Friday, June 19, 2015

Resilience Counterpunches

Many of my recent posts have chronicled the bad news that is the unraveling of the mainstream American psyche, and the ways in which certain elements of mainstream America are taking out their dysfunction on minorities and people of color.  But all is not bad news.  In minority communities, there is a growing awareness of steps which these communities can take to become more resilient.  I'll give just two examples. 

First, there is the educational clinic about which I wrote several months ago.  I am one of the tutors for that clinic.  We (the tutors) are planning a solar energy science activity for the kids at the apartment complex we visit.  Specifically, we are planning to build solar ovens.  Our aim is to provide enough materials so that kids from five or six households can construct the ovens.  As for the ovens, they are not just some science-fair craft that is good for nothing more than melting chocolate.  Rather, these ovens will be the real deal, capable of cooking some serious food.  The design for these ovens was invented by Maria Telkes, an appropriate technology pioneer of the 20th century.  We obtained the design for the ovens from Engineers Without Borders.  We are planning to build the ovens over four sessions with the kids.  Next to their apartment complex is a large vacant lot with plenty of sunshine where they can try the ovens out.  I'll try to take and post some pictures or video of the project as it progresses.  We will also teach the kids the theory of operation of the ovens and use that teaching to further strengthen their math skills.

Second, there is the Detroit Water Brigade, a grassroots organization which has arisen in response to the Detroit city government shutoff of water to tens of thousands of Detroit residents.  Not only is the Detroit Water Brigade involved in providing water bill assistance and collection of drinking water, but they are also teaching residents the basics of rainwater harvesting.  Such efforts are geared toward enabling large numbers of Detroit residents to adapt to life without a utility system which is not only aging and increasingly unreliable, but which has been turned into a weapon against them.  If anyone wants to help, you can send donations to them, or to the Detroit Water Project.

I am sure that there are many other initiatives springing up, but I haven't had time to research them all.  As I hear of them, I will keep you all posted.  Stay tuned...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Replacement for the "War On Drugs"?

I found out this week that two Georgia women have recently been charged with violations of newly enacted state statutes restricting abortion.  One of the women was the woman who had the abortion; the other was a nurse who allegedly provided an abortifacient drug to the woman who had the abortion.  In addition, a woman in Indiana was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison (see this also) for allegedly taking an abortifacient drug which resulted in the termination of her pregnancy.  This happened in spite of the fact that the toxicologist for the state where she was tried testified that he could not find evidence of abortion drugs in the woman's system.

Neither of the women charged with aborting their pregnancies is white.

I must confess that upon reading their stories, I was struck by mixed emotions.  In describing those emotions, I think I may wind up writing a post that will offend just about everyone who reads it.  First, however, let me say that as a Christian, I am obliged to follow the orders of my Boss.  His Word says that the unjust taking of a life is murder.  Therefore, I am opposed to abortion.

However, I see another side of the story in the case of Purvi Patel.  Whether you believe abortion is evil or not, if you're a decent human being, you must admit that convicting women of crimes they didn't commit and throwing them in prison for decades afterward is also evil.  The fact that women in certain states are now being threatened with such a prospect is unsettling.  The fact that two women who recently became showcases for this threat are nonwhite is more unsettling.  I am thinking that in the Midwest and the South, the "war on drugs" - currently being de-fanged by the passage of laws in various states which decriminalize drug use - may be replaced by a war on miscarrying women of color - oops, I mean, abortion.  Women of color who miscarry may thus find themselves targets regardless of the circumstances of the miscarriages.

It all makes me think of the following quote from People of the Lie: "[The narcissism of the evil]...is a brand of narcissism so total that they seem to lack, in whole or in part, [the] capacity for empathy...We can see, then, that their narcissism makes the evil dangerous not only because it motivates them to scapegoat others but also because it deprives them of the restraint that results from empathy and respect for others.  In addition to the fact that the evil need victims to sacrifice to their narcissism, their narcissism permits them to ignore the humanity of their victims as well.  As it gives them the motive for murder, so it also renders them insensitive to the act of killing.  The blindness of the narcissist to others can extend even beyond a lack of empathy; narcissists may not "see" others at all."  In quoting M. Scott Peck, I realize that I may turn the stomachs of some of those who are familiar with the failings of his private life.  To such I apologetically offer the following suggestion: Regard Mr. Peck in the same way that you might regard the prophet Balaam, or the donkey on which Balaam rode - flawed instruments whom God used to deliver a message that perhaps the messengers had not conceived.  In this quote, Mr. Peck hits it out of the ballpark in describing the role which scapegoats serve for the narcissist.

