In case anyone was still wondering about the purpose of the hyper-publicized violent clashes between “white nationalists” and Antifa, the Trump administration’s latest move has made it painfully clear. Attorney General and 1950s throwback Jeff Sessions announced that the administration will resume donating “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces across the country. Americans bludgeoned into a condition of fear by the unrelenting coverage of Charlottesville and its aftermath over the past few weeks are expected to welcome this rollout of the new and improved police state with open arms. After all, neo-nazis are scary, and the ADL says they’re all around you. Liberty is once again to be traded for security. After almost two decades of gratuitous flogging, the word “terrorism” no longer strikes fear into Americans’ hearts; nazis and white hate groups are the fear stimulus du jour meant to drive us into the arms of the police state.
Even Trump’s most fervent supporters have a difficult time making excuses for Sessions, an unreconstructed drug warrior who wants to turn back the clock on marijuana legalization despite paying lip service to states’ rights. Sessions also favors ramping up civil asset forfeiture, the one policy democrats AND republicans can agree has served as the incentive for the most hideous abuses of power by local police forces in the past few decades. It’s no surprise he is an enthusiastic supporter of police militarization. Sessions historically shies away from a fair fight, refusing to go after Hillary Clinton for an encyclopedic list of crimes despite Trump’s campaign promises to “lock her up,” but loves an unfair advantage, pushing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses. Mandatory minimums have stuffed the nation’s prisons with victimless “criminals,” disproportionately poor and nonwhite, and have not led to a reduction in drug use, but drug addicts and dealers are easy targets for a bully like Sessions. Outfitting police with the best the US military has to offer - one-third of this “surplus” is brand new equipment - and siccing them on the American people is right up his alley.
The distribution of military equipment to civilian police was curtailed by Obama in 2015 in the wake of nationwide protests following the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner by police. Rather than calling for the prosecution of those officers for their crimes, the president ended the program that had gifted over $18 billion worth of grenade launchers, bayonets, tanks, drones, armored trucks and other combat equipment to police forces across the country. This token gesture saved him a confrontation with his pet police state, as departments were allowed to keep their toys with nary a slap on the wrist for using them to murder unarmed civilians and quash the resulting protests. Body cameras, which soon revealed an unfortunate tendency to go dark when shots were fired, were lauded as the solution to the epidemic of police misconduct, and 25% of jurisdictions adopted them by the end of that year. Meanwhile, the Obama administration continued to vociferously gobble up Americans’ civil liberties unopposed, prosecuting whistleblowers at a higher rate than any previous administration as its security agencies wolfed down our metadata and conversations via warrantless wiretaps (fun fact: Robert Mueller, the former FBI director now in charge of the farcical “Russiagate” investigation, spearheaded the Obama FBI’s expansion of warrantless wiretapping).
As Rand Paul, one of the few congresspeople who does not make me want to projectile vomit, outlines in his op-ed concerning Sessions’ announcement, further militarizing police forces will lead to more unconstitutional warrantless searches, more no-knock raids, more innocent people killed by cops, and further swelling of the prison population. Private prisons are already holding their host counties hostage, threatening to liquidate hundreds of jobs if states don’t fork over hundreds of prisoners. For a nation that calls itself the land of the free, we imprison more people per capita than any other country on earth, an irony which is utterly lost on Sessions and the Trump administration.
Police already operate with impunity in this country, as demonstrated by the lack of convictions (and in most cases even indictments) for the murderers of Brown, Garner, Philando Castile, Paula Bland, Akai Gurley, and countless other innocent victims. Outfitting them with military-grade weaponry goes beyond the Obama administration’s policy of ignoring their crimes and rewards them for a job well done. Trump praised police brutality in a speech to Long Island cops, admonishing them to be less “nice” when arresting suspects, and pardoned former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, a hero in law enforcement circles for his brutal and humiliating treatment of prisoners. The police are an occupying army, a phalanx of uniformed thugs paid by the ruling class with our tax dollars to keep the American people in line. The Trump administration's reinstatement of the military surplus program makes it that much more obvious.
Ever since the 2016 election, “white hate groups” have been the darling of the mainstream media. Even independent journalists, who should know better, have spilled metric tons of (digital) ink over this phenomenon. After Hillary Clinton crashed and burned in the 2016 election, the mainstream media spent millions crisscrossing flyover country dredging up the most reactionary hicks they could find in an effort to convince America that “white hate groups” were on the rise, emboldened by Trump’s win. As these fine specimens were pulled blinking into the light from their parents’ basements, they dutifully spouted their hate for the CNN cameras while anchors talked up the new threat lurking in the country’s trailer parks. When their best efforts failed to increase the fear level of the average American and the electoral college stuck to its votes, the media reluctantly rolled the yokels back into their caves and shifted to trumpeting Trump’s “collusion” with Russia and Putin, a baseless narrative that has only recently come crashing down around their ears with the revelation that the information supposedly “hacked” from Democratic National Committee servers was actually leaked by a disgruntled DNC technician upset over Clinton’s theft of the primary from Sanders.
The neocons, so worried in the runup to the election that Trump wouldn’t give them their wars that they defected to the Clinton camp, lost no time in taking Trump under their wing after the election. They alternated between carrot and stick, hounding him with accusations of Russian collusion while dangling their support if he would just wipe Syria off the map. Just a little favor for our friends in Israel, eh Donald? Trump dipped his toe in those waters with a strike on a Syrian airfield the day after another suspicious chemical attack was pinned on the long-suffering Bashar al-Assad, but while his Deep State tormentors stopped pushing the Russia narrative for a day or two, they quickly resumed pressure when it became apparent that he wasn’t going to go any further toward regime change. The backlash from his supporters had been immediate - here was the president they had elected to keep the US out of yet another middle eastern quagmire, succumbing to Deep State pressures to retaliate against what was obviously a false flag chemical attack with a missile strike that looked an awful lot like an overture to war - and the few non-neocon advisers still present in his administration cautioned him against starting something he wasn’t prepared to finish. Fortunately, Trump stepped back from that ledge. The Russian collusion narrative continued to play 24/7, with investigation after investigation failing to turn up the incriminating material the media tried to convince us was everywhere.
