Category Archives: James Baldwin

The Circle Over the Triangle: A Collectivism and Cyclic Belief Change Comes Around

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence, by William Blake

There is an American Native game, counting coup, which is both rarefied and possibly the answer to the male testosterone/female co-opting of testosterone that has given rise to Civilizational humanity since the so-called fertile crescent gestated the evil arts of subjugating man, woman, child and ecosystems to a small cabal of landowners (sic) who got humanity to work for food.

I always go to Daniel Quinn and other neotribalists to look at the long-range, way back, to give some justification to a tribal and hunter-gatherer past that for many of us is locked in our genes, accessible to fewer and fewer people daily as the world becomes a landmine of DNA-warping, cell-depleting, culture-sapping madness orchestrated by white men (mostly).

In our cultural mythology we see ourselves as having left tribalism behind the way modern medicine left the leech and the bleeding bowl behind, and we did so decisively and irrevocably. This is why it’s so difficult for us to acknowledge that tribalism is not only the preeminently human social organization, it’s also the only unequivocally successful social organization in human history. Thus, when even so wise and thoughtful a statesman as Mikhail Gorbachev calls for “a new beginning” and “a new civilization,” he doesn’t doubt for a single moment that the pattern for it lies in the social organization that has introduced humanity to oppression, injustice, poverty, chronic famine, incessant violence, genocide, global warfare, crime, corruption, and wholesale environmental destruction. To consult, in our time of deepest crisis, with the unqualified success that humanity enjoyed here for more than three million years is quite simply and utterly unthinkable.

Daniel Quinn, Beyond Civilization: Humanity’s Next Adventure

What’s lovely about my own intersection with Gary Brumback – the author of the book this review-dash-screed is enveloping: Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites: Can the Living Field be Leveled?  — is that Gary reached out to me and solicited my comments and possible endorsement of this book (he’s a regular contributor to Dissident Voice), through the auspices of one of modern civilization’s double-edged swords – the world wide internet.

I think it’s both unreal and uniquely human to reach out across the digital universe, and when someone who is connected to me through my words, and finds some linkage, then I believe that’s sign enough to make some connection deeper, or revealing.

It’s gutsy for this 84-year-old former organizational psychologist to have reached out to me (I’m not now your typical thinker and writer), and the proof is in the pudding when it comes to his writing and then how the diner/reader of those ideas, through the grist of his words and grammar (courses) gets the true taste (or terroir) of the author’s (chef’s) orchestration of ideas and composition.

As many readers of my work know, I am captivated by holism and systems thinking, and many times I am looking at life – universalities — through my own optics. I understand the drive to want to understand how tidal wetlands work and how elephant seals can go down 7,770 feet for up to two hours without succumbing to the bends or nitrogen narcosis.

But inherent in that learning and yearning, I understand the power of attracting forces, both physics and metaphysics, and the value in coincidences, both mathematical and magical, and more and more, daily, I am grasping the reasoning for my own living and thinking and breathing. Here I am on the Oregon Coast (central) just having done my first day’s class to be a certified marine mammal (and to help tourists/visitors understand the other zoological and ecological concerns) naturalist. I was about to fiddle with my short story collection which is coming out in several months from Cirque Press, and I was also prepped to blog from my post here in Otis, Oregon.

Instead, I answered the email call from Gary to take a look at his book and write up something. What interests me most about fellows like Brumback is his tenacity to not only understand the world around him using a variety of tools from his 84 years on the planet, but also his desire to be one among us as writers – anti-authoritarian thinkers who deeply question the role of this country in the upsetting of people and cultures throughout the globe.

“Call of Duty” is what I see my role now turning 62 next week. I have engendered good will and hard learning in thousands of students, at public gatherings where I “ran the show” (a hat off to Ed Sullivan) and in my writing, big and small. I’ve written three-parts to my hell-hole experience working with homeless veterans at the Starvation Army in Oregon. But in reality, the linchpin for me is my call of duty, call and answer, to carry forth in any way possible, the message of revolt. Speaking of revolt, I remember hanging out with Robert Bly on two occasions – one time in El Paso as we made it over to Juarez for tequila, and another time 23 years later in Spokane with bourbon and quietude. I wrote a promo article for his appearance in Spokane as part of Get Lit!. His poem, “Call and Answer,” is powerful, even at 17 years old.

I bring this up as a tangent to describe some of what I interpret as the core value in Gary’s new book:

Call and Answer

Tell me why it is we don’t lift our voices these days
And cry over what is happening. Have you noticed
The plans are made for Iraq and the ice cap is melting?

I say to myself: “Go on, cry. What’s the sense
Of being an adult and having no voice? Cry out!
See who will answer! This is Call and Answer!”

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

How come we’ve listened to the great criers—Neruda,
Akhmatova, Thoreau, Frederick Douglass—and now
We’re silent as sparrows in the little bushes?

Some masters say our life lasts only seven days.
Where are we in the week? Is it Thursday yet?
Hurry, cry now! Soon Sunday night will come.

It is the Saturday of my life, most likely, as I just spent sometime at Cascadia Head, where the Salmon River and the Pacific Ocean battle it out during the various tides ebbing and flowing. Alone, with harbor seals popping their heads up, and their partner, a river otter, watching me look at two bald eagles looking for seal placenta to gobble up.

Here, visiting Canadian photographer Isabelle Hayeur who is on a residency at Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, is shooting the Oregon Coast. The Canadian is here on the Pacific Coast of Oregon for first time, and her residency continues her exploration of water and land, people and ecosystems — to show the changes to the ecosystems caused by humans. Here, that Cascadia Head shot and the Salmon hitting the Pacific near Lincoln City, Oregon.

