February 15, 2017
What I just sent to Tennessee’s U.S. Senators by email, and will mail to them in hard copy:
Senator Lamar Alexander
United States Senate
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Clifford Davis-Odell Horton Federal Building
167 North Main Street, #1068
Memphis, TN 38103
Senator Bob Corker
United States Senate
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
100 Peabody Place, Suite 1125
Memphis, TN 38103
Dear Senators Alexander and Corker,
I write to you to register my protest at the callous disregard of democracy, the U.S. Constitution, and the rule of law that you and your party have shown regarding the candidacy and now the imposition of Donald Trump as President of the United States. You are personally responsible for the damage to our democracy, all in pursuit of your own power and privilege. No matter the long- and short-term outcome(s) from this point onward, history will not be kind to you and you have richly earned the outrage of those of us who do in fact understand what American democracy is about, as an expression of the founding documents of our country and the founding vision embodied in the Declaration of Independence, and given living force in the rule of law before which all are equal – all races, all religions, all socioeconomic statuses, all genders and gender identities and expressions. No one group, certainly not the wealthy, gets to determine what America is about, and what our political life is.
You have in fact already guaranteed your own infamy in history, which cannot be kind to you, as there is no basis for such positive regard.
Your only opportunity to redeem yourself is to take immediate political and legal action to remove this illegitimate and corrupt impostor – who, after all, lost the popular vote by millions, even with the voter suppression your party has perpetrated in your own interest.
If you do not call for an immediate and thorough investigation – which you should have done as of last summer when you were briefed by national security that Trump’s actions were corrupt, it will be clear that you are a collaborator in a treasonous deal with Russia on the part of Donald Trump and his entourage. And, again, you are personally responsible, and are held to be so by the majority of us and by history for your part in the damage that has been done to democracy, as well as the role that your Republican Party has played.
To repeat, as a citizen of the United States, and as your constituent, to whom you owe principled behavior in support of American democracy and the rule of law, and support for government of, by, and for all the people:
• I call on you to demand and mobilize a transparent and vigorous bipartison investigation into the treasonous activities of Donald Trump and his campaign and his staff.
• You clearly cannot be trusted to lead it, and so I call for an independent investigation of this shameful behavior.
• I demand that you remove Donald Trump and his staff and appointees from their positions because of their manifest corruption in both disrupting U.S. democracy and profiting from those positions.
Shame on you.
Dr. Linde M. Brocato
July 1, 2015
Once upon a time, my GF’s sister who had one little girl (who may have been 2 or 3 at the time) had another little girl. The older of the two immediately went from being the apple of her family’s eye to being the former apple of her family’s eye, the position now occupied by the baby. A while later, when the baby was already walking but not all that well, we were working on something at their house one afternoon, GF, GF’s sister, and I, and the little ones were toddling around as toddlers do, when the elder of the two gave the baby a light tap with a toddler-sized plastic bat. The other adults laughed, while I pointed out to them that they might not want to encourage that behavior. We turned back to the task at hand, and within seconds there was a loud crack and an eruption of screaming from the younger child, followed of course by maternal wrath and punishment for the older.
I don’t malign the elder of the two, and I completely understood her grief and rage — it was an honest expression of a quite predictable jealousy, since no one had bothered to integrate her into the world as just another beloved person among us all until what had been her place and her place only was usurped by this new creature.
But the “symbolic” encouragement of her mother’s and her aunt’s laughter had surely provided an answer of “go for it” to her pilot test of what response she might get to the real action.
I view complacency about the Confederate flag that way: it sends a message to those who would re-impose white supremacy with violence against people of color that they have symbolic and therefore material room to do so. In that, it is no different from flying the Nazi flag, or the various flag patches that Dylann Roof wore on his clothing. Such symbols explicitly express a will to harm categories of persons, here in the U.S. most explicitly Blacks, and it’s not news that even here women, Jews, and queers are also preferred targets. At least so it has been for my own racist family.
Symbolism isn’t separate from the actions; symbolism potentiates the actions.
The paroxysm of Confederate-flag-waving that we’re seeing now expresses a desperate desire to cling to an empty superiority that has brought nothing but horror and shame into the world, and has destroyed untold millions. I feel sorry for people who can only feel worthwhile because they can point to some other group as inferior, while the rest of us can see that if they put their energy into the growth of their own honest and worthwhile character (as in “get a life”), they might actually have a substantive basis for self-esteem and for standing with honor among their peers.
My mama used to say “everybody needs a dog to kick,” although I myself have modified that to “some people want a dog to kick,” since I don’t particularly feel a need for one (and when I find spiritual detritus of that sort in myself, I set about doing my best to correct it) and don’t really hang around with people who do.
