Fifteen Million Merits (Black Mirror)

blackmirrormerits2On Netflix, the second episode of the first season of Black Mirror, the brilliant “Fifteen Million Merits” still haunts me. The wikipedia synopsis is accurate and I agree with the excerpts from the reviews that are included. I take it as an allegory for how “the System” works by rewarding people with superficial satisfactions.

But those excerpts did not address what most disturbed me. When the protagonist cleverly manages to confront the game show judges who brutalized the woman he loved and, with the audience intrigued by whether he will kill himself on live television, rants at them about “how unfair the system is and how heartless people have become,” the judges co-opt him by offering him a slightly higher status and allowing him to rant on his own regularly scheduled 30-minute show, during which he repeats his clever threat to kill himself.

What disturbs me is the truth that the System, without making any fundamental changes, has proved quite able to absorb rebels by offering minimal rewards. And it takes great imagination to see an exit.



Labels, Blame, and the System

My wailing increased with the shock of the knowledge
That I often have needed something out there to blame.
…I’m nobody’s saviour, and nobody’s mine either
I hear the desert wind whisper “But neither are we alone.”


labelsWords matter. One of my taxi passengers recently said to his co-worker, “Tom is a terrible person. No. I shouldn’t put it that way. He’s a terrible team member because….” He then described specific behavior that hurts the team.

That distinction is important. Judging someone as a person — as Trump did when he called Clinton “a nasty woman” — is much different than judging their actions. One’s personhood is not defined by one’s behavior. When we label others, we don’t fully know their soul.

When I’ve asked my passengers what they think about Clinton calling one-half of Trump supporters irredeemable deplorables, most of them initially replied, “She was right.” But when I’ve commented on problems with labelling, they’re agreed with me.

This issue is not merely semantics. Unnecessary labelling hardens divisions, which makes unified grassroots action more difficult.

Labels are necessary. Calling a rock “a rock” is no problem. Describing the color of a person’s hair is rarely controversial. Objective reality is subject to scientific verification.

But subjective reality cannot be measured. The human spirit is not an object. Human behavior is not determined by simple cause-and-effect. Biological factors play a role, as does social conditioning, the unconscious mind, and other factors, such as free will. Countless factors “cause” our behavior. And over time, we evolve. We act differently.

Labeling personhood distorts reality by simplifying it. The human spirit can’t be described or confined by pigeonholes. But labels can be self-fulfilling prophecies that nurture the behavior they describe.

Another reason to be cautious about labels is the role they play in perpetuating social inequality and class domination (which persists from generation to generation, largely without resistance – or even much awareness of the advantages that certain people hold over others). Before we rank, we label.

Many sociologists have written extensively about “labelling theory,” which examines how the self-identity and behavior of individuals is influenced by the terms others use to describe or classify them. Émile Durkheim was the first to argue that labeling “deviants” helps to control behavior. People learn to conform in order to avoid being stigmatized and considered less reliable, even less human.

George Herbert Mead explored how our self-image, which is derived from what we think others think of us, is affected by how the group labels those who offend their norms.

Frank Tannenbaum studied how labelling juveniles “delinquents” leads to more “delinquency.”

Edwin Lemmert introduced the idea of “secondary deviance.” Labeling a deviant because of a deviant act can encourage more deviance by affecting self-image: “I do these things because I am this way.”

In his classic book, Outsiders, Howard Becker argued, “Instead of the deviant motives leading to the deviant behavior, it is the other way around, the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation.”

In The Colonizer and the Colonized Albert Memmi described the deep psychological effects of social stigma:

The longer the oppression lasts, the more profoundly it affects him (the oppressed). It ends by becoming so familiar to him that he believes it is part of his own constitution, that he accepts it and could not imagine his recovery from it. This acceptance is the crowning point of oppression.
In Dominated Man, Memmi wrote:
Why does the accuser feel obliged to accuse in order to justify himself? Because he feels guilty toward his victim. Because he feels that his attitude and his behavior are essentially unjust and fraudulent….Proof? In almost every case, the punishment has already been inflicted. The victim of racism is already living under the weight of disgrace and oppression…. In order to justify such punishment and misfortune, a process of rationalization is set in motion, by which to explain the ghetto and colonial exploitation….Central to stigmatic labeling is the attribution of an inherent fault: It is as if one says, “There must be something wrong with these people. Otherwise, why would we treat them so badly?”
Erving Goffman, who served as President of the American Sociological Association, wrote several books on labelling. He lamented what he called society’s growing emphasis on the so-called “normal human being” and examined the complications that emerge when “normals” and “deviants” interact:
What are unthinking routines for normals can become management problems for the discreditable….The person with a secret failing, then, must be alive to the social situation as a scanner of possibilities, and is therefore likely to be alienated from the simpler world in which those around them apparently dwell….

