Category Archives: Culture

A New Volkisch Mythos

Greta is able to see what other people cannot see.  She can see carbon dioxide with the naked eye. She sees how it flows out of chimneys and and changes the atmosphere in a landfill.

— Malena Ernman, Scenes from the heart. Our life for the climate (mother of Greta Thunberg),May 3, 2019

If you want to be more ecologically minded, good for you. But don’t be under the bizarre American illusion that your individual action is a substitute for collective action, for systemic change.

— Umair Haque, Medium, May 2019

A psychotic world we live in. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this?

— Phillip K. Dick, Man in the High Castle, January 24, 2012

There is a clear problem with most environmental discussions or debates. The problem is, in short form, a lack of class analysis.

This is most evident in the manufacturing of the overpopulation argument. But it is prevalent in nearly all discussions about global warming or rising sea levels or most anything relating to planetary ecology, really.

What is bothersome here is that the voices I am hearing warning of mankind’s immanent demise are mostly ruling class voices.

Richard Leakey says:

I am increasingly convinced that in the tropics, and particularly in the poorer nations, protecting nature everywhere is an effort with diminishing returns. I believe that protected areas (that is areas of land set aside by governments and governed by national statutes) such as national parks and national forests are the best targets if nature is to be protected.

So give up on the poor, can’t save them.

And Leakey goes on:

Whilst state-owned wildlife land, designated as national parks, is vital, in some countries private land may also be secured by state laws that allow for private ownership of title. Thus an individual can use such land for wildlife and nature protection for the duration of the term of the title and this can be equally as secure as a national park.

Okay, so create spaces for the rich to be safe from the restive natives.

And finally Leakey writes:

Not all countries have constitutional provision for private ownership of land, and instead occupancy and land use are regulated by lease hold. In respect to conservation, this is certainly a better option than group-owned or community-owned land where in time wildlife could be untenable given governance arrangements on community-owned assets.

As a general trend what I am hearing is the validation of what amounts to royalist wisdom and the dangers of community control of anything. The message is ‘we can’t risk it, the danger is so extreme that the practical solution is to allow the elite class to control the planet in order to save it.’ The elites and/or corporate control. All the so-called New Green Dealsolutions are there, it seems, to save capitalism before saving the planet.

Now, one of the curious contradictions in the climate discourse is the selective trust in certain institutions. The western based (and funded) NGOs have a pretty long track record now of craven support for U.S. government foreign policy decisions. Take Amnesty International’s (AI) recent comments on Venezuela.

Chuck Kauffman from Alliance for Global Justice observed vis a vis AI’s near fascistic litany of lies: “They don’t seem to even care about their credibility anymore.” The open naked Imperialist aggression against Venezuela, and the attendant propaganda slandering Maduro, is now a staple of all the candidates for the Democratic Party. And, Amnesty is also co founder of Global Campaign for Climate Action…a group that also receives monies from the Pew trust, the creepy AVAAZ, the World Wildlife Fund, and Union of Concerned Scientists. Now, just a quick word on the UCS. On the board sits William K. Reilly, former appointee by George Bush to head the environmental protection agency. There are also members that sit on the Council for Foreign Relations, a nuclear scientist who writes on security issues, a lawyer for the US Dept. of Energy.

And yet, many people rightly concerned about global pollution and over industrialization seem to have no problem accepting the word of these same western backed NGOs when it comes to issues of ecology. They know Amnesty lies, but if the topic is climate change, they leap onboard. Clive Splash (He currently holds the Chair of Public Policy and Governance at Vienna University of Economics and Business, appointed in 2010. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Environmental Values) writes:

The existing institutions of modern economies are those supporting economic growth. The growth priority has been made clear by the over 3500 economists supporting a climate tax and opposing structural change. Similarly, Lord Stern is the academic figure head of the New Climate Economy, a concept created by members of the Davos elite, with its ‘Better Growth, Better Climate’ reports. Their explicitly stated concern is that: “In the long term, if climate change is not tackled, growth itself will be at risk.” Change is coming and the corporations and billionaires are fully aware of this. They have been actively lobbying on climate and environment since Johannesburg (Earth Summit 2002) and were a dominant force at Paris. They have also long been seeking to control the environmental movement for their own ends.

Again, we hear that echo of the ruling class (Lord ….LORD Stern?!) and the anti communist agenda at work here. Leave it to the elite class, the captains of Capital, to decide policy. And the first order of business is to save capitalism and that means to save growth. The poor are there to be slaves, not to decide policy. What one sees in Extinction Rebellion and in the Greta Thunberg brand is described pithily by Clive Splash…”When hegemonic power is threatened it captures the movement leaders and neutralises them by bringing them into the power circles and takes the initiative away from radical revolutionary change.”

One of the refrains I have heard (and have had directed at me) is, well, we can’t wait for socialism. This is a natural response from a very frightened populace. And it is exactly this response that the ruling class counts on. The infiltration of radical movements has a long sordid history. Ask the Black Panthers. Today the very real threats and dangers of global warming and over-industrialization are being funneled into places that shift the blame from the ruling two or three percent and onto its victims. This is, of course, exactly what the overpopulation alarm does. I see headlines such as *Humans Plunder the Planet* but not *Ruling Class Plundering Humanity AND the Planet*. I see books such as Climategeddon — amusingly penned by a former author of diet self help books and…wait for it….a high ranking Scientologist. But I have had people quote Wollersheim to me. Next stop the Sea Org.
More trenchant was this week’s bit of Imperialist green concern from war friendly candidate Elizabeth Warren, who expressed worry that global warming might effect the readiness of America’s military. (death of irony moment?) On twitter Club de Cordeliers noted…

Under Warren’s proposal, each murdered child will be stamped with the slogan: This Killing Achieved with Net Zero Carbon Emissions.

That the U.S. military is the greatest consumer of petroleum products worldwide seems beside the point. Or, let’s return briefly to Greta Thunberg — who can probably just be referred to as *Greta* these days without risk of confusion. She held up a cute homemade sign for a selfie …tweeting it to jillions of followers. The sign read ‘Let Russia Strike for Climate’. Apparently the *Greta* is getting good advice from Hillary Clinton or Bolton or Elliot Abrams, someone — who knows. She is certainly to be considered *NATO friendly* at this point. The visibility that Elizabeth Warren commands, and that which Greta commands now, too, is an indication that one should be highly credulous. The giant electronic telecom giants and the mainstream electronic media, social media, TV, all of it is in the hands of a relatively few people. These narratives, all of them, are vetted for ideological compliance with corporatism, Imperialism, and a de-facto racism or better put, white supremacy. Visibility is earned, and it’s not arbitrary. And if a *Greta* suddenly appears, rest assured she has handlers. I mean, it’s simply a given, and there are no exceptions.

So there are several problems looming that tangentially connect to overpopulation alarms. One of them is a recolonizing of Africa (and the recolonizing of former communist countries continues apace, as well). But here Africa, in particular, is viewed as a huge resource for raw materials sought after in the West. The re-colonizing takes several forms but here is a typical example.

As Cory Morningstar observed vis a vis this …“Can you imagine @WWF promoting the sterilization of women living around national parks in Europe or the US? The fact they consider it acceptable in India and Africa is racism, pure and simple.”

The white west (and Bill and Melinda Gates leading the charge) are rather unapologetically determined to stop the global south from reproducing. Sterilization and vasectomy suggestions (voluntary, of course) are to be found in countless U.N. sponsored (and USAID sponsored) pamphlets and directives for missions in Africa.

The new alarmist propaganda tends toward sensationalizing what are a few basic truths, sometimes half truths, and building a sort of screenplay to a disaster movie out of these. The influence of Hollywood apocalyptic film and TV cannot be over-emphasized, actually. For those films are both unconscious projections of the ruling class, and the audience embrace of this stuff speaks to unconscious fears as well. The elite producers of this crap fear the marauding masses (zombies) and the bourgeois audience fear black sites and Bloody Gina’s reprisals if they stray too far off message (like voting for a third party). A good deal of the new environmental panic is not based on the actual (and I hasten to emphasize real) problems and crises, but are more the conditioned response from audiences trained for thirty years, at least, to kitsch media entertainments. People see life unfold like an action movie. Sea levels can’t just rise and destroy infrastructure and crops, wash away beach front property, no, they have to completely submerge Baltimore, Oslo, and London. The sum effect of this is actually to have the real and severe problems in retreat.

Watch Madonna’s Eurovision performance (in Israel where she was never not going to perform), with lyrics like “not everyone is coming to the future, not everyone is gonna last.”

There is now coming out of Hollywood a near endless stream of dystopian ‘end of times’ films, which (as I have noted before) are reconstruction fables as well. But now the end of times includes the rehabilitation of Big Brother. The state emerges as a sort of necessary mechanism for culling the herd. Madonna was also sporting blond plaited hair and an eye patch. So maybe it’s just me but this new volkish imagery is growing and being used in ways that familiarize the public with fascist motifs.

Thus, when we are talking about “völkisch” or “Überfremdung,” we are automatically producing images that are inevitably linked to a fascist past. “Überfremdung” describes the fear of being flooded with foreigners, a foreign infiltration. The Duden dictionary explained the term in 1934 as “the intrusion of alien races.” ( ) What is concerning about these “poor words” in the first place is the imagery inherent to them, one that conveys fascism without speaking it. Such words are racist in establishing a hierarchy of ethnicity and, in that way, they have the potential to createm or exacerbate, false divisions between and within societies. The word “völkisch” creates a sense of belonging, an imaginal feature to help distinguish between the in-group and the out-group. The word “Überfremdung” works similarly by implying that there is an abundance of strangers invading the ‘German race.’ What seems to have changed, however, is the definition of the out-group or the enemy. Promoted by PEGIDA and the AfD, the new threat are Muslim immigrants and the idea of the “Islamization” of the Western culture. Thus, this becomes a powerful example for the political myth of the clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.

— Alexa Lenz, Public Seminar, July 14, 2017

The ideological road to National Socialism was paved not by Nietzschean self-awareness and self-overcoming, but by völkisch self-congratulation.

Roderick Stackelberg, Idealism Debased: From Volkisch Ideology to National Socialism, March 1, 1981

The first volley in the reclamation of volkish language was Bush’s use of the word “Homeland” when he created a new security service. Quite a few people noticed the connection to the German word Heimat. The far right parties in Europe now appropriate a good deal of Nazi symbology, while the even more virulent racism of a Macron (or Sarkozy) is ignored. PEGIDA and the AfD, in Germany, are really pretty much openly using Nazi rhetoric and symbol (both of which are technically against the law).

Cassirer (1973) analyzed three potential techniques that enabled the myth of Nazism: the magical use of words, the use of rituals and, finally, the recourse to prophecy. Nazi politicians managed to charge words with feelings and violent passions, therefore transforming their semantic meaning to convey magical imagery.

—Alexa Lenz, (Ibid.)

I will only add here, as a sort of thought experiment, that one compare the TIME magazine cover of Greta, with the photos in, what Remco Ensel, in an excellent monograph on the Dutch “Heimat” portrait photography called *Dutch Face-ism”, an expression of Völkisch Nationalism circa WW2 and tell me there is no equivalence. (or the VICE lead photo, or even Greta’s facebook portrait).

