THE INFORMATION CAGE

 

 

million brains jumped down my throat

my own voice asphyxiated

bile backed up

stopped shut

esophagus

 

the information age

welcome!

ain’t life grand?

headlines and hot takes

innumerable

grains of sand

forthcoming reconstituted truth

withholding unvarnished sooth

 

existence is greater now

evolution grows closer

how?

everything can be seen

nothing left to be heard

that being the case

how come

i’m deaf and dumb?

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White. Male. Paranoid.

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source: gouache-design.ru

Powerful white men dominate most, if not all aspects of society in the United States. Is it just because they’re scared?

There’s this thing that I’ve been chewing on for a few years now that has finally come into much sharper relief. I’ve often wondered: how is it that powerful, rich white dudes have not only got such a firm grip on nearly everything but also have, by and large, managed to maintain that grip?

Now, much has been written about the specific machinations that the power wielded by white men has birthed and also how these systems continue to perpetuate their own dominance. But what I’m trying to get at is the underlying emotion or driving force behind the individual choice made by well-positioned white guys to cohere into a force that subjugates, divides and pilfers from the people who, in their own eyes, are underfoot and should stay there.

But of course someone will win and the goal is that it will ultimately be you.

My circle of friends, my partner and myself play a lot of board games. Some of us still go out and drink and pretty well at that. But a quieter night in with friends gathered around the kitchen table sharing snacks and drinks while playing tabletop adventures is more our speed and is especially the case for myself. One of the many things I enjoy about board games aside from the excitement of zero-consequence competition, is how, generally, people’s personalities manifest themselves through game playing.

 

Ferda

Ferdinand is generally uninterested in board games.

 

When we sit there at the beginning of the game, we’re all on more or less equal footing. Same number of cards, same amount of make-believe currency, same level of power. What happens next is usually the same sequence that plays out in many of the games we play. Some of us are little more aggressive, a little more keyed-in. Some of us don’t know quite what they are planning to do next and some of us are perhaps too trusting of the other players and just want to have a good time. (A funny notion that is, to be too trusting.) The quicker to trust among us are often used one by one as rungs while the aggressors make their way to the finish.

One of the weapons in the arsenal of the aggressors is to sow distrust among the other players. The easiest way to incite suspicion is to look at your nearest competitor and draw everyone’s attention to their success as to warn all in attendance that they should be stopped or everyone will lose. But of course someone will win and the goal is that it will ultimately be you.

An even more useful and efficient tactic is to turn everyone against everyone. If they’re too busy fighting each other how can they possibly push back against you? You do this by simply reminding another player, in the moment that they gain some temporary power, that they were wronged by some other player. The best strategy when playing from behind is always to gang up on the leader. But, if you’re the closest to winning you of course don’t want that thought to cross anyone’s mind at all. However, when one tastes power, no matter how fleeting, the natural course, the irrational yet tangentially justifiable course, is revenge. The poetry associated with vengeance is often too tantalizing to resist. Seeing someone who is essentially on the same level as you be punished or pushed back down is imminently cathartic.

Well, they don’t know it’s only temporary but you do.

Another characteristic that comes to the fore in certain players is one of trustworthiness. The players playing the most dishonest game are more prone to distrusting other players. The further into the game they go by thieving and lying the more they expect the same actions to be visited upon themselves. Maybe it’s one’s guilty conscience rearing its head? Perhaps not, but it does speak to a very human capacity to be on the lookout for karmic justice. This serves to only further influence future decision making. As soon as a player begins to look at other players in this light, that’s it. They are coming for you with knives out just as you did them so you better crush them first. It’s the pre-emptive strike. It’s the cop firing on someone that they thought had a gun. “I better shoot them first because if I were them, I would shoot me first.

 

stabby stab stab

Aerating Caesar.

 

It is entirely possible to win any number of games playing in this fashion. But there will come a time when the other players catch on and silently agree to come for you. At just such a juncture the best you can hope for is that you have enough silly little tokens or game pieces to withstand the assault. Or, you can call for a momentary truce with one of the horde in order to stave off destruction. Well, they don’t know it’s only temporary but you do.

If you are one the players trailing far behind your options become severely limited as the game wears on. You will find that you have to choose between continuing to play in earnest or playing your cards with minimal interest in hopes that the game, so far out of your hands now, will be over soon.

