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. Despite scattered and localized success via direct action, thus far, their efforts have done little to so much as slow its gait. Their small numbers and 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.

The pope should shut the fuck up about indigenous resistance

[Note: I wrote almost all of this blog before learning of Caine’s passing. I only interacted with her a few times, but I was repeatedly struck by how fierce she was in her writings. She will be missed.

Some months back, she had written that she’d like to see her fellow bloggers write about indigenous issues and we had a little back and forth about it. A coincidence, then, that it is the topic of this post. Condolences to those who knew and loved her best, and anyone else who’s enjoyed her work on FtB.]

Via The Onion:

In a historic admission of the Catholic church’s complicated and often shameful history, Pope Francis admitted in an informal public statement Thursday that “like, 97 percent” of Catholic leadership are “probably burning in hell right now.” “Believe me, contemporary Catholics are quite familiar with our legacy of murder, rape, cultural exploitation, and thievery on every scale from splitting up South America for silver rights down to just stealing stuff—make no mistake, most of those holy men were simply terrible people who deserve to fry in their own considerable fat for eternity,” said His Holiness, who took time during an informal lunch meeting with interfaith leaders to deliver a capsule history of manifold crimes committed by Vatican higher-ups, complete with a running commentary on the church’s long tradition of manipulating and mistreating its devotees. “Keep in mind this was just the stuff they did to other Catholics—at least, they were Catholic when those vicious scoundrels were done with them. Well, they’re paying for it in searing pain and screams now. Oh, and if someone wouldn’t convert, or couldn’t be converted by force? That’s when we get into Crusades, the Inquisitions, Spanish and others, the name of Christ invoked in the slaughter of native peoples, which is why their eyes will forever boil from out of their roasting skulls.

This is one of the many times I lament the fact that The Onion is #fakenews. What a welcome sentiment this would be in light of the Cool Pope’s somewhat recent shitty comments on the Mapuche conflict in Chile (this is something I meant to write about way back in January). First, though, who are the Mapuche and what made Francis think he had the right to tell them what to do? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

[T]he arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century seems to have triggered the amalgamation of several indigenous groups and the forging of closer social and cultural ties, all of which is part of what we know today as the history of the Mapuche identity. The Mapuche people rebelled against Spanish subjugation and burned the cities built by the European colonizers south of the Bío Bío River. This rebellion marked the beginning of the Arauco War, in which Spain was forced to maintain a professional army to guard its territorial borders and to recognize Mapuche autonomy within indigenous lands. The Mapuche people did not submit to outside rule until 1882, when the Army of the Republic of Chile began its campaign for the “Pacification of the Araucanía Region.” The campaign came in response to the urgent need to conquer usable land and was driven by an ideology that sought to eliminate indigenous groups by “civilizing” them. After the Chilean military victory, the process of colonization by European and local mestizo settlers was facilitated by restricting local indigenous inhabitants to small plots of communally held land. The direct consequences of this process for Mapuche society included a drastic decrease in their territory through reiterated, large scale usurpation, dependence on the Government as an external agent, and the breakdown of Mapuche society due to the loss of authority of the lonkos or chiefs.

The struggle has continued in fits and starts to the present day, with different groups pursuing different ends with different means – some are peaceful and some engage in property destruction (what the state and media refer to as terrorism) [1].

Their current adversaries are the usual suspects: a panoply of different entities including the state and military, non-indigenous landowners, the Catholic Church, and, of course, foreign & domestic capitalists:

Today, the Mapuche people are fighting to recover their territorial rights in the Araucanía Region. In these efforts, they confront forestry companies as well as the military. The consequences of the conflict are dramatic. Levels of poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and illiteracy in this region are the highest in the country.

Moreover, the mass media labels Mapuche protests as “terrorist,” misleading the general public and encouraging the spread of violence. The economic consortiums that control the forestry industry in the region also own the national mass media. This relationship fuels the conflict, protects specific economic interests, and validates military intervention against the Mapuche.

