youth, artistry, and liberalism

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If there are any groups that one would immediately associate with liberal and progressive ideology, it would be the young and the artistic. I’ve heard many people say that you are liberal in your youth and conservative in your old age. A reductive axiom no doubt, but not entirely without merit. There is something to the young and the creative that brings out progressive ideas, and it is not because those groups are wide-eyed dreamers, unknowledgeable, or simply naïve, denigrating notions used to reject out of hand what they bring to the table. I would argue that it is the youthful and the artists who, having the least to lose because they are the least invested in the economic system, are therefore among the most unbiased observers to our current order. The reason why many begin as liberals and become conservative with age is because they find little recourse in engaging against the colossal system that is inherently resistant to change. They lose heart, and find a way to live the most comfortable life available, which comes by adhering to the economic system that brings with it judgments of who deserves what. Conservatism is a means of conformity necessary for the system to properly function, which rewards conservatives who don’t question the system in the same way that liberals do.

 

Of course I don’t mean to assert that liberals are not compensated by the capitalist economy. One only need to look at George Soros. What I do mean is that with conservatives comes an attitude of who deserves what, and that the wealthy deserve their all their wealth, that working to the top, ambition, all that is good not just for the individual but society. They are more accepting of the profit motive, with all the cynicism that it entails. I’ve met many conservatives that want a more compassionate society, but not with their hard earned money, and not for the lazy (i.e. the poor).

 

Artists and the young, on the other hand, often don’t have that hard earned money (at least, not yet anyway). Creative work does not always reward the artist monetarily, and more often than not it won’t. Herman Melville and F. Scott Fitzgerald died destitute, despite writing two of the most important novels in the American canon. Would you argue that the makers of Candy Crush had a better impact on American society? Likely you would not, yet they were far better compensated for an insipid mobile app. Perhaps a more illustrative example is art.

 

It is not uncommon for a painting of a long dead artist to sell for millions at auction. The principal of scarcity applies here, meaning that the exclusive nature and greater desire for an artwork makes it more valuable. But the artist who painted it is often never compensated for the aggregation of its financial worth. Instead, the owner of a van Gogh can purchase a painting and then sell it for more money. From this it is easy to see that making money comes from ownership of property more than it comes from the labor of the individual. Banksy, arguably the most famous artist of the day, could sell a work for a million, but the resale of the work will make more money, even though the seller did nothing to add value to it other than possess it while its value accumulated as the artist’s reputation rose. There is, unfortunately, no mechanism for the restitution of the artist for his cultural contribution other than the fickle, “free” market, which fails for artists as much, if not more than it rewards. And that is without taking into account piracy, whose cost publishers and record companies push onto the artist.

 

Most artists will labor for years in obscurity without any guarantee of success. Sure, there are the prodigies, but there are also those who need many years to develop their craft. Similarly, if one looks at the average age of entrepreneurs, they tend to be around forty or fifty. Imagine spending two decades on building your skills, with little compensation, and then not making it. It takes a lot of courage to persist in a creative endeavor, and it is far riskier than most realize. We only hear about the success stories because the success stories that make the most visible works. This pursuit places the artists outside of the conventional, which is why artists tend to be described as weird, and because artists don’t just question the economic system, they question societal norms, religious conventions, and all other beliefs and values that constitute “normal.”

 

Let’s look at Percy Bysshe Shelley. Writing toward the beginning of the 19th century, Shelley was a radical, atheist, vegetarian, advocate of nonviolence and free love. John Milton in the middle of the 17th century was putting forth his arguments for complete freedom of the press and the ability to divorce, and argued that marriage should be for love. Some of these ideas we take for granted now, and some are still radical. At the time, of course, they were mocked.

