Rethinking My Purpose

Say what you will about the last month and a half (you know, that post-electoral period of time where liberals suddenly woke up to the fact that fascism exists, then predictably made it all about them), but one thing it’s done for me personally is forced me to take a hard look at what my purpose as a leftist is.

I’ve spent most of my time in the last decade hung up on propaganda – here, on twitter, in real life political conversations, you name it. And ultimately, I can’t help but see it as 90% useless.

Now, before you jump down my throat, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be aware of propaganda – of course we should keep track of it.  Tactically it makes sense to try to understand empire’s motives, and it makes sense to try to use awareness of propaganda as a tool to wake people up.  But in the grand scheme of things, cataloguing propaganda is just a tool – it’s not the *purpose* of the left.

I can’t help but feel like much of the activism I used to see in real life has slowly seeped onto the internet; and in-turn has become a chorus of people shouting ineffectively into the social media wind about how horribly hypocritical the empire is, while doing (it seems) much less to actually combat empire.  Facebook has taken over more and more what used to be in-person contact and planning; twitter has become our soapbox; and the services that can’t be replicated online?  I’ve seen so many of them dwindle that I can’t help but feel like there’s a connection.  FnB chapters shutting down.  Showing support materially to the homeless gets replaced by ribbons on online profile pic. Just in general, community solidarity getting sucked into online presences that provide a tightly-controlled-and-advertised-to-facsimile of actual connections.

In short, the internet has made activism a brand to be built up, tailored to every single one of us to feel like our voices are being heard, and that they matter because we sign enough petitions, or boycott enough websites, or hashtag the latest fucking bullshit. Me, you reading this, all of us participate in this. But the reality is that no matter how loud our voices are through the fiber optic cables, we aren’t going to downvote and hashtag capitalism out of existence, anymore than you can stop bullets by yelling at them.

Of course I’m being bombastic here. There is a purpose to cataloguing propaganda, as I mentioned.  There are benefits to connecting with people over the ‘net that we might not in real life.  I get it.  But for so, so many people it’s become the primary way they get their activism on, and it’s a cop-out. And worse, this idea of wringing our hands while we watch as bad shit happens to other people even if we are trying to make people aware of it by exposing propaganda and lies, just means that those of us with high-speed internet connections at the Imperial Core become the online biographers of a death-spiral in the rest of the world.  No blog post is going to stop Israeli phosphorus.

When I was 19 I was in Seattle for the WTO protests.  And while I’d like to say I was there because I was a principled anti-capitalist at 19, the reality is that I was going to meet some friends for coffee (I lived in Tacoma) and was completely unaware of what was going on until I happened to end up in a cloud of tear-gas.  But it was electrifying.  I’d grown up concerned about most of the same things these folks were protesting – my parents were always dissidents to one degree or another, so I grew up more “woke” then most people. But I was a typically self-involved teen, and had never seen street level activism until then. It opened my eyes up to what opposition could really be – people caring enough about <insert issue> to get up and *do* something about it. (Which in retrospect proves how little people listen to their parents, since my mom had told me plenty from her own civil-rights / anti-war stuff in the 60s).

That experience was eye-opening, but it was quickly subsumed by a less-concrete form of ‘activism’: yelling about shit on message boards on the ‘net. Then IRC. Then blogs. Then twitter. After all, it was alluring – it *felt* street level in a way (remember all the talk of grassroots online efforts? The ones that turned out to either be bullshit, or part of a color rev? Yeah). It offered me a way to feel like I was *doing something* with my time that mattered. Sure, there is no fundamental difference in how time is spent on the ‘net, whether you’re talking about the next model of chainsaw you want to buy on your favorite logging message board or snarkily pointing out hypocritical errors in a propaganda website; but the latter definitely feels different because it’s intended to feel different.

I’m not excluding myself from this.  I’m 100% implicated here. I’ve become lazy about my activism, and the ‘net is one of the primary causes of it. What used to feel like this tool that provided me so much has become the platform for my entertainment, my ‘activism’, and my work all wrapped in a neat little advertising supported bow. Corporations literally support my activism online, and yours, and everyone else’s. 20 years ago we might have been able to have non-corporate communities on the internet, but now they’re few and far between, and the ones that exist are probably Fed honeypots.

So I titled this post “Rethinking My Purpose”, and I’ve been doing a lot of just that the last couple of weeks.  I keep starting posts about whatever piece of propaganda infuriates me that day, then I stop and ask myself “what’s the point?”.  What else can I be doing that this is taking time away from?  For me, I’ve realized, there are far more important and concrete things I can be doing with my time instead of being online. And for the first time in a long, long time I’m actually excited about my plans again.

