Why do so many poor people eat junk food, fail to budget properly, show no ambition?

‘Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken’

Linda Tirado knew exactly why… because she was one of them. Here, in an extract from her book, Hand to Mouth, she tells her story in her own words

Linda Tirado photographed by Scott Suchman near her home in Washington DC for the Observer New Revie
Linda Tirado photographed by Scott Suchman near her home in Washington DC for the Observer New Review.

In the autumn of 2013 I was in my first term of school in a decade. I had two jobs; my husband, Tom, was working full-time; and we were raising our two small girls. It was the first time in years that we felt like maybe things were looking like they’d be OK for a while.

After a gruelling shift at work, I was unwinding online when I saw a question from someone on a forum I frequented: Why do poor people do things that seem so self-destructive? I thought I could at least explain what I’d seen and how I’d reacted to the pressures of being poor. I wrote my answer to the question, hit post, and didn’t think more about it for at least a few days. This is what it said:

Why I make terrible decisions, or, poverty thoughts

There’s no way to structure this coherently. They are random observations that might help explain the mental processes. But often, I think that we look at the academic problems of poverty and have no idea of the why. We know the what and the how, and we can see systemic problems, but it’s rare to have a poor person actually explain it on their own behalf. So this is me doing that, sort of.

Rest is a luxury for the rich. I get up at 6am, go to school (I have a full course load, but I only have to go to two in-person classes), then work, then I get the kids, then pick up my husband, then have half an hour to change and go to Job 2. I get home from that at around 12.30am, then I have the rest of my classes and work to tend to. I’m in bed by 3am. This isn’t every day, I have two days off a week from each of my obligations. I use that time to clean the house and soothe Mr Martini [her partner], see the kids for longer than an hour and catch up on schoolwork.

Those nights I’m in bed by midnight, but if I go to bed too early I won’t be able to stay up the other nights because I’ll fuck my pattern up, and I drive an hour home from Job 2 so I can’t afford to be sleepy. I never get a day off from work unless I am fairly sick. It doesn’t leave you much room to think about what you are doing, only to attend to the next thing and the next. Planning isn’t in the mix.

When I was pregnant the first time, I was living in a weekly motel for some time. I had a mini-fridge with no freezer and a microwave. I was on WIC [government-funded nutritional aid for women, infants and children]. I ate peanut butter from the jar and frozen burritos because they were 12 for $2. Had I had a stove, I couldn’t have made beef burritos that cheaply. And I needed the meat, I was pregnant. I might not have had any prenatal care, but I am intelligent enough to eat protein and iron while knocked up.

I know how to cook. I had to take Home Ec to graduate from high school. Most people on my level didn’t. Broccoli is intimidating. You have to have a working stove, and pots, and spices, and you’ll have to do the dishes no matter how tired you are or they’ll attract bugs. It is a huge new skill for a lot of people. That’s not great, but it’s true. If you fuck it up, you could make your family sick.

We have learned not to try too hard to be middle class. It never works out well and always makes you feel worse for having tried and failed yet again. Better not to try. It makes more sense to get food that you know will be palatable and cheap and that keeps well. Junk food is a pleasure that we are allowed to have; why would we give that up?

We have very few of them.

The closest Planned Parenthood [family planning clinic] to me is three hours. That’s a lot of money in gas. Lots of women can’t afford that, and even if you live near one you probably don’t want to be seen coming in and out in a lot of areas. We’re aware that we are not “having kids”, we’re “breeding”. We have kids for much the same reasons that I imagine rich people do. Urge to propagate and all. Nobody likes poor people procreating, but they judge abortion even harder.

Convenience food is just that. And we are not allowed many conveniences. Especially since the Patriot Act [aimed at strengthening domestic security in the war against terrorism] was passed, it’s hard to get a bank account. But without one, you spend a lot of time figuring out where to cash a cheque and get money orders to pay bills. Most motels now have a no-credit-card-no-room policy. I wandered around San Francisco for five hours in the rain once with nearly a thousand dollars on me and could not rent a room even if I gave them a $500 cash deposit and surrendered my cellphone to the desk to hold as surety.

Nobody gives enough thought to depression. You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired. We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation.

Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles.
Patients without medical insurance flock to a free dentistry event in Los Angeles. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn’t give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don’t apply for jobs because we know we can’t afford to look nice enough to hold them. I would make a super legal secretary but I’ve been turned down more than once because I “don’t fit the image of the firm”, which is a nice way of saying “gtfo, pov”. I am good enough to cook the food, hidden away in the kitchen, but my boss won’t make me a server because I don’t “fit the corporate image”. I am not beautiful. I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on B12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that’s how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn’t much point trying.

CONTINUED:   http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/sep/21/linda-tirado-poverty-hand-to-mouth-extract?CMP=fb_gu

Professors on food stamps

The shocking true story of academia in 2014

Forget minimum wage, some adjunct professors say they’re making 50 cents an hour. Wait till you read these stories

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014
(Credit: domin_domin via iStock/Roobcio via Shutterstock/Salon)

You’ve probably heard the old stereotypes about professors in their ivory tower lecturing about Kafka while clad in a tweed jacket. But for many professors today, the reality is quite different: being so poorly paid and treated, that they’re more likely to be found bargain-hunting at day-old bread stores. This is academia in 2014.

“The most shocking thing is that many of us don’t even earn the federal minimum wage,” said Miranda Merklein, an adjunct professor from Santa Fe who started teaching in 2008. “Our students didn’t know that professors with PhDs aren’t even earning as much as an entry-level fast food worker. We’re not calling for the $15 minimum wage. We don’t even make minimum wage. And we have no benefits and no job security.”

Over three quarters of college professors are adjunct. Legally, adjunct positions are part-time, at-will employment. Universities pay adjunct professors by the course, anywhere between $1,000 to $5,000. So if a professor teaches three courses in both the fall and spring semesters at a rate of $3000 per course, they’ll make $18,000 dollars. The average full-time barista makes the same yearly wage. However, a full-time adjunct works more than 40 hours a week. They’re not paid for most of those hours.

“If it’s a three credit course, you’re paid for your time in the classroom only,” said Merklein. “So everything else you do is by donation. If you hold office hours, those you’re doing for free. Your grading you do for free. … Anything we do with the student where we sit down and explain what happened when the student was absent, that’s also free labor. Some would call it wage theft because these are things we have to do in order to keep our jobs. We have to do things we’re not getting paid for. It’s not optional.”

Merklein was far from the only professor with this problem.



“It can be a tremendous amount of work,” said Alex Kudera. Kudera started teaching in 1996 and is the author of a novel about adjunct professorship, “Fight For Your Long Day.” “When I was an adjunct, I didn’t have a social life. It’s basically just work all the time. You plan your weekend around the fact that you’re going to be doing work Saturday and Sunday — typically grading papers, which is emotionally exhausting. The grading can be tedious but at least it’s a private thing. It’s basically 5-10 hours a day for every day of the week.”

One professor from Indiana who spoke to Salon preferred to remain anonymous. “At some point early in my adjunct career, I broke down my pay hourly. I figured out that I was making under minimum wage and then I stopped thinking about it,” he said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I essentially design my own courses. And sometimes I don’t find out how many courses I’m going to be teaching until maybe Thursday and they start Monday. … So I have to develop a course, and it’s been the case where one summer I taught English 102 where the course was literally dropped in my lap three days before it started and I had to develop it entirely from scratch. It didn’t even have a text book. That was three 16-hour days in a row developing a syllabus. … You’re expected to be in contact with students constantly. You have to be available to them all the time. You’re expected to respond to emails generally within 24 hours. I’m always on-call. And it’s one of my favorite parts of my job, I don’t regret it, but if you factored those on-call hours in, that’d be the end of it. I’d be making 50 cents an hour.”

Being financially secure and teaching at an institute of higher education are almost mutually exclusive, even among professors who are able to teach the maximum amount of courses each semester. Thus, more than half of adjunct professors in the United States seek a second job. Not all professors can find additional employment. An advanced degree slams most doors shut and opens a handful by the narrowest crack.

Nathaniel Oliver taught as an adjunct for four years in Alabama. He received $12,000 a year during his time teaching.

“You fall in this trap where you may be working for less than you would be at a place that pays minimum wage yet you can’t get the minimum wage jobs because of your education,” Oliver said.

Academia’s tower might be ivory but it casts an obsidian shadow. Oliver was one of many professors trapped in the oxymoronic life of pedantic destitution. Some professors in his situation became homeless. Oliver was “fortunate” enough to only require food stamps, a fact of life for many adjuncts.

