Cutting people off from the Human connection

black and white photo of woman
Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944

For a while now, it’s been an enduring mystery how so many ostensibly intelligent people can harbor such fantastically reactionary political opinions, believe utter nonsense, vote for incompetent racists, support hatred and bigotry in all its forms. I mean to say, don’t they know any people? Don’t they have friends and encounter strangers, at least once and a while? The great Hannah Arendt explained the relationship between lonely isolation and the inability to think:

Organised loneliness, bred from ideology, leads to tyrannical thought, and destroys a person’s ability to distinguish between fact and fiction – to make judgments. In loneliness, one is unable to carry on a conversation with oneself, because one’s ability to think is compromised. Ideological thinking turns us away from the world of lived experience, starves the imagination, denies plurality, and destroys the space between men that allows them to relate to one another in meaningful ways. And once ideological thinking has taken root, experience and reality no longer bear upon thinking. Instead, experience conforms to ideology in thinking. Which is why when Arendt talks about loneliness, she is not just talking about the affective experience of loneliness: she is talking about a way of thinking. Loneliness arises when thought is divorced from reality, when the common world has been replaced by the tyranny of coercive logical demands.

We think from experience, and when we no longer have new experiences in the world to think from, we lose the standards of thought that guide us in thinking about the world. And when one submits to the self-compulsion of ideological thinking, one surrenders one’s inner freedom to think. It is this submission to the force of logical deduction that ‘prepares each individual in his lonely isolation against all others’ for tyranny. Free movement in thinking is replaced by the propulsive, singular current of ideological thought.

In one of her thinking journals, Arendt asks: ‘Gibt es ein Denken das nicht Tyrannisches ist?’ (Is there a way of thinking that is not tyrannical?) She follows the question with the statement that the point is to resist being swept up in the tide at all. What allows men to be carried away? Arendt argues that the underlying fear that attracts one to ideology is the fear of self-contradiction. This fear of self-contradiction is why thinking itself is dangerous – because thinking has the power to uproot all of our beliefs and opinions about the world. Thinking can unsettle our faith, our beliefs, our sense of self-knowledge. Thinking can strip away everything that we hold dear, rely upon, take for granted day-to-day. Thinking has the power to make us come undone.

Read the whole thing, because it is amazingly perceptive about what we’ve been experiencing for a while. And of course, she got there first. Perhaps the single greatest intellect of the 20th century.

The Continuous Profile

Take him back to Tulsa, indeed.

Raise your hand if you thought the original Juneteenth date was a coincidence. Wow. No Takers.

The absurdism of this fascist performance art expresses the thin smallness of this entire four-year escapade of MAGA authoritarianism led by a needy, under-educated man-child. We can be grateful in many ways for the incurious incompetence on continual display. People joke about slogans that sounded better in the original German, but the sheer unstudied pettiness of it makes the earlier epoch seem practically elegant by comparison:

ONE HUNDRED years ago, on the early morning of March 23, 1919, a small crowd gathered in the Piazza San Sepolcro in Milan, a few blocks west of the Duomo. Many had arrived from other cities the night before, drawn to hear a charismatic young journalist, former socialist, and recent war veteran, who—with a vigor that would mark his discourses for two decades to come—duly trumpeted the ambitions of a new political movement. As a self-declared “anti-party,” Benito Mussolini’s Fasci Italiani di combattimento (Italian Combat Fasci or, simply, Fascists)1 aimed to yoke growing social unrest to an unabashed nationalism, freshly stoked by the country’s victory in World War I alongside the Entente powers (Britain, France, and Russia). Dubbed the Sansepolcristi for their presence at this fateful first meeting, the so-called Fascists of the first hour counted among their number syndicalists and ex-soldiers, even a few women and Italian Jews, as well as artists and writers such as the painters Achille Funi and Primo Conti and the Futurist poet-impresario, F.T. Marinetti.

For the preceding ten years, Marinetti’s Futurists had upended Italian culture in every imaginable domain, from painting and poetry to clothing, music, architecture, photography, and theater. A political phenomenon as much as an aesthetic crusade, Futurism lent Fascism much of its early ideological impetus: anti-Communist and anti-clerical, interventionist and irredentist, hostile to academic pedantry and cultural patrimony alike.

