Tag Archives: lgbtq

Puritanism’s Long Shadows

“Puritanism, in whatever expression, is a poisonous germ. On the surface everything may look strong and vigorous; yet the poison works its way persistently, until the entire fabric is doomed.” – Emma Goldman

With an apparent raging storm of accusations and allegations against powerful men in the US, social media has erupted into another cause célèbre. While many are optimistic that this will lead to a revolution of sorts, some are cautioning us to beware of the terrible turn things like this can take, especially within a society with deep inequities and a dark legacy of punitive legalism. This isn’t to suggest that sexism, misogyny and sexual violence are not persistent and colossal problems, nor that they shouldn’t be exposed and condemned. But to look at American cultural trends without acknowledging its puritan roots is not only dishonest; history has proven it to have tragic consequences.

While most of the recent sexual harassment, abuse and rape allegations against powerful men in the US are not directly rooted in the rigid mores of puritanism it should be noted that its insidious tendrils still extend into every facet of American life. And it isn’t only the Christian Right that steers these kinds of societal attitudes. This legacy strongly influences modern liberalism and how institutions and the powerful make decisions and interpret human failings, morality and social ills. They look at culture through puritanism’s punitive lens which is reflected in a variety of ways.

 

In regard to accusations or allegations, America’s history is littered with examples of frenzied crusades reminiscent of puritanism. This is not in any way to suggest that most of the people making accusations about improprieties, harassment or assault today are lying or merely wrong. And it is not intended to protect powerful, wealthy men with status and influence; but the opposite. This is a society whose brutal past casts long shadows. There are countless instances in US history which document the detrimental impacts of hysteria created by false or exaggerated accusations.

The most historically infamous were the Salem Witch Trials, which mostly targeted women and endure as the tragic legacy of the Puritans themselves. The “Red Scare” of the 1950s which aimed to purge the US of communists and their sympathizers is another. Thousands of people lost careers, relationships, faced financial ruin, and even lost their lives in some instances due to suicide, thanks to being labeled a subversive, a homosexual (which was socially taboo and largely illegal at the time) or a pervert (which could be twisted to mean just about anything). The debunked day school “satanic ritual abuse” scandal of the 1980s and 90s is a more recent example, but to me one of the most tragic incidents involved a 14 year old black boy in Mississippi.

 

In 1955 a false accusation of sexual assault led to the brutal murder of Emmett Till. He was a black boy in the Jim Crow south and his accuser was a white woman. He was accused of whistling at the woman, grabbing her hand, making sexual innuendos and shouting obscenities. The boy had a speech impediment, and he was undoubtedly schooled by his family on how to “behave” in the oppressively hostile environment of white America, so this woman’s accusations bore little resemblance to the lived reality of millions of people. But it was of no consequence. He was dragged from his bed by a mob of white men, tortured, mutilated, tied with barbed wire and thrown over a bridge. His tragically horrid fate was linked to hundreds of years of racist oppression. But it is worth noting that this was just a little over 60 years ago and his accuser is still alive.

The current maelstrom of sexual assault allegations in the highest echelons of US media and the political establishment in its current form is likely only to produce enduring, material benefits for the already wealthy, privileged and powerful.This is because without a mass movement from below which addresses structural injustices and inequities endemic to the American power structure, the elite will continue to dictate how such things will unfold. The spectacle, at this point, is a squabble among the powerful, wealthy upper classes. So unless that structure itself is ultimately overturned all other social justice causes will continue to be co-opted and tainted by its elitist brush.

 

This is especially so when most of the revelations being made are actually emanating from the elite classes themselves. To the powerful, sex and sexuality are little more than commodities to trade, and most of the accused among their ranks will not likely suffer in real world consequences, only in optics.  After all, they have plenty of money, influence and access to armies of lawyers who will ensure that their class is ultimately protected from the most damning aspects of the US legal system. It is the lower castes who will likely suffer disproportionately from any punitive or legalistic actions they may produce as a response.

Politicians operating under an already grossly unfair and corrupt US oligarchy that worships “free market capitalism” will never address the conditions that generally lead to abuse, crime or assault like imposed poverty, institutional racism, debt wage slavery or the dismantling of the social safety net, it will instead answer with the only thing it has at its disposal: more punitive and retributive laws which always disproportionately affect the poor, youth and the disenfranchised. Sex offender registries are an example of this. Designed to punish crimes of a serious sexual nature and protect the public from dangerous predators, they have all too often ruined the lives of people who pose no threat to society. Urinating in public, teenagers having sex with other teenagers, breast feeding in public, engaging in prostitution or being a prostitute, all these things have threatened ordinary people with the stigma of being on a registry for life. And once on, they are restricted in employment, education and housing, further impoverishing people who were already poor.

