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A Marginal Sociologist on Social Engineering Part 2: Emotions

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Part one of this post focused on technology and its dehumanizing effect by reducing interactions between human beings. In Part two I will focus on emotions, and how the social engineering of emotion—what is acceptable and what is not acceptable—provides people with a false sense of their own humanity. Recently in the United States—and Western culture more generally—it has become the fashion to be “offended” when someone else says something that you might not agree with. Of course, this is ultimately a childish response and offers absolutely no opportunity for communicative action—itself a necessity for societal advancement—in the sense that German sociologist Jurgen Habermas meant it.

Most recently, we saw how many public sentiments in the United States were offended after a bizarre exchange between two septuagenarian politicians in the United States: President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. At a 21 March 2018 rally against sexual assault at the University of Miami, Mr. Biden said “They asked me would I like to debate this gentleman [referring to U.S. President Donald Trump], and I said no. I said, ‘If we were in high school, I’d take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him’”. Not one to be outdone, Mr. Trump responded via Twitter on 22 March with this: “Crazy Joe Biden is trying to act like a tough guy. Actually, he is weak, both mentally and physically, and yet he threatens me, for the second time, with physical assault. He doesn’t know me, but he would go down fast and hard, crying all the way. Don’t threaten people Joe!”. If we as a society were not so uptight—and so easily offended—we might have found this exchange to be humorous; perhaps it could have even made us laugh!

 

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A Humorous Tweet. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/976765417908776963

 

Yet, it seems, that we are more used to dehumanization. We are so dehumanized that we cannot laugh. The main(lame)stream media in the United States—led by, predictably, CNN—chose to interpret this absurd event in terms of its own world view. Chris Cillizza wrote that Mr. Trump’s Tweet revealed “Three Big Things”. They were: 1) Being “presidential” is not a thing for Trump; 2) Trump sees himself as a street fighter; and 3) Trump is very, very frustrated. I would say that none of the three so-called “big things” that Mr. Cillizza mentions mean much. This is why I believe a second list of “three big things” is necessary in order to get to the point. My three “big things” or, more accurately, big questions are as follows:

 

  • Why Are we blind to the fact that Mr. Biden is exuding this level of toxic masculinity?

Why is Mr. Biden, a darling of the American “left”, a man who “leads with love and kindness”, and takes (supposedly) candid photos of himself with homeless men, threatening physical violence against anybody? Isn’t falling back on stereotypical “male” behavior the kind of thing that those on the American “left” abhor and, ultimately, shame? Indeed, there should be no place for this kind of machismo and empty talk in American society. Yet, for some reason, this is a topic that the main(lame) stream media will not touch. After all, if Mr. Biden was just the kind of stereotypical male that feminists detest, then it would go against the narrative.

 

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Heartfelt? Image Courtesy Of: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2018/03/13/joe-biden-homeless-man/422097002/

 

  • Why do we get offended when Mr. Trump responds in kind?

Why did so many in the main(lame) stream media get offended when Donald Trump responded to Mr. Biden’s threats? Indeed, this was not the first time that Mr. Biden threatened Mr. Trump with physical assault, it happened on the campaign trail as well. Has our culture really become so neutered—so bland—that it is no longer acceptable to speak up when something wrong—like threatening physical violence—occurs? We owe it to ourselves, like the great sociologist C. Wright Mills once said, to speak up when we see absurdity happen.

  • Why do we allow the mass media to frame our world views?

I have written in the past about media framing. It is certainly dangerous, and it happens all the time. Just look at The Atlantic’s poorly informed attempt to frame the terms “globalism” and “globalist” as anti-Semitic slurs (rest assured they’re not, “globalist” merely refers to those who are advocates for globalization) or The Guardian’s attempts to discredit clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson. Unfortunately, the media has much more influence on people’s lives than they believe, and it is hindering the ability for independent thought.

 

Given these three questions I have raised, I will now attempt to provide an answer for all of these “whys”. I believe that the reason that that many people are unable to recognize Mr. Biden’s machismo, the reason that they are offended by Mr. Trump’s response, and the reason that they allow the media to frame their worldviews is because too many people are all too ready to fall back on the fake emotions that the culture industry has provided for them. If supporting Mr. Biden and his party means one is tolerant (and certainly against “toxic” masculinity, since it is a cause of the sexual assaults Mr. Biden was purportedly speaking against), then the case is closed. The media serves to fill the emotional void created by technology and tells the public just how they should feel. Of course, this happens everywhere, not just in the mass media.

 

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A Sign to Make Us Feel Better . . . Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

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. . . While Our Childhoods are Sold Back To Us. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Recently I found myself in an Urban Outfitters store and saw a sign which pointed towards the fitting rooms. It read “All-Gender Fitting Room: Open to All Persons, Regardless of Gender Identity or Expression”. Of course, most fitting rooms are already “all gender”. Indeed, they have always been so. They’re just…fitting rooms. But, Urban Outfitters seeks to put up such a sign in order to assuage the emotional fears of their customers while unabashedly selling customers their collective childhoods back to them in the context of late stage capitalism. I remember Champion Sweatshirts and the “flower” Adidas design from my childhood. Now, apparently, they’re back—and at a considerably inflated price. Perhaps customers should be offended at having the past being re-sold in the present at a premium price point, rather than worry about dressing rooms. The emotional appeal of the dressing room sign serves to mask the fact that Urban Outfitters is, cheaply, capitalizing on the nostalgia and memories of its customers to further its own profits. Indeed, the corporation is playing on emotions—the same emotions which are rapidly being phased out by the modern world—in order to provide a sense of emotional connection to their customers who are now living in an increasingly rational and ultimately emotionless world. In short, it is the same process we see unfolding in the mass media: raw emotions—and memories—are being transformed into controlled and sanitized forms of marketable emotion.

