Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think.
Shock and awe is the tactic of a bullying invader who wants to demoralize a country into surrendering before a defense has been mounted. It a strategy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out battle.
Trump has surrounded himself by a protective scrum of advisors who spend much of their time keeping him steady and massaging his ego to assure him the people are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the opposition so far. He turns to conspiracy theory to try to convince himself that what he wants to be true really would be except for evil “dudes” out there — George Soros hiring actors to protest, millions of undocumented aliens voting, etc., and of course the original Trump conspiracy that refused to think a black American could be a legitimate president.
There’s a lot of talk online right now about fake news pages on Facebook and how they influenced both the election and how we think about the election. It’s a problem and I’m glad people are sharing links about it.
But when we share these links, let’s take that extra step and point to original sources.
Example: Someone named Melissa Zimdars has done a lot of work to compile a list of fake news sources, published as a Google Doc with a Creative Commons license that allows anyone to repost it. It’s a great public service and she’s frequently updating it, reclassifying publications as feedback comes in.
The problem is that there are a lot of web publishers whose sites exist mostly to repackage content. They’ll find a funny Reddit list and will copy and paste it as an original post or they’ll rewrite a breaking news source in their own words. The reason is obvious: they get the ad dollars that otherwise would go to the original content creators. They’re not engaging in fake news, per se, but they’re also not adding anything to the knowledge base of humanity and they’re taking the spotlight off the hard work of the original creators.
Back to our example, Zimdars’s updates on this clickbait sites don’t get updated as she refines her list. In some cases, clickbait websites rewrite and repost one another’s ever-more extreme headlines till they bear little reality to the original post (I followed the page view food chain a few years ago after reading a particularly dopey piece about vegans launching a boycott over a TV ad).
So here’s part two of avoiding fake news sites: before you share something on Facebook, take the two minutes to follow any link to the original source and share that instead. Support original content creation.
I don't think we can fully understand the appeal Trump without realizing just how shitty life has become for a lot of working class white men and their families. Stable, honest union jobs just don't exist anymore. It wasn't so long ago that you could graduate high school, work hard, and have a good life with a rancher and two cars in the driveway. You weren't living large but you had enough for a Disney vacation every couple of years and a nice TV on the living room wall. For a lot of working class families, that just doesn't exist anymore. Now it's astronomical credit card debits, defaults on mortgages, divorces from the stress. Saving for the kids' college or for retirement is just a joke. It's easy to get nostalgic for what's been lost.
A few years ago I wrote about the time when I worked the night shift at the local supermarket. The older guys there had decent-enough stable jobs they had worked at for twenty years, but for the younger guys, the supermarket was just another temporary stop in a never-ending rotation of shit jobs. Sometimes it'd be pumping gas overnight hoping you wouldn't get shot. Other times it'd be working the box store hoping some random manager didn't fire you because he didn't like the way you look. A lot just didn't last at any job.
There was a small core of long-time nightshift crew members and a revolving door of new hires. Some of the new people lasted only a day before quitting and some a week or two, but few remained longer. Many of these temporary employees were poster children for the tragedies of modern twenty-something manhood (night crews were almost all male). One twenty-something white guy was just back from Iraq; he shouted to himself, shot angry looks at us, and was full of jerky, twitchy movements. We all instinctively kept our distance. Over one lunch break, he opened up enough to admit he was on probation for an unspecified offense and that loss of this job would mean a return to prison. When he disappeared after two weeks (presumably to jail), we were all visibly relieved. (Our fears weren’t entirely unfounded: a night crew member from a nearby ShopRite helped plan the 2007 Fort Dix terrorist plot.)
Another co-worker lasted a bit longer. He was older and calmer, an African American man in his late forties who biked in. I liked him and during breaks, we sometimes talked about God. One frosty morning, he asked if I could give him a lift home. As he gave directions down a particular road, I thoughtlessly said, “Oh so you live back past Ancora,” referring to a locally-notorious state psychiatric hospital. He paused a moment before quietly telling me that Ancora was our destination and that he lived in its halfway house for vets in recovery. Despite the institutional support, he too was gone after about a month.
The regulars were more stable, but even they were susceptible to the tectonic shifts of the modern workforce. There was a time not so long ago when someone could graduate high school, work hard, be dependable, and earn a decent working-class living. My shift manager was only a few years older than me, but he owned a house and a dependable car, and he had the nightshift luxury of being able to attend all of his son’s Little League games. But that kind of job was disappearing. Few new hires were offered full-time work anymore. The new jobs were part-time, short-term, and throw-away. Even the more stable “part-timers” drifted from one dreary, often dangerous, job to the next.