Taking others as charity projects may make you feel like you’re doing A Good Thing, but it’s really a move of self-righteous superiority. The same applies for rescuing and remodeling other people — give it up, holier-than-thou control freaks. Who died and left you god? I am reminded of Christ’s comments on motes and beams in the Gospel of Matthew (7:3-5). None of us is perfect and most of us really only need opportunity and encouragement, which often has to be material as well as emotional and spiritual, to find our way.
But the Confederate flag, pace the romanticization and mystification of many white supremacists and “south supremacists” that I know from having grown up with that mystification, stands for two things: treason and white supremacy. Whites who had no economic or other benefit from slavery tried to secede from the Confederacy; West Virginia succeeded but Winston County, Alabama, did not. A video of an impromptu parade of vehicles flying the Confederate flag even showed one vehicle flying the Confederate battle flag higher than the U.S. flag: go ahead, ignorant fool, double-dip your treason and your cowardly attempt to bully the rest of us.
President Obama’s brilliant and moving eulogy of Clementa Pinckney, in addition to being a tour de force of Obama’s mastery of the music and structure of the African-American sermon as genre, was a refreshingly plain and clear statement of the unrighteousness, the gracelessness, the viciousness of racism, still with us in forms both great and small, and of the grace of the forgiveness offered by the families of the murdered, and of the grace of the outpouring of support for removing the Confederate flag from our public and governmental places and symbols — for the most part only ostentatiously placed on capitols and in flags during the Civil Rights Movement throughout the south, with Georgia doubling the stupidity in 2001 — which is a starting point in the conversation that we desperately need to have, or rather, as Obama noted, it is one beginning step in the actions we all need to take, since we’ve had enough conversations already.
We express how we value others in all sorts of ways: our assumptions about their abilities and competencies, our assumptions about their values and our judgments about their sexual habits, the kinds of work that we think they’re capable of, the barriers we put around them and ourselves, including barriers of distrust, disdain, and contempt.
I work in a situation in which a subtle but pervasive structural racism poisons the atmosphere for everyone, implemented by the basic criteria for work flow and the distribution of that work, and maintained by someone who probably thinks that they’re as fair-minded and non-racist as they come while at the same time blithely creating a morally degrading work environment.
She needs to think again, because she has a clear and obvious need for a dog to kick — but because I’m not a member of the aggrieved group, I have no standing to protest the injury, which, believe me, I tried to do. I find it both naive and disingenuous to think that white people aren’t affected by racism, and I consider myself to be harmed and aggrieved by white racism against the black members of our community. It is odd that only members of the aggrieved category of persons have standing to protest racist treatment, while their voices are at the same time not given credence, because of racism. A rather circular little problem.
Racism affects us all because injustice affects us all, and the dirty power we whites accrue even just from tacit support of racism sullies our own souls, and tacitly supports and encourages the kinds of violence, from institutions and from individuals like Dylann Roof, that we keep seeing over and over again.
The open season on black men by policemen cannot be chalked up only to the individuals involved, first because as policemen they represent those institutions whether in or out of uniform, and, second, because those institutions protect their own in a solidarity that excludes those of us whom they are supposed to serve, i.e. all of us in all our colors, creeds, and ways of life, who are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a jury of our peers. At a recent event discussing the pervasive murder of and violence against unarmed black men, someone (I believe the representative of the police department) stated that the police arrest the guilty — NO, NO, NO! the police arrest the accused, and the determination of guilt is not in their brief, but is in fact a violation of their duties, a claiming of power and discernment that they do not rightly possess.
Power accrued by oppressing others — men over women; whites over blacks; straights over queers; cisgender over trans — is always already dirty power, and in the ultimate balancing of those accounts, will be judged as such. It distorts the character, tempts to further violation, provokes profound bad faith, which in its turn provokes further harming of others; it empties out one’s humanity, tempts one to believe oneself infallible and to occupy what I call “the God space” of omniscience, infallibility, and obligatory instantaneous implementation of one’s will by the remainder of the world.
I have come to view the latter half of the dictum “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (John Emerich Edward Dalberg, 1st Baron Acton, 1834–1902) as a bit of a riddle. There is in fact no “absolute” power, not here in the sublunar realm, so the very first corruption is believing that one has such power, which will be limited by time and death if by nothing else. (See this interesting and spot-on essay by Robert Aziz for a reflection on the topic: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-robert-aziz/why-power-corrupts-and-ab_b_920638.html)
Power is the most addictive and distorting drug, and the “war on drugs” needs to start with a campaign against the worship of it we’re suffering at present.
