Monday, February 29, 2016

Late Stage Capitalism

Hola mi Gente,
OK, so I’m speaking to day at a conference on the importance of education vs mass incarceration beginning at 5:30 PM, SUNY Empire at 177 Livingston St. 6th Floor. Hope to see you there.

* * *

Greed is good.
-- Gordon Gekko

[Note: A blind adherence to the virtues of “free markets” is symptomatic to neoconservative thought. Below, in an essay I adapted several years ago, I try to uncover the faulty reasoning behind the dogma.]

Rape is a basic and necessary expression of human nature. Sexual assaults have been present in every society since the dawn of time. It is the natural drive of man to reproduce, to compete successfully for advantage in the marketplace of life and evolution. In fact, it is this innate compulsion to reproduce that motivates man to do anything productive and worthwhile in the first place.

It is this competitive drive that motivates man to aspire to greatness. Can you imagine men striving for greatness were they not motivated by their drive to reproduce by any means? Of course not, because the drive to reproduce is at the very core of mankind’s fundamental nature. As long as we disregard childish “God” superstitions and recognize that a man is ultimately responsible only to and for himself, we therefore recognize that any measures that attempt to suppress this natural and intrinsic drive to reproduce by any means are inherently wrong.

To suppress sexual assaults is the perverse anti-human dream of the superstitious rabble. In fact, no human society has successfully eliminated rape, despite innumerable measures designed to curb sexual assaults. If man were only truly free to pursue this integral part of his nature we would walk as the masters of the Earth that we are.

Anyone with a relatively functioning forebrain will see that this is a painfully faulty and dangerous chain of reasoning. Just because the drive to reproduce is inherent in humans, it doesn’t follow that sexual assault and rape stem from that drive and are a part of human nature. Furthermore, that every society has been beset by sexual assault and none has successfully eliminated rape, doesn’t necessarily mean that sexual assault and rape are things that should be encouraged, or that there wouldn’t be disastrous and apocalyptic consequences were people given carte blanche to rape.

Now, reread the above but this time replace every occurrence of the words “sexual assault” with the words “free markets,” and replace every occurrence of the word “rape” with “capitalism,” and every occurrence of the word “reproduce” with “acquire wealth.” It is now word-for-word the position of economic neoliberal types such as Clinton and Obama. You will find this same line of thought in rationales against universal healthcare, for example, and free postsecondary education.

Well, boys and girls: what have we learned? First, my aim here is not merely to equate capitalism with rape (not a bad area to explore in future writings). Rather, my goal is to point out fallacious reasoning. Certain things might be inherently part of human nature or cannot be completely eliminated, but that isn’t a sufficient condition for a logically cohesive argument that they should be encouraged. If you want to argue that they should be encouraged, you must give other reasons.

The only other reason I seem to get is the unthinking and reactionary response of “socialism doesn’t work,” which displays an ignorance of the enormous and diverse body of economic and ethical thought outside of the current U.S. political and moral paradigm.

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

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Sunday Sermon [Knowledge & Education]

Hola mi Gente,
FYI, I will be speaking as a panelist at a conference tomorrow about the importance of education as a policy to address mass incarceration. Feel free to stop by starting at 5:30PM at SUNY Empire at 177 Livingston St., 6th floor:

On another note, I have three interviews/ meetings coming up this week. Wish me luck.

* * *

Knowledge and Democracy

Thinking is an action; critical thinking is a subversive action.
-- bell hooks

Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.

When I was in high school, an English teacher drafted me to be on the school’s debating team. I attended a high school that had over 3,000 students packed into a building that was originally built to hold half that number.

The school’s major claim to fame was that a student had been murdered there the year before I went to high school, in 1969. To walk through my school’s staircases and hallways was to navigate situations and dangers most adults, let alone children, would find hard to cope with. 

I was at the top of the Dean’s List, but I had to, by necessity, forge some form of alliance with those hallways and staircases, as well as the streets. And though I was an honor student, I might have known the individual who had taken your lunch money or sold you reefer.