 

The young can be equally as radical, and especially among the student populations because, rather evidently, they are the group in best position to agitate politically. They have fewer responsibilities than working parents, are most often not engaged in the work force, and are involved in intellectual endeavors. What working stiff has the time between job, kids, and the myriad other obligations, to actually spend time philosophizing or questioning the world around them? The honest answer is not many, because work is tiring, and raising kids is tiring.  Most people don’t question the rise in hours they week each week because they welcome it, the extra pay keeps them from drowning in bills, or helps them get their car repaired, or allow for some money to actually be saved. But we should question it, because the more time we are working, the less time we have to think about what is actually happening to the world around us, and the less we have to enjoy the life we have left.

 

Again, it is worth saying that it is easiest for the youth to question our world, and practically a necessity for the artist. Those who have the most success in the economy have the least impetus for questioning it because they profited from the system. Those trying to succeed, in the midst of working up the ladder, are unlikely to question because they are focused on their own affairs, and the distribution of wealth, for instance, has seemingly little impact on the new opening in a higher up position. The young, at the beginning of their lives in the workforce, don’t automatically see within the system. They don’t think “that’s the way it is,” quite yet.

our poor, fractured home

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I had a discussion with a friend recently about how highly we regarded cultures that emphasized meals as a gustatory and social event, instead of our own, which commodifies time and makes eating a solitary habit even in the presence of others. The TV dinner comes to mind. T. S. Eliot said, “Television is a medium of entertainment which permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.” We sit around one another and learn nothing, say nothing, and most importantly we expose nothing.

I’m not going to give some hackneyed rhetoric against this practice, which no doubt any Westerner has heard (at least of the English speaking world) because more important than targeting it is understanding why it exists, and also because it most certainly has been spotted since its inception.

It’s impossible to address this issue without wondering whether the TV dinner or any other noncommunicative meal is used as a bandage for familial dysfunction. Rather than argue or miscommunicate, it’s much easier to avoid one another with a distraction, or simply avoid the meal altogether. Many families are so busy that neither child nor parent can find time in their schedules that allows for simultaneous dining (and tell me that’s not a symptom of something). But why do families miscommunicate or fail to communicate at all?

For so many reasons: technology, class, education, interests, personality, culture. It would be hard to name all the culprits, nor very productive, because these are all, again, symptoms.

If one were to look at the happier families or groups, one sees shared interests, shared values, shared language (I don’t mean the same as in all speak, say Finnish, but that the words being used are understood by all parties, carrying the same definition. And pay attention to the word “shared”). The Scandinavians are generally considered to be the happiest group of people in the world. If examines them, they will see racial, religious, cultural, and social homogeneity. The more similar we are to one another, the happier we are. I have to warn here that I am not at all advocating any kind of ethnic cleansing or forced conformity. But this dissonance we find in American culture matters (I can only speak for my own country), and it is very evident in all aspects of life.

Just look at the proliferation of articles dealing with how to be a man, or how a man should treat or ask out a woman, or etiquette to hook ups or so many other phenomena; it’s very evident that we don’t really know what to do or say, even within our own social groups. Nothing can be tacit anymore because anything or nothing can be implied, too much is misunderstood or not understood at all. Values and mores are in complete and constant flux, and between generations this gap can be even more pronounced. Increasing the nuclear family is strained, and where before there were strong communities to keep people from falling through the cracks, the advance of the center-less city has decimated such a net. We are constantly segmented into our own age groups and rarely work or interact with people of a different generation. Just look at how segregated bars are according to social groups, with infringement on such environments (i.e. going to a bar you’re your crowd is not welcome at) bringing on greater isolation within those environments.

This all has a great impact not just on how we pass time and eat our meals, but also on our politics. The Scandinavian countries have a strong social democracy, and they believe that they government has a duty to help people and care for them. That’s impossible here because of strong bigotry and distrust in this country. Resentment against other racial or ethnic, groups, genders, or sexual orientations has created the gridlock we face today. One side actively yearns for Scandinavian style social democracy while the other does but can’t get over its prejudices to work for it. That is, as one might hear someone saying, “I don’t want that damned, lazy other group getting my hard earned cash for their special privileges.”