The current leadership of the American right wing is accurately characterized as narcissistic.  Unable to face their own evil, they look constantly for scapegoats on whom they can project their own dysfunction.  This is seen in the punishments meted out to the scapegoats for their "transgressions" - a kind of justice not meant to restore or to heal, but to destroy.  So if a woman of color has a miscarriage, or even an abortion, the aim of white supremacist justice is not to heal or to restore, but to destroy with draconian punishments - even as the supremacist leaders give themselves a pass for their own evil behavior

As they used the "War on Drugs," so the narcissistic elite may use a "war on abortion" as a means of continuing to scapegoat the nonwhite, the non-English, the foreign-born.  And in many parts of the United States, those doing the scapegoating won't even be that sophisticated; they'll simply continue to send the police to storm homes where people of color live, in order to shoot unarmed people of color without cause.  In this year alone, the body count has reached 506 people. In this year alone, an impressive number of murderers in police uniforms have escaped becoming victims of the criminal justice system of which they are a part.  Among them is Joseph Weekley, a Detroit SWAT officer who shot a 7 year old African American girl to death as she was sleeping in bed when he sprayed her house with submachine-gun fire. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Demise of The Right Cross


Now we come again to a theme which we have explored in previous posts on this blog, namely, the role and purpose of American civil religion in American narcissism. This week's post will compare that religion with the thing for which it is often mistaken in this country, namely Biblical Christianity. I will be quoting a fair amount of Scripture, and I'll get a bit theologically “heavy” at times, so if some of you feel like bailing out on this post, I'll not take it personally. But hey, you've come along for the ride this far, so why not ride a little more with me? (Some may wonder how my posts of the last several months are related to the original theme of this blog. I'll get around to explaining that sooner or later.)

Let me begin by quoting the New American Standard translation of 1 Peter 1:1 – “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered...” The King James Bible renders the verse thus: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia,...(etc)” In my opinion, the King James rendering is rather sleepy. The wording of the New American Standard translation is here more evocative: “To those who reside as aliens, scattered...” In other words, a chief characteristic of those whom Peter is addressing is that in the earthly places where these people reside, they reside as aliens – as a people apart, a culture apart. This is a chief characteristic of such people wherever on earth they reside. They are “expatriados” (Spanish, RV 1960 translation), “extranjeros” (foreign, alien) (1 Pedro 2:11), “пришельцам, рассеянным” (1-е Петра 1:1). Among the meanings of рассеянным are “dispersed,” and “broadcast” (as seed). This lines up quite nicely with the way the Lord characterizes His people as seed sown in diverse places in His parable in Matthew 13:24-43, and the way in which the lifestyle of the Lord's people is to be a declaration that they are strangers and pilgrims on earth, as stated in Hebrews 11:13-16.

Thus, those who call themselves Christians are to live as strangers in whatever society they happen to be embedded. They are to seek a Kingdom which is to come, having become citizens of a Kingdom which is not from here (from earth, that is) as it says in John 18:36. This is how the early Church conducted itself in the Roman Empire in the days from the first century until the day that Augustine conferred earthly secular political power on the Church. Note that I did not say that the Church is to have no effect on the society in which it is embedded. Rather, the Church is to have a profound effect, realized by the active doing of good in the larger society.

But according to Scripture, what the Church is not called to do is to try to build an earthly kingdom, using earthly, temporal power or laws to create a “Christian” nation. There are reasons for that, some of which I explored in a post I wrote many moons ago. I'll expand on one of those reasons in today's post.

If the Church is not called to create earthly “Christian” kingdoms by earthly, secular, temporal means, why do so many well-placed American evangelicals insist on trying to “baptize” Uncle Sam? Moreover, where did they get the notion that the United States of America is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles? And are those who say they want to “bring the nation back to Christian ideals” saying that they want to take us “back” to a place where we've never been?

If you try to find the roots of the “Christian” principles on which this nation was founded, you will find that a fair number of the Founding Fathers were not orthodox fundamentalist Christians.  Thomas Jefferson is a notable example of a non-fundamentalist, and late in his life he published a book titled, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, in which he removed all references to the supernatural or the Divinity and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In fact, Jefferson valued Christ only for His teachings and believed that the writers of the New Testament were ignorant and superstitious men. Jefferson was also on friendly terms with Joseph Priestly, the founder of Unitarianism.  A solid majority of the Founding Fathers were against the use of the state to impose any religious creed, dogma or observance on the citizens of the United States.  (See this and this.)  Many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, and a significant minority of the generals and statesmen of early America were Freemasons.