Substitute ‘reality TV’ for ‘Futurists’ in the above for a more accurate, recent rendering.

Image: author photo, Rome.

Squamish Nation not squeamish on blending indigeneity and urban design

Clunky title, but this story on the re-development of one of Canada’s smallest First Nations reserves mixes boldness with vision for Vancouver that is easy to romanticize but more nearly resembles a living model for cities going forward.

Few First Nations reserves in Canada are found so centrally in urban areas, and this unique location has given the Squamish Nation a chance to explode local city-building norms. Construction begins in 2021, and at more than 500 units per acre, Senakw’s density will reach Hong Kong levels – a fact that is only allowed because Senakw exists not on city land, but on reserve land, which is technically federal.

Another striking feature is that only 10% of apartments will include parking, unlike the city’s rules that mandate one parking space per unit. The buildings will also forgo the podium-and-tower design that’s become a hallmark of “Vancouverism” in favour of slender high-rises maximising public space. The buildings could be up to 56 storeys tall, towering above the low-rise neighbourhoods nearby.

But beyond even the serious density considerations, there is the language slight of hand that gets at something far more pernicious:

“In the early history of Vancouver, and colonial cities generally, there is this opposition assumed between the civilization cities are imagined to represent, and the imagined savageness of Indigenous people,” [Stanger-Ross] says. 

The ways that the terms ‘urban areas’, ‘cities’, and even abstractions like ‘density’ have been co-opted as code words for racist politicking is maybe coming full-circle. Hopeful, I know. But good work, First Nations folk. Right racists depend on decent people being too nice, too squeamish, plus the ever-present lack of temerity to call out, punch back, or in this case, build up. Re-take the words, then re-make the savage cities with civilizing force of architecture.

Akrasia for you

The merest coincidence with the Labor Day interruption, but a turn to British politics, courtesy of the great Fintan O’Toole. He lays bare a striking (sorry – this is not the time!) aspect of Brexit and especially the loathsome Boris Johnson, as smarter than he is playing – but for the sake of, well, you will believe it:

[T]his raises the two central questions about Johnson—does he believe any of his own claims, and do his followers in turn believe him? In both cases, the answer is yes, but only in the highly qualified way that an actor inhabits his role and an audience knowingly accepts the pretense. Johnson’s appeal lies precisely in the creation of a comic persona that evades the distinction between reality and performance.

The Greek philosophers found akrasia mysterious—why would people knowingly do the wrong thing? But Johnson knows the answer: they do so, in England at least, because knowingness is essential to being included. You have to be “in on the joke”—and Johnson has shown just how far some English people will go in order not to look like they are not getting it. The anthropologist Kate Fox, in her classic study Watching the English, suggested that a crucial rule of the national discourse is what she called The Importance of Not Being Earnest: “At the most basic level, an underlying rule in all English conversation is the proscription of ‘earnestness.’” Johnson has played on this to perfection—he knows that millions of his compatriots would rather go along with his outrageous fabrications than be accused of the ultimate sin of taking things too seriously.

“Boris being Boris” (the phrase that has long been used to excuse him) is an act, a turn, a traveling show. Johnson’s father, Stanley, was fired from his job at the World Bank in 1968 when he submitted a satiric proposal for a $100 million loan to Egypt to build three new pyramids and a sphinx. But the son cultivated in England an audience more receptive to the half-comic, half-convincing notion that the EU might be just such an absurdist enterprise.

Do you know any people like this? They would rather make fun of something than think or reckon seriously with ramifications or consequences. How boring! Nihilists to the core, though I prefer the more direct soubriquet – assholes.

And yes, yes you do know some, unfortunately, probably more than a few.

Seeing Green – the ‘color-blind’ age

Films – our most powerful cultural vehicle – are, like our decisions about climate justice and immigration cruelty, only as good as the people who are making them. For a long time, the film industry hid behind a financial rationale behind the dearth of black, Latinx and Native American directors. Then it had to get even more sophisticated.