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The Grammys and the Pro Bowl: Two Cultural Spectacles Amidst the Attempted (Re)education of America

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Sometimes it feels as if the whole of American society is going through a sort of attempted re-education. I have already written about the sad state of American academia, yet the attempts at re-education are visible elsewhere as well. They are evident in attempts to re-write American history (also here), and they are apparent in the demonization of police and the rule of law. The common denominator in these attempts at re-education is their focus on division, rather than unity. Unfortunately, the culture industry is a major tool in this divisive re-education.

Sunday 28 January 2018 is a good example of how this divisive form of re-education takes place. On this Sunday there were two major events vying for airtime in the United States: the first was the NFL Pro Bowl, the all star celebration between the AFC and NFC; the second was the 60th annual Grammy awards. The solution was . . . playing the Pro Bowl in the afternoon so as to not compete with the prime time Grammys. Of course, that also meant playing the football game in conditions which, at times, bordered on monsoon level. Despite the hiccups, I can say that Pro Bowl 2018 was definitely a nice experience; I have no doubt that it was much more pleasant than the Grammys (to be discussed later).

The Pro Bowl is, admittedly, a manufactured experience, as SB Nation notes. It is, of course, a great example of the kind of commercialization of sport that the United States is famous for. Ironically, the Pro Bowl is American football without the violence that is so often criticized . . . which means that, in the end, no one watches it. The situation is emblematic of what might be American English’s few proverbs: you’re damned if you and you’re damned if you don’t. Despite the rampant commercialization, it was still a human experience. Like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees’ display of proper parenting on national TV (something that is usually missing in the United States, due to the demise of the concept of “family”), the Pro Bowl offered me many opportunities to interact with some amazing people.

 

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The Pro Bowl had its Human Side As Well at Camping World Stadium. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

It was nice to see fans from all over the United States, donning the jerseys of their favorite teams, who had come to one stadium to quite literally hang out. I met a few Manchester United fans visiting from England who were able to point out the absurdities of the US: “So…the drinking age is 21 but you can go off to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan at 18?” . . . “Yep” . . . “Wait . . . you can’t bet on sports in the United States?” . . . “Nope” . . . and I had to add that, yes, few American football stadiums have covered stands when most top level European football stadiums—even lower tier stadiums—have at least one covered stand. It is the absurdity of America, it is also the uniqueness of America—uncouth and immature as it may be. I met a Denver Broncos fan from Cleveland who lamented the financial mismanagement of some NFL players, who manage to blow through millions of dollars without realizing that their careers are, quite dependent, on their own ability to stay healthy. Despite the over-commodified nature of the Pro Bowl, it was clear that—in American society—we can come together when we need to in the name of sports. As my British friends pointed out, in Britain the site of so many different jerseys would be enough to start a brawl.

What is shocking is that Sunday’s second event, The Grammys, was so different. It started with U.S. President’s Twitter spat with rap artist Jay-Z, whose criticism of Mr. Trump was met with a response that the unemployment rate for black workers is the lowest in 45 years. Unfortunately for Jay-Z, this was not his only embarrassment—despite being the most nominated artist at the Grammys he went home empty handed. Yet this feud was just a prelude to what the Grammys would become—a political s***(side?) show as music artists gave their political opinions one after another (a run down, which I will not deign go into here, can be found here).

 

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A Pretty Funny Tweet; Also Interesting That a U.S. President is Actually Interacting with a Citizen. Sadly, such Alternative Interpretations are Missing From Mainstream Media Since They Don’t Fit the Narrative. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/01/28/trump-rips-jay-z-for-remarks-on-african-american-unemployment.html

 

The irony of it all was, of course, that hyper-commodified music had become hyper-politicized. This is one reason I do not listen to new music; in a bid to follow the logic of late stage capitalism—where profit is king—most music has come to sound the same. It is emblematic of a society that has killed creativity. But it also begs the question: Why do we care what billionaire celebrities in a music business, that is less art and more money, think about politics? The last time I checked, neither Jay Z or Bono had been reading the latest theories in political science or sociology. They are not “left” in any traditional sense of the word; indeed Karl Marx is likely spinning in his grave after Hillary Clinton’s appearance on stage.  And that is why a technocratic government, propped up by the propaganda of the culture industry, is a very dangerous thing indeed. We are swiftly becoming two Americas: One that cares about mass culture, and another that does not. In order to bridge this growing gap, however, we will need new minds that can transcend the one dimensional thought emanating from the culture industry and academia. We are still human beings with an ability to think independently; I would say it is high time we recognize it in order to resist this cultural (re)education.

Back To School: The State of Education in the “Modern” World Is Poor…and Getting Poorer

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Every fall students around the world get ready for the new school year by purchasing clothes and notebooks. In theory, these students will embark on a nine-month journey of learning, free to pursue topics in a diverse array of subjects. In reality, education is quickly becoming a form of indoctrination, designed to support those in power (If you don’t believe me, just read Michel Foucault’s work on the intimate linkage between knowledge and power: knowledge itself is an exercise of power).

