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Race War

On the most recent episode of the C-Realm Podcast, I spoke with Neil Kramer on topics related to cultural cohesion. To set the stage for the conversation, I read out the following email from Dr. Bob:

My view is that we begin from a tenuous sense of common identity here in the US. The country is very young when viewed against the larger historical backdrop of Europe. So there is a lack of common identity that comes from a long history on a particular landscape. The social cohesion problem is exacerbated by the diversity of ethnic, religious, racial and other groups that have contributed to the formation of the country. With that said, however, there has been a superficial homogenization of the society, realized in large part through the emergence of consumerism and a strong middle class. This "American" identity employs a number of shared beliefs such as "America is the land of unlimited opportunity", and "the material wealth of each new generation will increase in comparison to prior generations", and "things will get ever better through American ingenuity and technology". I would also add to this list a pervasive belief in American exceptionalism; that we are an "exceptional people" who are somehow exempt from the possibility of failure or decline. Although these naive beliefs have functioned as a shared mythology during the recent decades of economic expansion, they are now in jeopardy given the ongoing and growing erosion of the economy and the middle class.

I believe that we are now beginning to see a predictable flight to facile ideology as a way to explain the breakdown of the cultural mythology I just described. Examples of this include the conservative stance of blindly blaming government, liberals and environmentalists for everything that goes wrong, and the corresponding liberal stance of automatically blaming the corporations, the wealthy, and capitalism for all social ills. There are also other competing ideologies, including the religious view of current events as "evidence of the end times" and so forth. As the economy further weakens I think we will see increasing numbers of people embracing these and other knee-jerk ideologically-based explanations. I also expect these views to become more irrational and extreme - even violent - as in the recent scapegoating of hispanics and other immigrants.

The larger point is that the social center is not holding - or it is just barely holding together at this time. The tendency to embrace facile ideologies - replete with scapegoating and finger pointing - is contributing to increased social fragmentation and alienation. I had the passing thought yesterday that we in the US are probably now approaching the level of the 1850s in regard to social tension and fragmentation - and we know where that led. So, indeed KMO, although I keep gardening and working on sustainable living, I'm more than a little apprehensive when I seriously consider the questions of social stability and economic decline in the United States. It's already a pretty crazy place and I think it's likely to become even more so.



Neil, who has been traveling extensively in the US for the last several months has a different take. He sees the lack of long-standing cultural narratives as an opportunity to make the most of changing conditions. He says that if you think that racial and cultural tensions run high in the US that you should experience the UK and Europe. We've got it better than we realize.
To which Dr. Bob responded:

Hi KMO and (I assume Neil). First, thanks KMO for reading that little blurb on the show.

I mostly agree with Neil's comments on the narratives that are going on in the US (and elsewhere). Most people in US are trapped in a narrative - within the confines of a now irrelevant system of political discourse which functions in terms as social control. It functions to preserve and enhance a system of privilege, wealth and power for as long as that system will hold up. It is very,very difficult, however, for average people to think outside of the boxes. The mainstream media control the narrative for the vast majority of people in the US and the media have a vested interest in preserving the system.

One response to Neil's comments: We all have the problem of extrapolating from personal experience. I wonder if Neil's impressions have been overly limited in terms of the places (San Fransisco and others) and populations he has encountered. I'm thinking he really hasn't encountered may uneducated and less-than-thoughtful types (which is to say, most Americans) . KMO, I think you should take him out into the more rural areas, particularly to the Southern half of the country. A few weeks hanging out with fundamentalist Christians (60 million strong) might help round out his perspective a little. Maybe also take him to some of the popular KKK groups around here - or maybe to some tea party meetings.

I thought his comments on Britain were really interesting. I was somewhat aware that GB was transforming into a surveillance state. I read articles in the Guardain fairly regularly, but it was interesting to hear his perspective. I also thought his comments of the influx of other ractial groups was interesting. It was enlightening to hear his description of it.

I would disagree that there is relatively little racial tension in the US. It is true that you do see a great deal of apparent acceptance in places like Manhattan, but I can guarantee you that there is considerable racial tension - especially, between whites and Native American, hispanics and and now moslems, in other, more reactionary, parts of the country. A lot of it is just seething under the surface. But don't doubt that it has the potential to erupt under certain circumstances.

As an educator I'll make a few additional comments. The universities (and I speak here not just from my own experience, but from talking to many others around the country) are generally failing to educate people at the needed level. Most undergraduate students in the US have limited (to no) knowledge in history and math. They generally cannot read well, and certainly most cannot write - coming into the university. This is no exaggeration. The vast majority are not much better when they graduate. That really is the state of things. The universities keep people there at all cost to maintain funding.

I think that a sense of the larger historical circumstance - and a developed sense of critical thinking - are prereqs for "getting outside of the box". But this just isn't happening. Most come in to the University in a state I would call "living inside the machine" The Machine also "lives inside of them" The consumer culture permeates every thought. I don't see much inclination or capacity to get outside of it. I see some, but its not the majority - and believe me I do try to take the lid off of the box.

