Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Resistance Heats Up In Russia

I had been thinking a lot about Russia last week, as shown in my last post. But today I just found out that there were massive anti-Kremlin protests in Russia over the weekend. (See this also.) The vast majority of protesters were youths from middle school age to early adulthood. Как сказать, “Things are getting rather interesting in Russia!” по-русский?

The recent history of Russia is punctuated by several periods of civil resistance, such as the three-year wave of protests that erupted in response to Putin "winning" the 2011 Russian elections under circumstances that smell about the same as the circumstances under which President Chump won the recent U.S. elections. The trouble now is this: it is not very easy for Putin and company to claim that last weekend's protests were the work of some "Deep State" bogeyman, as they have seemingly captured the one nation that could have been blamed for harboring such a "Deep State" - namely, the U.S.A. Yet they have been making the claim that the demonstrators against the Kremlin were paid by outside agents, as some Kremlin mouthpieces also made claims over the last month or so that this "Deep State" is trying to sabotage Chump. But a person who has bad body odor and no manners shouldn't blame a conspiracy for the fact that people don't want to be around him. Will Russian leaders be willing to engage in frank and open dialogue about the grievances of their citizenry? Or will they resort to scapegoating as they have so often?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

No Strangers to Самовлюбленность

We humans all have a common tendency, namely, the desire to arrange our surroundings to our liking and personal tastes.  The trouble comes when two or more of us disagree over the extents of "our surroundings."  For instance, I don't have a TV in my house because I don't want a TV in my house, and I don't think people should be watching TV in my house.  However, by and large, most members of many modern societies would acknowledge that I don't have the right to dictate whether people in houses other than mine should be allowed to own or watch a TV.  Most members of such societies would say that only a sick or pathological person would strive to gain the kind of control over his neighbors that would allow him to tell them whether they could have a TV, or what kind of grass they could grow in their yards, or whether or not their kids should be allowed to ride a skateboard, or whether they could have peanut butter with their jelly.  Most such people would say that there would be only a very few justifiable reasons for any human being to be allowed to exercise that sort of control over people who were independent of him.  I can think of only two such reasons:
  • That the circumstances are so extraordinary that the person who wants to exercise such control is justified in wanting that control.  For instance, you may or may not be a smoker, and if you are a smoker, you may be a proud smoker.  However, if you are next to an operating gasoline pump at a gas station owned by me, I have a perfect right to tell you not to smoke.
  • That the person who wants to exercise such control is such an extraordinary person that he has an intrinsic right to arrange every aspect of the lives of us ordinary people.   He might claim to be (or who knows, he may actually be) a prophet or saint.
I am a Christian; therefore, I believe in a Deity Who has a perfect right to dictate the proper arrangement of each of our lives.  However, under the New Testament, that Deity has "limited" Himself in that He is at present asking for our voluntary obedience, rather than forcing that obedience.  One consequence of my belief is that there are many aspects of our lives for which I do not believe that any mortal man or woman has a right to force us to conform to their wishes.  The times are not extraordinary enough, nor are there any people now alive who are extraordinary enough to warrant allowing one mortal human being to force his or her wishes on every aspect of his or her neighbors' lives.  In other words, there is a barrier where my surroundings end and my neighbor's surroundings begin.

I think there are many people who would agree with me.  However, we still see that there are people in the world who think that their surroundings include all of their neighbors and all of their neighbors' business.  Some of these ambitious people eventually do rise to the level of gaining control over their neighbors and their business.  They do this often by claiming both that the times are  extraordinary enough to demand an extraordinary leader, and that they themselves are the extraordinary people who should have extraordinary powers over their neighbors' business.  Once they gain that control, they usually manage to mess up their neighbor's business like nobody's business.

Some of these people become leaders of empires.  For while there are strong economic, political or military motivations which drive people to found empires, one of the frequently overlooked motivations for empire-building is the psychic need some people have to arrange their "surroundings" to their personal liking - combined with a serious confusion of mind over the limits of those "surroundings".  The imposition of their will over as many of their neighbors as possible fulfills a psychic need in these imperialists, who usually also bolster the enjoyment of their power by a cultural imperialism - that is, the trashing and disparaging of the individual cultures, languages, customs, and personal histories of those hapless victims who become part of the empires of these imperialists.  So the subjects of these empires are taught to despise their own souls, and are taught instead to long to emulate the imperialists.