Still, I was tagged as one of the few who would succeed. I was part of a citywide program that was specially funded for gifted inner city students. It was called the “College-Bound” program. And while my extorting and drug-selling friends attended classes packed with 40 or more students, I attended classes composed of the brightest students and, if there were fifteen students in the class, it was a lot. The best teachers, politically committed and passionate young people, became our mentors. Sometimes they were the last obstacle between us and the horrors that lurked just outside our classrooms. Some of the greatest teachers I have ever known were a part of that group.

They believed in the liberal notion that a good and free education was the key to a viable democracy. I began to learn some of the basic tools of intellectual craftsmanship under the tutelage of these men and women. They stressed to us that one of the primary elements of a true, functioning, representative democratic republic was that its citizens be well informed.

The vast majority of my classmates, most of whom were my childhood friends, went on to college and would become professionals. Several went on to become lawyers, a few more ended up on Wall St., and more than a few became teachers themselves.

I enjoyed debating. I saw debate as a gladiatorial arena in which the inequities of injustice could be hashed out. I was informed, passionate, and known for showing no mercy. I saw debate as a blood sport (still do LOL) and I was especially merciless when I came up against students from who had the privilege of attending schools located in wealthier neighborhoods -- schools that received twice the funding my school received. I remember visiting a school once that actually had a small stage in their “performance arts” classroom.

Even in the College Bound program, I was once taught algebra sitting on the bleachers by my school’s swimming pool, with the heat turned up to 90 degrees and people splashing and running around. Yes, I took great pleasure in dismantling the premises of my better off opponents mostly because it was easy to see the inequality behind it all.

Funding for the “College Bound” program was gutted shortly after my high school years. White flight to the suburbs followed by the arrival of conservative political power (which succeeded by pandering to white fear), gutted most social programs and education was the first victim. This first wave of the conservative onslaught against public education was followed by a sustained attack, this time by “Third Way” democratic neoliberals that funded then popular “tough on crime” initiatives that emphasized punishment and prison building at the expense of education.

As a result of these short-sighted and wrong-headed social policies, studies consistently show today that about 14 percent of adults in the U.S. are illiterate, meaning that 32 million people lack the skills to handle many everyday tasks. Some 21 percent of the population, possess “below basic” skills in reading and writing, meaning their reading ability is so limited, they have difficulty making sense of a simple pamphlet, for example. Another 44 percent of the population, have intermediary skills, meaning they can perform moderately challenging activities.

While these figures are certainly concerning, as with most things, there are two Americas when it comes to education. I am sure that we have all come across those articles that compares to the US to other comparatively wealthy democracies, showing how far we lag behind. However, that’s only half the story. The real take away from these studies and what the majority of the articles reporting these findings fail to mention is that public schools from middle class or wealthier communities in the US fare as well or better than schools in other countries. Schools situated in poorer communities, communities beset with lead poisoning, poverty, and addiction for example, don’t fare as well. 

For too long, there has been a two-pronged strategy to this manufactured educational “crisis.” The first has been to accede to the conservative ideal of the market as a solution. Most often, the Trojan Horse of charter schools, a system that uses a combination of padded cells, corruption, lousy instruction and worse results, are used to siphon off already scarce funds from public schools. The second prong has been an endless series of dismantling social safety nets that has resulted in increases in child poverty and child hunger. The rhetoric has been that the school system is too broke to fix. In a way, conservatives correct: the educational system is broken, but it is mostly the result of their social policies. One example in a long list of examples is the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which cost states more in property taxes and other taxes than they got out of it.

The solution is not to go in and bulldoze the schools. The answer is not to privatize the schools. The answer lies not in destruction, but in creating the collective will to change and support the way we teach. I doubt I’ll find much disagreement that our schools are melting down. However, too many of the adults reading this are much too quick to blame the children. Don’t be fuckin’ stupid. If our children are failing, then that means we as a society are failing our children. If you’re one of these people, then you’re just a dumb motherfucker. Period.

Others want to blame the parents. While it is true that parental involvement is an important factor in educational achievement, it doesn’t matter how much a parent engages if the schools we entrust our children are in disrepair, offer no access to technology, or teach children in retrofitted bathrooms. Good parenting in a well-funded suburban school equals a good student. On the other hand, good parenting in a poorly funded and demoralized inner city school doesn’t equal a good student.

