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Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sacrificial beheading is all the rage in America

In the constant revelations of men who have sexually harassed and abused women, some have flummoxed me and other people I know.  One is the matter of Bill Cosby.  What he has allegedly done to women is totally contradictory to the values and character he has portrayed in his entertainment.  Another is the matter of the Olympic gymnast physician, Dr. Lawrence Nassar, who sexually violated hundreds of young female gymnasts for which he has been sentenced to multiple lifetimes in jail.  

The Nassar case was particularly bothersome because he was on the faculty of  Michigan State  University, where I have spent much time and worked with some impeccable, talented people.  The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, of which I am a member and a former officer, is headquartered there.  As a result of the Nassar revelations and trials, a number of Michigan State officials, including the university president, have been forced to resign.

The revelations of sexual misconduct  of all degrees produce a hysteria in which resignations or firings are demanded.  In many cases, probably most, they are likely justified.  But a lot of people with talent and expertise who were not directly involved in the incidents are sent into oblivion, their talents and accomplishments banished along with them, and we never know what actually happened or what can be done to prevent such things from happening again.  In the case of  the MSU president, the chair of the Board of Trustees said,“President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.”  So, figuratively speaking, she was beheaded anyway.

Many humans are intellectually and socially primitive.  They need ritual killings.  To maintain their delusions of moral self-esteem and superiority, they need scapegoats and sacrificial lambs.   People, including in America, used to pack picnic baskets and attend hangings and beheadings in throngs, as if the occasions were celebrations.  In Orwell's 1984,  children berate their parents because they won't take them to one of the periodic mass hangings held in  Oceania.  Seeing people humiliated and killed in public is essential to their feelings of self-worthiness.  Such sacrificial atrocities purged any sense of guilt or blame they might harbor about the injustices other people experience.  A popular piece taught in freshman literature courses is Shirley Jackson's short story  "The Lottery,"    In the story, everybody in the community gathers at an annual event at which each person draws a slip of paper.  One slip has a black circle on it which designates who is to be stoned to death by the rest of the community that year.  Many people take offense at the story because it presents such a bleak portrayal of human nature.  It addresses the social psychology that society clings to which requires people to be sacrificed in public to satisfy the group's sense of self-esteem and righteousness.

The #MeToo movement has taken up an injustice inflicted upon women through sexual harassment and assault.  It is an advance toward a just and equitable society.  Women's complaints about sexual harassment and assault were often ignored or dismissed.  The #MeToo movement has brought into general recognition the prevalence of sexual aggression and the torment that women face.  

The forms the aggression takes ranges from spousal abuse, sexual assault and molestation, and sexual harassment from verbal abuse to suggestive double entendre.  The accepted solution for all degrees of sexual misconduct is to fire the accused miscreants or those associated with them and to publish the allegations.  No matter  what level of misbehavior is alleged, from physical assault to verbal suggestiveness, the required punishment is firing the accused from their jobs--in other words end their ability to make a living.  Figurative death, beheading.

In the case of Dr. Nassar,  people who had oversight over him, such as President Simon, are said to have received complaints of his molestation and abuse of girls.  Nasser was investigated but no substantive charges were forthcoming until he was fired in September 2016.  The state attorney general was asked to investigate how the university handled the  complaints,  but no report from MSU was ever submitted. At one point, when Nasser was investigated after some complaints, he was cleared by the university, but instructed to follow a protocol which required another person to be present when examining and treating patients.

Administrators at  Michigan State could have been more thorough in their responses to reports of Nassar's transgressions, perhaps,  but those who demand vengeance for his actions by beheading anyone associated with him ignore the complicated and conflicting circumstances in which they were operating.  Nasser was considered to be a medical star.   One of the women he treated but did not molest said. He was great. I loved him. I looked up to him.”  He performed some of his acts with the girls' mothers in the room, and they thought he was administering treatments, not performing acts of molestation.   Some of the young women did not realize they had been sexually violated until the accounts of other women were published in the media.  Nassar developed such a reputation for being an outstanding physician that it earned him a role with the US Olympic Womens Gymnastic Team.  A coach for the men's team remarked, Everybody knew who Larry Nassar was — he was the renowned gymnastics doctor on the women’s side."

In addition, Nasser was know as an active, benign member of the community in which he lived.  A neighbor woman said, “I really cannot say enough good about Larry because he is just a wonderful man. He will do anything in the world for anybody. We all love Larry. We really, really love Larry.”

