Archive for the '“Activism”' Category

Mar 02 2017

Who Punches the Nazis?

Published by under "Activism"

(some of this is cannibalized from other posts, in case parts of it sound familiar)

In 1951, Leo Strauss coined the term “Reductio ad Hitlerum” to describe a logical fallacy, a type of ad hominem attack used to paint the target with guilt by association. “Hitler did something similar, therefore what you are proposing or doing is undesirable.”

In 1990, attorney and author Mike Godwin created “Godwin’s Law,” originally referring to Usenet discussion threads where the longer the conversation, the increased inevitability of a comparison involving Hitler.

“I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”

American society is in trouble. It would seem that we have become the twin states of Besźel and Ul Qoma, that China Mieville wrote about in The City and the City.  Some would say there are two Americas falling roughly along political lines – The Left and The Right. I used to consider myself a Leftist. I still believe in a lot of Leftist ideals – equal opportunity for all, non-discrimination, justice, and helping others in need.  But somewhere along the say, the Left lost the plot. The Left became enamored of identity politics. If I may indulge, for a moment, in something that might appear to be that which I am about to argue that needs reigning in (Reductio ad Hitlerum), please consider for a moment the following two quotes:

“There is no legitimate universal science, only local ethno-sciences which have been oppressed or colonized.”

and

“Science is a social phenomenon, and like every other social phenomenon is limited by the benefit or injury it confers on the community…The simple question that precedes every scientific activity is: who is it who wants to know something, who is it who wants to find how he stands in the world around him? It follows necessarily that there can only be the science of a particular type of humanity and of a particular age.”

The first is by Ashis Nandy, described in Wikipedia as “an Indian political psychologist, social theorist and critic [who] has provided theoretical critiques of European colonialism, development, modernity, secularism, Hindutva, science, technology, nuclearism, cosmopolitanism, and utopia.”

The second, of course, is Hitler.

I am not for a moment trying to suggest that Nandy is a Nazi, or the next incarnation of Hitler. I’m barely familiar with his works and don’t feel qualified to comment on them. What concerns me is the use and normalization of identity politics. I am also not trying to make the case that “Hitler did it, therefore it’s bad.” What I am trying to say is that based on history and the last time identity took the lead in how we judge people, it didn’t end so well.

We have fetishized victimhood. Thanks to Intersectionality Theory, we now have a whole host of ways that we can be simultaneously victimized. The greater the victimhood, the greater the nobility and praise heaped upon the “victim.”  We are now in a race to the bottom. Everybody wants nobility and praise.  Are we really that surprised when people who aren’t traditionally thought of as victims want a piece of the action? Are we really surprised that people use terms like “white genocide” or claim they’re being persecuted because they refused to sell a cake to a gay couple? Once the door is open, anyone can walk through it.

To quote Dr. Candida Moss,

“…identifying oneself as a persecuted minority necessarily identifies others as persecutors. It turns disagreement into a struggle for survival with an innocent ‘us’ pitted against a hateful ‘them.’ This polarizing view of the world not only makes it impossible to have meaningful dialogue and collaboration, but it can also be used to legitimize violence against others in the name of ‘self-defense.’ Perhaps the worst effect of this misuse is that it harms those who truly are persecuted: Sadly, people of many religious traditions continue to be persecuted around the world, and yet their voices are drowned out by our own. In my opinion, we need to reserve the language of persecution for the situations of violence that truly warrant them.”

And the last part of this is crucial – “we need to reserve the language of persecution for the situations of violence that truly warrant them.” I do not deny that there are victims of any number of horrible things happening in the world. I urge compassion and assistance wherever and whenever possible.  But that is not what I am writing about.  Those things should be givens, and I should not even have to clarify my position on them.

Lately, we have seen just how easily it can be “used to legitimize violence against others in the name of ‘self-defense.’”

Take, for instance, the recent events in Berkeley, California. I lived in Berkeley for 7 years. I’m familiar with the town, and the general political climate there. The town citizens recently prevented military recruiters from opening offices down town. While on the surface, this may seem like a “win” for “peace” (or whatever it is the general Berkeley populace believes in these days), in reality it came down to two things:

  1. It deprived people of an opportunity to learn ways in which they could serve their country (if they so choose), or get out of a bad situation (south Berkeley borders with Oakland, and is not the greatest of neighborhoods – I used to live there, I know). The military is a way for people to get out. I won’t place a value on whether or not it’s a good way, but it’s a way. Which brings me to point #2.
  2. The Berkeley mob denied the agency of other people to make up their own minds about whether or not to join the military. They knew better, and fuck anyone who might want to think differently or might even think that thinking differently might even be an option.

One day, in 2007, I was walking through campus and was waylaid by an eager young activist, inviting me to attend their (anti)Waterboarding Demonstration (“we’re going to waterboard someone!”). I chose not to attend, not because I think waterboarding is awesome, but quite the contrary. I also informed him that I didn’t think their demonstration had merit:

  1. If you merely “simulate” water-boarding, then everyone knows it’s fake, and doesn’t really prove your point. All the parties involved will be accused of faking it and we all know that the volunteer “victim” is in no real danger (or, maybe even “acting”). After all, this is merely a simulation, and how much stock can we put in that, in terms of comparing it to the real thing?
  2. On the other hand, if you go for it, and do it for real, then you’re essentially torturing someone, and becoming what you’re trying to put a stop to. It’s like performing vivisections to prevent vivisection or fucking for chastity.

In any event, back to the riots surrounding the scheduled talk by Milo Yiannopoulos. I have no stake in Milo. I don’t care about Milo, any more than I care about any other human being, other than I think he has some issues stemming from being sexually abused a young boy, and I genuinely hope he gets help for them. Did Milo say or do anything that warranted the riots in Berkeley, and the destruction of property by cowardly Black Bloc thugs?  Some would say it was a form of self-defense – “They’ve been doing it to us for so long, it’s time we took them down!”

