Sunday, March 20, 2016

Social Media, Self Creation, Glamour Shots, and Justin Bieber

Social media has given us the gift/curse of being able to express our fractal selves in a variety of ways. In society we're (x); at home we're (y), but on social media we can be whoever we want to be. The person in our profiles can be a refined caricature of ourselves or a new creation that reflects our deepest desires. Our social media personas, in many respects, have become as real as our flesh and bones. Jean Baudrillard wrote about this long before the rise of social media in his book Simulacra and Simulation. He theorized, in my opinion correctly, that society had moved to a place where the symbols of reality not only displaced reality but became more real than reality. Baudrillard didn't live long enough to see how much time some of us would spend on our digital footprint compared to cultivating an "authentic self".

I'm old enough to remember the Glamour Shots craze. Glamour Shots and a slew of smaller knockoff companies made a lot of money transforming ordinary people into the version of themselves they always wanted to be: even if those transformations were temporary. Glossy 3x5's and 4x6's served as "facsimiles" of who they could be on their best day. It took a makeup artist, a hair stylist, and airbrush photography to do what a smartphone photo editing app is capable of doing in a few seconds. This technological reality combined with a cyber-world that only loosely resembles reality has changed us in a short period of time.

Creating a new identity is easy. The "social" aspect of social media takes place in a world where authenticity and inauthenticity aren't easily distinguishable. The great Canadian philosopher and social theorist Justin Bieber once wrote, "Facebook is where you lie to your friends. Twitter is where your honest with complete strangers." I don't know if he really said this, but it jibes with some of the experiences I've had dealing with people who have markedly different social media accounts. The popularity of Facebook has caused some to seek their escape on lesser used social media platforms or the comments sections of various websites. A majority of the trolling I've experienced originated from a nom de guerre disconnected from a concrete person. Trolling is prank calling on meth for this digital era. The meekest among us are capable of unleashing vicious attacks from the safety of an identity free from the real world consequences of their actions. In comic books the good guys have alter egos, but on social media the alter egos belong almost exclusively to the villains.

Full disclosure: I haven't transcended the society we live in, and I' m not attempting to define this cultural shift- I'm absolutely certain I don't fully understand what I'm noticing. If you look at my digital footprint you'll get the symbolic representation that I share with the world: a perfectly manicured and air brushed version of myself that lacks the imperfections that are a constitutive part of who I am. Social media has made the task of cultivating an authentic self more difficult than it was just 10 years ago. Before social media self creation was a process that involved defining, through self expression, who you are over and against societal classification systems based on any combination of cultural, racial, sexual, religious, or socioeconomic factors. We've always had the choice of not cultivating a self, but now we can easily upload a reproducible identity that has the same intrinsic value, or (an even scarier proposition) more instrumental value than we have in the material world. I'm curious how this period will be understood by historians, sociologist, philosophers, and psychologists 100 years from now.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

An Open Letter To Angry Trump Supporters

Dear Angry Trump Supporter: I get it. For the better part of forty years I've felt an anxiety similar to what you're experiencing now. Our anger isn't that different; it's connected to our shared inability to alter our day-to-day realities in any significant way. We share an uncomfortable truth: we're stuck reacting to the ebbs and flows of society because we're powerless to control them. You've seen sections of this country abandoned by the powers that be. Some of you have been suffering economic hardships in silence for decades. Pressing 1 for English is just a symptom of the cultural shift you've been forced to endure. Every other group in society champions their heroes: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Caesar Chavez, Grace Boggs, Betty Friedan, Harvey Milk, and Louis Farrakhan, yet it's not "politically correct" for you to show pride in your race or heritage. America has changed, and it's not benefiting you. You're called a racist for articulating your fears, you get blamed for historical atrocities you didn't commit, and you're accused of having "white privilege" even though you don't know how it works or seem to be benefiting from it. Up is down, left is right, and things are changing faster than you can adjust to them. I hate that you're in pain. I disagree with the way your anger is being manipulated for political gain, and I wish I could convince you that we (Blacks, Mexicans, Muslims, LGBQT) aren't your enemy, but it's probably too late for that. 

