Personal Reflection on Immigration and America

Me with my grandmother

Since I’ve started throwing out and packing my possessions to prepare for my move overseas, I’ve been thinking a lot of my Grandparents.

They came from the desirable countries. From Denmark and Russia. Neither side had any grasp of English before they first set foot on American soil. Neither side had anything other than pluck and their trades and a small bit of savings tucked away to make their way in the New World. They adapted to their environs, raised families and by most accounts flourished – but does that mean that they ever really became Americans?

By mere merit of my birth within territorial borders, does that really make me an American or is there something else that I should look to? I’d venture yes, I’m an American, but not for the reasons you think.

Despite excitement of days off school, the grandeur of fireworks, and the pleasant fictions told to children about: Independence; Noble Savages living in Peace with Entrepreneurial White Settlers; Supremely Ethical Founding Fathers; Dead soldiers fighting Worthy Wars abroad and Dead Leaders fighting Worthy Wars at home – my fondest memories as a boy never revolved around National Holidays and their accompanying spectacles of obeisance and foods that encourage obeseness. Instead I remember with vivid precision the energy and joy the different brought to religions and cultural costumes and practices of my Grandparents.

Though I can’t speak Danish or Yiddish, hearing my grandparents speak bilingually and participating in these ceremonies as a child deeply affected me. Joy, of course. But also alienation. On both sides, I felt like I’d lost something that had been for a long line unbroken in my family. I felt like it weighted on me. All the more so as I was the fruit of a union between what once were families of award winning pig farming Epicureans and solemn Orthodox Rabbis.

I remember their warm laps and doting attention to the millions of questions I had about their stories, their struggles. Each side shared stories about outbreaks of state-sponsored violence around them. They weren’t happy as it was some long-time dream to sever ties with all that one’s ever known and go to a strange land with better opportunities, but because the conditions which for generations had once allowed their forebears to sustain family life and line so deteriorated.

Now joining the demographic pool of the 8.5 million people born in American living abroad, I can’t help but think of my grandparents own voyage to a new world.

Their struggles are on my mind as while the forces which motivated them to pack up their things and leave is quite different in tenor, the violence of primitive dispossession is similar in effect to that enacted in the various markets in which people make their day to day way in the world. The opportunities for “good living” in the United States are rapidly disappearing and will continue to deteriorate further.

I say this not to invoke the rhetoric of disaster now popular because the most apt embodiment of the venality and corruption that is the American Ruling Class sits in the White House. No, Trump is but a symbol, a symptom of a deeper systemic illness rather than some special case. I say this as I’ve reviewed the metrics and can reasonably foresee that to have the family life like my grandparents aspired to, I would have to work myself to death so many of my compatriots do.

If America was once great for letting my grandparents in – those that were fleeing from violence – then it’s not now. In fact it’s reasonable to say that America is the opposite of great since its actions and those of its allies forcefully displace millions.

Defining America’s greatness as the people and energy that composed it – the courageousness of some to brave the acclimation process to a foreign culture, a foreign language, foreign business environments – then the Great Land that was once America is now outside its borders. In fact it’s reasonable to say that America is the opposite of great since those which direct the state openly display xenophobia and ahistorical cultural chauvinism – the same trends in different form which helped form my Grandparents decision to leave.

Were we to look to the ability of people to raise family and enough capital to live a good life as the basis for greatness, we’d see that the conditions today are quite different from then. The institutional embodiment of America, the political organization of the ruling class, Federal and State governments since the 70s have worked to erase the human face of what was always an oligarchy.

As I think about leaving the land that is America to live what I see as the noble ethos of America – meaning bravery to place oneself in uncomfortable situations to personally and professional develop and not the flipside of that spirit, the ignoble ethos which dispossessed natives, engaged in the slave economy and constructed a legal system and press thatjustified these and other injustices – I also cannot help but think of the life and work of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. It is January 15th, after all, and while it wasn’t my intention to leave on such a date it does seem appropriate.

A year to the day before his assassination, King said something that had his contemporaries listened to and acted upon would have drastically changed the current shape of America:

“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

Had the people of King’s time been more attuned to the long-term truth and acted with vigor to excise these qualities from the economy, from society, from the culture rather than fighting for their minor advantages I might feel better about staying. But they did not, and so I do not, and so I go – just like my amazingly brave Grandparents, on to greener pastures.

There Will Be No Quality Democracy As Long As There Is No Ethics in Politics

René Ramírez, National Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, interviewed by Orlando Perez

Translated from El Telefrago by Ariel Sheen

For the academic, 2016 “can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms”. He adds that Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump in the United States and the death of Fidel Castro symbolically mark a turning point in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Álvaro García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization.

What is your new book called?

The Great Transition: In Search of New Common Senses‘.

Why the great transition?

In reference to the book by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. I locate what happened in Ecuador in this decade in the framework of the political dispute, of the neoliberal background that marked two decades lost for the country and Latin America. There is a historical absurdity of wanting to point out that 10 years is enough to make a structural transformation, as some politicians like María Paula Romo and Guillermo Lasso have mentioned. That is to have no idea of ​​history, neither Ecuadorian nor global. That is impossible, even more so when institutions created to generate an oligarchic society had to be dismantled and, after destroying it, to rebuild another that seeks the common good of the great majorities. If someone is being dragged by the current in the direction of a waterfall, the first thing to do is to steer the boat to take another direction. These ten years have allowed us to re-direct the ship, sailing against the current of world power relations and generate enough social energy to go towards peaceful waters and be able to anchor in a good port. Part of the great transition involves having redirected the ship, while improving the welfare of its passengers.

Does this mean that there is not a decade won?

Of course there is a decade won. And we have another decade ahead of us to win, but it is first a decade to contest. However, we must make a historical reading of the decade gained. Beyond the social results, which are clearly positive. Ppoverty has been reduced, consumption levels have improved, income levels, universal access to education and health, among others. There is a decade gained in political terms justly because the possibility of continuing to dispute a transformation of social structures to build a new social order: the construction of a sustainable human democracy is alive; that is, the society of good living.

What are the historical conditions identified in this transition that make the great transformation viable?

That there has been a dismissal / constituent moment, where the citizenry manifests the need to sign a new social covenant pact that generates a new social order; that the new social pact allows a structural transformation and that the political decisions that accompany the new pact have been structuring actions that allow us to configure the conditions of possibility of being able to dispute the great transformation.

The dismissal / constituent moment is clear, but does the new social pact make a new social order possible?

I have absolutely no doubt it does. The horizon of meaning is embodied in the new constitutional text. There are multiple paths for transformation. For example, we must pass:

1) from anthropocentrism to biocentrism;
2) from colonialism and patriarchalism to the pluridiverse society (plurinational and intercultural);
3) from exclusively representative democracy (which is consubstantial to capitalism) to sustainable human democracy, based on social participation and deliberation;
4) from market capitalism (social de-commodification) to the social and solidarity economy and, 5) from the mercantilist corporate state to the popular sovereign state guaranteeing rights.

Europe raised the construction of the Welfare State and that has been the last proposal for the construction of a new social order (after the failure of the offers of society made by the Soviet bloc). Now it seems that the right begins to dismantle it. In this framework, the road was based, among other aspects, on recognizing the equality of citizens with respect to social rights based on representative democracy. Undoubtedly, the constitutional proposals of South America are moving in that direction and the progressive governments have made rapid progress in reducing poverty, inequality and democratization of rights. But in the world that we live that is insufficient. The “new modernity”, if the term fits, goes through the construction of plurinational societies. This is what the Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, which without a doubt are in the vanguard in these terms. While this was raised in the South, in Europe last week in two days, 340 migrants died trying to reach their land. In fact, in 2016 the record number of 4,300 deaths in the Mediterranean was reached with three times fewer arrivals of migrants by sea than in 2015.