 

The good thing is that this apparent “reckoning” need not remain in its current form. It need not be an issue generated by the elite and privileged class who limit its scope and respond to it with repression rather than restorative justice. I know some, both women as well as men, who have become more interested in antiwar activism because of it, others who are becoming more involved in solidarity with those in the global south who suffer under our racist, capitalist fueled, sweatshop economy and military occupations. In ecological activist circles it is galvanizing many to make the needed connection between a culture of rape and the rape of the living planet. It most certainly seems to be helping many to find the courage to come out of shadows of torment and find community and a sense of personal justice and healing. And at the very least it appears to be igniting a long overdue discussion in the broader society about sexual harassment, abuse and assault, and may also be causing some to honestly face the insidious demons of patriarchal misogyny.

I applaud, celebrate and stand in solidarity with all of this especially if it continues toward the revolutionary paradigm shift we so desperately need. But even with all this I know there might be some who, after reading this essay, will somehow think I am being an apologist for powerful men or sexual predators. So I want to make it clear I understand where much of the anger is coming from. It is not only thanks to years of counseling people who survived different kinds of sexual assault, but because I am a survivor of an assault myself. I won’t go into the lurid details, but it took a long time to get through the panic and rage that ensued after a terrifying experience. I am only sharing this to let those reading this know I do not take such things lightly or hold survivors in contempt. Nor do I dismiss the courage it takes to come forward.

 

I understand that the current reckoning unfolding among the powerful elite has not yet turned into anything described above. And it is my sincere hope that women from all strata of society will benefit from the societal sea change that could come as a result. But I also know how purges and other movements based on accusation, inference or allegations can often lead an already deeply unequal society down an even more frightening path. I know that, whether or not it is acknowledged, puritanism still persists in American culture and society. I know how the poor and people of colour (especially women), and the LGBTQ community have historically suffered the worst ramifications from such turns. And however unpopular a stance it might be, being silent about these concerns is simply not an option.

 

Kenn Orphan  2017

The End of the Charade

This is going to be a sort of political rant, so for those of you who are sick of or hate that sort of thing I encourage you to scroll on.

It is a rant regarding the charade which is finally coming to an end.  It is about the selected puppets of the ruling elite in the American Empire who will be paraded before the world a little more before its subjects are told that they have “chosen” one of them to lead.

Here is the deal.  I should be happy for the absurd theatrics finally being over, right? But the thing is, I’m not. I shouldn’t give a damn either, right? I no longer live in the heart of the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. But the thing is, I do.  America IS, in fact, the most ruthless and powerful Empire the world has ever known. And its machinations have effects very far from its contested borders.

trump-vs-clinton-photo-newsweekI guess I fear what I know is coming next.  If Hillary Clinton is crowned those of us on the far Left who weep will be ridiculed, maligned or chided for not celebrating with gusto the first female President and the continuance of American aggression and dynastic rule. If in some bizarre anomaly the orange tinted creep sweeps to the throne those of us on the Left who denounced Clinton’s horrific war mongering and corporate loving record and refused to play the inane game of “lesser evilism” will be pilloried and blamed for enabling it all.

In all truth I will be thoroughly shocked if Clinton is not selected.  Even George W. Bush, the vile war criminal of the previous administration, has given tacit endorsement of Hillary Clinton in a letter condemning Trump. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, but it is remarkably simple to condemn that repugnant man with fire retardant flesh tone. And this letter speaks volumes because Bush knows full well that it will bolster Clinton in the neocon circles of the oligarchy. Scores of conservative newspapers have lined up endorsing Clinton also. So with Clinton nearly a shoe in, I know what else is coming.

 

With the Obama regime as historical precedent, it is safe to assume that white American liberals will shrug indifferent shoulders and fall asleep once more as their government drones children and grandmothers picking okra in their fields or subverts democratically elected governments in the Middle East or Africa or Latin America.  They will become champions of reactionary nationalism as a Clinton administration leads the nation into open conflicts with nuclear armed Russia.  They will once again turn their heads from the decades long Israeli apartheid regime as Clinton pledges even more support to the hard right despot Netanyahu.  They will stay silent in criticism of Clinton’s promotion of fracking or dismantling of social security, something which can be done without much protest under a Democrat.  But they can continue to post noncommittal memes on Facebook and Twitter expressing outrage or solidarity with black or brown or red people besieged by a racist system without demanding the dismantling of the very system of capitalist exploitation that is the source of their misery in the first place.

