Unfocused Rage Is Not a Strategy

It’s hard to be hopeful when the left seems to think we can pass gun laws by wishing and hoping, and that anger, nastiness, and personal attacks can defeat Trump.

After Newtown, I looked around at the facts, concluded new gun laws weren’t going to happen, and said so. I was excoriated for it (anyone who votes against new gun laws will lose their seats in 2014!), but I was right (they GAINED seats). The votes weren’t there. Too many members of Congress had A or B ratings from the NRA. We’re not a democracy where public will calls the shots; we’re an oligarchy where the rich and powerful few do. The same is happening now. A couple states are strengthening gun laws, but at least as many are moving them in the opposite direction. Congress isn’t about to do anything.

The left is excited about the 2018 elections. The right was excited about the 2010 and 2014 elections. Republicans made major gains those years but still couldn’t defeat Obama. Democrats are poised to make major gains this fall, but again, that says little about their ability to win a presidential election. Run another campaign like 2016, especially with another piss-poor candidate, and you will get the same result. You can’t apply the same actions and expect a different reaction. The left’s response to Trump now reminds me a lot of the right’s response to Paul Wellstone when he was in office. They were apoplectic and tried throwing everything they could at him in the desperate, random, undisciplined hope that something would stick. They never bothered to figure out what he was doing or how. So they never defeated him, as liberal as he was. If you pre-emptively declare all Trump voters evil and unworthy of campaigning to or persuading, you can’t get enough votes to win an election. And you don’t have to win all of them–just enough to get 270 Electoral Votes. No Nazis required; just win back Obama’s voters. If you’re too proud to care about those Obama-Trump voters, you’ll have to endure 8 years of Trump. And you’ll share responsibility for making it happen. Calling them names, applying double standards you don’t hold yourself or your allies to, demonstrating ever-increasing levels of baseless hyperbole–and abandoning your most fundamental values of logic, fairness, and civility in the process–will only alienate more people further and cost you the moral high ground. Fight on Trump’s terms, and Trump will win. He will always be able to out-divide and out-hate us. It’s a fight we can’t win, and a basis so disgusting and antithetical to our oldest and most important principles that such a victory wouldn’t be worth it.

That doesn’t mean excusing, ignoring, or pandering to hate. I grew up Jewish. Like any Jewish American born in the 70s, I had Holocaust teachings beaten into me. And I’ve always objected to *and studied* the scapegoating of minorities and the forces that lead to genocide. (I truly cannot implore you strongly enough to read Richard J. Evans’ history of Nazi Germany) From the KKK in this country around the Civil War and civil rights movement, to Hispanics, Catholics, to LGBTQ people, to Nazi Germany, to Rwanda, to Sudan; one truth emerges consistently. The fear and hatred of minorities usually comes from roots in economic suffering and desperation. That’s not to say it’s okay; it’s a horrific unjust failure of morality, conscience, and humanity. But the best predictor of how humans will act, or explainer of why they act as they do now, is usually history. America has never been good at teaching, learning, remembering, or applying the lessons of its own past, and we’ve gotten worse with the constant focus on whatever is happening RIGHT NOW to the exclusion of thoughtful analysis and discussion. We have even less memory of the past or sense of history than we used to before push notifications and BREAKING NEWS on every screen. I even had an attention span before 9/11. While we must do all we can to ensure equality and protect vulnerable groups of people, we also must finally address and ameliorate the underlying economic problems misleading people down the path of scapegoating and hate.