I've read dozens of articles chronicling the Trump "phenomenon". Some were garden variety in-group out-group armchair psychology that settled for calling you racists and idiots (some of you are), but those articles didn't interest me as much as the articles that sought to connect your populism to the deeper societal issues and economic realities you've been facing. The underlying cause[s] of Donald Trump's political ascension will be studied and debated for a long time across multiple disciplines. If your guy wins the Republican nomination his campaign will have changed the way future Republican candidates run their campaigns. In essences, your movement will have strong armed the Republican nomination process. This is good and bad. Giving your guy the nomination won't help you in the general election if you continue alienating the rest of us. 2016 could be the year we find out if you need any of us to win in a general election. Your party has only won the popular vote one time (2004) since 1988. My hunch is that a strategy of offending every minority group in the country could backfire, but I've been wrong before. 

The America Country music stars sing about is over. This country will never exist as it did in those television shows from the 50's and 60's. We aren't going away. Alexis de Tocqueville  understood all of this. He noticed how militant his fellow Frenchmen became as their standards of living improved during the French Revolution. One of the worst things you can do to a person who denies the effects of historical injustices is open the space for historically oppressed people to get access to freedom and economic opportunity. People don't freely go back to a status quo that puts the needs of their particular communities on the back burner for the sake of the majorities feelings. You're not responsible for the world you inherited: neither are we. The coalitions you see forming harbor some of the same mistrust between them as you might harbor towards all of us, but none of us are willing to go back to this place you seem willing to take us. When I hear "take America back" or "make America great again" I hear desperation. Those words are empty signifiers. If taking America back means it will once again be socially acceptable for a bigot to spit on my mother then: I'll fight you, not a metaphorical fight with words and ideas, but a real life out in the streets fight. If taking America back means my gay friends have to go back to their closets: then I know they'll fight you, and I'll help them. If making America great again means my brother's wife and his in-laws could be rounded up because being 4th and 5th generation Mexican-Americans isn't good enough for you: then I'll fight you. If I see a group of people harming my Muslim brothers and sisters: I think you get the point.

Here's a secret: all of us are feeling the pinch of global capitalism. You woke up in a nightmare that transcends race and class. Instead of blaming us for the greed that sent the manufacturing base of our economy to the developing world, and created the unsustainable boom or bust cycles we see in the market, why not ask us how we've endured the trauma you're feeling. I love you and hope you let your anger go. Don't let hate radio, Fox News, and right-wing demagogues strip you of your humanity. The sooner you understand the underlying cause[s] of your anger the sooner you can move on. The market economy is a lot like the in-group out-group distinctions some of the Americans you see as enemies face daily: they exist in invisible spheres that are hard to explain to people who aren't on the underside of them, yet you feel their effects. You could learn a lot from us; we understand what's happening to you better than you do. 

Have a Blessed Day!

Danny Cardwell

Thursday, March 3, 2016

You Are A Conquerer

We can never let adversity have the last word. Tragedy and death are democratic and unifying: all of us are going to experience them. In the darkest hours of your life grab what God has blessed you with and squeeze it. God's promise to never leave or forsake us is real. I've been blessed to have an amazing group of people in my life. All of us have blessings we lose sight of in the midst of our daily lives. Go to the people in your life and let them know you love them. You could be someone's blessing!

