Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Military recruiting videos around the world

September 25, 2021

Anti-woke folks have been posting three military recruiting videos on the Internet—one each from China, Russia and the USA.

The Chinese video shows a Chinese husband and father, leaving his family to live a life of hardship and danger in order to protect his family and nation from enemies.

The Russian video shows a tough, muscular Russian trooper, ready to face and deal with whatever comes.

The US American video shows a nice young woman, who has been raised by two lesbian women, who has found the U.S. armed forces accept her for what she is.

The anti-wokesters say the videos show the difference in the martial spirit of the leaders of the three countries.

Someone like the young US American woman probably would not be a match for someone like the Chinese or Russian man on the field of battle.  And the nature of the video does say something about the feminization of US American society.  

Then again, actual warriors make up a small percentage of US American armed forces.  Most of them are technicians and support staff whose war is waged at a distance.

I spent all afternoon reviewing military recruitment videos from different countries.  I don’t think that, in isolation, any particular military recruiting video proves anything about the character of the nation that issued it.  Even so, the different kinds of reasons they offer for joining the military are interesting, at least to me.

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Does the USA need a new founding myth?

September 7, 2021

The U.S Constitutional Convention, 1789

A myth is not necessarily false.  It is a story that people tell about themselves.

The founding myth of the USA is the idea that we are a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The American dilemma, as Gunnar Myrdal wrote in his classic 1944 book on race and racism in the USA, is the incompatibility of what he called the American creed with American reality.  The great sin of us contemporary white Americans as a group is the refusal to face up to this contradiction.

Most of us Americans like to think of the USA as the land of the free and the home of the brave, and don’t like to look at evidence that this isn’t so.  That’s why, for example, so many white Southerners insist that the Civil War was fought over state’s rights, not slavery.

As a boy, I was taught by my parents and teachers, including my Sunday school teachers, that everyone deserved equal rights regardless of race, creed or color, and that everyone, regardless of social standing, should be treated with courtesy and respect. I believed that being a good person and a good American were one and the same thing.

My core beliefs are still the same.  My opinions have changed radically over the course of my life, and especially within the past 10 or 20 years.  Like Albert Camus, I want to love justice and still love my country, and struggle to reconcile these loves.

But the USA as a nation is turning its back on the historic American creed even as an aspirational goal.

MAGA Republicans normalize voter suppression.  Woke Democrats normalize censorship.

We have normalized military aggression, torture, assassinations, bombing of civilians, corporate crime and imprisonment of dissidents and whistleblowers.

Although the American founding myth is fading, a new myth cannot be conjured up just by calling for one.  The power of a myth depends on believers thinking of it, not as a myth, but as just the way things are.

If you recognize a myth as a myth, it has no power over you, although the afterglow of your previous belief may persist for a time.

The most likely candidate for a new unifying myth is a patriotism based on American exceptionalism rather than historic American ideals.  During the past 20 years, we Americans have been called upon to take pride in the USA not because of our freedom and democracy, but our might and power.

Patriotism is defined as unconditional support for war and domination.  The military is our most respected institution.

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U.S. census shows a blurring of racial lines

August 13, 2021

At a time of increasing talk about race and racial distinctions, the U.S. Census reports the lines dividing traces are becoming more blurred.

It noted that almost all the U.S. population increase from 2010 to 2020 consisted of Americans with two or more racial identities.

Whites remained in the majority. 

In 2020, there were 204.3 million Americans who called themselves white, down 8.6 percent from the previous census.  The non-Hispanic “white alone” U.S. population was 60.1 percent of the total in 2020, down from 63.7 percent in 2010.  But there were an additional 23.3 million who considered themselves white plus something else—boosting the white population to 235.4 million.

Hispanics can be of any race.  There were 62.1 million of them in the U.S. in 2020.  They comprised 18.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2020, up from 16 percent in 2010.

Americans of “some other race” were the second largest racial category, after whites.

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Some 49.9 million Americans called themselves “some other race,” meaning something other than white, black, Asian, native American or some other recognized racial category.

“Some other race” can include national identities, including Mexican, Cuban or the like, so growth in this category probably included a lot of Hispanics. 

The 48.9 million African-Americans were the third largest category.  The “black alone” U.S. population was 12.4 percent in 2020, virtually unchanged from 13 percent in 2010.

Some 33.8 million Americans called themselves multi-racial in 2020, up from 9 million in 2010.

One report indicates that 10 percent of all American married couples, and 17 percent of new marriages, are of individuals of different races or ethnicities.

I’m old enough to remember when this would have been considered shocking.  Back in the 1960s, when I attended the wedding of my friend Jim Yeatts, who was white, to Georgianna Bell, who was black, the Chief of Police of my home town reported this fact to my employer.  Now it would be taken in stride.

Double click to enlarge

There are two ways to interpret current population changes.  One is that American society is becoming more inclusive.  The other is that it is the dominant group that is becoming more inclusive.

Originally the dominant group consisted of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, or WASPs, the descendants of the original English settlers.  My German immigrant ancestors were excluded. 

Later the top group expanded to include all white Protestants, then all white people of “Judeo-Christian” heritage and now all non-Hispanic whites.

I predicted years ago that the dominant group would expand itself to include white Hispanics and persons of mixed race who consider themselves white.  If you count the Hispanic whites, whites were 76.3 percent of the 2020 population.

The bad thing about this is that African-Americans would still be a minority and still excluded from the dominant group.

I hope the blurring of racial distinctions in the U.S. continues.  This is the only hope for the survival and flourishing of the United States as a nation. 

LINKS

U.S. Census Bureau Quick Facts.

Local Population Changes and Nation’s Racial and Ethnic Diversity by the U.S. Census Bureau.

2020 U.S. Population More Racially and Ethnically Diverse Than Measured in 2010 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Number of interracial marriages increasing in the United States by Brian Lowe for the Global Times.

How culture wars have replaced class conflict

August 11, 2021

Note: I made several last-minute revisions and additions to this post the evening and following morning after I put it up.

Source: Mother Jones

American politics nowadays is extremely bitter.  Many Democrats and Republicans literally hate the opposing party.  In some circles, there’s talk of a new civil war.

Yet the leaders of the two parties differ but little on fundamental political and economic issues.  None of them questions the goal of global military supremacy.  Neither is facing up to the pandemic or the impending climate-related disasters.  Neither questions the existing structure of wealth and power.

But our politics is not about economic and political change.  It is about cultural change.

