Ecofascism, neo-Malthusianism and COVID-19

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the globe, there have been numerous examples of wild animals thriving, as well as widespread improvement in air quality. You may have seen some expressing the sentiment that #natureishealing. Some do this because they revel in the sight of animals flourishing in spaces that have for so long been life-threatening due to human activities. Others have a darker point of view, shitting out takes along the lines of “we are the virus, COVID is the cure.” These points of view tend to fall somewhere between general nihilism and, more insidiously, neo-Malthusianism (perhaps eco-extremism as well, but this is far less prevalent).

Many on the fragmented left respond by pointing to our wonderful economic system as the true virus: it’s not people, it’s capitalism! While there is obvious merit to this, it occludes an important, obvious fact: capitalism cannot exist without actual humans, for example, excavating the guts of a mountain; without actual humans processing the guts within sweltering factories; without actual humans transporting the finished products across the globe; and finally, without actual humans consuming the products and disposing the resultant waste. All of which necessitates gargantuan amounts of energy, most of which is sucked out of the earth and refined – more activities which require human labor power.

Further, situating capitalism as the prime evil neglects the fact that earth destruction was and can be practiced under communism just as well (a fact that communists and socialists tend to ignore). Moreover, it matters little if any particular factory is run by bourgeois capitalists, authoritarian state communists, or egalitarian anarcho-syndicalists: none of them dare to conceive of a world in which the factory ceases to be. But maybe there is a globalized way of life that includes factories mass producing eventual garbage which isn’t catastrophically destructive – if so, I’m eagerly waiting its widespread instantiation.

This is not to say that we humans as a whole are the disease. For most of human existence we didn’t commit mass extirpations (that we were the primary reason for the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions is far from settled), clear cut forests, destroy & despoil mountaintops, pollute the seas, damn rivers, etc. Even today, there are many peoples that do not live in ways that entail mass destruction, that resist with every fiber of their being the Leviathanic beast constantly threatening their existence. For this reason, I certainly empathize and express solidarity with venerable persons/groups like the Indigenous Anarchist Federation patiently explaining to settlers that, no, not all humans do this.

Nevertheless, we need to recognize that most of us are complicit to varying degrees, even if we are passive consumers. If we are to assign blame, we can start by placing it on the heads of those who profit the most from the destruction of our only home, but let us not forget most of our comparatively smaller roles.

***

Some, in excoriating gleeful environmentalists, nihilists and neo-Malthusians (inasmuch as they make any kind of distinction), go further: they find them to be ecofascist. While I admit there is a navigable gulf between them, such people misunderstand what ecofascism is. Put simply, ecofascism advocates for totalitarianism combined with “eco-conscious” ethno-nationalism and xenophobia. It co-opts deep ecology in order to incorporate the worst aspects of it into its repellent ideology – perhaps a distant cousin to corporate greenwashing.

By incorrectly and liberally applying the ecofascist label to anyone who’s scared, hopeless, or just happy to see nature thriving, we confuse them with those that actually are. We may risk pushing them in that direction – for there is merit to their knee-jerk denials. Only fascists (though not necessarily all of them) readily accept the label; falsely accused potential allies are likely to view with mistrust those that insist on appending it to them.

I think it more effective to point out the demonstrable fact that there is a class of people that is disproportionately consuming the world’s resource – and it is infinitely more likely to be those in the vicinity of the western Neo-Malthusian or the nihilist than in in the global south. Further, the left needs to fully grasp and not run away from the fact that the planet cannot sustain a population of 8 billion people living Western lifestyles. To believe this is possible is magical thinking: we would need 4 earths for everyone to live like an American. Acknowledging this is not ceding ground to fascists.

I want to make clear that it is categorically bad to advocate for vague population controls and mewl about how there’s too many fucking people. I think that this outlook, while dangerous, is more likely to lead to – and further entrench – myopia and despair rather than ecofascism. It’s shitty and, while it’s not exactly fascism, it might entail people too dead inside to fight the genuine fascists in our midst.

***

I suggest we let what is occurring environmentally be instructive. Let it be a lesson: yes – certain humans and capitalism as hyperobject need to be identified as culprits and meaningfully addressed; yes – the circumstances in which any ephemeral environmental benefits are manifesting are unconditionally bad. But let us gaze upon these benefits and grapple with how we can allow them to continue outside of the context of a global pandemic:

We could tear up roads or even build ways for animals to get around them. There are even more novel approaches, like green cemeteries that double as wildlife corridors. And with the need for a green stimulus in the wake of the pandemic, it could be a way to put people to work while also restoring the planet.