How, exactly, did the end results in Berkeley benefit anyone?

A Starbucks was destroyed.  Potential jokes about the proliferation of Starbucks aside, this was a company that days prior had pledged to employ a considerable number of refugees, and already employs a considerable number of veterans, and also offers rather generous educational benefits to its employees.  They’re not exactly Hitler-level evil, here. But, just as the town ousted military recruiters, people had to make damn sure that Milo would be no-platformed, because they knew better, and had to make sure someone might not get the ‘wrong’ ideaWe can’t let other people think for themselves, because they might not think what they’re ‘supposed’ to think. The ultimate irony is that this is from a campus that was vital to the free speech movement in the 1960s. Mario Savio died for their sins.

Let’s run through another example.

“Donald Trump keeps a book of Hitler’s speeches next to his bed.”

So what?

I have a copy of Mein Kampf that, coincidentally, resides next to my bed.  Do I keep it there because it has a special place in my heart? Do I keep it there because I like to read passages for inspiration each morning? Do I keep it there to read to my wife each night? Are the pages stuck together with my bodily fluids? No to all of these.  I own a copy of Mein Kampf (and Imperium by Francis Parker Yockey, and The Turner Diaries, and any number of books by Julius Evola, plus a few by Savitri Devi and Miguel Serrano), because I find them to be interesting and engaging reading.  Robert Anton Wilson once suggested to me “read books you disagree with – otherwise you’re not exercising your mind.” Am I ready to start goose-stepping and implementing final solutions?  No.  Not interested.  I do know, however, that in having conversations with people who are interested in goose-stepping and implementing final solutions, I will be better equipped, since I will have actually read things that they probably have, and we will have a common vocabulary and knowledge base from which to talk. Why are they next to my bed?  Because that’s the bookshelf I had room on.

Why does Donald Trump have a copy of Hitler’s Speeches next to his bed?

I don’t know and I don’t care.

He’s certainly not learning many lessons from them. He’s not even remotely the speaker that Hitler was.

But more importantly, let’s look at the real issue here. It isn’t about Donald Trump’s library and where he keeps it, people are more concerned about the contents of the library. This is about innuendo.  This is about “taint” and “guilt by association.”

(and for the love of God, don’t assume I’m a Trump supporter, either. I did what I was told, and voted for who everyone said I was “supposed” to vote for, and look where that got us).

Trump has a book of Hitler’s speeches. Therefore, Trump must like Hitler. Therefore, Trump isHitler. And the fact that he keeps Hitler’s speeches next to his bed means he wants to feel intimate with them.  Because why else would anyone want to own a copy of Hitler’s speeches, let alone keep them by his bed?

Trump has Hitler therefore Trump likes Hitler therefore Trump is Hitler.

What you own, and where you put it are now more important than who you are and why you own something.

But, it’s Hitler!

So what?

SO. WHAT?

Let’s look at another favorite punching bag – Howard Philips Lovecraft.

Every few months, like clockwork, somebody decides to start the “Lovecraft was a racist!” argument.

He was.

So what?

But if you point out that “so were a lot of people back then,” it really doesn’t matter, because it was Lovecraft, and people like Lovecraft’s writing, and OMG how could they, because he was a racist.  THE HORROR AT RED HOOK! THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH is a metaphor for HPL’s racist view of miscegenation! He wrote a poem called ON THE CREATION OF NIGGERS! (sorry, I despise the phrase “The N-Word” – it grants too much power to the word it’s referring to).

This is what’s known as a shit test. It is designed to provoke, and it is also designed to prevent any “correct” answers, because to defend Lovecraft makes you an equally reprehensible person. You should be ashamed for liking such things, because these are “enlightened” times!

As the cycle plays out into another round of scorched-earth politicking, Lovecraft’s defenders are branded racists and “out of touch with the times.”  Others contort themselves all sorts of ways to attempt to weasel out of this guilt-by-association.  The anti-HPL crowd then becomes satisfied in their moral superiority. Everybody is left feeling miserable, goes back to their respective corners and licks their wounds, until the next round. And there’s always a next round. One round was so successful that it even had an award bearing his likeness removed from circulation. To be fair, I thought the statue was kind of ugly, but I do think the award was more than appropriate given his literary influence.  I half-jokingly suggested an award that looks like Sax Rohmer (author of the Fu Manchu novels, which were far more overtly racist than anything HPL wrote, and vastly entertaining reads), but nobody ever wants to talk about Sax, baby.

Guilt by association. The Taint.  We can’t have this award, because someone, somewhere, might think we are promoting HPL’s opinions on race. We don’t want to be Nazis, do we? More importantly, we don’t want someone to think we’re Nazis.  For the record, I never thought you were Nazis.  But I do think you are cowards.

One more example, and then I’ll get to my point, I promise.

In September of 2013, I attended a show by Death In June. Death In June is one of the founding bands of a genre known as “Neo-folk”, which along with genres like Martial Industrial, has a particularly colorful reputation. I’m not going to waste your time summarizing the controversies, as Google will do that for you.

Douglas Pearce (the sole continuous member) has been accused of being a racist, a Nazi, a fascist, and worse. The fact that he is openly gay, has collaborated with a number of Jewish musicians, and has played sold out shows in Israel is beside the point. I have listened to his music for years. I consider myself on the left end of the political spectrum.  I’ve read any number of interviews and clarifications that Pearce has made about his views. I have a graduate degree in philosophy. I have participated in a number of civil rights demonstrations across the country. I can safely say that I find nothing fascist or hateful about him or his music. This is my conclusion. I stand by it.

Others only look at surface images of the band, and project their worst fears onto it. Those are their conclusions.  I have listened to their arguments, and read their cases. I remain unconvinced.

The show I attended was protested by a group identifying themselves as anti-fascists. They have a right to do this.  I respect this right.