So, with all of that in mind, this will be the last post here.  I’m retiring roasty, years after I should have, but I am. I’m going to work entirely locally, and I’m not putting any of it online anymore.  What’s the point?  I don’t have anything I need to prove to anyone, and indeed it’s bullshit narcissism for me to try to – it’s more important that I use the same privilege that allows me this laptop and internet connection to do something concrete then it is to worry about the lies that the Washington Post feeds the world. In all of my time online, I don’t truly believe I’ve changed one person’s mind about capitalism. Not one. I’m sure I’ve influenced people (or at least I hope I have), but they were people who were already sympathetic to being influenced.  You can’t snark your way to a revolution (at least not one that any of us probably want). I’m going to focus on mitigating harm to people where I can; I’m going to focus on doing something, anything locally to combat climate change (because can there BE anything more anticapitalist then fighting the extinction of 99% of species at the hands of capitalism?)- even if all I’m doing is helping people and animals in the short run, it’s better than doing nothing.

So, one last time, So Long And Thanks For All The Fish – to all of you that have become my friends, you are the major bright spot to spending so much time anarchying online.  Later all, catch you at the community garden.

 

PropOrNot and Their YYY Campaign

When I did my satire post of propornot, part of me couldn’t believe they were real. Their site itself is so transparently, so blatantly U.S. imperial propaganda that it seemed impossible that anyone could read it and see it as legit.

Well either they’re doubling down on the satire to continue to make me look like an idiot, or they figure that their average reader is already cradling their copy of Red Dawn and bemoaning the good ole days when men were men, women were women, and Russians were coldly psychotic commie savages. NoSoyYo in the comments over at Tarzie’s blog mentioned the YYY Campaign, which I hadn’t looked into until today, and it’s pretty unbelievable.

As in my first post, every single thing they point out as a ‘tell’ on Russian propaganda applies equally to their own stuff, and any number of the news outlets they recommend. As an example:

“Check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet has a history of generally echoing the Russian propaganda line by using themes, arguments, talking points, images, and other content similar to those used by obvious Russian propaganda outlets.”

Ok, so let’s apply that to some U.S. news and see what happens. From the headlines this morning: “Cubans line up to bid farewell to Fidel Castro“.

Here we have the WaPo (who propornot recommend as a proper source of journalism) doing some seriously good propaganda in the very vein that propornot is calling out. Some quotes from the story:

“If Cubans’ true feelings and emotions about the man who ruled this country for 49 years are complex and conflicted, this was not the place to express them. Just as Castro’s one-party socialist state imposed ideological and political conformity on the country, the public response to his death on Friday night at age 90 has been one of emotional uniformity, at least at the surface.”

Because, you know, they couldn’t POSSIBLY actually miss Fidel, it’s clearly staged. Or course, there’s no actual evidence given that it’s staged. But wait, they interviewed some Cubans, so maybe that will help us understand how this is staged grief:

““He’s our commander, and I wanted to say goodbye,” Sofia Morales said, with little apparent conviction.”

I’m glad that our intrepid WaPo reporter was able to discern the inner mind of someone who says they are grieving to tell us the truth that they were just lying about their grief.

Here’s another:

“Others in the crowd exhibited evidently genuine feelings of sorrow. Castro had an intimate psychological relationship, for better or worse, with three generations of Cubans, having reshaped the entire country in the name of the socialist-nationalist system known simply as “the Revolution.””

Look at the language here. From the “evidently genuine” (all bemused, the WaPo can’t understand people actually grieving for Castro), to the “had an intimate psychological relationship” (clearly, the WaPo implies with a raised eyebrow, they’re suffering from some sort of Stockholm Syndrome). The language of the entire piece is either of contempt/bewilderment for any actual grief, or suggestion that everything is staged.

“The government has ordered nine days of mourning that will end Sunday”

Because no one would grieve for this monster unless they were ordered to!

—-

Go through all of their YYY points for yourself and you can see this pattern repeated over and over with the very outlets they are suggesting. They did get one thing right though:

“Given all of that, check to see whether the social-media account/commenter/outlet qualifies under our definition of propaganda:

A systematic form of persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specific target audiences for political, ideological, and religious purposes, through the controlled transmission of deceptive, selectively-omitting, and one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels.”

I’d say that they themselves very much fit that: instead of taking on cataloging propaganda in general, they start from the implied assumption that U.S. news outlets are paragons of journalist integrity, while those dirty Russians are out to get our Lucky Charms.