I think this all looks pretty bleak, and it may appear that there is no way forward, but there is, and it is the answer that I have mentioned quite a few times already: communication. We need active discussion between groups. We need dialogue that is not out to prove a point but to foster understanding.  The bigots will always have cotton stuck in their ears, and they may always be around. But ignore them, we need to be speaking to people of all stripes, we need to seek out people who are different from us and talk to them. Get over the awkwardness, because we need to talk about real shit that matters. Talk, talk, talk. And then listen, listen, listen. It is the only thing that will save us.

I see now, how funny it all is, that the only way to end these TV dinners and sort out all these problems is to start talking to each other. How wonderfully straightforward.

being black at michigan

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It is a little disheartening to see the wider reaction to the Being Black at University of Michigan movement (#BBUM). Commenters and “activists” like Jennifer Gratz have condemned the the list of demands recently put out by the Black Student Union as asking for special treatment, and as trying to separate themselves from everyone else (and thereby being racist). I don’t like to be this blunt, but it is pure ignorance to think that blacks are racist because they don’t see themselves as being like everyone else; such thoughts probably are even racist. Blacks don’t think they are different than everyone else (read: whites) because they all got together and hashed out the idea that if they played the victim they could extort money from hard working whites, and if you believe this it is because you think blacks are lazy, which is a racist notion. If black people think they are different than whites it is because they are reminded of that on a daily basis, not because they want to be different. The whole point of this movement is that they WANT to be included in the University of Michigan community.

I recently graduated from the University of Michigan, and I understand these students’ demands very well. The percentage of the state’s black population is 14.2 percent and nationally that rate is 12.6. I was not surprised by the low Hispanic population at the university because, though the national percentage is 16.3, the state percentage is much lower. The schools I attended K-12 had very few Hispanics, and in the state they mostly reside in Mexicantown, Detroit, or in Holland on the western side of the state. But what did bother me was that the University employed almost exclusively Spaniards for their Spanish department. I believe there were two Colombians (one retired recently) and a Puerto Ricans; the rest were Spanish. Why the complete lack of diversity? Why not even one Mexican professor? This always was something that grated me about the classes.

In our supposed post-racial society, why are enrollment rates for Hispanics and blacks at this top university falling? Asian and Indian students, just based on demographics, are heavily overrepresented. I met more Chinese international students than I did Hispanics, and I had more friends who were Asian or Indian than I did Hispanics or blacks. I don’t want to go deeply into this issue because it would require an entire entry, but suffice it to say that money is the greatest predictor of whether someone will go to college or not, and all the Indians and Asians had wealthier families than I. I am not trying to “shame” people for being wealthy, but I don’t believe that wealth makes a person “smarter” than poorer students, just better educated due to attending better schools, which is why the fact that 70 percent of the University of Michigan’s student body comes from families making over $100,000 a year in part helps explain this discrepancy. U of M is the most expensive public university in the country, which puts it out of reach for many poorer students, of any color.

Universities also have an incentive to draw in a diverse student body, and this is the reason why some students with worse scores can get in (and regardless of color. I knew a white girl who quickly dropped out due to being unable to keep up with the academic rigor). They don’t want only the best students because that doesn’t make for a dynamic community. Any Asian student can tell you this. They have to score even better than whites because they are competing with other Asians who are scoring even better. Asians and Indians would dominate the top universities (so now we see affirmative action in reverse). So unless you believe in a complete meritocracy, you should see that even whites are benefited by some racial quota, even if it is not called that. And already you can feel the resentment grow against Asian and Indian students for their huge numbers in the university system.