[As] a resident alien who stands for his group,… it requires that the stigmatized individual cheerfully and unselfconsciously accept himself as essentially the same as normals, while at the same time he voluntarily withholds himself from those situations in which normals would find it difficult to give lip service to their similar acceptance of him…. A phantom acceptance is allowed to provide the base for a phantom normalcy.

Thus, whether we interact with strangers or intimates, we will still find that the fingertips of society have reached bluntly into the contact, even here putting us in our place.

And that is key: persuading us to accept “our place” in the social hierarchy. The primary driving force in our society is the urge to climb the social ladder, which involves looking down on those who are below. Society divides us in countless ways. In particular, assuming an arrogant air of moral superiority, we throw around labels, become judgmental, and resolve to defeat our “enemies.” Misled by the American Dream, we ignore our advantages, assume we have earned what we have, and blame the designated-enemy-of-the-day for our troubles.

The main problem, however, is our self-perpetuating social system. Once we accept that reality, we can no longer justifiably direct our anger at any one individual, group of individuals, or nation. Having no scapegoat removes an easy mode of release. But it is also liberating, for it opens us to compassion.

And fortunately compassion is another, deeper driving force in our society, one that is rooted in our 200-million-year history as cooperative hunter-gatherers. Modern society has suppressed that countervailing force, which many sub-cultures have kept alive. Our challenge is to bring it to the fore and make that which is now secondary primary. To do so would be a revolution that turns the table upside down.

Racism, Racists, and Politics

Why are racists racist and how can we best respond to, and talk about, them?

Recent developments in European social democracies demonstrate that greater economic security does not guarantee against the rise of racism. In the United States, support for Trump correlates less with economic pessimism and income level than it does with racial resentment, which has increased with the election of a Black president. In the primaries, the median household income of Trump voters was $72,000 and they were less likely to be unemployed.

At least one-third of white Americans embrace racist opinions. One study found that 62 percent of white people gave black people a lower score on at least one of various attributes in 2012, compared to 45 percent in 2008 prior to Obama’s election, which inflamed racism. In 2012 Romney received 61 percent of those voters who expressed prejudicial attitudes. Only 42 percent of Trump supporters believe the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities is an important issue, while 79 percent of Clinton supporters do. Only half of Trump supporters seem to support him due to animus toward Clinton. The other half are enthusiastic, despite his repeated racist statements.

Given those facts, does it follow to say, as did Dylan Matthews on Vox, that “a large segment of the US population [that is] is motivated primarily by white nationalism [has been] large enough to capture one of the two major political parties”? Or that “Yes, half of Trump supporters are racist,” as did Dan Milbank on the Washington Post?

Labels are dangerous. We need to be careful about when and how we use them.

Our society is fueled by the drive to climb the social ladder. We learn to look down on those who are on a lower rung. Our identity is based on belonging to one group that stands in opposition to other groups. We relish defeating enemies.

Those deeply ingrained tendencies, often unconscious, afflict all of us. We need to examine ourselves constantly and minimize building ourselves up by tearing down others.

One way to do that is to avoid labels when possible. We can say, “When you did that, I felt you were being unfair,” rather than “You are an asshole.” Likewise, unless we know that someone believes a particular race is inherently inferior, which is the definition of a racist, we can say, “I consider that a racist opinion,” rather than, “You are a racist.” Besides being more precise, it leaves the door more open to dialog.

One correspondent disagrees. He said:

You cannot think that “black people are lazy” without also thinking they’re inherently inferior, regardless of what the cause is attributed to. You cannot logically separate these into two different belief systems. Both beliefs are inherently racist.

