racism

Brutal Cops, Brutal Country


That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964gc2smFrom the keyboard of Surly1
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Anthony Freda

Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on June 7, 2020

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.


My family tree is replete with police and firemen. My great uncle was a cop. My cousins are cops. Likewise my wife's family is full of police and firemen. I suspect it's that way for most\ people; police work is so ubiquitous that most working class families have cops dangling somewhere from the family tree. So I bring to a discussion of police and police work no agenda other than that of a taxpayer, a citizen, and a pasty white man comfortable enough to be concerned for social justice, at least before cocktail time.

So it's with sadness that I beheld the events of the week and conclude that police departments in this country need a giant enema. What happened to George Floyd was bad enough; what happened to an 75-year man in Buffalo is quite another.

Video of two Buffalo, New York police officers pushing an elderly man to the ground quickly went viral late Thursday night, drawing widespread criticism. The mayor of Buffalo, Byron W. Brown, tweeted a statement saying “I was deeply disturbed by the video, as was Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood. He directed an immediate investigation into the matter, and the two officers have been suspended without pay.

(The victim was later identified as Martin Gugino, a long-time peace activist.) The ubiquity of video cameras on phones, such as that which documented the Buffalo incident, would make you think police might have some concern for better PR. These videos go viral and make it around the world while the excuses from the Police Union are putting on their pants. John Evans, the president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, said, 

They were simply doing their job. I don't know how much contact was made. He did slip in my estimation. He fell backwards.

In response to the suspensions of the two most egregious offenders, 57 members of Buffalo police riot response team resigned en masse. Not a good look.

We've also seen images of white journalists being shot with rubber bullets and beaten with truncheons, and innocent white protesters manhandled by warrior cops. What black Americans have been living with for many decades, becomes newsworthy only when it happens to white people. Better late than never. The fact that police are responding to protests about police violence with even greater violence indicates an innate brutality, an imperfect strategy, and the failure to remember who they ultimately work for. In particular, who is paying the bills.


No one minimizes that police work is hard. Imagine living with the prospect that the next routine traffic stop can explode in gunplay. Imagine daily contact with drunks, the mentally disabled and violent criminals. Cops confront life-and-death situations on a regular basis. Yet if media and police unions repeat the line that "police work is dangerous," it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Do police develop an anticipatory mindset of violence when they believe that they are going into deadly battle when they head out on patrol? 

Is there no training?

Yet none of that should excuse away the snarling brutality exhibited by cops against unarmed, otherwise peaceful protesters. Ever since we were able to wink at the Eighth Amendment's prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment to justify torture (rebranded as "enhanced interrogation" ), we have forgotten who we were and what we once stood for.


As I noted last week, police are the occupation army of capital. Their job is to protect property and wealth. Regardless of what you think, the Supreme Court has held that police are under no obligation whatsoever to "protect and serve"  you. Occupation armies quite justifiably view a subject citizenry as hostile. We learn, for example, that the vast majority of city police in Minneapolis live in the suburbs. This is common among most city workers. But it means cops do not view the people they are patrolling as neighbors. Imagine the change in outcomes if they did. 

Consider the following headlines from US papers just this past week:

Buffalo cops expected to face charges for shoving elderly protester

June 6, 2020 | 10:33am  The officers are anticipated in court Saturday, according to sources cited by a local NBC affiliate. Their colleagues from the department’s Emergency Response Team are expected to escort them inside…

Riot police clear protesters with tear gas for Trump’s church photo op, drawing outrage

JUN 02, 2020|12:39 AM  Riot police in Washington, D.C., used tear gas to clear protesters from a park near the White House as President Trump vowed to crack down on the demonstrations. Around 6:30 p.m., a half hour before the city’s 7 p.m. curfew, police used tear gas, rubber bullets, shields and horses to force protesters out of Lafayette Park…

Protests about police brutality are met with wave of police brutality across US

June 6, 2020  Use teargas, batons, pepper spray, fists, feet and vehicles against protesters sparks lawsuits and international condemnation

Buffalo mayor blasts elderly protester shoved by cops

June 6, 2020 | 8:25am  The elderly Buffalo protester knocked to the ground by cops in a viral video that has become an international symbol of police brutality was an “agitator” who was “trying to…

75-year-old Buffalo man pushed by cops described as 'gentle person'

June 5, 2020 | 5:52pm Martin Gugino — the 75-year-old man who was shoved to the ground by Buffalo police in a video seen by millions — is a long-time peace activist and “gentle person,”…

Entire police team resigns in solidarity with cops who shoved elderly man

June 5, 2020 | 3:56pm The entire Buffalo police Emergency Response Team has resigned following the suspension of two officers who were caught on video shoving a 75-year-old protester to the pavement, according to reports…

Black Tacoma man who died in police custody screamed 'I can't breathe': lawyer

June 6, 2020 | 9:20am  A 33-year-old black man who died in police custody in Tacoma, Washington, screamed “I can’t breathe” on dispatcher audio, a lawyer for the man’s family said. Marcus Ellis was apprehended…

Breonna Taylor remembered by NYC mourners on what would be her 27th birthday

June 5, 2020 | 10:42pm  Anti-police brutality protesters in New York City paid their respects on Friday to Breonna Taylor, a black EMT who was fatally shot by cops in her home in Kentucky home…

