Book Report: The Age of Empathy

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This is the 13th book published by primatologist and ethologist Frans de Waal, although it is the first of his that I have read. In it, de Waal links his decades of work with primate social behavior to his own Dutch-American societal understanding and personal journey in a way designed to suggest that we humans (especially Americans) are not necessarily bound by self-maximizing and cut-throat behavioral tendencies. He argues for the existence of empathy in apes, monkeys, bonobos as well as higher order mammals such as dogs and cats and even delving into the collective behavior of birds.

In beginning this book, my original fear was that the author would be an overly idealistic Dutch socialist type. Don’t get me wrong, I have a great respect and admiration for the European culture. Having lived in Europe for a few years during military service, I experienced first hand the benefits of a more socialized society. Although admittedly I was still a U.S. Government employee so I paid none of the taxes that paid for this culture. This almost certainly gives me an idealized view of the highly socialized society.

Regardless, I enjoyed the common services, advanced public transportation and overall culture of social connectivity that can be found throughout much of Europe. One of my all-time favorite countries to visit during my European tour was Frans de Waal’s native Netherlands. The sense of community in Amsterdam seems so ingrained that, although the number of bicycles easily outnumbers the number of cars, I hardly every saw a bike with a lock on it outside of a residential building. My fellow American travelling companions and I never did figure out if the locals either weren’t worried about people stealing their bikes or perhaps if there was some sort of tacit take a bike, leave a bike type system that the city was running off of… The bikes were never locked up, but they weren’t very fancy either. I would believe it if the residents simply weren’t terribly concerned with whether or not the bike they left with was the same as the one they arrived on.

So it’s not a distaste for the European socialist culture that made me initially wary of a book from a Dutch academic about empathy, but rather it was the understanding I have that America is not Europe and that it is unrealistic to expect any sort of cultural flip in the U.S. to happen on any short timeline. The author was quick to settle my fears, however, and soon paused to describe the in-between state of his worldview. Having been shaped first by his European upbringing and education and then reformed by his decades of work in the United States, de Waal states his own cultural allegiances as lying “somewhere in the Atlantic” between Europe and the United States. This effectively dispelled my suspicions of de Waal as an idealist and firmly established him a realist. I like realists.

Having established his own personal history and culture, de Waal moves on to the meat of the book which is the work he has done observing primates specifically in the context of their tendencies towards empathy, society, sympathy, equity/inequity and unity. In addressing animal behavior in this way, de Waal picks up two adversaries from polar opposite ends of human spectrum. The first being the hard-line scientists, the second being evolutionary deniers, both of which are simply not comfortable assigning historically human personality traits to animals. To the scientists, this aversion seems to mostly be a word game. To them, a dog cannot be happy it can only be playful and likewise it cannot be angry it can only be aggressive. Emotional adjectives are solely owned by humans, and it is simply inappropriate to discuss animal behavior in these terms.

Interestingly to the same ends but by very different means, the evolutionary denial perspective asserts that humans are the sole owners of complex emotions by virtue of our special place in the universe. Implicitly this place was given to us by a creator, and the animal kingdom was then given to us to use as we see fit. Being the superior and beloved children of creation that we are, concepts like love and empathy are a relationship between humans and their gods. The relationship between humans and animals is something more utilitarian and so there is no need for creation to waste feelings on the animal kingdom. To the scientist, we are sufficiently advanced enough to have developed emotional processes that are uniquely our own. To the spiritualist, these emotions were given to us because we sit in the light of consciousness, a place other species simply do not occupy.

I can’t say the author effectively dispatched any of these detractors to his perspective. Nothing was proven in this book. Nothing is ever proven in behavioral science, especially in non-human animal behavioral science. The best that can be done is to have perspectives and hypotheses supported by observation and repeatable experiments. At the end of the day, the difference between a happy dog and playful dog is perspective. Arguments on which adjective is appropriate quickly delve into the existence, nature and placement of the soul within man and animal. Perhaps someday there will be a settlement to this argument, but I highly doubt one will come in my day.

What the author does is make a damn good case for the existence of empathy in the non-human animal kingdom. He brings his experience, insight and observation to the topic in a way that resonates with the reader, at least it resonated with me. The concept seems reasonable, supported and attractive and I see no harm in deciding it to be true.