Now I know there are many people who will perceive this as an attack on Greta. It’s not. I am certain this young woman has almost zero awareness of any of the implications of her exploitation. And remember, too, that one of the most common rhetorical tactics of fascist apologetics (pretending to be liberal) is to re-state your argument incorrectly and then to respond to their manufactured distortion. It’s a version of straw man arguing. Couple this with the convenient appellation *denier*. If you say, wait, there were no rape camps in Serbia. You are immediately labeled a denier. It matters not at all that you would be correct in saying this. The corporate ruling class take-over of many green movements has a sum effect of reducing rights. For that is the logic of fascism. Remove rights but create space for the self expression of resentments. Property rights will remain untouched.

The opportunistic proprietor class capitalist sees enormous profit in Green endeavours now. Just as Mike Pompeo sees melting arctic ice as an “opportunity”. Never underestimate the capacity for brutish insensitivity in the lower functioning humanoids that serve as representatives of the ruling elite. It is bottomless, in fact. Bolton, Pompeo, Abrams, Kushner, Biden…this is the Troglodyte political class.

Brian Davey wrote about Thunberg, vis a vis her appearance in Katowice at a climate gathering:

What’s more it is richest 5% of the planet that consume 50% of planetary carbon – so the very people who are promoting this campaign must cut back the most. Instead they want to expand the economy. But how is this to be made compatible with reducing carbon emissions?

It isn’t – but a careful looks at the language of nature financialisation refers to carbon neutrality, not zero carbon. This is “convenient language when one of the main pillars of the business model is the sale of carbon offsets – rationalizing a continuance of the same carbon based lifestyle by constructing a faux fantasy one, that anyone with monetary wealth, can buy into.

— Brian Davey, Credo; Economic Beliefs in a World in Crises, January 2015

This is a bit like buying indulgences in the Medieval Catholic Church. So perhaps what is needed is a Martin Luther of environmentalism.

The ruling class and its marketing apparatus recognized early on that Green language would serve as cover while they re-tooled their industries. Green took on those magical connotations. Cut to Greta’s mother explaining that her daughter was *different*; i.e. magical. She could *see* carbon dioxide. Trust me there will be green Angels, soon, helping further carbon neutrality.

But there is another issue cutting across much of this, and that is a strange new war on children (and on motherhood in the global south, and black mothers in the U.S.). Although *new* is the wrong word. Whether by design of just as a natural tendency in the residual Puritans of America, the media message has been of late to normalize cruelty to children. From tearing babies from the arms of immigrant mothers and dropping them into cages, or the arrest of suspension of due process in Israeli arrests of children and youth, to the spike in jail time for minors across the U.S. In the 1990s, incarceration of minors rose 311 %.

Across the United States, thousands of children have been sentenced as adults and sent to adult prisons. Children as young as eight have been prosecuted as adults { } Some 10,000 children are housed in adult jails and prisons on any given day in America. Children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities and face increased risk of suicide.

—Equal Justice Initative, Children in Prison 2018

The rates for youth have declined slightly over the last few years but mostly due to teenagers aging out of the statistics. That ANY child was ever tried as an adult is all by itself a horror. In the U.S. infants born to black mothers die at twice the rate of those born to white mothers. Poverty is the obvious first reason, but structural racism…the stress of increased contact with the criminal justice system also undermines the health of the newborn.

67 percent of black women who are incarcerated are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. So the majority of black women and girls are not incarcerated for violent offenses…( ) There’s a large percentage of women who are single mothers. I’m fortunate to have a significant other that supports me and supported me when I was behind the walls. But most women don’t have that. So they’re forced to take care of their children alone. And so when you’re forced to take care of your children alone, you don’t have the type of credentials that you need in order to access a job that’s a livable wage. And that’s the type of wages that you can take your family on vacations, and enroll your kids in extracurricular activities, you tend to find some non-traditional ways to make money.”“67 percent of black women who are incarcerated are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. So the majority of black women and girls are not incarcerated for violent offenses…( ) There’s a large percentage of women who are single mothers. I’m fortunate to have a significant other that supports me and supported me when I was behind the walls. But most women don’t have that. So they’re forced to take care of their children alone. And so when you’re forced to take care of your children alone, you don’t have the type of credentials that you need in order to access a job that’s a livable wage. And that’s the type of wages that you can take your family on vacations, and enroll your kids in extracurricular activities, you tend to find some non-traditional ways to make money.

— Nicole Hanson, Rattling the Bars, Real News Network

Neglect is often considered to be a failure, on the part of a caretaker, to provide adequate supervision, emotional nurturance, appropriate medical care, food, clothing, and shelter for a child. This definition also aligns with a definition of poverty, where poverty is considered to be inadequate food, shelter, and clothing.

— Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2014

Child neglect is then, almost by definition, synonymous with poverty. Those damn poor people just can’t take care of their kids. And yet they breed so much, ya know? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a darn bad thing if we clipped the men…know what I’m saying, Earl?

In fact, one of the side bar implications in Melinda Gates programs is to strongly associate pregnancy with disease (not for rich white people, of course). And the overpopulation argument feeds in this directly.

There is not enough space to even scratch the surface here to list the inequalities operative in racial hierarchies in the U.S. What is important here to start to recognize the codes at work. Walter Benjamin famously said that “The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life.” But more importantly, at the end of that same essay (Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction) he added…

Its (mankind) self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.

Capitalism has abandoned humanity. A shamefully neglected infrastructure has exacerbated the effects of global warming. The loss of jobs, mostly to robots, engenders confusion and anxiety, but also deep resentment. And we are well past the time when anyone thinks robots provide superior service. The need to keep escalating conflict, both at home with a militarized and racist police apparatus, and abroad via a gargantuan military whose size defies all rational comprehension. The suffering inflicted on the world by the U.S. and its proxies (Saudi Arabia, Israel primarily) is so enormous that it is hard to grasp it in its totality. And this confusion breeds reaction. The confusion seems not, however, to breed questioning.

When capitalism reaches its point of diminishing return, it deliberately creates a crisis or an appearance of a crisis in order to stage a ritual of a rebirth. The crisis is designed to corner everyone to rely on the capitalist framework for survival. This functions to divide people into two groups: a group which sees through the mechanism and a group that insists on solving the “crisis” no matter how (meaning solving it according to the acceptable ways). The establishment destroys the anti-capitalist momentum while co-opting dissident voices, giving them credentials, awards, positions in the hierarchy. The process eliminates enemies while augmenting the capitalist hierarchy.

— Hiroyuki Hamada (in conversation with me)

The real problems of ocean acidification, plastic pollution of those same seas, and the endless over production of certain crops that destroy land and poison pollinating insects, these problems are simply the result of needless and pointless industrial growth, a growth that has no rational need driving it. Hunger exists in a world of surplus food. The engine is maximizing profit. And why do so many people seem to just reflexively trust *science*? Trust without even a cursory check on who funds the study, or the institution. And the manufacture of fear is a staple of the ruling class. Fear of germs (from Asia or Africa, of course), or asteroids, or the ignoring of obvious testing failures which goes back to thalidomide. That and the very imperfect world of statistical analysis (see Harvard and Yale sociologists circa 1986 and the spinster’s beware warning) etc. The point is only that while it is clear global warming and pollution present enormous challenges, ones that may change the way nearly everyone on the planet lives, there is also clarity that a crises in Capitalism is forcing an increasing propaganda machine to validate the class hierarchies, and which is rehabilitating the most obscene thinking of the colonial and Victorian era. People are being indoctrinated to experience domination as salutary. Junk science abounds everywhere (facial recognition anyone? blood splatter?) but when it comes to climate and Green issues the bourgeois populace simply does not want to hear it. Which leads me to the idea of a cultic group think going on. And maybe this is tied into the acute narcissism of the boomers. Because just anecdotally my experience is that they WANT disaster. It provides self importance. They demand action and responsibility, but the most dire warnings are received with a barely suppressed pleasure.

The liberal white American today cannot tolerate the world going on around them with people they have been trained to see as inferior. Fear of the dark skinned global south (I mean Melinda Gates actually has a brochure in one of her projects to teach African women how to hold their baby, because I guess, you know, that’s something they clearly don’t know about), they fear the numbers, they fear fecundity (something that has dropped precipitously in the advanced West), they fear being in close proximity to the poor, the ‘other’ (migration), and they fear exposing their children to this ‘threat’, most of all. Consider that there is a huge movement on the right to ban abortion. And yet, largely, these same people are thrilled with Bill and Melinda Gates work to stop African reproduction. So it’s clearly not too many people, it’s just too many black people.

The new Volkish body politic is conflating global warming and the poor.

…the “longing for myth” reflected the pervasive experience of “dislocation and disorientation” precipitated by industrialization, revolution, and the dissolution of community values in the abstract conception of secular society, compounded by the fragmentation of German society “along confessional, social, and territorial lines”; the splintering of traditional social and cultural bonds gave rise to the desire for an “aesthetic-religious imagery” that would “unite modern society just as Greek mythology had supposedly once united the polis.

— Nicholas Huzsvai (honors thesis, unpublished)

Over two million people languish in nightmarish prisons in the U.S. Most for non violent crimes. And today the target is increasingly children and women of colour. But people respond with arguments of distraction, just as they are narcotized by screen distractions. The children not targeted for jail are given anti depressants.

And Gabor Mate has written (following Robert Bly) that fathers and mothers both today work twice as long and with less security and for less money than they did three generations ago.

Quite the opposite is true now. Far from being helped, working women are actively penalized if they wish to extend the time they are at home caring for their children. For men, it is not even considered reasonable to think of “interrupting” their careers in order to share in that process. Society does little to establish expert and compassionate day care for those children during whose early years the parent(s), for one reason or another, cannot avoid the necessity of working outside the home. Poor women, especially in the U.S., are economically terrorized by the welfare system into entrusting their infants to appallingly inadequate care situations, and then must spend hours daily traveling to low-paying jobs that barely allow their families a subsistence income.

— Gabor Maté, Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder,

Leading to what Bly called “the rage of the unparented”. This is America, then, today. Children are targeted by law enforcement — think of the use of gang injunctions, prop 21 in California — which, again, allowed for minors to be sentenced as adults. California has, in fact, been the leading laboratory for terrorizing youth.

The collateral consequences of an adult conviction are severe. An adult criminal conviction stays on a youth’s permanent record, which can prevent him or her from voting, securing housing, getting financial aid or public benefits, and finding a job. Further, the juvenile justice system is intended to be rehabilitative, whereas the adult criminal system is not. Youth tried in adult court lose the opportunity to access many of treatment and rehabilitative options available in the juvenile system.

— National Center for Youth Law

Poor women, and particularly black and latino women, have been zeroed in on by the justice system and now are the fastest growing segment of the carceral state. Their children are warehoused, usually chemically warehoused if they prove in the least disruptive. But this only mirrors in much harsher way the white children of the affluent. For even the petit bourgeois youth is afflicted by a culture of screen addicted distractions and coercive infantile propaganda and entertainments. And they are likely the children of parents who were also distracted and anxious. And the parents of those parents. Three or four generations now who have not been provided with any sense of community.

A quick glance at the statistics: Children 0 to 5 years, over 600,000 are on one of the following: ADHD medication, anti depressants, anti psychotics, and anti anxiety drugs. But if you look at kids 6 to 17, there are SEVEN MILLION being medicated. I was told by a friend that in the run up to the millennium, in a gallup poll, that a majority of people welcomed an apocalypse of some kind — and the reason given was a belief that nothing was going to get better. They were expecting only worse to come. And, of course, they were largely correct.