They will rest on the laurels in smug slumber since, in that case, a woman with a big “D” will be sitting in the Oval office. And we should all applaud that, right? First woman president of the American Empire and all?  Never mind that a woman named Jill Stein who, while far from perfect, had much greater progressive credentials. Never mind that Margaret Thatcher was also a woman, and one who had a remarkably similar neoconservative resume to Clinton.  Never mind that Ms. Clinton supported (and continues to support) a rightwing coup in Honduras that has taken the lives of scores of indigenous, environmental and LGBTQ people, including indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres.  Or pushed Obama into decimating Libya, once the richest state in Africa, and ghoulishly celebrated the gruesome murder of its president. Or in Haiti where she aided in the creation of a sweatshop economy on behalf of American garment corporations upon an already historically oppressed and humiliated people.

But really, who seriously believes that the privileged white Liberal class in America gives a rat’s ass about those foreign black and brown people?  How many white Liberals care about black, brown and red people here, the ones right at home labeled “super predators” by the Queen in waiting only a few years ago, or ignored by her at Standing Rock Sioux?

berta-caceres-murdered-by-the-right-wing-coup-government-that-hillary-clinton-supported-and-defends-to-this-day-photo-source-latino-rebels

libya-a-failed-state-photo-source-sean-kilpatrick

protests-against-clinton-in-haiti-photo-source-nytForgive me if I fail to celebrate with the Liberal Class if Clinton is anointed Empress. It is beyond question that Trump is a racist vile creature of narcissism and arrogant stupidity. But if self described “progressives” think the Bloody Queen will promote a left friendly agenda that will stop military aggression, the collapse of the biosphere due to blatant rape of the earth by corporations, and cease support for Wall Street then they have been drinking a Kool-Aid far more lethal than any flag waving, Trump supporting, walking head wound.

In any case, we on the true Left must somehow stomach it all and struggle on against militaristic imperialism for the sake of building a more compassionate and just world while there is still time left.  And I couldn’t be more serious about the “while there is time left” part.  We are running out of that one precious resource rapidly thanks to climate change, the ever present nuclear menace, global pandemic and biosphere collapse.  But after all, if we are still in possession of a conscience what else can we do?

End rant here.

 

Kenn Orphan  2016

The Oligarchs, the Liberal Class and a Basket of Deplorables

This past summer when I had a little time on my hands I decided to watch “The Hunger Games” again (yes, I watch and like certain movies out of pop culture and I am not ashamed to admit that).  Suzanne Collins did an amazing job at creating a mirror image of the real world we live in today.   But I think the most accurate is in her representation of the wealthy and vapid citizens of the Capitol of Panem.  To me, it appears to be a reflection of how out of touch the elites of the Liberal class are with the everyday plight of ordinary people.  Their place in a crumbling society does more to protect the excesses of the Oligarchy than champion the rights of the oppressed.   And it is their smug lack of self awareness that may very well do them in.  This is just an analysis, or an observation.  But before I go on I should clarify terms.
capitol-citizens-still-from-the-hunger-gamesI distinguish the Liberal class from leftists in that the latter cannot, in good conscience, ever support the current corporate plutocracy, or its wars for capitalistic imperialism and wanton plunder of the planet for obscene materialistic profit.  And when I use the term Liberal class I am referring to that small group of pundits, celebrities, journalists, socialites, fashion and culture gurus and career politicians within the current order, not people who hold progressive values like women’s and LGBTQ rights or racial equality.   The Liberal class believes in these things also, or at least they say that they do.  But they are unwilling to do anything that would endanger the institutional structures of capitalism that are the primary engines of misogyny, homophobia and racism, because doing so would upend their privileged, elite status.

