Sunday, September 29, 2013

Biblical worldview, the South, Creationism

Looking at all this opposition to teaching evolution in schools, and anti-science things in general, on the part of people both in the South and in the Midwest, I'm reminded of one of the comments that a writer on Southern culture made, that can be summarized like this: people there live with a worldview that is very religious, that goes beyond simply believing in a particular faith but instead shapes their fundamental interpretation of the world around them. The author defended this, didn't condemn it. When these folks look at evolution, global warming, and related issues, they don't just see a different thing that science has come up with, they see something that fundamentally conflicts with their understanding of how the world works.  What they don't realize is that having a worldview like that and accepting science aren't mutually exclusive, but in the process of getting to an interpretation of things that would allow both to co-exist they'd have to recognize at least some relativity in how people view and interpret the world. That's a tall order.

While the author viewed was hopeful about this, the other side of the coin is that this static reality is something inherited from the medieval world, where people  saw the world around them as static and unchanging. Isaiah Berlin, although he has some questionable interpretations about the history of ideas, makes a very good point in his work when he suggests that the precursor to what we understand as the current, commonly held, worldview, wasn't the pure scientism of the Enlightenment, but the earlier development in the Renaissance of the sheer possibility of society having been fundamentally different in the past and potentially being different in the future. There were actually works that argued that society and the world itself, and our views of the world on all levels, were not immutable, and that these variations weren't reducible to one being good and the rest being defective.

This is what the folks in these places who are very concerned about evolution and the modern scientific worldview being taught in schools are missing. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

From Al Jazeera: "Detroit: Closed for business"

The article, by Hasan Dudar,Here, presents a unique perspective. As a reporter of Middle Eastern descent, I think he was able to interview store owners in Detroit that appear to be mostly of Middle Eastern descent themselves, and get their perspective on things. Some things stand out, that are mentioned multiple times. For instance, the owner of a rare vitamin and supplement store reports: 

"Saba, whose customers come in for jugs of alkaline water and vitamin supplements, says part of the responsibility is on the storeowner to ensure that their business is part of the neighborhood and not just a corner store that profits off of it."

After outlining her hospitality to customers who go in there because it's a safe place,she says: "More stores, she says, need to create an atmosphere of respect and be part of residents' lives beyond their shop doors."

Talking about another store owner, "Maurice Jones, former president of a local community organization that looks after Dabaja's neighborhood, says the remaining residents consider Dabaja a pillar of the community and an advocate on their behalf for basic services such as lighting and policing.
"If Frank weren’t here, that gas station would be gone. That's the problem with Detroit: We won't work with the business owners," says Jones, a 63-year-old retired Vietnam veteran who has lived on the west side for 40 years." 
The thing is that, while I'm certainly not a fan of large corporations, the mentality that believes that businesses that are perceived as being not community based, which is often racialized, are parasites, is ingrained in the culture of the city of Detroit, and has been for quite some time. In fact, Coleman Young, the post-riots mayor for life who had no problem in continually alienating anyone who wanted to help the city, specifically mentioned small businesses whose owners weren't present in the city, who were mostly white, as criminals who should get out of town. The perception of absentee owners who were the wrong skin color went over to people who weren't absentee owners, who were part of the community, who also did not fit the bill. And they were alienated and left. 
The problem with the mentality that took over in Detroit after the riots was that this wasn't any sort of nice, thoughtful, one shaped by, say, thought out Marxist perspectives. Instead, you had a grab bag of folks who were pissed off who often had little insight into any larger context and instead reverted to seeing what was going on as a simplistic racial battle. And the riots themselves, it should be noted, even spilled into the schools, with several people who are anything but racist, who grew up either in the city or in integrated areas adjacent to it, reporting to me over the years as a matter of fact constant fights along racial lines and people being regularly stabbed. 
 Coleman Young did nothing to encourage a more nuanced perspective, and in fact played to the most base opinions in Detroit, all the while doing next to nothing to actually improve the city. When the machine that supported him really took over, other perspectives were pushed aside.
Detroit's problems, and indeed, the exodus of industry to the suburbs did start before the riots, as well as white flight, were exacerbated by an increasingly hostile atmosphere that did not distinguish friend from foe, or the people who were really exploiting others from those who were simply neighbors and community members. 
It's a story about how raw, popular, anger, isn't always right, despite what people might think. There's certain strains of anarchism that believe that the more raw and real, the less tainted by what are considered to be compromises with capitalist culture, people are the more naturally they'll do the right thing when the time comes. I don't believe that's the case, and that folks who complain about the supposed taint that critical thought gives to people are out of touch with the basic realities of life itself. 
Fetishizing a Rousseau like 'Noble Savage' pushes people who have more balanced perspectives aside, and leads to grotesqueries like putting faith in gang members and criminals, who have a patina of radical thought on them, on a pedestal. It should be noted that I'm not calling the people of Detroit, specifically African Americans, 'Savages', but suggesting that of the many different sections of the community down there, the ones that were not only tolerated but implicitly encouraged were some of the worst, to the exclusion of others. I expect, though, that some of those other sections would argue with this themselves, and see the relative self-determination they enjoyed as being somehow a nice prize. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Final, for now, thoughts on Occupy Seattle: they didn't know how good they had it.

First off, I think that Occupy Seattle was destroyed by a bunch of ideologues from the Bay Area who wanted to take over and run the show. They deployed, among other things, the sort of Critical Theory arguments that educated elites are unfortunately susceptible to, and guilt tripped them into going along with whatever came down the pipe.  

Now, I've just come back from a trip to the Midwest, and, while I can't say that it was comprehensive in the sense of visiting every state and every metro area there, I do have to say that Seattle most definitely has much more going on culturally, politically, and socially than vast areas in the middle of the country. This includes many areas in the more politically progressive Upper Midwest around the Great Lakes. 

Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy Madison were likely pretty major, but what about Occupy Cleveland, or Occupy Indianapolis? There are many places around the country that would give quite a lot to have what we have in Seattle, and the folks who chose their own limited goals and ideologies as opposed to honoring the spirit of "We are the 99%", that was intended to be a big tent movement and not a sectarian one, fucked it up. They, and we, had the perfect opportunity to build something enduring in Seattle area progressive politics and it was burned to the ground. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Detroit and it's issues

I've written about this before, but am in the metro area, so it's good to revisit it. While the origins of Detroit's problems are complex, I think it's worth noting that for a long time there have been plenty of people in the suburbs who have wanted to help out Detroit, who have wanted to see the city come back, but who have been rebuffed because their skin is the wrong color. These are folks who *like* the city, but unfortunately in the past, because they were white, they were considered to be interlopers, people who wanted to take over the city and co-opt it. Perhaps this is changing, but, quite frankly, if the people who live in a city are mostly poor and have little access to resources themselves, and they rebuff the people who actually have resources, who want to invest in the city, what can you do?

Folks talk about the racism of the suburbs, and it's certainly there, with Sterling Heights being nicknamed "Sterling Whites" and Dearborn having had a longstanding racist position on the part of the cops, something that changed only in the past two decades or so. The point, though, is that the people who wanted to help out Detroit weren't racists. They were fine with African-Americans, liked the black culture of Detroit, and they still were not welcome.

At least in part, Detroit shows what happens if you don't recognize who's trying to help you and instead pursue a policy of cultural purity.