I agree that both beliefs are racist but I do not believe that beliefs about characteristics necessarily, logically, imply a particular belief about genetics. Consider another example. Thirty years ago many women believed that women were less assertive than men. That belief did not necessarily imply a belief that that difference was genetic. And over time, women have become more assertive.

No doubt many Trump supporters not only hold racist beliefs but actually are racists. How many is hard to say. I haven’t even found any evidence concerning how many Americans believe Blacks are genetically inferior, much less any such data for Trump supporters (though a majority do say they consider the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities is an important issue, which suggest they are not racists).

It does not necessarily follow, however, to say that Trump supporters who are truly racists are “motivated primarily” by racism — even if that is what their statements suggest. There may be other deeper, even unconscious, factors — not just economic factors, but also cultural and psychological factors. That’s what led me to look at what’s happening with whites who have no college degree, who are more likely to support Trump.

“Future shock” in general may be one reason. A sense that the ground is shifting too rapidly, not just in terms of demographics.

But I believe that a major factor is resentment at condescending urban elites who categorize opponents with judgmental labels — that is, unduly harsh judgments that condemn people (not their opinions) — such as, “deplorable” aad “irredeemable.”

I hope that at Wednesday’s debate, Hillary looks into the camera, speaks to Trump supporters, and says, “I apologize for my careless comments. In the heat of battle, it’s easy to get carried away and throw labels at opponents. But I want you to know that I hear you. I know that you feel you don’t have enough voice in Washington — because you don’t. That’s why we need to get Big Money out of politics. I know you feel that urban elites don’t respect you — because many of them don’t. That’s why all of us need to be more humble, listen to one another more closely, and appreciate others’ positive qualities, including the value of many principles that are labelled “conservative”. I promise that if I am elected President, I’ll do my best to admit my mistakes, be more respectful, and really listen to all of the American people.”

But I doubt that she or many of her supporters will say anything like that because she and too many of them are too deeply embedded in their arrogance and their determination to defeat “enemies.”

Credit, Blame, Bias, and Identity

bourdieuWith “Urban Elites, Listen Up”, I tried to channel the anger many non-college, white Trump supporters hold toward snobbish urban liberals. I addressed that piece to Clinton supporters who consider one-half of Trump supporters to be “irredeemable deplorables.” Clinton has not really apologized for, or disavowed, that description and many Clinton supporters decline to criticize her for those remarks. I believe that stance is wrong.

I too am guilty of the arrogance and implicit bias that I criticized. When I hear a Southern accent, for example, my gut reaction is usually disparaging, even though I was born in Arkansas and raised in Texas.

I used to dismiss Trump supporters as racists. One-third of white Americans embrace racist opinions and many of those people back Trump. Now, however, the situation seems more complicated.

Urban Elites, Listen Up” went overboard. I indulged in some name-calling and later that day, edited the post, added a note about the edit, and deleted the photo of a Duck Dynasty star after I learned who it was. Just now, I read it again, corrected two typos, and concluded it holds up well.

I do offer one clarification. To my mind, a racist is one who believes that “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” However, those who, for example, believe that “Black people are lazy” may not believe that Black people are inherently inferior. They may attribute that alleged trait to social conditioning or some other factor.

Since it’s impossible to read others’ minds, unless someone explicitly states that they consider all members of a particular “race” to be inherently inferior, I believe, rather than label them “a racist,” it’s more accurate to criticize them for holding a racist belief. In addition to being more precise, that approach leaves room for more dialog. Calling someone “a racist” can help make them more racist.

On Fridays, KALW’s “Your Call” talk show conducts a “media roundtable” with reporters and asks their guests to identify what they consider the most interesting story of the week. Yesterday, the Pulitzer-winning David Cay Johnston cited “We’re All a Little Biased, Even if We Don’t Know It” by Emily Badger. That article touches on another reason to be careful before calling someone “a racist” — we all have racist tendencies.

In that piece, Badger argues that “implicit bias” is not code for “racist,” but rather is “the mind’s way of making uncontrolled and automatic associations between two concepts very quickly.” Implicit bias, which is often unconscious, may affect actions, but it doesn’t always.

Badger reports:

Because this bias is a function of universal human psychology, researchers say, we all experience it — and you can’t exactly get “rid” of it…. To broach implicit bias isn’t to impugn someone’s values; it’s to recognize that our values compete on an unconscious level with all the stereotypes we absorb from the world around us.

