Lao Tzu

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” – Lao Tzu

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Steubenville Syndrome

The Steubenville Syndrome: A culture-bound, collective psychological phenomenon, where perpetrators of rape receive immunity from blame by virtue their higher status compared to rape victims, and where the victims are blamed by communities instead and/or receive no sympathy or proper justice for their suffering.

Sometimes the Steubenville Syndrome results in silence, the silence of whole communities and groups, of those in authority, or of news media. But now we’re seeing more and more instances of outrageous community reaction, after rapes by football players, against the rape victims!

The latest case:
...But like Steubenville before it, the town of Maryville revolted against the facts in the case.

Days after the incident became public knowledge, students at the high school began attacking Daisy and her family. On social media, fellow Maryville students began threatening Daisy, tweeting that she would “get whats comin.” Daisy’s older brother Charlie, who was himself an athlete for Maryville, was booed by his own classmates during a wrestling meet. Her mother, a veterinarian, was fired from her job two weeks after the incident without so much as an explanation, only later learning that her boss feared that her presence “was putting stress” on her other employees.

Meanwhile, members of the community rallied behind Barnett and the other perpetrators. In March, just over two months after the alleged rape took place, the most serious charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of a minor were dropped without an explanation.

Daisy’s family moved away to avoid the threats and harassment they faced since her story first came to light. But the trouble didn’t end. Six months ago, their old house burned down mysteriously.

From Dave Zirin, The Nation:

 The Verdict: Steubenville Shows the Bond Between Jock Culture and Rape Culture
...We learned at the Steubenville trial that not only did a small group of football players commit a crime, but fifty of their peers, men and women, saw what was happening and chose to do nothing, effectively not seeing a crime at all...

...On colleges, there is reason to believe that the same teamwork, camaraderie and “specialness” produced by sports can be violently perverted to create a pack mentality that either spurs sexual violence or makes players fear turning in their teammates. A groundbreaking 1994 study showed that college athletes make up 3.3 percent of male students but 19 percent of those accused of sexual assault. One of the studies authors, Jeff Benedict, said, “Does this study say participation in college sports causes this? Clearly, no. We’re not saying that. We just think that at some point there is an association between sports and sexual assault…. the farther you go up, the more entitlements there are. And one of those entitlements is women.” 

The signs and characteristics of the Steubenville Syndrome: hero worship; uber-masculinity valued; power and status inequities; misplaced sympathy for rapists; group think and conformity; general acceptance of male dominance and sexual entitlements; pervasive view of women and girls as things; bullying. 

Remember the story, The Lottery? I do believe it speaks to this syndrome. One can see how, in cases where football plays a huge role in community pride and enthusiasm, blaming the victims of rapes by football players could represent a kind of human sacrifice to the gods of football.  

Friday, October 4, 2013

What’s the Matter with Supernaturalism?

A funny thing happened on the way home from Oz.  We discovered that clicking the heels of your ruby slippers and repeating, “There’s no place like home,” can’t get you there —it was just a dream— and whether wicked or good, of the North, East or West, witches with true supernatural powers do not exist.

Birds may fly over the rainbow, but humans without airplanes can’t. Why, oh why? Alas, you’ll get the same answer from Mother Nature that you heard from your own mother— “Because I said so!”

Regardless, behold the website Afterlife101*.   Note well the website’s claim: Spirits freed of their mere human bodies by physical death —“spirit guides”— dictated its text to mediums here on Planet Earth. See how the website presents advice on living our lives, yet offers no wisdom beyond anything offered to us already by human voices past and present, and without the superior eloquence you might expect from the spiritual realm, nor even respect for proper grammar!* 
" the spiritual world we know there is no such things as war and hatred and anger and fear and distrust..."
This website cannot be serious, I say to myself. Yet, hold on— 21% of Americans believe that people can communicate mentally with the dead, and three out of four believe in the paranormal, generally.    Furthermore, 74 percent of us believe that there is a heaven, at least according to a 2007 Pew study.   

That is to say, three out of four Americans engage in magical thinking... and will defend it to the death, I might add.

