Ferguson, Racism, Riots

The grand jury verdict came out the other day and the response in Ferguson, Missouri was explosive. On Monday night, the world watched as Ferguson Missouri was burning.  The entire city was in a state in which businesses were burning to the ground.  The response to this has been interesting, to say the least.

Just a little background on why this is happening.  A Black person is killed by police in the United States every 28 hours (on average).  This is a stark contrast with other developed nations where in 2011-12 the police discharged firearms in engagements with civilians five times.  In the last year available, the amount of police shootings in Germany and France was zero.  This is about more than the tragic death of Mike Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Missouri.

The grand jury was to decide if Wilson was to be charged with a crime and go to trial.  There seems to be a bit of a concern here, as the prosecutor in the grand jury trial spent more time describing the actions of Mike Brown on that fateful day and contradicting his own witness testimony.  To make a long story short, it’s pretty obvious that the prosecutor threw the grand jury trial.  (If anyone is unfamiliar with the legal system:  a grand jury trial is not quite like a regular, criminal trial.  It’s only to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial.  There’s no defense.  It is just the prosecutor laying out evidence.  The burden of proof is minimal.  It’s nearly impossible to lose a grand jury trial.)

The real point here is that a Black person is killed by police every 28 hours and there’s rarely any accountability.  The response is typical to the instance of Mike Brown/Darren Wilson:  Wilson was afraid, Brown allegedly stole something, Brown tried to flee.  And it’s more than just the death every 28 hours.  The United States has the largest prison population in the world.  Black people in America are about 13% of the entire population but over 40% of the prison population.  There is also discrimination in economic disparities.

If this were to happen in any other country, the United States would be plotting an insurrection.  If another country was in a situation where the government was executing an ethnic minority once a day with no accountability, they would be assisting dissidents in orchestrating rebellion at the very least, likely supporting them with drones.  (If George W. Bush was still President, the US would invade the US and then give Dick Cheney no-bid contracts for the resources.)  In the past decade, the United States has overthrown or helped overthrow more than a half dozen governments for doing just as much within their countries.

The response to this situation within the US is that people in the United States are supposed to have “peaceful protests.”  The entire embodiment of the only accepted response is for Black people to carry signs in accepted areas and sing negro spirituals and hymns from the Bible.

56603607Why is there rage?  It’s not just from the lack of accountability in the frequent deaths.  The lack of accountability make this situation nothing short of state terrorism.  Black people in America have to live in a constant state of fear of being killed or having their children killed for simply being the wrong color or in the wrong area.  Nobody asked why Blacks in South Africa were so outraged at Apartheid.  And that just increases the rage.  We care about the oppression of people all over the world, until it’s the people in our own world.  Then we tell them, “Just sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ and everything will be fine.”   Continue reading American Apartheid

/rant

I’ve started to write a few things but finished none of them.  Now I feel like just ranting.  So that’s what this entry is going to be today.  Just random ranting.

I saw a meme earlier about how a lot of people didn’t vote in the past mid-term election in the United States because they feel their vote “doesn’t matter.”  The issue being brought up is that if these people voted, the Republican Party would not have taken control of the two houses of American parliament.  This is true.  What does bother me is the “protest votes.”  The abstaining from voting or voting third party sounds really good but amounts to nothing more than lip service.  This is for several reasons.   Continue reading /rant

Breaking Free

I believe that the fact of the juxtaposition of the white and black races has created a massive psychoexistential complex.  I hope by analyzing it to destroy it.

~ Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, p. 12 (1967)

I’m choosing today to review a short article I read on the Huff Puff.  I’m not doing it because I find it to be horrible.  I’m not doing it because I dislike the author.  I don’t even think there’s very much wrong with the article and I typically like what I’ve read from this writer.  The article is 5 Lessons Traveling to Africa Taught Me About Being Black in America by Ernest Owens.

Typically, being critical of such a story is considering “invalidating another person’s experience.”  This is just a bullshit cop-out.  I cannot invalidate his experience, he’s the one that had it.  But he wrote about it publicly, so it’s open for discussion.  I can’t change what he experienced.  And my desire is to do no such thing.  I’m simply using this article as a starting point to explain a theoretical position. I am challenging his suppositions, not his experience.

I want to say right away that there are some critical issues only touched on in this piece and I support a lot of these themes wholeheartedly.  There is a very serious issue with the concept of race, racism, and racial oppression in the United States (and in the world).  It does, in fact, infiltrate every aspect of life in the United States, on some very deep levels.  I’m going to go through each of Owens points to address my problems with his conclusions.   Continue reading Breaking Free

Remember the 5th of November

Another year, another fifth of November.  Another time to explain so much wrong with everything.

