Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Question of Art (Part 2)

The Question of Art (Part 2)
By Devon Bowers


Originally published on the Hampton Institute

In a written portion of our series “The Question of Art,” we talk to artists Johnny Bentanamo and Kelly Ann Gonzales Boyle discussing art and it’s important to society. Part 1 is an audio portion and can be listened to here.

1. What kind(s) of art do you do? What/who got you into art in the first place?

Johnny: I specialize in musical recording & performance art as well as mixed media visual arts. 
Essentially, I write music on an acoustic guitar as well as accompanying lyrics that I perform live as a soloist, I also compose noise records {that I refer to as "grind-pop"} which I release online. As far as the visual arts go, I mostly use found items to create impressionistic & abstract paintings.

When I was 8 years old, I was downstairs at my Grandparents house & put on the MTV where I saw the music video for Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle"...that was the moment when I knew what I wanted to do with my life & it's been a struggle ever since.  Besides that important moment in my life, I've had many great friends that have doubled as teachers over the years & I own to them much thanks.

Kelly: I am a writer. I have been a writer since I first learned to read and write. Since I was a child, I loved nothing more than curling up and getting lost in a great book, and when you get lost, you often find yourself. My father always encouraged me to be an avid reader, writer, and lover of art. Each time he got me a book, he'd sign it, "Never stop leaning. Love, Papa."

I grew up in New Jersey, and my dad grew up in NYC, and he always wanted me to experience the city by bringing me to art museums. I tried my hand at drawing and painting, but while it's a medium I love and appreciate, I never quite honed my talent into it unlike writing which came much more naturally.

2. Why do you think that people nowadays seem to devalue art? We seem to live in this paradox where people will argue that art isn't important, yet they enjoy music, movies, theater, and the like.

Johnny: I think art is largely devalued by many because they don't see the most popular mediums as art.  Things like that popular tv show, big budget films, & major label musical releases are {mostly} made to make money & have little to no artistic value because they lack the intention to invoke emotion or challenge contemporary ways of thinking.  The people that seek out art for the sake of art can find it, but it takes research & I think that that's a little bit too much work for the common person who is consumed w/ work, school, family, etc.

Kelly: Art is a series of contradictions. It's like life. Moving, terrifying, strange, and sometimes just downright boring. Art, like life, is misunderstood. We can hate art like we can hate our lives, but we can choose to say, "You know what? Not for me today. Not for me right now. Let me try again tomorrow." The same art I may have passed by in a museum ten, five, maybe even one year ago, can have a totally different impact on me today. Just based on new experiences or my mood for the day.

I don't think that people devalue art. I think people value and crave art more than ever before. People want to be connected and to feel something. The advent of social media is an example of this. We can sit here and lament the dehumanizing aspects of social media, or we can appreciate its ability to teach us something about each other, even if it's just parts of each other.

We all make choices each day to say to others and to ourselves whether or not we want to live our lives to the fullest. Art helps to enrich our lives through music, movies, theater, and so forth.

3. What does art do for you, if anything, on a emotional and psychological level?

Johnny: For me, art is therapy, plain & simple.  If I didn't have a creative outlet I would be a miserable person to be around.  I grew up in a physically & emotionally abusive house so I have some "demons" that I battle on a daily basis & whenever I'm feeling lost or overwhelmed I can just pick up my guitar or paint brushes to wash away those negative feelings...I've become a much calmer & centered person since I began creating more consistently about 7 years ago.  Art is also a way to supplement my income since working a full-time job is not conducive to my medical disabilities, which are extensive.

Kelly: We are all part of a grand universe, and art is a means of connecting our selves to the world around us. Whether it's a fresco painting on the ceiling of a chapel or a black square on a large, white canvas, art speaks. It can speak a loud and grandiose volume for all to know its behemoth presence, or it can simply murmur and let its nearest passerby know that it's standing on the corner, too.

Art makes me feel everything. It has made me laugh and cry. It has angered me and plainly disgusted me. It keeps me begging for more and I find myself seeking out stranger and grander things. To better myself. To learn. To be a part of something greater than myself.

4. What is the most fun and most difficult part of being an artist?

Johnny: The most difficult part of arting for me is also the most fun part...performance.  I give everything I have in me during a live performance, it's like some otherworldly entity is channeled through me. It is the most cathartic thing I have ever experienced but w/ that said, afterwards I hurt & usually need to sit or lay down for a hour or more.

The most rewarding part of performing is not what it does for me though, it is what it does for others.  I'm a naturally open & overtly expressive person, which most people are not, so when attendees approach me after I'm off stage & express to me how the things I did or said spoke to them or made them feel like they weren't alone, I know I did something good...even if it comes from a place of selfishness as I do not make art for anybody but myself.

Kelly: I once argued with someone I dated--and I suppose you can already guess that the brief relationship ended quite rapidly--about whether or not writing was an art. He believed writing was simply a skill that could be taught and refined. I believe it was both an art and a skill. You learn the skills of the grammar, punctuation, and the nuisances of the language. The art of writing is a different and impatient beast.