Addressing implicit bias “allows us to confront racial disparities without focusing on the character of individual people.” Phillip Atiba Goff, who conducts training sessions with police departments, commented, “Someone will say, ‘I’m tired of being called a racist,’ ” he said. To which [Goff] explains that racism and implicit bias aren’t interchangeable.”

Unfortunately, researchers have not devised reliable methods to “interrupt” biases “so we can act more often in ways that line up with our values.”

Badger’s article suggests I was on the right track when I proposed criticizing racist actions rather than calling people “a racist” — unless they say, “Yes, I think all those people are inherently inferior.”

The article also touches on a related issue that’s been on my mind recently: identity. According to Badger, Goff “now talks more broadly about ‘identity traps’ that encompass implicit biases and much more.” I’m not sure how Goff uses “identify trap” and found little on the Internet about it. But I suspect his concept relates to a conversation I had during a 40-minute ride to the Oakland Airport with a passenger who’s an award-winning investigative journalist for Swedish television.

After discussing the “Swedish model” (it’s still strong) and Trump (he’s a “buffoon), we discussed how our social divisions seem to be rooted in a sense of identity that involves us believing that “my people” are better than “those people.” I suggested an alternative: that we see ourselves primarily as a human being, a member of the human family. He resonated with that idea, and said the problem is that we need “a sense of belonging.” I replied, “Yes, but must we exaggerate that identity?” He then talked about how in Sweden, there’s much discussion about what it means to be “a Swede.”

Climbing the social ladder fuels the System. From an early age, society tells us:

  • You can be whatever you want to be.
  • If you work hard enough, you can “get ahead” of the competition.
  • Winning is everything.
  • “What’s In It For Me” is key.
  • The “winners” earn what they have.
  • The “losers” are responsible for their condition.
  • You can rightly look down on those who are “below” you.

A recent article in the Atlantic, “America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Most Economists Thought” reported, “The amount of money one makes can be roughly predicted by how much money one’s parents made….”

We replaced the biological inheritance of wealth and power with social inheritance.

In “Urban Elites, Listen Up,” I confronted that issue when I wrote, “You haven’t earned your privilege. You got lucky. Sure. You worked hard. But we work hard too and don’t forget the advantages you’ve had….,” and elaborated on some of those advantages.

While discussing that issue with a semi-regular passenger (a former teacher who’s now a paralegal and is writing a book on Hegel), he referred me to a French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, and recommended Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu by David Swartz as an introduction. Later that day, I researched Bourdieu and learned that Bourdieu was, for many, the leading intellectual of present-day France, with several classics that have been translated into two dozen languages and have affected the social sciences and the humanities. The International Sociological Association names his  Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste one of the 20th century’s ten most important works of sociology. That night I ordered Swartz’s book.

The wikipedia entry on Bourbieu and the powercube overview were helpful. But the clearest summation of his thinking was on the History Learning site. That article includes:

Pierre Bourdieu developed the cultural deprivation theory. This theory implies that higher class cultures are better when compared to working class cultures. Because of this perceived superiority, people from upper and middle classes believe people who are working class are themselves to blame for the failure of their children in education….

The major role of the education system, according to Bourdieu, is cultural reproduction. This is the reproduction of the culture of the dominant classes. These groups have the power to impose meanings and to impose them as legitimate. They are able to define their own culture as worthy of being sought and possessed and to establish it as the basis for knowledge in the education system….

Bourdieu refers to possession of the dominant culture as cultural capital because with the education system it can be translated into wealth and power. Cultural capital is not evenly distributed throughout the class structure, and this largely accounts for class differences in educational attainment. People who have upper class backgrounds have a built in advantage because they have been socialised in that dominant culture…. Thus middle-class students have higher success rates than working-class students because middle class subculture [is] closer to the dominant culture….

He suggested that the way a student presents him/herself counts for more than the actual scholastic content of their work. He argues that “in rewarding grades, teachers are strongly influenced by the intangible nuances of manners and styles”….

The lifestyle, the values, the dispositions and the expectations of particular social groups [are] developed through experience….