This time, it does fit within the context of the things I’m in the middle of writing.  I’m really not going to elaborate for once, which is a break from the typical entries on this site.

220px-Guy_Fawkes_by_CruikshankWho was Guy Fawkes?  What was the Gunpowder Plot?

Those who are in the United Kingdom really already know this… and will spend majority of the 5th lighting fireworks, watching bonfires, and getting pissed (drunk), because it’s a holiday.  (Not that you need a holiday to get pissed in England.)

Guy Fawkes was a member of a group that wished to blow up British Parliament in order to allow the Catholic Monarchy to gain control in 1605.  Long story short, the Gunpowder Plot was a plan to install a Catholic theocracy (instead of the Anglican theocracy – but did allow some representation in Parliament).

V for Vendetta 

Warner Brothers released a film in 2006 based on a comic book from the 1980s of the same name, in which the main protagonist wears a mask of Guy Fawkes.  Alan Moore, the original writer of the comic books, read the script for the film and refused to see the film and distanced himself from the film.  He requested not to even be credited in the film.  In the film (and comic), the main protagonist is fighting against a fictional, fascist government of England in a future dystopia (a 1990s future).

41BbyrbNhLL._SY300_The Guy Fawkes Mask

Today, the Guy Fawkes mask from the film V for Vendetta is used by protestors, mainly by those associated with Anonymous.  As far as I know, it started with the Anonymous protests of the Church of Scientology.  (I don’t feel it’s important enough to really investigate… meaning, I really don’t care when it started.)

Million Mask March

Today, Anonymous has planned the Million Mask March, on November 5.  The problems with this are numerous.  We cannot ignore the symbolism in all of this and ask, “What is the intent of this symbolism?”

Are they claiming to be in the spirit of Guy Fawkes?  Are they advocating theocracy?  It doesn’t seem likely, as they make numerous claims about freedom and democracy.  The Million Mask March website states the following:

Anonymous is a truth movement advocating hacktivism as self-defense for unconstitutional government. It is our aim to shed light on corrupt government in order to set people free from oppression.

Personally, this sounds a lot like the platitudes of the RUF in Sierra Leone.  A lot of meaningless phrases that sound really good but have no intrinsic meaning.  Which governments are “unconstitutional”?  What is their process of constitutional review?  What constitution are they using?

Are they having this on November 5 to celebrate the execution of Guy Fawkes?  Then why are they wearing masks of his likeness?

Are they supporting Warner Brothers?  Proceeds from every mask sold go to Warner Brothers.  (If WB makes 25 cents on every mask sold and they have a million masks, they just generated $250,000 for Warner Brothers.)  Seems odd that a computer hacktivist group would support one of the largest supporters of persecuting “online piracy.”

The original story written by Alan Moore was a direct refutation against Thatcherism and a stand against fascism…. that is something that has a similar message to what they are claiming.  I could probably buy that… but then they use the mask from the film that Moore has condemned as a bastardization of his story.

Signifier / Signified

All of this really comes down to symbolism.  And symbolism is important.  There’s a lot that could be said here.  Let’s just make it brief.  There’s Lacan’s Real/Symbolic/Imaginary and there’s the semiotics of the signifier and the signified… and then, Derrida.  And Foucault.  Fill in the rest… I’m not going to expound on that.

STRATEGY, STRATEGY, AND STRATEGY!

180x199xiww-kat_0.jpg.pagespeed.ic.3eGXRllluaThe reason I point this out, especially today, is the lack of strategy.  What kind of strategy uses such polarizing imagery?  Symbolism needs to be well thought out and complete.  What is the symbol of the IWW?  (Not the main symbol, but the common symbol.)  It’s the “Sabo-Tabby” (sabotage) – it’s a black cat with it’s back arched defensively.  It’s also the red circle with part of the globe in it and the letters IWW.

We also have the symbol for many far Left groups of the raised fist… a symbol of rebellion.  It was the symbol of the oppressed.  It has also been effectively utilized by the IWW since 1917.  Groups that have used the “raised fist” include the Black Panther Party, the African National Congress, the Socialist Workers Party (UK), the PLO, the Jewish Defense League, and the IWW.  It’s a widely recognized symbol adopted by many movements for it’s popular imagery.

Hammer_and_sickle_red_on_transparent.svgThe hammer and sickle is also an iconic image that has a long history of communist symbolism.  It was created in the Russian Revolution as a symbol of the industrial workers (hammer) and the farming peasantry (sickle).  It was a symbol of the workers and farmers united in alliance against reactionary movements.  Today, this symbol still stands easily recognizable as a symbol of Soviet communism.

