Category Archives: Random Blogging

Education Versus Indoctrination

The title of this post could just as accurately be “racists versus non-racists.” With his recent announcement of an upcoming Executive Order requiring the nation’s schools to teach “patriotic” history, Trump has abandoned any effort to veil his message or obscure his target audience.

The federal government has no authority over school curricula, but that’s irrelevant; the point of this announcement was to reassure his base that the administration and the Republican Party will continue to support white supremacy. Calling accurate history “leftwing indoctrination” leaves no room for misunderstanding. ( Talk about “whitewashing” history!”) 

According to the Guardian, 

Speaking at a conference in Washington DC on Thursday, the president announced a new national commission to promote “patriotic education” and counter the “decades of leftwing indoctrination” to which he claims US schoolchildren have been subjected. “Our youth will be taught to love America,” he said.

Trump once again attacked the New York Times’s Pulitzer prize-winning 1619 Project; that project– which marked the 400th anniversary of the first slave ship arriving in America–was a meticulously-researched history of slavery and its aftermath. 

As Kevin Kruse tweeted: “History that exalts a nation’s strengths without ever examining its shortcomings, that prefers feeling good rather than thinking hard, that seeks simplistic celebration over full understanding–well, that’s not history, it’s propaganda.” 

As Bill Barr (aka crazy corrupt person) recently noted, history is written by the victors. That’s true, even though Barr said it. What he didn’t say–and clearly doesn’t understand–is that to the extent that history is whitewashed, airbrushed and inaccurate, it is an impediment to future progress. Just as fake science interferes with efforts to understand the world around us, fake history impedes efforts to understand the society in which we live.

But of course, this isn’t really about history curricula. This is meant to reassure his racist cult. You need only read what he said. This is from NBC:

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump accused schools of teaching students “hateful lies about this country” and said he would be taking steps to “restore patriotic education” as he continued his opposition to efforts to raise awareness about racial inequalities.

Speaking at what the White House described as a “conference on American history,” Trump said that he plans to sign an executive order soon to create a “national commission to support patriotic education” called the 1776 Commission and that he is directing funding to create a patriotic curriculum for schools.

“Our youth will be taught to love America with all of their heart and all of their souls,” Trump said. The White House declined to say when Trump would sign the executive order.

Trump also repeated his allegation that teaching America’s history of race was “toxic propaganda” and “a form of child abuse in the truest sense of those words.” (I’m sure David Duke agrees.)

This announcement about a proposed Executive Order came on the heels of news that the Office of Management and Budget had prohibited departments from using federal funds for diversity training, and a previous threat from Trump to cut off funding for schools that teach the 1619 Project.

As one pundit noted, “Patriotic Education” is a term and an approach most widely associated with China, North Korea and more recently Hungary, where Trump buddy Viktor Orban supports rehabilitating “cohorts of a mid-20th century leader who also happened to be a brutal Nazi conspirator.” “  

Not that long ago, when the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia removed millions of educated people from cities and moved them to the countryside under the guise of providing them with patriotic “re-education”, and then killed them and buried them in mass graves, now better known as “The Killing Fields”. 

For that matter, patriotism can’t be taught. Patriotism is a form of love, and love can be reciprocated, it can be portrayed and discussed, but it cannot be forced. Ironically, it is more likely to accompany an accurate portrayal of America’s history.( I still recall stories during the Korean War attributing North Korean success in breaking the will of captured American soldiers by showing them evidence of American behaviors inconsistent with what they’d been taught. They no longer knew what to believe.) 

It is no longer possible to avoid recognizing what’s at stake on November 3d. It is no longer possible to pretend that a vote for Trump is anything other than a vote for white nationalism– and a vote against the America we do love.

 

QAnon: Nazism Repackaged?

I haven’t written about the QAnon conspiracy, because it has seemed so ludicrous. Remember the deranged believer who traveled to a DC pizza parlor to rescue children being held in the basement–only to discover that not only weren’t there any children, there wasn’t even a basement…?

Most rational Americans dismissed both the shooter and the conspiracy that motivated him as elements of a small wacko fringe.

Still, a growing number of reports suggest a troubling growth of the cult, and I read somewhere that  at least 80 self-identified adherents had run for Congress in GOP primaries. (At least two emerged victorious–one for Congress in Georgia, one for Senate in Delaware.) And in a recent poll, 33% of Republicans responded that they believed QAnon was “mostly true,” while another 23% said they believed it was “partly true.”