“It’s completely insane,” he said. “And this isn’t happening just to me. More and more people are doing it.”

“We have food stamps,” said the anonymous adjunct from Indiana. “We wouldn’t be able to survive without them.”

“Many professors are on food stamps and they go to food donation centers. They donate plasma. And that’s a pretty regular occurrence,” Merklein told Salon.

Life isn’t much easier for those lucky enough to find another income stream. Many are reduced to menial service jobs and other forms of first-world deprivation.

“I ended up applying for a job in a donut shop recently,” said an Ohio professor who requested to go by a pseudonym. Professor Doe taught for over two decades. Many years he only made $9600. Resorting to a food service job was the only way he could afford to live, but it came with more than its expected share of humiliation.

“One of the managers there is one of the students I had a year ago who was one of the very worst writers I’ve ever had. What are we really saying here? What’s going on in the work world? Something does not seem quite right. I’m not asking to be rich. I’m not asking to be famous. I just want to pay my bills.”

Life became even more harrowing for adjuncts after the Affordable Care Act when universities slashed hours and health insurance coverage became even more difficult to obtain.

“They’re no better off than people who work at Walmart,” said Gordon Haber, a 15-year adjunct professor and author of “Adjunctivitis.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, other professors echoed this sentiment.

“There’s this idea that faculty are cheap, renewable labor. There’s the idea that student are customers or clients,” said Joseph Fruscione, a former adjunct of 15 years. “And there are some cases where if a student is displeased with a grade, there’s the notion where they’re paying for this, so they deserve an A or a B because of all this tuition.”

“The Walmart metaphor is vivid,” Kudera said. “There are these random schools where they’re just being terrible. But as some of the schools it seems like there’s some enlightened schools and it doesn’t seem like every single person who speaks up loses their classes. It varies school to school. They’re well aware some of their adjuncts may not afford toothpaste at the end of the month or whatever those kinds of tragedies may be.” He suggested looking at the hashtag #badmin to see transgressions and complaints documented in real time.

Robert Baum, a former adjunct and now a dean, was able to provide insights from both sides of the problem.

“That pressure [to make money] has been on higher education forever,” he said. “A lot of the time when I was an adjunct, things were very black and what I’m finding is that the graying is happening a lot. I’m losing track of the black and white.” Still, Baum noted that the current system was hardly ideal, and that change was necessary. “The Walmart model is based on the idea of putting the burden on taking care of the worker on either the state or on the worker’s credit card or on the worker’s family. And that is no different than what I’ve experienced across my adjunct life. No different. Zero difference.”

Ana Fores Tamayo, an adjunct who claims she was blacklisted over her activism, agreed with the latter parts of Baum’s assessment.

“Walmart and the compartmentalized way of treating faculty is the going rate. The way administration turns around and says, for instance, where I was teaching it was probably about 65% adjunct faculty. But the way they fix their numbers, it makes it looks as if it’s less when they show their books because the way they divide it and the way they play with their numbers it shows that it’s less.”

“As soon as they hear about you organizing, they go on the defensive,” Merklein said. “For instance, at my community college, I am being intimidated constantly and threatened in various ways, hypothetically usually. They don’t like to say something that’s an outright direct threat. … They get really freaked out when they see pamphlets around the adjunct faculty office and everyone’s wearing buttons regardless of what professional organization or union it is. They will then go on the offensive. They will usually contact their attorney who is there to protect the school as a business and to act in an anti-labor capacity.”

The most telling phrase in Merklein’s words are “the school as a business.” Colleges across the country have transitioned from bastions of intellectual enlightenment to resort hotels prizing amenities above academics. Case in point: The ludicrously extravagant gyms in America’s larger universities are home to rock climbing walls, corkscrew tracks, rooftop gardens, and a lazy river. Schools have billions to invest in housing and other on-campus projects. Schools have millions (or in some cases “mere” hundreds of thousands) to pay administrators.  Yet schools can’t find the money to hire more full-time professors. If one follows the money, it’s clear that colleges view education as tertiary. The rigor of a university’s courses doesn’t attract the awe of doe-eyed high school seniors. Lavish dorms and other luxuries do.

Despite such execrable circumstances, professors trek onward and try to educate students as best they can. But how good can education provided by overworked, underpaid adjuncts be? The professors Salon spoke to had varying opinions.

Benay Blend has taught for over 30 years. For 10 of those years, she worked in a bookstore for $7.50 an hour because she needed the extra income.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap that the media use that using adjunct labor means poor education,” Blend said. “I have a PhD. I’ve published probably more than full-time people where I teach. I’ve been teaching for 30 years. I’m a good teacher.”

“On the whole, teaching quality by adjuncts is excellent,” said Kane Faucher, a six-year adjunct. “But many are not available for mentoring and consultation because they have to string together so many courses just to reach or possibly exceed the poverty line. This means our resources are stretched too thinly as a matter of financial survival, and there are many adjuncts who do not even have access to a proper office, which means they work out of coffee shops and cars.”

The anonymous adjunct professor from Indiana expressed a similar sentiment.

“I definitely don’t want to go down the road of ‘Adjunct professors, because of the way we’re handled, are not able to be effective teachers.’ I think some of us are more effective teachers than people who get paid a lot more than we do. Some of us aren’t for really good reasons which have to do with not having the resources. I mean if you’re working at three different colleges, how can you possibly be there?”

Ann Kottner, an adjunct professor and activist, agreed.

“The real problem with the adjunct market right now is that it cheats students of the really outstanding educations they should be getting,” she said. “They’re paying a lot of money for these educations and they’re not getting them. And it’s not because they have bad instructors, it’s because their instructors are not supported to do the kind of work they can do.”

The situation reached such a flashpoint that Kottner and several colleagues (some of which spoke to Salon for this article) penned a petition to the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The petition calls for “an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty.” Ana Foryes Tamayo has a petition as well, this one to the US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. They both have over 8,000 signatories.

When asked about the petition’s impact, Kottner said it was “just one tactic in the whole sheath of a rising adjunct response to contingency.” Other tools included unionization, which is difficult in many states. Kottner said the most powerful force was information. “I think our biggest weapon now is basically making the public aware of what their tuition dollars are not paying for, and that is professor salaries and professor security.”

When asked if there was any hope about the future, no consensus was reached among the adjuncts Salon spoke with. Some believed things would never change. Others thought the tide would turn if enough people knew how far the professoriat had fallen.

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/21/professors_on_food_stamps_the_shocking_true_story_of_academia_in_2014/?source=newsletter

Is it possible to go untracked in this new digital dystopia? It’s gotten harder — but here’s how I’ve done it

John Twelve Hawks: “New surveillance states have placed us in an invisible prison”

Topics:

John Twelve Hawks: "New surveillance states have placed us in an invisible prison"
(Credit: Richard Susanto via Shutterstock/phbaer via iStock/Salon)

 

Surveillance

The continuing revelations by Edward Snowden have convinced many of us that we are living in a modern surveillance state. And the problem isn’t just the activities of the National Security Agency and Great Britain’s GCHQ. “Trickle Down Surveillance” has provided spy technology to small town police officers and developing world dictators. In addition, our activities are monitored for commercial reasons by a wide variety of international corporations (Amazon isn’t the “Everything Store,” it’s the “Find Out Everything About You” store).

Anyone who steps back for a minute and observes our modern digital world might conclude that we have destroyed our privacy in exchange for convenience and false security. That private world within our thoughts has been monitored, tabulated and quantified. Our tastes, our opinions, our needs and our desires have been packaged and sold as commodities. Those in power have pushed their need for control one step too far. They turned unique individuals into data files, and our most intimate actions have become algorithmic probabilities.

The destruction of personal privacy is not an ideological issue. Thoughtful women and men on every point of the political spectrum are beginning to realize that surveillance technology has shifted the balance of power between institutions and individuals. Without private thoughts and actions we can never truly be free.

Ten years ago, I believed that individuals could live off the grid, but because of “trickle-down surveillance,” it’s becoming impossible to escape surveillance in a rural area or in a developing country. Most of the people reading this essay have jobs that involve computers. We have cellphones, and we use the Internet. Like it or not, we’re living in a digital infrastructure.

Although I write dystopian fiction, I don’t believe in dystopian fantasies. Unless some future hacker genius creates a virus that wipes every database clean, it’s clear that destroying one small part of this Virtual Panopticon is not going to bring the walls down.

So what are we supposed to do? How can we avoid becoming just another bar-coded object tracked within a World of Things?

A place of refuge

A good first step is to find or create an occasional place of refuge where you can escape the electronic grid that surrounds us. It’s a place without phones or computers — without monitoring of any kind. Stepping back from the grid is especially important if you have small children. They need to discover the possibilities created by their own imaginations.



