- Real-life corporate executives are actually starting to corroborate what every rational person has understood for years about the Kansas government’s (and Tea Party conservatism’s) thinly-veiled efforts of wholesale privatization. So maybe there’s something to it? (And how’s that working out for Kansas?)
- If ExxonMobil gets its way, corporate fraud will be enshrined as freedom of speech!
- So it turns out that Democrats probably aren’t learning much from their temporary Bernie scare. I hate to say I told you so, but yeah. . .
- And keeping up with Brazil, what many rational observers strongly suspected the entire time finally comes out: the “anti-corruption protests” that led to President Rousseff’s ouster-coup were fomented — and funded — by the corrupt, right-wing opposition. If you’re not calling it a “coup” yet, you’re ignoring reality.
Archive for the Uncategorized Category
The following thoughts were first written while in Colombia when the Virginia Tech shooting occurred (4/16/07). They suffer somewhat from my diffuse, rambling state of mind at the time.
Obviously the circumstances surrounding each shooting are vastly different, but they share similar aspects in that both shooters were maladjusted, emotionally unstable ethnic minorities with deep anger issues. (They also both had absurdly easy access to high-powered assault weapons, but that’s a separate issue.) While we know more about Omar Mateen’s motivations than we ever did about Seung-Hui Cho’s, the following thoughts address the broader phenomenon of mass shootings.
My original intent was explanation, but I freely acknowledge that much of my argument is anecdotal and overly theoretical. There’s not much hard evidence below, it’s more an attempt to piece facts together into an explanation using logic and intuition. Obviously I still believe it has some value (and I still personally agree with most of the sentiments), or I wouldn’t have taken the time to publish it almost a decade after the fact.
One of my greatest frustrations in the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting was how the vast majority of people I discussed it with had eagerly swallowed the “But what happened in those 2 hours?” bullshit that every screaming media outlet was force-feeding us: There were two hours in between the first killing and the massacre, so how had Cho been allowed to continue? And more importantly for them: Who failed in catching him?
But the ‘problem’ of no one being prepared enough for a 30-person massacre was discussed as if the entire event were some predictable thing that should have been avoided; as if a huge security flaw had to be fixed immediately; as if every mentally unstable kid in America was now going to target VTU and must be stopped at all costs. They were going to fire the President/Chancellor and the head of security, reorganize the campus police and install metal detectors, and all of it would be a pathetic and pointless reaction to an isolated event that was completely impossible to predict and will never, ever happen again in the same way.*
When are we going to learn to start fighting these events at their roots rather than reacting in such a pointless, reflexive way? The same thing happened with 9-11, then the shoe-bomber, and then with the gatorade bombers in London. Respectively, we increased airport security, started banning lighters and matches, and then went to the ridiculous length of banning toothpaste. We always react to these events as if someone’s going to try the exact same thing over again. But really what the government is doing is trying to convince its citizens to feel safer, to convince us that they’re are doing something to actively combat the threat, that they’ve got everything under control.
In reality, outside of superficial propaganda there is nothing beyond gun control that our government can say or do that will reassure us. Otherwise these events are completely unpredictable and unpreventable, period. The sooner we learn that and accept it, the sooner we can start working on an actual solution, and not just one of the pretty PR types which amounts to little more than pathetically trying to bandage a gunshot wound with a tissue: it won’t help, there’s a good chance it will increase the bleeding, and it’ll only make an idiot feel better.
What we should be doing is figuring out a way to alleviate the feeling of social isolation – and, in the case of terrorism, the hatred of America throughout the Middle-East – that leads to these random psychotic episodes. The media and the politicians can offer their delayed, ham-fisted reactions to these concrete manifestations of psychic discontent until we’re all living in a police state, but it’s not going to improve anything except their control of us ordinary citizens.
This discussion relates to a broader difference in violence I noticed during my travels in Latin America, a difference between U.S. violence and that which occurs south of our border. In Latin America, you don’t truly feel safe as a white foreigner who is obviously from a more developed country. There’s the constant threat of robbery and physical violence, mainly due to your obvious wealth amidst such extreme poverty. For example, in my time there I had no nice clothes or jewelry and was actually dirty and raggedy by Latino standards, but I was already wealthier than 90% of the people I encountered just by virtue of being there (via a plane ticket comparable in price to their annual salaries). But even with the frequent threat of robbery and opportunistic violence, I could still understand the motivations for such crime and thus be better prepared. I could avoid most of the situations in which I would have been an obvious target.