As the school year opens, new divisions in societies around the world are popping up as Catalans in Spain move towards an October 1, 2017 vote on Independence and Iraqi Kurds vote on increased separation from Baghdad’s central government September 25, 2017. How have we gotten to the point where more and more societies are fractioning into smaller and smaller entities? Perhaps one reason is that people have been taught to hate their own countries and instead support the visions of one globalist society, the “global village”. Personally I recall learning about Kenyan society in third grade instead of American history; the seed of this kind of “multicultural” education was planted long ago in order to engineer society into one which undermines the foundations of the nation-state.

Meanwhile in Turkey, the government is using education in the same way, as a tool to socially engineer Turkish society with the aim of creating a more pious generation. School children will now be learning about jihad—instead of evolution—while also learning that women and men have separate roles. In fact, the entire Turkish education system is in flux as the state struggles to solidify its vision for education. In Saudi Arabia, an image of Yoda has—somehow—snuck into a state approved textbook, suggesting that someone knows just how powerful education is in shaping the minds of young children. It also shows how powerful education can be: A young student could erroneously believe that Yoda did indeed sit with King Faisal! It is a shame that education is being used for social engineering rather than for the development of free and independent thought because without proper education—and free and independent thought—the world is headed down a dark path.

 

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New Textbooks In Turkey Clearly Demarcate Gender Roles In Order To Build a Pious Generation. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41296714

 

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Adana Demirspor Footballer Aykut Demir Has Clearly Succumbed To the Zeitgeist of Piety. Image Courtesy Of: http://skor.sozcu.com.tr/2017/09/22/gorenler-sasirdi-aykut-demirin-son-hali-662049/

 

 

_97980292_yoda.jpgYoda and King Faisal.

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A New Hope For the New School Year? Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41363156

 

As I noted earlier, the use of education for social engineering is hardly unique to authoritarian “Middle Eastern” regimes; it is present in the United States as well. Every child’s favorite crayon brand, Crayolla, introduced a new color for the new school year and not everyone is happy. The name of the new blue—which replaces the yellow “dandelion”—is “bluetiful”. While proponents of the non-word say it encourages “creativity”, I have to say that I do not agree. By encouraging young children to use non-words—which also are confusing, given that “beautiful” is a difficult word to spell in and of itself—Crayolla is aiding and abetting the creation of a poorly educated generation. Text messaging and instant messaging have already wreaked havoc on the spelling capabilities of many Americans, and this just furthers an unfortunate trend.

 

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Dumbing Down Or Creativity? You Decide. Images Courtesy Of: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/09/15/us/crayola-new-crayon-color-bluetiful/?iid=ob_article_footer 

 

Professional basketball star Lebron James offers proof of just how poorly educated Americans have become. In responding to President Trump’s call to “fire” NFL players who disrespect the American national anthem by kneeling, Mr. James Tweeted “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!” Regardless of Twitter’s 140 character limit, Mr. James’ Tweet represents a bizarre butchering of the English language. There is a misspelling (“U”), grammatically incorrect words (ain’t), and a double negative (ain’t no invite). There is even an insult (bum) to not only the President, but the thousands of homeless Americans who—I am sure—Mr. James cares about. In short, this is not the kind of English I would expect from a thirty-two year old American man! Of course, the media jumped on Mr. James’ Tweet and gleefully reported that this Tweet was more popular than any of President Donald Trump’s Tweets have been. It is not surprising that so many should love this poorly written Tweet; it shows just how low American media will stoop in trying to reach the lowest common denominator.

 

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Ain’t That Some English? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/20816423/lebron-james-cleveland-cavaliers-salutes-nfl-response-donald-trump-comments

 

Personally, I believe that the protests against the national anthem are wrong even if Mr. James finds protesting the protests to be “divisive”. I would argue that the protests themselves divided Americans long before Mr. Trump was even on the scene, and readers know that I have written about divisions in American society in the past. Unfortunately, state media continues to assault nationalist ideas while—at the same time—supporting sports figures who do not care for their countries. ESPN ran a video of Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter, who says that the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the city of Oklahoma, will always be in his heart because “When I [he] lost my family and when I [he] lost my home, you guys gave me family and you guys gave me home”. What ESPN neglects to write in either of their stories (including the one regarding his loss of Turkish citizenship), is that Mr. Kanter supports the globalist Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey blames for the botched coup in July 2016. That American media should be so sympathetic to a man who openly supports a shadowy religious leader that supported a coup which killed over 200 people is an insult to readers, but it is part and parcel of a bigger plan: destroy the nation state and delegitimize all who support the nation state in order to create a globalist world system. By continually educating ourselves, independent of major news media, we can avoid falling for the traps of division.

Soccer and Nationalism in the United States: U.S. Soccer’s National Anthem Policy

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U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer (football) in the United States, finally contributed a sense of reason to the chaos—and the resultant divisions—that have been rampant in American society recently. On 4 March 2017 it was reported that U.S. Soccer announced that “All persons representing a federation national team shall stand respectfully during the playing of national anthems at any event in which the federation is represented”. Some media outlets, such as Rolling Stone, connected this decision to U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe’s decision to kneel before an international football game in solidarity with American footballer Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial inequality in the United States (a subject I have written on before).

