How Psychedelics Might Transform the Human Mind and Lead Humanity Towards Intellectual and Artistic Heights
The idea of a Psychedelic Renaissance — as captured in the title of Ben Sessa’s book The Psychedelic Renaissance — is growing in the health professions, and as a Feb. 9, 2015, article in The New Yorker phrased it, current clinical research is "part of a renaissance of psychedelic research," so we see the phrase is catching on in the general culture too. To me, Psychedelic Renaissance is more than a guide for psychotherapeutic practices, more than the inauguration of an era of experience-based religion, more than an enrichment of academic and artistic fields; it can be an embarkation port to a realistic and expanded view of what our minds are and what they can become. Health dominates current policy discussions, but as psychedelics’ other domains become widely accepted, what new uses will emerge, and what policy discussions can we anticipate for future years?
A Four-Stage Model
When I think about the Psychedelic Renaissance, I find it handy to think about it as a four-stage process, in short: medical, religious, intellectual, mind. This is not a sequential theory, not one in which a new stage replaces it predecessor; each stage builds quite naturally into the next. While we are now at the medical stage, some precursors of its subsequent stages are appearing, but I am using "stage" to signify the time when the general culture adopts psychedelics’ various other uses —will feel at home with them— not when their first inklings appear.
When we ask, "What policies will have to be developed for each stage?" it’s important to recognize that "policy" has two arms, regulation by laws and regulation by social conventions. Because these arms constantly interact, any successful attempt to change one must include the other. By taking us beyond today’s discussion of regulatory changes of the medical-neuroscience stage, the 4-stage model alerts us to pay attention to broad policy areas elsewhere in society and to keep an eye out for ideas in one stage that will lead us its following stage.
The Medical-Neuroscientific Stage
Currently, this two-part field is leading the way, and it probably should because our culture places a high priority on curing diseases. Also, scientific findings and medical results can be observed, measured, and/or shown to be cost-effective: like it or not, these results are all highly valued by our society at large, thus leading to social acceptance.
In addition to testing treatments, current psychotherapy and clinical research are discovering the benefits of unitive consciousness (mystical experiences); they naturally raise religious-spiritual questions. Topics and experiences produced experimentally include spiritual significance, ego-loss, meaningfulness, sense of sacredness and values such as altruism, and open-mindedness. These are overturning psychiatry’s historical hostility toward mystical experiences. Because they are successful when they produce unitive consciousness, current research in death anxiety, PTSD, addiction, and other problems are inadvertently raising spiritual and religious topics.
In addition to standard discoveries in the neurosciences, the neuroscientific half of the stage 2 has contributed to neurotheology, as it’s being called. As a result, the historical, post-Enlightenment chasm between medicine and science on one hand and religion on the other is being bridged, and in the next stage may even lead to experiential theology.
Policy problems at this stage are largely those of meeting the established standards of the medical and scientific communities, reformulating Federal and state laws to fit the emerging clinical and scientific facts, determining professional standards and protocols, and encouraging still skittish private and governmental funders to do their civic duties.
Spiritual significance, ego-loss, meaningfulness, and sense of sacredness from clinical research combining with experimental neurotheology logically leads us to experimental religious studies and naturally leads us to the spiritual-religious stage of the Psychedelic Renaissance.
The Spiritual-Religious Stage
In their religious and spiritual uses, psychedelics are called "entheogens." That is, they produce an experience that feels spiritual or is interpreted that way. There is a huge and complex discussion about this topic, and I expect that it will never be settled — like many other religious topics.
While the medical-neuroscientific stage is gaining public recognition, the spiritual-religious stage is generally below public view. From the way things look now, the spiritual-religious stage is starting: (1) more churches legally use psychedelics entheogenically, (2) psychedelic psychotherapy is carrying the idea of unitive consciousness into society, and (3) publications about psychedelics’ entheogenic uses are spreading in from society’s fringes toward its center. All three of these are increasing this century. We are far from a full flowering, but entheogenic seeds are being sown and are sprouting.
While the policy issues in the medical-neuroscientific stage are far from straightforward, spiritual-religious policies are relatively more complex; they are tangled with religious liberty, personal conscience, and establishment-of-religion problems. How does the standard of "least restrictive means" in The Religious Freedom Restoration Act apply to entheogens? On what grounds can the courts decide what is and what isn’t a religious use?
Does a religion have to include an organized group, clergy, and/or theology? If members, how many? Abraham and Sarah were enough to start Judaism, and 13 guys did it for Christianity. Do drug laws written and enforced for medical and scientific research apply to organized religion and to personal conscience? Can courts determine when a person’s use is truly religious/spiritual and not just a shield to do illegal drugs? Who knows enough to make informed decisions?
Does the increasingly common perspective, "I’m not religious. I’m spiritual" fit in? Among the people I know, psychedelics contribute to the reason some people take this position. When the entheogenic uses of psychedelics are offhandedly dismissed as "recreational," people who take their entheogenic religion seriously rightly feel insulted. When a religious order, seminary, or other recognized religious organization wants to try entheogenic experiments, is governmental permission needed? Who gets to say "yes" to one group and "no" to another? Would this be de facto establishment? I like to imagine what might happen if university courses that study emerging new religions, religious studies, and related topics had experimental lab experiences with entheogens. Whose domain is this?
Although it isn’t their purpose, current psychedelic laws in effect regulate religious practices and theological research; they restrict the emergence of new religions. There’s enough in stage two to keep several generations of policy experts and ethicists busy.
The ideas being raised for theology, religious philosophy, the psychology of religion, and other forms of religious studies hint at their congruent parallels in other academic fields. As the specific topics of the spiritual-religious stage generalize to wider intellectual realms, they uncover a continent of ideas and we move quite naturally into the intellectual-artistic stage.
The Intellectual-Artistic Stage
First, the artistic and intellectual communities already are using their fields to describe and understand psychedelic experiences. In the arts world, this takes the form of works that describe the artists’ own experiences in their media, attempts to stimulate similar experiences in their audiences, intensified sensations, and perceptual discoveries. In academic fields, scholars are accumulating information about how their disciplines have, or haven’t, addressed psychedelics by asking questions such as "How does (name of discipline) contribute to our understanding of psychedelics?" These fit within traditional academic activities.
Second, new ideas from psychedelic experiences can enrich current disciplines. For example, Grof’s model of the human mind provides a theory of psychocriticism.
Third, the least developed line of exploration is using psychedelics as a research method to generate new insights and ideas. As ways to think out-of-the-box, they generate ideas, theories, algorithms, and paradigms. In this use, I like to think of them as ideagens. That makes them a conceptual research methodology. I hope someday the growth in academic policy at universities and research institutes will make laboratory courses in psychedelic research methods part of their advanced professional education. Below, we’ll see this third use as a transition to the mind design stage.
Just as the spiritual-religious stage has policy issues of religious freedom, the intellectual-artistic stage has policy issues of academic freedom; although, academic freedom is supported by social convention not law. Although it isn’t their purpose, current drug laws restrict academic and artistic freedom. If anyone would dare to do the research, for many, perhaps even most, of the 30+million Americans who have taken psychedelics, I predict the researchers would find that these experiences are commonly rated not only as among the most spiritually significant, but also as among the most educationally stimulating, intellectually enriching, artistically creative, scientifically puzzling, philosophically meaningful, ethically altruistic, powerfully transformative, and psychologically healthful events of their lives.
I certainly have experienced them that way for several decades, but academics who follow this intellectual curiosity face mandatory minimum sentences. Others who follow their scientific interests, aesthetic development, and ethical judgments face similar fates, so society as a whole is impoverished. Policy makers, can you write policies that encourage these beneficial effects and at the same time reduce undesirable ones?
Psychedelic experiences provide evidence for and against various ideas. Neglecting them wounds the open marketplace of ideas. In courts of law, prohibiting them undermines justice.
In addition to their insightful intellectual uses, artists of all kinds find them inspirational, mothers of ideas, sensory enhancers, and perspective shifters; art schools, conservatories and similar institutions may do so too. If insights and the arts count for something, should using psychedelics to generate them be prohibited?
Beyond topics to study, a major intellectual evolution occurs when thinkers transfer from thinking about psychedelics to thinking with them — as a conceptual research method. Thus, the topics of the intellectual-artistic stage move us quite naturally to the fourth stage — the mind design stage.
The Mind Design Stage
So far we have predominately been looking at how to enhance our default mind-body state (a.k.a. state of consciousness). But the Psychedelic Renaissance is capable of taking us much further afield into inventing new mind-body states as the Psychedelic Renaissance becomes subsumed into a larger Multistate Renaissance. A useful analogy: just as we can write and install a practically unlimited number of apps for our electronic devices, we can write and install many apps for our minds. I feel the word mindapp works nicely here. Psychedelics are one family of mindapps. Others include the wide variety of other psychoactive drugs and plants, meditation, contemplative prayer, yoga, breathing techniques, chanting, martial arts and exercise routines, hypnosis, imagery, suggestion, sleep deprivation, dreamwork, sensory overload and restriction, transcranial magnetic stimulation, electrical brain stimulation, and others.
