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Crimes Against Family: What do Bill Cosby and the United States Military have in Common?

28 Nov

I’m sure I watched I Spy a time or three back in the day, but I didn’t watch it regularly. I DID watch The Cosby Show regularly. My all time favorite bit was when the dad and the kids lip synched a Ray Charles song – “The night time, is the right time” – for mother, with little Rudy being particularly delicious. I also appreciated the fact that Cosby would have jazz musicians on the show. His father-in-law was played by a jazz musician, singer Joe Williams. He had Dizzy Gillespie on one show and, much to my delight, he had Frank Foster on another. I’d studied improvisation with Foster when he taught at UB (that is, the State University of New York at Buffalo).

As much as I am a fan of anyone – which isn’t all that much, fandom isn’t how I roll – I was a fan of Cosby’s. I was a bit startled when he started coming down hard on the lifeways of some poor black folks. Understand him, yes. But it seemed a bit harsh, especially in the overall ecology of racial attitudes and discussion. Is that how Cliff Huxtable would speak?

And then he was accused of rape. I don’t recall precisely when I first heard about that, but it was awhile ago, well before the current round of accusations. Was it before or after he’d become Mr. Public Morality? I don’t recall. The accusation certainly didn’t seem consistent with the behavior of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable. Cliff, of course, was just a fiction, a part Cosby played. But we do tend to identify performers with the parts they play, as though that’s what they are like in real life.

Of course, I know that Cliff was just a role. As a performer myself I’m keenly aware of the difference between one’s performance persona and one’s “real” self. Give me a trumpet and put me on stage with at kick-ass rhythm section and I’m Mister Confident Superhero Sex God John the Conqueror, but in real life I’m shy, reserved, and ridiculously intellectual, though leavened with a bit of wit. So I never actually believed that Cosby played himself when playing Heathcliff, but nonetheless, Heathcliff became my default for Bill Cosby himself.

The upshot: those accusations were dissonant. At this point I don’t recall what I thought of those accusations back then. I’m pretty sure my initial reaction would have been denial. I’m also sure that I thought about it beyond that initial denial. Mostly likely I just put the accusations on a mental shelf without either denying or affirming them in my mind.

That’s not possible now. There are too many accusations. I think he did it. Continue reading

It’s Time for America to Reinvent itself Top to Bottom

17 Nov

But that’s not what I titled this month’s article at 3 Quarks Daily. I gave it a somewhat more provocative title, American Craziness: Where it Came from and Why It Won’t Work Anymore. The craziness is why America has to reinvent itself.

The core of my argument somes from an article I read in my freshman year at Johns Hopkins, “Certain Primary Sources and Patterns of Aggression in the Social Structure of the Western World” (full text online HERE). Parsons argues that life in Western nations generates a lot of aggressive impulses that cannot, however, be satisfied in any direct way. Why not? Because Western society is highly hierarchal and there is a great deal of aggression from superiors against inferiors, who cannot, however, respond in kind because to do so would be dangerous.

What, then, can those social inferiors do with their aggression? Well, they can let it rot their spirit and, eventually, their bodies as well. And that does happen. But they can also direct their aggression at external enemies. That happens as well.

This has certainly been the case in America. The Cold War was more of a psychic release mechanism for the nations involved – America included – than it was a collision of rational foreign policies East and West. But, as I point out in the 3QD piece, American had developed a sophisticated variation on the mechanism that was organized around slavery.

The institution of slavery in effect gave America an internal colony against which white Americans could direct their aggressive impulses. And when slavery was banished, institutionalized racism kept that colony in place. While the Civil Rights movement certainly changed the legal parameters of that social mechanism, and had real and beneficial effects in the world, the mechanism is still alive.

But, really, as I argue in the 3QD piece, this baroque contraption is ready to fall apart, hence the deadlock in America’s national politics.

I do something else in that piece, however, something of a more theoretical nature. I push Parsons’ argument a bit further than he did. As his title notes, he was arguing about Western nations, not nations in general. Yet anyone who finds his argument convincing can see that the mechanisms he describes are not confined to the West. They’re ubiquitous. Continue reading