Europe is now synonymous with obscurantism and barbarism. Equality has to live with diversity and recognize the diversity of identities that exist in the world. In this framework, the vanguard is to recognize universal citizenship and the recognition that unitary Plurinational States can be built respecting the pluriculturality of identities and nations that coexist in each territory. In Polanyi’s diagnosis of the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century, he shows how xenophobic nationalism was a reaction against the enormous inequality caused by the free market. It was a social defense mechanism. In our days, in it’s own unique way, it seems that history repeats itself.

In the economic sphere, what are the transitions that make the transformation viable?

Globally, you might think that 2016 can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms. The Brexit, the victory of Trump and the death of Fidel symbolically mark a watershed in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Only the rejection of Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific treaties and the exit of the EU from Great Britain configure another scenario in the world panorama. García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization. Personally I think it is the beginning of another globalization. Ecuador must think about that framework.

In these 10 years has been able to walk disputing the sense of the barbarism of what is capitalism but obviously within capitalism. The autistic left believes that it was viable to do it from another system. Impossible! Sometimes I feel that this left doesn’t understand what power means, while the right has a great understanding not only of its meaning but also how to exercise it.

In summary terms, I can point out that in the book I argue that in this decade there have been three actions (at different speeds) that are essential to continue disputing a great transformation:

1) a great deconcentration of capital;
2) a new original socio-ecological accumulation;
3) a large accumulation of physical capital.

It remains a task of the vanguard to build a form of productive organization where redistribution is produced and produced by distributing. We propose the construction of a social economy of knowledge built from a collaborative logic.

In these processes, other common meanings must be configured to break the hegemony of the exchange value and a new social value-based appropriation based on life and use value. We must break with the society that knows the price of everything, but knows the value of very few things. The construction and appropriation of such a sensibility is the urgent task of the second transition now in dispute.

Does the left that you call autistic point out that the big winners are the capitalists? What do you think about this assertion?

The decade is won because the whole society won. The difference is that in comparison with the preceding decade, these ten years before had a deliberate priority: the poor and the workers.

In my book I show how the growth during these 10 years went largely to the poor and working class. Participation in the pie (which, incidentally, doubled) decreased by 10% for the capitalists and was distributed among the workers and in that so-called mixed economy (for example, popular economy, cooperatives, etc.). In these ten years, decisions were made that disputed a de-accumulation of capitalist logic; that is, that it passes from hands -either in stock or in future flows- of the capitalists towards society, either directly or indirectly through the State.

Here are some examples: the compensation of the two biggest social robberies in the history of the country. With the audit of the external debt and the recovery of the bank bailout of 2000; the social recovery of oil revenues; the financing of the doubling of the human development bonus destined to the poorest financed with the profits of the private banks are examples of this deconcentration of capital.

In structural terms, we must be vigilant that the trade agreement does not entail a re-concentration of the accumulation in transnational capital and that the original accumulation produced in this decade will not serve to generate accumulation elsewhere, but will produce a larger concentration of wealth where the economy it is produced. This develops a domestic pattern of economic diversification and specialization.

Likewise, there has been a new accumulation of socio-ecological capital and a democratization of access to programs which enhance human capacities. Access to education, health care, social security. Avoiding the emission of 6.3 tons / year of CO2 as a consequence of the change in the matrix energy, etc. Is it not amazing that the average life of Ecuadorians has increased 5.5 years in the past decade?!

In this transition, it is important to develop non-speculative physical capital to make another types of accumulation viable: roads, hydroelectric plants, ports, airports, etc.

What we must have clear about is that in the current scenario there has been an accumulation that did not exist before. The right is rubbing his hands over this. After this wealth that did not exist before was created, the Right seeks to concentrate the benefits in a few hands on national and / or transnational capitalists. They want to freeze the increase in social spending for 20 year and, impose the elimination of the state’s obligation to guarantee initial and secondary education made public and free by Temer. They want a reduction of the government investment in Science and Technology a la Macri. Then there’s Lasso’s proposal to privatize social security so that each “one chooses” its provider in the name of freedom.

it is clear evidence of a new accumulation that the great capitals in our continent intend to do or are already doing after the social decade won by the progressive governments. The proposal of the right: the appropriation of human capacities and institutions of common interest. We must realize that in Argentina, and Brazil, for example, the dispute over transformation has become very opaque.

What should be the strategy?

In the contest to constitutionalize Ecuadorian society, we must be clear about the meaning of the history we are currently experiencing. A free flow of goods and services does not necessarily place us in the nexus of the world economy. As I point out in my book, it seems that 2017 will be the beginning of the 21st century.

That strategy is of the last century and would plunge us into the worst dependency in history. When I talk about the great transition in the book, I also point out that it is not a single transition, but two: the one that Ecuadorians sign and that is embodied in the constitutional text and the one that happens on a world scale: the transition from industrial capitalism to cognitive capitalism based both on processes of speculative financialization of the economy.

The new commercial policy will be directed towards the management of intellectual property. This strategy must then be linked to intelligent inclusion in the powerful circuits of generation of knowledge, technology and innovation. And all this within a framework that addresses the needs and potential of our peoples.

Unfortunately, I see very little debate about what is the role of science in social transformation and what strategy of technological development ought be followed in Ecuador’s coming decades. Ecuador will not get out of the development traps previous set unless it has a clear strategy of how to break the technological and cognitive dependence it has. And it must know how to defend the biodiversity that it has.

It is not fortuitous that in world treaties countries are forced to put in penal codes randing from sanctions to imprisonment when copyright or property rights are undermined. Yet nothing is done when the biodiversity of our countries is stolen! This is biopiracy!

In my book I proposed that the new geopolitics is already contesting this knowledge-biodiversity relationship. That is why, the strategy I propose is for bio-knowledge for the good living of our peoples and nationalities. Thank God we have oil, but we must also be clear that only through deliberate social collective action can we be a tertiary exporting country of knowledge and technology. Thank God we have Galapagos, but thanks to the will of the Ecuadorians we are building Innopolis.

What do you mean when you point to the little debate that takes place on these issues in the electoral process?

It is very sad to see how we have fallen into the democracy of the “encuestología”, that the government opposition consists simply in opposing everything the government has done according to their surveys. That is no proposal for how the future should be goverened. Not only that, if one analyzes what the candidates say, the country would fail sooner rather than later. Ecuador has no monetary policy towards the dollar, so trade policy may be cut for obvious reasons. This is heard in the proposals of the candidates who say they will lower taxes, will remove the tax at the exit of foreign currency or the advance of income tax, etc.

When the government put up safeguards, among other reasons, to defend dollarization, the right immediately went out to attack it. It wants to guarantee quality rights as in the ‘first world’, with a fourth world tax system. This is unfeasible! If such actions take place, Ecuador will soon have to exit dollarization (if the price of a barrel of oil changes radically upwards). I think we are in a very serious debate in the economic field in the electoral process.

One more point: the repressed past is being disputed. The right says: the government spent too much, now it is necessary to amend through sacrifice. It is punitive morality which seeks to induce fear and solve it by pointing to a scapegoat. In all the opposition speeches a negative messiah is announced and the pitiful tone of Ash Wednesday of the revolutionary carnival is heard. The left must continue to dispute the future, to hope, to embody the conviction that it is possible for all of us to live well, here, today and in this land called Ecuador. Let hope overcome fear!

What role do the media play in this dispute?

