Sunday, June 28, 2015

Po' white racists are burning the American flag?

A white supremacist burning the American flag?

There are times when an expatriate says to himself, "maybe I've been away too long". This is one of those times.

The Charleston massacre shocked me and horrified me, but unfortunately it didn't surprise me... Billy Holiday's classic, "Strange Fruit" is as valid today as the day it was written. Racism is part of America's DNA and will be as long as there is system/culture that divides humanity into winners and losers holds "losers" in contempt and though marketing, celebrity worship and mainstream media makes most people feel deep down like losers. 

In such a system feeling superior to someone, anyone, somehow, is an irreplaceable, psychological crutch. And po' whites need that crutch more than anyone. A person of color that is struggling to stay afloat can feel that her color is holding her back and she is probably right, but "po' white trash", descended many of them from the settlers of pre-revolutionary, colonial times, white, Anglo-saxon, Protestansts of literally Mayflower vintage; those creatures that Cris Rock describes as "Broke-ass mothafuckas, livin in trailer homes, eating mayonnaise sandwiches, fuckin' their sista, listening to John Melloncamp records!" have no such "excuse", they have to take their failure, their loser-hood straight in the vein. "Even" black people hold them in contempt.

So, Roof's murdering a group of peaceable African-Americans gathered for Bible study doesn't surprise me, but seeing a photo of such a white supremacist burning an American flag does surprise me.

Talk about cognitive dissonance: I am of the 1968/Vietnam generation and this image of Dylann Storm Roof burning the American flag is one that I find very striking. Something very important has changed.

Way back in the 1960s, rednecks like Roof made up a large percentage of the draftees that were sent off to fight that war and they were the ones who attacked the middle class boys who were the ones with student deferments, who were the ones that burned the American flag and their draft cards back then as a protest in demonstrations against the war.

In fact, the traditional backbone of the US Army: America's military "caste," has always been white Scotch-Irish southerners, some aristocrats, most of them poor.

What can this burning the symbol of America's military power by one of their number mean?

Reading about him it is obvious that he has had a life and upbringing that is identical to millions of other poor, white, southern boys... This one went around the bend.

Here, I have to quote myself on Dylann Roof, as I believe that, precisely because he is crazy, he is a peek into the darker areas of  an important part of the American subconscious:
They live in their dream world and perhaps their dream world is not so different from ours, differing mostly in that we only visit that world in our sleep or under the influence of drugs and they spend their tortured lives inhabiting it. Their life is a “daymare,” so to speak. Perhaps we could learn about our own hidden darkness by studying his visible darkness.
I am sure his burning the Stars and Stripes is an important signal from the depths of the American subconscious, but I am not yet sure of how to interpret it. DS

Saturday, June 06, 2015

America's Zen koan: What is "freedom"?

noun, plural koans, koan. Zen.
1. a nonsensical or paradoxical question to a student for which an answer is demanded, the stress of meditation on the question often being illuminating.

America is in many ways the freest country in the world and then again it isn't.

For example: America is a country where a wealthy and famous father of six children and grandfather of five, can, at the ripe age of 65, dominate the national conversation by freely deciding to become a woman and simultaneously, America can be a country where a single mother who works full time at minimum wage, and her children, can live in poverty.

A typical, traditional Zen Koan would be, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Today our Zen koan to meditate upon would be: Is there a connection between these two realities, these two experiences of the reality of freedom, these two Americas... is there any "cause and effect"?

Since our celebrity culture doesn't devote many magazine covers to them, what, exactly does the term "working poor" mean?

While poverty is often associated with joblessness, a significant proportion of the poor are actually employed.The working poor are adversely affected in terms of many organizational outcomes such as job attachment, career attainment, and job attainment because of mediating factors that are cognitive, affective, and relational. Largely because they are earning such low wages, the working poor face numerous obstacles that make it difficult for many of them to find and keep a job, save up money, and maintain a sense of self-worth. The official working poverty rate in the US has remained somewhat stable over the past four decades, but many social scientists argue that the official rate is set too low, and that the proportion of workers facing significant financial hardship has instead increased over the years. Changes in the economy, especially the shift from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy, have resulted in the polarization of the labor market. This means that there are more jobs at the top and the bottom of the income spectrum, but fewer jobs in the middle. Wikipedia

In this the United States is rather unique among developed nations, again from Wikipedia:

Credit Wikipedia

The closest I can come to answering the Zen koan I first proposed would be the following "counter-koan"

Perhaps a single, American, working mother, over the age of 65, would like to transition to being a man:

Credit Wikipedia

The media’s group embrace of Jenner’s transition should be seen for what it is — not a revolutionary step toward minority rights but a money grab for ads, ratings, sales and buzz in a culture of provocation and greed without ethics or conscience. Kathleen Parker - Washington Post 

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation.
Jeremy Bentham

 "The rest is commentary — [and now] go study." 