Rather than engaging us in dialogue, however, they became violent – openly harassing (an ethnically diverse!) group of people waiting politely in line for the show.  There were fists involved. They tried to storm the venue. It was their assumption that we were all waiting to attend the next Nuremberg rally, and that we were Nazis who needed to be stopped.

The anti-fascists wound up physically harming a number of minority members of the audience.  Additionally, they had vandalized the club where DIJ played the night before, and succeeded in threatening another venue to the point of cancelling a sold out show (which has since been relocated).

In 1920s-1930s Germany, the Nazi Party deployed a group known as the Sturmabteilung, or “brown shirts” to disrupt, threaten, intimidate, and physically harm political opponents.  How, qualitatively, were the actions of the anti-fascists different from the tactics of the Sturmabteilung? Tactics aside, how is it anti-fascist to declare yourselves the gatekeepers of what people can, cannot, should, and should not listen to?

In their quest for a villain, they became the villains. Rather than seeking common ground (of which, I suspect, there may have actually been much between them and the audience), they demonized us.

Finally, they denied our humanity in an even more fundamentally important way –they denied us the choice, the chance to make up our own minds about what we were seeing and hearing. They failed to recognize our own abilities – our own rights – to recognize good and evil.

It was easier to just “punch a Nazi,” because that’s what we “obviously” were. Because only Nazis like Death In June. Only racists like Lovecraft. Only Nazis keep Hitler’s books by their beds. Only Nazis want to hear Milo Yiannopoulos. No decent person would be interested in any of these things.  These things taint you, and by associating with them you are guiltyguiltyguilty of perpetuating crimes against humanity. You deserve to be punched. Or worse.

Or something.

The other day, The Southern Poverty Law Center declared Soleilmoon Records a “Hate Group,” because they sold music and accessories for Death In June and Boyd Rice.  Boyd is another controversial figure, whom I would describe as a cultural prankster and social Darwinist. Others like to think of him as slightly considerably more than that. In my readings of and listening to Boyd Rice, my conclusion is that, like Milo, he likes to push buttons. Call him names, and he will only up the ante by being a more grotesque parody of that which you fear. He does not suffer fools gladly. I don’t know Boyd personally, but I once met someone who’d gone bowling with him.  All of this aside, a record label and store has been listed as a “Hate Group” by the SPLC.  The Southern Poverty Law Center has a rich and admirable history of fighting for justice. Because of this, being placed on their list carries a certain amount of weight and gravitas.

Quite simply, in this instance, I believe they have lost the plot. A small business owner’s livelihood and personal reputation have now been soiled because of what he chose to sell.

I can already hear the rebuttals: “Lie with dogs, and you’ll get fleas” or “he deserved it, because he should have known better” or “live by the sword, die by the sword” – whatever.

Amazon currently sells copies of Mein Kampf.  Yet they are not on any “Hate Group” lists.

Amazon currently sells copies of Messages to the World by Osama bin Laden. Yet they are not on any “Hate Group” lists.

Amazon currently sells books of far more questionable content than the lyrics of Death In June or Boyd Rice, yet they are not on any “Hate Group” lists.

In fact, Amazon currently sells music and accessories by Death In June and Boyd Rice.

Using current “Punch a Nazi” logic, Germans fled to South America after WWII.  The Amazon is in South America. Therefore, Amazon is a secret Nazi front organization.

Yet Amazon is not on any “Hate Group” lists.

So, I’m left wondering WTF?! In this instance. Why Soleilmoon?  Why not Amazon? Why only Soleilmoon, and no other retailers or distributors?

I don’t have an answer to this.

As best I can tell, the decision to include Soleilmoon on the list was completely arbitrary.

All of this brings us to the ultimate question, “Who Makes the Nazis?” (with apologies to The Fall, and no apologies to a certain website that goes by that name).

Am I a Nazi because I own Mein Kampf, and keep it by my bed?  Do the other books I own add fuel to that fire?

Or do I have legitimate reasons for owning them?

I posed this question to someone the other day, and I was told that she would know Nazis “by the way they dressed.”

Am I a Nazi for owning 5 Death In June shirts, and wearing them occasionally?

Are we now to the point of suggesting that based on the way someone dresses, they were “asking for it?”

I asked this question, and was reassured that because she “knew” me, she “knew” I wasn’t a Nazi.  What if she didn’t know me? How well do we know people? Like clockwork, when someone turns out to be a serial killer or have 15 hostages in their basement, there’s the inevitable surprised neighbor declaring “he was a nice, quiet guy. He never bothered anybody.”

So, if “appearances” are wonky in the hunt for crypto-fascists (and I’m talking about people who aren’t walking around wearing “RaHoWa” t-shirts, or white sheets, or SS uniforms and such), can we safely assume that we can judge someone a Nazi by what they say?

This is where I’m probably going to get even less popular.

I’m going to say “not all of the time.”

But, what about “Hate Speech?”

What about it?  In fact, what is it?

Seems like it’s pretty cut and dry.  Except it isn’t.  Sheldon Nahmod explains it thusly:

“..the First Amendment creates a marketplace of ideas in which everyone can participate. Everyone can try to sell his or her ideas to the marketplace and the buyers in the marketplace eventually decide which ideas have value and which do not, which ideas are truthful and which are not. We are all sellers and buyers in this marketplace.

“What is the government’s role in this marketplace of ideas? Basically, the government must stay neutral; it must keep its hands off of the marketplace. The Enlightenment assumption—the assumption of the Framers of the Constitution—that underlies the marketplace of ideas is that people are ultimately rational, they may be persuaded by reason, even though emotions and passions play a major rule in political decision-making.

“What kinds of ideas are out there in the marketplace of ideas? Political ideas, artistic ideas, scientific ideas, social ideas of all kinds, whether smart, crazy, far-out, brilliant, dangerous.