The media are the main tool of power used by the right to produce disenchantment and despair. The news, the newspapers try to build the society of fear, of suspicion, of distrust. The news that grows most in audience are the ones with the most blood. To this is added the social networks. This new public sphere allows anonymous trolls to defame without any public responsibility.

Their strategy of pyramidalization (I think this means reinforcing hegemony) when trying to generate the news of the week is clear: they use the massive media and the big ‘influencers’ who have many followers in their social network accounts. Not those who are random private media journalists. Therefore, one of the main principles that must be challenged in tofay’s democracy is truth and defense of the public sphere.

As a citizen I would expect that any candidate for the Presidency of my country will always be attached to the truth and have the courage, in case of being wrong, to clarify and ask for public apology for the mistake they made. Not that lying ought be used as a deliberate strategy to win votes. That is the strategy of a right without morals. We must be clear that there will be no quality democracy as long as there is no ethics in politics and as long as the truth does not reign in the public sphere.

There is a left that indicates that it has been a wasted decade. What do you think?

I agree with the point made by Emir Sader: for those that see is as wasteful decade, it is because they wasted the decade. The question asked by the Brazilian sociologist is pertinent: if governments like the Citizen Revolution are responsible for the return of the right, as these groups usually affirm, then why is this ‘ultra left’ not strengthened? Because they have not taken advantage of the weakening of progressive governments and thus taken their place? No. It is simple. It is because they have no popular base and their arguments have not penetrated any sector of the population.

This left should learn that they are also responsible for their actions or non-actions. Unfortunately, the right has been much more astute and efficient in political terms than this left. It is no coincidence that this left in the next elections has no direct spokesperson as a presidential candidate. A left without a town, it is not a left. In this sense, it seems that the left noun remained large. Yes, they have wasted this decade!

What is the role of politics in this regard?

Perhaps as important as the viability of the contest is that the same described transition has been made within a democratic and peaceful framework. The process of social reconfiguration, having these characteristics, has allowed us to recover the trust in the other and above all the capacity of citizen astonishment in the face of social injustice – which has allowed people to move from indignant anger to the hope of a mindful citizen hope. The right is astute in pointing out that institutional confidence, citizen’s hope in and the recovery of politics are the main weapons that progressive processes have to move forward.

In this context, it is vital for the right to disenchant, to despair of citizenship and to dismantle the image of politics as a space to create a just social order. In this framework, it is necessary to understand political action as a means but also as an end to the process of change. In this way, political action must create a virtuous circle, based on actors that support and push change, and that the change they sustain and support strengthens them. Faced with the society of mistrust and fear that the right seeks to establish as a common sense, one of the main challenges that Lenín Moreno has is to restrain the citizenry – as he does- in order to continue with the hopeful spirit we have had in these 10 years, which implies generating another aesthetic in politics.

New Biography of Lucy Parsons Released

The New York Times now has an interview up now with the author of the book Goddess of Anarchy: The Life and Times of Lucy Parsons, American Radical in their book sections.

I’ve not read much about her besides her character’s speeches in Martin Duberman’s novel Haymarket, but from Jacquelin Jones description of her as a historic person:

“She was very well known throughout the United States, especially when she began to launch her own speaking tours in 1886, when her husband was in prison. Her name was really a household word. She was never happier than speaking in front of large crowds, riling them up. Her politics were very radical, quite outside the mainstream — then and today. But workers loved her rhetoric. She condemned the employers, the capitalist machine, the corrupt two-party system. She knew that undercover detectives covered every one of her speeches.”

she seems like someone worth getting to know more about.

Cocaine Cartels Contra Communism: Don Berna, Alborada and Political Discourse in Colombia

Since 2003 on December 1st across Medellin a large number of people in the lower strata barrios celebrate with bacchanalia and fireworks. The first is the birthday of Pablo Escobar, however this is not a celebration in honor of him, but the man that may be most responsible for his downfall and death – Don Berna.

December 1st 2003, marks the official demobilization of Don Berna’s Cacique Nutibara paramilitary bloc. To show his continued influence despite his officially putting down arms, Don Berna paid for fireworks and gunpowder to be set off show the extent of his continued control over 10 of the 16 Comunas of Medellin despite his officially “laying down arms”.

Not everyone celebrates this holiday, and depending on who you ask there are those that see the celebration of the day as shameful. For those that do, you’ll see the same sort of enthusiasm that July the 4th is celebrated in the United States.

When I was in Medellin I was lucky enough to witness the fireworks display from the penthouse rooftop of a friend and then attend a block party. My iPhone didn’t capture video nearly as nicely as the one below and I didn’t want to dar papaya at the party so documented nothing, but it will give you the idea of how large an event it is.

Don Berna is now probably most notably known in America today via the depiction of him by Mauricio Cujar in the Netflix series Narcos. I haven’t watched the series so can’t speak to his acting performance. I can, however, speak to the context in which the acts of Don Berna took place that lead to such a day of celebration and how huge an affect the man has had on Colombian politics.

First Formation of Narco Class Consciousness

The Palace of Justice Siege

During the second week of November in 1981, the 26-year-old daughter of Fabio Ochoa Restrepo was kidnapped from the University of Antioquia by M-19, a Marxist guerrilla group. Considered by some to be the man behind Pablo Escobar, $12 million was demanded from Don Fabio for her release. Responding to this following her release, on Dec. 2, 1981 a small plane dropped leaflets announcing the formation of the group “Death to Kidnapers,” which became known by its Spanish acronym MAS, over a Cali stadium during a soccer match. The leaflet said MAS had been formed by 223 leading drug traffickers that organized to resist the leftists preying on their families and that they would carry out “immediate and public execution” of Leftists. Unable to adequately defend themselves against the well-funded attacks, the leftist insurgencies in Colombia soon started to engage in narco-trafficking themselves in order to match the money and weapons that they and the State forces had at their disposal.

In one of the most deadly events in Colombian history four years later, The Palace of Justice was siege by the same Marxist group, M-19. This resulted the public deaths of many federal justices, the burning of legal documents related to Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel and a sea change in how the Colombian government decided to handle Pablo and how Pablo’s allies started to view him. The Castaños, one of the most powerful criminal clans in Medellin, for instance grew distant from Pablo Escobar because of Escobar’s stated affinity for left-wing guerrillas, his alleged links to M-19 and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN). Their patriarch had been killed by the FARC and their zeal for the bloodletting of leftists was notorious.

Whether or not M-19 had the backing of Pablo Escobar is subject to debate. Given a little bit broader context, it becomes understandable why this the beginning of the end. These were, after all, times when any sort of public support or expression of sympathy to Leftists was considered just cause for classification as a enemy of the state, placement on a list of subversives and scheduling for capture, execution and disappearance of the body.

Pablo Escobar: Populist with Leftist Leanings

Pablo Escobar was no communist. In fact, if his son is to be believed then he, like Manuel Noriega, was involved with the CIA in profiting of the funneling of cocaine into the United States in order to circumvent oversight by the legislative branch to raise money to fight the Communist, nationalist, anti-colonialist, nativist insurgent movements in Central America. His particular flavor, however, was populist.

This excerpt from Colombia Elites and Organized Crime, written for the U.S. Justice Department, details the differences between Berna and Escobar as it relates to this succinctly:

“In contrast to Escobar, Berna did not pick a fight with the government, kill police and judges, or kidnap elites. He understood that the police were an implacable enemy but could be a superlative ally. The police’s increasing control over resources and the political importance of their battle against El Patrón made them a type of bureaucratic elite. And they used this power to influence how Colombia’s government deployed its military, judicial, and political resources.

Don Berna was to place himself at the heart of this criminal-bureaucratic elite alliance that proved pivotal in the battle against Escobar.”

