From Tahrir to Trump: How dignity was reduced to pride

Ece Temelkuran writes:

Thousands of people in Tahrir Square chanted the slogan: “Bread! Dignity! Freedom!” It was 2011, and the height of the Arab spring. Standing on my own in the crowd, I recalled a middle-aged worker I’d met in Buenos Aires a decade earlier telling me why he and his colleagues had taken over a factory during Argentina’s economic collapse. He rattled off reasons such as hunger, poverty and inequality. But then his voice changed: “And the boss … ” he said. “Well, he never said good morning to us and, you know, that destroys your dignity.”

Dignity is a slippery word, almost too elusive a concept to be put in a social contract or win inclusion as a demand from a new political movement. Yet it is the word that best reflects how surviving economic hardship isn’t the only thing that angers poor people. Being messed around, mocked and deprived of the last traces of humanity makes the physical consequences of everyday poverty harder to bear. It was a single mother of four living in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Istanbul, on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, who taught me this. She wasn’t furious when she told me her children went to bed hungry some nights, but she was when she recalled her boss sarcastically saying “but then you do have a sea view”. She quit her job after that, saying: “Oh yes, we dip bread in the sea for our dinner!” Her proud face taught me that defending one’s dignity sometimes tastes sweeter than the bread – yes, even when you’re hungry.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Gezi Park in Istanbul and Puerta del Sol in Madrid: not so long ago these and other places were sites of protest and hope for radical democratic movements that wanted to remake politics and restore people’s dignity. They were either violently suppressed or absorbed into conventional global politics.

Now, once again, millions around the world are protesting. But the mood and the message have changed. This time they are demanding respect for their “truths” and their divisive political choices. The battle for dignity has been replaced by an aggressive assertion of pride – in the nation, or in a particular version of “the people”.

Between the words “dignity” and “pride” there is a world of difference, and that difference is at the heart of the global political and moral mess confronting us now. The need for dignity is inherent to being human, and connected to our love of humankind. Pride, on the other hand, is a facade, it’s about a craving for exclusionary recognition and an answer to the question of who is superior to whom. It is divisive. But when crowds are desperate enough, it is easy for political actors to reduce the need for human dignity to a vindictive clamour for pride. And this is what rightwing populism does. [Continue reading…]

Blackface is the tip of the iceberg

Jamelle Bouie writes:

In American politics, lawmakers can get a pass for almost anything short of open allegiance to racist ideologies or the explicit use of racist imagery.

There is a logic to this dynamic, even as it produces absurd results, like forceful condemnations of racism from a Virginia Republican Party that fielded an unapologetic neo-Confederate for Senate just over three months ago or calls for Northam’s resignation from a Republican National Committee that otherwise stands firmly behind President Trump.

Put simply, there is a plausible (in theory, at least) nonracist reading of King’s preoccupation with the preservation of “Western civilization” or the president’s belief that some countries, like Haiti, are “shitholes” whose residents should be kept off American soil. By contrast, blackface is an unambiguous form of racist mockery with clear origins in the virulent white supremacist history of the United States.

The most popular form of entertainment in 19th-century America, which continued well into the 20th, blackface minstrelsy was defined by its caricature of and gross hostility toward black Americans. In the minstrel show, blacks — and free blacks in particular — were objects of ridicule, lampooned for seeking equality and respectability. Beyond simple mockery, the pleasure of blackface for white performers and their audiences lay in the vicarious experience of an imagined blackness — a wild, preindustrial “savage” nature that whites attributed to black Americans.

“Painting oneself hearkened back to traditional popular celebrations and to paint oneself as a Black person, given American realities at the time, was to throw reason to the winds,” the historian David Roediger wrote in his 1991 book, “The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class.” He notes later that blackface was a form that “implicitly rested on the idea that Black culture and Black people existed only insofar as they were edifying for whites and that claims to ‘authentic’ blackness could be put on and washed off at will.”

In other words, blackface is so thoroughly associated with the worst of American racism that we should expect immediate condemnation of politicians and public figures who have any association with it, even if it’s a decades-old offense.

But this high bar for sanction — essentially a “pics or it didn’t happen” standard for racism — is also a problem. It treats expressions of racist contempt or mockery as the most egregious forms of racism, when that distinction should belong to the promotion of racist policies and ideas. [Continue reading…]

What boys are learning from men

Melinda Wenner Moyer writes:

No one who saw the new Gillette ad “The Best Men Can Be” thought it would be universally embraced. It establishes the state of masculinity today with various scenes of men acting sexist, boys physically and mentally terrorizing each other, and dads accepting a “Boys will be boys” mentality, before dramatically pivoting.

The wide range of reactions was, of course, the point: to create a conversation starter. To rile people and get them talking about Gillette. To increase brand recognition amid Gillette’s declining market share and, ultimately, make Procter & Gamble more money. Much of the criticism of the ad has revolved around the company’s motives.