The NYT takes us back to the 1990’s, when supposedly everything was changing:

But as the decade wore on, a wall was re-erected, black filmmakers now say, and many of the same people who had been held up as the faces of a changing industry watched as their careers ground slowly to a halt.

“I was told that I was in director’s jail,” said Matty Rich, whose emotionally incendiary 1991 debut film, “Straight Out of Brooklyn,” won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival that year. Major film studios hailed him as a prodigy. But he’s made only one other film since — in 1994.

Darnell Martin, whose vibrant 1994 romantic comedy “I Like It Like That” was the first studio-produced film to be directed by an African-American woman (it won the New York Film Critics Circle award for best first feature), said she was later blacklisted in the industry for speaking out against racism and misogyny.

“You think, ‘It’s O.K. — you’re like every other filmmaker,’ but then you realize, ‘No,’” she said. “It’s like they set us up to fail — all they wanted was to be able to pat themselves on the back like they did something.”

The New York Times recently convened a discussion with six directors who were part of a wave of young black talent that surged 30 years ago this month — beginning with the success of “Do the Right Thing” in July 1989 — only to come crashing down, as Hollywood in the 1990s and 2000s reconstituted itself around films with white directors and white casts.

It may sound obvious – it is – but the way filmmakers speak with a forward voice and vision is of course connected to those individual filmmakers. Our tender baby steps on diversity are quietly arriving after a very extended epoch of everything-else-has-been-tried-to-prove-we-aren’t-racist. Some remain convinced that everything hasn’t been tried, but still… teeny, baby steps. For more on the racial politics of the movie industry,  see this interview with the author of The Hollywood Jim Crow.

Literally Rome

To Repeat:

In actuality, the acquisition of the right to vote by those outside the city had little meaning to all but the wealthy. Membership in the Roman assemblies was not done by election – it was a direct democracy. Voting was done by tribes, and all citizens were assigned to a particular tribe (often based on wealth) where each tribe voted as one. However, to vote a person had to appear in person which was something only the wealthy could afford to do. But citizenship was not eternal. If necessary, an individual’s citizenship could be revoked; this latter condition was mostly reserved for criminals.

Every five years a citizen had to register himself at the Villa Publica for the census, declaring the name of his wife, the number of children, and all of his property and possessions (even his wife’s clothes and jewels were declared). Every Roman citizen believed the government had a right to know this information. All of this data was reviewed and evaluated by the city’s magistrates (censors) who could “promote or demote each citizen according to his worth.” Tom Holland wrote on the value of the census, “Classes, centuries, and tribes, everything that enabled a citizen to be placed by his fellows, were all defined by the census.”

Juxtaposed to discussions at the Supreme Court today:

Multiple times during Tuesday’s hearing on the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the census, Gorsuch returned to vague allusions to an unsuccessful 2016 Supreme Court case that dealt with that possibility.

Gorsuch’s lines of inquiry didn’t get too much traction at Tuesday’s arguments, which mostly focused on the technical considerations of Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include the question. But, in a way, they were appropriate, given that overhauling how legislative districts are drawn — a massive voting rights change that would diminish the political power of urban and diverse communities — appears to be the endgame of the current push to add the question.

Easy to See, Difficult to Look

Two peoples, separated by a common language, gaping and gasping at each others’ stupidity across the ocean blue:

There’s been perfectly understandable confusion expressed here, by more than one commentator, wondering why the British Parliament doesn’t just ‘cancel’ Brexit. The sheer weight of evidence showing how damaging any form of it will be is so clear, the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Referendum is so obvious, the scale of the divisions it will leave in British society are so terrifying – why on earth are the democratically elected representatives of the British people still going ahead with it in the face of all that? What’s wrong with them? Why do the British people stand for it?

It’s a fair question, so let me answer it with another question.

Given the huge damage that the Trump Administration is doing to America, and given that the level of corruption (including foreign funding and meddling) surrounding the 2016 Election is so obvious, and given that the scale of division Trumpism is causing in American society is so terrifying, why on earth haven’t the democratically elected representatives of the American people done the right and obvious thing and removed the Gelatinous Orange Pustule from office? What’s wrong with them? Why do the American people stand for it?