One party is pushing the ongoing revolution in how we think about race, religion, the family and sexual morality; the other is resisting it.  These issues are important, but they don’t have political answers.  But here we are.  They are on the political agenda, whether I like it or not.

Some friends of mine pointed me to an important article by David Brooks in The Atlantic about the background to all this.  He said that we are in the unusual position of having an elite of income and wealth who think of themselves as progressive, and push for change they think is progressive, while remaining blind to their own privilege.

The late Saul Alinsky said politics is a conflict between the haves, the have-nots and the have-a-littles.  As Brooks points out, this is not politics in today’s USA.  He describes a blue hierarchy and a red hierarchy, and points out that political antagonism is mostly between groups at the same levels in the opposing hierarchies (Koch brothers vs. Bill Gates, social workers vs. cops).

Brooks’ blue hierarchy consists of:

  • The bohemian bourgeoisie: Technology and media corporate CEOs, university and foundation presidents, high-level bankers, highly-successful physicians and CEOs.  Many are graduates of elite universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior intelligence and understanding.
  • The creative class: Tenured professors, successful journalists, employees of non-profit and cultural institutions.
  • Children of the elite: Younger people with elite educations, but without elite incomes, working in the lower rungs of education, the mass media, technology and the non-profit sector.
  • The caring class: Health care workers, and also restaurant servers, store clerks and hotel employees.  They tend to be racially diverse, and poor.

His red hierarchy consists of:

  • The philistine one-percenters:  Corporate executives, entrepreneurs, top-level professionals.  Few are graduates of top universities.  They think they owe their success to their superior common sense and grit.
  • The regional gentry: Families in small cities and towns who’ve owned businesses and properties for generations, and identify with their communities.
  • The proletarian aristocracy (aka the petit bourgeoisie): Small-business owners, independent craft workers (electricians, plumbers), salaried middle managers.
  • The rural working class.  Wage-earners with highly-supervised jobs in manufacturing, construction and transportation.  They tend to be poor, and racially homogeneous, living among family and friends they’ve known all their lives.

I would mention another key group in the red coalition.

  • The guardian class.  State and local police, private security and the career military.  They are important not only because of their numbers, but because of the respect the enjoy and because of the key role they would play in any breakdown in social order.  Counteracting this is the new wokeness at the top levels of the Pentagon and FBI.

What unites the blue and red hierarchies?  Not material interests.  Values.  What are they fighting over?  Validation of their values.  Validation of their ways of living and ways of thinking, and repudiation of those of their enemies.  Also higher status, but mainly validation.

What Brooks doesn’t get into is the large number of Americans who don’t feel represented by either the blue or the red hierarchy  They either see no material benefit in voting or they reluctantly vote for what they see as a lesser evil.

Not everybody is enlisting to fight in the culture wars.  Some care more secure jobs, or secure retirements, or an end to useless, unwinnable wars, or protection from pandemic disease, or something else that’s tangible and real and not a matter of attitude.

LINKS

How the bohemian bourgeoisie broke America by David Brooks for The Atlantic.  “The creative class was supposed to foster progressive values and economic growth.  Instead we got resentment, alienation and endless political dysfunction.”  Yep!

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The enduring strength of Chinese culture

May 27, 2021

The Han Chinese are one of the oldest, largest and most unified of the world’s ethnic groups.  Their current success is not only due to their government’s policies, but the enduring strength of their culture.

For many centuries, the Chinese had a claim to be the world’s most advanced culture.  Marco Polo, who visited China in the late 13th century, was astonished at the wealth and wonders of China, including transformative inventions such as gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press and paper money.

The purpose of the voyages of Christopher Columbus were to establish a sea route so Europeans could buy Chinese tea, porcelain (valuable dishware is still called “china”), silk and other manufactured products without going through intermediaries.

But then as now, there was a trade deficit.  As the Emperor Qianlong told the British McCartney mission in 1792-1794, the Europeans didn’t manufacture anything that the Chinese needed.  The British response was the Opium Wars.

Chinese culture was shaped by Confucius (Kung Tze), who taught the importance of duty, loyalty and responsibility—not individual self-expression.

Confucianism is based on five filial relationships—father to son, teacher to student, older brother to younger brother, older friend to younger friend and ruler to subject.

Society is seen as an extended patriarchal family.  Sons, students and subjects owe loyalty to their fathers, teachers and rulers.  Fathers, teachers and rulers have a responsibility to mentor and provide for their sons, students and subjects.

These are not equal relationships, but they are reciprocal relationships.  There is a historic Chinese belief that subjects have a right to rebel against rulers who have lost the “mandate of Heaven.”    

Government service throughout Chinese history was based on passage of examinations, a process that in theory and frequently in practice eliminated old-boy networks and provided opportunity for the poor but talented.

The Chinese have a history of absorbing not only their subjugated peoples, but their conquerors, such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.  We can see this process going on now, with the Tibetans and Uighurs.

We Americans see diversity as our strength.  We attract people from all over the world, with different talents and ideas, and they all supposedly contribute to the common good.

But this only works if there is a unity underlying the diversity.  Bringing diverse people together in one place accomplishes nothing unless they have a common purpose.  Otherwise it is better to be unified and homogeneous, like the Chinese.

Belief in filial virtues means Chinese typically have strong family ties.

In some cultures, excessive loyalty to family can be a weakness.  Enterprising family members are held back by their duty to provide for their non-enterprising members.

But it can be a strength if the family is united in an ambition to be a dynasty.  The fictional Kee family in James Michener’s Hawaii, with its hard-driving matriarch, Char Nyuk Tsin (“Auntie Chow’s Mother), is an example of this.

Amy Chua’s “tiger mother” is almost a caricature of this.

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When publicity trumps everything else

April 12, 2021
Major auto companies’ production in 2020 vs. total value of their stock

One of the ancient Greek historians—I forget whether it was Thucydides or somebody else—wrote that the Athenians in the early days of their city chose leaders they thought were the wisest and most virtuous, but as they grew prosperous, powerful and complacent, they chose leaders that were the most entertaining.

My friend Bill Elwell sent me a link to a post about how, in American life today, your ability to get the public’s attention matters more than what you actually accomplish.  Click on Red Bull, Elon Musk and Matt Gaetz to read it.

Patriarchy was a positive ideal, now fading

March 23, 2021

Patriarchy is a way of thinking about things that was accepted in every major civilization, until now.

The basic idea of patriarchy is that society is, and should be, organized on the model of the extended patriarchal family, guided by a powerful and wise father.