As for Cool Pope, he became upset because churches were burned in Mapuche territory. But, why would such things be done?

Between 1818 and 1950 during the first stage of Chilean colonization, the Chilean State used methods of evangelization [that] were used to submit and dominate the Mapuche People.

This meant the internal plunder of the self or person (what the Chilean government and the bishopric class calls the desecration of faith). Our Machi [Medicine Healers]  were demonized, and their rewe [medicines] plundered and destroyed. Our sacred spaces (tren tren, trayenco, mawizantu) destroyed and eliminated, and among the ruins they planted pine and eucalyptus, houses and churches were built, and we were confined to spiritual and emotional imbalance.

In the definitive occupation of our territory, the Catholic Church played an outstanding, even military, role, acting as the vanguard in the displacement and occupation of Wallmapu [Mapuche Territory]. They were not only the transmitters of dominant norms and values, but also controlled and punished indigenous transgressors, prohibiting the continued belief in their traditional ways, imposing determined values of resignation, obedience and respect to so-called superiors.

Currently, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church owns all educational facilities in the Araucanía Region, and that every school serves as its economic bastion.

So into the fray he descends, bestowing these words of wisdom:

You cannot assert yourself by destroying others, because this only leads to more violence and division [actually, one can definitely do that – Christians were able to assert themselves all over the fucking world by destroying others and their culture. Also, burning churches isn’t the same as destroying others]. Violence begets violence; destruction increases fragmentation and separation. Violence eventually makes a most just cause into a lie.”[By that logic, wouldn’t violence perpetrated by Christians in the name of Christianity turn Christianity into a lie? Nah – how silly of me to apply his own words to his religion] [2]

Anyways, the pope is an asshole. That he’s apologized for Catholic complicity in the horrors of colonialism (which, next to absolutely nothing, is the bare minimum the Catholic church should have done a long time ago) certainly doesn’t grant him moral high ground – especially when the legacies of those horrors are ongoing and still perpetuated by members of his flock.

You don’t get to tell people who have been oppressed for generations by adherents of your religion how to resist their oppressors. Although, far be it from me to tell the infallible messenger of God what to do – but the Mapuche are eminently justified in telling him to fuck off.


[1] There was an incident in 2013 where white landowners, Werner Luchsinger and Vivian Mackay, were burned alive in their home by Mapuche protesters. I was only going to briefly mention this, but I ended up going down a rabbit-hole. The details are sketchy, but this occurred on the five year anniversary of a Mapuche activist shot by police on Luchsinger’s property. Both situations, the shooting and arson, were preceded by conflicts/arguments that lead to death.

There was one conviction for the arson. Most recently, 11 other defendants were acquitted, with the ruling stating there was “not enough proof to support the prosecution’s allegation that it was a terrorist attack or a premeditated plan to stir fear and pressure farmers into leaving their land.”

To give more context, the Luchsinger family

arrived in Mapuche territory from Switzerland in the late 1800s and benefited from the government’s colonisation policies for decades thereafter, becoming one of the largest landowners in Chile’s Patagonia region. Their forestry and ranching companies now occupy vast stretches of southern Chile, and impoverished Mapuches live on the margins of their properties.

The nephew of the deceased couple stated that “with this attack it seems that my prophecy was being fulfilled that the region is suffering attacks to empty farmers and entrepreneurs.” So long as the farmers and entrepreneurs remain, his prophecy may continue to be fulfilled on a somewhat regular basis.

[2] I don’t really consider burning churches as violence. One can’t commit violence against a non-sentient object. I used to think this without qualification, until I considered domestic abusers and their victims – an abuser using property destruction as an intimidation tactic certainly qualifies as violence, not to mention it being unjustified and reprehensible.

To me, when the power disparity is such that those with far less power commit property destruction against individuals or entities with far greater power, I’m not inclined to view it as violence (whether or not I agree with the cause will ultimately influence if I see it as warranted or not). The burning of Catholic churches in indigenous territory may cause psychological harm to Catholics who work there, but I don’t really give a shit – the enormity of the historical and contemporary crimes & injustices perpetrated against the Mapuche by the entity they freely chose to join utterly dwarfs destroyed property. But that’s just me.