In both cases, it’s the same sad boringly predictable answer. The people who want to stop it are a majority within the country, and they might be a majority within the Legislative branch, but they are not a majority within the Governing Party. While the minority Party, which does have a (large) majority in favour of stopping the whole shit-parade, is a MINORITY, with a small minority of members within it (some of them in pretty senior posts) who don’t really want to stop it. It can’t force or win a vote to stop anything without substantial crossover support from members of the Governing Party, and the members of the Governing Party who think it should be stopped will not give that support unless they absolutely and unavoidably have to in order to save their own skins. They won’t even loan their votes to slowing it down unless they’re face to face with a sharp-fanged decision-point that they can’t avoid, and as soon as that vote has taken place it’s straight back into Line of Battle and clocks are reset to zero.

Another obvious question, given the relatively simple proposition that Anything Else > This Parade of Gobshittery, is why there isn’t a majority within the Governing Parties to stop Brexit/dump Trump? Or, more realistically, why won’t the minority of elected members of the Governing Party who believe it/he should be stopped/dumped join with the minority Party to make it happen? Again, it’s the same answer for both countries. Fear. The very real and well-supported fear these elected representatives have of losing their access to high-status positions and post-politics employment in the ‘Studfarm for Past Favours’ sector if they don’t stick to the Party line; either through being deselected by the radicalised membership of their local Party branch, or by being denied electoral funding by the Party leadership.

How did seeing through Brexit/protecting Trump become unchallengeable Party policy? Well, that’s the result of decisions made earlier. They put themselves in this position through being half as smart and twice as cowardly as they thought they were. In the case of the Tory Party it was the decision to put a referendum on E.U. membership into its 2015 manifesto in order to finally lance the boil of Europhobic bastardy and give the slightly less insane leadership room to move on the European stage, a decision which blew up in Cameron’s face when the national vote of his Liberal-Democrat Coalition partners (who he was banking on to veto the idea of a referendum for him once they returned to office) completely cratered and the Tories actually became a majority Government with an obligation to meet their manifesto promises. While for the Republicans it was the decision to go all-in on Total Obstruction and White Power in the face of Obama’s tyrannical melanin levels, which led directly to the popularity amongst GOP Primary voters of the Birther-in-Chief and the mainstreaming of his brand of sneering, liberal-baiting racism.

Once those twin errors had achieved electoral ‘success’ the Parties were trapped within the ideological cages they represented. Cameron had to have a Referendum, the GOP had to have Trump as their candidate. Both were destructive decisions based at their inception on maintaining internal party-political unity at all costs, screw the greater good, but both were errors the respective Party leaderships thought they could get away with once the voting public – rather than the extremists within the Party electorate – got a good look at the reality of what they were offering. No one would be stupid enough to actually vote Leave/elect Trump, would they?

(Insert image of surprised looking bear crouched behind a woodland bush reading a newspaper with a prominent “Is the Pope Catholic?” headline)

Enter Fake News and illegally funded campaigns aimed at leveraging widescale public fear of changing socio-economic realities and the ever-pulsing vein of white racism into a multi-tool for getting people to vote against ‘something’, against ‘anything’, against every bloody thing that pissed them off, because it was all THEIR fault and THEY needed to be taught a lesson. Enter compliant and complicit Media entities that wanted the drama and the controversy, that were so fixated on ginning up an eyeball-dragging horserace that they were quite willing to overlook overwhelming evidence of cheating on behalf of the ‘underdogs’ if it made for sellable conflict. In Britain, as in America, established and provable facts were put in the dock alongside barefaced lies and debunked conspiracy theories, with ‘so-called experts’ forced to justify and explain their entire field of expertise in 30 second soundbites while spittle-flecked nutcases in red, white and blue romper-suits were given uninterrupted airtime to puke-funnel any damned thing they wanted into the bemused face of a general public that were less informed at the conclusion of campaigning than they’d been at the start.