Acceptable Blacks: Bernie Sanders And Race

"Up North they don't care how big I get, as long as I don't get too close. Down South they don't care how close I get as long as I don't get too big".
“In the North, the issue is mainly proximity. In the South, the issue is mainly power. Get it?"                        
Dick Gregory

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an Uncle Tom as: 1 : a black who is overeager to win the approval of whites (as by obsequious behavior or uncritical acceptance of white values and goals). Politically, this derogatory term was almost exclusively used to describe the 5-7% of African Americans who identify as Conservative or Republican, but lately it's being used to describe African Americans who support Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders' inability to win over black voters in the south has caused some of his supporters, irrespective of race, to choose the easier path of Ad Hominem attacks to explain this electoral rejection instead of finding the disconnect and working to fix it. Bernie, like anyone "new" to the southern political scene, was going to have a hard time taking support away from Hillary Clinton. Yes, for the 1,378th time, I know he was part of student protests in Chicago and marched in Washington during the 60's; I know he publicly supported Jesse Jackson at a time when it wasn't politically advantageous to do so, but where has he been since then? This isn't a rhetorical question. Bernie's political career as a mayor, congressman, and senator happened in a state with virtually no racial diversity. If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, will black voters in the south support Bernie Sanders?
I’ve heard people say Bernie would have done better in the south if he were black; simply put: he would have. Not because of some nefarious, unspoken racial code. Black people won't support a candidate just because they're black: ask Ben Carson. If Bernie were black he would have started his 2016 presidential campaign with a higher profile in the black community. Being a member of the Congressional Black Caucus would have made him a more familiar political commodity among people in his age group. The fact that Bernie does better with African Americans under 30 than he does with African Americans over 60 is a symptom of older southern voters not being familiar with him. In South Carolina Hillary Clinton won 96% of the 65 older African American vote. These are people who lived through the civil rights movement of the 60's, the crack epidemic of the 80's, and mass incarceration during the 90's. They don't place all of the blame for mass incarceration on the Clintons. During the 90's these voters were raising kids and paying mortgages. It's easy to use 20\20 hindsight 20+ years later to critique mistakes made in real time. Southern voters remember being scared to buy their children Air Jordan's; they remember watching the news and seeing the gang violence in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, and Miami; they didn't forget that the crack epidemic (which created the atmosphere for this violence) started during the Reagan years. The crime bill had tragic consequences for communities of color; much like 911 America overshot the response to a traumatic situation, but this part of the Democratic base doesn’t blame Hillary Clinton for it.
The fringe of the Republican party has been so blatantly disrespectful that subtle instances of disrespect on the left are often overlooked. It's disrespectful and condescending for northern progressives to blame Bernie's shortcomings on a part of the Democratic base they’re isolated from. Virginia went blue the last two presidential elections, North Carolina went blue in 2008. Most northern liberals don’t know that Georgia and South Carolina  are states we could move into the purple column by 2020. There’s an enthusiasm gap this primary season that isn’t fixing itself. Bernie’s had the largest crowds, but unlike Donald Trump’s campaign those large crowds haven’t turned into "Yuuuge" vote totals.
I hope my northern friends will open their eyes and see how awfully naive it is to diminish an electorate that routinely sends southern progressives to the House of Representatives. The lesson moving forward should be active engagement. If you want to come to the south and get support you have to come to the south and give it. If Bernie had been more visible during the 90’s and early 2000’s we’d probably be having a different conversation, but his progressivism happened in a racial vacuum. His campaign is aspirational and inspirational, but it’s failing to connect with people who ceased dreaming. Older black voters have never experienced instantaneous legislative success. Brown vs. Board of Education was settled law in 1954, but over a decade later members of this electorate were still going to segregated schools. None of the advancements people of color have made came overnight. Northern isolation has insulated some progressives from the racial realities in the south. Insinuating that black support for Hillary is due to some racial Stockholm syndrome is a function of this isolation. This may come as a surprise, but most black Democrats don't spend a lot of time worrying about what's politically acceptable to our northern allies. Politically, socially, and economically speaking blacks in the south may be making a mistake with their allegiance to Hillary, but aren't southern whites making a bigger mistake with their allegiance to Donald Trump. One of these issues is far more concerning to me than the other.