The Oligarchy is not too unlike that of any other era.  They possess tremendous power and own most of the planet’s material wealth. They are an untouchable class of wealth, albeit usually inherited or ill-gotten, who dominate the entire industrial capitalist scheme.  They are the .001% in a new Gilded Age and they tolerate and even mingle with the Liberal class only because they defend and promote the economic neoliberal order which fills their coffers.  Most revel in an inbred feeling of pseudo-supremacy, and many have a loathsome sociopathic quality to them.  Although they own most of the corporate media, silence is golden to them.   As in all things there are shades and nuances.  No one person is a clone of another.  But there are some things worth generalizing.
the-mellon-family-one-of-americas-richest-photo-by-jamel-toppin-of-forbesThe Liberal class has had the luxury to decry injustice in American society (and the world for that matter) from afar, in plush salons, high end clubs and trendy cafes thanks to their defense of a system that allows for an Oligarchy and aggressive neo-imperialism.  Their answer to social injustice is generally rooted in tepid reforms that do little, or more often resembles a smug, dismissive ridicule common to satirists like Andy Borowitz (1) and narcissistic, billionaire celebrities like George Clooney.

To them protesting misogyny is pushing the agenda of a woman candidate who has shown a remarkable likeness to the late political dominatrix Margaret Thatcher, instead of expressing solidarity with women in Honduras, Haiti or Libya who are being murdered or prostituted as a result of this same powerful woman’s actions.   Protesting homophobia is supporting Caitlyn Jenner, an over paid, over publicized transgendered Republican, rather than whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who has been publicly ridiculed for her sexuality and is languishing in prison for exposing the war crimes of the Empire.  Protesting racism is celebrating the eight year term of the first Black President, even though he has drone bombed innocent civilians, mostly brown and black people afar, excused torturers and war criminals from the previous administration, increased the surveillance state, and prosecuted more whistleblowers (including the aforementioned Manning) than all US Presidents combined.

hillary-clinton-speaks-at-a-lbgt-for-hillary-gala-in-new-york-on-friday-source-smhThe third category I wanted to talk about was recently referred to by Hillary Clinton at a well heeled fundraising gala in New York when she labelled half of Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables.” (2)   This, of course, only deepened the divide even more so in the minds of common people in regions of sacrificed America as sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild so eloquently explains.(3)  They already feel alienated and humiliated with few prospects for a brighter future, but they used this description as a badge of honor.  And although an ugly strain of racist fascism runs deep in a large section of Trump supporters, there are other factors at work that the Liberal class chooses to overlook.

When they are labeled like this, or see memes on social media insulting their intelligence they are more inclined to hate the Liberal class even more so, not alter their opinions and have a “come to Jesus” moment.  They may not be able to explain the source of their misery, but they live with the realities of economic neoliberalism, the most barbaric stage of capitalism, which the Liberal class has allowed by capitulating to the Oligarchs over and over.  And it isn’t only the white working class. When Black Lives Matter activists interrupted Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders speeches they were met with a barrage of vitriol and anger from a cadre of assorted Liberal elites chiding them for being rude (4).  How they compare protesting the modern day lynching of people of color to being ill-mannered to the powerful is a feat of obtuse absurdity.  But this is an illustration of just how disconnected they are to reality.
deplorable-t-shirt-on-etsy

a-homeless-family-asks-for-assistance-source-classism

a-black-lives-matter-activist-silently-protests-hillary-clinton-at-a-funraiser-in-south-carolina-photo-source-salonIn his recent article “The Courtiers and the Tyrants”  veteran journalist and antiwar activist Chris Hedges explained how clueless the liberal class is when it comes to how many ordinary Americans actually see them:

“The Democratic and the professional elites are an easy and often amusing target. One could see them, in another era, prancing at a masked ball at Versailles on the eve of the revolution. They are oblivious to how hated they have become. They do not understand that when they lambast Donald Trump as a disgrace or a bigot they swell his support because they, not Trump, are seen by many Americans as the enemy. But these courtiers did not create the system. They sold themselves to it. And if Americans do not understand how we got here we are never going to find our way out.” (5)

If Hillary Clinton is anointed Empress of the American Empire the Liberal class will sigh in relief.  They can continue to shop at Barney’s, attend well heeled openings at the Guggenheim and complain in acceptable forums, financed by the Oligarchy, about injustice and civil rights. But they will be asked to do little more than this.  The institutions that make society livable and promising will continue to be steadily gutted, privatized and de-valued.   If Trump is somehow able to seize the throne they know their privilege will remain largely in tact, but they will not be so free to express their thoughts except in discretion at private cocktail parties.  Every last institution will be debased in such a way that they offer nothing to the enrichment of humanity, but merely serve as a brutal bulwark for the wealthy against the masses.  The Liberal class also knows how capricious authoritarians can be and that the silent Oligarchy will abandon them in a heartbeat at first sight of a brownshirt.

