Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for April, 2010

Does Culture Disappear?

April 26, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Culture, Religion

I often hear people express fear of losing their culture.  Sometimes, I sympathize with them.  I sympathize with indigenous people who are fighting for their dying languages.  I sympathize with the French farmer who led a revolt against McDonalds.  And I sympathize with Jews who – after surviving inquisitors, pogroms, and the holocaust – fear losing their culture to secularism and intermarriage.

But more often, the people who fear losing their culture don’t invoke much sympathy in me at all.  I have little sympathy for those who see immigration as a threat to their culture.  I have little sympathy for those who want to hang confederate flags to celebrate their culture.  I have little sympathy for people who defend misogynist, homophobic, racist or other hateful practices in the name of culture.

When I ponder the question of whether or not culture can disappear, my first response is – damn, I hope so.  I hope the culture of racism disappears.  I hope the culture of patriarchy disappears.  Rape culture, homophobic culture, materialistic culture…I hope all of it disappears. Of course, pondering those cultural relics just goes to show how difficult culture is to get rid of.  Culture, good and bad, is pernicious.

Culture mutates like a virus.  And it is that infinite mutability of culture that makes arguments about protecting culture completely nonsensical.  The fear that people have of losing their culture depends upon the belief that culture is isolated and stagnant.  It depends upon a belief that what you practice as your culture today is what it was yesterday and what it should be tomorrow.

Not true.

What is Jewish culture?  To my mother it means having Friday night dinner and celebrating the high holidays.  To my friend it means making obligatory visits to the holocaust museums and eating lox at kosher delis.  But to Hasidim on Miami Beach it means wearing the same clothes Jews wore in the Eastern European ghetto.  They have decided that preserving their culture means freezing it in a moment in time.  Why that moment?  Jesus was a Jew.  Why not wear loose robes?  It would make a lot more sense in Miami.  I mean wool in 90 degrees, oy vey.

What is authentic culture?  Is pizza authentically Italian when tomatoes are indigenous to the Americas?  Is apple pie authentically American when apples are indigenous to Central Asia?  Is the horse culture of the Plains Indians authentic, even though they only had horses after the Spanish brought them?

When I visited the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, our guide felt the need to explain to us why the pueblo houses had modern looking windows and doors on some of them.  “We shop at Home Depot too,” she said.  Clearly, some previous visitors had been disappointed that the Acoma people were unwilling to forgo modern conveniences so tourists could have an “authentic” experience.

When people try to hang on to culture, they are trying to hang on to culture caught in a moment in time, as interpreted through their memories or imaginations.  It isn’t real.  It isn’t possible. It isn’t desirable.

Don’t get me wrong.  It saddens me when I hear about lost cultures.  It saddens me to know that people in Tierra del Fuego only have a few native speakers left and that their language is dying.  But what is sad about lost culture is not that it is lost, per say.  What is sad is that, all too often, culture is lost because of force.  When the Navajo adopted the horse and changed their culture of their own volition, it was not sad.  When the Navajo were sent to schools to beat the Navajo out of them, that was not just sad, it was criminal.

The difference is force.  It is power.

Each individual must be free to chose which cultural things they think are useful and which they don’t think are useful.  If the things you are hanging on to are seen to be valuable by others, they will stick around.  Otherwise you just have to accept that not everyone shares your loves and values.  It’s a difficult thing to accept, but what else can you do?  Force acceptance down the barrel of a gun?

Of course, when people talk about losing their culture, what they often mean is they fear losing their identity.  They fear losing a label.  They fear losing a connection to a group and history that makes them special.  I can understand that fear.  But who you are is not so fragile.  Culture is not so fragile.

Here is the truth.  Many of the things that you cherish today will not be cherished, or even remembered, by future generations.  Many of the beliefs that people hold today will someday seem as strange and archaic as believing the world is flat.  You cannot stop that process.  That’s just life.  New cultural beliefs will form and their production will require cultural destruction.

But culture often survives in some small way despite itself.  In Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States, there are many families descended from Spanish conversos.  There are Northern Mexicans who have been lighting candles on Friday nights for years, unawares that their tradition has roots in their Jewish heritage. And some of these people are rediscovering that heritage.  Hundreds of years of oppression and silence and yet a little flame remained.

Culture is stubborn.

4/20 Quick Hit

April 20, 2010 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Not my regular posting day, but I can’t let 4/20 go by without posting something on the drug war.  Here’s a little debate with Ethan Nadelmann followed by links to some orgs that you should know about.