The Deep State has not stopped calling for war in Syria. Nikki Haley, Trump’s inept ambassador to the United Nations, practically welcomed further false flag attacks with her belligerent, idiotic tweets suggesting any further chemical attacks would be blamed not only on Assad’s government but also on Russia and Iran without proof, an investigation, or any of the other usual measures observed before launching a war. Trump has mostly capitulated to the neocon hectoring, inflating the military budget (already larger than that of the next six countries combined), including some truly fulsome language in that budget document about “our commitment to Israel,” and saber-rattling against not only Syria but Iran, North Korea, and even Venezuela. His disillusioned base thrown under the bus, Trump clings to the neocons as the only friends he has left.
Fast-forward to August 12th. The white hate groups are back, and boy are they pissed! A so-called “Unite the Right” rally to protest the removal of a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA degenerated into carnage when James Fields, one of the “white nationalists,” drove his car into a group of Antifa protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The cops not only allowed but encouraged the violence between protesters and counter-protesters, funneling the groups into a confined space after declaring the entire event an “unlawful assembly” and telling everyone to get lost; VA governor Terry McAuliffe had declared a “state of emergency” 20 minutes before the rally’s scheduled start, negating the organizers’ hard-won permit (which had been revoked at the last minute and only reinstated following an ACLU lawsuit).
A police affidavit put the number of attendees at around 1500, itemized to include between 250 and 500 KKK members, 500 “3% Risen” (a neo-Confederate group), 150 “Alt Knights” (alt-right Fight Club fetishists affiliated with the Proud Boys) and between 200 and 300 “militia”; a far-right monitoring group cited but not named by the Guardian estimated attendance between 500 and 1000, while Democracy Now reported between 1000 and 1500. No numerical estimate could be found for Antifa members, though Democracy Now claimed they outnumbered the white nationalists. More importantly, no one bothered to count the media figures; some reports suggested the rally was so packed with journalists that Antifa activists mistook them for white nationalists and assaulted them. More than 100 cops were present, including city and state police and the National Guard. Given their numbers, there is no excuse for their inaction in the face of both sides’ violence unless they were explicitly told to stand down. The media has repeatedly linked the death of two officers who crashed their helicopter seven miles away to the event, though whether this is intended to distract from police’s egregious mishandling of the protest or simply to further demonize the organizers is unclear.
The internet predictably took the bait, losing its collective shit over the specter of White Hate haunting America under Trump. An examination of the facts, however, reveals a few holes in the narrative. Jason Kessler, the rally’s organizer, is a former Obama supporter who worked with the Occupy movement until late last year, when he experienced an ideological conversion on the heels of Trump’s election and posted an article on his since-deleted website condemning Charlottesville Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy for calling for the removal of the Lee statue, among other crimes against “white culture and history.” Kessler appears to be a provocateur, providing an easy target with his white-pride rhetoric and smearing the entire Right he supposedly sought to unite with the rally. Meanwhile, James Fields, the driver who mowed down the Antifa protesters, was on psychiatric drugs - a prerequisite for mass shooters and other media villains - and lived in his mother Samantha Bloom’s basement until a few months ago. In an unintentionally hilarious interview, Bloom said there was no way her son would have been involved with white supremacists because “he had an African-American friend, so…” and that she thought he had said he was going to an “albright” rally. The following day, TMZ revealed Bloom had called 911 several times in the past to report her son threatening and attacking her. A high school history teacher revealed that Fields had displayed Nazi tendencies at a tender age. The narrative would be humorous if people weren’t being hurt and killed.
As for white hate groups, the New York Times reported in 2011 that the National Socialist Movement was the largest white supremacist group in the country, comprising an anemic 400 members in 32 states. That’s .000133% of the population. Even if such groups have gained members in the wake of Trump’s election, they represent an extreme minority, and investigation of the so-called “hate crime wave” following the 2016 election revealed that many of those “hate crimes” were either perpetrated by the supposed victims or invented out of whole cloth.
Clearly, both sides of this rally needed beefing up, and newspaper ads have since been discovered seeking actors to pose as protesters for the princely sum of $25 per hour. Antifa - that ironically named group whose more-fascist-than-fascist tactics of street violence, property destruction and censorship have earned it zero ideological converts and discredited the entire anti-Trump resistance - has been known to inflate its ranks with paid agitators, notably at an anti-free-speech event seeking to block sophomoric alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos’ appearance earlier this year at UCLA Berkeley. Antifa emerged from the mists following the 2016 election, clearly with the help of large wads of cash; whose large wad remains uncertain, though conservatives have fingered their favored bete noire George Soros. The ruling class had every reason to pay for agitators to swell and disrupt the ranks of both sides. Violence provides an excellent excuse for law enforcement to crack down on protesting, while the presence of bogeymen-du-jour neo-Nazis (real or fake) fans the hysteria of those already inclined to crack down on free speech. Following the rally, GoDaddy and Google announced they would no longer host cartoonish white supremacist website Daily Stormer, and video game chat app Discord shut down its popular AltRight server as well as several associated accounts. Leftists gloating at the Right’s misfortune should be aware that they are next. One need only look at YouTube’s recent demonetizing and quarantining of all but the most mainstream-friendly political content on the right AND left, as well as Facebook and Twitter’s increasingly capricious bans in reaction to controversial political statements.
It remains unclear who instigated the violence at the rally prior to Fields committing vehicular homicide. The white supremacist groups will most likely be bused back to their trailer parks until they are needed again, and it doesn't take a genius or even a politically-aware person to denounce "white nationalism." These groups are low-hanging fruit, walking cartoons, reactionary throwbacks. Antifa, however, is more insidious; it doesn't take too many brain cells to be against the neocon-in-sheep's-clothing that is Donald Trump, but in this case the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. Antifa is not a liberal organization. Their use of violence against ideological opponents is diametrically opposed to the principles of liberalism. Any person or group secure in their opinions allows the opposing side to speak, confident that their own arguments are sufficient to win people over. Antifa merely completes the job political correctness started - from stifling free speech in academic discourse to shouting down campus speakers they disagree with to beating up those who dare speak up in protest on the streets. As a result, Americans are running from the ideological left en masse. Antifa serves the same purpose on the left that neo-Nazis serve on the right.
