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DARING DEMOCRACY: Igniting Power, Meaning and Connection for the America We Want by Francis Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen (2017)

Democracy means rule of the people. The Gilens-Page study of 1779 legislative initiatives in 1981-2002 showed that chances of success were strongly correlated with the desires of the affluent, but not at all with average citizens.

For example, polls show z majority of Americans want Wall Street banks to be brought under control, according to Martin Gillens, a co-author of the city.  They want a higher minimum wage, better unemployment benefits and more spending on education.  On the other hand, they are less supportive of abortion rights and gay marriage than the economic elite.   But the political system follows the economic elite, not them.

In other words, the United States is a democracy in that we have freedom of speech and contested elections, but in terms of outcomes, we are an oligarchy, ruled by the rich.

This is not an accident, a matter of how things happen to play out. It is the result of a deliberate campaign that has been going on for decades.   It is not something that began with Donald Trump and it will not end when he is out of office.

The anti-democratic movement has three elements:
• Use the power of money to dominate political discourse.
• Use the power of money to dominate politics and government
• Restrict the right to vote and other democratic rights..

I recently read a good book, DARING DEMOCRACY by Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, and a young friend, Adam Eichen, that ties all this together.

I do have a few reservations about it, particularly the fact that they let Democrats off too nightly, which I’ll get to at the end.  But I’ll first summarize their main contentions.


The famous Powell Memo—written in1971 by future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—called on U.S. business to mobilize to counteract anti-business sentiment in the news media and the educational system.

Right-wing billionaires responded by funding the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks.

They of course have a perfect right to present their point of view.  The problem was that these organizations are dedicated to political warfare, and get to be treated as equivalent to groups who, whatever their unconscious biases, are serious scholars and researchers..

When I was a newspaper reporter, and had to write about something I didn’t know much about, the first thing I’d do was phone experts on various sides of the issue.

When I phoned the Brookings Institution, the person I’d reach would give me a carefully worded opinion, quoting sources and taking into account arguments on both sides.

When I phoned the Heritage Foundation, I’d talk to some young guy who had talking points down pat, but couldn’t back them up. Yet by the rules of my game, I had to treat them as equal authorities.

The Cato Institute, funded by the Koch brothers, consisted of sincere libertarians, who sometimes came down on the side of peace and civil liberties. But when their views closed with corporate interests, the Koch brothers purged the staff.

You have a parallel situation with the news media. Most of the so-called mainstream newspapers and broadcasters, whatever their biases, accept the status quo and have some minimal standard of professionalism.

The right-wing media—I’m thinking especially of Breitbart News—regard themselves as combatants in an ideological war.

Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine means broadcasters don’t have to give both sides of an argument. Back in the 1950s, when Edward R. Murrow broadcast his famous attack on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, CBS gave McCarthy equal time to reply. There’s no such safeguard now.

The idea was that the Fairness Doctrine was unnecessary, because diversity of ownership would allow conflicting opinions to be heard. But there’s no cap on the number of broadcasting stations a single company can own, so you have outfits such as Sinclair Broadcasting

Then there is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes pro-corporate draft laws to be introduced by right-wing state legislators under their own names, and the Federalist Society, which has been working for decades for appointment of conservative and pro-corporate judges


In any capitalist democracy, there are two sources of power - money power and people power. Most politicians depend on corporate donors to finance their companies. Court decisions such as Citizens United have negated legal limits on campaign spending.

The result, as Lappé and Eichen point out, is that:
> Those without corporate support are screened out.
> The debate is limited to issues acceptable to corporate donors.
> Legislative focus is more on pleasing the donors than pleasing the public.
> Since this is never discussed, the public is kept in the dark about the reality of politics.
> Americans become increasingly disillusioned with democratic politics.

Lobbying meanwhile has increased enormously. In 1971, the year of the Powell memo; there were 173 companies with lobbyists in Washington; there were 2,445 by 1982.

Corporate spending on lobbyists increased from $! billion in 1998 to $2 billion in 2010, adjusted for inflation; in 2016, corporations spent more than $3 billion on lobbying.

Side-by-side with the political parties are the corporatist political organizations. The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity is a bigger operation than the Republican National Committee. Staff members more back and forth between jobs in the two organizations.

In the 1990s, Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay formed what he called the K-Street Project. The deal was that congressional Republicans would work with business lobbyists to craft legislation, and the congressional representatives and their staff would be given jobs with the lobbyists after they left office.