The patriarch had a responsibility to guide and protect the family.  In return, his children and dependents were obligated to obey him.

This was the rationale for the authority of Emperors, Kings, Popes and Caliphs, who supposedly stood in relation to their peoples as loving fathers to their children.

It was the moral basis of royal dynasties, feudal lords, family businesses and humble peasant households.

Not only society, but the whole universe was supposedly organized on a patriarchal basis. 

Jews, Christians and Muslims worship a Heavenly Father, a powerful, wise and good parent who loves us and watches over us, and expects our love and obedience in return.

The senior gods of the Greco-Roman and Hindu pantheons were patriarchal fathers who headed extended families.

There were places for women in many of these religions—the Virgin Mary and various saints in Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, goddesses in the pagan pantheons, but always in a subordinate place to a father figure..

The five filial relationships of Confucianism—son to father, student to teacher, younger brother to older brother, younger friend to older friend, and subject to ruler—are patriarchal relationships. Notice they are all male-to-male relationships.

All the relationships are parallel to the father-son relationship.  The father (teacher, elder, ruler) protects and guides the son (student, youth, subject) who gives loyalty and obedience in return.

Many different societies believed in a version of the Great Chain of Being—a hierarchical ladder stretching down from God through kings and aristocrats to humble peasants, who, however, exercised patriarchal authority over their wives and children.

The patriarchal hierarchy could be a system of amoral naked power.  Thomas Piketty, in Capital and Ideology, mentioned a medieval French aristocrat who punished rebels by cutting off their hands and feet and returning them to their families.

Even when the patriarchs lived up to their moral code, the system was still oppressive in many ways.  I wouldn’t want to go back to the old ways. 

But there was something valuable there, a relationship of responsibility and loyalty, that has been lost.

Our problem today is that our institutions are still organized as patriarchal hierarchies.  But the people in charge of them no longer have confidence in patriarchal authority or exercise patriarchal responsibility—neither paternal responsibility for those in their charge nor loyalty to any authority above them.

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True believers in the USA of 2021

January 22, 2021

I recently finished Eric Hoffer’s THE TRUE BELIEVER, a 1951 book about fanatical mass movements.  I think most Americans see that the USA of 2021 is ripe for such movements.

Fanatics invaded municipal buildings and burned police stations in some U.S. cities during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer.  Fanatics invaded the Capitol a couple of weeks ago.

Some self-described conservatives see Donald Trump as a messianic figure sent by guide.  Some self-described progressives embrace an “anti-racism” ideology that considers “all lives matter” a racist statement.  People can become pariahs or lose their for a thoughtless comment on social media.

If you are an American, you probably think some of the things I mentioned are serious problems while others are blown out of proportion.  Whatever the case, something is going on.  What is it?

Eric Hoffer said fanatical mass movements arise when there are large numbers of people who are frustrated and lonely.

People don’t become fanatics when they are embedded in family, community and religion that give them security and meaning.  Neither do they become fanatics when they enjoy the satisfactions of creativity and achievement.

But in times when fewer and fewer are able to enjoy the security of a stable family, community and religious life, while the opportunities for individual achievement and self-determination narrow—that’s when you have to watch out.

That’s how things are in the USA today.  We live in a very unforgiving society, compared to the one I grew up in.

Economic inequality is increasing, but I think that what really worries people is the growth of economic insecurity. 

More and more workers are being pushed out of full-time work and into the gig economy, where they don’t know from week-to-week how many hours they’ll work or what they’ll earn.  Millions lack the resources to meet even a small emergency.

All this is in the name of a philosophy I and others call neoliberalism, which exalts economic efficiency above all else.  Neoliberals run the economy without any slack in the system, with all the risk off-loaded onto wage-earners, sub-contractors and the public. 

It’s not just wage workers who suffer.  Small-business owners with six-figure incomes worry about being able to compete with giant mega-corporation.  A number of billionaires are planning ahead for economic collapse, so they can retreat to secret strongholds in New Zealand or other remote place.

Unfortunately the USA is exporting instability through its economic and war policies, and through its cultural influence as well.

President Donald Trump made things worse.  He had a genius for keeping affairs in a constant state of turmoil.  Just having Trump in the news day after day was a strain.  I think some people voted for Joe Biden just because they were sick of seeing Trump on TV.

The partisan news companies keep Americans on edge.  Fox News was a pioneer in making money out of peddling fear to elderly white people.  Now, as Matt Taibbi has shown, the self-described progressives have adopted the same model.

Then there are Facebook and the other social media companies.  They have algorithms designed to feed people links to material designed to hold attention by appealing to fear and indignation. 

COVID-related lockdowns have destabilized society.  It is not just the economic impact on workers’ wages and small-business profits.  It is that people have been cut off from religious services and family gatherings, two of the main sources of consolation in times of uncertainty.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is real and deadly, and doesn’t care about anybody’s spiritual or psychological needs.  I’m an introvert who lives alone, and can afford to have groceries delivered, so I can tolerate the lockdowns better than most. 

But I can see how someone might be devastated by separation from loved ones and normal life and be willing to risk their lives rather than endure the separation.  A good many of the protests, including the invasion of the Michigan state capitol, were in opposition to the lockdown.

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Trumpism and the revolt of rural America

December 22, 2020

My city neighborhood is full of Black Lives Matter signs.  But if I were to drive 20 or 30 miles beyond the city, I would soon see I was in Trump country.

A blogger named Crispin Sartwell sees Trumpism as a rural identity politics movement, like black nationalism and gay pride.

In these decades I’ve seen rural America sag severely: small manufacturers disappearing; farms foreclosed or folded into much bigger operations; small-town downtowns shuttered; kids living the song and leaving as soon as they can; schools and churches becoming abandoned buildings; waves of meth and opiates.

For decades, there seemed to be an effortless but bizarre assumption, even in the sociological research into rural pathologies, that everyone wanted to live in a city and eventually would, more or less, as the economy somehow transformed from making concrete things to providing abstract services.

Rural Americans were living in a way that was over, and the question was how to assimilate them into the globalized information economy of the 21st century, or whatever Al Gore was on about.

But what are y’all going to do, abandon 93 percent of the country and eat information?  Country people are often derided for ignorance, but they often deride you for living in a realm of delusion.

