Dying, with a lifetime of literature 

When I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I didn’t expect the books I taught for 30 years to define how I coped

Dying, with a lifetime of literature 
(Credit: Shutterstock/Penguin/Salon)

When I was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I was determined to not let the disease define me. With the exception of one fundraiser, I declined offers to give talks, blog, or even write a narrative essay about my struggles with the debilitating symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS). While I held to my promise, I hadn’t expected that the classic literature I’d been teaching for 30 years would define how I coped with my illness.

I was diagnosed with ALS in August 2015 — on the Friday before school was to resume. I slipped into my classroom that weekend and filled a box with mementos, leaving behind my personal copies of literary masterpieces and cabinets filled with curricula — at least I thought I was abandoning a lifetime of literature.

At first, my only thoughts of school were met with relief. Relief that I had left my job before greeting 150-plus new students, taking them on a journey of uncertainty and loss; at 17, they had plenty else to worry about.

As the months passed, however, my physical strength waned, and unlike the industrious doer I’d been my whole life, I became dependent upon others. After losing the use of my hands, it became difficult to find meaningful ways to spend my time. I despaired having no control over my life. I strove to focus on the moments of the day when I was warmed by a kind word or an image of natural beauty. When I did pause to appreciate these instances, I’d hear the words “This one is warmed . . .”

At first I was at a loss for the source of the line. I was certain it was from a Toni Morrison novel, but when I consulted Google, I was reminded that the phrase harkened from Morrison’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Near the conclusion of her lecture, she tells a brief story about a wagon filled with slaves journeying to a plantation where their lives will end. The driver stops at an inn for a meal, leaving the slaves shivering in the back of the wagon. Two children tend to the slaves, giving them food and sips of warm cider. Morrison sums up this respite from pain and impending hopelessness: “The next stop would be their last, but this one was warmed.” I too was nearly at my last stop — death — but pausing to appreciate the moments that were warmed by small gestures and glimpses of natural beauty dulled the pangs of despair, and I had Morrison to thank for expressing the ineffable emotions that I may have missed had it not been for her words echoing in my mind.

With my mobility limited and my voice diminished, I would often lie in bed and find myself bothered by ridiculous things: a shriveled leaf on a house plant or a crooked lampshade. When someone entered the room to visit, I would seek a way to ask them to correct the irritant. But if they plucked the wrong leaf or didn’t understand me at all, I would usually realize the foolishness of wasting energy on getting my way and somewhere from the recesses of my memory be reminded, “Do not seek to be master of all . . . ”

At first I assumed those words harkened from the New Testament or possibly the humanist Shakespeare, but when Google insisted that Sophocles quilled those lines, I found myself sharing the tragic stage with Oedipus as his brother-in-law Creon admonishes him for failing to learn that fate cannot be circumvented. Oedipus and I both had to learn acceptance. Although acceptance sounds like a passive stance, it would become the hardest work of my life.

Acquiescing to my fate and allowing others to do what they deemed best for my unfamiliar and uncooperative body took patience. But when my confinement to a wheelchair required dismantling my office into a bedroom, replacing my desk with a ramp and my bookcase with a portable commode, I balked. Like Kafka’s Gregor Samsa, who awakened to find himself a giant cockroach, I felt alien in appearance and among unfamiliar surroundings. In an attempt to make me more comfortable, my family, like Gregor’s, had replaced my furniture — my identity — with utility. I slept in a motorized bed with bars and awoke alone, with a green button to summon my husband to untangle my limp legs from the blankets. Despite the love and care I was receiving, nothing except the occasional dream let me pretend that I was myself.

Eventually all my inner turmoil will have to give way to complete surrender. I’m not quite there yet. But I do hear one of Hamlet’s less-famous lines spoken after most of the chaos in the play subsidies: “Let be.” Resonating in those two words is Hamlet’s acceptance: “There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.” I pray that I may soon die accepting this lesson that’s taken a lifetime to learn.

Lynette Williamson taught high school English and coached debate for 30 years in Sonoma County, California, where she and her husband Don raised two children who had better keep their promise to their mother and produce grandchildren one day. 

10 Ways Trump’s Taste in Interior Decor Would Fit Right into a Third-World Dictator’s Palace

CULTURE
Most dictators want to live their lives surrounded by gold.

Photo Credit: Ken Wolter / Shutterstock

Gold, mirrors and marble: These huge-scale, opulent interior design elements have become so effectively branded by Donald Trump that “Saturday Night Live” would have no trouble evoking a chuckle of recognition from over-the-top Trumpian set design, before a comedian’s first line is uttered.

In a recent Politico article titled “Trump’s Dictator Chic,” Peter York puts Trump’s style in gruesome context. York describes looking at photos of an unidentified home in late 2015 whose description today couldn’t be mistaken for anything but that of Donald Trump. But at the time, faced with a veritable checklist of what York calls “dictator chic” design, he thought it bore more similarity to some of the 16 case studies (“strongmen from Mexico’s Porfirio Díaz to Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic,” in York’s words) he researched for his 2006 book, Dictator Style.

Here are 10 features of “dictator chic” York identifies.

1. When it comes to size, York advises dictator designers to “go big.”

2. Use “brand spanking new” materials even when imitating antiques.

3. “Think French,” York says, because “French [design] can always be counted on to say ‘money.’”

4. Don’t skimp on the gold: “’If I’ve only got one life,’ most dictators seem to think, ‘let me live it surrounded by gold.'”

