Tag Archives: Fear
On this 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King I’d like to say a few things.
We are, despite our division, in a much better place then we were in 1968.
Despite that we still have a long way to go.
For anyone who wonders if the words and actions of the civil rights movement still have relevance, remember that within most living people’s lifetime there were laws that restricted citizen’s rights to marry, travel and raise children.
That… economic strength, passed on through the generations, was not as strong for women and communities of color, if you were a woman of color things were at least twice as hard.
That… the modern middle class was built on the strength of a massive war effort and the financial benefits that came with it, and that African-Americans were largely exempted from those benefits. These foundations were even further distant when considering that discriminatory hiring, firing and salaries were common and when African-Americans tried to band together to demand better conditions violence always ensued.
The current conditions, economic disparities supported by racist assumptions that are now being used to prove those very assumptions, have been with us a very long time. If the country is over 200 years old and Civil Rights have been in place by law for 50 of those years, even assuming everyone instantly got the rights they deserved, which they didn’t, we have been a bigoted country supported by racist institutions for 3/4 of our existence.
Making it personal, If you have made any “mistakes” in your 20’s are 50 and are still paying for them you are, those mistakes put you about where we are as a country now, older and not really all that much wiser.
Post-racialism is a myth concocted by people who hope we get too lazy to do the math or too distracted to not look at the calendar. If we do nothing else lets not forget that we are only a short few steps into this new paradigm and it isn’t too early to lose it all.
RIP MLK 4/4/1968
When we talk about violence, specifically gun violence in this country we hear a few very different takes depending on the location and the background of the shooter.
When the shooter is ideologically motivated and Muslim, we hear about terrorism first. We hear the panicked cries of mostly white conservatives and a few moderates and liberals about the cultural significance of Islam and its propensity for creating violent jihadists. Even though the insane, rational gymnastics of connecting violence and extremism, in these cases we still won’t talk about Guns, and there is little to no discussion about mental health.
When the attacker is White, and the ultimate ideological motivations are sussed out, we revert to the discussion about “mental health” and family and run away as far as we can from Guns and ideological motives. Somehow access to firearms, however they achieved them, is eliminated from the conversation and the ideological motivations all but erased by about day 2 or 3.
If the assailants are young black men and they are killing each other over gangs, drugs or other petty conflicts, it’s all about the culture. Single moms, video games, and music are the usual suspects; again, surprisingly the narrative no longer focuses on the availability of firearms, even illegal ones.
In my mind there are four primary causes of violence in general, particularly gun violence, and they cut across most cases regardless of whether they are in a school or out on the streets. Irrespective of where we come from or who we are there are a set of preestablished reactions to stressors that trigger us to want to hurt or kill. Those motivations go right to the heart of what we all share emotionally as human beings, and I believe that is one of the reasons we don’t talk about them.
1. Personal/Group Insult or Revenge – One of the most common reasons for violence and aggression of any kind is feeling violated in some way. Whether it is through direct insult or insulting one’s group, it is a defensive reaction to a breach of some social contract that causes most violence. I believe this tendency is built into us as we are social beings. Our hierarchical understanding of group and private structures create a means through which we have a built-in trigger, groups that tout exclusive membership use this instinct to manipulate people into reacting with violence when they otherwise would have just cooled over time.
2. Fear – Is it that pop-psychological to indicate fear as a primary motivation for violence or aggression. As well as being social we are also programmed to be wary of personal injury. This is an odd one because fear as a concept can be very nebulous or very specific. Fear that a bear is coming right at you is very different from fear of being attacked by a bear. The chemical reactions, the physical changes that result from the various states of fear are very distinct and can be manipulated by people and institutions that are more powerful and have some of their fears to contend with. I found this discussion of fear interesting as it almost serves as a surrogate for the triggers of violence.
3. Social Engineering – As social beings who have developed hierarchies to survive under specific circumstances we have also come to understand how reinforcement of those structures is required to keep the status quo. I’m not passing blanket judgment on this as dangerous by any means, some social structures have helped us advance to the point where we have created a better life for millions of people. Others, however, though seemingly good ideas at the time, often descend into disruptions that do damage to a great many people. It’s tough to say without the benefit of hindsight that some form of social engineering was good or bad especially if we learn from the results. In this case, violence based on established and enforced social norms.