Lappé and Eichen report that about half of members of Congress who retired in 2012 joined lobbying firms. The figure in the 1970s was 3 percent.

Staff members of regulatory agencies also commonly wind up working for the industries they once regulated.

It is easy to see understand why the concerns of the average person with average income do not register.


Along with the increase in money power comes a deliberate attempt to restrict people power.

The Republican State Leadership Committee in 2010 waged a campaign called RED-MAP that gave them control of both houses of state legislatures in 25 states.

They used this power to redraw state legislative and congressional districts so as to lock in their power, and it worked.

In 2012, Democrats got a majority of votes cast for congressional representatives in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the contested seats.

Republicans in state legislatures also moved to restrict the franchise.  One technique was to require voter ID, and then create obstacles to getting ID.  Mississippi, according to the authors, requires a cp[u pf a birth certificate in order to issue a voter ID, and requires a voter ID in order to issue a copy of a birth certificate.

Voting rights are suspended for arbitrary and bogus reasons.  You can lose your right to vote if you are a convicted felon, which isn't new.   You also can lose your vote if you happen to have the same name as a convicted felon in another state, or just the same name as an out-of-state resident, which is new.

The infamous CrossCheck system (not mentioned in the book) is based on the assumption that if you have the same name as someone in another state, this is evidence that you vote in two different states in the same election.  You lose your vote.   The number of Wisconsin voters who were stricken from the rolls under this system was larger than Donald Trump's margin of victory.

State legislatures are increasingly preempting local laws—overriding local minimum wage laws, for example, or bans on hydraulic fracking.

In Michigan, local governments with financial problems are put under state-appointed emergency managers, who cut public services and raise taxes. That’s what happened in Flint. Residents drank untreated toxic water because the emergency manager refused to pay for treated water.


Lappé and Eichen think public financing of elections would help a lot. They say experience shows these benefits:
> Candidates are motivated to meet with constituents
> More diversity among candidates and elected officials
> More citizens feel like “players” in the field of poetic
> More campaigns are fueled by small-money donations
 > The number of people running for office increases

They want financial disclosure of political activity, elimination of the government-lobbyist revolving door and an end to gerrymandering.   hey see the solution in grass-roots political activity, such as the Rev. William J. Barber's Moral Monday movement, the Movement for Black Lives and their own Democracy Initiative, as well as many independent local efforts.

The situation for American democracy is not hopeless.   Human action brought about the situation we now are in.   Human action can create a new situation.


I think what they have written is true and important.   And I recognize that it isn't possible to cover everything in just one short book.   But they do leave out some significant things.

Lappé and Eichen focus on the sins of the Republican Party, which are great, and let the Democrats off too lightly.   Republican leaders may have been the instigators, but Democratic leaders were certainly enablers.

Wall Street financiers played as big a part in the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations as in the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations.

It was House Speaker Newt Gingrich who initiated the “pay to play” system, in which committee assignments were based on the amount of money raised for the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did the same thing for the Democrats, and she put “posted prices” on the committee chair appointments.

Lappé and Eichen ignore foreign policy.  As I said, you can’t write about everything in one book. But if democracy is your main concern, you can’t ignore the fact that the country is on a permanent war footing.


I have a version of his on my web log with links to sources of information.
General Discussion / Re: Google influencing elections?
« Last post by Dennis Darland on October 09, 2017, 09:22:27 PM »
Remember this?
General Discussion / Re: "Where was the Reader?"
« Last post by Nikolay Milkov on October 07, 2017, 10:45:55 AM »
Thank you, Jack.  Cook Wilson considered himself a sort of philosophical logician—which explains why he was against introducing symbols in philosophy.

General Discussion / Re: "Where was the Reader?"
« Last post by Jack Clontz on October 05, 2017, 12:36:46 PM »
Consider the following:
N. 36 (p. 42):
“In commenting on Russell’s paradox, in correspondence with Bosanquet in 1903, Cook Wilson had written: ‘I am obliged to think that a man is conceited as well as silly to think such puerilities are worthy to be put in print: and it is simply exasperating to think he finds a publisher (where was the publisher’s reader?), and that in this way such contemptible stuff can even find its way into examinations’ (1926, II, p. 739).  As Ayer later put it, ‘Cook Wilson had sat like Canute rebuking the advancing tide of mathematical logic’ (1977, p. 77).”