There are some problems with Barack-Obama-style technocracy I’d like to point out.  Rural people have been approached, at best, pretty much the way Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bill Clinton approached black people: How can we address your pathologies? Maybe if y’all went to college…

Trumpism appears out here as a rural pride movement.  Such a movement strikes me as justified, necessary in some form: a culture, a way or ways of life, and the connection of people with the physical landscape of America have been endangered, devalued, sneered at, and devastated.

Country and small-town America has similar reasons as black America or trans America to unite and resist. I’m surprised that it didn’t happen before.

But I wish it hadn’t been Trump. I wish the sense of rural pride that has arisen wasn’t tainted with white pride, that there could be a rural nationalism that wasn’t connected in any way to white nationalism, that people out here weren’t falling for lies.

Rural America needed an avatar, but that New York developer with his rattletrap demagoguery and his relentless narcissism was both an unlikely and extremely unfortunate selection.  But personae as compelling and mercurial and bold as Trump’s, and as willing to smash the stultifying rhetorical conventions of American technocracy, are rare.

One wonders whether the sense of rural identity could’ve arisen at all without a big dose of these dark sides, and one bad thing about the ironic embodiment of rural identity in Trump is that it tends to confirm everything that Harvard profs and Atlantic staff writers think about us: that we’re ignorant, easily manipulated, evil, and stupid.

On the other hand, everyone is sort of paying attention now; everyone is sort of realizing that country people have them surrounded, that driving in any direction from any big city in America gets you to Trump country really quick.

They’re talking again about fixing rural people, or beaming more diabolically effective propaganda into our homes to relieve us of our ignorance, or educating children out of their parents’ values, all of which is just going to piss people off and exacerbate the divide.

But what I dream of seeing is a rural politics and a representation of rural people in the corridors of power that proceeds by some sort of expansion rather than various forms of exclusion, that demands recognition and concrete steps to help rural communities but does not configure around racial identities.

Some progressives complain that they can’t enact their agenda because of the over-representation of Trump voters in the Electoral College and the Senate.  This is baked into the Constitution and virtually impossible to change anytime soon.

With the depopulation of rural areas and the concentration of wealth in certain big cities, this disparity can only grown.  So maybe progressives should try instead to seriously address the problems of rural America, which in many ways are like the problems of urban America.

LINK

Trumpism as a Rural Identity Movement by Crispin Sartwell for Splice Today. (Hat tip to Gene Zitver)

There’s no such thing as ‘the Hispanic vote’

November 16, 2020

LatinX-plaining the election by Antonio Garcia-Martinez for The Pull Request.

“Lambert Strether” on U.S. politics, 2016-2020

November 10, 2020

“Lambert Strether” is a contributor to the Naked Capitalism web log. Here’s his idea of how U.S. politics has changed in the past four years.  I think he’s right, and my bet is that politics will change even more in the next four years.

  • The Professional Managerial Class (PMC) attained class consciousness.
  • The PMC was and is embubbled by a domestic psyop.
  • The press replaced reporting with advocacy.
  • Election legitimacy is determined by extra-Constitutional actors.
  • “Fascism” became an empty signifier, not an analytical tool.

Read his full post to see what he means. The comment thread is good, too.

LINK

“What It Took”: The Price of Democrat Victory in 2020 by “Lambert Strether” for Naked Capitalism.  A brilliant analysis and an interesting comment thread.

From Obama to Trump

October 22, 2020

I came across this interview with Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster and campaign strategist, on the Naked Capitalism web log today. 

It was done back in January.  I happened to turn it on and kept watching until the end.  It’s an hour long, another video that’s a little long to watch on a computer screen, but you can listen to it while doing something else, such as making and eating breakfast.

I don’t agree with everything Luntz had to say, he’s more inclined to give some people the benefit of the doubt than I am, but he is someone who gets around and who actually listens to people, and he had interesting things to say. 

I’m not sure the whole PBS Frontline series is worth watching,  but here are the links if you’re interested.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part One.

America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump, Part Two.

A Canadian on the end of the American era

August 12, 2020

Ford’s WIllow Run plant during World War Two

When people are faced with external threats, they need to pull together.   A Canadian anthropologist named Wade Davis pointed out that this once was true of the United States.

In 1940, with Europe already ablaze, the United States had a smaller army than either Portugal or Bulgaria.

Within four years, 18 million men and women would serve in uniform, with millions more working double shifts in mines and factories that made America, as President Roosevelt promised, the arsenal of democracy.

When the Japanese within six weeks of Pearl Harbor took control of 90 percent of the world’s rubber supply, the U.S. dropped the speed limit to 35 mph to protect tires, and then, in three years, invented from scratch a synthetic-rubber industry that allowed Allied armies to roll over the Nazis.

At its peak, Henry Ford’s Willow Run Plant produced a B-24 Liberator every two hours, around the clock.

Shipyards in Long Beach and Sausalito spat out Liberty ships at a rate of two a day for four years; the record was a ship built in four days, 15 hours and 29 minutes.

A single American factory, Chrysler’s Detroit Arsenal, built more tanks than the whole of the Third Reich.

That was then.  This is now.

COVID-19 didn’t lay America low; it simply revealed what had long been forsaken.

As the crisis unfolded, with another American dying every minute of every day, a country that once turned out fighter planes by the hour could not manage to produce the paper masks or cotton swabs essential for tracking the disease.

The nation that defeated smallpox and polio, and led the world for generations in medical innovation and discovery, was reduced to a laughing stock as a buffoon of a president advocated the use of household disinfectants as a treatment for a disease that intellectually he could not begin to understand.

As a number of countries moved expeditiously to contain the virus, the United States stumbled along in denial, as if willfully blind.

With less than four percent of the global population, the U.S. soon accounted for more than a fifth of COVID deaths.

The percentage of American victims of the disease who died was six times the global average. Achieving the world’s highest rate of morbidity and mortality provoked not shame, but only further lies, scapegoating, and boasts of miracle cures as dubious as the claims of a carnival barker, a grifter on the make.

Some of these statements need asterisks.  Latin America has overtaken North America as the center of the coronavirus infection, and several advanced countries have higher coronavirus-related deaths per million people than the USA does, at least so far.

Davis, like many Canadian critics of the USA, is somewhat blind to the problems of his own country.  An American who has lived in Davis’s Vancouver pointed out that it is far from being the semi-utopia he claims it is.

But none of this disproves Davis’s general point.  U.S. industrial and governmental capacity has been unraveling for a long time.  This process won’t reverse by itself.  The first steps in change are for us Americans to understand our situation, pull together and stop accepting excuses for failure from our supposed leaders.