Beyond reducing fear, we can also make places more appealing for animals to hang. That could mean replacing your ecological disaster of a lawn with wildflowers to help pollinators, or fighting to keep park space open so birds have places to chill, particularly along flyways. [ironically, the author does what this blog warns against]

Are these collective panaceas? Of course, not: they are examples of what can be done to maintain COVID-19-related environmental positives. We are in desperate need of a massive suite of solutions applied worldwide as well as to specific locales. Some will work. Some won’t. Some will have mixed results and need adjusting. But we need it all. Time isn’t on our side.

Finally, if you’re too steeped in anthropocentrism to be unable to spare a positive thought for thriving traumatized animals (or feel the need to scold those who do); if the idea of baby leatherback sea turtles scurrying unbothered across a beach doesn’t make you feel something, I don’t know how to respond to that.

For those that do rejoice in clear skies and nature recovering, do not do so without the insertion of a pretty large caveat that recognizes the human suffering that has led to such phenomena. And if you notice a person omitting that important caveat, please don’t call them an ecofascist.

Pandemics and stuff and glimmers of hope

Hi. How are you? I hope you and your loved ones are well and staying safe. My wife and I both are fortunate enough that we are still employed and able to work from home. She’s a teacher with a contract that runs till the end of summer. I might get laid off anytime. So we’re pretty okay for now.

I’ve been thinking, reading, learning and writing about collapse for over a decade. And yet I was completely caught off guard with what’s transpired. I’ve long known that public health officials and epidemiologists have warned about the inevitability of a pandemic, but even on 3/10 (the day before sports stopped), I was still like “meh, it probably won’t be that bad.” So though I’ve shouted for years about how we in the West live in more precarity than most are aware of, I was no better than anyone else in terms of early, misinformed denialism.

Rather than write here, I’ve been primarily venting my rage on Facebook, to the extent that I’m sure many have hid me. There I rant like a madmen, exhorting friends and family to gaze upon the hideous monstrosity that is capitalism, with its horrors, inadequacies, and contradictions laid bare, unable to be hidden within the context of a global pandemic. Fun and uplifting stuff!

As for this here blog, I’ve junked some writings that no longer seem relevant, or worth continuing. Eventually I should finish a thing about eco-fascism – what it is, what it isn’t, and how it’s been used (incorrectly, in my opinion) as a smear. Maybe something about the Tiger King or whatever that everyone seems to think is hilarious, but that would require watching, which I categorically do not want to do.

Finally, to the underpaid, overworked and – before now – overlooked & ignored; to those whose essential labor enriches a tiny elite, I hope you are staying safe. And I wish you success in your battles to reverse the heretofore intractable flow of wealth toward where the bulk of it rightly belongs. As Mike Davis writes in Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory:

In depression and war [the former has likely arrived], however, contradictions fissure [the] crystal palace of reified economic and political realities, and the deep meaning of the historical moment ‘becomes comprehensible in practice.’ It is finally ‘possible to read off from history the correct course of action to be followed.’

We are undeniably in a historical moment, and it would be terrible if we are unable to take advantage of it – after all, our enemies have long known to never let a good crisis go to waste and are surely doing everything they can to maintain or increase their wealth and power.

James Baldwin and religion

James Baldwin is the fucking best. The following excerpts, taken from his Collected Essays, are either explicitly concerned with religion or merely religion adjacent.

By extracting bits & pieces of his writing and presenting them devoid of context, I’m not convinced I did justice to the searing totality of the individual essays themselves. Please consider reading them in full.

The Fire Next Time

[T]he blood of the Lamb had not cleansed me in any way whatever. I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born. Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike. When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto?

[…]

I have long had a very definite tendency to tune out the moment I come any where near either a pulpit or soapbox.

[…]

It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being (and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible) must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church. If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.

[…]

From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded—at least, in the same way.

[…]

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death—ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.

Preservation of Innocence

Instantly the Deity springs to mind, in much the same manner, I suspect, that He sprang into being on the cold, black day when we discovered that nature cared nothing for us. His advent, which alone had the power to save us from nature and ourselves, also created a self-awareness and, therefore, tensions and terrors and responsibilities with which we had not coped before. It marked the death of innocence; it set up the duality of good-and-evil; and now Sin and Redemption, those mighty bells, began that crying which will not cease until, by another act of creation, we transcend our old morality. Before we were banished from Eden and the curse was uttered, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman,” the homosexual did not exist; nor, properly speaking, did the heterosexual. We were all in a state of nature.

