Monthly Archives: June 2021

Defending the Shame of Apartheid

It was to be expected. Following the worldwide exposure of an active campaign of ethnic cleansing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem and Israel’s murderous 11 day campaign raining death and destruction on the captive population of Gaza, the apologists for Israel went into full on damage control. Anyone who decried these obvious injustices and war crimes were swiftly labeled “antisemitic” or extremist.

The liberal icon Bill Maher, never interested in understanding the long history of injustice in the region, wasted no time in defending Israel’s murderous crimes and attacking anyone who opposed them. He never does when it comes to the Palestinians. Representative Ilhan Omar was pilloried by politicians in both parties and talking heads for simply stating the obvious. And “journalists” like Melanie Phillips, a darling of the far right, came out recently with a laughable article decrying a new so-called “Palestinianism” of the left, and absurdly warned that support and solidarity with Palestinians is “opening up a new Nazi front” against Jews.

Anyone who has had any experience in Palestinian solidarity is hardly surprised by any of this. These tactics have always been used generously against anyone who even lightly criticizes the state of Israel. But there is something different now. Since extensive reports from Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem outlined the details of Israeli apartheid, the Israeli brand has been tarnished with the stain of racism. In the era of Black Lives Matter, this is something that cannot be easily shook. But while there are growing, global mass movements opposing all forms of racism and apartheid, most governments, particularly in the West, continue to follow the party line when it comes to Israel.

Recently, the US, Canada, the UK and Australia stated they will not send delegates to the annual anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa because they are concerned about antisemitism. Since there is a concerted effort to equate antisemitism with any criticism of Israel or the political ideology of Zionism, it makes it easy for them to make such a ludicrous claim. But this is especially rich coming from nations either founded through the usage of racism to justify slavery and the violent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous populations or whose imperial projects were steeped in racist ideology to justify colonialism. And it is worth remembering that these same nations were at the forefront of defending apartheid South Africa decades ago even as a worldwide movement against the racist state was growing.

The supposed “indignation” of these countries is rather trite and transparent. This isn’t about condemning the vile social hatred of antisemitism. This is about the defense of a client state that has served as an asset to their neo-imperialistic interests and aspirations in the region. But this defense is becoming more untenable by the day as evidence piles up proving the crime of apartheid beyond any doubt. The conference will go on despite the tantrums of these states, and that may be for the best. They would only muddy the waters of discourse with meaningless platitudes, something their politicians have excelled at.

The decades long oppression of the Palestinians appears to be coming to a head. And there is growing global opposition to blind support of Israel so long as it continues its brutal system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Most of this opposition is not falling for the old tricks used by apologists to derail any meaningful criticism or demands for the basic, equal human rights of the Palestinians. The shame of apartheid is far greater than any of the lies generated to defend it. But, make no mistake, it won’t stop them from trying.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Title photo is by Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Navigating the Digital Commons on Our Own Terms

The other day I made a Facebook post that referred to the arbitrary and, yet, purposefully designed algorithms of social media and how they are effectively silencing and censoring people, especially those on the left. I have noticed it myself. I get far less traffic to my page than in prior years. This makes the social media “experience” less desirable (I will go into the reason why a bit later), and so I said I would likely be spending less time here as a result.

Unfortunately, my post was mostly misunderstood. I got a flood of well-meaning comments asking me how I was doing and urging me to remember my value and worth. Now, it was reassuring to see such kindness. But the nuances of my commentary were eclipsed by concern for my mental health. To be sure, this misunderstanding had mostly to do with my poor wording. But it also has to do with how we communicate in our age. Sadly, it took away from my point, so I deleted it.

Today, social media has become our commons. The place where people gather. But this isn’t the commons of old. The digital commons come in an era of late capitalism. And we, the participants, have little to no say in how it is governed, even as it uses our personal information as capital to amass even more profit.

But this “experience” with social media has an affect on how we interact with it and what we get out of it. It depends on the “dopamine/serotonin effect” which has a lot to do with how we experience joy, satisfaction and contentment, but also, unfortunately, has a lot to do with how addiction works. Because I get less traffic to my page these days, I have less interest in it. Those “reward centers” are not being toyed with as much. And this is not a bad thing. Not in the least. The experience enabled me to detach from Facebook with greater ease than before, as I was not obsessing over the next red “bell” on the upper left hand corner of my Facebook screen as much as I was before.

Now, none of this is to say that social media offers nothing to the world. It does offer a great deal when it comes to raising awareness about injustices. Such was the case in the recent carnage Israel unleashed on the captive population of Gaza. Or Saudi Arabia’s merciless war against the people of Yemen. Or about environmental destruction by corporations, past and present. Or racist police state violence. Or the fundamental brutality and unfairness of capitalism.