Many of them find the darkest impulses of humankind woven into their fabric and should be seen as suspect from the outset.

Particularly in the Americas when white men conquered and eradicated native peoples it was done with deceit and brutality. With campaigns finished, battles and wars won, systems were then put into place to keep tabs on the remnants of those they had dominated. They did this out of fear of retribution. They confined them to the reservations where they could keep an eye of them for fear that their named enemy was planning on returning the favor. In most cases this was simply not true, the people pushed into the margins wanted their homes and families and to live in peace, not to march into white settlements and put dwellings to the torch. We told ourselves these stories and lies after the fact in the form of John Ford movies to retroactively justify our own paranoid actions and the benefits derived therefrom as white people.

 

Strip me of my citizenship if you must, but I must confess that I hate John Wayne.

 

Not much digging is required to see how that same unjustified paranoia fueled the perpetuation of slavery and later Jim Crow which in several key ways persists into the present day. At every step of the way it became a requirement for the survival of the system to defend cruel behavior and if the white masses think that slave uprisings, race riots and Black Panther militias are going to go door to door killing, raping and looting then you can make almost any policy or practice appear not just necessary but preordained. Paranoia sustained and still sustains discriminatory actions because we visited the aforementioned atrocities first. When you are convinced that karma could be trying to come for you it’s not much of a leap of the imagination to re-frame a person of color advocating for change as an enemy agent who wants to exact Old Testament-style justice.

It is in the name of your own ego that those below are to remain below.

Systems are not completely without feeling. Feelings are what drive humans and humans create systems to organize their society in the ways that they think fit. As these systems are created in our own image they are susceptible to the flaws that come along with human feelings and can be easily exploited on the premise of those same feelings. Many of them find the darkest impulses of humankind woven into their fabric and should be seen as suspect from the outset.

If you are a poor man, surely you see yourself aligned with all poor people, do you not? No, of course you don’t. Unless you find yourself at the very bottom as a poor person of color the only comfort you can give yourself is that at least you’re not one of them. At least there is an “other” beneath you and heaven forbid they should ever catch up to you because then, without any direct change to your station in life, now you are at the bottom too. You didn’t fall. The bottom has simply come up to meet you. It is in the name of your own ego that those below are to remain below.

If you are a white woman, at least you’re white. A shortcut we hear all too often in public spheres wrongly gathers women as a single, monolithic entity, when things don’t actually play out like that. True, many of their life experiences as women overlap but as long as a white woman exists somewhere she will always be perceived as having more value than a woman of color. White women know they aren’t in power, but many of them choose to link arms with white men in order to uphold the patriarchy because the paranoia of what happens next if they don’t is too much to handle. In some examples it’s less paranoia and much more representative of a legitimate fear of marginalization.

…but it does highlight how they have chosen whiteness over being women.

All except one female Republican senator chose to support the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh while no female Democratic senators did. This obviously illustrates not only the partisanship of the chamber and of the United States in general, but also that there are women who will continue to enable patriarchy, in particular white patriarchy, if it means that they can still play second fiddle in their own party’s endeavors. They want power within the structure and they rightly calculated that flouting the wishes of their own white male-dominated political party would hurt their standing within their own chosen hierarchy. Now, to be sure, most of these women were already on that track, second-guessing the Kavanaugh nomination was never in the cards for them but it does highlight how they have chosen whiteness over being women.

White men fear loss of status, especially in terms of their peer groups. They, rightly so, want to either maintain or advance. And it so happens that the best means of doing so are by keeping others behind. As long as no one is gaining on you, you win, comparatively speaking.

 

smoke filled room

“Now look here, see. I told that poor to move or be squashed flat by my Packard, see.”

 

The underlying fears white men associated with the prospect of the others catching up range from the mildly delusional to the outright insane. Political correctness is censorship! They’ll tax everyone into the poor house! Women will castrate men! Black people will enslave white people!

If it looks like there’s a chance that the mobs with get the wealth and power that has historically been withheld they will finally buy the torches and pitchforks they need in order to storm gated communities. If they finally get to vote as easily as they should they’ll elect black extremists. Boys and men will have to wear body cams just to prove that they didn’t commit acts of sexual violence.

The country is divided by them and in their service.

