Saturday, May 12, 2018

Anglo at Cinco de Mayo

Author’s Note: I’m going to be talking about my racial anxiety as an upper-middle-class White dude in this, and I felt really uncomfortable writing it, so if I offend anyone, I’m truly sorry.

Last Saturday I decided to check out the Cinco de Mayo festival on the Westside of St. Paul. Having never been, it seemed like the thing to do.

I took the long approach from the south on Robert Street, having been warned against the more direct route on 94 by my phone. From behind the wheel I watched the suburbs turn into the city, not really knowing where the change occurred. The inner-ring 'burbs look like the city used to. The poverty has expanded outward. (I didn't hit the newly-gentrified core 'til I got downtown.)

The somewhat-run-down, down-market stores probably weren't what the urban planners had in mind for the 'burbs, but I don't consider them a big comedown from the hollow suburbia of my 80's and 90's youth.

I saw people on the sidewalk, walking both toward and away from the festivities. They were mostly Latino. (Latinx? Sorry, I haven't been keeping up with this stuff.) There were tons of cars parked on the side streets, but I didn't take the hint soon enough to avoid getting sucked into the traffic jam. Like a moth to a flame, I just kept moving inexorably toward my doom.

The jam only extended for a block south of the festival, but it took forever to get through that block. I was listening to King Missile's The Way to Salvation album on CD, because that's what you do when you're a single, White 40-year-old comedy nerd. (Tenacious D is great, but King Missile is still my favorite comedy band, although I do give the D the edge in terms of songwriting and musicianship. For those who wonder how I could still prefer King Missile, you clearly haven't heard the lyrics and delivery of the great John S. Hall.)

It didn't feel like I was on the way to salvation though. It felt like I was getting sucked into the same old vortex of inertia, isolation and ennui, the triumvirate of my personal maladies. I almost turned off the engine while waiting for the light to change for the last (5th? 6th?) time.

While I was sitting in traffic, a fight broke out on the near left corner of the intersection, which was a surprise. In the olden days, that might've convinced me to skip the festival, but it didn't bother me this time. It was quickly broken up by people in fluorescent crossing-guard pinafores.

I continued through the intersection and didn't find any parking until I was several blocks away. There were some lots there, but the only price I saw was $10, so I kept going across the next bridge over the Mississippi, where I was suddenly in downtown St. Paul.

As a former Minneapolitan, I fully admit to an anti-St. Paul bias, but St. Paul is geographically strange. The streets aren't on a grid, West St. Paul is actually south of St. Paul, South St. Paul is southeast and the Westside is actually on the southside.

I turned around and doubled back in search of cheaper parking, but with the traffic it took forever, and I wound up using that $10 lot I had initially disdained. I'd wasted enough time looking for parking, and the time investment added to my resolve to attend the festival, parking costs be damned.

So I finally got out of the car and walked south on Robert St. to the “Westside.” I crossed a bridge that passed over a junkyard with a sign that said "Beware of Dog." My reaction was, "Really? You really have a junkyard dog?" That was a little thrill for me, since I followed pro wrestling in the 80's, but I didn’t see any dogs.

Once over the bridge, I was in the Westside, and, to be honest, it could use some urban renewal, in the meaningful, not idiomatic sense. It's certainly not as run-down as a lot of ghettos, but it has seen better days. I felt a bit anxious as the only White person around, walking by Black teenagers and 20-something's (I'm guessing), trying to keep my cool.

I find it easier to do that now than when I was a minority living in Chicago’s Rogers Park right out of college. I wasn't scrupulously avoiding eye contact like I used to, just going on my merry way. The old middle-class injunction for traversing Black neighborhoods ("Don't make eye contact!") didn't seem like a good approach in this situation.

I negotiated the sidewalk without incident and made it to César Chávez Street, along which the festival was taking place. That’s where the crush of people was thickest. Chavez runs at a northwest-southeast diagonal to Robert. I stayed on the west side of Robert and walked northwest on Chavez.