I realize that switching off one’s Twitter feed is highly difficult for some people. But walking alone down a forest path, smelling the wet earth, and watching branches sway in the wind is actually the first step in your act of resistance.

You can’t truly hear your own voice until the shouting around you disappears. New ideas and possibilities — our own ideas, our own possibilities — will occur only when we step away from the Virtual Panopticon.             

At various times of my life I have turned away from our high-tech society. When I was younger I simply camped or explored the wilderness on my own. During the last few years, I’ve experienced more extreme periods of isolation in Nepal and Tibet (in both of these countries, people are more accepting of these kinds of actions).

The last time I stepped off the grid, I took photographs of myself before and after the experience. On the first day, my face showed the conventional “mask” we all create to protect our private Self. Thirty-one days later, I had grown a beard, but that was an insignificant change. I was smiling. My eyes were wide open and ready to see the beauty of our world.

One consequence of living — even for a short time — in a place of refuge is that when you return to your daily routine, you’ll be more aware of the ways that the Panopticon is watching you and predicting your behavior. This awareness gives you the motivation to gradually create a parallel life.

Parallel Lives

My Public Self uses a credit card to buy an airline ticket, walks through an airport and boards a plane. This Self pays income taxes, uses a smartphone, and doesn’t hide his face from the CCTV cameras that have appeared throughout New York and London.

Then there is my Private Self that gives a fake phone number to an inquisitive clerk, doesn’t post a photograph on Facebook, and uses a search engine that won’t remember searches. I’ve used a gift card (paid for with cash) to purchase Apple apps and my identity is not on the Apple Corp.’s database.

Finally there is a Secret Self that owns a throwaway cellphone purchased with cash and uses Internet software like Tor that enables online anonymity.

In the beginning, these actions to defend your privacy feel like a game. But deliberately concealing yourself from the Panopticon makes you feel less passive and more aware. There’s nothing flashy going on here, just small daily actions that continually undercut the constant attempt by governments and corporations to know who you are and what you’re doing.

The Shark Cage

The Internet is not a cyber-utopia offering freedom to anyone with a blog. It’s part of the world economy (other than Wikipedia, the vast majority of the top 100 websites are owned by large corporations).

We exist in a marketplace where our personal information is collected and sold. But the marketplace can protect our privacy if we make conscious choices. Companies selling computers and phones design their product first, then add firewalls and security software later. The growing awareness of the attack on privacy has prompted a small group of cryptographers to design communications devices that assume that both the Internet and the cellular network have been compromised.

Recently, a company has introduced the Blackphone — an Android-based smartphone that provides easy-to-use encryption for phone calls and text messaging (the same company is developing “a private and secure” email system called Dark Mail). By the time you read this, there may be better-designed phones and more secure email systems. The real news is that the market is beginning to respond to the public’s growing realization of how the surveillance state destroys freedom. More pro-privacy computers and communications devices will be created, and they will gradually become less expensive and easier to use.

Wealthy people and celebrities routinely hire specialists to create an electronic “shark cage” that protects their phone and online privacy. But privacy is no longer a rich man’s luxury. In the last few years, small companies like the Boston-based Abine Corp. are selling software that can control the personal information that companies and other people can see about consumers online.

In democratic countries with a digital infrastructure, the market will eventually offer us cheap and easy-to-use ways to step away from certain aspects of the Panopticon. All you need is enough cash to buy a prepaid debit card — and the desire to live an unmonitored life.

Parallel Systems

I own two smartphones (one purchased with cash), an iPad, two regular computers, and a “clean” notebook computer that’s unattached to any identity. There’s nothing wrong with technology itself. A license plate scanner attached to a computer has no ideology. The real issue is control. Who gives instructions to these new machines, and what are they used for? Who makes the rules for our society and our lives?

One positive aspect of the new technology is that it gives us the means to create parallel systems that exist alongside the dominant social and economic system. Examples can be found everywhere: organic farming, home solar power, and the do-it-yourself movement (DIY), which encourages people to “life hack” common problems and use open-source designs to make machines.

Using a parallel system allows us to makes a distinction between the surveillance state and those transactions that are not instantly part of a database. When we buy a locally grown tomato at the farmer’s market, use a peer-to-peer payment system that involves cryptocurrency, or rent a room in someone’s apartment while traveling, we’re engaged in a transaction that will not be tracked or quantified.

Participating in these parallel systems and creating a parallel life are both choices. And most people living in democratic countries still have these choices. But what should we do if the new surveillance states extend their power into every aspect of our lives?

When do you decide that you have had enough?

Resistance

For several years I worked for an organization that sent its employees out to work in war zones all over the world. On a number of occasions, I walked through villages where everyone had been killed and the bodies were left to swell up and rot in the sun. Time disappeared during these moments, and I was conscious only of the stench and the buzzing sound that came from swarms of flies. Eventually, my Sikh driver would honk the horn of the truck filled with relief supplies. I would get back into the truck cab and continue up the road. But these experiences stayed in my memory. I wanted to know why humans acted with such deliberate cruelty. When should we turn away from evil? And when should we resist?

When I returned to America, I began to read books about the Holocaust that described how ordinary people were transformed into executioners while a smaller group risked their lives trying to save others. There’s a long shelf of books about individual rescuers like Oskar Schindler, but it was difficult to come up with a general theory as to why they stepped forward.

A friend recommended that I read about Stanley Milgram’s famous “obedience studies” in the early 1960s. The Yale University psychologist was trying to understand how authority could push individuals into performing cruel or unethical actions, so he conducted a series of experiments on the Yale campus.

Imagine that you were one of the people who answered a newspaper ad looking for paid participants in a “scientific experiment.” When you arrive at the basement laboratory, a man wearing a white lab coat tells you that you’re going to participate in a study of how memory is influenced by punishment. You fill out a questionnaire, then pick a piece of paper that gives you the role of  “teacher” while the other participant is “the learner” (actually an actor hired by Milgram). The learner is taken to another room and an electrode is strapped to his wrist. Then the experimenter asks you to give the learner a set of word pairings to memorize.

If the learner in the next room answers correctly over an intercom, you’re supposed to praise him. But if the learner gives the wrong answer, you’re told to press a switch that gives a shock to the other person. At first, the learner answers correctly, and then he begins to make mistakes. Each time that happens, you’re told to press a switch with a higher voltage indicated on the control panel. You’re ordered to keep going even when the learner begins to scream.

After 19 different experiments with more than a thousand participants, Milgram described the obedience study to a group of 40 psychiatrists and asked them to estimate what percentage of teachers would reach the 450-volt level marked with an ominous XXX on the control panel. The psychiatrists decided that only 1 percent of the test group would go all the way. They were astonished to learn that two out of three “ordinary” men and women gave the maximum shock even when the learner in the other room had stopped responding.

Humans can be manipulated to obey. As information and communications technology creates a surveillance state, I’m worried that fear of terrorism will create a system where police officers and soldiers will obey the computer-generated decisions that appear on their optical head-mounted displays.

So what can stop this from happening? In 2006, a professor at Santa Clara University named Jerry Burger duplicated Milgram’s experiment using an experimental procedure where the “teachers” were pushed only toward a maximum 150-volt level. When he interviewed the participants afterward, Burger discovered that those who had stopped participating felt that they were responsible for giving the shocks, while those participants who obeyed had decided that the experimenter was responsible.

Milgram’s research shows us that anyone who identifies with authority can be manipulated to defend institutional goals. This sort of mindless obedience can be defeated only by one’s sense of identity.

Identity is not taste or fashion; it has nothing to do with what we’ve purchased in the past or want to buy in the future. Identity comes from making real choices that force you to decide what is true, fair and just.

One Man Standing in the Middle of a Street

The key image of our era is not an astronaut on the moon or a smirking billionaire holding a new smartphone. I’m continually inspired by the 1989 video of a man standing in front of a column of tanks one day after the Chinese military massacred the pro-democracy protesters who had gathered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

When the lead tank tries to drive around this protester, he repeatedly steps into its path. The driver of the lead tank shouts at him. The column starts to move, but the lone protester stops them once again. I don’t know this hero’s name and I don’t know what happened to him, but I’m still inspired by his bravery. The Tank Man was acting like a free human being — making a conscious choice to resist authority.

Even if you spent most of your day using some kind of electronic device, you’re not a light-emitting diode or a computer chip. We should never consider ourselves a functional component of any new technological system. We are physical beings that have been given the privilege and the power to say no.