If–like me–you’ve been vague on the disturbing beliefs and origin of the conspiracy, a recent article from Salon provides details:

QAnon, known for their outrageous conspiracy theories, believe that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by an international ring of pedophiles and Satanists and that President Donald Trump was put in power to battle them. And Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and an expert on the history of anti-Semitism, believes that there are parallels between QAnon’s outrageous views and the views that Nazis promoted in Germany during the 1930s.

Describing QAnon’s views in an article published by Just Security on September 9, Stanton writes, “A secret cabal is taking over the world. They kidnap children, slaughter and eat them to gain power from their blood. They control high positions in government, banks, international finance, the news media and the church. They want to disarm the police. They promote homosexuality and pedophilia. They plan to mongrelize the white race so it will lose its essential power. Does this conspiracy theory sound familiar? It is. The same narrative has been repackaged by QAnon.”

The parallels are certainly frightening. The anti-Semitic 1902 pamphlet, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” is apparently central to both. Stanton points out that QAnon’s ideology is a “rebranded version” of that pamphlet, and that its membership has grown especially rapidly in Germany. (Others have connected QAnon to the Fundamentalist Christian belief that before Jesus returns, believers will be “raptured” to heaven and will  avoid the “tribulation”–a period in which the Antichrist will attempt to rule via a “one world government” and force people to adopt the “mark of the beast.”) 

Drilling down: QAnon members core belief is that a secret, Satan-worshiping cabal is taking over the world. They believe that the members of that cabal kidnap white children– just white children– and keep them in secret prisons (like the one presumably located in the pizza parlor’s nonexistent basement) that are run by pedophiles. They also believe that the “cabal” slaughters and eats children to gain power from the “essence” in their blood. It’s here that we can clearly see the parallels with the blood libel charges against Jews, who presumably needed the blood of white Christian children for our matzoh. (These are clearly people who have never eaten matzoh, which is utterly devoid of moisture of any sort…)

This mythical cabal controlled the American presidency under Clinton and Obama, and it lurks in a ‘Deep State’ financed by Jews, especially George Soros and the Jews who “control the media.” Its members want to disarm citizens and defund the police, to promote abortions and homosexuality, and especially to open borders and allow brown illegal aliens to invade America and mongrelize the white race.

The racism embedded in all this is hard to miss. It’s also hard to believe that people who actually believe any of this are sufficiently competent to tie their shoes in the morning, let alone function otherwise.

Yet we are told that this “movement” has grown by the millions.

Like Donald Trump, who appears to be a fan of QAnon because it worships him, and like the Nazis before them, the followers of QAnon seem bent on revenge and retribution for mythical offenses. They babble endlessly about “The Storm” that is coming, by which they appear to mean a coup followed by a bloodbath. That, too, is reminiscent of Nazi style. Maybe they should just call themselves Storm Troopers.

One reason for QAnon’s explosive growth may be that–according to the FBI– promulgating QAnon has become a project of the Russian intelligence services, which have their internet armies spreading it online. So far, at least, Republican leaders have refused to denounce it, essentially acquiescing to its ongoing influence in the marginally less insane cult that is today’s GOP (although, as more outlets have been reporting on the conspiracy’s influence within the Republican Party, Talking Points Memo reports Pence did drop his planned attendance at a Montana fundraiser hosted by QAnon supporters.) 

Welcome to loony-tunes land. If it weren’t so potentially dangerous, it would be hysterically funny….

 

An Inflection Point

I just watched one of those “viral” videos of people protesting–almost rioting–against a mandate that they wear a mask. If I were being kind, I would say that their complaints were uninformed. More accurately, their commentaries ranged from stupid to selfish to deranged. 

If protesting the wearing of masks to prevent transmission of a virus was the only symptom of American irrational behavior these days, that would be concerning enough, but these people are also, clearly, Trump voters. And for the past four years, I have struggled to understand the psychology of people who can look at this aggressively ignorant President with his pathetic make-up, listen to his inarticulate word-salads, read his childish and ungrammatical tweets, and think “Yes! That’s someone who should represent my country abroad, and control the nuclear codes.”