The first tent I passed was of the Crazy Christian variety. Middle-aged White dudes encouraged us to repent our sins, but they were pretty polite about it. They dished out a Minnesota Nice version of fire and brimstone. One wonders how they got a spot at a Cinco de Mayo street festival.

Other than that, the fare was pretty much what you’d expect: Mexican food, soccer jerseys, t-shirts with the Virgin Mary, local non-profits. I turned around and headed back up Chávez, crossing Robert with a flotilla of fair-goers when the light turned. The festival extended much farther southeast of Robert.

There were music stages set up in restaurant parking lots with bands playing Mexican and American styles. A band in the street (with mic’s and a sound system) played South American pan flute music. There was one parking lot concert dominated by White folks, but otherwise we were outnumbered by the Black and Brown.

That’s when I thought, “It’s good to be a minority sometimes, just to remind yourself what it’s like.” Of course, I knew the police, government and social power structure had my back, so I still don’t know exactly what it’s like.

There seemed to be the potential for violence in the crowd. One short Black guy followed a big Black guy, spoiling for a fight. He probably knew the big guy wouldn’t take him on with all the police and security personnel around. There were also guys in community group t-shirts apparently attempting to keep the peace, on the lookout for troublemakers. I didn’t feel unsafe, but I tried to keep my distance from the dudes who looked like bad news.

After wandering for several blocks, I reached the southeast tip of the festival, where the lowriders were. This is where I tarried. I was intrigued by the old, pimped-out cars. I’m not a car guy, but I do enjoy looking at classic automobiles. There’s just something about the aesthetics I find irresistible.

I turned around and headed back down Chávez. This was mid-afternoon. It was in the low 80’s and the sun was out, so I was kinda sweaty and walked along the southwest side of the street to catch some shade.

I wasn’t hungry, so there was no point in indulging in the cuisine. An hour was long enough to just walk around and get a taste of the scene, so I headed toward Robert St. to get back to my car. But, after managing to keep it in check, my racial anxiety was now peaking.

I’d walked along the west side of Robert to get there, and now I was on the east side, where there were a lot of Black kids. For the first time, I had the feeling of being on their turf. The festival crowd had offered a sense of protection, but now I was the only White person in a smaller group. It felt like, if there was gonna be trouble, it would happen here on the periphery of the event.

I would’ve had to wait for the light to change if I wanted to walk back on the west side. But I didn’t wanna be a fucking wuss, so I set off down the east side of the street. Spoiler alert: There was no trouble. I was just uncomfortable for a while.

I cut through pockets of Black kids and kept my cool-as-a-cucumber vibe as best I could. There was also a bunch of police around, so I probably shouldn’t have been so worried. Now that I think about it, I wasn’t really worried about getting assaulted or mugged or anything like that. I was just worried about getting harassed, maybe bumped or bullied. Just high school shit.

I guess the lesson is: This is what POC’s deal with daily, albeit on a (hopefully) less-intense basis. I hope that was worth all the discomfort of writing and (presumably) reading this. Don’t get me wrong: I think the PC Police have done a lot of good in making sure the language that refers to oppressed groups is cool with those groups. We privileged folks should be mindful of how we talk to and about people from marginalized communities.

But they’ve gone too far when any mention of race, gender or sexuality produces extreme anxiety. How can we get over these prejudices if we can’t even talk about them? What we need is a bit less sanctimony and a bit more humility from the SJW’s, a group whose class privilege often eclipses that of the people they harangue. Instead of pointing out other people’s faults, take a look in the mirror. This essay is my attempt at doing that.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Body-sculpting


I shall be my own Michelangelo,
carving my ideal shape out of this block of sludge.
It seems so easy sometimes,
just to lop off the offending portions of my body (mainly the belly),
leaving only my True Self,
the Herculean form I was meant to have.
Sculpted from marble,
I would stand in rough-hewn glory,
bestriding the earth like a Colossus.
I can’t let go of those old dreams of perfection.
They cling to me like a vestigial wing.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Bullied

I had an unusual, unpleasant experience today, but it dovetails perfectly with my essay, so perhaps it was a gift from the Universe, instead of just a random dick move. I was drying off in my shower stall after showering at the gym. There was a guy showering in the stall across from mine, and he made an off-hand remark, something to the effect of “I think you’re dry now.”