5. Perhaps most relevant to the 45th U.S. president is this weird rule: Use hotels as design inspiration.

6. Glass is good, “the better to reflect one’s abundant opulence.”

7. Not just any marble will do for a dictator: “New, shiny marble, of course, not the worn, old stuff.”

8. When it comes to art, dictators “prefer big and bright 19th-century potboilers, or their modern equivalents, to Old Masters (too dark and grim) and to contemporary or abstract art (too ugly and pointless).”

9. Branding is key: “Dictators also like known-value items—things that people will understand instantly, aka brands. If you’ve got Lamborghinis and Ferraris out front, you want the equivalent inside: Aubusson carpets (new copies, of course), Chinese Ming vases (ditto) and bright Versace-style fabrics.”

10. The most important brand is oneself, of course, so a life-size portrait of the dictator is necessary. As York explains:

“A trick that dictators have pinched from the old aristocratic world is getting themselves painted, life-size or bigger, in grandiose situations, imperial get-ups or heroic endeavors, and hanging these pictorial hagiographies so that they dominate entryways or key rooms.”

Anticipating those who might scoff at dissecting interior design to reach any meaningful conclusions about a homeowner—as if the room were The Great Gatsby left to the divinations of a middle-school English class—York offers this defense: “Domestic interiors reveal how people want to be seen. But they also reveal something about the owners’ inner lives, their cultural reference points and how they relate to other people.”

York examines some of the possible psychology conveyed by interior design choices: “No matter how you looked at it, the main thing this apartment said was, ‘I am tremendously rich and unthinkably powerful.’ This was the visual language of public, not private, space.”

Rule #5 on hotels may be linked, according to York, to “the grandest ones” seen by young “would-be dictators who came from modest backgrounds as rebels or soldiers.”

With such a dizzying abundance of White House tradition-breaking detail surrounding this administration to be analyzed, perhaps it’s better to start with cabinets rather than with chairs.

Read Peter York’s article in Politico.

When Japan Had a Third Gender

A figure in a translucent kimono coyly holds a fan. Another arranges an iris in a vase. Are they men or women?

As a mind-bending exhibition that opened Friday at the Japan Society illustrates, they are what scholars call a third gender — adolescent males seen as the height of beauty in early modern Japan who were sexually available to both men and women. Known as wakashu, they are one of several examples in the show that reveal how elastic the ideas of gender were before Japan adopted Western sexual mores in the late 1800s.

The show, “A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints,” arrives at a time of ferment about gender roles in the United States and abroad. Bathroom rights for transgender people have become a cultural flash point. The notion of “gender fluidity” — that it’s not necessary to identify as either male or female, that gender can be expressed as a continuum — is roiling traditional definitions.

Detail of “Two Couples in a Brothel” (1769–70), by Suzuki Harunobu. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

“This brings us back to history to think about the present and the future,” said Asato Ikeda, an assistant professor of art history at Fordham University and the guest curator of the exhibition, which covers the Edo period from 1603 to 1868.

She said that like other societies in the past and present — the hijra in India; the “two-spirit people in some American indigenous cultures — the diversity in gender definitions and sexual practices in Edo Japan challenges modern notions that male and female are clear either-or identities.

The art on display shows how many permutations were acceptable in Edo society: men or women in liaisons with the adolescent wakashu; female geisha dressing like wakashu and engaging in rough sex; male prostitutes cross-dressing as women; men impersonating women on the Kabuki stage, a tradition that lasts to this day; and even a male Kabuki actor impersonating a woman who pretends at one point to be a man.

Detail of “Merry-Making in the Mansion” (1624-1644), by an unidentified artist.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

That suggests, Professor Ikeda said, that some blurring of gender identity was deliberate, playful and often arousing, since the prints were relatively inexpensive and widely circulated, some as erotica.

The wakashu are a case in point. The term describes the time a male reaches puberty and his head is partly shaved, with a triangle-shaped cut above the forelocks that is a telltale way to identify wakashu. During this stage of life only, before full-fledged adulthood, it was socially permissible to have sex with either men or women.

In the prints, the wakashu are presented as beautiful and desirable, sometimes practicing what were seen at the time as feminine arts like flower-arranging or playing the samisen. Like unmarried women, wakashu who belonged to the samurai class could wear the long-sleeved kimono known as furisode. In several prints, you have to look closely to find the shaved triangle in the hair, or spot a sword tucked in a samurai wakashu’s sash (or, in the erotic woodblocks, to see the genitals on display), to differentiate between the wakashu and the women pictured near them.

A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese Prints Video by JapanSocietyNYC

In some cases, there are sly literary allusions that deliberately transpose gender. These prints depict episodes from classical literature, or Buddhist and Confucian traditions, but flip the genders of the main characters, or recast the men as wakashu.

“O-Kuni,” from the series “Patterns of Flowers” (1896), by Kobayashi Kiyochika.CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The art in the exhibition ranges from lively snapshots of daily life to uninhibited portrayals of desire. A screen shows several wakashu surrounding a Buddhist monk, teasingly holding down his hands, plying him with alcohol and tickling his feet, suggesting foreplay before male-male sex. A young woman passes a love note to her wakashu lover behind the back of an older artist who is signing his name to a painting. A wakashu dreams of sex with a famous prostitute, while another woman tenderly covers him with a jacket.

Several prints reflect Edo society’s strict hierarchy of class and age, one reason the curators caution it is misleading to compare gender norms directly to the present day. The Edo period was one of relative peace in Japan, following many years of war between competing samurai. It was also marked by nearly complete isolation from the West. That is one reason it may have offered space for sexual experimentation, but only within certain bounds.