Yet P&G can have financial incentives and still make an ad worth lauding. These two things are not mutually exclusive. And this ad is a step in the right direction, because the more we collectively hear the message that sexual harassment is unacceptable, that bullying is wrong, and that helping victims is noble, the more this message will shape our—and our children’s—everyday choices. We need to get messages like this from our leaders, teachers, parents—and from television shows, movies, books, songs, and advertisements. Cultural shifts happen when every aspect of culture embraces and normalizes a change.

This argument, of course, rests on the assumption that we need this message at all. Many of the ad’s critics think we don’t. But let me tell you: We do. The centerpiece of this ad isn’t grown men; it’s kids. The ad climaxes with footage of sweet-faced lads and the lesson “The boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.” Gillette’s argument is that we need to be careful with the choices we make as adults because children learn decency and morality from us. As Slate’s science-based parenting columnist for the past six years—a job that has given me the opportunity to interview dozens of psychologists, social scientists, and pediatricians about the factors that shape child behavior and character—I agree passionately with this idea. Kids learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say, and boys in particular absorb a lot from their fathers as well as from male public figures. They watch prominent men in their lives stick up, or not, for victims of bullying or sexual harassment. They watch how men treat their girlfriends and wives and interact with women in public. Many boys watched one man, the president of the United States, publicly mock a woman who testified to Congress that she was a victim of sexual assault. Many also heard him brag about grabbing women “by the pussy.”

And right now, kids are learning bad things from what they see and hear. [Continue reading…]

 

The Covington Catholic “Colonel Crazies” compilation video below was originally included on the school’s official YouTube channel but has since been removed, presumably because it is cause of embarrassment and reveals too much about the all-boys school’s toxic culture:

 

The age of surveillance capitalism

John Naughton writes:

We’re living through the most profound transformation in our information environment since Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing in circa 1439. And the problem with living through a revolution is that it’s impossible to take the long view of what’s happening. Hindsight is the only exact science in this business, and in that long run we’re all dead. Printing shaped and transformed societies over the next four centuries, but nobody in Mainz (Gutenberg’s home town) in, say, 1495 could have known that his technology would (among other things): fuel the Reformation and undermine the authority of the mighty Catholic church; enable the rise of what we now recognise as modern science; create unheard-of professions and industries; change the shape of our brains; and even recalibrate our conceptions of childhood. And yet printing did all this and more.

Why choose 1495? Because we’re about the same distance into our revolution, the one kicked off by digital technology and networking. And although it’s now gradually dawning on us that this really is a big deal and that epochal social and economic changes are under way, we’re as clueless about where it’s heading and what’s driving it as the citizens of Mainz were in 1495.

That’s not for want of trying, mind. Library shelves groan under the weight of books about what digital technology is doing to us and our world. Lots of scholars are thinking, researching and writing about this stuff. But they’re like the blind men trying to describe the elephant in the old fable: everyone has only a partial view, and nobody has the whole picture. So our contemporary state of awareness is – as Manuel Castells, the great scholar of cyberspace once put it – one of “informed bewilderment”.

Which is why the arrival of Shoshana Zuboff’s new book is such a big event. Many years ago – in 1988, to be precise – as one of the first female professors at Harvard Business School to hold an endowed chair she published a landmark book, The Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, which changed the way we thought about the impact of computerisation on organisations and on work. It provided the most insightful account up to that time of how digital technology was changing the work of both managers and workers. And then Zuboff appeared to go quiet, though she was clearly incubating something bigger. The first hint of what was to come was a pair of startling essays – one in an academic journal in 2015, the other in a German newspaper in 2016. What these revealed was that she had come up with a new lens through which to view what Google, Facebook et al were doing – nothing less than spawning a new variant of capitalism. Those essays promised a more comprehensive expansion of this Big Idea.

And now it has arrived – the most ambitious attempt yet to paint the bigger picture and to explain how the effects of digitisation that we are now experiencing as individuals and citizens have come about.

The headline story is that it’s not so much about the nature of digital technology as about a new mutant form of capitalism that has found a way to use tech for its purposes. The name Zuboff has given to the new variant is “surveillance capitalism”. It works by providing free services that billions of people cheerfully use, enabling the providers of those services to monitor the behaviour of those users in astonishing detail – often without their explicit consent.

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later. Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.” [Continue reading…]

The empathetic humanities have much to teach our adversarial culture

By Alexander Bevilacqua, Aeon, January 15, 2019

As anyone on Twitter knows, public culture can be quick to attack, castigate and condemn. In search of the moral high ground, we rarely grant each other the benefit of the doubt. In her Class Day remarks at Harvard’s 2018 graduation, the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addressed the problem of this rush to judgment. In the face of what she called ‘a culture of “calling out”, a culture of outrage’, she asked students to ‘always remember context, and never disregard intent’. She could have been speaking as a historian.

