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Martin Luther King Day 2018: A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on How the Controversy Regarding “Shithole Countries” Reveals the Hypocrisy of the Modern World

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During a meeting with U.S. lawmakers regarding immigration policy, U.S. President Donald Trump’s allegedly asked a question: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”. According to the Washington Post, these comments were made by the President of the United States, despite the fact that no concrete sources were mentioned; the Post’s story mentions only “several people briefed on the meeting” and “people familiar with the meeting”. On the other hand, some U.S. lawmakers have come out to deny that Mr. Trump used such colorful language. Given that the Washington Post was unable to provide sources, it is still unclear whether or not these comments were actually made. For the purposes of this post, however, it does not matter whether or not said comments were actually made.

This is because there are a few things beyond argument regarding this incident:

 

  1. Trump’s comments were, clearly, less than ideal;
  2. This kind of event should have sparked real debate, in the vein of Sociologist Jurgen Habermas’ communicative action

 

Sadly, despite the fact that everyone could agree on number one above, it seems that no one could agree on number two. Instead of actually talking, there was only outrage, as evidenced by the sports(!) site ESPN’s focus on responses from the NBA (National Basketball Association) community (http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22062684/raptors-president-masai-ujiri-criticizes-president-donald-trump-reported-remark and http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22100611/adam-silver-donald-trump-controversy-discouraging ). Normally, one would expect that when a sports website focuses on politics that some sort of nationwide debate would be forthcoming; unfortunately, that was not the case at all. Instead it was the same old self-righteousness that most Americans should, by now, be used to.

Some readers may ask why this is a problem. Why should there be debate, some might ask, when Mr. Trump’s comments were so offensive? Sociologically, it seems to me as if the “offense” that so many have taken to Mr. Trump’s comments stems from the inner demons of many Americans. Perhaps, this is because many Americans might actually harbor the kind of condescending—and ultimately negative—view of other countries that Mr. Trump’s comments espoused (perhaps because they don’t travel?). It is possible that the president’s comments reflect the inner thoughts of many Americans, and to come face to face with this reality is simply too much for a great number of people.

Anyone who has traveled beyond their home knows that, inevitably, something goes wrong. It could be a missed train, a fully booked hotel, a closed restaurant, the inability to find Wi-Fi, or even something as banal as a convenience store that has run out of unsweetened iced tea. In a moment of exasperation, I am sure that most people have exclaimed “this place (town/county/neighborhood/or even country) is a shithole!”. To deny this would, in my opinion, not be realistic.

At the same time, I know for a fact that many people—who claim to be “liberal” and “tolerant” in their outlook—make the same value judgements about other countries (and cultures) as they allege Mr. Trump made. Of course, these people tend to not be as “eloquent” as Mr. Trump was in stating their opinion; instead they err on the side of political correctness. In college, a former girlfriend of mine—who was from a non-Western country—once told me how an ostensibly “tolerant” resident of our college town once told her (upon learning of where she was from) “oh, I heard it’s really bad over there”. During the 2013 Gezi Park Protests in Turkey, a neighbor of mine in the United States used the exact same terminology: “Oh, you’re going to Turkey? I heard it’s really bad over there”. Now, let me translate these statements for a moment from “politically correct” language to “real” language:

 

“I heard it’s really bad over there” = “I heard that place is a shithole”

 

While the latter may be more vulgar, and seem more disrespectful at first, it is clear that the former is no less condescending, no less insulting, and certainly no less disrespectful. And this is something that we, living in Western cultures, should be aware of when we discuss international affairs.

Importantly, this condescension manifests itself in other facets of the Western liberal mind as well. Take, for instance, the debate on illegal immigration in the United States (or the refugee crisis in Western Europe, since it is an analogous process). The globalist push to encourage immigration to the west is driven by the same sentiments of condescension and superiority. So many times, I have heard my fellow sociologists claim that illegal immigration should not be discouraged because “those people are trying to better their lives” and “escape from poverty”. Beside the fact that Mexico is far from the only “poor” country in the world (in fact, it is not even that poor, as Mexico is ranked 16th in GDP, just below Australia—where is the outcry for increased immigration from Guinea-Bissau, which clocks in at 181st?), the idea that lives will be “improved” by illegal immigration to the United States smacks of Western concepts of superiority.

 

Here, the logic goes:

 

  1. Your country is poorer than ours;
  2. Coming to our country—which is not poor—will improve your life;
  3. Welcome!

 

Of course, this logic could easily be translated as:

 

  1. Your country is a shithole;
  2. Coming to our country—which is not a shithole—will improve your life;
  3. Welcome!

 

And thus the Western individual’s sense of virtue and self-righteousness has been confirmed, another “third-worlder” has been rescued from the poverty, filth, and violence of the third world. Of course, it is never considered that—perhaps—the “third world” country that the immigrant hailed from had many positive qualities that the United States lacks: like a sense of community, a sense of family values, and a general lifestyle not dominated by the mechanistic and bureaucratic logic of extreme capitalism. These latter points are rarely considered because the Western countries tend to benefit from the cheap labor offered by immigrant populations. The economy of the United States is satiated by cheap labor from Mexico while the sense of national virtue and self-righteousness in Sweden is satiated by an influx of Syrian refugees; yet in both cases the underlying assumption is “our country is better for you than that shithole you came from”. Is it degrading? Of course it is. Is it insulting? Of course it is. And is it really that different than the comments Mr. Trump allegedly made? To me, I don’t see how it is, and there in lies the hypocrisy of modern liberalism in the West.