Approaching the conclusion of the book, de Waal circles from the lives of chimps and Capuchin monkeys back around to us human apes to tie it all together in support of his thesis point. That point being that our empathy is not unique to our species, it is very much alive and well in nature. Again establishing himself as a realistic person influenced by his time in America, he then gives great regard for the advantages afforded to man and animal through competition, and pauses to note that he does not advocate for a removal of all things apathetic from our society. Being a man with a perspective sitting somewhere in the Atlantic, he goes on to discuss his concept of fairness as not simply a situation where everyone gets an equal share of the pie, but also one where the baker gets a larger slice. Because he earned it. That too, the author suggests, is fair.

If I was missing one thing from this book, it was a call to action. The title suggested that I would be exposed to at least a theory on how the overly socialist societies to the east and our own American one could meet Frans de Waal in the middle of the Atlantic, hopefully finding a place where we can reap the benefits of culturally systemic empathy while still realizing a decent amount of capital reward afforded by perpetual competition and struggle. I did not take anything like that away from the book. Then again, if I was really looking for a definitive solution to the ages old back and forth between liberty and society in the spirit of fraternity, I probably shouldn’t have read a book written by a realist.

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Writer’s Block.

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Can’t write today,
Nothing’s coming.
Got too much work to do,
Too many calls to take.
Can’t write today.

My thoughts ain’t clear,
I got no muse.
The words don’t come,
No matter what I do.
Can’t write today.

My marriage needs focus,
I was cruel Saturday night.
I have to mend fences,
Have to set things right.
Can’t write today.

The world’s a fucking a mess,
So sick of the madness.
Assassinations, Attacks,
Ascensions to Power,
All packed into yesterday.
Can’t write today.

Too much panic,
Too much fear.
Plenty of topics,
None too clear.
I won’t be writing today.

My calm is broken,
My insides shake.
I got no focus,
No point to make.
No writing today.

The kids need attention,
The bills need paid.
The path is endless,
And I’m not terribly brave.
So I can’t write today.

I’ll try again tomorrow,
Then I’ll have something to say.
I just wish I could have written,
Something today.

Casual Monday.

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Certain things change drastically when you get your shit together, go to college, finish a degree and stop working in bars and restaurants. One of the major shifts that I’ve noticed is how the holidays effect my day-to-day life. As my life inches further away from being comparable to Cheers and closer to something more in the line of Leave it to Beaver, this whole season takes on new meaning and emotion.

For those who haven’t spent considerable amounts of time working in the service industry, allow me to explain what the holidays meant to my previous self. The cooler weather in Phoenix alone brings the busy season for hospitality workers. This is, I have been told, opposite to the way things work in parts of the country where cooler weather is not as welcome as it is here. We have a snowbird population that swells the city headcount considerably in the winter months. This, regardless of the holidays, already makes it a busier time of year for wait staff and bartenders. The holidays do also add to that.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is a huge going out night. People seem to treat it like the kick-off to the holiday season. Short work week, 4 day weekend, perhaps people have traveled from elsewhere and arrived in the city early enough to see old friends before being locked to family for the remaining time. Whatever the reasons, Thanksgiving Eve is probably one of the busiest bar nights of the year. It’s no New Years Eve, but it does get quite busy.

Thanksgiving day is dead, but other than that the time between Thanksgiving and Xmas sees a noticeable increase in bar and restaurant sales. This makes the holiday season a prime money making time for anyone whose income comes mainly from  tips. The money, however, does not come easy. A lot of the people who go out around the holidays really only go out around the holidays. These are people who tend to still think 10% is the industry standard gratuity, who don’t understand concepts like rush hours, large party reservations or the headache of splitting checks 15 different ways. Wait staff go to great lengths to train their regular customers on how to make their jobs easier, and this training all goes to shit starting the 3rd Wednesday of November and doesn’t return to normal till January 2nd.

But, even though the money/work ratio gets kind of nasty the overall take home is generally increased so it’s not all bad news. Stressful, yes, but also rewarding. The real stress comes from also trying to be a person experiencing the holidays while simultaneously being a person whose work life is getting its ass kicked by the holidays.

