A Holiday Pause

It will be quiet here for the next few weeks, but don’t let the pause fool you. I’m working on a project. We’ll see how it goes.

At the center of this effort is a question I haven’t been able to answer – what new or updated mythology can we assemble to replace the role of white supremacy? What will knit us together as a nation if whiteness has faded beyond critical mass? We may not have much time to find an answer.  

Best wishes to all of you as we bring this year to a close. Thank you for taking time over the years to read and comment. Your feedback has been valuable beyond measure. May the new year bring you joy. And relief.

34 Comments

    1. I have a theory that a lot of people are in fact and in effect ‘brain dead’, as in, they are suffering from the neurobiological impact of trauma. That trauma can take many forms. The only way to minimize its impact is with cognitive behavioral therapy. Most of us just slog through life; for some it is more difficult than for others. If they are looking for validation for their fears, the mesmerizing dysfunctional bully leaders provide that validation as well as (false) assurances which placate them.

      Or maybe they are just brain-dead. I could be totally wrong about all this.

      1. I think there are a whole lot of people who are selfish and willfully ignorant. I know these people. They are members of my family and yours. They are well educated and financially secure. They are not afraid, they have not experienced trauma, and they will never consider therapy, because they aren’t wrong, we are.

    1. Oh good grief Dinsdale great way to keep me awake at night! It’s not as though we as a nation have no history of assassination; Trump promised in the past to pay the legal fees for someone to “knock the crap” out of a ‘protester’ who opposes him, and he has pardoned war criminals… it’s not much of a reach. I should be laughing at this as a bad joke, but can’t.

    2. Unless you think said criminal could be tried, convicted and sentenced in absolutely jaw-dropping record time, even President Drumpf can’t pardon someone for a crime they haven’t been convicted of yet (and please don’t start me on Ford pardoning Nixon; I will die on the hill that Ford was bluffing).

      Also, get a hobby.

      1. Ryan, lots of pardons have been issued that claimed to be pre-emptive, not just the Nixon pardon. A trivial example is Carter’s pardon of Vietnam draft dodgers. The question is whether any prosecutor has ever said “I’m charging this person anyway, and I stop when a court rules I cannot continue (and I appeal that as high as it will go)”.

        I seriously think that many of Trump’s pardons should be so challenged. The one for Flynn covers anything he did, not just what he was convicted of. At a minimum, it should be possible to convict him and then have a court rule that he can’t be sentenced, but only if he affirms his acceptance of the pardon for that specific crime, thus admitting he did it.

  1. I wish everyone here safe, Covid-free Holidays and the hopes for a much better 2021. The potential is there, but we will have to make it happen.

    This essay makes a great point about a fundamental problem with the USA, freedom vs. free-dumb:

    https://eand.co/why-freedom-became-free-dumb-in-america-4947e39663f2

    It’s my pet theory that this attitude wasn’t so destructive in the past when there was still a frontier out there and people who didn’t want to abide by the social contract could just “go West”. But that safety valve is long gone.

  2. As false as they turned out to be, I’m still fond of the old grade school mythologies of The United States as a great melting pot where all people have opportunity to make something of themselves regardless of race, creed, class, or country of origin. Yes, my political adulthood has been a basically ceaseless series of deconstructions of that apparently far-out there notion, but with the incoming onslaught of environmental fallout-driven refugees, aging populations and even negative population growths, and automation eating 20th century ‘jobs’, the nation that comes out ahead will be the nation best capable of integrating immigrant masses into new productivity systems, rather than spending their dwindling capital in keeping out the hungry while producing nothing new.

    The United States still is in a prime place culturally and geographically to be one of the single best positioned to win from that sea change (both metaphorical but also soon enough literal). The mythologies of the grade school US history classes could be very useful in directing us there.

    1. I can still hear the Schoolhouse Rock jingle “Great American Melting Pot” in my head after all these years, although I think gumbo is a better culinary analogy, as the ingredients are still distinct. I also think it’s one of the reasons that Hamilton has been such a hit- the notion of “in NY you can be a new man” even if you’re a “bastard orphan” has resonance. But building around a positive narrative is hard work. The negative narrative (finding an “other” to rally against) resonates in our reptilian brain portions. No complex thinking required.