The excessive media coverage of the event tells the whole story. Dozens of Bernie Sanders rallies drawing tens of thousands of supporters during the 2016 election were given zero mainstream media coverage because Sanders’ message did not serve the interests of the ruling class. The clash between 1000 “white nationalists” and an equal or lesser number of “anti-fascists” was plastered all over every news outlet, preempting more pressing matters like the looming threat of nuclear war under Trump’s increasingly belligerent foreign policy, the ongoing revelations confirming that the media’s beloved “Russian collusion” narrative never had any basis in reality, the Deep State's endless angling for war in Syria and Iran, and so on. Incidents like this rally feed the divided nation paradigm, keeping the Left and Right at each others’ throats by broadcasting the most unflattering image of each. Just as most people on the right don’t identify with white supremacists, most on the left don’t condone the wanton violence and speech suppression of Antifa. But the ruling class is screwed if we ever decide to come together.
Ever wonder what festivals will be like under the coming totalitarian regime? Now you don't have to guess. Gratitude Migration, a regional Burning Man event by New York promoters held on a New Jersey beach, has come out ahead of the pack in embracing police state technology. Guests were issued RFID-enabled wristbands at the gate, which they could load up with their credit cards in order to pay for food and $14 drinks (no BYOB allowed). A uniformed police officer searched attendees’ bags, performing not merely the security-theater eyeballing familiar to veteran festival attendees and meant to catch explosives, weapons and other egregious violations, but an intricate ballet of intrusiveness intended to sniff out the drugs that basically fuel such festivals. Many guests had their substances confiscated, though no arrests were made - at least, not publicly.
Burning Man itself is commerce-free - nothing can be purchased at the entire festival except $1 bags of ice. Gratitude, on the other hand, boasted a cluster of high-priced food trucks, several bars selling the aforementioned $14 drinks, and a sprawling bazaar at center camp with stands selling clothing, jewelry, art and accessories; every checkout counter was equipped with a chip reader, creating an airtight cashless controlled economy. Guests merely placed their wrists, palm down, on the chip readers and their accounts were debited. By normalizing this gesture, these wristbands served as an intermediate step towards full-on "mark of the beast" chip implants, the likes of which are already in use at a few trendy clubs in Madrid and Barcelona frequented by the rich and gullible. As festivalgoers become acclimatized to placing their wrists on chip readers to pay, subdermal implants begin to seem almost reasonable.
Why was Gratitude chosen to showcase this police state technology? Burning Man originated as an alternative lifestyle in the truest sense, an attempt to live off the grid using “radical self-reliance” and other virtues that have degenerated over the years into meaningless buzzwords. Now crawling with tech-bros and celebrities, Burning Man is a mockery of itself, and Gratitude is merely a logical extension of this devolution. Ticket prices nearly doubled from last year, though it was hard to tell where the money went - if anything, there were fewer attendees, fewer dance floors and a similar quantity of art installations. Security patrols did seem stepped up, and golf carts patrolled the beach lackadaisically warding off unauthorized boat landings; fences were higher and extended into the water to prevent intrepid interlopers attempting to swim their way in. One wonders how much of a profit the organizers took home.
Discussions with festivalgoers revealed relatively little concern about the privacy and civil liberties implications of RFID wristbands. “It’s convenient,” one guest opined, as if that excused whatever abuses could follow. Others groused that the chips didn’t even work half the time, rendering the rationale of ‘convenience’ moot. Some vendors quietly rebelled by accepting cash payments for their merchandise, eager to voice their concern with the intrusive technology when asked. But for the most part, the New York burner crowd could be counted upon to willingly swallow the totalitarian trappings of the festival, proving an ideal softening-up point for the introduction of the technologies into society at large. Festivals like Gratitude are trendsetters - where better to plant the seeds of the idea that “chipping” is not only OK but desirable? Burning Man has spawned countless trends as attendees return home fired up about their festival experience. Gratitude is an ideal dissemination point for acceptance of these technologies.
Burning Man doesn’t even issue wristbands and that event is spread over miles of inhospitable desert, where a guest who gets lost without adequate water supply could actually die. Gratitude takes place on a small, temperate beach in the middle of civilization. A guest couldn’t get into a life-threatening situation on festival grounds if they tried. Outside the beach is another matter. Keansburg is an economically depressed area that was hit hard by hurricane Sandy and never really recovered. A teenage girl was stabbed there a few days before the festival. One might conceivably argue that guests need protection from the locals, but one could also argue, far more logically, that security is already employed to keep the locals out and should a guest wander into town in search of reasonably-priced food or drinks, the presence of an RFID wristband could signal to a prospective mugger that the individual has money worth stealing and therefore makes a juicier target. As for rapists and murderers, an RFID tag isn’t going to discourage them from their potential crimes.
The Burning Man spirit is one of gifting, sharing, and cooperation, not one of exploitation and cashing in. Yes, this is New York and paying the rent is a major concern, but the financial goal of a party should be merely to pay for itself. This means adequate compensation for musicians, DJs, performers, bartenders, security and other staff, not lining the pockets of the promoters. Forcing guests to pay $14 for cocktails (and insulting their intelligence by claiming bringing their own alcohol was against New Jersey law) merely proved the point that the festival has become a cash cow for the promoters who took over this year from the event’s founder. Last year, a free pina colada stand was set up on the beach complete with blender, ice, rum, frozen fruit and juice. People bartended for their friends and a large number of guests cooled off in the Sunday morning heat without being charged a dime. There is no logical reason why this year’s organizers should have sought to prevent this from re-occurring.
