Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, November 9th, 2015.


Obama Administration

I’ve been following the strike by the University of Missouri football players that forced the resignation of the university president. I graduated U of Mizzou in 1973, so I have no inside information about what’s going on there now. But it sounds as if the campus is a genuinely hostile place for black students, which suggests it hasn’t changed all that much from when I was there. The students felt the university president was doing nothing to address the situation, and indeed appeared to disrespect the black students.

The problem back in the day, and probably now also, is that many of the white students are from rural counties with little or no black population. Seriously; there are rural counties with only 1 to 2 percent black population in Missouri. And as we learned from the Ferguson situation, Saint Louis never really integrated. It’s still a largely racially segregated state.

Back in the day, a lot of us white students on the Columbia campus had never before attended school with nonwhites. That was true for me, actually. And, shall we say, a lot of those white students didn’t want to adjust. It was not a welcoming place for black students. This is the part that doesn’t seem to have changed much. However, this time the black students appear to have been supported by faculty, and the football team provided the leverage.

There have been a number of other protests on campus this year, and not all about racism. It appears the graduate students have been at war with the state legislature. This timeline from the student newspaper, the Maneater, there have been protests over health care cuts and a canceled contract with Planned Parenthood, among other things. The injustices in nearby Ferguson also seem to have exacerbated the racism.

Good luck, Mizzou.


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Stuff to Read

Obama Administration

First 0ff — Facebook has locked me out “for security reasons” and is not providing me with a reasonable way to get back in. Their test for proving I am who I am requires me identifying a number of Friends from their photos, but most of the photos are of babies or political candidates and I have no idea who they belong to. And, of course, a lot of people I have befriended on Facebook I don’t know in person and cannot recognize from photos. If you have access to my Facebook page could you please let people know that Facebook has bounced me and given me no way to appeal. I can’t even contact Facebook without logging in. Thanks much.

Here are a few things to read together —

First, Paul Krugman writes about the growing mortality rate among working-class whites in America:

If you believe the usual suspects on the right, it’s all the fault of liberals. Generous social programs, they insist, have created a culture of dependency and despair, while secular humanists have undermined traditional values. But (surprise!) this view is very much at odds with the evidence.

For one thing, rising mortality is a uniquely American phenomenon – yet America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Sweden gives its poor far more aid than we do, and a majority of Swedish children are now born out of wedlock, yet Sweden’s middle-aged mortality rate is only half of white America’s.

You see a somewhat similar pattern across regions within the United States. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

As I wrote last week, the rising mortality is mostly from self-destruction. There has been a huge spike in deaths from drug overdoses among working-class American whites, followed by an increase in suicides and in alcohol-related diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver. Among black and Latino Americans, who suffer the same if not worse economic stress, you don’t see the same trends. Krugman continues,

So what is going on? In a recent interview Mr. Deaton suggested that middle-aged whites have “lost the narrative of their lives.” That is, their economic setbacks have hit hard because they expected better. Or to put it a bit differently, we’re looking at people who were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true.

In my book Rethinking Religion, I wrote about psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm (1900-1980) —

In Escape From Freedom, Fromm said that while people want freedom in the abstract, when they actually have it they can find it isolating and bewildering. Like Freud, Fromm was a psychoanalyst — although he didn’t always agree with Freud — and he looked deeply at humans as creatures of culture and society and also at the irrational and subconscious forces that drive us.

Among other things, we humans have a deep need to belong. We need to feel that our lives have some significance in the great scheme of things. We need to feel we have a secure position within our in-the-flesh social network. We need to feel related to the world, somehow. And we will grasp desperately at just about anything that will give us what we need to feel.

“Religion and nationalism,” Fromm wrote, “as well as any custom and any belief however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.”

Quoting Fromm:

[M]an, the more he gains freedom in the sense of emerging from the original oneness with man and nature and the more he becomes an “individual,” has no choice but to unite himself with the world in the spontaneity of love and productive work, or else to seek a kind of security by such ties with the world as destroy his freedom and the integrity of his individual self.

Via Washington Monthly, here is a page about a documentary on divisions in America. One of the filmmakers writes of a scene in which an unemployed southern white man grapples with the reality that he’s one of Those People who need government assistance.

James’ personal need is in terrible conflict with his political beliefs, his sense of self, and a story about America, I’ll call it the Confederate South story, that he had being using to make sense of life.  …

… The basic story gives us a constant framework for understanding most of what happens in the public sphere and where the public and private intersect: these are the good people; these are the bad people; these are our values; these are their values, etc.

In short, a whole lot of Americans are living inside a conceptual framework that is utterly out of step with reality, and they don’t know how to adjust. IMO this is made worse by the fact that their political “leaders” are manipulating them to get votes rather than try to help them.  No good came come of this.

Here’s a scene from the documentary:


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