RSSCategory: Culture

Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

October 29, 2011 | By | Reply More
Why does Santa Claus let so many African children starve to death?

Tomorrow is Halloween, the day when Americans agree that it’s OK to talk about death, evil spirits and depravity while eating lots of unhealthy food. These traditions seem normal to those of us who have done this October drill more than a few times, but Halloween must seem completely bonkers to outsiders.

I suspect that Halloween serves as a psychological safety valve, allowing us to air out our anxieties about our deepest fears. On Halloween, we talk about these horrible things (dismemberment and other forms of horror) together while laughing—there’s seemingly safety in numbers. And then we make sure that we avoid talking about these things for the remainder of the year. On days other than Halloween, we don’t like to be reminded of the fact that there are skeletons inside of our bodies and that we’re all on a treadmill leading to inevitable death, and that there is no evidence of any afterlife. These things freak us out because there is no cure, no fix, other than working hard to fabricate that everything is OK.  For most of the year, we follow the pattern predicted by Terror management Theory: we cover up the fact that we are mortal animals through the use of elaborate diversions and baubles, pretending that we are Gods with anuses.  I often attempt to do otherwise, and to share my thoughts freely, but I admit that my fear of inevitable death occasionally gets the better of me too. Thus, I do think I understand the need for something like Halloween in a society that heavily discourages free-thinking about disturbing topics. These topics are heavy to me too, though regularly delve into these topics rather than dousing myself in Halloween tradition or seeking comfort by joining a traditional religion. For most people, though, Halloween rituals seem to offer a bit of relief from this admittedly heavy existential anxiety.

Thanksgiving is coming around the corner, and we have ready-made myths to take care of our anxieties related to that holiday too.  Thanksgiving is the time for many Americans to unquestionably repeat the myth that benevolent Europeans were welcomed to American by the Native Americans: “Hello, white people. Make yourselves at home. Take our possessions and our land. Send us to reservations.” One little story about Europeans sharing a meal with Native Americans takes care of thousands of pages of inconvenient history. One little myth kicks in the confirmation bias and invites Americans to believe that they live on a moral oasis, and that it’s OK to strictly filter our history in order to think happy thoughts about how many of us came to be here. Pass the turkey, please.

What kind of myth would extend one’s belief in a moral oasis almost all the way to the new year? If you owned a magic sleigh and you were capable of creating and distributing toys and food all over the world, why would you ignore the children of Africa? The evidence suggests that Santa skips them year after year, even though many of them are dying of starvation and malaria.  Further, this tragedy is something that American children don’t discuss in the context of the Santa

myth. But if you’re magical then, damn it, what’s more important? More iPods for well-to-do American families (it seems like Santa gives well-to-do American families better gifts) or basic food, water and medicine to prevent African children from starving?  Maybe Santa doesn’t care about African children. Or maybe he doesn’t know about the existence of Africa because his Atlas is out of date.  Or maybe he avoids Africa there’s not much snow there. But, again, we don’t discuss the Africa problem with our children when we tell them about the magic and benevolence of Santa Claus, and we are silent because Africa is inconvenient to the Santa story.

The increasingly dominant prosperity Gospel churches preach that Jesus wants us to hit the stores hard on Black Friday because we deserve to have lots of stuff. Many Americans are attracted to churches that advise them that admission to heaven is through faith, and not good works. It’s OK with this Faith version of Jesus that we buy lots of consumer goods rather than saying no to ourselves and sending all of that gadget money to organizations that can truly feed starving African children and provide them with mosquito nets. Year after year, the Santa myth serves as a focus-mechanism of a precious human commodity—attention–that makes certain aspects of the world salient at the expense of downplaying others. That is the general mechanism of all myths. They are colored filters for reality.

In these modern times, our many comforting myths need some serious self-critical analysis, but that is unlikely, because their power is in their uncritical repetition. All of this immediately makes sense when we remind ourselves that we choose our myths—they don’t fall down from the sky.

[http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-santa-in-his-christmas-sled-or-sleigh-silhouette-image20920349 used with permission.  Map of Africa – creative commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Africa_(orthographic_projection).svg]

Share

Read More

The science of income disparity

October 24, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More
The science of income disparity

In this TED video, researcher Richard Wilkinson discusses real work data based levels of income disparity one finds in “rich developed-market democracies.” As you can see (at 4:11 of the video), nations with low amounts of GNP don’t tend to exhibit aberrant levels of health and social problems. On the other hand, countries that exhibit substantial amount of income disparity (3:44) exhibit high levels of health and social problems.