This interview with one of Pablo Escobar’s most used sicarios is further evidence to place Pablo as a populist of sorts:

The Danger of Populism in the Cold War Period

Populism in Latin America is a a frequent recurrence. No surprise given the history of colonial expropriation and rule of locals resources and lands. In the context of the Cold War, however, populist political beliefs meant that Pablo was an unreliable ally and thus a major potential threat. His willingness to attack local allies and minor political functionaries was one thing, but to materially support Leftists for political work greatly upset his allies and meant he came to be classified as a potential major geo-political threat. How so?

Looking at the international scene first – Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala were all in the midst of major political upheavals where nationalists, nativists, anti-colonialists and Communists were united against the scions of the old colonial elite. Pablo Escobar had already established willingness to openly kill members of the established economic and political elite in Colombia. Were he to funnel his profits from the operations towards the guerrillas in that region – or in Colombia – rather than to the Contras and the group that would later be the model for the AUC, Los PEPES, it could significantly effect the tide of the dirty wars and political genocide then occurring in Central America under the aegis of “nation building”.

Had the Communists, their sympathizers and other varieties of nationalistic combatants advocating for anti-colonial style land and labor reforms had weapons with the financial backing that Pablo could have supplied, it’s likely they’d not have been so overwhelmingly slaughtered. But this did not happen and instead the U.S. supported forces, that would later be tried and convicted for genocide, won.

Domestically Pablo had made enemies through expropriations and high taxes on the crime families to fund his war against the state. But that was not all, The Castaños had grown distant from Pablo Escobar because of Escobar’s stated affinity for left-wing guerrillas, and his alleged links to M-19 and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – ELN).

This affinity made Don Berna, who’d had his leg shot off by Communists during an assassination attempt, have even more reason to despise Pablo’s relationship of convenience than his boss being killed by Pablo when he was supposed to be his head of security.

Narco Nation-Building: Filling Pablo’s Power Vacuum

 

With Pablo’s influence ousted as a result of Don Berna’s alliance-building, business as usual, in a way, could more or less return to normal. Whether or not there was a meeting of political elites that voted up or down to express confidence in Don Berna’s operations is really besides the point. On a practical level Berna was given reign to enforce control networks of narcotics production and distribution, various local criminal activities and organized protection rackets.

Don Berna’s Armed Defense groups, such as the Cacique Nutibara Bloc, literally encircled Medellin. They pushed into neighborhoods to cleanse those that expressed sympathy for them or advocated for a variety of human rights. They pushed out into areas long considered the FARC’s in order to combat the group directly and to take over the fertile land they occupied so as to turn them into coca fields. The Leftist insurgents, soon found themselves turning to the cocaine business to fund them as without it they could not withstand the superior weapons and numbers made available to the Narcos given their bumper profits from the cocaine trade.

Throughout Colombia urbanization was happening at a rapid pace, and still is. People living largely outside capitalist relations – on self-sustaining farms that traded little – were legally and illegally evicted from their land and filled the urban centers. This large scale political-economic transformation was financed largely by the money and armed power granted by the cocaine trade and further financed political influence in the form of bribes, threats of and actual violence, organized voting drives and other means. Put simply, as long as the elites profits were no longer under threat, they largely turned a blind eye to the primitive accumulation of capital that plagued the countryside and low strata parts of the cities where they never visited anyway.

Bullets, Not Ballots: Limiting Leftist Political Discourse with Cocaine Powered Anti-Communism

The scope of the slaughter of Latin American Leftists is such that many historians and political scientists have used the term politicide to describe U.S. supported military actions throughout Central America and Colombia. The effect of this class warfare was to drastically alter the politics of the possible, as well as the debatable. Critical words against those in power overheard and reported to the wrong person could mean that one was then placed on a limpieza‘s list of people to cleanse. The press too shirked from speak truth to power lest they join the long list of now dead community activists and hundreds of dead journalists.

Guitars kill Fascists. These products kill Communists.

Lest this be seen as a discourse limiting force that’s only emerging from those involved in the narcotics trade – Alvaro Uribe, the former president of Colombia, recently denounced a book merely for detailing via documentary evidence  that the violence commited by the paras against the civilian population was far worse on a variety of metrics – including numbers of civilians killed and people displaced – then the FARC ever were. Lest this be seen as solely emerging from this period, it reflects a long-standing disdain for political engagement going back to the period of La Violenca.

The net result is a political culture amongst the lower class that largely refuses to engage with certain critiques of power and the politics that such assessments proscribe. Instead they pray for the benevolence of an economic elite (that for generations has shown willingness to murder those that threaten to expose the ill-gotten means behind their wealth) resign themselves to life’s poor conditions and exploit others for their enjoyment with little to no care to as to who it harms. The phrase for this condition: Que gonorrea!

This combined with the institutional attempts to create historical ignorance in the population by removing the subject from the curriculum and using outdated instructional material “Colombia’s most recent general history book was published in 1989, only five years before the subject virtually disappeared from school.” means that people don’t know why the F.A.R.C. and E.L.N. fight thus placidly adopt the language of the bourgeoisie and narcos that view all movements for labor and community as an existential threat to their existence.

Parties and Partys in Colombia

So what the hell does all this have to do with Alborada?

Well, with this context in mind it’s easier to see why some don’t like to celebrate it – Alborada is a celebration of the successful cleansing/politicide of leftists and lumpen that didn’t follow the political/economic dictates proscribed by La Oficina de Envigado and the local economic elites with a nod and wink from Washington. While the FARC and the ELN certainly continued to exist in rural areas and some smaller cities, their cleansing from Medellin was so total they they felt confident enough to lay down arms and set off fireworks for a man that has over 11,000 murders attributed to him.

Area in Antioquia that prior to U.S. assistance was previously a major processing facility in the cocaine trade.

While the description of the context of Alborada, a form of victory celebration over those that advocate on behalf of el pueblo, la gente, la mayoria social, etc., may seem like it’s a mar on the character of Paisas, however it’s important to remember that the direction and technical assistance came from anti-communist Cold Warriors in positions of influence in the United States.

Review of Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a Limpieza in Colombia

“The objective of memory is to highlight both the struggle of the dead
and the nature of the powers that silenced them.”
—Luis Carlos Restrepo

As part of my pre-visit area studies and research for Unraveling, I picked up Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a Limpieza in Colombia by Michael Taussig prior to going to Medellin. A first person account told in a diary format over two weeks, Taussig recounts the dynamics, shares the stories of others and contextualizes the history of the region to explain the murders that once made Colombia the world’s murder capital. While conditions and the murder rates have drastically changed since then, it’s still a place where massacres of campesinos over access to land still occurs to this day.

Taussig’s journal describes in at times uncomfortable details a number of large-scale public killings, referred to as limpiezas in Spanish, as well as the backgrounds of the actors and the historical context in which they occur. Besides this, Taussig also reflects on the role of memory and accountability from a personal in reflections on the process of writing a journal as well as in the political sense, ie – through which means hegemony is formed.

Indigenes, Viciosas, Delincuentes, Traficantes, Paras, Sicarios, Guerrillas, Policia y la Ejercito Oh My!

While many of the participants in the conflict are prone to describing things in terms of good or evil, what is really going on is conflict over modes of production and access to fertile and resource rich lands. Though the quote from Karl Marx’s work Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations is one that opens Michael Taussig’s other book The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America, I think it a good one for quickly that describes the primary driver for conflict here as well.

Thus the ancient conception in which man always appears (in however narrowly national, religious or political a definition) as the aim of production, seems very much more exalted than the modern world, in which production is the aim of man and wealth the aim of production.   