The question raised about Nasser is, how did he manage to engage in his molestation so long and nobody did anything about it?  The answer is complex.  The stories of the victims indicate that their own parents were not aware of his actions or did not understand reports from the children.  And the reports to officials at MSU apparently did not provide the evidence to support the allegations.  Those who are applying due process are bound to test accusations according to the evidence provided and to guard against specious or malicious claims.   Such claims are a frequent presence in the academic world and are the resort of vengeful students unhappy with a grade and, unfortunately, of faculty as they compete for promotion or tenure.  As a result,  academics are likely to treat accusations of sexual misbehavior with a measure of doubt.  And they are wary of the  threat of severe legal consequences if they raise an accusation that is not true.

Academic officials treat their  "stars," such as Nasser had become, with deference, especially if they contribute to  the university's reputation for innovation and excellence.  Nasser operated under the cover of that kind of reputation and being a person much liked and respected in his community.

Instead of President Simon convening her faculty and examining what circumstances allowed Nasser to operate as he did and formulate procedures and policies that would prevent it,  she was fired, along with others who could provide information and perspectives on the issue that are necessary in devising solutions to such problems.  Instead,  these people are thrown on the discard pile,  making them as much victims of Nassar's deceit as the young women he touched with his hands.    Heads had to roll.

For many people,  the only reaction they can conceive of for a wrong is acts of harsh vengeance and public humiliation, even if they are inflicted on people who were not involved in the offending incidents.  They have no interest in addressing the circumstances surrounding the incidents or finding ways to repair and compensate for the damage done;  they just need to see someone suffer.  And so,  they compound the damage.  And they absolve themselves of any culpability for matters that go wrong in society.

Another tactic for dealing with accused offenders is borrowed from George Orwell's 1984.  One day you come to work and find that the work desk of a fellow is gone.  Every trace or memory-producing evidence of the fellow is gone.  He has been vaporized for some reason by the powers that be.

 Minnesota Public Radio vaporized Garrison Keillor--or tried to. Someone accused Keillor of making lustful advances to a woman.  The head of Minnesota  Public Radio declared them an unforgivable offense and true.  As a result MPR ended all its contracts with Keillor and his companies, stopped broadcasting his syndicated show The Writer's Almanac, stopped rebroadcasting highlights from A Prairie Home Companion, and separated from an online catalogue and website associated with Keillor.  The Washington Post for whom Keillor wrote columns ended their relationship. Then the University of Minnesota removed a plague which honored Keillor for his contribution to the state's culture.  Keillor was vaporized.  Precisetly for what was never explained, but one day he found himself holding that slip of paper with the black circle on it in his hand.  Zap.

Al Franken who was accused of sexual misconduct wanted the  U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to hold an investigation and a hearing,  but his colleagues chose  beheading instead.  It made the senators feel responsive and righteous, even though Franken's staff members, both from the Senate and Saturday Night Live, came out in public support of him.  The guillotine is better than due process because it makes everyone feel better.

Franken and Keillor were put in the same category as Cosby and Nasser,  and they had to go.  And the powers took out a university president while they were at it.The collective demise made a lot of people feel good.  We need to reinstitute public mass hangings or stonings so we can feel great about ourselves again.    We could watch the heads of a whole bunch of university presidents roll, and we could really rock.


    *Forty-one  "unionists" hung in Gainesville, Texas, in 1862.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The BS detectors blare whenever Trump speaks

Every national  major news organization had a team of journalists fact check Trump's State of the Union speech.  And these fact checks were not simply a matter of reviewing notable claims made in the speech for accuracy, as has been the practice in years past.  They were word-by-words examinations of how what Trump said matched with the facts.

Here are some of the major fact checks:

Associated Press
CBS News
USA Today
New York Times
Washington Post

Donald Trump is a symptom.  No one with a minimal degree of moral and mental sentience can deny what a profoundly defective, corrupt person  he is.  He has a documented record of fraud,  swindling, lying, associations with organized crime in the  U.S. and abroad,  and failure.  Those who support him support corruption as a part of government.  There is a substantial portion of the electorate which subscribes to the idea that success is anything you can get away with.  They are the people who celebrate organized crime as portrayed in The Godfather and The Sopranos as the ultimate realization of the American Dream.  His election to president is a symptom of the massive intellectual and moral failure of American democracy.  As with the so-called banana republics,  corruption has won over integrity and competence.  