It seems to me that some psychedelic intellectuals and artists are catching on: they realize that the psychedelic mind state and its apps are just one of many states and mindapps. In stage four, one goes beyond enriching our ordinary, default mind state and its abilities to seeing psychedelics as one of many current mindapps. Beyond that, the mind-design stage challenges people to invent new mindapps, to install them, to explore and develop previously unknown states and their new, previously unknown resident abilities.
New mindapps are being invented and imported regularly, but they are usually used one-at-a-time. When we sequence them in new ways and combine them into new recipes, we will open the future of mind design.
Who, if anyone, will control this stage? Medical schools? Organized religions? Intellectual and scholarly organizations? Governments? Will there be a place for the iconic "young inventors in a garage"? At each stage, the policy issues get wider and more complex, and we have fewer precedents to call on. One issue is that current laws are written by people whose minds are in our default state and are about our default state; we have no idea what laws might be written in other mindstates and for other mindstates. Even for psychedelic states, current laws prohibit us finding out. This policy jungle remains to be explored.
Augmenting the Human Mind
I have little doubt that this is the springtime in the Psychedelic Renaissance. The Medical-Neurosciences Stage is leafing out. The Spiritual-Religious Stage is sprouting. The Intellectual-Artistic Sage is germinating. But what about the Mind Design Stage? It is hard to know what its seeds are, and even more difficult to say which ones will be fruitful and which will be weeds. For stage one, the criteria for medical healing and scientific discovery are relatively straightforward. The goals of stages two, three, and four, however, are, as Bob Jesse says, "the betterment of well people." Jesse’s goal absorbs Douglas Engelbart’s narrower view from Augmenting Human Intellect, "a new and systematic approach to improving the intellectual effectiveness of the individual human being."
Who gets to judge betterment? Governments? Churches? Academic Organizations? Art critics? Individuals? What criteria should they use? Social acceptability? Ethical actions? Economic growth? To make matters even more complex, we think about these things in our ordinary, default waking state (and even this single-state situation produces its fair share of disagreements). But when we add a perspective that includes our human ability to produce and use a plethora of mind-body states, we’ll complicate these questions. When we actually install those mind states in our minds and use their respective multistate cognitive processes and values, we’ll find ourselves in an even murkier quagmire. We are there now.
Photo by Menendj
In the years since 9/11, American police alone have killed at least twice as many Americans as died in that single large event, the annual toll of police killings being somewhere between 500 and 1,000, the variation owing to many such events going inaccurately reported by police.
Each year, somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans are killed in automobiles, the level having declined in recent years. Each year about 15,000 Americans are murdered, down from about 25,000 not too many years ago. Each year about 100,000 Americans are killed by medical malpractice. About 40,000 Americans commit suicide annually. These are just a few causes of death in America, not the largest ones but some of the more interesting.
Let’s get a rough total estimate of what has happened to Americans from these causes in the time since 9/11. Just using the low number in each case for fourteen years, 7,000 Americans were killed by their own police, 420,000 were killed by something parked in their garage, 210,000 were murdered by fellow citizens, 1,400,000 were killed by friendly family doctors, and there were 560,000 who just decided to pack it in for one reason or another. The total of these various causes of death rounds to 2, 600,000 deaths, nearly 867 times the number of Americans killed in 9/11, 867 collapsed sets of twin towers, nearly 62 collapsed sets of towers per year.
So why are we spending countless billions of dollars fighting terror, an almost insignificant threat to our well-being? We spend a total by various estimates of between 1 and 5 trillion dollars (yes, that’s trillion with a “t”), although such totals can never accurately be given owing to secrecy, false accounting, and the immense waste that is an inherent part of all military and intelligence operations. Even in the crudest military terms of “bang for the buck,” ignoring all the death and destruction and ethical issues, just as the military routinely does in its grim work, the War on Terror has to be the greatest misdirection of resources in all of human history.
Or is it? Perhaps there are other reasons for the War on Terror, reasons never discussed in newspapers or on news broadcasts, reasons which make the expenditure of such colossal amounts against such an insignificant risk acceptable to those doing the spending? Unless American leaders are all lunatics, I think there must be.
Most people are aware that the War on Drugs has been a stupendous flop, with a great deal of resources having bought nothing except a general diminishment of personal freedoms, construction of new prisons, and make-work employment for many unnecessary police and prison guards. But each year the War on Terror spends many, many times the amount spent on the War on Drugs, and what has it bought us? A far greater debasement of freedoms, almost wiping clean parts of the Bill of Rights, raising to a high status in our society such dark and anti-democratic forces as security agents of every kind and the military, increasing exponentially the secrecy of government and thus giving voters no hope for an informed ballot, making countless future enemies in the world, and causing Americans willy-nilly to support filthy acts identical to the hateful work of military juntas who made tens of thousands of civilians disappear.
I think there are only a couple of explanations for this waste of resources which otherwise employed could have made the world an immeasurably better place. They are assisted greatly by what I’ll call the “crime in the news” effect, although I might just as well call it the “advertising effect,” because advertising works on people’s minds through its seeming omnipresence and repetition planting suggestions, suggestions not entirely different to those planted by the stage-performer hypnotist in the minds of his volunteers from the audience.
It has been demonstrated many times that daily reports of violent crime, even when the crimes occur outside a listening community, cause people to become apprehensive about many ordinary activities such as letting kids walk to school or go to the park to play. And no advertising campaign in history could begin to compare to the complete audience saturation of “terror this or that” in our newspapers, magazines, and on-air. Surely, no totalitarian government ever more completely blanketed its people with fearful suggestions than does America’s “free press” today. You literally cannot hear a news broadcast or read a newspaper with the word terror missing, a fact which keeps most people in an unquestioning frame of mind about what properly should be regarded as sinfully immense expenditures to no useful purpose, at the same time conditioning them to surrender precious freedoms. For most people, the fact is that fear overcomes both logic and courage.
Americans, along with people in other lands heavily under American influence, have voluntarily given up claims to what we believed were well-established rights. Yes, there is some controversy over the high-tech equivalent of Big Brother’s telescreens, over the construction of immense new or expanded agencies such as the TSA and NSA, and even some over a seemingly-endless set or wars, but much less than you might have expected. There has been relatively little controversy over America’s smashing its adherence to everything from the Geneva Conventions to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the complete disregard for established basic principles of common law in America’s international behaviour goes largely unremarked, at least in America.
In a very real sense, America’s establishment, its government within the government consisting of leaders in security and the military and of its great corporations, has been given licence to create a kind of Frankenstein monster which now stands ready with terrible powers to do its bidding. It certainly isn’t just terrorists who need fear, it is every person with the impulse in his or her breast for justice, fairness, and human decency, and it is every country which has an impulse for independence from America’s imperious declarations of how they should carry on their affairs. I don’t like the expression New World Order, but it does in fact communicate something of what has been pursued relentlessly byAmerica’s establishment since 9/11 with an unbounded sense of its entitlement and privilege. The awesome creature it has brought to life - which already runs secret prisons, tortures, conducts non-judicial killings, and supports horrible governments in many places - is no respecter of principles or human rights or even basic decency. We all know from history and common experience that over time any well-funded, established, and privileged institution grows, altering the terms of its charter and spreading its influence always farther, just as today American intelligence, bound by charter not to spy on Americans, spies on them all the time through various technical arrangements effectively going around its charter.
This monster serves ambitions abroad – crush democracy anywhere it proves inconvenient or a barrier to the interests of America’s establishment, as in Ukraine and in Egypt and as attempted in Venezuela, but also crush old arrangements which have produced advancing societies in other lands, even though they are not yet democratic, as in Syria, Iraq, or Libya.
In a relatively short time the monster has made a chaotic wasteland of such previously prosperous lands as Iraq and Libya, and it is now hard at work doing the same to the lovely, ancient land of Syria where it is allied in its efforts with some of the ugliest violent fanatics you could hope to find anywhere. Its acts have resulted in many hundreds of thousands of deaths in these places, countless refugees and injuries, the destruction of much precious infrastructure, and left people to wallow in chaos for years to come.
It created a coup, and thereby a civil war, in Ukraine, reducing that impoverished land still further, and it allied itself for the effort with the kind of stormfront militia trash that even the pathetic FBI surely would infiltrate and investigate were they active in the United States. It did all this just to gain temporary psychological advantages over Russia, a country whose leadership today far better represents principles of international peace and good order – not without some distant echo of irony for those of us raised on a steady diet of Cold War propaganda - than those in Washington who never stop mouthing slogans about rights and democracy which they routinely ignore. We all have an immense investment in America’s reckless game of “playing chicken” with Russia, the only country on the planet capable of obliterating most of Western civilization. I’ve never liked frat-boy pranks and humour, but in this case the overgrown frat-boys at the CIA are guffawing over stupidities which risk most of what we hold precious.
But the monster serves also to intimidate America’s own population. Don’t hold big or noisy demonstrations against injustice, don’t complain too much about authorities and truly abusive police, don’t communicate with others who may be viewed as undesirables for whatever reasons by the government, and don’t describe any group which has been arbitrarily-declared terrorist as being merely freedom fighters – any of these acts or many others risks arbitrary powers that never formally existed before.