 

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Megan Rapinoe’s Decision to Kneel For the National Anthem Prompts a Policy Change. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.rollingstone.com/sports/us-soccer-makes-players-stand-for-national-anthem-w470611

 

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U.S. Soccer’s New Bylaws. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/stuholden/status/838109929802063872

 

Personally, I believe that the U.S. Soccer decision is timely in that it does two important things: 1) It restores a semblance of reason to a confused populace by re-enforcing the positive aspects of nationalism and 2) it sends a message to the entitled masses that it is a privilege and honor to represent one’s country in international competition. In regards to the first accomplishment, it is useful to quote from Anthony Smith’s Nationalism and Modernism (1998):

It is because we know that our interests, indeed our very identities and survival, are bound up with the nation, that we feel such devotion to the nation and are prepared to make such sacrifices for it when it is in danger […] The concept of the nation, then, is not only an abstraction and invention, as is so often claimed. It is also felt, and felt passionately, as something very real, a concrete community, in which we may find some assurance of our own identity and even, through our descendants, of our immortality.

(Smith, 1998: 140).

Smith’s quote is useful in this context insofar as it recognizes the importance of “the nation” in modern society beyond the post-modern interpretation of the nation as either “abstraction” or “invention”; for some it is indeed very real and should—therefore—afford a modicum of respect. In the era of late-stage (or “extreme”) capitalism, the nation is one of the few entities that can bring together the disparate members of modern society beneath one unified conception and U.S. Soccer’s move emphasizes the importance of national identity along these lines. Regardless of our nationality, we do not need to think of our nation as superior to other nations; rather we must only acknowledge that the nation—by providing a semblance of shared culture and experience—has a use in the modern age. Until we find a better way to organize our lives and provide vital services like education and law enforcement, there is no alternative to the nation-state. Therefore, it would be more logical to perfect the workings of the nation-state, rather than reject it wholesale.

As far as the second result of U.S. Soccer’s announcement, it is clear that this move sends a message to current and perspective players alike that playing for one’s nation is a privilege; the least one can do is stand up and honor this privilege. Standing might be seen as an inconvenience to some, but the very fact that they are playing for their country renders all comparisons to the protest of Mr. Kaepernick (who plays for a private entity, the San Francisco 49ers) baseless. Since the nation is (not yet anyway) a private company, there can be little comparison.

Some soccer celebrities in the United States came out in support of U.S. Soccer’s decision. The head coach of the US Men’s National Team Bruce Arena said  “I’m very supportive of that policy. I think players should stand for the national anthem. I think representing your country is one of the greatest honors a player or coach can have. That would be my expectations of the players as well”. Goalkeeper Tim Howard, famous for his heroics in the 2014 World Cup that earned the moniker “Department of Defense”, also came out in favor of the policy saying “I’m a firm believer that you should stand and respect the anthem and the flag, but that’s Tim Howard speaking. I don’t speak for anybody else. That’s what I believe.” Howard added “U.S. Soccer is an organization who are allowed to make rules. Listen, I think if you’re going to wear the shirt, if it’s OK to play for the U.S. then surely it’s OK to stand for its anthem as well. Yeah, I’m OK with it”. The fact that the Denver Post felt the need to underline Mr. Howard’s stance may have been because he is African-American; it is an unfortunate recognition of a flaw in modern society (and also Sociology) which seems to posit that all members of particular demographic groups should think the same thing. For me, such thought processes are inherently racist but that is just one reason (among many) that I am merely a marginal sociologist.

 

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The Department of Defense. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/302867143665717538/

 

The strongest supporter of U.S. Soccer’s policy was former star (and current pundit) Alexi Lalas who went so far as to suggest that players should also be made to sing the national anthem:

U.S. Soccer has the right to do this. The question is, is it the right thing to do, and I say 100 percent. It is a privilege, it is an honor, it is a choice to represent your country, and it comes with responsibilities and expectations. And I know nowadays sometimes the national anthem is viewed as background noise or as a reminder to some about the problems, the real problems, that we have as a country. But I look at is as a unique moment, when we come together, we honor and we celebrate being citizens of the greatest country in the world, and I think it is a tradition that should be preserved.

I have been in stadiums where I stood for the anthem and everybody has booed, where flags have been burned, where I have been called every name in the book. I have never served in the military, I have represented my country on the field, and I know that pales in comparison to the men and women in our armed forces that serve our country and some that paid that ultimate price.

So damn right I am going to stand, I’m going to put my hand over my heart and I’m going to sing. And I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that. Just because we live in the land of the free doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything that we want. [Author’s Note: Emphasis added].

 

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Mr. Lalas’ Iconoclastic Look. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/302867143665717538/

 

While Mr. Lalas’ views may be seen as “extreme”, he raises an important point in his last sentence when he discusses the “freedom” of the purported “land of the free”. As nationalism scholar Anthony Smith notes, nations that consist of immigrant populations (like Canada, Australia, and the United States) encourage “a ‘plural’ conception of the nation, which accepts, and even celebrates, ethnic and cultural diversity within an overarching political, legal, and linguistic national identity” (Smith, 1998: 194; emphasis added). While celebrating ethnic and cultural diversity is certainly important—and indeed laudable—such a policy can only be done within overarching frameworks related to national identity. Without the glue of some sort of national identity—one that is civic and inclusive in nature—the raison d’etre of nations based on immigrant populations (like the United States) is threatened. It is important to recognize the difference (one that many Sociologists I have spoken to fail to make) between respecting cultural and ethnic plurality and rejecting an overarching national identity; these two need not be tied together. Collective nationalism and individual cultural identity need not be mutually exclusive, especially in a country like the United States where a civic model of nationalism is stressed.