The answer lies in how we view education. Education (like health care) isn’t a business, it’s an investment. For every dollar spent on education, the economy gains nine dollars. Educational investment results in healthier children who are less likely to end up in the special-education-to-criminal-justice-system pipeline, and are more likely to go to college.

Conservatives, however, seem hell-bent in pursuing an agenda that has resulted in a de facto caste system. They are channeling people who believed we should have a literate ruling class and a working class that should know just enough to make change when they buy something.

We are there.

They have done their best to destroy public education. The undermine teachers unions and starve schools. In other words, they set public education to fail and when it does, they point fingers and yell, “See! Government doesn’t work!”

Historically, we have understood education as an essential, organic part of our democracy and considered access to higher education -- regardless of income or criminal justice status -- to be, using neoliberal terms, one of the keys to building a strong middle class, a strong economy, and a strong, united nation.

Conservatives, however, see education as another commodity, like shoes or X-Boxes. Because they see it as a commodity, they operate under the false assumption that it’s easy to measure. Standardized tests lead only to standardized minds. Standardized tests do not and cannot measure if our kids know the difference between the worldviews of Thomas Paine versus Edmund Burke or the differences in the vision of democracy between Robbespierre and Jefferson. Standardized minds don’t result in critical thinking skills and the ability to think “outside the box” -- skills essential to a democracy. 

If you want to know the consequences of 40 years of conservative educational policies, you have to look no further than the current election season. One study shows that Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner for their presidential nominee, speaks at a fourth-grade level and the chattering class then feigns surprise. Considering our expressed values regarding the importance of education, why should we be surprised? In any other country, the way we treat our children would be considered child abuse.

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

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Poetry [... and They Sprayed Me]

Hola mi Gente,
Note, I am not a Bernie Sanders supporter, but I will not be voting for him or Hillary. Hillary’s record as an active FLOTUS who pushed for policies that helped her husband lock up more (mostly black and brown) people than any other president in history, and her record as a senator continuing those punitive policies, disqualifies her from my vote.

Her response to activist, Ashley Williams, who confronted Clinton about her comments 20 years ago calling young black children “superpredators” was dismissive, belligerent, and quite telling. However, my biggest problem with the discussion of the myth of the superpredator is the denial that it had racist overtones. No one, not even the snake oil salesmen who pushed the myth, deny it had a racial component. One of the purveyors of this shameless poison, James Fox, warned of a “bloodbath” of teen violence and in a report to the U.S. Attorney general, said, “Our nation faces a future juvenile violence problem that may make today’s epidemic pale in comparison” He called attention in particular to the projected growth in the black teenage population (ages 14-17), which he predicted would increase 26% by 2005.

Any questions?

Today it’s all about art. This is one of mine written a long time ago… 

* * *

Yesterdays [no. 3]

A case of Bacardi for the crazy ladies
in the corner of my past,
the hectic, horny days
of yesterday!

They beckon me back
to my forgotten madnesses,
the chest-pounding blackouts
that have grown into story-time delights.

Sure, they often left before dawn
to test my memory
with a perfumed and pummeled pillow.

And they sprayed me with
broken bottles,
cans of habichuelas,
and all their sadnesses
to leave me forever bruised and bleeding.

But they cared,
these crazy ladies,
at least as much as they could...

So let's hear it for the courageous ones
who gave these hilarious crimes to me
as evidence that I once lived.

They are the only souls I still know
who can tell me what I used to be
and why.

* * *

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

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Friday Sex Blog [Sexual Anorexia]

Hola mi Gente,

I didn’t watch last night’s republican travesty/ debate, but from the clips I have seen… just… wow. The media isn’t even pretending to take the electoral process seriously. It’s solely about entertainment.

* * *

Sexual Anorexia

The other day, while researching for the sex blog, I came across the term, sexual anorexia. I was intrigued by it that I decided to post on this little-known phenomenon. Sexual anorexia is an obsessive state of mind in which the task of avoiding sex dominates one’s life. Similar to self-starvation with food or compulsive dieting or hoarding with money, sexual deprivation can make an individual feel powerful and protected against emotional pain. I believe I have observed this behavior in more than a few people who seem to be both repulsed by and in thrall of their sexuality. Some people hide behind the term “celibacy” but I think there’s more to it than that.