Thanksgiving Eve is great, bars and restaurants are busy, there’s money to be made. But there’s also Thanksgiving itself to deal with the next day. Maybe you worked the bar till close at 2 am, floor swept, money counted and trash taken out gets you home by 4 am. Mom text you earlier to say that everyone is getting together at Aunt Helen’s at 11 am which is just an obscene hour for you given your professional night owl ways. You feel obligated to make an appearance because, as your moms states in her guilt trip, “We don’t know how many Thanksgiving’s Aunt Helen has left.”

So home by 4 am turns into bed by 5 am, awake at 9 am to make the trek to the suburbs for the sake of Aunt Helen’s golden years enrichment. You may still need to be back at work sometime around 3 pm. Thanksgiving Day is a shit day to work in a bar, so all the extra money you made busting your ass the night before just becomes a wash in the two-day average. So you get to throw down a plate of food and leave before dessert to drag your 4 hours of broken sleep back home to get ready for an unprofitable night.

The boss knows Thanksgiving is a shit day, but won’t just close the place if they think they can make $10. That, and they’ve probably lined up some deep cleaning chores to take care of since you’ve got the time. You’ll be moving equipment and cleaning a years worth of grime and buildup, probably slicing yourself on a broken chard of glass behind a refrigerator glued to the wall with maraschino cherry syrup. Also,  you’ll be getting paid a whole $5 an hour to do it.

After Thanksgiving you have Black Friday. Busy perhaps, but full of people who are just in an awful mood. The ones who have been shopping all day are embattled from the experience. I myself have always refused to be a part of that madness, so I can only imagine what it’s like to go through. It’s not all bad though. If you’ve been diligent throughout the year, you’ve cultivated a core set of well-trained regulars to hopefully give you some relief from the seasonal masses.

For the weeks leading up to Xmas, you bounce back and forth between overworked booze-slinger and holiday reveler. After all, you’ve got your own shopping to get done, friends and family to see, parties to attend to and everything else that others seem to just be strolling along through. This is where the stress ramps up. Sleep is reduced and energy expenditure increased. I’ve worked bars where busy shifts were literally comparable to playing 6 hour games of racquetball. When you can’t make all the functions or stay through all the courses of the meal, the guilt trips from friends and family increase. It always amazed me how the non-existence of Paid Time Off in the service industry escaped all the people who couldn’t understand why I didn’t just take the day off. Time in that job field directly equals money. Time off means zero money. Perhaps the day you skip was one of the bad ones, but schedule writers take notice of those who weasel their way out of bad shifts. Repercussions for such behavior were certain.

There’s a slight calm after Xmas now that all the shopping and most of the parties and get together’s have occurred, but it is a calm before the storm call New Year’s Eve. This is the culmination of the Holiday Season, the closing ceremonies. If you’re a young go-getter of a bartender, you might be excited to work New Years Eve. You’ll get dollar signs in your eyes at the high sales-potential and, if you’re like I was when I was younger, just be looking forward to how fun it will be to be busy all night. These nice feelings about the potential of this evening are soon ruined for anyone who actually works a few of them.

In the biz, we tend to refer to this evening as Amateur Night. This is the night where you see a massive jump in the raw count of party goers. These people, to put it bluntly, are simply not good drinkers. A lot of them only  go out on this one night a year, inevitably black out and so by January 1st they’ve already forgotten any social lessons they may have otherwise picked up during their party time. Any lessons they do remember the next day will slowly be forgotten over the course of the year and they will show up next December 31st like a brand new bad drinker. This gives a different connotation to the New Years Baby icon. The babies I had to deal with came in the form of grown men and women crying and vomiting because they thought 6 shots of Fireball in the car outside sounded like a fun way to kick off the evening.

People tend to stress themselves out on New Year’s Eve, as well. There’s so much self-imposed pressure to party the right way. It’s an amazing, albeit stressful, thing to witness. People stress themselves out about what they wear, where they go, what they drink, when they drink it, who they drink it with, who they kiss at midnight, yadda-yadda-yadda…and when this inevitably blows up in their faces, it can be like having a room full of intoxicated bride-zillas. This phenomenon occurs in both men and women, but the bride-zilla comparison was the only other instance I could think of where a human attempting to create a perfect moment falls apart in emotional ways when the perfection doesn’t happen. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy for these people, which is the really interesting part. They don’t understand that it is exactly their pursuit of the perfect midnight moment that keeps them far away from enjoying the evening, and, of course, trying to explain this to any of them just falls on def, drunk, ears. You just gotta roll with it.