Of course, these nuances were not recognized by many pundits who responded to U.S. Soccer’s new bylaws. George Quraishi of The Lowell Sun made the claim that U.S. Soccer was—somehow—siding against the Black Lives Matter movement: “What interests me about the unanimous decision by U.S. Soccer’s board of directors is that it verbalized a message that the soccer establishment has been sending to black Americans for decades: This sport is not for you”. The most shocking thing about Mr. Quraishi’s (I am sure well-meaning) comments here is that they only serve to exacerbate the divide between Black and White Americans. Could it be that, in requiring players to stand for the national anthem, U.S. Soccer was actually trying to bridge the gap between Americans? And could it be that articles like Mr. Quraishi’s are actually perpetuating divides between Americans, by reading into things that are not there (after all, the Black Lives Matter movement was not mentioned in U.S. Soccer’s announcement)? This is understandably a contested subject, but it is the responsibility of all Americans to face these kinds of hard questions if we are to build a functioning society going forward; a society built not on divisions and recriminations but unity and mutual empathy.

Unfortunately, other mainstream sports media outlets in the United States followed Mr. Quraishi’s line. Some pundits from Sports Illustrated claimed that the new policy was “almost un-American” and “pretty tone-deaf”, while ESPN (predictably) slammed the policy calling it both “anti-American” and “anti-soccer”. Chris Jones’ article is exemplary of the faults that so much of U.S. news media has succumbed to recently: it often serves to divide more than it unites. Take this passage as an example:

Maybe the powers that be thought that by making this little show, they could appeal to a previously untapped audience of self-appointed super patriots.

That same audience would have a new favorite player in USMNT defender Geoff Cameron, a vocal supporter of Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban. U.S. Soccer didn’t care to censure him for making that particular political statement, even though it put him at odds with several members of the team, including captain Michael Bradley.

(And no, Cameron shouldn’t have been punished. Freedom of expression does not mean “only expression I like.”)

Despite Mr. Jones’ disclaimer in the last line, he is still effectively calling out a player (Geoff Cameron) in public for expressing an opinion that disagrees with his own. This is absurd, and can be described as poor journalism at best. As public intellectuals (or perhaps, “intellectuals”) I hold journalists to higher standards than those that Mr. Jones met in his piece.

In order to tie this sports-based piece to politics, it is useful to quote a piece from a Breitbart article written by Dylan Gwinn, which quotes Mr. Jones’ piece in the first paragraph:

“More importantly, nobody can make a really solid, rational argument for why players must stand respectfully or otherwise, at least one that isn’t instantly invalidated by a photograph of Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their raised fists in 1968.”

 While no one would say our current day and age is without difficulty, it’s definitely not 1968 either. So that could be an argument couldn’t it? No early, post-segregation environment, no Vietnam War. Is poverty still an issue for millions of black people in America? Sure, but maybe it would be more instructive to go ask former President Obama why he focused on redistribution during his eight years in office?

 According to the Washington Times, under Obama the black labor force participation rate fell from 63.2% in 2009 to 61.2% in July of last year, in addition to black home ownership falling from 46.1% in 2009 to just 41.7% in July of last year.

Maybe addressing that, would be more productive than focusing on how awesome it is to kneel at a soccer game?

While I do not make claims for the truthfulness of The Washington Times or Breitbart, I do believe that it is important to actually address real issues, one of which is the poverty of Black Americans. By missing this point—and focusing so much on the criticism of smaller issues that could be beneficial in terms of creating a semblance of unity (like U.S. Soccer’s new policy)—journalists like Chris Jones only serve to pat themselves on the back in the short term while furthering division in the long term.

Judging by Tommie Smith’s words, I believe that both Mr. Smith and John Carlos had very different motivations for their protest in 1968. A piece from Time Magazine quotes Tommie Smith from an HBO documentary as saying: “We were just human beings who saw a need to bring attention to the inequality in our country. I don’t like the idea of people looking at it as negative. There was nothing but a raised fist in the air and a bowed head, acknowledging the American flag—not symbolizing a hatred for it”. [Author’s Note: Emphasis added]. Mr. Smith’s comments here are very important; they represent a desire for America to live up to its own ideals: liberty and justice for all. As African Americans during the Civil Rights Era Mr. Smith and Mr. Carlos had every right to protest as they did; they were striving for a more equal country with the acknowledgement that they were a part of that country. What we see more and more in the current United States is, however, a blatant disregard—even hatred for—the United States from its own citizenry. The search for equality and justice need not attack the country, since what we all strive for is a more inclusive and accepting country. I have, time and again, heard Sociologists lament the power of the state. While I too am wary of the over-regulatory power of the state (Seatbelt laws are but one example), I also recognize the need for some sort of organizing principle. Until a better form of organization supersedes the nation-state, I must side with Anthony D. Smith:

As for the predictions of a global culture, they fail to take into account the rootedness of cultures in time and place, and the ways in which identity depends on memory. A truly non-imperial ‘global culture’, timeless, placeless, technical and affectively neutral, must be memory-less and hence identity-less, or fall into a postmodern pastiche of existing national cultures and so disintegrate into its component parts. To date, we cannot discern a serious rival to the nation for the affections and loyalities of most human beings.