Is this paranoia linked to a collective guilty conscience? In the end, I think no. That would be giving powerful white men too much credit and blind the kind of hyper-cynical eye one needs in order to see what the whole thing is really about. I do think that influential white men wet the bed at the thought of falling from grace and no longer running the system as it was designed to and that their every daydream consists of the methods that would keep the system running smoothly or how to best reap the bounties that they have carved out for themselves.

The country is divided, as white men say. But they’re not telling the whole truth. The country is divided by them and in their service. They align themselves with whatever group they need at the time in order to preserve and protect what they’ve built for themselves.

They host rallies for everyone and say that the “other” is swarming the borders. They pull other men aside and say that women are coming for them. They call white women into their offices and say to work with them lest they be confused for someone working against them. They make the temporary alliances that they need whenever they feel threatened and then discard that alliance when its benefit to them is no longer required.

The lengths people will go to in defense of what they feel they’ve earned knows no bounds, especially when fear and paranoia enter the equation.

If paranoia and fear of retaliation are the lifeblood of the society we’ve been born into, maybe what’s required of us all is to retaliate with our money and with our votes. For my fellow white people, is in incumbent upon us to retaliate by giving our support to anyone but the very same powerful white men who hold all the cards. We cannot afford to sit back in resignation and hope that the game, so far out of our hands now, will be over soon.


Alex Biscarner is a freelance writer living in South Bohemia in the Czech Republic.

The Burden of Taking Action

troy_whole_brain_crying

This week has been draining. I don’t even live in the states these days and the news cycle has all but crushed my will to live. It’s hard to imagine what living in the U.S. on a daily basis is like and I can understand why many have already retreated back into their happiness hidey-holes after taking to the streets only months ago. My social media accounts were rife with friends and family sharing pictures of themselves at a march or sharing articles about the current state of affairs. But that has almost dried up and people are back to talking about sports and Netflix.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. You don’t have to be like that.

Whether it’s the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the devastation in Puerto Rico, birth control, transgender protections, the FBI’s targeting of so-called black identity extremists, the standoff with North Korea or whatever particular controversy appeared just as I was writing this, it can be too much for any one person to stomach.

troy-barnes-emotions

But let’s be real for a second if we can. Imagine you’re seeing all of these headlines and in addition to that you are a person of color. Imagine you are a woman. Imagine you are transgendered. If you really do want to make America and the world a better, safer, kinder and gentler place for all people, you have to remember that you are not the only one and you are not the only person with struggles in their life. And that if you’re more like me than you’re not (that is, a straight, white male) then please try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you give up on activism or donating to charities. No one has to be alone.

Which brings me to my next point: What can you do? You perhaps have a job and bills to pay so taking off to Washington D.C. every weekend that there’s a march for a cause you believe in is probably not a logistical or economic possibility. And maybe you don’t have an enormous largesse that enables you to write big checks to charities and organizations that exist to help level the playing field or provide disaster relief.

grownup

But there is stuff happening locally and only five dollars can make a difference. If a hundred people read this and agree and they all send five bucks to a charity suddenly there’s an extra five hundred dollars that they didn’t have before. If you attend a local political action you may find yourself feeling more confident and emboldened to create change after rubbing elbows with like-minded citizens. Think globally, act locally as they say. I could have thrown out something hokey but this piece is a bit too sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts already.

It occurred to me that for many perhaps they’re paralyzed by choice. With all of the various causes and emergencies withdrawing from reality can be a lot easier than putting one’s pride or hopes on the line to bring about social good. Maybe just pick one thing? Choose one lane. If you don’t think you feel like you can help everybody, at least help somebody.

 giphy

But kudos abound to you if you show up for every fight. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, don’t pass up an opportunity to bring about change. We have a long way to go and there are people who need help from someone like you. I even left some suggestions below. Get going!

Alex Biscarner is a freelance writer living and teaching English in the Czech Republic. Connect with him on Twitter.

Compassion for the Trump Supporter

I mean to share a notion that liberals and progressives might find distasteful; sympathy for Trump supporters.

Before you recoil in disgust, mouth agape and brimming with righteous indignation, let me remind you as I’ve had to remind myself time and time again: I am friends with and related to Trump supporters. That said, in the immediate wake of the election I didn’t waste a moment’s time in taking to that black hole of bias called the internet and shouting into the void that people who voted for Trump were racists, xenophobes, and/or misogynists. The maelstrom in my soul prevented me from realizing that I had been blind to the realities that many of these people face.