“Dancing in a Kabuki Performance” (1800s), by Kaian (Megata Morimichi).CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Any hint of adult male-male sex was confined to outcast groups such as Kabuki actors or prostitutes, said Michael Chagnon, the curator of exhibit interpretation at the Japan Society, although homosexuality was practiced among samurai for centuries and commercialized during the Edo period. Men are usually in charge, both in pursuit of sexual partners and in sexual positions, except for experienced women who pursue younger wakashu. There is virtually no depiction of lesbianism, since women were not granted the sexual freedoms men were. The only print showing two naked women is ambiguous, with art historians uncertain whether it suggests mutual desire. Older men have sex with younger wakashu.

The exhibition raises and confronts questions of pederasty or exploitation, given that wakashu were sexually available after puberty, younger than would now be considered the age of consent. The curators consulted social workers and lawyers during the original exhibit, held at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, to make sure the work was not considered child pornography.

Mr. Chagnon said marriages and sexual liaisons took place at an earlier age than the present day, partly because people died so much younger, often by their late 30s. The notion of age of consent did not exist in Edo Japan, he said, and was imported later.

Detail of the perspective picture: triptych of “Three Poems on Autumn Twilight” (circa 1742–1744), by Okumura Masanobu. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Edo period ended after Japan was humiliated by demands from a militarily superior West – the black ships of Commodore Perry wrested concessions from a country that had once confined Western traders to offshore islands. And it was then in the late 1860s, as Japan rushed to adopt Western technology and forms of government, that it also imported more rigid Western notions of gender and permissible sexual expression. The tradition of wakashu ended. Homosexuality was outlawed for a time.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan today, although it was debated in the legislature in 2015 and some cities have allowed partnership certificates for same-sex couples. A gay subculture flourishes, with many artists playfully shifting and layering identities, mainly through the internet. But gay men are generally expected to marry women and produce children, fulfilling social expectations while conducting their sexual lives discreetly.

In an uncanny echo of the past, some Japanese men today, known as “genderless danshi,” are once again blurring lines, dressing androgynously, using makeup or wearing clothes typically seen as feminine.

“Even though we have this rich tradition of gender, prints like these are not found in our textbooks,” said Professor Ikeda, who grew up in Japan. “We don’t do these kinds of exhibitions in Japan.”

It is one of the many reflections on contemporary society that this provocative exhibition raises. Walking through it is a reckoning with categories, definitions and how they resonate in societies still uncertain about whether lines between genders should be bent or blurred.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/arts/design/when-japan-had-a-third-gender.html

America Is in Warp-Speed Decline—It’s Way Bigger Than Trump

As conditions in the U.S. deteriorate, the world will continue to suffer the consequences of U.S. military force—but without the mitigating influences of U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy.

Photo Credit: Getmilitaryphotos / Shutterstock

The first signs of decline are physical. Citizens don’t grow as tall. They don’t live as long. They start killing each other in large numbers.

Sounds like the post-mortem for a society that disappeared long ago, a conclusion that archaeologists deliver after sifting through bone fragments and pottery shards. Why, the puzzled scholars ask, did such a vibrant society, which produced beautiful art and remarkable scientific advances, fall apart so rapidly and leave so little behind in the unforgiving rainforest?

This time, however, the diagnosis is being provided in real time. And the society in decline is the most powerful country in the world.

According to the most recent global health surveys, the United States is witnessing a decline in life expectancy for the first time in nearly a quarter century. America is also the first high-income country to see its adults, on average, no longer growing taller. Writes Lenny Bernstein in The Washington Post:

The reasons for the United States’ lag are well known. It has the highest infant and maternal mortality rates of any of the countries in the study, and the highest obesity rate. It is the only one without universal health insurance coverage and has the “largest share of unmet health-care needs due to financial costs,” the researchers wrote.

I’d like to pin this one on Donald Trump. But U.S. decline has been ongoing for some time.

For instance, the United States ranked 16th in the 2014 Social Progress Index developed by Michael Porter at the Harvard Business School. Two years later, the United States slipped to 19th place, with particularly mediocre scores in environmental quality (#36), nutrition and basic medical care (#37), and access to basic knowledge (#40).

Let’s compare that to Canada, which sat near the top of the rankings at number two in the SPI. Canada was a little better on environmental quality (#32), quite a bit better on basic medical care (#26), and a whole lot better on access to basic knowledge (#2).

Even though Trump can’t be blamed for these mediocre social indicators, his party’s steadfast opposition to spending on social welfare and the environment certainly contributed to the problem. And Trump’s promise to “replace” Obamacare, cut social spending even further, and roll back regulatory oversight — all while boosting the Pentagon budget by an extraordinary 10 percent — will send the United States into free fall. The violent crime rate, which dropped nearly in half over the last 20 years despite what Trump claims, may well start to edge up as our pro-gun president makes firearms even more widely available and the economy takes a turn for the worse.

After what Donald Trump does to the United States, Americans won’t be able to stand tall and proud. That’s because we’ll either be short, sick, or dead.

What Goes Up…

Predictions of the eclipse of American power have been around since Donald Trump was a 30-something playboy.

It’s not just the overall health of the population and the toxicity of the environment. The United States has been hobbled by an enormous federal debt, an overextended global military presence, our failing infrastructure, and a paralyzed political system. It’s no wonder that so many Americans were sufficiently fed up in November to vote for anyone who promised to shake up the status quo.

Many Trump supporters are already having second thoughts after witnessing their leader’s first weeks in office. The new administration has given every indication that it’s exchanging the status quo for something incomparably worse.

Much of the problem lies with Trump himself. He has been erratic, often incoherent, and so disconnected from reality that he might be the first president to tweet himself out of office (if the investigation into his campaign’s connections to Moscow doesn’t get him first).

