What way forward? (Update #2)

Updates

  1. Originally published, November 9, 2020, 2:15 pm.
  2. November 9, 2020, 6:34 pm:
    • Kimberly Holland explains that the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It doesn’t always follow precisely this pattern and there are other theories about stages of grief.[1] But I think we’re still in the denial stage and I guess I’m wondering what, with a delusional raging narcissist, the remaining stages will look like.
    • So you do remember those other options that Donald Trump might pursue as he desperately seeks to stave off defeat?[2]

      Republicans control both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature. Oh, and as for those right-wing militia groups I’ve been worried about?[3] I doubt we know how active, how deadly they may yet prove to be. But we are already seeing violence: “Already Trump’s unfounded accusations of fraud have inspired an attempted armed attack on the Philadelphia convention center and bomb threats against the mall next to the convention center, not to mention the plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan.”[4]

    • Meanwhile,

It turns out I’m down today. The car needs a rear brake job pretty badly.


Election

Mark Bray, “Trump’s Baseless Fraud Accusations Are Already Sparking Far Right Violence,” Truthout, November 9, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-baseless-fraud-accusations-are-already-sparking-far-right-violence/


Higher Education

At one point, according to the notifications I receive daily, Allegheny County daily case counts had dropped below 50. Now they’re over 200. Only some of this is due to increased testing.

Paul Guggenheimer, “Pitt issues shelter-in-place order to students due to covid surge,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, November 8, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pitt-issues-shelter-in-place-order-to-students-due-to-covid-surge/



Discourse

There’s a lot of merit in N. K. Jemisin’s Twitter thread,[5] which I reproduce below and I’m mostly going to just leave it there. But I have some quibbles.

First, there are actually really serious problems with voting, apart even from arithmetic reality, when meaningful options are limited to anti-environmentalist, warmongering, criminal capitalists who are, it sometimes seems more often than not, also racists and rapists.[6] The bipartisan record is simply appalling and to try to suss out one party as better than the other when one serves to give cruel policies a “bipartisan” imprimatur, enabling the other to push ever more cruel policies, and then embracing and extending those policies itself, is simply disingenuous.[7]

Second, the differences that divide this country are not just about stories. There are profound differences in values that cannot be wished away, where there is contention even over what even constitutes that “better life” we allegedly all aspire to. Off the top of my head:

  • Individualism (“freedom”)[8] versus Community (“compassion” and “empathy”)
  • Human Rights for Some (social conservatives)[9] versus Human Rights for All
  • White Supremacism (sometimes cast as “culture”[10] or a perceived need for “others” to assimilate) versus diversity and inclusion
  • National Interest as world hegemony (neoconservatism) and capitalist exploitation (neoliberalism) versus National Interest as peace and justice for all[11]
  • Security as domination over others (authoritarianism) versus security in peace and justice for all[12]
  • A demand for unlimited capitalist economic growth versus the limits of a finite planet
  • Capitalism versus Human Rights (housing, health care, adequate food, self-actualization)[13], or even more fundamentally, a notion that human beings may serve only as means to rich and powerful ends against the categorical imperative that each person must be an end in themself.

“Moderation” can offer no answer to these differences because 1) it doesn’t actually have any coherence whatsoever anyway, and 2) these differences take binary form: You are either on one side or the other. There is no meaningful “middle ground” and the imagination that there is bears all the substance of magical thinking.

Third, Jemisin is flatly wrong to diminish the importance of economics. Yes, a lot of assholes were assholes to start with. But when it comes to what increases the toxicity,

The grievances have their roots in the industrialization of this valley—and the mistrust of authority figures is a direct result of the big bargain people here [in southwest Pennsylvania] made—a deal that turned out to be a lie.

During most of the 20th Century, if you worked for our major industrial employers—companies such as US Steel, Jones & Laughlin, Westinghouse Electric or Union Switch & Signal—you knew they were poisoning our air and water, and you knew that you stood a decent chance of being injured or maimed on the job.