So, what’s the matter with that? Witch hunts are long-gone (except in some places), so what’s wrong with a little harmless supernaturalist entertainment? Well, not an insignificant number things, according to the eloquent words of one living human being whom I consider to be among the most perspicacious social critics of our time, Chris Hedges, writing in Empire of Illusion:

"Pseudo-events, which create their own semblance of reality, serve in the wider culture the same role creationism serve for the Christian Right. Pseudo-events destabilize truth. They are convincing enough and appear real enough to manufacture their own facts . . . The use of pseudo-events to persuade rather than overtly brainwash renders millions of us unable to see or question the structure and systems that are impoverishing us and in some cases destroying our lives. The flight into illusion sweeps away the core values of the open society. It corrodes the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense tell you something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to grasp historical facts, to advocate for change, and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways, and structures of being that are morally and socially acceptable. A populace deprived of the ability to separate lies from truth, that has become hostage to the fictional semblance of reality put forth by pseudo-events, is no longer capable of sustaining a free society.

Those who slip into this illusion ignore the signs of impending disaster. The physical degradation of the planet, the cruelty of global capitalism, the looming oil crisis, the collapse of financial markets, and the danger of overpopulation rarely impinge to prick the illusions that warp our consciousness. The words, images, stories, and phrases used to describe the world in pseudo-events have no relation to what is happening around us. The advances of technology and science, rather than obliterating the world of myth, have enhanced its power to deceive. We live in imaginary, virtual worlds created by corporations that profit from our deception. Products and experiences – indeed, experience as a product – offered up for sale, sanctified by celebrities, are mirages. They promise us a new personality. They promise us success and fame. They promise to mend our brokenness...

...Blind faith in illusions is our culture’s secular version of being born again. These illusions assure us that happiness and success is our birthright. They tell us that our catastrophic collapse is not permanent. They promise that pain and suffering can always be overcome by tapping into our hidden, inner strengths. They encourage us to bow down before the cult of self. To confront these illusions, to puncture their mendacity by exposing the callousness and cruelty of the corporate state, signals a loss of faith. It is to become an apostate. The culture of illusion, one of happy thoughts, manipulated emotions, and trust in the beneficence of power, means we sing along with the chorus or are instantly disappeared from view like the losers on a reality show."

I bring this up not to attack religion. Religion has its place, where metaphor, myth and mystery serve the spiritual, psychological and emotional well-being of believers. Like art, religion is one way to meaningfully encounter the central questions of our lives— love, beauty, existence, loss, suffering, and our connection to the world. But like art, it belongs in the mythos side of things and should remain there, in the realm of what Hedges refers to as the “non-rational,” rather than attempting to squeeze it into the box of literal truth.

In this humble blogger’s view, the essential mistake of New Age mysticism and Spiritualism is that it attempts to render the mysterious real, to yank it out of the mythos side of things and into the logos side of things. Rather than allowing the dead to rest in peace in a realm unknown and unknowable to the living, that is, in the realm of the mysterious, Spiritualists insist on reviving the dead to a literal place, where our dearly departed’s lives continue energetically and without end, in merciless conscious awareness.

Rather than accepting the mystery of our lives and our ultimate vulnerabilities, New Age mystics grant literal mass, force and power to human brain waves, believing delusionally that such “vibrations” can literally control destiny. In particular, the Law of Attraction, a pet theory advanced by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, claims that our thoughts emit energy strong enough to create events and attract either good or bad into our lives. Most disturbingly, believers employ pseudoscience and misinterpretations of real science to bolster their delusions. This would be a harmless popular phenomenon, except that it develops into a kind of tyranny, which puts the onus of disaster and disease on victims for their “negativity,” as opposed to demonstrating understanding, compassion and sympathy. 

Additionally, the attitude becomes an ideology of intolerance, with contempt for the “weak” being one of its characteristics. That is, no New-Age mystic or positivity cultist, likes a person whose “vibrational frequency” is apparently too low to be read as human, or who criticizes belief in the supernatural. It’s like how nobody likes a wet dog, or “bitch,” especially when she shakes off the water in your face.