Since some of Mr. Trump’s comments were directed at Haiti—and even prompted CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who choked up at times, to become emotional when discussing the topic—I will provide an experience I had with a former student who was from Haiti. My student was indeed a strong individual (as Mr. Cooper describes Haitians to be), but more importantly he was a strong thinker. He taught me things that I did not know about his country: this is one of the joys of teaching; often the teacher learns from the students. My student taught me that Haiti’s troubles were many, but they could be traced back to two sources: Politicians and Imperialism. This student told me that Haiti’s politicians were notoriously corrupt; they tended to take from their population much more than they gave. And he also told me that when the United States started providing rice to Haiti, it meant that the local agriculture business was destroyed; the island nation started to depend on the United States for rice and, rather than develop their own domestic agriculture, they began to rely on international sources. An excerpt from Thomas M. Kostigen’s The Big Handout, available on Google Books,  explains this situation well. Here it becomes abundantly clear—at least to me—that Haiti’s problems do not stem from it being a “shithole country” at all. But at the same time, their salvation is not to be found in more “international aid”. Rather Haiti—like all countries, including the United States—would be well served to embrace their own nationalism, their own country, to bring about a better future.

The hypocrisy of the outrage about Mr. Trump’s comments was brought home to me most recently on 15 January 2018 when a shooting took place at the Providence Place Mall in my hometown; that night my brother was at the mall. He was quick to point out the irony: Many people at his school had warned him about visiting me in Turkey over his Christmas vacation, they had told him that Turkey was “dangerous”. In short, they had warned him that Turkey was a “shithole country”, even if they didn’t use such politically incorrect language. Yet, he did not find guns blazing in Turkey—he found them in the United States, in his home town specifically, while out shopping for Matchboxes. Indeed, the idea that—somehow—other countries are much more “dangerous” than the United States is flawed. But don’t ask the politically correct to tell that to you, since they will only respond with politically incorrect formulations of their own thoughts and crocodile tears (Please see Anderson Cooper, above). Or—even worse—they will paint over the truth: that the globalist system desires to make all countries “shithole countries”.

Take the progressive mayor of Providence, RI, Jorge Elorza, who said the suspect was just “a knucklehead”. His further elaboration did not actually elaborate at all: “It was a terrible incident. Kids … rival groups, rival factions started beef at the mall and it resulted in someone pulling a gun out and shooting someone. It’s senseless, just dumb stuff”. That the Mayor, an elected official(!), of an American city could not come out and say what the police themselves could say—that they “wouldn’t rule out” gang involvement—is a testament to just how dangerous political correctness is for the city, for society, and for the nation. Senseless violence is not inflicted by “factions” or “groups”, senseless violence is inflicted by gangs.

But, sadly, this is the state of the United States in 2018. This is a country where people who imply that other countries are “shitholes” in a politically correct manner feign offense when the same sentiment is uttered in a politically incorrect manner without realizing that they do the same exact thing. This is a country where—in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day—the New Yorker magazine puts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., kneeling, next to Colin Kaepernick on their magazine’s cover. I put “honor” in quotations because the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. should be depicted as kneeling besides someone like Colin Kaepernick (whose divisive actions I have written about before) is a disgrace to the legacy of an American hero; in fact it diminishes his legacy.

 

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A Questionable Cover Image For The New Yorker. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/seahawks/seahawks-michael-bennett-appears-on-the-new-yorker-cover-next-to-colin-kaepernick-and-martin-luther-king-jr/

 

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Perhaps this Would Have Been a Better Cover Image For The New Yorker? Image Courtesy Of: http://guides.ll.georgetown.edu/c.php?g=592919&p=4172699

 

But this is also a country where such division—for reasons I cannot fathom—is welcomed. It is a country where someone like Eduardo Bonilla-Silva is the head of the American Sociological Association (ASA). As a marginal sociologist, it is an insult to me that someone as seemingly racist as Mr. Bonilla-Silva represents my profession. This is man who has written a book arguing that, basically, all whites are racists, and has given a talk entitled “the real ‘race problem’ in sociology: the power of white rule in our discipline”; as a sociologist—as marginal as I may be—I take offense to this. In reading one of Mr. Bonilla-Silva’s book chapters for a graduate seminar, I was taken aback reading some of his generalizations punctuated by blatant racism; it was clear to me that he certainly was not judging people by the content of their character but by the color of their skin–something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged us not to do. But this is because Mr. Bonilla-Silva—like Colin Kaepernick—is unlike Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The latter was a hero who wanted to bring people together, the former two are cowards who only want to drive people apart. Just like it takes strength to be positive in the negative world we live in, it takes a strong person to unite people—the weak will only resort to division. By the same token, most of us know that it is easier to break a friendship off than work to make a friendship grow.