It was a comment on the thoroughness of my drying-off, something I’ve been aware of for a long time, without anyone pointing it out that I can remember. (Now I’m going to parse his behavior in order to justify my anger.) I kept drying off, looking at him for clues that would reveal the spirit in which his observation was offered. He turned his back and didn’t look at me. That, combined with his deadpan delivery, convinced me he had been a dick.

As I left my stall, I said, “Thanks for the tip” in a neutral tone. Just before I left the shower room, I added “fucker.” But I don’t know if I said it loud enough for him to hear. The room has great acoustics, but he was still showering, and I used a normal speaking voice.

Hopefully, he heard me. That was my intent, although I wish I’d said it louder. But at least I actually said something this time. Usually, I’m too intimidated to say anything, and I’ll stew about it long afterward. Maybe now, at the age of 40, I’m ready to stand up for myself and not let people bully me anymore.

I was often a victim of bullying as a kid, even though I was big for my age. My sensitivity and fear of conflict left me vulnerable. Sometimes, I copied my tormentors and bullied others, but I got a lot more than I gave. I was lucky in being tall and athletic, and there was only one time when the bullying was truly scary.

This probably wouldn’t rank very high on a list of random people’s traumatic adolescent experiences. But it had a profound effect on me and still does. We all have rough times while we’re coming of age, so I shouldn’t really complain. But my grieving for this has been delayed for 22 years now, so it has curdled and been twisted into something far beyond its original import.

I was at the local McDonald’s with my 2 best friends and 3 girls from our high school. We were just friends; there was nothing romantic about it. It might’ve been the only time we hung out with 3 girls. From the outside, it might’ve looked like we were macking, when, in fact, we were not. I saw a group of guys sitting nearby. I didn’t like the looks of them, but it didn’t seem like an issue. I was in a group, with 3 girls, so I felt safer than I would’ve had I been alone.

We got in my parents’ car, Dan, Brent and I, and noticed that a car had pulled up directly behind us, blocking the car in. It was the guys I’d noticed inside. There were 3 or 4 of them. I recognized one of them from middle school. He was standing outside, telling us to get out of the car. He didn’t seem angry, but he did call us “pansies,” which seemed like a pretty weak insult that I associated with Monty Python.

I called the guy I knew by name. He stuck his head in the car, and I told him who I was. He didn’t betray any recognition of me. Even if he recognized me, I don’t think he cared. I remembered him as a huge fucking asshole, but, at my middle school, that was a pretty common condition.

“If we get out of the car, we’ll have to fight,” Dan said matter-of-factly. He didn’t sound scared, just resigned to our fate. They’d probably picked us out because we looked like easy prey. The presence of the girls may have provoked them. Maybe they envied us and wanted to embarrass us in front of what they thought were our dates.

No one made any move to get out of the car. I had no intention of fighting them. That was pretty much the last thing in the world I wanted. I was scared shitless. I got the impression Dan and Brent felt the same.

One of the girls who were with us managed to convince them to let us back out of our parking space, but that was only the beginning. We drove off, and they followed. Apparently, they weren’t ready to give up on the idea of beating us up.

We were on a freeway and came up on a fork in the road. I was at the wheel and hoped that I could maybe force them to take the other side of the fork, because they’d pulled up alongside us. I could see them laughing and apparently having the time of their lives. But I’ve never been much for stunt-driving, and I definitely wasn’t in the right frame of mind to pull it off.