Hollywood has been normalizing a mix of the sadistic and the sexual for going on fifty years, only now the spectre of Big Brother looms over everything, and this is presented as a virtue. There is in this new mythos forming around end-times thinking, an erotic representation of duty to power, and it elicits a kind of frisson. Fascism is now being updated, and it serves up a menu of catastrophe and individualism. Daily life is a combination of drudgery, tedium, meaningless work, and insecurity. And parents are weary of their neurotic complaining children. In sum I think people in the West no longer dream Utopian.

Madonna’s Fake Revolution: Eurovision, Cultural Hegemony and Resistance

Rim Banna, a famous Palestinian singer who translated Palestine’s most moving poetry to song passed away on March 24, 2018, at the age of 51. Rim captured the struggle for Palestinian freedom in the most dignified and melodious ways. If we could imagine angels singing, they would sound like Rim.

When Rim died, all Palestinians mourned her death. Although a few international outlets carried the news of her passing at a relatively young age, her succumbing to cancer did not receive much coverage or discussion. Sadly, a Palestinian icon of cultural resistance who had inspired a whole generation, starting with the First Palestinian Intifada in 1987, hardly registered as an event worthy of remembrance and reflection, even among those who purport to champion the Palestinian cause.

Compare Rim to Madonna, an ‘artiste’ who has stood for self-aggrandizing personal fame and money-making. She has championed the most debased moral values, utilizing cheap entertainment while catering to the lowest common denominator to remain relevant in the music world for as long as possible.

While Rim had a cause, Madonna has none. And while Rim symbolized cultural resistance, Madonna symbolizes globalized cultural hegemony – in this case, the imposition of consumerist western cultures on the rest of the world.

Cultural hegemony defines the US and other Western cultures’ relationship to the rest of the world. It is not culture as in the collective intellectual and artistic achievements of these societies, but as a set of ideological and cultural tools used by ruling classes to maintain domination over the disadvantaged, colonized and oppressed.

Madonna, along with Michael Jordan, the Beatles and Coca Cola represent far more than mere performers and fizzy drinks, but also serve as tools used to secure cultural, thus economic and political dominance, as well. The fact that in some cities around the world, especially in the Southern hemisphere, Coca Cola “flows more freely than water” speaks volumes about the economic toll and political dimension of cultural hegemony.

This issue becomes critical when a pro-Israel Madonna decides to perform in Israel, as she has done repeatedly in the past, as part of the Eurovision contest. Knowing who she is and what she stands for, her decision should not come as a surprise; after all, in her September 2009 Tel Aviv concert, she sang while wrapped in an Israeli flag.

Of course, it is essential that artistes of her caliber and the contestants representing 41 different countries, are reminded of their moral responsibilities towards occupied and oppressed Palestinians. It is also important that Israel is confronted regarding its unrelenting efforts to mask its apartheid and war crimes in Palestine.

Indeed, the whitewashing of Israeli human rights violations using art – also known as “art washing” – should not be allowed to continue when Gaza is under siege, where Palestinian children are shot and killed daily without remorse and without the least legal accountability.

This is why such artistic events are important for the Israeli government and society. Israel has used Eurovision as a distraction from the blood and gore that has been taking place not far from that venue. Those who labored to ensure the success of the event, knowing fully how Israel is using the brand as an opportunity to normalize its war against Palestinians, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

But, on the other hand, should we be the least surprised? Aren’t such global music events, as Eurovision, at the heart of the western-centric globalization scheme of cultural hegemony, which sole purpose is to enforce a capitalist view of the world, where western culture is consumed as a commodity, no different from a McDonald’s sandwich or a pair of Levi jeans?

Calling on 60-year-old Madonna to refrain from entertaining apartheid Israel can be considered beneficial as a media strategy, for it helped highlight, although momentarily, an issue that would have been otherwise absent from news headlines. However, by placing so much focus on Madonna, and whatever human rights’ values she supposedly stands for, we also take the risk of inadvertently validating her and the consumerist values she represents. More, in this Madonna-driven trajectory, we are also neglecting Palestine’s cultural resistance, the core drive behind Palestinian ‘somoud’ – steadfastness – over the course of a century.

In response to her critics, Madonna answered, “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be.” In the eyes of many who are ignorant of the facts, such an answer may appear as if an ‘empowered’ response to those who are trying to sway a genuine, pure artiste from following her calling.

In fact, Madonna is an expert in appearing as if morally-guided, yet never translating such morality to anything meaningful in reality. In a speech described as “powerful” by the Rolling Stone Magazine, Madonna declared during a Women’s March in Washington D.C. in 2017 “to the rebellion, to our refusal as women to accept this new age of tyranny. Where not just women are in danger, but all marginalized people.”

Of course, Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian women – who have paid a heavy price for Israeli Occupation, war and marginalization – are not to be included in Madonna’s false revolution. And the chances are, shortly after she sings and dances in a jubilant, apartheid Israel, she will once more take on many platforms as if the Rosa Parks of revolutionary art.

While it is important that we keep the pressure on those who engage and validate Israel politically, economically and culturally, these efforts should come secondary to embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance. Behaving as if Madonna’s stage shenanigans represent true culture, while ignoring Palestinian culture altogether, is similar to academics addressing decolonization from the point of view of the colonizer, not the colonized. The truth is, nations cannot truly rid themselves from the colonial mindset without having their narratives take the center-stage of politics, culture and every other aspects of knowledge.

“The intellectual’s error consists in believing that one can know without understanding and, even more, without feeling and being impassioned,” wrote Italian anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci. This entails the intellectual and the artist to feel “the elementary passions of the people, understanding them and, therefore, explaining and justifying them.”

The truth is that appealing to Madonna’s moral sense without immersing ourselves passionately in the art of Rim Banna will, in the long run, do Palestinians no good. Only embracing Palestine’s culture of resistance will, ultimately, keep the self-serving, hegemonic and cheap cultural messages of the Madonnas of this world at bay.

Science Won’t Save the Planet, New Values Will

I don’t write much directly about climate collapse, even though by any measure it is by far the most important issue any of us will face in our lifetimes. And I can gauge from my social media accounts that, when I do write about environmental issues, my followers – most of whom I assume share my progressive positions – are least likely to read those blog posts or promote them.

I have to consider why that is.

As I explained in my last piece, the environment has been a concern to me since my teenage years, back in the early 1980s. It should now be a concern to everyone. And while polls in the UK show that most people are worried to some degree about climate change and the state of the planet, the majority are either still not concerned at all or concerned only a little.

Part of the problem, I start to think, is that we are approaching climate change all wrong. And that addressing it correctly is just too difficult for most of us to contemplate because it demands something profound from us, something we fear we are incapable of giving.

When I share climate change material on social media, it is invariably graphs produced by climate scientists showing the alarming trends of a warming planet. Others, I see, do the same.

But really is that what all this is about? Most of us – at least the ones sharing this stuff – understand that the science is now conclusive. Even, I suspect, those who deny climate change do so not because they believe the data are wrong but because accepting the reality is too overwhelming, too terrifying.

And this gets to the heart of what we need to talk about. Those persuaded by the graphs and the data no longer need those materials, and those unpersuaded aren’t going to heed the science anyway.

So maybe we need to talk less about the science, the graphs and climate change, and much more about ideology, about the inconvertible fact that the planet is dying before our very eyes and about how we have conspired in that act of ecocide. What got us into this mess wasn’t science, what got us here was ideology.

Consumerism our god

In my last blog I noted that scientists kept a low profile when they most needed to speak out, back in the 1990s and 2000s – in part because they were denied a platform, but chiefly because they failed to push themselves forward. That was when the evidence of climate collapse was irrefutable and there was time to start changing our societies to avoid it.

The reason the scientists held back is significant, I think. It wasn’t because they had doubts, it was because the dominant paradigm of our societies – the paradigm shared by almost all of us, the scientists included – was so deeply in conflict with what was needed to bring about change.

For decades – until the financial collapse of 2008 raised the first doubts – we were driven exclusively by a paradigm of endless economic growth, of ever-increasing resource exploitation, of a spiralling personal accumulation of goods. Consumerism was our individual god, and the Stock Market our collective one.

They still are. It’s just that the real, physical world – not the one we constructed out of narrative and ideology – keeps slapping us in the face to try to wake us up from our slumber.

The oceans didn’t fill with plastics last year. Some 1 million species didn’t start facing extinction this month. And the atmosphere wasn’t suddenly polluted with the greenhouse gas CO2 this week. These are trends that have been observable for decades.

The question we have to ask is why did David Attenborough and the BBC suddenly start noticing that everywhere they filmed – from the high seas to the deepest ocean beds – was polluted with plastic? This wasn’t new. It’s that they only recently decided to start telling us about it, that it was important.

Again, scientists haven’t just worked out that there has been a massive loss of biodiversity even in the remotest jungles, that insect populations needed to maintain the health of our planet have been disappearing. The mass die-off of species has been going for decades, even before temperatures started rising significantly. So why have we only just started seeing articles about it in liberal media like the Guardian?

And, fuelled by greenhouse gases, temperatures have been steadily increasing for decades too. But only over the past year have all the record highs, the wildfires and anomalous weather conditions been reported – sometimes – in the context of climate breakdown.

Identifying with the enemy

The cause of these failures is ideology. The reality, the facts simply didn’t stack up with the way we had organised our societies, the way we had come to believe the world, our world, operated. We didn’t see ourselves – still don’t see ourselves – as in nature.

Rather, we have viewed ourselves as outside it, we have seen nature as something to entertain us, as parkland in which we can play or as an exotic place to observe through a screen as a reassuring David Attenborough narrates. Instead of considering ourselves part of nature, we have seen ourselves variously conquering, taming, exploiting, eradicating it.

Derrick Jensen, sometimes described as an eco-philosopher, offers a simple, but telling life lesson. He observes that when you get your food from a convenience store and your water from a tap, your very survival comes to depend on the system that provides you with these essentials of life. You inevitably identify completely with the system that feeds and shelters you, however corrupt, however corrupting that system is. Even if it is destroying the planet.

If you hunt and forage for food, if you collect water from streams, then you identify with the land and its water sources. Their health means everything to you.

We saw those two identification systems playing out as a terrible, tragic theatre of confrontation at the Standing Rock protests through 2016-17, between those trying to stop an oil pipeline that would destroy vital natural resources, risking the pollution of major rivers, and heavily armed police enforcing the system – our system – that puts corporate oil profits above the planet and our survival.

Anyone watching footage of those protests should have understood that the police were not just there to carry out law enforcement. They were not just there on behalf of the state and federal authorities and the corporations. They were there for us. They were there to keep our way of life, our suicidal pattern of living, going to the bitter end. To the point of our extinction.

Like them, we are battle-ready, heavily armed enforcers of an ideology, an insane ideology needed to protect a self-harming, nihilistic system.

A virus killing its host

This is not a question of science. None of those charts and graphs and data are actually necessary to understand that the planet is dying, that we have become a virus gradually killing its host. That is obvious if we look inside ourselves, if we remember that we are not police officers, or civil servants, or arms makers, or oil executives, or tax collectors, or scientists. That the system is not us. That we do not have to identify with it. That we can cure ourselves by learning humility, by rediscovering our inner life, by being in nature, by reconnecting with others, with strangers, by protesting against the system and its values, by listening to those the system wants to denigrate and exclude.