So now we have a bunch of commenters (majority white) who are upset that the black students are asking for special privileges. This is just plain ignorant. We don’t call shelters and food programs for the homeless and poor special privileges. Looking at the statistics about blacks in the U.S. show that they are poorer, less educated, and, especially among men, incarcerated. It is not racist or calling blacks victims to say that many of them need help. Why would we want a society that, due to what you were born into, strongly predicts where you will end up? Just as we want to help the poor, we should also help any group that needs it. If you are a Christian, I would refer you to the parable of the Prodigal Son (this of course isn’t a perfect analogy. I am not saying blacks squandered their inheritance, but that you shouldn’t punish people for being poor, but welcome them and include them regardless of their condition). The people who think this is special privilege don’t understand the reality of life at U of M. Not that many black students live near the central campus because it is extremely expensive (You are looking at the very least $500 just for a shitty room, not including utilities and internet), which is why the group wants cheap housing on central campusto have a greater, more visible black presence. White students don’t need to ask for greater representation because they are the majority, and closely resemble the percentage of whites in the country. The undergraduate student body is 65% white, while making up 62 percent of our youth (the older population has a greater white population but they do not attend the university, obviously in nearly the same numbers). It behooves society to give all groups of any socioeconomic definition a fair representation at the university level because higher education is paramount to achieving greater success and being able to send your own children off to college. If we want to continue to keep poor Hispanics and blacks undereducated and struggling, then let’s continue this facade of equal opportunity in this country. Helping these groups is not going to make them lazy or give them the attitude of “entitlement” that so many white people think that minorities have. If you believe these kinds of arguments, that we shouldn’t help some groups more than other groups because it isn’t fair, that it is racist to address racial issues, then you really need to take a look at the logic you are using to arrive at these conclusions. I bet it’s racist.

the boredom of drug use in literature

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In general, I feel the same way about drug use that I do about sex scenes in literature and cinema, the latter I may elaborate on in another post, but suffice to say that they far more often than not fail as plot devices and disrupt flow. Flashback and dream sequences are known to do the same. If they do not advance plot then they are worthless, and an entire story built around drug use tend to be nonstories. Drug use in itself is not interesting in the same way that eating is not inherently interesting.

What are good examples of drug use in literature and cinema (which, I should add, are driven by plot regardless of whatever examples you can name that run counter to this axiom)? Brave New World has soma to describe our need to anesthetize any pain we encounter. Pulp Fiction’s overdose scene is critical to the story. A Scanner Darkly utilizes the effects of drugs on the dissolution of identity as a parallel to technology’s same effect.

I bring this up because I’ve been reading Tao Lin’s Taipei, which is about disaffected Brooklynites who abuse prescription drugs because of their extreme disaffection and discomfort in the world. While drug use is essential to the plot, it makes for boring literature. This is because, again, drug use is not interesting in itself. Scene after scene of blurry and “vague” existence is not compelling (“vague” and “indiscriminate” become the operative words. About everything; time, thoughts), and any argument about how Lin is describing such dull lives is hollow, for a good writer should make anything interesting. There is no greater sin than to bore your reader. If Joyce can absorb my attention with the thoughts of a man as he shits, then why can this writer not say anything interesting about searching for meaning in life? No, Lin’s hero is too disaffected, too different for anything as common as that.

[I have yet to finish the book, though I will for perhaps an anthropological sense of the disaffected youth (is it not the word for the hip millennial crowd?) and because I know a lot of people like this, whom I am basing some of my characters on in my inchoate novel.]

The only maxim I can give for writing is that if you are going to include drug use in a story, treat it as you would any other detail of a person. From playing tennis to smoking weed, nothing is interesting unless it reveals something. Think about real life: are you really that titillated, especially when you are sober, by your friends when they are drunk or high? Absolutely not, and the reader is no different.

poor behavior and the failure of systems

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One of the defenses of our current capitalistic system is that it is criminals who betray the system, that otherwise it works. In some sense it borrows from Stoic thinking, that overall the cosmos is just and good, that catastrophes and wrongdoing are not intrinsic to the system, more like a brief illness or malfunction that eventually rights itself. But this is facile and reductive, like a turtle thinking it sees the world within its shell.

