Entries in Trump (2)


What About Ghost Dance??

There is something in the human spirit that will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light burning in the heart of man that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.

Leo Tolstoy

Happy 2018!!

 Life has changed for me. In a big, radical way. Over the last year, I’ve gone through some major changes. They’ve been mostly psychological, but some are physical.


So, what has changed? Nothing and everything. I mean that in the way that things seem to be the same, but deep down inside, we know they’re not. We know something terrible is about to happen (anxiety). A heavy, dark weight we carry in the backs of our minds every day.


There’s a huge divide in our country, and even in our world. People are very anxious and very scared. We’re all in freefall, or so it seems. We’re uncertain of almost everything now.


We’re here because of an epistemic crisis. An epistemic crisis is a crisis of knowledge; we don’t know what’s true or false anymore. Have you been around your friends, coworkers, and family? Have you heard the absolute crazy rhetoric that comes out of their mouths? Almost everyone I know has had someone in their life that supports the current administration. And all we can do is wonder how they can accommodate and assimilate the craziness that is Donald J. Trump. It baffles the mind!


One of the reasons I’m writing this now is that I’ve been deeply affected by Trump’s election. It’s taken my desire to make photographs away. Not just making photographs, but it’s rented space in my head. I haven’t been able to work on my Ghost Dance project for almost a year. I appreciate the inquires about what happened - it was a recent question about it that prompted this writing - thank you.


I’ve told a few people why I’m not working on that project - it boils down to respect. I DO NOT want to release work that deals with genocide and American “exceptionalism” in this environment. Most people tell me it would be received better today than in a less hostile time. I disagree.


One of the first directives Trump signed was the DAPL/Keystone pipeline. He was inaugurated on January 20, he signed the DAPL/Keystone pipeline approval on January 24. It spoke volumes to me.


Since then, I’ve seen the Commander in Chief stand in front of a portrait of Jackson (Trail of Tears, owned slaves, etc.) and talk about Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D) from Massachusetts being called, “Pocahontas”. WTF?? Are you kidding me? And here’s the “kicker” - the two gentlemen standing next to him were the last of the Navajo Code Talkers that were very instrumental in winning World War II.


There are so many more examples of this kind of vitriol, I don’t have the time to write them out. You know what they are - they happen almost every day.


All of this, and it’s still ongoing, affects my creative life deeply. I don’t mind confrontation, I have no problem defending my work, it’s just that I DO NOT want Native Americans to feel like I’m dredging stuff up to create more problems in their lives. It can wait. I’m going to wait until I have an environment and audience that can appreciate and understand the work.


Having said that, let me address the blacksmithing/bladesmithing. I need a creative outlet. I teach once a month (or more) and that is a lot of fun, but I need a solitary way to create. I have a long history with metal/steel fabrication. I owned a shop that built wood burning stoves! Before that, I was a lowly grinder/apprentice for the local union. I’ve paid my dues with metal/steel fabrication. I wanted to return to it and feel good about going onto our land in a few years with everything we need - skill sets and equipment will go a long way.



The Prophesy of Trump and the Illusion of America

The Pig's Knuckle - Germany 2009Where do I begin? We're a separated nation, and we will never unite. Period.

How do I know this? Inference and induction. Observation and insight - being present. I talk to a wide variety of people in my teaching and personal life. I find it curious what influences their worldview. Mostly, it's social media (i.e. Facebook, Trump's Twitter feed, etc.). You can choose which side you're on and your feed will project exactly what you want to read. Pro-Trump or ant-Trump; the feed will reflect only those ideas and beliefs. I think this is the most dangerous thing of all; promoting shallow, superficial concepts about race, nation, and religion.

I used to lament the relentless advertising and bombbardment of the free market raining down on me at every turn. What deoderant to use, what car to drive, what clothes to wear, micro-payment this, and micro-payment that - relentless!! The commerce is still alive and well, but now, with this administration, we've added (publicly) politics, religion, and race. And we've encouraged behaviors and habits that dumb us all down. Not that these elements haven't always been there, but they are "evident" by the masses now. 

What does this mean? It means that the empire (America) is crumbling. Chris Hedges wrote a great book called, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle". I read it right after it came out in 2010. I was gobsmacked at his insight and clarity; "We now live in two Americas. One--now the minority--functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other--the majority--is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. To this majority--which crosses social class lines, though the poor are overwhelmingly affected--presidential debate and political rhetoric is pitched at a sixth-grade reading level. In this "other America," serious film and theater, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of society." 

The chapters read like this: The Illusion of Literacy, The Illusion of Love, The Illusion of Wisdom, The Illusion of Happiness, and The Illusion of America. Within that framework, he talks about reality TV, pornography, WWE, and celebrity worship. Here are some enotes from the book:

“The Illusion of Literacy”
Chris Hedges summarizes plot lines from WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. He shows how these plots mirror the fears and fantasies of American culture at large. For example, during the Cold War, there were wrestlers who took on personas of stereotyped Cold War adversaries. In the recession, the villains of the WWE take on the role of the capitalists who “walked away with a pot of gold while workers across the country lost their jobs, saw their savings and retirement funds evaporate, and fought off foreclosure.” 

Hedges compares this to Plato’s allegory of the cave. People in contemporary society stare at illusions, mistaking these shadows for reality. Hedges explains how “Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the senses to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason.” In today’s society, people are described by the author as chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staple of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.