LINKS

How Covid-19 Signals the End of the American Era by Wade Davis for Rolling Stone.

The Unraveling of “The Unraveling of America” by Deanna Kreisel for Medium.

‘Cancel’ culture and American politics

July 29, 2020

The following is the the results of a YouGov poll commissioned by the Cato Institute

The Cato Institute is a strongly libertarian organization, but the poll was conducted by YouGov, which is a reputable organization, so I don’t think these results are biased.

Now the poll did not reveal the specific political views that Americans are afraid to express, but if highly-educated Americans are more fearful of expressing their opinions than the rest of us, I don’t think these fears are restricted to neo-Nazis or Klansmen.

I think a lot of the USA’s problem are due to misgovernment by an entrenched elite, and I hope for the kind populist revival that Thomas Frank describes in his new book.

But the Cato poll indicates just how hard it will be to make that happen.  We are too divided among ourselves.

It used to be that most self-described liberals thought of ourselves as defenders of free speech for all.  No longer, apparently.

Donald Trump and the Republican leaders are not friends of free speech.  But the divisions indicated in these polls work to their advantage.

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The way we think now

July 8, 2020

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity  [William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming“]

Statue of George Washington in Portland, Oregon

During my lifetime, I’ve seen the crumbling of elite institutions that once exercised moral authority.

Mainstream churches no longer preach the Christian creed.  Elite universities no longer commit to disinterested scholarship.  Elite newspapers no longer try to present the facts accurately and objectively.

They are being taken over by cultural radicals.  Despite or maybe because of their compromises, mainstream churches and newspapers are rapidly losing public support, and elite universities survive mainly because they are gatekeepers for the top professional and managerial jobs.

The cultural radicals have created their own set of taboos about race and gender, which, in certain sectors of society, you defy at your peril.   You can lose your job for expressing approval of ideas and values that have existed for centuries or maybe millennia.  It is widely considered unacceptable to say that “all lives matter” or that there is a biological difference between men and women.

I’m not surprised or shocked that there are who think this way, which they have every right to do.  I am surprised and shocked that there has been so little pushback against them from the nation’s supposed intellectual and moral leaders.

While there is a revolution in cultural and moral values, the structure of wealth and power stands unchanged.  The CIA, NSA and FBI, the Pentagon and the armaments industry, the Wall Street speculators, Silicon Valley monopolists—all these entities are more powerful than ever.

The power that rests on moral authority has been eclipsed.  The power that rests on money and brute force shines as brightly as ever.

The nation’s elite – the ruling class, the Establishment, call them what you will –  lack moral conviction and moral confidence.  What happened?

Lost Certainties

Someone said that 19th century America was held together by belief in three things – Protestantism, patriotism and progress.

I think this is so.  The old-time USA was much more violent than the USA today, prone to riots, strikes, insurrections and vigilante justice, even apart from the Civil War.  But there was a consensus that lay beneath all this.

Protestants believed that God ruled the world, that salvation came through Jesus, and that God’s justice.  Patriots believed that the USA was the embodiment of democracy and freedom.  Progressives believed that each generation would be better off, materially, than the ones who came before.

I myself, born in 1936, was taught to believe in all three.

This consensus was not necessarily a commitment to the status quo.  People who shared these beliefs brought about the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women and the regulation of monopoly capitalism.

The problem was that these ideas did not stand up to close intellectual scrutiny.  Once people started to question them, they could not go back to believing in the old way..

Biblical scholarship made it hard to believe that Jesus literally rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  Once you studied the topic, your choices were to reject scholarship, reject Christianity or believe in the Christian story in a vague way as an allegory or myth.

Historical scholarship made it hard to believe that the USA is the embodiment of freedom and democracy.  Once you studied the topic, your choices were to reject scholarship, reject patriotism or believe in American ideals as seldom-realized aspirational goals.

There are lots of reasons why it has become hard to believe in progress, which was possibly more foundational than the other two.

Life has been getting worse for the majority of Americans. This is largely because of bad economic policy, but even if this changes, life will still be hard because of climate-related catastrophes, exhaustion of natural resources and new pandemics in the coming bad years.  So progress, too, has become an aspirational goal, not a reality.

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Adolph Reed Jr. on identity politics

July 1, 2020

This Bill Moyers interview with Adolph Reed Jr. was aired in 2014.

Adolph Reed Jr. is a retired professor of political science and a Marxist.  He thinks that what is called identity politics is a way of maintaining structure of inequality.  The purpose of this post is to call attention to his critique of identity politics and provide links to some of this work.

Identity politics is based on an analysis of how dominant groups oppress marginal groups.  Some examples:

  • Whites > Blacks  [racism]
  • Men > Women  [male chauvinism, mysogyny]
  • Native-Born > Immigrants [xenophobia]
  • Anglos > Hispanics [xenophobia]
  • Straights > Gays [homophobia]
  • Cisgendered > Transgendered [transphobia]

These are not made-up problems.  It is a fact that white job applicants or loan applicants get preference over equally-qualified or better-qualified black applicants.  It is a fact that shocking numbers of women are sexually harassed on the job.  No-one should be denied basic rights by reason of race, gender, national origin or LGBTQ identity.

The problem is when disparities between groups are used to distract from the structure of wealth and power in society as a whole.  According to economist Gabriel Zucman, one percent of Americans own 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, up from 28 percent in the 1990s.

Reed says that, within the multicultural framework, this would be okay if the upper one percent were 50 percent women, 15 percent black and the appropriate percentages Hispanic, GLBTQ and so on.

Ideas of equity can be used to promote inequality.  Ideas about oppression of minorities can be used to divert attention from exploitation of the majority by the minority.  The ideology of multiculturalism can be used as a technique to divide and rule.

Honoring diversity doesn’t bring about full employment, living wages, debt relief or an end to America’s forever wars

Honoring multiculturalism can leave members of all the different groups divided among themselves and equally exploited, along with straight white cisgender males, by employers, bankers, landlords and corrupt politicians..

LINKS

Public Thinker: Adolph Reed Jr. on Organizing, Race and Bernie Sanders, an interview for Public Books.

An interview with political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. on the New York Times’ 1619 Project on the World Socialist Web Site.

Nothing Left: the long, slow surrender of American liberals by Adolph Reed Jr. for Harper’s Magazine (2014)

Adolph Reed: Identity Politics Exposing Class Division in Democrats, from an interview on the Benjamin Dixon Show (2016)

The Trouble With Uplift by Adolph Reed Jr. for The Baffler (2018)

What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like by Adolph Reed Jr. for nonsite.org.