It can thus be argued that in the early United States, there was very little effort made to cast this nation as a “Christian” nation. There are a few notable exceptions when it comes to those whom the nation wished to venerate as heroes. For instance, a number of larger-than-life stories about George Washington were the fabrications of a man named Mason Weems , whose account of Washington has been thoroughly debunked by a number of historians. It can also be argued that the United States of the 1800's was certainly “Christ-haunted” (but in a way that even Flannery O'Connor  might not have imagined), yet certainly not Christian in the main. Later in the 19th century, there were efforts by denominational leaders to make the government and tokens of the United States more explicitly “Christian.” Thus, during the Civil War, the words, “In God We Trust” were added to American currency, among other minor victories.

But a Princeton historian argues that it was not until the early decades of the 20th century that religious activists in the United States really began a concerted push to cast the United States as a “Christian” nation. In his book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Kevin Kruse  argues that the notion of the United States as a Christian nation founded on Christian principles was the product of an intense marketing and propaganda effort on the part of big businessmen and government figures from the 1930's onward, to produce a perception in a nation suffering the effects of the greed of these authority figures that patriotism was the same thing as godliness. They used religion as a weapon to stave off the welfare state (and to protect the wealthy from having to give up some of their riches to help the poor). In the process they enlisted prominent religious figures such as Billy Graham and prominent denominations whose de facto interest lay in maintaining a certain social and political status quo.

In the process, American fundamentalism (and the American evangelicalism into which it later evolved) became a sort of loosely organized, fractious, yet de facto state church. This state church performed (and still performs) many of the same functions historically performed by state churches in European history, namely, to bless, sanction and promulgate the imperial ambitions of the secular state that supports it. (You may not know this, but during World War 1, religious leaders in both Germany and England goaded their populations to slaughter – Germany with its “Gott strafe England!” and the Anglican Church with its calls for a “holy war.”)

As with all state churches, therefore, the current American evangelical church is called “Christian,” but does not look like 1 Peter 1:1. (If you bring me an animal that can't climb trees, but does howl at emergency vehicles, lifts its hind leg when relieving itself, barks and chases postal workers, should I believe you if you tell me it's a cat?) The American evangelical church has become merely another weapon of those who strive for secular earthly power. As a young adult, I once read a science fiction novel by Larry Niven in which one of two men in a brawl picked up a cat and attempted to use it as a weapon against the other man by swinging it at the other man's head. So Christianity and the Bible are being used today in the United States by people who want to maintain a last vestige of earthly supremacy, as they were used to build that supremacy and hegemony in the first place – sometimes by missionaries who were spies and servants of the earthly empires which sent them (see this and this and this for instance), and sometimes by missionaries who preached to conquered natives the duty of turning the other cheek and of not looking for rewards in this earthly life while the missionaries celebrated every holiday of their home countries in which their home countries refused to turn the other cheek.

To see the way in which American evangelicalism has become a dog whistle for those who seek earthly supremacy, we need look no further than the most recent evangelical scandal which has blown up like ordnance cooking off in a fire. Let me introduce you to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar and their nineteen children. They are a wealthy white family who are part of a couple of rather wacky “Christian” movements in the United States, one of which is the Quiverfull movement and the other of which is the “Christian Patriarchy” movement. I'll leave it to you to look up the information on these movements, but I'll summarize them as movements led by men who want to restore white male privilege and domination over family life, and ultimately over both the United States and the world – “all for Jesus, of course!” Jim Bob is also actively involved in Arkansas state politics.

One characteristic of the leaders of such movements is that they always hold themselves and their families up as models of people who have done everything right, who have followed all the rules, and who therefore have earned the right to demand that the rest of us submit to them. So Jim Bob and Michelle used their family and their religious profession as a weapon, to the point of insinuating themselves onto network television with a “reality” TV series called “19 Kids and Counting,” which began airing on 19 September 2008. The only trouble with the series (and with their perfect image) is that in 2002 and 2003, their eldest son Josh molested (or is that sexually assaulted?) a number of underage girls, and that the Duggar family covered this up with the help of the Arkansas state police. Josh also sued the Arkansas DHS in 2007 to block their investigation of these incidents. And in 2013, Josh became the executive director of the legislative action arm of the Family Research Council, a conservative “Christian” organization founded by James Dobson.

