Monthly Archives: July 2015

The Murder of Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland, like countless others, was murdered by the State. She was dehumanized, brutalized and tortured. And regardless of whether she or someone else physically hanged her in that jail cell, her life was taken, nonetheless, by an entrenched system of White supremacy.  Pulled over by a police officer for failing to signal, Sandra was subjected to the casual humiliation meted out by a system drenched in arrogant impunity. She may have been spared much of what came next had she groveled to his abusive conceit; but she had probably had enough. Sandra asserted her rights by asking questions about her detainment. When she was asked by the officer what was wrong, she calmly explained her exasperation. When she asserted her right to smoke inside her own vehicle, and defy an unwarranted demand, she was violated, threatened with a taser that can be, and often is, lethal, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Her pleas for mercy and compassion were summarily ignored or ridiculed as she lay helpless on the warm, Texas grass. She was found dead three days later in her jail cell.

Sandra Bland  Photo  K HoustonSystemic racism exacts a high price. To the victimizer, that price involves the gutting of the soul. It requires the wholesale rejection of empathy, and a willful ignorance of the long lasting ramifications of centuries of injustice and crimes against humanity. The victims of racism are, as in so many other instances of persecution, often driven to numb the excruciating pain inflicted on them by such a system through drugs or alcohol, or extinguish it completely though the ending of their lives. This is a phenomenon rarely, if ever, understood by the oppressor. The constant humiliation, threats and violence that are meted out by a racist society each day dehumanize and alienate; and there is only so much a human being can take before they break. This same scenario is played out time and time again in any group that is oppressed, from the spate of suicides among LGBTQ teens, to the self-medication that many women are driven too, or the spike in alcoholism in Native American and First Nations communities.

Alcoholism among the Oglala Sioux  Photo  GettyIn America, the machine of institutionalized racism grinds on unabated since slavery. It has morphed into a new kind of barbarity in the form of the prison and criminal justice system. It is a police/surveillance/prison industry that has effected poor Whites as well, especially since 9/11.  But much of White society has decided that racism is a thing of the past. This lie is agonizingly etched into the bodies of Black and Brown people, who are disproportionately cut down daily by State violence, both seen and unseen. The mountains of corpses are not captured through the lens of a war photographer on a battlefield in one of America’s many wars of imperialistic domination. They are not easily spotted as in one of the countless, archived pictures of lynchings throughout this country just decades ago. But they are there if one takes a moment to see beyond the lens of their own privilege.

Suicide is, in the end, the final respite of the tortured. It is the tragic punctuation to a litany of cruelty and humiliation. And for the oppressed it often feels like the only escape from the daily misery inflicted by a callous and merciless society. Sandra Bland was arrested for “driving while Black.”  She was brutalized for daring to assert her rights.  She may have taken her life in that jail cell.  We still do not know.  But regardless, she is the latest, most visible, victim of execution (murder by the State); and, sadly, she will not be the last. The only way to truly honor her life is to remember that there are countless Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Natasha McKennas, Freddie Grays and Eric Garners, that we will never hear about because they have not yet fallen; and to continue to defy the monstrous system that perpetuates this savagery and carnage.

Kenn Orphan 2015

12 year old Tamir Rice murdered by Cleveland Police.  via AP

Natasha McKenna  via AP

Freddie Gray  Source ABCNews

Eric Garner  Photo Source  Black Star News

Inverting Reality

     In the troubled age we live in the wealthy elite have perfected the art of inverting reality.

How else could the gutting of the social safety net be renamed austerity, and the dismantling of the public commons and transfer of its wealth to the extremely wealthy be excused as merely privatization?   How else could wars on behalf of corporate industry be re-cast as “humanitarian interventions” and the “war on terror?”
Children labor under unsafe conditions with long hours in India.  Source  GettyOr the plunder of impoverished nations for the benefit of the powerful be explained as “free trade?”  How else could the wanton destruction of the environment with impunity be seen as “job creation?”
Oil Wells in Kern County California  Photograph Mark Gamba
Or the housing of millions of sentient beings in cramped, disease ridden, concentration camps be touted as a solution to “food insecurity?”