--The Oxford Handbook of the History of Analytic Philosophy, edited by Michael Beaney (2013)

This will allow finding the original source.

I was surprised that it was Cook Wilson.  I first thought it was H. H. Joachim.  I did not consider Bosanquet because he was actually rather sympathetic with at least some phases of BR’s thought, especially the later work, The Problems of Philosophy.  I knew that F. H. Bradley did not directly address BR on logical questions and so he was ruled out.  I then thought of Collingwood, but Collingwood was much too young at this point.  Next I considered Stout, inasmuch as Stout was very dubious of some of BR’s closely connected work.  I did not consider Ward. I did not consider any of the Continental figures.

Incidentally, in at least one case, Ray Monk has made several important and highly defensible points.  First, he says that Collingwood’s An Autobiography is one of the ten great philosophy works of the twentieth century, a judgment with which I concur.  Secondly, he says that Collingwood’s greatness as a thinker has been shamefully overlooked,, a point with which I concur, but with the recent decade of a huge amount of work on Collingwood and the publication of reliable texts, not to speak of Nachlass, this is no longer the case except for fundamentalists of other philosophical persuasions.

However, Monk overlooks the closeness of BR on “knowledge by acquaintance” and Collingwood’s theory of “re-enactment” (though the importance of Dilthey and Italian Idealism in this connection are equally important influences, as well as, perhaps, Georg Simmel and some French writers on historiography--cf. Marc Bloch) as applied to the history of thought, archaeology, and history itself. There is no connection with Heidegger’s notion of “Wiederholung” in Sein und Zeit.

In my view, this remains the case in spite of some of Collingwood’s criticism of BR’s epistemology in his work on metaphysics and philosophical methodology. In some of his political attitudes in the early 1940s Collingwood was close to BR’s attitudes even if much more sympathetic to Marxism—it is a myth that all Marxists have been or even need be materialists, whether ontologically or epistemologically (cf. some of
 the Austro-Marxists)—much to the chagrin of most of his Oxford colleagues who also simultaneously looked askance at Collingwood’s private life.

Regards, Jack Clontz in Bangkok, the Kingdom of Thailand
General Discussion / An Epilog to Ibsen's An Enemy of the People
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on October 01, 2017, 07:19:45 PM »
This is from my old friend Dave Van Arsdale

Enemy of the People
By Henrick Ibsen

An Epilog

Captain Hoster’s former ship sailed for America under her new skipper. She foundered off Newfoundland.

The school principle who fired Petra was found having an affair with a student.

During the rioting at Dr Stockman’s, the mayor’s son was cut by flying glass. It became infected and he died.

The mayor became depressed and did not stand for reelection.

The business block which included the People’s Messenger burned to the ground.

Dr Stockman and his family hid in their house until dawn when they escaped and fled to a new town across the country.

The university professor who had analyzed Dr Stockman’s samples set his graduate students in Environmental Forensics to work on the Municipal Baths and the river which supplied them.

When stockholders learned that government regulators were about to close the tannery, the Badger’s fortune was wiped out and he resigned in disgrace.

General Discussion / Book Notes: John Le Carre, Chris Hedges, Henrik Ibsen
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on September 30, 2017, 03:04:11 PM »

A LEGACY OF SPIES by John Le Carré (2017)
John Le Carré made his reputation as a writer of spy fiction with a series of Cold War novels, starting with A Murder of Quality (1962) and ending with Smiley’s People (1979).   They make readers feel they know what espionage is really like.

The series included a continuing cast of characters, including the mastermind George Smiley, who fought bravely, but also fought dirty, against their ruthless East German and Soviet opponents.

After 1979, Le Carré went on to write stand-alone novels about espionage and international intrigue.  But in A Legacy of Spies, he brings the characters of the Smiley novels back.

Peter Guillam, Smiley’s right-hand man, now in his 80s, is called out of retirement to help Smiley’s successors respond to a parliamentary inquiry and possible lawsuit concerning the events in The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.  In that novel, the spy Alec Leamas and an innocent young woman were sacrificed to protect the identity of a double agent high up in the East German Stasi.

Le Carré tells two parallel stories.   One is a back story to the events of The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, including an exciting hairbreadth escape from East German, which is reveals through documents and Guillam’s memories.

The other story is Guillam’s struggle to avoid having himself or his old colleagues being offered up as scapegoats.  He is threatened not only the investigators, but by Leamas’ thuggish bastard half-German son.   

In the end, the present-day dangers just evaporate without Guillam doing anything special.

