Tarot Series: The Hermit

Oil on Canvas, 24 x 36, 2014 This is the first completed piece for my series of Tarot cards. Each card features nude male figures, so they will be labelled “homoerotic”. Only a few of t…

Source: Tarot Series: The Hermit

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Answers to Commonly Asked Questions on Facebook Comment Threads Lamenting Awful Things Happening in the World

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“Why are humans so cruel to each other?”
Because evolution long ago rewarded the best hunters and warriors a greater likelihood of survival. These aggressive instincts are so ingrained in our genes and  in human society overall that violence and war have only recently been questioned as perfectly valid forms of conflict resolution. In fact, the notion that hitting your children may be considered abuse rather than discipline is only two generations old — and really only prevalent among Western upper middle class elites.

“Why can’t we just get along?”
Because the exercise of power has always been about the division of available resources, and except in isolated tribal groupings (and then not always) invariably a minority of individuals will accumulate more than their technically fair share. The general human drive is to hang on to what you’ve got and add to it, and eventually this tends to involve the exploitation of cheap labor by those at the top of the heap.That is why slavery is as old as humanity. And once you’ve got brute physical control of some human beings by others, it’s not hard to understand how this has engendered endlessly cascading consequences.

“When are people going to learn we have to be kinder to each other?”
Never. People are about as kind as they’re going to be, which is actually the overwhelming majority of the time, if you factor in motherhood alone. But even a small amount of  misery (relative to the whole) tends to draw our attention.  If it bleeds, it leads. (Except when it doesn’t.  In the modern world, if it’s not on camera, it is basically consigned to oblivion.)
 
Perhaps this is all painfully obvious. Perhaps my explaining it is pedantic, even condescending. But I just can’t take all the earnestness. It’s as if suggesting that humans behave less meanly to each other is some kind of constructive action plan. (Oh thanks, if only we’d thought of that! ) Denouncing bad things is not going out on a limb.  You are not a brave iconoclast, for example, when you “hate cancer.” BECAUSE EVERYONE HATES CANCER.

Suggesting that we should all be nicer to each is fine as far as it goes, but  it does not constitute a blinding epiphany that has occurred to no one else. It has, in fact, occurred to everybody. We all agree that a perfect world would be one in which no one lays a hand on anybody else, in which no one starves to death.  GOT IT. So can we concentrate on the million reasons we have so much trouble getting to a world in which people don’t suffer so much?  (SPOILER ALERT: It may require taking controversial opinions, arguing with loved ones, and occasional outbursts of indignation.  Sorry, life is not a Hallmark card. Making change is a bitch.)

Breitbart, Goebbels and Trump

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George Friedman argues on Breitbart.com that nationalism is a positive expression of self-determination that needs to be thought of as distinct from fascism. He propounds the frankly ridiculous notion that the nationalism of Germany and Italy can somehow be separated from their eventual desire to impose their will on neighboring nations. He willfully ignores the historical reality that Germany, Italy, France, England and Russia were all nation-states in World War I; and Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, despite being imperial, were extraordinarily nationalistic in their claims of monarchical sovereignty.  In order to mobilize their populations to support their militaristic adventures, they nurtured the narrative of grievance.  “We deserve to be a country” (self-determination), became “we must defend our country because your country is trying to destroy my country” bleeding into “our country is better than your country, and we’re going to prove it.” The result was not only the unmitigated and pointless disaster of “the war to end all wars,” but a direct through-line to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a far worse war.

The consequences of defeat were so economically and psychologically devastating to Germany that the Nazis were able to harness legitimate grievances into imagined ones. It wasn’t enough to rise up to prosperity and pride, it had to be superior, it had to seek revenge and destroy its enemies.  This was articulated by Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. What other choice did Germany have when these “enemies” hated Germans for being “decent, brave, industrious, hardworking, intelligent.” What people would not want to believe that about themselves? And of course internal enemies had to be conjured — consisting of the Jews and the “international conspiracy” –determined to destroy the German people. That’s how they sold the war.  Germany was simply operating in self-defense against those who don’t want her to be great again. The Nazis knew that love of fellow man will not motivate a people to go to war, they must be driven by fear and hate.