Minneapolis bans police chokeholds in wake of George Floyd death

June 5, 2020 | 1:41pm  Negotiators for the city of Minneapolis have agreed with the state to ban the use of chokeholds by police and to require police to report and intervene anytime they see…

DC mayor has 'Black Lives Matter' painted on street leading to White House

June 5, 2020 | 1:40pm  Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser on Friday had “Black Lives Matter” painted in large yellow letters on the street that leads to the White House, and also designated the square…

Kansas City announces police reform amid George Floyd protests

June 5, 2020 | 3:43am  KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City is reforming police procedures after criticism from black organizations about police conduct during nearly a week of protests as well as long-standing tension between…

Minneapolis City Council members pledge to 'dismantle' police department

June 4, 2020 | 11:31pm   Members of the Minneapolis City Council pledged to “dismantle” the city’s police department in the wake of worldwide protests over the killing of George Floyd. Council President Lisa Bender joined…

NYPD officers appear to beat passing cyclist with batons: video

June 4, 2020 | 9:50am  Three NYPD officers were caught on video apparently beating a cyclist with their batons. One of the officers is seen whacking the cyclist as he peddles across an intersection, with…

City Council secures veto-proof majority for bill criminalizing police chokeholds

June 4, 2020 | 1:39am  The City Council has secured a veto-proof majority for legislation to criminalize NYPD chokeholds, Speaker Corey Johnson said Wednesday. With 35 Council members supporting the bill, it can become law over…

Protesters take a knee at Trump Hotel and Trump Tower ahead of NYC curfew

June 2, 2020 | 8:39pm  A mass of anti-police brutality protesters gathered in front of Trump International Hotel ahead of Tuesday’s 8 p.m. curfew, as demonstrations continued to rage across the city for a sixth…

George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter appears next to weeping mom

June 2, 2020 | 7:08pm  George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter stood next to her weeping mom at a press conference Tuesday as the woman recalled how Floyd moved to Minnesota to help support them — and…

Six Atlanta cops charged in excessive force arrest of two students

June 2, 2020 | 3:06pm  Body camera footage shows the officers breaking the windows of a car and yanking the students, Taniyah Pilgrim, 20, and Messiah Young, 22, out Saturday night as they were riding…

Cop suspended for shoving kneeling George Floyd protester

June 2, 2020 | 1:09pm  A Fort Lauderdale cop has been suspended after he was caught on video shoving a kneeling protester during a George Floyd demonstration Sunday, according to a report. 

The Police Are Targeting Protest Medics

June 5– As people take to the streets to protest racism and police violence against Black Americans after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd last week ― it doesn’t matter who you are or why you’re there: The cops will take you out.

Police targeting journalists during protests is an assault on the First Amendment

June 4- It’s not unusual for politicians and candidates for office to express their fervent and unwavering support for the Second Amendment. Now would be an ideal time for them to show the same allegiance to the First Amendment and its guarantee of a free press.

Neighbors usually don't do these things to neighbors. One wonders how much of the brutality we see comes from the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by white supremacists, members of the alt right and neofascists. These groups maintain an active presence in U.S. police departments and other law enforcement agencies. 

The FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept. The guide, which details the process by which the FBI enters individuals on a terrorism watchlist, the Known or Suspected Terrorist File, notes that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers,” and explains in some detail how bureau policies have been crafted to take this infiltration into account.

We saw in Charlottesville how state police and others stood aside while armed Klansmen and Nazis ran amok, resulting in injuries to antifascist protests and the death of one woman, Heather Heyer, run over by a Nazi from Ohio. (This was the episode that led to Trump's infamous refusal to disavow Nazis, proclaiming that there were "good people on both sides.")


"When the looting starts, the shooting starts." 

–Miami police Chief Walter Headley, 1968, tweeted by Trump May 29 

Trump's effusions of "treat 'em rough," and "Dominance!" all contribute to an atmosphere that lends itself to brutality. Law-enforcement officers know that they no longer have Obama and Holder looking over their shoulders; Now it's Trump and Barr, and they are free to indulge their darkest impulses. As recently as five years ago, the police were afraid of being filmed, having their images captured, with the potential to be identified. No more. Now it seems having brutality captured on video is a badge of honor. Virality, bitchez…

Little surprise that if cops know that state-sanctioned violence is permissible, state-sanctioned violence is what we'll get. The murder of Ahmaud Arbery was a clear a case of vigilantism as we are likely to see. The only thing missing were the robes and hoods. 

American authoritarianism is going to be rooted in racist violence. The Compromise of 1877, which ended a tie vote in the Electoral College and Rutherford Hayes becoming President, was conditioned upon the withdrawal of Federal troops from the south. This ended Reconstruction, as well as the vision for a unified country. It also reinvigorated the KKK, and birthed Jim Crow.

Racism received a booster shot when Woodrow Wilson screened "Birth of a Nation" at the White House in 1915. The D.W. Griffith film glorified the Klan and told a false story about race relations in the South, with the aim "to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern partisan for life." "Birth of a Nation" built upon the existing myth of The Lost Cause promulgated by Confederate propagandist E.A. Pollard, a fictional re-writing of history that endorsed the supposed virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the Civil War as a struggle primarily to save the Southern way of life, or to defend "states' rights", in the face of overwhelming "Northern aggression." Ignoring the abject treason of the slavers.