Say what you will about the early Roman emperors, they at least knew something about governance. Then, in the 1st century AD, the imperial stock started to run thin and the empire ran into serious trouble under the deranged progeny of Augustus. Donald Trump is the Caligula of our times: lascivious, incurious, and power-drunk. At what point will our American Caligula, running out of willing and even marginally suitable candidates, try to appoint a horse to his cabinet?

It’s bad enough from a domestic standpoint to have a laughing-stock for a president. The international implications are even worse. As Patrick Cockburn writes in The Independent, “It will be difficult for the U.S. to remain a super-power under a leader who is an international figure of fun and is often visibly detached from reality. His battle cry of ‘Fake News’ simply means an inability to cope with criticism or accept facts or views that contradict his own. World leaders who have met him say they are astonished by his ignorance of events at home and abroad.”

It’s no surprise that other countries are rushing to take advantage of the Trump administration’s early missteps. “It’s not just that Trump seems to have abandoned the larger geopolitical playing field to America’s principal rivals,” writes analyst Michael Klare. “He appears to be doing everything in his power to facilitate their advance at the expense of the United States. In just the first few weeks of his presidency, he has already taken numerous steps that have put the wind in both China’s and Russia’s sails, while leaving the U.S. adrift.”

China sees an enormous opportunity to cast itself as the responsible global leader on trade and climate change. Russia is angling for more influence in its near abroad, the eastern parts of Europe, and the Middle East. Germany and the European Union more generally have sought to replace the United States as a moral leader on diplomacy, human rights, and intercultural engagement.

It’s as if the empire has already fallen apart and the rivals are carving up the corpse. Except that it’s not territory that they’re grabbing, but chunks of America’s political and economic capital.

Those who believe that the United States has had only a malign influence on the world will cheer this downgrade in status. But so far only America’s soft power has taken a hit. The Pentagon remains on the ascendant. The world will continue to suffer the consequences of U.S. military force but without the mitigating influences of U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy.

What about the Stock Market?

So, if everything is doom and gloom, why is the stock market so bullish right now?

The S & P 500 rose to record highs this week. So did the Dow Jones industrial average, establishing the longest stretch of gains in 30 years. Naturally, Trump has claimed credit for all this even as he has complained of inheriting “a mess” from Barack Obama. Kellyanne Conway rushed to judgment as well, attributing the market expansion to “the Trump effect.”

The stock market responds to short-term trends and signals, and it’s focused largely on the health of the business sector. Trump has promised tax cuts, a helping hand to military contractors and energy companies, and a big infrastructure development plan. What’s not to like if you’re a CEO or a large corporation?

But beware irrational exuberance. Much of what Trump is doing is setting up Wall Street for a very unpleasant fall. The administration’s trade policies, particularly with Mexico, will hit producers hard. The infrastructure bill may not come until 2018. The impact of simultaneously adding $54 billion to the Pentagon budget and cutting taxes will throw the economy seriously out of whack.

Ultimately, however, the health of Wall Street is not the issue — it’s the health of Main Street that matters most. When the Obama dividend runs out and economic indicators start to turn south, when the coal mines and steel plants fail to magically return to their glory days of the 1950s, when farmers and blue-collar workers see how much their livelihoods depend on good relations with the world beyond U.S. borders, Trump will have a full-blown revolt on his hands. Then we’ll finally understand the real reason for the boost in Pentagon spending.

Martial law, anyone?

 

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. His dystopian novel, Splinterlands, a Dispatch Books original (with Haymarket Books), will be published on December 6th. He is a TomDispatch regular.

http://www.alternet.org/world/making-america-mediocre-warpspeed-decline?akid=15264.265072.cKh0Uq&rd=1&src=newsletter1073286&t=6

Depression Is an Unlikely Advantage in the Fight Against Fascism

CULTURE
Life under the yoke of depression is frighteningly similar to life in Trump’s America, and knowing one can teach you how to approach the other.

Blurred photo of sad man in his room
Photo Credit: Atlantis Images/Shutterstock

If you’re one of the more than 16 million human adults in America affected by depression, and the current advent of fascism feels like a one-way ticket to hell, know that you’re not alone.

Watching the country I now call home unravel one headline at a time knocked me off my feet for most of January, threatening to undo my attempts to rebuild my life after I spent more than three years incapacitated by major depressive disorder.

The fog has only intensified since Inauguration Day, smothering America in a thick blanket of bizarre language and threats—doled out in “presidential” tweets and surrogate TV interviews alike—all the better to conceal laying the foundation for dismantling the Affordable Care Act in the middle of the night, among innumerable other heinous policies.

Now, when I can get to sleep at all, I wake up aghast at how quickly the new regime is pushing through executive orders and taking apart democracy.

Much of the time, things feel desperately hopeless.

It mirrors the pain of depression; when it’s become so debilitating that you collapse further into yourself, sometimes the energy required to get out of bed is all you’ve got — never mind getting out in the street — and you end up feeling completely bereft, like you’re somehow failing at being human.

Well, you’re not.

Instead, you’re being defiantly alive in the face of an illness that has the power to kill you.

Amid the rampant confusion of our current times, it’s easy to overlook how similar depression and fascism are. If you understand the mental illness, you understand the political ailment because you already have firsthand experience of living under a dictatorship of lies.

What’s more, if you’re already resisting depression, then you’re automatically equipped to resist fascism — so even if you feel far from well, safe, or strong right now, take heart… because you’ve got this.