This has been the history of the Anglo-American empire, from the time when it was run strictly by the British to the time of its present leadership under the United States.  To be sure, there were economic motivations for that empire - from the vast unconquered lands of the Americas in centuries past to the mineral wealth (and free labor!) of the African continent to the petroleum deposits of the Mideast.  And the masters of the Anglo-American empire were so convinced of their own specialness that they were quite happy to go to other lands in order to murder and enslave the peoples who were the rightful inhabitants of those lands.  In order to quiet their consciences, these imperialists also waged a war against the souls of the people they conquered - a war which had its own propaganda to justify the things that were done to other peoples.

Now an empire that behaves this way soon makes itself widely known as a royal pain in the - uh, er, neck.  Thus this empire quickly begins to generate a crowd of critics.  Some of these critics choose to document as carefully as possible the evils and misdeeds of the existing empire.  Many others rise up to undermine the existing empire by civil resistance or by other means.  And some try to put themselves forward as a righteous, healthy alternative to the existing empire.  But what if, among those critics putting themselves forward as "alternatives" are people who want to start their own empire, and who are criticizing the current empire in order to eliminate the competition?

That's how certain events of the last three or so years seem to me, as I have examined the contest between the United States and Russia.  Truly there has been no shortage of reasons for criticizing the U.S. in recent years - like the 2003 pre-emptive invasion of Iraq which killed over a million Iraqis for the sake of eliminating non-existent WMD's, and the rampant and increasing income inequality in the U.S., and the continued egregious oppression and terrorizing of nonwhite U.S. citizens, and the use of threat of military force in order to maintain dollar hegemony, and the revelations of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, and the fatal tendency of the U.S. to try to bolster civil uprisings in other nations by turning them into armed struggles in order to install regimes favorable to U.S. interests.  In all the criticisms of these things, some of the loudest critical voices were coming from Russia back in 2013 and 2014.  I think especially of the pieces that aired on Russia Today which criticized killings of unarmed African-Americans by racist cops in the U.S.  It was only natural that many of us Americans began to be very sympathetic to the Russian point of view to which we were being exposed, for we thought that Russia was one of the lone agents standing for decency and humanity in the world.

But in 2015 and 2016, the Arab and North African refugee crisis was occurring, and there was a fascist, far right element in the U.S. and in Europe which was saying that these refugees should be forcibly excluded from Europe and the U.S.  Their message was, "Let them drown! Or let them freeze to death!  But do not let them come into our bastion of cultural purity and pollute it!"  And I was mildly (but not altogether) surprised to hear many Russian voices join this chorus, including those who tried to capitalize on a number of false-flag incidents designed to inflame anti-refugee sentiment in Europe.  ("Что?! Этот борщ странный!")  As I perused the site to which I have linked in the previous sentence, I also discovered that the Russian central bank had been financing various far-right fascist political organizations over the years, including Marine Le Pen's National Front.  Then the 2016 election season was upon us, and I found that almost the entire Russian media establishment had come out in support of the candidacy of President Chump.  

Needless to say, this led to a great deal of cognitive dissonance in my brain as well as a bad case of indigestion.  This is also what led me to the research that resulted in my post on the occult roots of empire.  And this led to a revised view of Russia - a Russia that I now see as afflicted by a strongly racist element, a nation whose president is not the democrat he was made out to be, but who has moved in recent years to increasingly stifle voices critical of his rule.  It turns out that Russia is also a nation with its own imperial ambitions.  As Trump has his Bannon, Putin has his own fellow traveler and ideologue: a man named Aleksandr Dugin, who is the chief architect of Russian geopolitical strategy.  And Dugin seems to have his own very strong preference for how he wants the world to be arranged.  The trouble is that a lot of us who have done nothing to Dugin and just want to be left alone would suffer greatly under his proposed "arrangement."  ("Stop the Empire's War on Russia," you say?  Лицемер!)