History, as a discipline, turns away from two of the main ways of reading that have dominated the humanities for the past half-century. These methods have been productive, but perhaps they also bear some responsibility for today’s corrosive lack of generosity. The two approaches have different genealogies, but share a significant feature: at heart, they are adversarial.

One mode of reading, first described in 1965 by the French philosopher Paul Ricœur and known as ‘the hermeneutics of suspicion’, aims to uncover the hidden meaning or agenda of a text. Whether inspired by Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche or Sigmund Freud, the reader interprets what happens on the surface as a symptom of something deeper and more dubious, from economic inequality to sexual anxiety. The reader’s task is to reject the face value of a work, and to plumb for a submerged truth.

A second form of interpretation, known as ‘deconstruction’, was developed in 1967 by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. It aims to identify and reveal a text’s hidden contradictions – ambiguities and even aporias (unthinkable contradictions) that eluded the author. For example, Derrida detected a bias that favoured speech over writing in many influential philosophical texts of the Western tradition, from Plato to Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The fact that written texts could privilege the immediacy and truth of speech was a paradox that revealed unarticulated metaphysical commitments at the heart of Western philosophy.

Both of these ways of reading pit reader against text. The reader’s goal becomes to uncover meanings or problems that the work does not explicitly express. In both cases, intelligence and moral probity are displayed at the expense of what’s been written. In the 20th century, these approaches empowered critics to detect and denounce the workings of power in all kinds of materials – not just the dreams that Freud interpreted, or the essays by Plato and Rousseau with which Derrida was most closely concerned.

They do, however, foster a prosecutorial attitude among academics and public intellectuals. As a colleague once told me: ‘I am always looking for the Freudian slip.’ He scours the writings of his peers to spot when they trip up and betray their problematic intellectual commitments. One poorly chosen phrase can sully an entire work.

[Read more…]

Disruption for thee, but not for me

Cory Doctorow writes:

The Silicon Valley gospel of “disruption” has descended into caricature, but, at its core, there are some sound tactics buried beneath the self-serving bullshit. A lot of our systems and institutions are corrupt, bloated, and infested with cream-skimming rentiers who add nothing and take so much.

Take taxis: there is nothing good about the idea that cab drivers and cab passengers meet each other by random chance, with the drivers aimlessly circling traffic-clogged roads while passengers brave the curb lane to frantically wave at them. Add to that the toxic practice of licensing cabs by creating “taxi medallions” that allow businesspeople (like erstwhile Trump bagman Michael Cohen) to corner the market on these licenses and lease them to drivers, creaming off the bulk of the profits in the process, leaving drivers with barely enough to survive.

So enter Uber, an app that allows drivers and passengers to find each other extremely efficiently, that gives drivers realtime intelligence about places where fares are going begging, and which bankrupts the rent-seeking medallion speculators almost overnight.

Of course, Uber also eliminates safety checks for drivers (and allows them to illegally discriminate against people with disabilities, people of color, and other marginalized groups); it used predatory pricing (where each ride is subsidized by deep-pocketed, market-cornering execs) to crush potential competitors, and games the regulatory and tax system.

Uber (and its Peter-Thiel-backed rival Lyft) are not good companies. They’re not forces for good. But the system they killed? Also not good.

In 2016, the City of Austin played a game of high-stakes chicken with Uber and Lyft. Austin cab drivers have to get fingerprinted as part of a criminal records check, and Austin wanted Uber and Lyft drivers to go through the same process.

Uber and Lyft violently objected to this. They said it would add a needless barrier to entry that would depress the supply of drivers, and privately, they confessed their fear that giving in to any regulation, anywhere, would open the door to regulation everywhere. They wanted to establish a reputation for being such dirty fighters that no city would even try to put rules on them.

(Notably, Uber and Lyft did not make any arguments about criminal background checks perpetuating America’s racially unjust “justice system” in which people of color are systematically overpoliced and then railroaded into guilty pleas.)

Austin wasn’t intimidated. They enacted the rule, and Uber and Lyft simply exited the city, leaving Austin without any rideshare at all. All the drivers and passengers who’d come to rely on Lyft and Uber were out of luck.

But the drivers were undaunted. They formed a co-operative and in months, they had cloned the Uber app and launched a new business called Ride Austin, which is exactly like Uber: literally the same drivers, driving the same cars, and charging the same prices. But it’s also completely different from Uber: the drivers own this company through a worker-owned co-op. They take home 25% more per ride than they made when they were driving for Uber. Uber and Lyft drivers commute into Austin from as far away as San Antonio just to drive for Ride. That’s how much better driving for a worker co-op is. [Continue reading…]

The hidden resilience of ‘food desert’ neighborhoods

Barry Yeoman writes:

Even before Ashanté Reese and I reach the front gate, retired schoolteacher Alice Chandler is standing in the doorway of her brick home in Washington, D.C. She welcomes Reese, an anthropologist whom she has known for six years, with a hug and apologizes for having nothing to feed us during this spontaneous visit.