Bourdieu uses a survey for his study; he claims that taste is related both to upbringing and to education. The taste could include art, films, music and food.  He claims to show that there is a very close relationship linking cultural practices to educational capital and to social origin. Different tastes are associated with different classes, and class factions have different levels of prestige. …According to Bourdieu, the education system attaches the highest value to legitimate taste and [upper-class and middle-class] people find it easier to succeed in the education system and are likely to stay in it for longer….

Bourdieu says that a major role of the educational system is the social function of elimination. This involves the elimination of members of the working class from higher levels of education. It is accomplished in two ways: by examination failure and by self-elimination…. Social inequality is reproduced in the educational system…..

The System divides us in countless ways and sets one group against another. We learn to credit ourselves for our success and our wisdom, and to scapegoat our designated enemy, whom we aim to defeat. But neither any one individual nor any one group is the enemy. Increasingly, I’ve come to de-emphasize society’s pigeonholes, including “progressive” and “Democrat.”

The primary problem is the self-perpetuating System, which consists of our major institutions, our culture, and ourselves as individuals. Yes we need to hold people accountable for specific acts. But we can do so without condemning them as human beings — whether with capital punishment or with moral condemnation. We can hate the sin without hating the sinner. We can reverse humanity’s downward spiral and reinforce the upward spiral that is already underway.

Yesterday, while communing with Mother Nature on Ocean Beach, those reflections led me to conclude:

Citizens of the world, unite!
Throw off your identity traps.
Serve the Earth Community.

Call me unpatriotic if you wish, but the human family is my primary community.

I seek connection with others who share my passion for the pursuit of truth, justice, and beauty. To my mind, that effort requires a holistic perspective that incorporates personal, spiritual, political, economic, cultural, playful, creative, and other aspects of our reality. I want to better understand how those elements inter-relate and overlap, so we can better nurture growth in each of those arenas and eventually transform the System.

That is the “deep community” I seek.

Michael Moore and Glenn Beck Agree

Today, on Meet the Press, both Michael Moore and Glenn Beck made some of the same points that I tried to make earlier today, before I saw their comments, in my “Urban Liberals, Listen Up.” You can scroll down the transcript to read their comments. I thought Beck was particularly compelling.

I actually don’t know Glenn Beck very well. But several years ago he did bring to my attention something very important that my fellow activists never had: Dr. King began the Montgomery movement with a comprehensive nonviolence pledge for this supporters. Maybe I should check him out more.



Urban Liberals, Listen Up

Hey, you white college-educated city slicker  liberal, you aren’t so smart. If you were, you’d have seen Trump and Sanders coming.

So long as you look down on us “white trash” who have no college degree, the System will continue to divide-and-conquer and we’ll never build a grassroots movement strong enough to make a real difference. Us non-college people are one-third of the population. You need us and we need you. To help build unity, please acknowledge your arrogance and set it aside.

You haven’t earned your privilege. You got lucky. Sure. You worked hard. But we work hard too and don’t forget the advantages you’ve had.

Odds are, according to conventional standards, you’re “good looking.” Ever notice that most poor people are less attractive  than you are?  Ever notice that most couples and most groups of friends who go out together are more or less equally “beautiful”? Ever wonder why?

It’s because our society discriminates based on physical appearance and those who rank lower suffer. And they know it, which affects their self-confidence.

Odds are you grew up in a nice neighborhood, lived with two parents who made decent money, and went to a well-funded school financed by local property taxes, which gives higher income neighborhoods a big edge. Do you have any idea what my school was like? Or what it’s like to be raised by parents who are stressed financially and troubled emotionally? Sure, some single parents do well, but on average it’s isn’t harder for them.

Odds are your parents were healthy emotionally. Do you realize how much more difficult it is for poor people to raise healthy children in a society that constantly assaults them with images of affluence — which makes it harder for those children when they mature and have children? Until my job exposed me to a wider range of people, I believed the idea of a “healthy family” was a myth because I never knew any. Again, sure, some poor families rise above their circumstances. But by and large, families with money do better. They’re healthier, happier, and better parents. And they pass on their advantages to their children. So most children end up in the same class where they started.

And don’t forget you’re white. That gives you a big benefit. If you don’t think so, google “implicit bias” and read the top results. Or research “why is housing so segregated” and learn about how racist discrimination still helps to keep neighborhoods segregated, as federal policies did after World War Two. Or look into why people of color earn less and are more likely to be incarcerated, which makes it harder to get a job after being released.