Racist policing has a long and ignoble pedigree, and now it has been given new life by the most openly racist president since Wilson.


The First Amendment is visibly under assault. Dozens of reports from around the country this week have shown journalists getting shot at, manhandled, abused and arrested by police officers, even after identifying themselves as journalists. We saw a CNN journalist arrested live on national TV while filing a report. Coming soon, a further assault on freedom of assembly, complete with truncheons wielded upon peaceful, defenseless protesters.

This is the sort of behavior we are used to seeing from Egypt, Brazil, Kenya or Paraguay, not the US. But the non-lethal techniques we've tested abroad have come home. And are paid for with our tax dollars.

We've seen an increasingly weak and desperate president label antifa as a "terrorist group" as he ramps up the tough-guy rhetoric. All in service to a sort of illusory "patriotism," which is simply rabid nationalism in drag. Trump wraps himself in the flag, and raises a bible as a worship object. Flag worship raises armies, after all. And military veterans often muster out and join the police. 

Next time we will review why it is so difficult to prosecute cops– the concept of "qualified immunity," which some are trying to end. And how we might effect change: Cut the rot at the root, go after the funding, And watch the weed wither and die. As always, follow the money.


banksy 07-flower-thrower-wallpaperSurly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He is the author of numerous rants, screeds and spittle-flecked invective here and elsewhere. He lives a quiet domestic existence in Southeastern Virginia with his wife Contrary. Descended from a long line of people to whom one could never tell anything, all opinions are his and his alone.

The Art of Yielding

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Published on Pray for Calamity on March 10, 2016

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner

The ache in my left arm seems to travel up a nerve towards my shoulder. I wince as I stretch the arm up and then rotate it in an arc. Every Friday night I attend a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, and last week during open rolling – which, to the uninitiated, is essentially grappling with a partner – I was thrown to the mat by a zealous fellow student, and crashing onto my left arm I immediately felt the shock of pain that now lingers there in my bicep. At the time I was bit angry, as the amount of strength my opponent applied was a bit excessive for such a drill, but thinking about it now perhaps that is foolish of me. It is a fight exercise after all. Myself, I am always slow to apply great strength in any drill, as I am fairly frightened of hurting someone. I often find that during a roll where I am dominant and pressing down with intense force that I periodically ask my opponent if they are OK. If they weren’t, they of course, could easily tap out, but still, it concerns me that I might needlessly hurt someone.

Jiu Jitsu, if we return to the Japanese root words (Ju Jutsu) is the art of yielding. As combatants roll they are applying strength and force, but they are also reading the direction of the force being applied against themselves and then attempting to use their opponents energy against them. My trainer once relayed a statement that he heard from a master practitioner, which was essentially that all of Jiu Jitsu is knowing which square inch of the opponent on which to apply all of one’s body weight, and knowing when to do it. This trainer is by day, a police officer. Funny, myself an anarchist, a vehement supporter of efforts to abolish prisons and police, respectfully and humbly listening to this man and trying to always devour with my eyes all of his movements and motions so that I can absorb them in the fibers of my own legs and hips. I laugh at his jokes, as he is genuinely funny, and in the next moment, I imagine him using the very techniques he is demonstrating to subdue me in the streets. I wonder how these skills he imparts on me have been applied against people who now sit in a prison. When we roll, he out classes and out strengths me, but each time I am able to resist his efforts to sweep me, I smile. That smile is then quickly followed by him quickly overtaking me.

Life is complicated and so entirely writ with nuance and irony. There is a beauty to such contradictions, and I am grateful to be reminded of the great complexity of our context, and I am grateful too for the reminder that a world so replete with complexity and contradiction is a world in which easy answers need not apply. Often we simplify what we experience to make our day to day existence easier or more efficient. In doing so, we almost certainly shuck away the truth of things until we create an existence with a lot more mutual exclusivity than is actually present. We make binaries out of gradients. This is often necessary. It is also often the first step towards justifying violence as it is the root of manifesting the “other.”

Thirteen people were arrested in Anaheim this past week as a Ku Klux Klan rally was quickly cut short by anti fascist activists who confronted and then fought with the Klan members. The Klan members pulled knives, and even used the point on the tip of a flag pole to fight back, and they ultimately stabbed three people. Back in 2012 several young people crashed a meeting of white supremacists in Tinley Park, Illinois attacking the attendees. Five of them were eventually arrested and served prison sentences. Anti-racist actions such as these often have mild mannered Americans suggesting that we must refrain from violence and respect free speech. They follow with the claim that the only weapon to be used against Klan members and neo-nazis is either counter speech, or out right ignoring them.

The logic of such suggestions goes like this:

Free speech will conquer bad ideas and hate. Those with hateful ideologies will be shown as the fools they are by the reasoned counter arguments of those who oppose them, and these counter arguments will affect society at large in a positive way, resulting in a society in which those who proliferate hate speech are mocked and shunned. Thus, no violence is necessary to counter them. Further, the application of violence to counter speech opens us to the “slippery slope” whereby violence is brought against more and more people for even slight deviations in thought or opinion. Also, violence begets violence, so we should always and forever avoid it.