This is because people have no respect—nor idea—of their own community, their own nation. We cannot abandon our countries to the mercy of globalist leaders and corporate interests, both of which have no respect for their countries. We owe it to ourselves as citizens of whichever country we belong to to make our countries as good as they can be; we must strive to make our countries live up to the messages that they send us regarding “freedom”, “democracy”, and “liberty”. I saw the football fans stand up for their country in a small stadium in Istanbul, as the fans of Sariyer supported their nation with a Turkish flag, a banner reading “Long Live Mustafa Kemal Pasha” (Yasa Mustafa Kemal Pasa), and a banner reading “Country First” (Once Vatan). For me it was an inspiration. And I see the same sentiments it in a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. himself: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. It is words like these that inspire me, not the negative rhetoric of division that the globalist media tends to proffer.

 

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On an October Day the Sariyer Players Stood For Their National Anthem While The Fans Made Their Sentiments Clear Through Banners. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

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A Sensible Sentiment Sociologists Would Do Well To Keep In Mind. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.quotesbycelebrities.com/martin-luther-king-jr.-quotes/we-must-learn-live-together-brothers-or For Audio of Mr. King’s Speech, Please See This YouTube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNPpEQkep2k
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Recent Sports Related Tweets by U.S. President Donald Trump Reflect Deeper Moral and Economic Issues Within American Society

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On 22 November 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump continued his Tweeting, this time focusing on two sport-related topics: The release of 3 UCLA student athletes from jail in China and the National Anthem protests in the National Football League (NFL). It is important to note that these Tweets represent much more than just President Trump’s penchant to sometimes speak before thinking; rather, these Tweets reflect real issues in American society that go far beyond the President’s personality.

 

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Images Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

 

When the U.S. President personally goes after a private citizen it understandably makes the news. After securing the release of Lavar Ball’s son from Chinese prison, the outspoken father took to the news and refused to thank the President. It was this ungratefulness which led the President to Tweet:

 

Now that the three basketball players are out of China and saved from years in jail, LaVar Ball, the father of LiAngelo, is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail! (19 November 2017) 

Shoplifting is a very big deal in China, as it should be (5-10 years in jail), but not to father LaVar. Should have gotten his son out during my next trip to China instead. China told them why they were released. Very ungrateful! (19 November 2017)

It wasn’t the White House, it wasn’t the State Department, it wasn’t father LaVar’s so-called people on the ground in China that got his son out of a long term prison sentence – IT WAS ME. Too bad! LaVar is just a poor man’s version of Don King, but without the hair. Just think…..LaVar, you could have spent the next 5 to 10 years during Thanksgiving with your son in China, but no NBA contract to support you. But remember LaVar, shoplifting is NOT a little thing. It’s a really big deal, especially in China. Ungrateful fool! (22 November 2017)

 

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Mr. Trump (L) and Mr. Ball (R) Are Now Feuding Apparently. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.sportingnews.com/ncaa-basketball/news/lavar-ball-cnn-interview-video-donald-trump-feud-son-arrested-china-ucla/i55mlxrks9ab1131a7bzx0b04

 

While it is certainly odd that the President of the United States of America is personally addressing an oddball like LaVar Ball (who is basically using his own children as a vehicle for his own profit), the oddity of this event should not blind readers to its importance. The uber-individualistic nature of modern American society has resulted in a marked loss of societal morals. Instead of expressing outrage at shoplifting in a foreign country—which reflects poorly not only on wider American society but also on Mr. Ball’s ineffectual parenting skills—state media is busying itself by attacking the President.

CNN—one of the major shepherds of the sheep in American society—“analyzed” the Tweets in an article by Chris Cillizza; it shouldn’t be surprising that Mr. Cillizza missed the point entirely. That said, it is time for another example of why media literacy is important. At first, Mr. Cilizza provides his readers with a bit of armchair psychology: “At the root of Trump’s personality is grievance and a sense of victimhood”. I was not aware that CNN journalists are now moonlighting as psychologists, but I digress. Cillizza goes on to describe Trump’s Tweets as “racial dog-whistling” before closing his piece with this clincher: “Of all the ways Trump has changed politics and the presidency, his ‘me first, second and last’ view of the world is the most profound and troubling”. After reading the article, one would be forgiven for thinking that Mr. Cillizza lives on another planet.

After all, is he not aware that “me first, second and last” is the view that most Americans subscribe to? Are those not the same views that Mr. Ball has when he refuses to apologize, knowing that this publicity can only help him sell more of his third rate athletic shoes? (Indeed, the spat has garnered 13.2 million Dollars in free advertising). Are these not the views that his son had when he knowingly shoplifted in a foreign country? And are these not the views of many millennials, a generation of which twelve percent believe it is acceptable to speed in school zones? What is “most profound and troubling” (to borrow Mr. Cillizza’s words) for me, however, is a topic that is glossed over and lost in the rhetoric of racism. It is widely known that race paints over the inequalities of capitalist society, providing a false consciousness which divides the working classes. In Mr. Cillizza’s piece race is again used to blind readers; here it is employed by the writer to mask the fact that shoplifting is unacceptable and that being grateful is important. Yet, instead of outrage about three young African-American men disrespecting their country—and their own sense of morals—we have outrage about the alleged “racism” of the President of the United States.

Similarly, Mr. Trump’s second Tweet from 22 November 2017 is also warped by the interpretation of the news media; again the message—and signs of a failing society—are masked. The Tweet in question reads:

 

The NFL is now thinking about a new idea – keeping teams in the Locker Room during the National Anthem next season. That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!…..