    2. Mr. Dow: The problem with those mythologies is, in my view, that they came with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge. “We’re all equal but some of us are more equal than others.” As the granddaughter of immigrants, a disabled female, and the aunt of adopted African-American children, I’m here to tell you that those mythologies were just that, MYTHOLOGIES. Their perpetuation enabled the concurrent perpetuation of the disparate treatment which flowed from the wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

      We ain’t all equal until we are all equal and EQUALLY TREATED — that is, until we all receive the same opportunities as each other, including levelling out the playing field as need be to reverse the economic impact of 240 years or so of disparate treatment.

      CC

      1. You’re preaching to the choir here ma’am. Everyone here is very aware than some Americans have been more equal than other Americans. But the first step in fixing things should be actually practicing what we’ve preached. Equality under the law is one of humanity’s best ideas ever. So is the notion of being a country of immigrants, where the whole is greater than just the sum of the parts. Maybe actually living up to this for real brings a critical mass of people together, enough to keep out-voting the authoritarians and the bigots. I’m under no delusions of being able to convert very many of them. If you can’t/ won’t reject someone who would sacrifice you to the pandemic, you’re beyond reason.

        I’m a mix of the Central and Eastern Europeans who came here in the massive immigration waves in the late 19th/ early 20th Centuries, and the Anglo-Saxon lineage that’s been here for a long time. So I appreciate the tensions and the benefits of immigration.

      2. I’m not sure that the first step IS practicing what [an increasingly small majority of us] have preached. I think the first step MIGHT BE what the protestors and activists have been doing more and more loudly: Sending Toto to pull the curtain back and expose the little man who has been manipulating the Great and Powerful Oz. In this case, he is not as benign as the Kansas man of the story. So we must expose the evilness which has been manipulating the government and social institutions, and then we must invite the 74M who voted for Trump to join the 81M who voted for Biden and commit to a just and equal society going forward. I am not sure that we will succeed in either effort but if we have any hope of salvaging the experiment, I think we must try.

        CC

  3. I really look forward to your thoughts on this.
    As the once fairly prosperous white middle class (I grew up in Detroit in it’s “heyday”) has been hollowed out and essentially destroyed with very limited future prospects, more than just their “white privilege” is lost, and the anger will likely lead to violence. “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.”
    The (political?) bomb throwing from the white right has a desperate ‘take you down with me’ feeling of anarchy that having Trump leave the White House (hopefully without violence) will not solve. For the most part these people individually are not to blame for their predicament, (whole employment sectors for limited skilled labor disappearing) so naturally they are looking for who is. Any “other” will work as a target until we can give these folks back a sense of value and worth….. and jobs! This is a class war based on race, but somehow the “class” part is papered over. Weaving religion and the Nationalism of “American Exceptionalism” into all this whiteness will make it even more difficult to unravel?
    Lovers of Jesus and patriots! How could they possibly be racist?
    Grouping together by what and who you hate as opposed to beliefs or values makes for some odd “bedfellows” that may help in untying the knot…. wishful thinking masquerading as hope?
    I initially thought a large part of this problem would solve itself with the passing of the “boomer” generation, but the wealth gap is dramatically effecting young people as well.

    One quick note on your comment about Canada – they are a calmer, more inclusive group with some thought to the “common good” rather than “individual rights”, but they are a divided nation as well, just not a violent one like the USA. The Western Oil Provinces are nothing like Eastern Canada (well, primarily Ontario Province with Toronto) aligning far better with Texas mentality in their ‘conservatism’ and biases. Their relationship with “native peoples” for example, is very poor – I hadn’t heard the term “spear chucker” used in a conversation in decades when I heard it jokingly made by a Western Canadian about Native people not long ago.

    So how do we return to a sense of community and the common good from here, when it’s currently bound up in white privilege woven into the Nationalism of “American Exceptionalism” as well as religious beliefs? ….and how do we get there with the current seriously flawed government structure that keeps this dying minority in power, and prevents real change from creating opportunities for these people?
    “I’m all ears.”