We are forced to consider this tension between God and nature and are thus confronted with the nature of God because He is man’s most intense creation and it is not in the sight of nature that the homosexual is condemned, but in the sight of God.

White Racism or World Community?

It’s got to be admitted that if you are born under the circumstances in which most black people in the West are born, that means really black people over the entire world, when you look around you, having attained soemething resembling adulthood, one can see that the destruction of the Christian Church as it is presently constituted may not only be desirable but may be necessary.

[…]

One of the things that happened, it seems to me, with the rise of the Christian Church, was precisely the denial of a certain kind of spontaneity, a certain kind of joy, a certain kind of freedom, which a man can only have with himself, his surroundings, his women and his children. It seems to me that this shows very crucially in the nature, the structure of our politics and in the personalities of our children, who would like to learn, if I may put it this way, how to sing the blues, because the blues are not a racial creation, the blues are an historical creation produced by the confrontation precisely between the pagan, the black pagan from Africa, and the alabaster cross. I am suggesting that the nature of the lies of the Christian Church has always helplessly told about me are only a reflection of the lies the Christian Church has always helplessly told itself, to itself, about itself.

Open Letter to the Born Again

It has always astounded me that no one appears to be able to make the connection between Franco’s Spain, for example, and the Spanish Inquisition; the role of the Christian church or—to be brutally precise, the Catholic Church—in the history of Europe, and the fate of the Jews; and the role of the Jews in Christendom and the discovery of America. For the discovery of America coincided with the Inquisition, and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Does no one see the connection between The Merchant of Venice and The Pawnbroker? In both of these works, as though no time had passed, the Jew is portrayed as doing the Christian’s usurious dirty work. The first white man ever was the Jewish manager arrived to collect the rent, and he collected the rent because he did not own the building. I never, in fact, saw any of the people who owned any of the buildings in which we scrubbed and suffered for so long, until I was a grown man and famous. None of them were Jews.

And I was not stupid: the grocer and the druggist were Jews, for example, and they were very very nice to me, and to us. The cops were white. The city was white. The threat was white, and God was white, Not for even a single split second in my life did the despicable, utterly cowardly accusation that “the Jews killed Christ’’ reverberate. I knew a murderer when I saw one, and the people who were trying to kilI me were not Jews.

The Price of the Ticket

If I were still in the pulpit, which some people (and they may be right) claim I never left, I would counsel my countrymen to the self-confrontation of prayer, the cleansing breaking of the heart which precedes atonement. This is, of course, impossible. Multitudes are capable of many things, but atonement is not one of them.

[…]

In the church I come from—which is not at all the same church to which white Americans belong—we were counseled, from time to time, to do our first works over. Though the church I come from and the church to which most white Americans belong are both Christian churches, their relationship—due to those pragmatic decisions concerning Property made by a Christian state some time ago—cannot be said to involve, or suggest, the fellowship of Christians. We do not, therefore, share the same hope or speak the same language.

To do your first works over means to reexamine everything. Go back to where you started, or as far back as you can, examine all of it, travel your road again and tell the truth about it. Sing or shout or testify or keep it to yourself: but know whence you came.

This is precisely what the generality of Americans cannot afford to do. They do not know how to do it—: as I must suppose. They come through Ellis Island, where Giorgio becomes Joe, Pappavasiliu becomes Palmer, Evangelos becomes Evans, Goldsmith becomes Smith or Gold, and Avakian becomes King. So with a painless change of name, and in the twinkling of an eye, one becomes a white American.

Later, in the midnight hour, the missing identity aches. One can neither assess nor overcome the storm of the middle passage. One is mysteriously shipwrecked forever, in the Great New World.

[…]

The price the white American paid for his ticket was to become white—: and, in the main, nothing more than that, or, as he was to insist, nothing less. This incredibly limited, not to say dim-witted, ambition has choked many a human being to death here: and this, I contend, is because the white American has never accepted the real reasons for his journey. I know very well that my ancestors had no desire to come to this place: but neither did the ancestors of the people who became white and who require of my captivity a song. They require of me a song less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own.

 

I guess it’s gotta be Bernie

As an anarchist awaiting a revolution that isn’t visible on the horizon (yet), I’m enough of a pragmatist to not completely ignore electoral politics.