See the source image

I know for sure as the colluding forces of capitalism – a real misanthropy of both the mind and body – eat at my exterior, the very simple act of movement — with my plodding bag of bones — if I am to survive in this sick world of capitulation of both parties working to mine the last corpuscles of the workers and working class — is sometimes herculean. It’s my Saturday, as Bly states, but I am not sure of this writer Gary’s place in time, if it’s Thursday for him, or Sunday.

I’m not saying this is the 84-year-old Brumback’s position, but I know his clarion calls are what Bly states clearly in these stanzas from this small poem –

We will have to call especially loud to reach
Our angels, who are hard of hearing; they are hiding
In the jugs of silence filled during our wars.

Have we agreed to so many wars that we can’t
Escape from silence? If we don’t lift our voices, we allow
Others (who are ourselves) to rob the house.

Brumback is looking to reach those angels of our better selves, and he is wanting the cries of great writers and thinkers, alive and passed on, to push out the silence that is engulfing the entire body politic and public of this ripped-off-land-and-killing-natives country that has made more than a trillion pacts with the devil, a foundation that daily reverberates as the grand Faustian bargain of keeping silent for the few spoils of capitalism.

Americans are in their own tight spot now: keeping on the lights, fridge half full, Super Bowl projected on plasma TV, the latest model of Jeep in the driveway, work that eats at the soul and the body. The bargain, I believe, Brumback is not so quick to go quietly into the night, as this book uncovers the full weight of an old man’s lamentations and ruminations.

His book is compelling for those young minds that have been colonized and whose hearts and souls have been metastasized by consumer culture, the true bedrock of capitalism. Small intonations of the country’s history and this current manifestation of corruption are the drumbeats to his march forward in this quickly drawn book of very big historical ideas unleashed for the uninitiated mind.

Back to that Native American counting coup allusion I begin with:  It’s sort of what I see unfolding as my own literary device while reading Brumback’s book, Life’s Triangles and America’s Power Elites. “Coup” for the Lakota and others was counted to establish position in the tribal honor system. Status mattered, and competition to count the greatest coup was intense. Here’s the beauty of this bravery – getting close enough to touch an enemy with a coup stick without causing him harm.

The self-styled book is by former organizational psychologist Brumback, who counts his own coup many times in this book, as he wanders through the history of the United States, with both whimsy and with a Quaker’s eye toward justice. He uses a variety of wide angle and telephoto angles in order to look deeper at the simple equation of the rich — with military might behind them — controlling the destiny of the country – us, its inhabitants – and the insecurity of the planet, from all the other inhabitants of 192 countries plus the flora and fauna of the planet’s Gaia.

Here, for the Lakota, killing an enemy far away or at long range did not count as a coup. Moreover, winning by overwhelming numbers counted as a “non coup.” Bravery involving a solitary warrior in a headlong battle charge that was climaxed by touching, with no lethal tap of a stick, now that was a coup, as Indians harmlessly touched an enemy with wooden sticks for the purpose of counting coup.

In so many ways, Brumback’s book “touches”—counts coup — upon the enemies of humankind, with myriad of histories of this country since first contact with those Lakota et al. The writer delves into the mess of the United Snakes of America utilizing quick riffs while cracking open these causal relationships of greed, power, hierarchy, elitism, pathology in this country’s early years and now advancing into today’s predatory capitalism and parasitic economics (or our Shock Doctrine derived from our Monroe Doctrine) Brumbuck is interested in.

He’s also demonstrating another sort of intellectual “counting coup” in a sense since Brumback touches the enemy with his own touchstones and short pithy points connecting to the current state of global affairs.

His goal, it seems, is to consolidate a lot of his writing over his 84 years on planet earth and to codify a body of work he’s studiously read and then to bring himself to some conclusion that there might be some hope for his children and grandchildren. His belief in organizational psychology as a determinant of how bloody sociopathic the not-so-modern corporation is and how that pathology has twisted and turned (morphed) into a gigantic toxic and self-replicating broken set of laws regulating the elite’s projects of domination and extermination is the umbrella covering his writing.

Oscar Wilde is right when defining a cynic in his work, Lady Windemere’s Fan, with Lord Darlington quip: “A person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

From Raj Patel’s first chapter, The Value of Nothing, Patel can help me understand Brumback’s criticism of capitalism and his somewhat of a defense of it in some idealized state that hasn’t yet existed:

From its inception, the free market has spawned discontent, but rare are the moments when that discontent coalesces across society, when a sufficiently large group of people can trace their unhappiness to free market politics, and demand change. The New Deal in the United States and the postwar European welfare states were partly a result of a consortium of social forces pushing for new limits to markets, and a renegotiation of the relationship between individuals and society. What’s new about this crisis is that it’s pervasively global, and comes at the last moment at which we might prevent a global climate catastrophe. But the breadth and depth of both these crises reflect how profoundly our society has been transfixed by free market culture. To understand how this will affect us in the twenty-first century, we need to understand how it began, and to ask why today’s markets look the way they do

Here, the book Gary sent me, in a nutshell, which Brumbuck puts in his own book’s preface:

Here’s a quick overview of this book. It’s a substantial distillation of and addition to my relevant books and articles on the subject.

The first chapter may seem very abstract and academic, but believe me, it is about very real matters, life itself. This chapter lays the groundwork for understanding why the power elite do what they do and what happens when they do it.

The second chapter explains the very nature of power and introduces my concept and illustration of the “power tower” with the elite at the top and the “les Misérables” at the very bottom with several levels in between.