To me, it seems that the chief propaganda weapon employed by Russia over the last few years has been a portrayal of Russia as an ideal construct, an immaculate conception, a nation of supermen ruled by a nearly omniscient ruler.  (A jiu-jitsu expert!  A master chessman!)  But behind the grandiose self projected by Russia, one can frequently find, er, contradictions - like the empty hypodermic syringes and pills that enabled certain strength athletes to cheat their way to Olympic gold medals.  This is a nation whose leaders would have us to believe that it is All That And A Bag of Chips, a nation that cannot stand the thought that the rest of the world might regard it as a collection of rather ordinary, everyday человеки. 

The truth is that behind its Potemkin Village facade is a nation that has for years suffered a crisis of youth suicides (see this and this also), a nation whose death rate has once again begun to exceed its rate of live births (see this, this and this), a nation in which over 600,000 women a year suffer domestic violence, a nation whose government is aiding and abetting the stripping of its assets by wealthy interests for personal gain, as seen in the battles of the Russian environmental movement to try to preserve national forests and parks from commercial development (see this and this).  In other words, this is a nation of ordinary, fallen people in need of a Savior, Who is quite willing to save - as long as the people in need of saving are willing to engage in open, honest dialogue, including the open confession of sins.  (Even a frank discussion with a team of decent mental health professionals would do a lot of good.)  Yet this is the very thing that the leaders of Russian society seem unwilling to do, because such a dialogue would threaten the positions, prestige and image of people who currently enjoy positions of power in that society, and would force the leaders of that society to abandon their image of perfection.  Case in point: for years, there has existed a women's rights movement in Russia which pushed for stronger legal protections for women endangered by domestic violence.  They even managed to win some seeming victories.  However, in this year, 2017, Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill drafted by the Russian Duma to de-criminalize domestic violence except in cases of injury requiring a hospital stay.  That de-criminalization was pushed by the Russian Orthodox Church, by the way.

This is the nation which in our last U.S. election set about to re-arrange the United States according to its own liking, and threatened the lives of people like me in the process.  Mr. Putin and Mr. Dugin, please get out of my living room.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Big Feet In Little Shoes?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a stimulating and informative lecture from the 2013 Fletcher Summer Institute of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict.  The title of the lecture was "Economic Self-Organization By Movements," by Tufts University Professor Kim Wilson.  Professor Wilson described in detail the risks and dangers that await indigenous peoples in developing countries when they are enticed by pushers of Western models for financing family, group or village economic ventures.  She also described the innovations which have been created by indigenous peoples for creating secure ways to pool their savings.

But she also gave her audience a warning, namely that Western corporations and NGO's have co-opted some of these innovations and have used them as means of continuing to rob indigenous populations of their savings, or as means of continuing to bring these populations into financial indebtedness to the West. 

Her warning was brought again to the forefront of my attention this week, as I heard about an Arizona-based cooperative called Anyshare, which seeks to help people throughout the United States connect with each other to form "sharing communities" - for a small fee, of course.  It's nice that they call themselves a "cooperative."  But I think that many of the social advantages of a cooperative - including an effective say in the direction of the cooperative - are best realized when the so-called cooperative is truly local (as in, an organization whose members don't have to travel more than a few miles to physically touch each other's hands).  This also ensures that the number of members in the cooperative does not drastically exceed Dunbar's Number.  Thus, if I want to form a "sharing community", I am much more likely to walk down the street to talk to my neighbors than I am to rely on an organization that is based in a state over 1,000 miles from where I live.  (I don't live in Arizona.)  The trouble I see with Anyshare or any other organization that seeks to capitalize on a social movement is that once that organization grows beyond a certain size, it stops looking like a homey, affectionate, well-worn collective of friends, and starts looking like...a corporation... (Sorry, REI.) 

I think Professor Wilson's warning is especially relevant in these days, in which many people are beginning to build alternative or parallel institutions as part of a campaign of nonviolent resistance to the regime currently in Washington.    Those who want to watch her lecture can see it here:

Those who are involved in building parallel institutions should beware of middlemen who "wanna get big" at the expense of the people whom they are supposed to be helping - especially when the middlemen are far away from the people they are trying to help.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Coalescing Resistance

This post will have to be short.  I've been very busy over the last few days, and things are starting to move rather fast.