“However, despite what I’ve just said, there are some communications that are not allowed in the marketplace of ideas. Obscene speech, for one, carefully defined by the Supreme Court, is excluded from the marketplace of ideas. Another kind of communication, child pornography, is also not allowed because its production involves child abuse. The reasons for these exceptions include history and the belief that these kinds of communications have little or no redeeming social value.

“So now you’re thinking the following: if there are some exceptions under the First Amendment and its marketplace of ideas, why not also include hate speech as an exception? After all, hate speech surely has little or no redeeming social value. It insults, it demeans, it traumatizes, it silences and there is a consensus in American society that it is valueless at best and dangerous at worst. Why should government not be allowed to prohibit it?

“The Supreme Court’s answer to this particular question is that even hate speech contains political ideas, however horrible these ideas may be. When you regulate such speech, you are also regulating ideas. Think of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and forbidden words. The Supreme Court has also made clear that just because speech offends people, this is never a justification under the First Amendment for punishing it. Furthermore, we are justifiably suspicious of government when it attempts to regulate speech and ideas. After all, government may have its own political agenda in regulating hate speech—which groups would be protected against hate speech and which not?

“Finally, and perhaps most important, think about how the marketplace of ideas functions: even if hateful ideas are communicated, the theory (hope?) is that counter-speech will emerge to rebut it and to fight it. In other words, more speech rather than less is the remedy.”

Apologies for the lengthy quote, but I think it is all essential to understanding reality vs. what-we-want-reality-to-be (and remember, in this instance, reality protects your speech as well!)

There is no “hate speech” exception to the First Amendment.

One exception is what is called “fighting words”, personal insults against a specific person that could likely lead to an immediate fight. But this isn’t limited to racial or religious insults, and it doesn’t cover every racially or religiously offensive statement, and, the Supreme Court backs this up (see R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992), for example).

Threats against someone based on racial or religious criteria can fall under criminal threats, “[b]ut this isn’t because it’s ‘hate speech’; it’s because it’s illegal to make true threats and incite imminent crimes against anyone and for any reason, for instance because they are police officers or capitalists or just someone who is sleeping with the speaker’s ex-girlfriend (see here, for more).

So, if someone has made calls for the extermination of a group of people (sounds admittedly Nazi-ish), is it okay to punch a Nazi?

Again, I would say “no.” There is a vast difference between Richard Spencer saying vile and reprehensible things like “Does human civilization actually need the Black race?” “Is Black genocide right?” and, if it is, “What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?” and saying “Hey [*insert derogatory term of your choice here*], I’m going to kill you” to an individual person.  Spencer’s quotes are certainly Nazi-like, and I’m not suggesting they aren’t. What I am saying is that they are technically protected by the First Amendment, much as are the sentiments of these people (whom I find equally reprehensible and vile):

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it okay to punch them?

Or would that be bad, because they’re on “our” side?

But it’s okay when we do it. Gott mit uns. Four legs good, two legs better. Besides, as someone who identifies as the hated target all of these things, I’m probably just tone-policing and need to check my privilege.

What about “No-Platforming,” as in the case of Milo Yiannopoulos, or other “controversial” speakers?

One thing I am uncomfortable with, especially in the age of the Internet and social media is mob justice. Especially when someone has committed no crime other than being an asshole and spouting off vile things. If you open the door for punching someone because of their political beliefs (which again, are allowed to be expressed, no matter how horrible you think they are), does that make it okay for someone to punch you for your beliefs?  Are you comfortable with being punched? Because I guarantee you someone, somewhere disagrees with you.  Hell, I expect most of you probably disagree with me.  Maybe I’m naïve to think we’re all civilized adults and can actually debate things rather than just resort to fisticuffs.

One person, who surprisingly “gets it,” is a man of Jewish descent whose family fled the (actual) Nazis during WWII, re-locating first to England, and then eventually the United States. I had the good fortune to meet this man once, Jerry Springer. Jerry told me that the reason he lets the white supremacists and the Nazis on to his show, time after time, even though he, personally, would be among those rounded up by them if they ever realistically came to power, is that he believes in letting them speak for themselves. He believes in the old adage of giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. He would rather people see them for the idiots they are, and hear their idiocy in their own words and make up their own minds, than try to bury something simply because it is unpleasant (or vile, or reprehensible). Burying that which you do not like only adds an air of verboten and mystique. A healthy percentage of people (myself, included) don’t like to be told they can’t see or read things.  They begin to wonder why not.  They seek it out, and want to know what all the hub-bub is about.  To call it the “Streisand Effect” is putting it mildly.

Deciding what others can and cannot see, hear, or be otherwise exposed to is no less fascist than the fascism it purports to be against.

In this day and age, however, nobody has time for this. Nobody has time for nuance or discussion or debate.

I think these days we seem to be running into a convergence of conveniences.

  1. It is convenient to categorize thoughts, feelings, beliefs into two categories: “correct” and “incorrect”
  2. This enables us to instantly decide that anything, or anyone, that does not fall into one of our two convenient categories, must therefore belong to the other
  3. It is more convenient to hold people forever accountable for their brief forays into “incorrect” than it is to acknowledge that they are human, may have different beliefs from you, may grow, may change their minds, and may renounce their former beliefs.  Thus it is easier, to forever hold someone accountable for his brief participation in ultra-right wing political groups and therefore believe he is secretly leading an entire musical genre in promoting crypto-fascism (sometimes so crypto as to be unidentifiable even with a microscope), than it is to acknowledge his own repeated mea culpas. It is more convenient to simply label him and anyone ever seen in the same room with him as fascists. That way, you don’t have to worry about any of them, learn anything about any of them, or worry about tainting your precious little mind with the “dangerous” ideas that you read somewhere they are promoting. Effort is hard.
  4. It is convenient to just have all of the answers handed to you. When reality doesn’t fit your worldview, obviously reality is wrong. The rest of us just need to “do the research!” and we’ll be instantly enlightened as well.