The most difficult part of being a writer is like exercising. To get up each day and committing yourself to doing it continuously. You can write or exercise in private and no one will know the wiser, but eventually you may find yourself stepping out into the world where a stranger may glance at your open notebook or laptop. You coworker will comment on your new weight loss. You are flattered.
Then you are also terrified. You want the compliments, but with compliments come expectation and criticism. The opportunity and the realization that there is more. There is always more.

The fun part is also the terrifying part. Recognizing the difficulty of putting yourself out there and keeping up that momentum. The thrill of jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet only to hurtle downwards with a parachute. That is writing. That is art. It's all part of the process.

5. In your opinion, what is the purpose of art, if any?

Johnny:  Art has many purposes & can mean different things to many different people.  For me, as I stated earlier, art is therapeutic.  I create so that I can tolerate living but for many others it is simply something to decorate your house with or wear out to a fancy restaurant.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde says  “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.  All art is quite useless.”  Now I don't agree w/ this sentiment but that's not the point, the point is that, what art is or what it does is completely up to the observer, it's relative to the person that is beholding the creation.  In summation I would say that the purpose of art is to create something that was never there so that all of existence can become a richer & more evolved place.  Art is life & just like all things, the individual works eventually cease to be.

Kelly: The purpose is to exist. The definition is up to the artist. Same thing with life. Don't think too hard about it.

Examine life in its present moment, but then move on. Don't overthink it. Just do. Keep going. Don't stop. Go live your life. Stop reading this and go make some art.

Mr. Bentanamo’s art can be viewed here and here.

Mrs. Gonzales Boyle is the author of the novel Video Games and is readying a forthcoming novel tentatively titled Through An Opaque Window.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Question of Steve Bannon





The Question of Steve Bannon

Originally published on AH Tribune.


Steve Bannon. It is a name of elicits anger or praise depending on who one is talking to. Some praise his leadership of Brietbart.com, arguing that it is fights off against the liberal bias found in media. Others despise him, not only for his work at Breitbart, but his white nationalism, having been accused by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Cummings as being a white nationalist. Given this, many were overjoyed recently when President Trump fired Bannon from his role as White House chief strategist. While we are right to rejoice in his leaving, what should be explored is his influence in the foreign policy and economic sectors, something that the mainstream media has not really touched on.

On April 6, 2017, it was reported that President Trump had launched missiles on an airbase in Syria in response to allegations of the Syrian government engaging in a chemical weapons attack. While the media didn’t note the major, massive holes in this story, there also wasn’t much talk about Bannon’s push to avoid the strike.

Now, it should be noted, this wasn’t due to Bannon’s concern to avoid escalating the situation, finding out the truth of the matter, or anything like that, but it didn’t “advance Trump’s America First doctrine.” Chris Dixon of The Liberty Conservative noted that the strikes illustrated “the fall of the America First message within the Trump administration and the diminishing influence of nationalists such as Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller.” So we can see that in these internal White House politics, there is a kind of mainstream, war-oriented, globalist clique in the form of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Jared Kushner, and their allies, with Steve Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Julia Hahn, and the Freedom Caucus pushing somewhat of a more nationalist, domestic-oriented state of affairs. This was one of Bannon’s first major loses in the White House, as not only did the strikes occur, but even more importantly, it bought people together across party lines, no matter if they were a politician or regular American.

Economically, Bannon went against mainstream conservative thought by arguing for a forty percent tax increase on the wealthy. Currently, the President’s tax plan includes a decrease in the business tax, from 35% to 15%, and benefits people who make $500,000 to $1 million annually with a 6.4% decrease; over $1 million is a 9.3% decrease. Specifically, Bannon pushed for “tax reform to include a new 44 percent top marginal tax rate, hitting people who earn more than $5 million a year, with the revenue paying for tax cuts for the rest.” It fits in with Bannon’s (white) populist ideology in that helps to alleviate the tax burden of the working (white) man, however, it clashes with the view of mainstream Republicans, economic adviser Gary Cohn who came from Goldman Sachs (although Bannon himself has a history with Sachs as well), and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin who quickly trashed the idea, as did the President himself.

Bannon attempted again to steer the boat in a different direction by proposing that sites like Google and Facebook be regulated like utilities. What that means is that it would get rid of the monopoly power Facebook, Google and other companies currently have. During Obama’s second term, competition investigations in the online sector disappeared with the placement of “Google-friendly appointees [being] installed across a range of agencies that govern Google's business, from the DoJ to the Library of Congress to the FCC.” Yet, Bannon went and fought against this, arguing that the aforementioned websites have effectively become necessities in modern day life and thus, such companies shouldn’t enjoy the monopoly status they currently have and should be more regulated.