I think this novel will appeal to fans who miss George Smiley.  I liked tit all right, but I don’t think it measures up to Le Carré’s best and I am not hungry for more Smiley prequels. 

The question raised by Le Carré’s novels is whether the Cold War struggle was worth it—whether both the heroism and the treachery were worth it.   During the Cold War itself, when the novels came out, the answer seemed (to me) to be “yes”.   The answer today, as given by Le Carré’s  characters, is “What standing have you, living today, to judge what we had to do back then?”


The liberal class, according to Chris Hedges, consists of those American intellectuals and reformers who stand between the power elite and the discontented masses.  Their function is to persuade the elite to appease the masses and allow sufficient reform to enable the system to survive.

Members of this class are different from labor organizers, civil rights protestors and other populist leaders.   Rather they are people in positions of influence who respond to the populist demands in an enlightened way.

The liberal class were responsible for the legislation of the Progressive era, the New Deal and the civil rights era.

But this class has proven itself susceptible to being co-opted by the power elite, especially in times of war.  It was liberals who created the propaganda that persuaded an unwilling American public to go to war against Germany during World War One.

They played the same role in World War Two (which Hedges doesn’t emphasize, probably because he, like me, thinks war propaganda in this case was a good thing) and in the Cold War.

Since the Reagan administration, the liberal class has failed to fulfill its function, Hedges wrote.  They have become apologists for perpetual war and pro-corporate economic policy.

He wrote this in the second year of the Obama administration, which he regarded as an example of liberal failure.  Nothing that he wrote about has changed for the better since then.

I didn’t read it when it first came out, but picked it up a couple of weeks ago   
AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE by Henrik Ibsen (1882)

This famous play tells the story of Dr. Tomas Stockman, a physician in a small Norwegian town, who discovers the the town’s public mineral baths, its principal source of income, are contaminated and should be shut down to prevent the spread of infectious disease.

He expects acclaim for his discovery, but all the various factions of the town turn against him, and a public meeting resolves that he is “an enemy of the people.”

In that era, the germ theory of disease had been discovered only 20 years before, and the people are unwilling to make sacrifices based on what they regard as an unproven theory.   

I am reminded of the reaction of much of today’s public toward warnings by climate scientists of global climate change.

I read the play as part of a monthly play-reading group organized and hosted by my friend Walter Uhrman.  Despite the distance of 125 years, it is highly readable and watchable, full witty observations about human hypocrisy which still hold true today.

However, I do not go along with Ibsen’s theory of human progress.  Dr. Stockman, presumably speaking for Ibsen, says all human progress is due to a few superior people who discern truths that are unknown to the ignorant masses.   By the time the ignorant masses catch up, life as moved on, and there are new truths they don’t get.

So he abandons efforts to warn the townspeople about their peril, and starts on a new quest to raise human thinking to a new level.   He plans to recruit street urchins for a new school, presumably because they are not infected with new ways of thinking.

The problem with this is that the new is not always good, the old is not always bad and no small group has a monopoly on wisdom and knowledge.  Ibsen’s philosophy is a few steps away from Bolshevism and fascism, in one direction, and from Ayn Rand’s Objectivism in another.
General Discussion / Book Note: Without You There Is No Us by Suki Kim
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on September 23, 2017, 06:30:10 PM »

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects' every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm's Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon and George Orwell's 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler's Germany, Stalin's USSR and Mao's China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The "you" was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the "us" is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

The students were the children of North Korea's elite.   They lived in Pyongyang which had electricity, running water and heat in the winter (most of the time) and where people had enough to eat, unlike in most of the country.

Although PUSH was in theory the North Korean MIT, the students had no idea of modern science.   They thought  North Korean scientists had invented a way to change Type A blood to Type B.   One student claimed to have cloned a rabbit while in fifth grade.  They had no idea what the Internet was; they thought it was the same thing as the North Korean intranet.

They thought Kim Jong-il was one of the world's most revered leaders, Pyongyang one of its greatest cities and the Korean dish kimche the world's favorite cuisine.

They were more fortunate than the vast majority of North Koreans, but their lives were completely regimented.   They never had vacations; they never had unstructured time, although they were allowed at certain times of the day to play soccer, basketball or volleyball without supervision.

Students were assigned buddies, who were supposed to watch each others' behavior.   They could get into serious trouble for saying the wrong thing.   They were not allowed to leave the campus, which was fenced in and had a guard-house, like a prison   During semester breaks, students were either assigned extra study or sent to work on construction sites.

