Internal Exile

This record of political commentary, this statement by the Secretary of the Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party, will not be the first to note, in this post, the intolerable contradiction of present-day activists who uphold human dignity by, on the one hand, encouraging and supporting the free expression of homosexual, transexual, or gender-denying personal behaviors and public statements while, on the other hand, attacking in an endless flood of intolerance, behavior and public statements of people who do not share that viewpoint.

We are as progressives enjoined to support the rights of people who wish to identify as neither male nor female, and in order to do that we are supposed to enlist ourselves in the fight to abolish bathrooms which are divided by sex. Expecting the people who are transgender to adapt to a world where bathrooms are designed to accommodate the 99.7% of the population which acknowledges its division into two sexes has become quite rapidly an “oppressive” act.

When the public pools in the South were integrated, it led to the abandonment by local governments of public pools. Private country clubs opened up instead. Does that mean I believe the public pools should not have been integrated? Not at all. But I think it’s what were going to see here too.

If people can’t sex segregate public toilets, a lot of them won’t maintain public toilets. Instead there will be pay toilets. They probably won’t discriminate; they will be nice, single-use facilities that anyone can feel comfortable in. But they won’t be free.

So the question becomes, does the entire public want to give up free public toilets so that a tiny sliver of that public does not feel discriminated against in their choice of bathroom?

[8 July 2016 Atlantic Monthly]

I’m not saying that the progressives of the country cannot sustain this intolerable contradiction in its advocacy — expand without limit the support for individual exotica, while enjoining using the force of law restriction on the conventional behaviors of the majority. The evangelical churches in the 2016 election went from hostility to Russia to support for Russia within months, given that their nominee was regarded as friendly to Russia; this hypocrisy among many others has not led, and may not in the forseeable future, to the abandonment of the evangelical churches by reason of offensively high levels of hypocrisy.

People have a capacity to believe contradictory things: I taught high school with a biology teacher who professed, as a Christian of conservative stripe, not to believe in Darwinian evolution. (I found her to be evasive on the topic, and not forthcoming about how she reconciled the entire structure of the topic, for the last century or so, but it is not unfair to speak of contradiction held more or less permanently, and in public.) Leftists, such as those who supported Stalin, are no strangers to Doublethink.

For the contradiction goes a lot broader and deeper than the hot-button issue of gender identity. We on the side of greater human dignity regale our audiences endlessly about the evils of capitalism, and how the movement in which we participate (not to exclude the Green Party — of which this blog is a representative outlet) opposes such an evil institution. Explicitly communist states have led to mass slaughter of enormous proportions; Russia collapsed as a Communist regime as soon as people had a choice, and the Chinese version has survived only by jettisoning any pretense to the abolition of corporate enterprise. Even more damaging, the roots of capitalism go back into the early Middle Ages, and not only in Europe, where even after the collapse of the Roman Empire there remained a significant long-distance trade network.

The networks of Jewish merchants also stretched all over the world. Their success story was even more ancient than that of the Armenians: from Roman antiquity, the Syri, whether Jewish or Gentile, were present everywhere: in the nineth century AD, using the communications opened up by the Muslim conquest, Jews from Narbonne “were traveling to Canton by way of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf “; the Geniza documents [explanatory footnote omitted –MM] show an overwhelming preponderance of trading links operating for the benefit of Jewish merchants from “Ifriqya”: from Kairwan to Egypt, Ethiopia and the Indian sub-continent. In the tenth to twelfth centuries, in Egypt (and in Iran and Iraq) certain very rich Jewish families were engaged in long-distance trade, banking, tax-collecting — sometimes for entire provinces.

[Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 1982 English translation, volume II, p. 157.]

It seems to me that not only the practical experience of recent history — take the country of Venezuela as a currently topical example — but also the global historical roots of the practice of capitalist enterprise argue that the effort to extirpate capitalism has always been and still remains, a fool’s errand. Admittedly, despite the efforts put forward, the Green Party has not subscribed (yet!) to the war against capitalism, but there exists a sort of armed truce between the environmental, communitarian aims of the Party and the profit-focused aims of corporate enterprises. We are subversive of capitalism practices, if not the entire institution.