While not nearly as knowledgeable as Taussig about Colombia’s past or collective psyche, my experience with various social strata in Medellin and Jerico, a pueblo in Antioquia, provided me a similar view. Those that primarily outside the capitalist mode of exchange for supplying their daily needs seemed more peaceful, calm and happy then those that depended on it.

In a long passage discussing the transformation of Cali’s agricultural lands in the 1950s and 1960s, Taussig describes how the thousands of peasants, who were outside the capitalist mode of production as the variety of plants they would grow and rotate provided them with all they needed were forcibly dispossessed so that a foreign born family could grow and export sugar. These instances of rapid proletarianization helped contribute to the problems faced within the cities – people without capital or many skills flocking to them – and were accelerated once cocaine became the crop of choice for those wanting to live beyond subsistence means.

 

When You Don’t Want Your Haters To Know Your Name

The immensity of the cocaine market drove traffickers to form paramilitary organizations to seize land and routes with high use value from the FARC and other large scale farmers. Unable to effectively contest such a well-financed group and still keep their scruples, the FARC got into the protection and trafficking rackets so that they could survive as an organization. Armed conflict over this left many frightened and dead , however this was not the full extent of the new dynamics influencing Colombia’s political economy. Large nuber of addicts too cropped along with a profound incentivization for “bad behavior” as la vida facil – or the drug-dealing/trafficking life – was known to be sweet, but short.

Planfleto Amenzas, or warning pamphlets, like the one above along with the graffiti signs of paras scrawled around the community are the first indication that the paramilitaries are soon coming in for a cleansing of such mala gente. Translating the above picture, it says the following:

“We will be killing all rat bastard sons of bitches, leftist communists, defenders of human rights and the process of peace and restitution of the land, student communist groups, unionists and guerillas.”

Then continues to name the people that will be killed following by the ominous entre otros, or “among others” and a warning that caught or informed upon for helping these people will also be receive lead.

Sometimes warnings are not so explicit and people must rely upon word of mouth news networks or wait until AUC graffiti was painted someplace public to know where and when the AUC was.

The Massive Scope of the Conflict

At the time of this book’s publication in 2002, Michael Taussig states that he’s been visiting Colombia to do fieldwork for 30 years. While the intensity of the civil war has halted, there are still multiple bad effects that stem from the narco-trafficking. There are neighborhoods that require thousands of police in Bogota to clear out the open air drug markets made by vendors and addicts and anyone visiting the area around El Centro in Medellin has seen the improvised encampments filled with bazuco addicts.

Taussig describes in details various encampments and characters he encounters in such places in a way the bring much needed levity to the stories he’s sharing. Behind those moment of levity, however, is the underlying fear. Fear of being seen with the wrong person. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of your name showing up on a computer provided to the paras by the military. In numerous anecdotes the absolute terror felt by those in towns undergoing a cleaning is clear. Just as who is behind these, the local power elites.

¡No Tiene Sentido!

One of the recurring themes in my readings thus far on Colombia which is again reinforced here, is how distorted the reporting of the events are in Colombia. Many journalists fear intimidation, harassment, assault or death as reporting a story in the wrong way would could mean various armed groups would target them, so often they distort reporting in favor of the government or the paras or do not report on important events at all.  The result of this is a collective unreality on all sides.

Threats of violence aren’t the only reasons why mass delusions as to the acts of the government, the paras and the guerillas are reported in a manner that later is corrected in the evidentiary findings of human rights NGOs.

Besides the stick, there is the carrot. Writing about the paradoxical viewpoint that many Colombians have, Taussig points out on page 76 the following commonplace hypocrisy of many Colombian political commentators:

“How is it that while the pandillas, or gangs of the young preoccupy everybody to the point of collective hysteria, while the bandas of the local upper class rarely get talked about? Is it because the bandas have for so long been a part of reality and that many people, or at least many influential people, get fat on them?”

The corruption in the country is notoriously endemic. In fact when asking one taxi drive in Medellin what he thought about the President Santos he want on a long rant about how all the politicians were corrupt – Liberals and Conservatives alike – and that stated that there’s no party that represents the poor and the campesinos except for the FARC, who would never come to power given so many people disliked them for the reason I said above. As a result, leading to million and billions of dollars of state money going to development projects. Maybe a few dollars goes in the pocket of a reporter, or maybe the ownerships of the new outlet gets some money out of it so exercises editorial control, or maybe a company that purchases advertising threatens to pull money if certain things are said. Either way, there are are lot of incentives to sow confusion in community by incomplete or false reporting.

 

On the Weakness of Trump Jr.’s Halloween Candy as Socialism Analogy

As income inequality worsens within countries around the world and more people grow disillusioned with the neo-liberal verities that justified their immiseration as well as the politicians which has been spouting them, more people have been rethinking whether or not policies based on socialist principles might be a better option. In fact with the recent election of Lee Carter, a marine veteran that identifies as a Democratic Socialist, along with a number of other left of center populists and socialists we might even be seeing the pivot begin to become a trend. This is making a lot of people nervous.

The Washington Post recently published an editorial  decrying changes in language and politics as neo-bolshevism. The American Culture and Faith Institute recently published findings from a survey which outlets like the National Review are up in arms about. Why? Because younger people are becoming more sympathetic to socialism! Also in on the furor is the Victims Of Communism Foundation, they also published the results of a different survey that much to their and others dismay, also found that younger people view socialism favorably! Lest this seem like the new American generation simply is ignorant to the realities of socialism, it’s worth noting that this trend wherein socialism is seen as desirable is not just in the U.S. but a sentiment found in the former Soviet Union as well.

 

It’s in this context of   growing demand for systemic political and economic change, that the son of the current American president, Donald Trump Jr., decided that he would use his following on Twitter to try to educate his followers on just how unfair, unjust and undesirable socialism is by posting the photo and text that I’ve screenshot on the right. The post, rightfully so, was mocked by a number of outlets, including Vice and Twitter.

A few days later Liberal (not leftist) Chris Hayes posted the following on his Twitter account. I can’t say for sure whether or not this was in response to Trump Jr’s tweet, but it does touch upon the (1) the correctness of Socialist analysis, (2) just how slow in coming to understand want Trump means for America and (3) that the received truths from most outlets (i.e. non-Marxist) are no longer valid.

Why Trump Jr is Wrong: Selective Redistribution is not Socialism

As many on Twitter pointed out, as far as analogies go Socialism = Halloween is a pretty bad one. But this isn’t something that is unique to Trump Jr. There’s a long history of purposeful misrepresentation of socialist thought and ideas by the media outlets of the wealthy going back over a hundred years. Puck Magazine was one such outlet that previously paid artists to publish cartoons of dirty, foreign socialists to discredit them. The sensibilities have changed, but the essence hasn’t.

Now people like Dinesh D’Souza, a man convicted of violating campaign finance law, not only seek to discredit socialism, but to transform it’s meeting so that the whole of the philosophy comes down to is “redistribution” and to claim that the the Democrats are in fact descended from Nazis. Thus, according to the new logic of the presumptive ruling class, World War II was really just leftist infighting between socialists in Germany and Russia and the US. By the by, this means that the Nazis actually won WW2 because, remember, FDR was a National Socialist…

The problem with all of this is, the logic turns to dust when you look to the seminal author on capitalism, Adam Smith. Here is from one of his maxims on taxes:

The Wealth Of Nations, Book V Chapter II Part II, Appendix to Articles I & II, p. 861, para. 12.