The faculty's mail and e-mail was censored.   The faculty had counterparts who reviewed every lesson plan and course material weeks in advance.   They could not travel without special passes, and then only to specified destinations, such as a museum devoted to the gifts supposedly given Kim Jong-il by the world's peoples.

Ordinary North Koreans also were unable to travel in their own land without special passes, and there were checkpoints to make sure every traveler had a pass to be where they were.    Suki Kim never had any chance to talk to any ordinary person.   She could only guess, from their emaciated appearance, how hard their lives must be.

Suki Kim had to walk a fine ethical line in her teaching.   She wrote that giving her students forbidden knowledge or arousing curiosity about forbidden questions could literally get them killed.   But she couldn't resist doing it, mainly in the form of answering questions about her personal life.   She said later, at the end of a TED talk, that she hopes they would not take her lessons to heart, but will conform and survive.

She liked her students and, by her account, they liked her—in spite of being indoctrinated with the idea that South Koreans, which she was by birth, and Americans, which she was by citizenship, are the enemy.   They were in many ways very childlike, and responded to affection.

North Korea's ruling ideology is called Juche, whose principles are national independence, economic self-sufficiency and military self-defense.   It is ideology of a nation under siege.

Its founders were guerrilla fighters against ruthless Japanese occupiers.   North Koreans survived the killing of thousands and maybe millions of their people during the Korean War of 1950-53 and a famine in 1994-1998 without abandoning that ideology or their independence.  Now they are threatened by the world's leading nuclear weapons power.   So long as the nation remains under siege, it is unlikely they would abandon that ideology.

What makes the North Korean government a threat to peace is the possibility that it will try to unify the Korean peninsula by force, as it did during the Korean War and in acts of terrorism in the years after.   That's what the outside world has to persuade them to change.

Suki Kim in her TED talk said there is no possibility of North Korea changing from within.   There is no chance of rebellion, she said; any hint of independent thought is quickly stamped out.  So it is up to outside powers to bring about change.

But how could that be done?  She wasn't sure.   She thought making known the truth about "the gulag posing as a nation" is a good first step, which is true.

If North and South Korea could agree not to go to war, then North Korea would be open to some extent to the influence of the outside world.   Even its ruler, Kim Jong-un, is fascinated by American basketball and other aspects of our culture, good and bad.

In time, this could lead to change.   I agree this is a vague hope.   But threatening the country's survival will do no good.    The past 70 years of history shows this will only make their regime more like it is.


Books and Quotes by Bertrand Russell / Which Works Warranted Russell's 1950 Nobel?
« Last post by Landon Elkind on September 22, 2017, 07:16:19 PM »
Howdy folks,

I am curious about Russell's 1950 Nobel Prize in Literature. I have two questions:
(1) Did the award committee find any work(s) of Russell's particularly meritorious, that is, did any particular works cause the committee to make the award?
(2) If not, let's have a thought experiment. Suppose you were sitting on the 1950 Nobel Prize award committee. What work(s) of Russell's do you think were sufficiently meritorious so as to make Russell deserving of the award?
I have my own thoughts on (2), but I want to see your answer! The prize motivation is rather vague: "in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought" (

This question arose from Iowa Chapter's discussion of Russell's 1929 Marriage and Morals last week. Thanks kindly!

Yours Truly,
General Discussion / 3 Exercises Of My Free-Speech Rights
« Last post by Tim St. Vincent on September 18, 2017, 12:34:21 PM »
1. I LIKE these HATE HAS NO HOME HERE signs, (even though I’m not wild about their wording.) They are a good way to fight the public expressions of hate/prejudice that have made a big comeback since 119. Only in some people’s over-active imaginations are these signs placed on lawns in order to make the home-owners seem “noble” or better than the average American.
     Yes, people (especially college students) need to be exposed to ideas/opinions that they don’t like, but they don’t need to be exposed to these ideas/opinions every f*cking place and time. So “SAFE SPACES” ARE SOMETIMES A GOOD THING.
[I posted this comment on my Facebook page on 7/22 in response to an article in a Wakefield, MA local newspaper that downed these signs.]