Homeland Security has stocked huge amounts of crowd-control equipment and weapons, and it was a military general who quietly announced a few years back that the Pentagon was prepared should martial law became necessary in America. America’s local police forces, long ago having earned an international reputation for violent, militaristic behaviour, have been given surplus military-grade crowd-control equipment. The FBI seeks new authorities and capabilities regularly, the same FBI with such a sorry record, going back to its origins, of abusing authority.
In my mind, and I think in the minds of many, America’s posture towards the world resembles a pug-ugly bully confronting you on the street,someone who just will not let you pass until you give him what he demands. The bully is the country’s immensely wealthy and influential privileged establishment, having the country’s general population now completely in tow, fearful and intimidated, quite apart from being in large part underemployed or unemployed. The bully naturally pays no attention to international organizations and agreements, believing himself above the rules and constraints to which others hold. The organizations are either simply ignored or, as in the case of the UN, coerced into behaving along acceptable lines, America having spent some years recently refusing to pay its legally-required dues just to prove a point as well as having been involved in more than one cabal to unseat a dislikedSecretary General.
And I fear this gives us just a hint of what is likely to come because, as we should never stop reminding ourselves, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The world’s hope for relief from a form of international tyranny comes from the growth of countries like Russia, China, India, and Brazil. I wish I could add the EU to the list, but it seems almost as supine and voiceless as America’s own general population or Canada’s present government. Only forces capable of saying “no” to America’s establishment and building interest blocs to oppose its excesses offer redress and relief in future, and it is only through political contention that new international organizations are likely to emerge, ones with some power and effect. Americans all give lip service to competition in economics, but the concept applies no less to the spheres of politics and world affairs. And Americans all give lip service to democracy, not realizing that its governing elites represent the tiniest fraction of the world’s population and resemble in their acts abroad about as aristocratic a government as ever existed.
A horrifying new story from the Marshall Project tells the story of John, a 17-year-old, 140-pound inmate in Michigan, who was raped by his 200-pound cellmate after being housed in an adult prison. It was not the last time he would be sexually assaulted. The piece is titled, "A Boy Among Men: What happens when you throw a teenager into an adult prison? Guess.”
John was repeatedly victimized, and permanently traumatized. His ordeal is not unusual for younger inmates, especially in states—and there are many of them—where strict laws have been passed to try juveniles as adults. The younger inmates become prime pickings for prison predators.
Twelve years after the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2003, the horror of prison rape has not been eliminated. Inmates under 18 in adult prisons are said to be five times more likely to be attacked than their peers in juvenile facilities. Worse, prison guards are sometimes complicit in these rapes and are sometimes even the perpetrators.
In an official acknowledgement that rape is a widespread reality of prison life, the state of New York will soon release a video series titled, How To Avoid Rape In Prison, intended to help new inmates avoid being raped, according to the Marshall Project. One is for male inmates and another for female inmates. Dozens of inmates and prison officials were interviewed for them. While the videos are meant to be helpful, they seem like admissions of failure. Since rape can happen even when one does all the right things to avoid it, the videos also inform inmates about their rights in case they are sexually assaulted.
The videos are funded by a federal grant from the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and directed by T.J. Parsell, a former prisoner who was a victim of rape while serving time more than 30 years ago. In the men’s video, Parsell recounts how he had not been in prison 24 hours before his drink was spiked with Thorazine and he was lured into an empty cell and gang-raped. He was only 17 at the time.
“I’m telling you this because I don’t want this to happen to you,” Parsell says, looking into the camera. “I was in prison over 30 years ago. And things have changed a lot since then. The purpose of this video is not to scare you but to help you do your time more safely.”
Inmates offer tips on how to avoid predatory inmates and staff. Some warn viewers never to accept gifts from inmates or staff, as they will certainly want something in return. Tips on how to behave in the shower (keep your underwear on) or how to tell if a weight-lifting partner is making sexual advances are also offered. Several inmates suggest that violent rape is less the norm these days, while manipulation and “grooming” are more common. (John was "courted" with letters before being forcibly raped.)
An inmate warns that prison “mothers” try to take advantage of female inmates who may feel guilty about leaving their families.
Another female inmate says,” I believe that my appearance automatically makes a predator feel that I’m fair game because I like women, so they don’t have to try as hard.”
A male inmate in another video says, “I have an effeminate voice with effeminate attributes, even though I am a straight male. So I feared that I would have problems.”
(No trans gender inmates appear in either of video, though they are known to be a target for prison rape.)
New York doesn’t have a very good track record of curbing prison rape. In 2010, three of the 11 prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate violence were in New York, according to PREA surveys cited by the Marshall Project.
The release of these videos will certainly spark lively debate on whether New York’s prison system, and others across the country, are dealing effectively with prison rape. No doubt they are full of good advice for staying as safe as possible under terrible conditions. The problem is that the videos don't question the underlying problem: that minors who end up in adult prisons are at high risk of being raped.Related Stories
My first college experience was failing half my classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in 1992. The highlight was getting a “D” in English 101. Like many small town kids, I was overwhelmed and underprepared. I dropped out of UNLV, joined the military and got married. Being a 20-year-old father and “enlisted” man showed me exactly how not to live, so I started a backward, fumbling and circuitous process of getting my undergraduate degree. In seven years, I attended four community colleges, a university on a military base and attended military journalism school. I pieced the whole mess into a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College, a credit aggregator that caters to military members.
Modern conservative politics push the notion that people who flip switches, burgers or bedpans don’t need “education.” They instead need “job training.” In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, someone crossed out this phrase: “to extend knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of its campuses and to serve and stimulate society.” And added this instead: “to meet the state’s workforce needs.” Walker backed down on the language change when it was exposed, claiming it was a “mistake.” Really it was just one more tired attack on the idea of education as a public good, one that helps people find fulfillment and meaning.
I value education more than many people, because I struggled so hard to get it. I had a bad elementary school experience, failed the fifth grade, muddled through high school and dropped out of college. Teachers were always kind to me, saying things like, “He’s clever, but lazy.” They were wrong about me, just like when Republicans are always wrong about poor people being lazy or stupid. When I failed out of college the first time I was working a full-time job far above 40 hours a week, while also going to school. I was most worried about making a living, and my skill set mirrored that of so many in the working class: Work hard, day in and day out and be grateful. Educational success has little to do with innate intelligence or “goodness” and almost everything to do with class, upbringing and privilege.
I also viewed education with suspicion bordering on paranoia. I came from a rural mining town in Nevada where I knew mostly blue-collar men who neither needed nor wanted a college education. Listening to adults talk they always had a favorite villain: the person who jumped ahead in line and got a job or promotion, only because he or she had a college degree.
I have my own children now, and I know the limits of parenting. Children heed your example far more than your advice. It’s painful to watch your children struggle. It was the same for my conservative family who encouraged me to go college. They weren’t able to offer any meaningful guidance or help, and it was not their fault. First generation college students, like me, face an impossible climb. If you add in conservative hostility to education, it gets that much harder.
After getting a bachelor’s at 27, I went back to graduate school to study 18th century British literature at California State Hayward. I landed a new job in Reno and moved to the University of Nevada, Reno, finishing a master’s in English there. A few years later, I went back again, this time for a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, a school that emphasizes social justice—for many conservatives, a coded phrase that means “liberal.” Even as a libertarian attending a liberal college, people went out of their way to be both kind and tolerant to me. My preconceived notions about the “evil liberals of the ivory tower” looked more ignorant and narrow by the day.
Before college, I voted conservative, hated gay people, loved America and served my country in the armed services. I’ve changed because of many factors, but I know that college and graduate school made a difference. I met people unlike myself and was forced to defend sometimes ugly political positions. The Tea Party thrives on blue-collar “common sense” that is composed of a combination of ignorance, superstition and fear. A literate and educated populace is an existential threat to the kind of thoughtless rage that has consumed the right over the past few years.
When I write about how my politics evolved over a lifetime from conservative to liberal, people in the comments section (note: never read Internet comments) like to point out my “liberal arts degrees.” Even my own friends like to remark on my MFA, usually by asking me to whip them up a “grande cappuccino.” It’s funny, and I go right along with the joke too. I understand the reality of trying to earn a living with an arts degree. At the same time, it’s troubling that educational fulfillment has turned into a punch line, even among those who believe in it.
Some people on the right are very educated. Rick Santorum holds an MBA and a JD (with honors, no less), and his vehement hatred of college seems to stem from his kooky take on religion. Modern politics is drawing bizarre new battle lines between “family values” and a halfway decent education. American Christians may dislike “Islam,” but they share a lot of opinions with the radical Islamic group “Boko Haram,” a name that itself translates into “education is forbidden.” In our own country, we have a massive and growing group of people who would rather have illiterate children than let their kids learn anything that contradicts their most extreme religious views.
I know many thoughtful, educated and even liberal people who hold deep faith. Despite my own personal atheism, I accept the authentic religious experiences of others, but I’m troubled by a growing chorus of denial on climate change, evolution and the age of the planet. Anti-intellectualism may be an American tradition, but when “mainstream” politicians embrace ignorance, education ends up as collateral damage.