Drug Policy Alliance


Marijuana Policy Project

Stop the Drug War

What I’m Up To

April 19, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Just got back from the anarchist book fair in New York.  I attended a couple sessions – one on women in prison, one on anarchism and intersectionality.  I’ll give you the lowdown on those soon.  Best part was definitely having a chance to meet people I only knew in cyberspace.

Before I went up to New York, I attended an incredible panel on food issues here in DC.  The panelists leaned revolutionary and talked a lot about the food system as a tactic for larger social change and justice.  I particularly liked Robert Egger’s comments on non-profits as a wrong turn we made.  I think I might have to do a post on that one some day.  Check out the panelists and their orgs if you are interested in food issues.  Very cool.

Adding new contacts every day for the gathering/event/conference focused on what anti-authoritarian women are doing.  We’re throwing around names at the moment and then I’ll get the website up.  If anyone wants to be on the list, pop over an email (

DC anarchist meetup number two is next month.  I have the sneaking suspicion that I’ll be doing some mediating already.  Sigh.

And then, of course, I have about six bazillion articles in the works.  This is my busy time at work though, so I might be a little sporadic for now.

What are you all up to?

Things You Might Have Missed

April 14, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Just got back from seeing Alice Walker at Busboys and Poets.  She spoke a lot about Israel, about finding your voice in the face of unspeakable horror, about starting where you are at and not always seeing change in terms of the big thing (policy…). Can’t wait to read her new book.

She also answered a question from the audience about the census.  They wanted to know if she thought they should stop asking people to categorize themselves by race.  She said, rather than stop, she thought they should expand the categories.  There should be Italian American, German American… She said that people gave up so much of their history in order to become white.  Coincidentally, I had just this morning read an excellent article over at Godheval that talked about what it meant to become white.

If you have not heard, there are reports of a disaster brewing in Honduras right now.  Troops are moving in to indigenous communities who have been involved in land disputes with huge landholders there.  The officials are stopping people and asking for ID, searching vehicles, and just generally threatening the community.  I haven’t seen too many reports in English.  This one is in Spanish.

Back to Israel for a moment.  I had not heard about this whistleblower/journalist who is on house arrest regarding some leaked documents.

I don’t write enough on this blog about Native American rights and news.  I’m going to try and correct that.  This piece is a good start.

Another thing Alice Walker mentioned tonight was the book The Sociopath Next Door, about the 4% of people who have no conscience.  Methinks David Brooks and a significant portion of the City of Oakland Park may be part of that 4%.

Just so I don’t leave you thinking all people are selfish jackasses like Brooks, here’s an article about a Santa Rosa tool lending library.

Does the Supreme Court Lead or Follow?

April 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Politics

Everyone is talking about Supreme Court nominations again.  I agree with those people who think that the court is going to be more conservative with the loss of Stevens.  But I’m looking at that a different way these days.

I’ve always paid close attention to Supreme Court picks.  Partly that was because I believed that the courts had been leaders in social change.  Like a lot of people, I had the impression that the courts were defenders of social justice.  I thought cases like Brown v. Board of Education were exemplary.

In this really fascinating lecture, Michael Klarman challenges the idea of the Supreme Court as an agent of positive social change relating to racial discrimination.  He talks about how Brown v. The Board of Education (and a set of subsequent progressively decided cases in the 1960s) gave the impression of the court being an agent for racial justice.  Then he shows how, outside of those few cases, the court has far more often stood in opposition to progressive change in racial policy.

Looked at as a whole, those cases we admire now were only blips in the history of the court.  When you add to that the reality of our criminal justice system, it is actually shocking that anyone who is anti-racist would see the Supreme Court (or any court) as being a primary vehicle of change.  So why do we?

Klarman suspects part of the reason is that it is much easier to posit Brown v. Board as the spark of the civil rights movement.  It is much less complicated than an evaluation of the interlocking factors of internal migration, World War II service by blacks, and international embarrassment.  And Klarman sort of infers, but doesn’t quite get there, that there is some paternalism going on there.  These benevolent arbiters of justice are going to make it all o.k.

In other words, a handful of powerful elites are once again given credit for changes that actually occurred at the grass roots and worked its way up.

Once again, our attention is focused on elites.  It is focused on who gets one of those seats instead of on the hard work of organizing in our communities.  We are given the impression that the courts lead the way.  But they don’t lead, we do.