In fact, most of the scientists are very much part of the problem. They, like the media, now tell us how bad things are only because the patient is on life support, because her condition is critical. But those scientists are not ecological doctors. They are not qualified to offer solutions for how to revive the patient, for how to get her back to health. Those scientists who worked their way up through the institutions that awarded their qualifications of expertise are as identified with this suicidal ideological system as the rest of us.

We need more ancient wisdoms, dying wisdoms, of the indigenous peoples who still try to live in nature, to live off the land and in harmony with it, even as we make the conditions to do so impossible for them. We urgently need to find ways to simplify our lives, to ween ourselves off our addictive consumption, to stop identifying with the system that is killing us, and to seek leaders who are ahead of us in that struggle for wisdom.

First buds of resistance

In my last blog post, I called for more populism – not the reactionary kind created by our current leaders to confuse us, to justify more repression, to strengthen their own hand – but a populism that seeks to take power away from those who rule over us in their own, narrow self-interest, to re-educate ourselves that the system is a menace, that we need new social, political and economic structures.

Some readers objected to my call for more Extinction Rebellions, more Greta Thunbergs, more school strikes, more Green New Deals, more climate emergencies. They believe these groups, these strategies are flawed, or even that they are colluding with our corporate rulers, coopted by the system itself.

Let us set aside for a moment the cynicism that assumes all protests to stop us killing the planet are pointless, not what they seem, or intended to derail real change.

Yes, of course, the corporations will seek to disrupt efforts to change the system they created. They will defend it – and their profits – with all their might and to the death. Yes, of course, they will seek to subvert, including from within, all protests of all kinds against that system. We cannot reach an accommodation with these structures of power. We must overthrow them. That is a given. There are no accolades for pointing out these obvious truths.

But protests are all we have. We learn from protest. From their response, their efforts to subvert, we identify more clearly who the real enemies of change are. We grow in wisdom. We find new allies. When we discover that the institutional and structural obstacles are even greater than we imagined, we learn to struggle harder, more wisely, both to change the reality outside ourselves and the reality inside. We find new values, new models, new paradigms through the struggle itself.

Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes aren’t the end of the process, our last shout. They are the very first buds of a rapid evolution in our thinking, in our understanding of where we stand in relation to the planet and the cosmos. These buds may be clipped off. But stronger, more vigorous shoots will surely replace them.

Black Women Political Prisoners of the Police State

The Rev. Joy Powell says she was “raped, railroaded and bamboozled” by police.  Her crime?  Being a poor black woman who faced off against the police—protesting their violent brutality against black people in Rochester, NY.  Once she defied them, she was warned, then targeted and framed for serious crimes.  A few weeks ago, Australian Julian Assange was forcibly dragged from his political asylum to face the American police state.  His crime?  Like Rev. Powell, he dared to tell the truth about the violence and brutality that defines the American state.  Scottish political analyst Jon Wight, citing the treatment of American political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, calls the US “justice” system the “most cruel and callous in the world.”  That system does not tolerate the exposure of its war crimes and abuses of its police state quietly—it retaliates against those who expose its injustice by treating them to cruel and callous punishment.

Black women who have confronted the abuses of America’s white authority have suffered its punishment throughout our history.  Anarchist Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, is one of the few black women mentioned in labor histories, usually as the wife of the martyred Albert Parsons, who was executed in the wake of Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of 1886.  Parsons was a dedicated “revolutionist” for labor’s cause, leading rallies and making speeches in 43 states, advocating the use of explosives by tramps and their taking a “few rich people with them.”  She was constantly arrested, roughly handled, and jailed:  in 1913, at age 60, she was stripped and jailed in Chicago for “peddling literature without a license.”  Another labor radical, Claudia Jones, who headed the Women’s Commission for the US Communist Party, was jailed in 1955.  She fought the “madam-maid” relationship of white to black women, and felt socialism was the only hope for American blacks.  Jones was deported to England where she continued to work for socialism.

Women who joined the struggle against American racism in the 1960s and 70s met particularly violent reprisals from their government.  In the early 60s, 17-year-old Ruby Doris Smith, Spelman student and eventual SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) leader, picketed, protested, and did sit-ins, trying to integrate Atlanta.  She suffered “the indignities of southern jails and numerous injuries.” As a freedom rider, she underwent the vicious white punishment at the Montgomery bus station and was arrested and jailed by Sheriff Bull Conner.  SNCC’s Diane Nash was an important member of the first Nashville sit-ins in 1960.  After her arrest, she refused to pay her fine.  Six-months pregnant and facing a Jackson, Mississippi jailing, she vowed to “hasten the day when my child and all children will be free.”  The women of the black liberation movement of the late 60s and 70s faced even harsher reprisals—from the federal government.

Black women liberation women political prisoners, included the Black Panther’s Assata Shakur and MOVE women Janine Phillips Africa, Debbie Sims Africa, Merle Austin Africa and Janet Holloway Africa.  Janine and Janet Africa are still in prison.   In March 2019 Jet Blue was forced to take down a black history month poster which included a tribute to a “convicted murderer,” Assata Shakur.  President Trump railed against the “cop killer” and demanded Cuba return her.  Shakur was able to escape from her jail, to political exile in Cuba, and that is unforgivable to the American police state.  Assata Shakur was a major inspiration for me in writing my book Women Politicals in America:  Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart, and because of that she appears on the cover of my book, shackled but defiant.  As a member of the BP and Black Liberation Army, Shakur was an FBI target for a long time.  As per usual with the FBI, she had been accused of a number of serious crimes, and convicted in the media of all of them and more, although she had committed none of them—including murdering police officer Werner Foerster.  All the evidence points to the impossibility of her shooting him, after having been grievously shot herself.  She was convicted and treated very harshly in prison, including 20 months in solitary in two men’s prisons under horrible conditions.  Her comrades managed to get her out, after she concluded she would be killed in prison.

Women who joined the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in the early 70s also faced incredibly unfair and violent treatment.  These followers of John Africa lived “naturally” in a community—very like other 70s communes–and believed in fighting the “system.”  The black militancy of fighting the system had them on police radar and resulted in raids that turned violent, with people who ran out to escape fires the authorities set being shot, and in which Officer James Ramp was killed—the evidence indicating probably friendly fire.  Four women were arrested:  Debbie, Janine, Janet and Merle Africa.  Merle died in prison (her family said mysteriously).  Debbie was released in June 2018, but Janine Phillips and Janet Holloway Africa remain in prison, serving their 100-year sentences.  They are periodically denied parole for not “showing remorse,” remorse for being innocent and harshly, unfairly jailed.

Joy Powell is also not remorseful for being “raped, railroaded and bamboozled,” and unfairly jailed, by police/government authorities.  In the present-day police state, African-Americans are first in the line of fire, incarcerated in huge numbers, trapped on the bottom of the economic ladder, and prey to racist civilians and authorities alike.  When black women like Joy Powell speak out against militarized police brutality against blacks—they go right into the belly of the beast.  When in 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, the black community had had enough of assassinations and stood their ground:  “Hands up, don’t shoot.”  Black activists were energized by Ferguson and interest in the new group Black Lives Matter intensified.  Jasmine Richards was one young woman inspired by Ferguson.  Once she “picked up a bullhorn” to organize in her hometown of Pasadena against police brutality, she became “a target.”  While trying to protect a black woman crime victim in 2016, she was arrested, convicted and jailed.  Richards was kept in solitary and roughly strip-searched.  She said it’s “violent to be a woman in jail.”  But she was undaunted, rallying her followers in court with “We have a duty to fight for freedom!”  Illinois BLM activist Sandra Bland also believed that.  When she was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas in 2015, she was slammed to the ground and charged—of course—with assaulting the officers who had slammed her down.  Two days later she was found dead in her cell.  Her family suspects foul play.  Ajamu Baraka called her death “political murder” of a “defiant black woman.”  Black women defiant of the police will pay.

Joy Powell has paid dearly for fighting police brutality.  She is in solitary at Bedford Hills, stalked and harassed by guards, and denied medical treatment for her asthma and diabetes.  She wrote:  “I never thought in my wildest dreams after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which supposedly freed slaves, that in 2007 we’re still in chains and shackles.  This is far from the American dream.”  Powell had a rough start in life; she was jailed for drug dealing from 1992 to 1995 at Albion Correctional Facility. She suffered what many women in jail suffer—she was raped by an officer.  When the man continued to stalk her, she was put in “protective custody.”  She says she developed “PTSD, anxiety and bi-polar” because of the attack.  When she got out she said she wanted to “give back to the community” instead of the destruction she felt she did as a drug dealer.  Powell became a Pentecostal pastor and a community organizer against violence, including police violence.  She organized rallies against drugs and violence after a 15-year-old neighbor boy, and then her own 18-year-old son, were killed.  She worked for 12 years, as she said, with only the weapon of “non-violence protest.”  In 2002, six people died in Rochester PD custody.  In 2005, a 13-year-old suicidal girl was shot several times by police.  After Powell led protests about such events, she was charged with abusing her granddaughter (by an officer who had shot the 13-year-old girl).  The police warned her she was a “target” and should be careful.

She was definitely a target. In October 2006 she was a victim of a violent crime—not investigated—instead, after complaining, she was charged with burglary and assault.  Her accusers were the same people who had attacked her!  She was found guilty by an all-white jury and got 16 years.  As she said, “I was like so many activists before me, be killed or definitely set up.”  In May 2011, things got worse.  She was convicted of killing a man in Rochester in 1992.  She was not guilty.  “I am actually and factually innocent!”  Her court-appointed lawyer ignored her pleas for meetings or for interviewing witnesses who could have proved her innocence.  She got 25 years to life.

Rev. Joy Powell has stated:  “The only thing I am guilty of is standing up for Equality and Justice for all. . . I never realized how much of a threat one individual could be unarmed, until I began to speak out against police brutality.”  She also wrote that she is like so many poor black people in prison “rotting in cages with lengthy sentences for crimes they did not commit.”  And that she had four strikes against her:  “1. I am Black; 2. I am poor; 3. I am incarcerated; and 4. I am a woman.”  Black women “politicals,” political prisoners who have stood up against white America’s racist injustice—Lucy Parsons, Claudia Jones, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Diane Nash, Assata Shakur, Sandra Bland, Jasmine Richards, the still jailed Janine and Janet Africa, and the woman still in solitary confinement, Rev. Joy Powell—are defiant female rebels against a state which will go to any lengths to punish women exposing its crimes.

Black Women Political Prisoners of the Police State

The Rev. Joy Powell says she was “raped, railroaded and bamboozled” by police.  Her crime?  Being a poor black woman who faced off against the police—protesting their violent brutality against black people in Rochester, NY.  Once she defied them, she was warned, then targeted and framed for serious crimes.  A few weeks ago, Australian Julian Assange was forcibly dragged from his political asylum to face the American police state.  His crime?  Like Rev. Powell, he dared to tell the truth about the violence and brutality that defines the American state.  Scottish political analyst Jon Wight, citing the treatment of American political prisoners Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal, calls the US “justice” system the “most cruel and callous in the world.”  That system does not tolerate the exposure of its war crimes and abuses of its police state quietly—it retaliates against those who expose its injustice by treating them to cruel and callous punishment.