GNP per capita is thus a poor measure of a country’s well-being.  Further, we should be alarmed at high levels of income disparity. The same relationship (5:01) is apparent when one compares GNP to the UNICEF scale of child well-being. “The national well-being of our societies is not dependent any longer on national income and economic growth.” The same tests were run on the 50 states of the U.S. with the same results.

What else suffers along with high income disparity? Trust (5:45), involvement in community life (6:00), mental illness (6:50), violence, percentage of the population in prison (7:40), the percentage of dropouts in high school (8:16), social mobility (poor parents having children who end up poor) (8:24), drug abuse, life expectancy, obesity, math and literacy scores and many other problems (9:10).

Wilkinson sums it up by saying that the countries that do worse—those that have higher social dysfunction–tend to be more economically unequal.

How do the various low income disparity nations and states attain their earning levels? Sweden does it by heavily taxing the rich. Japan has more comparable wages to begin with. Wilkinson’s numbers show, however, that it doesn’t much matter how you get your equality as long as you get there somehow. He adds that it’s not only the poor that are affected by income disparity (12:20). Additional statistics show that the wealthy significantly benefit from general equality, not just the poor.

What is the proximate mechanism for all of these startling numbers. Wilkinson points to the following consequences of inequality:

  • More superiority and inferiority;
  • More status competition and consumerism;
  • More status insecurity;
  • More worry about how we are seen and judged;
  • More “social evaluation anxiety” (threats to self-esteem & social status, fear of negative judgments).

Wilkinson offers an unsurprising solution to countries and states with high levels of social dysfunction: Even out the income, either by offering more opportunities to folks at the lower end of the scale or by taxing the high earners (16:17). The bottom line is that we can improve a country’s overall well-being by reducing economic inequality.

I am not at all surprised by Wilkinson’s findings. It combines many ideas that I’ve previously discussed. No, GNP (and GDP) is a terrible measure of well-being (and see here) and people are deeply compelled to display their self-worth through material acquisitions. And all of this would seem to be exacerbated to the extent that TV and magazines pump images of the haves (and their expensive toys) into the homes and lives of the have-nots, causing all kinds of frustrations and degradations of self-worth among the have-nots. That was my suspicion prior to viewing Wilkinson’s video and now all of this and many other measures of social dysfunction are backed up by Wilkinson’s real-life numbers.

Share

Read More

Ostracized no more: America’s disenfranchised 99% begin to form their own group.

October 23, 2011 | By | Reply More
Ostracized no more: America’s disenfranchised 99% begin to form their own group.

Two years ago, I was excited to see Barack Obama elected President because I had listened closely to his campaign speeches and I assumed that I would now have a meaningful voice in how my government was being run. I assumed that we would see an immediate decrease to America’s warmongering, domestic spying and fossil-fuel dependence, for example. Since that election, though, I’ve witnessed Mr. Obama cave-in to right wing demands on numerous major issues. I’ve seen Wall Street “reform” that allows bigger “banks” than ever. I’ve seen health care “reform” that shoved single payer under the table and consisted of a sell-out to for-profit monopolistic insurers, without any meaningful price controls. Government spying and secrecy are more prevalent than ever. I’ve seen big business spend more money more flagrantly than ever to purchase politicians, including Barack Obama.

As all of this has transpired, I keep being reminded of George Carlin’s words, (at the two-minute mark) that there is a “big club . . . and ain’t in it. . . . You and I are not in the big club.”

[More . . . }

Share

Read More

Dylan Ratigan to Barack Obama: Fire Timothy Geithner

October 20, 2011 | By | 15 Replies More
Dylan Ratigan to Barack Obama: Fire Timothy Geithner

This is part of a mass emailing I received from Dylan Ratigan today:

In my last piece, I talked about how Tim Geithner’s job over the past five years has been to (a) print money, (b) give it to rich friends, and (c) deny everyone else legal and financial rights. This shows up everywhere, from the 0% you get on your savings account versus the insider information the rich get, to your lack of access to the Fed discount window. It’s a symptom of bought government, which I try to expose on our show every day. . . . I find it laughable to hear President Obama’s spokesperson talking about how his campaign represents the 99%. For starters He’d have to fire Geithner, to prove he’s not the leader of a bought government. After all, it is Geithner who took a system indirectly rigged to profit the 1% at the expense of everyone else, and institutionalized and formalized it during a crisis.

The article Ratigan wrote at Huffpo reads like a long detailed indictment of Wall Street, but the word “indictment,” when used in the context of Wall Street, is always and only metaphorical, as Ratigan points out:

It’s not the scandals that matter, or rather, it’s that the scandals are the new norm that matters. The larger context here, what the Occupiers are protesting, is that Tim Geithner formalized a financial elite and gave them special rights they had not previously had, notably a government guarantee for their investing, rights which ordinary people don’t get. You can see this in bank borrowing spreads; large banks get a subsidy of $34 billion of dollars a year, simply because investors think their bonds are backed by the US government. This is now written into law – Dodd-Frank requires regulators to draw up a list of systemically significant firms. These are pretty explicitly firms that are too big to fail. Behind these investing advantages are legal advantages. No elite bankers have been prosecuted for the financial crisis, or the foreclosure crisis. NONE.