So the shit show to end all shit shows is the cherry on the top of the shit show holiday sundae for people who make their living in food and beverage service. We all die a little by the end of it. Depending on the gig you’re working, you could still walk away from it all with a decent amount of cash. The money will be sprinkled with blood, sweat and tears, but at least there was some sort of reward for the abuse.

Now contrast that with my post-college, business casual Scottsdale office life. My week this week is short. HR sent out an email on Friday letting us know we could dress casually all week (which I love) giving me a nice little Casual Monday today. My weekend coming up is long, 4 full days to do whatever I want. Non-food and booze related industries tend to slow down this time of year. People take vacations and offices run skeleton crews. I’m going to be one of them, in fact. I’m taking 40 hours of PTO starting the day after Xmas and leading up to New Years. I’ve gone from the holidays being the busiest, most stressful 5 weeks of my entire year to the exact opposite. I get to kick my heels up, spend time with the kids, do any shopping I might do at my leisure. Oh, and I also expect an annual bonus to make the whole thing sweeter. I no longer have to save all year to make Xmas happen for the kids. Not that my kids are overly materialistic. I’ve raised them to value experiences more than things. But whatever presents I do buy or trips we take them on can easily be paid with additional income that is given to me just for working hard all year. Never you mind how much my bonus is, but it is enough to change the December game for me.

I don’t feel I’m being boastful about my improved economic and work/life situation. I’ve earned my spot here. I fought for it. I don’t feel bad for enjoying it. I also try really hard to not forget where I came from and what it used to be like for me. Now I am one of those people going out more, seeing friends and family with less worry, spending more at bars and restaurants. I am one of the well-trained regulars now, and it feels good. So long as I don’t lose my memory of what it was like to live the other way, I will keep not feeling bad about enjoying my success. If you’ve never walked a mile in the shoes of a waitstaff person, then take my word for it when I say they are getting ready to go through some shit for the next several weeks. Be nice to them, and tip them well.

Happy Holidays.

Title Game.

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I’ve never been much of a sports fan. My mirror neurons have just never fired up the same way I suspect they do in other humans while watching sports games. There was a shiftless period in my life right after the army when I had a bunch of time and money on my hands, so I started to get into baseball. It lasted about a season and a half. Mostly I just liked going to the games. It was the event of it all. I could pick up tickets on a random day off (of which as a nightclub bartender I had many) and sit in a park drinking with friends while a baseball game was going on near me.

The good thing about baseball is you don’t typically have to glue yourself to the game. More often than not, you can just ignore it, converse with your friends and the other fans around you and listen for the crack of the bat to let you know when it’s time to focus back onto the field for a few seconds before returning to your socializing.

As such, I could never really get into watching the games on television, and certainly not if I was alone. It was the social aspect of it all that I was actually experiencing. The sport was just a framing reference. It provided context for the human event.

I never acquired an ocean of statistical knowledge or got to know the history of the players various paths through life; which teams they had played for before, who had rivalries and scores to settle, or any other of the million bits of information that true fans hold in their minds in mesmerizing and intellectually interesting ways. I did, however, pick up the core concepts of the game. I know how it’s played, and have a decent sense of the game-behind-the-game. There’s a psychology to it all. It’s more than just a mechanical process of hitting a ball with a bat as hard as you can. The players are playing each others minds as much as their bodies. Perhaps even more so. There’s something akin to chess in the game that I also find interesting. Perhaps other sports are like this as well, if you really get to know them. I’ve simply never taken the time.

So I’m not a super fan, but I do know a little something. I knew the Cubs and the Indians had made it to a historically significant World Series, although I knew nothing of the season that got either of them there. I got glimpse of the headlines on social media, although never was inspired to click on any of the articles. The headlines were enough.