Both depression and fascism thrive on fear and terrorizing their host — be it your mind or your country — until you systematically question what your eyes, ears, and heart are reporting back to you; until you no longer trust your senses and either endorse the agenda of that which seeks to destroy you, or just give up.

For its part, depression gradually injects doubt into every aspect of personhood. It may undermine a once competent professional until their skills appear worthless and unemployability certain, or shred someone’s self-esteem until they believe a romantic relationship can only exist out of pity rather than love, or put the kibosh on one’s dreams — because, let’s face it, what future is there for someone who’s such an incapable and unlovable waste of space?

At its most virulent, depression corrodes your sense of self and erodes your identity, and the parasite feeds until only the physical representation of the host remains.

Our fascist leader is having the same effect on America that depression has on an individual. And he’s doing it the same way: by distorting reality, strafing journalists and citizens alike with falsehoods.

In both cases, the aim is for lies to supplant reality altogether.

If the farce endures in its grotesque glory, it’s because it takes initiative, courage, and knowing exactly who you are in order to stand against what you’re being told to accept as the norm, whether by your mind or the new White House occupier.

To the unsuspecting onlooker, when I was in the throes of deepest depression, I looked as I always had. But whenever I opened my mouth, it was clear that it wasn’t me speaking, but depression—through pained, inarticulate self-doubt.

To the unsuspecting onlooker, America still mostly looks like it always has. But whenever our leader opens his mouth, it’s clear it isn’t democracy speaking, but fascism, through absurd sentences almost entirely devoid of syntax or meaning.

Similarly, just as I remember a different life before depression flattened me, many of us remember a different life before our current political regime began normalizing hate.

Now that white supremacists are in charge, they believe that order can be restored by returning anyone who doesn’t fit their norm to their respective sub-human category, ranging from most similar and tolerable (healthy, able-bodied straight American-born Christian white women) to most different and undesirable (anyone else). Plainly put, many of us are now regarded as inferior, as lesser than, based on national origin, immigration status, religion, sexual orientation, skin tone, reproductive choices, physical and mental abilities, etc.

Our leadership would like us to believe that this hierarchy is “normal” — but it is not.

That we should have the audacity to define our own identities and demand equality — because America was founded on the basis of all people being created equal— is to invite shaming, if not mockery.

With depression, too, shaming wields great destructive power.

When depression became larger than life itself, it bullied me into identifying with it. The illness kept me under house arrest, stewing in shame because I couldn’t work, and therefore I couldn’t afford to consume health care and get well enough to work, a conundrum familiar to many sick Americans.

In the eyes of a staunchly individualistic society like ours, in which we’re always supposed to win, to achieve, I didn’t pass muster. I failed to measure up, I was weak, a “ridiculous loser.” Depression also built a wall around me to keep out other humans, chipping away at my self-esteem and declaring isolation as the new normal.

Under such conditions, staying alive — that is to say, performing the most basic human functions required to do so — becomes the greatest act of resistance you’re capable of.

Trite though it may sound, “While there’s life, there’s hope,” and your making it through each brand new day is proof of this.

In America, we’ve now got a Muslim ban, and soon we’ll even have a border wall to keep out other fellow humans. Those of us who refuse to fall in line with the regime are constantly being othered, divided, derided, debased — and yet we keep coming together regardless because we remember life before.

Do not ever discount the hope of better days buried deep inside you. As the intellectual ability to envisage alternatives to what is, hope is one of the most powerful weapons of all.

The modus operandi of the illness and that of the new regime are one and the same: to break you down little by little by destroying your critical faculties until you no longer protest, until you abdicate your own agency and trust them to do what’s in your best interests.

Like protecting you.

Like providing for you.

For the record, here’s what depression did for me — for over three years, it took away my ability to think and write so I could no longer earn a living, convincing me I’d become unemployable and forcing innumerable hardships onto my household.

My downfall was gradual and contradicted everything in my life at the time. On the surface, everything was great — love, marriage, immigration to a new country, a fresh start — but depression took hold regardless because deflecting torrents of abuse and lies is unsustainable in the long run.

It’s exhausting, and it wears you down.

Whether the lies are manufactured by your own mind or your own government, the desired end result is the same: capitulation.

The enemy thrives on confusion.

But remember that the impact of depression can be lessened, as can that of a fascist regime, so long as you resist them.

Your one job is to keep yourself — and the hope contained within you — alive, which has the added benefit of inconveniencing those fascism enablers who may bully you for being a “snowflake.” If you feel up to it or just fancy a laugh, remind them that one of the collective nouns for snowflakes is an avalanche.

Little do they know that depression has made you a veteran of resistance.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1–800–273-TALK

Read more at The Establishment, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter

 

Make America Ungovernable

Posted on Feb 5, 2017

By Chris Hedges


Donald Trump’s regime is rapidly reconfiguring the United States into an authoritarian state. All forms of dissent will soon be criminalized. Civil liberties will no longer exist. Corporate exploitation, through the abolition of regulations and laws, will be unimpeded. Global warming will accelerate. A repugnant nationalism, amplified by government propaganda, will promote bigotry and racism. Hate crimes will explode. New wars will be launched or expanded.

And, as this happens, those Americans who remain passive will be complicit.

“We don’t have much time,” Kali Akuno, the co-director of Cooperation Jackson and an organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, told me when I reached him by phone in Jackson, Miss. “We are talking two to three months before this whole [reactionary] initiative is firmly consolidated. And that’s with massive resistance.”