Which brings us to Donald Trump. He is cultivating the same posture of defense against internal and external enemies. His “movement” is constituted by mere “decent Americans” who are simply saying “enough.” (They may be “poorly educated” but they are “smart.”)   Illegal immigrants are the new Jews, and Democrats are the new Bolsheviks.  He uses the classic ploy of the best defense is a good offens(ive,) accusing his opponent of what he himself is most guilty of – being a bigot.

Trump thinks he is using the alt-right, but the alt-right is using him.  They are mainstreaming the psychology that “European-Americans” are under attack, that “white genocide” is a real threat.  Steve Bannon realizes that this process must be a gradual one.  He understands your average Trump supporter, Clinton-wary independent, and regular old conservative Republican all have in common one thing besides their skin color: the need to believe that they are good people who are merely fighting for their legitimate rights as Americans. In this case, the strategy is reversed. The best offense is a good defense. Convince regular people they are under attack for just being regular people, and they will begin to think they need to fight back.

I frankly don’t think Trump has the intellectual capacity to understand any of this. For God’s sake, he has been throwing out multiple-choice questions to the audience to help determine immigration policy. He is only concerned with finding a way to win — or rather, not lose – which is really his greatest fear. All he cares about is protecting his ego. But make no mistake, he is reading from an old playbook that has just been updated.  (Gays are okay now, and African-Americans and Latino get to be called “communities of color.” Oh wow, thanks.)

Bannon knows Trump will lose this election. He is playing a much longer game.

MCO 2016

 

100 Huffington Posts

Image With the latest, I’ve actually gone over 100 Huffington Posts.  No April Fools!
Of course I know you’ve read all of them and memorized most, but just in case a few slipped through your fingers, click and enjoy.

 

O’Reilly, Ryan, and “Inner-City” Exceptionalism

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      Paul Ryan on Bill O’Reilly was a classic version of the good cop/bad cop routine. Bill, playing bad cop, spewed nonsense to and for his rabid viewers with a level of vitriol guaranteed to allow good cop Paul to sound positively reasonable in contrast. Bill said “black,” Paul said “inner city,” and with his puppy-dog eyes and steady voice, oozed his earnest concern for finding “solutions” to poverty while “facing facts” about its causes. Take that you liberal race-hustlers! We tell the truth here on Fox, and the truth is that being poor is a choice that black people keep making. Someone had to say it.

Let’s just put aside that O’Reilly is a bloviating idiot and Paul Ryan is just an idiot with abs. How this duo talks about America’s poor is important, because millions of Americans are taking their analysis as gospel. After all, these very same viewers have driven down the streets of a dicey neighborhood once or twice, and they’ve seen with their own eyes the black men shooting dice in front of the liquor store. They’ve seen the neck tattoos. (Okay, on MSNBC’s Locked Up, but they saw them. Or maybe that was Ink Master but those guys are white and they’re not in a gang or anything. What? Biker gangs? That’s different! It just is!)

This is what Bill O’Reilly said:

“And it’s all your fault, and it’s my fault, it’s the rich people’s fault, and it’s the Republicans’ fault — it’s everybody’s fault except what’s going on… And what’s going on, as you know, is the dissolution of the family, and you don’t have proper supervision of children, and they grow up with no skills, and they can’t read and speak, and they have tattoos on their neck, and they can’t compete in the marketplace, and that’s what’s going on!”