A number of nonwhite engineers and other degreed professionals (including myself) in my area have gotten together to start a volunteer group engaged in building parallel institutions.  We had our first meeting this weekend.  The initial focus of our group will be on providing a parallel option for educating low-income youth in our area.  It will be an all-volunteer, self-funded venture, provided free of charge.  As we are able to be successful in this venture, we intend to branch out into other ventures, such as helping low-income neighborhoods become more economically self-reliant.  We will be creating a blog in the next few months or so to document our efforts.  Although we the volunteers are nonwhite, our offerings will be available for all low-income people, regardless of color or national origin.

I have also discovered other resistance groups in my area, and we will be getting together next month for a series of presentations on nonviolent resistance.  And I have discovered a volunteer group which recently put on a presentation designed to help people who have to live outside.  (That's the homeless population, in plain English.)  They also provided resources on health care options for the homeless.  I intend to network with this group and have an idea exchange with them.

Lastly, in the next few weeks I will hopefully develop a flyer titled, "The Resistance Lifestyle," containing tips on how people can develop their own networks of self-reliance while withdrawing as much as possible from the formal economy.  (Thanks very much, Aimee and CZBZ for your frugal living tips.  I will incorporate some of them into the flyer.)  And I and others will be handing out these flyers in as many places as possible.

That's all for now.  (Speaking of self-reliance, I have to run and buy a half yard of compost for my garden.)  Have a good week!

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Recovery of Subversive Virtue

About eight or nine years ago, a social movement came into existence in the United States.  It was not a particularly political movement, nor was it strategically planned, or even intentional.  Its birth was simply the result of the economic conditions which prevailed at that time, namely, very disruptive energy prices, a real estate bubble, and an overload of personal debt, especially among recent college graduates and other young people.  One word characterized that movement, namely, frugality.  This movement spread, not only by word of mouth, but by many websites and blogs, such as the Festival of Frugality blog ring, "How to Survive on $12,000 a Year," and "How I Live on Just $12,000 a Year," along with news articles such as "The Secret to Living Well on $11,000 a Year," "Living on $10,000 a Year Requires A Certain Ingenuity," and "How to Live on $10,000 A Year."

Evidently this movement grew to such an extent that it attracted the serious attention of the holders of concentrated wealth and economic power at the top of the economic heap.  For a number of op-ed pieces started coming out in major media outlets which warned Americans that frugality was a "threat to the economy" and a "threat to recovery."  I won't give you an exhaustive list, but there were such pieces as, "Frugal Americans Hurt Economic Recovery" (courtesy of Fox News, of course!), "How Shopping Is Good for The Economy - And Your Soul" (I kid you not!), "Frugality Is Bad For The Economy," and "Consumers Turn Frugal, But Economy Could Wither." There was also another, sideways attempt to derail the frugality movement by re-defining what frugality actually means.  Namely, it was an attempt to change the definition of frugality from "living only on that which you need" to "saving as much money as possible in your purchases - by taking advantage of coupons, promotions, sales, etc."  Many supposed promoters of frugality thus switched from warning people to stop buying stuff they didn't need, to trying to get as much stuff as possible via coupons and other means.  (For a present-day example of re-defining "simple living," you might try looking here.)

The fact that the owners of major media outlets felt the need to spend print space and air time trying to discourage frugality says something about the power of frugality as a threat to the current established economic order.  And as I have recently been thinking over the details of this movement, I have been struck by certain observations.  Firstly, that frugality, along with other social virtues, has been a particular threat to Western societies from the time of the Roman Empire.  I think of the Christian Church from the first century to the third, and I see how the peaceful, nonviolent obedience to the commandments of Christ must have threatened such a cruel military empire as that which the Romans had built.  Indeed, in his book Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority In the Second-Century Pagan World, author James Francis lays out this threat, and describes how the leaders and academics in charge of defending Roman values ridiculed such Christian virtues as asceticism, voluntary poverty, and communalism.  (They also attacked non-Christian ascetics.)  Of course, even a casual reading of the New Testament would reveal the roots of the radical values embodied by the proto-Church - as seen especially in the Lord's encounter with the rich young ruler, the Lord's denunciation of the Pharisees, the radicalism of Luke 14 and Luke 16, and the denunciation of the rich in James 5.