Attendees were encouraged to arrive by boat, though they were instructed to register their craft on the event’s website. In order to control for the “piracy” factor, all toilets were stationed outside the security perimeter, forcing those well-meaning souls who truly believe in the “leave no trace” edict to make their presence known to security every time they wanted to take a leak. These measures didn’t stop infiltrators, as several reports surfaced of locals sneaking in, disrupting performances, harassing guests and otherwise making their discontent apparent. One person blocked a row of port-a-potties with his vehicle, stating his wish to disrupt the festival and telling guests they were not welcome in Keansburg. It’s hard to fault the locals for their resentment - the fences and security, not to mention the 24/7 pounding house music and the fact that attending the festival was economically out of reach for the majority of residents, created a definite Gaza Strip/occupying force vibe, with security guards swaggering up and down the perimeter while residents observed the party from the sliver of beach they had left to themselves. The town of Keansburg has welcomed the festival back two years in a row because of the economic stimulus it has brought to the area, but clearly not everyone is benefiting from the yearly invasion of privileged burners. In future years it might be wise to offer discounted tickets or day passes to locals (I do not know to what extent security and vendors are hired from the area, but if they aren’t already they should be). Gratitude will have to make peace with the locals if organizers don’t want hostilities to escalate, unless they plan on arming security guards next year and really ramping up the totalitarian flavor of the proceedings.
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While I did have fun at the festival, mostly due to circumventing the police-state measures described above, Gratitude in a way made me ashamed to be a New Yorker, especially following as it was so closely on the heels of the decade-old Philly-run regional burn the Philadelphia Experiment. PEX uses wristbands, sure, and guests are required to sign waivers at the gate, but there are no bag checks, no RFID chips, no cash bars, and no security standing between campers and port-a-potties (no security at all, really, except for the rangers who volunteer in lieu of paying for their tickets); bringing one’s own alcohol and food is encouraged, and tickets cost $75 less. If Gratitude embodies the spirit of the New York burner community, it’s because it distills all the worst elements of the city and filters them through a pretentious, pseudo-spiritual Burning Man lens. High rent, over-policing, price gouging, monopolies, crass commercialism, pretension, preoccupation with appearances/surfaces, blatant classism, solipsism and so on - what exactly are we supposed to feel “gratitude” for?
"WHAT DO YOU DO?"
Some of us have a prepared bullshit answer to that question - something vague yet glamorous, with a grain of truth to it, that casts our mundane everyday existences in a flattering light. You work in film, you say, neglecting to add that it’s for a catering company that sometimes supplies food to the sets of big-budget shoots. Some of us mention our artistic pursuits while leaving out our so-called “occupation” only to have our inquisitor push for just that - you play guitar? but what’s your day job? Some of us tell the unvarnished, uninteresting truth about our job as a copy editor for a non-profit that educates veterinarians about the existence of transgendered cats. Sure, it’s not what we went to college for, or what we wanted to do when we were growing up, but it pays the bills, and it’s mildly diverting, and we have some interesting stories from the office, would you like to hear them? You would, of course, because your job as a features editor at the gourmet dog food magazine probably has some interesting and amusing parallels, and maybe you can form a meaningful bond discussing your work stories, and maybe it’ll lead to something more. Say, are you free next Friday? My band is playing at Bowery Electric, and…
Your band? But I thought you were a features editor at Woof Magazine? What is this “band?” Meet the central pitfall of the WDYD paradigm - how it reduces your identity to your occupation, collapses who you are as a person into what you do to pay the bills in an attempt to streamline surface banter and maximize conversational utility. After all, would you have kept talking to that girl if she was a prison guard, or a janitor, or some other incompatible profession? You would? So the question does not maximize conversational utility at all? If you’re interested in that person, you were interested before you knew what they did to pay the rent and will be afterward - barring any truly horrifying, conversation-ending answers like “port-a-john technician” or “fluffer” (and even then, you can probably rationalize your way around them, depending on how much you want to get in their pants) -so why force them to summarize their identity by merging it with their paycheck? What purpose does this serve?
It’s not your fault, of course, that you’ve been conditioned to open conversations with this line. The Neoliberal Conversational Gambit is extremely effective at rewarding those who play the capitalist game and belittling those who don’t, and its innocuous tone renders it suitable for any situation and useful for near-constant reinforcement.
Most so-called “professionals,” particularly those outside of so-called creative fields, have an artistic interest or three, whether it’s acting, painting, music, or something else. These interests are looked upon with something between indulgence and scorn, as one might view the irrational whims of a spoiled child, and termed “hobbies.” Even the unpaid housewife who spends her free time sewing clothing for her kids is patted on the back briefly by her husband and then shown all the spots she missed while vacuuming.
Even self-help books seem to conflate “human being” with “human doing” - not that we should all strive to just hover in stasis, but there’s a wide gap for most people between what they are paid to do, which they would not do if not compensated, and what they would do of their own volition.
By forcing us to identify ourselves with our “occupations,” the favored greeding [Freudian typo] of neoliberal capitalism (What Do You Do i.e. What Purpose Do You Serve i.e. What Do I Stand To Gain From This Encounter) reduces one’s artistic or creative inclinations to the status of “hobbies,” something to be indulged but condescended to, as the whims of a child. Many public schools no longer even offer arts programs, while even private schools designate them “electives” and therefore expendable. Colleges in turn advise students to select majors based on the earning potential of a job linked to that degree - a problem compounded by the necessity of repaying the ever-looming ridiculously expensive student loans required to pay for a university education. As a result, we are watching come of age a generation that, left to their own devices, does little but play video games, watch TV, and get intoxicated. To avoid and ameliorate this problem it is imperative to separate occupation and identity. Doing something should not require either the carrot of money or the stick of punishment.
The average person, trapped in a job she does not particularly enjoy by economic factors, spends a good portion of her free time merely decompressing from job-related stress—by the time she feels sufficiently relaxed and clear-headed to tackle an artistic project or creative endeavor, the weekend is over and it’s back to the office/factory. A sort of tunnel vision develops as a coping mechanism to allow her to effectively compartmentalize her personal and professional lives and god forbid the twain should mix. Encountering friends while dressed for work brings on a sense of vertiginous shame. She may not even immediately recognize them, or they her.