The big question is how did America, home of the Greatest Generation, become so stupid and jaded that this could happen.  George Orwell offers an analysis in his depiction of a populace that is constantly beleaguered by propaganda through the media.  They are so inured to the ceaseless stream of advertising and promotion directed at them that they have lost interest and the ability to separate fact-based declarations from unsupported and groundless assertions.  They do not respond to language,  but merely endure it as a factor of their environment,  like an ever-present fog.   To about half the people, words do not convey information.  They are simply the stimulus signals like the bell that makes Pavlov's dog salivate:  they react in the ways they have been conditioned to as repressed, obedient organisms.  Like those products of ISIS who willingly strap on suicide vests to kill innocents, many Americans willingly react without mind to what their leaders prompt them to do.  They are zombies subject to the control of people they regard as their masters.  

Their linguistic currency is bullshit.  The English language has no non-defecatory synonym for bullshit.  The dictionaries define it as nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolent talk.  But the colloquial term is the most evocative in its reference to revulsive animal waste. And so, when Donald Trump speaks, the press employs its bullshit detectors and identifies every word he says in terms of nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolence.  The significance of Trump's speech is not in any factual information it conveys, but in the kind of bullshit it invokes.

But there is a linguistic anomaly in Trump's speech that explains why everything he says is nonsense.  Words have meaning because they name natural facts.  Language emanates from the natural universe.  They name objects, relationships, and processes that are observable to all.  Facts are something that has actual existence  or are actual occurrences.  We understand what words mean because we can observe and experience what they refer to.   However, when the words a person uses do not refer to anything factual that can be verified, they are nonsense.  Bullshit.  Most of what Trump says proves to be fabricated nonsense.  

An example is his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.  The slogan is based on the premise that America has lost its claim to greatness.   The election of Barack Obama as president was seen throughout the world as a sign that America was advancing in its quest for equality.  That is, except to those people who harbored and clung to old racial prejudices, who prefer to believe that minorities are inferior to whites.  "Make America Great Again" appealed to these people because the election of a black president was a refutation of the white supremacy that they prefer as a national state of affairs.  The fall from greatness stated by the slogan was not a factual case.  Under Obama, the U.S. assumed a status of world leadership that was lauded throughout the world.  Under Trump and Rex Tillerson, the U.S. hs relinguished that role and has turned leadership over to China, the European Union, and other nations that are stepping up to the fill the void Trump created.  And under Trump,  many of the advances in civil rights and equality have been either halted or reversed.

Trump claims, such as the cheering of Muslims during the 9/11 attacks and the wire-tapping of Trump Towers by Obama, have been proven to be total fabrications.  But that segment of the population that clings to its Nazi-like malice rejoices in Trump's false claims. It is all made up bullshit.  

It is difficult to find any statements made by Trump that have a basis in actuality.  His tweets and other public statements are expressions of his depraved attitudes and motives, not anything that can be proven as fact.  He depends almost totally on the kind of power that CEOs exercise over employees or contractors who fear for their job and lives.  The sycophants and corporate sucks who serve CEOs learn quickly to adopt the attitudes and endorse the utterances of their bosses,  no matter how bigoted. malicious, or false.  Trump's White House and GOP sucks play that game.  The so-called Nunes memo is an exercise in detaching words from the facts they purport to report.  It follows Trump's employment of Doublespeak in the havoc it wreaks on language.  Doublespeak, as a concept developed by George Orwell, is a language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.  The Tump administration and his dedicated GOP sucks are prodigious fabricators of such language.  Doublespeak clouds actuality with a dense fog of depravity and malice.

If there is hope that the promises of democracy for liberty, equality, and justice may prevail somewhere, somehow, it lies with people who are smart enough and educated enough to maintain stewardship over the integrity of the language.  It is not a matter of partisanship,  but of a respectful appreciation of the tool fostered by mankind that is the basis for our life-sustaining achievements.  The attempts to subvert science and language should alarm the nation that all the benefits of democracy are under siege.  But that understanding is unlikely in a nation that elected Donald Trump president.

Those with enough mental acumen to understand how lethal bullshit can be will be the ones we depend upon to conserve our language and the human enterprise it makes possible.  As the U.S. developed, one of the first things that aspiring communities established was schools that educated children in the use of language.  Over time,  the study of language arts and critical thinking skills has been systematically undermined in our schools and further degraded by the constant noise of BS in the media.  People who retain some respect and understanding of fact-based language are the ones who can restore it to usefulness.  But it may be too late for that to happen in the U.S., which is rapidly establishing itself as a nation of organized crime.   They may have to think about where they can recolonize.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States