I leave you with this screen-cap from the first link I happened to click when I saw that Castro had died. But I’m sure that USA Today isn’t propaganda, no sir.

img_0040

The List (USA!USA!)

[context]

An Initial Set of Sites That Reliably Echo USA!USA! Propaganda

We have used a combination of structural analysis and critical reading, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting, in order to initially identify (“spangle-flag”) the following as USA!USA! propaganda outlets. We then confirmed our initial assessment by applying whatever criteria we did not originally employ during the spangle-flag process, and we reevaluate our findings as needed.

Please note that our criteria is based on which sites paint empire as the good guy in a world full of bad actors. That means the characteristics of the propaganda outlets we identify are managed. For purposes of this definition it does not matter whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by USA!USA! intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing USA!USA! propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria, they are at the very least acting as bona-fide “useful idiots” of the neoliberal establishment and USA!USA! intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.

We assess that this overall USA!USA! effort is at least semi-centralized, with multiple USA!USA! projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources. There are varying degrees of involvement in it, and awareness of involvement. Some people involved seem genuinely unaware that they are being used by USA!USA! to produce propaganda, but many others seem to know full well.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

More detailed analysis is ongoing:

The Washington Post

CNN

BBC

NPR

Fox News

Facebook

MSNBC

ABC News

Fusion

The New York Times

The Los Angeles Times

The Christian Science Monitor

PBS

Sesame Street

Disney’s Entire Movie Catalog

George Clooney

This Billionaire, This Billionaire, Yep This One Too

 

*Editors Note: This list is by no means comprehensive, as a comprehensive list of USA!USA! propaganda outlets would necessitate several terabytes of server space and more internet bandwidth than is currently produced by the porn industry.*

 

 

Fuck You Liberals, You Arrogant Assholes

The sheer bullshit ARROGANCE of these fucking liberals.

“It has been one of the longest weeks in human history…” begins a Salon/Alternet article, referring to the fact that Trump won the presidency.

Fuck you, yes you Janet Allon.

Fuck your insistence that the rest of the world see your tantrums over your preferred fascist being pushed aside for a different one as a tragedy. Fuck you, you mealy-mouthed shit for brains excuse for a human being.  Nothing more than that, just fuck you.  How DARE you have the fucking arrogance to declare presidential election results in the Imperial core as “the longest week in history”.  Tell that to these folks.  Or these ones.  Or these.

Fuck you. You deserve to be run over by history, ground into meaningless dust when your precious empire finally some day falls. Truly despicable.

 

This Too Shall Pass

Propaganda is subtle – at least effective propaganda is. The more hamfisted it is, the more skeptical even the most earnest of readers become. In his usual clear-eyed style Arthur Silber lays that out in his latest essay (which you should go read right now). Back? Angry yet?

I am. I’m angry. I’m angry that the impeccable avalanche of logic that Silber lays out, facts that roll down to more facts which roll down to inevitable conclusions burying us in a 10 foot wall of cold truth, just aren’t enough. As happenstance has it, I was listening to The Coup as I read his essay, and Boots Riley’s lyrics dovetailed in perfectly:

They got the TV, we got the truth
They own the judges and we got the proof

It’s all there for the taking. There’s no logic that can explain kids starving while we dump excess food in the ocean. There’s no logic that can justify the homeless freezing in doorways while houses stand empty, or are bulldozed. There’s no logic to spraying people with water in freezing temperatures just because they had the gall to ask that capitalism not poison their water.

There’s no logic to profit, to capitalism; there’s just effective propaganda telling us over and over, beating our brains with it until we are numb, that we are nothing more than a collection of individuals responsible for our own rise or demise. For the hundred thousandth time in my life, fuck the myth of bootstraps, that central origin myth of modern Western civilization. I don’t think you can find a single belief that’s left more bodies in its wake. Millions and millions dead, silently, so that the Christmas lights can gleam in the cold air downtown while you do your shopping. We step over the bodies assured that it’s not our fault, that it’s a cold hard world and we just live in it.

These lessons start early, and are reflected and refracted constantly in Western society. My wife was driving home from the grocery store yesterday and on the corner was a woman and her kids. In 45 degree rainy weather they were standing on the corner with a cardboard sign that simply said “Anything helps, extremely hungry.” My wife stopped and gave the woman some cash, 8 or 9 bucks, and offered to take them to get some sandwiches if that would help.

The woman burst into tears.