The Neoliberal Greeting may occasion a sigh, a dancing-around-the-issue, or an outright lie in all but the person who has most successfully merged his personal and occupational identities. Some of these are the lucky ones who’ve managed to make a living doing “what they love,” but too many are those who’ve convinced themselves to love what they do merely because they spend so much time doing it that it would be cognitive dissonance to immerse themselves so thoroughly in an idea they hate, almost a form of temporal Stockholm Syndrome in which one is held hostage to the job and the system that hands out the goodies that allow one to live the good parts of one’s life. Others may answer the question with the contents of their artistic endeavors even if said art is not their “day job” - one would be hard-pressed to find an aspiring actress who admitted to new friends that she spent most of her time waiting tables - but she knows she is not being entirely truthful and the gap between what she IS and what she WANTS TO BE yawns ever wider, exacerbating her personal dissatisfaction and perhaps pushing her away from the artistic path and towards a more financially rewarding, socially acceptable “occupation” - one she doesn’t have to lie about to friends, one her family members will be proud of, one that will support her and her children in future years.
It may seem obvious but we need to remember that we are not the sum of what we are paid to do. Our culture needs to divorce itself from this cradle-to-grave conditioning, this linking of personal worth to paycheck size. Many of us have contributions to make that those in power do not value but those without power value immensely. What would life be without music? Without art? Yet compensation in these fields is limited only to the most “successful,” who all too frequently reach that status based on connections rather than merit. I wish I knew what the solution was. Patreon-type donations seem to be a step in the right direction. But on a personal level, we can start by not opening a conversation with that question unless we are interested in a genuine answer that reaches beyond the crass realm of economics.Add a comment
Restless? Nervous? Need a way to let off some steam? You could be like the rest of the human race over the past tens of thousands of years and fidget with whatever object happens to be within easy reach - a pen, a paper clip, your phone, even a loose flap of skin on your finger are worthy vessels for your excess nervous energy. Or you could do the modern thing and pay “$5 and up” for the hot new toy that has swept young and old alike - the Fidget Spinner.
1. Because we clearly need more objects in our lives! The average contemporary household owns 300,000 things, at least twice as much as it did 50 years ago. How many more thousands do YOU have? Clearly, you need another - that fidget spinner is so lonely without you.
2. Because you’re not allowed to learn to be comfortable spending time alone with your thoughts. Our society is 100% outward-directed and from a young age we are socialized to consider “loners” to be at best misguided weirdos to be led (or medicated) back into the social fold and at worst dangerous loonies to be forcefully socialized via behavioral or chemical intervention. Taking time to think about some pressing matter in your life - whatever it might be that is inspiring the excess of nervous energy driving you to fidget, perhaps - is frowned upon. You must divert your attention at all costs. The fidget spinner is perfect for those few situations where whipping out your phone to browse social media is a non-starter (during meetings, say, or if you’re caught with that horror of horrors - a dead battery).
3. Because toy “fads” have a time-honored tradition of hooking even the most resistant kids into a lifetime of consumerism, of defining themselves based on their possessions relative to those of their peers. There is a thriving community on YouTube of kids demonstrating the tricks they can do with their spinners, what cool spinners they have managed to either buy themselves or guilt mom and dad into buying for them, even unboxing the spinners. The unboxing videos have an unsettling erotic subtext that would explain why amazon can get away with charging three times the street price for the same spinner (which, sold off tables on the streets of New York, comes without a box).
4. Because the idea of buying an item from a corporation to alleviate your excess nervous energy reinforces society’s externalization process, the seeking of outside solutions to internal problems. As children we are taught not to solve our problems ourselves but to go to the teacher or another authority figure. As adults, if we have a conflict with another person, we are taught to go to the police or to file a suit in court rather than dealing with the other person on a more basic level. If we are poor or in need, we are taught to go to the government rather than to ask for help from family, friends, or neighbors. The entire paradigm consists of an externalization of all problem solving with the end result of forcing the individual to become dependent on the state. The state then tidily washes its hands of its responsibility for its citizens, citing the “free market” while it pays billions out to its preferred defense contractors in lieu of funding domestic programs meant to lift people out of poverty. One elevates poor people to the middle class - the other simply kills them - both diminish the number of poor people in the world, but I’d hope the majority of humanity can agree on which holds the moral high ground…
Don’t mistake the marketing of the fidget spinner to young and old as an attempt to cross generational lines, either. The product is for arrested-development millennials on the higher end of the age scale and the ever-growing ranks of ADHD children on the lower age. Parents who pick up their child’s fidget spinner for a guilty pleasure will not reveal to their children that they have done so unless they want to utterly annihilate the spinner’s utility as a tool to calm their child. Watching mom spin the hot new toy immediately renders the toy lukewarm, even cold, and the anti-fad will spread like wildfire through junior’s classmates. Even the non-arrested-development adults (the boss, for example) will twirl a fidget spinner while on a smoke break to make themselves look cool to their employees (and maybe put off giving them that 5% raise they’ve been asking for). Did i say smoke? i meant vape. No one smokes anymore.
The inventor of the fidget spinner, who is currently writhing in horror as her invention rakes in millions for various faceless corporations just a few years after her patent on the invention expired, created it after watching children throw rocks at policemen in Israel, ostensibly in an effort to keep kids out of trouble. Docility in the face of authority is the primary purpose of this fad and its relatives. The fidget spinner captures that elusive segment of the population - technology-resistant parents and their “free range” kids - and lures them into the dominant paradigm. If something makes you feel uneasy, fidget till you don’t care anymore! Later on, of course, they can become happy consumers of pharmaceuticals, but mom and dad aren’t going to go for a course of antidepressants or amphetamines if they won’t even let junior have a smartphone, so we’ll have to wait till he’s out of the house to start writing prescriptions. Maybe we can have his classmates give him a handful of oxy’s and get him that way. Damn these techphobic parents and their well-adjusted brats.
Fidget spinners are the ultimate gateway drug - to consumerism, to passive acceptance of the dominant culture, to looking externally for the solutions to your problems.