If I told young IHFJ that in 2020 an electable candidate would be openly skeptical of capitalism, irreligious, against US global hegemony, and not afraid of being labeled a socialist, I would’ve been stunned. Bernie Sanders is by far the only presidential candidate I’ve felt an affinity for. I never believed for a second he’d beat Hillary in 2016, but here we are in 2020 and there’s no firmly entrenched candidate standing in his way. Were he to win the nomination it would be my first time voting in a presidential election without feeling completely disgusted.

What follows is a meandering, hopefully not too disjointed assessment of the 2020 presidential election as I attempt to work through my thoughts.

***

Let’s dive right into one of the main critiques of Sanders: he’s a dreaded “class reductionist” in a party that largely ignores class. When used to describe Sanders it’s always an epithet. This is absurd, because class is massively important and ignores the fact that class disproportionately affects marginalized groups. How systemic bigotries can ever hope to be confronted without wrestling with capitalism’s positioning of historically oppressed peoples in the base of the societal pyramid is beyond my comprehension. Any leftist politics that fails to recognize this is toothless and needs to be chucked into the dustbin of history.

(I’m being honest when I say I’d love to hear whether or not Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib or Alexandria Ocacio Cortez think of him as nothing but a class reductionist. I briefly considered posting a collection of shocked centrist reactions to 3/4th’s of “The Squad” endorsing Sanders – they very obviously delight in their diverse identities, but hilariously ignored their politics; anyways, I thought it too troll-ish and Bernie bro adjacent)

On the other hand, politicians who champion identity politics while ignoring economic inequality will never meaningfully enact systemic changes that can help the masses. The best they have done – and I don’t think is always necessarily insignificant – is allow themselves, after years of resistance, to get swept up in waves of social change (i.e. gay marriage), and inevitably settle on advocating for visibility and representation as panaceas to society’s problems. In essence, give some a seat at the table and hope the rest shut the fuck up and vote for them (is this not good enough for you? What are you going to do, vote for the Bad Cheeto Man?)

Centrist politics within neoliberal capitalism cannot meaningfully address economic inequality – it never has, and if you believe it can or will, you have more in common with religious adherents than you’d care to admit. While it can and has incorporated individuals of marginalized groups into the upper levels of its superstructure, the bulk of these groups continue to find themselves within its bottommost strata.

All of this aside, I have little respect for those who reduce all the world’s evils to capitalism (for instance, the patriarchy antedates capitalism by millennia). It is undeniable that capitalism objectively developed within the context of chattel slavery (no link necessary); European colonialism (no link necessary); and the expropriation of female reproductive labor, witch-hunts, and the institutionalization of midwifery and prostitution. Whether or not capitalism necessarily needed racism and sexism to flourish and become the dominant economic paradigm is irrelevant, because that is precisely what occurred – even if, paradoxically, capitalism allowed for spaces in which equality amongst the sexes and races was able to develop in certain ways for certain populations in certain places at certain times.

Can capitalism exist and function without bigotry? Certainly capitalists will enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. The only answer I can come up with is who fucking cares. While it can be interesting to engage in historical counterfactuals, it’s essentially an exercise that, in the case of the rise of capitalism, has few if any useful applications to the real world. Capitalism always has and likely always will require an underclass and, from its perspective, the various identities of this underclass are irrelevant.

Capitalism, racism and sexism are inextricably intertwined and it is impossible to disentangle the chaotic assemblage of strands to determine which is the Most Important Evil. The bottom line: the ills of capitalism cannot be confronted without simultaneously confronting institutionalized racism and the patriarchy (the same goes for homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and speciesism – smash them all). I believe the reverse of that argument to also be true.

If one believes that Sanders isn’t knowledgeable about, or just plain ignorant of intersectionality (unfortunately for his acolytes, there’s evidence of this), it is undeniable that – if were he to succeed (a big if) – his economic programs/policies will help such people he does little more than allegedly pay lip service to. Sanders probably should do better, though I doubt any of his attempts will convince those who already hate him. But I don’t believe there is any other candidate that, contra Sanders, has a deep, nuanced understanding of the ubiquity, persistence and interrelations of the aforementioned bigotries – especially considered within the context of class (it’s interesting that Barbara Smith, who coined the term “identity politics,” has again endorsed him). Overall, anyone who thinks Bernie is uniquely terrible at intersectionality is naïve to think the other candidates are significantly better. Like Elizabeth Warren.