Black women who have confronted the abuses of America’s white authority have suffered its punishment throughout our history.  Anarchist Lucy Parsons, born in 1853, is one of the few black women mentioned in labor histories, usually as the wife of the martyred Albert Parsons, who was executed in the wake of Chicago’s Haymarket Riot of 1886.  Parsons was a dedicated “revolutionist” for labor’s cause, leading rallies and making speeches in 43 states, advocating the use of explosives by tramps and their taking a “few rich people with them.”  She was constantly arrested, roughly handled, and jailed:  in 1913, at age 60, she was stripped and jailed in Chicago for “peddling literature without a license.”  Another labor radical, Claudia Jones, who headed the Women’s Commission for the US Communist Party, was jailed in 1955.  She fought the “madam-maid” relationship of white to black women, and felt socialism was the only hope for American blacks.  Jones was deported to England where she continued to work for socialism.

Women who joined the struggle against American racism in the 1960s and 70s met particularly violent reprisals from their government.  In the early 60s, 17-year-old Ruby Doris Smith, Spelman student and eventual SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) leader, picketed, protested, and did sit-ins, trying to integrate Atlanta.  She suffered “the indignities of southern jails and numerous injuries.” As a freedom rider, she underwent the vicious white punishment at the Montgomery bus station and was arrested and jailed by Sheriff Bull Conner.  SNCC’s Diane Nash was an important member of the first Nashville sit-ins in 1960.  After her arrest, she refused to pay her fine.  Six-months pregnant and facing a Jackson, Mississippi jailing, she vowed to “hasten the day when my child and all children will be free.”  The women of the black liberation movement of the late 60s and 70s faced even harsher reprisals—from the federal government.

Black women liberation women political prisoners, included the Black Panther’s Assata Shakur and MOVE women Janine Phillips Africa, Debbie Sims Africa, Merle Austin Africa and Janet Holloway Africa.  Janine and Janet Africa are still in prison.   In March 2019 Jet Blue was forced to take down a black history month poster which included a tribute to a “convicted murderer,” Assata Shakur.  President Trump railed against the “cop killer” and demanded Cuba return her.  Shakur was able to escape from her jail, to political exile in Cuba, and that is unforgivable to the American police state.  Assata Shakur was a major inspiration for me in writing my book Women Politicals in America:  Jailed Dissenters from Mother Jones to Lynne Stewart, and because of that she appears on the cover of my book, shackled but defiant.  As a member of the BP and Black Liberation Army, Shakur was an FBI target for a long time.  As per usual with the FBI, she had been accused of a number of serious crimes, and convicted in the media of all of them and more, although she had committed none of them—including murdering police officer Werner Foerster.  All the evidence points to the impossibility of her shooting him, after having been grievously shot herself.  She was convicted and treated very harshly in prison, including 20 months in solitary in two men’s prisons under horrible conditions.  Her comrades managed to get her out, after she concluded she would be killed in prison.

Women who joined the MOVE organization in Philadelphia in the early 70s also faced incredibly unfair and violent treatment.  These followers of John Africa lived “naturally” in a community—very like other 70s communes–and believed in fighting the “system.”  The black militancy of fighting the system had them on police radar and resulted in raids that turned violent, with people who ran out to escape fires the authorities set being shot, and in which Officer James Ramp was killed—the evidence indicating probably friendly fire.  Four women were arrested:  Debbie, Janine, Janet and Merle Africa.  Merle died in prison (her family said mysteriously).  Debbie was released in June 2018, but Janine Phillips and Janet Holloway Africa remain in prison, serving their 100-year sentences.  They are periodically denied parole for not “showing remorse,” remorse for being innocent and harshly, unfairly jailed.

Joy Powell is also not remorseful for being “raped, railroaded and bamboozled,” and unfairly jailed, by police/government authorities.  In the present-day police state, African-Americans are first in the line of fire, incarcerated in huge numbers, trapped on the bottom of the economic ladder, and prey to racist civilians and authorities alike.  When black women like Joy Powell speak out against militarized police brutality against blacks—they go right into the belly of the beast.  When in 2014, unarmed black teenager Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, the black community had had enough of assassinations and stood their ground:  “Hands up, don’t shoot.”  Black activists were energized by Ferguson and interest in the new group Black Lives Matter intensified.  Jasmine Richards was one young woman inspired by Ferguson.  Once she “picked up a bullhorn” to organize in her hometown of Pasadena against police brutality, she became “a target.”  While trying to protect a black woman crime victim in 2016, she was arrested, convicted and jailed.  Richards was kept in solitary and roughly strip-searched.  She said it’s “violent to be a woman in jail.”  But she was undaunted, rallying her followers in court with “We have a duty to fight for freedom!”  Illinois BLM activist Sandra Bland also believed that.  When she was pulled over for a traffic violation in Texas in 2015, she was slammed to the ground and charged—of course—with assaulting the officers who had slammed her down.  Two days later she was found dead in her cell.  Her family suspects foul play.  Ajamu Baraka called her death “political murder” of a “defiant black woman.”  Black women defiant of the police will pay.

Joy Powell has paid dearly for fighting police brutality.  She is in solitary at Bedford Hills, stalked and harassed by guards, and denied medical treatment for her asthma and diabetes.  She wrote:  “I never thought in my wildest dreams after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which supposedly freed slaves, that in 2007 we’re still in chains and shackles.  This is far from the American dream.”  Powell had a rough start in life; she was jailed for drug dealing from 1992 to 1995 at Albion Correctional Facility. She suffered what many women in jail suffer—she was raped by an officer.  When the man continued to stalk her, she was put in “protective custody.”  She says she developed “PTSD, anxiety and bi-polar” because of the attack.  When she got out she said she wanted to “give back to the community” instead of the destruction she felt she did as a drug dealer.  Powell became a Pentecostal pastor and a community organizer against violence, including police violence.  She organized rallies against drugs and violence after a 15-year-old neighbor boy, and then her own 18-year-old son, were killed.  She worked for 12 years, as she said, with only the weapon of “non-violence protest.”  In 2002, six people died in Rochester PD custody.  In 2005, a 13-year-old suicidal girl was shot several times by police.  After Powell led protests about such events, she was charged with abusing her granddaughter (by an officer who had shot the 13-year-old girl).  The police warned her she was a “target” and should be careful.

She was definitely a target. In October 2006 she was a victim of a violent crime—not investigated—instead, after complaining, she was charged with burglary and assault.  Her accusers were the same people who had attacked her!  She was found guilty by an all-white jury and got 16 years.  As she said, “I was like so many activists before me, be killed or definitely set up.”  In May 2011, things got worse.  She was convicted of killing a man in Rochester in 1992.  She was not guilty.  “I am actually and factually innocent!”  Her court-appointed lawyer ignored her pleas for meetings or for interviewing witnesses who could have proved her innocence.  She got 25 years to life.

Rev. Joy Powell has stated:  “The only thing I am guilty of is standing up for Equality and Justice for all. . . I never realized how much of a threat one individual could be unarmed, until I began to speak out against police brutality.”  She also wrote that she is like so many poor black people in prison “rotting in cages with lengthy sentences for crimes they did not commit.”  And that she had four strikes against her:  “1. I am Black; 2. I am poor; 3. I am incarcerated; and 4. I am a woman.”  Black women “politicals,” political prisoners who have stood up against white America’s racist injustice—Lucy Parsons, Claudia Jones, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Diane Nash, Assata Shakur, Sandra Bland, Jasmine Richards, the still jailed Janine and Janet Africa, and the woman still in solitary confinement, Rev. Joy Powell—are defiant female rebels against a state which will go to any lengths to punish women exposing its crimes.

Why Is This Seder Different From All Other Seders?

The idea of making a different type of seder came about because of my discomfort with a ceremony that in many ways glorifies many unattractive aspects of American Jewish culture and also serves as a justification for the Israeli dispossession and suppression of the Palestinian people and their culture.  Passover now appears to me to be the most Zionist of all Jewish holidays, and its celebration, the reading of the Hagada, the Hebrew text which defines the seder, clearly reflects this fact.

The first problem comes at very beginning of the ceremony when the host declares that God chose the Jewish people above all other peoples. This type of exceptionalism is very much out of favor with many these days, as it should be, whether it is applied to Jews, Israel or to American foreign policy.

Secondly, there is the glorification of God’s horrible vengeance upon those who have wronged the Jews or those who do not believe in their God.  God’s killing of Egyptian innocent children is awful even as a symbolic tale.

After drinking the third of the four cups of wine, the host instructs the presumably tipsy guests to rise and pour a fourth cup.  Referring to God, he then recites:

Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon the kingdoms that call not upon Thy name; for they have consumed Jacob and laid waste his habitation.  Pour out Thy rage upon them and let Thy fury overtake them.  Pursue them in anger and destroy them from under the heavens of the Eternal.

A bit over the top, no?  Especially, when the present-day real God of many American Jews, Israel and its mighty army, has laid waste to Gaza in a succession of criminal assaults which continue today as a brutal siege and a weekly massacre at the eastern Gaza border.  The first seder this year takes place on a Friday, which is the day of the week most of the border killings occur.

Oh, and one more thing, the Hebrew word for “nations that know Thee not” is “goyim,” which is also the derisive name Jews call non-Jews in their common vernacular.  Who wants to say that, even if all your guests speak no Hebrew and may not hear the “g” word?

Thirdly, I recoil at the allusion to the perpetual victimization of the Jewish people which is uttered with only the fortification of one cup of wine.

For more than once have they risen against us to destroy us; in every generation they rise against us and seek our destruction.  But the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hands.

This, for me echoes the recent false claims of anti-Semitism from which we are protected, not so miraculously, by the smears of pro-Israel lobby operatives directed at people such as Rep. Ilahn Omar, Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else who criticizes Israel and its apartheid government.

And lastly but very importantly, is the oft-quoted declaration toward the conclusion of the reading of the Hagada of “next year in Jerusalem.”  This phrase is frequently and ludicrously cited as proof of the long-time (2000 year) Jewish longing for return to their homeland, and it is employed as a justification for the entire Zionist enterprise.

This is ironic because the “telling” (hagada) of the exodus story is especially irksome since most people actually believe in its veracity as recorded history even though this story has absolutely no basis in fact. There is actually zero historical evidence that the Jews were ever slaves in Egypt.

Passover, as with all Jewish celebrations in Israel, means “closure” for the Palestinians under occupation.  That entails restricted travel and other prohibitions which make the lives of the Palestinians even more difficult than normal.

As they say in another context in the Hagada, “dayenu?” or “is that not enough?” to explain why an alternative seder may be in order. For me it is more than enough.

So here is what I have come up with as a replacement.

My seder is called a seder lo b’seder, or loosely translated, a seder that is not right or not OK.  It sounds better in Hebrew.  It is held on the second day of Passover and may serve as an antidote for guests who have participated in a traditional seder the previous evening.  Seder means arrangement or order and lo means not.  So this is a seder with no order, the opposite of the meaning of seder and the tradition of doing the ceremony in a proscribed manner.

My motto is “skip the (traditional) seder, do a seder lo b’seder.” The Hebrew verb for skip is the same as the name of the holiday.  Just as Passover; i.e., pass over, in English, is synonymous with skip.