“But they’re just toys!” sure. and Bloomberg is just a businessman, and Bill Gates is just a computer programmer, and Donald Trump is just a reality TV star; the bible, koran and torah are just books, printed on dead trees; a cigar is just a cigar. Use your imagination if it hasn’t been totally atrophied by the fidget spinners and their more sophisticated digital cousins of the world.Add a comment
I am a feminist in the sense that I believe that females are entitled to the same rights as males. My identification with the term ends there. I do not consider myself a victim of the patriarchy. While I feel sometimes that less has been expected of me as a woman, my experience has been that other women have been at least as guilty as men of expecting less of me and other females. It can be argued that this is due to the pervasive nature of the patriarchy - that women are conditioned to expect less of other women because our society perceives them as less-than by default - but the degree to which this trickles down into individual interactions suggests that this is less imposed from outside than internalized, willful behavior.
To put things more clearly - when in a position of power, women are more likely to fuck over other women than men are. In my interactions with authority figures, I have been “oppressed” much more egregiously by women than men. Women seem to take special pride in crushing the hopes and ambitions of their fellow women - I do not know why this is, but it has been my experience time and time again.
When I was growing up, teachers and professors of both sexes mostly treated me fairly - until I got to college. There were several administrators - always female - and a few meddlesome teachers - also female - who made a special point of either interfering in the pursuit of my studies or actively making it impossible to continue. Administrators at Columbia University contrived to have me placed on medical leave under false circumstances (a baldly sexist, stereotypical “eating disorder”-based narrative that fell apart under medical scrutiny but which they still were able to use to strong-arm me out of campus). This abuse of power makes more sense in light of my later discovery that college administrators are actually paid fees by eating disorder and other “recovery” clinics for the referral of patients, but does not explain why I was singled out. I used to joke that it was a bitter fat woman who saw me eating a donut and wanted vengeance, but my humor may not be so far from the truth. Middle-management types, who have some power yet are insecure in their positions, seek to cement their positions or grasp for more power through the oppression of others; since their power is limited, however, they cannot oppress everyone in their purview. I will admit I stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb at Columbia with my flamboyant outfits and then-skinny ass. My confidence and the joy I visibly experienced living life on my own for the first time may have rubbed certain administrators the wrong way. Was this a witch hunt born of jealousy? Looking back on the character of the two women who orchestrated my removal from the school, I’d be inclined to say yes. Both were dour-faced, aging, irrelevant professionals who served no real purpose in a functioning student body - they were only called upon if students were having ‘problems.’ Too often there is an incentive to create such ‘problems,’ thus reassuring these professionals that they are needed, even valued. If the student body is mentally and physically healthy, they may experience an existential crisis and tag certain students who don’t blend in well enough as victims.
After an all too brief respite from institutional persecution at the New School, I attended and was summarily chased out of graduate school at New York University. Admittedly, I was not adjusting to my return to academia very well and was missing a lot of classes. I approached two of my professors to talk about the assignments I had missed and how I might catch up and they (helpfully, I thought at the time) referred me to a guidance counselor who would help me to better manage my time, balancing schoolwork with my part-time job and the rest of my life. These duplicitous (female) creeps (I might add that none of my male professors ever tried something like this when i approached them to ask about catching up on work) had actually referred me to the medical arm of student services, where two women proceeded to whip out a bunch of medical equipment and try to stall for time while they rustled up a psychiatrist. I left, for obvious reasons, and they had 8 EMTs and 2 cops break down my apartment door and drag me to the nearest psych ward as an “emotionally disturbed person.” How these women-in-power (again, middle management types who serve no function if students are mentally and physically healthy) made the logical leap from moderate absenteeism to inpatient hospitalization is a mystery, but my refusal to submit to a medical examination - calling their expertise into question - must have enraged them. Acting as if I knew better than they regarding my own medical condition brought down the wrath of their pettiness and motivated them to turn the full force of their university-sanctioned power on me so I’d know never to step out of line again. I was fortunate enough to be able to convince the (male) doctor of the psych ward that I was not in fact suicidal or otherwise disturbed, but only after spending the night on the ward, where among other horrors, I witnessed 5 hospital orderlies hold down a screaming man and stab him in the neck with a giant syringe. That night, still somewhat hysterical from the trauma of having my door ripped off its hinges and being bodily manhandled into an ambulance by 10 EMTs (men, in this case - it’s not all so cut and dried - but at least the male cop was willing to stand guard over my violated apartment until the door could be replaced and nothing was stolen upon my return), the female doctor had decided I was definitely a risk to myself and had to be kept overnight for observation. The next morning, somehow, I was all better. One would think a female doctor would recognize that tears are a natural emotional response to trauma in women and that any normal person would feel traumatized having their living space violated by a bunch of strange men, but perhaps she felt the need to appear less sensitive in order to impress someone - perhaps she felt her power threatened, or would otherwise lose status if she let a prospective patient go. I am also certain that at least one of those professors and school nurses received a monetary kickback from the hospital for referring me - I later received a bill for over $1300 which I forwarded to NYU and never heard anything about again. Thanks to these dictatorial bitches, I was unable to finish the semester at NYU and never returned. It was 6 months before I could hear an ambulance slow down outside my apartment without having a panic attack.
I do not think that male administrators would have reacted in the same way to my existence. In my experience, they have been less willing to interfere in the personal lives of their charges. My (male) faculty and thesis advisors at the New School were very supportive and encouraging. I do not feel they expected anything less of me because I was female, and even my occasional class absences were never cause for alarm. At Columbia, a male professor gave me a B in his class even though I never wrote my final paper because I had already received the news I was being kicked out - this was the height of empathy as far as I’m concerned - it would have been obvious to any observer that I was utterly crushed at being ejected for illegitimate reasons from the school I’d looked forward to attending for so long. Of course, neither of the women responsible for that ejection could see (or admitted they could see) why returning to my parents’ home and receiving a year-long course of treatment for a problem I did not have was utterly repugnant to me. I think certain women (women in power, at least) purposefully stop themselves from feeling or expressing empathy for other women because they do not want to appear weak.