One of the girls was also following us and managed to get between us and them, giving us some time to put some distance between us. But I stupidly turned off the highway we were on and tried to hide on a residential street. Dan told me not to; I just thought it was the smart thing to do. Of course, the Bad Guys (I can’t think of anything else to call them. That seems like the most apt name for them without revealing the one guy’s identity.) found us immediately, and the chase continued.

Brent was the first guy I had planned to drop off, but he wasn’t too keen on getting out of the car. I couldn’t blame him. I didn’t like our chances of outrunning these guys to our front doors or engaging them in hand-to-hand combat.

Dan, the most practical of us and the only one who hadn’t spent most of his life in the ‘burbs (not a coincidence, in my opinion), suggested going to a police station. This was in the time before GPS, so we actually had to know where a police station was. Luckily, Dan or Brent did, and that’s where we ended up.

There were 2 police officers talking outside, so we parked near them and quickly walked over. We were so relieved to see them. We told them we were being chased by those dudes. One officer laughed and said, “What’d ya do? Flip ‘em off?” I assured him nothing of the kind had happened. The Bad Guys drove into the parking lot, turned around and left.

We thanked the officers and took off. We joked about how scared we’d been. I admitted to “shaking like a leaf,” but I was just putting on a show, trying not to lose face in front of my male peers. They may’ve been my best friends, but I still couldn’t bring myself to express my true feelings: my rage and, especially, my fear.

I dropped off Brent and Dan per our usual routine and went home. It took me hours to fall asleep. I was stewing in impotent rage, imagining how I should’ve handled it. I wished I’d had a gun in the glove compartment, so I could’ve waved it in the guy’s face when he stuck his head in the car. I would’ve told him, coolly and calmly in a Dirty Harry-like tone, to get in his fucking car and drive the fuck off. And if I ever saw him again I would blow his fucking head off.

All I really wanted was to make him and his compatriots as scared as I’d been. I didn’t really wanna blow his head off, although, if it had come to that, I would’ve been OK with it. From then on, I had nothing but white-hot hatred for that guy, the only one of the Bad Guys I’d recognized. Fortunately, I no longer went to the same school as him, so I didn’t have to see him every day. In fact, I’ve never seen him since, to my unqualified relief.

A week ago, I finally decided to look him up online. I’d always avoided the temptation to do so out of fear that those feelings would come flooding back. But I didn’t want to be enslaved by that memory anymore. I thought finding him might release those feelings and free me from the pain of that event.

He popped up right away on Facebook. I clicked on his page and scrolled down to see a picture of him and his personal info. He apparently mow lawns and shovels snow for a living, which I did for several months 3 years ago, one of the few jobs I’ve actually enjoyed.

I barely recognized his picture. He got fat. But the messages on his wall were nice, run-of-the-mill stuff offering his services. He seemed to be just a regular joe who enjoys hunting and fishing. He looked pretty happy posing with a bunch of guys and the animals they’d killed. (FYI: I have no problem with hunting, as long as it isn’t excessive, cruel or a threat to other humans.)

To my shock, I was actually happy for him. But I’m not gonna lie. (Far be it from me to front on you, my loyal readers.) It might’ve helped that he’s fat and has a low-status job, the thinking being that, if I have to be and have those things, then so does he. Maybe if he looked like Tom Brady and had a job as a high-powered executive, I wouldn’t have been so forgiving.