The swastika is also a common symbol in Hinduism (and much of Asia).  It’s a symbol of auspiciousness.  But no political movement in the West would dare utilize the swastika today, as it is primarily associated with the Nazi Party.  Since the 1930s, the swastika has been relegated to Nazi movements politically (in the west).

The whole point here is that symbols matter.  Symbolic significance matters.

November 5 was the day the British monarchy executed men for treason against the crown, as they were attempting to overthrow the monarchy and put the country under catholic rule.  Guy Fawkes was a member of that conspiracy.

The movie V for Vendetta was a Warner Brothers production that made no real significant political statements.

So what is the Million Mask March about?  I doubt we will ever know.

Social Structures, Social Strategy (and Race)

I’m going to attempt this topic without becoming pedantic and esoteric.  The reason this is problematic is because it’s a fairly academic topic.   I would be considered a “post-structuralist.”  Though, I dislike the label, it’s an inescapable reality.  My view of society is one in which structure of agency is critical.  Also, as important of the structure of agency is the relation of these structures.  The problem comes in when you recognize the fact that these ‘structures’ are not physical structures but philosophic structures.  The issue here is that these concepts do not necessarily originate within themselves.  (This is actually how you make a normative argument.  Much in the same way that society exists with structures that support it, a normative argument exists on the structures that predate it.)  So, bear with me as I try to make this argument vernacular.

Society itself is a complex organism.  It manifests in many ways.  An individual does not make a society, but society does not exist without individuals.  As many individuals create the society, certain aspects become concrete reality.  I guess we need to go through a brief history of structuralism/post-structuralism in order to explain this properly.  (Unfortunately, for those of you playing along at home, Wikipedia is really not able to fully explain these concepts.)

Ferdinand de Saussure played a pivotal role in the development of a structuralist view.  de Saussure was the “father” of semiotics.  He was a linguist that explored (and defined) the role of language as meaning.  In a nutshell, semiotics is the practice of giving signs/signifiers (words) meaning.  The reason this is important in the analysis of society is because society gives the word meaning.

Take the word “cat.”  The word is the signifier.  The word “cat” is not a cat, but it represents a cat.  But in China, the word 猫 represents a cat.  In Spanish, “gato” represents a cat.  The cat is the signified.  It is through language that words get their meaning.  (Don’t worry, I’m not going to get into Derrida.)  It seems trite and intuitive to discuss such a topic, but if you think about it, it’s fairly critical.  The words we use are “signs” with a meaning that is inferred.

There are criticisms of de Saussure and some of them are extremely valid.  (Foucault has an interesting take on ‘signs.’  It could be pointed out in contemporary terms at how “Liberal” and “Conservative” have different meanings in the United States than in the rest of the world.)  But we aren’t going to go down that road today.

It was the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss that gave rise to the use of “structuralism” in the view of society.  Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist.  He published The Elementary Structures of Kinship in 1949.  The text asserted that familial structures were formed through alliances (and a bunch of anthropological stuff).  This idea would transcend anthropology and become a view of society that transformed how we looked at society through the 20th Century.

[I skipped a lot of information.  This isn’t a full text.  It is just a brief essay.  I cannot really run through an entire history of structuralism and post-structuralism in one essay.  I just tried to lay the foundation of a structural view of society.  How these structures exist and are real, but are not solid and physical things.]

borromean knotIf we look to de Saussure’s semiotic examination of the signifier and signified as well as Lacan’s explanation of The Real, The Imaginary, and The Symbolic, a view of society itself emerges.  A view that looks at society as a structure of relationships between concepts that are interlaced and support one another.  The symptom occurs where the real, imaginary, and symbolic overlap.  Lacan posited this was in relation to psychoanalysis but over time it has become a way to examine society as well.

It’s no secret that Antonio Gramsci was one of the most influential philosophers in my own philosophical outlook.  Gramsci had a similar view of society and social movements.  He looked at society in terms of hegemony.  Traditionally, hegemony is views as the imperial rule of a hegemon (state leader).  In this view of dominance, Gramsci utilized what many refer to as “cultural hegemony.”  It’s the idea that the rule over others is done through social control.  It’s the social domination of a culture over all those in that society.  It gets complicated because, although hegemony is the signifier, the signified is merely a concept.  It’s not a physical thing that exists.  The signifier denotes a concept not a “thing.”   Continue reading Social Structures, Social Strategy (and Race)