 

While readers know I have written about the National Anthem protests before, the issue here is about what can only be called extreme capitalism. The commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, has asked for a 50-million-dollar salary and a private plane and lifetime health insurance for entire family. Now, if Mr. Goodell were a pauper, this would be understandable (maybe); instead he currently makes . . . 30 million dollars a year. Thus, the figure he is requesting (demanding?) would be a near doubling of his salary! At a time when the average CEO in the United States earns 354 times what the average worker earns, Mr. Goodell’s desires are nauseating. For comparison, the gap in the United States can be compared to Switzerland, the country with the second largest CEO-to-average worker pay gap, where CEOs make only 148 times what the average worker makes. Unfortunately, however, there is little outrage at Mr. Goodell’s greed since—just like in the case with Mr. Ball’s ungratefulness—race is used to distract the public from the real issues.

 

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The Wage Gap is Certainly Increasing. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/09/25/the-pay-gap-between-ceos-and-workers-is-much-worse-than-you-realize/?utm_term=.aac68d3472f6

 

Jerry Jones, the owner of the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys who has been critical of Mr. Goodell before—specifically regarding the commissioner’s handling of the national anthem protests—threatened a lawsuit against Mr. Goodell before dropping it. Of course, Mr. Jones’ opposition is understandable since Mr. Goodell is using the protests to provide the public with a face of “tolerance” and “respect” for those protesting racial inequality while, at the same time, getting richer and richer off that same public! Despite the clear economic inequalities being perpetuated by Mr. Goodell, all anyone can talk about is race. Jemele Hill, an ESPN journalist who could be called a bigot herself (although mainstream media would never say it despite the fact that ESPN had to suspend her due to comments she made on social media), described Mr. Jones’ standoff with Mr. Goodell as “laughable”. Again, Ms. Hill ignores the economic inequalities due to her obsession with race.

Race was even brought in to bring down Mr. Jones after he opposed Mr. Goodell: A 2013 video of him allegedly making “a racially insensitive remark” surfaced a week ago. For the purposes of this piece it does not matter whether or not Mr. Jones made the comments or meant the comments to be “racially insensitive”; what does matter is that—in the digital age—scandals can be manufactured so that those who dare voice opinions that do not match those of the masses are vilified and, ultimately, eliminated. The world has seen this type of behavior before in the totalitarian states of mid 20th century central Europe, the only difference there was that those who were vilified and embarrassed were later murdered. Yet, just like in Stalin’s Russia, the masses will stand by as scandals erupt in the modern United States. Content with their own manufactured sense of moral superiority, the masses will shake their heads and scold those who are vilified; they will not speak up, content as they are with their own—fleeting as it may be—sense of safety. What the masses do not realize, however, is that the scandals will come for them as well the moment they dare oppose the masses. In such an environment one has two choices: Be silent or be destroyed.

 

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“Wut?” Indeed. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.sbnation.com/lookit/2017/11/12/16639956/roger-goodell-50-million-salary-plane-insurance-nfl

 

Clearly it is a dangerous situation. In the digital age the walls quite literally have ears. Anything one says can—and likely will—be held against them by the morality police. In the mean time, race will continue to be used to mask the true inequalities facing everyone regardless of their race (or gender or sexual orientation, the other Sociological catchwords). In these two cases, President Trump’s Tweets on sport open a unique window from which we can view some of the issues in American society today; it is our job to interpret the issues in a balanced and unbiased manner. That is something that—sadly—mainstream media continually fails to do.

Sports, Separatism, Nationalism, Globalization, and the crisis of Western Liberalism in the United States and Spain

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The ills of the current world system are playing out on sports fields around the world. From Donald Trump’s battle with the kneelers of the NFL (National Football League) in the United States to Barcelona’s decision to protest La Liga’s call to play against Las Palmas in Spain, we are seeing a real battle between the globalist forces of global media and global capital and those who believe in the unifying power of civic nationalism.

In the United States, we see that—actually—a majority of adult Americans (58 percent) polled from 25-26 September, 2007, believe that players should be required to stand for the American national anthem before sporting events. At the same time, a similar majority (57 percent) believe that players should not be fired for not standing for the national anthem. In keeping with a sense of healthy—and uniting—civic nationalism, the majority of Americans got it right. It makes sense that players should be required to stand and respect their country’s national anthem; players should realize that it is their country—in this case, the United States—that has given them a chance to make millions for essentially moving a ball around a field. Few countries offer sports figures such astronomical sums as the United States does, and it is not absurd that players should recognize this fact. On the other hand, players should certainly not be forced (by threatening their jobs) to stand since that would be overly coercive. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady agrees with the majority of Americans’ position, saying President Trump’s call to fire players was “divisive”.  In the end, on Sunday 1 October 2017, the New England Patriots lined up for the national anthem in a way that—I believe at least—every American can be proud of.

 

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The Patriots Live Up To Their Name. Image Courtesy Of: https://nep.247sports.com/Bolt/New-England-Patriots-Tom-Brady-an-anthem-display-Happy-we-respon-108300938

 

On the other side of the coin, it is not surprising that multinational corporations—like Nike and Ford—sided with the kneeling players against President Donald Trump. This is not because they approached the controversy in a nuanced way (like apparently most Americans did), but because it is these multinational corporations that profit the most from globalism. These are the same multinationals that have transformed football from what was once “the beautiful game” into what is now known as “industrial football”—where local clubs in Britain are run by billionaires from East Asia and Middle East. It is a football world where—somehow—a European team like Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes can field a team made up of only non-European players in the UEFA Europa League (at the expense, of course, of local Portuguese footballers).