The tech business community has spent record amounts lobbying the feds, mainly in order to avoid this. However, the fight is far from over as “House Republicans are asking the chief executives of tech and telecom rivals — including Facebook, Google, AT&T and Comcast — to appear before the U.S. Congress in September and help settle the debate over net neutrality once and for all.” We will see how the situation plays out.

Finally, this most recent war of words regarding North Korea is speculated as the comment that cost Bannon his job. Bannon talked to Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect. From the article:

Bannon said he might consider a deal in which China got North Korea to freeze its nuclear buildup with verifiable inspections and the United States removed its troops from the peninsula, but such a deal seemed remote. Given that China is not likely to do much more on North Korea, and that the logic of mutually assured destruction was its own source of restraint, Bannon saw no reason not to proceed with tough trade sanctions against China.

Contrary to Trump’s threat of fire and fury, Bannon said: “There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.” (emphasis added)

It was this that Kuttner has speculated got Bannon fired as he going up against the US Defense and State Departments.

The leaders of both departments recently pushed back against Bannon’s argument, with Tillerson saying  “We are prepared. We’re prepared militarily, we’re prepared with our allies to respond if that is necessary.”  Mattis noted that “there would be strong military consequences for the North Korean regime, echoing past statements that an attack on Guam or any other U.S. land would mean war.” Bannon’s view that there is no military solution to the Korea situation also puts him in the crosshairs of the defense industry, where stocks in the United States had gone to record highs and in South Korea saw a major upsurge with the talk of military action against North Korea. This is on top of new information coming out that North Korea is sitting upon somewhere in the realm of $6-$10 trillion in mineral resources.

Effectively what Bannon did when he said that was to tell the American people that they needed to reject the hysteria and hype surrounding the North Korea situation and that there are ways to solve problems that don’t involve war, that don’t involve brute force. His proposal of a non-military solution, though its plausibility be questionable, had the possibility of taking the wind out of the sails of the war hawks and their funders.

Overall, Bannon, while having disgusting and reprehensible views, was something of a fighter against the status quo. While we should ignore his racist ideas, we may want to at least pay attention to his foreign policy and economic thoughts. As the saying goes, a broken clock is right twice a day.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Atlantic Alliance Part 1





The Atlantic Alliance: A History of the Anglo-American Relationship
Part 1: War and Peace


The history of the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is one of cooperation and friendship going back over a century, with both nations being fond of each other. It was noted in 2015 that 90% of Americans viewed Britain in a favorable light[1] and was reaffirmed officially during Brexit, when then US Secretary of State John Kerry stated that there was an “unbreakable' bond between the States and Britain” and said explicitly "The US knows it could not ask for a better friend and ally than the United Kingdom."[2] Given such close relations, a history of the ups and downs between the two nations should be examined in detail, seeing as how they overlap in many areas of politics and economics, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

False Start

As with most wars, the Revolutionary War didn't end with the final gun shot or cannon fire, but rather with a treaty. While the Treaty of Paris created an official peace between the two nations, there were still a number of left over problems, namely British warships attacking and robbing American merchant ships.

The British government issued an order on “November 6, 1793, whereby commanders of British warships and privateers were to arrest and bring to adjudication in an admiralty court vessels carrying the produce of, or supplies for, any French colony.” Within several weeks, it “resulted in the seizure within a few weeks of over two hundred fifty American vessels in the Caribbean.”[3] At the time of the order's issuance, an expedition of British army and naval forces left for the West Indies, commanded by Lt.-Gen. Sir Charles Grey and Vice-Adm. Sir John Jervis.

This order and the expedition were kept secret until December, as to avoid neutral shippers being on high alert. Once revealed, the US ambassador to Britain, Thomas Pinckney, actively fought against it, given the fact that the actions would eliminate the US exports to the French West Indies which would effectively cut the US out of the Carribean market entirely as they were already shut out of several markets due to the Navigation Acts. Were this to continue, the US would only have a slight handful of insignificant markets to sell to. Whether or not Pinckney's arguments had any effect is unclear, however, with in the next two weeks, the British replaced the original order, giving neutrals more favorable conditions. Unfortunately, the information took too long in getting to the British in the Carribean and the US vessels in the island of Martinque suffered for it: on February 19, 1794, Lt. Gen. Grey captured the island of Martinique and declared that the island and all ships in its harbor were prizes.

In response to this, the US sent John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the United States, to Britain to demand compensation for the damages done to US naval vessels and citizens. Jay argued that the original order ignored international law and as such the solution lied with the king rather than with the court system. Though tensions were high, “the British moved quickly to assuage American worries and investigated the Martinque seizures, even going so far as to submit the US demands for a joint US-Britain review commission, and awarded the costs of damages which included the value of the actual ships and the cargo.”[4] This very well may have been to avoid the opening of another front in their war with France as well as to ensure that the French didn't gain another ally.