Look at people when they go out with others at night. How many of those couples and groups are mixed race? Not many. How many good friends do you have who are people of color? How many friends do you have who don’t have a college degree? You like to call me and my people prejudiced. Well, I don’t think you are so pure yourself.

Sure, you did well in school. You’re good with numbers. You think like a lawyer. You speak like a debate coach. But what about your street smarts? What about your emotional intelligence? And most importantly, what about your moral character?

Climbing the social ladder is not the be all and end all. Living the good life requires more than “making it.” The good life requires being a good person, doing the right thing, caring about others. “What’s in it for me” is the driving force in your white, middle class world. The “yuppies” — young upwardly mobile professionals have won. So much for “the Sixties” and  “peace, love, and happiness.” The Jerry Seinfelds, the techies, the traders, and all those “experts” with their degrees and credentials are taking over. They wear their nice clothes, drink their fancy martinis, go to upscale restaurants, travel the world, and act like their shit don’t stink. They carry on polite conversations at cocktail parties, telling stories about themselves, being witty and charming, gossiping, and lecturing. But what about talking from the heart? Like they say, you can gain the world and lose your soul.

You think you’re a better person because you live in the hip, sophisticated concrete jungle with all that cutting-edge  “culture.” You don’t consider people like me to be of equal value as a human being. Sure. You say everyone should be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But down deep, you think you’re superior to me. But watch out. On your way down, you may pass the people you stepped over on the way up.

I like peace and quiet. I like to see the stars. I’d rather not see homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk. I like to know my neighbors and feel safe when I walk to their house. I like to live near my parents. I’m not “middle class” and I don’t want to be. I’m working class and proud of it. You can have your wine tasting parties and fancy cars. I’ll do fine with my beer and old Ford.

I constantly hear from you and your people about how stupid me and my people are. Well, as far as I’m concerned, a typical bartender or grandmother knows more than your typical psychiatrist. If you and your experts know so much, why are they fucking things up?

You say we’re ignorant because we support Trump. But what do we have to lose?

You guys ignore us and when you don’t, you disrespect us. The politicians only talk about helping the middle class. Middle class. Middle class. Middle class. I’m sick of it. That’s supposed to be the solution for my kids? Go to college and jump into your rat race?

College can help individuals who get lucky, but it’s no solution for everyone. The economy is like a game of musical chairs. There are only so many seats for the fortunate ones. Lots of folks are always going to lose out. Why don’t the politicians talk about guaranteeing a living-wage job for everyone who wants to work? We have more than enough money in this country to do it.

The Democrats talk about infrastructure jobs. But those jobs are for union workers and most of my people don’t belong to those unions. What about us?

What about long-term loans to help us start worker-owned businesses in our hometown? What about federal funding so we can hire former addicts as peer counselors in drug treatment programs to deal with our opioid and heroin epidemic? What helping family farms with those federal subsidies that go to corporate agriculture?

But you, the Democrats, and Hillary at last week’s debate don’t even talk about our problems, much less propose solutions that will benefit us immediately. Instead Hillary calls us an irredeemable basket of deplorables and most liberal commentators rush to her defense when her comments cause a controversy.

Sure, we have some “old-fashioned opinions.” We know the world is changing and we’re becoming more tolerant. But attitudes change slowly and when people throw labels around, it doesn’t help. Especially when those people aren’t so pure after all. We’re all sinners and saints, sweetheart.

Yes, some of us have deplorable opinions. But that does not necessarily make us a deplorable person. Some of us have racist beliefs. But that does not necessarily make us a racist. That’s not a terribly complicated distinction. If you’re so smart, why do you have so much trouble understanding it? Why do you keep throwing around labels? We can make judgments without being judgmental. As Gandhi said, we can hate the sin without hating the sinner.

So yeah, some of us support Trump. He’s our baseball bat. Maybe if we hit you hard enough, you’ll wake up.

Chances are, however, you’ll continue to go for the System’s bait and hate me and my people.

Oh well, at least it’ll be good for ratings. Folks love to scapegoat when some handy “enemy” is placed in front on them. Attacking a visible pinata is easier than taking on the System, which is invisible.

