The social practice of self-betrayal in career-driven America

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Talbot Brewer writes: I don’t know how careers are seen in other countries, but in the United States we are exhorted to view them as the primary locus of self-realization. The question before you when you are trying to choose a career is to figure out “What Color is Your Parachute?” (the title of a guide to job searches that has been a perennial best seller for most of my lifetime). The aim, to quote the title of another top-selling guide to career choices, is to “Do What You Are.”

These titles tell us something about what Americans expect to find in a career: themselves, in the unlikely form of a marketable commodity. But why should we expect that the inner self waiting to be born corresponds to some paid job or profession? Are we really all in possession of an inner lawyer, an inner beauty products placement specialist, or an inner advertising executive, just waiting for the right job opening? Mightn’t this script for our biographies serve as easily to promote self-limitation or self-betrayal as to further self-actualization?

We spend a great deal of our youth shaping ourselves into the sort of finished product that potential employers will be willing to pay dearly to use. Beginning at a very early age, schooling practices and parental guidance and approval are adjusted, sometimes only semi-consciously, so as to inculcate the personal capacities and temperament demanded by the corporate world. The effort to sculpt oneself for this destiny takes a more concerted form in high school and college. We choose courses of study, and understand the importance of success in these studies, largely with this end in view.

Even those who rebel against these forces of acculturation are deeply shaped by them. What we call “self-destructive” behavior in high school might perhaps be an understandable result of being dispirited by the career prospects that are recommended to us as sufficient motivation for our studies. As a culture we have a curious double-mindedness about such reactions. It is hard to get through high school in the United States without being asked to read J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye — the story of one Holden Caulfield’s angst-ridden flight from high school, fueled by a pervasive sense that the adult world is irredeemably phony. The ideal high school student is supposed to find a soul-mate in Holden and write an insightful paper about his telling cultural insights, submitted on time in twelve-point type with double spacing and proper margins and footnotes, so as to ensure the sort of grade that will keep the student on the express train to the adult world whose irredeemable phoniness he has just skillfully diagnosed. [Continue reading…]

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Atheists in America

Emma Green writes: In general, Americans do not like atheists. In studies, they say they feel coldly toward nonbelievers; it’s estimated that more than half of the population say they’d be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who didn’t believe in God.

This kind of deep-seated suspicion is a long-standing tradition in the U.S. In his new book, Village Atheists, the Washington University in St. Louis professor Leigh Eric Schmidt writes about the country’s early “infidels” — one of many fraught terms nonbelievers have used to describe themselves in history — and the conflicts they went through. While the history of atheists is often told as a grand tale of battling ideas, Schmidt set out to tell stories of “mundane materiality,” chronicling the lived experiences of atheists and freethinkers in 19th- and 20th-century America.

His findings both confirm and challenge stereotypes around atheists today. While it’s true that the number of nonbelievers is the United States is growing, it’s still small — roughly 3 percent of U.S. adults self-identify as atheists. And while more and more Americans say they’re not part of any particular religion, they’ve historically been in good company: At the end of the 19th century, Schmidt estimated, around a tenth of Americans may have been unaffiliated from any church or religious institution.

As the visibility and number of American atheists has changed over time, the group has gone through its own struggles over identity. Even today, atheists are significantly more likely to be white, male, and highly educated than the rest of the population, a demographic fact perhaps tied to the long legacy of misogyny and marginalization of women within the movement. At times, nonbelievers have advocated on behalf of minority religious rights and defended immigrants. But they’ve also been among the most vocal American nativists, rallying against Mormons, Catholics, and evangelical Protestants alike.

Schmidt and I discussed the history of atheists in the United States, from the suspicion directed toward them to the suspicions they have cast on others. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. [Continue reading…]

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Gun nation

 

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How U.S. history makes people and places disappear

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Aileen McGraw writes: When Lauret Edith Savoy first heard the word “colored” at five years old, she saw herself as exactly that — full of veins as blue as the sky. Not long after, she learned another definition, steeped in racism. “Words full of spit showed that I could be hated for being ‘colored,’” she writes. “By the age of eight I wondered if I should hate in return.” Out of this painful history, Savoy has created something rich and productive — a body of work that examines the complex relationships between land, identity, and history.