As part of a legal case when I was young and stupid, I was enrolled in a six-month course of day rehab in order to avoid jail time. The woman in charge of my case allowed me to make it almost completely through the course, flunking me on a drug test halfway through the fifth month and accusing me of having drank alcohol. The accusation was laughable given the amount of time alcohol remains in the body - I would have had to have imbibed that morning for it to show up in the afternoon’s piss test - but logic had nothing on this woman. She knew I was there basically against my will and resented me for not going to 12-step groups on my own time in addition to the three sessions I already had to attend every week on top of my classes at college. My scorn for the recovery “program” was obvious - I didn’t have a drug problem, and had I had one, this lackluster form of ‘therapy’ would have been completely ineffective. People recover from addictions because they want to recover, not because they’ve turned over control of their lives to a ‘higher power’ or submitted to the regurgitated psychobabble of unskilled “therapists” whose training consists of an 18-month certification program. Clearly, I was the uppity nail here that had to be hammered down. It doesn’t hurt that these recovery facilitators are (again) paid per patient they refer to residential programs. I was told I would be taken to one program, which was bad enough as I did not want to be locked up for 4 weeks for an addiction I did not have, but then taken to another place entirely - kidnapped, essentially. I believe the only reason I was able to return home that day is that the program did not take my insurance and when informed of the amount it would cost for me to stay there I simply said I did not have the money and that my parents would not pay for it as they didn’t know where I was. Unable to milk any cash out of me, they sent me home and told me to go to a hospital because clearly my “symptoms,” consisting of an increasingly rapid heartbeat, were due to drug withdrawal (when I hadn’t even smoked a joint for the last six months due to constant drug testing and my desire not to go to jail). In reality, I had been experiencing mounting panic since realizing I had been taken to a mysterious facility and was wondering if I’d even make it out alive. The (female) nurse who allowed me to leave was utterly unlike the other women in these episodes & I am grateful to her for at least somewhat saving my life. I later saw my original case manager on the subway and she looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. Perhaps I wasn’t meant to walk out of that inpatient center at all.
Writ large, the phenomenon of female oppression can be seen in the person of Hillary Clinton. Observe her willingness to bomb the living shit out of the Middle East, reducing one of the region’s most progressive countries (Libya, which had the highest standard of living in Africa, a high literacy rate, and a well-educated female populace) to a failed state where women no longer have rights. Or Madeline Albright, when asked if the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children was “worth it” in order to topple the secular “dictator” Saddam Hussein, answering in the affirmative. Any human being with the slightest shred of empathy would feel remorse or repulsion having committed these acts. These women and others like them (Victoria Nuland, Samantha Power, Condoleezza Rice and so on) I believe are overcompensating for their gender, trying to be more male than the men and in the process suppressing normal human emotion and behavior. I have no desire to feel solidarity with these dysfunctional creatures and they should not be held up as examples for other women to follow.
This is not to say I feel no solidarity with the average woman. I have plenty of friends who are female. But I also have plenty of ex-friends who are female, united in their tendency to stab me in the back with dishonesty, pettiness, passive-aggression and other underhanded betrayals. I value my friends who are honest women that much more because they are so tragically rare. This idea that all women must compete and take each other down if we want to come out ahead has set us against each other in a way that will require a lot of deprogramming to overcome.
The Crab Claw Mentality references the behavior of crabs in a boiling pot of water. A crab will reach the rim of the pot, trying to escape, and the other crabs will pull him back into the water rather than let him escape. Jealousy is seemingly ingrained even into these supposedly simple creatures. This is not a trait imposed by the patriarchy - this is a fundamental characteristic of humanity, and women are taught to nurture it - that it is somehow necessary in their rise to power or necessary for them to keep their power. Men seem more aware that power is not a finite resource - none of this is a zero sum game. Women are distracted into backbiting and passive aggression while men go on to run companies and countries. The truly great women in history are those who have avoided petty rivalries and power-for-power’s-sake and focused on their dreams and ambitions, collaborating and cooperating when it helps their ends but otherwise avoiding the typical pitfalls of what society defines as femininity. I am ashamed to be part of a crab-claw subset of humanity. Let’s not be.Add a comment
Political correctness sprang from a noble desire to avoid offending women, minorities and other typically marginalized groups through language. Sexist, racist and other pejorative terms referencing minorities from homosexuals to the handicapped were frowned upon, first in academic circles and gradually within the general population.
Unfortunately, what began as a laudable initiative has gone too far. Merely uttering the wrong word in classroom discourse can spark protests and the loss of a professor’s job or tenure. Offending a well-connected student with an online platform to vent their offense can mobilize vast segments of the liberal blogosphere against a hapless teacher, school newspaper, or administration. Entire websites have sprung up explaining the rainbow of politically correct terms for slivers of gender identity that didn’t even exist ten years ago. Internet commenters engage in episodes of “oppression olympics,” trading barbs about the other’s privilege - he grew up black and rich, while she was white and poor and also a queer woman, so who has it worse? Great works of literature with potentially distressing themes - rape, for example, or slavery - now are written into lesson plans encased in “trigger warnings,” lest students respond emotionally to the material in a way they find distressing (a process that might once have been called “making them think”).
When did the emotional maturity of a five-year-old scared of monsters under the bed become a prerequisite for college admission? Like the parents of the child in kindergarten with a peanut allergy, the hyper-politically-correct have come out to demand “safe spaces” on college campuses where students can avoid any potentially hurtful terms, discrimination, or the nebulous “micro aggressions,” these difficult-to-define encounters which seem innocent on the surface but theoretically build up to cause great psychological harm in those on the receiving end, perpetuating discriminatory structures and creating an atmosphere of oppression on campus.
The proponents of “safe spaces” who decry the rampant micro aggressions of the typical college environment are looking to create padded rooms for the next generation, bubbles in which students’ ideas, preconceived notions and identities cannot be challenged - with the result that they will are in suspended animation, incapable of growing and learning as people. Universities are traditionally places to argue over ideas, and arguments require confrontation. Terming any such confrontations “micro aggressions” defangs the intellectual battlefield in the name of emotional well-being. Moreover, the vicious backlash against anyone accused of impinging on these “safe spaces” is hardly tolerant or considerate of THEIR emotional well-being. The micro aggression police are nothing if not hypocritical.