“Serious” presidential candidate Scott Walker seems to have a problem with evolution, sounding like an idiot, most recently while in England. Unlike Rick Santorum who is an overeducated hypocrite, Walker lives the life of a true education hater. Asked about not finishing his undergraduate experience (which I’m not necessarily attacking), Walker said, “The reason I went to college, in large part, was not just to get an education for an education’s sake, but to get a job.” For too many politicians, it all comes down to money.
In America, to our everlasting shame, money is the absolute yardstick of goodness. I like money just like anyone, but many other things have brought me as much or more satisfaction: being a father, writing an essay or seeing a new part of the planet. It’s easy to pick on poetry, humanity or art degrees.
I was able to go back to school in large part because my military service made it affordable. The GI Bill paid for both my master’s degrees. My background and rough start make me an unlikely champion of college education. I’ve also been socially adjusted for my whole life to feel like a pretentious asshole and a fraud every time I bring it up. But education makes a difference in people’s lives.
That’s why sensible people need to stand up against the vilification of education. A good start is to support Barack Obama’s free community college initiative. I earned most of the credits for my very first undergraduate degree at community colleges, and those classes kickstarted my interest in school. It’s hard to see how I would have ever overcome my own barriers without the patience of many community college instructors. Obama’s plan to fund community college will not only make our country a better place but will also improve, even slightly, the state of our shared humanity.
And to acknowledge the “other side,” education does help people find good, fulfilling jobs. Even my “slapped together” bachelor’s degree helped launch me into a career in public relations. The job has more than sustained me and my family, while also allowing me to explore my own outside interests.
Some days I wish I could use my graduate education to find a full-time academic job, but I passed up too many opportunities and wasted too many years fumbling around. Academic jobs and humanities scholarship itself are under assault, just like so many other valuable parts of America. I’m probably a coward, but I also don’t like the idea of leaving my longtime profession to start all over. Besides, there is inherent value to education even if someone isn’t paying you for it. I know my life would be less satisfying without it. For instance, if I had turned my back on education, I could have ended up as an ignorant asshole trying to turn back the very hands of human progress, much like the party to which I once belonged.
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Congratulations, America!: Donald Trump says he might run for President again.
Or rather, to put it more accurately, Donald Trump is again going around saying he might run for president.
In an interview with the Washington Post, the reality TV star tried to assure readers that his latest presidential talk is about affecting real political change, and not a crass and pathetic attempt at maintaining a semblance of relevance.
“Everybody feels I’m doing this just to have fun or because it’s good for the brand,” Trump said. “Well, it’s not fun. I’m not doing this for enjoyment. I’m doing this because the country is in serious trouble.”
Um, Donald Trump does realize that we haven’t forgotten like, everything he’s ever said and done, right? Because it seems like Donald Trump is pretty sure we’re all idiots.
Let’s revisit a handful of the ridiculous things Donald Trump has said in just the last week:
1) On the Oscars. Donald called into "Fox & Friends" to toss off a few gems.
“There was a lot of conservative hatred there – there’s no question about that,” Trump said. He then stated that unlike the liberals over at the Academy Awards he “[hadn’t] seen any conservatives get up lately and start ranting and raving.”
So Donald Trump hasn’t read the Internet or watched TV or had any contact with media in very long time. Fine. But then, in response to wins for "Birdman" and its director Alejandro González Iñárritu, Trump stated:
“Well it was a great night for Mexico, as usual in this country...It was a great night…for Mexico. This guy kept getting up and up and up. I said, you know, what’s he doing? He’s walking away with all the gold.”
The Mexicans are stealing all the gold? And you're using "gold" as a poorly obfuscated code word for "jobs," yes?
Though you can't hear it on the recording, Trump concluded his remarks by singing “America! Fuck Yeah!”
2) On Obama and Israel. While being interviewed on conservative Hugh Hewitt’s radio show recently, Trump was asked if he thinks Obama is a friend of Israel.
“No, I think he’s one of the worst things that’s ever happened to Israel,” Trump said, as if we thought he might answer any other way. The he claimed to know Netanyahu very well – well, he calls him “Bibi” – and kept right on talking:
“[S]o many friends of mine, they contributed to the Obama campaign. I said, because they’re so pro-Israel, I said, 'How can you contribute to the campaign? This guy is the worst thing that ever happened to Israel.'”
And then History Professor Trump demanded to see Obama's birth certificate again.
3) On Vaccinations Causing Autism. In the same interview with Hewitt, which is an embarrassment of riches, Trump decided to give science a spin, and pontificated on how large vaccine loads can cause autism.
“I am a total believer in getting the shots,” Trump began, before spotting a shiny object on the ground, picking it up, and putting it in his mouth. He then went on a rant about how “massive innoculations” have taken our “autism rate” to “a level that it’s never been.”
“And all I’m saying is spread it out in smaller doses over a longer period of time,” said Trump.
"So you believe there’s a causal connection between vaccines and autism?” Hughes asked.
Trump answered: "[I] know at least two people, one of them who works in the building that I’m in right now, a beautiful woman, has a child. The child is 100% healthy, takes the child, who was, I think, around a year and a half or two years old to get the shot, gets this massive shot of fluid pumped into the baby’s body. And a few days later, catches a fever, and all of a sudden, is severely autistic. And many people, many people have had that experience, Hugh. And I will tell you, on Twitter and on Facebook, where you know, so many people, I feel, it’s sort of interesting, because I get so much response, people are praying for me that I at least say that.”
I'm sure he meant to say "...praying to me."
Anyway, you can listen to the remarks in their entirety, below.
Editors Note: NoFap is a registered trademark and is not associated with any other organization mentioned in this article
It’s often said that porn helps drive technology. When the Super 8 projectors came out, porn flicks were among the first to be shown. VHS was able to stomp out competing systems like Betamax largely because it agreed to license pornography. And DVDs made it easier to jump to the dirtiest parts of our favorite films.
Things are continuing down that path. Now we can send dirty photos that self-destruct in 10 seconds or less. Watching people diddle themselves on webcam has turned into a billion-dollar industry. And kinky displays of anal and double anal, fisting and double fisting are just clicks away. It’s amazing how much material porn users have at their fingertips.
Of course, explorations into the perverse predate Internet pornography. Some of the more colorful can be found in the works of the Marquis de Sade. So what changes when these scenarios jump from the page to the screen?
Some may be familiar with the newest euphemism for pornography-aided masturbation: Fapping. The word first appeared around 1999, when it was used in a web comic called Sexy Losers. Over a decade later, the term popped up in a Reddit thread where users discussed the benefits of avoiding pornography and abstaining from masturbation. From there, “Fap” became “NoFap” and a movement was born. Its community now totals to nearly one million predominately male members.
According to the movement’s official website, “NoFap hosts challenges in which participants abstain from pornography or masturbation for a period of time.” It caters to those who feel excessive participation in porn has led to serious problems in their personal lives.
One of the most frequently mentioned names on the NoFap thread is Gary Wilson, a leader in the anti-porn movement. He examined the problem of porn addiction in his Ted Talk, “The Great Porn Experiment.” He also runs the site yourbrainonporn.com and recently authored a Kindle e-book titled Your Brain On Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.
Wilson’s argument is a little dense, but bear with me: he asserts that our hunter-gatherer brains don’t know how to process the overload of pornographic material that exists online today. He links the concept of novelty with sexual selection. In the natural world, he explains, every female functions as a potential genetic opportunity. So when a man sets his eyes on a woman, his brain tells him to find her, fuck her and get her pregnant. The brain releases a surge of dopamine to help meet that goal.
The way novelty manifests itself online is through clicks. Wilson argues that porn tricks the male brain into thinking they've “hit the evolutionary jackpot.” Every click brings them to a new girl, and thus a new “opportunity.” It’s a limitless world. So men keep searching. Soon, their brains become so desensitized to normal sexual stimuli they require more shocking and novel material to maintain a normal sexual drive.
Wilson says this kind of “rewired circuitry” is similar to what is found in other addicts like drug abusers or alcoholics. “Constant novelty at a click can cause addiction,” he claims. Fortunately, he says, the effects can reverse themselves, as long as those affected agree to give up the most accessible of all vices: pornography.
Those in the NoFap community—who sometimes call themselves “fapstronauts”—argue that abstaining from pornography and masturbation allows the brain to “reboot” and return to normal functioning. They say that when a man stops indulging in those activities, he's rewarded with an increase in confidence, concentration and libido, and then he can learn the skills needed to maintain a normal, healthy relationship.
One of the most talked about issues in the NoFap community is, unsurprisingly, penis related. Many former fappers claim their addiction prevented them from achieving an erection in person; getting hard depended on their proximity to pornography. They call this “porn-induced erectile dysfunction,” or PIED. User ObjectionYourHonor writes, “The inability to have sex from fapping too much in my younger years up to now (I'm 23) has caused me to miss out on great relationships since I couldn't pull through during intimacy. I would feel like shit and then fap, which in turn made me sick. I decided to take control and make sure the next relationship I am in, I can give myself fully to that woman. I'm too young to need Viagra.”
The argument is rational. A plus B lands you at C, which translates to sexual dysfunction. But, as some fapstronauts will admit, there are gaps in the science. And some aren’t willing to overlook that fact.