Today, Savoy, who is of African American, Euro-American, and Native American descent, works as a geologist, a writer, and a professor of environmental studies at Mount Holyoke College. Her writing — described by New York Magazine’s “Vulture” as John McPhee meets James Baldwin — straddles science and the humanities.

Her most recent book Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape explores the tendency of U.S. history to erase or rewrite — both literally and in memory — the stories of marginalized or dispossessed people and places that have been deemed unworthy, unsavory, or shameful. In eight densely researched, ruminative essays, Savoy uses her own family histories to trace moments in American history that have been largely forgotten: for example, the history of segregated Army nurses, like her mother, during World War II, or that of Charles Drew, the African-American physician who developed the first blood bank and was fired for trying to end the federally sanctioned policy of segregating blood. Savoy approaches the “environment” in the broadest sense: “Not just as surroundings; not just as the air, water, and land on which we depend, or that we pollute; not just as global warming — but as sets of circumstances, conditions, and contexts in which we live and die — in which each of us is intimately part.”

Nautilus recently spoke to Savoy over email about this relationship between landscape and identity, the meaning of biodiversity, and the power of the stories we tell. [Continue reading…]

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Hate crimes against American Muslims most since post-9/11 era

The New York Times reports: Hate crimes against American Muslims have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, according to data compiled by researchers, an increase apparently fueled by terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad and by divisive language on the campaign trail.

The trend has alarmed hate crime scholars and law-enforcement officials, who have documented hundreds of attacks — including arsons at mosques, assaults, shootings and threats of violence — since the beginning of 2015.

While the most current hate crime statistics from the F.B.I. are not expected until November, new data from researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against American Muslims were up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived as Arab rose even more sharply.

Police and news media reports in recent months have indicated a continued flow of attacks, often against victims wearing traditional Muslim garb or seen as Middle Eastern.

Some scholars believe that the violent backlash against American Muslims is driven not only by the string of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States that began early last year, but also by the political vitriol from candidates like Donald J. Trump, who has called for a ban on immigration by Muslims and a national registry of Muslims in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Bill Moyers: Money and power in America

Hope: it’s in short supply in America this year. I was reminded of that recently when I spoke at a kick-off event for the school year hosted by the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The Institute’s namesake is, of course, Bob Dole, the war hero turned Republican congressman, senator, minority and then majority leader, and finally presidential nominee in 1996. On a beautiful summer evening, on the front lawn of the Institute, my host, a KU senior named Cody, and I discussed — what else is there to talk about this year? — The Donald, Hillary, and Bernie. Then we plunged into the perilous topic of the media and its curious future and the life of a journalist (me) covering the gravity-defying spectacle commonly known as election 2016. More than 100 students showed up — nothing to do, I’m sure, with the free burgers and soda — and when it came time for the Q-and-A portion of the event, I couldn’t help but be struck by the acuity and thoughtfulness of their questions.

Afterward, I met a smaller group of them at a nearby basement bar. During my five years as an undergraduate, I can’t recall having a conversation as substantive as that evening’s. Kansas’s state government, led by its governor, Sam Brownback, has plunged into a radical experiment in “conservative” governing, and it was on their minds. We talked about a variety of depressing topics, including the devastating effects of the legislature’s repeated budget cuts to higher education and another grim signature legislative issue: the open carry of guns on campus. “No gun” signs were ubiquitous there, but everyone wondered: For how long? The students spoke eloquently and knowledgeably. More than that, they spoke with passion and in detail about how such problems might be dealt with and even fixed, and they did so with the Dole Institute’s bipartisan ethos in mind. Some of it may have been the youthful idealism of the undergraduate but, believe me, it was refreshing.

I say all this because, as a journalist in this crazy year of our lord 2016, on a good day the temptation is to tilt toward cynicism. It’s our job to rake the muck and expose the trolls, to cast light on the wrongdoing and the failings in our society, but it’s up to others to set them right. Today, at this site, Bill Moyers writes about the greatest failing, the true disaster, of our time: the scourge of growing inequality, economic and political. He describes it as “a despicable blot on American politics,” as the very wealthy convert their financial might into political power to guard that wealth while exacerbating inequality further. The statistics Moyers deploys are chilling. Consume enough of them and you’re liable to feel a bit gloomy. But like those undergraduates, Moyers (very distinctly a post-graduate of our difficult political world) holds onto the hope, as today’s piece suggests, that Americans can still fix our world, make it a better place. 