Disjointed musings from the sidelines of atheism’s internal culture wars

“The starting-point of critical elaboration is the consciousness of what one really is and is ‘knowing thyself’ as a product of the historical processes to date, which has deposited in you an infinity of traces, without leaving an inventory. [T]herefore, it is imperative at the outset to compile such an inventory.

– Antonio Gramsci

I can’t decide if my presence on this network makes me part of any kind of movement. I liked reading things on FTB. I asked if I could blog here. They said yes. I’ve written only a bit about religion/atheism and, when doing so, it has mostly been about the lulz involved with Christianity, which is ever a rich vein to mine.

For most of my life, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt like I’ve belonged to any group or movement. I view this as a consequence of my inherent discomfort of being around large amounts of people. For atheism in particular, I’ve never been to a convention, never been part of a group, and have never been one to seek debate or argue publicly about it on social media. At most, I’ve surrounded myself with friends who happen to be irreligious, none of whom are in any way part of a larger movement.

I wouldn’t even say I ever had a “new atheist phase,” at least in the pejorative sense. In the mid 2000’s I read Dawkins and Harris. They were fine – at least most of The God Delusion and the first and last parts of The End of Faith. I had already been agnostic since the late 90’s, and I was receptive to their critiques of religion. Nevertheless, I had long known about much of what they wrote, though their abilities to provide cogent critiques far surpassed my own. But it was nothing earth shattering to me – by the time I read them I had long considered religion to be a metaphorical house of cards which is easily dispersed with the merest breeze.

It was nice and interesting that atheism became more prominent during that time-period. But, again, at no point did I ever consider myself to be a New Atheist, a term I associated with a particularly arrogant and in-your-face brand of atheism. That was never my thing – I’ve always skewed more towards self-loathing than arrogance, which I think made me a bit less susceptible to becoming an anti-religious evangelist. To me religion was always personal, and I had no interest in persuading others to adopt my point of view. However, I’ve never really had a problem outing myself as an atheist.

***

Backing up a bit – before the rise of the New Atheists, I rejected the religion in which I was brought up. In rejecting Catholicism and their God, a process commenced where I questioned other powerful things – after all, if the most powerful entity imaginable was little more than a boring fairytale in a boring book, what else was utter bullshit?

To me, it followed that other powerful ideas and entities were worthy of skepticism. Culture, nation-states, capitalism, civilization – all were deserving of scrutiny. And all have in common the fact that, like all the gods ever hypothesized, they are socially constructed and therefore eminently fallible, both in theory and practice. These considerations led to my belief that our world is one of unequal access to opportunities to both meet basic needs and flourish. With every person confined to one life – and no paradisiacal afterlife waiting for us upon death – it is unconscionable that so many, through little to no fault of their own, have numoerous odds stacked against them to merely exist, much less flourish. I think this best describes the base of my worldview from which the rest of my beliefs/opinions flow. I credit atheism with playing a foundational role in this.

Of course, many object to this line of thinking. To them, how “good” one’s life is is a result of the consequences of their actions – success or failure is relatively independent of social and environmental circumstances. This provides justification for systemic disadvantages (if they are even recognized at all) while at the same time allowing for self-congratulation for whatever success one achieves. For such people that are nonbelievers, their non-belief is grafted onto their pre-existing, or developing biases. Here, atheism is weaponized to war against and belittle opponents, to reinforce existing hierarchies, and to blame the unfortunate for their struggles – all under the guise of their superior reasoning and logic which spreads from their disavowal of non-natural phenomena.

I guess I just don’t fully get atheists who prostrate themselves to the powerful. They have cast aside deities who would be content to torture them for eternity, but exhibit little interest in scrutinizing earthly authorities and hierarchies. The broad reason is easy to see. Many of them have, or desperately want power and privilege. It is then in their self-interest not to dig too deep into how various distinct and overlapping power structures might reify, systemize and reproduce oppression – it’s much easier to place responsibility squarely on the shoulder of those that struggle within these power structures.

