“Positive Thinking” Is a Cover for White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and Capitalism

I found a lot of truth in a blog post I read recently called “Positive Attitude” Bullshit: On the dangers of “radical self-love”.

People whose lives aren’t going well or who experience mental illness are often subjected to “positive thinking” and New-Age-y “manifest abundance” crap. The idea is that if you just think the right kind of thoughts and change yourself with sheer willpower and perhaps by purchasing certain self-help books, suddenly you will get what you want in life.

positive thinking

Life doesn’t actually work that way. Marginalized and neuro-atypical people can’t just think their way out of institutionalized systems of oppression. These systems mean we get shittier jobs, get paid less, are harassed and degraded for existing as ourselves, and have less access to generational wealth and benefits. “Positive thinking” and the idea that simply changing how you think will change how rewarding and comfortable your life is hides how capitalism, white supremacy, and heteropatriarchy form your life conditions and chances.

It makes the systemic problems and violence of capitalism into into individual flaws. It takes unfair external conditions shaped by the effects of centuries-old oppressions and tells you that your lack of total success in life is actually your personal fault. And there are certain self-appointed people who somehow have discovered the right way to think, and they are happy to sell you products so that you too can discipline your naughty negative thoughts.

New-Age-y positive thinking philosophies, which some corporations have used to indoctrinate their workers, are just another cover for rapacious hyper-capitalism. They are a clever way of keeping people divided and focused on their personal flaws and their personal financial goals and their personal relationship problems.

Instead, what would be truly POSITIVE for most people would be to band together and find ways to end our current economic system, which requires a few winners and a lot of losers to work. It would be POSITIVE if we remembered community, unions, liberation, a multitude of loving relationships, and collaboration instead of competition. Caring people coming together to overthrow our hateful system and creating something new that benefits everyone by design is more my style of positive thinking.

You Are Probably Richer Than You Think

Reality check: those in America who make $200k a year or more are in the TOP 3% of income earners. Did you think $200k makes you middle class? Wrong- it makes you RICH.

I think somehow most of us got it twisted and think that you have to be the ultrarich 0.001% to be rich.

No.

We hear so much *from* and *about* the ultrarich, while the truly poor are almost totally silenced, that we have completely skewed ideas about what wealth is and what poverty is. This is how even the rich are fooled into thinking they are struggling and part of the middle class.

Whereas only 3% of American households make $200k or more annually, 20% make $20k or LESS. We have a fuckload of poor people and we can’t even ACKNOWLEDGE that $200k is rich.

My Vision for the Place of Art in Society

We all have an artistic side and we all need creativity in our lives. I want to dream of a world, not of career artists who earn a generous living for expressing themselves, but where EVERYONE can earn a decent living AND express themselves.

Art is not a career. That is a capitalist lie. Art is a part of life and that part of life should be accessible to every person. If creative expression of thoughts and feelings and opinions and visions should be paid for, every person should be paid. Or ideally, art is considered part of a healthy and fulfilling life and not a commodity at all.

Art should be woven into everyone’s daily experiences and not reserved for an elite kool kids klub who have few enough competing obligations to “make it” in a struggle against other artists to successfully commercialize themselves. If your art serves capital, have you really won or have you lost?

This rant came from musing upon this thought-provoking piece: My Dreams of Being a Feminist Housewife

A further rumination on this topic: “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from

The Sapiosexual Agenda

Arrogant fucks have developed a helpful new tool so that I may better avoid them: describing themselves as “sapiosexual”.

What they aspire for this word to mean is “sexually attracted to intelligence”. Of course, what it means IRL is “proudly privileged asshole with classpirations”. We all want to find partners who are stimulating, interesting, and bright. Going so far as to make this common desire into a separate sexual orientation makes me wonder who it is sapiosexuals want to separate themselves from.

Sapiosexuals are unaware of the irony and ignorance they unleash every time they whip out what they think is an impressive $2 neologism, which makes it all the more funny/hateable when they do it. Appropriating LGBTQ struggles to craft a minority orientation for those with a superiority complex, yet another example of oppressors trying on the language of the oppressed like a new set of fashionable clothes, fits perfectly with the Sapiosexual Agenda. Intelligence is a trait that classist people often attribute to themselves to justify their unearned advantages in life. According to the convenient myth of meritocracy, it would be the best and the brightest who are most successful capitalists, and thereby all intelligent people would naturally rise to the upper income levels of society. This is a slick excuse for wage-slavery- the stupid masses can barely be expected to take care of themselves, so the benevolent and highly intelligent upper classes give them employment and a wage to survive on, almost as a favor.