            If we look at the criminality in other systems, say feudalism and slavery, what we see is that the misbehavior of the powerful (i.e. slave owners, feudal lords, aristocrats) does not disrupt the system. Abuse by kings, dukes, and emperors, etc. often went without punishment, and was not the primary reason for their downfall because the feudal system existed for over a thousand years in Europe after the fall of Rome. Similarly, a slave owner can mistreat his slaves at his own discretion. These are inhumane systems, but that was how the functioned. To draw a parallel to our own times, a boss can demand of workers longer hours, can poorly pay his workers, and even treat them discourteously. None of this upsets the system. One could argue that just as a slave owner who cares for his slaves might get better quality work out of his slaves, a company that cares for its workers would get better work. And this is true, but it doesn’t affect the bottom line without the ability for workers to penalize mistreatment. Wal-Mart is one of the biggest corporations in the world and makes a lot of money while poorly paying its workers and generally not caring about them. But Wal-Mart is the not the only one guilty of this. The majority of service industry jobs do not pay well. And the reason why this happens is interesting, if only because of the myriad excuses for it.

            Many argue that businesses are designed to make money, and therefore have an imperative to pay as little as possible and sell as high as possible, which is called “good business.” And I agree with this. The system not only encourages this, it rewards such behavior. There is a reason why slave owners did not educate their slaves; if they had, they would be empowered, desire better conditions and a better life, and would revolt. Similarly, our system only works by having poorly educated workers. A person does not need a G.E.D. to work at Wal-Mart, and I would argue that many of the credentials we demand of workers are superfluous, which has resulted in degree inflation.

            Now, many people like to argue that no one sticks a gun to a person’s head and tells them not to get an education and work at Wal-Mart, and therefore it is their own fault for working a dead end job, and therefore they should not get paid much. This was the same type of argument justified for slavery, that Africans were racially inferior and therefore suited to working the hard labor of slavery. There is a reason that the poor end up working at Wal-Mart and rich people don’t (outside of the its corporate head). Unless you believe that the poor are inherently dumber, lazier, and therefore worse and less deserving, a conundrum is to be found.

            The argument that people will be paid the amount they produce (how much money they generate with their labor) is ridiculously idiotic, but it’s one that I’ve heard to justify our system. How much a person gets paid depends on their leverage with the company. Unskilled workers will always lose out against a company unless they can utilize one of their few advantages, which is numbers. Obviously I am talking about unions. It was not long ago that an unskilled worker could stand on the assembly line and bring enough money home to send his kids to college. Try that on the grocery line. So what is the difference? Why are automobile workers so much more deserving than people who flip burgers or ring up your shopping list?

            They aren’t. If we believe that some people do not deserve to make a decent living even if they work a full, forty-hour work week, then we need to ask why capitalism is seen as a better system than feudalism and slavery. Either people deserve this or they don’t; it is not about jobs being entry level or that only people who can fit in our education system and pick the correct field deserve to live comfortably.

            In American history books, when the topic of guilds come up, it is used as an example of worker’s organizations impeding progress, that of the mechanization of work. Well, something that doesn’t get talked about is how and why guilds, the antecedent to today’s unions, were busted. This can be seen is every country that is industrialized. The steps are the following:

  1. The privatization of communal farm land (see for example enclosure in the U.K. or the Dust Bowl in the U.S., which is a bit of a stretch) that forces agricultural workers into the cities for work.
  2. These workers undercut the guilds as scabs, being forced by necessity into low wage work for long hours and with poor conditions. The modern day sweatshops of the third world existed in the developed work too, which we are slowly falling into again.
  3. The ability of capitalists to produce goods quicker and at a cheaper rate is viewed as progress, but it comes at the cost of destroying the middle class, which were the skilled artisans of the guilds, and so dismantles them by absorbing their business.