However, the Roman Empire succeeded in co-opting key elements of the Christian community, and one of the casualties of that co-opting was frugality and the rejection of materialism.  (For a look into how this happened, you might try looking here.)  Other virtues that died by the way were pacifism (the outright rejection of violence) and communalism.  I don't have time to describe the entire arc of the ensuing battle between materialism and voluntary simplicity since those times, but I do want to focus on another period in the history of the Church in which the recovery of New Testament virtues threatened to shake an existing social order.

That period began with the conversion of Peter Waldo to Christianity during the mid to late 12th century.  He founded a group within the Catholic Church who came to be known as the Waldenses or Waldensians, and they took the Scriptures seriously enough to actually try to live by the New Testament.  Among the elements of their fundamentalism were the following:
  • The priesthood of all believers
  • The need to give the Scriptures to people in their common language instead of a language (Latin) which most people could not understand
  • The need to live a life of voluntary simplicity, also known as voluntary poverty.
Just about all of the Waldensian doctrine and practices got them into hot water with the Catholic Church.  But the voluntary poverty of their preachers was a particularly troubling thing to deal with, because it made the wealth of the Catholic clerics look very bad by comparison.  The Catholic Church met the nonviolent threat of the Waldensians with violent repression.

What has been described above is not confined only to societies that have been exposed to Christianity nor to people who act solely from Christian values.  Frugality continues to be regarded as a terrifying threat to those who hold concentrated economic power in a society based on buying and selling.  It is only fitting that in these days, frugality should be revived as a subversive virtue.  I am glad to see that there are Christians who have been in the forefront of this revival, as seen in "Toward The Revival and Reform of The Subversive Virtue: Frugality," by James Nash.  (One of the subsections of his paper is titled, "Frugality As Economic Subversion."  (I like that!)  There is also "Voluntary Simplicity and Voluntary Poverty: Alternatives To Consumer Culture" by Malgorzata Poks. 

Frugality, or voluntary simplicity, or voluntary poverty - no matter what you call it, the widespread practice of such a way of living can shake a murderous, materialist society to its core.  (See this, this, and this, for instance.)  Therefore, it is an especially relevant way of living just now - in a world in which the majority of the world's people are now being ruled by greedy strongmen, including the regime of our 45th President.  The mass adoption of frugality by a society can bring down dictators who rule that society and the wealthy corporations that put those dictators in power.  And here's the good news: you don't have to sell everything and move to a gold-plated off-grid doomstead in Montana to live a frugal life.  It can be done right where you are, if you know how to think strategically about your situation.  In fact, the chances are good that over the next months and years, you will be forced to live such a life whether you want to or not.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Vulnerability of Oil

During the last century, Western culture imported from Asia a number of Oriental concepts of physiology which have influenced our understanding of medicine, analgesia and hand-to-hand combat.  One of these is the concept of "pressure points."  These points, identified by Asian medical practitioners and martial artists over several hundred years, have been held to be points on a human body where the skillful application of pressure or force could produce widespread bodily effects - for good or for ill - even over organs which did not seem to have a direct connection to the point on the body where external pressure or force was being applied.  The efficacy of the use of these pressure points has been debated between Eastern and Western practitioners of medicine and martial arts, as well as the mechanisms by which such points are supposed to work.  (For an interesting take on the subject, please see this.)  Nevertheless, it can no longer be disputed that there are localized regions of the human body where the application of external pressure or force can produce dramatic effects throughout the entire body.

The body is an integrated whole made of many, many individual cells.  And in the same way, human societies function as integrated wholes made of many, many people.  It is therefore not surprising to discover that entire societies have points where the application of force or pressure can produce widespread effects for good or for ill.  Moreover, as time passes, one or more of those pressure points may become especially sensitive to pressure.

Take a society's energy supplies for instance.  (And here I am getting back to the roots of this blog.)  When those supplies of energy (or other limiting natural resources) are abundant and easy to extract, it is possible for a society's economy to grow, and for its wealthiest members to grow ever richer as long as the rate at which they increase their riches is not so great that they impoverish everyone else in the society.  But suppose the supplies of energy become scarce or the cost of extracting those supplies grows to such an extent that it becomes a significant fraction of the total amount of energy contained in the supplies that are extracted.  Then there is the possibility of significant - er, ahem, drama - depending on how dysfunctional the wealthiest members of the society are.