It’s become a cliché to be an open-minded, creative kid from a small town who feels stymied and boxed-in by their drab surroundings and lack of diversity and big-city strangeness. But it is a thing and it’s palpable. People want to go where they feel like they fit in. But in doing so, one risks becoming further disassociated with where they came from. Those of us who leave home can struggle when they return for a visit. We usually leave Ma and Pa in the rear-view while we’re still becoming adults. As time peels away we emerge from our city-life chrysalis and find that little has changed in our point of origin. The sleepy towns can’t compare with the burgeoning cities and we wrongfully assume that our former neighbors are also stuck in the past, not realizing that many of them are uneasy about the future because it’s not all that clear to them.

And therein lies the problem. Many of us current city-dwellers simply don’t know what people back home are feeling or thinking. And when we woke up to find that we had a Mr. President and not a Mrs. President we felt the pang of betrayal from those we left behind. We were probably so utterly shattered because we didn’t see it coming and soon realized that we didn’t know the extent of our friends and family members’ plight. We chalk it up to their lack of growth without taking note that maybe we’ve changed and are also, quite simply, out of the loop.

An old power plant in my hometown of Marysville, Michigan was imploded in November 2015 and was perhaps the most exciting thing not related to high school sports that ever happened there.

If your moral outrage is about to bubble over, take a moment and breathe deeply. I too was at one time frothing at the mouth and thought that most, if not all, Trump supporters were very clearly racists because they voted him into office. I still think that a good portion of them were and are, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some racists voting for Hillary too. Some racists probably voted for Obama believe it or not. Propping up someone spouting the kind of language that Trump does is a mistake and there’s no doubt about it. However, many of his supporters weren’t supporting him for those reasons. They have a legitimate claim to feeling left out of the political process and whether he was honest or not, he spoke directly to them and won because of it. Allow yourself to acknowledge the nuanced consideration that some of his voters may have even detested his racial rhetoric but simply decided his economic and national security proposals were more important to them and their families. Accepting this as a possible explanation is crucial to repairing our country.

This particular example gets dredged up on a daily basis but the 2016 election for a lot of people smelled a bit too much like Germany in the 1930’s. Yet little time is spent on wondering just what was going on in the minds of those who cast their ballots for a man who ultimately tore Europe in half. We often talk of using history as a tool to help society avoid past pitfalls but we don’t always sufficiently identify what went wrong and where. When it comes to those events of yesteryear so much emphasis is placed on the military realities of the time, the geopolitical alliances, and other secondary concerns. However, the primary concern from back then should be the primary concern of today: The hearts and minds of the people.

Oh, the glory days. When our enemy was Wall Street and not each other. When we feared for the economy instead of our country’s future. Makes you kinda wistful, doesn’t it?

What do the people need? Do they feel safe? Do they feel financially secure? Are they happy? While many of us have moved on and are yukking it up in the cities, the Great Recession is still being felt back at home to varying degrees. The Midwest and the South haven’t seen the same gains since the downturn was at its worse in 2008. The people who inhabit the wide swaths of the country that were developed and cultivated for industrial use wake up each morning to scan the headlines and find out just which country their jobs are moving to or who was the latest victim of the opioid epidemic that, it should be noted, has hit rural areas the hardest.

Our collective post-election grief and dismay is owed largely to our ignorance of the grief and dismay felt by our small-town brothers and sisters.

If we would just can the moral high-ground stuff for a moment it would be to all our benefit. Also cutting it out with the name-calling and the down-the-nose way we look at our fellow citizens would be a start. Before anyone interjects with anything along the lines of a “Well-they-started-it” argument ought to check themselves before they finish that thought. If one is to live up to the icons of Progressivism, Liberalism, or Civil Rights, one must try and be above the fray themselves and be solutions-oriented, not obsessed with finger-pointing.

Trump and Flynn, the “Thelma and Louise” remake we never knew we wanted.

It’s not too late to transform that moral outrage into moral outreach. Trump supporters, those who aren’t billionaires anyway, are not going to be getting the help they need from this administration anytime soon. Whether it’s the AHCA or the incomprehensibly chaotic White House we now see, the needs of his core supporters are not front and center. Their lives remain mired in place, with their guy in office and accomplishing nothing.