For the multinational companies, their “support” represents a poor attempt to gain good PR. It is as if—by “supporting” the players’ “right to freedom of expression”—the exploitation inherent in Nike’s East Asian sweatshops will be forgotten; what happened to those who protested Nike’s use of child labor and their workers’ poor working conditions? It is all part and parcel of the contradictions of modern liberalism. The current world order has—somehow—conned well-meaning “liberal” individuals into believing that they are “fighting a good fight” while really contributing to their own—and other’s—continuing subordination by what we may call the one-dimensional thought of modernity, to borrow from Herbert Marcuse. This is because constant media narratives (from the West) and commentary from celebrity figures continually encourage the one-dimensional thought of the masses around the world. It is illiberal liberalism.

A recent football related development in Spain represents a perfect examples of how this process plays out. FC Barcelona played their fixture against Las Palmas on 1 October 2017 behind closed doors as a form of protest against the Spanish government’s treatment of Catalan protesters during a referendum on independence from Spain. FC Barcelona’s statement read:

 

FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression.

Given the exceptional nature of events, the board of directors have decided that the FC Barcelona first-team game against Las Palmas will be played behind closed doors following the Professional Football League’s refusal to postpone the game.

 

The team’s statement had all the hallmarks of modern “liberal discourse”, including the “democratic right to free expression”. For the team, it is a PR coup. They also had the classic celebrity backing, in this case coming from a “tearful” Gerard Pique who threatened to quit the Spanish national team. Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola also weighed in, saying he wouldn’t have played the game at all, while his statement “Spain will try to hide the reality, but the rest of the world’s media will show it” represents a perfect example of the synthesis between celebrities and Western (in this case, non-Spanish) media in shaping public opinion. Even the football shirts worn in the match were political, as Barcelona donned a strip in the colors of the Catalan flag while Las Palmas showed up with a Spanish flag embroidered on their jersey.

 

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The Empty Stadium At Least Served for FC Barcelona to Send their Message: More Than a Club (Don’t Think That This Was Not Intended). Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

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The Political Jerseys of FC Barcelona (Middle) and UD Las Palmas (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

Amid the maelstrom of controversy (because, somehow, the modern world—despite its inherent “liberalism”—is rife with conflict), the inevitable question rises: Which side, if any, is right? The answer is not easy, and in order to even attempt to answer this question we must attempt to break free of the kind of one-dimensional thought that threatens to paralyze our ability to think independently in the modern world. We must open our minds to alternative interpretations of events, free from the narratives we are constantly fed by our newsfeeds on social media and in the 24-hour news cycle of modern mass media.

First of all, in regards to Barcelona’s decision, it is unclear who the winners are: the players were unhappy (Pique was “tearful”), Mr. Guardiola was unhappy, and I don’t think Barcelona was very happy since they were caught between a rock and a hard place; either they could make a real political statement and boycott the match and then stand to have six points deducted, or they could save the six points and keep their hopes for winning a championship alive and (of course) earn more money for their brand in the process (they chose the latter). The biggest losers were most certainly the fans, since tens of thousands of people travel to Barcelona every year just to experience a game at the legendary Nou Camp. Those fans—who paid good money for a trip to Spain and a match ticket—were denied this experience. Perhaps the only winners were multinational corporations—like Nike—since the match served as a giant advertising campaign: Nike’s Catalan flag-themed shirt was on display along with their traditional “swoosh” due to the empty stands. It was the same old story of industrial football, the fans lost and the corporations won, all while the players cried crocodile tears. What is most interesting is that nowhere in the mainstream media will you find this analysis; mainstream media is too busy fawning over the romantic notions of “democracy” and “freedom” (even if it comes at the expense of the “middle class”, the ticket-purchasing fans).

 

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Nike Wins Big…As The Fans Lose. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/02/pep-guardiola-condemns-decision-play-barcelona-vs-las-palmas/

 

Second of all, in regards to Catalonia’s decision, it is similarly unclear who the winners would be in the event of Catalan independence from Spain. It is even unclear how many people want independence or even what these protests mean, despite mainstream media’s analyses. The BBC believes it is more populism than it is separatism, yet it is “leftist” Antifa forces who are calling for “occupation forces” to get out. If the Catalan referendum is about populist nationalism, then why is it a leftist cause? Here we clearly see the crisis of modern liberalism. Since the issue has been framed as one about “democracy”, one would be forgiven for believing that most Catalans want independence. The BBC says first that the vote in support of independence was nearly 90 percent, before going on to tell readers that turnout in the referendum was…just 42 percent. So what about the other 58 percent that did not vote? Any novice statistician (as well as marginal sociologist) might be able to explain that there may have been a social desirability bias in play; those who wanted to vote “no” may not have voted because a “no” vote was framed—by international media and celebrities—as one against “freedom” and “democracy”, among other things that no humanist individual could honestly be against. In fact, according to the BBC, a July 2017 “public survey commissioned by the Catalan government suggested 41% were in favour and 49% were opposed to independence [for Catalonia],” supporting the argument that the 58% percent of referendum abstainers were, in fact “no” voters.