4. External Perceived or Existential Threat – this is admittedly a kind of toss off. Its fear but not the tangible bear chasing you down type, it’s a minor madness in a way and it crosses the bridge to woo-ville in some cases, but either the feeling of something “not being quite right” or the manipulation of that feeling can drive people to violence, what distinguishes this factor as a trigger is its slippery nature. In a way its one of the most potent modern triggers because of the deluge of information we receive and have access to on a daily basis. So much information crosses our eyes and ears daily that it’s often really hard to distinguish between what is demonstrably real and what is pure hokum. Existential threats have us not believing our own eyes when we see a concrete example of the opposite of what we believe or are told to think. Cognitive dissonance is the state this puts us in and in and of itself is a kind of mass mental disorder that affects our macro brain. It is also one of the ways large groups and governments keep control of the status quo. In fact, it is the prefered method of tyrants, both big and small.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of everything in terms of an organism. From my limited understanding of the organization of life, it looks distinctly like from the tiniest cell to the largest societal collections the functions are similar but blown up accordingly. Using the example of the internet (again with a basic knowledge of biology) you can see how humans have organized themselves in the image of their biological networks. You can look at societal organizations similarly, but the internet is the clearest model of our mimicking the structure of our neural networks in our construction and organizations I can see. We build on what we know.
I look often at how these incidents of violence make perfect sense. Ideas are like mutated cells or gut influenced genes; they can grow and spread, are road tested by the environment and shaken out accordingly. You have to get non-judgemental when you think this way and see both the biological process and the spread of ideas the same way. Physiological changes, random occurrences of genes or the environment’s influence on them, have consequences. It is my feeling that biological evolution and the evolution of ideas may not only be linked but now be one in the same. We’ve reached a level of complexity in out inner and outer constructions to see where our intellectual developments have gotten almost as complicated as our biological ones.
When you look at movements, especially extreme movements, be they nationalistic, religious or racially based they broadly share the same development cycles and paths of growth. Some, like Islamic fundamentalism, are less exclusive biologically and more rooted in ideology. This is part of the reason Islam has snowballed so quickly. It is not as exclusive as some other movements, it requires no biological purity test, no cultural purity test, and no nationalistic paternity test, there is a small barrier of language, but learning a few prayers can solve that. Many other extreme movements are based on passing some racial or nationalistic purity test and have far fewer adherents as a result. At the risk of sounding like an Islamophobe, it is the perfect virus in that way.
Let me make something clear right now; I hate no person. I am opposed to certain ideologies because they make no rational sense to me beyond social grouping, but I don’t hate anyone who believes in them. I apply cancer or virus metaphor to almost all religions and any social group that forcibly bends its members to a particular kind of violence or extreme coersion.
When violence arises as a result of these affiliations, a large part of how you get perfectly rational and not insane people to enlist is through the use of the last cause of violence. In a sense, you are taking a little bit of the first three elements and mixing them to create a stew of cognitive dissonance. You create a world where, by some non-biological or vaguely biological association, you pit one association against another. The reasons could be cultural, circumstantial or just made up entirely but they don’t pass a rational examination.
What also doesn’t pass the rational examination is the ways we here in the US, separate these groups and their affiliates into little social boxes that have unequal weight on the actions of people who commit violent acts.
I’ll talk about how we treat different groups and ideologies differently in Wednesdays post.
- with apologies to Carl Sandburg
It’s becoming more and more apparent that we are losing our democracy of voices and opinions. Just as we seemed on the verge of becoming the ideal that we’d believed ourselves to be as Americans, that model was obliterated. At this point it doesn’t matter who shot first, or why, but the decreasing number of us in the no mans land between the constructions of “the left” and “the right” regardless of how we lean, is troubling for democracy, and for the very survival of our country.
Tyranny doesn’t only come from the right.