Flurries of executive orders and memorandums are being issued to demolish the anemic remnants of our bankrupt democracy. Those being placed in power—such as Betsy DeVos, who if confirmed as secretary of education will defund our system of public education and expand schools run by the Christian right, and Scott Pruitt, who if confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency will dismantle it—are agents of destruction. In the eyes of the Christian fascists, generals, billionaires and conspiracy theorists around Trump, the laws, the courts and legislative bodies exist only to silence opponents and swell corporate profits. It is impossible to know how long this transformation will take—it may be longer than the two or three months Akuno fears—but unless we mobilize quickly to stop the Trump regime the end result is certain.

“The forces around Trump have a plan to roll this [attack on democracy] out,” said Akuno, who was the coordinator of special projects and external funding for the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Jackson. “They have a strategy. They have a timeline. They know whom they need to divide and whom they need to recruit. They are consolidating their base. Those who try and chalk this up to Trump’s pathology miss the intentionality, the strategic aims and the objectives. We will do ourselves a great disservice if we underestimate this regime and where it is going.”

Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief counselor, was behind the ban on Muslims entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries—a ban you can expect to see extended if the Trump administration is successful in removing a stay issued by a district court. He was behind the order to the Department of Homeland Security to draw up lists of Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States that, in the language of the executive action, have been “radicalized” and have “provided material support to terrorism-related organizations in countries that pose a threat to the United States.” Such lists will be used to criminalize Muslim leaders and the institutions and organizations they built. Then, once the Muslims are dealt with domestically, there will be new Homeland Security lists that will allow the government to target the press, activists, labor leaders, dissident intellectuals and the left. It is the beginning of a fascist version of Leon Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.”

“Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too,” Bannon told writer Ronald Radosh in 2013. “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

The Trump regime’s demented project of social engineering, which will come wrapped in a Christianized fascism, can be implemented only if it quickly seizes control of the bureaucratic mechanisms, an action that Max Weber pointed out is the prerequisite for exercising power in industrial and technocratic societies. Once what the historian Guglielmo Ferrero calls the “silken threads” of habit, tradition and legality are gone, the “iron chains” of dictatorship will impose social cohesion.

“This problem is not going to be solved in the 2018 elections,” warned Akuno, the author of the organizing handbook “Let Your Motto Be Resistance” and the former executive director of the New Orleans-based People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. “That hope is an illusion. The democratic apparatus will be completely gutted by then. We have to look beyond Trump. We have to look at the consolidation on the state level of these reactionary forces. They are near the threshold of being able to call for a constitutional convention because of the number of governorships and state legislatures where they hold both chambers. They can totally reorder the Constitution, if they even continue to abide by it, which they may not. We are facing a serious crisis. I don’t think people grasp the depth of this because they are focused on the president and not the broader strategy of these reactionary forces.”

“We have to encourage a broad noncompliance strategy of ungovernablity,” Akuno said. “Not complying. Not consenting. We have to struggle on every front. We have to expect that the courts will not protect us. We are going to get less and less protection from the police. The slightest act of civil disobedience will mean jail. We have to mentally prepare for that. We have to build serious organizations, drawing upon the examples of forces that fought authoritarian regimes in Latin America and Europe. Either we submit to not having any protection as workers, women, queers, blacks, Latinos or indigenous or we fight back. These forces [arrayed against us] are not willing to compromise. I hope it does not come to violence, but we know the proclivities of the society and the forces that run it.”

If nonviolent protest is met with violence, we must never respond with violence. The use of violence, including property destruction, and taunting the police are gifts to the security and surveillance state. It allows the state to demonize and isolate a mass movement. It drives away the bulk of the population. Violence against the state is used by the authorities to justify greater forms of control and repression. The corporate state understands and welcomes the language of force. This is a game the government will always win and we will always lose. If we are perceived as a flag-burning, rock-throwing, angry mob that embraces violence, we will be easily crushed.

We can succeed only if we win the hearts and minds of the wider public and ultimately many of those within the structures of power, including the police. When violence is used against nonviolent protesters demanding basic forms of justice it exposes the weakness of the state. It delegitimizes those in power. It prompts a passive population to respond with active support for the protesters. It creates internal divisions within the structures of power that, as I witnessed during the revolutions in Eastern Europe, paralyze and defeat those in authority. Martin Luther King Jr. held marches in Birmingham, Ala., rather than Albany, Ga., because he knew Birmingham Public Safety Commissioner “Bull” Connor would overreact and discredit the city’s racist structures.

The Trump regime is populated with blind fanatics. They believe in one truth, which is whatever they proclaim at the moment (any such declaration may contradict what they said a few hours before). They are possessed with one idea—conflict. They venerate a demented hypermasculinity that includes a sacralization of violence, misogyny, a disdain for empathy, and the self-appointed right to engage in bouts of frenzied rage. These characteristics, they believe, are a sign of masculinity. The highest aesthetic is militarism, violence and war. Without conflict, without enemies real or imagined, their ideological structures and racism collapse into a heap of contradictions and absurdities. They will attempt to thwart nonviolent, nationwide resistance with force. And they will attempt to stoke counterviolence, including through the use of agents provocateurs, as a response. If we speak back to them in the language of violence, we will fail. We will be transformed into the monsters we seek to defeat.

Bannon and his followers on the “alt-right,” self-declared intellectuals, ferret out facts and formulas that buttress their peculiar worldview and discard truths that contradict their messianic delusions. They mouth a few clichés and quote a few philosophers to justify bigotry, chauvinism and governmental repression. It is propaganda masquerading as ideology. These pseudo-intellectuals are singularly incurious. They are linguistically, culturally and historically illiterate about the Muslim world, and about most other foreign cultures, yet blithely write off one-fifth of the world’s population—Muslims—as irredeemable.