Have you ever noticed that colloquial terms used to refer to the lower classes are essentially synonymous with stupidity? “Hick”, “red neck”, “hillbilly”, “trailer trash”, “welfare queen” etc. This is classism at work, the same classism that sapiosexuals are proudly claiming, though they may have convinced themselves that this class-charged concept has nothing to do with class.

Sapiosexuals won’t want to talk about the fact that bootstrapping, aka class mobility, is a myth- most people will achieve a class status comparable to that of their parents. There is no level playing field, and wealth is not awarded based on merit. Your education level has a lot to do with your parents’ income level. Acknowledging these truths would blow up what sapiosexuals really mean when they allege they are simply attracted to intelligence. Because who is out there looking for a dumb partner? Can sapiosexuals really believe that they are special snowflakes because they make a show of their disdain for those they deem beneath them?

Claiming the sapiosexual label is basically a way of asserting classism as a sexual orientation. If only other types of bigots were so open and proud of their bigotry that they actually made up sexual orientations for it. “Caucasiosexual” for example. I appreciate bigots who advertise themselves openly so that the rest of us can quickly and safely avoid them.

So, uh, thanks for the laughs and the clear warning label, sapiosexuals.

Freedom of Speech, But for Whom?

Loud defenses of the Freedom of Speech, when made by the dominant classes, usually point to their concern that the underclasses are getting too uppity. Asking not to be publicly dehumanized is CENSORSHIP. Bombing mosques & NAACP buildings and locking up people of color for resisting groupthink is DEFENDING THE NATION.

On the heels of “Unity” marches and much chest-beating regarding the “Western” value of free speech, we quickly see what this is all really about.

“A string of at least 69 arrests in France this week on the vague charge of ‘defending terrorism’ risks violating freedom of expression,” Amnesty International said in an understated press release on Friday.

It turns out most of the people arrested were people of color. How about that.

From the article: France Begins Jailing People for Ironic Comments.

Normal Life by Dean Spade

Normal Life by Dean SpadeEverybody should probably go and get a copy of this book right now. The long title is Normal Life – Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. Spade criticizes mainstream gay politics and suggests a more radical, less marginalizing politics that centers poor trans people of color. The book is amazing.

Best quotes:

“Lesbian and gay organizations have also generally followed a model of governance and efficacy based on private sector norms rather than social justice values. The most well-funded organizations have pay scales similar to the private sector, with executive directors often making three to four times the salaries of the lowest paid employees. Pay often correlates to educational privilege, which again means that the greatest share of resources goes to white employees from privileged backgrounds while the least goes to employees of color and people without educational privilege.” pg.67

“Trans populations are disproportionately poor because of employment discrimination, family rejection, and difficulty accessing school, medical care, and social services. These factors increase our rate of participation in criminalized work to survive, which, combined with police profiling, produces high levels of criminalization.” pg.89

“Three concerns about law reform projects permeate many sites of resistance. First, these projects change only what the law says about what a system is doing, but not its actual impact. Second, they refine a system in ways that help it continue to target the most vulnerable people, while only partially or temporarily removing a few of the less vulnerable from its path. And finally, law reform projects often provide rationales and justifications for the expansion of harmful systems.” pg.92

“The myth of legal equality in the United States is supported by the narrative that US laws used to exclude people on the basis of race and gender but now they do not. Supposedly, all is now fair and equal. However, our nation itself was built by the establishment of population-level systems of property and labor regulation that created and utilized racial and gender categories from the beginning. The population-level programs that were mobilized from their inception by explicit race and gender exclusions continue to do the work of distributing security and vulnerability along race and gender lines, just under the auspices of race and gender neutral criteria.” pgs.116-117

“[L]egal inclusion and recognition demands often reinforce the logics of harmful systems by justifying them, contributing to their illusions of fairness and equality, and by reinforcing the targeting of certain perceived “drains” or “internal enemies,” carving the group into “the deserving” and “the undeserving” and then addressing only the issues of the favored sector.” pg.124

“For those who have long articulated opposition to state incentivization and reward for heteropatriarchial sexuality and family structures and punishment for others, the idea that lesbian and gay people should seek marriage recognition rather than aim to abolish marriage and achieve more just methods of distribution is…problematic.” pg.126

“[O]ne might observe that the lesbian and gay rights agenda primarily operates to restore privileges of the dominant systems of meaning and control to those gender-conforming, white, wealthy gay and lesbian US citizens who are enraged at how homophobic laws and policies limit access to benefits to which they feel entitled.” pg.60