Well, Bill you’re not entirely wrong in describing the toxic effects of poverty — whether in Detroit or Rio de Janeiro, inner-city India or outer-holler Appalachia. There is enormous pressure on the family, and few remain intact. It’s generally true that the poor don’t read and speak as well as the non-poor. According to a groundbreaking study, children in poor families are thought to hear about 30 million less words by age five that children in upper-income families. This has terrifically serious long-term consequences. A poor child is already likely to go to a mediocre school, and he or she does not go home to dinner table conversation about the latest episode of Downton Abbey. When the SATs roll along, they have no money for tutoring, and most of the vocabulary words might as well be in a foreign language. For them, writing a book report can be torture, much less composing a coherent college essay.

Given these problems, you’d think Paul Ryan would be a crusader for the expansion of Head Start — which make a tremendous difference in the future chances of these kids. One might imagine he’d want to increase funding for school lunch programs, rather than cut it. Raise the minimum wage? You’re for that, right Paul? Not so much.

According to O’Reilly and Ryan, the solution for these families is to just stop acting so poor. They point to the exceptions — the seven-year-old addicted to Sesame Street instead of video games, the high-school valedictorian who finishes up at Princeton. Someone along the lines of young Michelle Obama. Strike that. Condi Rice is better. Yeah, Condolezza defied the odds. Why can’t the rest of them?

It’s like asking every piano player to become a concert pianist, or every basketball whiz in high school to make it into the NBA. Bill O’Reilly and Paul Ryan are so ensconced in their subjective experience they include themselves in the narrative of remarkableness; as if they chose to hear thirty million extra words by the time they were five, as if growing up with an encyclopedia in the house and a Mom who would pack your lunch every day was a personal choice.

There’s plenty of “inner-city” exceptionalism out there, you just have to pierce the veil of white cultural bias to see it. Take hip-hop. The kids who started it recognized that they didn’t speak like Bill Cosby or Oprah Winfrey. They could see their low scores on middle school vocabulary tests. They created rap because it allowed them to re-appropriate the language, to express the full breadth of their experience in a dizzying array of rhyme combinations as skillful as anything Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote. But O’Reilly can only hear the pissed-off in the music, the intensity of the streets. (Funny, I never see him condemn heavy metal, which is just as disaffected, and probably well-represented on Paul Ryan’s iPod.)

Here’s what else exceptional young men in the inner-city do. Some of them sell drugs. They make a rational economic choice between working at a dead-end job for a minimum wage or responding to market forces that will allow them to rake in a huge income at an early age. It involves a lot of risk, to be sure, and they’re not really doing much of value for society. It’s actually a lot like working on Wall Street, except the urban kids are far more likely to end up in prison than all the thieves and speculators who tanked our economy.

Most poor and working class black kids are just quietly exceptional. They’re not rappers or drug dealers or trying to make it in to the NFL. You can find them populating community college classrooms to overflowing. I know because I teach them English literature there. Most of them have terrible deficits in language, it’s true, and it’s an uphill battle to get them to think critically and analytically. But they mostly pay rapt attention in class, and dutifully write up reams of vocabulary lists. They even tackle such heavy-duty writers as Virginia Woolf and Vladmir Nabokov–no kidding. (You should try these authors, Mr. Ryan. A bit more edifying than the verbal vomit of Atlas Shrugged.)

They are trying to do exactly what Bill and Paul ask them to do. Get an education. Land a better job. Speak millions more words to their children. Some stop coming because they feel discouraged or can’t afford it, but most simply refuse to fail. And even though they’ve never even heard of Ryan or O’Reilly, they’re surprisingly conservative when asked about their politics. (No kidding. More law and order tax-haters than a Tea Party Convention.)

O’Reilly and Ryan don’t see these strivers, these law-abiders who don’t wear their pants beneath their ass, and have never been to tattoo parlor. That segment of the population doesn’t scare white people, and scared white people are good for ratings at Fox and vote their fears at the ballot box. Ryan and Reilly can cry crocodile tears as they pretend to be having an “adult conversation” about “what’s really going on,” but the truth is nothing pleases them more than the continuation of the status quo. For the right, poverty is and always has been, very big business.

MCO 2014