The entirety of this issue needs unpacking because it is quite convoluted. “Free Speech,” as it is referred to in the United States is a reference to a constitutional protection offered by the first amendment which prohibits the government from interfering with the speech of individuals and groups. It is not an obligation of an individual to hear out any other. Of course, it should be said that like most constitutional protections, “free speech” goes right out the window once it is not convenient for the state or their capitalist counterparts. Endless videos of protesters being gleefully beaten by the police can attest to this fact.

Obviously, unthinking and mindless violence is not the tool we should immediately reach for every time someone says something we disagree with. Someone at a bar stating that, “climate change is a hoax,” is not justification for me to haul off and break his nose. As a long time bartender, I have found that usually mockery and humor are the best weapons against the drunken loud mouth who wants to use my bar top as his soap box. This is a skill I have finely tuned over many years of dealing with drunks, almost always men, who after a few beers want to loudly espouse their right wing talking points. I may well be a black belt in rhetorical judo.

However, what if this person says, “I am going to fucking kill you!” Am I justified then in kicking him in the jaw and crushing his face into the floor? Surely I would need to read the tone and intention in his voice, but the point remains that a direct threat of aggression permits a response that can meet and dislocate the threat. And that is where the waters begin to muddy. The Klan has an extremely violent history. Their rhetoric is rhetoric of violence towards entire swathes of the population. How tolerant should the general public be of a group that has incited horrendous and gruesome violence spanning generations?

More imporantly, how patient should the would be victims of racist violence be with liberal society’s calm and reasoned counter arguments? If a cross is burned in your front yard, or a black man dragged behind a pickup truck in your town, should you sit back and wait for well articulated, non-violent responses to convince white supremacists of the inappropriateness of their behavior? The sheer fact is, that sometimes, counter violence is the exact response necessary. Indigenous peoples were completely justified in fighting back against the encroaching settler presence as it occurred in the Americas. It is still the appropriate response in those last places where indigenous peoples live in their traditional homelands which are threatened by attempts at civilized exploitation, be it for the construction of an oil pipeline, a hydroelectric dam, a nuclear waste dump, or the construction of a university telescope.

Those who are the victims of the violence meted out by the dominant culture need not wait for those behind the levers of power to spawn a conscience. They need not wait for a critical mass of pacifists to turn the gears of democracy and generate a legal response for their protection.

I am reminded of Albert Camus’ Letters to a German Friend, in which he laments the absence of an immediate and forceful response on the part of the French to Nazi aggression. Camus suggests that the French consciousness is one which responds to the absurdity of the human condition by seeking beauty and love, whereas the Nazi response was one of nihilism and the pursuit of conquest. Such dispositions gave the Nazi an advantage over the French who first pontificated on the righteousness of counter violence. The Nazi did not care for such ethical questions, and according to Camus, in the end it took the French coming to terms with the righteousness of their position, indeed, it took the confidence of spirit and the sword together to be victorious over the Nazi:

“…[W]e shall be victorious thanks to that very defeat, to that long, slow progress during which we found our justification, to that suffering which, in all its injustice, taught us a lesson. It taught us that, contrary to what we sometimes used to think, the spirit is of no avail against the sword, but that the spirit together with the sword will always win out over the sword alone.

Any suggestion that the tool of violence is appropriate does require that those who would take it up think long and hard about the implications of their actions. Our world of seven billion people and growing is a world of seven billion minds all generating individual interpretations of reality. To be sure, the majority of those minds are convinced of the righteousness of their actions and ideologies. The abortion clinic bomber is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The ISIS executioner is convinced that his is a justifiable counter-violence. The anarchist arsonist and US military drone pilot are likely also convinced that theirs is a justifiable counter violence. How in such a cacophony of noise, confusion, and rash behavior can one escape what is a seemingly impossible knot of human delusion, anger, and misunderstanding? How in good conscience can a person with deep concerns for autonomy, cooperation, and compassion suggest adding to the violence and misery of the world?

When would it have been OK to start attacking Nazis during the rise of the third reich? When Hitler was giving speeches in small halls to small audiences, would it have been reasonable counter violence for anti-fascists to have attacked him and his cadres? There would have been a point in time where this small man loudly screaming his nonsense to a room of twenty people was absolutely laughable. Rational minds would say, “Just ignore him! He is a fool, and he and his ideology will amount to nothing.” Years later there would have been a time when organizing to violently confront Nazis would have meant a death sentence, when the party already controlled the state apparatus and resistance would have been near impossible. At what point in between was the exact right moment to strike, according to a pacifist or liberal dogma?

This is the trouble with nuance. Easy answers are usually wrong answers. To strike opens us up to greater realms of ethical complexity and realms of possible negative fallout. To wait cedes crucial time and ground to those who have absolutely no concerns for such ethics. At what time, and what place, do we place one hundred percent of our strength? When do we yield and allow the momentum of our opponents to be their own undoing?

Sometimes yielding is fighting. And sometimes you give up your back and get caught in a vicious rear naked choke. Master tacticians can be brutal in their yielding. But even master tacticians can be knifed in the dark. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

At the end of it all, we must choose which is the preferable mistake, and in making such mistakes we put our souls on the line, killing an integral part of ourselves because we hope that in doing so a greater beauty is allowed to survive. Then we pray that our children can forgive us.

I, for one, will not err in favor of compassion for a Nazi.