“We must not only refuse reforms that require dividing and leaving behind more vulnerable trans populations, but also try to assume that the most easily digestible invitations to be included are the very ones that bring us into greater collusion with systemic control and violence.” pgs.161-162

“[T]he legalistic approach of [law reform projects] has been linked to concerns about an unjust distribution of power and leadership, especially when the work is funded and directed largely by white, upper-class professionals who inevitably create an agenda that centralizes the concerns and experiences of people like themselves.” pg.172

“[A] challenging dynamic has emerged: social welfare has increasingly become dependent on private businesses and foundations. Corporate funders have become the sponsors and benefactors of social services… The situation translates into overreliance by many organizations on income from corporations and accumulated wealth stored in foundations.” pg.173

“Nonprofits serving primarily poor and disproportionately people of color populations are frequently governed almost entirely by wealthy white people with college and graduate degrees. Staffing follows this pattern as well, with most nonprofits requiring formal education as a prerequisite to working in administrative or management-level positions. Thus, the nature of the infrastructure in many social justice nonprofits often leads to concentrated decision-making power and pay in the hands of people with education, race, gender and class privilege rather than in the hands of those bearing the brunt of the systems of maldistribution… “This dynamic leads to the reproduction of the very same systems of maldistribution that organizations are purportedly targeting. Inside those organizations, white elites determine the fates of the vulnerable and get paid to make decisions about their lives while people directly impacted are kept out of leadership.” pgs.176-177

“Nonprofits are one way that wealthy people and corporations avoid tax liability. Most of the money that gets redirected out of the tax system by philanthropy does not go to social justice.” pg.179

Top Quotes from “The Rich & the Rest of Us”

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West published a book called The Rich and the Rest of Us. I recently read this book, and here are my favorite quotes. I highly recommend this book as an excellent introduction into poverty issues and America’s class system.

” “There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great,” President Woodrow Wilson declared in 1913 at the beginning of the 20th century…”

“Poverty is 21st-century-style slavery; its eradication should serve as the battle cry of a new civil rights movement.”

“[A] condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak.”

Selections from “Anarcho-Syndicalism”

I recently read Anarcho-Syndicalism, Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker. I pulled out the take-away lessons, so now you don’t even need to read the book yourself!

“[In industrial democracies] the role of the public is to ratify decisions taken elsewhere, to adopt the doctrines prepared for them by their superiors, and in general to observe passively while performing their duty.” Pg.ii (Part of the introduction written by Noam Chomsky.)

“As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.” Pg.11

“The urge for social justice can only develop properly and be effective, when it grows out of man’s sense of personal freedom and is based on that.” Pg.14

“[O]ne cannot at will hear with his eyes and see with his ears, so also one cannot at pleasure transform an organ of social oppression into an instrument for the liberation of the oppressed. The state can only be what it is: the defender of mass-exploitation and social privileges, the creator of privileged classes and castes and of new monopolies.” Pg.15

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Criminalizing the Poor Is Good Politics

Uh, hello, even Fox News can tell this is a bad idea:

Nearly two dozen states are considering plans this session that would make drug testing mandatory for welfare recipients, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And Wyoming lawmakers advanced such a proposal this week.

Driving the measures is a perception that people on public assistance are misusing the funds and that cutting off their benefits would save money for tight state budgets — even as statistics have largely proved both notions untrue.

…The issue has come up in the Republican presidential campaign, with front-runner Mitt Romney saying it’s an “excellent idea.”

Of course the millionaire thinks it’s okay to invade the privacy of people in desperate situations and treat them like criminals for being poor.

There’s a word for that: classism.

Statistics indicate that people who receive public assistance are no more likely to use drugs than the general population. Budget analysis shows that testing is so expensive, and so few people actually fail the test and get kicked off assistance, that it costs much more than it saves. Additionally, there is a trend of these laws getting ruled unconstitutional in court.

So why would Republicans still support bills that discriminate pointlessly, add cost to state budgets, and will probably get declared unconstitutional?

Because they are counting on the existence of stereotypes about the poor, and that this discrimination will win them short-term political points.

Huzzah!

Some state politicians have tried to add in drug testing for state legislators, who receive even more money from the government than recipients of public assistance. None of these measure have been adopted or seen the same kind of vigorous support as drug testing for the poor. Huh.

Takeways from The New Jim Crow

New Jim Crow book coverI just finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I can’t recommend it enough. For everyone. READ IT NOW!

Here are some quotes that struck me:

“One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system – in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole – yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).” Pg.9

“What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief – despite all evidence to the contrary – that anyone, with the proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class.” Pg.13

The rest are here:
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Democracy in America

I recently read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I pulled out some interesting quotes that seem relevant to America’s current political situation.