Chapter Three probes what makes the power elite “tick” by looking inside their “black boxes.” When you read this chapter, you will understand that I don’t flippantly ascribe evil motives and evildoing to the power elite.

Chapter Four thoroughly describes and explains the power elite’s “badvantages,” my term for situations and circumstances that give advantage to bad behavior. For example, “our” government gives many handouts to its master, Corporate America.

Chapter Five describes the seemingly limitless bad behavior of the power elite and their functionaries of the corpocracy.

I want to warn you about Chapter Six. It is a true horror story of the consequences of the power elite’s evil doing. By the time you have finished reading this chapter you may be a bit depressed if you believe it is credible. As an antidote I’ll try to inject some homespun humor now and then, starting now. “There is no beating around the Bush, he is what he is.”

And finally, Chapter Seven asks whether the power tower with its power inequality can be changed to the power rectangle with its power equality; in other words, can the living field finally be levelled? This question explains the question mark at the end of the book’s subtitle. Putting there instead an exclamation mark would have been sheer balderdash.

What his book does is galvanize much of his reading – and respect for – other writers who have peered through the looking glass of the Military-Prison-Financial-Ag-Chemical-Education-Legal-Patent-Pharma-Med-IT-AI-Real Estate-Insurance-Education Complex to discover the truths many of us in the anti-authority/ anti-hierarchical/pro-humanity/ pro-universal rights of nature have discovered through our discourse, our deep and fledgling philosophies, and our own experiences in the insanity echo chamber that is modern and post-modern America.

He dedicates this book to Howard Zinn, and Brumback mentions that other books he himself has written could not have been envisioned or codified without the teachings and writings of Zinn:

I am also dedicating this book to the late Howard Zinn, the author of a book on American history that is a must read! I dedicated my previous book to him, which shows how indebted a follower I am. Like my previous book, I could not have written the one you have in your hands were it not for Mr. Zinn’s illuminating history book that tells the true history of America [A People’s History of the United States, 2005]. The power elite understandingly hate Mr. Zinn’s book. The former governor of my home state, for example, was gleeful upon hearing of Mr. Zinn’s death and promptly banned his book statewide from high school curricula. Is it any wonder that my high school history classes in the 1950’s remain the same today, “trivialized, militarized and numbing?”

What I love about this Will Rogersian approach to history Gary brings to this book is the power of his short, deliberate passages outlying the rules and madness that have been fomented in the name of a small elite in this country. He captivates himself in each section, as if new to the material himself, embarking on a self-styled journey to tell what he knows and what he’s read.

This book is a compilation, a Popular Mechanics and Farmer’s Almanac of Brumback’s autobiographical intersection at explaining how capitalism is a game of manipulated vestiges of a global  usury past, where Fiefdoms and Kingdoms and unholy alliances of dictators and religions have splayed humankind. No matter where Gary treads, he comes up with the same underpinning for the book, and his other books and probably all his other writings, as well as his own conundrum now in advanced age:

I’ll finally end this long Preface with two questions and an advance notice about my choice of certain nouns and pronouns.

First question: do you think on the one hand that there is a tolerable difference between a handful of evil doers choosing villagers in a far-away land and then bombing them to smithereens in our names and on the other hand the many millions of us letting it happen?

Second question: do you think the surviving loved ones blame the few or us in general? You can tell my answer by my varying use in the text of nouns versus pronouns. For example, instead of writing “the military bombs innocent people,” I will occasionally write “we bomb innocent people” to emphasize that whatever is done by a certain few is being done in our names. Since you might find this practice irritating if I always do it, I will do it only occasionally.

Here in the preface, Brumback sets up the entire tome on a simple proposition – what is done and said by/in Las Vegas/USA stays in/with those living/working/dying in Las Vegas/USA.

The contradiction is blaring, though, as one of my friends, Andre Vltchek states in his humanitarian and global writing – that the rest of the world, that is, the world other than Western Civilization; i.e., Europe/EU, UK, USA, Canada – pays for its/our so-called “higher standard” of living, higher level of economic/environmental/health well-being, and its/our unlimited (seemingly) time to ponder its/our own rotten and degenerate selves.

Through the eyes of someone (Gary’s unblindered eyes, as he states it in his book) in this country, USA, who believes that capitalism somehow can be fixed or somehow is derived from a fair system of checks and balances (however, capitalism always relies on growth and continual growth, antithetical to anything we know about the limits of growth, the finite systems), I venture close to proposing to Gary another set of principles needed to live as Homo Sapiens in this world, tied to retrenchement and a form of ecosocialism, far from any new and improved or regurgitated capitalism:  we are living in a closed system of planet earth, and the fragility of the commons (air, water, sea, land, food) now is even more pronounced with ecosystems collapsing (Sixth Mass extinction on steroids) from over over-harvesting, over-polluting, over-rearranging/razing.

Ecosocialism is Utopian, but so are we as writers and thinkers:

Ecosocialism is a vision of a transformed society in harmony with nature, and the development of practices that can attain it. It is directed toward alternatives to all socially and ecologically destructive systems, such as patriarchy, racism, homophobia and the fossil-fuel based economy. It is based on a perspective that regards other species and natural ecosystems as valuable in themselves and as partners in a common destiny.

Ecosocialism shares with traditional socialism a passion for justice. It shares the conviction that capitalism has been a deadly detour for humanity. We understand capitalism to be a class society based on infinite expansion, through the exploitation of labor and the ransacking of nature.

Ecosocialists are also guided by the life-ways of indigenous peoples whose economies are embedded in a classless society in fundamental unity with nature. We draw upon the wisdom of the ages as well as the latest science, and will do what can be done to bring a new society, beyond capitalism, into existence.