For Barack Obama to regain some of my trust, yes, he should immediately fire Tim Geithner and replace him with someone who will make Wall Street scream. And then Obama should do everything in his power to see that the big banks Ratigan describes as being on the “systemically significant firms” list are thoroughly investigated by funding hundreds of financially sophisticated investigators.  To top it off, Obama should do everything in his power to effect thorough annual audits of the Federal Reserve. If he will do all of this, I’ll start listening to Obama once again, though it will still be with considerable apprehension.

And for all of you tried and true “Democrats” out there who still believe that Barack Obama is a President that is on your side, it’s time for all of you to closely consider the damage this President has done to our country (by judging him the way you would judge him had he been a Republican) and to start spending some time on the streets with the Occupy protesters.

Share

Read More

George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

October 19, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More
George Lakoff frames American conservatism versus OWS

Linguist George Lakoff has set forth frames for American conservatism:

Conservatives have figured out their moral basis and you see it on Wall Street: It includes: The primacy of self-interest. Individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. Hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power. A moral hierarchy of who is “deserving,” defined by success. And the highest principle is the primacy of this moral system itself, which goes beyond Wall Street and the economy to other arenas: family life, social life, religion, foreign policy, and especially government. Conservative “democracy” is seen as a system of governance and elections that fits this model.

Versus that which appears to be the frame of the Occupy Wall Street movement:

Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility both for oneself and for one’s family, community, country, people in general, and the planet. The role of government is to protect and empower all citizens equally via The Public: public infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, scientific research, protection, public lands, transportation, resources, art and culture, trade policies, safety nets, and on and on. Nobody makes it one their own. If you got wealthy, you depended on The Public, and you have a responsibility to contribute significantly to The Public so that others can benefit in the future. Moreover, the wealthy depend on those who work, and who deserve a fair return for their contribution to our national life. Corporations exist to make life better for most people. Their reason for existing is as public as it is private.

Share

Read More

Meet the protesters of Occupy St. Louis – October 14, 2011

October 15, 2011 | By | 10 Replies More

I occasionally listen to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show because I consider it important to understand how it is that my views differ from those of people who oppose my views. Two days ago, I listened to Limbaugh bloviating about the people who are participating in the Occupy Protests springing up all over the United States.  By  some reports, there are more than 1,000 such protests ongoing, and they are actually occurring all over the world.   Limbaugh announced, without hesitation, that these protesters are mostly unemployed, lazy, dirty, amoral, socially irresponsible and ignorant young people. Those who rely on Rush Limbaugh for their facts might thus be highly likely to object to these protests (including Occupy Wall Street) based on Limbaugh’s description of the protesters.  But is the description he gave to his many (though dwindling number of) listeners accurate?  I had an opportunity to check this yesterday at the Occupy St. Louis protest in my hometown of St. Louis, Missouri.

Over the past few days, I’ve been quite occupied at my day job, and it was only while walking back to my law office from the federal courthouse at 4 pm yesterday that I spotted an organized march coming down Market Street in downtown St. Louis.  I would estimate that there were almost 1,000 people marching.  I didn’t have my video camera with me, but I did have my Canon S95 pocket camera, so I got to work taking hand-held video and still shots of the protesters.  Here’s the finished product, which will allow you to actually meet the types of people who are participating in the Saint Louis Occupy protest.  You can now be your own judge of what these protesters are like:

As you can see from the parade route pans and the interviews, none of these people fit the description given by Rush Limbaugh.  Off camera, I asked most of the protesters about their “day jobs,” and all of them indicated that they were gainfully employed, and in a wide variety of challenging fields.   These “young” protesters of Occupy St. Louis ranged in age from 20’s to their 80’s.   The on-camera statements of the people I interviewed show that they are well-informed, thoughtful, highly articulate and good-hearted.  Many of the people I spoke with indicated that they are not going away.  They have been waiting for a good time and place to express their deep concerns about the way our government works, and they have finally found what they’ve been looking for.