the-hunger-games-catching-fire-president-snow-played-by-donald-sutherland
donald-trump-photo-credit-newscorpIn Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games” the citizens of the Capitol were completely out of touch with the suffering, brutality, poverty and repression of the other districts.  They lived comfortable, self-obsessed lives snug to the halls of power. They dined and vomited their meals like the ancient Romans did, so that they could keep feasting even while the masses starved. They were easily swayed by sentimentality and distraction. President Snow, the fictional tyrant of Panem, was far more refined and intelligent than the bombastic narcissist Trump, but his rival, President Coin, was no less ruthless and revealed a comparable penchant for blood lust and authoritarianism.

fictional-president-coin-of-the-hunger-games-and-hillary-clinton-photo-credit-rebloggyTo be sure, one would be foolish to reduce current events to a dystopic, scifi novel (or a Hollywood movie) primarily written for teenagers.  And we would be doing a disservice if we ignored nuance and context. But we are at a deep moment in human history. The biosphere is teetering on the edge of collapse thanks to the excesses of the privileged few in the West.  The nuclear menace has never left us.  This is the kind of moment where factors may begin to converge and create the potential for a monumental shift in the dominant paradigm. But this can go either well or very, very badly.  The wave of justified animus toward the ruling establishment is growing in many communities across the nation, black, white and Native American.   But just as this rage could be channeled into progressive social and ecological transformation, it could also lead toward violent fascism.  And the recipe of that includes economic downturn, ecological devastation and social unrest.

As in fictional Panem, the Liberal class of the American Empire is out of touch to the everyday miseries of ordinary working people and prefer to smugly dismiss them as stupid or backward or simply misinformed, while defending the very institutions that contributed to the destruction of civic life and the commons in the first place.  It is unlikely they will wake up in time to avoid the coming fires of revolution. We can only hope that that “basket of deplorables” Hillary Clinton described will be more merciful than the Oligarchs the Liberals have defended all this time.  Speaking of them, they will likely fair better.  They will have slipped away silently into the night long before a single match is lit.

jennifer-lawrence-as-catniss-in-the-hunger-games-photo-still-from-movie
Kenn Orphan 2016

(1) http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/many-in-nation-tired-of-explaining-things-to-idiots

(2)  http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/hillary-clinton-donald-trump-basket-of-deplorables/

(3) http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/28/what_drives_trump_supporters_sociologist_arlie

(4) http://usuncut.com/black-lives-matter/clinton-holds-campaign-speech-in-atlanta-to-discuss-race-throws-out-black-lives-matter-activists-video/

(5) http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_courtiers_and_the_tyrants_20160918

One Dark Night in Orlando

Practically any member of the LGBTQ community understands the power and sense of place that the night club holds.  It has always been a place where one can let down their guard for a few hours, dance like crazy with friends and feel the joy of being free.   All that was shattered in Orlando on Sunday, June 12, after a gunman opened fire in the crowded dance club “Pulse” in Orlando, Florida.   But it wasn’t just shattered there, it was shattered everywhere.

LGBTQ people, in whatever culture or society they belong to, identify with each other in very tangible ways.  Even in the most tolerant of societies it is dangerous and often lethal to be outward about ones sexuality in public.  Holding hands, kissing or dressing in accordance with your gender identity often leads to slurs, threats and violent assaults.  Most of these go unreported or are dismissed, but they occur every single day.   The club offered a sanctuary from the dangers of the street.  Now that has changed.

Grief following the massacre at Pulse dance club in Orlando Florida. Source APIn time the club will once again become a place of freedom and the joy of expression. But for now the global LGBTQ community is in mourning.  Every tragedy like this inhabits its own sphere of injustice, sorrow and pain; but they are related to one another in that they emerge from a common place, the dark underbelly of supremacist thinking.   This kind of thinking can unhinge a small few who may already struggle with mental illness and its stigma, and have relatively easy access to extremely lethal weapons.  But it is not limited to homophobia.  It is a vicious infection that fuels all paranoid bigotries, including Islamophobia.

In the aftermath of this tragedy Muslims from all over have come forward to denounce the actions of this man who self identified as being a Muslim.  They should not have had to do this since no one asks Christians or Jews or Buddhists or Hindus to denounce violence done in their names.  But many volunteered to assist with helping families and loved ones and many more gave blood for the victims even though it is the holy month of Ramadan and doing so meant not being able to replenish their bodies until after sundown.  It is this kind of solidarity that we must focus on.  It is this common humanity that we must choose to believe in.