2. RE: "How Political Correctness Leads To Islamaphobia," by Justin Tyler Clark (The Boston Sunday Globe, Ideas 8/6)
     All of prof. Clark's scholarly analysis can't erase the fact that so-called pc is really a form of verbal self-defense (and defense of third persons): Openly spewing the n-word, for instance, may inform African-Americans that one is a racist, but it also insults members of this group, and therefore needs to be answered. If members of marginalized groups just take such verbal bullying, as anti-pc thought recommends, they will eventually sink into unfounded feelings of inferiority and may also lash out violently.  It's the adage that an idea will come to be widely believed if it's repeated a lot without being answered.* As a form of bullying, unanswered bigotry also encourages more bigotry.
     A lot of the conspiracy theories and other evils that concern prof. Clark can be avoided if all of this verbal self-defense and defense of 3rd persons is done in a way that is of equal intensity to the initial verbal bullying. For example, from a "position of strength", I recently made a "sales pitch" for racial equality to a fellow white man who openly expressed racist beliefs. This effort might not have won him over, but it probably didn't fuel more racism.
     Also, there is a lot more to conservative anti-pc hypocrisy than Clark mentions. An example: There has recently been widespread vandalism of billboards and other public ads that express atheist/agnostic beliefs. These crimes can easily be described as, well, right-wing pc.
[This is a letter-to-the editor that I wrote up on 8/8 but decided not to submit.]

3. Diane Hassan apparently downed a cocktail of "anger and hatred" before writing her op-ed piece "Stop The Madness" (The Boston Globe 8/22). She made subtle sweeping generalizations about mental illness and threw around the ignorant slurs 'nutjob' and 'lunatic'. The despicable thing about Kim Jong Un isn't that he's a "crazy man"--It's that he's a mass murderous monster. The murderer of Heather Heyer doesn't represent people with mental illness, as Hassan hinted.. Psychiatric slurs like "murderous nutjob" belong together with lgbt, racial, ethnic and religious slurs. (Note: Anyone who would label my words "pc" or overly-sensitive needs to get a grip on his/her imagination.)

[I submitted this letter to The Boston Globe on 8/23 but it wasn't published.]

* This is my defense of the microaggression comment.--I've seen the microaggression concept downed in plenty of right-wing opinion pieces, but have yet to see a refutation of it's intellectual foundation.
General Discussion / Book Note: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
« Last post by Phil Ebersole on September 14, 2017, 06:00:12 PM »
AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013)

The polite term for the black American citizens who used to be called Negroes is "African-American."   This term is intended to put them on a par with white ethnic groups, such as Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans.

However "African-Americans," unlike white ethnics, are not immigrants, but the descendants of slaves, whose ancestors were all brought to this country before the Civil War, and most before the Revolution.

The USA now has a significant African immigrant population, who are the product of a different history than old-stock black Americans.   But the term "African-American" doesn't really apply either, because it obscures the fact that Africa is not all one country.   African nations have national characters as distinct as Italy or Poland.

Recently I got a glimpse of the African immigrant experience by reading  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novel Americanah (2013).

"Americanah" is a Nigerian slang word for someone who has lived so long in the United States that they no longer fit into life in Nigeria.

Adichie's heroine, Ifemelu, grows up in Nigeria, immigrates to the United States as a young woman and, after initial hardships, achieves success and fame.  But, after 13 years, decides to return to her native land.

Ifemelu, like her creator, is intelligent and outspoken, with many shrewd observations about American culture and racial attitudes.   I don't find her likeable; that's an observation, not a criticism.

The early chapters show the frustrations of Ifemelu and her educated, middle-class family, in life under the repressive Nigerian dictatorship.   She and her fiance, Obinze, who is handsome, sensitive and good in bed, dream of the United States as the big time where real things are happening—the way some small-town Americans in Kansas or Nebraska may think of New York and Los Angeles.

Ifemelu gets a scholarship to study at an American university, but quickly finds that the USA is not the paradise she imagined.

Her family taught her certain standards of good housekeeping, good grooming, good manners and good grammar, and she is taken aback by the slovenliness, permissiveness and vulgarity of the many Americans whose attitudes are formed by the mass entertainment and advertising media.

She has to struggle to earn a living and is sexually abused by a white employer.   This is so traumatic that she feels unable to keep in touch with Obinze.

This clears the way for her to begin a love affair with Curt, a handsome rich white jet-setter, who is good in bed.   Curt gets her a lucrative job in public relations, and her financial worries end.

Eventually she tires both of Curt and the PR job.   She starts a blog about racial attitudes in America, which is not only an overnight success, but an unexpected source of income that guarantees her financial independence.   She begins a love affair with Blaine, a handsome black intellectual idealist, who is good in bed.