In case anyone is concerned that I intentionally skewed my sampling regarding who I interviewed, this was my method:  I simply walked up to someone nearby and asked whether he or she would be willing to give a short statement about why they were attending the protest.   I approached 12 people.  One woman sympathetic to the protest apologized and said she couldn’t talk on camera because she was a member of the news media. One man said that he supported the protest, but he’d rather not go on camera.  Another man said he had never been part of a protest before, but he read about this protest recently and then said to himself, “Yeah, these people are right on these issues.”   The other nine people I approached agreed to give statements on camera.  I’d like to thank each of these folks for taking the time to talk (I’ve listed their names in the order in which they appear in my video):

  • Al Vitale
  • Fred Raines (a retired economics professor, who said that he compiled the statistics displayed on one of the signs appearing on the video)
  • Apollonia Childs
  • Chrissy Kirchhoefer
  • Curtis Roberts
  • Michel Kiepe
  • Jeff Schaefer
  • Matt Ankney, and
  • Frances Madeson

Based on the above video, there is no lack of intellectual moorings for this protest. The focus is that our government, including politicians of both major parties, has been substantially bought by big business, and many destructive things are flowing from the consequent misuse of government power.

About a dozen protesters have have formed a camp in Kiener Plaza, a public gathering spot across the street from the towering downtown headquarters of Bank of America. I was told by several protesters that some of the camping protesters had been evicted from the camp over the past week, but that the intent is nonetheless maintain a presence in Kiener Plaza indefinitely. The Bank of America building has been the geographical focus of other recent protests, including this one in August, 2011. (A payday loan protest by a group called GRO occurred at this same bank last year–here’s video).  I should note that most of the people who work in the huge Bank of America building work for companies other than the Bank of America, yet the building remains a symbol of what has gone so very wrong with the political process.

I’d also like to mention that the St. Louis Police, who were out in the hundreds, were courteous and professional.   The protesters were there merely to protest-to get their message out.  There were no untoward incidents that would distract from the central message of the protests.

For more on yesterday’s protest, see this description by St. Louis blogger Gloria Bilchik at Occasional Planet. See also, this post by another St. Louis blogger, Adam Shriver at St. Louis Activist Hub.

Share

Read More

The so-called Iranian terrorist plot

October 12, 2011 | By | 10 Replies More
The so-called Iranian terrorist plot

About a year ago, I was speaking to man whose son was serving in the U.S. military in Iraq. Without any provocation the man announced to me that we ought to simply drop a nuclear bomb on Iran and “take care of that problem once and for all.”   I was not surprised to hear such a blunt call for such widespread sterile violence. I’d heard talk like this before on AM talk radio, and I’ve heard it since. I’m well-aware that many of our conservative citizens and politicians are wired up in this Manichean/essentialist way, where all people residing in the Middle-East are suspect (or worse) and America is the greatest nation in the history of the entire galaxy, no matter that it refuses to take care of its own while burning $2 billion/week in Afghanistan. I’ve heard far too many people speak simplistically of burning millions of Iranians in a nuclear fire, all the while racking up such a proposed mass-murder with a shrug after labeling it “collateral damage.”   This is what it’s now like in the horror-carnival that much of America has become. For those of us who are able to pull our minds out of tribal mode even a bit are witness to hordes of blindered fellow citizens who have been turned intensely incurious by a mass media obsessed with conflict pornography and urged on by psychopathic politicians.

[More . . .]

Share

Read More

Herman Cain is not a nitwit

October 11, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
Herman Cain is not a nitwit

Herman Cain is not a nitwit. Really.  He’s not a nitwit, even though he claimed that people seeking to audit the Federal Reserve were ignorant.  Rather, Herman Cain, formerly a board member of the Federal Reserve, is thoroughly corrupt, as demonstrated by the fact that a recent partial audit of the Federal Reserve revealed $16 trillion in secret loans. Check out the following short video:

Share

Read More

In The Tradition of Great American UnAmericanisms

October 10, 2011 | By | 6 Replies More
In The Tradition of Great American UnAmericanisms

Herman Cain is the latest in a long line of political mouths calling a populist movement UnAmerican. He says Occupy Wall Street is an assault on capitalism and that capitalism and the free market system are what have made America what it is.

Can’t argue with that, but his intended meaning is other than reality.

Setting that aside for a moment, though, it’s his statement that protests in the street are UnAmerican that I take greatest issue with. I’ve been hearing that from more or less conservative people since I was old enough to be aware of political issues. During the Vietnam era, the antiwar movement gained the hatred of Middle America not because they were wrong but because they were unruly, in the street, loud, and confrontational. “You should work within the system,” people said, “that’s not the way to do it.”

Except it was clear that working within the system was not achieving results. The system is so constructed that those who understand where the controls are can make it respond regardless of general public sentiment. The system is often The Problem, and today we have another example.

But more fundamentally than that, it was a failure to recognize that people in the street is very much a part of the system. What do we think “freedom of assembly” is all about?

Share

Read More