There were some problems with Jay's negotiations though, as there was a complete lack of protection of American seafarers from British impressment and a “failure to secure a mutual hands-off policy with regard to Indians in each other's territory.”[5] The only way this treaty could even remotely be defended as being worthwhile was the argument that it would serve as British recognition of US sovereignty.

Domestically, the treaty was pushed by the Federalists, who “mounted an extensive pamphlet and newspaper campaign and undertook to circulate petitions to rally the public behind the treaty, the administration, and President Washington.”[6] While the treaty was generally unpopular, the Federalists, especially Alexander Hamilton who wrote over twenty essays defending the treaty in or part or another, that while it wasn't a particularly good treaty, it was the most the US could expect from Britain and helped to preserve peace. At the end of the day, the Jay Treaty did the following for the US:

  • The United States gained control of the Northwest forts and trading rights with India and the British West Indies (although only with ships of seventy tons or less, a severely limiting condition)
  • Established a commission to settle boundary disputes in the Northeast and other points of contention.
  • The United States agreed in exchange to surrender not only its traditional position on maritime rights, but also to accept commissions that would settle the question of prewar debts owed to English merchants.[7]

The Senate ratified Jay's Treaty on June 24, 1795. It seems that the situation was finally resolved and true peace could be had, however, it was not to last.

The War of 1812

Neither the Treaty of Paris nor the Jay Treaty defined the border between the US and the British colony of Canada, this resulted in both sides laying claim to the same pieces of land, thus leading to border skirmishes. Under the Treaty of Paris, the British were to “ evacuate Detroit, Niagara, Sandusky, and four other fortified posts south of the Great Lakes,”[8] however didn't due to their wanting to continue utilizing their forts in the fur trade with Native Americans. In order to keep this lucrative friendship with Native Americans going, the British actively funded them with weapons and ammunition as Americans moved into places such as the Ohio Valley and Kentucky. To add to this, as was noted before in the failures of Jay's Treaty, the British Navy continued utilizing impressment of American sailors to aid in their war against Napoleonic France. One incident in particular led to increased tensions.

In 1807 the frigate H.M.S. Leopard fired on the U.S. Navy frigate Chesapeake and seized four sailors, three of them U.S. citizens. London eventually apologized for this incident, but it came close to causing war at the time. Jefferson, however, chose to exert economic pressure against Britain and France by pushing Congress in December 1807 to pass the Embargo Act, which forbade all export shipping from U.S. ports and most imports from Britain.[9]

However, the Embargo Act ended up harming Americans more than the British, with many Americans outright ignoring it. Just before Jefferson vacated in 1809, Congress replaced the Embargo Act with the Non-Intercourse Act which expressly forbade trade with either Britain or France. This, too, proved ineffective and was replaced with Macon's Bill Number Two on May 1, 1810. The bill resumed trade with Britain and France, however, it stipulated that if either of the two nations attempted to intervene in trade (the US trading with Great Britain or the US trading with France), the non-intercourse would resume against the intervening nation.[10]

In August 1810, Napoleon said he would exempt American shipping from the Milan Decree of 1807 which “ordered that all ships touching British ports before sailing into French territorial waters were to be confiscated,”[11] putting US vessels at risk of being taken by the French navy. Despite being provided evidence by the British that US ships were still being confiscated by the French, President James Madison revived non-intercourse against Britain. This was done due to the fact that Madison was allied with many of the war hawks in Congress.

Those living in the Northwest Territory, encompassing what parts of what are now Ohio and Illinois, blamed the British for increased fighting between themselves and Native Americans. With war seemingly on the horizon, Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock, the British commander of Upper Canada, moved to augment his small British and Canadian forces with Native American allies, only serving to confirm the suspicions of many Americans.

In November 1811, Madison summoned Congress into session. This was a rather different Congress in many ways as there were a number of individuals such as Henry Clay, a Whig party Kentucky Senator, who was a strong supporter of US expansionism. There were also those who hated Native Americans due to their having lived on the frontier, such as Felix Grundy, a Tennessean Congressman, who grew up on the Tennessee frontier and lost three brothers to Native American raids.

The concerns of most of Congress may very well have been economic however. In 1807, the British issued the Orders in Council which caused major hassles for US suppliers “with a variety of requirement for special licenses, shipping material through British ports, and outright embargo.”[12] Madison attempted to talk with British ambassador Augustus J. Foster in July 1811 and out of the meeting, both Madison and the Secretary of State James Monroe became convinced that the only way the British would end their Orders would be by force. While there were those in Congress such as Tennessean Senator George Washington Campbell who stated “There appears at present no honorable ground upon which war can be avoided—a change in the measures of G. Britain towards us could alone preserve peace—and there is no stronger reason to calculate on such an event now, as than there has been for several years past,”[13] most of those in Congress were looking for a way to avoid war. The tipping point came when the House Foreign Relations Committee released a report going through the history of US attempts to get rid of the Orders, concluding that the only way to stop Britain was through force. It was not soon after that Congress began to move on a war footing. President Madison “sent a note to Great Britain demanding that it lift all restrictions against American shipping.When no answer was forthcoming by June 18, he asked Congress to declare war,”[14] with war being declared on June 18, 1812.