For instance, the holders of concentrated wealth (and hence, of economic and political power) at the top of the society might be reasonable, moral, decent people.  In that case, they might choose to inform their society of the change in conditions, and to consciously lead their society toward a healthy, righteous, realistic adaptation to the changed conditions - an adaptation which was designed to be as healthy as possible for as many people as possible.

But suppose the people at the top of this society were disturbed and dysfunctional.  Then they might try to play a zero-sum game on everyone else in their society by continuing to try to increase their wealth and power at everyone else's expense.  And they might try to cover up the root cause of their society's impoverishment by scapegoating segments of their population in order to divide the lower rungs of their population against each other.  They might also try to mislead their population into believing that there was some magical formula which could make the good times of consumption and material excess last forever.  But while they continued to waste valuable time on these maladjustments to reality, that reality would continue to take ever-bigger bites out of their daily life.  In the end, they might wind up like the Norse who tried to colonize Greenland several hundred years ago.  (For a couple of perspectives on those Norse, you can refer to this and this.)

That seems to be the society we live in right now in the U.S.  We have a President who heads a regime of asset-strippers, most of whom also are enthusiastic in their support of our President's trashing of the environment and scapegoating, stereotyping and threatening of various nonwhite ethnic groups in the U.S. and abroad while they strip the assets of an entire nation right under our noses.  And among them are voices insisting that they have a magical formula that will return us to the good times of consumerism and material excess if only we follow their formula.  Some of those voices belong to the biggest players in the market of Big Oil, who have insisted that the U.S. can achieve "energy independence" if only this nation removes all environmental restrictions that stand in the way of maximum profits for Big Oil.

But is this claim reasonable?  Even as far back as 2013, the German Energy Watch Group had stated that the worldwide peak of conventional oil production had already happened by 2008, and this agency predicted that the global peak in total petroleum liquids production would have passed by 2016.  (What they say about the picture for coal production in the U.S. is also not very comforting.)  Moreover, a curious thing has happened throughout the world, and especially in the U.S.  Because of the huge amount of debt overloading the global financial system - especially in the U.S. - the ability of increasing numbers of the population to afford high-priced petroleum products has decreased, even as the costs of extracting petroleum have risen.  Some analysts indeed say that the costs which oil companies must pay to extract oil have risen above the level at which most consumers can afford to buy the products made from oil.  One such analyst used some rather colorful language last year to describe what was happening to oil producers when oil prices were between $20 and $30 a barrel.

Now we live in a time in which oil prices have recovered to the range of $53 to $55 per barrel, due primarily to OPEC announcements of production cuts.  However, oil inventories remain very high, and U.S. production has increased, moderating the effect of OPEC cuts.  In addition, there are signs that Russia is not complying with the OPEC agreements to cut production to prop up prices.  The factors which have been causing oil producers (including nations that depend on resource extraction for their revenue) to start bleeding to death in a time of low oil prices are still present.  (See this also.)  And there are signs that the current oil price rally will not last.  The problem is that oil producers cannot meet their obligations to stockholders (for private oil companies) or citizens (for resource extraction-dependent nations), or pay down the principal and interest on their debts, or cover their extraction costs, for anything under $45 to $50 per barrel.  This is why the oil producers cannot cut their production by very much even at low prices, for production cuts mean revenue cuts for these producers.

Which leads to a bit of a problem for these producers, many of whom were instrumental in bringing about a Trump presidency.  They might despise the economic status, environmental policy, language, or skin color of a great many people in the U.S., but there is one color they do like:

Many of us who are among scapegoated groups or who are on the lower rungs of American society or who don't want our environment destroyed have pieces of paper that look like this.  We may not have as many as the asset strippers at the upper rungs of society - but they need our pieces of paper in order to prop up their claims to wealth.  We can withhold this paper if we choose, and if we are willing to do the work needed to live without certain things.  How would things be if U.S. petroleum demand were to continue to decline in 2017 - not only because of the factors listed above, but also because the people at the top of American society had made the rest of us angry enough to engage in massive economic non-cooperation?  Let's say that the majority of us traded tire rubber for shoe leather for the majority of our trips, and that we worked out our anger by striding energetically down sidewalks instead of driving.  The oil majors were among the entities who helped to transform the United States from a one person, one vote society into a one dollar, one vote society.  How much pressure could we exert on these people by taking away a few of their dollars in order to sway some of their votes?