When your own moment arrives, it probably won’t involve a column of tanks, but you’ll know that there is no other alternative. You must confront authority or your true Self would no longer exist.

The new surveillance states have placed us in an invisible prison. If we wish to break free, we need only to step forward and open the door.

Atheist libertarians pose as skeptics — except when it comes to free markets and the nature of corporate power

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the “free market”

The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the "free market"
Rand Paul, Ayn Rand, Richard Dawkins (Credit: AP/Timothy D. Easley/Reuters/Chris Keane)

Why atheists are disproportionately drawn to libertarianism is a question that many liberal atheists have trouble grasping.  To believe that markets operate and exist in a state of nature is, in itself, to believe in the supernatural. The very thing atheists have spent their lives fleeing from.

According to the American Values Survey, a mere 7 percent of Americans identify as “consistently libertarian.” Compared to the general population, libertarians are significantly more likely to be white (94 percent), young (62 percent under 50) and male (68 percent). You know, almost identical to the demographic makeup of atheists – white (95 percent), young (65 percent under 50) and male (67 percent). So there’s your first clue.

Your second clue is that atheist libertarians are skeptical of government authority in the same way they’re skeptical of religion. In their mind, the state and the pope are interchangeable, which partly explains the libertarian atheist’s guttural gag reflex to what they perceive as government interference with the natural order of things, especially “free markets.”

Robert Reich says that one of the most deceptive ideas embraced by the Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian movement is that the free market is natural, and exists outside and beyond government. In other words, the “free market” is a constructed supernatural myth.

There is much to cover here, but a jumping-off point is the fact that corporations are a government construct, and that fact alone refutes any case for economic libertarianism. Corporations, which are designed to protect shareholders insofar as mitigating risk beyond the amount of their investment, are created and maintained only via government action.  “Statutes, passed by the government, allow for the creation of corporations, and anyone wishing to form one must fill out the necessary government paperwork and utilize the apparatus of the state in numerous ways. Thus, the corporate entity is by definition a government-created obstruction to the free marketplace, so the entire concept should be appalling to libertarians,” says David Niose, an atheist and legal director of the American Humanist Association.

In the 18th century, Adam Smith, the granddaddy of American free-market capitalism, wrote his economic tome “The Wealth of Nations.” But his book has as much relevance to modern mega-corporation hyper-capitalism today as the Old Testament has to morality in the 21st century.



Reich says rules that define the playing field of today’s capitalism don’t exist in nature; they are human creations. Governments don’t “intrude” on free markets; governments organize and maintain them. Markets aren’t “free” of rules; the rules define them. “In reality, the ‘free market’ is a bunch of rules about 1) what can be owned and traded (the genome? slaves? nuclear materials? babies? votes?); 2) on what terms (equal access to the Internet? the right to organize unions? corporate monopolies? the length of patent protections?); 3) under what conditions (poisonous drugs? unsafe foods? deceptive Ponzi schemes? uninsured derivatives? dangerous workplaces?); 4) what’s private and what’s public (police? roads? clean air and clean water? healthcare? good schools? parks and playgrounds?); 5) how to pay for what (taxes, user fees, individual pricing?). And so on.”

Atheists are skeptics, but atheist libertarians evidently check their skepticism at the door when it comes to corporate power and the self-regulatory willingness of corporations to act in the interests of the common good. In the mind of an atheist libertarian, both religion and government is bad, but corporations are saintly. On what planet, where? Corporations exist for one purpose only: to derive maximum profit for their shareholders. “The corporation’s legally defined mandate is to pursue, relentlessly and without exception, its own self-interest, regardless of the often harmful consequences it might cause others,” writes Joel Bakan, author of “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.”

Corporations pollute, lie, steal, oppress, manipulate and deceive, all in the name of maximizing profit. Corporations have no interest for the common good. You really believe Big Tobacco wouldn’t sell cigarettes to 10-year-olds if government didn’t prohibit it? Do you really think Big Oil wouldn’t discharge more poisons and environmentally harmful waste into the atmosphere if government regulations didn’t restrict it? Do you really believe Wal-Mart wouldn’t pay its workers less than the current minimum wage if the federal government didn’t prohibit it? If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be an atheist libertarian in desperate need of Jesus.

That awkward pause that inevitably follows asking a libertarian how it is that unrestricted corporate power, particularly for Big Oil, helps solve our existential crisis, climate change, is always enjoyable. “Corporations will harm you, or even kill you, if it is profitable to do so and they can get away with it … recall the infamous case of the Ford Pinto, where in the 1970s the automaker did a cost-benefit analysis and decided not to remedy a defective gas tank design because doing so would be more expensive than simply allowing the inevitable deaths and injuries to occur and then paying the anticipated settlements,” warns Niose.

In the 1970s, consumer protection advocate Ralph Nader became famous for helping protect car owners from the unsafe practices of the auto industry. Corporate America, in turn, went out of its way in a coordinated effort, led by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, to destroy Nader. The documentary “Unreasonable Man” demonstrates how corporate CEOs of America’s biggest corporations had Nader followed in an attempt to discredit and blackmail him. General Motors went so far as to send an attractive lady to his local supermarket in an effort to meet him, and seduce him. That’s how much corporate America was fearful of having to implement pesky and costly measures designed to protect the well-being of their customers.

Today America is facing its greatest moral crisis since the civil rights movement, and its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression: income inequality. Now, income inequality doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by the political choices a country makes. Today America is the most income unequal among all developed nations, and we find ourselves here today not because of government regulation or interference, but a lack thereof. The past three decades have seen our political class become totally beholden to the armies of corporate lobbyists who fund the political campaigns of our elected officials. Today the bottom 99 percent of income earners has no influence on domestic policy whatsoever.

The unilateral control that Wall Street and mega-corporations have over economic policy is now extreme, and our corporate overlords have seen to the greatest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the rich in U.S. history, while corporations contribute their lowest share of total federal tax revenue ever. The destruction of labor; serf-level minimum wage; and the deregulation, monopolization and privatization of public assets have pushed us deeper into becoming a winner-takes-all society.

In effect, America virtually exists as a libertarian state, certainly when compared to liberal democracies found in Western Europe, Canada and Australia. In these countries, there’s a sense of “we are all in this together,” but here the romantic idealism of the rugged individual allows corporate influence of the political class to gut public safety nets, eradicate collective bargaining, strip regulatory control of our banks, water, skies and our food.

By every measure, Australians, Scandinavians, Canadians, Germans and the Dutch are happier and more economically secure. The U.N. World Development Fund, the U.N. World Happiness Index and the Social Progress Index contain the empirical evidence atheist libertarians  should seek, and the results are conclusive: People are happier, healthier and more socially mobile where the size of the state is bigger, and taxes and regulations on corporations are greater. You know, the opposite of the libertarian dream that would turn America into a deeper nightmare.

CJ Werleman is the author of “Crucifying America” and “God Hates You. Hate Him Back.” You can follow him on Twitter:  @cjwerleman

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/14/the_atheist_libertarian_lie_ayn_rand_income_inequality_and_the_fantasy_of_the_free_market/?source=newsletter

C.S. Lewis on True Friendship

by

“Friendship … has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gave value to survival.”

“What is so delicious as a just and firm encounter of two, in a thought, in a feeling?” Emerson marveled in his exquisite meditation on friendship. But what, exactly, is at the heart of this “just and firm encounter”?

In his insightful 1960 book The Four Loves (public library), C.S. Lewis picks up where Aristotle left off and examines the differences between the four main categories of intimate human bonds — affection, the most basic and expressive; Eros, the passionate and sometimes destructive desire of lovers; charity, the highest and most unselfish spiritual connection; and friendship, the rarest, least jealous, and most profound relation.

In one of the most beautiful passages, he considers how friendship differs from the other three types of love by focusing on its central question: “Do you see the same truth.”

Lewis writes:

Lovers seek for privacy. Friends find this solitude about them, this barrier between them and the herd, whether they want it or not.

[...]

In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for an anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts. This love (essentially) ignores not only our physical bodies but that whole embodiment which consists of our family, job, past and connections. At home, besides being Peter or Jane, we also bear a general character; husband or wife, brother or sister, chief, colleague, or subordinate. Not among our Friends. It is an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds. Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.

Hence (if you will not misunderstand me) the exquisite arbitrariness and irresponsibility of this love. I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gave value to survival.

The Four Loves is a superb read in its entirety, provocative at times but invariably thoughtful throughout. Complement it with Andrew Sullivan on why friendship is a greater gift than romantic love and a curious history of the convergence of the two in “romantic friendship,” then revisit Lewis on suffering and what free will really means, the secret of happiness, the key to authenticity in writing, and his ideal daily routine.

