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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Onward Christian Soldiers

The first time I heard about "white" supremacy was in a movie - Gone With the Wind, in which plantation owners returning home after their defeat in the Civil War organized to preserve what remained of their former dominant stature.

At least as far as the movie was concerned, the vigilantes united to defend themselves and their families from the "white trash" and former slaves, who often congregated together for merriment and robbery. The white trash were lower class European Americans who were prone to drunkenness and crime.

How true the depiction was is dubious. What Margaret Mitchell, the author of the book, was attempting to portray was the beginning of the Ku Klux Klan. It indeed is the case that the Klan started immediately after the war ended. It grew during Reconstruction, appealing to “white” people from a wide social and economic spectrum of both southern and northern states, including the white trash of lower status that was shown in Gone With the Wind.

The KKK, as it has come to be known, reached its peak in the 1920s, when lynching of African Americans was happening in many states - from the deep South to such unlikely places as Omaha, Duluth and Marion, Indiana.

The Klan had a resurgence during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and '60s, beating and murdering marchers and organizers, bombing churches, and terrorizing African American communities. Their activities were eventually thwarted by vigorous enforcement of Federal civil rights laws, and from lawsuits by their victims, and by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

We are in a new era. White supremacy is now categorized under the broad brush of "alt-right," short for alternative right. "Right" supposedly means, as I have written before, not "left" and not "center," a cohort of “conservatives.” Conservatives can be any or all of the wealthy, religious zealots of one sect or another, corporate executives, and tribal Caucasians - otherwise known as racists.

Originally "left" and "right" referred to the seating arrangement at the French Assembly of 1789, with radicals on the left side and nobles on the right. The labels morphed into a shorthand for the perceived extremes of an imaginary spectrum of political affiliation and/or belief. In a purely mathematical sense there could be a left to right spectrum of people, and another one for beliefs, or ideology. These spectrums might be identical, but they might not be, the alignments being completely arbitrary and imaginary.

A core belief among conservatives is that government is too big and taxes are too high – for everyone. Everyone, that is, except those at the lower ends of the real spectrums of income and wealth. Conservatives, who tend to be better off financially, have no problem with higher taxes for those at the low end of the economic scale. They also have no problem with enacting laws to limit the ability of these poorer people to vote. They also have no problem availing themselves of government largesse in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, regulatory ease and lucrative government contracts.

The alt-right appears to be a bit different from, er, mainstream right. Its most fundamental organizing principle is bigotry – the belief that true humanity exists only in the perceived "race" of "white" people. It matters not one bit that there is no such thing as race and that there is no such thing as white skin - or black skin. It further does not matter to them that skin color is peripheral and meaningless in terms of character, intelligence, talent, skill, attractiveness or longevity.

Members of the alt-right tend to be younger and better-educated than the lower-class collections of convicts, ex-convicts, criminals, mentally ill people and assorted n‘er-do-wells of the past, though there are still plenty of them around. The driver of the car that rammed into the crowd in Charlottesville appears to be more of the mentally ill variety. He of course will soon be a convict. It is highly unlikely that he will ever become an ex-convict.

Most discussions of the alt-right revolve around strategies to overcome it. Remove Confederate statues preemptively. Have greater police presence at their rallies. Have more counterdemonstrators. Fight them, like the “Antifa” does, with fists, sticks and clubs. Maybe even guns. Expose them through in-depth investigative journalism. Make fun of them in our entertainment mass media.

I have a different approach. The alt-right exists within a context. Change the context. Part of the context is that our economic system intrinsically divides people up between winners and losers. In this system there has to be losers. The temptation to make someone else a loser for reasons other than talent and ability is too great for many – if not most of us.

Accumulation of money and material goods is the way success is defined in this system, so the winners have more of both, the losers have less, and at the extreme, little or nothing. Modern mass industrial systems are both capitalist and materialist, even if technically they are known by other names, such as socialist or communist.

They all have their endowed classes and their less-endowed classes. The differences among them are a matter of degree, measured by differences in income and wealth distribution. The greater the differences are in a society should be seen as the degree of civilization, but as yet are not – here, at least. In western Europe differences are not as severe, but they still have their winners and losers.

It is futile at this stage to attempt to reform a materialist system. It is too late. Climate change will render all else insignificant. Its intensifying effects are happening at the same time that our infinite-growth economic system is running out of growth prospects. Even if we went to a 100% solar-based energy regime, it would still be in the context of continuing the imperative of infinite growth of the system, which is impossible.

We don’t have the wisdom as a people to even begin to see "racial" discord in a broader context, or even look at the broader context independent of race. An infinite growth system that divides people into winners and losers will fail even if everyone were treated equal. The severe effects of climate change will affect rich and poor alike.

Our fixation on race can be seen as a hologram for our demise. Rather than facing our very real problems of existence on this planet, we find substitute concerns. We are not our skin color, yet we call ourselves "black" and "white." We refer to persons as "a" black, or "a" white, as if that is who they are, and all who they are.

With such a fixation it is no wonder that climate change denial is so prevalent. When you are consumed with the idea skin color as the most important concern in your life, of what matter could it be that the polar ice caps are melting, that forest fires are rampant, that floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, avalanches and a myriad of other real, emphatic disasters are happening? Onward Christian soldiers. Onward to extinction.

Here's a song. Here's another. Alternate version. Talking Heads. More Talking Heads. Neil Young. Jerry Garcia. R.E.M. More R.E.M. The Grateful Dead. Louis Armstrong. Alternate Louis Armstrong. The intro to Gone With the Wind. Southern gentry getting geared-up for warThe scene in Gone With the Wind where Scarlett O'Hara is attacked by "white trash" vagrants. Gone With the Wind scene where plantation owners return home after a vigilante escapade. Theme music from Gone With the Wind. 

In 1976 I got a ride from a Ku Klux Klansman while hitchhiking through Oklahoma. I wrote about it in a previous blog post.

R.I.P. Dick Gregory. I knew him long ago.

One way to think and perceive more freely is to recognize that "experts" that appear on radio, television and the Internet are more about themselves than anything else. An example is the NPR show OnPoint, which on August 11 had an insufferable cast of pundits expounding about Trump. I responded on Facebook:

I find it amusing that the show host and really every guest, when discussing Trump, are more interested in preserving their pundity than facing the simple and obvious truth that our president is suffering from serious mental illness. His life of fraud and narcissism has embedded him into a crude form of sociopathy, and his condition is very likely compounded by advancing dementia.

We don't hear this on OnPoint, because, mainly, it is a show, and in show business the show must go on. It can only go on by perpetuating a certain level of discourse, within the bounds of thinkable thought. For various reasons, not the least of which are funding and survival, the president's mental health condition is, for the time being, not within those bounds.

We'll see, as time goes on. OnPoint at least has had discussions of Alzheimer's Disease, and accepts that it is a malady that advances over time. If Trump indeed is afflicted with Alzheimer's Disease, it will get worse, and as it gets worse his behavior - already compromised by other mental disorders - will also get worse. As we are seeing in regard to North Korea, a multiplicity of mental illness bodes ill for the entire planet.

I expect OnPoint to continue to avoid discussing this dangerous predicament, talking for hours upon hours about what Trump really thinks about this or that, what his "policies" are, his relationship with Mitch McConnell, the likelihood of repealing Obamacare, will General Kelly enforce discipline on the White House, is the climate change report going to be suppressed, and endless blah, blah, blah about everything related to Trump except that he is mentally deranged.

I have found that silence in the morning is much preferable. My total listening today was about three minutes.