Not in My Name, Muslims condemn Orlando attack.In the coming weeks and months this atrocity will be exploited by pundits and political leaders.  Indeed, it has already begun. The language of discrimination and bigotry is being employed to stoke fear and suspicion at home, and justify more war and military aggression abroad.  It is therefore imperative for people of conscience to expose the fear mongering for what it is and shun it.

The LGBTQ community is in shock.  It has witnessed unspeakable horror and it is hurting.  But it will heal.  And I have every confidence that it will emerge stronger and embrace its intrinsic humanity more than ever before.

Kenn Orphan 2016

Chaos and Misery, Inc.

A multiple rocket launch system was on display at the Norinco Group pavilion at an international defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February. Photo Bloomberg NewsThis week well over 100 civilians were slaughtered in Yemen by a Saudi drone strike while they were attending a wedding.  The massacre is yet one more atrocity piled upon a wretched heap of hypocrisy and hubris.  But it, like the other US supported or orchestrated drone strikes, will undoubtedly disappear from the headlines in a matter of weeks, if not days.

A man displays the bloodied shirt of a child victim at the rubble of houses destroyed by an Saudi air strike in the Okash village near Yemen's capital Source TelesurtvSaudi Arabia, like Israel, is a client state of the American Empire and is vital to its unending, colonial quest for dominance in the Middle-east.  Its atrocities, like Israel, are explained away or not even covered at all by the Western mainstream press. The medieval kingdom of Saud has beheaded nearly 90 people this year alone for “offenses” like witchcraft or blasphemy. It mercilessly persecutes its Shia minority, oppresses women, executes LGBTQ people and tolerates the enslavement of domestic workers from the Philippines. But the US media barely utters a peep (except, perhaps, to occasionally criticize the kingdom’s no driving policy for privileged Saudi women). The atrocities of ISIS, on the other hand, are rarely ever out of Western press coverage.

Saudi swordsmen used for executions. Source Yahoo.Right now, Saudi Arabia is doing to Yemen what Israel did to Gaza last summer. And, as in that case, the barbarity has the unflinching support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House, and both criminal political parties in the US Senate. As in Gaza, the poor continue to be pulverized by the powerful. And this same elite class will, most assuredly, give themselves awards for this savagery with the uncritical support from a sycophantic, apathetic corporate owned media.

The destruction of Yemen. Photo by Hani Mohammed AP.Yemen, like Cambodia or Chile or Honduras or Somalia or Libya or Ukraine will be easily forgotten by the ruling elite.  And the West will wash the entire narrative of its culpability.  It must, after all, if it intends to continue its rampage.  All battlefields have become testing grounds for their latest products. And the most lucrative industry of the American Empire is arms dealing.  It is Chaos and Misery, Inc. and you can be sure they will not give that up without a fight. 

Militarized police forces in Ferguson, Missouri. Source Reuters.But as we look at Yemen or Gaza dispassionately, we would be foolish to not take a closer look at ourselves.  The Empire is beginning to crack as our living earth groans under its insipid and insatiable corpulence.  And as it does we can expect the power class to treat the vast majority of us much like those in these ever besieged nations: as valuable when we can furnish them with wealth, and easily disposable if we refuse.

Kenn Orphan  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

The End of Days

Rapture  Source Theological Graffiti     Many ancient civilizations in their declining days were swept into hysteria and superstition as famine, war, drought and disease engulfed their societies. In some, sacrifices of both animals and human beings exploded in efforts to appease their angry gods. In others, minority ethnic or religious groups were persecuted for heresy or violations of sexual mores. One might think that in a time when human beings have reached the moon, and mapped the human genome, such antiquated notions would cease to persist. But according to a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute in 2014, 49% of Americans attribute climate change to Biblical “end times.” And this belief is reflected in an astonishing number of political leaders. Earlier this month, for example, California Assembly Member Shannon Grove said publicly regarding the drought in her state: “Texas was in a long period of drought until Governor Perry signed the fetal pain bill. It rained that night. Now God has His hold on California.”

