divinely appointed destiny to rule the world and perhaps even the universe itself.

“But the last of the gods’ tricks was the worst of all. [This final trick is the subject of the next several pages and, to me, isn’t very persuasive or interesting.]

***

“There is one significant difference between the inmates of your criminal prisons and the inmates of your cultural prison: The former understand that the distribution of wealth and power inside the prison has nothing to do with justice.”

I blinked at him for a while, then asked him to explain.

“In your cultural prison, which inmates wield the power?”

“Ah,” I said. “The male inmates. Especially the white male inmates.”

“Yes, that’s right. But you understand that these white male inmates are indeed inmates and not warders. For all their power and privilege — for all that they lord it over everyone else in the prison — not one of them has a key that will unlock the gate.” “Yes, that’s true. Donald Trump can do a lot of things I can’t, but he can no more get out of the prison than I can. But what does this have to do with justice?” [note that this was written 28 years ago]

“Justice demands that people other than white males have power in the prison.”

“Yes, I see. But what are you saying? That this isn’t true?”

“True? Of course it’s true that males — and, as you say, especially white males — have called the shots inside the prison for thousands of years, perhaps even from the beginning. Of course it’s true that this is unjust. And of course it’s true that power and wealth within the prison should be equitably redistributed. But it should be noted that what is crucial to your survival as a race is not the redistribution of power and wealth within the prison but rather the destruction of the prison itself.”

“Yes, I see that. But I’m not sure many other people would.”

“No?”

“No. Among the politically active, the redistribution of wealth and power is … I don’t know what to call it that would be strong enough. An idea whose time has come. The Holy Grail.”

“Nonetheless, breaking out of the Taker prison is a common cause to which all humanity can subscribe.”

I shook my head. “I’m afraid it’s a cause to which almost none of humanity will subscribe. White or colored, male or female, what the people of this culture want is to have as much wealth and power in the Taker prison as they can get. They don’t give a damn that it’s a prison and they don’t give a damn that it’s destroying the world.”

Ishmael shrugged. “As always, you’re a pessimist. Perhaps you’re right. I hope you’re wrong.”

“I hope so too, believe me.”

***

Ishmael frowned. “Of course it’s not enough. But if you begin anywhere else, there’s no hope at all. You can’t say, ‘We’re going to change the way people behave toward the world, but we’re not going to change the way they think about the world or the way they think about divine intentions in the world or the way they think about the destiny of man.’ 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.”

[Leaving aside the fact that Paul was able to reach untold millions via the perpetuation of Christianity, I’m injecting a quick anecdote. The most recent episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made? discusses the movie Ladybugs. What they describe is a toxic brew of sexism, transphobia, racism, and terrible pedophilia-related jokes. The white male protagonist, Rodney Dangerfield, bumbles his way to success despite not showing any amount of aptitude that would lead one to believe it is in any way deserved. The sheer amount of awful cultural traits on display is staggering in what I vaguely recall from my childhood as a fairly innocuous movie. But it’s generally par for the course for entertainment in the late 80’s/early 90’s – I’m reminded of the unlearning that I think should be, but only sometimes is a hallmark of skeptical thinking as it pertains to what we have internalized from the entertainment/education of our formative years. Quinn certainly helped play a role in that process for me.

Anyways, many more people saw Ladybugs than have ever read Ishmael. Voices like Quinn’s are mere molecules in the avalanche of bullshit that is contemporary culture. I think that’s bad.]

“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.”

“No, it isn’t that. You just don’t know me very well. It’s always this way with me — first I say, ‘No, no, it’s impossible, completely and utterly impossible,’ then I go ahead and do it.”

Ishmael humphed, barely mollified.

“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.”

***

I think this is a fitting end to the post. RIP.