Now I don't intend to get on a soap box to denounce Josh Duggar's sin. We are all sinful. But what really makes me angry is the way in which this hypocrite and his hypocritical family continue to try to use their religion as a weapon in what is actually very much like a barroom brawl, just as the cat was used in the story I mentioned. The de facto state church of America is a hypocritical entity composed of people who use religion to try to secure earthly dominion for themselves, yet they can't keep their own rules. They love the doctrine of justification by faith when they can apply it to themselves, but they reject the need of personal repentance in the same way that children will sometimes refuse meat and vegetables in order to chow down on dessert. But they are quite willing to shove all sorts of rules and obligations down the throats of the people over whom they wish to exercise dominion – among whom are all nonwhite people and all women.

The trouble for them is that they are now in decline.  (See this and this.) Their leaders would say that this is because they haven't been effective in communicating their message, but they might want to consider that the reason is that they don't practice what the Good Book preaches. They are not the salt of the earth. They are unwilling to repent of their own greed and selfishness; therefore, they are unable to call a nation to repentance over its greed and selfishness – greed and selfishness manifested in oppression of the poor, the foreign-born, the non-white, the citizens of other nations; oppression also manifested in the endless calls to war so that the United States can “liberate” property (land and natural resources) which rightfully belongs to people other than Americans while destroying the earth with its outlandish per capita consumption. In short, American evangelicals have become distasteful people to be around. Thus their children are choosing to separate from them and their religion.

But this does not mean that the true Church is in decline or in trouble, or that Christianity is about to disappear from the United States. Rather, the immigrant church is quite strong here. And immigrant Christians, especially those from poorer countries, are much quicker than many American evangelicals to remember what it means to be a stranger and a pilgrim. Therefore, they have much to teach us. One immigrant Christian, a man named Soong-Chan Rah, wrote a book with a rather provocative title, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity.  His book caused a bit of narcissistic injury among some American evangelical leaders, but that's okay, they'll get over it.

If you are thinking of going to church tomorrow, you might therefore try out an immigrant church. Many of them have headphones and translators for English-speaking visitors. The Hispanic churches are friendly and welcoming, as are the Karen (Myanmar) churches. The Vietnamese churches can also be quite welcoming. The Ethiopian (Oromo) churches are good, although they can be very, VERY LOUD!!! (Dude, step away from the mic!) If you go to a Russian or Slavic church, they are more formal, so be sure to dress in your Sunday best, because for them, Church Is Serious. When you go, be sure to listen for the differences in worldview which exist between their preachers and the vast majority of American evangelical preachers. You'll be intrigued.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Exodus As Survival


As I have watched the unfolding pattern of police violence, excessive force and murder against unarmed people of color in the United States, I have also been watching the protests which have arisen in response, and particularly the organized Black Lives Matter protest movement. I am encouraged in a small way by the protests; however, I am also deeply ambivalent toward them. It's not that I don't think that the murder of unarmed people of color should be quietly accepted. It's just that I don't think that the protests by themselves will accomplish anything.

The cause of my pessimism lies in the subject which has occupied this blog for almost a year, namely, the way in which an entire national culture has become personality-disordered. The particular personality disorder which I have discussed is malignant narcissism. One of the features of a malignant narcissist, whether that narcissist be a person or a narcissistic nation, is an overwhelming urge to abuse others. Another feature is that reasonable people cannot reason with the narcissist to restrain his abuse. The narcissist is unreasonable, and thus implacable. A reasonable nation would apply one standard of law enforcement to all of its residents, rather than playing “favorites.” The police forces of a reasonable nation would not murder unarmed Hispanic teens driving cars as the police in Denver, Colorado did to Jessica Hernandez in January.  (They allege that the car she was driving was stolen. I did a Google search and was unable to find any evidence to support this claim.) The justice system of a reasonable nation would not throw the book at people of color accused of petty crimes while being lenient toward rich white offenders guilty of much more serious offenses. But the United States is not reasonable. The United States is a narcissistic nation now indulging in narcissistic rage. Therefore it is violently projecting its own dysfunction onto people whom it has tried to groom to be scapegoats and receptacles for its rage, targets whom it blames for its own dysfunctional behavior.

I have previously listed examples of scapegoating behavior, but here is a new example of scapegoating and “white-on-white crime,” a story about the Midwestern and Western towns and small cities which became boom towns during the now-expiring shale oil craze.  As prices rose, a large number of Caucasian oilfield workers flooded these towns, bringing with them both lots of money and a sharp increase in crime. Now that shale revenues have fallen, oil patch towns and counties have fewer resources to fight the increase in crime that has resulted. But they haven't lost their ability to scapegoat, blaming, for instance, the sharp increase in drug use on “Mexican drug cartels.” There's only one problem with that accusation: the biggest drug problems in these towns are methamphetamine, prescription painkillers, and alcohol. You don't need to find a Mexican drug cartel to find these items. And meth is incredibly easy to make.  The corruption in this nation's heartland is not the fault of Mexicans.