I think some of this is pure laziness.  I used to think a good chunk of it (at least in the States) was the fault of the educational system. Kids are no longer being taught how to think, but rather provided with lists of things to memorize for The Test. This is true, but I see far too many adults who should know better, engaging in this sort of behavior as well.

For the record, there’s a third category: “Problematic,” which is usually reserved for people who you want to like, but simply can’t, because they’re in the “Incorrect” box.  “Problematic” puts the categorizer in a bind, because on a level they acknowledge human complexity.  But, since everything has to be a zero-sum game, “Correct”/”Incorrect”, most people prefer to err on the side of caution, and go with “Incorrect”, lest they be tarnished by association, and also labelled “Incorrect.”  This transferring them to the “Incorrect” category is usually accomplished by conforming to group consensus, or administering any number of Kafkatraps to justify and rationalize this categorization.  Better to be safe than sorry.  Punch first, and (maybe) ask questions later. Or not.

If those on the side of righteousness in these matters, who insist on punching Nazis (real or imaginary) wherever they may be found, or compiling “lists” (are you now, or have you ever been a collaborator?), seem to enjoy playing the “hero” and imagining that this is Weimar Germany, and bask in the knowledge of “Gott mit uns” then I can only refer them to Jung’s concept of “The Shadow” and the need to own your own. I would also remind them of the saying “what goes around comes around.”  You may feel the superiority now, but if it’s good enough for you to do it, it’s good enough for others to do it to you.

And they will.

Russell Berman, in his preface to Ernst Jünger’s book On Pain (2008, Telos Press), suggests that:

Although conventional political thinking still tries to police a neat separation between left and right, we should not be afraid to explore the gray zone in between without leaping prematurely or unnecessarily to an unwarranted assertion of identity (p. viii).

Early on in this ridiculously long essay, I suggested that we are becoming two Americas.  This is not entirely true.  There is a third America, and we live in that gray zone that Berman describes. Frankly, a lot of us are getting sick of the shit being perpetrated by both sides, Left and Right. While my sympathies may be more left-leaning, I do not condone a lot of the behavior being done to accomplish these goals.  The ends do not justify the means.  Read your history.  The Reign of TerrorThe Cultural RevolutionStruggle SessionsWitch HuntsMcCarthyismSatanic PanicLynching.

Nobody thinks they’re the bad guy.

As Walt Kelly, the creator of the comic-strip POGO wrote in 1953…

“Traces of nobility, gentleness and courage persist in all people, do what we will to stamp out the trend. So, too, do those characteristics which are ugly…There is no need to sally forth, for it remains true that those things which make us human are, curiously enough, always close at hand. Resolve then, that on this very ground, with small flags waving and tinny blasts on tiny trumpets, we shall meet the enemy, and not only may he be ours, he may be us.”

William S. Burroughs, famously divided people into two categories:

“The two basic types of people in the world. The Shits are self-righteous hypocrites that only look out for themselves and desperately crave power, status, praise, and the right to pass judgment on everything they disapprove of. 

“Johnsons are decent people that generally mind their own business but are always ready to offer help to anyone who needs it without judgment or reservation.”

I’m not saying there aren’t Nazis in the world. I’m not saying there aren’t ideals worth fighting for.

All I’m suggesting is that people stop being Shits. “Nazi” is too easily used these days. Innocent people will be hurt in the rush for vigilante feel-good “justice.”

And unless we reign in this primal urge, irreparable harm will be done to people who don’t deserve it.  And it will only be a matter of time before it happens to you; either in retaliation, or because you made it “okay” to physically harm someone over a political disagreement – someone more than likely disagrees with you, too.

Step off the ride.

Then, perhaps, we can all move forward and fight real evil – together.

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Sep 04 2015

I See Dead People

Over the past day or two, I’ve had the (mis)fortune of having Aylan Kurdi’s photo assault my senses without warning in my Facebook feed.  I suspect this photo will go down in history alongside that of Phan Thi Kim Phuc and countless other photos documenting the extremely tragic consequences of being caught in the crossfire of war and unnecessary violence.

I also had the (mis)fortune (several days ago) of seeing Alison Parker and Adam Ward gunned down by Bryce Williams/Vester Flanagan, both from Ward’s perspective, and Flanagan’s perspective.

And, then, of course, there are people shooting up churches, movie theaters, schools, etc.

And, as usual, there is outrage.  There is anger. There is righteous indignation.

After that, there is outrage that there isn’t enough outrage.  There is anger that there isn’t enough anger. There is righteous indignation that there isn’t enough righteous indignation.

As usual.

Then there is the inevitable “While you were distracted by this Thing, This Other Thing was happening!” type hectoring, about how we’re all “sheeple” and puppets of the media/government/etc. and we should be ashamed, but oh wait, here’s the Next Thing to be outraged, angered and indignant about.

As usual.

There are also occasional forays into “You’re outraged for the wrong reasons and I’m outraged at you!”

(to note: Kim Davis denying marriage licenses in Kentucky for “religious” reasons, but pointing out her hypocrisy based on multiple divorces and children born out of wedlock, is now being called “slut shaming” and nobody’s allowed to point out the very obvious fact that she looks kinda like Annie Wilkes in Misery).

"Dirty Birdies! No Cockadoodie Marriage License for YOU!"

“Dirty Birdies! No Cockadoodie Marriage License for YOU!”

Aren’t we all pissed off about someone shooting a lion, too?  Or are we done with that now?

Anyway.

Let’s talk about dead people.

While not directed at me in particular (thankfully, or I would be forced to cut a bitch), it seems that I’m now seeing the outrage-that-there-isn’t-enough-outrage phase of the reactions to the photo of Aylan Kurdi’s body on the beach. People are getting cranky that others aren’t publicly displaying their outrage in sufficient quantities.

So, let me offer my reasons for NOT going on about this particular tragedy in great length on social media (and by “great length” I mean “at all”).  Because, you know, my silence on the subject obviously means I’m either apathetic or a monster of some sort.