The bargain was that, with the protection of industrial trade unions, you were paid well, and when you retired, you had a pension waiting.

In the 1980s, we kept up our side, but US Steel diversified into oil refining and closed down much of its steel production, Westinghouse Electric merged with CBS and exited manufacturing altogether, Union Switch & Signal went overseas, and Jones & Laughlin (by then known as LTV) imploded after two bankruptcies. Pension plans were liquidated for pennies on the dollar or bailed out by the federal government.

Corporate America left Western Pennsylvania a toxic mess, both literally and figuratively, and stripped away our livelihoods and identities. Of course we’re bitter.

When that crash hit, those who could moved away. Those who couldn’t tended to be mid-career Baby Boomers with mortgaged houses that suddenly couldn’t be sold at any price. Those folks are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s, and many of them still very, very aggrieved.[14]

Sure, it’s tempting to just label the other side bigots, particularly when your side, being complicit with that other side in a so-called “Washington Consensus,”[15] has been promoting the neoconservatism and neoliberalism that shipped a lot of well-paying jobs overseas and fucked over everybody who wasn’t wealthy, white, and preferably male.[16] When judging people, as Jemisin does, you should be prepared to walk a mile in their shoes.

While I don’t buy into the authoritarian populist bigotry, I know my response to anyone who judges my own fury harshly is simple: Try going over nineteen years without being able to find a real job, even having in that time returned to school, finished a B.A., an M.A., and a Ph.D.[17] Until they’ve done that, their arrogance is beyond breathtaking; it sucks all the air out of the room. My experience, albeit not so much in southwestern Pennsylvania, is what leads me to acknowledge that yes, damn it, on this point, authoritarian populists have a point.[18]

Fourth, I think there’s real insight in the “snacks” versus “wholesome meals” metaphor for “sound bites” versus nuanced portrayals of situations, but it’s curious that Jemisin then treats this superficially as a “marketing/PR” problem because, to me, it points to something deeper.

But then, his treatment of class issues is similarly superficial—no, not all Trump supporters are well off whites by a very long shot. I see those Confederate flags and those Trump flags and those thin blue line flags at least as often outside working class homes. All that said . . .

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Archived at 2020-11-09 08:44:51

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N. K. Jemisin

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8 Nov, 27 tweets, 5 min read

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OK. Now that the dust is clearing on the election, there’s a thing us liberals, leftists, not-centrists, whateverthefuck we call ourselves, are going to have to work on: our storytelling. (Thread.)

It’s not that the right is better at storytelling. It’s that their stories are simpler, more viscerally satisfying. “A Black woman stole your job!” “They want your guns!” Easy, reductive us vs them, you in danger girl level stuff. Even when it’s not true, it provokes a reaction.

These stories are like snacks. They satisfy a (forbidden?) craving. They have good mouth-feel. They make you want more. Thing is, try to *live* on snacks and you’ll die of malnutrition.

The left’s story is a meal. Some crave-able comfort food, but also stuff that’s good for you.

But “eat your veggies” is always going to be a harder sell than “have another snack.” (Vegetarians sit down, I’m making a point. :P) So the problem isn’t that the left doesn’t understand the right. It’s that we learned to like (or at least eat) veggies too, and they… didn’t.

A lot of left analysis I’m seeing rt now disregards this. “We need to understand why these people love salt.” Bitch, no, everybody loves salt, some of us just moderate. “We need to sell snacks, too!” That’s an uphill climb – and it elides the fact that snacks are *bad for you.*

Leftist points *can* be distilled into simple visceral stories, sure. “Eat the rich.” “Defund police.” But they don’t hit as hard bc they’re shorthand for complex topics. Like kale chips – superficially snacky, actually good for you, offputting to ppl who prefer potato chips.