(Smith, 1998: 195; Emphasis added).

 

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Tommie Smith and John Carlos Show That Nationalism and Individualism Need Not Be Mutually Exclusive. Image Courtesy Of: http://time.com/3880999/black-power-salute-tommie-smith-and-john-carlos-at-the-1968-olympics/

Sports Figures Support Turkey’s War on Foreign Currency

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Since the Gezi protests of May 2013 the Turkish economy has become more and more vulnerable; the failed coup of 15 July 2016 and several violent incidents—perpetrated by both ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and Kurdish separatists—have only precipitated a decline that was a long-time coming. Mustafa Sonmez’s column at Al-Monitor gives a useful outline of how the situation got so dire. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) built their reputation on a strong economy and received an average inflow of 38 Billion USD over the past fourteen years, but most of this money was spent domestically—especially in large scale construction projects and consumer loans (after all, people need money to afford the luxury high-rises that have popped up around Istanbul in the last decade). This means that there were no foreign exchange gains; Turkey still does not export anything (even footballers) to a significant degree. The end result of this? As Mr. Sonmez notes “The dollar’s appreciation against the lira since 2013 will be 60% by the end of 2016 if its rise this year is contained at the current 12%.”

 

The Sharp Downfall Of the Turkish Lira (All Figures Courtesy Of : http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=TRY&to=USD&view=12h)
1 Year:

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2 Year:

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10 Year:

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Clearly, this is bad news for the Turkish economy and those in the country who earn their money in honest ways. In a bid to combat the Lira’s downward spiral, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the country on 5 December 2016 “those who keep foreign currency under their mattress should come and turn them into liras or gold”. Subsequently, Turkey’s main stock exchange Borsa Istanbul, changed all their assets into dollars while Mr. Erdogan’s spokesman said on 8 December 2016 that the President had changed all his foreign currency into Liras. As is to be expected, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was left wondering whether the shoeboxes of foreign bills belonging to Mr. Erdogan’s associates that were uncovered during a corruption inquiry in 2013 were exchanged as well.

This “war on the Dollar” has also taken some interesting turns. Hurriyet Daily News reports that some restaurants would give free food and drink to those who converted Dollars or Euro into Liras, while one bus company offered free bus tickets and even one marble cutter offered free tombstones to those who show proof of converting 2,000 Dollars. It is ironic that tombstones should be offered, since the decision to convert foreign currency to Liras—in this climate—could be construed by some as economic suicide for low-income individuals and families.

Interestingly, many famous people have also joined this crusade, including footballer Aydin Yilmaz. Former Sivasspor footballer Jacques Faty is seen in a picture proving that he converted foreign currency into Liras , although the fact that he now plays in Australia may mean that his contribution to the “crusade” is questionable. On 8 December, Galatasaray captain Selcuk Inan announced that he would accept a new contract in Turkish Liras and we will wait and see how many other footballers choose to follow suit, since—in the globalized world—football is intimately tied to the global economy.

 

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Celebrities Follow Their Leader. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sabah.com.tr/magazin/2016/12/09/vatansever-unlu-isimler-dolar-bozdurmaya-kostu

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.haberler.com/eski-sivassporlu-jacques-faty-dolarlarini-9038038-haberi/

 

The most high profile participant in this frenzy is former Turkish great (and AKP Deputy) Tanju Colak who took an astounding 80,000 USD to an Istanbul change office, saying “we came here to make fun of the Dollar, to burn the Dollar”. Indeed, some of those waiting to exchange their money were allegedly seen burning one Dollar notes (clearly, none were bold enough to burn one hundred dollar bills!).

 

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Mr. Colak (L) Trades In His Greenbacks While The Change Office Employee Looks On With Joy (R). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.yenisafak.com/spor/selcuk-inan-tl-teklifini-kabul-etti-2577034

 

As if the spectacle of a former professional footballer burning money was not ridiculous enough, the coach of Osmanlispor (a team close to Ankara’s AKP mayor Melih Gokcek) Mustafa Resit Akcay asked the state to come and take 20,000 USD from him. Normally, citizens are reluctant to allow the government to take money from them; I am reminded of a graffito I once saw that asks “why do we need police to protect us from thieves when the government already steals from us?” In Turkey—as is so often the case—the logic is turned upside down. Mr. Akcay said (author’s translation):

 

Siyasetçilerimizden, bütün siyasetçilerden, devleti yönetenlerden, müsteşarlardan hepsinden özür dileyerek, haddimi aşmadan bu ülkenin bu ekonomik savaşında devletim gelip benden 20 bin dolar alsın. Ve bu aldığı parayı bana 10 sene sonra mı öder, 20 sene sonra çocuklarıma mı öder, nereye öderse ödesin. Vergi dairesinden bir tane adamı yollasın bana, ben de ödeyeyim, paramı vereyim, helali hoş olsun. Ama bunu yaparken devletime bir nezaketsizlik yapmak istemiyorum. Özür diliyorum eğer bir nezaketsizlik varsa.