Choirs of frogs still sing along the rim of the pond as dawn breaks. While still technically winter, the robin hopping along the ground near budding daffodils tells me that spring is here. Another cold front is always possible, but this winter that never really materialized is bowing out. The garden calls for so much attention. Greens need to be planted, pathways need covering with wood chips, and I need to get annual seeds started and placed in a cold frame. Energy surges upward from the subterranean metropolis of tree roots and mycelium, and as it flows through the flesh of hickory and maple, oak and dogwood, so to it flows through my limbs. I am anxious to get back to the long, slow process of developing our homestead. My endless list of projects is less daunting these days as I approach it one job at a time.

Out in the world of human hollering and bickering, an impending election is drawing a lot of attention. I try to ignore it. I try to focus on our small hollow here in the backwoods. Our community of young families trying to get by on the day to day with what little we have while surmounting the challenges that the raw entropy of civilized life throws at us can absorb pretty much all of the mental capacity I have to offer. But then there are whispers and hints that the authoritarianism and racism being whipped up by certain campaigners finds it way to my ears, and I ask myself, if it comes here openly and brazenly, what am I to do? What cannot be tolerated? What requires a response, and am I prepared to offer one?

Perhaps we should all start asking ourselves such questions. By the time the shadow has covered us all, it is too late to take shelter from the storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

America at the Crossroads

Off the keyboard of  Jaded Prole
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empathy

First Published on The Jaded Prole, January 12, 2015.

 

Let this be the year that police revolvers,
stove-hot, blister the fingers
of raging cops
and nightsticks splinter
in their palms
this is the year
that dark-skinned men
lynched a century ago
return to sip coffee quietly
with the apologizing descendents
of their executioners

Martín Espada

 

I found the 2014 holiday season a strange combination of seasonal cheer and rising racial tensions as a result of continuing police violence, protests, and the ugly reaction to them. This strange confluence of good will and ugly polarization has caused me to further consider our moment in the dynamic evolution of culture. By culture, I mean the social self-image and mindset that defines how we how see ourselves within the social context and how we interpret the world around us. As I have written before, culture defines our language, our thinking and our actions just as our collective attitudes and actions shape the larger culture. In my observation, we are at a tipping point.

The Senate report on torture was a disturbing indication of this as so many Americans are willing to accept, support, and attempt to defend such monstrous behavior. This cannot be separated from the rise in racist reaction we are witnessing around the country regarding protests of police abuse. In Virginia Beach a “rally to defend police” is one example. As Kareem Abdul Jabbar wisely pointed out, “Police aren’t under attack, institutionalized racism is.” These rallies are not so much support for police as they are thinly veiled expressions of racism.

What we are witnessing is the playing out of the vicious, competitive corporatized culture and attitudes the public has been fed for decades. Cop culture, military, or “warrior” culture, rape culture, and Wall Street culture are inseparable. All are racist, misogynist, inherently violent, alienated, antisocial, and ego-centric. Vengeance, greed, and prejudicial judgment are key to this mindset. It seems the three headed monster of racism, militarism and poverty Martin Luther King warned us about is coming home to roost.

This is the cultural perspective that justifies victim-blaming, criminalization of poverty, racism, sexism, police abuse, torture, exploitation, corporate theft, destruction of the ecology, imperialism, and war. It is the fascist ideology of raw power or, Power of the Will, where the brutal rule of those with power is justified and under which illness and poverty are seen as character flaws and deserved conditions of the weak.

Years ago, I wrote an article called “The Cannibalist System or What’s Eating You” about how the alienated culture of materialism, individualism and greed pushed by the market system causes us to devolve from higher, cooperative animals to the lower variety. Higher animals are those showing cooperation and empathy like apes, elephants and porpoises. Lower animals like crocodiles are anti-social loners who will eat their young. The right-wing/libertarian ethic is an example of this devolution. We as a species are hardwired for empathy. We identify with the experience and even feel the pain of others. Without empathy, there cannot be sympathy or compassion much less ethics or a concept of the common good. We are social animals whose ability to cooperate for the common good not only allowed us to survive the rigors of the Pleistocene but also to create civilizations. Empathy defines our humanity and is the basis of all religions. Economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin writes, “Biologists and cognitive neuroscientists are discovering mirror-neurons–the so-called empathy neurons–that allow human beings and other species to feel and experience another’s situation as if it were one’s own. We are, it appears, the most social of animals and seek intimate participation and companionship with our fellows.

This is not true for all of us. Some people lack the physical capability of empathy. They are called sociopaths or psychopaths. MRIs of the brain show that the area responsible for empathy in these individuals is underdeveloped. Psychopaths tend to do very well in competitive areas like politics and business where having a conscience can be an obstacle to personal gain at the expense of others.

Fortunately, not all are taken in by this pathology, though “conservatives” and the G.O.P seem to have made this their credo, reflected in both campaign rhetoric and policy. The influence of this anti-social mindset has resulted in a more extreme polarization that threatens to build on itself increasing violent repression, class and race antagonism and tearing our country apart.