I go back to Andre Vltchek  who looks at the polluting effects of capitalism on cultures wide and far, tied to the so-called artist :

You say “European cultural institutions”, and what should come immediately to mind are lavish concerts, avant garde art exhibitions, high quality language courses and benevolent scholarships for talented cash-strapped local students.

It is all so noble, so civilized!

Or, is it really? Think twice!

I wrote my short novel, “Aurora”, after studying the activities of various Western ‘cultural institutions’, in virtually all the continents of the Planet. I encountered their heads; I interacted with the ‘beneficiaries’ of various funding schemes, and I managed to get ‘behind the scenes’.

What I discovered was shocking: these shiny ‘temples of culture’ in the middle of so many devastated and miserable cities worldwide (devastated by the Western imperialism and by its closest allies – the shameless local elites), are actually extremely closely linked to Western intelligence organizations. They are directly involved in the neo-colonialist project, which is implemented virtually on all continents of the world, by North America, Europe and Japan.

‘Culture’ is used to re-educate and to indoctrinate mainly the children of the local elites. Funding and grants are put to work where threats and killing were applied before. How does it work? It is actually all quite simple: rebellious, socially-oriented and anti-imperialist local artists and thinkers are now shamelessly bought and corrupted. Their egos are played on with great skill. Trips abroad for ‘young and talented artists’ are arranged, funding dispersed, scholarships offered.

Carrots are too tasty, most would say, ‘irresistible’. Seals of approval from the Empire are ready to stamp those blank pages of the lives of still young, unrecognized but angry and sharp young artists and intellectuals from those poor, colonized countries. It is so easy to betray! It is so easy to bend.

Please note I am not comparing Gary or his book to other writers or their books/writing, some of whom he cites liberally throughout this latest one. I believe in a new way of book analysis, or reviewing a book – by putting myself into the stream of consciousness that cascades for someone like myself who in the process of reading will take to heart how closely or far away that content resonates with my own life and my own writing. It is the power of a book like Gary’s to incite not only my own deep introspection about what it means to be an American, someone who has worked (albeit struggled by not getting bought and sold by corporate America, but still . . . sold down the river in the careers I’ve held), but also what it means to be counter to almost anything and everything this country produces or stands for in its national collective consciousness.

His thesis for the book is tied to his own backing of organizational psychology. He uses these equations to illustrate where he’s coming from:

Anyone’s Equation:
Person + Context = Person’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Organization’s Equation:
Organization + Context = Organization’s Behavior + Consequences

Any Nation’s Equation :
Nation + Context = Nation’s Behavior + Consequences

Of course, every person, every organization, every nation has their own equations, sort of like a unique DNA code. The specific details in any equation can change from day to day, except some of the details for chronic habits like that of America’s endless warring and spying change less.2 A nation, therefore, over the entire course of its history may have gone through zillions of its more significant equations with varying details in the input side.

Thus, what anyone, any organization or any nation do throughout their lives depends on themselves and their contexts. Behavior never happens without both and will never be fully explained without both.

Beyond his background in psychology, Brumback looks to his writing now as a way to express his historical knowledge of America’s bloody programs of subjugation and to militate his belief in non-violence as he was reared as a Quaker.

He sets up the book by talking about his background working with organizations, treating them sort of speak to heal themselves, which in the end he sees as impossible under the current structures of limited liability companies and the bigger transnational corporations that are rapacious in every way.

Brumback alludes to working a long time for industry, the US federal government and non-profit research business. The power of the company man, and his own background in academics (a rather conservative and lock-step group think cabal), he admits, muted his criticism of the Viet Nam War as he was then (1960-75) fearful of endangering his career and his family.

He talks of being a “recovering” academese reader, writer and talker, and his book is far from any sort of style found in the pedantic journals where members of the nefarious American Psychology Association dump their stories on.

Brumback: This book is therefore as deliberate ‘street write’ as I can make it, a conversation, although one-way with you.

Interestingly, he gives us 12 Facts (as seen in a Jan. 23, 2019 Dissident Voice piece) that are not truths that have embedded into the American mindset, the American propaganda of historical warping, lying and outright censorship. There is a reason why this country goes into zombie or dervish mode every year — when two multi-billion dollar organizations, Rams and Patriots, under the umbrella of a white patriarchy elitism called the NFL — watching entitled, redneck or mute millionaire players whose ultimate contribution to society is to sell cars, beer, Viagra and the lies of empire on their way to permanent Traumatic Brain Injury hell.

  • False Fact: The American Revolution was fought to free the people from suppression by King George and his chartered corporations.
  • False Fact: “We the people of the United States——-do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • False Fact: We are the “United States of America.”
  • False Fact: America is a democracy.
  • False fact: America’s Civil War was fought to free the slaves.
  • False fact: America’s wars have been unavoidable and just.
    False Fact: Whistleblowers are traitors.
  • False Fact. Our nation’s military represents the best this country has to offer.
  • False Fact. America’s war veterans are heroes.
  • False Fact: To rationalize its own excesses, including its hand-outs from the government, corpocratic capitalists spout the theory of trickle-down economics as a rationalization for their own hefty welfare benefits, arguing that more money at the top will eventually trickle down to the bottom in the way of jobs.
  • False Fact: The rich say the poor get what they deserve.
  • False Fact. Public services need to be privatized because government is inefficient and costly.