A Marx Brothers Analysis of America’s War Craziness

11 Sep
I grew up watching Groucho Marx on his “You Bet Your Life” television show. My father assured me that the Marx Brothers films were the funniest ever. But I didn’t get to see any of them until I went to The Johns Hopkins University, which had an excellent film series curated by Richard Macksey.
Then I saw at least some of their feature films and laughed myself silly. My favorite, and certainly one of their best, is Duck Soup (1933). It’s about war between two minor nations, Freedonia and Sylvania, with the four brothers playing both sides of the conflict against the muddle.
Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly, who is installed as head of Freedonia by Mrs. Gloria Teasdale, played by Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s foil in several films. I won’t go into the absurd intricacies of the clap-trap plot as I’m interest in only one scene, the scene where war is finally declared between Freedonia and Sylvania.
duck soup 1 chico in the dock
Chicolini (Chico Marx) is on trial in Freedonia for spying. Firefly has, for whatever reason, decided to act as his defense council, though he’s the one who caught Chicolini. This that and the other happens and the news comes that Sylvania troops are at the Freedonia’s border. This causes some distress as “war would mean a prohibitive increase in our taxes”—maybe back then, but not now; now we cut taxes and spend even more money on undeclared war. There’s some wordplay on “taxes” and “dollars” = “Dallas, Dallas, Texas.” It’s eerie, you’d think those guys were reading the future.

To War! America’s National Psyche

11 Sep

I’m reproducing a set of notes I wrote up during the 2000 Presidential Election. I’m republishing them now in recognition of yet another turn in the long-spinning wheel of American mythology.

Everything is connected to everything else and the causal forces meeting in the historical present stretch back into the past without end. Figuring out where to start is not easy. My sense is that we need to focus our attention on the dissolution of the Soviet Empire in the late 1980s. That left the nation without a national scapegoat, thus radically altering the nation’s psycho-cultural landscape. We no longer had Ronald Reagan’s Evil Empire to kick around.

As some of you may know, my thinking on these matters has been strongly influenced by an essay Talcott Parsons published in 1947 on “Certain Primary Sources of Aggression in the Social Structure of the Western World”. Parsons argued that Western child-rearing practices generate a great deal of insecurity and anxiety at the core of personality structure. This creates an adult who has a great deal of trouble dealing with aggression and is prone to scapegoating. Inevitably, there are lots of aggressive impulses which cannot be followed out. They must be repressed. Ethnic scapegoating is one way to relieve the pressure of this repressed aggression. That, Parsons argued, is why the Western world is flush with nationalistic and ethnic antipathy. I suspect, in fact, that this dynamic is inherent in nationalism as a psycho-cultural phenomenon.

For the most part I have used Parsons, and others as well, in arguing about the nature of racism in the USA. While Africans were brought to this country for economic reasons it seems to me that during, say, the 19th century African Americans increasingly assumed a dual psychological role in the white psyche. On the one hand, they were a source of entertainment. On the other, they were convenient scapegoats, as became evident with the lynchings that emerged during Reconstruction and continued well into the last century. That is to say, African America served as a geographically internal target for the ethnic and nationalist antipathy Parsons discussed.

Thus we have the thesis in Klinkner and Smith, The Unsteady March (U. Chicago, 1999). They argue that African Americans have been able to move forward on civil rights only during periods where the nation faced an external threat – the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the major wars of the first half of the 20th century. When the external danger had subsided, gains were lost. From my point of view, they’re arguing that, when external danger looms large and demands attention, the citizenry can focus aggression there and so ease up on the internal colony. Beyond this, of course, it becomes necessary to recruit from the colony to fight the external enemy, both physically and propagandistically – be kind to your black citizens when you fight the Nazis, etc.

Continue reading

U.S. Bombs, Which Helped Spawn ISIS, Can’t Crush It | Cross-Check, Scientific American Blog Network

5 Sep

Swanson insists there are nonviolent options, which he spells out here, for quelling the violence of ISIS and other militant groups fighting in Iraq. At the same website, warisacrime.org, a group of 53 religious groups, academics and ministers proposes, in part:

*Stop U.S. bombing in Iraq to prevent bloodshed, instability and the accumulation of

grievances that contribute to the global justification for the Islamic State’s existence

among its supporters.

*Provide robust humanitarian assistance to those who are fleeing the violence.
Provide food and much needed supplies in coordination with the United Nations.

*Engage with the UN, all Iraqi political and religious leaders, and others in the

international community on diplomatic efforts for a lasting political solution for Iraq.

*Ensure a significantly more inclusive Iraqi government along with substantive programs
of social reconciliation to interrupt the flow and perhaps peel back some of the persons
joining the Islamic State. In the diplomatic strategy, particularly include those with

influence on key actors in the Islamic State.

*Work for a political settlement to the crisis in Syria. The conflicts in Iraq and
Syria are intricately connected and should be addressed holistically. Return to the Geneva peace process for a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria and

expand the agenda to include regional peace and stability. Ensure Iran’s full
participation in the process.

via U.S. Bombs, Which Helped Spawn ISIS, Can’t Crush It | Cross-Check, Scientific American Blog Network.