In the U.S., on the other hand, there is no predicting the violence. It’s of a completely unpredictable nature. We’ve built an impressively tight security net and isolated opportunistic violence into small ‘problem areas’ (i.e., ghettos, often inhabited by minorities), all of which we wealthier white folks know not to visit. The problem of need-based crime is relatively non-existent. This is the privilege of living in a functioning 1st-world society.
The trade-off, unfortunately, is that we have to live with the constant low-grade anxiety that someone is going to snap and go on a killing spree at work or school, or maybe kidnap our child to fulfill their sick sexual fantasies, or simply start sniping people randomly for the sheer pleasure of it. All of these types of crimes are inherently unpredictable. The chief difference in violence between the two regions, then, is between logical and illogical crimes. Underdeveloped countries have a predictable amount of both while more developed countries like Europe and of course the U.S. have a disproportionate amount of the latter.
My background in psychology leads me to guess that the root cause is some psychological need that’s going widely unfulfilled in our much wealthier societies. My own personal bias compels me to blame our culture of capitalism and rabid individualism, a sink-or-swim game in which some players have 5-lb. weights on their ankles.
What options are left to people who feel constantly abused by the system and have no one to turn to for support? By what social norms or moral duties is a person bound when he has no loved ones to reinforce them, to gently chide him for his transgressions? What is a person to use as a moral compass when he almost literally lives in a vacuum? A small cramped apartment by himself, with his only company the TV, or a cat, or his thoughts?
I would argue that no other society has de-emphasized family and community as much as we have. And the results are visible in the horrendous mental health record, in our suicide rates, and in the amount of Prozac sold.**
Perhaps Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs is an appropriate explanation tool. According to his theory, self-actualization – the fulfillment of a person as a complete human being – is the pinnacle of human motivation. But it’s only possible after one satisfies all of the needs below it in the hierarchy. Immediately below self-actualization is the need for esteem, both self-esteem and respect from others, usually through achievement. In other words, it’s necessary to feel good about yourself and your achievements before you can self-actualize. Necessary before one achieves esteem is the fulfillment of love and belonging, through family, friendship and romantic love or sexual intimacy. Before love comes safety: security of body, health, family and property. At the most basic level are one’s physiological needs such as air, food, water, sleep, and clothing.
It was pretty logical really, taking Colombia and the U.S. as the two sample countries. In Colombia, a place in which almost ½ the population was struggling on one of the first two levels of the pyramid (safe food and water, clothing, shelter, and physical security), the vast majority of the crime seemed to be of the opportunistic variety: violent criminals stealing in an effort to obtain money and take care of these basic needs. To be sure, drugs, alcohol, and La Violencia played a large role and almost certainly augmented the desperation in which these unfortunates were already mired.
In the U.S., on the other hand, probably 75% of the people never struggled with the needs of those first two levels. The quarter who did were more-or-less isolated in certain parts of certain cities where the majority never visited, relatively negating the occurrence of crimes of desperation.
The rest of the population, in the meantime, was quietly struggling with the next two levels: those of community, family, and romantic support, and also of self-respect. Perhaps the random acts of violence in the U.S. and other developed countries were nothing more than the drastic eruptions of people who significantly lacked fulfillment in the upper levels of need. The higher stages of Esteem and Love/Belonging were in many ways proving to be more difficult and stressful than the basic levels. Consequently they were more precarious, with greater potential for explosion.
This was because outwardly, the individual possessed most of what he could possibly want materially: a decent job and apartment, a nice car, phone, cable TV and his gaming system of choice, with enough extra money to hang out at a bar on the weekends. He should have been happy, and everyone believed this. More importantly, he believed this because he was told from the day he was born that this constituted “success.” He had been told by parents, friends, his school, the TV, movies, magazines, newspapers and perhaps above all by advertising. He had fulfilled his basic needs.
But that is where all of our indoctrination leaves off. It completely excises the latter stages of human development, which Maslow thought were the most important. Such ideas have no business in a culture founded on materialism and consumerism.
The result is that when our hypothetical individual reached this stage of “success” – as determined by western society – and still didn’t feel happy, still felt a void that there was something important missing, he was confused because no one had ever told him that there was something more. This confusion could easily become despair. What could be wrong with him that he had everything he could possibly want but still wasn’t satisfied? There must have been something wrong with him — according to his culture, this life that he was living was, for normal people, the pinnacle of existence.