I make no bones about how I lean; I make no apologies for my liberal cultural background and my progressive politics. I also do not wear that label as a bulwark against letting opposing ideas sink in, mixing with my own and changing me. This approach is my definition of what being Liberal means, being open to ideas, allowing them to mesh with my experience and trying to understand what lessons shape others. It’s a word that’s been twisted to mean inflexible and turned into an epithet, so much so that I go back and forth on whether I should call myself one anymore.
My definition of self is mine and mine alone. I know what the word means to me and also know that some of the other words I call myself are only shorthand for the complexities that I keep in those boxes. Like anything, I think we get so wrapped up in the labels and the shorthand that we forget what the words mean.
It’s not always easy to hear through our filters, its never comfortable to be challenged, especially when that challenge comes from someone who you’ve already built a persona around. But those problems are often the most powerful. Coming to grips with the fact that someone who comes from an entirely different background or had a very different experience in their life than you’ve had in yours yet you are still able to connect in a meaningful way is one of the most gratifying experiences you can have.
That is part of the reason it makes me so angry to see people put up walls, especially those who label themselves with monikers that define them as just the opposite. I spoke here about the Yale nonsense that happened a few years ago, and there have been numerous other newsworthy incidents, mainly on college campuses, that reflect an unwillingness to be self-reflective in the face of opposing viewpoints. The Milo incident at Berkeley or the Charles Murray incident at Middlebury college in Vermont are two big ones that spring to mind. While I find Yiannopoulous a repugnant, showboating, self-promoting buffoon, I also found it ironic that the protestors, who became violently agitated over this clown, didn’t understand the legacy they were trampling on at that institution. Murray is also a cultural accelerant, but a more thoughtful and one who has been maligned in a way that makes me sad for the state of academic and cultural discourse.
When I look across the Millennial landscape and see the hairs-on-end sensitivity, the jumping at shadows and accusations, real or imagined, of triggered talk by folks who just haven’t caught up yet, it terrifies me to think that they will be the ones making some of the harder decisions about what speech will be allowed and what will be censored by shout down.
I’m so incredibly sick and tired of people being so offended by what they think they hear that they’ve become the monsters they, without a shred of irony, finger-point to daily. Sick of the fucking crybaby, triggered nonsense, sick of the proliferation of safe spaces as places NOT to be confronted on your bullshit instead of real and genuine refuges from psyche destroying trauma. Let me make this clear; there is shit in this world that is so horrible, so psychically damaging, so mind-fuckingly severe, that it requires years of intense therapy to get over. Let me also make this clear, about 10% or which happens here in the United States, and about 5% is genuinely worth isolation from.
At this point a clear distinction has to be made, we all experience trauma, and unless we talk about it respectfully we never really know how difficult another’s existence is. BUT what is also true is that we’ve created a culture that condenses each of our experiences into little nuggets that cling like leeches to the identities we create for ourselves. In no way do I discount anyone’s stories of abuse, be they sexual, psychological or emotional, but when we are so deeply wrapped up in our traumas that we can’t see what someone else has gone through, see our universal personhood, we put another nail in the coffin of this grand experiment.
When we don’t dispense with our hegemonies of our experiences over other’s, when we refuse to listen, to hear what others bring to the table however flawed it might be, we lose a bit of that connectivity to each other. When we start pulling outward into the human instead of backward into an identity, into white, male, female, cis, gay, trans, straight and queer, we remember our sameness isn’t opposed to our uniqueness. When we stop the ridiculously insane push to be right all the time and be wrong at least some of the time, we gain it back.
We’ve all gotten too sensitive in all the wrong ways, instead of being sympathetic to how others may feel (which requires asking them exactly how they think and why) we hold way too tightly to our identity constructs.
I’m calling out so-called Liberals an Progressives on this as well as gender rights activists, queer theorists, and feminists, mainly because I feel allied or am a part of those loose identifications. I’ve called out the prevailing myth of white supremacy as a historical fact, women’s struggles as history and the benefits that come with being of a privileged class. My bonafides are there.
