Friday, November 28, 2014

Power is not black and white, but police cars are

A too narrow focus on the colors on the surface risks missing the fundamental issue.

Please don’t get me wrong here. It is an empirical fact that African Americans have been pushed toward the lower regions of the power machine—and it’s the folks at the base of the pyramid who truly feel the crushing weight of the many parasitic (and increasingly light-skinned) layers perched their backs. But it is power that put them there and keeps them there because skin color makes for a convenient sorting strategy. Yes it matters that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were black. But it wasn’t their skin color that killed them.

Fundamentally, it’s not about race. It’s about power. It’s about safeguarding the fairytale narrative of authority. A badge is not merely symbolic. It is a magical talisman that converts the wearer from human being to servomechanism for power, an appliance of control, a conduit for the administration of overwhelming force to promote and preserve the myth that power is legitimate.

Anyone who chooses to wear a badge needs to be fully aware that they are choosing to abandon their humanity to become whores to power, mindless plastic gears at the business end of a massive exploitation machine. And those of us (of all skin colors) who are still human beings who value our humanity will have no reason to treat you as anything other than disposable.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pro-civ ill-logic

Pro-civ arguments frequently have the same form as arguments for the existence of god made by theologians who are also true believers: start with the conclusion you want, and then work backward to find ways to support it.

The fact that humans are an adaptable species is sometimes used to dismiss the negative aspects of civilized life. The idea is that humans will eventually “evolve” in ways that make civilization a more suitable lifestyle. Unfortunately, evolution operates on a far broader timeframe than the lifecycle of a typical civilization.

But human adaptability is irrelevant anyway when it comes to questions of how people should live. Plantation slaves “adapted” to hard labor—and the ones who adapted the best were able (allowed) to reproduce and thus provide additional slaves who, because they inherited their parent’s genes, were likely to be able to adapt to a laborious life themselves. But that’s hardly an argument for slavery.

A related form of this argument is that although humans aren’t necessarily “meant” for civilized life, once it occurs we are adaptable enough to learn to live with it. It might not be the best way of life, but it works. What is invariably glossed over is that not all of us are living with it. Several people are being killed as a direct function of the normal operation of civilization even as I write this.

Too bad for them, I guess. And I need to stress that killing people is part of what civilization does—all civilizations everywhere.

Civilization most definitely doesn’t “work”—except in the short term for an increasingly small minority of elites.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still looking for a hole in the fence

Polar bears are not really white. Their skin is actually closer to black. And their fur has no pigment at all; its white appearance is due to light refraction. Polar bear hide has evolved to function as a solar collector: the individual hair fibers are clear and hollow, and act like fiber optic tubes that trap sunlight and channel warmth to the bear’s heat-absorbing skin. When polar bears are forced to live in zoos south of their arctic habitats, algae begins to grow in their hollow hair, and their pelt takes on a decidedly non-aesthetic yellowish brown color. During peak visitor season, zookeepers have been known to spray the bears with bleach because nobody wants to see a less-than-white polar bear.

I have compared our civilized situation to that of confined animals on display in a strange sort of zoo where we act as both captive and keeper. Like the discolored captive polar bear, we are forced to accommodate an unnatural habitat and are disfigured by the mismatch. And like the bear, our keepers—that is, you and I—resort to superficial methods for concealing the resulting ugliness. But the ugliness is just a symptom, of course. The real problem, for us and for the bear, is captivity.

But the zoo metaphor makes for a too rough analogy. For one thing, our enclosures are not limited to concrete walls and iron bars. Our enclosures are not mere physical structures designed to confine us to a circumscribed physical place. Instead they penetrate the very tissue of our thoughts and provide the structures that frame our experience. Our enclosures appear absolute; there is no outside. Also, because we are ultimately our own keepers, our self-confinement needs continuous, moment by moment renewal. This is accomplished through a steady diet of anxiety and fear. Fear serves as an ever-present reminder to keep to our assigned place in the bureaucratic order, and anxiety becomes our mantra of impotence.

Both the fear and the anxiety are of our own design—we hold the keys to our cage. All we have to do is open the door and walk through. But first we have to find the door. And before we can do that we have to know that a door is possible, we have to recognize that there is a world outside after all.