Also? Ppl who choose to live on snacks aren’t doing so for any rational reason. It’s literally killing them. They’re doing it anyway because it satisfies some other impulse: in-group approval, a sense of power over a complex and changing world. Snacks are soothing that way.

You cannot reason with folks who’ve chosen to do something against their interest, because their interest isn’t what *you* think it is. They probably know America is better off unified and equal… but ooh, it feels so good to hurt others.

Some folks just got raised wrong.

So I’m not concerned about them, personally. Folks like that might fix themselves, but *you’re* not gonna do it. What concerns me is *leftists* falling for snack-style stories. Way too many of y’all buy into the right’s “both sides” nonsense, or “white working class” rhetoric.

(As a reminder, both sides are *not* equally bad, and Trump’s base is actually wealthy white people. About half the working class is BIPoC and they are disproportionately disabled, queer, immigrant – groups the right hates. “It’s about the white working class” framing is a lie.)

And here is where the failure of storytelling kicks in. Why do leftists – people who ostensibly believe in a balanced diet – continually fall for this malnourished bullshit logic?

Same reason right-wingers do: bc on some level these leftists prefer snacks to good nutrition.

We see it again and again – reductive class analysis that ignores the impact of race and other intersections. White pundits who empathize with racists but find BIPoC equality terrifying (“cancel culture!!!1!”). Black male hip hop stars who throw their own people under the bus.

Some of this is human nature. We often draw causal connections that don’t have much to do with logic (e.g. superstition). Some of it is culture. Capitalism is a doctrine of selfishness, after all, and most of us have been indoctrinated with it from childhood.

But a lot of it is that many leftists have chosen false simplicity over the complex, often bitter flavors of truth. “Whiteness is the core of America’s problems? That can’t be true*. I’d rather believe [salty snack #1].”

*It can be. But it’s more complex than “white ppl bad.”

Somehow we have to get these folks to swallow “it’s the racism, stupid” pills without choking on them and vomiting back Trumpian talking points.

I have no solution for this, btw. I’m trying to tell good stories, but mine are kind of long and chewy. Not very snackable.

End of day, this is probably a question for marketing/PR people to answer, since their specialty is very short stories. But it’s important to target those stories at the right audience. Not everybody likes everything, after all. My books aren’t super-popular in the Western aisle.

So, know your audience. Stop trying to sell wholesome meals to ppl who’ve chosen to live on chips – hell, half the reason they’re doing that is to spite you. Focus on folks who claim to want good food but are eating a lot of crap. Remind them that salt is not a food group.

And more importantly, focus on those who already know the complex stories, but don’t trust the storytellers. The BIPoC who don’t vote completely get that it’s the racism – but they don’t think leftist politicians do. Because the best-known leftist politicians *don’t* get it.

That’s the danger of class reductionists & white liberal pundits who sound straight out of MLK’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail – more devoted to “order” than justice, constantly cautioning BIPoC to put their needs off for the greater good. Nobody likes a story with a bad ending.

The great non-voting masses of America have fallen prey not only to voter suppression, but also the stories told by GOP/billionaire think tanks: voting is meaningless, both sides are bad, doesn’t matter who’s in charge, life will always suck. This is a narrative we must counter.

And the way to do it is NOT with messages of conciliation toward fascists, or unity with bigots. Not by handwaving consequences because trials and equality are too hard. The way to do it is to SHOW people (don’t tell!) that who they vote for matters. That justice is possible.

We all want life to be better. But we have a chance right now to achieve the positive peace which is the presence of justice, to paraphrase MLK, and not just negative peace which is the absence of conflict. Elevate the powerless, not the powerful. Focus on justice, not “unity.”

Put some fucking Republicans in jail. (Prob the biggest reason I can’t commit to prison abolition; I want these mfs to die in prison.) Put ICE officers in jail if they raped or abused immigrants. Put bad cops in jail.

When we lack stories to tell, actions speak loudest.