In the end the loudest shouters won. And while their shocked enablers in the establishment media turned all of their time and energy towards sending expeditions of bead-and-button carrying urban sophisticates out into the Wild to bring back precious recordings of the sacred ways and eternal truths underpinning the unspoilt, rough-hewn and not-at-all racist Homo Sal-in-Terra cultures who had delivered these electorally narrow but also – in a sensuously metaphysical sense that just flicked the hell out of every savvy, everything you know is wrong bean in the infotainment industry – somehow incredibly portentous and paradigm-shifting victories at the polls for White Suprema…(Editor’s Note – Are you sure you meant to say this?) …..Working-Class Populism, the Parties found themselves lumbered with the job of translating the cut-and-pasted ravings of comment section misanthropes into national and international policy. The ambitious and the deeply stupid flocked forward to take up the challenge, while the guilty sloped away to hurriedly change their shoes and deny in indignant tones any responsibility whatsoever for tracking bull-shit over the nation’s creamy carpets.

In both cases what we’ve had since is the result of putting nearly unfettered power over the nation’s present and future into the hands of utter fuckwits; people who achieved prominence in the field of fuckwittery by steadily building up a portfolio of crass stupidity, whining victimhood and uninformed wrongness for all to see, taking the retrograde side of every argument and proving themselves suitable for no post more challenging than bringing up the rear in a Human Centipede. But these are the people with the whip-hand in our respective Governments. We’ve got Brexiteers and you’ve got Freedom Caucus types. They may not have the numbers, but they’ve been empowered by their Party leaderships to set the terms of acceptable debate and that’s what’s killed any hopes of good government or compromise. It’s their way or… well… that’s your only option. They’ve been reborn as avatars on Earth for the Dark Lord Willadapeepul and their Word is Law. With the Right-Wing Media providing the songbook and the establishment Media happily humming along to the chorus their malicious lunacy has been given an unearned patina of plain-spoken common-sense and amplified across the nation with a result similar to sticking a trumpet up a hippo’s arse – it’s noisy, the shit goes everywhere and only the deeply kinky are smiling.

So, basically, neither of our countries can have nice things because the Parties in Government are in the grip of ideological tractor-beams dragging them further and further away from reality, and the Media are either leading the way on behalf of their Europhobic publishers or are happy to go with them in pursuit of ratings and promotions. What this means over here is that, as the prospect of Brexit begins to resemble the ‘Libera te tutemet ex inferis’ scene from ‘Event Horizon’, the nutters are digging in their heels and making the choice for anti-Brexit Conservatives stark. They either break with the Party whip and grab onto the next available life-raft, whether that means backing a confirmatory referendum on May’s deal, revoking Article 50, or backing a Labour vote of no-confidence in the Government to force a General Election. They are the only people who can stop this, but in doing so they’ll break their Party for a generation and probably never win elected office again.

It’s in their hands. Even Theresa May says so.

Via BalloonJuice.

The meaning of ‘Tribalism’

Adam Serwer offers a corrective on a corrosive: the use of tribalism. You mean racism:

It’s fashionable in the Donald Trump era to decry political “tribalism,” especially if you’re a conservative attempting to criticize Trump without incurring the wrath of his supporters. House Speaker Paul Ryan has lamented the “tribalism” of American politics. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has said that “tribalism is ruining us.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse has written a book warning that “partisan tribalism is statistically higher than at any point since the Civil War.”

In the fallout from Tuesday’s midterm elections, many political analysts have concluded that blue America and red America are ever more divided, ever more at each other’s throats. But calling this “tribalism” is misleading, because only one side of this divide remotely resembles a coalition based on ethnic and religious lines, and only one side has committed itself to a political strategy that relies on stoking hatred and fear of the other. By diagnosing America’s problem as tribalism, chin-stroking pundits and their sorrowful semi-Trumpist counterparts in Congress have hidden the actual problem in American politics behind a weird euphemism.