In many ways, Brumback has both fun moments and sarcastic fluidity  with these American exceptionalist delusions throughout his book, but he is serious about launching a straightforward attack on the elite’s continual degradation of the citizenry of this country: hollowing out our “symbolic democracy” through the systematic formula of penury, debt slavery, theft of the commons resources, the rapacious appetite to despoil ecosystems and communities, the socializing of the externalities of their dirty businesses and then in turn privatizing all the profits; and, finally, their basically illegal, unethical and unconstitutional ways of going about their wealth and political power accumulation.

What I like best about this book is the earnestness that Brumback brings to the page. He is there to guide the reader into the hall of mirrors and house of horrors that embody America. He is a troubadour for truth and unraveling the seemingly complexities of the elite’s rule over the majority, the 90 percent of us who are not any part of the Point Zero Zero One percent’s project of human annihilation.

In the end, Brumback hits back at the idea of nature versus nurture, at the very end of the book:

Recall in Chapter 3 that I included genetics as an input in the black box. Our genetic history simply can’t be denied. But when it comes to being bad or good morally speaking, what do we know about the role of genetics, and does it really matter?

Psychologist Stephen Mason concludes that “some people are, quite simply, born bad.”

Not so concludes psychologist Dacher Keltner. “He finds that positive emotions lie at the core of human nature.”

Two diametrically opposed conclusions. My conclusion is that while babies are innocent at the instant of birth because they have not had time to behave badly, some will eventually do so habitually, and some won’t. What role nature plays in influencing their behavior is immaterial in my opinion. What matters from a practical standpoint is the question of how to deal with the resulting wrongdoing.

What’s your opinion?

While we can argue over epigentics and the complete failure of the human seed and human semen to produce unadulteratedly since the  products of capitalism; i.e., toxins, from Teflon to aromatic particulates, from Atrazine to PCBs, from glyphosate to flame retardant, from mercury to cesium, have overtaken humanity and all zoological systems.

Is Donald Trump, the sociopath that he is, friend and abuser with Jeffrey Epstein and Roy Cohn, and that Donald whose father is in a Woody Guthrie song for the old man’s racism, well, is that president (sic-sic) who represents the ills of the father and the unfettered protection of his elite class and the muscle of his casino thugs, is Donald, with NPD (narcissistic personalty disorder), responsible for his hatred, racism, lies, and power hunger? Or is it his upbringing, or months inside his mama’s womb, or the people around him to blame?

roy cohn

That’s the crux of the book, really: Brumback is asking the reader to judge for ourselves the depth of the conspiracy of the rich toward absolute control of the majority. Is there true evil in the world, or are all children borne of original sin?

Those toxins and carcinogenics and structural violence systems were created, marketed, sold, defended, patented by men/women, in corporations. The socipathic definition of a corporation is the same as the person, but can we give a free ride to the majority of people in the corporation who are just, to recoin my favorite phrase, Little Eichmanns?

In any sense, the embodiment of the Hudson Bay Company is the message in the Heart of Darkness, which reflects the individual as sociopath and the LLC as sociopathic, as the amorality of corporations is obvious from a million cases we all can tap into from the written record. That these companies — polluters — have gained personhood is compelling, from the start of this country’s slide deeper and deeper into the morass of capitalism — set forth 133 years ago in 1886 in the Supreme Court case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. This obscure case set the precedent that corporations have some rights under the 14th Amendment and were given de-facto personhood.

So, then, we have given corporations even higher status in this personhood allusion/legal definition in the Citizens United Case . What sort of person is a corporation?

Are they philanthropic and kind to their neighbors or are they the kind of people who will slit your throat to take your wallet?

For most of us in the Brumback class, we see the very nature of the corporation as both amoral and sociopathic.

They exist to make money, regardless of the social consequences. And they have gotten legal protections from the consequences of their crimes — a true Mafioso or cartel paying off the politicians and the cops and judges to gain unimaginable wealth and power over us, the 90 percent.

A sociopath and a corporation have identical incentive structures and motivations:

  • Both sociopaths and corporations exist for the sole purpose of self-centered goals—sociopaths want a variety of things (money, power, sex, etc.) while corporations are solely focused upon making money.

  • Neither has an internal sense of morality and, barring intervention from a more powerful authority, both are willing to exploit others in service of their goal; just as how a sociopath may be willing to lie, cheat and steal their way through life, a corporation is willing to use child sweatshop labor to depress costs.

  • Both sociopaths and corporations are constrained through risk/reward analysis—sociopaths weigh the value or pleasure of doing something immoral against the legal/social risks, while corporations weigh the profit of their actions against the cost of legal/social actions against their agenda.

In the end, we have to develop both sensitivities and thick skins in the gambit called This American Life. Brumback makes his claim to some of those contradictions and dichotomies in his book. He can be contacted by the reader here for more information on ordering the book. Gary Brumback.

I sign off with the words of Eduardo Galeano whose Memory of Fire trilogy sets deep in my soul. From an interview:

I want to be an honest man and a good writer, as James Baldwin was. I greatly admired him. He once told a story that I used in the third volume of Memory of Fire. He was very young, and he was walking down the street with a friend, a painter. They stop at a red light. “Look,” says the friend. Baldwin sees nothing, except a dirty pool of water. The friend insisted: “Look at it, really.” So Baldwin takes a good look and sees a spot of oil spreading in the puddle. In the spot of oil, he sees a rainbow, and the street moving, and people moving in the street; and he sees madmen and magicians and the whole world moving. The universe was there in that little pool. On that day, Baldwin said, he learned to see. For me, that’s an important lesson. I am always trying to look at the universe through the little puddles in the streets.