“The Illusion of Love”
Hedges examines America’s pornography industry. Hedges emphasizes the ways that pornography treats women as commodities. He travels to the Adult Video News (AVN) expo in Las Vegas, where he interviews several women who were porn stars. There, he learns that many of the women that star in pornography are subjected to cruelty and brutality. It is not uncommon for women to suffer from sexually transmitted diseases and physical injuries such as vaginal and anal tears. Other women are sold as prostitutes to men who want to have sex with a porn star. Pornography, Hedges concludes, “precludes intimacy and love.”
Many women in pornography, though they might initially feel “glamorous," take drugs to dull the pain that they feel. The way that one woman who starred in porn films describes her experiences—such as the way her “eyes take on a dead, faraway look" and the way her tone becomes "flat, numbing"—recalls symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that Hedges has seen in “victims of atrocities in war.” Hedges also notices a recent change in the way that pornography is made. In particular, "gonzo" pornography exacerbates the abuse of women. Whereas pornographic films might once have had scripts (however brief) with plot lines and dialogue, gonzo pornography is more likely to have just the sex act. Hedges points out:
There is no acting because none of the women are permitted to have what amounts to a personality. The one emotion they are allowed to display is an unquenchable desire to satisfy men, especially if that desire involves the women’s physical and emotional degradation.

“The Illusion of Wisdom”
Hedges turns his attention to the academy. He suggests that the problems the Western world faces, ranging from the economic to the erosion of human rights to political turmoil in the Middle East, are largely because of the failure of the academy and its obsession with things that are unrelated to true intellectual discourse.

Hedges argues that by definition, education is skeptical of authority. However, the academy has become co-opted by its alliance with a variety of organizations of power. Hedges points to educational institutions that actively seek out military and corporate funding as evidence of the way that structures of power have co-opted intellectual discourse in the West. The ongoing project of securing funds prevents the academy from fostering the ability to think critically or to seek out new systems of thought in students because objecting to these power structures may compromise the financial security of the organization.

Furthermore, thinkers such as Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader who question authority and power structures within both the political and academic domains are systematically marginalized to prevent them from harming the back and forth that the academy enjoys with the military and the corporation.

Hedges explains that he would prefer to see higher education focus more on values, and he reminds his readers that it is only by studying such values that mistakes like the Holocaust can be prevented from being repeated. Rather than rising up against this illusion of wisdom, Hedges notes, academics instead have retreated into areas of specialized thought in which their ideas are foreign to what happens in the day-to-day world within which one might find the majority of society.

The common person cannot interact with "intellectual" thought, let alone allow it to interact with them. These academics may treat the world with contempt, but Hedges argues that the academics are actually functionally illiterate because their ideas are recorded in a jargon so arcane that no one who reads it can understand it. Worse, the jargon becomes a language that is meant to remove the common person from the "intellectual" debate that only the powerful can engage in.

If the academy was ever meant to foster a sense of wisdom in students, it can no longer claim to do so. Contemporary higher education is devoted to profit and to creating a subservient population incapable of questioning and challenging the power structures around it. Unfortunately, the system cannot maintain itself because it is unsustainable.

“The Illusion of Happiness”
Hedges turns his attention to positive thinking and positive psychology, concepts whose validity is reinforced by the psychologists of the academy.

Hedges is skeptical of the cult of optimism, particularly the notion that it can become a permanent mental state that spreads throughout all apsects of society. Nevertheless, many organizations of power, including corporations and the United States Navy, have adopted programs that pay homage to the power of optimism, and these organizations insist that members of their organization also pay homage.

Hedges suggests that corporations, for example, rely on this obsession with positive thinking to induce their workers to merge their identity with that of the corporation. By adopting an optimistic outlook at all times, workers will always second guess their own dissatisfaction, no matter how genuine it may be. Instead of questioning the merits of the organization, they will question themselves.

Worse, if they do question the merits of the organization, their concerns can be turned back upon them as a lack of positivity. These concerns on the part of the worker can now be labeled "counterproductive" because a positive worker is better than a skeptical one. There is a desire within the corporation for people to believe that anything is possible: profits will always increase if workers believe.

Hedges argues that the corporation's obsession with positive thinking is similar to Nazi Germany's obsession with eugenics. Hedges also cautions that although some workers may actually accept the tenets of positive thinking, this acceptance should never be confused with reality.

Hedges points to the work of philosopher David Jopling, who argues that eventually reality will intrude upon the "dream world" of positive thinking—eventually the illusion of happiness will collapse. Regardless of whether or not the reality collapses the illusion, Hedges warns that the purpose of positive psychology is clear: it is a form of manipulation. It teaches people to conform rather than to question.

He further warns that it is not the first time that psychology has been co-opted by organizations of power. For example, when psychologists developed the system Survive Evade Resist Escape (SERE) to help American soldiers endure interrogation techniques, that system was soon compromised by the military. Rather than allowing the knowledge of resistance to survive intact, the military went on to reverse-engineer SERE to break prisoners during interrogation.

The ultimate purpose of positive thinking is to further reinforce and secure power structures and the totalitarian elements of structures of power within society against questioning and against reality.

“The Illusion of America”
Hedges recalls that he used to live in a country called America. He does not suggest that the past was idyllic, but he does remember that although some were disadvantaged, there was nevertheless hope that things might some day improve.

America paid its workers good wages, and it granted these workers health care and pensions. The state provided public goods such as education, the rule of law, and a respect for human rights.

This America, Hedges argues, is all but lost, and America's ideals have become little more than empty phrases. For example, the government does not rule by the governed's consent. Rather, power has been co-opted by oligarchs and corporations.