The wealthy and powerful, and those who enjoy American “white privilege” in this country are facing an existential crisis internationally, as the United States loses its place in the world. In their desperation to find some safe place where they can nurture and revive their identity of dominance, they are increasingly looking inward, at those victims within the nation's borders on whom they can dump their hostility. 

One of the features of narcissistic abuse is that the protests of the victims actually fuel further narcissistic abuse. Why is this so? Because in the protests of their victims, narcissists see the reflection of their own power – so narcissists can say to themselves, “Look! I have power to inflict pain on other people. I have the power to make others say 'Ouch!'” If the only response of victims is to protest, the protest winds up feeding the abuser with "narcissistic supply."

Which leads to the second potential pitfall of protesting, namely, becoming entangled in the narcissist's response to your protests. Most of the time, that response can be summed up in one acronym: DARVO which stands for “Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.” The way it works is that the narcissist does something to injure a victim. When the victim protests the narcissist's action, the narcissist responds by Denying that he did any wrong, Attacking the victim's right to protest by attacking the victim's character or humanity, and Reversing the roles of Victim and Offender by casting himself as the victim of some imagined slight on the part of the real victim. In recent months, DARVO has played out thus: a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color under extremely questionable circumstances. When the victim's relatives protest, the cop Denies that he did anything wrong. Then the cop and his department, along with a bunch of right-wing talking heads, Asserts that the reason for his treatment of the unarmed (now deceased) person of color was that the cop was working in a high-crime area and the victim of his shooting – a member of a criminal race – somehow threatened the cop (even though a gaggle of witnesses denies this). Then the cop and friends Reverse Victim and Offender by protesting that “police lives matter” and that police work is very dangerous. "And besides, this entire ordeal has stressed out the poor 'widdle' cop, so let's support his feelings." For a sickeningly over-the-top example of an offender passing himself off as a victim, see this. For a more truthful look at the actual level of danger in police work, see this.

In interactions with a narcissist, DARVO too often leads to a response from the actual victims called JADE, which stands for Justify, Argue, Defend and Explain. The victims, still believing that the narcissist can be reasoned with, attempt to Justify the reasons why they deserve fair treatment. Then they Argue and try to verbally Defend themselves against the narcissist's ad hominem attacks. They waste their remaining breath on trying to Explain their point of view to the narcissist. While all this might work in dealing with a reasonable person, the narcissist will respond only by serving up a second helping of DARVO – along with a side dish of further abuse. Again, our recent societal troubles provide an illustrative example. After a crooked cop shoots an unarmed person of color, and after the ad hominem attacks from the cop and his allies attempting to justify his actions, there are usually protests. These protests provoke certain right-wing gasbags to get on television and loudly proclaim that aggressive policing is needed in minority communities because of the problem of “black-on-black crime,” yadda yadda. Then the victims of police brutality begin to speak up, citing historical examples and government statistics which prove beyond doubt that white people are at least as capable of serious criminal behavior as black people, that crime rates for certain stereotypical offenses are actually lower in Black and Latino communities than they are in white communities, and that White populations regularly engage in rioting and property destruction, usually for very, very stupid reasons.  The victims then heave a collective sigh of relief, believing that now that they have told their side of the story, things will change. Except that they don't. Nor do the oppressors give the slightest sign that they have heard the victims.

If the Black Lives Matter protests are just a form of JADE'ing, and the response of “the powers that be” will only be more DARVO, then what is an effective response on the part of victims to the erosion of civil rights and equal protection under the law by the rulers of a narcissistic country? The answer is simple, but it is rather painful to put into practice, because the answer is No Contact.  Why No Contact? First, because continuing to remain in contact with a society which wants to use you as its toilet bowl is not good for you. It can cause a great deal of psychological damage, not to mention damage of other kinds. (An unfortunate example: suicide rates among young Black American children rose sharply from 1993 to 2012God damn America!) Second, as long as you remain in contact with a predatory system, you continue to feed the predator. This point leads to a discussion of what going “No Contact” with an oppressive society looks like.

