July 18, 2018

Is we smarter today than two years ago?

In 2004 Susan Jacoby published her book, Freethinkers, and then set out on a promotion tour. Later, when speaking of that tour she told of an interesting and important discovery... those who came listen to her speak already agreed with the premise of the book. There was no one at any of the stops to offer dissent. It was as if no one cared to expose themselves to viewpoints contrary to their closely held beliefs. As a result, four years later Jacoby published her next book, The Age of American Unreason

In that book, Jacoby observes that religious extremism and political opportunism have taken over our culture, and the means by which they have done it is by mass marketing and constant repetition of falsehood. The book is almost a sequel to Hofstadter's landmark work, Anti-intellectualism in American Life. This 1963 book was his dissection of the American mindset he had observed leading up to the 1960 election, the anti-JFK tribalism, and the segregationist attitudes so prevalent at the time. 
In her book, Jacoby writes that "the scales of American history have shifted heavily against [the] intellectual life so essential to functional democracy." When asked, she called herself a “cultural conservative,” but lamented that the term had been "hijacked by the religious right," which she describes as "preoccupied with […] the preservation of the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance." Throughout the book, Jacoby builds the argument that America is damaged not only by the resulting mass ignorance, but by the pride taken in that ignorance, and of the arrogance of the ignorant individuals who practically relish their know-nothingness. (“… I love the poorly educated.”) 

Ignorance is served to us daily; here in the blogosphere, on Facebook and other forms of social media, in the nightly news, the pathetic game shows and soap operas, “reality” TV programs, and every time a politician, pundit, or preacher opens a mouth. 

But there is a difference between mundane and virulent ignorance. 

Mundane ignorance is when the on-street interviewer asks a dozen passersby to point out Idaho on a map... or name the freedoms enshrined in the 1st amendment. Virulent ignorance is evident in people who claim to be educated and call themselves “stable genius.” They believe that they are informed on important subjects when in reality they’ve just been educated into greater ignorance. 

These are the people who do not show up to speak with Susan Jacoby, because they are already convinced that she is wrong. They are the people who watch only Fox, or only MSNBC for their news. They are the ones constantly parroting "fake news." They are willing to swallow falsehood so long as it agrees with what they want to believe... and they are immune to actual evidence. 

~~~

January 16, 2018

The wheel keeps on turning

On this date in 1919 the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving birth to a new and highly lucrative small business model for some enterprising Italian and Jewish immigrants. Once the legal sale of alcohol fell under the prohibitionist ax, bootlegging gave a giant leg up to La Cosa Nostra. It took Americans a little time to fully realize the futility of the teetotaler agenda, but fourteen years later the 18th amendment was effectively repealed by the passage of the 23rd. The mafia, however, was already firmly entrenched. It wasn't until the late 60s that the FBI finally effectively broke its back and it wasn’t until after the turn of the millennium that the last of the major Dons was convicted and sent to prison. Almost a century of organized crime was birthed by puritan efforts to save humans from themselves.

Coincidental with the prohibitionists anti-alcohol efforts came the effort to eliminate yet another substance; cannabis. A fact that seems forgotten in this 21st century is that up until the early years of the twentieth century, cannabis was freely cultivated and used to produce medications, rope, and textiles. On the surface the prohibition effort was played as as just another of the do-gooder cause but the true tale of how the substance fell into the cross-hairs of the prudes is long and interesting. It mirrors a vaguely European and very American narrative. Racism.

Following the end of the Mexican revolution in 1920 the U.S. began to see an influx of Mexican immigration, mostly into border states and Louisiana. These immigrants brought their native culture, customs, and language. One of these customs was cannabis use as a relaxant, and just like Americans, they also used it for medications. They called it marijuana rather than cannabis, and while Americans were familiar with the cannabis plant as an ingredient in medications available at the time, the word marijuana was a foreign term. This ignorance was exploited by the prohibitionists, as well as a far different element of American society. This other group included groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

So an unholy alliance between the prohibitionists and our good old American racist elements took form. They began implying that the Mexicans and their marijuana must be evil. The media, fed with false and exaggerated claims about disruptive Mexicans and their marijuana use, joined in on a campaign that came disguised as law and order but was in fact just another racist attempt to keep America white. The rhetoric stoked fear among the public and the anti-Mexican movement that we still see today was born. The average American, ignorant of the fact that this terrible drug marijuana was already in their medicine cabinets, jumped on the prohibition bandwagon.

We had seen previously that controlling the citizens by controlling customs could be successful. By making marijuana a controlled substance our government successfully implemented a national strategy for keeping certain populations under the watchful eye of law enforcement. This suited our American bigots just fine.

Eighty some-odd years ago the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 became law. Since then Thirty states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted recreational use laws. Voters in Massachusetts and Maine have approved legalization but those states have not yet written rules for growers or retailers, nor has it begun accepting licenses. The vast majority of states allow for limited use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances. Unfortunately it still remains illegal by federal law, but President Obama ordered the Justice Department to not enforce those laws in the jurisdictions where it had been legalized by voters. As the public becomes more aware of the racist basis for the prohibition the clamor for legalization grows louder.

So here comes the U.S. Justice Department and Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, paying no attention to the will of the people while launching a new crusade to once again raise the specter of the evil others and their aberrant behaviors. In Sessions’ eye, our mission should again turn to citizen control, and to ensuring a good supply of detainees for creation of profits by his private prisons.

The wheel keeps on turning.