You didn’t really believe the mainstream media would let Trump win, did you? If you feared Trump would win, you’re even less intelligent that I thought.

It’s all another manufactured crisis. Another application of the Shock Doctrine. Another mass diversion. More divide-and-conquer. More reality television.

Sure, it’s good entertainment. But fixing the rigged System will require a much different strategy. Soon I hope to sum up my thinking about how we might do that, share those written thoughts, and encourage others to do the same. Perhaps together we can find a more productive way forward.

NOTE: This piece is an attempt to channel the anger of non-college whites who support Trump. Myself, I do not. The original post included a photo of a Duck Dynasty star. After learning who it was, I deleted the photo. I also deleted two pejorative labels.

Community at Pacific School of Religion

erinDear Erin:

I’ve been thinking about the wonderful conversation we had over dinner Friday night. It’s very encouraging to learn that a highly skilled person with your perspective serves as Communications Manager at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley. And it’s heartening to know that the school appreciates the role that the New Seminary Movement played in the school’s growth. When the President expelled several of us for a minor infraction, the Board of Trustees reinstated us, the President resigned, and the next President, David Napier, an activist chaplain from Stanford University, led PSR into a new progressive era. The school is now less of an isolated “ivory tower” and more involved in the community.

Toward the end of our conversation, you asked if I had thoughts about whether New Seminary Movement principles could help strengthen the school today. I hope my immediate responses were helpful. Here are some additional thoughts.

PSR could endorse political demonstrations and a PSR delegation could take a PSR banner to those demonstrations. The process of deciding to endorse a demonstration could be clear and transparent. Ultimately those decisions might be made by the President or a team designated by the President. But that process would best include extensive deliberation open to the whole PSR community, both face-to-face and online. Following those deliberations, a straw poll of community members could offer advice. To avoid damaging splits, the final decision-makers could make a commitment in advance to seriously consider a recommended endorsement only if a supermajority, such as 75%, support the action.

As we discussed, except when some concrete service such as helping to build a house is offered, it might be best to frame short-term student “immersion” in a community as primarily a way for the students to learn about that community so they can report to their own communities about what they learn. For outsiders to offer non-material (whether personal or spiritual) support is problematic. Rather, any such aid could emerge spontaneously, informally, naturally, not as an explicit purpose of the program.

Also, PSR could require every student to take a course on “the priesthood of all believers,” which was key to both the early Christian church and the foundation of Protestantism. As discussed in “Baptists: The Priesthood of The Believer or of Believers?”, that communal aspect highlights fellowship with other believers, which nurtures growth and improves ministry by helping believers to gain insight and understanding from one another, as equals. No one holds authority over the others. Decisions are made by the community, rooted in prayer, study, meditation, and discussion. This course could also address servant-leadership, collaborative leadership, and other new, emerging understandings of leadership that contrast with the old notion that defines leadership as the ability to mobilize followers.

Toward the goal of understanding the priesthood of all believers, as we discussed PSR could facilitate the formation of open-ended, confidential support groups that would enable members to aid one another in the pursuit of their mission. To enhance trust, those groups might form organically once students get to know others with whom they feel an affinity, with the initial core inviting others to join them. That experience could be like a “house church” that would help students be better ministers after graduation.

I emphasize “open-ended” because my impression is that most leadership development programs, faith-based and faith-rooted training programs, various support groups, Bible study groups, etc., adopt a predefined focus, a focus that is defined by the “authority.” The best exception to that rule that I’ve discovered is True North Groups, which are small groups of people with whom “we can have in-depth discussions and share intimately about the most important things in our lives—our happiness and sadness, our hopes and fears, our beliefs and convictions.”  So far, the only faith-based organizing I’ve discovered that adopted this kind of approach were practitioners of Liberation Theology who opened meetings by asking members about personal problems for which they needed assistance.

Perhaps PSR can better nurture “deep community” at PSR so its graduates could better do the same in the world.

Keeping faith,



Shut Up and Listen

shut-upResponding to anger can be difficult. Generally the best response is to listen, ask questions, learn, empathize, and find points of agreement. Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated, as I’m still learning.

That’s especially true if you are White and the other is African-American. Let’s face it. In this country, race matters. Persistent oppression and White assumptions of superiority charge the atmosphere.