 

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Catalans Calling Spanish Police “Occupation Forces”. Image Courtesy of: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41479048

 

That so many Catalans should reject independence is telling. While it may be mind boggling for some to wrap their heads around, I believe there are many reasons that Catalans might reject independence from Madrid. First and foremost, geopolitically speaking, an independent Catalonia would make just one more insignificant nation-state carved out of a formerly significant nation-state. Once powerful states like Yugoslavia—and now Syria—have been torn apart by civil wars (encouraged or ignored by outside powers); it seems that what is happening in Catalonia is yet another example of this process, yet one done in a more civil manner. It is encouraged non-violently by the media rather than violently by international arms traders (please see my piece on globalization as a more humane form of imperialism for more on this topic).

 

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Is it “democracia” in Catalonia? …. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2017/10/02/pep-guardiola-condemns-decision-play-barcelona-vs-las-palmas/

 

_98097208_scoreboardempty.jpgOr a Showcase for International Capital (Like Rakuten, Beko, and Nike? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838

 

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Rakuten Takes (Literally) Center Stage as the Company Becomes Bigger Than The Sport. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/41459838.

 

Secondly, economically speaking, an independent Catalonia would be far from an economic powerhouse. As a small nation—which would likely have poor relations with their neighbors Spain—an independent Catalonia would be beholden to international finance and/or the European Union for support. Perhaps that is why international media and celebrities are so keen on pushing for Catalan independence; with it the transnational visions of the European Union might be rekindled as yet another state will fall prey to the forces of predatory globalism (to borrow from Richard Falk). This may also be the reason that the European Union has been unable to deal with their own hypocrisy, as the New York Times notes in a typically biased piece:

 

Police officers in black RoboCop uniforms and Darth Vader helmets blocked ordinary citizens from voting. They beat people with batons, fired rubber bullets and wounded pensioners. All of it was captured by smartphones and news cameras and spread around the world. It is the kind of violence the European Union would ordinarily condemn in high moral terms and even consider punishing. But that was not so easy this time. The nation in question was one of its own: Spain.

 

The New York Times, like the BBC cited earlier, tries to connect the Catalan case to “nationalism” and “populism”, since these are verboten terms in the modern media narrative…yet this poor attempt to “frame” events also shows the hypocrisy—and illiberalism—of modern liberalism at the same time. A left-leaning news site, Slate, makes this contradiction even clearer in a piece written by Joshua Keating:

 

Over the past two weeks, two very different nations—Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia—have taken steps toward declaring themselves independent states. Both have been met with hostility by the countries they’re trying to split from, and indifference from the rest of the world. Both have sent a strong message to nationalists and secessionists around the globe: The established countries are an exclusive club that’s typically reluctant to admit new members. Both places have learned just how few advantages separatists have in breaking into that club.

 

In this comparison between Iraqi Kurdistan and Catalonia, Mr. Keating paints a sympathetic picture of the separatists since they are the are the underdogs to the nationalists. They are not part of the “established” and “exclusive” group of countries, they are “without privilege” in Sociological terms. These sentiments are, of course, a part of the politics of victimhood. Yet Mr. Keating continues his piece, describing Catalonia, with this sentence:

 

The level of political breakdown on display here [Catalonia] is something new and unprecedented for a Western European democracy in recent years.

 

It is almost as if Mr. Keating is unable to understand that Western European Democracies—as well the United States—have been fomenting this kind of “political breakdown” for years by encouraging the emergence of identity politics. Since the days of “self-determination”, proposed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, Western democracies have pushed identity politics both at home and abroad as a way of garnering votes. Just a cursory look at voting charts in the United States shows just how important identity politics—particularly based on race and gender—are in determining voting patterns. It is unforgivable for a journalist (from a left-leaning website, no less) to be seemingly oblivious to the dangers of identity politics.

Thirdly, sociologically speaking, an independent Catalonia would be devastating. The new nation state would be one founded on division, as well as one that would be far from the inclusive vision of civic nationalism. In fact, an independent Catalonia would be one founded on racial and ethnic exclusion, Catalonia for the Catalans! It is my hope that ostensibly “liberal” onlookers take note; supporting division based on ethnic identity is as far from the “inclusive” vision of modern liberalism as it is from “civic nationalism”. If anything, it is reminiscent of the fascistic forms of ethnic nationalism that gave Europe two world wars in half a century.

Catalans and Madrid must come together and negotiate a better way forward together. This is not Brexit, where “together” (part of the slogan of the “remain” camp) meant the continuation of a transnational union at the expense of national sovereignty. In Spain, “together” means the Spanish nation state coming together to resist the forces of transnational globalism in support of national sovereignty. If there is any connection between these two events, it is the positions of “Leave” the EU and “no” to Catalonia as a republic. Nations can only be strong if they stay together and, most importantly, work together. Humanity cannot sustain being broken into smaller and smaller units, which—ironically—causes more division than it (supposedly) heals without alleviating the problem of domination (in the Foucauldian sense). Spaniards and Catalans are better off solving their issues and remaining united; with the alternative of the Syrian example (a conflict also framed in the name of “human rights” at the outset) close at hand, observers would do well to think about just how dangerous—and bloody—encouraging division really is.