The inability of white supremacists like Trump and Bannon to recognize the humanity of others springs from their spiritual impoverishment. They mistake bigotry for honesty and ignorance for innocence. They cannot separate fantasy from reality. Such people are, as author James Baldwin said, “moral monsters.”

Evil, for them, is embodied in the dehumanized other. Once the human personification of evil is eradicated, evil itself is supposed to disappear. Except, of course, that as soon as one group of human beings is annihilated, another human embodiment of evil rises to take its place. The Nazis began with Jews. Our fanatics are beginning with Muslims. History has shown where they will go from here.

“The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,” the Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis said. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled, he knows or thinks he knows what his values are, his, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nation he belongs to, ethical and political; he is not interested in others, they are no concern of his, hell—it’s other people (other nations, another tribe). They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own images—as nationalists.”

Like all utopian dreamers they believe their authoritarianism is being implemented for our benefit. They are like Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, who oversaw the burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake and who argued that eradicating heretics does them a favor because it saves them from their own damnation. It is impossible to have a rational dialogue with people who view reality through the binary lens of black and white—us and them. They do not recognize the right of dissent. Dissent is at best obstruction and probably treason. Fanatics, in power, always become inquisitors.

The acts of resistance—including the massive street protests the day after the inauguration and later the demonstrations that grew out of the ban on Muslims, the Department of Energy’s refusal to give the Trump administration a list of employees that worked on climate change, acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ refusal to enforce the travel ban and hundreds of State Department staff members’ signing of a memo opposing the immigration restrictions—terrify those around Trump. These reactionaries do not trust the old elites and their bureaucrats and courtiers, including the press, which Bannon has called “the opposition party.”

Akuno, who supports the appeal for nationwide general strikes, cautioned that such a call might be premature “because unions don’t know if a general strike is called how many members would comply, given how many voted for Trump.” He also noted that because the Trump regime is carrying out assaults on so many fronts, resistance will tax the resources of the left.

“This shotgun assault effectively divides the left,” he said. “Do I defend Chicago if, as Trump says, he puts tanks in the streets or do I go to Standing Rock if I am black? These are the kinds of choices we will be forced to make.”

“We are going to have to bring this society to a standstill,” he said. “We are going to have to disrupt the flow of commerce. We are going to have to disrupt the nodal points of distribution. We will not only have to figure out how to get on the highways, but disrupt Amazon.com and UPS. We have to get workers there, even though they are not unionized, to see these acts as in their long-term interests. And we have to build strong, fortified bases locally and link them together.”

Trump loyalists are counting on enough support from the police, the military, private contractors and the organs of internal security such as Homeland Security and the FBI, along with newly empowered white vigilante groups, to physically crush those who defy them. They will attempt to use fear and even terror to paralyze the population into acquiescence.

“It is not accidental that the Trump regime immediately went after the water protectors at Standing Rock,” Akuno said. “Standing Rock forced the wider society to look at itself, its history and its origins. It raised serious questions. Do we want human civilization to survive? Are we willing to destroy ourselves for short-term profit? Standing Rock exposed the U.S. colonial project and challenged capitalist logic. It showed us that we have to make a choice between oil and water. It asked us which will take priority for human beings.”

We have the power to make the country ungovernable. But we do not have much time. The regime will make it harder and harder to organize, get into the streets and carry out the nationwide strikes, including within the federal bureaucracy. Resistance alone, however, is not enough. It must be accompanied by an alternative vision of a socialist and anti-capitalist society. It must reject the Democratic Party’s attempt to ride anti-Trump sentiment back into power. The enemy is, in the end, not Trump or Bannon, but the corporate state. If we do not dismantle corporate power we will never stop fascism’s seduction of the white working class and unemployed.

“The evil which you fear becomes a certainty by what you do,” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote in his play “Egmont.”

Now is the time not to cooperate. Now is the time to shut down the systems of power. Now is the time to resist. It is our last chance. The fanatics are moving with lightning speed. So should we.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/make_america_ungovernable_20170205

The Psychology of Fascism

Fear of Father and Fear of Freedom

We  suppose that fascism is a product of a poisoned heart, of hate. That is not really true. Fascism is a product of mind. Immature and stunted mind, that can’t find a way to grow. The fascist mind, I will suggest, is caught in a trap — between fear of a father figure and fear of freedom.

Our first thought is “I”. As we grow, we learn this is a table, this is a chair, and so on. This first requires the thought: I am not that. We learn to separate the world into subject and object.

But not all objects are created equal: some are desirable, prizes, and some are undesirable, threats. As we mature, we become able to to learn the relationship of the “I” to the elements of the world. We think this is appropriate, that is not appropriate, this is desirable, that is undesirable, and so on. For most of us, maturity ends here. We are safe — but now lack meaning in our lives because we never take the next, and most significant step: learning to outgrow the “I” altogether. When we learn to become selfless — not in a small way, but in a real one. Not with little acts of charity, but to feel our emotions and express our feelings, so we can have genuine relationships, give and contribute to the world whole-heartedly, and so on. Genuine maturity is learning that “I” is a limiting way of being in the world.

Now let us come back to fascism. What happens in fascism? The “I” never fully develops at all. Instead of growing into and then through the “I”, the fascist identifies with a father figure. He subsumes his identity, his emotions, his needs, his appetites — everything — in that father figure.

Why does he need to? Because the fascist is profoundly insecure. He is afraid, somehow, of the act of living, of freedom itself. There is a threat out there, a menace, a poison, which outweighs freedom itself. No mind can abide that kind of all pervading insecurity. He must either bury it, which takes constant work and energy. Or he can simply alleviate it through obedience to the father figure. If father says it, then we must do it — that is how everything will be alright again.

