Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Learned Helplessness vs Social Change



Hola mi Gente,
Last night something remarkable happened, defying statistical models and the predictions of the chattering class, Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary. What is even more remarkable is that a little-known, 79-year-old Jewish dude from Brooklyn is giving Hillary a run for her money. Stay tuned, this is not your father’s election cycle. LOL

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Learned Helplessness vs Social Change

Culturally the Negro represents a paradox: Though he is an organic part of the nation, he is excluded by the entire tide and direction of American Culture... Therefore if, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion.
 -- Richard Wright, Black Boy


First, let me be clear about my position regarding the current election cycle. I do not support any candidate. Period. I believe voting is the least effective of all the tactics for creating social change and I refuse to essentially vote to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. However, if forced, I would vote for Bernie Sanders. In addition, I could never vote for a Clinton. Period.

In the Gospel According to Eddie, one of vilest sins (second only to willful ignorance) is the notion that we have no agency -- the ability to be an active participant in our lives. The sentiment seems to be, “Well, sure ____ (<-- a="" any="" attitude.="" attitude="" belief="" bother.="" but="" called="" can="" cannot="" defeatist="" difference="" escape="" form="" getting="" here="" i="" in="" insert="" is="" make="" negative="" observe="" of="" overarching="" psychology="" reamed="" so="" suffering="" system="" t="" that="" the="" this="" type="" why="" wrong="" you="" your="">learned helplessness
. Learned helplessness is the best way I can describe the attitude of  many Hillary Clinton supporters, who seem to have adopted as their motto, “No we can’t!”

I was reminded of this psychological concept when I recently came across a study that study from Princeton that argues that over the past few decades America's political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters (click here for an interview with the lead investigator of the study).

Listening to the responses from so-called progressive pundits and activists, I can see why we may already have lost our democracy -- or whatever it was we had. We have become so conditioned to authoritarianism that we have self-professed progressives openly advocating against single payer health care, the model used almost universally in developed countries. They say it is impossible, so they dismiss the effort as unrealistic or pie-in-the-sky day dreaming. Overturning Citizens United? “Impossible! Get that out of your head!”screech the Hillary supporters. 

And you go on down the whole list of progressive values and these so-called progressives dismiss them all. We must vote for a right-of-center democrat or we are na├»ve political children, they say. Of course, these political “realists” ignore the fact that the current right wing hate group acting as a majority in two branches of government has not bothered to work with the current right-of-center POTUS, Barack Obama. Using this line of logic, I am glad these people did not win the day when civil rights activists decided to desegregate southern establishments. Using this utterly clueless worldview, they would have been content to be able to sit at a diner for only one hour a day. I am only half joking, folks… 

I was once marching in Washington, DC against some injustice, I forget which. At the time, like now, I had been feeling very frustrated at the state of politics in this country. I was marching alongside an elderly African-American lady who had to use a walker. She was veteran from the peak years of the civil rights movement -- someone who marched in the South when they would let dogs loose on you if you had the audacity to demand equal rights. I asked her how she could continue the struggle in the face of so much failure. Her response will stay with me until the day I die and it is why I still fight.

She asked me, “What is your ethnicity?” I answered that I was of Puerto Rican descent. Then she said, “Do you know that you probably have an ancestor who fought against slavery though he knew he would never see the light of a free day?” Then she turned to a young woman standing next to me and said, “Do you know that it is very likely that you have an ancestor who fought for the right to vote though she knew she would not be able to cast a vote herself?” And on she went with the rest of the group, pointing out how those who came before us laid the groundwork though they knew that they would never live to reap the fruits of their collective labor. Many lost their lives in the struggle.

With a smile that belied her rebel attitude, she explained that she didn’t march because she hoped or expected win over the oppressors. Rather, she recognized that -- as little power as she had -- she was determined to use her courage and determination as a weapon to harass embedded power structures. Her goal was defiance. She also explained that she avoided discouragement because the moment she chose resistance as a strategy against slave mentality, she was triumphant. Nothing the power elite could do could ever diminish her triumph.

Finally, she emphasized that we owed it to both our ancestors and our children. We owed it to our ancestors, many of whom fought slavery and oppression knowing they would never see it abolished in their lifetimes. More importantly, we owe it to our children, who need to have the road cleared for their own resistance. Children who need a power of example of defiance in the face of hate in order for them to shake off the shackles of ignorant passive acceptance and learned helplessness.

And this is what concerns and frustrates me the most about the Hillary Clinton campaign and her so-called liberal and progressive supporters. This is a campaign with no vision -- a campaign of diminished expectations at a time when what we need the kind of leadership that audaciously demands progressive values in the face of entrenched racism and power. 

I will not tell you who to vote for. In fact, I will encourage you to do more. But do not ever tell me that voting for and supporting the Clintons, a white southern political dynasty that in the past has used racist dog whistles in order to incite moral panics resulting in the unprecedented mass incarceration of mostly black men, is “practical.” 

Do not try to tell me that the same political cowardice that implemented economic policies (again, using racist tropes) that decimated the most vulnerable in our society, is somehow pragmatic. Fuck you with that nonsense. You stand there and take the pain while you push the lever that inflicts that very pain, but do not call it practical, or realistic, or (shit!) progressive. 

Do not try to white wash trade policies that destroyed our manufacturing base, resulting the loss of millions of jobs just so CEOs could the corporations they run could stow the profits in offshore accounts. That is not practical or even inevitable. It is oligarchy, not democracy.

What is important is that you take a stand, whatever it is. I will not engage your thinking on this. If you act, you act; if you don't, you don't. This is about action (or the lack thereof), not talk.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization… 

Resources

Jill Quadagno: The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty (click here)

Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page (2014). Testing theories of American politics: Elites, interest groups, and average citizens. Perspectives on Politics, 12, pp 564-581. doi:10.1017/S1537592714001595.

When Youth Violence Spurred ‘Superpredator’ Fear, NY Times (Click here)

The Superpredator Myth, 20 Years Later, Equal Justice Initiative (click here)

Fast Track to Lost Jobs and Lower Wages, Economic Policy Institute (click here)

Lee Atwater on the many ways to say the n-word without saying it (click here)

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