Yes, I find it amazingly ironic and annoying when ego-driven when people like Ann Coulter decry Liberal Fascism, when members of the alt-right claim their free speech is being violated, and when self-promoting attention whores like Milo Yiannopoulous and Mike Chernovich point out the hypocrisy of the left.
It’s annoying and ironic, but also, sadly, right.
Edited on 10/12/17 because the first time around I just don’t give a f***!
Edited 9/8/17 because brought to you by the letter “M.”
Edited (yet again) on 8/10/2018 for a few misplaced (s)s and slightly augmented wording.
Can we re-purpose a reactionary frame?
Can we take something not quite patently offensive, but triggering and reshape it to mean something that can unite rather than divide? Can a community of people, who already feel burdened with the explainer role, manage again to unify under something they mainly feel is a bastardization and outright insult to the movement they identify with?
If we’ve learned anything from the election of Donald Trump, we should take away this, using the language of the oppressed to claim oppression works, but can the opposite work as well.
When I’d seen the statement “All Lives Matter” in response to BLM, I cringed. I knew it was a reactionary, angry, reflexive response to a needed if not fully appreciated movement. It angered me that people who know better should have understood that killing an unarmed member of any community should be denounced, that people who should know that there is a disparity between the way young Black men are seen and treated in our society, and the way young white men are treated. That Black Lives Matter, of course, wasn’t a statement of exclusivity but one of defense. That the implication that ONLY Black Lives Matter was NOT part of this declaration, nor was the implication that Black Lives Matter MORE, but it was merely that Black Lives Matter AS WELL.
There is much to be said about how we got here, much hand wringing to be done about how history had drawn a clear line to this moment and how forces, both seen and unseen have forced these confrontations.
For context, I suggest reading some of the books on slavery or civil rights or some of the more inclusive books on American history A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn is a good place to start.
I’m not getting into context here, it’s too obvious to me and would distract from my point. Plus, I believe we should all be more responsible for exposing ourselves to the context of the history of the country of which we so effulgently pronounce our love.
One of the things I have learned about messaging is that sometimes to do it effectively; you have to give up some deeply held preconceptions. You have to resort to some to the tricks of the oppressor, if you will, and one-up them by playing their game. There are limits to this, of course, but within those limits is where progress can be potentially made.
Appropriation is a hot-button term. It evoked Native headdresses or kente cloth; it evokes everything from girls in yoga pants to Rachel Dolezal.
It doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. Appropriation is, in some cases, the same thing as acceptance, it is the brother or sister or transgendered, polyamorous, biracial neighbor of cultural assimilation. McDonald’s appropriated images of Black families in print ads to appeal to the people it was trying to sell burgers to, advertising, in general, appropriates members of audiences it wants to reach, and this is often called “inclusion.”
My feelings are half and half. Half of me welcomes the representation because it brings visibility and half of me knows the motivation is to sell a product. In many cases, even this gives a certain amount of arrival cred but still begs the motivation question. Yet, for whatever reason, it’s better to be seen in a positive light than a negative one, though it can be argued that this isn’t all that positive:
but is was certainly better than this:
Appropriation can be a gateway to conversation and understanding, or it can be a gross misuse of a symbolic cultural totem. I think its time for us to use the poseur of appropriation on the All Lives Matter crowd.
It makes sense that reactionary forces would seize on an approximation of a statement that virtually says the same thing. In this era of lack of imagination, lack of the ability to see things in shades of grey, and lack of connection across lines of partisanship, we have been unable to ask each other, “so what exactly do you mean by that?’ instead of reflexively attacking each other over our perception of that meaning.
So let’s start out by saying that all lives do matter. Black, White, Mexican, Gay, Straight, tall and short, cis, queer, nongender specific, Cops who occupy all of the other identities as well and are both sheltered and wrongly maligned, we can even go as radically far as to say that plants, animals….all life is important. The human variety is where we’ll focus for the moment though, let’s just say that all human experience is valuable.