We need to take very seriously in all its entailments the fundamental concept that we are all children of <whatever fundamental positive force or entity that you believe is the basis of the cosmos>, with its corollary “god don’t make no junk.” Every time we violate that, in the greatest or smallest of ways, we lessen ourselves and sully our souls, and we harm, often irrevocably, other members of our human family. We are all human and must recognize that shared humanity in each other, as President Obama noted:
As the President noted, Reverend Pinckney understood that “justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other. That my liberty depends on you being free, too. That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle. A roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.”
The Roman poet Terence put it “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” (“I am a human, and I think nothing human is alien to me”), and the refrain of the wonderful Collin Raye song “Not That Different” goes like this:
I laugh, I love, I hope, I try
I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry
And I know you do the same things too
So we’re really not that different, me and you
When we relegate others to any kind of junk heap (including a gutted and betrayed educational system), which is what racism does (along with sexism and classism and homophobia, some of our other banes), we give ourselves and others permission to harm them even further, in acts of violence like the epidemic we’re living through now. A politics of hate is untenable, generally producing only further hatred.
Take the damned flag down and remove it from the state flags it was crammed into during the Civil Rights movement.
Move the statues from shared public space and put them in specific places like museums or graveyards dedicated to the history of the Confederacy.
Change the names of streets back to the names they had before they were named after the heroes of the Confederacy, or name them something else — it’s not like cities are loathe to change the names of streets willy-nilly anyway.
Maintain in our shared public spaces monuments and symbols dedicated to those who who have served rather than divided our richly diverse community and have expanded equal rights as articulated in our founding documents and congruent with our deepest values.
Remove symbols of hate that give tacit permission and encouragement to those who hate, rather than leading them from hatred into respect and justice.
It’s past time. Long past time.
P.S. Obama’s eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney is his “Gettysburg moment,” and I predict that his address will be viewed as such and enter the gallery of greatest American speeches beside Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”
I grew up in the south, Birmingham, Alabama, in fact, which is to say in a state proud of its bigotry. My life’s more complicated than that, actually: I was adopted there at the age of 19 months, after spending my life up to that point with my Oregonian biological mother. It may not seem like much, but I’ve always held onto that as one of the reasons I never quite fit in my deeply Southern family. As in: held on for dear life with both hands.
<snip, snip> the various complications and delights until I get to grad school as a side-effect of employing the geographical cure, and there take up the study of medieval and early modern Spanish literature and culture.
Why, you might ask, did I choose that area of study and that career path?
Well, I didn’t choose it, it chose me. For many or most of my professor colleagues, it’s about the same as it was for me: being called by some area, some question, some culture, some issue, falling in love with it.
But over the years of fending off the not-even-remotely-dead vestiges of the Black Legend, I’ve noticed one very interesting overlap with the area I study and my own life. One thing that makes Spanish culture — medieval and early modern right on up to the present — seem very familiar to me is that both cultures have the legacy of a shameful past. Mind you, few to no societies get by without having committed injustices, often grievous ones, even atrocities, so neither Spain nor the South is particularly more heinous than many other societies. But I live with and love these, so they’re particularly close to home. Literally.
I’m not referring to the conquest of the Americas, actually, but the ethno-religious complications of late medieval Spain in its passage from medieval convivencia, the never easy or idyllic or stable living together of Christian realms and Muslim realms with a Jewish minority in both, to a realm obsessed with limpieza de sangre or blood purity, which expelled its ethnoreligious subgroups, first Jews and then Moriscos (converted Muslims), while excluding from effective citizenship conversos (converted Jews, even if the conversion was many generations in the past) in every effective way imaginable. Well, not entirely effectively. You can imagine the genealogy industry that sprang up to show the strictly Christian and autochthonous lineages allowing one to attend university, hold a bureaucratic position, emigrate to the Americas, join a religious order or participate in a confraternity.
As recent analysis of the Spanish genome has shown, there wasn’t a lot of purity of blood, really. As my favorite prof in grad school, herself a member of an old noble family, quipped in class one time (translated and paraphrased): “Yes, only the peasants were pure Old Christians, because they were too ignorant to intermarry with Jews and conversos.”
I’ve lived outside the South the majority of my adult life — until recently, that is, when I took a job in Memphis. I have to say I’m remembering all the reasons I left in the first place. It’s as if the generosity of spirit that used to sorta-kinda somewhat redeem the bigotry and gender rigidity has evaporated, doubtless immolated in the racist demagoguery and resentment that’s been promoted by conservatives. Progressives and radicals are here, but a bit like the mycelium of a particularly brilliant and eccentric fungus: only visible when the conditions are just right for bearing fruit, and a bit hard to find otherwise.