Again we come to another question we really need to ask ourselves. Is it progress to be able to produce more goods for less money if it destroys the wages of other laborers, and ruins the health of the workers while demanding of them long hours? This only ended, if temporarily, in the developed world because of the reintroduction of labor unions, this time for the unskilled worker. During the industrial revolution, many workers died because of the horrible conditions. One need only look up the various lung diseases that people suffered in the mining and textile industry. It was also necessary for every member of a family work in order to survive. Today, after the anti-union policies of the Republican Party in the U.S., it is not atypical for both parents in a family (supposing that it is not a single parent household) to be required to achieve a level of economic comfort.

To return once again to understanding the criminality in systems, or the abuse of the weak by the powerful, what should become clear is that these abuses are inherent to the system. Abuse of the system does not break it. Slavery did not end because the slaves rose in revolt, it ended because the North, morally, objected to it (thanks to the efforts of former slaves and abolitionists), and the South revolted. In fact, it was the abuse of the slaves that kept them in their state of perpetual fear. Today, many workers do not protest or attempt to unionize because of the fear of reprisal. This is called hegemony, and it is does exist in our society. When we see Wall Street go awry and ruin the investments of average folk, or companies union bust, or endeavor to suppress wages and benefits, they are doing so because the system rewards them for it in the same way that drug dealers are rewarded by their efforts, regardless of the supposed criminality. It follows, then, that if we want a more egalitarian, democratic society, we need a new system. One solution is called Worker’s Self-Directed Enterprise, which I will talk about in another article.

Girls, Misogyny

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Recently, at a press junket for the TV show Girls, there was a bit of a kerfuffle when a TV critic asked why Lena Dunham was naked so much, a question which was interpreted as misogynistic, sexist, and above all offensive. Even as the TV critic was trying to explain his question and admitting that he didn’t get it, neither Apatow nor Dunham took the time to simply answer his question or say why it was sexist. It made me think how, in our modern society’s constant state of flux, we don’t really have a grasp of what is proper etiquette. Someone really needs to write a book about how to avoid unintentionally sounding racist, sexist, trans or homophobic because the critic would sound like a chauvinist from their perspective, and based off the critic’s explanation, I don’t think he was trying to.

In order to understand why this appeared to be a sexist question, one needs to look at the fact that Lena Dunham is not considered attractive by many viewers. I think Dunham is aware of this. We can get into how beauty is subjective, and how other people’s opinions don’t matter, and other shit like that, but most people know whether they are attractive or not (though we tend to think ourselves a little more pretty than we are). This is important because, while I am not trying to use this as a value judgment on Dunham, others in society do. There is more pressure on women in the media to be a lot more attractive than the average person. And especially in nude scenes. When Seth Rogen goes bare-assed or bare chested, the humor is implicit because he’s not attractive, so he should be covering up but he isn’t. With women, nudity is highly sexualized in society, as are the women themselves, no matter what they are doing. Let me put this to you: where is the female equivalent of Paul Giamatti? Or Steve Buscemi? Where are there critically acclaimed actresses who are not attractive? [I asked this question once (to a girl) who was a little offended, and it became uncomfortable. I’m not sure why though, because I’ve talked with other people about how Hispanics are heavily underrepresented in Hollywood, and I was not offended (another reason why we need the aforementioned book! For my own sake.) But back to the question,] I think the best answer I received was Frances McDormand, but she is still attractive; she just plays roles that don’t require her to be beautiful. So, being that many might find Lena Dunham unattractive, questioning why she is naked so much on TV sounds a lot like telling her to put her clothes back on because no one wants to see her, which she probably felt based off her answer, “If you are not into me, that’s your problem.”

Though I am no fan of the show Girls, I agree with her that nudity is a part of life (she says this just before) and an authentic expression. And I say that nudity should in no way be the exclusive domain of the beautiful. When nudity and sex serve the plot, I am all for it. If it doesn’t, than it is a huge interruption to the story, and should get cut. From what I’ve heard, Blue Is the Warmest Color is a movie that gets it right, because it’s necessary for the story being told.