 

 

http://www.brainpickings.org/2014/09/08/c-s-lewis-four-loves-friendship/

Inmate No Longer Here: the struggle for prison justice


by Manos Cizek on September 13, 2014

Post image for Inmate No Longer Here: the struggle for prison justiceCecily McMillan and Lucy Parks reflect on Occupy and the struggle for prison justice: ‘We’re going to see a big movement. It’s coming, that’s clear.’

Cecily McMillan is an American activist who actively participated in Occupy Wall Street and who now advocates for prisoner rights in the United States. In March 2012, she was arrested as protesters tried to re­occupy Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. She was convicted of assaulting a New York City police officer and sentenced to 90 days in prison and probation for a subsequent five years. Cecily was released in July 2014 after serving 58 days at Rikers Island.

Lucy Parks is an Occupy Wall Street activist who has also acted as field coordinator for the ‘Justice for Cecily’ support team.

Manos Cizek is a media activist and independent filmmaker from Greece. He recently sat down with Cecily and Lucy for an exclusive ROAR interview about Occupy, Cecily’s experiences at Rikers Island, and the struggle for prison justice in the United States. Photo by Jenna Pope.

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MANOS: How do you see the continuation of the Occupy movement in the context of prison justice and the combination of these two movements?


CECILY: I think that the Occupy movement still exists, not in the sense that it is on the ground, not in the sense that it is a tangible movement that is emerging, but it exists in the sense that we have started a class dialog, we have started a class commentary. Any time we’re talking about a corporatocracy, any time we’re talking about corporate control of our democracy, the lack of a middle class, the sinking of the working class into an underclass, that is the Occupy movement. And when you radar that into the prison justice movement, what you get is a move from human rights and racism into a class dialog.

So you can really contextualize the problem on the many layers that affect what prison justice is. Right now in New York it’s very difficult for us to get beyond the targeting of black and brown men. That is the strongest reality here. But there are many poor white people who are being targeted just the same in other prisons, in other jails, throughout the United States. In this sense it’s important to recognize that there is a human rights violation, that there is a corporate value to keeping people inside private prisons, that there is a racist marker on black and brown men in particular that sends them to these incarceration systems.

LUCY: I think it has been really good at uniting the dialogs of race and classism which is important because so much racism is tied up in class politics, and so much of the racist system we have is built to keep people of color poor—and then uniting them also with the poor white people and then bringing it back to Wall Street and the strong Occupy battle of the 99% against the banks. I think it draws a strong connection and is a way to make sure that the blame is put where it’s deserved, which is on the corporatocracy.

CECILY: The prison justice movement is also the first real shot at a true concept of “We are the 99%”, which is essentially what we need in order to build a true civil rights era-style social movement. What I mean is not that we’re going to necessarily work by the same model of the civil rights movement, but in order for such a movement to take hold in our country and make real changes, there need to be multiple arenas of accessibility from the bottom up.

So it really is the first point of merging the various people that are asking for change into a cross-race, cross-cultural, cross-class—and now we’re adding with our work at Rosie’s—cross-gender social movement. Which is what you have to have in order to have a social movement; it can’t be a minority of people because that’s a campaign. A movement allows for access to all.

MANOS: You’ve recently delivered a petition and sat down for a meeting with Commissioner Ponte, on August 25. Are you happy about the meeting, and what are you expecting to get out of it?

CECILY: That was huge. City council people, public advocates—everybody has been talking about how difficult it is to get a sit-down meeting with Commissioner Ponte. We were so surprised. We went there not expecting a full-on meeting. We went there expecting to wait him out until he showed up to take our petitions. To get a sit-down meeting is a win beyond anything we could imagine. But it just goes to show you that 25 people, who are recognized as people, who are recognized with the rights as citizens, that if they go across that bridge, if they make the move to stand by prisoners that are being held on Rikers, that is so terrifying; they were so ready to get us off that island that this is what they offered us!

LUCY: One thing that struck me about the petition delivery was that the police presence was incredible. I mean it was a petition delivery through very peaceful action, we had around 25 people which is not huge, but they still outnumbered us with police officers wearing riot gear and they set up barricades. And what that really shows is exactly how scared of us they are. We know that something we are doing is working and they feel threatened by it.

CECILY: And that’s I think where we have to get to right now in social movement building in our country. We need to start recognizing the tactics of the government and the tactics of the police as a marker of our power, when they show up in force and in mass like this. We need to expect it. We need to plan for it. And we need to go about campaigns in an actionable way; what are we going to do if they do X, Y and Z. I think right now, to a large degree, we’re still really caught up in spectacle.

MANOS: Cecily, what experience did you get out of your trial, and in what ways does that experience relate to the Chelsea Manning’s court support effort that you were a part of?

CECILY: Lucy is actually the mastermind of our court support effort. I was in support of Chelsea Manning, of course, but court support is a nuanced level of direct action. I’m advocating ultimately that from the moment you step onto the street to the moment you go to jail, to the moment that you go to court, that you as an activist must follow through with your convictions and not plead out.

Less than 5% of felony cases right now go to trial and when I was in Rikers I was the only person that I met my entire time there who had been to trial. And so we have a privilege beyond anybody else to stand trial, to expose the justice system for what it is, and the big lesson here is: if you choose to give up your cultural privilege, if you choose to not take the pathway of striving to become a part of the 1%, then, if you choose to stand by people of color and poor folks and people who have been marginalized, then you will be treated like one.

Your cultural privilege, your white privilege, your class privilege, will be removed from you and will not save you from jail. But nonetheless, you as a by-product of that privilege, you have the best fighting shot to expose the justice system for what it is: another arm of the corporatocracy. You must, as a point of your values, as a point of your commitment, as an organizer, go to trial and possibly go to jail.

LUCY: Chelsea Manning was on trial for something that she was able to make a conscious choice in doing, but then Cecily was on trial for something that happened to her. And then Chelsea Manning was also in military court and we were in Manhattan State court. One of the people in the support team had gone down to Texas to do court support for the Chelsea Manning trial. We had a sketch artist, actually, who had sketched the Chelsea Manning trial extensively, who came to do some sketches of this trial. So we drew some parallels, but not a whole lot in terms of court support, other than packing the courts and trying to get press attention and all of that. I think we drew more on the court support model from CeCe McDonald.

CECILY: I think ultimately what we’d like to utilize court support for is to constantly build more avenues into supporting the Left, standing up for our rights. It’s a low level of accessibility into a movement that allows people to see what they thought were secured and safe-guarded rights for every citizen; the right to a speedy trial, the right to a jury, the principle of innocence until proven guilty. It’s a way for people to see the cracks in our system firsthand, as they’re sitting there and they relate to the individual who is being tried.

LUCY: It’s a civics lesson.

CECILY: We also hope that this model will be transferrable to any single person in our movement who falls, and in that sense it has a sort of unifying effect right now inside a very fractured Left.

MANOS: Lucy, what are the difficulties you encountered upon coordinating the actions of Justice for Cecily’s support team? Did you find stronger support from within the United States or from abroad?

LUCY: The trial lasted a month, so I was going in at least 3 to 4 days a week, every week for a month. The entire court support team and half of us are students, the other half of us have real jobs. We always had someone outside the courtroom to greet people, give them flyers, talk to them about etiquette and I literally would have to sit down every night before the next day of court and draw out a master schedule of when everyone had to leave to go to class or work, who could be there when.

Some days we faced challenges of not having enough people in court, by the end we faced the challenge of having way too many people there. But really everyone was incredibly supportive and everyone banded together to help us in ways that I’ve never seen before. I do think that the support came more from the United States. We had a petition that got 200.000 signatures on it and then we also had a decent amount of international support. I know we had a lot of articles published in Latin America about the trial, a lot of articles in Vietnam actually about the trial, The Guardian did also a lot of the best coverage.

I think the main challenge we faced honestly was tiredness, burnout and lack of time.

CECILY: We had no sense of what we were really up against. I think to a degree all of us did still have an idea, did still want to believe that there was some sort of justice in the justice system. It was really shocking.

LUCY: Also everyone in the court support team was very young. I mean I’m 19, most folks were between 21 and 25, with a few folks who were 31 and 32, and a few folks who were also 19. We had a lot of naïvité and that worked against us in a lot of ways. But it also worked for us in some ways, in that I think when you don’t have an experience that tells you that what you’re doing is not gonna work, then you’re more likely to believe that it will work and then you’re more likely to be able to make it work.