Strangely enough, though, all of it could've been avoided: by the time the US declared war on Great Britain, the British had already lifted their restrictions.

The winter of 1811–12 was the bitterest that the English people experienced between the Great Plague [of 1665] and 1940–41. . . . [A French blockade] had now closed all western Europe except Portugal to British goods. American non-intercourse shut off the only important market still open except Russia. . . .A crop failure drove up the price of wheat, warehouses were crammed with goods for which there was no market, factories were closing, workmen rioting. Deputations from the manufacturing cities besought Parliament to repeal [its laws against American shipping], . . . hoping to recover their American market.[15]

Due to the American government having no knowledge of this, they declared war. However, it is possible that a war still would have occurred or at least been encouraged as elements of Congress saw a link between the lowkey British-Native American alliance and their expansionist goals.

Not to soon after the war started, both sides realized that their problems could simply be negotiated with words rather than bullets and sent out feelers and in January 1814, ambassadors from their respective nations met in Ghent, Belgium to discuss how to end the war, with each side writing up a list of demands. The British/Canadians wanted the US to give up their fishing rights in British waters, return Louisiana to Spain, “cede northern New York, part of Maine, and control of the Great Lakes” to Canada, and establish “an Indian buffer nation along the Greenville Treaty line of 1795, to separate the United States from Canada”[15] whereas the Americans to take over Upper Canada. Eventually the British/Canadians gave up on their demand for a Native American nation and the Americans trashed their aspirations of taking Upper Canada. There was still contention regarding American fishing rights in Canadian waters and British claims to having the right to navigate the Mississippi River, the key to western trade, soon being kicked down the road to be solved at a later date. The Treaty of Ghent, signed on Christmas Eve 1814, ended the War of 1812, but didn't reach US shores until February 11th of next year. The Senate ratified the treaty, officially ending the war, on February 17, 1815 at 11 pm.

While the War of 1812 could've been avoided, it was still of extreme importance due to the fact that, rather than with the Jay Treaty, it forced the British to deal with the US as equals and showed that the Americans could go and push to protect their interests, even to the point of war.

Relations between the US and Britain would simmer somewhat, but would experience major tension when the US issued the Monroe Doctrine and the American Civil War broke out.


Endnotes

1: Jay Loschsky, Rebecca Rifkin, “Canada, Great Britain, Are Americans' Most Favored Nations,” Gallup, March 13, 2015 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/181961/canada-great-britain-americans-favored-nations.aspx)    

2: Rebecca Perring, “UK Is Still America's greatest 'friend and ally' in wake of Brexit, John Kerry Declares,” Express, June 27, 2016 (https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/683879/John-Kerry-EU-referendum-US-Brexit-America-London-Phillip-Hammond)    

3:  Joseph M. Fewster, “The Jay Treaty and British Ship Seizures: The Martinique Cases,” The  William and Mary Quarterly 45:3 (July 1988), pg 426
   
4: Fewster, pg 434

5:  Joseph Charles, “The Jay Treaty: Origins of the American Party System,” The William and Mary Quarterly 12:4 (October 1955), pg 594
   
6: Todd Estes, “Shaping The Politics of Public Opinion: Federalists and the Jay Treaty Debate,” Journal of the Early Republic 20:3 (2000), pg 397
   
7: Estes, pgs 398-399
   
8: Miriam Greenblatt, The War of 1812 (New York, NY: Facts on File Publishing, 1994), pg 16
   
9: Jeff Wallenfeldt, editor, The American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812: People, Politics, and Power (New York, NY: Rosen Education Service, 2010), pg 177

10: Tom Holmberg, United States. Macon's Bill, Number 2. 1 May 1810, The Napoleon Series, http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/government/us/c_macon.html    

11: Majorie Bloy, A Web of English History,  http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/france/consys.htm        
   
12: Indiana University Bloomington, War of 1812,  http://collections.libraries.indiana.edu/warof1812/exhibits/show/warof1812/before    

13: Roger H. Brown, The War Hawk of 1812: An Historical Myth, Indiana Magazine of History, http://josotl.indiana.edu/index.php/imh/article/view/9047/11807 (1964)
   
14: John Stewart Bowman, Miriam Greenblatt, War of 1812: America at War (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2003),  pg 41
   
15: Ibid, pg 28
   
16: Bowman, Greenblatt, pg 137

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Weakness of the Resistance



The Weakness of the Resistance
By Brenan Daniels


We’re soon going to have a one party system.”