Mayan Sacrifice  Source Tarlton Law LibrarySadly, with climate change accelerating, the apocalyptic narrative these Americans foresee is becoming inevitable. What is additionally troubling is that many, as in past civilizations, see this as God’s punishment for what they perceive to be sexual immorality or apostasy. With history as a guide, this suggests that some could be easily swayed by a fanatical zealot to scapegoat and persecute LGBTQ people, immigrants, Muslims, feminists, socialists and any minority or marginalized group in this country, for the expected ramifications (drought, extreme weather, etc.) of a warming planet.

Handwritten sign on farm fence during Texas drought.

Because so much of the population has been purposely mis-educated when it comes to science, how nature works and the dire impact we are having on it through our mindless consumption and reckless industrial growth, religious fundamentalism has flourished in numerous parts of the country. The recent Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality has demonstrated this through comments made in its wake by conservative politicians, preachers and pundits. Add into the mix rising income disparities, infrastructure failure, water scarcity, militarization of the police and nuclear proliferation, and you have the perfect recipe for dystopia.

Hurricane  Source Carleton

Alaska Fires
By all indications, the weather is becoming angrier and more unpredictable by the day.  Drought is expanding, wildfires are rapidly growing, heatwaves are killing thousands, and ecosystems are being systematically decimated. And in the coming days we can expect to see more of this fanaticism grip the American psyche. Some will undoubtedly welcome the end in order to fulfill their religious interpretations of the afterlife.

To be sure, not everyone in United States subscribes to these extreme beliefs. And to most, spirituality and faith can be powerful forces of compassion and altruism in times of calamity. But American pop culture has insulated the majority of us in a bubble of illusion, filled with plastic products, new devices, reality shows, celebrity worship and other vapid distractions. And the corporate media has continued to foster an irrational fear of the other, dehumanizing the poor, the foreigner and those who differ from societal norms. A preponderance of the population are completely unaware of just how close humanity is to societal collapse and even extinction; and this ignorance provides fertile ground for zealots to spread bigotry and terror as very real, existential threats begin to emerge with intensity.

Religious Zealot  Source SodaheadFor those of us on the sidelines, observing all of this can be paralyzing. But believing we have any control over these unfolding events is a myth that does no one any good. Creative, moral imagination is born in the acceptance of impermanence and the unknowable future. Inhabiting the moment, with all of its uncertainty, joy and terror, is a sacred space for the devout and secular alike. And the agency that we do possess is to stand outside of the madness and fear. In this way we are able to meet the suffering of humanity, other species, and ourselves with simple compassion. And perhaps then we may be able to offer a passage to sanctuary and a bright light in the very dark days that lie ahead.

William Ricketts Sanctuary Australia  Source Tourism on the Edge
Kenn Orphan 2015

Why Facts Matter

gay holocaust fOne of the most vile and surreptitious tactics being used by certain organizations and individuals on the far right of late has been to vilify the LGBTQ community by marrying the duel evils of Holocaust denial and blatant falsehoods. Conservative evangelical preacher Scott Lively, a pseudo-historian, and the notorious hate group the American Family Association have been at the forefront of such efforts. They have been advancing the lie that the Nazis and SS were in fact homosexuals bent on the destruction of civilization.

One must be in awe of such a feat of monumental duplicity especially when one considers that these same people profess an unshakeable belief in the literal interpretation of the Bible. But deceit is not too high a price to pay when you are advancing an agenda of hatred, demonization and cruelty.

No one knows the exact number of gay men who were interred in concentration camps, but it is estimated at being between 10 and 15’000. The death rate was among the highest of any other group after Jews. By many accounts, gays suffered more abuse than any other victims in the camps at the hands of the SS guards, and often by other concentration camp prisoners. They were beaten, forced to work to death in a program called “Extermination through Work”, and suffered through cruel scientific experiments that often resulted in their deaths. Following the liberation of the camps many of these men suffered the further indignity in being imprisoned by the Allied governments that prevailed in the war. And it took decades before there was any official recognition of gay Holocaust victims and survivors.

All of this is historical fact, so it is a curious thing to see a group that identifies itself as morally righteous spread vicious lies about a marginalized and oppressed group of people. But facts are of no use to those with an agenda of repression. Facts are dangerous and ultimately fatal to the ideology of bigotry. So people of conscience must make every effort to expose the lies when they surface, lest they be allowed to fester. Today, these same individuals and groups are spreading their cancerous deception to places like Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, and it is having a disastrous effect.

This is why facts matter. They matter because justice and humanity matter.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo is of a group of gay prisoners at Buchenwald and is courtesy of the Jewish Virtual Library)