How well, psychologically and emotionally, will these students be when they graduate and are thrust into the real world, replete as it is not only with legions of “micro aggressions” but also REAL racism, sexism, “able-ism” and other forms of discrimination? The safe-space bubble cannot protect them outside the rarified university environment, while those years they should have spent shoring up their identities and gaining confidence in themselves and their ideas were instead spent being coddled by administrations treating the students more like a glass menagerie than a human zoo. Unsurprisingly, rates of depression and anxiety have been on the rise in recent years - a 2014 survey by the American College Health Association notes a 5% increase in just one year of students reporting they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the last 12 months, and the same organization cited a survey of campus mental health directors reporting an increase in students displaying “severe psychological problems.” So much for psychological and emotional well-being.
For a culture that trumpets free speech as one of its defining values, we are systematically dismantling it in the name of political correctness, and this has to stop where it began - in the universities.Add a comment
(in a world of whales, we might have something to learn from hardcore calorie restricters)
(please read the article before commenting)
Anorexia nervosa has been a favored movie-of-the-week topic for decades. What’s more photogenic than stick-thin teenage girls pouting their way into early graves? Their anguish on the path to recovery is the stuff of which award-winning documentaries are made, be they crafted with Barbie dolls (who said plastic isn’t fantastic?) or real humans. These films highlight the egregious mistakes that have been enshrined in the pantheon of eating disorder treatment and shine a light on the regrettable hysteria surrounding the disease.
In one documentary about preteen anorexics, a woman who runs an eating disorder clinic explains that while her clinic only keeps girls for three months, full recovery from the disease takes anywhere from one to three years and requires constant supervision by a team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and nutritionists. This is wrong on so many levels and is an affront to these girls’ autonomy. The only way they will recover from their problems is to move on - find something productive and positive to do with their lives, rather than focus on their eating disorders for the next three years. Centering their lives on their disease strains family relationships - often forcing already-overprotective parents into an even more intrusive role in their daughter’s life and generating resentment from siblings who feel neglected as a result of all the attention paid to the anorexic - and minimizes other, healthier aspects of their lives.
Eating disorder “therapy” at these clinics generally consists of force-feeding and unproductive group therapy sessions- unproductive because anorexics are by nature not social creatures and the last thing they want to do is air their problems before the judging eyes of their peers. Throwing a bunch of anorexics into a group-living situation is guaranteed to create a competitive atmosphere, so the girls who genuinely want to get better will be discouraged from doing so when they see others attempt to beat the system by cheating at weigh-ins or meal times. Obviously if a person is experiencing acute health problems and their weight is dangerously low, hospitalization is the only route, but once they have regained their health they should return home immediately and get back on track with their lives rather than dwell on their eating disorder.
The stated goal of these clinics is to take thin girls and produce heavier girls. “Curing” them comes later - years later, according to the aforementioned clinic owner. Girls are rewarded for cleaning their plates, plates stacked with 2500+ calories of food - 500 more than a normal person eats in a day - and punished if they fail to stuff themselves to the bursting point on muffins, burgers and fries. Rather than fixing the anorexic’s unhealthy relationship with food, this regime pushes it to the opposite extreme - one girl in the documentary is terrified that if she does not finish the massive dessert she is served during a restaurant visit with her family she will not be allowed to go home from the clinic on time. “Eating oneself out of the clinic” - obeying food rules in the hope of being discharged early while failing to address the underlying psychological causes of one’s eating disorder - is frowned upon, yet meaningful therapeutic intervention is utterly absent from the clinical setting. No attention is paid to the permanent damage the girls are doing to their metabolisms by vacillating between feast and famine.
Some clinics don’t stop at overfeeding in their goal to fatten up their patients. Boston Children’s Hospital notoriously used antipsychotic drugs like Zyprexa and Risperdal known for their potential to induce weight gain as off-label treatment for anorexics who they believed weren’t gaining weight fast enough on the meal plan. Never mind that Eli Lilly, Zyprexa’s manufacturer, was the subject of a class-action lawsuit by patients who developed type-2 diabetes after taking the drug, in addition to other metabolic side effects. Get some weight on those girls fast.
This cavalier disregard for patients’ welfare at the expense of their weight cuts to the core of what is wrong with eating disorder treatment in this country. The hysteria surrounding anorexia, which affects approximately 1-4% of young females, is utterly disproportionate to the harm it causes. Complications from anorexia are responsible for death in .5% of patients - too many, to be sure, but nothing compared to the damage caused by obesity. In the US, 36% of women AND men are considered obese. Complications from obesity, such as heart disease and stroke, are among the top killers in the world. Yet with more than two-thirds of American adults classified as overweight, the obese blend in more easily and are even considered normal.
It’s somehow OK to shout “eat a sandwich!” at a skinny girl walking down the street, but yelling “go on a diet, fatty!” is tantamount to holocaust denial. When did this become the status quo? Were all the sane social critics eaten by this encroaching onslaught of fatties? They have infiltrated American cultural institutions, taking up positions as cultural editor of Salon and GQ, pushing their pro-fat agenda at the expense of health and common sense. Thin girls are banned from the runways of Paris, despite the obvious benefits to designers of using less fabric and not having to work around the unpredictable curves of fuller-figured women. The “Health At Every Size” movement is clearly a joke, as they are the ones most vociferously calling for the crucifixion of the petite. Merely existing as a thin person in meatspace is considered to be oppressing the large.
After all that, is it really a surprise that the rate of eating disorders is on the rise along with the rate of obesity? Any reasonable girl growing up in a society where overweight is the norm is going to be repulsed by the swamp of gluttony in which she resides and will want to rise above it. Whether she does it in a healthy manner - by eating well and exercising - or whether she starves herself is immaterial. Eating disorders are a reaction to the rising tide of fat engulfing the western world. Sure, every anorexic has her own reasons for her behavior, but skinny fashion models have nothing to do with the matter. No one ever starved herself because she saw too many pictures of Kate Moss in the 90s, despite the misguided cries of “fat-positive” “feminists.” Obesity is a society-wide problem; anorexia is a reaction. Both are dysfunctional coping mechanisms. We are a society of over-consumers taught to find satisfaction outside ourselves instead of cultivating our intellects and imaginations. Body fascism is not the answer.Add a comment
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