The Fires This Time

This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

— James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

The wildfires may be out of the headlines, but they are not out. Visual images seem the only way to comprehend the scope. The cluster of little flaming circles indicating active fires, crowded over interactive maps of the Western U.S. and Canada, covering their landmasses like an infestation of cartoon bugs, and with NASA’s hallucinatory satellite imagery color-coding them among all the atmospheric wildness in Gaia’s Revenge this summer: smoke, fire, dust, deluge, typhoon. However, the sheer acreage burned requires a return to the numerical: there’s no way to capture it in a single image. And yet whatever those numbers are, they still seem utterly disconnected from the Dow Jones, or the price of eggs at the supermarket, or flights to Spain, and so they are still inadequate.

But in Canada, with 550 fires burning last month in British Columbia alone, and smoke coating the west from border to border and beyond, someone thought to write about the mental and physical anguish of being surrounded by wildfire and its consequences, watching a familiar landscape, once vibrant, benevolent, be transformed into something fearful and toxic, in which you are trapped. When the suffocating smoke covers a thousand miles for weeks on end, where is there to run?

The article mentions the concept of “solastalgia,” a word coined to describe the experience of longing for a lost place when you are still in it—when you haven’t changed location, but it has changed character, for the worse. Uprootings, migration, exile: these, and the trauma they cause, have been endemic to civilization from the get-go, because civilization has been sustained by warfare. But to see your home place transmogrified by chthonic forces into an alien and hostile environment even as it still surrounds you—this is a sea change. (Literally, for some communities.) It means, among other things, that something is happening on a scale whereby the privilege of not being uprooted by merely human imbalances of power is no longer worth much.

There is a fearful sense that “thinking globally” will always require solastalgia now. That we are, Big Yellow Taxi-style, discovering the importance of places in our lives, and of the biosphere we grew up in, even as we lose them, forever.

The Meaning of 1968

It is also exactly half a century since the “fateful fork” year of 1968. We have just passed the anniversary of the bloody police riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago – Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy are already assassinated, Paris’ May uprising quelled and its energy disintegrating, the Prague Spring crushed. The final phase of the Tet offensive ends with no general revolt and staggering Viet Cong casualties, preparing the way for years of mass slaughter in a military deadlock, the U.S. defeat already inevitable, the Vietnamese victory Pyrrhic. Still ahead that year: the murder of hundreds of student protesters and fellow marchers in Mexico City in October, to make Mexico safe for the Olympics. In November: the triumph of Richard Nixon, successfully playing on the fears of Southern racists to get them to abandon the Democratic Party.

We have never escaped the shadow of that year of disenchantment. Not with the formal decolonization of Africa, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the election of a neoliberal black man as U.S. President. In the ensuing 50 years, only one revolution has had the kind of cumulative, irreversible, touching-all-lives effect that we used to mean when we used the term: the technological one. Information, communication, and the means of production have been revolutionized, without in any way diminishing alienation, systemic violence, or exploitation. “Everything has changed, except the mind of man [sic],” said Einstein after the atom was split. The second half of that sentence ought to be tagged on every time the first is used nowadays as well.

James Baldwin’s rhetoric was already apocalyptic in 1962 when the essays in The Fire Next Time were published. By 1968 he had seen too much of it, too much of “kill the best and buy the rest,” (as Bruce Cockburn sang twenty years later, when the utopian hopes that had been razed in the U.S., Europe, Africa, and Asia rose briefly in Latin America, only to be crushed again.) Ed Pavlic, Baldwin scholar, says in one of a group of excellent articles in the Boston Review: “Baldwin described the journey from 1955 to 1969 as a ‘terrible descent.’” It’s interesting how differently white progressives and radicals saw that same arc. But history bears Baldwin out as the more prescient—he knew that if race relations in the U.S. could not be transformed, there would be no meaningful social progress of any kind. The rest of the “two-thirds” world, and now, we clearly see, the world of nature, are simply other foci of systemically reinforced objectification.

Baldwin, America’s greatest essayist, perhaps the 20th century’s best from any land, suffered himself to vibrate in every nerve and capture with every word the horror of a society in complete denial of just about everything that could redeem it: its past, the blood on its hands; its fears: of blackness, sensuality and sexuality, honesty, complexity, intellect, love. Its servile and now centuries-long acceptance of the constructed notion that “the concept of Property was more important—and more real—than the possibilities of the human being.”

For a time, he used his formidable skills to try to wake white people from the zombie-like trance of their parsimonious privilege to see that the richness of a real life would only be possible—for them—if all were free. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, as an old order seemed to be breaking down around the world, his central question was: How much can Americans truly stand of this nightmare before we shake it off? Surely, now we must begin to wake. But with the murder of King, he realized without question that whiteness would not be dissolved on his watch. The collective capacity to go along to get along, to refuse to know what was profoundly evident, to ignore or even defend lies, torture and killing, turned out to be every bit as great as he had feared, and infinitely greater than he might once have dared to hope. He went on speaking out for two more decades, but with the bitter knowledge that his words were without agency against the Biggest American Lie.

Beyond the Fateful Fork

That privileged capacity for denial, accommodation and selective blindness is as pronounced as ever, now that the world is burning and flooding. Fifty years on from 1968, a global consumer society now exists that has not resolved a single fundamental question that the 20th century posed of how we ought to live, in the way Baldwin construed it, one which has only deepened its contradictions (“incoherence,” Pavlic says, was Baldwin’s chosen word, for both the personal and the political miasma) at electronically accelerated speed. This, now that the teleological ideologies of the 20th century have all dissolved in blood, is a civilization with no vision beyond immediate perpetuation, become nothing more than a Brobdingnagian game of Jenga.