Dr. David Ley, author of The Myth Of Sex Addiction, tells me, “Sexual stimulation uses the reward systems of the brain, but the anti-porn arguments are based on very simplistic and reductionistic ideas of how the brain works, how sex works, and what porn is, such as videos versus images, written erotica versus film, hardcore versus softcore, etc. There’s so much we don’t know about these things and so many subjective definitions, that all of these folks are arguing far, far ahead of the data. Because they are entering the argument with moral assumptions, they are subject to expectancy effect, and they see what they want to see, in research which is, at best, ambiguous.”
He warns, “Bad data, lack of knowledge and the intrusion of moral values is what led to people like [John] Kellogg arguing for surgeries such as clitorectomies, and use of physical restraints, to prevent masturbation. These same types of arguments led to homosexuality being a disease, and sexual women called nymphomaniacs.”
It’s safe to say that society’s shortcomings extend well beyond pornography. That’s not to say pornography doesn’t present its own set of problems. Its depictions of women leave much to be desired, and those who protest the industry on feminist grounds aren’t without reason. In some extreme cases, people have linked pockets of the industry to sex trafficking and even sexual slavery. But these discussions generally take a backseat to male-centered issues like erectile dysfunction on the NoFapping platforms. The community often frames the “porn problem” as one relating to public health. What message does it send, then, when social issues pertaining to women come second to a man’s ability to maintain an erection?
There are other groups out there warning against the dangers of pornography. Some are more religious in their approach. XXX Church started handing out Bibles at porn shows back in 2006. Their goal is to hand out 100,000 Bibles at Sexpos across the world. They say they've given away 75,000 Bibles so far. The website Porn Effect proclaims, “In your battle against porn, prayer and fasting are powerful weapons.”
In the past few years, a number of individuals have come forward as "experts." Twenty-something NoFap enthusiast Gabe Deem created the YouTube channel Reboot Nation to share his story of porn addiction. In one sporadically edited video, Deem walks viewers through the “brain science of how porn is affecting us.” To my knowledge, Deem holds no degree in medical science.
This is not to undermine the concerns surrounding pornography. Canadian researcher Simon Lajeunesse found that most boys seek out pornographic material by the age of 10. And many worry about the link between early porn consumption and sexually aggressive behaviors. But it's important to have a degree of wariness about individuals who may try to capitalize on these concerns
Covenant Eyes encourages users to “make wiser decisions about Internet use” by listing all websites visited, search terms used and all videos watched in an Internet Accountability Report. The company hopes to reduce the “temptation to click on inappropriate and pornographic links.” Chris Haven, who started the website Quit Porn Get Girls, recently wrote the book How To Get Laid On Tinder. Jay Anthony is the author of Pornography Addiction: Destroying the Habit & Breaking The Cycle, available on Amazon.
Those in the NoFap community will suggest there is no such thing as casual porn viewing, that all porn consumption is harmful, and that society should work toward eradicating the demand for porn. Many people will agree that real-life encounters are preferable to onscreen fantasies, but is it really so bad for people to entertain the latter? And to what extent should definitions of pornography inhibit our sexual appetites? Anal sex between heterosexual couples, for example, has been practiced long before dawn of the Internet. So why is watching it so taboo? Some point to the porn industry's increasingly violent and degrading depictions of women. It's an important argument, and one that appears infrequently on the NoFap thread, where issues like reclaiming erections and getting laid seem to get much more attention.
The organization Fight the New Drug operates under the theory that “Porn kills love.” One of the co-founders explained that most people know smoking cigarettes are bad for them even before they light up. He hopes that one day people will see pornography in a similar light.
Porn addiction is a complicated topic. A lot more research needs to be conducted before we can come to any conclusion. But what we can admit is that porn addiction exists where porn addiction can exist. Maybe we should take a moment to appreciate the environment that allows us to indulge in the first place.
On June 9, 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer was arrested in Montgomery County, Mississippi, along with June Johnson, Euvester Simpson, Rosemary Freeman, and Annelle Ponder. The five women were on their way back from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina. Upon their arrival at the Montgomery County jail, Hamer, Johnson, and Ponder were subjected to vicious brutality at the direction of notorious racist Sheriff Earl Wayne Patridge.
In the booking room, Johnson was stripped naked and slapped until her face was bloody and unrecognizable, then thrown into a cell. Deputies dragged Ponder into the booking room and beat her about the face as they yelled “Can you say ‘yes, sir,’ nigger? Can you say ‘yes, sir’?” When Ponder fell to the floor, they pulled her up and demanded that she address them as “sir” again. When she refused, the beating resumed.
When they were through with Ponder, the deputies came for Hamer. She was taken from her cell to another that held two Black male inmates. Deputies handed the inmates weapons and ordered them to beat Hamer or suffer the consequences. The first inmate, wielding a blackjack, beat her on the back until he tired. The second inmate was told to take over and resume the beating. When he was handed the blackjack, Hamer began to struggle and move her feet. Deputies instructed the inmate who had performed the first beating to sit on her feet so she couldn’t move them. When Hamer began to scream, one of the deputies hit her in the head, demanding she remain quiet. Hamer’s dress had worked up high above her shoulders, and she attempted to pull it down. In a display of racist sexual domination, a deputy walked over and yanked it back up.
Fannie Lou Hamer told her story in a speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, and continued to tell her story until her death in March of 1977. While her speech brought national attention to the severity of police brutality against civil rights activists, it did not change the narrative that Black cisgender men were the primary victims of violence at the hands of law enforcement—a narrative that persists today.
This past year, we’ve learned the names of men we should have never had to know. Eric Garner, a 43-year-old man who died in an NYPD chokehold while repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson. Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old shot and killed two seconds after police officer Timothy Loehmann arrived at a Cleveland, Ohio, park in response to a 911 call about a child waving a toy gun. Their names have become synonymous with police brutality against Black Americans, and their recent deaths have highlighted the pervasive racism within American law enforcement. A new Black liberation movement is in the process of formation, spurred by collective outrage over anti-Black police brutality.
But what of Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Yvette Smith, and Rekia Boyd? Unless you’re looking for their names, you won’t find their stories—all Black women shot and killed by police officers in the past five years—featured in the discourse surrounding police reform. While media attention has focused on the tragic loss of Black cisgender men, it seems like we’ve forgotten that Black women are subjected to the same state-sponsored violence. Black women are also on the front lines of #BlackLivesMatter protests across the country. They are holding it down. They are daughters in the spirit of the Black women who fought in the Black liberation and feminist movements of the past, whose contributions have been minimized in the interest of maintaining the patriarchal, white supremacist status quo. Fannie Lou Hamer didn’t see the narrative on police brutality shift during her time on this earth, but these Black women are intent on ensuring the narrative is shifted during their own.
The degradation and sexual exploitation of Black women’s work dates back to slavery—it’s an American tradition at this point. Even after slavery was outlawed, rape was used as a means of reminding Black women of their place, just as lynching was used against Black men (though history rarely mentions this legacy of the Jim Crow era).
The sexism of larger society was reproduced in Black liberation movements, which limited the roles women were allowed to play. While Black men dominated leadership roles, Black women were expected to remain behind the scenes. When Black women activists were made national icons, it was in the stereotypical role ascribed to Black womanhood: stoic, long-suffering motherly figures. Rosa Parks is popularly remembered as a humble, quiet seamstress who spontaneously decided to stand up to her oppressors. In fact, she was a fiery activist who was branch secretary in the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. Parks, a victim of attempted rape herself, investigated sexual violence targeted at Black women as one of her duties as branch secretary. Yet Parks’s legacy was sanitized in order to maintain her “respectability” and to minimize any contributions to the movement that fell outside of her expected social role. Parks was somewhat complicit in the sanitization of her legacy to ensure the story of the civil rights movement and her involvement in it remained consistent. To speak out against it at the time would have distracted from the focus of the movement (racism) and also implicated its leaders in sexist oppression. Her own needs were put aside in favor of the greater good.
In both the feminist and Black liberation movements of the 1960s and ’70s, the need for Black women to remain behind the scenes was crucial to courting public favor with white America. In both movements, Black women were told they would have to wait until the goals of the movement were reached before their specific needs would be addressed.
This history still influences the dynamics of Black women’s interactions with the current movement against police brutality. Police violence against Black women is a specific manifestation of sexism and misogyny underscored by racism. Black women are disproportionately targeted by police and face the threat of not only being shot, but of being sexually assaulted. During slavery and legal segregation, assaults against Black women by white men were often legally sanctioned, and went unpunished. Today, the group of men who are most able to manipulate the law to avoid accountability are law enforcement officers themselves. They can continue the state-sponsored terrorization of Black women through physical and sexual assault, and they know it.
The justification of police violence against Black women has roots in age-old stereotypes of Black women from slavery, when Black women were forced to perform the same tasks as men, despite ideas of femininity at the time. Today, Black women—though still considered less physically threatening than Black men—are often masculinized to justify violence against them. Descriptions of Black women who are assaulted or killed by police are often worded to make the women sound physically imposing and strong.