The main problem, of course, was that there was a huge gulf between what he thought he wanted – inculcated by his social indoctrination – and what he actually truly wanted and needed in his soul. And it never occured to him that other people might feel the same way, because he could see with his own eyes that Bob at work or Jane at the gym were perfectly happy. What he couldn’t see was that they too might be quietly struggling with the same problem, and that they equally believed that he was truly happy. They too might be quietly seething with a burning envy.
This was because at all costs it is necessary to pretend like we are happy, even if we aren’t. Because the worst shame is for people to know you’re unhappy; which means you’re “depressed.” And everyone knows that’s just pathetic. How humiliating that would be for people to think you depressed! What right did you even have to own all of these beautiful objects and still not be happy, you miserable ingrate?
When he didn’t have close friends or family or a girlfriend to whom he could confess this inner turmoil, or perhaps when he was simply too invested in his manhood to be able to reveal any emotional weakness, this disgruntled person continued with his confusion which had now become despair. This began to make him jaded and bitter, and he began to notice every little injustice and transgression he had to endure. He had essentially lost the ability to notice the small miracles that occurred around him every moment: the song that came on the radio right after he had just been thinking about it, the person that got up out of the subway seat right when he thought he’d collapse from exhaustion, the smile he got from the old lady as he held the door open for her. According to the culture in which he was so thoroughly enmeshed, the culture he secretly hated without knowing it, there were no miracles other than those furnished by technology.
His remaining friends, in turn, became slowly alienated by this new bitterness. One night, after too many drinks and a rally of insults directed at the wrong entity, he found that he suddenly had nobody left to insult – they had all left him. His work, already suffering, became too poor to justify keeping him on. His quiet desperation had become visible, his struggle with the upper levels of Maslow’s pyramid had threatened his ability to fulfill the basic needs of the bottom levels. It was at this point that he walked into the office one day with a 9mm or a 12-gauge or an assault rifle and opened fire randomly and fatally. In hindsight, all his coworkers saw the warning signs: he had been enduring what no man could sanely endure. But they were too preoccupied with their own struggles to reach out to him.
Our culture teaches that every person, through hard work and a little bit of ingenuity, can succeed, and that they don’t need anyone’s help. Indeed, needing someone’s help when you are struggling is almost the definition of weakness in U.S. culture. But everyone knows a drowning man often takes with him those in closest proximity.
A lot of people in Latin America think their northern neighbor is the greatest country in the world. I don’t know how to explain to them the truth, and I’m not even sure it’s possible. How do you explain to someone who has comparatively nothing that having lots of really neat things isn’t all that great after all, that it can actually be harmful to your overall well-being? There’s no way to do it; it’s only a realization that you can arrive at after having everything you ever wanted and still feeling unsatisfied.
As I stated in the intro, these thoughts are not entirely applicable to the Orlando shooting. Clearly Mateen had more complex motives than just a general despair — for one his deeply embedded homophobia and own alleged homosexuality. But I think the general profile might have a lot of truth to it, and certainly the discrepancies in violence between developed and undeveloped regions is plain to see. These kinds of psychotic massacres simply don’t occur in undeveloped countries — if they happen they’re always due to blatantly political or economic motivations. Isn’t it time we started examining why a little more closely?
If a person is floundering they are likely to reach out to anything for salvation. That can be radical Islam, or anti-semitism, or white supremacy, or fundamental Christianity. The specifics of each case don’t necessarily invalidate my proposition that our very society plays a huge, under-acknowledged role. And if you combine despairing people with easy access to high-powered weapons, you’re basically inviting these massacres. It would be nice to rescind that invitation for a change. . .
* Retrospective aside: This is one of the chief areas that the two shootings differ. Not many people are playing the blame game about the proceedings of the Orlando massacre itself. The most irrational are instead wasting their time screaming about ISIS, as if they somehow organized the attack when it’s obvious to everyone that Mateen was just invoking their name to try and add legitimacy to his cause. More rational folks are wondering why on earth anyone, especially someone with mental health problems, a history of domestic abuse, and a past FBI investigation against him for concerns about terrorism, was able to walk into a gun store and leave with an AR-15.
**“Prozac” here stands for any pharmaceutical drug designed to make you feel better, whether it be an anti-depressant, a tranquilizer, anti-anxiety, a muscle relaxer, or an actual narcotic pain-killer. The point is that there is a huge and largely unstated self-medication epidemic in the U.S., supported by doctors and pharmaceutical companies alike and mostly unquestioned by consumers. Numbers from 2013 suggest that about 25% of people in the U.S. take some psychiatric drug – 1/5 adults and 1/10 children. Link
- And speaking of Brazil, Turkey’s not looking so hot these days either. In fact it looks an awful lot like President Erdogan is trying to Putin his own country.