Occupy Wall Street’s critique of the superrich and wealth inequality

“The picture of American society has, if I may so speak, a surface covering of democracy, beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep out.” Pg.47

“But beneath this artificial enthusiasm and these obsequious attentions to the preponderating power [the interests of the middle & working classes], it is easy to perceive that the rich have a a hearty dislike of the democratic institutions of their country.” Pg.187

Centralizing power and removing citizens’ rights

” “The will of the nation” is one of those phrases that have been most largely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age. Some have seen the expression of it in the purchased suffrages of a few of the satellites of power; others, in the votes of a timid or an interested minority; and some have even discovered it in the silence of a people, on the supposition that the fact of submission established the right to command.” Pg.57

“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion.” Pg.270

Jingoism and nationalism

“Patriotism… is frequently a mere extension of individual selfishness.” Pg.402

Intolerance of difference

“In the United States… all parties are willing to recognize the rights of the majority, because they all hope at some time to be able to exercise them to their own advantage. The majority in that country, therefore, exercise a prodigious actual authority, and a power of opinion which is nearly as great; no obstacles exist which can impede or even retard its progress, so as to make it heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of things is harmful in itself and dangerous for the future.” Pg.266

Some sound advice from George Washington that should be applied to Israel & Palestine

“…Washington makes this admirable and just remark: “The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” ” Pg.242

I Am the 51%

From the Atlantic:

Occupiers all viscerally sense the problem: extreme economic inequality. They all cite a lack of fairness — a lack of opportunity. They also agree that the status quo is failing.

But when it comes to women, Occupy is really a microcosm of the greater culture at large. This should … greatly embarrass those in the movement who see themselves as revolutionaries.

Just as when misogynists claimed the women accusing Julian Assange of rape were in fact part of a CIA-planned “honey trap”, there are misogynists calling the acknowledgment of gender inequality in the “Occupations” a plot by the powers-that-be to delegitimize the movement.  Little do they know that any participant’s disregard for the concerns of women in the movement, and their lack of willingness to acknowledge that women face sexism in society, will do plenty more to delegitimize Occupy than anything these alleged powers-that-be could do with their sudden, uncharacteristic feminism.  (Society’s power networks have never been known for being particularly woman-friendly, so claims that this is a government or corporate plot seem specious.)

How about this: to pre-empt these nefarious powers attempting to delegitimize the Occupy movement by pointing out how it reproduces society’s inequalities, why doesn’t Occupy instead model what an equal society should look like by being actively feminist, anti-racist, and welcoming to all other marginalized identities?

The argument that we must ignore all inequality except for class inequality is a surefire way to create an all white male movement that benefits white males.  The American Socialist Party in the early 20th century did the same thing, and we can see how powerful they are now. Quote:

[The Socialist Party’s] female members were not encouraged to join other women’s organizations in the fight for women’s rights ans suffrage. The class struggle was to have priority over matters of gender equality.

Not only does an equal class, unequal gender vision of the future serve to benefit men and turn off women, but it is impossible. How is it possible for unequal people to maintain equal wealth or wages or standards of living?

No one is a single identity.  Each of us is a whole person with many different identities around race, ethnicity, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, religion, age, etc.  An individual’s class is heavily affected by their other identities.  Black and brown people have considerably less wealth than white people, women still earn less than men for equivalent work, trans people are more likely to be homeless than cisgendered people, etc.  If you can’t bring that into your class analysis, you are doing some shitty class analysis.

To call women, or people of color, or other marginalized groups abettors of the oppressors for raising their particular concerns is to be willfully blind to the real way class works, and to silence those who experience the preponderance of its negative effects… i.e. the best and most motivated potential activists.

Here is some information about wealth disparities for the skeptical.

Class War in Oakland?

Wow, this kind of looks like war:

Riot Police at Occupy Oakland on Oct.25, 2011

Photo by Jane Tyska

On Tuesday, October 25th, Oakland police attacked peaceful Occupy Oakland protesters. They shot rubber bullets, bean bag rounds (bags filled with lead balls) and tear gas, and lobbed flash-bang grenades. They deny this, but video from the scene makes the facts clear.

They cracked the skull of Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran, and then lobbed grenades at those who rushed to help him.

Scott Olsen, Iraq veteran

Stillframe from Youtube video above

This Laura Flanders video shows the chaos pretty clearly.

I’m surprised to say that the Washington Post has a good article about the incident and Scott Olsen’s injuries.

The Root also discusses the police attack.

A photo slideshow is available at the LA Times.