Police violence against Black women also has roots in the punishment inflicted on Black women post-manumission. The tactic of using violent and sexual displays of power as retribution for “uppity” behavior was behind the degradation inflicted on Fannie Lou Hamer by sheriff’s deputies in 1963, and is alive and well in white men like Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who sexually assaulted at least eight Black women in Oklahoma while on patrol last year, using his position of power to intimidate women into submission. Black women’s history of sexual exploitation, and the specter of historical accusations that they were complicit in their own assaults, ensures that the majority of victims of sexual assault by police will remain silent.
We’ve come full circle, in a way. Just as Black women were the backbone of the Black liberation movements of the ’50s and ’60s, Black women are now at the forefront of actions of resistance in response to the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. In this modern movement, however, Black women are not content to remain invisible. They are demanding that their experiences be given the same consideration as Black men’s and calling attention to the erasure of those Black women, transgender, and queer folks who also die at the hands of the state, who are beaten and raped by police, and whose stories were never used as the catalyst for a movement.
Three queer Black women—Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi—created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter that subsequently evolved into the Black Lives Matter movement. The hashtag was created in response to the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, and the subsequent acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman. The mission statement of the Black Lives Matter movement states its dedication not only to reframing the narrative surrounding police violence against Black people to include Black queer folk and Black cisgender and trans women, but also to “broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state.”
Cherrell Brown, a national organizer for Equal Justice USA, and Carmen Perez of Justice League NYC were instrumental in orchestrating that powerful display of solidarity on the part of NBA players. LeBron James made headlines when he wore a t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I Can’t Breathe” across the front at a December 2014 Brooklyn Nets game, as did other NBA players. Since NBA officials did not approve of the t-shirts being worn during warm-ups, Brown and Perez, with the help of t-shirt designer Rameen Aminzadeh, organized a smuggling operation to get the shirts into the stadium. Brown has also been a high-profile presence at New York City protests against police brutality.
Feminista Jones, a Black feminist writer and social worker from New York City, has used her writing to call attention not only to violence inflicted by law enforcement officials, but to the violence Black women experience on a daily basis. She started the popular #YouOKSis hashtag on Twitter to raise awareness about street harassment, and she organized a National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) a week after the murder of Michael Brown to honor victims of police brutality. Jones has experienced pushback on social media from men—specifically Black men—for her feminist views, including accusations of being a CIA plant and a puppet of white feminists who’s out to destroy Black manhood.
As with earlier social movements, Black women’s contributions to this new liberation movement have been minimized. “Black Lives Matter” was soon co-opted and distorted without permission from or acknowledgment of its creators. As Garza penned in her essay “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”:
We began to come across varied adaptations of our work: all lives matter, brown lives matter, migrant lives matter, women’s lives matter, and on and on.… While imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery, I was surprised when an organization called to ask if they could use “Black Lives Matter” in one of their campaigns. We agreed to it, with the caveat that a) as a team, we preferred that we not use the meme to celebrate the imprisonment of any individual and b) that it was important to us they acknowledged the genesis of #BlackLivesMatter. I was surprised when they did exactly the opposite and then justified their actions by saying they hadn’t used the “exact” slogan and, therefore, they deemed it okay to take our work, use it as their own, fail to credit where it came from, and then use it to applaud incarceration.
The hacktivist group Anonymous created a “Day of Rage” on the same day of the National Moment of Silence organized by Jones. The stated purpose of the Day of Rage was basically the same as the National Moment of Silence—to honor the memory of those killed by law enforcement—but Anonymous used it to crusade against government in general. Not only did this erase how police violence is racialized, it also introduced a rhetoric of “rage” that the #NMOS14 organizers had intentionally avoided. Although Jones had been reluctant to center herself as the organizer of #NMOS14 in order to keep attention focused on the victims of police brutality, she used her sizeable Twitter following to spread the news of Anonymous’s hijacking of the event.
The existence of blogs and social media have allowed for the real-time refutation of the co-option of Black women’s work, but the point remains—Black women’s contributions continue to be minimized rather than celebrated.
Black women are now positioned as the vanguard of a new Black liberation struggle and have started a dialogue on the sociopolitical consequences of centering Black cisgender men’s experiences when discussing police brutality. Failure to acknowledge Black women as victims of police brutality actually ends up killing more Black women and girls by perpetuating the myth that white America does not view Black women as threatening. While Black boys are trained to recognize the danger law enforcement poses to them, Black girls might not be. There are still Black women who believe that we are privileged over Black men due to our gender. In her essay “Michael Brown’s Death Reopened My Eyes to My Privileges as a Black Woman,” Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele states she is “a person of privilege with regard to police brutality against black men.” For her, being an “ally” to Black men means learning “when and where I should bite my tongue, swallow that lump in my throat, and adhere to the ways in which Black men have learned to survive and thrive in this world, especially if they don’t quite jibe with my own methods…and I’m more than willing to do so.”
Black women who continue to center Black men are effectively forced to participate in their own erasure. Patriarchy has conditioned Black women to fear racist exploitation more so than sexist exploitation, and any perceived racist threat to Black men provokes a circling of the wagons. But Black men, and only Black men, benefit from the prioritizing of racism over sexism when it comes to activism in the Black community. While Eromosele’s particular lived experiences may leave her with the feeling that Black women are “privileged” and should act as “allies” of Black men, the reality is that Black women occupy a social status lower than that of white men, Black men, and white women. We are in no way privileged over Black men in regards to police brutality, and we have just as much to lose in escalating an altercation with law enforcement. To believe anything less is dangerous.
Simply put, it is not selfish of us to demand that our experience of racism and the incidents of brutality against us be addressed along with the experience of Black men.
American capitalist patriarchy employs a divide-and-conquer strategy to turn oppressed peoples against each other. We’re made to believe that there’s only so much freedom to go around, which encourages us to invalidate the oppression of others in order to lend credence to our own. Intersectionality as praxis counters that strategy by creating space for each person’s lived experience with oppression to be heard and validated. By acknowledging the existence of multiple levels of oppression, we can work toward eliminating oppression altogether. State-sponsored racist and sexualized violence is meted out against Black women as part and parcel of our dual oppression. That violence is minimized as a function of maintaining a status quo of representation.
This point in history offers us the chance to reframe the narrative on racism in America by acknowledging that Black women are not only as endangered by racial imperialism and white supremacy as Black men but are affected by it in specific, gendered ways. We stand with Black men against a world that wants to see them dead, even as they stand aside when that same world comes for us. It’s long past time for Black women to receive the same support we’ve provided to others for so long, and to shed our perceived role of patient, faithful caretakers and protectors of our men. We must honor women like Darnesha, Tyisha, Shantel, Eleanor, and Rekia, who suffered and died in service of upholding institutionalized white supremacy. That means speaking their names alongside those of Michael, Tamir, and Eric. Only when we fully acknowledge the validity of all Black people’s experiences—whether cisgender, transgender, queer, or straight—will we be able to visualize what true Black liberation means.
Listen to Tasha Fierce read this essay aloud on our podcast episode "A Protest is Not a Riot."Related Stories
Sometimes, people who don’t know me well are really surprised to hear that I’ve had a healthy, active sex life. They don’t always say something about it, but I can always tell. When I tell stories of seducing a marine on the West Side during fleet week, or dancing topless around a giant bonfire with multiple men at a summer festival, their eyes widen.
“Oh wow,” they’ll say, laughing uncomfortably before taking a long sip of whatever they’re drinking.
A few years ago, when I was complaining about this to one of my college roommates over cigarettes and cheap beer, she asked me why I think they react this way. At the time, I responded, "I have no idea."
But the truth is I do have an idea. In fact, I have a little more than an idea — I know. It’s because I’m fat.
And no, not like pretty-face-and-flat-stomach fat. Like really, genuinely fat. Like the kind of fat that doesn’t get featured on the cover of Lane Bryant catalogs. The kind of fat that prompts children ages six to 35 to roll down their windows and let me know about it while I walk down the sidewalk. I’m the kind of fat that makes people wonder who could possibly want to sleep with me.
I knew then too — back in college, I mean. But it’s not easy to say it out loud, especially when I can anticipate being bombarded with comments like, “Stop, you’re beautiful,” or, “Who cares what they think?”
The replies to both of those things being: “Yes, but I’m also fat,” and, “I do, kind of.”
The crazy thing is, there’s a whole other layer of complicated under that, and most people don’t know about it. Not only am I a size 22, generally average-looking person, but I also struggle with gender conformity issues. I don’t think I’d ever want to transition or drastically change who I am, but the feelings are pervasive enough that they affect me — and my intimacy.
It sounds like a lot because it is. But it’s not insurmountable.
Sex when you’re a big girlcan be tricky, not so much because of physical limitations but emotional ones. When society tells you you’re an unlovable embarrassment at every turn, it’s hard to feel sexy or wanted — even when you have an encouraging partner.
You’re conscious of every jiggle, roll, and blemish. And when you’re so busy worrying about how the light is hitting you while you're doing it doggy-style, or how many chins you have from his or her angle, it’s hard to enjoy yourself.
In my darker times, I’ve often wondered, mid-romp, why my partner — or anyone — would want to sleep with me. Was it because they felt sorry for me? Were they a chubby chaser? Did they just want an easy lay?
The thoughts would torture me to the point where sometimes I’d burst into tears and have to stop. Some partners understood and tried to work with me on it, but others were not as kind.