Barbara Ehrenreich learned this, when she sought solace on a website for breast cancer survivors. Rather than receiving comfort, sympathy and validation from her fellow BC survivors when she expressed anger over the cancer industry and treatments, she incurred hostile and patronizing suggestions that, among other rejecting responses, she needed to adopt a more positive attitude or get therapy, because, as the majority of this group inaccurately believed, “cancer is fed by anger.” (completely untrue) Well, that painful experience resulted in the book, “Bright-Sided, How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America.”  Thus, out of decidedly negative responses from the positivity junkies, came a hugely positive book— that is, if you consider factual insights into a particularly irrational craze in the U.S. to be positive, as I do. 

The point is, despite what looks superficially like the life-affirming perspective of New Age religions, such as Science of Mind and Spiritualism, the practical effect becomes one of unloving and careless rejection of those who do not subscribe to the ideology.  That is to say, “love” becomes something to be enjoyed by one’s fellow true-believers, while outsiders get the shaft.

"Mass culture is a Peter Pan culture. It tells us that if we close our eyes, if we visualize what we want, if we have faith in ourselves, if we tell God that we believe in miracles, if we tap into our inner strength, if we grasp that we are truly exceptional, if we focus on happiness, our lives will be harmonious and complete. This cultrual retreat into illusion, whether peddled by positive psychologists, Hollywood, or Christian preachers, is a form of magical thinking...

...The world that awaits us will be painful and difficult. We will be dragged back to realism, to the understanding that we cannot mold and shape reality according to human desires, or we will slide into despotism...

But even if we fail to halt the decline, it will not be the end of tyranny in history has crushed the human capacity for love. And this love—unorganized, irrational, often propelling us to carry out acts of compassion that jeopardize our existence—is deeply subversive to those in power...” —Chris Hedges

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

capital crimes

capital crimes

what if I lusted after time

instead of money—

or love—

what if

I am happier being nobody, skipping

into paradise while peeling

an orange—

what if

I settled for the slow, ambling
cello I would later
weep over   —what if
I wept—

what if I suffered no sophisitcates,
preferring instead the company
of plants —seedlings
weeds,   tiny   insignificant
populations—  what if I

mostly loved a turtle, as shy
as myself       —what if I
undid the pawl of parent
preachings, letting fly
the mechanism of my life—

what if all I owned was less
than sparse, from days roused
in solitude, within a humble terrain
of contentment—

what if all I ever risked was
everything  —for a life

who would be my judge—&
who would be my executioner?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Manning’s Moral Leadership

By virtue of his personal sacrifice on behalf of freedom and democracy, Bradley-Chelsea Manning has demonstrated moral leadership of a kind rarely seen these days, when official leadership is so commonly characterized by cowardice and corruption.

The government may think it’s making an example of Manning to discourage whistleblowing. Instead, Manning makes an example for everyone to follow, an example for ethical behavior— this is what an intact ethical compass looks like, people.

Make no mistake— Manning is a national treasure.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Anti-choice Movement and Its Spirit of Kitch

 Milan Kundera:
“Kitsch" is a German word born in the middle of the sentimental nineteenth century, and from German is entered all Western languages. Repeated use, however, has obliterated its original metaphysical meaning: kitsch is the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word; kitsch excludes everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence. [Zenzoe bold]

If the anti-abortion zealot’s mental picture of the fetus is anything, it’s kitsch, that is, a visual and verbal conglomeration of shit-denying sentimentality. Disregarding whatever dire circumstance a fetus may inhabit, the fetus is, according to the abortion foe, innocent, defenseless, precious, helpless, unable to speak for herself, sacred, pure and nearly as holy and supreme as a human person can get. Certainly, as human persons go, its personhood surpasses that of its mother, if she can be said to be a person at all.

In keeping with the Spirit of Kitch, something called the “International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center” in Wichita promises to cast a spell of wonderment and awe in the hearts of all anti-choice zealots. Most thrilling, it “will be operated as a tax exempt 501C3 entity!”  Even more goosebump-inspiring, it will stand before a broad lawn decorated with a constellation of crosses, each representing a million dead fetuses.