But that’s not the world we live in, and, in this world, I was finally able to let go of that anger and hatred. And that felt really good. I’ll just have to see if I can let go of it for good, so I won’t let myself be bullied or bully others anymore.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ozymandias's Children


There will be no final defeat of evil and ignorance.
Every victory is temporary.
Eventually, we’re going to lose.
Disaster (or justice) comes to every empire.
At best, it can only be delayed.
The more we try to lock in this state of affairs,
the faster and more catastrophically it will fall apart.
We don’t age gracefully, nor has our empire.
We would rather cling to youth and power than yield to age and wisdom.
But this law applies to civilizations as surely as it does to people.
Resign yourselves to this.
Our skyscrapers will come down.
All of them.
The barbarians, excuse me, “terrorists” will break down the door, and our grand plans will be ruined.
Our visions of the future will not come to pass.
Our empire will fall.
Because History isn’t over.
We’ve been led to believe that our destiny lies among the stars or among the ruins of Apocalypse.
But the truth lies somewhere in between.
History will continue without us.
Sooner or later, it will steamroll our cities.
It will flatten our dreams and throw them on the scrap-heap.
Sorry, MLK, but the arc of the moral universe doesn’t bend toward justice.
It just bends toward the next arc.
Don’t worry though.
There are arcs within arcs.
The West’s half-millennium of dominance is coming to an end,
And the sins of our age are not universal.
Bigotry may be a permanent part of the human condition.
But that doesn’t mean the same groups will remain on top forever.
The South will rise again.
The Global South, that is.
The East will rise again.
The future may see Black slavers sending White slaves across the ocean.
No race has a monopoly on evil.
Egypt had black pharaohs.
Rome had black emperors.
The same forces that ended those civilizations will end ours.
We believe we've defeated those obstacles.
But we'd might as well claim that we've defeated Death and become God. 
For all our desire to slip the surly bonds of Earth,
we remain dependent on its gifts.
Like the Prodigal Son, we try to prove our independence.
But, eventually, we must return to Nature's pacifying embrace.
The Sands of Time will bury our monuments.
Our dust will form part of the foundation, and cautionary example, for the civilizations to come.
Let’s hope they aren’t as arrogant as us.
Let’s hope they recognize their place in the web of Nature.
Let’s hope they recognize their limitations without forgetting their power.
They’ll come up with all new wonders and sins,
As we take our place next to Ozymandias,
buried in the sands of a backwater.
Let’s hope they only laugh at our hubris
and don’t curse us for destroying their world.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Title Track


I don’t think I’ve ever explained the title of my blog. I don’t know if I need to, but I do like to show off how smart I am, so I figure I’d might as well.

I’m a sucker for classical references. (See the “I do like to show off how smart I am” comment above.) I’ll allow Wikipedia to explain:
During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the northeast and Italy proper, controlled directly by Rome and its socii (allies), to the south.
In other words, Italy was the Roman “Homeland.”
Governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with imperium (roughly, "right to command") in their province(s). The governor would then serve as the general of the Roman army within the territory of his province(s). Roman law specified that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium within Italy. Any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium and was therefore no longer legally allowed to command troops.
(There's a gap between these excerpts, but I forgot how to indicate that in MLA style. So much for that $100,000 English degree!)
Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offense. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was also a capital offense. If a general entered Italy while exercising command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.
Eventually, someone had to come along and break that rule. In this case, that someone was Julius Caesar.
In 49 BCE, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable.
From that daring defiance of “political norms,” you might say, we get the following expression.
The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase "passing the point of no return."
“Passing the point of no return” is often used in political rhetoric. We’re told that once X happens, there’ll be no going back. For instance, we were told that once ObamaCare took effect, “death panels” would be established to decide the fate of your Dear Old Granny. (You might even call this an “Obama-scare tactic.” If you were a total dork.)

Conversely, we Minnesotans were told that passage of the conceal-and-carry gun law would transform our state into a shooting gallery reminiscent of the Wild West. I’m still not crazy about that law, but I have to admit that the nightmare scenarios sketched out by my fellow Leftists and Liberals have not come to pass.

Terrible consequences are attached to a proposed change in public policy in order to discourage people from supporting that change. Opponents argue that the new policy represents a dramatic shift in the direction of society that will lead us down an evil path. These are usually exaggerations or outright falsehoods meant to distract us from more plausible outcomes of the change.