Thus there is no order in which the meal is to be eaten.  All foods from soup to dessert will be available to the guests throughout dinner.  All can eat what they want when they want and just as importantly not eat what they do not desire.

Some usual Passover foods will be available.  They include gefilte fish, matzoh (a cracker that is central to the symbolism of Passover), red wine and grape juice.  Also, charoset which is a mixture of nuts, dried and fresh fruits, nuts and honey because it tastes really good.  Bread and shrimp (prohibited by Jewish law during Passover) will also be available and are placed in close proximity to the matzoh and gefilte fish, respectively.

Italian food which is a popular cuisine in my upstate New York community, since there is a large Italian-American presence here, will be featured. The main courses will be a vegetarian lasagna and Utica greens which is a popular indigenous local dish invented by my sister-in-law’s cousin.

Instead of the traditional not consumed glass of red wine for the prophet Elijah, a glass of wine will be placed on the table in memory of my dear departed friend and neighbor, Bruce, who would have been a willing enthusiastic participant in this seder.

The only restriction placed on the food that is acceptable at this seder is that it is not wholly or partly produced at Israeli Jewish companies.  This seder is officially and proudly designated as a pro BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) event.  Luckily, neither this seder nor anything I or my wife do is funded by the State of New York because the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo, has bowed to the pro-Israel lobby, or as it is known in Israel, the Jewish lobby, and cut state funding to all supporters of BDS.

The only part of the typical seder that is included in the seder lo b’seder is the performance of the song Chad Gadya which ends the festive meal.  In my seder the song is performed both before and after dinner.  Prior to eating, the guests are invited to listen and view a video (with English subtitles) of the Chava Alberstein version of this iconic Passover song which she recorded at the height of the First Intifada in 1989.  In this rendition, which is sung mostly in Hebrew instead of the more traditional Aramaic, Alberstein added protest lyrics in response to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Echoing the words of the Hagada she sings,

And what has changed for you?
What has changed?
I myself have changed this year
And on all nights, on all nights
I have asked only four questions
Tonight I have another question:
How long will the cycle of horror last?
… Hunter and hunted, beater and beaten
When will this madness end?

Alberstein’s protest song roiled much of the Jewish Israeli population and it was banned from the radio despite or maybe because of the enormous popularity and artistic reputation of the singer.  Younger readers will take note that the suppression of speech critical of government policy, especially in relation to what goes on in the territories, did not start with Netanyahu.

A couple of weeks ago I came across a video of the Rana Choir performing an Arabic/Hebrew version of the Alberstein Chad Gadya at a 2016 Arab-Israeli Remembrance Day Ceremony.  The choir is a group based in Jaffa, composed of Palestinians and Jews, which is unusual in Israel.  I am usually rather skeptical about joint ventures in the apartheid reality of Israel which are derisively and understandably termed “normalization” by many Palestinians.  Most end up with members of the stronger group, the Jews, setting the agenda, and ironically reproducing the unequal power relationship of the occupation.  A majority of the singers appear to be Jewish and I have been told that the Arabic is almost unintelligible.  However, despite all this I will present this version to my guests as a possible source of hope.  This beautiful and haunting once censored protest song is, at least, still being performed.

As in the “normal” seder, the meal and ceremony concludes with the host, me, singing Chad Gadya with the guests invited to join in. They are especially encouraged to, at the very least, sing the chorus.  The song in our seder is sung in Aramaic as is usual.

I like this song because it arguably is understood as having no significant meaning and as being pure melody and wordplay.  In other words free of the cant, rant or any political significance of which I may find objectionable but ever present in the normal seder.

So that is the outline of my planned Passover meal.  It is an attempt to quietly declare that Zionism is not tenable or moral and the practiced Judaism which supports Israel is also defective.  I do not mean my seder to be offensive to any of my fellow co-religionists, but if it is so be it.

In our American culture those who renounce Catholicism are not generally censured by the general population, but those that criticize the practice of Judaism are.  Why is that?

Unfortunately, my seder will not happen this year due to family commitments having nothing to do with Passover. However, I plan to do it next year.  The guests will include my 94-year-old mother-in-law and her daughter, my wife’s sister, both of whom attended my initial alternative seder two years ago. My wife and her family are not Jewish; however, all told me they had a wonderful time.  I already have three dear friends who are pro-Palestinian activists committed to the event.  Two of them will be recovering from the previous night’s first Seder.  All three have been falsely accused of anti-Semitism by the local Jewish Federation in response to their political activity.

Zionism means dispossession of 700,000 indigenous Palestinian people and their future descendants.  Today it means the ever-expanding Judaization of Jerusalem, the oppression of the Palestinian people including the brutal siege of Gaza and the continual killing of Gazans at the border protests.

That is why I say, “Next year in upstate New York, I will have a seder that will be lo b’seder.”

Republicrats: Begin Anew!

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Lord, what fools these mortals be!

— Puck, in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream

We have not yet reached the horrific insanities of the American Civil War…but we seem hell-bent on approaching that precipice and tumbling over like lemmings following manic “leaders,” disguised as politicians, “educators,” celebrities, journalists and the commentariat, et. al. We are not yet engulfed in Civil War, but we are certainly “testing” whether our nation, “or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”  If it were to come to actual Civil War, given a population that is 10 times what it was 158 years ago, given our dependence on our modern “grid,” our reliance upon drone weapons, and a vulnerable WorldWideWeb where deadly information spreads like cyclonic fires, the horrors we are facing could be many times what America’s soldiers/patriots/and misguided citizens faced back then.

Since the 2016 election, we have been passing through what Kierkegaard might have called “the long night of the soul.”  Accusations and counter-accusations have flown like blind, maddened bats out of the caves of our collective hells, collective guilts.  As we pause at the precipice now (if we are wise and steady enough to pause), we may wonder: What next?  What have we learned?

Though he did not frame it so, the great experiment Lincoln admonished we were “testing” was just what angels-and-demons-wrestling Milton had speculated about two centuries before: “the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience.”

But, in our age of Information Overload (or Overkill!), when our news and information is managed and mangled by a handful of media magnates and mega-corporations, their retinue among subservient “noble” (and highly remunerated) classes of attendants/scribes/and lawyerly mouthpieces…how can we hope—no matter how “conceived” and “dedicated”—to grasp and hold such “liberty”?

Dostoyevsky wrote that it was necessary to enter a nation’s prisons to understand its culture.  I taught in prisons for two years and I’ll vouch for Fyodor that it’s still true; but in our day a more handy entry point is through a nation’s media—MSM or “social.”  TV dramas and their sibling newscasts are the muezzins of our popular culture, calling us to a shared, created universe.  How to emerge from Plato’s cave to sunshine?

Is it too much to hope for commonsense and honesty?  Civil discourse to temper civil derangement?  Guidance based on the wisdom of the ages—Socratic, Confucian, Jobian, Sufi (take your pick or mix judiciously)?

In The Ornament of the World, her neglected, modern classic, (unfortunately published about the same time as the headline-engulfing 911 horror), Maria Rosa Menocal describes a “golden age” of medieval Spain, “where for more than seven centuries Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together in an atmosphere of tolerance…where literature, science, and the arts flourished.”

Seven centuries!  They translated each other’s books; they recognized each other’s human rights; they practiced what they preached.  They learned each other’s languages; participated in the “commonwealth,” respected each other’s traditions, worked towards mutual respect and understanding, intellectual and physical security.

We are all “entangled”!  The scientists describe “quantum entanglement”—how once united quantum particles, though worlds apart, respond correlatively when one part of the particle is “spun” or manipulated in a certain, measurable way.  If true in the quantum world, how not true in the human?

There are two crises that have confronted generations of Americans for decades; crises that metastasize, cost more innocent lives, year after festering year.  The Republicratic factions divide and joust over these crises while innocent Americans are victimized by rapes and killings, drug addictions, fear and loathing.

There is no “manufactured crisis” on our southern border.  Nor is there a “manufactured crisis” about our antiquated gun laws.

If we want to help our neighbors to our South, we can do so in a reasonable, measured way.  Remember John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress”?  That would be one sort of sensible approach.  Help them “over there” so that they are not victimized by drug cartels, wanting to breach the US borders and cause havoc here.  Who profits from such havoc?

Nor was it a “manufactured crisis” that macerated 17 young lives and traumatized countless others at that Parkland, south Florida high school.  Have we forgotten already?  And the 58 massacred during an outdoor concert in Las Vegas—forgotten?  851 injured by gunfire or the ensuing panic!  “Collateral damage” in our political-media wars?  And how many other thousands and hundreds of thousands of victims?

Our Republicratic factions had better start working together!  $5 billion dollars for a “border wall” is nugatory compared to the tens of billions wasted “controlling” drug addiction here, wasted on poor food quality, the fig leaf of healthcare protection, air and water pollution.

As for our gun laws—where in the 2nd Amendment is there any mention of AK-47s and other mass-killing “automatic” weapons?  The 2nd Amendment is about a “well-regulated militia.”  Is the national government prepared to delegate such power to “well-regulated” militia units?  Can it possibly be right/moral/sensible to delegate such power to individuals?

Let us remember: when our Constitution was written, we were a nation of under 4 million hunters, gatherers, and farmers.  Our weapons were primitive, ball and powder 1-shot affairs!  We lived in small communities where people knew their neighbors.  If the “village idiot” was suddenly roaming about aiming his gun haphazzardly—people sounded the alarm.

Republicrats—walk and chew gum at the same time!  Unite the factions around the principles of safety and common sense.  Stop the anarchy in the nation’s gun laws; stop the anarchy on our southern border!  Reporters and commentariat, Hollywood “celebs,” “educators,” et. al., you need not be “fools” and you must not treat the citizenry as fools.  Begin the renewal!  Secure our sacred “liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to my conscience” and honed understanding.

“That this nation…shall have a new birth of freedom.”

“Freedom from fear.”  Freedom to lead.  Freedom to be the best we can be.

Sitting Pretty on a Sinking Ship: Neoliberal Feminism

Going down with the ship in style

Orientation:

For a number of years now I’ve been confounded by watching many of the straight upper-middle class women in the United States appearing to slide backwards in time into much more traditional roles. Why do so many women still do the heavy lifting of childcare, grocery shopping, housekeeping and cooking? Why do so many of them put the needs of their male partners and bosses first and their own needs last? Why have so many of them whole-heartedly embraced sports when I doubt that most of them were not sports fanatics before they were in relationships with men who are? These were the roles we struggled to break out of in the 60’s and 70’s. Yet in the seven cases I will present I will describe six women who consider themselves feminists. How can we explain this?

What does it mean to be a feminist in the United States today? Historically we have had liberal feminists and radical socialist feminists, but what do we make of the Pink Pussycats? Granted, they are not radical feminists, but are they liberal? The term “liberal” has become a moth-eaten word used by both sympathizers and demonizers. For now, we will put the word aside. First I will describe experientially what second-wave feminism attempted to do. Then I will describe the lives of seven women I know, six of whom claim to be feminists and certainly see themselves as Pink Pussycats. Finally, I will address the relationship between the Pink Pussycats and liberalism. My claim is that the Pink Pussycats are not liberal in the sense of second-wave feminism and the New-Deal liberalism of Roosevelt. Rather, they are instead “neo-liberal” feminists, who follow the neoliberal trend of the mid 1980’s, started by the Democratic Leadership Council. The reference to the sinking ship refers to the decline in the standard of living under capitalism, in which they are mightily trying to keep their heads above water.

