Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Comrade Trump

Donald Trump won the electoral college vote. You would think this would be enough for him. Hillary Clinton got about two million more popular votes than he did. But Trump wants to rewrite history. He claims that he actually won the popular vote, because those votes for Clinton were illegal. See the USA Today article. He wants not only the presidency but wants history to remember him as the recipient of the huge and virtually uncontested adoration of Americans.

And he can do it.

Will Trump, by his endless repetition of his claims, alter the records of history in the United States? Will future generations of American students learn that Trump led an immense popular revolution? This sort of thing has happened before, though not in America.

Joseph Stalin was one of the Bolshevik leaders of the Russian Revolution in 1917. There were others who worked beside him and were just as important. But when Stalin grabbed power in the Soviet Union, he proceeded to literally rewrite the history of the Revolution. As one by one his former comrades-in-arms began to fall from his favor, Stalin literally had them purged out of the photographs of the period. Consider this set of four images. The original photograph shows four men—Stalin and three comrades who fought with him. One by one, the images of the others were erased until Stalin is left alone, implying that he single-handedly led the Revolution. The others were literally erased from history.

Here is another example. Nikolai Yezhov was the water commissar in Moscow. Here is the original photo of him with Stalin:

But Yezhov later fell from favor with Stalin, who had him erased from the photo:

Trump is arrogant enough, and has enough popular support, that He could conceivably rewrite American history to fit his views, particularly with regard to himself.

You can find more information, and the images I have used, here.

In a similar fashion, Adolf Hitler got everyone in Germany and outside Germany to think that all Germans supported, indeed worshiped, Him. This was to the advantage of Hitler, who pretended that there never had been any serious opposition to Him, and to the Allies, who wanted to maintain the fiction that all Germans were Nazis. History does not even remember that there were Gentile white Germans in 1940 who were not Nazis. There were many thousands of them, as explained here; 77,000 of them were executed by the Nazis.

The human mind did not evolve to reason; it evolved to rationalize. To the human mind, a lie supported by religious fervor (just as most conservative Christians virtually worship Trump) is just as good as, and more useful than, the truth. If history is any guide, Trump and his religious followers can rewrite American history so that future generations of Americans will not even know that those of us who oppose Trump even existed. Remember that images can be doctored on the internet, too.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Evolution of Democracy

It is clear to many of us, in the wake of the right-wing victories in the 2016 election, that democracy is fragile. What might have happened if Trump had lost the election? Would he have gracefully accepted defeat, as Clinton did? Probably not. At least not gracefully. Throughout his campaign he declared that he would accept the election results only if he won. While I doubt he would have called his followers to violent action, he almost certainly would not have told them to restrain their passion; he would, without saying it in so many words, have encouraged his followers to begin acts of violence. Of course, we will never know, unless the Republicans lose big in 2018 or 2020.

My point is that democracy can survive only if the dominant race remains in control. The majority white race (which is actually, as described in another essay, a coalition of minority white races) likes democracy only as long as it leaves this race in control. Sure, Obama was president for eight years, but there was not one moment (except about a half a year at the beginning) when he was not under continual attack and aspersion. The Republican approach to a black presidency was to try to demolish it. They think democracy is nice but don’t let it go too far.

In this sense democracy is like any other animal behavior system. Animal behavior systems can evolve. That’s part of how we ended up with two very closely-related species of chimpanzees: the regular chimp (Pan troglodytes), which is often violent, and the bonobo (Pan paniscus), which is usually peaceful. Chimps spend a lot of time fighting, while bonobos spend a lot of time making love. A bonobo troop is like one long orgy, or so it seems to human observers. As Frans deWaal says, chimps resolve sexual conflicts with power, while bonobos resolve power issues with sex. There is nothing fundamental in primate behavior about either peace or war. It can change over evolutionary time.

In humans, behavior can change over much shorter periods of time. There is nothing about democracy that is fundamental to American character; we have it for now, but (as has happened so often in the past in other countries) humans can quickly abandon it and embrace totalitarianism if that’s what it takes to maintain white supremacy. So far, which path we take remains open to us.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Something We May Never See Again

I discovered a surprising book in my vast library recently: My Wilderness, East to Katahdin, by a certain William O. Douglas. Many of us think of the modern era of environmental awareness as having begun with the 1962 publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. But My Wilderness, published in 1961, has some of the same ideas, though in a less organized form. Rachel Carson organized the concepts into a powerful argument and provided all of the scientific references, but William O. Douglas and probably many others had thought of them earlier.

One of these concepts was the interconnectedness of nature and how modern industrial society can mess everything up by ignoring these connections. One example about which Douglas wrote was the federal government practice, in the 1950s, of dropping poison bait from airplanes to kill off the wolves. But the result was to kill off many other kinds of animals, some of which had kept populations of agricultural pests such as grasshoppers in check. The result was population explosions of insect pests. The answer to this was, of course, more spraying. Another example was the attempt to destroy the sagebrush by herbicides, to encourage the grass to grow for the ranchers to graze their livestock. But wildlife that depended on the sagebrush began to die as a result.