But the primary deception is inherent in the rhetorical device. It’s the insistence that the change is irreversible. In reality, very few government policies fall into this category. Even Prohibition was repealed, and that created a massive new division of law enforcement, the Bureau of Prohibition. Despite all the effort the federal government put into Prohibition, it abandoned that crusade as soon as the law was revoked, and, since then, the social stigma of drinking has significantly declined.

So, even if the new policy is a disaster, it can almost always be reversed. This should be the default assumption in our society. We live in a country where huge buildings are built and then torn down a few years later, only to be replaced by something bigger and more disposable.

I’m not sure why the “There’s no going back” argument carries any weight with us. It may be our progressive vision of history, the belief that society only moves in one direction: “forward.” That would seem to preclude the possibility of undoing anything that achieves official approval. But it ignores the many failures that fall by the wayside on the Road to Utopia.

However, we may have finally reached that point of no return with respect to some very important markers. As I’ve written many times before, resource depletion and climate change are two issues in which reversing course may not be an option. There’s no sign of any energy sources capable of fully replacing fossil fuels, and humanity may have already condemned itself to an inhospitable future on this planet.

But, on the bright side, there’ll still be plenty of time for me to blog about all this death and destruction!

Then what does it mean to “ride” the Rubicon? I think of it as riding the fence. In most cases, I reject the assertion that we’ve reached a point of no return, and I reserve the right to take my time to make up my mind. This usually means doing nothing, but, in our crazy, fast-paced, instant oatmeal, get-things-done-yesterday world, I think doing nothing is underrated.

It’s also a subtle jab at myself to get off my ass and start “walking my talk.” I hypnotize myself with arguments for and against, maintaining an illusion of indecision, when all I’m really trying to do is make excuses so I don’t have to do the hard things, the things that I already believe are the right and best things for me to do.

The main inspiration for the title, though, was a book written by Mike Ruppert. I started the blog in the fall of 2005, after I’d mostly gotten over a mild-ish nervous breakdown that started in February of that year. (Yeah, I’m not sure what a “mild-ish nervous breakdown” is either. For me, it meant sleeping 4 hours a night instead of my usual 7-8 and being exhausted and freaked-out all the time because I thought civilization was about to collapse into a Mad Max-type situation.)

This breakdown was triggered by learning about Peak Oil in an extremely alarmist way. Mr. Ruppert had a website at the time, From the Wilderness, that fed my paranoid fantasies. It was the ultimate in “doomer porn,” full of articles that reinforced my belief that nefarious forces were operating behind the scenes to guarantee a bloody apocalypse for the World As We Knew It.

I donated a few hundred dollars to the website and bought his book, Crossing the Rubicon, a hefty tome that details his criminal case against the George W. Bush Administration for causing 9/11. I read it and found it (Shocker!) very convincing.

By the time I started the blog that fall, I’d stepped back from the brink of apocalypse. I still didn’t like humanity’s chances of dodging the Peak Oil bullet, but I could at least entertain the possibility of hope long enough to get a good night’s sleep. I remained on the 9/11 Truther bandwagon though, so I was totally down with referencing Mr. Ruppert’s book in my blog title. It took at least a year for me to let go of my faith in the “inside job” narrative.

Not that surprisingly, Mr. Ruppert committed suicide a few years ago. He seemed to be a highly intelligent person given to paranoia. I was sad to hear of his death, but I knew that, in the end, he made the only “rational” decision left for a Doomer. From my time in that headspace, I know how suicide can seem like the only humane and honorable way out.

I think going down the Doomer rabbit-hole is a big reason why I started blogging. It was such an extreme emotional rollercoaster ride that bouncing back from it must’ve given me the confidence to post my writing online. (At the time, it felt like a big risk.) But I was eager to get off the rollercoaster. Apparently, Mr. Ruppert wasn’t able to do that.