    1. The common thread to your comment is neoliberalism as practiced in the United States. It can also be described as the Ayn Randian philosophy of the individual above all with everything being driven by pure selfishness, with no communitarian ethos. The corporations and the investor classes have used white supremacy and racism, “American Exceptionalism” and religious beliefs to maintain their hold on the government, so they can continue to profit at the expense of the “takers” or the term I prefer to use the “earned income classes” – those whose income comes primarily from earned income. Note, even top corporate management with large incomes, generally have most of their income structured so it is taxed as capital gains or otherwise as investment income.

  4. I congratulate you on making the effort. I will look forward to seeing your interpretations. Even though I rarely post, I do lurk, read and consider your opinions.

    From my limited perspective and from my limited travels in Canada and Europe, I would suggest that the desired organizing principle in many of these nations is “Secular Humanism”. To a large extent that is also the case on the Left Coast, particularly in the metropolitan areas. That can also be expanded to include many of the other metropolitan areas of the US. That does not mean that it is achieved, but it is the aspirational principle, similar to the Declaration of Independence and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a larger sense that was the aim of the Enlightenment and both the afore mentioned documents, as well as the Preamble to the Constitution. However that was primarily intended as governmental organizing document for the nascent United States.

    To achieve a true state of human secularism is a major challenge. But “white supremacy” developed to basically provide an organizing principle for the western world that would supplant the struggle for supremacy of the nation states. It was a natural since it was already present with slavery in the US and before that with the concept of the “White Man’s Burden”. The competition of nation states supplanted the struggle for supremacy of the various tribes and regions. This is part of the continual transference of our primary allegiances to ever larger entities to improve our living conditions and prosperity. Since the very beginning of civilization, there has been the urge to “other” people that are not of one’s immediate group. We now need to expand the definition of our group to include the entirety of humanity. Jared Diamond explores many of these thoughts in his various works, and particularly “The Third Chimpanzee”.

    These are not easy concepts and perhaps achieving secular humanism will never be achieved. But I believe these concepts have merit as an aspirational concept. I further believe that if humanity does not strive for these goals, the species Homo sapiens will prove to have been a dead end on the evolutionary tree. Unfortunately, we may also destroy the capacity of the Planet Earth to support life as we know it.

  5. Unfortunate you are taking this time off, given the escalating madness in the White House, Ms. Powell has been there 3 of the last 4 days, but “she is not meeting with the president”.

    People keep saying “The guardrails have held, and the lunacy we are hearing out of the White House can’t go anywhere”. Really? Is that really true?

    If the Joint Chiefs sat the tyrant down and told him “Things will end badly for you if you cross THIS line”, then yeah, that is the end of it. But what if they have not?

    1. I’ll believe Donald Trump, a cowardly little bitch that doesn’t have the stomach to fire someone to their face, will declare martial law when he actually does it.

      There’s no argument to be had here, so let’s not pretend otherwise. Either you believe he has the stomach for that kind of a fight or you don’t.

    1. You’re not wrong. It raises a thorny question – is there any national identity that can be strong enough to work, without “othering” a set of people? There seem to be countries that do it, like Canada. But it may just be that I don’t know their cultures well enough to understand their subtle kinks.

      1. Mr. Ladd: You might be asking the wrong person. When I fill out forms which ask for my race (including the Census form, including this year), I put “human”.

        And my son is a socialist union organizer.

        But you are right that we need a unifying factor. 81M of us are unified around anti-Trumpism and the state of being terrified by the other 74M.

        CC

  6. Your short bit confused me. You say, “what new or updated mythology can we assemble to replace the role of white supremacy? ” You continue: What will knit us together as a nation if whiteness has faded beyond critical mass? ” Whiteness DID NOT knit us together as a nation. It knitted haters together as a group of haters. It left out half the nation (or more). It did not knit us together. It created two nations: One for white folks, one for “other”.
    I think you need a rest. You’ve done well, but that statement raised my hackles and my eyebrows. Happy Holidays, sir.

    1. I have bad news. Whiteness survived as long as it did because it performed a valuable social function. Worse, it was very successful. Without it we’ll have trouble creating any kind of broad social collaboration.

      Wherever there’s a “we” there’s a “they.” That aspect of white supremacy won’t go away under a new mythology. What made white supremacy so successful was that no society had ever drawn an “us” that was so broad and pliable as “whiteness.” It was a powerful social innovation. Replacing it will be a bigger challenge than I think we realize, mostly because we refuse to recognize how much weight it carried and how many problems it solved for us.

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