That said, Dunham and Apatow should have (please forgive me for using this) made this a teachable moment. Instead of addressing the issue, Apatow started throwing around –isms, which accomplishes nothing. We who want to address racism and sexism and homophobia need to see ourselves like missionaries or evangelicals spreading the good word instead of condemning people for the ignorance. Calling people racist, to me, is like calling someone an infidel. It’s an exclusionary term based on ignorance. Yes, there are some incredibly hateful people are there who deserve the term (Westboro), but to jump on someone for a question and say that it is misogynistic is a terrible way to address a problem. It’s a rather vague term to use, since it means “women hating,” and further, it is never explained to the critic what part was misogynistic (though to be honest we cannot blame them entirely for not explaining all what I have just said in the heat of the moment at a TV interview. Plus it would require Apatow saying Dunham is unattractive.)

Che Guevara, in his “A Child of My Environment” speech, says something that I really liked, which is that we must be revolutionary people. It is not enough to struggle alone. We need to bring as many people together and enlighten one another so that the movement against the evil –isms our age our eliminated by our inclusivity. I do not mean tolerating sexism, I mean, to borrow from Christianity, preaching the gospel. Stop telling people they are wrong, and start showing them how to be right. It is too easy to be filled with righteous fury. we need to educate daily about what is right and what is wrong.

Just as soon as I find a way to do that, though.

a brief respite: on racism and acceptance

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Only three parts in and I find myself a little tired of dissecting our political spectrum in America. And more annoyed with how our partisanship is built over false divides. The reality is that most Americans want a fairer distribution of wealth in America and a system more like that found in the Scandinavian countries. I believe the poll I saw was 92% of Americans. The more I’ve put my thoughts to words, the more frustrated I’ve become at seeing what is holding us back. I don’t think that the Democratic Party is free of bigots, but they don’t support racist or sexist policies (only on occasion), unlike the Republican Party. Nor are bigots necessarily bad people, something that is easy to ignore. We say, look at the evil these people wreak with their wrongheadedness, in their actions and their thoughts. We want to blame them for the ills of our society. They are not blameless, but in the same way that we see the poor, or criminals as products of their environment, I see the same with the racists, sexists, politicians, and capitalists. It is very hard to exist within a social group while maintaining completely different ideologies, which is why you don’t see Marxists casually hanging out with Tea Partiers. Our entire concept of how the world works is in the ideology we accept. Ageism is a perfect example of this, because in some cultures the old are still venerated, while in our youth-centered, consumerist culture we deride the elderly for their inability to fit in, to adopt our rapidly changing technologies and ideas. Are we really surprised that old people tend to be more racist and more sexist? No, because that was more normal in their day (doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is). We look at our youth, which is far more tolerant than the generations before us, which, again, is not surprising. It’s a feedback loop; the more accepting our society is, the more accepting we are because we are society.

In the Progressive Era, many abolitionists abandoned their posts as champions for the black folk and turned racist. This isn’t as known well as it should be, but most abolitionists were pretty racist even before this and said pretty racist things. But after the turn of the century, the country just became even more racist. It was everywhere; one could not escape racist messaging. It was in advertising, it was in schoolbooks, it was in all forms of media, a constant barrage on the psyche of Americans in that day. Ernest Hemingway referred to blacks in his early works as nigger, just used the word as if that’s what the term was for blacks. Which, at that time, horribly, is how it was used.

What I mean to say, with this, is that we don’t win necessarily by shouting down the bigots. I know people will disagree with me, but what I believe is that we need to have completely open discussions with racists about race. Let them state their views without coded language so it can be truly seen for what it is. No more hiding behind states’ rights or other bywords. The Crown Heights Riot is an amazing story about what conversation can do for communities. After the riot, which resulted in two deaths, the black and Jewish communities engaged with each other and have improved racial relations in the neighborhood. This is what is needed, not simply condemnation but showing people the error of their ways, without shaming, because what is more important than being right is bringing us all together in acceptance.
Or we may just have to wait for the bigots to die out.