A pig looks out of his cage of misery at a concentration camp, more commonly referred to as a factory farm.  Source  Waking TimesOr the mass incarceration of impoverished people of color be redefined as the “War on Drugs?”   And refugees fleeing from regions where corporate exploitation has made life a misery be labelled “illegal aliens,” and demonized as criminals by the slick, intelligence devoid, powerful?

Undocumented Immigrants  Source Today

Credit: S. Morgan/Alamy, NatureOn a finite planet, with humanity fast reaching the upper limit of consumption and where resources are dwindling, the machinations of this global industry of plunder are beginning to crumble under their own weight.  But it will not be a soft landing.  The elite have steadily constructed the surveillance state; and they have augmented it with a militarized police force designed to protect their power and wealth with the distribution of swift and violent punishment.  They have codified laws that allow for the indefinite detention, or extrajudicial execution, of anyone they view as a threat.  And they will not hesitate in the slightest in employing everything in their arsenal at the first sign of ecological calamity and social unrest.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street  ReutersThis is the inherent nature of capitalism; and in particular its terminal stage, neoliberalism.  It is a system predicated upon wealth acquisition at the expense of the entire planet. Wherever it manifests itself the fundamental foundations of democracy are reduced to mere spectacle without substance. Wikipedia defines it as: “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”  There are those that may use more euphemistic parlance to describe it, but its conclusive message to most of humanity, and countless other species, is no less cruel. It feeds on the most vulnerable through violence, disenfranchisement and humiliation.  It castigates the poor as intrinsically deficient.  And it divides the natural world into worthiness categorizes for efficient exploitation.

Capitalist  Artist UnknownIt has created a multi-national aristocracy that becomes more consumed with its corpulent privilege every day.   But it is also a system which is ultimately destined to rot of its own suppuration and conceit.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Our Shared Humanity

When our ancestors were hiding in the trees from predators the connections they had to each other were indispensable. They accounted for their ability to survive and eventually climb down to the earth. As time progressed this connection evolved into a great awakening of consciousness. They began to understand each other as more than the sum of their parts.  A complex society developed out of our cooperation, ingenuity and shared empathy for one another.  Eventually the commons, a place for the entire community to come together, was celebrated as essential.  It was never perfect or a place devoid of cruelty, aggression or intrigue. But here our demons were dealt with in the open, and the natural world was revered and cherished as the source of all life.  The concept of ownership was unknown.  Resources such as water and land provided for everyone.   And our ancestors, for the most part, maintained this era for eons.

Early humans sharing food at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov.As civilization evolved so did the complexities of our relationships with each other and with the world we live in.  Most hunter-gatherer societies became agrarian.  Hierarchical forms of governance developed and eventually imperialism commenced.  Throughout this long period of human history kingdoms rose and fell, disease and famine were rampant, one people plundered another for resources and religion, and most of the world remained unmolested, wild and vast.  Human society continued to, more or less, evolve; and despite some rather major set backs, scientific discovery gradually became accepted.  Then came the discovery of fossil fuels.  This is when civilization took a giant leap ahead, and the commons began their death spiral.

Iron and Coal, 1855–60, by William Bell Scott

Population Growth, Energy Consumption and the Industrial Revolution Source Nature

Powerful merchants and nobles in Europe and North America learned fast that they could amass enormous wealth through industrialization with the use of these new fuels.  This led to a rise in the standard of living for many who languished under feudalism, but it also allowed for the powerful to impose new forms of exploitation and abuse.  While famine and disease were reduced, global population exploded; and widespread pollution of the environment and the decimation of forests and wild lands burgeoned.   By the mid-twentieth century, following a world war that killed over 60 million people, most of the remaining commons began to be dismantled to make way for a consumer driven, assembly line society.