Football and Geopolitics: The Media Impetus for the U.S. Strike on Syria, What It Might Mean for The World, and Why Media Literacy is Important

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AUTHOR’S UPDATE  (7.20.2017): A few more news stories have come out recently regarding this topic which are worth sharing. The first is a piece from The Nation which, while pointing out the inconsistencies surrounding the alleged chemical attacks in Syria, serves as an anti-Trump piece arguing that the current U.S. President deliberately fabricated the intelligence reports regarding the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The second is an article from Mother Jones. This piece is still anti-Trump, but it adds the important point that the Obama administration was also accused by journalist Seymour Hersh of fabricating chemical weapons stories in Syria (in fact, The New Yorker apparently declined to publish an article accusing Mr. Obama of fabricating chemical attacks in Syria). The point of this second “Author’s Note” is not, of course, to celebrate or denigrate either Mr. Trump or Mr. Obama. Rather, the point is to show why media literacy is still important. It is beyond politics since we should not question mainstream media in order to celebrate political figures we like or trash political figures we dislike; rather we should consistently question mainstream media narratives–especially if they don’t add up–regardless of our political persuasions. Otherwise we risk fueling the dangerous kinds of fragmentation we have seen recently in society.
Author’s Note: This Was First Posted on 7 April 2017 But The Text Was Not Visible. I am Re-posting, with some new stories and analysis included. The main point here is to take a post-modern approach in the tradition of French Sociologist Michel Foucault; we must be cognizant of the fact that there is no one single “Truth” with a capital “T”; in order to make sense of mainstream media we must strengthen our media literacy.  

 

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The Bleak State Of Syrian Pitches During the Civil War. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

On 22 March the BBC came out with an eye-opening look at football in Syria during the ongoing six-year civil war. The article opens with the claim that “since the uprising began in 2011, there has been little positivity spoken in connection with the country, but then there is the remarkable story of Syria’s national football team. The relationship that exists between this national team and its people depicts the power of sport on a personal, cultural and political level”. Given this excerpt, one would be forgiven for believing that the BBC was publishing a humanistic piece. The reality—as is the case with most modern news media—is something less than humanist; after all the media (given its relationship to capital) is not wholly independent. Unfortunately, the authors Richard Conway and David Lockwood cannot resist bringing the political—in this case from a biased perspective—into their piece:

 

A month before the victory against China, Syria drew against former World Cup semi-finalists South Korea. These results mean gradually, the footballing world is starting to pay attention to Syria for sporting reasons. But this is not entirely a good news story.

There is no ignoring the control that president Bashar Assad’s regime tries to exert over its citizens and, once again, sport is no different. The relative success of the team is both a passing panacea and a propaganda opportunity, the former for the people and the latter for the president. To present a thriving football culture to the world fits in entirely with the agenda of normalisation, of having quelled the rebellion, of stabilisation and control. However, as we discovered, the reality is far from that.

 

The emphasis here is less on the football team and more on the ills of the Assad government, which sends a political message in the guise of a humanist piece of sports journalism. While the journalists claim that “the rapid return of football to these areas shows the government’s desire to use the game to display life as returning to normal and of the war as being won. What could be more normal than going to a football match? But like the normality, this ‘growth’ of the game is an illusion;”, it seems that both fans and footballers might have a different opinion.

The authors cite one un-named fan as saying “It is very important to keep hope and to stay optimistic. Live our life in normal way, in sport, in everything. The kids need to live a normal life, what’s happening is not their fault, they need to watch sport, go to their schools, go to public parks, they have to”. The “hope” that this fan speaks of is certainly essential, and increased violence in the country will not serve him/her —or the children—in the long term. Footballer Mohammad al-Khalaf says “we are angry because the families are separated by the war. All the Syrians’ families are separated, that’s why we have so much anger. But what shall we do?

We have to accept our destiny and adapt to it. We didn’t want this to happen but it wasn’t in our hands, they are trying to destroy the people. We hope that it will end and in God’s will we will be able to return to our country as soon as possible”. Again, the footballer’s description of the situation can be read in many ways; it is a lament for the destruction of his country without taking a particular stance on the issues. His next statement that is quoted is more nationalist: “sport has nothing to do with politics. We have to move forward and sport has a message and we should relay this message. If the Syrian team plays with any other country, for sure and from the bottom of my heart I will back it and support it”. The focus here is not on a particular government or political group, rather it is about the Syrian nation, the Syrian people—perhaps not even the state at all! The article even notes that assistant coach Tarek Jabban said he coaches for the love of his country, despite making just $100 (£80) a month. The team’s star defender, Omar al Midani, might put it best when he says “The football was much better before the war. We were happy, the only thing we cared about was football and school. Now the only thing we care about is to have our country back like it used to be”. This statement—more than that of any other person cited in the BBC piece, shows that there are at least some Syrian footballers who recognize the importance of the state; whether they are nationalist or not is immaterial, what matters is that they have a respect for the state independent of its leader—insofar as it provides law and order. The fact that Mr. Assad has managed to stay in power throughout this bloody six-year civil war implies some sort of support, thus these sentiments should not be surprising.