Social class in a time of pandemic

May 6, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has shown us Americans how we are divided by economic class.  Robert Reich, the well-known labor economist, outlined the four main ones.

Robert Reich

The Remotes: These are professional, managerial, and technical workers – an estimated 35 percent of the workforce – who are putting in long hours at their laptops, Zooming into conferences, scanning electronic documents, and collecting about the same pay as before the crisis.

This group is doing fine.  Their main problems are boredom and not being able to deal with their normal activities.  Yet, interestingly, they get the bulk of the coverage in my local newspapers and in on-line newspapers I follow.

The Essentials: They’re about 30 percent of workers, including nurses, homecare and childcare workers, farm workers, food processors, truck drivers, warehouse and transit workers, drugstore employees, sanitation workers, police officers, firefighters, and the military.

Some of them are well-paid for the important work they do, and also are given what protection is available.  But many aren’t.  In a pandemic, janitors and cleaners are key to stopping the spread of infection.  They ought to get hazard pay and the equivalent of a military medal for their work.  Yet we mainly hear of the essential workers when they strike for better pay or better protection.

The Unpaid: They’re an even larger group than the unemployed – whose ranks could soon reach 25 percent, the same as in the Great Depression. Some of the unpaid are furloughed or have used up their paid leave. So far in this crisis, 43 percent of adults report they or someone in their household has lost jobs or pay, according to the Pew Research Center.

If the United States as a nation requires certain people to stay home in order to protect the rest of us, then we as a nation ought give them the means to stay home and still pay their bills.  If not, they can’t be blamed for defying the lockdowns.  We the public only hear of them when they engage in protest demonstrations.

The Forgotten: This group includes everyone for whom social distancing is nearly impossible because they’re packed tightly into places most Americans don’t see: prisons, jails for undocumented immigrants, camps for migrant farmworkers, Native American reservations, homeless shelters, and nursing homes.

Everybody, including movie stars and prime ministers, is vulnerable to the virus.  But people in jails, nursing homes, meat-packing plants and the like are the ones who are going to die in largest numbers.  When pundits or politicians say a certain number of deaths is acceptable, these are the people who are being written off.

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The coronavirus pandemic in perspective

May 4, 2020

Over the weekend, I read an insightful five-part on-line series of articles on the coronavirus pandemic by Prof. Maximilian C. Forte of Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, on his Zero Anthropology Project web site.

He doesn’t think the pandemic is a temporary emergency that will soon blow over.  He thinks it is a major turning point in history.  So do I.  Of course we both could be wrong, but I don’t think we are.

Here is an excerpt from the first article.  Links to the full five-part series are below.

Max C. Forte

The plain fact of the matter is that until a vaccine is developed, and everyone on Earth has been vaccinated, the struggle against the virus will not truly be won.

Anything less than that is merely a temporary, selective and fragmentary means of approximating an end—something that is better than nothing, with each decrease in lives lost being something that is heroically gained by front line workers risking their own health.

Otherwise, anything short of total vaccination boils down to a way of indirectly apportioning the virus to some, while managing it for everyone else.

Unnecessary deaths will not be rendered any less unnecessary, they will simply be confined and reduced in number, for a while.  In other words, without vaccination it is absolutely inevitable that what comes next will be worse.

The main issue now for public officials appears to be how to ensure that what comes next will not be as bad as it could be—making worse less worse.

To be clear, the most recent estimates are that a vaccine for COVID-19, which has not yet been invented, would—to be optimistic—become available within the next year to 18 months.

Not only has a vaccine never been invented for any prior coronavirus (with previous research prematurely shut down), even discovering a vaccine before five years would be a record-breaking pace when compared with other vaccines.

Experts think it would be unprecedented.  Plus the coronavirus is apparently mutating profusely, which complicates efforts to develop a vaccine.

Without a vaccine or effective therapy, the assessment from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health is that “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022,” and that there could be a resurgence of the outbreak as late as 2024.

Instead, from the UK to the US and Quebec, an understanding that is prevalent among officials involves foggy, even dangerous ideas about “herd immunity,” which assumes—with little conclusive evidence and despite some contrary evidence—that (a) immunity against COVID-19 can be acquired and (b) that the immunity is permanent or long-term.

To make matters worse, some researchers think a vaccine for COVID-19 may never be found and that the virus is likely not to be containable.

No matter which decisions governments take—whether to continue mass confinement and a closure of most of the economy, or to gradually reopen economic activity (though it was never fully closed) and loosen restrictions—it will seem like the wrong decision will have been taken.

It’s not even a matter of choice between the “economy” versus “health.”  Without health, there can be no economy.  Without production, distribution, and consumption, health may be undermined.

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Are Clinton and Obama to blame for Trump?

February 5, 2020

Secretary of Labor Robert Reich

Robert Reich, who was Secretary of Labor during the Bill Clinton administration, is an honest man whom I respect.

When he left public service, he went back to his old job as a college professor and author.  He didn’t become a millionaire by joining corporate boards of directors or collecting consultants’ fees.

I also respect Reich, who is 4 feet 11 inches tall, for making his way in a world in which most people unconsciously take tall people more seriously than they take short people.  This is a form of prejudice I seldom think about.

He wrote an interesting article in The Guardian about how working people no longer feel represented by either the Democratic or Republican parties.

In 2015, he interviewed working people for a new book he was working on.  He’d talked to many whom he’d met 20 years before when he was in government, and many of their grown children.

Almost all of them were disillusioned with the “rigged system,” which they thought Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush represented.  The only presidential candidates they were interested in were Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  Reich thinks they had a point.

Democrats had occupied the White House for 16 of the 24 years before Trump’s election, and in that time scored some important victories for working families: the Affordable Care Act, an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit and the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example.  I take pride in being part of a Democratic administration during that time.

But Democrats did nothing to change the vicious cycle of wealth and power that had rigged the economy for the benefit of those at the top and undermined the working class.

As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concluded after the 2016 election, “Democrats don’t have a ‘white working-class’ problem.  They have a ‘working class problem’ which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly.  

“The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate.”

In the first two years of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.  Yet both Clinton and Obama advocated free trade agreements without providing millions of blue-collar workers who consequently lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.  

Clinton pushed for NAFTA and for China joining the World Trade Organization, and Obama sought to restore the “confidence” of Wall Street instead of completely overhauling the banking system.

