john a. powell on our interconnectedness

       KPFK has been playing excerpts of a recent john a. powell speech on the invention and history of race in America, and how race has been a factor in the creation of virtually all our public structures and systems as a country. It is well worth a listen, as he clearly and succinctly draws a timeline that encompasses the beginning of policing, the use of the infamous Dred Scott case as a means towards corporate personhood (over the inclusion of black Americans into the public), Jim Crow's racist influence on the New Deal,  and how the once solidly Democratic south became the Republican stronghold and birthplace of the Tea Party. It's put his book, Racing to Justice, on my To Read List

       His intelligence and compassion are steeped in his every sentence, and his voice is so softly enchanting, you just kind of grow a strong desire to learn more from him. So I've been hunting down his talks on youtube all week, and came across this great one on Building a Beloved Community. As always I'd like to share my notes, but since this a short lecture to an audience literate in the terminology, theories, and ideas he references, I added (interpretations) and (additional info) where I thought it helpful. Any mistaken attributions or misinterpretations are my own.

Interbeing, Class, Race, and Person 'Hood

Western thought in the areas of ourselves and our relations have been greatly shaped by Descartes (epiphenomenalism), Hobbes (Leviathan), and Genesis (human exceptionalism): the divides between our minds and our bodies ("I think therefore I am"), ourselves as individuals and each other ("people act from self-interest ... only the strong survive") and ourselves and nature ("and so God gave Adam dominion over the Earth and all its creatures.")

Forces in society today strategically use these divides to stoke anxiety, e.g. fear over white "minority" in 2050, causing people to lose focus on (or actively fight against acknowledging) our interconnectedness. 

Corporations are the controlling forces in all factors and facets of society today. They feed on the anxiety of "the other" to attack what stands in their way- democratic government- and extend Klein's Disaster Capitalism. By manipulating the public into rendering the government ineffective, they have made themselves ungovernable. Corporations have gained free reign in all spaces, e.g. they can wantonly harm the environment due to restricting the EPA's powers and budget and placing themselves out of any authority's reach.

Keeping people voting out of fear is a beneficial tool for these corporate powers. Often the question is asked, "Why do people vote against their own self interests?" powell argues that these voters instead vote against economic and political access for "the other." They have been manipulated into voting against access for themselves, in order to keep it out of the hands of those they deem "different." Beyond the two factors of political and economical sense, we also vote out of our sense of being: who are we, and who are we in relation to others.

took this on my semester abroad. township of Khayelitsha, South Africa

took this on my semester abroad. township of Khayelitsha, South Africa

Western philosophy today is widely organized around Descartes, extreme possessive individualism, not the belief that we are interconnected. Our society is designed and structured around that individualistic view. 

Capitalism has allowed corporations to take over our government, and they have turned the public commons into capitalist private systems. This change has picked up a very rapid pace, especially since the 1970s. That was a direct result of the civil rights movement, a movement to integrate "the other" into existing public structures, like public schools. Politically, the Southern Strategy switched the solidly Democratic south into Republican homeland, all based on race and the New Deal and Jim Crow. American history is rife with examples of race, particularly as it is used to stoke fear of "the other," and corporate interests as the two defining factors in structuring public spaces and systems. 

Corporate groups operate on the idea of a hierarchy. Hierarchy among people (sexism, racism, ableism), and hierarchy in nature (humans as more important than any other living species, or any part of our whole ecosystems.) We tend to think of growing inequality in terms of economic equality, but there are other factors, including political equality, environmental equality, education equality, where there are steep divides between groups of citizens. If we want to work on growing inequality, we must change our existing systems and structures to reflect our interconnectedness, not our differences.

The American narrative has changed to reflect the belief that public = inefficient, sub par, bad. You only have to go back to the mindset of the 30s and 40s and all things public were good. Now 'public' is unclean, incompetent, wasteful, because of who we envision to be in the public- people of color on public transit, people of color being bused into public schools, people of color living in public housing.

In Western thought, the idea of 'private' has been shaped by the likes of Martin Luther (of Lutheranism)- private is where you talk to God, where you are still and unencumbered; it has a special sacred spot in the imagination. Corporations are trying to convince us to place them, in our minds, into that private, sacred category. I mean, Hobby Lobby has shown us that corporations are now claiming religious freedom with all rights entailed.

The last spot is what powell calls 'non-public, non-private' space: those without a voice in the public and without private place to retreat. Historically, think slaves, or women before the 1920s. Today think people with disabilities, prisoners, undocumented immigrants, the homeless- we do not see these people as fully human, they are not part of "us," not when we envision 'our country.' We certainly don't campaign for their rights or advocate for them- even though we know we are the only ones to speak on their behalves. We know all of this, we are aware of their suffering, but we continue to let it happen day after day because ultimately when we follow the thought to the end of the rabbit hole, we just don't care. "They" are not "us."

The final section is corporate. When the corporate expands, the public and private shrink, and non-public, non-private expands as well. We have allowed the corporate to convince us it is not-bad, and that the public is bad. When Snowden revealed the the depths of unwarranted government spying, it was the corporations that gave them our data. We trust google and facebook because they aren't the public, but we don't trust government because it is the public. Our anger was directed far more at the NSA than say, Verizon. Hell, Snowden caught more flack than any of them.

As we shrink the public, we hurt each of us individually and all of us as a whole. To fight the tide of growing inequality in all sectors, we need to build a caring economy, and fair public space and structures. Tax breaks not for corporations and bankers, but for those who need them, those caring for elderly parents or putting themselves through school. Polluting our earth needs to be a punishable offense- any act of destroying the public needs to be seen as bad. We need to recognize our interbeing and create structures that support life, not just seek capital. We need to embrace our neighbors and build according to our interconnectedness.