The 'Resistance' as opponents to President Trump call themselves, have been busy fighting back against the President's policies, having recently kicked off a 'Resistance Summer' in order to “[counter] the agenda of President Trump and the GOP-led Congress.” However, while they are fighting back, they are having some serious problems information-wise, such as propogating false stories like the House Republicans celebrating the passing of a bill to repeal Obamacare with beer or that rape would be a pre-existing condition under this new healthcare bill. There are larger problems, though, primarily with the party they are supporting, the Democrats, and it very well may come back to haunt them in the near future.

Young people who would generally vote Democrat, overwhelmingly favored Bernie Sanders, coalescing around his promises to break up the big banks, Medicare for all, and free public college. Despite this, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said of her party: “ I have to say we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is.” This is a major problem when the majority of young Democrats see themselves as socialists.

There is also the problem of the Dems having shown themselves to be a group of liars and cheaters. Currently, the Democratic National Committee is under a class action lawsuit alleging that they stole the Democratic Presidential nomination from Bernie Sanders. Some rather telling information came out, such as the fact that the DNC's legal representation said that the case should be thrown out on the grounds that “the Party has the freedom to determine its nominees by 'internal rule,' not voter interests, and thus the party 'could have favored a candidate.” This was later stated more explicitly:

“We could have voluntarily decided that, ‘Look, we’re gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way,’” Bruce Spiva, lawyer for the DNC, said during a court hearing in Carol Wilding, et al. v. DNC Services Corp. (emphasis added)

This is undeniable evidence that there are deep seated problems in the DNC, but there are further problems for the Democratic party itself: Russia.

Democrats seem to be obsessed with accusations of Russia-Trump collusion, such as with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow who spent the majority of her time earlier this year focusing on Russia or a recent protest that took place in which people demanded that Trump's ties to Russia be investigated. This line of thinking continues despite the fact that a number of high level individuals on their own team, such as Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who stated that "On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all” and "There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark.” As well as Dianne Feinstein who had the following exchange with CNN's Wolf Blitzer:

WOLF BLITZER, CNN: The last time we spoke, Senator, I asked you if you had actually seen evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and you said to me -- and I am quoting you now -- you said, ‘not at this time.’ Has anything changed since we spoke last?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, no -- no, it hasn't...

BLITZER: But, I just want to be precise, Senator. In all of the -- you have had access from the     Intelligence Committee, from the Judiciary Committee, all of the access you have had to very     sensitive information, so far you have not seen any evidence of collusion, is that right?

SEN. FEINSTEIN: Well, evidence that would establish that there's collusion. There are all kinds of rumors around, there are newspaper stories, but that's not necessarily evidence. (emphasis added)

There is such a dearth of evidence that mainstream organizations such as Bloomberg and even MSNBC's Chris Hayes are questioning that narrative.

While the Democratic Party is obsessed with thoughts of Russians, the Republicans are doing actual damage. Case in point: while everyone was obsessing over the recent Comey hearing, the Republicans went and gutted the Dodd Frank Act which “was designed to protect taxpayers by ending wholesale government bailouts of banks and non-bank financial institutions that encouraged indiscriminate lending.” Furthermore, the Democrats have also been on the side of Trump, with many Dems praising him for his airstrike on a Syrian government air base over a questionable chemical weapons attack. (This shouldn't be surprising given the fact that Hillary Clinton argued for a no fly zone over Syria, which could very well have caused a military engagement with Russia.)

So, why does any of this matter? It is important due to the fact that it shows that the Democrats are completely fine with and work to uphold the status quo. The same status quo that has led us to war and put us on the brink of war numerous times and have no problem with engaging in activities that could very well lead to a world war scenario. The support of the 'Resistance' for the Democrats is a serious problem as they are supporting a party that isn't going to actually do much of anything to combat the major problems that are facing us and in many cases have pushed to exacerbate them.

On a structural level, both parties are loyal to their corporate owners and push a foreign policy that seeks to confront any nation it sees as a threat to US hegemony, problems at home, potential for larger conflicts be damned.

The Resistance should seriously be pushing the Democrats to actually propose policies rather than obsessing over Russia and supporting war, for if not, they may find themselves 'resisting' for another four years.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Marxism, Psychiatry, and Capitalism




Marxism, Psychiatry, and Capitalism

This is the transcript of a recent email interview I did with Dr. Bruce M. Z. Cohen, senior lecturer at the University of Auckland and author of Psychiatric Hegemony: A Marxist Theory of Mental Illness (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), where we discuss capitalism, psychiatry, and view psychiatry under a Marxist lens.

1. What made you want to apply a specifically Marxist view to psychiatry and psychology?​ Are you personally a Marxist and how did you come to be one?