Living in the Midwest, and perpetually having to explain that race relations and racism in the South are incredibly complex and fraught, led me to ponder those relations. Many white middle-class folks of my generation were raised by black women, and I do understand the tragedy of their having to raise us and neglect their own children; and, beyond that, people of all races rub shoulders here. It finally dawned on me that white folks in the South are obsessed with racial purity, because deep down we all know there ain’t none. Hardly anybody anywhere, and surely not in the South, is pure anything. The problem with the Midwest is that most white people there really are just about that white, and it’s not really good for you — once upon a time I found this great button at McNolia’s, a great little shop in Five Points South (Birmingham), that said “Some People Are Just Too White.” Although I probably am genetically that white, I always wanted to make a button that said “Not Nearly As White As I Look”.
I figure it’s the same with gender rigidity — thus far, after 2 1/2 years here in Memphis, I have yet to find anybody who’ll give me a dyke-doo. I say “James Dean” and they only give me Mia Farrow. Nothing against Mia Farrow, but that kind of femme haircut is not what I want, it’s not moi.
And, oh thank god, someone else has written what I’ve thought about the South for a while:
The Confederacy is Not Our Heritage by Mark Sumner
But the Confederacy is not my heritage. It’s not anyone’s heritage. The Confederacy is our shame. In the whole of the Confederacy, there is not one thing to be proud of. Not the men. Not their actions. Certainly not the ideals. . . . The Confederacy was launched not on a platform of slavery, but on a foundation of racism. That it maintained slavery as an institution was a feature. That it upheld racism was the design.
I’ve always thought that, had I been alive and male during the Civil War, it might have been a struggle to choose whether to abandon my loved ones or fight for the Confederacy. I don’t think I could stomach fighting for slavery, though, in the same way I can’t stomach the racism, oh ever so much more subtle now, that I deal with every day at work.
Not that you can call the continuing, apparently endless violence against people of color (and queers and women, and god help you if you’re in all those categories) “more subtle”. So daily life has become a roller coaster of dismay and grief with the senseless violence of yet another disgruntled white or other elite boy taking a gun or a car or some other weapon and taking out his troubles on others, some brief recovery, and then yet another massacre to deal with. It seems to me that the Southern madness I grew up with is no longer contained in the South, but has spread to every ignorant bastard in the entire country. The grief and outrage accumulate — god grant us patience and the will to turn back to compassion and social justice as our basic principles of community and governance, and to open our hearts and our communities to all of us, every day, all day, in our smallest choices, because every choice is an ethical choice.
Corey Robin, in his Salon article today, divides our society into “people of comfort” and “people of color and the poor” — I might add that, while a lot of queer folk aspire to be mainstream “people of comfort,” I am somewhat anxious about the possibility that even the straightest of queers (and they are many) might well become the target of just this kind of bigoted violence next. So “people of comfort” and “people of fragility” and “targeted people”. Those are the meaningful categories when dealing with police, and enduring violence such as Dylann Roof’s very revealing grandstanding. Robin’s article is excellent and I highly recommend it, btw.
My heart goes out to Charleston, S.C., to the good folks who’ve been murdered and all their close and more distant kin, and I grieve the immorality of my country, the vicious stupidity of the violence against people of color, against queers, against women. We should all be grieving for the utterly useless stupidity of it all.
Below is the message I sent to my colleagues at my place of work:
The role of libraries, and library and information science is crucial in working toward real equality and social justice, not just in theory but in practice, which, as we have seen in the last while, is farther away than we would wish. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in “Letter from Birmingham Jail,”
injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. No one who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country.
I believe we can also expand that to say “violence to any group in this country is violence to every group in this country.” No one is safe until we’re all safe, no matter our ethnicity, phenotype, religion, sexual preference, or gender identity. Neither our worth nor our ‘safety’ should depend on being like some other kind of persons.