You can read the whole piece here:
Learning the value of an honest job. "I had fancied myself a class-conscious progressive. It shouldn't have startled me to…
To be clear: I don't think Trump himself really gives a crap about these people. As I said yesterday, he's all about himself and his fellow rich New Yorkers. The millions of people who voted for him mostly got suckered. That's just how Trump works. He suckers, he raids, he bankrupts, then he moves on (see: Atlantic City). Eight years from now our country will be teetering in bankruptcy again, but that's not the point, not really, not now at least. The American Dream really has disappeared for a lot of people. They'd like to see American made great again.
One of the takeaways of this election this is that we’ve all siloed ourselves away in our self-selected Facebook feeds. We listen to most our news and hang out primarily with those who think and talk like us. One piece of any healing will be opening up those feeds and doing the messy work of communicating with people who have strongly different opinions. That means really respecting the worldview people are sharing (and that’s as hard for me as for anyone) and listening through to emotions and life experiences that have brought people into our lives. Basic listening tips apply: try not to judge or accuse or name call. If someone with less privilege tells you they’re scared, consider they might have a valid concern and don’t interrupt or tell them they’re being alarmist.
But all this also means apologizing and forgiving each other and being okay with a high level of messiness. It’s not easy and it won’t always work. We will not always have our opinion prevail and that’s okay. We are all in this together.
Over on Quora, a question that is more fascinating than it might at first appear: What wars in history were fought in the name of Quakerism (Society of Friends)?:
This question is neither sarcastic nor rhetoric. As many people insist that violence and atrocities are an inherent part of religions, that religions would cause wars, I really want to know if that is the truth. Personally I believe religions can be peaceful, such as in the cases of the Quakers and the Baha’i, but I might be wrong.
The obvious answer should be “none.” Quakers are well-known as pacifists (fun fact: fake cannon used to deceive the enemy into thinking an army is more fortified than it actually is are called “Quaker guns.”) Individual Quakers have rarely been quite as united around the peace testimony as our reputation would suggest, but as a group it’s true we’ve never called for a war. I can’t think of any military skirmish or battle waged to rallying cries of “Remember the Quakers!”
And yet: all of modern civilization has been shaped by war. Our political boundaries, our religions, our demographic make-up – even the languages we speak are all remnants of long-ago battles. One of the most influential Quaker thinkers, the eighteenth century minister John Woolman, constantly reminded his brethren to consider those luxuries that are the fruit of war and slavery. When we broaden the scope like this, we’ve been involved in quite a few wars.
- We like to remember how William Penn founding the colony of Pennsylvania as a religious refuge. But the king of England held European title to the mid-Atlantic seaboard because of small wars with the Dutch and Swedes (and later held onto it only after a much larger war with the French New World settlements).
- The king’s grant of “Penn’s Woods” was the settlement of a very large war debt owed to Penn’s father, a wealthy admiral. The senior William Penn was something of a scoundrel, playing off both sides in every-shifting royalist/Roundhead seesaw of power. His longest-lasting accomplishment was taking Jamaica for the British (Bob Marley sang in English instead of Spanish because of Sir William).
- By most accounts, William Penn Jr. was fair and also bought the land from local Lenape nations. Mostly forgotten is that the Lenape and Susquehannock population had been devastated in a recent regional war against the Iroquois over beaver territories. The Iroquois were skillfully playing global politics, keeping the English and French colonial empires in enough strategic tension that they could protect their land. They wanted another British colony on their southern flank. The Lenape land reimbursement was secondary.
The thousands of acres Penn deeded to his fellow Quakers were thus the fruits of three sets of wars: colonial wars over the Delaware Valley; debt-fueled English civil wars; and Native American wars fought over access to commercial resources. Much of original Quaker wealth in succeeding generations is indebted to this huge land transfer in the 1680s, either directly (we still hold some valuable real estate) or indirectly (the real estate’s sale could be funneled into promising businesses).
Not all of the fruits of war were secondhand and coincidental to Friends themselves. Many wealthy Friends in the mid-Atlantic colonies had slaves who did much of the backbreaking work of clearing fields and building houses. That quaint old brick meetinghouse set back on a flower-covered field? It was probably built at least in part by enslaved hands.
And today, it’s impossible to step free of war. Most of our houses are set on land once owned by others. Our computers and cell phones have components mined in war zones. Our lights and cars are powered by fossil fuel extraction. And even with solar panels and electric cars, the infrastructure of the daily living of most Americans is still based on extraction and control of resources.
This is not to say we can’t continue to work for a world free of war. But it seems important to be clear-eyed and acknowledge the debts we have.