We have choices. We can be blindly guided by culture and those who manipulate it to their advantage or we can think for ourselves and with each other in mind, actively influencing the culture in better directions. I know this, because as little as I have in material advantage or power of any kind, I’ve been doing what I can for decades. I do it in conversation. I do it by writing articles like this. I do it by publishing books and the “Blue Collar Review” literary journal which I’ve done for 18 years. The focus of what I publish is progressive working class literature. What does that mean? Most of us are not independently wealthy. We must work for others or for ourselves. Like it or not, we are all dependent on each other even for the opportunity to support ourselves. This creates shared interests that include and transcend differences of gender, race, religion and national origin. Working class literature speaks to our common humanity and helps us realize that our collective interests are best served through solidarity. It is a rejection of the alienated hyper-individual pathology of corporate culture that polarizes us. Samples of poetry in the journal can be seen on the website: http://Partisanpress.org. As the ugly reality of corporate right-wing culture is bared, the best remedy is the recognition and rejection of this destructive paradigm, reclaiming and recreating our older, healthier, more community-focused working class culture.

It boils down to this: we can have a self-destructive society based on egotistical hoarding, tribalism and raw competition in which we all suffer for the benefit of a few or we can have a society based on the cooperation that got us this far — a society based on psychopathy or one based on empathy. Many issues are connected to this, from living wages and how we organize work to whether we have healthcare for all or only for those who can afford high-priced insurance. It is connected to affordable housing, as well as energy, environmental and foreign policies. Will we continue to allow corporate psychopaths to run our government in their own interests or will we demand a restoration of our representative Republic, separating wealth from power?

In considering this choice of cultural emphasis, our recent warming of relations with Cuba comes to mind. Cuba is a small, poor, developing country which was a colony of Spain and then run by the US under various dictators until the early 1960s. It remains relatively poor due in large part to the enforced economic isolation of the embargo by the US and has literally been under various kinds of attack every day since its revolution. Though they have problems with corruption, they are far less than what we see in our own country but Cuba has a culture of empathy. Cubans have basic social guarantees and good public health care. They have higher literacy rates and lower infant mortality than in our country. While the US trains torturers and killers at the former “School of the Americas” in Ft. Benning Georgia, Cuba trains physicians. They educate them for free with the requirement that they put in five years serving the poorest people in the poorest countries. We export soldiers and ultimatums. They export doctors. When Katrina devastated our Gulf Coast, Cubans lined up to give blood – which the US refused. While big US corporations drool at the prospects of invading and exploiting Cuba, we would do better to welcome their influence.

As I wrote earlier in this article, I believe we are at a tipping point, both socially and ecologically. I hope that we can recognize this and make the right choices. The quality of our lives and our future existence are dependent on our ability to come together. As Jeremy Rifkin writes, “What is required now is nothing less than a leap to global empathic consciousness and in less than a generation if we are to resurrect the global economy and revitalize the biosphere.” Achieving a critical mass of “empathic consciousness” sounds like an impossibly difficult goal but we can all begin by interpreting our world through what the philosopher Martin Buber called the I in Thou. This means listening to the experience of others and seeking to understand rather than judge. It means recognizing each other, even strangers, as spiritual beings like ourselves and realizing that our individuality, much less our survival, exists only in the context of others – not just other people but all life in the fragile biosphere of which we are a part.

Let this be the year we overcome the manipulated polarization and partisanship, finding our much larger common ground. Let this be the year we turn away from the rancid, barbarian psychopathy that idealizes violence, militarism and greed, recognizing the real cost to all of us of Dr. King’s three headed monster. Let us resolve to make this the year when “us” and “we” replaces “them” and “me.” Let this be the year we begin building a culture of empathy.

 

Jaded Prole is the nom-de-plume of a freelance writer and poet as well as a publisher, and philosopher living in Virginia. His blog is hereHe also publishes The Blue Collar Review, a quarterly whose purpose is to expand and promote a progressive working class vision of culture.

http://partisanpress.org/

A Cool Interval

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation January 5, 2015

For the moment, while the racial grievances of 2014 have chilled on the polar vortex, and no unarmed black teens have been shot by cops for a couple of weeks, it might be a good time to continue that honest discussion about race that the media nabobs — such as Charles Blow and Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times and Don Lemon of CNN — demand when some incendiary event goes down and tensions across the country become unbearable. That demand, of course, is a political booby-trap because any discussion not founded on the presumption of white malice is instantly deemed inadmissible and “racist” — which is just cheap demagogic despotism designed to shut down the very discussion they asked for. So that is exactly what I expect in response to this essay.

I bring these matters up because it seems to me that the long, arduous, costly battle for “civil rights” which began in my childhood a half century ago is beginning to look like a lost cause. The movies and TV are full of black / white buddy stories, and commercial images of a shared American experience as if there really was a common culture that blacks and whites felt an equal investment in. These stories and images are largely wishful, though I believe the dream of a common culture that would nurture all types of people in America stood at the heart of civil rights idealism of the sort represented by Martin Luther King and the white public figures who marched in solidarity with him.

Something went terribly wrong in the early going, and I don’t think there has ever been an honest discussion about it by American social thought leaders of any race, though I have raised the point more than once in passing. It was the paradoxical rise of black separatist politics at the exact historical moment of civil rights triumph when the two landmark civil rights bills were passed: the Public Accommodations Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Black separatism had been around since the late 19th century as a counterpoint to the earlier post-slavery idea represented by Booker T. Washington, which proposed that black earnestness would eventually be recognized by white America and rewarded, at least with economic participation. That idea was opposed by less patient, younger figures such as W.E.B Du Bois and Marcus Garvey who promoted what was then called “Pan-Africanism.” But the debate was superseded by the crises of the Great Depression and Second World War. By the early 1960s, black separatism had revived, personified first by Malcolm X (assassinated by rival Black Muslims, 1965), and the disillusioned former Freedom Rider Stokely Carmichael, who coined the slogan “black power,” and then by scores of public players and followers.

