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.