The United States is at an inflection point. Where we go from here will depend upon how we respond to the pandemic, to climate change, and to unacceptable levels of economic inequality, among other challenges–and whether those responses improve our society or further debase it will depend upon whether we decisively eject Trump, his appalling administration and his GOP enablers. 

That, in turn, will depend upon the number of voters who think wearing a mask deprives them of “freedom” and believe the ludicrous buffoon in the White House is doing a great job.

Political science research has convincingly tied Trump support to racism, and that relationship has become quite clear–but when you think about it, the persistence of so much virulent racism despite some 50 years in which society has (slowly) changed, and during which Black and White Americans have increasingly come to know each other as individuals is a puzzle of its own.

Why are these people so angry and hateful? Why does the loss of unearned social dominance enrage them? What do they fear?

It’s true that bigotry increases in tough economic times, but many of these people are financially comfortable. It’s also true that these attitudes are more prevalent among the  uneducated, but I know a lot of people who never went to college who are “salt of the earth” and I have also encountered plenty of racists with advanced degrees. 

One of Paul Krugman’s email letters (I don’t have a link) suggested to me that the answer may lie in an inability to live with ambiguity. Krugman was discussing Trump’s dismissal of science in general and climate change in particular, and noted that epidemiology, climatology and  economics all require the modeling of complex systems in which no prediction ends up being exactly right. Certainty eludes us.

Science and technology have created a world of constant change and multiple shades of gray.

The scientific method rests on consistent efforts to falsify prior results. Political ideologies and economic theories inform legislation that in practice often generates unintended consequences and sends us back to the drawing board. Religious diversity challenges fundamentalism. Technology continually upends everything from transportation to communication. All of these influences combine to open new intellectual vistas and cast doubt on the old– and that process inevitably changes the culture.

As I tell my students, the two phrases I hope they use more often after leaving my class are “it depends” and “it’s more complicated than that.”

A significant percentage of humans evidently cannot deal with an environment characterized by ambiguity and change, with a lack of “bright lines” and universally-accepted certainties–and as a result, they reject the possibility that people who look, love or worship differently from themselves have as much claim to humanity and respect as they do. 

In November, I guess we’ll find out how numerous they are.

 

 

 

COVID, The Arts And Bryan Fonseca

When I went online yesterday, I learned that COVID had killed Bryan Fonseca–for many years one of the most consequential people in our city’s arts community, and a wonderful friend to so many of us.

Bryan was the founder–and for 35 years, the producing director–of the Phoenix Theatre. The Phoenix was the first local professional theater to produce cutting-edge new plays and emerging playwrights, and to focus on issues of inclusion and social justice while maintaining professional and technical excellence. The Phoenix was a major factor both in the revitalization of the downtown Indianapolis neighborhood in which it located in 1988 and in the enormous growth of the performing arts in our city.

When Bryan left the Phoenix, he established the Fonseca Theatre on Indianapolis’ west side, offering classes and performances and generating community and excitement in previously neglected, predominantly low-income neighborhoods. His essential mission remained the same: social justice. He was a persistent advocate for intergroup understanding, and the inclusion of people of color, women and the LGBTQ+ communities–and his steadfast commitment to that mission often made fundraising incredibly difficult.

City leaders talk a lot about the importance of science and technology to economic and community development, but a flourishing arts community is equally important. Bryan understood that a vibrant arts community–galleries, theaters, festivals, poetry readings, Fringe festivals–is essential to the forging of genuine community and to the quality of community life.

In times like these, when Americans are so divided, theatrical performance becomes particularly important, because it is through stories that we advance human understanding and self-awareness. I have previously noted that it was recognition of the importance of stories and how they are told that led to the establishment of Summit Performance, a new, woman-centered theater company in Indianapolis that tells universal stories through a female lens. What I hadn’t previously reported was that Bryan’s effort to create a artistic “collaborative” at the Phoenix was a major impetus to Summit’s formation.

I posted earlier this year about a play I had just seen at the Fonseca. It was called “The Cake,” and it was quintessential Bryan. “The Cake” was described as a play about a same-sex wedding and a bakery. I had expected a theatrical presentation of the legal challenges that have been in the news–the baker who refuses to lend his craft to an event he considers inconsistent with his religious beliefs, and the clash between civil rights and claims of religious liberty.

What I saw, instead, was a superbly acted, deeply affecting story about good people who were–inescapably– products of their upbringing, and how they reacted when forced to respond to a changing world, especially when people they dearly love are part of that change. No legal arguments, no easy villains, no preachy morals–just people trying to reconcile their own contending beliefs.