In related news…

Further south in LA, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa explains his priorities:

He decided the camp could not stay … because of concerns about the condition of the lawn and trees.

“Look, our lawn is dead, our sprinklers aren’t working . . . our trees are without water,” the mayor said.

Sounds a lot like the tactics used at other Occupy locations, such as the purported deep concern for the flower beds in Liberty Plaza, New York and the plaintive calls by the authorities of Boston for Occupy Boston to PLEASE THINK OF THE SHRUBBERY!

Side note of interest: Google reports that, “We received a request from a local law enforcement agency to remove YouTube videos of police brutality, which we did not remove.”

Huh.

Egyptian Connects the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street

Interesting thoughts from an Egyptian man who attended the Billionaire’s March yesterday. The Billionaire’s March was part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and included visits to five billionaires’ homes: Rupert Murdoch, David Koch, Howard Milstein, Jamie Dimon, and John Paulson.

Mustafa Ibrahim, 23, an engineer marched on the “Billionaire’s Tour” during a visit to New York from Cairo, where he said he was arrested during a popular uprising this year which toppled Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

“It’s pretty much the same thing as Egypt,” Ibrahim said. “The problem is the rich keep getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”

Alternet describes the Billionaire’s March as “getting enthusiastic responses from onlookers–in particular the doormen at the buildings en route.”

Look out billionaires, your own servants openly root for your comeuppance!

British Elites Are “Shocked” the Poor Are Rising Up Against Austerity Measures

Everyone’s favorite article explaining the British youth riots: Panic on the Streets of London by Penny Red.

An excerpt:

Months of conjecture will follow these riots. Already, the internet is teeming with racist vitriol and wild speculation. The truth is that very few people know why this is happening. They don’t know, because they were not watching these communities. Nobody has been watching Tottenham since the television cameras drifted away after the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. Most of the people who will be writing, speaking and pontificating about the disorder this weekend have absolutely no idea what it is like to grow up in a community where there are no jobs, no space to live or move, and the police are on the streets stopping-and-searching you as you come home from school. The people who do will be waking up this week in the sure and certain knowledge that after decades of being ignored and marginalised and harassed by the police, after months of seeing any conceivable hope of a better future confiscated, they are finally on the news. In one NBC report, a young man in Tottenham was asked if rioting really achieved anything:

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?”

“Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

Read the whole thing. H/t RH.

Remember Poverty?

City Limits: Remember Poverty

I cannot recommend the latest issue of City Limits Magazine more strongly. This issue is titled “Remember Poverty” and contains several articles that are worth your time. The magazine is based in New York City, so the articles pertain to the specific NYC situation, but the general message is relevant to the whole country.

A short description of the issue from their website:

Fifteen years after federal welfare reform, five years after New York City embarked on a quest to reduce poverty, more Americans are poor than ever before and one in five New Yorkers remains below the poverty line. Yet poverty is absent from political debates and media headlines. Everyone, it seems, is tired of talking about poverty–except poor people. In this 35th anniversary issue, City Limits lets low-income New Yorkers talk about their daily fight for survival and independence. Their stories defy simple explanations of poverty’s causes or consequences. And they reveal that efforts to assist low-income people often serve to complicate their lives, even as they provide crucial support.

In other news, Warren Buffet recently had some interesting things to say in his article “Stop Coddling the Super-Rich” in a recent New York Times:

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice”… [But] while the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.

…88 of the 400 [Americans reporting the largest income] in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest.

Stereotypes, Myths, & Criminalizing Policies: Regulating the Lives of Poor Women

Read this BOMB post at the Incite! blog by New Orleans-based Women’s Health & Justice Initiative NOW!

Here’s just a taste:

Using the ‘Get Tough’ rhetoric of the War on Drugs; reproductive regulation; and neoliberal austerity measures to attack poor and marginalized women (who rely on government subsidies for financial support) irresponsibly exploits their economic vulnerability by falsely implying their assistance is the cause of the country’s financial woes. Although recipients of public assistance are no more likely to use illegal drugs than the general population, they are often disproportionately targeted by elected officials as social burdens in need of governmental regulation.

…If passed, Senator Vitter’s Drug Free Families Act of 2011 would amend part A of The TANF Program and thereby require all states to drug test all TANF applicants and recipients. The bill will deny assistance to individuals who test positive for illegal drugs and those convicted of drug-related crimes. Not only will this Act further restrict the privacy and agency of women who are daily portrayed as deceitful, deviant, oversexed, and addicts—all because of racialized gender-based misconceptions of what it means to receive public assistance- it will also subject them to various forms of discrimination with regards to housing, employment, education, and their voting rights.