The cold, rationally calculated, premeditated slaughter of a group of individuals as tokens of a category of persons is a threat to all of us – – ALL of us. Some categories of persons are more vulnerable than others, it is true, but no one is exempt from either the physical or the moral danger. Complacency in the face of actions like these, even those perpetrated by police, is a kind of moral suicide, as Hannah Arendt showed in Eichmann in Jerusalem. I am not playing the “Holocaust Card” trivially, but pointing out the deep structure in common with the kinds of attitudes and ideologies that drive people like Dylann Roof, who took the cant we’ve all heard over and over, both within our own families and in the outside world beyond its walls (speaking for myself and my own family), to its logical extreme, to action. Not just the gun that Roof got for his 21st birthday, but the ideas put in his head since birth, produced the shooting in Charleston, and produces shootings and rapes and other forms of violence to persons of color and to women and to queers all over this country every day. Look at the numbers sometime: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcv0412st.pdf and http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=tp&tid=31
In the modern world, the most common mode of collaboration is work itself. Requiring the cooperation of millions, it extends across continents, and, with a few exceptions, everyone does it. That is why Arendt pays so much attention to Eichmann’s careerism, less as a personal motivation than as a structure of action. Genocide is a form of work: from the maids, cooks, and butlers who beautified the villa at Wannsee where plans for the Holocaust were finalized in January 1942, to the men who met there to finalize it. It is a job for which men and women get paid, promoted if they do it well. And it has its own murderous claims to monumentality: “What for Eichmann was a job,” Arendt wrote in Eichmann, “with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.”
In our charge as professionals and as human beings in community are documentation and access to it, the materials to support education and to provide the basis for a profound understanding of the incredibly difficult and fraught realities of the present and the past, and the day to day practice of Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly (Micah 6:8). The shooting in Charleston is all too typical, and
yet Mr. Roof’s statement of the motivation for his actions are the same ideas that have always undergirded racism in this country – – he may think he’s something special, but it’s just More Of Same:
And the violence against people who are different by race or by sexuality or by gender identity or expression has to stop if we ever want to clear our collective conscience and stand with honor in community, and before whatever higher power we hold.
We do this day by day, each person choosing The Next Right Thing in all the choices we make every day – – our moral integrity rests on that, not on heroics: just by day-to-day choosing to act out of justice and compassion.
I’m forwarding this from Prof. Noble because it’s incredibly important.
in solidarity and profound grief,
From: Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D. [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2015 01:09 AM
To: Linde M Brocato (lmbrcato)
Subject: [New post] Reaffirming #BlackLivesMatter
Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D. posted: “It’s been a devastating week, and I’m reflecting on the massacre of Black life in South Carolina and the escalating anti-Black violence in the U.S and abroad. I’m reposting a statement developed with my colleagues at UCLA about the importance of educators”
New post on Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D.
by Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D.
It’s been a devastating week, and I’m reflecting on the massacre of Black life in South Carolina and the escalating anti-Black violence in the U.S and abroad. I’m reposting a statement developed with my colleagues at UCLA about the importance of educators, particularly those in the fields of information, library science and communication, to affirm our commitment to […]
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Safiya U. Noble, Ph.D. | June 20, 2015 at 1:08 am | Tags: #BlackLivesMatter | Categories: Blog posts | URL: http://wp.me/p1S8ij-cU
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March 11, 2015
In medieval Spain, when the Crown awarded lordship of some town to a noble, there was usually some negotiation about which rights and privileges went with the grant, with the Crown retaining certain powers, frequently the exercise of justice. After all, lordship of a town conferred not just prestige and manpower and soldiery, or some kind of representational power, but made said lord the recipient of customs and taxes, among other “rentas” occasioned by commerce and residence within the community.
Most often, the Crown retained control of justice in the community, not so much to promote more even-handed judgment and punishment, though that was apparently one of the outcomes the towns and cities themselves wanted. Rather, the Crown wanted to retain the income stream generated from fees and fines, which, when privatized, generally became more onerous to the convicted persons within the community, and thus the community itself, not to mention failing to arrive in the Crown’s coffers.
Although there is much to malign in the Enlightenment, largely because of the effects of human difficulty in seeing or imagining our limitations and our egoistic tendency to rationalize human injustice, it seems to me that one of the intents (and effects?) of the Enlightenment, was to emphasize the Common Weal as materialized in government and codified law, over the arrogant and abusive exercise of tyrannical Private Interest in carrying out necessary activities of government, such that justice, say, wasn’t driven largely to benefit some individual’s personal profit.
Certainly, the present anti- (or dis-) Enlightenment privatization of our American government makes very clear that the Enlightenment impulse to make government more impersonal, so to speak, was a good one, doubtless based on bitter experience.
Let’s see, in the Aughts, there were the judges in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who ran a juvie-for-profit ring — for 12 years — even buying a fishing boat which they named “Reel Justice” with some of the $2.6+ million in kickbacks. One of them claimed to have only done justice in sentencing 10-year-olds to prison and teenagers to 3 months of hard labor for a spoof of the assistant principal, except for that little tax fraud problem, making some “mistakes relating to not filing accurate tax returns.”