Those students I met gave me hope and Moyers does the same — hope for a more equitable future brought on by the hard work of Americans, whether as journalists, legislators, or activists, as lawyers, doctors, engineers, or teachers. These are strange, often grim, times, and such bursts of hope are what keep us going. Andy Kroll

We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People
Saving the soul of democracy
By Bill Moyers

Sixty-six years ago this summer, on my 16th birthday, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town of Marshall where I grew up. It was a good place to be a cub reporter — small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something every day.  I soon had a stroke of luck.  Some of the paper’s old hands were on vacation or out sick and I was assigned to help cover what came to be known across the country as “the housewives’ rebellion.”

Fifteen women in my hometown decided not to pay the social security withholding tax for their domestic workers.  Those housewives were white, their housekeepers black. Almost half of all employed black women in the country then were in domestic service.  Because they tended to earn lower wages, accumulate less savings, and be stuck in those jobs all their lives, social security was their only insurance against poverty in old age. Yet their plight did not move their employers.

The housewives argued that social security was unconstitutional and imposing it was taxation without representation. They even equated it with slavery.  They also claimed that “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.”  So they hired a high-powered lawyer — a notorious former congressman from Texas who had once chaired the House Un-American Activities Committee — and took their case to court. They lost, and eventually wound up holding their noses and paying the tax, but not before their rebellion had become national news.

The stories I helped report for the local paper were picked up and carried across the country by the Associated Press. One day, the managing editor called me over and pointed to the AP Teletype machine beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing our paper and its reporters for our coverage of the housewives’ rebellion.

I was hooked, and in one way or another I’ve continued to engage the issues of money and power, equality and democracy over a lifetime spent at the intersection between politics and journalism. It took me awhile to put the housewives’ rebellion into perspective.  Race played a role, of course.  Marshall was a segregated, antebellum town of 20,000, half of whom were white, the other half black.  White ruled, but more than race was at work. Those 15 housewives were respectable townsfolk, good neighbors, regulars at church (some of them at my church).  Their children were my friends; many of them were active in community affairs; and their husbands were pillars of the town’s business and professional class. 

[Read more…]

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Americans are more worried about terrorism than they were after 9/11

The Atlantic reports: In 2002, with the footage of collapsing World Trade Centers still fresh in American minds, the pollsters at Pew Research posed a question. “Do you think the ability of terrorists to launch another major attack on the U.S.,” they asked, “is greater, the same, or less than it was at the time of the September 11th terrorist attacks?”

A slim plurality of respondents, 39 percent, said nothing had changed in the past year. A third allowed that things had gotten better. The rest — 22 percent — said America was actually less safe, despite the billions spent on a military incursion into Afghanistan and the creation of an entire new cabinet-level department devoted to homeland security.

It turns out 2002 was a relatively optimistic year. According to Pew’s latest figures, 40 percent of Americans now believe the country is more vulnerable to terrorism than it was in 2001, the highest ever. Republicans lead that charge: More than half think terrorists have grown stronger, while only a third of Democrats agree. And if the GOP is scared, Donald Trump is there to help — or rile things up. “If we don’t get tough, and if we don’t get smart, and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore,” he said in June, following the mass shooting at a nightclub in Orlando. “There will be nothing — absolutely nothing –left.” [Continue reading…]

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The Sandy Hook hoax

Reeves Wiedeman reports: On December 14, 2012, Lenny Pozner dropped off his three children, Sophia, Arielle, and Noah, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Noah had recently turned 6, and on the drive over they listened to his favorite song, “Gangnam Style,” for what turned out to be the last time. Several hours later, while Sophia and Arielle hid nearby, Adam Lanza walked into Noah’s first-grade class with an AR-15 rifle. Noah was the youngest of the 20 children and seven adults killed in one of the deadliest shootings in American history. When the medical examiner found Noah lying face up in a Batman sweatshirt, his jaw had been blown off. Lenny and his wife, Veronique, raced to the school as soon as they heard the news, but had to wait for hours alongside other parents to learn their son’s fate.