“No Contact” takes place within three spheres: the economic, the cultural, and where necessary, the physical. In the economic sphere, we have seen historically what can happen when an oppressed minority withdraws its support from economic organs that are used as instruments of oppression. The Montgomery Bus Boycott is an extremely effective case in point.  That boycott was characterized by people of color finding and devising alternatives to a system of transportation which was being used to oppress them. But the boycott was not without cost: in addition to suffering white violence, those who participated in the boycott had to endure the inconveniences of withdrawal from an oppressive system. And the boycott lasted 381 days before its goals were met. The Blackout Black Friday boycott was very little more than a symbolic action in comparison. We went back too soon to the system that is destroying us. (How many people of color shopped at Walmart after Black Friday 2014? Walmart is where the police in Beavercreek, Ohio shot an unarmed John Crawford to death last year as he was buying toys for his children.)   No Contact may have to last a long time. 

To see economic “No Contact” from another angle, here's a link to a 2013 podcast covering the urban adaptation strategy known as “Permaculture.” Permaculture is a strategy for building the household economy by smart agriculture and community building. The goal of permaculture is to make households and communities resilient in the face of the failure of large-scale commercial enterprises due to resource depletion. Many permaculturists are also activists with strongly leftward economic leanings, who oppose the destruction now being wrought by the present economic order. In this particular podcast, David Holmgren, a co-founder of permaculture, stated his belief that the task for permaculture activists is not to try to start a huge movement to reshape the dominant society, but rather to develop working models for resilience and self-sufficiency. His reasoning was that economic contraction would provide all the motivation required to get people to seek alternatives to a dominant and destructive system, and that they would naturally seek out people who had successfully created those alternatives. Once a critical mass of such people formed, their withdrawal from the dominant system would succeed in bringing down the system – or at least slowing down its destructiveness. This would be far more effective than shouting loudly in mass protests. The economic contraction of which Holmgren spoke is happening now. Can you teach yourself to get your needs met without giving your money to people who are trying to destroy you?

Cultural “No Contact” begins with throwing your TV into the trash. It begins with cutting yourself off from organs of mass media which are trying to poison your mind. It proceeds to home education of your children, thus saving themselves from an educational system which has been turned into a weapon of mass destruction. It also spreads to the people of your neighborhood, where you all get to know each other and learn to work with each other and celebrate each other without some intermediary trying to tell you all what you can and cannot do.  In essence, you create a culture within a culture - a culture of health and support within and separate from a dominant destructive culture.

But sometimes economic “No Contact” and cultural “No Contact” are not enough. If a locality is physically threatening – if, for instance, it is like Ferguson, Missouri which has a large minority population, yet the local political system has been so screwed up by wealthy interests that there is no minority representation in the local government and almost no minority presence in the police force – and if the local government has become well-known for throwing many of its citizens in jail or slapping them with exorbitant fines for increasingly trivial offenses – then maybe it's time to move. Moving is traumatic, especially when you're poor, but it can be done. And it's better than remaining in place and losing your life.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hoarders Of A New Currency

Wisdom is supreme.
Get wisdom.
Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding.
– Proverbs 4:7, World English Bible

In the last several posts, I covered several of the points stated in my post, “Scapegoat Survival in Uncertain Times.” Now it's time to talk about becoming rich in things which cannot be taken away from you. Those things comprise the intangible possessions which a person has. One of those possessions is knowledge. Knowledge is easy to share, and it can't easily be taken away. Moreover, the right kind of knowledge is an essential ingredient of a sound education.

The word “education” has come to be loaded with a certain unfortunate baggage. Nowadays what is called “education” is really just a glorified form of job training. I want to propose a different definition: namely, that education is the “equipping” of the person who is educated. It consists of appropriate knowledge combined with practical application to produce a suite of tools for inhabiting and navigating a particular environment. The environment for which we must be educated is characterized by the following stressors and risk factors:

  • economic contraction caused by the depletion of natural resources and ecological degradation caused by pollution generated by the industrial economy;
  • gross and intensifying economic inequity caused by the robbery of the poor majority by the wealthy minority;
  • social unrest resulting from the oppression of the poor majority by the wealthy minority. This oppression is motivated by the evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology of the oppressors.
  • Lastly, the prospect of international conflict caused both by evil pragmatism and unhealthy psychology within the ruling classes of specific nations.
The central challenge for decent people in the emergent uncertain environment is to live a meaningful and moral life without becoming oppressors or oppressed. As one blogger put it a while ago, “...most of us spend our lives as prey, economically and psychologically. Awareness is the key to understanding this; but once we understand it, we may transcend it, choosing, when we can, to be neither prey nor predator.” That awareness must take three forms. First, we must become psychologically literate, so that we can both recognize and promote healthy psychological development in ourselves and in those we care about. But psychological literacy must also equip us to recognize the psychological diseases of those who oppress their fellow human beings, so that we may not be damaged by the oppression. Second, we must become aware of the very practical steps we can take to avoid or mitigate the physical things oppressors do in order to oppress us. Third, we must learn to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste.