***

I generally dislike making statements about how things “feel” to me, due to its subjective nature. That said, I feel like the same types of people who think Sanders an irredeemable sexist/racist have given Warren a pass for pretending to be Cherokee most of her life. To quickly summarize the facts regarding Warren’s claims:

In 1836, Warren’s great-great-great-grandfather, a white man named William Marsh, enlisted himself in a Tennessee militia to fight in the “Cherokee War,” an occupation of Cherokee land in the lead-up to the Trail of Tears. Decades later, his grandson John Houston Crawford moved his family onto Indian Territory and squatted on Cherokee land in a move that, with no record of a permit, was almost certainly illegal.

The Crawfords were just some of the tens of thousands of white squatters who outnumber Cherokees on our own land. While Cherokee Nation beseeched Congress to enforce our treaty rights and kick them out, the squatters pushed Congress to divide up our treaty territory and create a path to white land ownership; the squatters won.

The Crawfords settled in the new state of Oklahoma. They lived among Indians, but it wasn’t always peaceful. In 1906, John Crawford shot a Creek man for hitting his son. According to The Boston Globe, his son, Rosco, would later tell stories about how “mean” the Indians were. But one of Crawford’s grandchildren, Pauline Reed, told a very different story. Not a story of living among Indians, a story of being Indian.

Pauline’s youngest child, Elizabeth, grew up with her mother’s version of the story. And though the family had no evidence or relationship to the tribe, Elizabeth Warren never questioned it, she wrote in her memoir. It was her family story, she would say.

That’s… it. That was enough for her to claim to be Cherokee for most of her life. Let’s assume that her comical attempt to use race science to “prove” her ancestry is true (in sports parlance, this was quite the unforced error). And let’s pretend that heritage, tradition and culture can be reduced to blood quanta. That would mean that, at best, 1 of her 32 great great great grandparents was Cherokee. It would also mean that 31 of those great great great grandparents were European. And yet, to her, that 1 great great great grandparent carried more weight than all the rest combined. If Warren family tradition hypothesized one great great grandparent that was Estonian, would she have frequently brought up her pride in being Estonian? If not, why is that?

She perpetuates the proud, white American tradition of wishing to procure a sheen of nobility from the savages they fetishize. Or: she (and her family) merely want to – consciously or subconsciously out of guilt – obscure, omit or deny their historical complicity in indigenous genocide. Either way – fuck that settler colonial bullshit.

If you’re white and belong to a family who, in their lore, claim descent from Native Americans, the very least you can do is keep that shit to yourself. At best, do some research; educate your family as to why this is racist and should not continue to be perpetuated – even if you locate one great great great grandparent that might “substantiate” your claim. Definitely don’t put it on work/college applications; talk in public about your family’s “high cheekbones”; submit recipes to a cookbook called, I shit you not, Pow Wow Chow (one recipe, by the way, contained mayonnaise and may have been plagiarized); or use fucking race science to clumsily “dunk” on your detractors (only for your detractors to laugh in your face at the simple fact that 1/32 – 1/512 is, by any account, not a whole hell of a lot).

I don’t care if she allegedly derived no material benefit from her claims. I don’t care if anyone truly thinks science “proved” the veracity of her claims. I don’t care if you think that “science” is necessary to confront political enemies who could not care less about what science does or doesn’t prove. Your arguments are racist trash.

If you think any of this isn’t at least as bad as anything problematic Sanders is alleged to have said, that says a lot about you. It says your concern with racism is situational and there are circumstances and groups of people you’re willing to ignore in the interest of acting as pathetic knights defending your chosen one. You are truly the liberal version of dipshit sports fans who believe the Cleveland Baseball team and Washington/Kansas City football teams are honoring Native Americans.

***

The preceding section, among other things, calls into questions Warren’s judgment and honesty (I should note here that you will not find within this blog a detailed analysis of policy – it’s already too long). Within the context of Warren’s lies about her heritage, I’m not sure why anyone would believe Warren’s claims of Sanders telling her a woman couldn’t beat Trump – especially when he was willing to defer to her candidacy in 2016, highlighted the absurdity of why he would think women can’t win when Hillary won the popular vote, and has long encouraged women to run for office. It would certainly be weird for someone whose beliefs are widely thought by both his partisans and opponents to have been fossilized for decades to make such a sudden and severe change.