Why do you think Bernie Sanders did so well with people who later voted for Trump? Or that, once Hillary clinched the nomination, people chose a fascist demagogue over an establishment corporatist? Progressive populism works, and people choose it if given the chance. As Wellstone did. As long as no one really speaks to their financial pain, as neither corporate party has in my lifetime, many get swept into the hate. It’s easier to ignore the real problems in your own economy and blame “those lazy foreigners” (who are somehow taking your jobs with their laziness), just as it’s easier to for Democrats to ignore any possible fault or responsibility of Obama’s and lay all blame on Republicans, however dishonest or counterproductive. It feels good temporarily, but it doesn’t solve the problem. And on some level, I think people realize that. Offer to do something about wages that have stagnated for 40 years, the obscene debt you have to take on to get a college degree, the appalling lack of health care for tens of millions of Americans, the grim future we face as we can’t afford to retire, the communities betrayed by both advancing technology (closing coal mines) AND poor trade policies (Rustbelt manufacturing), the third world destitution we gratuitously condemn huge swaths of the country to, the creeping dominance of the working poor and idle rich–and you will earn those people’s support. AND YOU WILL WIN. Blaming the Russians, hoping for impeachment, or throwing your most creative insult-laced personal attacks at Trump supporters won’t get us anywhere. Progressive economic populism will.

We haven’t rejected an incumbent president since George H. W. Bush in 1992. If we stay on our current path, 2020 is going to look more like 2004 than 1992. Unfocused rage is not a strategy. We’re going to have to strip away our preconceptions, listen to people we don’t agree with, and do SOMETHING to address their legitimate concerns.

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Are You “Safe”?

The language used by US mental health providers around suicide is very fucked up. They like to ask if you are “safe”, which in fact doesn’t mean safe at all. It means going to stay alive–keep suffering. As long as the police are at large, you are obviously not safe. No one in poverty, with a disability, or who’s a color other than white is safe. And as long as you’re stuck in the 3rd world backwater that is the US, making sure you suffer as much as possible and can’t get anything resembling help, you are obviously not safe. In fact, the only time you truly ARE safe is when you are dead.
The other thing they like to ask is “whether you are suicidal”. But like pornography, this is never defined–because we really don’t want to talk about it, no matter how necessary. There is a big difference between having a loaded gun pointed at your head about to pull the trigger, and drawing the abundantly rational conclusion that you’d rather be dead, or would be better off ending than prolonging your inescapable suffering. If suicide were as easy as flipping a switch or pushing a button, I’d have done it a million times already. If I were asked whether I’d rather be alive or dead, there’s only a generous maximum of 10% of the time when I’d want to be alive. I’m old enough and smart enough to have lots of experience and knowledge and know what the hell I’m talking about. But it should be obvious that, even though I would almost always rather be dead than alive, that doesn’t mean I’m imminently about to kill myself (I can only wish). There is a long continuum here, but like most things, we ignore it, put a wholly inadequate label on it, and pretend it’s a simple dichotomy. And woe to anyone in pain who answers one of these questions “incorrectly”. The police will come for you, and you’ll likely be killed violently.

Impossible Decision Point

The Social Security Administration limits disability applicants to earning $1130/month for 2016.
If you make any more than that in a calendar month, you’re automatically disqualified from getting disability. 
Well, by working at Taco Time doing boring mindless work for a lower nominal (let alone real) wage than I earned in 1999 before I had any professional work experience, and which I had to commute 75 minutes each way to get to and from, it turns out that my February earnings were…$1131.27. Of course, I’ve since lost that job for being sick too often (embarrassing, stigmatized health issues like PTSD with no coverage to speak of from Medicaid), but that extra $1.27 does me in. After 20 months of bureaucratic nightmare trying to get disability, including a trumped up arrest dismissed by the prosecutor (only arrest in my life), and their loss of my birth certificate for 7 months and claim it was my fault, my application is now automatically disqualified. This is the great vaunted social safely net in America. I can’t hold a job but can’t get disability. I can’t have a stable home, pet, girlfriend, any of the physical or mental health treatment I desperately need–no matter how hard I fight for it or how many times I seek it out. Or how clearly and certainly I know exactly what I need–the poorer and less powerful you are, the less anyone bothers listening to you. Including friends and family, if you have those. I have nothing but inadequate food stamps, which will be taken away soon–because under their standards, I’m an able body adult w/o kids. (Since I’m not approved for disability) 
The only thing we do for people in need in the US is blame them, judge them, ignore them, castigate and excoriate them, and pretend everything bad in their lives is their own fault. Never mind systematic classism. Because we can’t possibly admit that the US is not a perfect meritocracy which deliberately and systematically exploits the poor to feather the nests of the Super-rich just a little more–in fact, no advanced nation is as anti-meritocratic or anti-utilitarian as the US. We make sure to maximize the number of people suffering and the depths of their suffering–see Where to Invade Next. It doesn’t have to be like this at all–we choose it consciously. But pretty lies always trump ugly truths in our land of denial and magical thinking. It’s far easier to blame victims and cast them as immoral, lazy, weak, undeserving, etc. than to acknowledge or fix problems. 