As for the gender piece, my battle in that arena has always been more private. For starters, I can hide it — unlike my body. I’ve only ever told one partner, my fiancé, about my struggles with my gender identity. In previous relationships, I would silently subvert my own discomforts with being overly feminized or taking on traditional female roles in the bedroom. I wouldn’t feel remotely comfortable opening up to these partners for fear of ridicule or abandonment.
When you (and your partner) grow up seeing heteronormative, white bread portrayals of sex, it’s really hard to avoid gender norms in the bedroom. The task of breaking down barriers that have existed since the beginning of humanity is no easy one, and it takes two very dedicated and creative partners to find healthy ways to express gender nonconformity between the sheets. It’s a challenge, but, again, it’s not impossible.
The key to overcoming both of these obstacles has been finding a partner who loves me for who I am. And in order to do that, I needed to first accept myself to the best of my ability.
The biggest struggle for me with intimacy has always been related to a profound lack of self-love on my part. When you don’t love yourself because of your weight, gender, background, etc., you tend to attract people who don’t have your best interests in mind. So, when it comes to toxic relationships, I’ve had a solid handful.
I’ve been emotionally manipulated, had my money stolen, been cheated on, and been in my fair share of knockout, drag-out fights. It took way too many of these relationships to realize that I was partially responsible for my bad relationship luck, and it took having my heart shattered to give me the impetus to take steps to remedy it.
I wish I could say that’s where my story ends, and that I flew off into the sunset on a vibrating orgasm-icorn (I’m thinking a unicorn with a vibrating saddle, but other interpretations are welcome).
But even now, in a committed, long-term relationship with my loving and incredibly patient fiancé, there are days when I have trouble justifying my own existence as a sexual being, because I’ve heard so many messages about how that world should be off limits to me.
For every moment of patience or ingenious spark of creativity on my fiancé’s part, I need to follow up with bravery, willpower, and a good sense of humor. This is not easy a lot of the time.
We’ve found a rhythm that is comfortable for both of us, but exciting enough that we feel encouraged to try new things with one another. I can’t thank him enough for his seemingly unending acceptance of me and my many facets. I also owe thanks to myself, and it’s getting easier to appreciate my own role in my sexual and romantic happiness every day.
What I most needed to hear during my battle for self love was that, even though I was struggling with my weight, my gender, and anything that this world had convinced me made me unworthy of pleasure and love, I was not doomed to a life of loneliness. I WAS doomed, however, to a metric ton of introspection and searching for a partner who isn’t a closed-minded bigot (which is a monumental task in and of itself).
But I made it out of those woods and continue to every day. There may not be an orgasm-icorn, but there’s a whole world of people who are just waiting to love me, and you, for exactly who we are.
We must find them, and accept no less.
Blake Layman broke into a house unarmed. The homeowner opened fire, injuring him and killing a friend. But Indiana law means he is officially a murderer
Blake Layman made one very bad decision. He was 16, an unexceptional teenager growing up in a small Indiana town. He’d never been in trouble with the law, had a clean criminal record, had never owned or even held a gun.
That decision sparked a chain of events that would culminate with his arrest and trial for “felony murder”. The boy was unarmed, had pulled no trigger, killed no one. He was himself shot and injured in the incident while his friend standing beside him was also shot and killed. Yet Layman would go on to be found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to 55 years in a maximum-security prison for a shooting that he did not carry out.How Blake Layman got to be in the Kafkaesque position in which he now finds himself – facing the prospect of spending most of the rest of his life in a prison cell for a murder that he did not commit – is the subject on Thursday of a special hearing of the Indiana supreme court, the state’s highest judicial panel. How the judges respond to the case of what has become known as the “Elkhart Four” could have implications for the application of so-called “felony murder” laws in Indiana and states across the union.
It was about 2pm on 3 October 2012, and Layman was hanging out after school in his home town of Elkhart with a couple of buddies, Jose Quiroz, also 16, and Levi Sparks, 17. They smoked a little weed, got a little high, and had a moan with each other about how broke they were.
Layman looks back on that afternoon and wonders why did he do it? Why did he throw it all away? He was doing well at school, had an evening job at Wendy’s, had a girlfriend he liked, was preparing to take his driving test. “It felt to me like life was really coming together at that point,” he said.
Within minutes, all that promise vaporised in an act of teenaged madness. Someone noticed that the grey pickup truck belonging to Rodney Scott, the guy who lived across the street, wasn’t in its usual parking spot. The homeowner must be at work or away somewhere. The house, by extension, must be empty.
On the spur of the moment, Layman and his teenaged buddies came up with a plan to break into the house, grab a few things to sell and quit before Scott returned. It would be easy, a harm-free ruse to get hold of some spending money.
It all happened so fast. They called a couple of older friends from down the road, Danzele Johnson, 21, and Anthony Sharp, 18, to join them. They knocked as loudly as he could on Scott’s door and when there was no reply – confirmation in their minds that the house was vacant – they broke open the side door. Five minutes out from having had the original idea, four of them were in the house with Sparks keeping lookout outside.
They ran through the kitchen, Layman pocketing a wallet on the kitchen table without stopping to think why it would be left there if the house was empty. They had a look around the spare bedroom and then indicated to each other it was time to leave.
That’s when the shooting started. Layman heard the boom of a gun and scrambled to hide in the bedroom closet. Danzele Johnson fell into the closet beside him. When Layman looked down he saw Johnson’s shirt stained red with blood. Layman crouched down in terror, and noticed that he too had been shot and that blood was streaming down his right leg.
Rodney Scott was not, as the boys had assumed, out of the house. He had been asleep upstairs and when he heard the commotion of the break-in grabbed his handgun. Not knowing that the intruders were unarmed, he let off a couple of rounds that put a bullet through Layman’s leg and hit Johnson in the chest, killing him.
Layman replays those fateful minutes for the Guardian as he sits in a visitor’s room in Wabash Valley correctional facility, a maximum-security prison in the south-west of Indiana where he is serving his sentence. He is dressed in standard-issue khaki and grey, his hair cropped short in classic prison style.
He recalls that a couple of hours after his arrest, he was told by officials at the county jail in his home town of that he was being charged with “felony murder”. “I was shellshocked,” he told the Guardian. “Felony murder? That’s the first I’d heard of it. How could it be murder when I didn’t kill anyone?”
The charge was not a mistake. At the end of a four-day trial in September 2013 in which they were all judged as adults, Layman, Sharp and Sparks were found guilty of felony murder. (Quiroz pleaded guilty under a plea deal and was given 45 years.) Layman was dispatched to the prison, still aged 17, to begin his 55 years in a lock-up cell.The legal anomaly at the heart of what has become known in criminal justice circles as the case of the “Elkhart 4” will be the subject on Thursday of a special hearing by the Indiana supreme court, the state’s highest legal panel. The judges have asked lawyers for Layman and for the prosecution to address that specific question: is it consistent with Indiana law that he and his friends who were all unarmed, who fired not a single shot, and who in fact were themselves fired upon, one fatally, by a third party – the homeowner Rodney Scott – could be put away for decades for murder?
The conundrum is not an arcane one. Some 46 states in the union have some form of felony murder rule on their statute books. Of those, 11 states unambiguously allow for individuals who commit a felony that ends in a death to be charged with murder even when they were the victims, rather than the agents, of the killing.
In Indiana the wording of the felony murder law is more nuanced than those of the other 11 states. It says that a “person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit … burglary … commits murder, a felony.”
Cara and Joel Wieneke, the legal duo who represent Layman , said that at the heart of the argument they will be presenting to the supreme court is the issue of agency. “The plain language of the statute requires the defendant or one of his accomplices to do the killing. In Blake’s case neither he nor any of his co-perpetrators killed anybody – this was a justified killing by the person who was protecting his home,” Joel Wieneke told the Guardian.
Layman’s mother, Angie Johnson, expressed a similar thought in lay terms. She told the Guardian that “stealing and killing are two different things. In this case they took stealing and they turned it into killing – my son doesn’t deserve that.”
Blake Layman has had plenty of time to contemplate his action, and its consequences, since that Wednesday afternoon in 2012. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I made this bad decision and it derailed my entire life. I just wish I could go back and tell my 16-year-old self to see sense.”
He’s done a lot of growing up behind bars, shedding his child’s skin and the reckless decision-making that came with it. “I know I did wrong. I know I committed a crime. From the very beginning I’ve never disputed that. If they had brought me a burglary plea bargain I would have signed it, because I was guilty. I made a bad choice, and I gladly take responsibility for it,” he said.
But the one thing that he does not accept is that he is a murderer. “I’m not a killer,” he said.
Layman’s wounds have healed, leaving two very neat tattoos on the side and back of his leg where the bullet entered and exited. But he continues to feel deep remorse for what happened.
Police reports show that when the arresting officers turned up at Scott’s house, they found Layman lying face down on the carpet of the bedroom saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again.
“I realised how bad everything had gone,” he told the Guardian. “I knew Danzele was dead. I was apologising to him, and to the homeowner – both of them really.”