Warren and her campaign were extremely prepared to capitalize on Sanders’s alleged remarks by creating a Sanders-shaped straw-man who can be told again and again that yes, a woman CAN win. It’s not even a point Sanders can argue against since he – at least publicly – believes the same thing. Bernie bros seem to think of this as the death spasms of her failing campaign, but I’m not so sure. Whether or not there’s any truth to her claims, it was obviously a calculated move to paint Sanders as a sexist, and it might pay off – especially when some of the most annoying Bernie bros wasted no time in embodying the worst stereotypes many believe all of them to have.

Speaking of Bernie bros, I’d like to point out that the scourge of the white, male “Bernie bro” is incorrect in its identifiers (this was hilariously underscored by Rashida Tlaib, not a white male, being accused of white male rage when she had the audacity to boo Hillary Clinton, someone who finds literal child sex traffickers and serial rapists more likeable than Sanders). Every candidate has a toxic section of their base that’s equally as insufferable – Warren with her wine-moms, Kamala and the K-Hive, Biden and his, uhhhh – I don’t even know if there’s a name for his obnoxious supporters and I’m not entirely convinced they exist (I mean, they really shouldn’t exist). But, anecdotally, it truly feels (there’s that word unfortunate word again) that the corporate media is more focused on one group than the others. I wonder why that is.

If you think your candidate doesn’t have annoying sycophants I’d suggest you’re being willfully ignorant. Moreover, a handful of online assholes distorts the volume of the whole – social media is not synonymous with actual life. 50 Chapo Trap House-loving Bernie bros being mean to a New York Times writer is a fucking drop in the bucket.

Outside of mainstream politics there are anti-indigenous anarchists, authoritarian (“tankie”) Marxist-Leninists, actual class reductionist Marxists who think LGBT people are bourgeois perversions, and green anarchists who veer dangerously close to antihuman eco-extremism – but these pieces of shit don’t necessarily delegitimize the decent people who have those beliefs. Moreover, they should be considered on their own merits and not their worst adherents – one doesn’t need to judge American conservatism by the actions of American conservatives to conclude that it’s a morally bankrupt, repulsive, ruinous ideology. Conceptually, this should be very clear to non-shitty atheists for obvious reasons.

All that said – in the interest of being pragmatic, annoying Bernie bros should absolutely find other ways to engage their critics than contempt and mockery. Contempt and mockery obviously aren’t going to convince one’s political adversaries, but, more importantly, it may turn off the undecideds. Just a thought.

***

Capitalism needs, if not smashing, then, at the very least, neutering. Any politician who is a self-described “capitalist to [their] bones” is not someone I support, but I concede that Warren is more palatable than the rest. The fact that I’m scrutinizing her more than the other candidates speaks to the contempt I have for them. Biden – a living manifestation of the Stephen Colbert black friend bit – and Buttigieg – appropriately dubbed Mayo Pete – would get crushed by Trump and there’s nothing to like about either.

I think Warren’s position as the candidate of compromise, with Bernie on her left and Biden/Buttigieg on her right, leaves her ill equipped to pull enough support from either side to win the nomination. Perhaps more importantly, I don’t think she will beat Trump; though outside of Sanders I think she has the best chance. If you disagree with any of this, you might very well be right. However, it is inarguable that there is a diverse mass that is dedicated to the broad ethos of a Sanders presidency; were this not true, then how else – especially in the face of extreme media bias – is he still a wildly popular, viable candidate 4 years after his failure to win the nomination of a party whose elite are dedicated to sidelining him?

The best chance the Democratic Party has, to their horror, is probably Sanders, with his diverse base and ability to reach disaffected white voters that are inclined either toward Trump or complete political disengagement. These voters are categorically not sympathetic to Bernie because he’s racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic (because there’s little evidence he is); some of these voters might fall into such categories, but if the Democrats have any hope of winning they can’t afford to write them off as human trash unworthy of anything except scorn and mockery (which, admittedly, is my personal knee-jerk attitude towards them). How well did calling them “deplorables” work for Hillary? For real, what’s the fucking game-plan if it’s not Sanders – again, who’s not a bigot, and who doesn’t automatically become one if some of them vote for him – offering a platform they can embrace? If you think the proponents of your chosen candidate are so ethically pure, I echo again the sentiment that you’re being a tad gullible.