That’s a good question. I didn’t expect to ever be writing such a book, but thanks to my students I realised that someone had to take responsibility for filling a current gap in the literature. I run a postgraduate course on the Sociology of Mental Health, in which my students complete project essays on topics of their own choosing. As it is a sociology course, they are obviously required to apply different theoretical approaches to their chosen issue. I always encourage the students to consider the wide range of theoretical approaches available to them including structural functionalism, labeling, social constructionism, Foucauldian, critical feminist and race theory, as well as Marxist scholarship. Regarding the later, my students complained that they couldn’t find anything much out there. As a lecturer, I am always a little skeptical of such claims, but –hats off to my students!– they were correct on this occasion. With all the literature on mental health and illness currently in circulation, I found it astounding that there was no standard Marxist account available. Hence, the main reason for writing Psychiatric Hegemony: A Marxist Theory of Mental Illness.

To answer the second part of your question, yes I am a Marxist! Though I grew up in a very conservative –large as well as small ‘c’– part of England in the 1980s, my parents were members of the CPGB (Communist Party of Great Britain). (In fact, my mother became the first communist parish councilor in the area, kicking out a Tory in the process). So I was politically conscious and politically active from a young age thanks to my family, imbued with a strong sense of social justice, and particularly incensed by Thatcher’s attacks on the trade unions and the working classes at the time (which most people in my area thought was just fantastic!). But I think being a sociologist has really made me a fully committed Marxist; whichever area you are studying or working in, be it religion, education, health, crime, the family, or whatever, it doesn’t take long to uncover evidence that the needs of capital determine the priorities of these institutions– they reproduce inequalities, oppress the majority of the population, and produce surplus value for a privileged minority. Is this a kind of society that, in good conscience, I or any sociologist can accept or support? Of course not! That’s why I’m a Marxist. Human beings can do better.   

2. Discuss the connection between psychiatry, psychology, education, and capitalism and how the former institutions have been influenced by the latter, historically speaking.

Following my point above, the mental health system (I use this as an umbrella term here to bring together psychiatry, psychology, and the various support professions and agencies working in the area of mental health including therapists, counselors, psychiatric nurses, and social workers) and the education system in their contemporary forms are both products of industrial capitalism. Briefly, compulsory schooling developed across western societies in the nineteenth century due to the needs of capital for higher skilled workers as well as to socially control working class youth (through, for example, socializing them into the norms and values of capitalism as the only “correct” way to think and understand the world). As I discuss in my book, the mental health system develops during the same period as another institution of social control: the asylums separate the able from the non-able bodied, it pathologises and confines problematic populations (primarily working class groups).

In neoliberal society, I argue that the connections between the mental health system and the education system (as well as many other areas of public and private life) have become much stronger and more explicit. For example, my socio-historical case study of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in the book demonstrates that the origins of the diagnosis began with psychologists’ concern for deviant working class youth who failed to “adapt” to the demands of compulsory schooling. A hundred years later, we can still see in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that the symptoms of ADHD have nothing to do with having a mental illness but rather denote the requirements for more productive and efficient students and workers (for instance, forgetting or losing homework, failing to complete assigned tasks, poor time-management, and so on). As the demands on young people to stay on at school and go further in education have increased, so we have seen an increase in mental health experts in this area, and thus the increasing medicalization of “at risk” (I would argue, non-conforming) children. The expansion in the use of diagnoses such as autism and “oppositional defiant disorder” by psychiatry can also be theorized as serving a similar purpose here.

3. In what way does capitalism utilize psychiatry and psychology to demonize and ridicule those who have politics that don't fit with the status quo? (This has been talked about somewhat before and I would be interested in hearing you expand upon it.)

I devote a chapter to this issue in my book, but to be honest I think a whole monograph is required on the subject. It’s a fascinating (and, as you do the research, shocking) issue. I can follow many other scholars by reiterating that the mental health system is highly effective in neutralizing threats through pathologising political and social dissent. I think it’s more effective than say the criminal justice system because the courts are usually questioning the legality of the person’s actions alone, rather than the rationality or sanity on those actions. Imprisonment of a protester, for instance, does not fundamentally undermine his or her actions or beliefs in the same way as being labeled as mentally sick does.

There are many examples of this process in operation. In the late nineteenth century, the suffragette movement was a frequent target for the “hysteria” label. During the civil rights movement in the US, there was a significant increase in the labeling of young Black men with “schizophrenia” (psychiatrists sometimes referred to this as “the protest psychosis”). Similarly, young African-Caribbean protesters in the deprived inner cities of 1980s Britain were theorized by psychiatrists as prone to “cannabis psychosis.” As I mention in the book, I think an increasingly popular diagnosis which the mental health system is utilizing to pathologize those involved in civil disobedience or political violence today is antisocial personality disorder (APD): post-9/11, you can see that psychiatry is taking a much greater interest in medicalising any behavior which breaks the legal or moral status quo within capitalist society, particularly acts which involve perceived or actual violence.