~~~

January 15, 2018

But I haven’t given up. And you cannot give up.


Why Getting Into Trouble is Necessary to Make Change

I’ve seen unbelievable changes during the past 50 or 60 years. When people say, “Nothing has changed,” I feel like saying, “Come and walk in my shoes.” I truly believe that if there is faith and hope and determination, we can continue to lay progress and create an American community at peace with ourselves. The next generation will help us get there.

When I was growing up as a child in Alabama, I saw signs all around me–I saw crosses that the Klan had put up, an announcement about a Klan meeting. I saw signs that said White, colored, white men, colored men, white women, colored women. There were places where we couldn’t go. But we brought those signs down. The only place you will see those signs today will be in a book, in a museum or on a video. When I was growing up, the great majority of African Americans could not participate in a democratic process in the South. They could not register to vote. But we changed that. When I first came to Washington to go on the freedom rides in 1961, black people and white people couldn’t be seated together on a Greyhound bus leaving this city. They travel to the South without being beaten, arrested and jailed.

Now all across the South and all across America there are elected officials who are people of color. In the recent elections in Virginia and some other places around the country, you saw more people of color and more women getting elected to positions of power. They are African American, they’re Latino, Asian American, Native American. Our country is a much better place–a much different place–in spite of all the setbacks and interruptions of progress.

I heard Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. say on many occasions, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I still believe we will get there. We will redeem the soul of America, and in doing so we will inspire people around the world to stand up and speak out. I believe that it’s true today, and it was true when Dr. King said it years ago. I tell friends and family, colleagues and especially young people that when you see something that’s not right or fair, you have to do something, you have to speak up, you have to get in the way. When I was growing up, my mother and father and grandparents would tell me, “Don’t get in trouble. This is the way it is.” But then I heard Dr. King speak when I was 15. To hear him preach, to be in a discussion with him sitting on the floor, or in a car, or at a meeting in a restaurant or a church, or just walking together … He instilled something within us. I never in my years around him saw him down. Never saw him hostile or mean to a single person.

Dr. King and others inspired me to get in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. And I think we’re going to have generations for years to come that will be prepared to get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble. And lead us to higher heights. It’s a struggle that doesn’t last one day, one week, one month, one year. It is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe many lifetimes.