Women in the four ages

In the first age, during the 1950’s, women were classically traditional. These roles included being the perfect wife and mother, always putting their own needs last and usually deferring to their husbands. They dressed in relatively conservative, soft styles and colors and many of them didn’t work outside the home because, though the times were conservative, the economy for the middle class was good. Think of the mothers in Leave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet and Father Knows Best (the name of the show says it all). They even dressed like that when they were cleaning the oven! They’d have the messes cleaned up before we, as children, made them.

Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Germaine Greer led second-wave feminism among others. They led the charge to challenge the long-accepted picture of a woman’s role.

During the second age, as our “consciousness” was becoming raised, we began to reject our traditional roles. Many of us started working for the first time. Because the pay for middle class women was higher at that time, some of us could afford to divorce our husbands and work in traditional male jobs such as middle managers. We started wearing more practical clothing, ditching the spike heels that hampered our walking – let alone running away from predators – letting our skin breathe without all the makeup and our hair turn naturally grey.

At the same time other women, less politically aware, embraced being seen as sexual objects, rather than as sexless as in the fifties. We started wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, ridiculous high-heeled shoes and laughed off or rationalized the catcalls on the street as well as sexual harassment from our bosses and male co-workers. I know all of this because I was one of those women.

In the third age, for roughly thirty years, from the early 1980s through 2008, the conservatives held power as the economy continued to contract. In reaction to this, the Democratic Party started sliding further to the right to keep up with the times, and those women who continued to see themselves as liberal slid right along with the Democratic Party. (For the Democratic party slide rightward, see Adam Curtis’s disturbing documentary Century of the Self Part IV)

In the fourth age, after 2008, and the election of Barack Obama, many upper-middle-class and middle-class women saw the election of a well-educated black man as a victory for them, too. The glorification of Obama and, to a lesser extent, Hillary Clinton produced the seeds of the Pink Pussycat phenomenon. These women had to work harder than the women of the 50’s, 60’s or 70’s because the economy is now worse. Most middle-class and upper-middle class women can no longer afford to stay at home and take care of the children. They must work to supplement their husband’s earnings or, as single mothers, they are the family’s sole support. Most of them also do the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping. Because no feminist movement has been able to convince men to fully take on the responsibilities of raising children, these responsibilities fell to the women as their “second shift”. Perhaps as compensation for a surprisingly difficult life, women used their appearance to regain some of their lost power. Being sexy and the promise of attention was a bargaining chip.

My experience of second-wave feminism

I got married when I was 19 years old to a conservative Irish Catholic Naval officer. By the late 1960’s we had become friends with a group of officers and their wives, all of whom were vocal in their opposition to the Vietnam War and U.S. foreign policy in general. These conversations woke me up politically and I started moving further to the left. In the early 1970’s I attended community college where I met Mary, who became one of my longest standing friends. Mary was a strong feminist, and along with two gay men I became friends with, got me to take feminism and gay rights more seriously. I also joined the anti-war groups while at San Francisco State and started facing the growing differences I had with my husband. My marriage did not survive these changes. I did what many women did: dragged their husbands into therapy kicking and screaming, only to be told I was the one who had the problem.

At the same time, we liberal women were being exposed to books like Our Bodies, Ourselves. This book detailed for us information about our own health and sexuality that formerly had been secret, considered too crass to talk about publicly. Consciousness-raising groups sprang up everywhere, which aimed to help us understand the patriarchal system and how it oppresses all women. We were being taught that it wasn’t our job to please and cater to the men in our lives. We felt stronger together as we began making demands for equal pay, greater opportunities in the workplace, better support systems for single mothers and the right to be seen as equals to men, rather than as objects for them.

Women’s Success Teams

In the mid 1980’s I attended a weekend-long seminar entitled “Women’s Success Teams”. I was a single, working mother and could barely afford the seminar but managed to scrape together the money to pay for it. This turned out to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made. The goal of this workshop was to empower women to fulfill their highest potential and learn how to deal with any barriers in their way – and there were many barriers. I, as had many women, been subjected to sexual harassment on the job, lower pay than my male counterparts, the accepted belief that certain occupations and positions were simply not available for women – as well as the belief that a woman’s primary job was the care and feeding of her family and husband. This seminar fit perfectly into the liberal Women’s Movement of the time, which advocated consciousness-raising and self-realization. As a white, middle class, newly divorced single mother I welcomed the support and guidance I hoped it would give me.

At this seminar I was taught how to develop a career and financial plan for myself so I could achieve my goals. I was also taught skills like networking, becoming organized, budgeting and defining a career path. Most importantly, I was taught that I needed to articulate those goals, write them down and monitor them. I still do this on a regular basis. After the hard work of the first weekend workshops, our large group was then broken up into smaller working groups, called teams, of about 5 – 6 women each. These teams met once a week to set goals and objectives, and then assign themselves tasks as homework to reach those goals for the week to come. The following week we would report on any accomplishments or difficulties from homework and to ask for support from the team in a multitude of ways. This could include asking someone to call you for a pep talk before going on an interview, help figuring out transportation or childcare or simply moral support.

The slow slide backwards

It’s been with alarm and great disappointment that I’ve watched the slide backwards, away from the values I learned from Women’s Success Teams. As a university career and academic counselor working with many young women students, I’ve come to realize that many of them know almost nothing about the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. In the workplace I’ve seen so many women of all ages slip back towards wearing provocative clothes, lots of makeup, high heels and coloring their hair. They spend thousands of dollars on weight loss programs, the latest hairstyles and colors, plastic surgery, Botox treatments and even breast implants. I see so many older women dying their hair to cover the grey and spending thousands of dollars on products and procedures to make them look younger. I watch as women celebrities go to extremes to present themselves as eternally young, sexualized creatures. Many of them are in my circle of friends, and, indeed, in my own family. All of this is painful for me to see. I would like to share with you some of their stories.

Pink Pussycats on display

Jasmine

Jasmine is a very smart, naturally beautiful, 70-year-old woman who was a member of the generation of women who were told they could have it all – career, family, relationship – everything. With that propaganda playing in the background and coming from a firmly middle-class background, she went back to college in her 30’s, divorced her husband and moved into her own apartment in San Francisco while her two sons remained with her husband.

She did, in fact, seem to have it all as she completed her degree in political science, her career blossomed and numerous men lined up to be in relationships with her. She was successful in sales and real estate and managed to buy a condominium in San Francisco, not an easy task for a single woman to be able to do in the 70’s.

After leaving a second marriage, she married a professor at UC Berkeley and moved with him into a home in the Berkeley hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. She “retired” when she was 53 and settled into a life of travel with her husband who was sent on all-expenses-paid trips to lecture at institutions all over the world. This has been her upper-middle class life for the last 15 years or so. Any attempt at finding meaningful work or a vocation was forgotten long ago. She has also spent many thousands of dollars on facelifts, Botox injections and all manner of procedures to hang on to her beauty.

Suzy

Suzy is a 48-year-old elementary school teacher with a husband and two children living in southern CA. While she has always made more money than her husband and has provided health care benefits for the family, her husband is firmly in charge of managing their money. He gives her an allowance – in cash – because she has proven she can’t be trusted with a credit card. She has no concept of money management, not even being able to report what their monthly utilities are or mortgage payments. In addition to working full-time, she is the primary caretaker of their children and her identity as a mother is the predominate one. Her husband decides where and when they will go on vacation, if they will buy a new car or pay for improvements for their house.

Politics is beyond her comprehension and she has shown no interest in trying to understand it. She loves wearing costumes and jewelry depicting Wonder Woman, demonstrating the public persona that she can do it all. Paradoxically, in many ways she has become another child in the family, taking direction from her husband.

Maria

Maria is an extremely smart, accomplished woman. She is the operations manager for a branch campus at a university. She is able to come up with solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems and last-minute emergencies without even breaking a sweat. She is kind, beautiful, funny and loyal to her friends.

However, she has convinced herself that she must remain in a marriage to a man who she mostly can’t stand. She defers to him, going to places she loathes like Las Vegas, football games and on cruises. He loves to gamble and buy a new car every year or two. While she shakes her head at these activities, she does nothing to try to dissuade him from them. She cooks meals for him that include all kinds of meat even though she is a vegan. Although she works about 50 to 60 hours a week, she is the one primarily in charge of all the household chores – cleaning, cooking, and shopping.

At the same time, she is a workaholic at the office, always cleaning up everyone else’s messes. She functions as the office wife to her boss, taking calls from him and checking in even while she’s on vacation and often taking on the responsibilities that, according to his job description, belong to him.

Helena

Helena got her MA in counseling psychology and then married. Until their daughter was born she worked at hourly-wage jobs. Since the year before their daughter was born 15 years ago she hasn’t worked full time and her husband has been the sole support of the family and provider of benefits. She worked for a brief time as a therapist with an organization in San Francisco until she got into an argument with the director and left. All the other jobs she’s had have been short-lived like that one, usually with her leaving in a huff after some kind of disagreement with senior management.

Her whole life revolves around her family and she epitomizes the definition of the helicopter parent. Her great love, besides her husband and daughter, is cooking. While she has tried to find jobs that would allow her to use these skills, all of them have not worked out.

Even though she doesn’t work to contribute to the lifestyle, she wants desperately to live the life of the wealthy. She is a devoted social climber, always looking for jobs or opportunities with “influential people”. She longs to live in a much more upper-class neighborhood and larger house in San Francisco than where they currently live. She considers herself a feminist.

Margaret

Next we look at the life of Margaret. After living a traditional life as a wife and mother during the 60’s and 70’s, she was also influenced by the new-wave feminism movement. She found the courage to divorce a husband she had long since fallen out of love with and who shared few of her core beliefs. Relying on his and her father’s financial support after her divorce, she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and even though she never worked in the field, she never misses an opportunity to give therapy advice, solicited or not. She met and married a psychotherapist not long after her divorce. She worked for a time as the City Manager for the town of Chevy Chase, MD, a wealthy suburb of Washington DC. She retired early from this job in her early 50’s.

Since then she has spent her time travelling and buying decorative objects for both of her homes – which look like museums. She is a devout follower of the dharma as well as deeply interested in humanistic psychology, the core of which is the belief in the importance of the individual.

Deborah

Deborah is a 65-year-old chiropractor who has her own small practice. She works extremely hard to support her husband who has been an eternal student and whose contribution to the family income was to occasionally help clients with software issues. All the while she paid for the schooling that allowed him to get a PhD in psychology at the age of 65. She also supports two extremely dysfunctional adult children who, in my opinion are the result of her permissive parenting style. She is a classic enabler who puts herself last. Deborah has virtually no friends because she works to support three “children” through their various crises. Unbelievably, Deborah considers herself a child of the 60’s and does everything she can to relive what she thinks were the hippie days, going to hear old 60’s bands, wearing hippie clothes and attending Burning Man.

Natasha

Lastly we have Natasha. She is a 43 year-old woman who married a man 25 years older than she. She works as a substitute teacher and is a very good artist. The problem is, as usual, her husband and two children come first. She does her art “when no one is around”. Her studio is the only room in the house that is not heated or insulated. She can’t seem to get up the nerve to tell her husband, who earned good money as a military engineer, to invest in heating her studio so she could work there year-round. Natasha is very smart, has a degree in art and yet she shies away from stepping into the limelight.