Organize the people in your home town. Move back and start your own grassroots political movement. If you live in a different state now but are still a registered voter where you come from, research local politicians and choose wisely, blind straight-ticket voting isn’t an option. If you can’t vote for your favored candidates back home, donate to them instead. Have an in-person conversation with someone you disagree with and listen more than you speak. We should be reminded that although Trump supporters find themselves in the minority, there were enough of them to elect him. We will need to work with them if changes are to be made.

Should such sentiments prove to be unpalatable for you, it need only be said that the future of our country will depend on emphasizing reconciliation over persistent division and that can start with your next visit home.

Rome Wasn’t Burned in a Day

This all-too irresistible comparison was made early on in Trump’s presidency and persists either literally or implicitly to this day:

President Trump is a modern-day Emperor Nero and the United States of America is Rome, now hand him his fiddle and watch him go.

I understand the compulsion to anchor Trump to a historical figure we associate with insanity whether mythical or not in order to illustrate some notion that he will preside over the country while it descends into anarchy and destruction. But the analogy falls apart under closer scrutiny.

Trump Wrong

For starters, the U.S. of A. is not an empire. Depending on who you ask it’s either a democracy or a republic and yes, there’s a difference. But anyhoo, the U.S.A is both influential and powerful, and absolutely so. Rome was an empire, ruled by an a series of emperors and it too was immensely strong and was so significant that we, especially I, are still talking about it today.

But hold on, Rome was a republic before it was an empire.

The Roman Republic, while different from the U.S.A. in a multitude of ways, is perhaps more analogous to our current form of governance than its successor, the Roman Empire. The Roman Republic’s death throes came about as controversies and political infighting reached a fever pitch and the government essentially became unable to function. It was then that a popular strongman made his move and triggered a series of events that would send a seismic shift throughout the ancient world.

Yeah, I went there. I just compared Trump to Julius Caesar.

Emperor-Julius-Caesar

Caesar: Pioneer of male-pattern baldness.

Scoff though you may, the U.S. has not yet fallen into ruin. However, we are most certainly at a crossroads. You can find just as many signs indicating unavoidable entropy and chaos as you can discover hope and optimism. It’s not too late, but we are flirting with the brink.

Part of what paralyzed the Roman Republic was that their government couldn’t keep pace with the rate in which it accumulated lands and by extension, citizens. The politicians at the center cared more about their own finances and legacies than the health of their ever-expanding territory. At the height of it all Caesar was able to consolidate power and render other governing bodies obsolete and ineffective. His brute force methods and the authority he wrested for himself became a precedent for those who would follow him long after Brutus and company carved him up like a pot roast.

This analogy comes with certain caveats however. Politics in Rome were often reduced to blood-sport. Do a little bit of reading and you’ll discover instances of mobs lead by politicians hunting down and murdering political adversaries and their supporters. As of yet, the worst we’ve seen in American politics is someone being put on blast on cable news, which is a bit of a far cry from the days of toga-clad treachery. In addition, one of the crucial turning points was when Caesar refused to disband his army and marched on Rome. If there was a three-act play written about the end of the Roman Republic, that moment would have to be Act One, Scene One. Our system doesn’t work quite that way, as Trump doesn’t have his own army per se.

List-Why-Rome-Fell-E

Rome if you want to.

All that aside, perhaps you can see what I’m driving at. We haven’t yet reached Caligula and Nero levels of depravity, but there’s nothing to indicate we won’t. As incompetent and potentially corrupt as the Trump administration seems, it’s not clear if this is as bad as it can get. If we look at a place like Turkey who was not that long ago playing footsie with the European Union, we see what appeared to be a modern, functional democracy but is now more than ever under the heel of authoritarianism. It’s not for me to say whether or not Turkey at its ideal Western-style zenith was ever comparable to other democracies, but I can say that by just about anyone’s assessment, Erdoğan supporters aside, it has fallen quite far from that point.

Turkey’s future could be our future. An already dicey situation just got dicier. Rome’s past could be our future. But we aren’t so far gone as of yet. If Trump is in the same league as Julius Caesar (in many ways he simply isn’t) and plays a similar role then we shouldn’t only be worried about Trump. Whenever he happens to leave office we will also need to concern ourselves with who’s got next.

tenor