Cubs Series Blah Blah Blah, 108 years since Blah Blah Blah

Indians Series Blah Blah Blah, 68 years since Blah Blah Blah

Really everything I needed to know about it is contained in those two sarcastically paraphrased pseudo-headlines…

I knew that there was a drama unfolding in the first 6 games of the series, and that it had all come down to game 7. I caught wind of the unfolding score of the game through the side of my social media eye; I can always count on the stream of posts and tags to let me know if something important is happening. I wasn’t, however, rushing home from the office to glue myself to it in anyway. It seemed like the Cubs were going to pull it off with an early lead and good for them. They were, after all, the team with the longest dry spell. It seemed justified they would be the ones to break the streak first since they put in more time, right?

Catching wind of the tie-up of the game, and the encroaching 9th inning, I understood that there was something even more momentous than the series itself about to happen, so I turned on the TV and decided to get into it a little bit. I do like television history, even if our streaming lives mean there’s less of it these days. We don’t really ask each other, “Where were you when it happened?” anymore. Probably because we aren’t prepared for the answer to be, “Watching on my iPhone from a toilet the next day.” But back to the game.

It was like watching every baseball movie cliche unfold into reality all at once. Game 7, World Series, tie game, 9th inning, longest dry spells in baseball history, a moment more than a century in the making…Just as I had been doing in those earlier years of my short-lived baseball fandom, I was really tuning in to the human aspect of it all rather than the game itself. I just wanted to watch the look on everyone’s faces for a while and contemplate their emotional processes.

Being a fan of humans more than a fan of baseball meant I had no dog in this fight. I had no one I was rooting for, except maybe the random old guys in the stands who looked like they were about to have a heart attack at any given moment. I was definitely rooting for those guys. The suspense was terrible, and I hoped it would last. And it did.

The 9th came and went with no score change. Extra innings. Then a rain delay. I wondered how many times the phrase You’re killing me, Smalls! was exclaimed across the country. I hoped it was a lot.

I feel like I could have climbed on to the roof of my condo and been able to shoot a direct azimuth from Phoenix to Chicago by the large cloud of tension I could sense on the Northeast horizon. I’ve never been to Cleveland, so I couldn’t empathize enough with that city to sense its collective emotional being, but I assume it was comparable.

The rain delay ended and the game got back underway. As much as I was checking in with the high emotions of the crowd, I also noticed the relatively calm demeanor of the players. It was commendable to watch professionals being professionals. If they were freaking out at all, as one would expect them to be, they certainly weren’t showing it on the outside. Or maybe they were all just in their flow states and focused on the game without the context being permitted into their minds. I’ll chose to believe the later because it’s more interesting to do so.

The 10th inning played out the way it did, Cubs gained two runs in the first half, then held the Indians at bay in the second half with a snag and an out that gave them all the glory.

And the crowd went wild! (Yet another cliche, but a well deserved one.)

It was good stuff, a good emotional ride even if I was only a tourist that caught up with that last hour of the journey. Again, I had no dog in the fight. I just like watching the people feel things.

It was interesting to watch the reporters start to hound the players right after the game had ended. They all wanted to know what thoughts the team had about the way the game went. I thought, “Just let them have their moment for crying out loud! If I had achieved something half as momentous as that, the last thing I’d want to do is answer a bunch of questions with a damn camera in my face!” I’d probably just want to be as mindful as I could muster and experience everything real I could. The pageantry of it all is just a part of the game, I suppose.

After it all was said and done, I think my wife summed it up best when she said, “I’m just happy that Bill Murray is happy.”

Congratulations, Chicago Cubs. Enjoy the day today. You’ve earned it! I wish I could get on a plane and go to Chicago right now. I’m certain today will be a great day to be in that city.

Just do it.

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To blog, or not to blog. That is the question.

Really it’s just a question of which contemporary authors I’m going to listen to. Some say to only write when inspired, others say to just write and never stop writing. Since both camps have reached some level of success, I’ll have to conclude that there is no right answer to this question.

Honestly, that’s not even what keeps me from writing. To say it is would be fraudulent. The reason I don’t write is because I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of sucking. That’s really the it of it. I am getting better at overcoming the fear of the suck, though. A lot of people never get so far as to identify their fear of the suck as the thing holding them back, so in this regards I’m already at least a little bit ahead of the game.