CECILY: And when it doesn’t work, it breaks your heart in a way that allows you to see the system for what it is and say “Well, fuck you! You’re not going to get us down, we’re going to figure out another fucking way.” And so with the upcoming trial on September 15, as a result of the targeted arrest while I was awaiting trial, we will go forward with the same court support model again, but of course this time we are considering jury nullification.

LUCY: There was one juror actually who came to the press and admitted that he still believed Cecily was innocent at the end of jury deliberation, he just didn’t realize that it was OK for there to just be one person that thinks the defendant is innocent and thought that jury is supposed to be a unanimous decision, not a majority decision. And to quote him, he went with the ‘guilty’ verdict because he “didn’t want to fight a losing battle and also didn’t know that she was facing serious prison time.”

CECILY: He wasn’t fighting a losing battle. He believed I was innocent and had he just maintained that position, then it would have been held a mistrial. In a hung jury there would have been a chance for the trial to have been redone; at which juncture we would have had an opportunity to get in all of the evidence that had been edited out by the court. Now as we’re fighting the appeal we’re gonna have to go forward with the case with the same evidence that was presented. If we win the appeal’s case the probation will be gone and we will have an opportunity for a retrial.

MANOS: So you’re currently on probation for 5 years and you’re a felon, so you can’t vote for the next 7 years.

CECILY: Oh there’s so much more than that. I have 3 teacher certifications, most of my life I work with children. Before this, I was an Upper East Side nanny. Even in jail I was a suicide prevention aid to the adolescents in Rose M. Singer Center. I’ve always worked with children. I had always wanted to possibly become a foster parent. So I can’t work with children at all as a felon, in any public institution. I don’t think I can even work at McDonald’s, actually. We were looking at houses in Atlanta the other day, the other team member Paul and I, and so many of the housing requirements say “no felons, don’t even ask.”

Through my probation, I actually cannot have any contact with the police. If I have any contact with the police I have to report it. So, we now have to consider what actions, what marches I can go to; there are certain events that I can’t go to on the Left anymore, because if there is another felon there, part of our probation is that we cannot interact with other felons. I can’t move without notice and I can’t leave the state unless I give 45 days notice to the judge.

LUCY: It’s a new type of jail time, and also 5 years probation is so long. Usually, when they give that type of probation, what they’re trying to say is that they really want to send her back to jail. Because they didn’t get away with giving her the long sentence they wanted to the first time, and they’re trying to do that in a quieter way and a way in which they can assassinate her character even further.

CECILY: It’s a setup. I mean, everybody in Rose M. Singer Center said “5 years probation? That’s a setup.” I have to go in every month to do a hand scan which monitors if I have been using any drugs—I don’t—that’s good. The probation officer can show up at any point at my home, at my workplace, they can ask me to come by any time. I mean, if they would like to use me for some sort of radical Left GPS system, they can. They can make me quit a job if they don’t see it as a reputable job. If I’m not working, or not in school, I go back to jail. If I don’t have a residency that’s stable, I go back to jail.

MANOS: Are there any statistics on the amount of people that are dying in Rikers Prison?



CECILY: This is the most fucked up part. Judith, the woman who ended up dying as a by-product of medical neglect, the woman I had met while she was in Rikers, she had been throwing up blood violently for hours. The inmates rallied together: “bring her down into the infirmary!” She’s admitted to the hospital, put in critical care— two weeks later she’s dead. Her autopsy shows: death unknown. Every single one of her organs had shut down. Had been totally destroyed. Her womb collapsed. There was no reason that all of that would have enacted given the way that she had presented when she came to the jail.

Now, how do we know that? Her sister got into contact with me. How did her sister get into contact with me? She’s in Florida; her sister is also a Correctional Officer. She found out that her sister had died, when she sent her sister a letter and the letter had been returned: “Inmate no longer here.” So she went online and looked it up, and when she was looking up “Rikers Island”, after she had tried desperately to get a civil rights lawyer to look into it and had been denied several times, she was looking online at Rikers for information, stumbled upon my story, said “Could that be my Judith?”, contacted the New York Times, Michael Schwartz and Michael Winerip gave her my phone number, she called me and I told her what happened.

So if you can imagine all of those really lucky coincidences that lead her knowing what her sister’s life was like in her final days, how many people have that sort of luck? I’m terrified to know how many people actually do die in Rose M. Singer Center, when there’s a lack of inmate organization, when there’s a lack of resources, when there’s a lack of attention, when our country seems to be covering up the fact that women are even in prisons, except in a funny show like Orange Is the New Black. We’re gonna figure what those numbers are as we continue to investigate Rose M. Singer Center.

LUCY: And whatever numbers we find the real numbers will probably be higher.

CECILY: We’re terrified of the consequences.

MANOS: You were visited while in prison by Nadya, Masha and Peter, formerly of Pussy Riot, now having their NGO Zona Prava. How was that for you, and how is your current communication with them in the context of prison reform both in the United States but also around the world?

CECILY: I love them. It’s been one of the most alienating experiences to get out of jail and go back to a world where most of my friends do not have a lot of experience with the cultures that surround imprisonment. It’s been really hard to navigate what it is supposed to be to be a white woman speaking on these topics. Hanging out with Nadya and Masha and Peter for an entire day, we just went down to Battery Park and Peter made us chase a boat for a really long time. I mean, we’re just 24, 25 and 26 year old girls trying to do something right for this world, trying to make something more out of an experience that I think we all realize is really super commonplace for a lot of people in this world.

It’s been amazing to have them as comrades and in terms of the international piece, we are really looking forward to working on something sort of like “From Rikers to Russia” narrative that will start the international interconnectivity of discussing prisons as a human rights violation, particularly from a woman’s perspective, which we think hasn’t been done and will be more fruitful because women are socialized generally to be more community-building communal beings. Both of our teams are really committed to discourse and collaboration rather than competition and setting up an “us and them.” We’d like to make it a human “we” narrative. And I think that moving forward we are just all around delighted to work together.

LUCY: The other thing about Nadya, Masha and Peter is, they actually became a large part of the leniency campaign which is why Cecily is out of jail now, when they went and visited her at Rikers during the first weekend that she’d been in. They came and had breakfast with the support team in the morning and then I went over to Rikers with them, we talked about politics. Then they went in and visited Cecily and came out and were so amazed, that they then utilized all the resources that they had as a part of the petition campaign to get her out, and also as a part of the campaign we had of writing letters to the judge asking for that leniency. So, really, if they hadn’t been so wonderful in putting forward all their resources and energy on that, Cecily might still be at Rikers.

CECILY: We also have a running dialog with them about this concept that they referred to: “anti-fear”. In the sense that when there is terror, when there is police repression, when there is backlash, that’s not a marker of weakness on your behalf, that’s a marker of strength. When they fear you, if you can respond with anti-fear, you win. Because at the end of the day, all they have is their guns and all they have is their money. But if you present and you went out as a human being who’s willing to stand up against the money and against the guns and maintain your personhood, maintain your dignity, maintain your respect, maintain your personal narrative as somebody who’s just trying to be good for others, you win.

And yeah, the consequences grow greater and greater as you become more successful. But at the end of the day, what is living if this is the world that we’re living in?

MANOS: Talk to me about October’s Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration.

LUCY: We’re working with an organization called the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, started by Cornel West and Carl Dix, who are both great folks and have been working on this for a few years, and who are now putting together this October Month. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that something big needs to happen around mass incarceration and police violence now, and in New York there are literally probably at least 100 different groups doing work around this. What we’re aiming to do in working with Stop Mass Incarceration Network in October, is to pull together those groups under a news heading of this Month of Resistance, to show how many people are doing work and to start coordinating so that it becomes a real movement.

I think Americans are becoming more and more aware—especially with books like The New Jim Crow—of the reality of the prison system. And then in October we also need to show how many people are doing work around the issue and get even more people involved, because there is the potential for an actual movement around this. We just need to pull together and we need to energize people. What we’re aiming to do is to create coalitions and do outreach and then build into something way bigger in the future.

CECILY: To mobilize people from all the various angles as well. Not only all the groups, but all the various angles. The Anti-Mass Incarceration Movement is a structural movement, because you can’t just target the prisons, you have to target the prosecutorial overreach, you have to target the appointment of judges by elected officials that are elected by money, you have to target the lack of resources that lead people into prisons out of classism and racism and oppression to begin with. You have to go at the back end; the lack of resources, the probation, the sort of statelessness that I was talking about. You have to address the statelessness of an entire class of people in our country in a way that requires, again, cross-class, cross-race, cross-culture and cross-gender coalitions.