- Colorado is boldly attempting to implement a single-payer health system by statewide referendum. You might be surprised at who’s trying to stop it (Hint: some of the same people who have helped Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama).
Glenn Greenwald on Brazil:
So to summarize: Brazilian financial and media elites are pretending that corruption is the reason for removing the twice-elected president of the country as they conspire to install and empower the country’s most corrupted political figures. Brazilian oligarchs will have succeeded in removing from power a moderately left-wing government that won four straight elections in the name of representing the country’s poor, and are literally handing control over the Brazilian economy (the world’s seventh largest) to Goldman Sachs and bank industry lobbyists.
Check out the full article for details.
- What’s going on in Brazil is pretty messed up.
- Saudi Arabia regularly commits heinous human rights violations (in addition to being at least partially responsible for the 9/11 attacks). So why is the Obama administration giving them more weapons than ever?
- Speaking of Obama, just how sketchy has his administration been?
- Wherever you tend to draw the line between ethical investigation and entrapment, these FBI actions have tramped right across it.
When an idea is threatened with death, it’s just like any frightened animal: it hisses, snarls, writhes, shrieks and attacks with all its might, sometimes even with its last breath. The bigger the animal, the more ferocious and dangerous it becomes in a losing battle. No matter how previously civilized it may have been, in its last throes it becomes an utter beast. Woe be unto she who crosses its path.
White (male) supremacy is an idea that has been around for centuries. Historians would probably argue over precisely how long, whether since the start of African colonialism or perhaps further back, say during the Crusades. Regardless, it’s an old idea, and a big one, firmly entrenched in the soil of our culture’s garden like an ancient, gnarled tree. Or, to avoid mixing metaphors: it’s a giant, senile elephant of an idea, and the townsfolk have come to euthanize it before it kills any more villagers.
The idea in its most basic form says this: White males enjoy the unique — and in many cases divine — right to shape and control human destiny as they see fit. All other humans — the “lesser” races and women, chiefly — are innately subject to their will, and any challenges to this position are inherently illegitimate. It’s a doozy of an idea, but it’s also, essentially, how Western culture has operated over the last millenium or so.
It’s an idea that, in the United States of America, has undergone various transformations. It began in its most barbaric form of slavery, where black people were literally seen as inhuman. It has shifted since then, through Reconstruction and sharecropping to the Jim Crow era and resultant Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Shortly after black people were finally granted their constitutional rights it shifted yet again, taking its most insidious form to date in Nixon’s War on Drugs, which has literally lasted almost half of a century.
And make no mistake: the War on Drugs is every bit a form of White Male Supremacy as was Jim Crow and slavery before it. It has had to go undercover since outright racist language is no longer morally acceptable — we should give ourselves credit for that as a nation. But the problem with learning about how outrageously terrible things used to be is that it tends to distract us from how outrageous circumstances still are.
When brown people (especially men) are arrested, tried, convicted and incarcerated at incredibly disproportionate rates to white people,* you can be sure that there is an overarching method to the madness. It’s not accidental that crack was criminalized more severely than powder cocaine. It’s not accidental that police patrol inner city “ghettoes” instead of middle-class suburbs, where just as many white kids are using and selling drugs. It’s not accidental that when arrested, prosecutors press charges against blacks and latinos while releasing white detainees to a disproportionate degree. None of this is an accident — it’s white supremacy. Black Lives Matter is only the long-needed response to this exceedingly ugly societal truth.
So what does this have to do with the Great Donald Drumpf? Well, his overt racism and bigotry — and not only the bigotry itself, but the vast public support for it — is what you get when the last remnants of White Male Supremacy flail about frantically in order to avoid the writing on the wall. When everything they know about how the world works and is supposed to be organized is yanked out from under them, they have nowhere else to turn but to a rich, arrogant strongman who is promising to make everything as great as it used to be.** This is where the comparisons to Hitler usually enter the picture, and they’re not entirely unfounded.
But this is how to most accurately view the Drumpf phenomenon: as the culmination of a process long in development, one that had sadly stalled out after the monumental achievements of the 60s but is now ready to reassert itself as a new generation, born during the War-on-Drugs era of the 70s and 80s, finally reached full maturity. That process has a name: the unequivocal slaying of White Male Supremacy.