Both stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. They failed to reform labor laws to allow workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down majority vote, or even to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated labor protections.

Clinton deregulated Wall Street before the crash; Obama allowed the Street to water down attempts to re-regulate it after the crash. Obama protected Wall Street from the consequences of its gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but allowed millions of underwater homeowners to drown.

Both Clinton and Obama turned their backs on campaign finance reform. In 2008, Obama was the first presidential nominee since Richard Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general election campaigns, and he never followed up on his re-election promise to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United vs FEC, the 2010 supreme court opinion opening wider the floodgates to big money in politics.

Although Clinton and Obama faced increasingly hostile Republican congresses, they could have rallied the working class and built a coalition to grab back power from the emerging oligarchy. Yet they chose not to. Why?

Source: The Guardian

Before I respond to Reich’s question, I want to take him to task for saying unions are the backbone of the “white working class.”  All workers, regardless of race, ethnicity or, for that matter, gender, need the protection of labor unions.

Black and Hispanic Americans are a larger percentage of union members than they are of the U.S. population as a whole.  When you use the expression “white working class,” you ignore the existence of a huge number of American wage-earners.

I don’t think Reich had bad intent, but one of the Democratic Party’s big problems is the successful Republican effort to drive a wedge between native-born white Anglo working people and black, Hispanic and immigrant working people.  It’s a mistake to use language that plays into that.

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How educated liberals alienate working people

December 31, 2019

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear?

It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020.

We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost the white working class because of race.”  But maybe the truth is something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

This is the beginning of an article by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan in The New Republic. His point is that that leaders of the Democratic Party and also the Washington press corps are college graduates who have little or nothing to do with mere high school graduates, even though they are the majority of Americans.

The liberal solution to economic inequality in the USA is college education for everybody.  In other words, the message of the liberal elite is: Imitate us.

This is insulting and is felt as an insult, Geoghegan said.  It also tells the majority of Americans over 30 that they are doomed.

And even if college education were universal, it wouldn’t end poverty, raise wages or cure economic inequality.  It would simply be a higher bar you have to reach in order to have any kind of economic future at all.

Geoghegan said that’s why the most astute thing that Donald Trump ever said was, “I love the uneducated.”

It wasn’t always this way.  I am old enough to remember a time when a majority of Senators and Congresspeople, not to mention President Harry Truman, had no education beyond high school.

 I was one of only two college graduates employed by the first newspaper I worked for, in 1959.  The other was the city editor, who had a degree in chemistry.

That era was certainly no utopia, but politicians lived in the same neighborhoods as their constituents and journalists lived in the same neighborhoods as their readers.

Not that education, or liberal education, is useless.  It is just that it is not a solution to problems caused by concentration and abuse of economic and political power.

By the way, exit polls showed that Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.

LINK

Educated Fools: Why Democrats still misunderstand the politics of social class by Thomas Geoghegan for The New Republic.

How harmful is ubiquitous pornograpy?

December 26, 2019

Pornography is as old, or almost as old, as human civilization.  But, thanks to the Internet, it is readily available to anyone in the USA and many other countries who has access to the Internet.

This is something new in the world.  Never before has pornography been so ubiquitous.  By pornography, I mean depiction of sex in a cruel or degrading light.

Scientific studies indicate that prolonged exposure to pornography re-wires certain centers of the brain, much as taking addictive drugs does.

I don’t find this hard to believe.  We know that the human brain changes depending on how it is used.  A famous study of London taxi drivers showed that that process of memorizing the city street grid in order to pass a licensing test resulted in the growth of extra neurons in the memory centers of their brains.

Pornography addiction, which is a something I never heard of until five or so years ago, is so widespread a concern that there are 12-step groups to help fight it.

Some experts say that many adolescent boys and girls are growing up with a distorted view of sex through exposure to pornography.

Erectile disfunction (ED) is an increasing problem among men.  Involuntary celibates, or “incels,” have always existed, but now they constitute an identity group.

There is no proof that Internet pornography, in and of itself, is a cause of either erectile disfunction or involuntary celibacy.  But there are reports of men find who find more pornography more arousing than flesh-and-blood women, and also less trouble than dealing with an actual person.

∞∞∞

Life is harder for young men today than it was when I came of age.  (I’m 83).  It is perfectly understandable that some of them should turn to pornography, drugs or alcohol for solace, even these are false solutions that make their problems worse.

For one thing, young men today face a more uncertain and unforgiving economy than I did.  There is a widespread attitude that lack of success in economic competition defines you as a contemptible loser.

There also is a widespread attitude that postponing sex and marriage, rather than being a rational response to circumstances, also defines you as a loser in the arena of sexual competition.

Young men also are up against a certain hostility to men and masculinity in our culture.  Even qualities such as stoicism and risk-taking that once were honored are considered “toxic masculinity.”

Then there is the sexual revolution, which holds out the promise of unlimited sexual gratification, and the feminist revolution, which requires men to be careful of what they do and say around women.  As a society, we haven’t yet figured out how to strike a balance between the two.

Not all young men experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, not all who do turn to drugs, alcohol or pornography as a response, and not everybody who finds solace in drugs, alcohol or pornography becomes an addict.  I don’t want to make overly sweeping generalizations.

I do think a stagnant economy, current cultural expectations and ubiquitous availability of pornography are bad ingredients that produce a poisonous mix, and there is nothing to stop it from getting worse.

I give Jordan Peterson a lot of credit for helping young men.  I don’t agree with him about everything, but he presents an an ideal of a healthy and even heroic masculinity in opposition to so much of what young men hear today.    His 12 Steps for Life is excellent advice

Of course women also experience loneliness, frustration and rejection, but the topic of this post is Internet pornography, and I don’t think that pornography is a big issue for women, except for its impact on the men in their lives.

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Pornography addiction is a kind of drug addiction

December 19, 2019

A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that Internet pornography is a true addiction, like heroin, alcohol or tobacco addiction.

It literally rewires the human brain.  The male human brain is hard-wired to respond to sexual novelty.  It processes Internet pornography as a constant access to new sexual partners engaging in new kinds of sexual activity.

Brutal and kinky is a more powerful stimulus that erotic and gentle, so that would be the bias of any Internet side that wants viewers to keep coming back.

My inclination is to err, if I must, on the side of protection of free speech.  I am suspicious of any form of censorship.  But I have to reconsider after reading an eye-opening article yesterday by a writer named Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry who surveyed the scientific literature on pornography addiction.