Take Tuesday’s midterm elections. In New York’s Nineteenth Congressional District, the Democrat Antonio Delgado, a Harvard-educated, African American Rhodes scholar, defeated the incumbent Republican John Faso in a district that is 84 percent white, despite Faso caricaturing Delgado as a “big-city rapper.” In Georgia, the Republican Brian Kemp appears to have defeated the Democrat Stacey Abrams after using his position as secretary of state to weaken the power of the black vote in the state and tying his opponent to the New Black Panther Party. In Florida, the Republican Ron DeSantis defeated the Democrat Andrew Gillum after a campaign in which DeSantis’s supporters made racist remarks about Gillum. The Republican Duncan Hunter, who is under indictment, won after running a campaign falsely tying his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is of Latino and Arab descent, to terrorism. In North Dakota, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost reelection after Republicans adopted a voter-ID law designed to disenfranchise the Native American voters who powered her upset win in 2012. President Trump spent weeks claiming that a caravan of migrants in Latin America headed for the United States poses a grave threat to national security, an assessment the Pentagon disagrees with. In Illinois on Tuesday, thousands of Republicans voted for a longtime Nazi who now prefers to describe himself as a “white racialist”; in Virginia, more than a million cast ballots for a neo-Confederate running for Senate.

A large number of Republican candidates, led by the president, ran racist or bigoted campaigns against their opponents. But those opponents cannot be said to belong to a “tribe.” No common ethnic or religious ties bind Heitkamp, Campa-Najjar, Delgado, or the constituencies that elected them. It was their Republican opponents who turned to “tribalism,” painting them as scary or dangerous, and working to disenfranchise their supporters.

Nul ne peut soupçonner.

Image: tribal art of indigenous Warlis of the mountainous and coastal areas of Maharashtra/Gujarat border.

It’s always still the Schoolyard

Trying to prove to the bully you are not what his taunts describe, on the presumption that he will finally admit, “You know, you’re right. I’m sorry. You’re really not a _____.”
Cornered by logic, the garbage person – receiving constant affirmation from otherwise ‘neutral’ observers and aficionados alike – finally relents? He wouldn’t know how, he would lose all credibility because the bullying is his only reliable trait. The challenge to not enjoy his taunts on the playground is especially difficult for people like us. We’re as depraved and morally listless as he, he just has no qualms or shame in providing us the rage we need to sustain him. Circle, and vicious as it gets.

Because we have some better idea of ourselves – standards, values, whatever words we use to signal we know and are better. We grow taller but we don’t grow up. Hatred and contempt are strong collective experiences, especially when the bully provides the cover. It’s as though he is ‘taking the bullet’ [which he would never], getting the flack, wearing his vileness like a badge instead of us. He’s the one, and we’d never do that, be like him, though it is the tacit support that bleeds us like a mortal wound.

And what of the focus of the harassment and intimidation that is so alluring, how to fight back?

The question is, are you ready to fight back? Addressing his smears head-on creates the potential for greater vulnerability; you’ve provided credence, confirmed the weakness to which the bully re-commits himself and his acolytes to torment and its enjoyment. Standing up and pushing back is a dirty, ugly business and you will get dirtied and come out at least a little uglier but the bully knows no other language. There is dignity in ignoring the taunts, but this also requires massive courage and stamina. Something is still going to be in your way. Was it always there? Mmm. I think that’s enough for today’s session.

Best New Problem in the Role of a Solution

We are certainly and historically renown for this in every realm, which now to the massive surprise of absolutely nobody positively includes I Would Like to Thank the Academy:

Over the past several years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body that votes on the Oscars, has made tremendous strides in diversifying its membership. In 2016, the Los Angeles Times reported that 91 percent of AMPAS’s 6,000-plus members were white and 76 percent were male, a barely perceptible change from the figures the LAT first reported in 2012. But that year, the academy invited a record new 683 members, a record it went on to break in 2017, and again in 2018, increasing AMPAS’s overall membership by nearly half in a three-year span and doubling the percentage of members who are people of color.

This has represented a tremendous effort to bring sweeping change to one of the world’s most prominent cultural arbiters. And, Wednesday, in one fell swoop, the academy undid it all.

The announcement that the Oscars would be adding an as-yet-unnamed category for “achievement in popular film” was met with near-universal derision, and for good reason.

Hmmm… because we certainly can’t have that ‘Moonlight’ thing happening again, Nosiree. The Oscars of course are just a self-promotional artifact for the movie industry, but come on. They might reserve a little, teeny tiny bit of artistic pretension. What is all the marketing preening video mantage for anyway? Wait, don’t answer that.