Moving on to other aspects of the contradictory mind-set of my political allies, how can we advocate for greater democracy, yet have so little respect for the democratic result of the 2016 election? Since Trump, since Clinton, were both of them toxic, and yet our own Party got significantly less than one percent of the vote in an election in which we articulated quite reasonably the hypocritical, brutal worship of just that capitalist ethic which is bringing our country, and the world, an endless stream of war and bloodshed, how could we speak of “Not My President” on the day after the election? Ninety-nine percent of the voters rejected rational political policies, for Heaven’s sake! More like, Not My Electorate. Insofar as we honor democratic rule, the Green Party, after half a dozen elections in which we are ignored by the electorate, are failing to treat the results as the will of the people. Indeed, we are now engaged in expensive, apparently pointless, efforts at recount. How that effort is going to change a 99-to-1 vote against us is unclear to me.

Peace, economic sustainability, inclusion of everyone into the public sphere — these are goals worth fighting for. At the moment, although I am reluctant to admit it, I doubt any of the efforts of the Left, including those of my Party, are bringing any of them closer to realization. The pronouncements by Jill Stein’s campaign director and 2004 Party nominee for President Cobb, that we may engage in forceful (not to say violent) suppression of speech by “fascists” does nothing to reassure my misgivings.

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Will We Address Asian Privilege?


The figures from the United States Census appear to show that the Asian population has a mean income some 25 % above that of the so-called “white” population. That threatens, on the face of it, the category of Asian folk as “People of Color” who, just because of the color of their skin, are eligible for victim status. It may well be the case that the system discriminates against certain people, and in favor of others. It does not appear to do so to favor whites, particularly.
Update 20 September 2017: Here is a link to a resumé of the household income of Native Americans.  Although my source doesn’t allow me to add it in graphic form, the link provided shows you that the Native American household income is about the same as African-Americans, at the 40,000-dollar/year level.

One of the consequences of envisioning the United States as an empire provides a perspective on the obvious disparity of outcomes available here.  Different population groups are successful or not, depending upon the elite attitude toward their culture and mores, an attitude that will change constantly, since the elite has to adapt to changing circumstances and the balance of internal forces within a heterogeneous distribution of population groups.

The effort to provide a greater degree of equity would involve the reduction of the commitment by the United States to pretentions toward world domination.  That’s a strong reason to put the anti-war movement in the top priority for the progressive movement: we can never, given the imperial structure of the polity, move toward fairness of opportunity until we surrender the mobilization for endless war; the historical example of the War on Poverty conducted at the same time as the Vietnam War ought to be enough to show that.  Great efforts were mobilized to conduct both; neither succeeded.

We would also, as I hope the reader realizes, be well advised to regard different outcomes as to some degree inherent in our society.  Putting aside the self-serving rhetorical commitment of our national culture to equal treatment, we progressives not only have not made a lot of progress toward that aim but have begun to acknowledge the complications facing our efforts.

Posted in Brian Willson, Cameron Whitten, Economics, Empire, Global, Inequality, Marxism, Pacific Green Party, Permaculture, Uncategorized, War | Leave a comment

We Can Try Our Best and Still Fail

If we take the idea seriously, that the United States has not become an empire, but always, since its founding, has been an empire, we could be situated, I believe, better to evaluate its present position.

If ever there is a political arrangement which distorts actual facts in service of an imagined ideological view, it is that of an empire. The German Empire, for example, was always an affair that corresponded very badly with the actual political facts, whether you are talking about the Holy Roman Empire of the 14th century or the Wilhelmenian Empire of the late 19th century; the first of these spoke (without admitting it) of a force which rested on Papal tolerance of a sort of subordinate in Europe north of the Alps, the second unified a state in Central Europe which rested upon the (assumed) hostility of the states, France and Russia, to either side. Once France and Russia became allies, the German Empire was unable to go to war — either in the First World War or the Second. Hitler succeeded so long as he could count on French (and English) estrangement from Russia. The wonderful accomplishments of the magnificent German People counted for very little, in the end.

A little more reflective of our present circumstances is the Soviet Union. The ideological blinders are even more evident in that history than in that of the German empire. Here, in what really was, both before and after the 1917 revolutions, a Russian empire, there was (before the revolutions) an imagined special destiny which ruled out any change from an autocratic state totally inappropriate for an industrialized society, followed by (after them) a magnificent belief system, with virtually no basis in reality, proclaiming an economic system run by and for the working class. From total denial to proclamation of utopia, with no acknowledgement of reality, even as an intermediate between the two. Wow.