  1. Aylan Kurdi is the same age as my son.
  2. Aylan Kurdi’s position on the beach is in many ways similar to a position in which my son likes to sleep.
  3. My son was born prematurely, 6 weeks after we found out about him even existing.
  4. My wife and my son almost died a few days before he was born.
  5. My wife’s blood pressure reached Scanners – type levels, that everyone we’ve told the numbers to, is in awe that she didn’t stroke out.
  6. As a result, my son was born via emergency C-Section, after an entire night of all of us staying awake, trying to keep my wife and son alive.
  7. My son was not breathing when he was taken out. They had to intubate him immediately.
  8. My wife almost died again in the recovery room, and had to be taken to the ICU.
  9. My son then spent the next 11 weeks in the NICU.  During this time:
    • He developed Necrotizing Enterocolitis.
    • One of the other infants in the NICU died from this.
    • My son was also diagnosed with Tracheomalacia.
    • My son had frequent Apnea Bradycardia episodes.
    • Because of these things, he coded a number of times, including once while sleeping on me, and once while feeding from his mother.
    • My infant son had more wires and tubes sticking out of him than the humans in The Matrix.
    • My wife (bless her) spent every single day, all day, in the NICU with our son.
    • I could only spend the weekends, due to being 120 miles south  and starting a new job. This tore me apart inside, and still does.
  10. As if all this wasn’t enough, the time you spend in the NICU is not private.  You’re surrounded by other premature infants with their own host of medical issues, their parents, their doctors, and the assorted alarms going off around you. Constantly.
  11. We all survived this (yay!), but then shortly after we got home, the three of us got the flu, and this happened:
    • My 3 month son coughed up some phlegm and aspirated on it.
    • I picked him up, and he was cold, and his body had as much rigidity as a dead salmon you’d pick up at the fish market.
    • We called 911, and during the longest 10 minutes of my life, I was able to half-resucitate him, and keep him alive long enough for the paramedics to show up.
    • I got to ride in an ambulance with my 3 month old son fighting for his life in the back for the second longest 10 minutes of my life.
    • We spent all night at the local hospital that told us they didn’t want him there because they weren’t comfortable with the idea.
    • Our ER nurse kept disappearing, and I had to keep my son breathing for hours, by manually stimulating him.
    • When they finally moved him to a different room in the ER, he started to code again. This brought about a flood of doctors attempting to perform CPR, injecting him with Ketamine (for reasons I still don’t understand), and unsuccessfully trying to intubate him for far longer than necessary.
    • All of this while waiting for us to get transferred back to the NICU where we’d started (120 miles north). And then finding out that the helicopter had to turn back because of bad weather.
    • I then got to ride in an ambulance for 120 miles in back, with my son, stabilized, but in a metal canister, and beyond my ability to touch.  All I could do was watch him through a small window.
    • Then 10 more days of the NICU.

So, then.  We all survived, because, you know, #WhitePrivilege or something. And this now brings us to Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach.

If you re-read #3-11 above, I think -I hope- you would understand that I have PTSD from all of this.  Now, if you tie that back to #1 and #2, above, you’ll understand why I don’t have a whole lot to say about Aylan Kurdi.  But in case you don’t, let me elaborate:

It isn’t that I don’t feel Abdullah Kurdi’s loss.  The problem is, I do.  Seeing Aylan. Seeing Aylan on the beach.  Seeing how big (little) he is, and the position he’s in, brings #3-11 screaming back to me.  In my mind, in my body, in my veins.  I want to throw up. I want to scream.  Abullah has said “I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.”

And the problem is, I get that.  I know that.  I know because I came close to that too many times.

So, why am I not joining in the outrage on social media?

Because, ultimately, it doesn’t do anything.

It doesn’t save lives. It doesn’t change the world (unless you count some of the lynch mobs launched from Twitter), and, frankly, to me, it often straddles the line into masturbatory exercises about tragedy porn.

“But it raises awareness!”

Great! I’m aware!

Now what?  Do we all pat ourselves on the back for being “aware” now?  I’m aware. You’re aware. Now we don’t have to do anything else.  We’re aware.  All we need to do now is make sure everyone else is aware, too.  And if they’re not contributing to the Chorus of Being Aware (via “liking and sharing”) then THEY ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM.

I am aware that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are killed and/or imprisoned by the police.  I’m aware of this. For the record, I think this sucks.

I am aware that some white kid shot up an African-American church.  I’m aware of this. For the record, I think this sucks.

I am aware that the frankly ludicrous solution to this was for everyone to run around demanding Confederate flags be taken down, because this would instantly solve racism, or something.  More likely, it’s just going to piss people off.  Also, I find the logic of “you lost the war, why are you flying it?!” to be a dangerous road to take.  I look forward to the eradication of the Palestinan flag by the Left based on the same grounds. Yeah, I didn’t think so (and, for the record, I fully support Palestinan statehood).

I am aware that #BlackLivesMatter.  I believe they do.

I am also aware that #AllLivesMatter.  I also believe they do.  That includes your life. My life. My wife’s life. My son’s life. Aylan Kurdi’s life. The lives of those killed in the Charleston church shooting. The people killed by Anders Breivik. Everyone’s life.  Yet this is frowned upon as being somehow “racist.” (Personally, I think that by believing that #AllLivesMatter, it means I’ve got your back, regardless, and you don’t have to worry about whether I think you’re in the cool kids club or not.  But that’s me, and I refuse to be an “ally”.)

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot in cold blood by someone who took the time to post the fucking video online. That someone, Vester Flanagan, was a gay black man.

#WhoseLivesMattered?

The cold harsh reality of life is that it is complex (beautifully, painfully complex), and cannot be summed up in simple categorizations based on hashtags, or whatever groups one identifies with. To simply categorize anyone is to dehumanize them.