What I think happened is that the sudden prospect of true legal equality produced deep anxiety across black America, so that opting out provided a comfortable alternative. I saw it play out at my college in 1970 when the “militant” black students organization demanded a separate black student union. In the face of the civil rights acts passed only a few years earlier, this should have been regarded as a sort of outrage, but pusillanimous college administrators caved in and bought a house for that purpose. And of course the same thing happened all over the country, so that a new form of separate-but-equal was reestablished by popular demand.

That blunder by academic leaders set a tragic tone for the forty years that followed. To rationalize the new separate-but-equal ethos, these people of liberal good intentions constructed an elaborate ideology of “multiculturalism” and “diversity” that had the tragic unintended consequence of obliterating the foundational idea of a common culture that had animated the struggle Dr. King gave his life to, as well the basic notion of what it meant to be an American.

A common culture did exist in America before the 1960s, at least in terms of manners, standards of decent behavior, and even language. It was what allowed people of good will in the 20thcentury to believe in “one nation indivisible.” Hence, the question America needs to ask itself: do we have enough moral focus to revive the idea that a common culture actually matters? If not, expect unending strife.

 

 

***

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Week In Doom, November 3, 2013

That-Was-The-Week-That-W-That-Was-The-Week-473964Off the keyboard of Surly1

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Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on November 3, 2013
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Behind the Mask

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“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash.”
                                                                 ― Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

 

In This Week In Doom, Pakistan is in a lather because we droned away another Taliban leader; with closing of the NATO supply routes to Afghanistan certain to follow. The funeral was held in secret, for fear of the famed “double tap”  now the USA’s calling card for drone warfare.  In Japan, TEPCO reports record profits at the same time  Fukushima waxes even more ominous. Golden Dawn provocateurs are shot in Greece. Ostensible liberal Dianne Feinstein offers a new NSA bill to codify and extend mass surveillance.  Obama’s popularity takes a hit as it turns out that some people actually don’t get to keep their health care coverage; a result almost guaranteed when you invest faith in the ethical behavior and decency of insurance companies. SNAP card  recipients take a 5% reduction in their buying power at the same time that inflation for commodities such as food nears double digits.  For that give thanks to a Congress intent on hitting America’s poorest while they’re down.  Tiny plastic beads are invading the Great Lakes. Lou Reed died. And away from the prying eyes of mere citizens, the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues to be negotiated by corporate lobbyists and free-trade charlatans. According to some, this agreement has little to do with free trade but everything to do with enabling a global corporatocracy,  and assuring the primacy of corporate rights over any others, local control or preference be damned. If you have not heard of this, give full credit to the lickspittles in charge of your loyal corporate media.

Yet for all that, this week’s thoughts are much closer to home.

For most of us, Halloween marks the beginning of a festive holiday season. For my part, ever since my daughter was too old to trek for her own candy boodle, she and a girlfriend  have made it a tradition to come to my home to pass out candy to little ones.  Likewise, for Contrary’s family, Halloween was a High Holy Day fully invested with creativity, imagination and effort. Her family went all in for Halloween. She has albums full of pictures of Halloween parties past, where every member of her extensive  family turned out in full costumed, make-up bedecked regalia.

In this context, then, for this Halloween, Contrary and her niece Sassy (who is staying with us) went all out in decorating.  I arrived home Halloween evening to find my quite ordinary home bedecked with crime scene tape, lit tiki torches,  young ladies in full costume, the works. Quickly the game was afoot: gaggles of parents and kids meeting on corners, traveling en masse from house to house to share in the season’s bounty.  it was a Halloween season ordinary in every way save one.  After the trick or treaters had come and gone, Contrary alerted me to this little bon mot,  which ended up putting this quite ordinary suburban neighborhood into the unwelcome glare of a national spotlight.

Better luck next year to the woman who will be handing out fat-shaming letters to overweight trick-or-treaters because America’s Worst Neighbor officially resides in Norfolk, Virginia.

A since-removed Craigslist post attributed to someone living in Norfolk neighborhood of Larchmont-Edgewater has riled up residents who say the sentiments expressed therein are not their own.

Writing under the headline “Reminder: Overage Trick Or Treaters Stay Out!,” the anonymous poster starts by ranting about “kids older than twelve going house to house for free candy.”

We hate seeing kids older than twelve going house to house for free candy. Doing so is illegal and this year we will be calling the police on you bastards. Overage trick or treating is a Class 4 misdemeanor and carries a $250 fine. This will also go on your criminal record if you don’t have one already.

Were it to have ended there, the post, found in the site’s “Rants and Raves” section, would be acceptably grouchy.

But it doesn’t end there. Instead, it goes from a rant, to a rave, to unabashedly racist:

And you niglets, stay the hell out! We’re a white neighborhood and we don’t want you baboons here!! You little turds better think twice going into my neighborhood or you will be legally punished.