The American Empire rests, I think it fair to say, upon a belief in ineluctable progress. I’m not saying things have always gotten better — certainly not for the Native Americans — but that the imperial ideology rests upon that belief. The most searching examination of this, to my knowledge, was Christopher Lasch’s most penetrating and ambitious work, The True and Only Heaven, the 1991 work which showed the erasure we have applied throughout the history of the country, to those who opposed the various “progressive” economic, social, and political changes which destroyed groups hitherto enjoying autonomy and self-reliance.

Not the Enlightenment thinkers, but the Calvinist theologians, appreciated the costs of the establishment of industrial factories; not the unions, but the rural populists, imagined a radical future of equal dignity for all. And, in the twentieth century, Lasch argues, the Civil Rights movement succeeded in the South because of a supposedly “backward” community of religiously-connected poor blacks, and failed in the North because of the very lack of that ethic of responsibility. It wasn’t “white racism” in the North that defeated Martin Luther King, since it was if anything stronger in the South, where he succeeded. It was a shared community with white people in the South that informed the common struggle and which had been lost by the dominance of secular individualism in the North.

In those circumstances (setting aside the reasons and arguments Lasch advances in favor of his thesis), the construction of an “identity politics” within the imagined realm of the American Empire is fatal to its existence. To insist that we must divide the resources and wealth according to population groups — a tactic, that, to be fair, has worked in many other circumstances and situations — undercuts radically the ideology which supports the imperial enterprise.

Personally I consider the American Empire a brutal installation of exploitation by violent means of global hegemony. Its dissolution is not something I consider an unmitigated evil. But speaking from an impersonal viewpoint, it is interesting that just that attitude which will destroy the cohesive myth that holds the country together, as an empire with a raft of competing populations and groups, is the one most popular with current educated opinion.

Posted in Brian Willson, Dan Handelman, Don Gavitte, Economics, Education, Empire, Fascism, Global, Inequality, Permaculture, Ronald Reagan, Spiritual life, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment

Deir ez-Zor Has Been Relieved

The Syrian armed forces control the area in pink; ISIS in grey.

The Syrian Army, with assistance from Russian and Iranian armed forces, today broke the two-year siege of the last substantial city controlled by ISIS in Syria, Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates.

Update 5 September 2017:  You heard it here first.  As illustrated by this selfie, the forces of besieged and relieving units fraternized and celebrated the event.

Syrian, Russian, and Iranian troops join Brigade 137 at the gates of Deir ez-Zor.

Update 7 September 2017: Robert Fisk sees this victory of the Syrian army as putting the end of the war in Syria within reach.

Update 22 September 2017: Russian television takes a victory lap.

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American Empire

Jean-Baptiste Belley, the elected representative of St. Domingue in the French Revolutionary Convention, 1797. He leans on the statue of the Abbé Raynal, a white advocate of the rights of slaves.

The recent textbook of world history — winner of the 2011 World History Association prize — by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, provides a well-researched, thoroughly-documented, balanced interpretation of the history of humanity without nation-states at the center.  Burbank and Cooper’s thesis is that through most of the recorded history of humanity most people lived in empires, right down to the present day.

One reason to pay attention to this presentation is the insight it offers into the history of the, as it were, empire of the United States.  For a start, empires have been ever since Rome, rather fantastic in their self-image: the reader may recall Augustus Caesar’s insistence that he was merely a distinguished member of the Senate.

Augustus restored the outward façade of the free Republic, with governmental power vested in the Roman Senate, the executive magistrates, and the legislative assemblies. In reality, however, he retained his autocratic power over the Republic as a military dictator. By law, Augustus held a collection of powers granted to him for life by the Senate, including supreme military command, and those of tribune and censor. It took several years for Augustus to develop the framework within which a formally republican state could be led under his sole rule. He rejected monarchical titles, and instead called himself Princeps Civitatis (“First Citizen of the State”). The resulting constitutional framework became known as the Principate, the first phase of the Roman Empire.

From the point of view of early U.S. history then, the hypocrisy of the first words of the Declaration of Independence appear no worse than that of an emperor of Rome who claims to be no more than the First Citizen.  (Note, incidentally, how close that title is to the one Napoleon Bonaparte assumed as he ruled France following a military coup d’état — “First Consul”.  In his case he soon dropped the pretense and took the title of Emperor of the French within a decade.)