And that’s not something I’m okay with.

I am aware that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist.  For the record, I simply don’t give a shit.

Personally, I don’t think “awareness” is enough when it comes to problems such as these. Awareness is a cop-out. Go fucking do something, if you’re up in arms about an issue, or, alternatively, recognize the limitations of what you can do. I can be upset about Aylan Kurdi (and I am).  I can be upset about all of these issues.  But what I can’t do, realistically speaking, is anything to directly help the refugee situation, the victims of the latest shooting, or the outrage du jour.  While posting about these things on social media might make some people feel better (by bringing “awareness”) to me, it’s (too often) an empty gesture.

 

If you want to find a helpful organization to give to, then please do. I respect that.

If I had money to spare, I’d probably do the same.

Life doesn’t check your hashtags to make sure you’re one of the Good Guys (please forgive my use of cis-gendered heteronormative binary privileged nomenclature here).

And while I concede and agree that we all deal with shit differently, I am also a firm believer in Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Matthew when it comes to these things:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them (verse 1)

When you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others (verse 2)

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others (verse 5)

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting (verse 16).

So don’t assume my “silence” on an issue is apathy (even though it’s entirely possible it may sometimes be). For me, Facebook is not “life.”  I owe you no explanations or reasons for my perceived silence on any issue. You don’t know what’s going on in my head, or my heart, or even my life.

Though now, close to 2,000 words later, you have a glimpse.

 

 

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Apr 28 2015

Simple “Solutions” to Complicated Problems

Published by under "Activism"

I’m going to start right off and tell you that I fucking hate the Mondawmin Mall.

In 1991, I worked down the road from Mondawmin. I was an assistant manager for the largest music retailer in the country (at the time).  At least 100 times a day, I was told that whatever we had was cheaper at Mondawmin.  If we didn’t have it, Mondawmin did.

“You got Mint Condition?  You got Nu-Nu? No?!”

“I’m going down MonDAWmin!”

(pronounced just like the sign says)

Mondawmin

Mondawmin was apparently the paradise where everything and anything resided, and could be had for far less than us clueless white folk up the street were charging – IF we were even hip enough to what “the kids today” were listening to.

When your company is based out of Minnesota, it takes a long time to figure out that not everybody is going to be into Garth Brooks.

The store I was in was at a mall that was making a transition in clientele – like the Chris Rock joke: “Every town has two malls.  The mall the white people go to, and the mall the white people used to go to.”

There was a lot of racial tension in the mall.

A LOT.

Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what color your skin is. I’m more interested in whether or not you’re an asshole.

We dealt with a lot of assholes.

When the Rodney King verdict went down, a number of assholes decided it would be a good idea to stir shit up at the mall where I was working. A number of assholes decided it would be a good  idea to get in my face about it.

Because, apparently, I was telecommuting in to the jury or something.

Or, maybe, it was because “something” about me reminded them of the cops who had beaten King.

I also found out that night that some of my co-workers were assholes. Even though we’d worked together for months, and had gotten to be good friends (or so I’d thought), apparently none of that mattered.

Me?  I was just there, trying to do my job.  I was 21 years old, and not making shit for pay. Eventually you run a cost/benefit analysis on interactions with the public. If I ask you if you need help finding something, are you going to jump my shit because you assume I’m profiling you as a shoplifter?  Or if I leave you alone, will you jump my shit because I’m “obviously” snubbing you because of your skin color.

Oh, and by the way, me calling security on your ass has nothing to do with your skin color.  It has to do with the fact that you have 30 CDs stuffed down your pants.

I digress.

My point is, speaking from experience, I can say that the area of Baltimore where all of this shit started has been smoldering for years. If not decades.

The unnecessary death of yet another black man at the hands of yet another police force was just the spark that pushed things over the edge.

For the record, I think this shit (where “this shit” = “the unnecessary death of yet another black man at the hands of yet another police force”) needs to stop.

It is here that I would like to introduce a concept put forth by Robert Anton Wilson, in his book Quantum Psychology:

SOMBUNALL

“Sombunall” can be defined as “Some, but not all.”

Sombunall cops are assholes.

Sombunall Muslims are assholes.

Sombunall Christians are assholes.

Sombunall Hasidic Jews are assholes.

I’ve even met a Sikh asshole.  For the record.

Sombunall white people are assholes. I’ll let you decide if I am.

I honestly don’t care what you think of me, and I’m pretty comfortable with who I am these days.

Sombunall black people in my store after the Rodney King verdict were assholes.

Sombunall black people in my store after the Rodney King verdict were not assholes.

Probably just about everybody (I’m guessing) who was out in Baltimore last night were pretty upset over Freddie Gray’s death (as am I).

Sombunall of those people used this as an excuse to be assholes.

Sombunall white people (who may or may not be cops) use this as an excuse to be assholes.

This then creates an asshole vortex, which gathers in intensity and and overwhelms people’s thinking by obliterating the “sombun” part, and making them start believing that ALL X ARE Y.

Interestingly, though, I’m finding the comments I see from people I know on both sides of the political spectrum are rather telling.

On the Right, we have pretty much what you would expect (Sombunall people on the right – I’m only referring to a portion of the people I know on this end of the spectrum) – “All Black people = bad / All White people and cops = good”

On the Left, though, in Sombunall instances, it’s getting a little more twisted.

In one instance, there was a fellow taking considerable glee in the destruction, making sure to chastise anyone who was aghast at the violence as “not having learned the lessons of history.”

What those lessons were, he never said.

This strikes me as disingenuous, in that there appears to be an underlying tone of desperation to his glee; a need, a desire, to be recognized as being a GOOD GUY. If he’s just a little more zealous about the riots than the average rioter, then he’s proven he can be part of the club.  I would suggest that this is based out of fear – fear that “they” will come for him, too, and judge him not on his merit (or asshole quotient), but on something arbitrary, like, say, the color of his skin.