The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities…

Smith also includes four additional maxims that ought to inform how it is that taxation should transpire. That said, while tax percentages, sources and allocation is certainly a contentious dynamic, but there’s nothing inherently “socialistic” about it. Social, yes, interaction between people. Socialist? No. That refers to principles of social and economic governance. While there are a variety of views on public ownerships of good and services – such as public schools, roads, national parks, etc. – but to claim that they are “socialist” is to mistake what socialism really is – the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Marx’s Major Theoretical Writings Are About Capitalism, Not Socialism

If that last phrase of that last sentence needs some unpacking, that’s understandable. Unlike the language and theories that Freud and the circles of readers and practitioners of the artistic science of psychoanalysis developed, Marxism hasn’t entered into the popular lexicon. This shouldn’t be that surprising given the indoctrination in our schools and churches that Communism/Marx is unAmerican, the fact that America has a long tradition of anti-intellectualism; state and para-state actors that seek to dissuade those that have made their way to Marx from acting on it and an entire cultural apparatus that is owned by a numerically small but politically powerful class that does not want to see or hear of their property being threatened.

Dictatorship is a heavily loaded term and it’s worth noting that as is conceived in Marxian though, the term does not necessarily refer to a personalistic style of political rule, but to control over political institutions. Marxists say that currently, living in the class society that we do, we live under the dictatorship of capital. It’s purely descriptive.

The proletariat is the group of workers that know they live in a class society and want to halt class rule through organized political struggle. The proletariat is categorically not the working class as a whole, who may not be active in the political economic struggle.

Class struggle, however, is just one component of Marxism socialism. There’s a large body of primary literature (and for free, thanks marxists.org!) as well as secondary literature that can explain the varieties of socialism, be it How to Read Karl Marx, Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx: A Revolutionary Interpretation or David Harvey‘s website.

Class Struggle! But What Else?

From my conversations around college campuses and at political events, validated by Jon Stewart, I think it’s fair to say that as a whole Socialism/Marxism as ideologies tends to be conflated with economic leveling and giving greater political power to the people. Because of this unfortunate desire to appear “in the know” thousands of pages of theory and decades of history are obfuscated and I think that this focus distracts from the fact that there are a number of his non-revolutionary concepts and intellectual innovations within Socialist and Marxist literature.

I say non-revolutionary as there are a large number of writers on every possible locations on a political map that agree with a some of his concepts and interpretations of historical developments. I’m not going to cite them all, instead an excerpt of this article from Harvard Business Review shows that class struggle isn’t specifically socialist or Marxist:

“Have these people never heard about Teddy Roosevelt excoriating the “malefactors of great wealth,” or his cousin Franklin getting Congress to raise the tax rate on top incomes past 90%? Americans have been pillorying the rich on and off for more than 200 years, and our economic system has survived and mostly thrived. In fact, the political and labor-relations compromises occasioned by what you might call class warfare have on balance surely made the country stronger.

What’s been unique, or at least highly unusual, has been the environment in which entrepreneurs and business executives were able to operate from the late 1970s through the early 2000s. Taxes dropped, high-end incomes exploded, and hardly anybody complained at all. Far from complaining, in fact, the news media for the most part celebrated the recipients of those exploding incomes for their boldness, creativity, and economic importance. It was a pretty stinking awesome time to be a plutocrat: You got to make billions of dollars, pay far less in taxes than you would have a quarter-century before, and get your face on the cover of Forbes or Fortune (or maybe even the top of your head on the cover of HBR).”

After you’ve read that entire article, which is worth your time, I’m sure you’ll agree. However, unless you were familiar with socialist/Marxist thought, you wouldn’t know this and just think it’s just some “foreign” ideology.

Marx and the Many Schools of Economics

Understanding how societies operate is difficult and requires a specialized vocabulary to talk about various components. In the process of gaining deeper knowledge within an academic discipline, ones’ lexicon and scholarship grows such that one can come to understand a variety of schools in relationship to one another and how the effects of their policies are. It’s because of this – lack of study on the subject – that Trump Jr. makes such a poor analogy for socialism. One might consider that as a capitalist he might “have ideas”, but all this means is that he’s able to extract surplus value from people not that his position as such a historical agent makes his version of theory superior. It’s not.

But Trump Jr. is not alone in his ignorance. If polled via mTurk, I think that less than 5% of people could give me an accurate definition of any number of terms used by Marx, be it alienation, commodification, division of labor, fetishism, solidarity, mode of production, etc. I believe the same would be true for concepts introduced by Marx’s later interlocutors like Gramsci with hegemony, Rosa Luxembourg’s analysis of reformism or Trotsky with permanent revolution. What great potential for a poll! Those the believe that schools have indoctrinated children with collectivist thought could finally have proof of it as knowledge of those words and other ideas related to it would quantitatively demonstrate public school led to collectivist thought!

Despite such claims, I would propound that with Trump there is a rise of people with a racial and nationalistic language for thinking through their politics, and I’m not alone in this assessment.

Socialism, or Barbarism

The middle class does not exist in the US anymore and as nationalism becomes the new watchword for determining US policy, American workers need to come to realize that they have more in common with a worker in China than they do with their own employer. Not history, language or culture, of course, but their economic precariousness and the fact that they compete with each other in the labor market due to a world connected by cargo shipping containers, transportation networks and a variety of shops.

The Right has been using racial and nationalistic language as well taking a few pages from Joe McCarthy’s anti-communism playbook – as evidenced by the header image at the top of the page. However in the end it is less about fears of “others” than the precariousness of American’s status to which they are appealing.

“You will not replace us” is anxiety about globalism and it’s ability to decimate regions once industries leave for greener pastures (and less labor laws). It’s taken a while for enough people to come to this perspective, but people are slowly recognizing that the economic game has been so changed in the past 30 years that they want the rules to change too. Neoliberalism is increasingly becoming a dead letter and in it’s place will either go Socialism or Barbarism…

What is the Global State of Socialism? What Does that Mean in America?

While I’ve focused on the American case as we zoom out of our focus and head onto the world stage we see that Socialism, that cause for much American intervention in countries that elected such politicians, is not seen as such a bug bear.

In China, Xi Jinping is announced as a contributor to Communist thought and practice in the vein of Marx and Mao. Vietnam remains radicalized by their experiences with European colonialism and like China are a single Communist party state.

In Europe, Spain‘s PODEMOS party rules the country and while their leader Pablo Iglesias is not a Marxist, they are socialist in orientation. Same goes for Greece, where the current leader of the Syriza party, Alex Tsipras, continues to battle against Germany and the international credit market. While no longer a part of the EU, in the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed Trotskyist, is revivifying anti-austerity politics and helping to turn the Labour party in a working class party rather than a neoliberal party.

In Venezuela, Maduro’s PSUV won heavily in the regional elections. In Colombia Rodrigo “Timonchenko” Londoño, the former leader of the FARC, a Marxist guerrilla organization, has announced he will be running for president. In Bolivia, Evo Morales has presided over a decade of socialist-inspired reforms. In Brazil, the Temer government cannot gain legitimacy and it looks like in 2018 Lula will return at the head of the Workers Party.

In Kerala, India the Washington Post positively describes the large socialist movement on the opposite end of the “Red Corridor” wherein a Maoist-inspired insurgency fights the government.

In Rojava, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin has found a new audience amongst Kurds fighting for a socialist nation and those that are inspired to help them.

Many other developed nations, such as Denmark, Finland, NorwaySwedenCanada, Australia and New Zealand are not socialist, but have such a robust social safety net that it’s nothing like the American notion of capitalism.

What does all this going on mean in America?

At the most general level, I think it means that Americans ought to familiarize themselves with socialist literature. There’s a whole lot of false misconceptions as to what socialism is out there. There’s a whole lot of people that think American socialists want to bring North Korea, Cuba or U.S.S.R. to America and despite s#!tposting that hints others, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

That said, Socialism is a huge topic with a lot of debates within – take it all in slowly and with a grain of salt for as is to be expected in politics, there are underlying motives both professionally and ideologically operating here.