Reading through several case studies, I kept getting “Aha!” moments. In the excellent and powerful film, Shame, director Steve McQueen describes Michael Fassbinder’s character, Brandon, as, “…  someone who doesn’t eat -- I think we see him eat once in the movie, and it’s just Chinese food while he’s surfing through Internet porn. It’s purely fuel, and he doesn’t get any enjoyment from it. His senses aren’t alive and awakened… and the same can be said for his sex life. He has the urge and compulsion to get involved with people, but without any emotional content, and without any sort of real pleasure being taken from it… ” The film is both powerful and terrifying. I highly recommend you put it on you que:

As with any other obsessive/ compulsive mind-state, such as those brought on by substance abuse, eating disorders, or any other addiction process, the fixation on the avoidance of sex can offer the illusion of erasing life’s problems. The obsession can then become a way to cope with all stress and all life difficulties. Yet, as with other addictions and compulsions, the costs are great. In this case, sex and intimacy becomes a stalker, something to be continually kept at bay, even at the price of destroying a part of oneself. The irony is that sexual abstinence is a form of sexual addiction.

In one case study, a woman described her 20-year relationship with her husband as “dead.” She felt they had a marriage in name only: they did all the right things and went through the motions of having a relationship, but there really was no intimacy and no relationship. She and her husband never talked and most importantly, they almost never expressed or demonstrated their feelings. She had often thought of leaving the marriage but according to her, she stayed because she felt “stuck” in a meaningless marriage.

This individual was also a recovering co-dependent and defined herself almost exclusively through her family and work. She saw herself as a Christian woman and that not to take care of others was selfish and un-Christian. One of the ways that she took care of her husband was to “service” him sexually -- to have sex when he wanted to even when she found it repulsive and difficult to do so.

She rarely, if ever, enjoyed sex, yet she felt that this was due to her own inadequacy and she hid it from her husband because she didn’t want to make him feel inadequate. She faked orgasms to add to his pleasure. In addition, being a co-dependent, she was never honest about her feelings and tended to control herself and others, especially in the area of sex.

The couple never communicated about their sexual relationship or non-relationship, so both suffered under the delusion that it was normal, if unsatisfactory.

As she worked on her recovery from co-dependence, she realized her need for approval from others left her without a sense of self and she began to change things. As she began to define herself on her terms, her focus shifted from control to working on herself. In the process, she began to reclaim herself and saw that that much of her focusing outside of herself to try to change others was part of her compulsion. Eventually, she was able to become assertive enough that she was able to say no when she didn’t feel like having sex.

In time she discovered that she was obsessed with sex. She thought about sex constantly. She found it disgusting, filthy, dirty, and repulsive. Most of her time was focused on how to avoid sex with her husband. She even hinted at becoming a workaholic in order to avoid sex.

She wanted to appear sexual and attractive to men, but she did not want to be sexual. She admitted that she might even be considered a sexual tease. Whenever men would approach her, she immediately sexualized the interaction, certain that they wanted only one thing. In effect, she was afraid of men, afraid of sex, and deeply terrified of her own sexuality.

Sexual anorexia has been used as a term to describe a lack of desire for sex. However, the term is better defined as a fear of intimacy to the point that the person has severe anxiety regarding sex. A good example are people that seem to have a sexual addiction because they frequent strip clubs, prostitutes, cyber porn sites, etc., but actually fit the definition of sexual anorexic because they are terrified of having any kind of relationship beyond a paid-for or anonymous experience.

In actuality, the individual does not have an aversion to sex but to intimacy. A sex addict is more likely to be capable of being in a more intimate relationship and is often married or in a committed relationship when deciding to get treatment for their addiction. A sexual anorexic may have a social phobia or be so fragile emotionally that the risk of rejection or criticism is far more terrifying than being isolated.

While this form of sexual addiction may not be as dramatic as sexual acting out, there is no question that the pain and suffering are just as real. A sexual anorectic affects all of his or her relationships. Their obsession with and phobia of sex is such that they cannot intimately relate with men or women.

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

PS: Sex is good for you! 


[un]Common Sense