Another concept was the government practice of renting out federal land very, very cheaply to ranchers to graze their livestock. At that point, the ranchers began to act as if the federal land was actually their private land that the government should just let them keep. This continues to happen today, such as the takeover of federal land by the armed Bundy family militia in late 2015. But it is nothing new. Douglas quotes an acquaintance who worked for the federal government (I presume the Bureau of Land Management) who said, “…a permittee who has the right to run sheep on public land pretty soon begins to think he owns the range. Take it away from him, or cut down on the number of sheep or cattle he can graze, or increase the rental, and he hollers as if his property has been confiscated” (page 41). Then as now, ranchers who pretend to be wild west cowboys want to take land that belongs to the taxpayers—that is, as much as to me as to them—and keep it for themselves. This is a practice that they refuse to call socialism.

Douglas was a man who hiked all over the continent. He writes of backpacking in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming; Zion National Park in Utah; Maroon Bells in Colorado; Baboquivari along the Arizona-Sonora border; Quetico Provincial Park in Canada; The Smoky Mountains; the Everglades; the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal near Washington, D. C.; and the White Mountains, Allagash, and Mt. Katahdin in the northeast United States. He was no stranger to the challenges of survival in the wild. The descriptions in this book are sometimes evocative and help you to feel like you are actually present in a place you will probably never visit. But, although I have no doubt that he saw all of these organisms, his descriptions were usually lists of plants and animals that sound like he copied them out of a guidebook. There were quite a few books of this sort published about the same time, such as The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd Olson, The Near Woods by Millard Davis, and One Day at Teton Marsh by Sally Carrighar. Douglas’s book is highly disorganized, except for each chapter being about his experience in one particular place.

What makes this book unique is the person who wrote it. Who was he? Do the black robes in this portrait give you a hint?

William O. Douglas was, throughout nearly all of the time during which he took the hikes he describes, a Supreme Court justice. He still holds the record of serving the longest on the Supreme Court, almost 37 years, from 1939 to 1975. Aside from Teddy Roosevelt shooting big animals and mistaking it for a love of nature, we have never had—and almost certainly will never again have—a prominent politician who had or will have such a passionate and thorough knowledge of the natural world. Today, with the new “conservative” (vs. conservationist) takeover, it seems that the less you know about science and nature, the more qualified you are for any office, particularly positions in which you are supervising government conservation and scientific activities. But even the few remaining liberals in government seem to think that the Earth is just a stage on which the human drama takes place. Douglas was most famous for writing the “Rights of Rocks” statement. In the Sierra Club v. Morton suit regarding the commercial development of Mineral King, just south of Sequoia National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Douglas wrote, “Contemporary public concern for protecting nature's ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.” That is, trees should be able to sue for their own preservation. Can you imagine any Supreme Court justice, or any other prominent politician, saying anything like this today?

Douglas considered Nature to be a holy place. Thousands of books are published with such a theme, and millions of people believe it, but none of them in such a prominent position as the one Douglas held. Just read these words: “If we make conservation a national cause we can raise generations who will learn that the earth itself is sacred. Once a person breaks through to the level where love of beauty is the ideal, he will worship the rocks and plains that are America. Then he will look on a tuft of grass with awe. For it has the secret of chlorophyll that man hardly comprehends” (page 32).

The survival of human life as we know it on Earth depends on our leaders having this kind of insight. And it will never happen.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We Are All Minorities

On a recent NPR interview, I heard an old survivor of the 1960s civil rights struggles say that we are all minorities. Since the recent election, we have heard a lot about the reassertion of dominance by the white Christian majority. But this “majority” is actually a coalition of minorities. There are many different “white” ethnic groups. White ethnicity is a fiction created by the desire of many white minorities to band together to repress people of color.

Of course it is not just the “whites” that do this. “Africans” do this also. There is no single African race. The people of north Africa, the Bantu people of west Africa, the Mbuti of the Ituri Forest, the Ethiopians and Somalis, and the San of south Africa are all different races. You will find African-Americans from all of these different racial backgrounds. “White” racism has forced all “Africans” into a coalition.

The same is true of Native Americans. Today, all of the tribes are in the same boat and act as if they are one people. You can go to any pow-wow you like across the country—and some people apparently spend their summer vacation doing this—and it is pretty much the same. The Cherokee pow-wows of my tribe in Oklahoma look and sound almost identical to the Lakota pow-wows I attended when I lived in Minnesota. My tribe, the Cherokee tribe, used to fight against the Creeks for access to hunting grounds. But the overwhelming force of “white” genocide and land-grabbing (by Americans of English, Irish, Scottish, German, etc., descent) has forced all 500 tribes into a coalition.

But there is an insight that comes from thinking of ourselves as minorities, even those of you in the “white majority.” We are all minorities and have to work together for the survival of the world. If any of you think of the Trump victory as a victory of whites, you are contributing to a mindset that endangers the future of the world.