And a big, important story we need to be telling right now is just how terrifying the vote is, to fascists. Fortunately they’ve helped tell that story themselves, by repeatedly attacking people’s ability to vote. It’s clearly important. Leftists need to double down on that.

So that’s all I got, from one storyteller to the many others out there. Hope it helps.

Belated add, since some are tossing around lefty snack stories now: again, those are a hard sell bc nuance reduces poorly & capitalism indocs the opposite. But my suggestion: “You’re better off if your neighbor is, too.” Doesn’t rhyme, not very snacky. But that’s the gist.

Welp, too many replies, so muting the thread. But since I’m seeing it already – beware people in the comments doing the exact fucking thing I said not to: insisting that voting is meaningless, “we need to focus on the WWC,” etc. Some folks just wanna be hardheaded.

N. K. Jemisin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, November 8, 2020, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1325545838500843524.html


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Archived at 2020-11-09 09:52:39

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David Benfell, Ph.D.

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9 Nov, 4 tweets, 1 min read

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1/4 A difference on the Left between those who could hold their nose and vote for @JoeBiden and those who could not may lie in the @DemoSocialists’ substitution of the movement (think “means”) for achievement (the “end” as social and environmental justice).

2/4 If you see the movement itself as an achievement, you’re likely to settle for an incremental approach that may take decades or centuries to achieve a desired end.

3/4 If, on the other hand, you’re concerned about people dying, people being killed, through elite indifference, fecklessness, greed, or outright malice, that might not be good enough.

4/4 If you would like to see social and environmental justice now, rather than hoping that *maybe*, just *maybe*, your great grandchildren *might* win it (spoiler alert: they won’t, because we’re already seeing diminishing returns with nonviolence), that might not be good enough.