Is it worth trying yet a third time (with another 18-24 month wait) to apply for disability anew with all its impossible endless bureaucracy and total lack of guarantee you’ll get a fair hearing, let alone benefits? Is there any job I could possibly get and keep–one with a reasonable commute that uses my “huge Aspie brain” and lets me advance social justice in some way, paying well enough not to need help from poverty programs, but rather let me enter the middle class for the first time in my life at 39? Am I truly better off killing myself, since that’s clearly what every institution of any power or significance in the US really wants of us? Or is there any plausible way for me to emigrate to the vastly more advanced, fair, humane, egalitarian, happy, functional, democratic countries of northern Europe where people are treated with dignity and opportunity? My inclination now is suicide, unless emigration gets simpler, faster, and more feasible in short order.

Quelque-chose a penser

What advice would you give a diabetic in 1915 (before they discovered insulin)? How about a PTSD victim from the Civil War? A schizophrenic in the 18th century? A depressed denizen of the 17th century? A sleep apnea sufferer in the 16th century?

Now, imagine someone who’s in the exact same position today. You don’t really think medicine has reached the point of isolating, identifying, and treating or curing every malady people suffer, do you?

Hiring Processes Biased Toward the Rich

National Journal article

Rivera: I understand where that thinking comes from. There’s lots of different types of schools out there and prestige is one metric especially with national rankings now that is easily quantifiable. You have a list of top 10 schools, you can say “Okay someone else told me these are the best, I can justify not looking anywhere else.”

But what’s wrong with it is that I don’t think people understand the extent to which elite university admissions are biased against individuals from lower-income backgrounds. We have this narrative that they really are the most rigorous admissions processes that cherry pick the best and the brightest irrespective of social background—and that’s actually pretty false. Some of the things that matter most in getting into an elite college—whether it’s your SAT score, your extracurricular participation, the actual high school you attended—are so strongly influenced by social class that you’re not necessarily getting the best and the brightest. You’re getting good and bright people who come from the most privileged backgrounds.

Not Discussing Suicide = Biggest Barrier to Preventing It

This drives me nuts. I’ve lost so many relationships with family, friends, and professional contacts because they can’t even stand to hear about suicide. Including the head of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, while she constantly posts from their Facebook page about the importance of mental health and its confluence with homelessness. The hypocrisy is astounding.

NPR/WBUR article

“When my brother died, people had the nerve to come to say to me what a coward he was,” Barnes recalls. “My brother was a firefighter. My brother went to Afghanistan. My brother fought for his country. He goes into burning buildings to save people’s lives, and he’s a coward? My brother had a weak moment with a lifetime of depression.”

…“The biggest barrier or the biggest cultural barrier we have to preventing suicide is not being able to talk about it,” says Jack Jordan, a clinical psychologist in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who’s widely recognized for his expertise in counseling suicide survivors — those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide.

Chemical Castration Please!

*Girl from temp job who agreed to get coffee with me? Ignoring me. 

*Microsoftie who chatted with me on Tinder and wanted to meet in person? No word since April 29.

*Girl who replied to one of my “if I had a girlfriend” posts on Whisper saying we should hook up? Totally disappeared. 

Now tell me why I should waste more time, effort, and emotional energy racking up more rejections, lead ons, and getting ignored? It’s hopeless torture. I’d rather just be castrated already. I couldn’t afford a prostitute even if we did legalize it. Sex is a human right, but some of us are more equal than others.