It didn’t take much longer for Pozner to find out that many people didn’t believe his son had died or even that he had lived at all. Days after the rampage, a man walked around Newtown filming a video in which he declared that the massacre had been staged by “some sort of New World Order global elitists” intent on taking away our guns and our liberty. A week later, James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, wrote a blog post expressing doubts about the massacre. By January, a 30-minute YouTube video, titled “The Sandy Hook Shooting — Fully Exposed,” which asked questions like “Wouldn’t frantic kids be a difficult target to hit?,” had been viewed more than 10 million times.

As the families grieved, conspiracy theorists began to press their case in ways that Newtown couldn’t avoid. State officials received anonymous phone calls at their homes, late at night, demanding answers: Why were there no trauma helicopters? What happened to the initial reports of a second shooter? A Virginia man stole playground signs memorializing two of the victims, then called their parents to say that the burglary shouldn’t affect them, since their children had never existed. At one point, Lenny Pozner was checking into a hotel out of town when the clerk looked up from the address on his driver’s license and said, “Oh, Sandy Hook — the government did that.” Pozner had tried his best to ignore the conspiracies, but eventually they disrupted his grieving process so much that he could no longer turn a blind eye. “Conspiracy theorists erase the human aspect of history,” Pozner said this summer. “My child — who lived, who was a real person — is basically going to be erased.” [Continue reading…]

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This nation was founded on genocide

 

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The U.S. is the largest jailer of children in the world

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Liz Ryan writes: The mass incarceration epidemic in the US has been getting much-deserved attention in recent years. What’s less well known is that some of the worst atrocities in the prison system are being committed against children—the US is the largest jailer of children in the world. With the looming presidential election putting prison reform in the spotlight, now is the time to reverse decades of bad policies.

Putting children in prison has a devastating impact on their families and communities, as well as on young people themselves. There are many examples of these atrocities in action. The Lincoln Hills youth facility in Irma, Wisconsin, is one of the largest youth prisons in the US. In the past 18 months, the facility has been the subject of federal and state investigations stemming from allegations of physical and sexual abuse, as well as guards using intimidation tactics to discourage youth from reporting incidents of pepper spray use, strangulation, and suffocation. In one incident, a boy’s toes were amputated after a staff member slammed a heavy door on his foot.

For the past several years, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School, Connecticut’s largest youth prison, has been under multiple investigations by the Office of the Child Advocate for excessive use of isolation, overuse of restraints, inadequate suicide prevention, lack of appropriate staff support and training, inadequate and harmful crisis management, and scant available information on quality, public safety outcomes, and oversight. Last year, the Child Advocate’s office released video of staff members conducting face-down restraints on young people at the training school—which are illegal in Connecticut schools and treatment centers. [Continue reading…]

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Days of rage

Kenan Malik writes: In the past, the distinction between political violence and sociopathic rage was relatively clear. No longer. There seems today almost a continuum between ideological violence, disjointed fury and some degree of sociopathy or mental illness. What constitutes ideological violence has decayed; instead, amorphous rage has become a persistent feature of public life.

One reason is the breakdown of social and moral boundaries that once acted as firewalls against such behavior. Western societies have become more socially atomized and more riven by identity politics. The influence of institutions from the church to labor unions that once helped socialize individuals and inculcate them with a sense of obligation to others has declined.

As broader identities have eroded, and traditional social networks and sources of authority have weakened, people’s sense of belonging has become more parochial. Progressive movements that gave social grievance a political form have faded. Instead, the new oppositional movements are often rooted in religious or ethnic identity and take sectarian or separatist forms.

There is a growing disaffection with anything “mainstream,” and a perception of the world as out of control and driven by malign forces. All this has helped incubate a sense of rage without an outlet, undermined people’s ties to others as human beings, and weakened the distinction between sociopathy and political violence. [Continue reading…]

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The secret U.S. prisons you’ve never heard of before

 

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