Now we can get into a little trouble here in our appropriation as we often do when trying to be inclusive, how far is too far? So if the whole point of this is a marketing strategy (and make no mistake, the most efficient way to convey this message is through that means), who is the intended audience?
Assuming the target audience is the former Obama voting Trump devotee, a person who, right or wrong, thinks he is now in the minority, who assumes that being white has somehow become a liability, despite all evidence to the contrary, and now feels he must pull back into an enclave of reactionary juxtaposition. We aren’t going for the 1% White Lives Matter crowd, they are lost and never wanted to be a part of this new America anyway. Calling out the hypocritical other and also the people who genuinely don’t understand why All Lives Matter is such a divisive statement by appropriating the tag is a tact worth pursuing.
Re-branding as All Lives Matter, re-purposing with inclusion in mind of the people of all races that have been discounted and ignored, bringing in law enforcement of all races to have a dialog about how people are not treated equally and to what degree. Actually TALKING to each other about these vital issues under a moniker that doesn’t seem to exclude.
Maybe All Lives Matter can be a vital starting point to challenge the notion that they do conceptually and working on how they can actually.
Taking advantage of the short memories of Americans to change things in the long-term may be sneaky, but it can also be useful. From a marketing standpoint, it would be as brilliant a coup as turning a brand that had been wrongly associated with Nazi Germany into a brand that appeals to the Spanish-speaking among us.
In the world of spin, anything is possible.
We are all responsible for ourselves and each other. We are our brothers and sisters keepers.
On a more personal note…
There is nothing like having your heart broken, except, maybe the feeling of breaking someone else’s.
This song works both ways…enough said.
So Cruel, by U2
I went to this class a few nights ago.
Less a class and more a collection of terrifying American troupes.
Survivalists, preppers and possibly even a White Supremacist or two. Could be just my perceptions of people are out of whack but they have rarely been wrong before.
Thing is, taken with a dose of caution the advice made sense, being prepared for a disaster isn’t a stupid thing at all. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty damn smart, sane and reasonable. The climate is changing, storms are getting wilder and stronger and people are getting more unpredictable. Well, the last is a debatable fact, people may be more encouraged to be so by a lack of trust which is at least partially fed by everything else.
The tension we all feel, the stress of navigating through the post-racial, post-truth, post-professional media world, where nothing is true and everything is fake news even if we witness it and document it, the echo-chambered, gaslit, fear-mongering, make it up as you go along assemblage of truthiness, all of it shreds us apart neuron by neuron. We are all veterans of the psychic wars now.
Edited 9:47 EDT on 3/17/16 because I hit the “publish” button way too soon.
I don’t do Facebook much. Every time I’m lured back by some innocuous post, I get sucked back into the insanity for a bit, I pull a little further away. On several occasions, I’ve been worked into such a frenzy that I feel like my heart just might quit. Frankly, aside from a few friends and relatives, it isn’t worth using anymore, but I probably still will.
The ridiculousness of this election cycle has me closer than ever to hitting “delete.”
When you hear friends you thought were reasonable, say entirely foolish things or friends you knew were unreasonable already, say things so outrageous you can’t believe they felt emboldened to say them “in public” it feels like time to pull away.
This whole planet has me depressed at the moment. Where the US is heading is very well a dangerous and potentially violent place. Some of us believed that having access, making information and opinion more democratic; would create a learned republic. One akin to the one the founding fathers envisioned, except more varied economically (with women and Black folks included), effectively democratizing learning and making us all better voters and better citizens. HA!
It seems there is that little missing piece of every utopian fantasy gone awry that we all appear to have forgotten about, human nature.
The culture has become even more intellectually lazy, shiftless, boorish and crude. Not the good crude that ties us together with our individual baseness. Not potty humor crude, more like making a doody and smearing it in someone’s face crude. In this great experiment, we are in a very tenuous place.
I don’t consider myself intellectually lazy, nor do I feel that I am lazy in any other way, but I do feel very drained. To persist in a world that doesn’t read, doesn’t process information with a mix of emotion and logic, doesn’t care if they hurt others for what they feel they need, that fears, that hates, takes energy that on some days I feel I’m lacking.