Obama’s election jump-started the process out of its slumber, and the unprecedentedly obstructionist Obama-era GOP party is just one more manifestation of the death throes of White Supremacy. It was all building to the shameless obscenity we’ve been subjected to over the last several months, and we only have to brave it for a little while longer before it’s safely laid to rest in the blood-soaked ground where it fought its last battle.
And that’s the upside when looking at the Drumpf phenomenon through this lens: it’s fundamentally hopeful. This is not how things will be from now on, it’s the end of how things were. It’s messy and it could get messier, sure, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This wild elephant of a beast is bleeding out, and while you don’t really want to get too close to it while it’s thrashing about, all we have to do is wait and keep jabbing it with our millions of spears in order to finish it off for good. It will die, there’s no question of that. We just have to protect against a murderous rampage in the meantime.
*Despite making up about 25% of the population, blacks and latinos make up 58% of prisoners (NAACP).
**If you doubt this, ask a Trump supporter what he/she precisely means by “Make America Great Again,” and ask yourself what their answer means for non-white people. If possible, try to find out what time period they’re talking about as the ideal period to go back to, and gently remind them what life was like for non-white people during that era.
So, I wrote a speculative fiction novel.
It’s not the best novel ever written, but it’s not the worst either. I’ve been sending it around to agents without any luck, trying not to feel like too much of a failure, but then I realized that even if I don’t get it published I would at least like it to be “out there,” wherever that may be. I believe in it that much at least, in its ideas, and for various reasons I don’t consider self-publishing or e-publishing an option.
This, then, is what I’ve decided on: to copyright it and put it on my very modestly-viewed blog, and to then use my pathetic social networking capabilities so that the greatest possible number of interested readers may have easy, free access. That’s what the link below is (assuming I got it to work properly): a pdf that you may download at will, take with you, leave here, share, etc. For free, let me remind you. I may someday get a Paypal arrangement set up so that people can donate if they think the work merits it, but I kind of doubt it.
Without further ado, then, you may have a look. I’m including here the query letter I have sent to agents so that you may get an idea of the actual content, though it’s not necessary for your reading enjoyment. Just let me sweep you up in my cautionary tale, in a world that could some day be ours if we’re not careful. . . Oh, and let me know what you think.
I am seeking representation for my first completed novel, a 120,000-word speculative fiction cross between Octavia Butler and 1984. I-Land is the hyper-realistic, dystopian tale of an oppressive corporate hegemony and the rebels sworn to resist it. It’s a world secured by the corporate-owned police force, where metal claws are used for citizen lockdowns. It’s a world where smartphones and tablets are obsolete and screen-embedded contact lenses are required by law. A world where citizens are granted rights according to how much they spend, and where non-consumers fend for themselves in the Nink (Non-Incorporated Zone).
I-Land targets commercial fiction audiences and offers pointed commentary on technology, war, spirituality, corporatism and popular culture. It’s perfect for movie adaptation à la Hunger Games and Divergent, and I’ve already written detailed notes for a planned sequel.
In the year 2181, more than a century has passed since the Second Civil War demolished the United States. The most powerful of the five remaining provinces, the eponymous I-Land, is controlled by a technology and telecom megacorporation named Illiex. I-Land’s inhabitants, the Citizens, are child-like simpletons drugged into complacency by mandatory “I’s,” screen displays embedded in their contact lenses. The four protagonists – Mohsin, Betancourt, Dani and Eche – are leaders of a well-organized insurgent group called the People, which has created a new religion around the ideals of Truth, Freedom and Justice. The novel begins at the People’s initiation of a Grand Strategy against Illiex, a battle plan almost two decades in the making. The telepath Mohsin manages the entire enterprise, while Betancourt faces the suspicions of his new allies after defecting from the I-Land Police Force. Eche must cope with the loss of her family while learning how to embrace her burgeoning telepathic power. Meanwhile Dani, a former Citizen, harbors a darkness that could destroy the People and everyone else. The novel documents four days of insurrection in a 3rd-person limited voice that shifts between six different characters. The reader, in turn, witnesses the riveting action through each of their eyes.
My novel stands apart from other such works by its realism and philosophical ideology, along with my conscious defiance of genre clichés. Also remarkable is my incorporation of gender and racial equality into the story; the females are at least as strong as the males and all races enjoy a positive portrayal. There is also a rare depth to the book’s world, best exemplified by the inter-chapter backstory constituted by “excerpts” from the fictional People’s Anthology of the 3rd Millenium. Basically, I-Land differs from other genre fare by being thoughtful – a few pages are enough to discern the heft behind it.
I thank you for your consideration in changing the world.