I don’t necessarily want to rid myself of the fear of the suck, either. Not completely at least. I want to push it into dark corners, or bottle it up to keep on the mantle only taking it out when useful, but I think I do need to keep the fear around a bit. When I can muster the strength to beat the fear, there’s always great rewards on the other end. If I kill the fear altogether, will I inadvertently close the path to the rewards as well? Maybe that fear is just another level to be ultimately dispatched with. It’s a tricky minefield.

I’ve also come to learn that I have an internal pessimism that lives inside me. This pessimism keeps me thoroughly unhappy with pretty much everything I accomplish. It allows me to have momentary triumphs when I create something that pushes my previous envelopes into a new size, but the triumph is fleeting and the pessimism quickly sets in and starts telling me what a fucking jerk I am for thinking that I’m any good at anything at all.

This snotty little internal bully creates some pretty thick imposter syndrome sometimes. No matter how skilled I get at things, no matter how many people tell me I’ve done something impressive, I can’t help but think that they are all lying to me in some mass orchestrated prank. Any day now I’ll walk into a trap set in a board room and everyone who’s ever told me I did something right will be standing there pointing, laughing and telling me how it was all a setup just to berate me.

A few weeks ago I actually caught my subconscious trying to convince my conscious that I am actually a special needs adult whom no one has bothered to tell they are a special needs adult. For reference, I have an engineering degree and work as a business analyst for a pharmaceutical company. They obviously don’t give these things to just anybody, and yet, I still found myself with the momentary conspiracy theory that everyone in my life outside of my family constituted an elaborate system of life-coaches (hired by my family) whose entire purpose was to applaud everything I do, no matter how mundane it is, as if it were some sort of great accomplishment and to never let on about the ruse. Oh, and this game also comes with a middle-class salary and great benefits, for some reason.

This is an extreme example of how strong that pessimism monster can be, but I assure you there is no exaggeration in it. It’s non-sensical to even entertain the possibility of such a grand lie perpetrated to save me from knowing what a fraud I am, but imposter syndrome is never logical.

The fucked up part about it is, I can’t completely kill the imposter syndrome, either. I need that as much, if not more than, the fear of failure. It’s all very driving. I am driven by pessimism, fear and doubt. I am also, at times, held firmly into place by pessimism, fear and doubt. As previously stated, it’s a tricky minefield.

If I was ever truly satisfied with the way I am, I would have no drive to get any better. In fact, at this stage of my life I can say confidently that any level of skill or success I do have is directly a product of being the absolute last person in the room to ever accept that I am actually skilled or successful. It’s a vicious cycle.

So I think the solution is to just keep going forward. The fear and imposter monsters will keep getting stronger, and I will have to keep getting stronger to beat them. I’ll work to accept the antifragile dance of the two parts of me, and trust that there’s something significant on the other side. I may never achieve escape velocity into the realm of being perpetually pleased with myself, but that will be okay, and I will be okay. As seen on some random Facebook posting recently, “Confidence is not believing everyone will like you, confidence is knowing you’ll be okay if they don’t.”

Or, as a Twitter contact recently tossed at me, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.”

Basket of Deplorables.

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I picked this book up on a suggestion. It’s new. Like brand spanking new. I’m generally distrustful of new books. They’re untested. The best books stand the test of time, and by function of the laws of time and space, a new book has not been afforded the opportunity for significant survival.

The 2nd hesitation I had before starting this is, quite frankly, it’s a book specifically about white perspective. That’s a dangerous perspective to undertake in modern society. Looking into a few superficial reviews of the book before I got started and certainly I came across the judgments of this being a racist writing. The assertion being that anything which sheds light on historical white poverty is inappropriate given the context of African and Chinese slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. I wondered if maybe I had accidentally bought a racist book.

However, since I am man who is not afraid to read books he disagrees with, I decided to consume the content under the threat of reading something inappropriate.

Either Nancy Isenberg is not, as some critics suggest her to be, a racist who is producing some sort of #AllLivesMatter argument, or I am smart enough to read a historical account of something from a racist and not be poisoned by the underlying agenda. Long story short, I do not feel the critics of the white perspective were being rational.

I do not feel somehow racially emboldened by a story of white poverty in America. If anything, I feel I now have a better understanding of just how fucking racist the white settlers and founders of the United States actually were.