What really concerns me is what I saw in 2001 and again in 2003. After 9-11 there was a movement of mass collective consciousness, engendered by the media, that was absolutely lockstep and reactionary. There was an almost total breakdown of critical reflective thought about what was happening. There was tremendous social pressure to conform without reflection as the US moved toward retaliation. I know of only a few others at our university who challenged this - especially in classroom. I believe the statistics of the time showed 90% conformity in regard to "united we stand" and "freedom isn't free".

The exact same thing occurred in regard to the period before invading Iraq in 2003. The media participated in what were clearly misrepresentations by the white house. I'll tell you that I and a few others, mostly professors, launched a campaign to refute the mainstream media. We spent thousands of dollars (yes) on space in the local paper making a fact based case. There was very little - very precious little - change in the general, overwhelming support for the invasion. I don't think this mass psychosis was in any way isolated to this geographical area - though it may have been a bit more extreme here. You should never underestimate the power of the mainstream media here in the US (at least) or the lack of capacity for rational, critical thinking among the US population - particularly when under threat or stress.

Although there are many in the US who do have a bigger picture of things, who are moving toward another sort of consciousness and culture, I wouldn't count on the bulk of Americans being in any way inoculated from ideology as things progress. I'm trying to imagine something like food costing twice as much as today - gas at 6 dollars a gallon - and double the unemployment. Even if this state occurs gradually, I wouldn't count on the Americans I see and teach (supposedly) resisting ideology. Long before that point, many around here - and certainly throughout the whole Middle part of the country - will be on board with conservative/fundamentalist ideology. The ministers will be having a hay day with desperate, new converts. What probably won't happen to any significant degree is critical thinking outside of the box. If a new sort of consciousness and culture does emerge (and I am hopeful about the long term) it will be against this sort of backdrop I do believe.

So, not to rant - I am hopeful to a degree, and I certainly enjoyed and appreciated Neil's thoughts and highly insightful views.

Dr. Bob


My only contribution to this back-channel discussion was to send both Neil and Dr. Bob the lyrics a song from Ice-T's 1993 Album, Home Invasion:

object width="480" height="385">

Yeah

Yeah

Check this out: now I'm black
But black people trip
Cause white people like me
White people like me
But don't like them
What's the fuck up
Are you my friend?

Hell no, you're a racist
You say you got one black friend, so you're in
Sorry homie, no win
Check the facts
Mexicans are still gettin pushed to the back
Puerto-Ricans gettin dissed the same
Won't speak on the Indians, shit's insane
Fuck John Wayne
I don't hate whites
I just got a death wish for muthafuckas that ain't right
You got black skin
Still you gotta show and prove, friend
Back to the facts
What about Australia?
A fuckin failure
The Aboriginal people are black
So they got jacked
You ask me about free speech and the Riots?
So what's in store?
I'm talkin bout a race war

(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
(Put your brain in gear)

Race war
People gettin killed in the street
Blood on your feet, the ends don't meet
And who they gonna blame it on, me?
Try the media
Try the P.D.
Try your TV
Try your quest for wealth
Anybody but yourself
But once the bullets start flyin
People start dyin
It's all because we're lyin
History books that teach hate
A kid has no escape
From the racist fate
And pretty soon South Africa
Will stop chillin
And start killin

Race war (8X)

Every night I pray
That people get this shit together one day
But this country ain't with it
America was founded on that racist shit
I judge the devil by his deeds
It's usually connected to the size of his greed
And keep the hope
Even though they'd love to give a nigga like me the rope
And when this shit hits
There's gonna be a lotta white kids rollin with the Africans
You can't sweat skin
Cause there's gonna be a lot of blacks down with the Republicans
This shit don't have to happen
That's why a brother like me's still rappin
Just treat each other right
Either that, or you're lookin for a sure fight
Fuck the police
We already know they ain't about no fuckin peace
You wanna know what I think's in store?
Justice or a race war

(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
Race war
(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
(Put your brain in gear)
Race war
(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
(Put your brain in gear)
Race war
(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
(Put your brain in gear)

Korean people live down in the hood
A little mis-fuckin-understood
Orientals were slaves too
Word to this fuckin red white and blue
People from Iran ain't never did shit to us
So why the distrust?
The system wanna keep us at each other's throats
While we're payin the tax notes
Cause bein black ain't no fuckin minority
It's the fuckin majority
So they gotta make us hate each other
Word, check the brothers
Mexicans - black
Jamaicans - black
Iranians - black
Indians - black
Hawaiians - black
Puerto-Ricans - black
Eskimos - black
South-Americans - black
Orientals - black
Yeah, that's right
The Klan says everything's black that ain't white
So we gotta get our facts straight
Cause the shit they teach in school is pure hate
Sometimes I don't know for sure
If somebody want a race war

(Get yourself together)
(Upen your eyes
Get wise)
Race war


You're gonna lose

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