ANALYSIS: Can ‘obscure cleric’ save Iraq from brutal terrorism of ISIS? | Lapido Media – Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs

23 Jun

In some ways, though, the second reason that Sistani and his leanings should be of great interest to the non-Islamic world is even more significant: he is a force for moderation within Iraq, consistently appealing to the entire population of Iraq rather than to the Shias only, both during the periods of sectarian ‘cleansing’ during the recent war in Iraq, and at present, when sectarian feelings are running high across the Middle East, and Iraq itself is beset by a Sunni resurgence, going under the name of ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

via ANALYSIS: Can ‘obscure cleric’ save Iraq from brutal terrorism of ISIS? | Lapido Media – Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs.

Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment

25 Sep

War drove the formation of complex social institutions such as religions and bureaucracies, a study suggests. The institutions would have helped to maintain stability in large and ethnically diverse early societies. The study authors, who tested their theories in simulations and compared the results with historical data, found that empires arise in response to the pressure of warfare between small states.

via Empires, bureaucracies and religion arise from war : Nature News & Comment.

Dear Ron and Dennis: For the sake of the planet and your great-grandkids, kiss and make up! Please!

14 Sep

Charlie first wrote this in the Spring of 2012. A year plus later it makes even more sense for liberals and libertarians to make common cause in stopping wars, celebrating self-determination of peoples, and saving the speciation from ongoing destruction and our own.

Dear Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich,

I urge you to put your respective strengths together on a firm foundation built by back-to-basics Austrian and Buddhist economics. A casual reading of G. Bateson, E. F. Schumacher, John Ruskin, anyone who has thought long and hard about the profound evil embodied in “central banking,” war preparations and “Fed manipulations” everywhere, will give you the tools and bricks you need to build a Reform Party and/or an Americans Elect TEAM based on emergent truths and the oldest traditions.

At the Truth & Traditions website you will find arguments, positions, reports, a Declaration of Interdependence, some of what you will need to create a balanced platform and a beyond-bi-partisan Sunshine Cabinet whose members and many surrogates can campaign with you this summer and fall.

The key to this Sunshine Cabinet is the creation of a Peace Department (Kucinich in charge?) and an Ecology Department (Bill McKibben or Andrew Kimbrell in charge?), each department NEVER to exceed a size sustainable by a quarter of one percent of the current Defense Department budget. In truth, each department needs only a few dozen people to gather up the long-term thinking and best practices of diverse Great Transition communities, colleges, universities, institutes, limited and democratic governments around the world that work for the best interests of their peoples. These two very small and extremely cost-effective departments can shape and pass on as many proposals to Congress, Executive and Judicial branches as are needed. Continue reading

Obama Needs to Think SERIOUSLY Before Committing Us to an Unwinnable War in Syria

28 Aug
Questions for President Obama — Before He Pulls the Trigger on Syria (via Moyers & Company)

Let us posit that the Syrian government did, in fact, order last week’s chemical attack that killed hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women, children and others who had not taken up arms against the Assad regime. In Washington, the eagerness…

Continue reading

Breaking Bad: Breaking Men from the Inside

15 Aug

By now zillions of atoms have be scattered on the internet to the end of explicating Breaking Bad. I’ve read some of that, but not much. Breaking Bad‘s Moral Lesson to Civilians, by Alex Horton, is the best that I’ve read.

While I’ve found the show compelling, sometimes more, sometimes less, I couldn’t make sense of it. Yeah, it’s one of those new-fangled high-quality TV series, like The Sopranos, that’s, you know, dark. The other “dark” shows that I’ve seen (say, Deadwood or The Wire) nonetheless managed to make sense to me. Breaking Bad, compelling, but why?

Horton offers a compelling reason:

Walter, along with several of the Breaking Bad characters, exhibits a term many of us in the military and veterans community have come to understand as a moral injury, and the show profoundly explores the concept in a way previously unseen in film and television. Of course, virtually no troops or veterans have much in common with the criminals in the show, but the reaction to traumatic events is universal, be it in war or a fictional universe.

To be clear, a moral injury is not a psychiatric diagnosis. Rather, it’s an existential disintegration of how the world should or is expected to work—a compromise of the conscience when one is butted against an action (or inaction) that violates an internalized moral code. It’s different from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms of which occur as a result of traumatic events. When a soldier at a checkpoint shoots at a car that doesn’t stop and kills innocents, or when Walter White allows Jesse’s troublesome addict girlfriend to die of an overdose to win him back as a partner, longstanding moral beliefs are disrupted, and an injury on the conscience occurs.

As he chokes the life from Krazy-8 with a bike lock [early in the first season], Walter enters a distorted moral universe where killing and death become the currency of his trade.

That I can understand. It makes sense. Continue reading