I understand selfishness. I understand an inability or unwillingness to cultivate empathy for the less fortunate. But I scorn both – especially when they’re used in the service of upholding the status quo under which they benefit.

***

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to come to the same conclusions as I. The intellectual path one takes using atheism as a starting point can lead to many ends. And much of the time, one’s starting point isn’t necessarily even atheism-adjacent. But it’s pretty depressing that the popularity of reactionary atheism appears to be so ascendant.

I often wonder what the neutral observer thinks of when they think of atheism. With my family and coworkers in mind, I would bet a lot of money that precisely none of them have ever heard of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or Mythcon (funny, since the latter occurs in the state in which I reside). And I think that generally holds true among the general populace. At a shopping mall, sporting event, or fast food restaurant, most know nothing of the battle for the soul of atheism.

Perhaps they know Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye, though I’m not sure how much nonbelief is associated with them. Who they might know, though, are outspoken, shitty atheists like Bill Maher and Ricky Gervais. The thought of those two coming to the front of the average person’s mind when the term atheist is brought up makes me cringe.

***

I see religion as one of the “traces” described by Gramsci that is deposited into the recesses of our psyches. Its size and intensity necessarily varies from person to person, family to family, and culture to culture, but it is only one of the infinity. While atheists of all stripes excise religion’s metaphysical components, there are varying amounts of its framework left behind. These shards can all too easily be reorganized into a toxic brew of human supremacy, bigotry of all flavors, slavish obedience to authority, and magical thinking (not that religion is necessarily the origin of any of these).

Again, it’s not that I think everyone should think like me or arrive to the same conclusions as I, but I don’t think the SQW/Alt-right atheists really put in the work to adequately examine their inventory. Or, if I’m being more charitable than I should be, I suppose they do and I guess I just don’t agree with the conclusions that justify their beliefs.

I only have so much time in this world. With an ocean of information that is continuously increasing exponentially, it would be impossible to examine each and every point of view on atheism or any topic for that matter – even those that touch on issues I care about. I recoil at adding Fox News, or Info Wars, or Breitbart to my daily information consumption. The thought of slogging through Enlightenment Now makes me ill. I look at Twitter wars and am unable to comprehend how arguing on it is in any way worthy of time – and marvel at how extraordinarily complicated topics can be argued 280 characters at a time.

Or, restricting this solely to the Atheism Wars. Am I going to spend hours watching the various garbage YouTubers? Or listening to Sam Harris’s podcast? The answer is no, but it is a conclusion I’ve reached because of desire. I think about the ills of residing in my own echo chamber, but am too selfish to really venture too far outside it. For justification, I rationalize that most of the media I consume contains written or unwritten ideas that I object to – but the specific items listed in this and the prior paragraph are too much.

Life’s too fucking short and I don’t wish to waste large chunks of it on the Sisyphean task of confronting ideas I’ve long since decided are misguided, wrong or abhorrent (at least in terms of religion and the reactionary wing of atheism – there are, of course, other things I’m more interested in thinking and writing about ad nauseum). But such is the world we live in where it is apparently still necessary to have discussions about things like race science, Confederate monuments, and whether or not trans people should be able to live how they wish (the answers are, respectively: it’s bad and wrong, tear them down, and of course).

All of which brings me back to my presence here. I’m glad the fine folks at FtB put in so much time and effort combating the rot in atheism. It is a large reason I’ve been a longtime reader. But I’m admittedly too selfish to join in and will most likely continue to leave the heavy lifting to others. I don’t know to what extent it matters, but I think atheism is a good enough thing (due to the omnipresence of religion and its ill effects) that the task of constantly flushing the turds down the toilet is eminently admirable and worthwhile.