He also had the chance to apologise to Danzele Johnson’s mother, who visited him in county jail when he was awaiting trial. “I told her if I get the chance, whenever I get out, I promised her I’d do right. Danzele was 21 years old and he didn’t get the chance to live his life. So I said I was going to do right when I get out, not just for me but also for him.”
Today Layman is housed in a wing of Wabash prison where inmates are put as a reward for best behaviour. He’s taking cognitive thinking classes, has learnt how to quilt, and spends a lot of time in the library reading up on the law. “I feel like if I have to do my time, why not better myself as much as I can while I’m here,” he said.
He’s hoping he will be allowed to walk free from prison before it’s too late. “I just want a chance to live,” he said. “I’ll go to work every day, and come home to my wife and kids. When I think of my future that’s what I see. I don’t ask for much.”
The Federal Communications Commission made history today by legally reclassifying the Internet as a public utility.
Its action prohibits a shrinking number of companies providing the speediest service to create fast and slow lanes—in essence, having monopoly-like control over the growing online economy.
The FCC’s vote on “net neutrality” came after a years-long push by progressive organizers, who rallied online activists across the country, and a handful of content providers who said their growing businesses were at risk under the status quo.
“Big telecom just lost – and it lost because millions of grassroots activists spoke out for net neutrality,” said Becky Bond, Political Director and Vice President of CREDO Mobile, a phone company that has raised more than $78 million for progressive groups including the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Color of Change. “Today’s vote marks the culmination of over a decade of organizing to protect the Internet from corporate takeover.”
“Republicans in Congress will no doubt spend years trying to roll back the progress we made today,” she continued. “But today’s vote makes clear that telecom giants and their allies in Congress should expect fierce and overwhelming resistance when they attack the open Internet.”
The FCC’s vote is another progressive victory under the Obama administration, which, until recently, has underwhelmed activists on the left. It follows the White House veto of the Keystone XL pipeline, and executive orders to protect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. In all those cases, Republicans in Congress have vowed to fight and reverse Obama’s actions.
The net neutrality fight is no different. In recent days on Capitol Hill, Republicans tried to intimidate the FCC from issuing the new net neutrality rules, accusing the FCC of every imaginable capitalist sin, and saying this fight will continue in court or would be reversed the next time the FCC has a majority of GOP appointees.
At a House hearing Wednesday, the FCC’s new rules were called “Obamacare for the Internet.” A parade of witnesses, mostly from the biggest telecoms that now control most high-speed service, claimed the new FCC rules would lead to Internet taxes, slower investment, hurt expansion of broadband overseas and even encourage censorship and quash First Amendment expression.
“This overheated rhetoric can’t withstand scrutiny, and bears no resemblance to the law and the facts,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “Title II [the law designating the Internet as a public utility] isn’t Internet regulation or ‘Obamacare for the Internet,’ and it won't turn the Internet into a weapon of mass destruction. Big cable and telecom companies have paid their lobbyists and public relations firms to deceive the public with these claims. But the public isn’t buying it. That’s why millions of people have urged the FCC to make strong rules and protect our rights to connect and communicate online.”
The joint efforts of many progressive groups—such the ACLU, CREDO Action, Common Cause, Free Press, MoveOn, the National Organization for Women, Center for Media Justice, and many others—and Internet companies such as Netflix, Twitter and Mozilla, created a persuasive coalition of customers and users. While Internet providers offer an array of plans with different speeds and components, the fastest service providers were increasingly gaining monopoly control, a New York Times analysis said Thursday.
“For genuine high-speed Internet service most American households now have only one choice, and most often it is a cable company,” the Times said. “The new rules will not ensure competition from new entrants, ranging from next-generation wireless technology to ultrahigh-speed networks built by municipalities. Instead, strong regulation is intended to prevent the dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power.”
The fact that a coalition of concerned customers and content providers could overcome the telecom lobby and their GOP apologists in Congress is noteworthy. It suggests that the ability to wield big money and platoons of lobbyists is not an unstoppable force in Congress.
“We don’t have an army of lobbyists to deploy. We don’t have financial resources to throw around,” Lisa Rubenstein, Tumblr’s director of social impact and public policy told the Times earlier this week. “What we do have is access to an incredibly engaged, incredibly passionate user base, and we can give the folks the tools to respond.”
Reality TV star Jessa Duggar lectured Christians in a lengthy Facebook post about God’s wrathful judgment.
“Whenever someone speaks out against something that God calls sin, ‘Don’t judge!’ can be heard coming from a thousand lips,” Duggar said. “People don’t like to have other people disapprove of the way they’re choosing to live their life.”
The 22-year-old newlywed conceded this “hard truth” would not bring her any popularity, but the evangelical Christian celebrity said she could not “hide the truth” from her fans because she cares too much about “their eternal destiny.”
“In this world, people have seared their consciences,” Duggar warned. “The standard of what is ‘ok’ or ‘permissible’ in our society today, hardly reflects God’s standard.”
“People are content to live on in lying, cursing, pride, anger, bitterness, disrespecting of parents, lust, pornography, fornication, adultery, and other sexual sins,” she continued, “and if anyone tries to confront them, their attitude and response is, ‘You live your life, I’ll live mine. Don’t you tell me what to do! Only God can judge me!’”
The star of “19 Kids and Counting” warned that "God’s judgment” is not something to be taken lightly.
“It should scare you! Man’s judgement is a 1000x lighter — usually just a voicing of disapproval,” Duggar said. “But when unbelieving, sinful men die and stand before God, He justly condemns them to hell.”
Duggar said self-described Christians who live sinful lifestyles falsely believe in a loving God who would not send people to Hell.
“The person speaking this is right — their god is not angry with them,” she said. “He can’t be, because he doesn’t exist. They are not talking about the God of the Bible. They have created a god in their own mind to suit themselves.”
Duggar said the Bible teaches that God must punish sin with eternal damnation, and she sneered at “distorted” translations of the Bible that gloss over this.
“Every one of us have broken God’s law, and hell is our deserved punishment,” Duggar said.
She said the human heart is “bent toward sin and not righteousness,” so people should follow the Bible instead of their own moral instincts.
“God isn’t slacking to fulfill His promised Judgement on sin — it’s coming,” Duggar warned. “The only reason you’re are alive right now is because He is merciful and has kept your heart beating for another day.”
She warned that God could strike anyone down at any time, but she’s not the least bit worried.
“This should be concerning to you,” Duggar said. “I know it was for me! When I saw myself in light of God’s standard, and I knew that I fell short. But I found hope in the Gospel — the ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ! I would still be lost today were it not for His grace!”Related Stories
Street artist Banksy posted photos and a short film on his website of works he recently put up in the streets of Palestine. In the aforementioned mini-documentary, the artist offers a satirical travelogue of Gaza’s bombed-out ruins.
One photograph depicts a Banksy mural of a kitten. The UK artist includes a caption:
"A local man came up and said 'Please - what does this mean?' I explained I wanted to highlight the destruction in Gaza by posting photos on my website – but on the internet people only look at pictures of kittens."
The video, satirically titled “Make this the year YOU discover a new destination,” features onscreen text welcoming viewers to Gaza and observations such as “Locals like it so much they never leave (Because they’re not allowed to)” and “Development opportunities are everywhere (No cement has been allowed into Gaza since the bombing).”
This is the second time Banksy has posted work in Palestine. In 2005, the artist left a series of images on the West Bank Wall.
You can check out the mini-documentary and some of the most recent images below. To see all of the new pieces, visit Banksy’s website.Related Stories
There's a new Public Policy Polling poll out identifying Scott Walker as the top Republican pick among their presidential maybe-candidates. But some of the other poll results among self-identified Republicans are doozies. For example:
• 49 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in evolution. Only 37 percent say they do.
• 66 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in global warming. Mind you, even the most science-denying Republicans in Congress have said they "believe" in global warming, they just don't think we should do anything about it. Their base has not yet reached this enlightened state.
• 57 percent of Republicans would support establishing Christianity as our "national religion."
So it would seem that Scott Walker indeed has the conservative id pegged, and that Republican candidates seeking primary frontrunner status will indeed need to learn to embrace a base that at this point has become very conspicuously stupid. People for whom even the basic sciences are conspiracies if it goes against what they would rather believe to be true. People who love America very, very much, but have never cottoned to the religious freedom part that was so obsequiously drilled into them in grade school as the very reason the people with the belt-buckle hats chose to settle on this landmass to begin with. People who consider Bill O'Reilly to be an upstanding individual.
Welp, now I'm depressed.
There is hope, I suppose. Sixty-six percent of Republicans don't actually know thing one about "global warming," for example, they just know they're supposed to be against it because the angry-sounding guy on the radio was pretty clear on that subject. There's nothing inherently conservative or Republican about that position, it is just the reactionary fad-of-the-moment, and it will likely change back when another sufficiently belligerent shouter comes along to shout the opposite stance. Or not, if the loathing of "science" as an entity has simply overtaken all the other conservative neural pathways.
As for the others, yep, we're likely doomed. The thinking of the Republican base goes that we need to establish religious law in this country because otherwise we'll be taken over by people who somehow convert us all and make us live under their religious law, and wouldn't that be bad. Then we'll burn down all the natural history museums because they are offensive to Our Lord, by which I mean whoever grovels to the base enough to win these upcoming primaries.Related Stories