 With all due apologies to our politicians, all politicians, those who run the state, and the councilors, I ask—without overstepping my bounds—for the state to come and take twenty-thousand dollars from me in the midst of this country’s economic fight.  Maybe they we will pay this money back to me in 10 years, or back to my children in 20 years; however they pay it they can. They should send one person from the tax collector’s office, let me pay, let me give my money, it’s all ok. But as I do this I don’t want to be rude to my state. I apologize if I have been ungracious.   

It is an interesting stance to take, and I cannot fault Mr. Akcay for his nationalism, but it is also an example of the troubling results of globalization and global financial interdependence. The same push back that brought the UK Brexit and the US Donald Trump is now leading to economic nationalism in Turkey.

With currency experts calling this a “currency crisis”, CNBC reported that many American companies are facing trouble in Turkey. With the country downgraded to below investment grade—the latest bombing on 10 December confirming fears—foreign capital has been given another reason to avoid Turkey. As of now, some companies—like GE and Pepsi—are increasing their presence in Turkey. But how long will this last?

The Voice of America expressed fears that this economic nationalism could go to dangerous levels. Atilla Yesilada, a consultant at Global Source Partners, said:

 

While the patriotic Turks may heed him and will probably exchange their currency holdings, you got to remember that 48 percent of these people don’t vote for him, and they are scared, and many of whom may choose to take their money abroad. Assuming only 10 percent of domestic savers choose to send their money abroad, that would be $9 billion and that would be huge […] That’s where danger lies; action brings reaction. If the government in consultation with banks and the central bank,[sic] realizes those skeptical of the government are taking their money outside the country on a large scale, then you will have capital controls, like [C]hina. You will have limits on what money you can take out and that will really scare foreign institutional investors, who have 80 billion dollars invested in Turkish financial markets, so you might see a chain reaction of them scrambling for the door.

 

Indeed, capital controls would be disastrous for the Turkish economy, and could even affect the football world. Turkish teams are already suffering on the international stage, if their purchasing power is curtailed it could get even worse. Given that international capital has not pulled out completely, the situation is still fluid and I myself have heard rumors of smaller companies that have decided to pull out of Turkey. In the travel sector, for instance, the Los Angeles Times reported that Albania—the same Albania that used to be off-limits to foreigners during the Cold War under the Enver Hoxha regime—has now replaced Turkey on the cruise circuit.

While I believe that the trend towards reversing some of globalization’s more devastating side effects will continue throughout the world in the post-Brexit and post-Trump world, it will be important to watch for the results of this type of economic nationalism. These are worrying times, perhaps not for the ruling elite (and famous celebrities like footballers) who likely have stockpiles of cash and are using this as a cheap publicity stunt, but certainly for the normal citizen who struggles to make ends meet as it is. Encouraging the everyday person to trade in their foreign currency for one that has lost 11 percent of its value in the last month alone will not help, rather it will exacerbate their difficulties.

 

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Gold Values Have Plummeted Over The Last Month. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bigpara.com/altin/cumhuriyet-altini-fiyati/1ay

 

By encouraging people to buy gold, for instance, the value of government issued coins has actually gone down; on 1 December 2016 the value was 887.90 Turkish Liras but following Mr. Erdogan’s announcement on 5 December 2016 the value has fallen to 855.29 on 15 December 2016. For a working class Turk in a country with a 1,300 Lira minimum wage, that loss of over thirty Liras in fourteen days means a lot. This is why it is unfortunate that footballers—extremely wealthy celebrities that are looked up to by people from all walks of society—should be following the government in encouraging those with much less wealth to do things that may not be in their immediate best interests, economically at least.

Why the Blast at Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena May Prove to be A Pivotal Moment For Turkey

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I arrived in Istanbul today for what I thought would be a relaxing vacation with my girlfriend. I jokingly told my friends something could happen, since tragic “events” have a way of ocurring when I leave or arrive in Turkey. Unfortunately tonight, I was proved right. And it pains me that my simple joke was prescient. I don’t write this post from Istanbul just because the attack happened outside of a stadium and that it relates to sport, I write it because it may truly be a pivotal moment in Turkish history.

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Image Courtesy Of: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/10/bomb-outside-istanbul-football-stadium-causes-multiple-casualties

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Images Courtesy Of: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2372661/fifteen-dead-istanbul-football-stadium-bombs/

On the night of 10 December 2016, after Beşiktaş’s Superleague victory over rivals Bursaspor, a vicious attack took place outside of Beşiktaş’s Vodafone arena. At the outset the BBC reported 15 dead and 69 wounded from an attack that consisted of a car bomb and suicide bomber. As of 3:00am CNN Turk (a branch of Turkish State Media), was only reporting 20 wounded and no dead. At 4:27am, the same CNN Turk reported 29 dead and 166 wounded. So…why the silence until after four in the morning, when most (sensible) people are asleep? Why the changing casualty figures, when foreign media was reporting higher numbers? I believe this reluctance to tell the truth stems from the fact that the government knows that they are facing a huge—and possibly pivotal—challenge.

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At 3:29am there was no mention of numbers. Image Courtesy of the Author.

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At 4:27am, when most (sensible) people are asleep, numbers are announced. Image Courtesy of the Author.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan released a statement that read: “A terrorist attack has been carried out against our security forces and our citizens. It has been understood that the explosions after the Besiktas-Bursaspor football game aimed to maximise casualties. As a result of these attacks unfortunately we have martyrs and wounded.”