Monday, June 01, 2015

When we teach robots to to fish, do all men starve?

Scott Santens describes himself as:
"Citizen of Earth and New Orleans. Writer and advocate of basic income for all. Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, moderator of the /r/BasicIncome community on Reddit, and founder of The BIG Patreon Creator Pledge. — @2noame" 
Mr Santens is a leading militant in the basic income movement, which, to simplify brutally, advocates all citizens receiving enough money to live decently, merely because they are human... even if they are permanently unemployed and probably unemployable. A condition which  in the foreseeable future, if we examine the advances in robotics and information technologies, may be the status of almost everyone in  the world... outside the sex industry, or the owners of the means of production themselves.

Without too much exaggeration, this could be considered the greatest change in the human condition since the Agricultural Revolution.

Because for the last 12,000 years, except for a few aristocratic layabouts of inherited wealth, the destiny of all human beings: men, women and children, has been to work hard, very, very, hard.
"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread"
Genesis 3:19
For centuries, enlightened individuals have believed that education was the solution for advancing humanity. I'm sure you are all familiar with the famous quote of the medieval Jewish philosopher from Cordoba, Maimonides:
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
The genius of Scott Santens has been to take Maimonides' dictum and turn it into the following riddle to describe mankind's present and future situation:

"When we teach robots to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?"  

For make no mistake, the equation, work = life, is hard wired into our civilization.

For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
Saint Paul: 2 Thessalonians 3:10

Just in case you think you can dismiss Saint Paul as representing a "rightwing" mind set, check the following:
"In the USSR work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”
Try to make a sincere self-examination: if in a future robot-IT driven world, you somehow managed to have a remunerative job, would you be willing to support an enormous mass of unemployable people? Certainly it would put your empathy to a severe test to do so.  And if you,  as a mere worker, would make that sacrifice... How willing do you think the owners of all the robots and the IT would be to share their wealth too? To get an idea, try asking the Koch brothers.

This is really not a question for a dystopian, Sci-Fi film. We have living models with us today of how the world of the future will probably look. 

The other day a friend sent me a link to a wonderful article in The New Yorker about the capital of Angola, Luanda, which in my opinion, describes what the world of mega-inequality will probably look like in only a few short decades... if some cataclysmic social change doesn't take place before then. 

It's a long article and I recommend reading it all, but I've extracted some of the meat from it to give you a general idea.
For the past two years, Luanda—not Tokyo, Moscow, or Hong Kong—has been named, (...) as the world’s most expensive city for expatriates.(...) The country now produces 1.8 million barrels of oil a day(...)The boom has transformed a failed state into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.(...) Almost nothing is made in Angola, so nearly every car, computer, crate of oranges, tin of caviar, jar of peanut butter, pair of bluejeans, and bottle of wine arrives by boat. Every day, a trail of container ships backs up from the port through the Bay of Luanda and out into the sea.(...) Grotesque inequality long ago became a principal characteristic of the world’s biggest and most crowded cities. But there is no place quite like Luanda, where a bottle of Coke can sell for ten dollars(...). Per-capita income in Angola has nearly tripled in the past dozen years, and the country’s assets grew from three billion dollars to sixty-two billion dollars. Nonetheless, by nearly every accepted measure, Angola remains one of the world’s least-developed nations. Half of Angolans live on less than two dollars a day, infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world, and the average life expectancy—fifty-two—is among the lowest. (...) Nearly half the population is undernourished, rural sanitation facilities are rare, malaria accounts for more than a quarter of all childhood deaths(...). One businessman famously distributed Rolexes to guests as party favors at a wedding. Each member of parliament recently received a new hundred-thousand-dollar Lexus. Isabel dos Santos, the President’s forty-two-year-old daughter, is typically described as the richest woman in Africa; Forbes puts her net worth at more than three billion dollars. (...) In 2011, as president of the Red Cross, dos Santos paid Mariah Carey a million dollars to perform for two hours at the organization’s annual gala. (...)Hotels, luxury apartment buildings, shopping arcades, and modern office complexes compete for space in the city center with shantytowns made from corrugated tin and heavy cardboard and with tens of thousands of people who live on mounds of dirt, in the scrapped remains of rusted and abandoned vehicles, or out in the open, next to fetid, unused water tanks.  Extreme City - The New Yorker  
The article will print out to about twelve pages and every one is filled with dozens of grotesque examples similar to the ones I have chosen.

In the article we have the answer to Scott Santens' marvelous riddle, "when we teach robots to fish, do all men eat or do all men starve?".

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette:

"If the people have no fish, let them eat cake"