Additionally, I think that it requires an inside-outside strategy; it requires radicalism outside of institutional projects but it also requires inside organization and actions in the prisons and outside support. I think it will be the first major step into uniting the 99%, in a way that we haven’t seen actualized yet—just verbalized. And one way we’re trying to get out this beforehand is by calling it what it is: this isn’t just racism, this isn’t just classism, this is political repression. When there is a government that specifically denies participation to an entire group of people and thus renders them stateless, thus renders them unable to participate as citizens to begin with, and then you put them in jail for that; that’s political repression. These are political prisoners.

And so I think that there lies within that narrative a possibility at mass political activation. We’re in it to win; to win massive structural changes that we want to see in our national government. We have a sense of revolution—our revolution is not violent, our revolution is to live the rest of our lives affecting movement after movement after movement until we unite more and more people that are not represented by this government, which is most of the people, to affect the government that will not only be more respectful towards the citizens here, but respectful of the world order that so many other countries are working avidly to create and that we continually undermine.

MANOS: What would be your ideal view of a correctional system? How would it function and feel? And if you could paint the picture with words, what would that be?

CECILY: No correctional system!

LUCY: Yeah, at least what I would like to see is eventually no jails, no prisons. It’s not effective at creating a better society. I think it would be a slow process to get there and I think that to build that society we have to address especially the huge class issues. And what I would like to see is more of a process of resort of justice, where if someone does something like steal something then it’s viewed as a community harm, and what you’d have to do is work to pay the person back. We need to address this in a way that actually builds a better, more productive society that is built on growth rather than punishment.

CECILY: To be honest the entire time that I was in the sentencee dorm—so that’s the women who have been sentenced at Rikers—I had by far the highest, most violent offense. The classes of women that I met there were generally one of four—I would say there’s only a handful of women who were there for something else: one being selling their bodies in order to feed themselves or their families, two was theft in some form or another in order to take care of themselves or their families, the third is addiction and the fourth is primarily mental health. And those four, to me it seems like those are not crimes, those are byproducts of our society that reflect a really violent form of poverty and a really violent form of alienation, which actually left these women no choice to do otherwise.

LUCY: Those aren’t crimes, those are modes of survival.

CECILY: Ultimately what I would like to see the prison justice systems replaced with, are rehabilitation systems. I think when somebody in our society commits a crime, it is because for whatever reason the society, as it is, is not functioning for them. It’s not working for them or they cannot see their place within it— they had not been given the avenues or the resources in order to participate in society—I mean, that was certainly true of my case; there was no avenue for us to address the government, so we started a social movement. We need to say why is this person not participating to the standards that we’ve set? Do we need to change the standards? Do we need to allow for more access to resources? Do they need therapy? Do they need food? Do they need more adequate housing? Like, there’s no sense of talking to people about why it is that they committed the crime that they committed. It’s just all of a sudden, you were a person and now you’re a number and numbers don’t have opinions or value.

LUCY: So basically, to sum it up, we want no jails, no prison. We want everyone to be fed, clothed, housed and taken care of, to the extent that we deserve to be as human beings.

CECILY: And that our country can afford! We spend more money on housing a prisoner—I think it’s something like five times as much in housing a prisoner per year—than we do on the average child at public schools. We are paying to put people in an inefficient system that just sends them back into crime. This system doesn’t benefit anybody. Except for maybe the private prison systems that are making a profit off of the people being there. It’s crazy. This is the 21st century!

MANOS: So equal access to resources seems to be part of the solution, but at the same time we have the private prison system that is part of the larger corporatocracy—and we should find a way around that as well.

CECILY: We’ll start with improving the conditions in jail right now, building those cross-class, cross-cultural, cross-race, cross-gender connections, building ever towards a common dialogue on human rights—for every person, regardless of where they are, deserves to be treated like a person—and what we perceive will erupt with the Prison Justice movement, as it begins to interconnect with the Student Debt movement, as it begins to interconnect with the Immigrant Rights movement. I think ultimately what we’re going to see is a social movement of some kind.

LUCY: Something pretty big.

CECILY: It’s coming, it’s bubbling. That’s clear. Ferguson has been valuable, in that it is seen as a marker of mobilized dissent coming and people are no longer content to be treated like Others and are responding in a way that says “No more!”, that says “We will not stand by anymore, we will not stand by, avert our eyes, keep our heads down and not look up and not stand up for our brothers and our sisters.” It’s coming. The duty that we have as American citizens, as our country terrorizes, rapes, harms, threatens and exploits so many other countries worldwide, ultimately we have to start a strong social movement here based on human rights, based on a cross-class dialogue.

We’re hoping that what has historically followed will continue to do so and we’d love to see obviously a series of mass uprisings throughout the world, to establish a new world order that is focused on organizing the people, for the people and by the people.

Transcribed by Manos Cizek, Maria Gioni, Ilios Poros, Anghelos Palioudakis and Lindsey Aliksanyan.

http://roarmag.org/2014/09/cecily-mcmillan-occupy-prison-justice/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+roarmag+%28ROAR+Magazine%29

Inside the culture war raging in the video gaming world

“I want a straight white male gaming convention”

As a gamer myself, I’ve seen tensions simmering in the community for years. So #gamergate doesn’t shock me at all

"I want a straight white male gaming convention": Inside the culture war raging in the video gaming world
Princess Zelda, Lara Croft, Princess Peach (Credit: Wikimedia/Square Enix Ltd./Nintendo)

Over the past few weeks, the video game community has erupted into a full-blown culture war. On one side are the gaming journalists and developers, circling the wagons around feminist activist Anita Sarkeesian and feminist game developer Zoe Quinn, and on the other side are legions of self-proclaimed “gamers,” outraged that the games they love are being criticized. The “#gamergate” conflict has taken many outside of the video gaming bubble by surprise. But as a longtime gamer, I’ve long expected such a fight to break out. It was pretty much inevitable.  And necessary. Here’s why.

The current brouhaha started with Sarkeesian, who has a YouTube series called Feminist Frequency. Feminist Frequency has long tackled what Sarkeesian feels are negative tropes against women in a variety of pop cultural representations – ranging from the LEGO “Boys Club” to the “manic pixie dream girl” in films.

Around a year ago, Sarkeesian released her first series of videos looking at sexist tropes against women in video games. The videos, the result of a Kickstarter fundraising effort, covered territory that should be familiar to just about anyone who has played the most common video games. Anita criticizes, for example, Princess Peach, the perennial Mario Bros. character that in almost every game is kidnapped and then rescued by Mario, Luigi and other male characters. She also offers the same criticism of Princess Zelda in the Zelda series, and many other female characters from Nintendo games. “The Damsel in Distress,” she explains about this trope, “is not just a synonym for weak; instead it works by ripping away the power from female characters, even helpful or seemingly capable ones. No matter what we’re told about their magical abilities, skills or strengths, they’re still ultimately captured or otherwise incapacitated and then must wait for rescue.”



In her most recent set of videos, released at the end of August, Sarkeesian looks at “Women As Background Decoration,” citing, for example, a “Grand Theft Auto IV” section where  you can slap a bound woman, a level in “God of War III” where you drag along a half-naked woman, and a portion of the recently released game “Watch Dogs,” in which you visit a sex slave ring.

To much of the world, these sorts of critiques are common – these days we’re taught to be introspective about diversity, inclusion, privilege and power in our workplaces, our homes, our politics. But in video gaming, such discussion is rare. Perhaps that explains why, when faced with Sarkeesian’s critique, a loud and angry subset of gamers chose not to put out well-reasoned responses showing where they agreed or disagreed with her, but react in the same manner you might expect a crowd of Tea Partyers, eager to defend themselves against what they view as an attack on their way of life.

So Sarkeesian has been deluged with sexist hate of all stripes, from virtually every gaming community on the Internet. It reached a peak when she actually had to leave her home following particularly detailed threats made on her by a Twitter user who knew her address and parents’ names.

For years, I’ve been a member of the GameFAQS video gaming community. The website holds web boards for thousands of different video gaming titles, as well as walkthroughs, reviews and other gaming content. The boards are the place where all the discussion about Sarkeesian over the years has taken place. Here’s a small but representative sample of some of the arguments I’ve witnessed about Sarkessian and the feminist critiques of video games or sexist gamers:

-     “She honestly kinda brings this **** on herself.”

-     “Normally I would be disgusted by something like this, but she was essentially the Westboro church of the internet. You paint a target on your head and dare people to shoot it…someone’s gonna.”

-     “These people actually went and taunted the whole goddamn Internet, they got what they deserved.”

-     “’Victim’? Please…She’s going to milk this for all it’s worth. She’s gotta keep herself in the spotlight, by any means possible.”