Is this what it feels like to give in? Is settling for a country or a life that is 1/10th of 1% of what it could be, worth it? Is getting up every morning as the sun comes up just to face another day of shit worth the effort?
If I feel that way, I can only imagine what others who have much less than I do, or much less processing power than I do, or much less of a future than I do, feel.
I’m not only talking about the grim realities of living in a country so rich that a small number of people can own enough land, have enough capital to house, feed and clothe everyone else, and still have plenty left for themselves. For the most part, I’m talking about good hardworking people with no education or not enough ability, or who are too old to be part of the agile workforce. I feel on the edge of that last one myself.
The poor kid in South Philly and the old rancher in New Mexico both share these feelings of ennui. They share them for very different reasons, but the sense of helplessness and fear are the same. They have different things, at different levels, to lose, but they both feel a strong fear that they will lose it all.
At this very moment, it isn’t my task to try and separate the feelings or the reasons, the manipulators and those manipulated. I’m not setting out to, right now, tell the rancher that his fear is unfounded. Or to tell the kid that he should “work harder.” Right now I just want to accept that we are all on some level afraid.
And just let that sink in.
It’s always a surreal experience watching Donald Trump say almost anything. Not that much of what comes out makes any sense beyond braggadocio and bluster, but watching him talk, watching him move creates a particular sense of unease in me. Any political candidate has to pare down their message to digestible talking points, whether this is the fault of the media or of an ADD riddled public I won’t go into now, but at least there are some bellwether guiding principles beneath the clips. Trump defies this tradition in the absolute vapidity of his rhetoric.
Simply put Trump is terrifying to watch, his legion of angry followers even more so. Even at the level of Sanders, whom I support, there is a certain amount of pandering in his soaring rhetoric and unrealistic promises. This is unfortunately necessary as we have to some extent always valued condensed ideas over screeds. We are fascinated over manifestos but barely take the time to read them, we know the names but haven’t read the works.
We are so easily misled, often by people who have been misled themselves or worse who know that they are intentionally bending Scripture, Marx, Hitler, Smith, to suit their own purposes. The problem is that we have become too intellectually lazy to even think about fact-checking anyone, too dim-witted to go where we are uncomfortable, to stupid to really care about anoyone but ourselves and our own unchecked assumptions.
Unfortunately, this is what we deserve. Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio, playing the children around a schoolyard picnic table hurling insults at each other and the American people while Kasich and Sanders try to rise above the fray. Neither is perfect, but they are the adults in a room of increasingly agitated and angry children. Kasich is still too far right for my tastes and Sanders is to old and studious to stand against the poop flinging zoo that is congress, but either is far better than the assortment of alternatives above.
Trump continues to exemplify pretty much everything wrong with America currently. Trump proves the founders original eligible voter criteria right as his minions may be white, but far too few are truly educated. Jefferson was fluent in several languages, intellectually curious and doubtfully would have been as dismayed by having to press “1” for English as many of the people who revere him are. The same can be said for Adams, Franklin and Madison. What a shame, what a terrible travesty that the people so often quoted and revered by scholars and statesmen alike are so cruelly excised from the pantheon of those we try to emulate.
We are more than willing to blindly quote the 1st, 2nd or 5th amendments to the constitution for our political purposes, but reject the responsibility to live up to the exemplary lives of the people who wrote them. We rattle off defenses against people attacking us based on the constitution but even those of us who know what the text says can barely place ourselves in the minds of those who conjured the words. We champion “rights” with no thought to “responsibilities.”
We have become exactly what the founders feared. We have become the uneducated rabble that their restrictive voting protocols tried to stave off. Yes there was inherent in them racism, classism and sexism, but at their root was the very real and now fulfilled fear that we would be led by a consortium of self-interested ignorant idiots. When we expanded voting rights to all we neglected to expand education of all, and that, in the guise of a Donald Trump (or if not him, the inevitable NEXT him) will be our downfall.
Great empires always seem to collapse inward. Ours is no different, and in all likelihood, next to go.