Chandler, 69 years old, is a rara avis among Americans: an adult who has lived nearly her entire life in the same house. This fact makes her stories particularly valuable to Reese, who has been studying the changing food landscape in Deanwood, a historically black neighborhood across the Anacostia River from most of the city.

When Chandler was growing up, horse-drawn wagons delivered meat, fish, and vegetables to her doorstep. The neighborhood had a milkman, as did many U.S. communities in the mid-20th century. Her mother grew vegetables in a backyard garden and made wine from the fruit of their peach tree.

Food was shared across fence lines. “Your neighbor may have tomatoes and squash in their garden,” Chandler says. “And you may have cucumbers in yours. Depending on how bountiful each one was, they would trade off.” Likewise, when people went fishing, “they would bring back enough for friends in the neighborhood. That often meant a Saturday evening fish fry at home.”

Around the corner was the Spic N Span Market, a grocery with penny candy, display cases of fresh chicken and pork chops, and an old dog who slept in the back. The owner, whom Chandler knew as “Mr. Eddie,” was a Jewish man who hired African-American cashiers and extended credit to customers short on cash. Next door was a small farm whose owner used to give fresh eggs to Chandler’s mother.

Chandler was born into this architecturally eclectic neighborhood. On the basis of oral histories found in archives, Reese mapped 11 different groceries that were open in Deanwood during its peak years, the 1930s and ’40s. African-Americans owned five. Jews, excluded by restrictive covenants from living in some other D.C. neighborhoods, owned six. For much of the mid-20th century, there was also a Safeway store.

Today there are exactly zero grocery stores. The only places for Deanwood’s 5,000 residents to buy food in their neighborhood are corner stores, abundantly stocked with beer and Beefaroni but nearly devoid of fruit, vegetables, and meat. At one of those stores, which I visited, a “Healthy Corners” sign promised fresh produce. Instead, I found two nearly empty wooden shelves sporting a few sad-looking onions, bananas, apples, and potatoes. The nearest supermarket, a Safeway, is a hilly 30-minute walk away. A city council member who visited last year found long lines, moldy strawberries, and meat that appeared to have spoiled.

The common name for neighborhoods like these is “food deserts,” which the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines as areas “where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food.” According to the USDA, food deserts tend to offer sugary, fatty foods; the department also says that poor access to fruits, vegetables, and lean meats could lead to obesity and diabetes. A map produced by the nonpartisan D.C. Policy Center puts about half of Deanwood into a desert.

But Reese, an assistant professor of anthropology at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, has joined a number of scholars who are pushing back against the food desert model. She calls it a “lazy” shorthand to describe both a series of corporate decisions and a complex human ecosystem. [Continue reading…]

It could take over 200 years for women to reach economic equality

CNBC reports:

The gender gap is narrowing, but there’s still a long way to go before parity is reached.

How long? The 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), estimates that it will take 202 years for economic equality between men and women to be achieved around the world.

The report benchmarks how countries perform across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The organization estimates that the health gap is nearly closed, and that the education gap will be closed in 14 years.

But the WEF also found that it will take 107 years for the world to achieve political equality. [Continue reading…]

Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars

The New York Times reports:

The assailant slipped out of a park around noon one day in October, zeroing in on his target, which was idling at a nearby intersection — a self-driving van operated by Waymo, the driverless-car company spun out of Google.

He carried out his attack with an unidentified sharp object, swiftly slashing one of the tires. The suspect, identified as a white man in his 20s, then melted into the neighborhood on foot.

The slashing was one of nearly two dozen attacks on driverless vehicles over the past two years in Chandler, a city near Phoenix where Waymo started testing its vans in 2017. In ways large and small, the city has had an early look at public misgivings over the rise of artificial intelligence, with city officials hearing complaints about everything from safety to possible job losses. [Continue reading…]

Millions of America’s school children are being terrorized by gun violence

The Washington Post reports:

Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you ok?”

In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her.

Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Southeast Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building.

“The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her Anacostia school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared.

School shootings remain rare, even after 2018, a year of historic carnage on K-12 campuses. What’s not rare are lockdowns, which have become a hallmark of American education and a byproduct of this country’s inability to curb its gun violence epidemic. Lockdowns save lives during real attacks, but even when there is no gunman stalking the hallways, the procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger. And the number of kids who have experienced these ordeals is extraordinary.

More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year alone, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by The Washington Post that included a review of 20,000 news stories and data from school districts in 31 of the country’s largest cities. [Continue reading…]