Lastly, I think it’s worth pointing out that people should also meet with other people in their community to talk about their experiences in relation to what they are reading in order to make sure that they understand things correctly and to help form bonds. It’s a whole lot more engaging and enjoyable than hearing an analogy that literally makes you stupider from the son of a reality T.V. star that would love to have more of your money because they tricked you into thinking that the modern American iteration of Socialism wouldn’t be a treat…

 

Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide in the Context of #MeToo

Recently I learned that a former significant other of mine committed suicide. While fifteen years had passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by this news. Especially so as something that to a large extent defined and lead to the destruction of our relationship suddenly became something that wasn’t taboo to discuss.

Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

*

The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain was to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant late 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t get her body to move in the way her brain wanted. She willed it, yet couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected when we were out together – she’d just seen that man that literally stole her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features as her rapist is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took to cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. It was a burden. A flood of what she was struggling with continued out and she ended it all with, ” …and you’re the first person that I shared this all with”.

I felt pride that she trusted me so much. I knew that our relationship and the disclosures she’d made implied a clear duty on my part. But how exactly to help her? Well, that I didn’t know. And it bothered me. A lot. So much that I thought about ending the relationship. It wasn’t because she’d been raped. No, I didn’t think that she was somehow tainted to her core as a result of her assault. No, it was learning the extent which she had suppressed so much of her emotional life that made me question whether or not a healthy relationship was possible going forward.

Portrait of Ariel Sheen

If this sounds shitty, it is, but full disclosure I’d already started to lose the initial enthusiasm I had for our partnership. Even before she told me this I’d picked up that something wasn’t “right”. I told myself, however, that it was the height of inhumanity to leave her side after she’d opened up to me like that as it’d likely lead either to her further close off from others or take her own life, something I learned that night we talked that she’d already tried before. I decided that I’d stay in order to try and do the best that I could to help break her out of the consciousness that kept pulling her back to the trauma’s she’d experienced.

At first, it worked. The bad dreams lost their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive you must make sacrifices. However the lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt being around people made my heart go out to her. But on the practical side it meant that each time I’d want us to go out, I had to mind a dangerous mine field that was our communication. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I wasn’t enjoying being wholly selfless either.

As our relationship continued I felt that our time was increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling her rape trauma. It affected nearly every area of her thinking  and I started to resent our relationship. I told myself at the time that I stayed as I was optimistic. She was, after all, making steps to move past it so that she was less reactive to the many things which triggered her. Enough time has passed, however, that I don’t now think that that’s true. For one how she helped herself seemed to me to be a form of slow self-annihilation. As for why I stayed, it was more  aversion to shame for leaving someone for being raped in a bad place. It was a good intention, but the execution of which meant for an unstable relationship foundation.

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

To help “heal herself” Krystal illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. While she was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. The drugs shut up some the darker angels of her nature, but didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues. She needed to come into her own, not numb herself.  Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and bitter, you got what you wanted and now you don’t want it anymore but something else. 

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how. In fact, I should have ended it way sooner rather than let it drag on like a slowly removed band-aid as there was no way for her to have had a foundation for an romantic interpersonal relationship until she had a foundation for a healthy interpersonal relationship.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses.

Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. For years after our split we socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently. After I got engaged, she even sent a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me.

Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been drugged and sexually assaulted at 15 then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident, that with social effort could become less prevalent, that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit on depression, trauma and their impact on romantic relationships – but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that own her prints of Krystal/Cannibalized’s work, I’d ask that you please send me high-rendition scans of them along with typical archival info (name/date/etc/). I’d like to curate a collection of her photos and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. If I can help fund one of their programs for someone that needs help like Krystal did, then I’d feel the work that I’ll put into it would be worth it.

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Racial Controversy in Advertising and How To Avoid The Need For Apologies

 

I was waiting for another “advertisement campaign gone wrong” news story to happen to contrast the way in which the messages in traditional magazine style graphic ads differ with what can be done with content marketing and sure enough Dove does me the favor of running an ad that many are calling racist and is now facing a boycott of their product.

In this article I’m not going to judge the intentions of the people involved in this Facebook-based advertising campaign, but I will defend their intentions by stating I believe the screen grabs below that spread like wildfire across Twitter misconstrue the nature of the ad – which isn’t nearly as direct in implications as this.

Instead, I’m going to show why it is that people claim it is racist; touch upon some of the ways in which a marketing messaging can be engaging and controversial but not offensive; and finally present a brief content marketing proposal that Dove could have instead done which would provide more value for their current and would be customers.

Racism in American Skin Care Marketing

   

Controversial marketing can be very effective, but if not done properly it can also lead to undesired press. Because of this it is important to always keep in mind the perspectives of the people being depicted or implicated in advertising.

One need not agree completely with all the views of prominent African American cultural commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates as to the power of whiteness to recognize that in the United States whiteness has been lauded as an definitive quality for culturally dominant standards of beauty and truth; legitimate political power and authority; etc. Additionally, one need not agree completely with Malcolm X to recognize that the media has a huge impact in how communities perceive themselves.

In this sense we can come to understand that the brouhaha is less about the manifest content – a skin cream that whitens – but the latent content, or social context, in which it is promoted.

To put it another way the issue at stake, pardon the pun, is not black and white but is specifically about what many people see as a culture that continuing to reinforce a social and economic order that denigrates and exploits black people. Because of this, these these types of advertisements are seen as ideologically supporting such a structure and why Proctor & Gamble’s ad is so celebrated for being the opposite.

Cultural Sensitivity in Polarized Times and What Stays With Consumers

   

Skin whitening creams aren’t the only type of product and services whose communications run the risk of being labelled racist and alienating customers.

Surf pulled a number of ads like the one above, which is especially ironic given criticism over roles and awards given to black actors in Hollywood films. In the wake of controversy over the defending hate groups prior to demonstrations in Charlotesville and their subsequent Twitter post shown above, the ACLU has changed their position on defending all groups right to free speech and apologized for their posting. State Farm’s Twitter account briefly became

What these and the Dove ads miss is cultural sensitivity that would allow them to see how how black people and their allies could feel that such marketing messaging contributes to a culture that denigrates blackness.

While not speaking on race but sexual preference, Dan Cathy of Chick-Fil-A’s reflection on the comments he’d made regarding gay marriage summaries provides a good insight in what companies should consider when approaching their messaging:

“Consumers want to do business with brands that they can interface with, that they can relate with. And it’s probably very wise from our standpoint to make sure that we present our brand in a compelling way that the consumer can relate to.”

If a consumer feels that a company is attacking them in their advertisement, intentional or not, it puts th consumer relationships at risk.

Great Content Marketing That Deals With Controversial Content

The problem with addressing or depicting controversy in advertisements is not necessarily that it gets attention, but what further message is then transmitted from it. Though many people purchase products such as bleaching creams or Surf detergent in order to get their skin or clothes whiter, the underlying message of “Darkness is undesirable” leads to wasted ad buys and time spent on handling criticisms. It’s for this reason that content marketing is particularly effective.

This is one of the reasons why Zillow and NerdWallet’s Content Marketing is doing such an amazing job. Not only are they both producing functional tools for people to used, but they are also coming out with reports like: Rising Rents, Stagnant Wages, And the Burden of Unstable Housing and Seeking Medical Debt Relief? Crowdfunding Rarely Pays Off the Bills.

Hiding Controversy in Plain Sight

   

Chances are as you read what my good examples of controversial choices for marketing content was you may have thought the following contentions:

  • These don’t deal with race.
  • These aren’t controversial.
  • I’m comparing apples and oranges.