In “It’s Not About Race!, John Metta reported:

Sometime later, a man said that he hoped we could “rise above emotions.” He wanted an “intellectual discussion” using logic so we could “really get to heart of the matter” without getting “derailed by emotions.”

Metta places this issue within an understanding of cultural differences:

Culture is why some humans eat with a fork, and some eat with chopsticks. Culture explains why someone standing really close while they talk to you might feel threatening to a European, but comforting to a West African. Culture defines what acceptable volumes are when speaking, and how women are expected to act in social situations.

White people have prejudices about people of color because American culture has normalized whiteness, but the fact that people of color act “differently” further entrenches the “obvious correctness” of a white cultural norm….

We live in a Western European society that was built by Western Europeans for Western Europeans to live in….

Black people talk too loud, they don’t do what they’re told, they “act out,” they stand too close, they have weird hair, they dress funny, they shake their butts too much (which is fine if Taylor Swift does it)….

Why do we need to center a discussion about racism in the white cultural experience? Why do we need to communicate using Western cultural norms? So, we can talk about race, but we shouldn’t talk about race the way a Black person carrying West African culture would talk about it? We should avoid their anger and pain? It would be “better” to talk about it in a way that Western Europeans will be comfortable talking about it?…

Every single thing white people do and say is done in the context of normative white culture, which they don’t have to think about….

So either we get angry, or we just close our eyes, nod our heads, and say things like “Yeah, using the Socratic method to talk intellectually would probably be a good way for us to discuss systematic racism.”

My White tendency toward a cool, calm, collected, linear, logical, Western style of discourse is often a problem. It took me years to get in touch with my emotions and I’m still slow to do so. That’s who I am and I accept myself.

Still, I tell myself that rather than trying to persuade others to change, we who are committed to nonviolence in word and deed need to do a better job of practising what we preach.

Then perhaps we can help organize strong communities that will have a real impact.

Issues Republicans Support

republicansThe following quotes report on proposed policies that are supported by a majority of Republicans. Links to sources are embedded.

There is strong support across party lines for limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, limiting the amount of money groups not affiliated with candidates can spend, and requiring unaffiliated groups to publicly disclose their donors if they spend money during a political campaign.


Republicans and Democrats alike say that communities will be safer when the criminal justice system reduces the number of people behind bars and increases the treatment of mental illness and addiction, which are seen as primary root causes of crime.

Overall, 69% of voters say it is important for the country to reduce its prison populations, including 81% of Democrats, 71% of Independents and 54% of Republicans.

In a sharp shift away from the 1980s and 1990s, when incarceration was seen as a tool to reduce crime, voters now believe by two-to-one that reducing the prison population will make communities safer by facilitating more investments in crime prevention and rehabilitation strategies.
87% of respondents agree that drug addicts and those with mental illness should not be in prison, they belong in treatment facilities.


Americans widely support each of three job creation proposals, including offering tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in the U.S. and a program that would put people to work on urgent infrastructure repair projects. Support for these programs is only slightly lower in a variant of the question that asks respondents if they are in favor of spending government money to pay for the programs.


Voter opposition to increased military spending was once again mostly bipartisan. In the 2012 survey, two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts.


A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 15% of Likely U.S. Voters think the federal government should continue to provide funding for foreign countries to buy military weapons from U.S. companies. Seventy percent (70%) oppose this funding to promote U.S. arms sales. Fifteen percent (15%) are undecided about it. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

History tells us…

From “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit & Trump” by Tobias Stone

…The people who see that open societies, being nice to other people, not being racist, not fighting wars, is a better way to live, they generally end up losing these fights. They don’t fight dirty. They are terrible at appealing to the populace. They are less violent, so end up in prisons, camps, and graves. We need to beware not to become divided (see: Labour party), we need to avoid getting lost in arguing through facts and logic, and counter the populist messages of passion and anger with our own similar messages. We need to understand and use social media. We need to harness a different fear. Fear of another World War nearly stopped World War 2, but didn’t. We need to avoid our own echo chambers. Trump and Putin supporters don’t read the Guardian, so writing there is just reassuring our friends. We need to find a way to bridge from our closed groups to other closed groups, try to cross the ever widening social divides.