Maybe his victory will further the inexorable growth of his movement, which will force politicians to begrudgingly cater to them. Forced wealth transfers from the target of Sanders’s ire – the hated 1% – begin the protracted process of “making things better.” Perhaps a nascent dictatorship of the proletariat (an unfortunate phrase that is better understood as the government of the many against the numerically inferior bourgeoisie/corporate elite) will emerge, unite against their class enemies, and find they are strong. US citizens will become increasingly aware of and repulsed by the fact that their standard of living necessitates ecological destruction and mass human misery both domestically and globally. The Green New Deal reverses some of the depredations of climate change thanks to technological advances and dwindling consumerism, which is finally, definitively identified as a plague that is ruining the planet. Maybe a century from now the state begins to wither away as it becomes increasingly unnecessary; not, as Lenin foresaw, as the result of a violent revolution and seizure of state power, but of democratic electoralism and the peaceful eradication of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist world-destroyers.

Is this likely? Probably not. But again I’d like to stress a better world is far less likely with centrist neoliberal democracy. If you think that is more feasible, I fully believe you are more concerned with finding a safe, comfortable alcove within Leviathan from which to watch the world burn. The best that can be said of you is that you really dislike the Tweeter-in-Chief (despite foolishly thinking he is the alpha and omega of all that’s wrong in the world) and may, at times, shake your head sadly at the state of things while rejoicing in diverse representation in politics and entertainment.

***

There is an important caveat to a Sanders victory. If he wins, and if he fails to alleviate systemic problems, it very well might be the death blow for democratic socialism (not to mention further sullying the reputations of Communism, Socialism, and Marxism). He will be hated and it’s hard to see how the actual left can recover. This is bad, because the success of combinations of leftist ideas is needed for a future that is not a blasted hellscape (due to how disregarded these ideas are, I’d very much like to be wrong about this).

A failed Sanders presidency will see centrist liberalism – the friendlier face of the death cult that is capitalism – reemerging unscathed, no worse for wear, content to blame Sanders and his irrational disciples. The far right will continue howling for blood, becoming stronger as it incubates the next Trump-like figure within its fetid, rotting womb. All in all, Sanders’s failure may lead to re-enactments of Hillary vs. Trump with different stand-ins every 4 years, as the center moves ever rightward while environmental devastation and human immiseration continues apace. Gods help us all.

Or – scorning the failed/failing ideas positioned to their right – perhaps the revolutionary left will resolve their interminable, internecine squabbles, and build societies that don’t destroy the planet; that don’t exploit, kill and enslave each other. Their ranks will swell with those disillusioned with mainstream politics. This disillusionment will differ from that felt by prior generations because it will occur within the context of a planetary existential crisis that’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore. Though, as climate scientists constantly inform us, the hour is late, the seeds for the creation of a better world exist in ours (I do admit it’s hard not to feel like a pathetic fool typing shit like this).

This hope for a better world highlights the contradictions anarchists (this also goes for communists, socialists, and their uncountable ideological subdivisions) such as myself face – we are severely pessimistic about both democratic nation-states and capitalism; and yet we fervently believe that we as a species can do better, despite the glaring, and as of now intractable fact that most people aren’t anarchists (or communists or socialists). Depressingly, the general population, through little fault of their own, understand anarchism as violent chaos, and communism as grim dictatorship. No one has yet figured out how to effectively spread the good word to the masses (which is especially disheartening considering how long these ideologies have existed). The utilization of social media appeared, at first, as if it would be viable and effective, but it has only served to flatten the discourse and situate most within their own echo chamber, which occasionally fight other echo chambers. Were Leviathan a conscious being, he (and it would certainly be a he) wouldn’t be able to keep from laughing uncontrollably.

It’s ahistorical and illogical to think the current socio-politico-economic paradigm will persist forever. Every civilization, every society that’s ever existed has perished, merged with other societies, or transformed beyond all recognition. Within that context, this election feels existentially important, although this is a sentiment expressed every 4 years for many different reasons. My primary vote is for guillotine and revolution. As they’re not on the ballot, I’ll go with Sanders as my second choice.

Perhaps his victory or defeat will be one of the spatiotemporal fulcrums that alters the trajectory of our species. We’re edging toward a point where we may find ourselves at the edge of such an abyss where we need to choose a new way. With our backs to the wreckage, and as the void stares up at us, hopefully we’ll have the strength, foresight, and empathy to do what must be done to have a livable and just planet for all.