What do these women have in common?

All of these women are, with the exception of one, upper-middle class. Two are in their 40’s and the rest are in their 50’s or older and all have college degrees. Half have master’s degrees. They all play a version of the “good wife”, doing all the holiday shopping, wrapping all the presents, making a huge meal, cleaning the house, and polishing the silver. Most of them go along with their husband’s desires even though they don’t share those desires, and in some cases they actively dislike their husbands. With all of them their husbands pretty much call all the shots. The ones who work – 4 of the 7 – have not been relieved of the primary responsibilities of taking care of the house and raising children. The rest don’t work because their husbands support them so then they have become over-involved with their kids. They also travel or redecorate their homes to give their lives meaning. The sum total of their political involvement is to very occasionally go on a Pink Pussycat march. If they do have a political perspective of any depth, it’s the belief that if they can only get the Democrats back in power, and more importantly, a woman Democrat, all will be well.

In terms of national politics most of them are apolitical. Most of these women blame the mess we’re in on Trump, never bothering to look back at the long slide we’ve been in through numerous administrations, regardless of which party was in power. There is not one of them who follow geopolitical relations, and they pay little attention to the role the U.S. is playing across the world. Over breakfast, lunch or dinner never, in all the years I’ve known them, has the center of a discussion been politics or economics. It is always about children, relationships or health. The macro world is too big for them.

Qualifications

Isn’t this about Euro-American women?

No, it is not. Jasmine is Filipina; Maria is from Argentina; Helena is from Iraq; and Natasha is from Russia. The slide toward putting yourself last can’t be reduced to ethnicity or culture. What is also interesting is these women are not poor women who “don’t know any better”. They are well educated and see themselves as running their own lives and not subject to propaganda. They have internalized their lives of subservience. 

Are you saying it’s against the rules to be pretty?

Some women may be saying – “Aw, c’mon – lighten up! Are you saying that in order to be a real feminist it’s against the rules to be pretty? Do we all have to dress and act like Protestant men? Do we all have to leave our husbands and strike out on our own?” What I am saying is that we need to look at our priorities. How much time and money are we spending on our appearance and why do we need to do that in order to feel good about ourselves and attractive to men? This seems to have taken priority over:

  • Controlling our own money management: Maria has little idea of her monthly expenses. Suzy is in the same boat.
  • Giving up full work lives: Margaret hasn’t worked in 25 years; Helena has never had a full time job for more than a few months; Natasha does part-time substitute teaching; Jasmine is now completely dependent on her husband’s income; Maria works very hard as an operations manager, but her salary alone would not be enough to support her lifestyle.
  • Having time to enjoy yourself without your husband or children: Not one of these women asks their partner to be a househusband while they work.

Are you saying there are no strong women?

No – I’m not saying any of these things. Nor am I saying that I see this slide backwards in all women. There are still plenty of strong, smart, self-sufficient women out there. There are some, but they’re not very visible in the mainstream media. Today, in the midst of the Pink Pussycat craze, women joining “The Resistance” by denouncing Trump while blaming those who didn’t vote for Hillary, we can look to some women as role models. Kshama Sawant, the Seattle City Council member is one. María de Jesús Patricio Martínez, a Nahua indigenous healer, The Zapatistas and National Indigenous Congress’ (CNI) selection of as their spokesperson and presidential candidate for the 2018 elections in Mexico, is another. Gloria La Riva, presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) is a third. All of these women are, and have been, fighting for social and economic equality, including the rights of women. But their primary focus has always been to see capitalism as the problem and the reason for inequality. In my mind, feminism can’t be separated from socialism. Further, all the women I mention are strong, not because they are liberals, but because they are socialists.

Isn’t the “Blue Wave” of Democrats in the recent elections a sign of women having more power?

My response is that is not new-wave feminism – it is neo-liberal feminism. The Democratic Party hasn’t been liberal since the 60s. Because the DNC is not a liberal party they don’t push for real change. Rather they push for tiny, centrist reforms. What they want is naïve. Women like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein – considered the “left” in Congress – have done little to nothing to support women’s rights. Women continue to make $0.80 for every dollar men make. The Hyde Amendment, which bans abortion coverage in federal health insurance programs, has been upheld every year since 1976, blocking Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, Medicare and the Children’s Health Insurance Program from funding abortions. Democrats argue that the ban disproportionately impacts low-income women who rely on Medicaid for health care, yet they have been unable to overturn it during many Democratic administrations.

Planned Parenthood is facing threats of being denied federal funds and Roe vs. Wade is in danger of being rolled back. The Pink Pussycats have not managed to achieve any significant change in this area and their platform is vague, primarily focused on upper-middle class women. The women who desperately need this protection seem to be invisible.

The Pink Pussycat movement was vague in its goals and initially focused on expressing outrage at the election of Trump. Other than that, there seemed to be no specific goals or strategies beyond “women’s rights are human rights”. Additionally, there was honest criticism of the use of what are classic feminine symbols; the color pink, knitting, vaginas. The demographics of the marchers were clearly middle and upper-middle class straight, neo-liberal women. It was supported and funded by the DNC, George Soros and other neo-liberals who have their own agendas to push.

Aren’t you romantically pining for the return of second- wave feminism?

No, I am not. I am simply saying that the Democratic Party is not liberal and the values of the Pink Pussycats are not liberal so long as they take the Democratic Party seriously. If women were real second-wave liberal feminists, the National Organization of Women would have formed a women’s party thirty years ago when it was clear that the Democratic Party was not doing anything much for women, even middle and upper-middle class women.

Alexandra Kollontai, an important figure during the Russian Revolution, is a historical alternative to the Pink Pussycats. She fought for real equality for women in practical ways. In particular, she fought for the rights of the working class and poor women to have access to food, medical care and education. In my article, A Historical Alternative to Pink Pussy Cat Hats, this is my answer for feminism, not a return to 2nd wave New Deal liberalism.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Vast Impact of Legalizing Hemp

The Empire doesn’t understand yet what has happened. Legalizing hemp farming and hemp industries will have a profound impact on our local communities, our soil, our ecosystems and our culture at large. They don’t understand that legalizing hemp, part of the new Farm Bill enacted in December, is a tremendous catalyst for change. But we do.

Hemp was the first plant under human cultivation, some 10,000 years ago. Hemp farming and production was a staple of Europe and much of the world 1,000 years ago. Without hemp Europeans could not have colonized so much of the world, as hemp sails are durable and don’t rot. So we have some history with the plant.

William Hurst, the yellow news publisher from 100 years ago was quite the racist. He hated people of color, and while it was quite clear that hemp was a staple for poor folk, he intentionally confused hemp and marijuana, a favorite high of these minorities. He demonized both incessently in his papers until congress took the step of making production of hemp and manufacture of hemp products illegal, along with its cousin, ‘the heathen devil weed’. But why go after hemp?

Hearst happened to own millions of acres of forest that he wanted to leverage as paper for his ‘news’ empire. That would never happen as long as hemp was readily available and clearly a much wiser option. He removed that as a legal option, and caused unspeakable damage to our culture and country for nearly a century.

So that’s how we got here, and with this new Farm Bill, we reverse this travesty. And again, The Empire doesn’t yet know what it has allowed to happen.

First, a little clarity. There are hundreds of major strains of cannabis, the family’s latin name. They all share the ability to grow in less than ideal soils with minimal pesticide use. They have edible, oil rich seeds. Their stalks contain strong, durable fibers. They absorb heavy metals and radiation. Hemp has less than .03% of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Yet each strain has its unique characteristics. Hemp grown for fiber is planted closely together, with large, spindly patterns than can reach 15 feet. Hemp grown for oil has more widely spaced plants, with far more side branches to encourage bud and seed growth.

Cannibus varieties grown for THC also prefer wide spacing, to allow as many buds to form and develop as possible.

So why the big deal? Let’s start at 30,000 feet. Much of our current malaise is due to corporate globalism, a trade system developed for profit, not to fulfill human need. Shoes from China, shirts from the Philippines or Indonesia, food from South America, fossil fuels from the Middle East – we’ve been globalized, without really seeing the problem even as us older folk watched this process take place over decades. Here’s a good reference on our oldest cultivated plant.

With legal hemp we begin to reverse this trend, we start strengthening local production and hence our local communities. This will be tightly coupled with the local food movement, which is already gaining influence in many areas. A great blow against The Empire.

How? Here’s a bit of a list…

Hempcrete – the Roman Coliseum and viaducts were built with hempcrete, the hemp fibers adding centuries to the viable ‘life’ of the concrete. As we begin the huge task of rebuilding US infrastructure, hempcrete can be invaluable.

Fuel – biodiesel and ethanal/methanal – the seeds are pressed and processed for biodiesel, the stalks fermented to create ethanal/methanal fuels. Both are efficient and renewable.

Food – hemp seeds have a refreshing, nutty taste. They are a great addition to soups, salads, burgers and more. Hemp oil can be used in food as well.

Clothing – hemp fibers are strong and durable, and through processing can become quite soft. The material takes color dyes well too!

Shoes – slippers and sandals are easily fashioned. Heavy duty work boots will require more processed forms of help.

Composites – Any number of composites can be created from hemp parts. Indeed, many cars now have composites with a hemp base for dashboards and interior molds, just like the first Ford’s did 100 years ago.

Plastics – While our abusive relationship with disposable plastics requires a cultural shift, bioplastics made from hemp are far less damaging to our environments and oceans.

Medicines – CBDs (cannabinoids) are the current rage, able to help treat PTSD, arthritis and other conditions. The plant contains over a hundred cannabinoids, many with medicinal properties. CBDs are not psychoactive.

Even if you’re not stoned, this is an impressive list. Your mission, should you choose to join us, is to aid in our transition to local, hemp-based products. Farming, processing, distribution, new products, education and networking – there are tremendous opportunities. Fire logs, furniture, we don’t even know yet what we’re capable of being reunited with our old friend.

With hemp we gain a valuable resource for reducing the destruction of our already degraded home planet, Earth. We immediately reduce logging and its destructive footprint. The bleaching process to make paper from wood is eliminated as well. Imagine the boost we can bring to our communities with locally made clothes, fuel oils and food. Composites for the new 3D printing tech. It’s going to get wild, folks!

Curiously, the corrupt Trump administration has enabled the most substantial farm bill in decades. Now, the new congress can further policies which support hemp, which will surely support us.

Embracing hemp carries deeper overtones. Such work is healing and has us in intimate touch with the Earth and its natural cycles. It encourages us to embrace a radical new relationship with our natural world. It encourages us to be present to Life itself.

Now that the government is out of the way, the speed with which we reintroduce ourselves to our oldest plant friend is up to us. It will take a few years to re-find the knowledge and machinery used in the past, and to find our way forward with new ideas and technology. But the time when hemp is again pervasive in our culture is coming soon.

Looking for work or a new enterprise? Think hemp.

“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale.  Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.”  Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability.  Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter”.  He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.”  These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun.  Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations.  UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.”  Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged.  As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed.  Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate.  Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe.  The alarming thing here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”.  Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle.  They are the users and the exploited.  This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process.  The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed.  The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued.  Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking.  All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one.  Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users.  It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to do so.  Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”.  A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year.  “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”  That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby.  Material is still shared.  Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm.  Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few.  The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors.  It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming.  Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.