“That`s awful, that`s awful,” Larchmont-Edgewater resident Ainel Alerth told NewsChannel3. “When I see that, I don`t know where it comes from, where all the anger comes from. Why are we using these words?”

Another resident, Timo Mitchell, agreed with the poster insofar as overage trick-or-treaters were concerned, but less so about the rest.

“I can understand if you have a 16 or 17-year-old show up without a costume, but just a blanket statement to say all kids of different colors can’t come in?” said Mitchell. “I don`t think that is appropriate for this neighborhood, because we are very eclectic here.”

Nobody wants crackers for Halloween.

One of the things I like about my neighborhood is that very little ever happens here. Here I raised a daughter, and taught her to read, to ride a bike,  play soccer, and know that she could walk to and from school in safety.  Thus to find that in this place, behind nicely manicured lawns and freshly painted doors, lurks the same sort of sentiment one generally encounters behind a tobacco barn, or on the sort of rural billboards that used to encourage the impeachment of Earl Warren, is deeply disconcerting.

 

One commenter:

Welcome to the “post-racial” South. I grew up in Norfolk, but not in that neighborhood. My wife lived there, though. It’s definitely upper-middle class, but borders on the Lambert’s Point neighborhood, which is decidedly African-American, though it’s becoming gentrified with the expansion of Old Dominion University. There are still a lot of crusty, old money bigots living in Larchmont/Edgewater. And while this saddens me, it doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s still the South, after all.

The story spread like an unwelcome fungus. A brief search search show that I could find it here, here, here, and here.

Even Wonkette, fergodsake.

One should never forget that Norfolk was one of the battlegrounds for “Massive Resistance.”  Little remembered or talked about now, “Massive Resistance” was that policy declared by Harry Byrd in 1956 to prevent public school desegregation in the wake of the Brown versus Board of Education decision of the Supreme Court in 1954.

To implement Massive Resistance, in 1956, the Byrd Organization-controlled Virginia General Assembly passed a series of laws known as the Stanley plan, after Governor Thomas Bahnson Stanley. One of these laws forbade any integrated schools from receiving state funds, and authorized the governor to order closed any such school. Another of these laws established a three-member Pupil Placement Board that would determine which school a student would attend. The decision of these Boards was based almost entirely on race. Another facet of these laws was the creation of tuition grants which could be given to students so they could attend a private school of their choice; again, in practice, this meant support of all-white schools that appeared as a response to forced integration (the “segregation academies“).

Later in 1956, the NAACP then filed lawsuits around the state in response to these laws in an attempt to force integration of Virginia schools. By 1958, things had come to a head. Federal courts ordered public schools in Warren County, the cities of Charlottesville and Norfolk and Arlington County to integrate.

Six schools in the city of Norfolk were closed,  eventually reopened by a judicial appeal. Many members of the “Lost class of ’59”  are still alive, and reside in the city even yet.

Why make such a big deal out of some garden variety ignorance?   Something has changed. And not just in Norfolk. Other unwelcome Halloween news included this

 

 

A group costume features a man dressed as Martin, wearing blackface and a blood-stained hoodie, and a man portraying Zimmerman, wearing a shirt that reads “Neighborhood Watch.” In a photo uploaded to the Facebook account of Caitlin Cimeno, the woman in the picture, the man portraying Zimmerman has fashioned a gun out of his right hand and has pointed it at the man dressed as Martin.

Cimeno’s Facebook account has since been deleted, but the photo has gone viral and elicited widespread condemnation. (Per Gawker, one of the men chose to set the photo as his Facebook profile picture before then swapping it out and setting his profile to “private.”)

According to the Smoking Gun, the men in the Martin and Zimmerman costumes are residents of Florida, where the Zimmerman case took place.

The Stir’s Lisa Fogarty takes particular issue with the pair “choosing to make light of the murder of a 17-year-old child.” She also adds that the men, aged 22 and 25, aren’t naive children who made a regrettable choice: “[T]hese men are too old to not know or understand that it’s also disrespectful to the family that is grieving for Trayvon.”

Ah, madness.   And perhaps I can hear you saying, “Yes, you old scold. It’s just a couple of young people with really bad taste.”  Sure. But these are somebody’s children. What have we taught them?

Recently, America–firsters had to endure criticism by Vladimir Putin of the notion of “American exceptionalism”   in a New York Times op-ed piece.  We understand “American exceptionalism” to be characterized by that historic sense to carry on a particular mission in the world, at all times informed by the message of freedom. Is the flipside of that old notion a negative exceptionalism, where the US has been racist, murderous, and rapacious?  Is it such a stretch to think that, while we feel ourselves entitled to deal out death from above in Yemen and Pakistan, that the old demons of racism, ignorance, and intolerance may not also feel themselves free to once again raise their heads at home?

While we may feel free to lecture the world on what its values are to be (economic and extractive), and strike our opponents from above by drones with murderous accuracy, we act as the freedom to do so is our God-given right. No… We are not special; the cavalry is not coming; there is no happy ending. The flipside of American exceptionalism is a blood drenched darkness. A darkness that requires ignorance to flourish. A darkness that just raised its snout where I live.

It’s a reminder that things are not always what they appear to be. That the order, that the sense of law, the services we take for granted, the institutions, the sense of community we think we enjoy all hang by the merest of threads.

Apparently you never know which of your neighbors has a hood in their closet.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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