France was an empire at the time of the French Revolution, and, as Burbank and Cooper explain (pp. 226-228), French planters in St. Domingue [what is now Haiti] demanded a measure of self-rule. That is, they wanted just what the British subjects of the United States had won not a decade before from King George III. However,

[T]he revolutionary assemblies in Paris also heard from gens de couleur, property-owning, slave-owning inhabitants of Caribbean islands, usually born of  French fathers and enslaved or ex-slave mothers.

Notice that it was unique to the Southern states of the United States, the conception that the child of a master and a slave was born without the freedom of his father, and was perpetually a slave.  These free people of mixed heritage owned one-third of the land of St. Domingue and one-quarter of its slaves.

Citizenship, they insisted, should not be restricted by color. The Paris assemblies temporized.

It was only under the pressure of a slave revolt that the metropolitan authorities gave citizenship to free gens de couleur and then, when that appeared to be insufficient to stop the outbreak of resistance to French authority, liberated all of St. Domingue’s slaves as well, granting all adult male residents citizenship in the French Republic.

The concession worked.

Toussaint L’Ouverture . . . contemplated for a time allying with the Spanish, but when France, not Spain, moved toward abolishing slavery, he went over to the French side, becoming an officer of the republic and by 1797 the de facto ruler of French St. Domingue, fighting against royalists and rival empires and in defense of ex-slaves’ newly claimed liberty.

Five years later Napoleon imprisoned L’Ouverture under offer of safe-conduct and re-instituted slavery.  Burbank and Cooper place this sordid episode of imperial rule in context by showing, throughout their 500-page discussion, how various empires employed a variety of tactics, varying with the times, to rule over inhomogeneous populations with differing sorts of methods, professing consistency while practicing discrimination.

The United States of America satisfies the usual criteria of empire, from its very inception.  The territory had a variety of ethnic groups, treated its inhabitants with pragmatic brutality, and rested ultimately on force to establish its writ.  Just as Rome had its elections, so did — does — the United States.  Now, admittedly, the most recent Presidential election, in which the candidate who spent the lesser amount of money won despite the opposition of the entire gamut of leading elites, does indicate a certain remaining degree of democracy in our country.  But the actions of the new government betray the futility of even that victory.

Interpreted as the history of an empire, the purported horrific racism of this country is recognizable as the analogue of strategies adopted by other empires, throughout the history of humanity, to establish and maintain central control over distant provinces and populations.  The British means of ruling the Irish, for example, involved the granting of a Parliament in 1782 and its revocation in 1801.  The French, of course, condemned Perfidious Albion, but the historically informed has to regard the English elites as similar to, if not indistinguishable from, the writers of treaties with the Native American Indians.  The arrival of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 echoes the liberation of the slaves of St. Domingue, and the 1877 end of Reconstruction the re-imposition of slavery by the successor to the French Directorate.

From the perspective of the history of the world as a history of empires, George Orwell’s prescient picture of 1984 loses some of its originality; the world has always had a number of competing empires, and the empires have always been run hierarchically, concentrating power at the center as much as possible.  We have at present, just as Orwell wrote, the empires of Russia, China, and the United States.  The interaction among them, and their relations with the smaller, less powerful states of Europe, Africa, Latin America, and South Asia constitute international politics.

Just as Winston Smith does, so we put our hopes in the majority of the population, but the efforts of the imperial propagandizers are devoted to avoiding the threat of overthrow of the elites currently in power in each of the three empires.

We have always been an empire.

Posted in Afghanistan, Brian Willson, Elections, Empire, Global, Inequality, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Constitution, War | Leave a comment

An Open Letter to Congressman Earl Blumenauer

Two emotionally unstable national leaders who threaten to use nuclear weapons

 

My elder son, who participated in the Grant High School Constitution team, proposed to me tonight a means of you, Mr Blumenauer, helping to de-escalate our present circumstances of near-nuclear-war with the supposedly “rogue” state of North Korea.

Would you please introduce a bill into Congress to the effect that Congress insists upon the President consulting with the Congress before any first use of nuclear weapons.  Include, would you please, the requirement of a vote, for the record — as was done with the so-called Authorization for the Use of Military Force, after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon nearly two decades ago. I will promise, in return, not to run against you in the next election.

Update: 11 August 2017 : I find that such a bill has already (on 24 January of this year) been introduced:

Today, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced H.R. 669 and S. 200, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. This legislation would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. The crucial issue of nuclear “first use” is more urgent than ever now that President Donald Trump has the power to launch a nuclear war at a moment’s notice.