It also offers people a chance to connect with others of like mind. To reach out across borders in solidarity and form mass movements that upend the fundamental structures of power in our world. And on a personal level, it helps us to connect with people who may live far away. Some of whom we knew years ago. I am grateful for the friendships and connections I have made here. But we need to remember that these are billion-dollar corporations that holds billions of people in its hands, so to speak.

On an individual level, cultivating the kind of social media environment we find fulfilling is necessary in order to enjoy that experience. Sometimes that means censoring people who bring to us a certain level of discord or who cannot seem to respect our values when it comes to our personal page. But when a behemoth corporation does this we can only see it as authoritarian and dangerous. Was former US president Trump a menace to the public good? Was he a peddler of false, reckless and even deadly information? Yes, he was. But when people celebrate a corporate power’s use of censorship, when it has broad control over societal and civil discourse with little to no accountability, we must wonder if they understand the real danger at play.

Many in the west like to point to China’s authoritarian system of “social credit” which is designed to enforce “good behavior” by its citizens. This system translates into real life transactions. Want to buy a plane ticket? Purchase a house? You better make sure you have not had too many infractions on your record.

But few see the social credit system arranged and implemented by social media in the West. How many people know that these companies have developed algorithms which allow for discriminatory practices based on racial or economic status? How many oppose such authoritarian overreach in our society? Recently, research by Black scholars Joy Buolamwini, Deb Raji and Timnit Gebru, revealed racist algorithms in facial recognition software developed by Microsoft, Amazon and IBM. Software that was routinely sold to police departments and government agencies who then used it to target Black and Indigenous activists. There is an insidious “social credit system” that is ubiquitous in the West and is most often overlooked in our day to day interactions.

The current rulers of the digital commons allow us time in the play pen or even give us a “platform” as long as we do not rock the boat too much.  We can have “lively debate,” as Noam Chomsky once averred, but only within the boundaries they have set up. They determine which ones of our “thoughts or feelings” (what is “on our mind?”) merit “boosting” and which merit disappearing. When we feel “disappeared” we can react in a myriad of ways. We can completely disengage, which works for a few, but not most. We can “cry out” for more attention. Or we can understand how our minds have been molded by a complex set of algorithms and begin reshaping it to respond to our own agency.

We are at the nexus of enormous technological advancement, rapid environmental destruction, unending imperialistic militarism, and the alarming erosion of civil liberties and democracy under late capitalism. The digital commons provide us a needed link to one another and to the broader, global community. But as long as it remains under the aegis of wealthy corporate entities, our voices will continue to be marginalized and silenced. To push back against this, we must learn how to navigate the digital commons intelligently and on our own terms. And that begins with understanding how it is designed to shape our responses, our thoughts, our perceptions, indeed, our very minds.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Image is Global Circuit via Shutterstock.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

“Green Capitalism” is Still Capitalism

I see many climate activists taking on the G7 in the UK. For those who may not know, the G7 is a meeting of wealthy nations who like to celebrate their collective pillage and plunder of the world, via a long legacy of colonial imperialism, with meaningless photo ops. Kudos to those activists for their creative demonstrations in calling out the hypocrisy of the global ruling elite.

But there was a time, not too long ago in fact, when the “environmental movement” was primarily determined to protect and preserve what is left of the supposed “wilds” of the world.

Now, that objective has been subsumed and, most often, erased by corporate, “green capitalism” whose objective is only to continue the Western “way of life,” albeit now through “renewable energy” and other schemes. Perpetuation of the very “way of life” which has led us to the precipice of ecological disaster in the first place.

Most of this is predicated on viewing the earth merely as a resource to be used for human consumption. It is still capitalism, which views everything, living and non, as capital.

I long for the days when people would see a river, or a field, or a mountain, or the sea, and not see an opportunity to exploit it, even in a so-called “green” way.

Kenn Orphan June 2021

*Illustration by Joan Wong.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Cultural Genocide: the True Goal of the Infamous Canadian Residential Schools

“We instill in [the children] a profound distaste for native life that they should feel humiliated when reminded of their origin. When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything Native except their blood.” – Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin

Cultural genocide. This was the stated goal of the Canadian residential school system, largely run by the Roman Catholic Church in Canada.

+At least 150,000 Indigenous children were stolen from their families and communities over a 120 year period.

+Abuse and neglect were rampant at these schools. The goal of this project was the eradication of Indigenous culture and identity in Canada and, very often, led to the eradication of Indigenous lives.

+At least 4100 died, although some estimate the amount as being much higher.

+The last school was closed in 1996.

+The whereabouts of scores of children are still unknown and the Canadian government turned down a request to search for more unmarked graves in 2009 citing its expense as an excuse. It would have only cost approximately 1.5 million dollars.

+Bishop Grandin died in office on 3 June 1902. He was declared venerable by the Roman Catholic Church in 1966.

+The Roman Catholic Church has still refused to issue an official apology for their role in this atrocity.

Kenn Orphan June 2021