One of the many reasons that the arts are so important– not just as outlets for human creativity and communication– is that they provide the necessary “threads” that very different people use to stitch together a social fabric. Plays, movies, well-done television presentations and the like allow us to travel to places we otherwise wouldn’t visit –some geographic, but others interior and highly personal–and to understand the issues that divide us in new and more nuanced ways.

In its statement on Bryan’s death, The Phoenix quoted something he’d said in an interview:

“We are still on the precipice of revolution and revolutionary change. We have to keep pushing. We can’t retreat. Not budge. Not give an inch. Once again, don’t be placated too soon or at all by small change. Demand more. Vote. Get involved on the local level. Everything grows from the ground up. Change is grassroots.”

It will be much harder to grow and nurture those grass roots without him.

I can’t help thinking that if it weren’t for the utter lack of national leadership in combatting this virus, and the coddling and encouragement of the self-centered jerks who don’t want to wear masks, Bryan and many others might still be with us.

Vote. Your life and the lives of your friends and neighbors depend on it.

 

 

Herd Mentality

Sometimes, you just don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Our Buffoon-in-Chief recently ventured out of his MAGA rally cocoon to participate in a Pennsylvania town hall. His performance was more bizarre than usual–and that, as all sentient Americans know, is really saying something. The linked article from Talking Points Memo characterized the event as a “fire hose of lying,” but I actually disagree–lying requires intent, and I think Trump is no longer able to distinguish between what is real and what he wants to believe at any particular moment. He has always been loosely tethered to reality, and I think that under the pressure of the campaign–not to mention the various ongoing criminal investigations– the tether is slipping. Badly.

Besides somehow blaming his Democratic rival Joe Biden for not enacting a national mask mandate, Trump spent the town hall claiming that a “herd mentality” would stop COVID-19 (he was presumably referring to the herd immunity method, which health experts have largely rejected as a solution to the pandemic), falsely denying that he wasn’t trying to kill preexisting conditions protections in the Affordable Care Act, and bragging about endorsements from the police when asked about systemic racism in the criminal justice system.

Several observers noted that the first debate is fast approaching and the president pretty clearly isn’t ready for that debate. Chris Hayes of MSNBC tweeted something along the lines of  “And this is the guy who wants the campaign to focus on mental fitness?!” Someone else tweeted a concise and accurate summary of the performance:

Trump thought he could BS his way through this town hall because he overestimates his intelligence, underestimates Americans and has relied on soft ball media coverage, wealth and privilege to protect him from all his failures all his life. He’s crumbling. Didn’t take much.

Trump presumably agreed to the Town Hall format for the same reason he agreed to 18 conversations with Bob Woodward–he has a wildly exaggerated belief in his ability to “snow” people (okay–bullshit his way through situations), and an obvious inability to recognize his own deficits–to know what he doesn’t know. He is a walking, talking example of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

He also lacks an adult vocabulary. Hence “herd mentality” for “herd immunity.”

Perhaps the best reaction to this train wreck, however, came from satirist Andy Borowitz. Borowitz has been on a roll the past four years. (Say what you will about this nightmare Presidency, it has been great for comedy and satire…) The Borowitz Report’s headline read “Scientists Believe Congressional Republicans Have Developed Herd Mentality,” and the lede expanded on the theme.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota believe that Republican members of Congress have obtained “extremely high” levels of herd mentality, a new study shows.

According to the study, the researchers found that, in obtaining herd mentality, the G.O.P. lawmakers have developed “near-total immunity” to damning books, news reports, and audio tapes.

Herd mentality is, as Borowitz wrote, the dominant characteristic of all congressional Republicans, irrespective of the state they represent, “with the exception of one senator from Utah, Mitt Romney, who was deemed an outlier and therefore statistically insignificant.”

Davis Logsdon, the scientist who supervised the study, said that Republicans were exhibiting herd mentality to a degree never before observed in humans.

“Herd mentality at these levels historically has appeared only in other mammal species, like lemmings,” the researcher said.

Borowitz’ “take” on the Town Hall reminds us that the problem really isn’t that we have a corrupt, embarrassing, mentally-ill President. The problem is his GOP enablers–the lemmings who are blindly pandering to the racist cult that is Trump’s base.