Posted in Afghanistan, Brian Willson, Elections, Empire, Global, Pacific Green Party, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Constitution, US Senate, War | 1 Comment

What Transgender Means

from the cover story of Grant Magazine, May 2016

 

Surely in writing this post, which is a highly personal meditation, I have to begin from the admission of my own lack of principled stance over time.  My opinions have changed and developed in the course of years.

Today the principal of Grant High School sent the parents of the Class of 2017 an email, notifying us of the suicide of one of the members of the class.  Aditi Staub.  This notice, which my 18-year-old son Michael Kepler Meo did not receive, had a significant impact on him because he recalled being very friendly with Staub, as a freshman, before the young man’s transition to female presentation.

He wondered whether his discomfort with the female, Aditi, as opposed to his warm appreciation for the male, Jack Staub, contributed to the tragic outcome. In discussing this sad news I advised him that I had just today learned that the head of the Healthcare for All Oregonian movement in my city, Portland, a woman named Robin Cash, is transgender.  She writes today:

Analysis of today’s news: (TW: this is dark)
Today Trump announced trans people cannot serve in the military, and simultaneously that Taiwanese manufacturer FoxConn is making a $10 billion investment in building factories in Wisconsin. These two announcements are connected. This day has Steve Bannon written all over it.
I don’t personally care whether we can serve in the military, and don’t particularly want to get into a debate about whether this is an issue trans folk should focus on.

I connected this to the fact, which I had already shared with him, that the treasurer of the statewide Green Party, Trish Driscoll, as well as its secretary, Christina Lugo, are both of them transgender male-to-females.  I am perfectly comfortable with these two last people — I may have met Robin Cash, but I do not recall it well, if at all — but I am not comfortable with the prominence of transgender people within the political party in which I am an activist.  No, it is not that I am not comfortable . . . it makes me wonder about the nature of the political party.

I don’t know whether the suicide rate of transgenders after the sex-change operation is four times that of the rest of us, or six times.  It’s a lot, and that’s all that matters.  It doesn’t drop down to anything like a rate comparable to the general population. I consider the demand for transition to a different sex to be unethical, although I am willing to let people do it.  That suggested to me the Green Party is run by people I like personally, but whose ethics I do not accept; that is, that I ought to quit the Party.

I reject that option because I reject the idea that we all have to agree on everything before we can work together on social justice.  Let me continue, however, to riff on my own lack of consistency before the reader demands an elaboration of the rational basis for the above “unethical” comment.  I have previously celebrated those women who have breast implants.  I posted their pictures on this blog.

That got me more or less read out of the Green Party, for “sexism”.

How can I allow, indeed glorify, surgical implantation of plastic bags into a woman’s body and then turn around and condemn in for god’s sake moral terms the surgical transition operation?

Well, that suicide rate has a lot to do with it.  I will admit, as well, that my masculinity is involved, and I am conscious of a general social re-evaluation of people with penises and testicles at the present time, and so as one of those folk, I claim that there’s an inherent difference between adding a bit of padding to a body part and cutting your entire genital equipment out.

Perhaps I am in error.  I don’t think so, but then again, there was a time when —  it was back when I was in my 20s — I opposed equal rights for gays.  I can remember George Balint, a Hungarian refugee I knew in the late 1960s, pointing out to me how widespread homosexual behavior and status had been in many different cultures around the world.  I lived in Oakland, California, then, and I subsequently came to meet a wide spectrum of gay men. I learned to acknowledge my own liking for submissive feminized individuals willing to give me blow jobs.  It was not enough for me to engage in the practice — just as I’ve never been to bed with a prostitute, but I’ve certainly thought about it (and my opposition is not purely to the empirical problem of sexually transmitted disease, but also to the payment for affection).  Homosexuals also have a higher suicide rate than the general population, but less than transexuals.  The argument that many gays have contributed, in so many different ways and means, to the heritage of human accomplishment which I appreciate — science, music, education, the arts in particular, but there are too many to mention — also contributed to my change of opinion.

If everyone in leadership positions of a political party of which I am a member is/were gay, that would also make me wonder what’s up, even though I’m firmly on board with gay people having no bar to social, economic, or legal acceptance.  I do wonder about the Green Party of Oregon, but not enough to leave.

That’s about it.

Posted in Bradley Manning, Cameron Whitten, Education, Elections, Friendship, Inequality, Oakland, Pacific Green Party, Spiritual life, Vali Balint | 15 Comments