“Riding the Rubicon” could also mean riding that rollercoaster of emotion and indecision, being suspended between safety and danger, sick of the status quo but not yet willing to upset the balance of power. Whatever definition works for you, I’d go with that.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reunification


You may have noticed a change in this blog’s appearance. I’ve adopted the design of my other blog, Mickey’s Adventures Through Time and Space. I prefer this design, and I’ve decided to stop posting on that blog. (If anyone knows how to transfer those posts to this blog, I’m all ears.)

After a 4-year experiment (and a 5-year mission) of keeping separate personal and political blogs, I’ve decided to go back to my old, messy, one-blog approach. The distinction between personal and political is essentially arbitrary anyway. I mean, where do you draw the line?

Our society has tried to separate the personal from the political. But I think it’s an attempt to mystify politics, to convince people that the business of running things is best left to the Experts. Of course, the Experts tend to agree with Big Business, but that’s just because Big Biz is usually right. It has nothing to do with the fact that the Experts are paid by the Mainstream Media, which are owned by Big Biz. That is merely a coincidence.

As a result of this arrangement, we’re deluged with official statistics that bear no resemblance to our personal experience. But who are you gonna believe? All these numbers that carry the Establishment’s Seal of Approval or your own lying eyes?

If you buy into the mainstream narrative (like I did), you feel like a freak and a failure for having a seemingly abnormal life. I was vulnerable to this because I felt abandoned by my friends and alienated from my family. I was socially isolated, economically insecure and angry.

Despite going to a good (expensive) college, I have yet to land a job that is both spiritually and financially rewarding. Because of my shame about this failure, I swallowed whole the mainstream narrative that I failed entirely due to my inadequacy and the only way to ease my pain was through material consumption and accumulation.

Consciously, I’d always rejected this philosophy, but unconsciously I believed it. I had no one (whom I believed) to tell me I wasn’t a failure or a freak. I was afraid to even ask the question, to ask for that reassurance. I was a Man, after all, and Men don’t do that. We aren’t supposed to need that.

Needing that kind of support is a sign of weakness, we’re taught. Asking for support is going public with your weakness, an even bigger no-no. I resented anyone I saw, man or woman, who showed vulnerability. They were breaking the Rules, the Rules that I fought so hard to uphold.

But enough about me. Let’s get back to the politics. Or have I been talking about politics all along? (Mind blown!) All these things fed my politics, consciously or not. I became intent on fighting the H-1B visa program that had brought Indians (the kind from India) to work alongside the rest of us at my last steady corporate job.

I think this was a good, smart response to my anger. But if I hadn’t been raised in the upper-middle class, gone to a small, liberal-arts college and been exposed to radical Leftist politics, I might not have even thought of that as a decent, humane option.

Instead, I might’ve given into my racist hatred of Indians and become a white nationalist. It’s not like the Democrats had anything better to offer. Say what you want about Trump, but his anti-“free trade” rhetoric was far more resonant than Hillary’s “stay the course” message.

Thus did the GOP reap the harvest of what its policies had sown. They (with the Dems’ near-lockstep support) undermined public education, economic security and the social safety net, thereby creating the ignorant, scared and angry voters who elected Trump.

But U.S. politics had become too sanitized. The professional politicians were making “adult” decisions that were ruining Americans’ lives. It was OK when those decisions ruined (or ended) Iraqi or Afghan lives, but once the “carnage” came home, something had to change. People could care less about civility in politics when they can’t pay the bills. They just want someone who’ll fix things.

Besides, our idea of political “civility” and “norms” is pretty fucked-up. We mock other countries when their parliamentarians get into fistfights, but we’re the real savages. We pat ourselves on the back because we can coolly and calmly debate the merits of murdering thousands, or millions, of people via “humanitarian intervention.” We should be horrified by the casual manner in which we discuss such things.

The separation of the Personal and the Political seems to enable this cold, bloodless, detached rhetoric about other people’s lives. I’ve fallen into the trap too. My essays often trade in airy abstractions. I’ve been trying to keep my political points nice and clean and “objective.” But no one’s objective. We all have our biases.