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Resistance Languages

I have a general theme that I began in my last two posts, but this week I feel the need to digress a bit.  In my recent writings I have covered the various categories of nonviolent resistance tactics as outlined by Dr. Gene Sharp.  These include the categories of protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention.  Nonviolent protest and persuasion is usually the weakest of the three categories of resistance, with the other two categories being much more powerful when skillfully executed.  However, sometimes one comes across methods and tactics which are able to skillfully and effectively express all three categories of resistance.

I'd like to present two such methods in this post.  The hostility of the Trump regime to nonwhite peoples and cultures is very well-known.  Trump represents the naked id of a certain fascist, supremacist element of the Global North.  This element is characterized by a desire to destroy all other cultures and their peoples.  This element feels intolerably threatened by the existence or close proximity of people with dark skin who speak a language other than English (or Russian or German or French if you happen to live in those countries).   Unfortunately, all three branches of the U.S. Federal Government are now controlled by members of this fascist element, who also control many of the largest corporations in the world.

So...what if those in the U.S. who are part of the resistance to this regime decided to learn some of the languages of the oppressed?  What if they decided to use these languages as their main way of talking with each other?  What if the resistance began to learn some of the cultures of the oppressed and to deliberately adopt these cultures?  What if, for instance, those in the U.S. who oppose the Trump regime learned Spanish, or Arabic, or Vietnamese, or Hindi, or Korean, or Chinese, or Swahili?  What if they began to talk publicly to each other in one of these languages instead of English?  What if they used one of these languages instead of English when writing emails, memos, and letters (o entradas de blog)?  What if, for instance, researchers and academics at universities and labs started writing technical articles primarily in Spanish or Swahili?  That's not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds.  Spanish is very well suited for technical writing.  (In fact, the Latin American School of Medicine, which trains some of the best primary care physicians in the world, does all of its teaching in Spanish.)  And for the last four decades, the use of Swahili for technical and academic writing has been growing.  (See this and this also.)  The same things can be said of the other languages I have listed.

Imagine how well such actions would serve as a means of both nonviolent protest, social (and potentially economic) noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention!  For one thing, if you and your friends started speaking and writing in one or more of the languages of the oppressed, you would annoy the living daylights out of any bystanders who happened to be bigots.  For another thing, if anyone wanted to join in the conversation, he or she would have to have the humility needed to learn another language - thus also learning to see the world from another point of view.  Seeing things from new points of view is frequently very good for people.  A third benefit is that you would drastically increase the costs which the State would have to pay in order to do surveillance on you.  A fourth benefit is that you would make a whole new set of friends - people now demonized by right-wing media would suddenly become more human in your eyes by your learning to speak their language, as the social distance between you and them was reduced and you began to see them as they truly are.  Lastly, by speaking and thinking in one of the languages of the oppressed, you would be declaring your withdrawal from the dominant oppressive culture and your intention to be part of an alternative to that culture.  Who wants to learn with me?

There is something else resisters can do as well.  The Trump regime has been breathing fire about deporting massive numbers of Hispanics from the U.S., and of drastically expanding the grounds for deportation.  Many of the targets of his deportations have been adults with small children or spouses who are American citizens.  At this time, we can reach out to the families who have been bereaved of one or both parents by deportation - by providing food, care (including foster care) and other material resources to them.  And when they are sent to deportation hearings, we can volunteer to walk with them, to go with them to their hearings, to document what is done during those hearings, and to report it to the world.  This too achieves more than one resistance goal, as it is both a method of nonviolent protest and a method of nonviolent intervention.

Over the next few months, I will begin writing about some technical, volunteer-based initiatives that I am organizing in my community to help people who are currently without help.  I will be describing in technical terms some of the approaches we are trying, and documenting the results.  When I publish these posts, I will try to publish them first in one of the languages of the oppressed.  (I know people who can translate for me.)  A few days after publishing each of these posts, I will also post an English version.  Mira este espacio.