Assembly Line in ChinaThe materialism and convenience this offered evolved into a global machine of corporatism whose appetites have become insatiable.  But, in spite of all this, a piece of the enlightened dawning in our evolution as a species has been retained. Many still stand in wonder at the natural world and grieve at its demise.  Most feel empathy for the suffering of others.  And despite being immersed in a sea of mindless consumerism, human beings still yearn for a connection we once knew before materialism became the dominant force of our day.

The emergence of the social media at the beginning of this century signifies a collective longing for the commons of old. It has also been a powerful tool for dissent and activism; and has been instrumental in organizing protests against tyranny around the world. But in this medium individuals are easily categorized into camps or groups. It has made advertising far simpler and made corporations far richer. And it has forged a new era of social control and authoritarianism that emanates from the mentality of the mob.  The vacuous, soul sucking maw of commercialism stalks every page. It offers us agency, while it robs us of one of the most precious liberties we have, our privacy.

Artist Pawel KuczynskiIn this age privacy is often looked at as a quaint vestige of a bygone era. Yet with its disintegration, the very essence of democracy is assaulted. The private is a sacred space in which to contemplate issues and construct critical thought before returning to the commons. But social media entices people to give this space up and turn over every piece of information. It is a place that has been created by corporate interests and informed by the surveillance state. And while its secrets are sacrosanct, the individual is expected to bare all lest they be suspected of a misdeed.

Social media is not going to go away as long as industrial civilization is around. And its algorithmic hypnotism, that undoubtedly creates new pathways in the brain for dopamine induced pleasure, will continue to hold most of us under its spell.  But its days, too, are numbered.  Without the machine of industrial society, social media cannot exist. It is dependent on mines in Africa and petrochemicals that are accelerating climate change. Those who place complete faith in technology do not pay attention to the enormous cost that is exacted from the planet or the billions of people who are mercilessly exploited to make all of this “first world” technology possible. They choose to ignore the mass extinction of species, the dying, acidified oceans, the super heated atmosphere, or the tens of thousands of people fleeing for their lives from these ravaged regions.

Refugees in Budapest, Hungary. Source The Guardian.

Photo Mining Equipment via Shutterstock

Mine in the Congo Johan Spanner for The New York TimesThere are those that say; “the same thing was said about television; but the world didn’t end.” I contend that television did, in fact, end the world as we knew it.  It, too, promised a deeper connection to each other and a better life.  And it, too, provided a medium for authoritarianism. The corporate state was nourished by television, and it still dominates it like a plague.  It, like the social media, influences our perception of the world and of ourselves. It sold us cigarettes, vanity and war; and in the process the commons, a place for all, was privatized and sold to the highest bidder.

In the days to come the social media, like television, will increasingly be used by the powerful for social control and disseminating propaganda for the corporate state.  It has been, and will continue to be, a means of surveillance of those who dissent.  And it will justify every brutality of a ruthless police state.  The death machine of endless consumption will be celebrated on it until the last forest is felled and the last fish is taken from a dying sea.

Police brutality at a protest in Paris. Source Getty

Alberta Tar Sands were once pristine boreal forests

But as industrial civilization draws closer to its end from the ravages of climate change, perpetual war and mass species extinction, the social media is the only thing modern society has left that even remotely resembles the commons of antiquity.   It can be used by the powerful to nourish havoc, but it can also provide a space for the rest of us to make sense out of senselessness, and share our collective grief.  Sadly, unlike those days of old, we may not have any trees to ascend back to when the earth has finally had enough of our pillage, and all that humanity has built crumbles to dust.  But in the meantime we have within us a heritage that is deeper and richer than the emptiness of mindless consumption; our shared humanity.

A candlelight ceremony at a Budapest railway station in memory of 71 refugees who died in a truck. Photo Source Reuters Laszlo BaloghKenn Orphan 2014