Further, the real point of the mass incarceration of American citizens, largely of color, has been made manifestly clear and documented in Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Our overly self-righteous “they wouldn’t be in trouble if they hadn’t done something wrong” holds no water, not in these cases, and even if you’re not “of color” (as if white weren’t a color?), consider this:
Indeed, we have criminalized so much of our day-to-day life that, according to one estimate, Americans commit something in the realm of nine hundred million crimes a day, so that state prosecutors have little choice but to pick the person and then find the crime — and not the other way around. . . . This is the definition of prosecutorial discretion, of leveraging the legal code to harass, intimidate, and silence critics of the state.
Surely the innocence of technology, its supposedly messianic promise of liberation, comes into question in the face of detailed infinite self-promoted surveillance… rising demand for the materials to manufacture devices funding and sustaining genocide in Africa… policing in the key of warmaking against our own citizens as if civil life were a computer game or a cartoon… warmongering by exporting terror and destruction somehow justified by its minimal risk to ourselves… materiel as a major export that we then have to face when directed at us (ISIL) and which is being turned to the destruction of the artifacts that are all that remain to us of ancient human history in the near East…
From the same Salon article:
When combined with the billions that have been spent in recent years on the Best Surveillance State Money Can Buy, these are ominous trends. When each one of us owns multiple devices that detail, track, log, and store our actions, finding the crime to hang around someone’s neck can be as simple as finding enough new places to look. Who doesn’t have secrets? Who is perfect all the time? These devices are always with us, and due to the draconic nature of Digital Rights Management (DRM) laws, we often have little choice but to allow them to surveil us as they please, even after it’s become readily clear that the microphone-slash-camera-slash-GPS tracking device-slash-bank account in our pocket has been infiltrated by the state’s spies and spooks.
Academic work being done in social informatics by brilliant scholars like Safiya U. Noble, Miriam Sweeney, Sarah Roberts, Ergin Bulut and others makes very clear that the larger dynamics — and injustices — of society don’t go away in cyberspace, and certainly not in the very material bodies that produce cyberspace — as if cyberspace were some kind of creative blank page, a page which we all imagine to be somehow not material, at least not like paper and ink, or like the very bodies that produce it under incredibly oppressive work conditions or are driven to suicide or into addiction by it.
One down side — often exploited — of that (apparent) disembodiment was captured very early on by Peter Steiner in his famous cartoon, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
And the injustices in Ferguson, MO, that resulted in the death of Mike Brown last summer are not in the least separate from the dynamics I’m outlining here. [Note 30 March 2015: It occurs to me to wonder when exactly this hideous conversion of public services into municipal profiteering would have come to public attention to this degree without the confrontation-execution of Mike Brown (see below on police and the “guilty”). … And what might be the basis of promotions and raises for the city manager (thinking of course of the student-recruiting scandal at the UIUC Law School a few years ago)?]
This is one of the things that the Justice Department’s report seems to make clear, though it doesn’t necessarily go into the inseparable issues of surveillance, technology, intrasocietal warmongering, as integrally connected to the same old same old of racism that Noble, for one, has definitively shown to be inherent in Google, a face of information and communication technology that we take to be benign.
But while modernity-as-modernism with its emphasis on purity etc, so brilliantly analyzed for science by Bruno Latour, has always eluded us, the kinds of “getting medieval on yo’ ass” we can see in this personalizing and privatizing of justice — now when our worldview has no higher (spiritual or religious) standard to which such individuals are expected to hew (if they ever did) — seems to be a kind of neo-“feudalism” without any of the medieval downward-flowing responsibilities of our wannabe aristocrats lording it over the citizenry, particularly the citizenry not integrated into higher income brackets and whiter ethnicities.
The next year, when Chief Jackson reported to Mr. Shaw that court revenue for February 2011 was more than $179,000, the highest monthly total in four years, Mr. Shaw responded in an email, “Wonderful!” the Justice Department report said.
Welcome to the neo-liberal state, in which “small government” means “fat pockets” being filled with resources that should be dedicated to our common life (“Reel Justice”?), which is what privatizing actually means for the ways that we as a community have created the instruments of (more) even-handedly serving the interests of the community as a whole, the common weal of the commonwealth. Not that we’ve ever managed that perfectly, but this pseudo-capitalist, conservative, neo-liberal self-righteously sociopathic approach is certainly failing. Not just in the miscarriage of justice like we see in Ferguson and too many other places, but in every public endeavor that we as a community have built over the last, oh, 150 years or so: education, research, knowledge organization and dissemination, physical infrastructure, public health, emergency services, social mobility, the care of all of us for all of us — that’s what community is.
Note: I have used contested terms like “medieval” and “feudal” in
relatively loose ways, hence putting them in scare quotes.