Blaine, a Yale professor, spends time talking to an uneducated black janitor.  Ifemelu can't bring herself to like him.   She and Blaine break up temporarily when the janitor is unjustly arrested, Blaine organizes a protest demonstration and she can't be bothered to take.

She and Blaine are reunited by their common devotion to Barack Obama.   Some of Ifemelu's shrewdist blog posts are about Obama and his campaign—for example, that black women like Obama because he married a woman with darker skin than his.

Her observations are about cultural signifiers—Michelle Obama's hairdo, Hillary Clinton's pants suit.   The hope that Obama would end the Iraq war and clean up Washington is thrown in as an afterthought.

Another of her blog posts is a response to a college student who asks how he, the son of welfare recipients in Appalachia, can have "white privilege".   She proceeds to cite a list 14 advantages that he, as a white person, has compared to an equivalent black person, which range from not being worried about his race if he wants to join a prestigious social club to being able to buy flesh-colored Band-aids and underwear that are actually the color of his flesh.

All 14 items on her list are perfectly true.   What Ifemelu doesn't note is that she enjoys a better starting point in life than any poor American, black or white, let alone the vast majority of Nigerians, and that the United States has offered her more than it offers the vast majority of Americans, black or white.

Ifemelu has little interest in African immigrants of a lower social class than hers.   She dislikes African cab drivers because they ask personal questions and make personal remarks.   It is only just before her return to Nigeria that she feels sympathy for and befriends her Senegalese hair braider.

One of the things I got from the novel, incidentally, was an appreciation of hair braiding—what a big deal it is and how much time, trouble and money go into it.

The most interesting character in the novel—to me—is Ifemelu's Auntie Uju.  I would have wished to read more about her and less about Idemelu's conversations with Blaine's intellectual friends.

Auntie Uju is the mistress of a powerful Nigerian called "The General" and has a son, Diki, by him.   When the General dies, she flees Nigeria to escape the vengeance of the General's wives.

She is a medical doctor, and expects to do well in the Unites States.   But she has to re-qualify by doing a residency and passing examinations, meanwhile surviving by taking multiple low-wage jobs.   When she does get her American M.D., she finds that white Americans don't want to patronize a black physician.

She marries a Nigerian man in order to give her son a father, only to find that, even though he earns less than she does, he expects her to do all the cooking and cleaning.   Eventually she finds happiness in a relationship with a Ghanaian physician.   Then Dike, now a teenager, attempts suicide.

Ifemelu tells Anntie Uju that Dike's problem is that she told him he wasn't black (meaning that he is not part of the hip-hop gang culture) but she didn't tell him what he was.   Ifemelu takes Dike back to Nigeria with her.   He loves life there, reconnects with his extended family and returns to the USA rejuvenated.

One of Ifemelu's most endearing qualities is that she likes children, but, unlike many of the American characters, is willing and able to exercise adult authority over them.

Meanwhile the fiance, Obinze, who is infatuated with American culture, is unable to realize his dream of going to the USA.    Instead he tries his luck as an unauthorized immigrant in the United Kingdom, where Adichie gives us a look at another kind of African immigrant life.   Obinze is grossly exploited by the Angolans who give him his false documents and eventually deported back to Nigeria.

When Ifenelu returns to Nigeria, it seems like a different country or maybe she sees it through different eyes.   There is still great corruption and great inequality, but it seems like a country on the move, with great hopes for the future—something like the United States following the Civil War.

She gets a job on a magazine, doesn't like it, quits and starts a new blog, which is better written and broader in sympathy than her American blog, but also is an overnight success and highly lucrative.   She reconnects with Obinze, who is now a millionaire property developer with a wife and two children.

He is still handsome, sensitive and good in bed, and they resume their love affair.   He hesitates to abandon his wife and children (which his friends consider "white people behavior").  She calls him a coward, he gives in and the last passage of the novel is him appearing on Ifemelu's doorstep and her inviting him in.   I am unable to believe that two such people would live happily ever after.


I recommend the novel.   Its merits outweigh its wish-fulfillment fantasy aspects.   I especially like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's sketches of life in Nigeria, her outsider's view of life in the United States and her sketches of minor characters, American, Nigerian and other.   I thank Chaudry for calling it to my attention.

Below are videos of two TED talks given by Adichie, the first in 2009 and the second in 2012.




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