The venerable police of my city are bracing for backlash

My hometown of Milwaukee has a bit of history of police violence, which I believe is pretty well known at this point. Less well known is a history of making professional athletes feel, let’s say unwelcome. With the story of Sterling Brown, who plays for the Bucks, these two aspects converge. Earlier this year Brown committed the heinous crime of parking across two disability parking spaces at Walgreens, followed by a confrontation with a cop which led to him being tased and arrested. Parking in a disability parking space is a dick move, but one I would say is somewhat mitigated by the fact that this occurred at 2am – I doubt the parking lot was very full. Nonetheless, I would hope most agree it’s not a tase-worthy offense.

[As an aside, Brown was released from custody at around 5am. Later that same day he played with a busted face and tallied 4 points and 9 board in a win. Pretty bad ass IMO. Also, the game featured this awesome Giannis dunk:

Let’s have a look at what Milwaukee Police union president Mike Crivello had to say shortly after the incident:

Special treatment for special people [regarding perceived mayoral interference].

You put your hands on and/or strike a police officer who is doing nothing more than what he is sworn to do, what he is paid to do, what all other citizens should want him to do, you need to go to jail and you need to at least have the charges referred to the district attorney’s office.

Hm. Sounds like he had some insider info. Or is a huge piece of shit. Or both! By this point in the saga it wasn’t known exactly what happened.

Bucks fandom was largely supportive of Brown. However, there were, of course, rats crawling out of the sewer spewing barely disguised racism. How dare Brown get uppity with the noble policeman whose only goal in life is to keep the city safe! I don’t think many were Bucks fans. For a little background, a lot of white people in Wisconsin hate the Bucks and the NBA in general, while at the same time lionize the more fundamental-driven [read: less black] college game. Many of these upstanding citizens seemed to heartily enjoy a black professional athlete of a league they don’t like being put in his place.

Up until yesterday, it was perplexing how tight-lipped everyone had been, from Brown, to the Bucks, to the authorities. After the hoopla within a few days of the event, next to nothing came out. It appeared that the story would get swept under the rug, with many theorizing that Brown was being an asshole while the cop overreacted. It appears this might not be the case:

Brown did not appear combative or threatening when officers questioned him about a parking violation in January, according to two sources who have watched the video. The sources asked that their names not be used because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about it.

[…]

“This could be bad,” said one source who watched the video. “The player doesn’t appear to be provocative at all.”

[…]

Police officials have been preparing community leaders for the release of the body-camera footage by showing it to selected local officials, including a closed session of a Common Council committee.

[…]

Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson Sr. referred to the Brown video in a speech at a Milwaukee church Sunday during the city’s Ceasefire Sabbath.

“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department, and I’m going to honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges,” he said, according to video posted on WITI-TV.

What the nature of the anticipated “backlash” will be, who knows? Will it only amount to mere backlash? Could it morph into unrest? Or perhaps a riot?

Earlier this month, cops beat the shit out of a kid at a mall in Wauwatosa (a lily white suburb that uncomfortably shares a border with the city proper (as distinct from adjacent lily white suburbs safely insulated from the terrors of the inner city)). The “backlash” thus far has merely been bad PR. Brown’s case will likely result in the same, but with the added annoyance (to the MPD) of national attention. But it will all eventually fade away, as all stories of this nature do.

One wonders if this would have received even local attention were it not for Brown’s cachet as a professional athlete. God only knows how many stories like this there are that don’t receive any publicity whatsoever. I’ve thought about this often over the years and it always makes me feel angry, sad and hopeless.

ETA: Right as I posted this I found out Brown is suing the MPD.

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.

Hell yeah Steve Bannon

Following his hilarious public emasculation, Steve Bannon scuttled back to his fetid lair to lick his wounds, largely out of the public eye. But he’s back:

The former White House chief strategist argued the movement against male-dominated politics was going to advance similarly to the Tea Party – a conservative movement loosely associated with the conservative branch of the Republican Party – but would surpass it in terms of impact.

He added: “I think it’s going to unfold like the Tea Party, only bigger. It’s not Me Too. It’s not just sexual harassment. It’s an anti-patriarchy movement. Time’s up on 10,000 years of recorded history. This is coming. This is real.”