Note 24 March 2015, 8:00 pm: This evening, the University of Memphis held its first “Critical Conversations” panel with the topic of “Brown (Ferguson, MO), Garner and Martin: Police and Social Justice: A Critical Conversations Event.” The Chief of the Memphis Police Department said the reaction to Ferguson was “based on a lie” and warned that police are trained to respond with deadly force when they’re “in fear of their lives” — as though the rest of us aren’t “in fear of our lives” — and essentially closing ranks against the people the police are meant to protect.
Much that was good was said by all of the panelists, particularly those who brought up the larger social issues. Yet only one person on that panel or in the room raised the issue of extracting profit from the sweat and blood and lives of the African-American poor of Ferguson as one of the driving forces of the whole fiasco in that town. Those connections are what Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow make clear, to which Prof. Daphene McFerren did in fact allude, though without developing the entailments.
The final exhortation to just say “yes, sir” to a cop stopping you for no particularly good reason and then trusting to the courts seems ironic at best in the light of the findings of the DOJ report, that the courts of Ferguson were viewed as a money-making project, a source of revenue for the town, which had apparently built up a pretty surplus by excessively charging its citizens with “discretionary” offenses, as Prof. Steve Mulroy pointed out (nor did he expatiate on the endless debt to the city accrued due to the predatory fines charged by the municipality). Some of the ludicrous conversations I’ve had with cops has made it very clear that they’re trained to pull you over on trivialities in the hopes of figuring out some higher-ticket charge. One young trooper pulled me over in the wee hours of a long drive, demanding to know if I had been drinking. When I stated that I had only had a cup of coffee, he launched into a song and dance about how caffeine is just as bad as alcohol. Well, for one thing, it’s not illegal, and, for another, I had a cup of decaf. WTF? If law enforcement departments are so understaffed, why are they using any insignificant irregularity to stop as many people as possible?
Oh, and just to be clear, not only is a grand jury secret, it is also not adversarial, which was mentioned but not explained. That means that only the prosecutor chooses jurors, and presents witnesses and evidence, which means in its turn that only one side of the story gets told to an audience selected by the teller of that tale. What a grand jury does is determine if there is enough evidence to warrant charging someone with a crime. While no one doubts the probity and integrity of the former prosecutors on the University of Memphis panel (Profs. Daphene McFerren and Mary Tucker), one also suspects that their level of same may not be shared by every prosecutor.
The police don’t catch “the guilty” as one of the panelists said (I believe the representative of the police department) — they catch suspects who’ve been charged with a crime; nobody’s declared guilty without a trial by a jury of their peers, without both sides of the story being told. The presumption in the United States used to be that you’re innocent until proven guilty, and that everyone is entitled to due process — as Pastor Earle Fischer pointed out. It sure doesn’t always seem that way now.
9 April 2015: The “Things You Say When You Think You’re Untouchable” Department:
The “Huh, I Wonder Why They Do That” Department:
November 20, 2012
The problem isn’t the bakers and their union, but the vulture-capitalist management.
November 3, 2012
I’m so glad this is out in public discourse!! I finally realized in the late 90s that there was in fact a conservative plan to render government non-functional (in part by refusing to fully staff, and to only staff departments with cronies) in order to claim that government wasn’t functioning (particularly in the justice system). But this is happening in many other arenas, as well — education, most services, to you and me in most jobs. The ongoing lament that jobs aren’t being (re)created misses the point of this whole economic debacle, which is to DISEMPLOY as many workers as possible — with the result that we’re so desperate we’ll take any kind of labor situation. Now, of course, the simple fact comes clear that the jobs that are being (re)created have lower salaries (and often no benefits).
Welcome to the real trickle-down benefits of neoliberalism!
In the South we have a vulgar saying (there’s an even more vulgar form):
Piss on me once, shame on you!
Piss on me twice, shame on me!
BE SURE TO VOTE!
Don’t let the conservatives keep pissing on us all.
September 14, 2012
And see this snippet of Melissa Harris-Perry’s talk show, where the discussion goes from the racialization of welfare to the perpetual whining about the “risks” entrepreneurs take, which justifies their inordinate wealth —
What entrepreneurs risk is money (not just their own) and therefore their lifestyle, what the poor risk is their lives, and the rest of us find our everything-else risked to increase their money.
August 24, 2012
In the NYTimes coverage of the shooting at the Empire State Building today, we find this:
The official said that security surveillance video clearly shows the officers’ encounter with Mr. Johnson.
“It’s great video — you see him drawing on the cops, you see the whole thing,” the official said. “The cops had no choice.”
Uh. Hm. Really — “great video” and the cops had no choice but to fire 16 rounds, and injure 9 bystanders.