Porn is a sexual stimulus, but it is not sex.  Notoriously, heroin addicts eventually lose interest in sex: this is because their brains are rewired so that their sex reward system is reprogrammed to seek out heroin rather than sex.  

In the same way, as we consume more and more porn, which we must since it is addictive and we need more to get the same kick, our brain is rewired so that what triggers the reward system that is supposed to be linked to sex is no longer linked to sex—to a human in the flesh, to touching, to kissing, to caressing—but to porn.

Which is why we are witnessing a phenomenon which, as best as anyone can tell, is totally unprecedented in all of human history: an epidemic of chronic erectile dysfunction (ED) among men under 40.

Pornography, including sado-masochistic pornography, has always been with us.  It is as old as civilization.  But never before has pornography been so universally available.  A 12-year-old boy with a Smartphone has more access to sexual stimulation than the most decadent Roman emperor, Turkish sultan or 1970s rock star.  I’m glad I’m not a parent today.

As Gobry admits, we don’t have conclusive evidence of the effects on society of universal availability of hard-core pornography.

… What we do know is that large numbers of our civilization are hooked on a drug that has profound effects on the brain, which we mostly don’t understand, except that everything we understand is negative and alarming.

And we are just ten years into the process.  If we don’t act, pretty soon the next generation will be a generation that largely got hooked on this brain-eating drug as children, whose brains are uniquely vulnerable. It seems perfectly reasonable and consistent with the evidence as we have it to be deeply alarmed.

Indeed, what seems supremely irrational is our bizarre complacency about something which, at some level, we all know to be happening.

I am in favor of sexual freedom.  Do whatever you like with whatever consenting adult you like in your own space.  This is more than a question of individual behavior.  It is a question of what kind of society we want to make.

LINK

A Science-Based Case for Ending the Porn Epidemic by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for American Greatness.  Print-Friendly Version.

Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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An elite that dare not call themselves elite

August 12, 2019

Natalia Dashan attended Yale University on a scholarship.  She was one of the 2 percent of Yale undergraduates whose parents are in the bottom fifth of American income earners.

She recently wrote an essay about something that struck her about some of her well-to-do classmates..

They lived and acted as if they in fact were poor.   They looked for reasons to think of themselves as oppressed.  They were in a near-constant state of rebellion.

Yale University Shield

But the rebellions were not over anybody’s material interests.  They were over whether how things were named or what someone said was appropriate—for example, whether “master” was an appropriate job title for the head of a college or whether a faculty member was out-of-line for scoffing at worries about racial stereotyping in Hallowe’en costumes.

Dashing also was struck by how quickly the faculty and administrators caved in to student protests, no matter how foolish their demands might have seemed to someone outside the academic environment and even in the absence of evidence that the protestors represented anybody but themselves.

The historic role of Yale, Harvard and other Ivy League universities has been to educate upper-class Americans to take on the responsibility of leadership—that is, for being a member of a ruling class.

Dashan concluded that the elite—defining the elite as those who grow up with the expectation that they and their children will attend Yale, Harvard or the equivalent—no longer want to assume the responsibility of leading and ruling.

So young people born to wealth and power look for ways to define themselves as oppressed, and older people, who should be their mentors, fear to appear in the role of oppressor.

The problem is that it is largely a performance—what I like to call psychodrama, but which more accurately could be called live-action role-playing.  It is tolerated because it is no threat to anybody, except the unlucky individuals who get caught in the crossfire.

Why this loss of confidence?  Dashan thinks it is fear of responsibility.  I think that is a large part of it.  But I think the more important part is a decline in belief in the values that gave confidence to earlier generations of elite Americans.

When I read Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I was struck by how different the Harvard he attended was from the Harvard of today.

The goal of Harvard University in the 1870s was not only to provide an intellectual education, but to shape students’ character based on ideals of patriotism, Protestantism and manliness.

Young men were expected to participate in footfall and other contact sports to toughen them up, but also to teach ideals of sportsmanship—doing your best, but obeying the rules and not whining if you lose.  Attendance at morning prayers at Appleton Chapel was compulsory.

It is true that these ideals excluded a lot of people—Catholics, Jews, freethinkers and women, not to mention un-athletic men.  I would have felt this morality very restrictive if I had lived then.  Evidently many others over the years felt the same.

The unanswered question was:  What do you put in the place of these ideals?  Young people need to believe in something.

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Why so many suicidal mass gun killings?

August 11, 2019

Vigil for mass shooting victims in Las Vegas in 2017. Source: VOA.

The mass shootings that regularly occur in the United States are mostly also suicides.

Click to enlarge

They are the ultimate “deaths of despair.”

The killers do their shooting in public places and are almost guaranteed to be gunned down in their turn, if they don’t kill themselves first.

They are comparable to the suicide bombers in the Middle East and elsewhere, except that the jihadist killers are sometimes trying to achieve a specific military objective, like the Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War Two.

Among all the rich Western nations, the United States is the only one in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis.

That is not to say that ordinary Americans, and visitors to the United States, are in grave danger.  As a risk factor, mass shootings rank far below traffic accidents.

Click to enlarge

But the fact that they occur says something about our society.  For every man (the shooters are almost all men) who kills others and then himself out of rage and despair, there must be a hundred others who feel the same rage and despair and don’t act it out.

Some people blame availability of guns, and I agree it would be better if the government restricted sales of rapid-firing firearms with large ammunition clips and magazines.  Casualties from mass killings were fewer during the assault weapons ban, but they still occurred.

Click to enlarge

Some people blame ideologies based on hatred of black people or hatred of immigrants or hatred of women.  But the mass shooters can be of any race, and the percentage of white mass shooters is slightly less than the percentage of whites in the general population.

The killers profess all kinds of professed political and social motives and some profess no motives at all.  The only common denominator is that the killers are almost all suicidal men.

Hatred and bigotry have long been motives for killing.  The new thing is that the killers are suicidal.

There are ways to commit murder without sacrificing your life in the process.  (The methods are obvious, but if you can’t think of them, I see no benefit to society in helping you out.)

I think the root cause of mass killings are feelings of powerlessness and feelings of meaninglessness.  Your life is meaningless, so you give it up.  But you take others with you, so you do have some power after all.

I don’t have a good answer for this.  Calling for a greater sense of community or a stronger sense of values isn’t going to bring these things about.  Greater availability of mental health counseling probably would help some, but it won’t in itself empower people or make their lives meaningful.

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