That brings us to the first conclusion. You will never convince fascists that they are wrong. Not with reason, facts, logic, or evidence. You cannot. They have replaced inner morality with obedience to begin with. There is no right and wrong for the immature mind of a fascist — there is only obedience and disobedience, only safety and danger. Hence, “fake news” being so credulously spread. Obedience is how they maintain their sense of security, and more importantly, sanity. They have sacrificed their moral and intellectual agency, so how can you appeal to it?

The fascist’s bond with the father figure is the bond of the child with the parent. In many ways, it is even greater — the child ougrows the parent, he learns and plays and rebels. But the fascist doesn’t. The fascist has identified with the father figure to the point that the father figure is the fascist — his spirit, his heart, his will.

That brings me to my second conclusion. The bond between a fascist and a father figure is even stronger than that of a parent with a child. It is not a superficial bond, like the bond of, say, a coach and an athlete, or a patient and a shrink. It is a bond that is too powerful. The fascist, throughout history, has been obedient to a point that it is incomprehensible to us. He will sacrifice himself — the Kamikazes. He will offer up his family — the Nazis. He will destroy everything that a sane person holds sacred, simply for the soothing caress of the father. Most of us would not do these things if our parents asked us, would we?

Why not? Because our moral agency, our consciences — and at last, our instincts for self-preservation — would kick in. Those do not exist in fascists. That is what a fear of freedom really means: you are willing even to give up on self preservation, which, of course, is an essential part of being a self. That is my second conclusion.

Where did they go? Remember the “I”? Our greatest drive in this life isn’t to satisfy the I. But to extinguish it. That’s why chase sex, money, power, and so on. How does the fascist extinguish the “I”? Through the “we”. The fascist loses the boundaries of the self by identifying his whole being with the father figure. That is how he satisfies his drive for transcendence. That is why the bond between the fascist and the father figure is so strong that it defies reason, logic, facts, evidence, argument. How strong is it? So strong that it has broken even the instinct for self-preservation in the fascist.

A mature mind does none of this. It seeks healthy ways to extinguish the I. Healthy means: ways that do not damage any life, including the thinker’s. What are some healthy ways? You commune with nature, you have a child, you read great books, you rise and fall and laugh, and so on. In these ways, we mature by learning the limits of the “I”. As we gain empathy, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, imagination, so we learn how to love. In that way, maturity is the constant act of becoming a more loving person.

But the fascist is stuck. He has regressed to an infantile state, and there he stays. His immature mind does not learn how to become a more loving person. It refuses and rejects the challenge. It simply transfers its anxiety and fear to the father figure, who, in exchange, soothes and calms it. The price is obedience, not freedom, which is the precondition of love.

Father can always withdraw that soothing. The existential fear can return at a moment’s notice. And so father has total control over the fascist. The fascists is caught in a trap — between fear of father, and fear of freedom.

Now the question is: why does all this come to be? Why doesn’t the fascist mature? That is the greatest question of all. Let me answer this in an oblique way.

The presentation of logic and facts seems to have the opposite effect that we intend, doesn’t it? It causes the fascist to grow more attached to the father figure, not less. But that much is obvious: if I come along and tell you, a child, that your parents, the source of your strength and safety, are bad people, you will instantly despise me, and cling to them all the more. Why? I am a threat to the very safety that you value.

That holds a very deep truth about fascism, which is my third conclusion. The fascist is traumatized, and that is why he cannot mature. Only if you were traumatized would you be willing to give up your whole being for safety. Why? Because the threat you are afraid of must be existential, absolute, total. It must be worse than hell if you are willing to give up living. The fascist has regressed to an infantile state — and that infant is himself stunted. He is not just “child-like”. In all the ways that count, the fascist is like a traumatized child. He is ever playing back in his head the reel, real or imaginary, of an existential injury, whichis leaving him paralyzed, enraged, broken, stuck.

The fascist does not mature because he is like a traumatized child who is constantly guarding against the threat of reliving his greatest fear, through obedience to the father figure. Remember, the fascist has no self-preservation instinct. He will sacrifice everything for the father. He is willing to give up the limits of his possibility for a moment of safety. Only the thought of an injury of the deepest kind could produce that fruitless exchange. Hence, when the father figure comes along and offers to soothe it, the fascist desperately sacrifices his whole self for that.

But the flip side is also true, which is my fourth conclusion. There has never been a way in which the fascist has learned to see the “I” in anyone else. The faculties of empathy, curiosity, creativity, compassion have never developed, because the threat of insecurity is total. That is what sacrificing safety for possibility really means: the fascist has never grown as a person, is stuck in the mode of a traumatized child, and as long as the bond between the fascist and the father is the truest thing in his life, he never can.

That brings us my last conclusion. To truly undo fascism, a society must unravel the bond between the fascist and the father figure. Unravel — not break. You can’t break such a bond. If someone comes along and hurts your father, you will only hate them for it. So trying to forcibly sever the bond between fascist and father is an oxymoron. Even if it succeeds, the fascist will stay a fascist, even more susceptible to another father figure.

There is only one way, in the end. Somehow, a society must offer the fascists the safety they are really seeking. No, of course: that doesn’t mean “be nice to fascists”. But it does mean that trying to break the bond of the parent with the hurt child is a waste of time. The only thing that can really break is it, if there is anything at all, another parent. A better one. One that offers not just safety for obedience, at the price of possibility. But who can offer safety from such a desperate need for safety in the first place.

Umair
February 2017

https://umairhaque.com/the-psychology-of-fascism-118c6e7d60fc#.k5ikdxdzy