All these things we must do on our own, at least for those of us living in the United States. Whereas in many other countries, the governments and ruling members of those countries recognize their duty to provide for the public good, the people of the United States have been drinking libertarian, “free market” Kool-Aid for such a long time that many of us no longer recognize our duty to each other. This is especially true of our rulers and wealthy elites. Indeed, the Republicans who have captured so many state governments and both houses of Congress are busy turning this country into a place where everyone who is not wealthy will be turned into the prey of the wealthy. (For an example, take a look at this doofus, who with his cronies wants to destroy Medicare and deny tax credits to the poor in order to increase military spending.) Don't expect the government of the United States or its wealthy citizens to provide for the common good.

In the United States, what we have been seeing for a long time is the denial of resources to the poor and the increasing of obligations on the poor. The denial of resources is accompanied by a great deal of propaganda about how the poor are “welfare queens”, etc, and that the poverty of the poor is their own fault. The increasing of obligations occurs via such things as raising of rates for essential utilities and the imposition of fines for an ever-expanding list of non-criminal infractions, with jail time for those who can't pay the fines. Thus, as reported by another blogger, in Baltimore and Detroit, tens of thousands of people have had their water shut off by the city governments, who have hiked rates by huge percentages. Baltimore's water department has for years been guilty of numerous billing errors. And in Portland, Oregon, one school district has received a brand new middle school, and the school district is issuing i-Pads to each of its students. However, students at another district no more than five miles from the district just mentioned do not have access to textbooks that they can take home with them.

If you're unlucky enough then to live among the poor, and to be counted as one of the poor, learning to use scarce material resources to achieve the maximum benefit for the largest number of people with a minimum of waste will be a very urgent task – especially as the more privileged keep trying to take from you the little that you do have. Nevertheless, it can be done. The beauty of learning is that people who are motivated and have the right resources can learn to teach themselves. The knowledge gained by self-education is valuable even if you don't go the traditional route of paying lots of money for an expensive piece of paper – oops, I mean, a diploma – from a university. For while there are many baristas and burger flippers who graduated from a university with an expensive piece of paper, there are not that many people who are educated.

One strong focus of your education should be mathematics and the sciences. Mastering these two subjects will give you a suite of tools that you can apply to a wide range of difficult situations. For instance, if you live in a house in a city whose water department has hiked your rates to unaffordable levels, how much roof area do you need in order to collect enough rainwater to live decently? The answer to this question will depend on a number of factors. Can you identify them all?

As far as math resources, I'd like to begin by mentioning the excellent “Next Step” math series available from Copian. The nice thing about the “Next Step” books is that they can be used for both children and adults, and they take a learner all the way from basic counting to beginning algebra and geometry. There are also algebra and calculus textbooks available from here and here and here. Textbooks for children covering the sciences can be downloaded for free from the Departments of Education of some of the States.

As you educate yourself, you must also seek to educate your community. This is why it is a good idea to form learning “clubs”: math clubs, science clubs, etc. It is especially rewarding to get kids involved in such clubs – especially when you know that the club is exposing the kids to a world of possibilities that the dominant elites would like to deny them. Here is a picture of a kid who participated in a Saturday science club solar energy activity last year.  



She is from Mozambique and she lives in an apartment complex in one of the less “well-to-do” parts of town. Her clubmates were from Mozambique, Thailand and Myanmar. And here is a picture of a kid who was involved last fall and winter in a math club at another apartment complex in the same general neighborhood.



The kid in the second picture was in the school district which can't afford to issue textbooks. Therefore, the leaders of the math club downloaded a number of pdf textbooks onto thumb drives and handed them out to all the kids in the club. As long as the kids have access to a library, they will be able to read the pdf's. Long live the sneakernet.  In the picture, he is working from a printed copy of one of the "Next Step" books.

There's a lot more to say about post-Peak education, but it will have to wait. In the meantime, here is an article about the role which education and teaching of skills played in helping Cuba survive the loss of the Soviet Union in the 1990's. And here is a link to a non-traditional education initiative started by the Philippine Government in order to guarantee access to education to all of its citizens.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Slow Rolling Crisis of Legitimacy

Barack Obama was recently quoted in regard to what he termed the "slow-rolling crisis" of unarmed people of color being murdered by police in the United States.  He did not, however, use the word "murder."  While he he expressed his nuanced concerns over "too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor, in ways that raise troubling questions," he was very quick to unequivocally condemn the increasingly violent reactions to the ongoing police killings of unarmed African-Americans. 