Through the telling of how the most depraved and desperate British citizens (including children) where selected for deportation to the New World as indentured servants, planted as nothing more than hands to perpetually work on farms, Isenberg rips off the rose-tinted shades we are adorned with by our American public school education and Disney Movie retellings of our past.  Isenberg tells how the most unproductive members of American society (which was literally and intentionally infected with unproductive people shipped here from Britain) formed a troublesome, backwoods, argued-to-be not-entirely-human class of ultra-poor white people who lived more as animals than humans. Every American knows that Australia was settled as a prison colony for Great Britain. For some strange reason the fact that America was done in much the same way escapes our high school history books. The average human didn’t initially come here for opportunity, it was a punishment for a crime as minor as idolness.

And so, after an upwards of 80% attrition rate to early settlements, a survivor stock of American humans emerged and began to take hold of the land. These were tough fuckers. These people survived when 8 out of 10 people didn’t make the grade. And they started to do what all humans do given enough time. That is; pile up resources. The most savvy of the savvy snatched up land, the sterling tongues created the concept of property rights and started leveraging things called laws against the slower bunch.

The entrepreneurial men enslaved people from other continents to work their fields.

Slavery wasn’t just about controlling people who look different than you do because they look different than you do, it was a way to cut out the people who wanted a decent wage and Sundays off to go to church from the equation. Racists often like to assert that slave owners weren’t racist, they were just economical. Bullshit. They were fucking both. Just because there’s a cultural and economical rationale to slavery, doesn’t mean it isn’t deeply rooted in the oppression of fellow humans based on stark physiological (read:skin color) conditions.

Oh, and the other slap in face that makes me reject notions of racism in Isneberg’s work? Apparently the abolition of slavery itself had racist motivations. Ya, that is also something that is conveniently left out of the Alhambra School District history books from the mid 80’s to mid 90’s.

We’re all led to believe that, all of a sudden, a bunch of people in the North side of the country got woke and decided that owning the life of other human beings was existentially wrong. Ya, not so much. Because the consolidation of power had created an upper class of white people who were so upper class that they could own slaves to do all their manual labor for them, and since there was a hillbilly class of white people who managed to survive off handfuls of mud pies (called clay-eaters by the Antebellum snobs) and the occasional squirrel meat, some really fucking racist people started deciding that it would be better to free the slaves so that plantation owners would have to hire poor white people (because none of them would give money to a negro, naturally) to do the work they were previously getting for the price of keeping a group of owned people alive.

You read that right , folks, the abolition of slavery was, in part, fucking racist. The United States of America gained slaves because of racism, and it got rid of slaves, in part, because of racism. Rich white people were tired of there being a bunch of poor white people who were so poor  that they were apparently sub-par to enslaved black people, so those rich white people fought to end slavery so that the enslaved black people would naturally take the place of the poor white people and the poor white people would be socially elevated in the process.

Damn. There goes the last shred of apparent decency I had about the founding of this country.

So Isenberg goes on in this way, providing the ultimate pessimistic view into the class-based history of America, which is fair, if ever I dealt in such a ridiculous concept as fairness, but what does it provide in terms of progress?

Well, since I am smart enough to draw my own conclusions without attempting to ascertain the intention of the author, I will simply write about what I took away from the book and that is this; if the impoverished people of our society, of all races, would band together and realize that poor white people have more in common with poor non-white people than they do with rich white people (something that fantastically escapes poor white people), then perhaps we would actually have a chance of making a dent in the perpetual problem of inequality in our American society.

To quote LBJ;

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Read more books. I recommend this one. History is repeated by those who don’t know better.

Sit. Stay.

dogs-in-park2

 

“I love watching all the people anthropomorphize their dogs at the dog park. Everyone has a story, a voice they do, a dialogue they assign to their dogs. They project their own thoughts, aspirations, emotions, concerns off on to the fabricated personalities they’ve all assigned to what basically amounts to psychologically tortured canine slaves. They make claims about the inner thoughts of their dogs, remarking about how much little Scamp loves his treats and how Rascal over there has a thing for the ladies and blah blah blah blah blah, it’s all bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit bullshit bullshit. Quit projecting off on to your dogs. They basically have two thoughts, is it good or is it bad, that’s the complexity of that psyche,” said Chewy.

“Ya, I know what you mean,” I responded.

Prince laughed in the background and called us both a couple of nuts.