So, in a way, he is now assuming that Sombunall black people are going to assume that Sombunall white people are bad, and he has to prove his street cred in order to survive the upcoming race war. If he keeps declaring he is an ALLY loud enough, maybe “they” will listen, and bless him, and he will be “safe”.

As long as people do his bidding and behave in a manner of which he approves, and recognize him as being one of them (gooble gobble), then all is well in the world, because, boy, does he ever feel the righteousness of their anger.

Or something.

A second response I have seen from the Left, is that white supremacists had somehow provoked the riots.

Maybe.  I wasn’t there. I don’t know.

But to assume that Sombunall of the rioters would have been perfectly peaceful if only it hadn’t been for those pesky white supremacists, is to also devalue the humanity of the rioters. “Those” people are perfectly peaceful and docile creatures unless victimized by the the inherently evil white man.

Here we again, have someone wearing a Good Guy Badge, and proudly flying their Ally Flag (for the same reasons as above), but at the same time denying the humanity of both black people and white people. How?

By suggesting that it is impossible for black people to be assholes, and for suggesting that white people are inherently assholes (except when they’re enlightened enough to put on Good Guy Badges and shout their Ally status from the rooftops – behaviors which seem asshole-ish to me), you deny people the ability to think for themselves, and to engage in the very nuanced behavior that makes each of us human, even if it means behaving like an asshole.

THAT, in my opinion, just perpetuates the Asshole Vortex further.

People are (understandably) upset over the continued escalating death rate of black men at the hands of various police departments.

I, personally, do not agree with rioting, looting, burning shit down, or any of the other violence that has been happening of late in response.

But I understand where it’s coming from.  I understand the despair.  And this time, I know the neighborhood where it’s going down.

I also do not agree with the behaviors of Sombunall police officers who feel the need to go around killing unarmed black men.

The Asshole Vortex will continue until we can find a way to look each other in the eye and find some common ground.

I am becoming increasingly of the opinion that the word Sombunall needs to be put into circulation sooner, rather than later.

This is getting old.

All of it.

Oh, and for the record, I actually went to Mondawmin Mall once, to see if they really did have “everything.”

They didn’t have shit.

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Jul 08 2014

Trouble

Published by under "Activism"

I got into trouble today.

Without realizing it, I’ve somehow managed to become a corporate spokesperson for Evil (and by “Evil,” I mean “Monsanto”).

This image popped up in my Facebook feed today:

Evil! Evil! Evil!

Evil! Evil! Evil!

Let me be perfectly clear: I DO NOT LIKE MONSANTO.

Got that?  Maybe you better write that down.  Just to make sure. KEVIN DOES NOT LIKE MONSANTO.

I do not like Monsanto, I do not particularly like what they do, nor do I like how they operate.  The difference between me, and say, a large quantity of other Monsanto-haters, is that this list of grievances seemed a little “too perfect” in terms of casting them as evil, to me.

So, I made the mistake of fact-checking it.

Here’s what I found out:

  1. Saccharin (not “saccharine,” which is an adjective that “Saccharin” -the noun- derives its name from) was first developed in 1878 at Johns Hopkins University. Patents were filed for it in 1884. Monsanto was founded in 1901.
  2. Apartame was originally discovered in 1965, by a scientist working for Searle. Searle merged with Monsanto 20 years later, in 1985.
  3. PCBs were originally synthesized in 1881 by German scientists. Again, Monsanto wasn’t founded until 1901. They did, however, begin manufacturing PCBs in 1929.
  4. DDT was first synthesized in 1874. Monsanto (along with a number of other companies) manufactured it starting in either the 40s or 50s, however it was banned in 1972. Oh yeah.  Monsanto was founded in 1901.
  5. Monsanto manufactured Agent Orange (as did Dow, and others). I cannot find any documentation that Monsanto created it, or its constituent compounds (2,4,5-Tricholorphenoxyacetic acid and 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid).
  6. Bovine Growth Hormone is created in the pituitary glands of cows. Synthetic bovine growth hormone was patented by Genentech. They licensed out the patent to Monsanto, Eli Lilly, and others for manufacture.
  7. Glyphosate, aka “Roundup,” yes. That’s all Monsanto.

If we go wide with our definition of “creator of” to include “manufacturer of,” then, yeah, sure. But there are a lot of other players here.

I made the mistake of suggesting that if one wanted to call Monsanto out on their shit, then perhaps it might be a good idea to make sure that it’s actually Monsanto’s shit. Seems obvious to me…

Hulk Smash!

Hulk Smash!

Boy, was I wrong.

Never let facts get in the way of a good story.

At first, I was called out as being a defender of Monsanto.

Maybe the facts aren’t 100% correct, but they’re close, and most ARE 100% correct…Not everything I post is going to be 100% correct. but I figure defending the inaccuracies will take the impact away from the point I’m trying to make.

Okay, no. I actually made it pretty specifically clear in my fact-checking response excerpted above that I (what?) DO NOT LIKE MONSANTO (you wrote that down, right?)

I managed to smooth things out with this person, but was later surprised to see that a few others had taken issue with me. Several others (including the original poster) eventually agreed that it’s a little hard to be a critic of something if one’s own information is flawed. Others wanted to continue the lynching.

I have no love for Monsanto.  But I also have no love for mob rule, Facebook Activism, or the Internet Outrage Machine. It took me 10 minutes to fact-check this.

If activists can’t even get their stories straight, why should I (or anyone else) believe them when they say their causes are important? When did fact-checking become akin to aiding and abetting “the enemy”?

This isn’t even a “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, nor is it a “preponderance of evidence” standard. This is an “I’m angry and need to lash out at someone/something standard – facts be damned!”

And when you act from that place, it never ends well.

And, honestly, no matter how noble your cause, I cannot take you seriously, nor can I be a part of your judge-jury-exectutioner style of justice – no matter how much I DO NOT LIKE MONSANTO.

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