The trouble with all of this is that the "troubling questions" mentioned by Obama have equally troubling, yet perfectly obvious answers.  The problem with mainstream America is that many Americans are engaging in a game of dodge 'em with the truth.  The dodges fall into one of two categories.  The first category consists of closing one's eyes, plugging one's ears, and singing "La, la, la" as loudly as possible whenever anyone suggests that the United States is an inequitable society founded on murderous white supremacy, and that oppression and unjust treatment are alive and well today.  The "La, la, la's" become especially loud whenever the U.S. is about to attack, destabilize, bomb or otherwise harass a country whose overthrow might provide some economic benefit to the plutocrats who run things here.

The other dodge category consists of excusing the inhumane treatment of minorities by exaggerating their criminality or lying about the circumstances of their deaths.  This kind of lying was fairly obvious in the case of Michael Brown.  But there are even more egregious examples of lying, including some which predate Brown's murder.  For instance, there is the case of a Hispanic teen in North Carolina in 2013, who supposedly shot himself in the head with a hidden pistol while handcuffed in the back of a North Carolina police cruiser.  (A neat trick, that!  Better than Houdini!)  A more recent example of creative fiction is attempt by certain voices to downplay the impact of organized police violence against the Black American community by saying that the problem of "Black on Black crime" is far worse.  Such people quote former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's claim that 93 percent of Black murders are committed by Black perpetrators, and that this statistic proves that we are indeed a dangerous, criminal race.  However, actual statistics paint a far different picture.  See this, this, this, this, and this for example.  And be sure to read the linked articles in their entirety - unless you'd rather sing "La, la, la" as loudly as you can with your fingers in your ears.

Both dodges are scale-free characteristics of narcissistic abuse.  For instance, you can see the same wilful ignorance of trauma inflicted, or self-justification of trauma inflicted, on the part of domestic abusers.

Back to Obama.  He is in an interesting bind, having been supported in 2008 by a broad spectrum of people who saw the ruinous direction the U.S. had taken under his predecessor.  Instead of fulfilled "hopes" for "change", what we got was a genial apologist for the continuation of those same policies.  In 2009, blogger Dmitry Orlov compared Obama to Gorbachev, saying of him that he is"...the smiling face behind the crumbling imperial façade, the personable, non-threatening loser."  To the Black American community, Obama's mission was to be a pacifying, genial token.  But reality had a way of rendering his tokenism ineffectual.  (By the way, Obama's disease is characteristic of the entire Democratic Party.)  Had he been an honest man being "held hostage" as many of us believed during his first term, he could at least have been honest enough to refuse to run for re-election.  But now many even in the Black community no longer care what Obama says; he's become irrelevant.

And so we come to a few further comparisons between the Gorbachev of the end of the Soviet Union and the Obama of today.  As the senile apparatchiks of the Soviet Union staged a putsch to restore themselves and their empire to its former glory, so senile redneck rich people in this country have hijacked the political process in a bid to restore their supremacy to its former glory.  Ultimately they will fail, but not before they seize every opportunity to make a mess that someone will have to clean up afterward.  Slow-rolling crises have a way of boiling over.

As for me, I seek as much as possible to be a pacifist.  (These are my Boss's orders.  Matthew 5:38-41.)  But if I can in any way help the current American system to survive and thrive, that help is henceforth withdrawn.  And I will seek to disconnect from that system as much as possible.  Both it and its owners are illegitimate.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Short Station Break

I have another post in the works, which will continue to expand the suggestions I made in "Scapegoat Survival in Uncertain Times."  (We have already covered the first three suggestions.)  But that post will have to wait at least another week.  Right now I am working on a mechanical engineering grad school project.  (That's why I wasn't posting for a long while until last fall.)  My project involves programming in a mathematical software package called Sage (www.sagemath.org).  It's free and open source, which is very good.  And if you love playing with a computer all day and are a Ph.D mathematician, the online documentation can provide hours of fun.  I don't, and I'm not.  So for me, the last several days have been filled with long hours in which I was moved to pray or tempted to smash things, not necessarily in that order.  (Yes, yes, I too am human!)  As I sometimes say in front of my Russian acquaintances, "Бог, дай милость!"

If anyone knows anything about multiple arguments in a "for" conditional statement, please shoot me a comment.  If you don't know anything about that subject, at least pray for my soul.  I'll try to have something more for you soon. Thanks for your readership.