The next generation will help make this society less conscious of race. There will be less racism, there will be more tolerance. Dr. King said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters. There was a man by the name of A. Philip Randolph, from Jacksonville, Fla., who moved to New York City and became a champion of civil rights, human rights and labor rights. At the March on Washington in 1963 he said, “Remember our mothers and our fore-fathers all came to this great land in different ships. But we’re all in the same boat now.” That is true today.

You have to be hopeful. You have to be optimistic. If not, you will get lost in despair. When I travel around the country, I say, “Don’t get down–you cannot get down.” I’m not down. I got arrested, beaten, left bloody and unconscious. But I haven’t given up. And you cannot give up.

~~~

January 1, 2018

Hymn, by Sherman Alexie

Hymn
Why do we measure people's capacity
To love by how well they love their progeny?
That kind of love is easy. Encoded.
Any lion can be devoted
To its cubs. Any insect, be it prey
Or predator, worships its own DNA.
Like the wolf, elephant, bear, and bees,
We humans are programmed to love what we conceive.
That's why it's so shocking when a neighbor
Drives his car into a pond and slaughter–
Drowns his children. And that's why we curse
The mother who leaves her kids—her hearth—
And never returns. That kind of betrayal
Rattles our souls. That shit is biblical.
So, yes, we should grieve an ocean
When we encounter a caretaker so broken.
But I'm not going to send you a card
For being a decent parent. It ain't that hard
To love somebody who resembles you.
If you want an ode then join the endless queue
Of people who are good to their next of kin—
Who somehow love people with the same chin
And skin and religion and accent and eyes.
So you love your sibling? Big fucking surprise.
But how much do you love the strange and stranger?
Hey, Caveman, do you see only danger
When you peer into the night? Are you afraid
Of the country that exists outside of your cave?
Hey, Caveman, when are you going to evolve?
Are you still baffled by the way the earth revolves
Around the sun and not the other way around?
Are you terrified by the ever-shifting ground?
Hey, Trump, I know you weren't loved enough
By your sandpaper father, who roughed and roughed
And roughed the world. I have some empathy
For the boy you were. But, damn, your incivility,
Your volcanic hostility, your lists
Of enemies, your moral apocalypse—
All of it makes you dumb and dangerous.
You are the Antichrist we need to antitrust.
Or maybe you're only a minor league
Dictator—temporary, small, and weak.
You've wounded our country. It might heal.
And yet, I think of what you've revealed
About the millions and millions of people
Who worship beneath your tarnished steeple.
Those folks admire your lack of compassion.
They think it's honest and wonderfully old-fashioned.
They call you traditional and Christian.
LOL! You've given them permission
To be callous. They have been rewarded
For being heavily armed and heavily guarded.
You've convinced them that their deadly sins
(Envy, wrath, greed) have transformed into wins.
Of course, I'm also fragile and finite and flawed.
I have yet to fully atone for the pain I've caused.
I'm an atheist who believes in grace if not in God.
I'm a humanist who thinks that we’re all not
Humane enough. I think of someone who loves me—
A friend I love back—and how he didn't believe
How much I grieved the death of Prince and his paisley.
My friend doubted that anyone could grieve so deeply
The death of any stranger, especially a star.
"It doesn't feel real," he said. If I could play guitar
And sing, I would have turned purple and roared
One hundred Prince songs—every lick and chord—
But I think my friend would have still doubted me.
And now, in the context of this poem, I can see
That my friend’s love was the kind that only burns
In expectation of a fire in return.
He’s no longer my friend. I mourn that loss.
But, in the Trump aftermath, I've measured the costs
And benefits of loving those who don't love
Strangers. After all, I'm often the odd one—
The strangest stranger—in any field or room.
"He was weird" will be carved into my tomb.
But it’s wrong to measure my family and friends
By where their love for me begins or ends.
It’s too easy to keep a domestic score.
This world demands more love than that. More.
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I'm not quite sure what I should do.
I'm as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamilar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
©2017, Sherman Alexie

~~~