Regarding the first point you are absolutely right. I will, however, provide an example of what good content marketing that deals with race looks like below so I hope you’ll overlook this. As for them not being controversial let me explain how they are.

Your friends, if they’re good friends, will certainly give sympathy for expressing anxiety and frustration over your income and how your daily struggles wouldn’t feel so burdensome if you just earned just a few percentage points in your salary and some level of support. Your employer, who holds the power in making such a determination, is less likely to be as welcoming to such expressions and less likely to offer support – though this is changing.

The future of health care in America is so highly contested by a variety of actors that have stakes in saving and losing money that protests and coordinated movements to sway legislators have erupted all over the country. Regardless of one’s view of what is to be done, information is power and this goes to show that private philanthropy is not doing nearly enough to prevent people from death or life-changing debt.

As for the third contention, that’s a partial truth as they are different in format but as they are at their root marketing messages such a distinction is spurious and only gives heft to the claim of many advertising professionals today that content marketing is king. Unlike the visual-only ads, these content marketing projects do not veil the conditions of American political economy but make unveiling it their purpose. The value-proposition of Zillow and NerdWallet’s content marketing is educational rather than mere single grahpic attention grab whose only message is: “This lotion will whiten your skin”.

What Could Dove Have Done to Raise Brand Awareness Instead of Publishing An Ad the Replicates Racist Tropes?

Like many other people,  I Feaking Love Science. Like many publishers, I also love survey based projects. Not wanting to go into too much details, it was with this in mind that I thought of some alternatives that Dove could have developed instead of the racially insensitive ads.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach instead of the traditional single graphic ad for their campaign they would have had their marketing team produce content that educates about skin and race via an aesthetically engaging depiction and explanation of the science of skin color.

Were Dove to take a content marketing approach they could have presented the findings of a survey asking about perceptions of whiteness that combined analysis of their results with that of previous studies in an engaging manner. There a lot of them on race in relation to aspects of American society and such a study that examines original research (Legal, psychological, etc.) along with the number produced, their findings and analysis of other qualities over time would contribute to the national conversation instead of being seen as just more evidence for one position or another.

Controversial Content, But Without The Baggage

One of the reasons content marketing is such an amazing field is that the value it creates is not as ephemeral, being more than a mere image, but also as it can be continuously updated, and parts of it can be repurposed. Like solely visual advertisements it seeks to gain a consumer’s attention, but because of the format it is able to do so without the baggage and and in a more organic manner.

If you want to assure that your company’s time is not wasted by apologizing for an insensitive advertisement and are interested in learning more how controversial content can help your marketing, reach out to me, Ariel Sheen, and ask about how I can help build up on-site material or how I can build you a content marketing campaign.

Not only do I have a track record of successful content marketing campaigns, but my extensive studies in America’s history and culture means you won’t end up with lots of press about how you inadvertently promoted racially insensitivity.

The Struggle for Catalonian Independence and Art

82 years after the Asturias Revolt, and 78 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War Republican unrest is now mobilized enough again that politicians in Catalonia believe that independence from Madrid is a possibility. Spain has always had a special place in my heart and thus I’ve been closely following the events in Catalonia regarding their movement for independence. As a populist movement not only does it’s development lend itself to new forms of art, which I will briefly talk about below, but it also allowed President Maduro of Venezuela to troll Prime Minister Rajoy with the phrase, “Who’s the Dictator Now?” after Rajoy was critical Maduro’s response to U.S. backed attempts to destabilize the country and to bolster indigenous people’s attempts to create their own national governments, like in Kurdish Iraq. Massive Social Mobilization Across Catalonia These photos show the millions of participants in the protests that were part of the huelga general (general strike) called for by all the Catalan trade unions. According to the Catalan government the general strike was the largest economic paralyzation in the history of Catalonia. Reports I’ve read state how one of the many chants that  reverberated in dozens of cities across Catalonia, was “The streets will always be ours!” The reason for this stems from the fact that people were upset with Spanish state repression and police violence against the #CatalanReferendum, in which 90% of the voters voted for independence from Spain. Their claim that the streets belong to them reflects the fact that police from outside the region had to be brought in to control it.

Workers Against the State While the police were celebrated by small crowds in other regions for the oppression they would bring to their neighbors, Catalonian farmers blocked the ports to prevent more police officers from coming in, to prevent police vehicles from coming in and to otherwise hamper the movement of those that were already brought off shore to “reign in” the movement. The Huelga General, or General Strike, called by the Catalan unions is supposed to be the largest in history and has paralyzed commerce throughout the region.

The State Against Workers and Democracy 

“The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.” – Leon Trotsky

Not all social services workers were willing to fight for the status quo, here we see firefighters that are attempting to keep the police from preventing people from going to polling stations. Other powerful photos of what’s going on there depict ballot boxes connected by chains to large concrete blocks to prevent police from confiscating them. Reports from all outlets depict greater  90% of those that voted wanted independence.

Is History Repeating Itself?

Let’s clean them out! – 2017 Comrade Lenin is Cleaning the World of Scum – 1917

100 Years on from the Russian Revolution and it is still inspiring people around the world trying to get free from oppression and exploitation. While reading some Spanish language news media, I came across the above poster on the right and was tinkled pink (or is tinkled red more appropriate here?) as it is a variation of the famous Lenin poster that I placed on the right. While the forces driving Catalonian independence are nationalist and not anti-capitalist – the region’s history as a Libertarian Communist/Radical Republican stronghold during the Civil War are well documented.

Or is History Adapting to the Conditions of the Present?

While I found myself resonating with the Escombrem Los! image and the illustration above to the left as it combines a famous photo by Robert Capa called Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936  with a depiction of the current suppression – this is one of the examples where historically powerfully iconography is repackaged in a way that’s not really appropriate. The anti-monarchic sentiment may be the same and there is similar dissatisfaction with the government on it’s spending choices – it’s not an international revolutionary movement.

The Future is Unwritten, But Has Certain Limits Brexit, massive youth unemployment and brain drain to Germany, growing nationalist movements – the hopes for a united European Union is starting to unravel. Just like the Catalonian independence movement is not likely to become a clarion even for those disaffected with the neoliberal world order nor is it that Catalonia will again be a testing ground for new weapons. And yet these historical images are still being used by those on the ground now as a reference for understanding the present.

While this is to be expected, it’s worth recalling Karl Marx’s famous quote on the subject: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.”

A More Appropriate Art of Protest

While there are certainly groups within the Catalan nationalist movement that wish to make the referendum for nationhood similarly a vote for socialism, this is a vocal but small group.

Because of this, I believe, a more appropriate aesthetic is less that which pulls from a revolutionary tradition and more one that sees it as solely a transfer of powers. It’s a lot less sexy, but a lot more accurate. It’s also a lot more dangerous, as continuing the state in this regard will not necessarily ameliorate the anxieties expressed in such social mobilization and opens up the way for new ones.

The Return of Fascistic Unity

Embed from Getty Images

Regardless of one’s position on Catalan independence, it’s worth noting the strong similarities with those against it and those that wish to make the United State a white ethno-state. It’s said that a picture says a thousands words, so notice the swastika tattoos on this anti-independence Catalan demonstrator at a National Unity rally in the centre of Barcelona during Catalonia National Day on September 1.

The struggles in the street over symbols, history and power will continue so long as profound dissatisfaction with the distribution of political and economic power continues. However, reliance upon old verities such as nationhood or race that once made people feel secure will not provide a genuine out for such problems. I hope that the electoral aspirations of the Catalonians are achieved, but also feel that should independence happen the hopes that they have will soon be lost given what will be their diminished power in the current world order.