Thursday, July 26, 2012

Are careerists the root of all evil?

Many years ago, when I was in college, I remember that I believed that most of the evil in the world was done by self-righteous zealots who were completely convinced that they were on the side of the Good. I thought that Hitler, for instance, understood himself to be conducting a great moral crusade, and this belief in his own goodness allowed him to perpetrate unspeakable evil.

Later, I abandoned this idea as simplistic. After all, many "moral crusades" are orchestrated by cynical manipulators to further their own ends. Thomas Frank has famously argued that ultra-wealthy Republican strategists have used the "culture wars" to convince white working-class people to vote against their own economic interests. Do those strategists even think about morality when they're planning those strategies?

Yesterday, thanks to Grandmothers Against Bullshit, I saw a provocative post by Chris Hedges that explores the idea that those who are really the most evil are the minor functionaries who do the mundane dirty work of those with the most power:
These armies of bureaucrats serve a corporate system that will quite literally kill us. They are as cold and disconnected as Mengele. They carry out minute tasks. They are docile. Compliant. They obey. They find their self-worth in the prestige and power of the corporation, in the status of their positions and in their career promotions. They assure themselves of their own goodness through their private acts as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. They sit on school boards. They go to Rotary. They attend church. It is moral schizophrenia. They erect walls to create an isolated consciousness. They make the lethal goals of ExxonMobil or Goldman Sachs or Raytheon or insurance companies possible. They destroy the ecosystem, the economy and the body politic and turn workingmen and -women into impoverished serfs. They feel nothing. Metaphysical naiveté always ends in murder. It fragments the world. Little acts of kindness and charity mask the monstrous evil they abet. And the system rolls forward. The polar ice caps melt. The droughts rage over cropland. The drones deliver death from the sky. The state moves inexorably forward to place us in chains. The sick die. The poor starve. The prisons fill. And the careerist, plodding forward, does his or her job.
It seems to me that Mr. Hedges is on to something. But he leaves unanswered the question of how these functionaries turn off their moral sense. And he doesn't look beyond the bureaucrats to the masters they serve. There is something that doesn't quite ring true to me about his analysis, but I can't quite articulate it at this time of night. Maybe it has to do with the ways that the very concepts of "good" and "evil" have been leveraged to justify oppression--as the philosopher Sarah Hoagland has pointed out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

But is it possible?

Yesterday, I discovered a cool Web site called Role/Reboot. Here's another great post (from a week ago) I found on that site today. Blogger Melissa Byrne writes with excitement about the appointment of a woman named Marissa Meyer to be the CEO at Yahoo. But Byrne is disappointed that Meyer has also agreed to join the board of union-busting Wal-Mart:
I'm worried the values of Wal-Mart—greed at any cost—will seep into the still growing tech sector. Will Marissa become chummies with the Waltons? Will they trade secrets on union busting? Will she influence Yahoo!'s political giving to support conservative, anti-worker candidates?

I want women to succeed at business. But, I want no one to succeed at business who doesn't respect the rights and dignity of workers, especially low-wage workers, most of whom are women.

I do wish Marissa the best. Mostly, I wish that she would spend a few days with low-wage workers and decide to leave Wal-Mart.
I agree with Byrne's sentiments, but wonder if there really are good corporations out there that respect their workers, their customers, and the natural world. Isn't that how corporate owners succeed, by ripping off the rest of us and covering it up with public relations campaigns? Is it possible for women (or anyone) to succeed in business without abandoning their moral principles?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

First female US astronaut dies, then comes out

You can see the details here.

A disturbing story with a slightly happy ending

According to, a Kentucky teenager who was assaulted by two teenage males was faced with contempt of court charges when she revealed their names on Twitter. She was distressed by the light sentences her attackers had received. The charges were eventually dropped.
Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, said the motion to withdraw the contempt of court charge was "a huge victory not only for Ms. Dietrich, but for women all over the country." Deitrich told The Courier-Journal that after the sexual assault, the boys posted photos of the attack on the internet. "These boys shared the picture of her being raped with their friends and she can't share their names with her Twitter community? That's just crazy," O'Neill said.

Privileged white men and mass murder

Thanks to the Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS), for a link to a interesting and thought-provoking post about the Colorado theater massacre. Writing for Role/Reboot, Hugo Schwyzer argues that privileged white men are much more likely than other men to murder strangers in public places.
It’s not that white men are more violent. Rates of domestic violence, including homicide, are roughly the same across all ethnic groups. Statistically, murderers are more likely to kill family members and intimate partners than strangers. But while men from all backgrounds kill their spouses, affluent white men are disproportionately represented in the ranks of our most infamous mass murderers. In other words, the less privileged you are, the less likely you are to take your violence outside of your family and your community.

White men from prosperous families grow up with the expectation that our voices will be heard. We expect politicians and professors to listen to us and respond to our concerns. We expect public solutions to our problems. And when we’re hurting, the discrepancy between what we’ve been led to believe is our birthright and what we feel we’re receiving in terms of attention can be bewildering and infuriating. Every killer makes his pain another’s problem. But only those who’ve marinated in privilege can conclude that their private pain is the entire world’s problem with which to deal. This is why, while men of all races and classes murder their intimate partners, it is privileged young white dudes who are by far the likeliest to shoot up schools and movie theaters.
The observation that such acts of violence are most often committed by men is an old one. For instance, consider this song by Judy Small about the 1989 Montreal Massacre. What makes Schwyzer's post unusual is the way he bases his analysis on personal experience. The whole thing is well worth reading.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The place of the police in a humane society

I have been so absorbed in the process of taking care of my dying cat, Spot, that I had almost forgotten that tomorrow is the Fourth of July. So this evening when it got dark and cool, I folded a towel and put it on the porch, and set out a dish of fresh ice cubes as well. Then I picked Spot up out of the bathtub and took her outside. She is almost too weak to walk now, but going outside is one of her favorite things. She was sitting on the walkway with her front paws crossed and enjoying the cool night breeze and looking very happy.

You know what happened next.

Some nincompoops down the street started setting off large and loud fireworks.

Spot dashed back onto the porch and tried hiding under the bench. I picked her up and took her back inside and put her back in the bathtub.

I have never liked the sound of fireworks, and I have never understood why people think it is clever or fun to endanger their limbs, their eyeballs, and their children's safety by setting off small explosives. This makes even less sense as the weather grows hotter and drier, and the wind is blowing. Add to this the fact that this neighborhood consists almost entirely of old wooden houses. Doesn't this sound like a recipe for disaster?

In Oklahoma City, following this particular recipe for disaster is also illegal.

So yes, I called the police.

My anarchist friends--for whom I have great respect--would say that in a situation like this a person should try to talk reasonably with her neighbors. Point out how important it is not to set the neighborhood on fire.Explain how bad it is to make every little dog ion the street whimper. (Not to mention the fact that they scared the hell out of my poor dying cat.)

But sometimes, under great provocation, a person is not capable of talking reasonably. If I had gone down there, I wouldn't have trusted myself to remain nonviolent. And frankly, calling the police is probably the thing that kept me from going over the edge and going down the block and hurting someone.

With luck, I will still be able to take Spot outside in the morning.