Fuck everyone who whitewashes MLK

The good readers of FtB probably are aware of this, but MLK was skeptical of capitalism, against US imperialism, and would’ve disliked the pieces of shit who whitewash him every January 20th. Concurrently (and very obviously), those same pieces of shit would’ve hated him when he was alive.
————
“[T]here is a definite move away from capitalism, whether we conceive of it as conscious or unconscious. Capitalism finds herself like a losing football team in the last quarter trying all types of tactics to survive.”
————
“I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic”
————
“[C]apitalism is always in danger of inspiring men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life. We are prone to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobiles, rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to humanity.”
————
“So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens […] as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”
————
“During the past ten years we have seen emerge a pattern of suppression which has now justified the presence of U.S. military advisors in Venezuela. This need to maintain social stability for our investments accounts for the counterrevolutionary action of American forces in Guatemala. It tells why American helicopters are being used against guerrillas in Cambodia and why American napalm and Green Beret forces have already been active against rebels in Peru.”
[…]
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. We in the West must support these revolutions.”
[…]
“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low [Audience:] (Yes); the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.””
[…]
Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’
[…]
“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”

https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/…/notes-american-capital…
https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/…/documen…/beyond-vietnam
https://theintercept.com/…/martin-luther-king-jr-celebrati…/
https://www.jacobinmag.com/…/martin-luther-king-vietnam-war…
https://wagingnonviolence.org/…/martin-luther-king-capital…/

I, satanist

[Scene: Waiting area situated between two restaurants in Gatlinburg, TN (a tourist hellscape that is a necessary evil whilst visiting the Great Smoky Mountains). My wife went to the bathroom and I’m alone. A guy sitting across from me notices my hoodie.]

Guy: What’s that shirt you’re wearing?

Me: It’s a band called Choking Victim.

Guy: What kind of music is that?

Me: Kind of like a punk band.

Guy: I don’t like stuff like that with the [makes a weird muffled scream-like sound]

Me: Ok

Guy: [Pauses long enough that I think the conversation is over] So you’re a satanist

Me: What? No

Guy: Your shirt says otherwise

[To be fair, the shirt contains a pentagram and upside down cross]

Me: Ah. If you look at the rest of the shirt you can see it says “no gods no managers

Guy: [Pauses again, but I’m fairly certain he’s thinking of something to say] Satan’s not a god

Me: [not wanting to get into the nuances of Christian theology as it relates to atheism] Well, fine – anything biblical I don’t really believe in

Guy: [walks towards one of the restaurants; then he walks back to the waiting area and continues toward the other restaurant] So I guess Trump ain’t your president

Me: I mean, he is the president

Guy: [doesn’t respond; continues walking]

My wife liked my response but I thought of a few alternates to his devastating parting shot which heinously accused me of not liking America’s special big boy president:

#1: Actually, Malcolm Brogdon is the only president I recognize

#2: I don’t really get the question, if it was even a question rather than a statement. Using the word “my” has the connotation that he belongs to me or that I have some kind of claim on him. It’s kind of silly. So he’s not “my” president, same as Obama wasn’t “my” president. But I hope we can both agree that he’s a real pile of shit.

#3: You know, I’d like to say no but Trump is the perfect encapsulation of all that is revolting in American society congealed into one grotesque person. Just an utterly vile amalgamation of greed, sexism, racism, xenophobia, cruelty, hypersensitivity, unearned arrogance, short-sightedness, and an almost pathological amount of ignorance injected into a screaming, hate-filled, creamsicle-colored blob. Perhaps worst of all is his childlike understanding of science in a moment where it might be a good idea for the scientifically literate to take the wheel (did you hear about this utter clown talking about wind farms causing cancer?). And a bunch of people listened to the things he said, and read the things he attempted to write and, rather than thinking this person is deeply, deeply puerile, they thought “yes, he should be one of the most powerful people in the world – one who should definitely have control over nuclear weapons.” And whether I like it or not, I’m complicit, as most of us in America are to varying degrees; we participate and benefit by virtue of residing in the world’s most powerful nation-state that is hopelessly unwilling and unable to meaningfully confront its foundational mythologies and deep structural problems which continue to immiserate large portions of its own populace (not to mention the peoples it exploits and kills throughout the globe); all of this while situated as the Leviathanic head of an unholy beast driving all living beings toward ecological disaster. Let’s be real – our society’s vast problems both transcend and predate this oafish goon’s ascent. Anyways, I guess from that perspective he is very much my president as he is surely yours. But I hope we can both agree that he’s a real pile of shit.

.
.

.

Pretty sure if I said any of that it wouldn’t have ended well for me.

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.