She’d been passed by car after car and no one had stopped or even acknowledged her. Another human being starving in the cold on a corner and no one could even be bothered to offer her a warm word, let alone a warm meal. A scene that’s repeated daily, hourly in this, the “greatest of nations”.  Make America what again?

Why is that? I believe that fundamentally we are social animals – and left to our own devices, I think that most people default to compassion not callousness. But compassion is a liability to capitalism. Capitalism isn’t just casually callous, it’s actively hostile to compassion. Indeed it’s predicated on the idea of atomized individuals, where community is defined as the group against which we measure our own success. Pity for those “less fortunate” than us replaces compassion. Think about that phrase – we acknowledge on one hand that our success is based on luck – that people are simply “less fortunate”, but we can’t acknowledge that as privilege. Sure sure, we feel bad for “those people” but ultimately only in that they become actors in the theater of ourselves; they are the fuck-up foils highlighting our own virtue; privilege be damned, we worked hard for this!

I do a lot of thinking about revolution. That’s strange by social standards I guess, but I do. Some of that is based on hope. It’s a life raft that I cling to at times, when the absurdity of the empire becomes particularly stark, when a starving woman bursts into tears at even a modicum of respect being paid to her. “This too shall pass”, I remind myself. I imagine bricks being thrown, tides of people pushing back against the constant, relentless propaganda that buries us.

I still have hope. I’ll take that with me to the grave. I’m not willing to cede that to capitalism and empire, even if they take everything else. “This too shall pass” indeed. It may take decades, centuries, but eventually capitalism will take its proper place in history alongside every other psychotic and barbaric path that humanity has walked down. I believe that wholeheartedly. [edit: There’s been an active discussion over at Tarzie’s blog after he reblogged this – and I want to clarify that my belief here is that capitalism is not a permanent state of being for humanity; either it will end or humanity will end. That, plus my use of the word ‘hope’ seems to have made this come off as either acting on ‘faith’ or acting fatalistically – neither of which was my intent.  More on that in my comments at Tarzie’s.]

But goddamn it’d be nice if our compassion could overcome capitalism’s bullshit long enough to push it into irrelevance sooner rather than later.

The Long March

The young man rises early, the dark of the fall/winter transition cold outside oppressive – but he’s up for a reason, his steel resolve unwavering. Today is the day. It’s the day that he finally pushes back against the fascism creeping through his community. It’s the day he stands up, on the front lines, helping the oppressed. He ties his boots slowly, deliberately, wondering what the outcome of today’s solidarity action will be. An electric thrill goes through him at the thought of the fight ahead – after today, the fascists will truly know they can’t continue unopposed.

He moves into the living room and sits down at the computer, adjusts his lapels. The selfie snap of his camera sounds in his ears… he hits “post picture”.

The safety pin on his lapel glows in the morning dark.

He can hear the joyful cries from the millions of oppressed, thankful for this antifascist warrior, and glows in their imagined adulation.

He’s Facebook posted his safety pin selfie, in all it’s glory.

Fascism doesn’t stand a chance.  Free Hillary! 

…And You Will Know Us By Our Latte Tears.

*EDIT* ok so in re-reading this, I realized that I might sound dismissive of the uniqueness of a lot of the issues that POC face both in addition to, and as a part of, poverty in contrast to white poverty. Not at all my intention, my apologies if it comes off like that. Indeed my point is the opposite: Clinton liberals have GRABBED those differences between white poverty and non-white poverty and made them the dividing line that matters. It’s *highlighting* the differences between the two, at the expense of the similarities, that cost these hand-wringing libs their Queen. Their focus on (the very real!) racism-connected-to-poverty is deliberate of course: they can safely attack it without jeopardizing or even *questioning* their own economic privileges because it doesn’t directly indict capitalism.

And it’s for this same reason that they are hyper-focused on how “dumb” white folk are the problem: if they admit white poverty exists, is systematic, and is not just drug-addled fuckupery, they can’t claim their bootatraps smug victory for having “risen above”. THIS is why they lost, not the lack of education of poor rural whites, but their own fucking smug self-righteousness.

Gah. I’ll leave it there, I’m getting even angrier now.

/edit

OK, so I had no intention of writing up anything about the election because I really don’t think there’s a fundamental difference between Clinton and Trump, at least not as candidates. As I said to an irate co-worker of mine asking why I wasn’t voting: if my choices are a fascist record or fascist rhetoric I think I’ll stay at home and play with my cat.

All of that being said, my affluent neolib co-workers have helped me to see something that IS worth exploring: despite their rhetorical flourishes, Clinton liberals (which seems to be the vast majority of them at this point) truly, truly, truly don’t understand poverty to be an economic problem, but strictly a racist one.