Hopefully, with this reunification of my personal life and my politics, I’ll stop worrying about revealing my biases and personal shames. I think I hide them to hide the fact that I’m just as flawed as most people. But I have to let go of that arrogance. It would certainly make me more willing to leave my Ivory Tower every now and then and join my comrades (Yeah, I said it!) in the streets.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Treating the Symptoms


“Free trade” and unfettered immigration are really only useful to the affluent. But, if you question their value, you’re assumed to be a racist xenophobe devoid of anything intelligent to say on the subjects. After all, who in their right mind could possibly object to “free trade” or unfettered immigration? They’re self-evidently beneficial to all, right?

(In the style of John McLaughlin:) WRONG! As the Archdruid has noted (and, if you haven’t read his shit, do it NOW), the American middle and upper classes have long exploited undocumented immigrants as landscapers, nannies, housekeepers, etc.

These immigrants also drove down prices on goods and services that used to be made or provided by U.S. citizens. The immigrants couldn’t demand fair payment or treatment by their employers for fear of being deported (or, now, detained).

As a result, the working class got the shaft. Adding insult to injury, they get mocked for raising concerns about immigration. They’re painted as rednecks who just don’t like POC’s or people from other countries. I laughed at this depiction on South Park. It’s still funny to me, but now I can relate to their fear and anger.

The mistake the working class made was succumbing to racism and xenophobia. Of course, it’s hard to blame them given the pressure they’ve been under for the last 50 years. All it took for me to descend into that headspace was to be thrust into a similar, but still much better, situation for a few years.

Once my friends, job and apartment were gone, all my enlightened, open-minded empathy went right out the window. My anger overrode my intellect and compassion. I can only imagine how difficult it would be if I’d been raised in a family that’s been stuck in the working class for generations. My parents got out while the getting was good (the 1950’s and 60’s), but not everyone was so lucky.

Their parents didn’t have to compete with immigrants. They also grew up in a booming economy, so jobs were plentiful. The idea of a shrinking economy and job market is foreign to them. That’s why they hear the arguments against immigration and free trade as provincial bigotry, the kind of ignorance they wanted to leave behind when they became middle-class.

But the global economic system that enabled their escape from the working class also created the Third World. It’s just hard for those of us in the First World to accept that, because then we feel guilty, like really guilty. I mean, how would you feel if you thought your prosperity was creating the Third World? I hope you’d feel as guilty as I do, which is to say really super-guilty.

A common First-World assumption is that the jobs being shipped to the Third World must be superior to what they replaced. After all, why would people take those jobs if they weren’t better than what they had before?

We don’t realize that our free trade agreements have destroyed many livelihoods in the Third World, and the people are left with little choice but to work in the factories (or work for drug cartels, like in Mexico). That’s why these economic policies must be implemented and enforced so brutally, often at gunpoint. They don’t have popular support in the Third World.

That approach isn’t necessary in the First World, because many of us are benefiting from the policies. Those who aren’t benefiting, the working class, for instance, is no longer organized on a sufficient scale to oppose the policies. If they were, their resistance might be put down with the same violence as it is in the Third World. That’s what happened in the U.S. back in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, when unions were strong.

The irony is that “free trade” is billed as a cure for poverty, but in practice it simply transfers wealth from the Third to the First World. Its opponents are cast as Neanderthals, cavemen who want to go back to “the good old days” of racism and geopolitical isolation. This has proved an effective way to keep hidden the central role of protectionism in building the economies of the First World.

Allowing immigrants into our country is a nice humanitarian gesture, but it’s really just a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. We’re only (barely) treating the symptoms. The disease is the “free trade” of Neoliberal Capitalism that destroys Third World economies and forces people to leave their homes in search of a tolerable life. Until we do away with “free trade,” naturalizing undocumented immigrants is just a stopgap to ease our guilty conscience.