  1. [1]Kimberly Holland, “What You Should Know About the Stages of Grief,” Healthline, September 25, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/health/stages-of-grief
  2. [2]Max Boot, “What if Trump loses but insists he won?” Washington Post, July 6, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/07/06/what-if-trump-loses-insists-he-won/; Mark Bray, “Trump’s Baseless Fraud Accusations Are Already Sparking Far Right Violence,” Truthout, November 9, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-baseless-fraud-accusations-are-already-sparking-far-right-violence/; Rosa Brooks, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Washington Post, September 3, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2020/09/03/trump-stay-in-office/; Will Bunch, “Trump’s diabolical plan to blow up democracy, get reelected and avoid jail just might work,” Philadelphia Inquirer, May 5, 2019, https://www.philly.com/opinion/commentary/trump-wants-impeachment-2020-reelection-strategy-blame-democrats-ignore-subpoenas-20190505.html; Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, “Trump team eyes legal, political Hail Marys as options for comeback fade,” Politico, November 6, 2020, https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/06/trump-legal-political-lawsuit-election-434786; Chris Cillizza, “What happens if Donald Trump refuses to admit he lost in 2020?” CNN, May 6, 2019, https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/05/06/politics/donald-trump-2020-election/index.html; Democracy Now!, “What If Trump Refuses to Accept a Biden Victory? A Look at How Electoral Chaos Could Divide Nation,” August 3, 2020, https://www.democracynow.org/2020/8/3/nils_gilman_2020_election_scenarios; Barton Gellman, “The Election That Could Break America,” Atlantic, September 23, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/what-if-trump-refuses-concede/616424/; Mehdi Hasan, “Yes, Let’s Defeat or Impeach Donald Trump. But What If He Refuses to Leave the White House?” Intercept, March 6, 2019, https://theintercept.com/2019/03/06/donald-trump-impeachment-2020/; Colby Itkowitz, “Trump won’t commit to a ‘peaceful transfer of power’ if he loses,” Washington Post, September 23, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-transfer-of-power/2020/09/23/be6954d0-fdf0-11ea-b555-4d71a9254f4b_story.html; Ed Kilgore, “How Trump Is Trying to Ensure an Early Election Night Lead,” New York, August 13, 2020, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/08/trump-voters-could-vote-in-person-and-give-him-early-lead.html; Eric Lach, “What Happens if Donald Trump Fights the Election Results?” New Yorker, August 21, 2020, https://www.newyorker.com/news/campaign-chronicles/what-happens-if-donald-trump-fights-the-election-results; Robert McCartney, “Here’s one way Trump could try to steal the election, voting experts say,” Washington Post, August 17, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/heres-one-way-trump-could-try-to-steal-the-election-voting-experts-say/2020/08/16/b5bf0c2a-de66-11ea-b205-ff838e15a9a6_story.html; Peter Nicholas, “Trump Could Still Break Democracy’s Biggest Norm,” Atlantic, June 16, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/06/when-does-trump-leave-white-house/613060/; Greg Sargent, “On Hannity’s show, Trump reveals his corrupt, panicky endgame,” Washington Post, October 9, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/10/09/hannity-trump-reveals-his-corrupt-panicky-endgame/; Felicia Sonmez, “Trump declines to say whether he will accept November election results,” Washington Post, July 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-declines-to-say-whether-he-will-accept-november-election-results/2020/07/19/40009804-c9c7-11ea-91f1-28aca4d833a0_story.html; Isaac Stanley-Becker, “Claiming two years of his presidency were ‘stolen,’ Trump suggests he’s owed overtime,” Washington Post, May 6, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/05/06/claiming-two-years-his-presidency-were-stolen-trump-suggests-hes-owed-overtime/; Timothy E. Wirth and Tom Rogers, “How Trump Could Lose the Election—And Still Remain President,” Newsweek, July 3, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/how-trump-could-lose-election-still-remain-president-opinion-1513975
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Bloody November,” Not Housebroken, October 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/08/bloody-november/; David Benfell, “The very scary way to four more years,” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/25/the-very-scary-way-to-four-more-years/
  4. [4]Mark Bray, “Trump’s Baseless Fraud Accusations Are Already Sparking Far Right Violence,” Truthout, November 9, 2020, https://truthout.org/articles/trumps-baseless-fraud-accusations-are-already-sparking-far-right-violence/
  5. [5]N. K. Jemisin, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, November 8, 2020, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1325545838500843524.html
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Why I do not vote,” Not Housebroken, February 25, 2016, https://disunitedstates.org/2016/02/23/why-i-do-not-vote/
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Voting for complicity,” Not Housebroken, October 1, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/20/voting-for-complicity/
  8. [8]David Benfell, “On ‘freedom,’” Not Housebroken, September 13, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/09/13/on-freedom/
  9. [9]Katherine Stewart and Caroline Fredrickson, “Bill Barr Thinks America Is Going to Hell,” New York Times, December 29, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/29/opinion/william-barr-trump.html
  10. [10]Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order (Louisiana State University, 1964; Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1995).
  11. [11]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  12. [12]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  13. [13]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  14. [14]Jason Togyer, “Fear and Loathing in the Time of Coronavirus,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 25, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/mckeesport-year-of-fear-covid-19-pandemic.php
  15. [15]Melvyn P. Leffler, “The Free Market Did Not Bring Down the Berlin Wall,” Foreign Policy, November 7, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/11/07/berlin_wall_fall_25_anniversary_reagan_bush_germany_merkel_cold_war_free_market_capitalism
  16. [16]Chip Berlet, “Taking Tea Parties Seriously: Corporate Globalization, Populism, and Resentment,” Perspectives on Global Development and Technology 10, no. 1 (2011), 11-29, doi: 10.1163/156914911X555071; Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? (New York: Metropolitan, 2005); Scott Sernau, Worlds Apart, 2nd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge, 2006).
  17. [17]David Benfell, “About my job hunt,” Not Housebroken, n.d., https://disunitedstates.org/about-my-job-hunt/
  18. [18]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).