Lerone Bennett, historian of slavery, coined the phrase “fateful fork.” When he reviewed the history of European civilization on this continent, he identified missed opportunity after missed opportunity to create a society that did not depend upon the objectification of some by others in order to function.

A nation is a choice. It chooses itself at fateful forks in the road by turning left or right, by giving up something or taking something — and in the giving up and the taking, in the deciding and not deciding, the nation becomes. And ever afterwards, the nation and the people who make up the nation are defined by the fork and by the decision that was made there, as well as by the decision that was not made there. For the decision, once made, engraves itself into the landscape, engraves itself into things, into institutions, nerves, muscles, tendons; and the first decision requires a second decision, and the second decision requires a third, and it goes on and on, spiraling in an inexorable process which distorts everything and alienates everybody.1

With the utmost respect for those uncounted millions who have valiantly tried to rescue civilization from itself—to create, out of the torrents of blood that have gushed down the millennia like those in the elevator scene from The Shining, the first civilization that was not also “a document of barbarism,” as Walter Benjamin wrote—perhaps the notion of missed opportunity isn’t really salient here. Perhaps there’s something more fundamental at work. In fact, what Bennett seems to be describing is more like what scientists call a feedback loop. Once a collective choice is inscribed it is reified, making its unmaking impossible, and even its overturning increasingly difficult. The idea that revolution would represent a tabula rasa, a total reboot, was the ultimate logical fallacy. We need to revise our notion of progress, because the old Enlightenment view of an inevitably upward trajectory for humanity, as unidirectional as the timeline, is patently wrong.

And now a revolution is happening, on a scale larger than humans have ever seen. But it is nature’s revolt, not humanity’s. We have never lived in a world warming as quickly (and thus as chaotically) as the one we are entering. We have never witnessed a Great Extinction, never mind perpetuated one. At the same time, human society has never been a single global entity, so populous, so vastly complex, and therefore so vulnerable to reverberating effects from seemingly minor events as it is now. And our civilization’s response so far is to double down on the behaviors that unleashed the revolution—but that is because hierarchical civilization is the very definition of a feedback loop, one that has been reifying its precepts for thousands of years to attain this global reach.

Energy and systems theorist Richard Heinberg says our contemporary hierarchies, our systemic inequalities, are stark enough to be analogous to predator-prey relationships. While he rightly qualifies the metaphor repeatedly in order to avoid pernicious social Darwinism (like predators being somehow “superior” to prey species), he uses it to show how extreme inequality (over-predation) is a feature of a particular phase in both natural ecosystems and human societies. That phase generally heralds a rapid reduction in energy consumption, levels of complexity and population size. In the context of an integrated global society, however, it becomes a question of impacts that stretch beyond a single generation:

To the extent that we are today eroding the carrying capacity on which future generations would otherwise depend, our way of life could be characterized as intergenerational “predation;” to put it crudely, the old are “eating” the young.

Reinventing the Futureand the Present

What to do with such a time? Many conscientious collective responses are possible; many are already in motion; none is likely on its own to be transformative. But since you can’t solve a problem with the thinking that created it, maybe one meaningful place to start is in re-conceptualizing the real, and then re-imagining the possible.

In an essay for The Dark Mountain Project, ecologist Tim Fox asks us to flip our conceptual script. Imagine that there is not a final cataclysm somewhere on the horizon (nor is there some kind of anthropo-topia, technocratic socialist or otherwise), but that you are already living in an apocalypse that has been unfolding for generations, like a volcanic eruption in slow motion. This is what civilization looks like from the perspective of the planet’s biodiversity, and the diversity of its indigenous cultures. Then begin to imagine that the post-apocalypse, instead of being a dreaded wasteland, is the time when a different human presence emerges: multiform, circumscribed, integrated—like the non-human species in a healthy ecosystem. A revivification and re-diversification, such as have followed previous mass extinctions. As Fox says:

So long as the prevailing stories continue to paint the Apocalypse as a nightmarish tomorrow rather than as a current event, we’ll continue to prolong and worsen the very thing we are trying, with increasing desperation, to avoid. We will also continue to miss the opportunity before us: a better world.

And that is where words come in, and images, and agency. For our narratives have only one kind of agency, and that is to enable the survival of ideas that can inspire broadly collective behaviors at some confluence of events that we can try to facilitate but cannot foresee.

L’imagination au pouvoir! comes echoing through the clouds of tear gas down the decades since May 1968. And somewhere a picture of John Carlos and Tommie Smith raising their fists on the podium at the Mexico City Olympics is circulating right now. The survival of such memes is as important for our cognitive and social evolution as genes are for our physical evolution. As long as they remain in our collective memory, however faintly, they have a chance to find expression in the culture we create, down the eons or in the next instant. We are both shaper and shaped, and the stories we tell ourselves are as important to the shaping as anything else we do. If they appropriate our imaginations instead of stimulating them, that’s a sure sign they are not the narratives that will help us thrive in a thriving world.

In his introduction to the 1984 edition of Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin quotes Doris Lessing: “…while the cruelties of the white man toward the black man are among the heaviest counts in the indictment against humanity, colour prejudice is not our original fault, but only one aspect of the atrophy of the imagination that prevents us from seeing ourselves in every creature that breathes under the sun.” (emphasis mine)

If we are faithful to that conception, then we will recognize that our new pietá is the image of an orca mother in the Salish Sea carrying her dead calf for 17 days. We won’t worship death, or despise our own humanity, but we will allow ourselves to grieve a lost ecosystem, a species gone extinct, and we will understand how we are implicated in them. We won’t wait for a future cataclysm and some eschatological redemption; we will recognize that the post-apocalypse begins now, with us. Rather than conjuring up the classic post-apocalyptic wasteland, we will conjure up an Enlivenment, our stunted political imaginations revivified by biophilia, regeneration, belonging.