-     “Honestly she should have expected this, I’m not saying it’s right but it is 100% expected, there was no way this wouldn’t happen. She’s attacking something that millions of people care about and are passionate about and enjoy just the way they are.

-     “The only victims here are the people/hobby she’s riding on (so, everyone) with this, yet another, “victim” claim that people like you are actually enabling by defending her and then she can cozily keep her position despite being entirely 100% incompetent

-     “If the entire internet hates you maybe you should rethink your life.”

This isn’t to say that the GameFAQS or the Internet gaming community is pro-death threat. There were only a handful of such comments that I saw. And there were eloquent comments from some gamers denouncing the threats or stating that we should be willing to deal with Sarkeesian’s critique. But the fact is that the sexist gamers are the ones who feel most strongly about the issue, and are so loud about it you’d think Anita Sarkeesian had personally gone around to every male gamer’s home and smashed up their “Call of Duty” discs.

The kind of backlash Sarkeesian has received is also heaped on just about anyone who dares to say that games should have more realistic and diverse representations –for instance, of LGBT, and minorities:

For example, here are some posts from a topic in 2012 about a gay gamer convention:

-     “Because obviously gay gamers can’t coexist with straight gamers therefore they need their own convention.”

-     “The thing is that no one can tell if you’re gay… so like why don’t they just go to regular conventions?

-     “l want a straight white male gaming convention.”

-     “You don’t have to acknowledge that racism exists. It’s obvious that it does. Bringing it up all the time isn’t gonna change anything and will just remind people to continue to be racist. Same thing with this gay business.

So it was hardly surprising that a subset of the online gaming community took aim at another target: Zoe Quinn. Quinn is a relatively small-time indie game developer who recently released a free game, “Depression Quest,” which attempts to simulate what living with depression is like. One of her ex-boyfriends posted a long rant alleging, among other things, that she had slept with someone from Kotaku (a popular gaming website) to secure positive coverage of her game. Quinn, and Kotaku, were both deluged with hate mail from gamers convinced that they had uncovered corruption in the gaming industry. Thus, #gamergate was born.

This backlash itself provoked its own backlash  — articles and commentary from the gaming press and game developers criticizing the sexist and intolerant “gamer” culture that would drive Anita Sarkeesian out of her home with threats and make thinly sourced insinuations about female game developers like Zoe Quinn. One article that raised particularly wild howls of protest was a Tumblr post by Dan Golding, the director of an indie game festival in Australia. Titled “The End of Gamers,” the post criticizes the sexist smears and threats against Quinn and Sarkeesian, and concludes:

“Today, videogames are for everyone. I mean this in an almost destructive way. Videogames, to read the other side of the same statement, are not for you. You do not get to own videogames. No one gets to own videogames when they are for everyone. They add up to more than any one group.

On some level, the grim individuals who are self-centred and myopic enough to be upset at the prospect of having their medium taken away from them are absolutely right. They have astutely, and correctly identified what is going on here. Their toys are being taken away, and their treehouses are being boarded up. Videogames now live in the world and there is no going back.

I am convinced that this marks the end. We are finished here. From now on, there are no more gamers—only players.”

Change a few words here and there, and you could almost have an essay by an immigration activist instructing Tea Partyers to get over the fact that America will no longer be a white nation, or a gay rights icon proclaiming that the United States will one day soon have full marriage equality and Pat Robertson needs to learn to deal.

But there’s another element at play here that doesn’t exist in the great culture wars over immigration, gay rights or other leading social wedge issues. Video gamers as a group are not a powerful elite the same way other “threatened” groups in the country are. In fact, their hobby is itself often viewed as a refuge of loners.

My feeling is that the bunker mentality that gamers have adopted in response to the critiques from Golding and others is, at least partly, understandable. Gamers have spent their lives being told their lifestyle is marginal, the refuge of nerds who couldn’t get a date to prom. Now, gamers feel that the one space where they could say they were on top – in the online worlds of “Call of Duty,” conventions like DragonCon and  ComicCon, and  LAN parties the world over – is being flooded with opinions from people who previously wanted little to do with them.

In light of the attacks on Quinn and Sarkeesian, developers and journalists alike have been vociferously critical of “gamers,” not doing too much to distinguish between the majority of gamers and the loud, angry, sexist members of the community. Virtually every established gaming and tech website, from ArsTechnica to Gamasutra (which wrote that “gamers are over”), to the Verge to the Escapist, has published lengthy critiques of gaming. One of the writers of the upcoming “Far Cry 4″ tweeted: “If you are against social justice, you are going to hate some of the things we wrote for Far Cry 4.” One of the creative directors of the Saints Row series admitted that Sarkeesian’s critique of his games was accurate and called for change. This has provoked the #gamergate crowd to create a boycott list, which includes virtually every single well-established gaming news website and the developers speaking up against sexism and intolerance. The Reddit community r/KotakuInAction is one of the organizing points.

The sad thing is that even if you don’t believe that there is serious sexism in the gaming community, gamers do actually have serious reasons to be skeptical of their gaming press and developers. Game companies are nickel-and-diming consumers like never before, cutting out large sections of their games and selling them for full price while selling those add-ons for exorbitant fees. Meanwhile, Zoe Quinn may not be a real scandal, but game publishers and journalists who review games have gotten far too cozy – witness how Ubisoft gave an entire audience of journalists free tablets as they prepared to review its (in my opinion) fairly average game “Watch Dogs.”

As if there wasn’t enough hostility between gamer culture, feminists and the industry, one additional group joined the fracas: traditional right-wing activists. Christina Hoff Sommers, an American Enterprise Institute fellow who has made a name for herself as a professional anti-feminist, writing a book about the “War Against Boys,” and denying the gender pay gap, joined in the debate with tweets such as: “Term ‘rape culture’ is sexist. Implicates average guy in a horrible crime. Call people out who use it. It’s a form of gender profiling” and “Most gamers seem to support equality feminism. What they reject is today’s male-bashing, propaganda-driven, female chauvinism. #GamerGate.” Breitbart London’s Milo Yiannopoulos, fresh from blaming Jennifer Lawrence for her own photographs being stolen, tweeted with #GamerGate that advocates for tolerance are “often the most spiteful, hateful, intolerant people around.”

With the entry of Breitbart and AEI, the pseudo-culture war was complete – with a massive civil war between “gamer” culture and traditional conservatives on one side and virtually the entire industry itself and feminist activists on the other.

But what’s been lost in all this is that there actually has been a movement in video games to tell more dynamic and positive stories featuring women, LGBT characters, racial minorities and other nontraditional demographics. And these games aren’t just the fringe. “The Last of Us,” for example, has numerous prominent realistic female characters, including a lesbian teenage character who as a lead (SPOILERS) at one point has to save her much older male compatriot from ruthless gangsters; it has won more “game of the year” titles than any other game ever released, and sold over 7 million copies.

After the series “Tomb Raider” decided to downsize its heroine’s ridiculous bosom and created a less sexist and more realistic portrayal, in a game where she heroically saves her colleagues from vicious and violent men, the game sold around 6 million copies and has a sequel greenlighted.

Indie games like “Papers, Please,” which include social justice-related themes such as combating authoritarianism and creating a fair immigration system, sold more than half a million copies; following the #GamerGate civil war, developers from across the industry have signed a sort of peace letter calling on all sides to agree that “everyone, no matter what gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion has the right to play games, criticize games and make games without getting harassed or threatened. It is the diversity of our community that allows games to flourish.”

What all this shows is that gaming is far from the male-dominated sausage-fest that some of its critics and proponents claim it to be. It is diversifying and drawing in a wider pool of both developer talent and player base. However, we still live in a world where stellar developer Naughty Dog has to boast that 14 percent of its staff aren’t men, and where the gaming industry sees fit to use women as props at its largest annual trade show. And it’s a world where gamers are often marginalized and mocked by those who don’t regularly play video games, where the late Roger Ebert once wrote a long essay proclaiming that video games “can never be art,” and that they are instead “pathetic” when compared to the works of great poets, novelists and filmmakers.

As someone who’s spent his life gaming, and who cares deeply about social justice, I believe that the two can coexist – that we can have games that portray women and minorities in inoffensive ways, and those games can still be incredibly fun, and that all gamers won’t be tarred with a broad brush because of the brash actions of a few. But it starts by recognizing that there are problems in parts of gamer culture, that games are improving, that we do deserve a better gaming press. If we can come to terms with all that, then we can all game on, in a way that respects everyone involved.

Zaid Jilani is a Syracuse University graduate student and freelance writer. Follow him @zaidjilani.