Or, as Thoreau put it in Slavery in Massachusetts:

The law will never make men free, it is men who have got to make the law free.

Of Glenn Beck, Horror Stories, and Fairy Tales

April 09, 2010 By: Mel Category: Politics

My friend posted this article the other day.  And I just had to comment, because it is such a clear example of cherry picking facts – not only by Glenn Beck (who is clearly one slice short of a sandwich), but also the people who respond to him.

So here is the map that started it all.

Glenn Beck's Govt Takes Over the West Map

Of course, Beck is inferring that the federal government is taking over, as though this land has not been under federal control since long, long before the current administration.

The response to Beck, in the article I linked to above, focuses on national parks and makes federal land seem like nothing but majestic redwoods and butterflies.

The truth, of course, is more complicated.  While I cannot confirm that those red splotches are all federally controlled.  I do know that Beck’s map includes national parks.  It also includes Native American reservations and military bases.  I’m not sure what Beck is suggesting here.  If he wants to invade Native American reservations (again), I’m going to have to object.  If he wants to tear down those military bases brick by brick..shit…I’ll put on a tin foil hat and join him for that.

I just love this map and response because it is the perfect demonstration of how one side makes everything sound like a new and sinister plot that you haven’t heard of.  Meanwhile, in response, the other side acts as though there’s nothing in the least bit problematic going on.  Nothing to see here people, just a little nuclear test site.  Move along.

Also interesting to me though is how Glenn Beck cut off his map.  Notice that he does not show any red on Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota…  All those places have plenty of military bases and Native American reservations too.  How come he doesn’t show the whole U.S. map?  It doesn’t look as ominous with the rest of the country included?  Maybe his loyal fans in Oklahoma would put two and two together if he included their bases and reservations?

Information is so easy to manipulate.

Things You Might Have Missed

April 07, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

A little over a week ago, I sent an email to all those who asked to be put on the email list for the women-focused gathering.  I’ll be sending another one this week.  If you are supposed to be on that list and aren’t, let me know.

The anti-sex crusaders can be so vicious.  HT to @Sexgenderbody for this post regarding some really awful things being said about @maymaym.  I was lucky enough to attend Maymay’s talk at last year’s Sex2.0.  People who are that honest about who they are should be applauded, not the subject of nasty lies.

Two posts this week dealing with our prejudice against people who live in the “fly over” states or who just don’t quite fit into urban hipsterdom.  Monica at Transgriot talks about it in terms of the trans community.  While Ren, with her usual, awesome subtlety says, “Well Fuck You Intellectual Bitches, We Got Guns!

Sparky has a guest post on Womanist Musings talking about tactics.  The second part of the article is the interesting part.  We anarchists spend a lot of time talking about different tactics, but rarely talking about how they are executed.

For an example of what we should be doing a lot more of, check out this post about anarchists occupying a home in SF.

And finally, a very succinct and well put explanation by Matt Harris on why he is an anarchist. (HT @BradSpangler)


April 05, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict

I had a post all ready to put up tonight, but I just watched the video of U.S. soldiers mowing down people on an Iraq street and I can’t think about anything else.    It is so cold, so monstrous.

If you haven’t seen the video yet, it is below.  And remember, as you watch it, that about 32% of your tax dollars go to pay for war.  Remember that at least half of those killed in war are civilians.  Remember that this is still happening in Iraq.  It is happening in Afghanistan.  It happened every place that we have ever sent our soldiers or weapons.  And it will keep happening so long as people continue to be deluded into thinking war can ever be just or moral or righteous or even tolerable.

“In war, the means–indiscriminate killing–are immediate and certain; the ends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain.” Howard Zinn, A Just Cause, Not a Just War.

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Guest Post at Womanist Musings

April 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Seeking, Stratification

One of the blogs I follow religiously is Womanist Musings.  Renee always makes me think.  This week she had a guest post by Kola Boof that set off a bit of a kerfuffle.  Renee then challenged her readers to respond with their own post, which I did.

Below are links to all the posts (and comment streams), the last being my guest post.

With a couple rare exceptions, all the comments on here have been respectful.  But I still want to take a moment to request that, should any of you decide to jump in, please be constructive.  Don’t be like the nasty person who actually made a death threat.  (I mean for fuck’s sake.)

Dishonesty About Race – An American Social Reflex

The Third Eye Report: Israel vs. Palestine

Re: Kola Boof

On When to Speak