One: note that the shooter had lost his job a year ago, and, at 58, probably felt that he had no prospects.
Two: note that it’s treated like a video game by the cops on the beat and the “official” from the police department.
Three: note that the injured bystanders also agree “shit happens.”
July 31, 2012
June 27, 2012
I confess: I love boleros.
Maybe it’s the way they permit a stiff anglo like me to indulge vicariously in dramatic and passionate emotional expression.
Yes, I mean the Latin American love songs that originated in Cuba, although high-culture boleros à la Ravel aren’t bad, either (the jackets, though cute, are not my style). I suppose my vulgar roots show in my preference for low-brow culture. But then, I like high-brow, too, and firmly agree with Virginia Woolf, that the enemy is middle-brow (particularly middle-brow with too much money and too few doubts).
One of my favorites, “Historia de un amor,” is a perfect example of all the things I love about boleros: a great melody in a melancholy vein; the kind of (melo)drama that works in a song or a novel (but generally not so much in real life); all the opportunity one could wish to express passion, grief, loss, failure in love; and even to reject calculation or self-interest in love (Mucho corazón).
“Historia de un amor” was written in 1955 and included in the sound track of a Mexican film of the same name in 1956, which is apparently what started its path into immortality. The earliest and most famous recording of it that I’ve heard is the 1964 version of Eydie Gormé and Trio Los Panchos, but the amazing thing about it is that it shows up everywhere by everybody, and always shows some new beauty in each performance. How many millions of times must it have circled the globe!
It seems to be an obligatory classic for up-and-coming performers (rather like “Embraceable You” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”), though I’m sure there are performers and listeners who by now loathe it as over-performed, the Song That Would Not Die. Each performer takes on the challenge of making it his or her own, with a new twist. And each performance expresses something new in its particular articulation of the song. Now, mind you, these are just a few of the versions you can find on YouTube, and I didn’t even look on other video/music sites.
Here are Tanya Libertad and Eugenia León doing a completely different interpretation of it while having way too much fun:
And Luz Casal, with a brilliant video accompanying a stylized and understated version that layers the dance elements of bolero with a Spanish inflection, a tangled love dynamic, and the implication of possible futures in its incompleteness as a rehearsal in a theater empty except for other theater people. It offers a glimpse of a moment in an implied love story, in parallel with each of the characters who only catch fragmented glimpses each other’s desires.
Last spring, when I was in Spain, I encountered a fascinating performance of “Historia de amor” — by some pícaros on the subway. It was the usual, in a country covered over with people begging, from the Roma woman reading my palm in Córdoba to the pseudo-writer assuming that I was a sympathetic American mark — which I was, but unfortunately for him, a broke one.
Each assumes an identity and launches a fiction, usually with props, speaks from within character. The (pseudo?) writer had an eye for the lone (female) academic, carried a book and flashed the picture on the front flap, too quickly to really see more than that it shared the basic characteristics of his appearance — serious expression, beard, thinning hair, wire-rimmed glasses. Really, he explained, someone on the train had stolen his briefcase, and he only needed a couple of euros to buy himself some dinner, all the while appealing to my self-regard as someone who would be susceptible to the tribulations of another intellectual.
The next day, I boarded the subway, and a couple of youngish guys in their twenties got on, one pulling an amplifier on a handtruck, the other with an accordion — providing a service in return for spare change, which seems to be a perennial impulse for begging, if we believe Lázaro’s account of the Blind Beggar’s prayers and Guzmán de Alfarache’s autobiographical account of the same. And the service goes in at least two directions, the beggar’s proffered active service (prayer, music, even the day and time) and the more passive service of the giver’s opportunity to exercise compassion, whether really altruistic or fodder for fonder self-regard — both surely fictional “services” simulating the opportunity for charity and dissimulating the possible scam. Which makes one wonder if part of the appeal in general is in fact our craving for fiction, to enter into its structured play.
But what was deeply entertaining and thought-provoking was not just the return of the repressed (professional begging), but the recirculation of the irrepressible. Yes, yet another rendition of “Historia de un amor,” with no particular inflection this time, except of course for being offered on a subway at the performative intersection between karaoke and panhandling. Shining teeth in smiling handsome faces, in character as “handsome guys making the best of a tough situation,” worked the crowd, certain that the song would engage anyone Hispanic along with every tourist who ever had heard any Latin music at all.
Of course I threw some euros in the hat!
I got a great intro for an essay, as well as a live performance of one of my favorite songs!
P.S. Another chestnut that is still compelling and around in a million variations is also one of Eydie Gormé’s hits: Cesaria Evora, “Bésame mucho”