It’s no surprise Christians claim the painter Thomas Kinkade, the King of Kitsch, as a “Christian ‘painter of light.’” Too bad he didn’t do a painting of the “unborn” in an idealized landscape, sleeping peacefully in the crook of the branch of a tree, surrounded by gentle waters and adorable creatures —and don’t forget the rainbow— all caught in a glowing atmosphere of light and dazzle.

That glowing atmosphere is exactly what the extreme Right yearns for, a world where women self-sacrifice to the needs of men and children, where proper women aren't sexual, where there's a place for everything and everything's in its place. The place for a fetus is in a uterus, and no fetus should be removed from its place; the place for women is in the kitchen or flat on her back either submitting to her husband or giving birth. Anything else is too messy and disgusting to contemplate.

Milan Kundera: 
Whenever a single political movement corners power, we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch. When I say “totalitarian,” what I mean is that everything that infringes on kitsch must be banished for life: every display of individualism (because a deviation from the collective is a spit in the eye of the smiling brotherhood); every doubt (because anyone who starts doubting details will end by doubting life itself); all irony (because in the realm of kitsch everything must be taken quite seriously); and the mother who abandons her family or the man who prefers men to women, thereby calling into question the holy decree “Be fruitful and multiply.”
After all, it is the brotherhood of white men we're talking about here and now, and the individualism inherent in the pro-choice position.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Healing from the Wars: Whatever It Takes

Picture this: I'm sitting on a chair this morning in the front office of Advanced Auto & Electric. I'm there to get the final repair and test needed after my first smog test failed. On my head sits my orange baseball cap, the one that reads, "01.20.09 - Bush's Last Day." Behind the chair on the wall hangs a bulletin board with all sorts of notes, pictures, keys, whatever, and placed boldly at center a poster reads, OBAMA YOU ARROGANT KNOW IT ALL/DON'T APOLOGIZE FOR/ THIS GREAT COUNTRY/THOSE OF US WHO SERVED AND DIED/DON'T DESERVE IT.

 As I wait for my car, I am reading Chris Hedges' book The World as It Is, Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress, a compilation of his TruthDig posts; and I'm on the chapter entitled, They Kill Alex. As I read, the ironic concurrency of me, my cap's message and that of the poster occurs to me. I'm thinking, someone should take a picture.

When I first noticed the poster and its message, I affiliated the guy behind the counter with it and felt contempt for his ignorance about that whole "Obama apologized for America" lie Romney told over and over, and I hoped to get a chance to correct him. However, as I sat reading about Carlos Arredondo and his grief-stricken response to his son's death in Iraq, my imagination went to the second half of that poster's message, "...those of us who served and died don't deserve it," and I began to feel compassion for it. The reports about Obama's "apology" had no basis in fact; regardless, can you blame the vets and their families for needing to feel good about what to them was done for all the good reasons their country had given them for their sacrifices? I have compassion for that: denial on behalf of sanity, for to know the truth would mean soul-defeating dishonor. Only the most courageous manage to face the truth, and if some cannot face it, I'm not going to condemn them.

At home, I made a sandwich and sat down to see what C-Span was up to. Fittingly, a Senate Affairs Committee was holding a hearing on "Veterans Mental Health Care." The subject— PTSD and what to do about it.  I'd missed most of the questions and answers by the panel of experts, but I saw enough to know the most important suggestion never came up: If you want to heal American vets of the post-traumatic stress of war, STOP SENDING THEM THERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!

PTSD is not a "disorder;" it's a natural reaction to an abnormal situation. It's the WAR, stupid!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Women in Combat— This is Equality?

This is no joke, and yet the Facebook website proudly displaying this poster, a website dedicated to ground troops, received 629 “Likes” and 149 “Shares,” as of this writing, alongside a number of comments taking it as a joke. One comment suggested a backlash against women in combat to come, and I won’t be surprised if that backlash comes in the form of increased rapes, adding to the present epidemic of sexual assaults in the military. But let’s be clear: it’s not women in combat that will be responsible. The responsibility will be with men in combat with antiquated, macho, misogynistic attitudes, and a military system that bolsters them.

Women who join the military have another think coming if they think the military values equality. As it is in reality, the military is the last place a woman can expect to be treated as an equal.