Sadly—like so much in Turkish state media—this statement doesn’t tell the whole truth. The fact that Mr. Erdogan claimed that the attack “aimed to maximise casualties” is, in fact, false, and therein lies the danger. If the perpetrators—whoever they may be—wanted to maximise casualties the attack would have taken place during the game, when the 43,500 capacity stadium was full. The fact that the attack took place two hours after the match and didn’t target civilians, but appeared to target police, shows that there was some sort of twisted restraint in this attack.

Here, it seems that the target of the stadium was chosen in order to send a message, a twisted and violent message that says “We can do worse damage if we wanted to. Right now we are attacking the state, not citizens. But if we want to target citizens, we can do that too”. Indeed, if the attack had taken place during the match, it would have been even worse (given that already 29 have been confirmed dead, the statement “even worse” is contextual). And that is the scariest thing about this attack. It is tragic that there were so many casualites in (yet another) senseless act of violence, but it is chilling that this may only be a prelude to much worse in Turkey. And if that is indeed the case, we as human beings, need to be aware.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take On America IV: Politics As Sport? Stark Divisions Hinder the Ability to Address Real Societal Problems

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Just a Little Humor: Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2016/2/27/1492361/-A-Thought-About-Politics-as-Sport

As the rumblings regarding Donald Trump’s election victory continue, I am still shocked to see how base the level of discourse is; it is much more reminiscent of an argument about sports than one about politics. It is one driven by emotion and not fact, knee jerk reactions rather than contemplation or serious thought. Aides for Mr. Trump and erstwhile rival Hillary Clinton engaged in an unprecedented shouting match at Harvard University and when “chosen” people (such as campaign aides) are unable to engage in civilized debate it is no wonder that debate amongst us connection-less “mere mortals” (the masses) is of equally low quality.

For me, the fact that “race” was the main point of contention between the aides was the most interesting part of the exchange:

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned [Trump campaign chief executive Stephen] Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.

‘If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,’ she said. ‘I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.’

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”

‘You did, Kellyanne. You did’ interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.

‘Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?’ Conway asked. ‘How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?’

 

We must try to look past the language of state media (the Washington Post). Ms. Palmieri is depicted as having “choked up”. Of course, in a country where cry-ins were organized post-election, this kind of emotional response is accepted—dare I say expected—from Ms. Clinton’s supporters (and Mr. Trump’s detractors). On the other hand, looking at this from a feminist perspective, I would say that this is a glaring example of portraying women, like Ms. Palmieri, as weak and emotional (typical stereotypes of women in American society). State media’s decision to add the “choking up” detail, which is utterly meaningless in the context of the story, is troublesome since it is offensive to women.

Then again, some segments of America might be thinking “state media would never insult feminists or women,” right? Because state media’s opponent, Mr. Trump, is the misogynist and sexist, right? Perhaps…but this misses an important point. Just because someone says they aren’t racist or sexist or anything else, it doesn’t mean that they are—actually—what they claim to be.

In a conversation with fellow sociology graduate students earlier this week I pointed out how minority groups are continually disadvantaged by ostensibly “progressive” forces. I argued that it is a form of social control, designed to divide people so as to prevent opposition to the dominant narrative. After all, the ghettoization of African-Americans in American cities is most glaring in the major urban centers of “progressive” and liberal states, just look at Chicago, Boston, or New York. Erica Lehrer’s study Jewish Poland Revisited explains how many American Jews are taught that all Polish people are anti-Semitic, creating an unhealthy “Us versus Them” narrative. This is sustained because many American Jews never have meaningful interactions with Poles during their visits. It is the same in the United States; northern “progressives” have never actually interacted with African-Americans because they have been ghettoized (and demonized). In my own education, a private high school in New England, I was basically taught that all Southerners are racist bigots. In reality, having lived in the deep south, I have learned that there is far more interaction between Whites and African-Americans—most of which is overwhelmingly positive—in the south then there even could be in the liberal and progressive north.

In our discussion, a student told me that sociologists do research to benefit society and create equality. I asked the student what “benefiting society” even means? From my perspective, I have seen sociology often further divide people—such as the working class—by emphasizing arbitrary dividing lines. A chapter in a book I’m currently reading for my research about sports and politics says “whereas class has virtually disappeared from much of the sociological writing on sport, there is no shortage of references to gender, sexuality, ‘race’, ethnicity, national identity, disability, and so on” (Alan Bairner in Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sports, Ben Carrington and Ian Mcdonald, eds.: 207). I don’t think that the sociology of sport is alone among fields of sociological inquiry in experiencing a phenomenon where class is continually ignored in favor of smaller, compartmentalized, differences. I also have no doubt that many of these divisions cross-cut class, and that emphasis on these differences only serves to further fragment society.

We live in a society where many academics have been co-opted by the culture industry; they agree with the dominant media narrative. Of course, this is dangerous for democratic society. The “educated” must think independently and speak up when there is exploitation and not just pay it lip service. A friend in my department told me that some research results that portray minority groups in negative lights are being suppressed in academia, since it could have “detrimental consequences”. Does this mean that academics are purposefully censoring themselves in the name of “racial equality”? I would say it does, and that is very problematic. To me, that is inherently racist, belying the “progressive” ideals of so many U.S. academics.

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