4. How is psychiatry not an actual science in some ways? May people assume it is just by virtue of its utilization of ‘experts’ and ‘quantitative studies’?
This is really at the heart of the matter. To be considered as a valid branch of medicine, psychiatry has to reach the medical “gold standard,” which is to observe and identify real pathology on the body. And, though they’re tried repeatedly to do this, so far psychiatry has failed in this fundamental goal. Most recently, for example, the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) DSM committee (which was responsible for producing the DSM-5) came to the following conclusion: the causation of mental disease remains unknown (for example, there is no useful biological marker or genetic test that has been identified) and psychiatrists still cannot distinguish between mentally healthy and mentally sick people. And of course without accurate identification of disease, a medical discipline cannot claim proof of causation or evidence of successful treatment, and they certainly cannot predict future cases of that disease.

So, to answer your question, no psychiatry is not a valid medical science. However, I argue in the book that progressing knowledge on madness (if such a thing is even possible) was not the reason for the establishment of the psychiatric profession or the continuation and expansion of the mental health system today. Rather, it’s a discipline that has supported capitalism, both in the pursuit of surplus value as well as being an institution of ideological control, responsible for reinforcing the norms and values of this society and punishing deviations from them.

5. In what ways does this massive increase in the labeling of people having psychological disorders affect us on a personal, familial, and community level? How does this increase the alienation from ourselves and our larger communities that has been going on for some time now?

The biggest issue is that it individualizes what are fundamentally social and political issues in this society. This obviously suits capitalism, it follows a neoliberal ideology that you need to work on yourself and look nowhere else for solutions to your problems. As I argue in the book, this is why the psychiatric discourse has been allowed to become all-encompassing (effectively “hegemonic”) over the last few decades; it has become highly useful in de-politicizing the oppressive reality of our lives. The involvement of the mental health system here is only one factor in the bigger issue though, which is of course the way the neoliberal project has attempted to destroy the social and the collective.

6. What are the negative aspects of self-diagnosing and how does that reinforce the status quo?

As with Marx’s famous comments on religion as the opium of the people, I think we can understand self-labeling and people desiring to have such a label as a way of coping with the alienating tendencies of capitalism. It’s no solution to the fundamental issues they have, but it can be a means of survival and maybe a limited form of “emancipation” at times. For example, the parents of a child who is underperforming in school may desire a mental illness diagnosis so that they can claim extra funding for study assistance, or someone who doesn’t enjoy socializing in large groups may seek a psychiatric diagnosis so that they can legitimately take antidepressants which dull their inhibitions.

There are a number of significant problems with self-labeling: most obviously, you cannot solve the social and political problems of capitalism with a mental illness label or by being subjected to talk therapy, drugs, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). It can obviously be dangerous to your health (for example, long-term users of antidepressants tend to die at a considerably younger age than non-users), and it can be stigmatizing. Further, it falsely legitimates the mental health system as a valid medical enterprise.

7. How do you see the working class overcoming this system?

Ultimately it’s a case of abolishing the mental health system and all its supporting apparatus. As with the criminal justice system, this is not an institution that has ever functioned in the interests of the working classes. At the end of my book I suggest a few practical things that can be done immediately to challenge and weaken the power of the mental health experts, these include: campaigning to remove psychiatry’s compulsory powers to confine and drug people against their will, withdrawing their prescription rights, and outlawing ECT.  I also think it is crucial to form closer alliances between academics, left wing activists, community groups, and progressive psychiatric survivor organizations to build a strong abolitionist alliance against the psychiatric system.

8. Tell us about your upcoming book and where you and others argue that “the best form of treatment for mental disorder is no treatment at all, and the causation of mental illness itself has yet to be established.” It would be great to hear about those last two parts in-depth.

Well, I’ve hopefully addressed those two specific issues previously in this interview – what passes for “treatment” at the hands of the mental health system is, ironically, very bad for your physical and emotional health. Perhaps that is unsurprising given that mental disorders are fabrications produced by psychiatry without real evidence for their existence.

The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Mental Health (due out later this year) is an edited collection of original contributions from colleagues in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, which systematically problematizes the practices, priorities, and knowledge base of the western system of mental health. Basically, I have constructed a comprehensive resource manual which offers a variety of ways in which to theorize the business of mental health as a social, economic, political, and cultural project. So, for instance, the book provides updates on critical theories of mental health such as labeling, social constructionism, antipsychiatry, Foucauldian, Marxist, critical feminist, race and queer theory, critical realism, critical cultural theory, and mad studies. But it also demonstrates the application of such theoretical ideas and scholarship to key topics such as medicalization and pharmaceuticalisation, the DSM, global psychiatry, critical histories of mental health, and talk therapy. I’m very pleased at how it has turned out.

9. Is there a way to bring back a form of alternative psychiatry or psychology at all?

Some scholars are positive about the development of a post-revolutionary “Marxist psychology” or similar. I don’t think that’s possible, and I worry about giving these professions any sort of way out. My analysis points to these professions as agents of social control; they have always been responsible for policing the population not for emancipating them. So my answer to that question is an emphatic “no!"


Bruce M.Z. Cohen is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His other books include Mental Health User Narratives: New Perspectives on Illness and Recovery (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and Being Cultural (Pearson, 2012).