Cool! If ever there were a social institution that should’ve been snuffed out in the cradle, it’s the fucking patriarchy. This will likely be the only time I hope he’s right. I like this idea much better than his silly apocalyptic war fantasies.

Here’s some more:

“You watch. The time has come. Women are gonna take charge of society,” Bannon said, according to Green. “And they couldn’t juxtapose a better villain than Trump. He is the patriarch.”

In this context, Trump is like the final boss of an early 90’s video game. He is everything rotten about this country fused together in the form of one repellent man-child, whose final defeat will usher in an era that will see his most odious beliefs destroyed. Bannon sees the would-be patriarchy smashers as the plucky heroes to get it done. I know life doesn’t work like this, but it’s a nice thought.

For Rojava

The destabilized Syrian and Iraqi hinterlands have given rise to a bewildering constellation of organizations, warlords, and opaque borders, the causes of which are complicated and manifold. Out of that fog has risen a new kind of state, centered on a mélange of anarchist, socialist, and other skeins of broadly leftist ideologies – the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, colloquially known as Rojava. It is an eminently worthy and important experiment.

This most recent manifestation of an autonomous leftist region is under siege. However, its existence isn’t very well known by the general populace. This shouldn’t be too surprising – to most, they are just one of many entities existing within the context of a civil war in Syria that is barely comprehensible and not worthy of too much scrutiny. ISIS are the bad guys, and aside from them, the surrounding states, and the meddlesome West, the other entities are virtually indistinguishable. One is reminded of the confusing and fluid state of Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001.

In the past several centuries, it’s taken war to provide the unique and varied set of circumstances necessary for revolutionary attempts at sovereignty. Just about all were either eliminated in the cradle or transformed into authoritarian regimes that were never able to implement their specific ideology’s lofty ideals. Of the ones that persisted, the justifications for their betrayals varied from place to place, but in the end, they only offered funhouse mirror images of the excesses of capitalist states: “the revolutionary organization cannot reproduce within itself the dominant society’s conditions of separation and hierarchy.”

Rojava is somewhat comparable to the Catalan anarchist-controlled areas during the Spanish Civil War, particularly in the similarities between the mujeres libres and Rojava’s Women’s Protection Units. More broadly, both were born during the chaos of war. Both were (and in the case of Rojava are) obviously imperfect in implementing their utopian ideals, but this should be expected as their existences have occurred during the trauma and destruction of warfare and surrounded by a variety of powerful enemies. Rojava has even attracted would-be revolutionaries from the West, echoing the exodus of leftists to Civil War era Spain, and contemporarily paralleling the modern-day allure of ISIS and other Islamic fundamentalist groups to disaffected Muslim youth.

Currently, they are on the verge of being crushed by the considerable might of their Turkish neighbors to the north. Taking a page from the Bush-Cheney handbook of giving military exercises Orwellian names, the offensive is called “Operation Olive Branch.” This has been on the horizon since its inception – the Turks have long had an uneasy coexistence with the Kurds within and adjacent to their borders. They could scarcely have picked a worse person to get their inspiration from than Abdullah Öcalan, one of the founders of the hated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Anti-Kurdish sentiment is something they have in common with every other state in the vicinity, all of whom are hostile to the idea of a pan-Kurdish nation state. It doesn’t take much imagination to ponder why Kurds wouldn’t want to remain under the watchful eye of authoritarian regimes that hate them.

As of today, Afrin has yet to fall. I glossed over this earlier, but the area is a veritable hornets nest of competing interests. The US are content to give funds and munitions to the Kurds (as they have for decades) but oppose any kind of Kurdish state. Turkey is simultaneously backed by Russia and collaborating with the remnants of ISIS, while seething over US support for the Kurds. Syria wants its territory back. NATO has remained silent. The UN is powerless. Obviously, the preceding snapshot is not entirely correct and certainly missing key narratives (this is a good summary of the geopolitical situation). But the underlying theme is that a good thing is in peril. I don’t really know how else to end this other than to say that this sucks.