I know, that sounds weird, but hear me out.

Before my mom retired she was the volunteer coordinator at a local university (my Alma Mater actually). The Uni is located on sprawling park like grounds, a truly beautiful campus, which just so happens to sit smack dab in a predominantly white poor working class neighborhood. It’s hard to describe how jarring it is to walk across the boundary line of the campus into run-down and decaying neighborhoods, ‘hoods that over the course of the 90’s would be hit with a double whammy of 1st meth and then oxy addiction well before the rest of the country became aware of either epidemic (to whit, three weeks ago the *12th* friend of mine since high school OD’d on heroin, having moved to it from the Oxy’s he was hooked on after they became too expensive. May he rest in peace.)

It’s especially jarring as this is a private university with a largely upper-middle class and above student body that has almost no experience with poverty in any real way.  Case in point, a friend of mine from school who was there on scholarships and a helluva lot of working hours, was asked what his biggest worry about attending was during Freshman orientation. He answered ‘paying for school’, to which the girl next to him chimed in saying he just had to be good at budgeting when his parents sent him his tuition check. Riiiiight.

Back to my mom: back in college I was visiting her in her office between classes and she was just finishing up orientation with a new volunteer group. After they left she looked incredibly frustrated, and told me that she *could not* get any of them to volunteer locally. These rich white kids were gung-ho to help out in the black community a few miles down the road – they saw that as worthwhile – but the thought of volunteering where everyone looked like them? No chance. They (correctly) saw the short end of the economic stick that blacks and other people of color have been given in this country for 500 years, but their poor white counterparts?

Naw, they’re just fuck-ups. Addicts. ‘White trash’.

Maybe you see where I’m going here.

My friend Tarzie pointed me to this amazingly articulate article on the rust belt and the failure of everyone in the establishment to understand the economic situation poor whites there find themselves in. I encourage you to read it through, as it draws some incredibly useful parallels between the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and 90’s (specifically around the government’s lack of reaction to it) and the current opiate epidemic that seems to be largely poorer and whiter than past drug epidemics.

Where this relates to Trump and Clinton, if you don’t see it yet, is the attitude of affluent liberal whites (read: Clinton’s core demographic) about their working class white counterparts.

In his blistering, breathtakingly wonderful post-election write-up “Cheer Up Liberals: You’re Still In Charge“, Sassy writes:

“A Seattle-area friend who lives in the farther working-class suburbs came to work to his inner-city, wealthy liberal coworkers bitching that his neighbors “voted us into fascism.” In the same breath, this rich shit complained about the passing of a transportation bill that would raise their taxes: “If they want Trump so bad they can pay for their own buses.” Here’s someone who probably calls themselves a progressive attacking actually existing progressivism because their taxes will go up a split hair, and potentially benefit unworthy types, “deplorables.” Maybe these people wouldn’t feel the need to “shake things up” if they had had what they needed to thrive all along. But then your misty piney mossy café-flanked Seattle townhome might have to fit only one Subaru in the garage.”

This nails it (that was me, by the way, and yes I actually did have that very conversation this morning when I came into work).

Trump terrifies liberals. But you have to ask: why does Trump uniquely scare them vs. Clinton? Trump talks about building a wall and deporting ‘illegals’ and banning Muslims and and and… but let’s not forget that Clinton has *actually* contributed to the deaths of a helluva lot of people in the global South; let’s not forget that Obama deported more people than any other fucking president in history; let’s not forget that John Kerry smiled while literal Nazis burned people alive in Ukraine so that Joe Biden’s son could have a board-seat on the largest oil company there. But sure, TRUMP is terrifying as opposed to the paragons of progress in the Democratic establishment.

No, I think that the conversation that Sassy relates above tells you exactly why Trump scares them: because, at least in rhetoric, he threatens their privilege (oh noez! those uneducated whites are running this guy up!), he threatens their self-image (think of those rich white kids wanting to help the poor blacks but not those gross white trash addicts), and most of all he threatens their view of themselves as being bravely progressive.

The core of Clinton’s supporters (white supporters anyway) are VERY concerned about racism, poverty, education, opportunity, etc. Just ask them, they’ll tell you all about it over $9 lattes while they wait for their Uber.

*note: before anyone says it, yes I realize that Clinton has large swathes of non-white supporters.  Clearly you’d be hard pressed to vote for Trump when he tells you that you’re a terrorist, or illegal, or whatever.  But I’d be willing to bet that most of that support is against Trump, not for Clinton.*