Baldwin, knowing exactly how bad things were by 1984, how miserabilist American society was, and how much human possibility had been betrayed since the fateful fork of 1968, responds to Lessing’s words:

“Amen. En avant.”

  1. Lerone Bennett, “The Road Not Taken,” from The Shaping of Black America. Chicago: Johnson Publishing Co., 1975, pp. 61-82. Originally published in Ebony, vol. 25 (August, 1970), pp. 71- 77).

Israel Commemorates Nakba with Mass Murder at the Gaza Fence

One of the essential features of European colonialism were the boundaries drawn between Europeans and so-called Western civilization and everyone else. Even during the European enlightenment, the accepted philosophical justifications for human inequality in Western liberal thought meant that women, the colonized, the enslaved and non-property holders occupied different rungs on the ladder of humanity and were excluded from demanding same inherent rights as the White, male bourgeoisie.

The “othering” of human beings on the basis of race, gender, religion, class and later nationality was embedded in the collective consciousness of Europe. But in the colonial context, the process of othering wasn’t just psychological but also physical.  In that context the stratification of humanity into those categories of people who had rights that were recognized and everyone else, had deadly consequences for those individuals and peoples who fell into the category of “other.”

Barbed wire, apartheid walls, railroad tracks, fences guarded by armed officers of the state, and the reservation system perfected in the United States as part of its conquest and containment of Indigenous nations, were some of the boundaries used to police difference.

It is at one of those colonial separations between the “fully human” Israelis and the Palestinians where the latest colonial outrage is taking place. In one day at a fence on a barren strip of land in Gaza that separates “Israel” from the open-air concentration camp where 1.5 million Palestinians are confined known as Gaza, over 50 Palestinians were systematically murdered by heavily armed soldiers positioned elevated on mounds of dirt that turned the unarmed protesters who approached the fence to protest their confinement and occupation into a killing zone. This happened the day before the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe in Arabic, when 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and turned into permanent refugees.

While the bodies of men, women and even children were rushed away from the fence after having their bodies torn to shreds by live ammunition, the world’s elites were drinking champagne and celebrating the move of the embassy of one racist, settler-colonial state—the United States—to the conquered capital of another racist, colonial state, Israel.

Watching those scenes of horror, I couldn’t help but wonder about the psychological health of anyone who could find a way to reconcile themselves to that kind of madness. How one could somehow explain away the brutality. How one week you can be prepared to go to war because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad allegedly killed over 40 people with gas, but remain silent while dozens of human beings are systematically murdered right before our eyes. The events in Gaza reminded me once again of the insight James Baldwin provided that has become the recurring theme of my writings, and that is the psychopathology of white supremacy.

The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their ‘vital interests’ are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the ‘sanctity’ of human life, or the conscience of civilized world.

One would think tear gas and bullets today would tear away any semblance of civilization that gave cover to the Israeli colonial project. But that pathology is too deeply ingrained in the collective imagination and thinking of the West to be jettisoned by one incident of brutality when the West has been destroying whole nations over the last decade and a half in the Middle East.

On the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the “catastrophe” that resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the theft of their lands, homes, and even their household possessions, the message today was clear: the Israeli state is prepared to maintain its apartheid state by any means necessary.  The catastrophe for the Palestinians was the birth of Israel and was celebrated by the Israeli state with tear gas, bullets and the blood of Palestinians.

For those of us, confined to the zones of non-being with Palestinians and all of the other victims of this 500-year-old nightmare, we have always known what Samuel Huntington openly admitted:

The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion (to which few members of other civilizations were converted) but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.

For the de-colonized, we have always understood that simple fact. Our experiences with the horror of European imperialism has steeled us against those same very same horrors.  So, we are not surprised or shocked by the brutality and the moral hypocrisy of Gaza, because we understand Hitler and Nazism. We have had an intimate relationship with Hitler and Nazism for over 500 years.

Hitler came to the Americas in 1492. He traveled with the conquistadors as they destroyed the Aztecs and then the Incas. He oversaw the Transatlantic Slave Trade, then went to the Congo and reduced the population by 5 million. He rode with U.S soldiers at Wounded Knee and advised the French, British, and Portuguese to attempt to keep their colonies after the second imperialist war in 1945 no matter how much native blood was shed.

Aime Cesaire captured the historic travels of Hitler and Nazism, the Nazism we see today in Gaza and in the halls of the U.S. Congress.

They say: ‘How strange! But never mind—it’s Nazism, it will pass!’ And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up all the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps, and trickles from every crack. Yes, it would be worthwhile to study clinically, in detail, the steps taken by Hitler and Hitlerism and to reveal to the very distinguished, very humanistic, very Christian bourgeois of the twentieth century that without his being aware of it, he has a Hitler inside of him, that Hitler inhabits him, that Hitler is his demon, that if he rails against him, he is being inconsistent and that, at bottom, what he cannot forgive Hitler for is not the crime in itself, the crime against man, it is not the humiliation if man as such, it is the crime against the white man, the humiliation of the white man, and the fact that he applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively for the Arabs of Algeria, the ‘coolies’ of India, and the ‘niggers’ of Africa.”

Zionism aligned itself with the European colonial project and adapted its methods, embraced its white supremacy and in the process has written its future. Zionism is Hitlerism, as is the capitalist European colonial project and so Israel’s fate is sealed as the day of reckoning with the 500-year European project as it faces its inglorious end.