The article cites Brigadier General Mowaffak Joumaa who (unsurprisingly, given his role as a soldier) gives the nationalist explanation that “the Syrian government is defending our people and [is] keep[ing] Syria united, this country in land and people”, yet the authors of the article conspicuously eschew any statements remotely sympathetic to the regime (as an impartial media outlet would be expected to do). Instead, they write that Syrian President Bashar al Assad:

 

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Sports Is Used In Syria To Support Mr. Assad’s Regime In Its Darkest Days. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

has led a war against opposition forces within his country for more than six years […and] that there’s nothing funny about him [al Assad] to those trapped within the country’s borders or living under his authoritarian rule. Many here will not talk of him openly. Most will not even dare speak his name when asked about their feelings towards him. The reach and menace of the regime runs deep in the Syrian psyche. What started as peaceful demonstrations, all part of a popular uprising across the region in 2011 known as the Arab Spring, quickly degenerated into a vicious and bloody war.

 

Again, the BBC’s piece is perpetuating the image of Assad as a killer and “menace” so as to (perhaps indirectly) influence Western policy (or readers’ support of the latter) vis-à-vis Syria, while also downplaying the fact that there are fans and players who just want things back to where they were. Unfortunately, because of a refusal to even acknowledge an alternative “truth”, the BBC’s work can be viewed as a form of intellectual imperialism. It is one characterized by media narratives and tropes that are repeated enough to become pseudo-facts.

Unfortunately, intellectual imperialism—even in the world of sports journalism—has its consequences. Less than two weeks after this piece was published with the passage “The Syrian government also stands accused of war crimes against its own people for numerous egregious breaches of human rights such as using banned chemical weapons and bombing water supplies” [my emphasis], the Syrian regime was reported to have used chemical weapons on its own people during an attack on Idlib province on Tuesday 4 April 2017. On Thursday 6 April 2017, doctors in Turkey confirmed that chemical weapons had been used in an attack that killed at least 72 people. Despite the reports, the fact remains that the Syrian state could stand to gain nothing from conducting such an attack at this stage; much of the world had grown to see that Assad was far less of a menace than ISIS/ISIL/DAESH and even the footballers and fans cited by the BBC had expressed their desires for a return to normalcy.

Without resorting to conspiracy theories, it is still important to keep an open mind and the words of one “expert” are useful to explain why this “attack” is so suspect. The Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce rightly points out that “there’s a mystery at the heart of an apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria this week: Syria’s government, suspected of carrying out the attack, was supposed to have gotten rid of all its chemical weapons in 2014”. Indeed, this is true (it even appears as a link beneath the Guardian’s story reporting this week’s attack). The “expert” cited by the LA Times is Markus Binder, a chemical weapons expert at the University of Maryland. According to the Times, he “still had basic questions about the attack that need to be confirmed, including exactly what chemicals were used and whether the Syrian government carried out the attack”. The LA Times points out that “the use of chemicals makes [no] immediate sense, given that the government has been using explosives that often kill civilians.” Mr Binder adds “Why now? It puzzles.’”. This alone should make any impartial observer pause for thought.

Now, given the United State’s attack on a Syrian airbase on 6-7 April 2017 in response to the purported use of chemical weapons (which Syria denies), we must think even harder: What is the motivation for this kind of aggression? There are three likely scenarios that come most immediately to mind:

  • The Megalomaniacal Theory; Mr. Trump Attacked Syria to further his own political agenda: This theory has three inter-related components:
    1. By attacking Russia’s ally Syria in such a conspicuous manner, Mr. Trump may have thought that he could put an end to the speculations that the Kremlin paved his way to the White House.
    2. This attack also serves to differentiate Mr. Trump from his predecessor—former president Barack Obama—during the first 100 days. By definitively acting on the alleged use of chemical weapons by Mr. Assad, Mr. Trump can show his ability to follow through when a “red line” is crossed (something Mr. Obama did not do). Similarly, if Syria did indeed use chemical weapons, it would show the failure of Mr. Obama in the realm of negotiation since he “agreed to a Russian deal to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program” in the first place.
    3. Trump may have believed that the use of force would restore credibility for the United States in the international realm, which feeds into a third theory.
  • The America First Theory: Since Mr. Trump campaigned on an “America First” platform, he may have seen this as a simple way to assert American military strength at the outset of his presidency in order to send a message to other geopolitical rivals like Iran and North Korea. The fact that Mr. Trump’s administration has been keen to point out that “no people were targeted” and that Russia was notified before the attack (even the sections of the base where Russians were present were not targeted by the strike) shows that the administration saw the airbase as a fairly safe target, PR wise, for a “one-off” strike. The Trump Administration may see this kind of a one-off strike as allowing them to negotiate for a settlement from a “position of strength”; threats are much more credible after force has been used. This approach would also signal a perceived return of the United States to global prominence.

 

Likely, the explanation for the United States’ first open use of force in Syria is a combination of elements from these three theories. The fact that the two candidates who fought a bitter presidential campaign should agree on the issue of using force in Syria is eye-opening, as is the coincidental nature of timing. While former presidential candidate and current Florida senator Marco Rubio thinks the timing of Mr. Assad’s attacks is coincidental since it came in the wake of tacit American support for the Assad regime; I would go the other way (while wondering about Mr. Rubio’s thought process) and point out that the timing is coincidental since it comes at a time when Mr. Assad is re-gaining (at least some) lost legitimacy while Mr. Trump is losing legitimacy (judging by polls that had put him at 46 % approval rating). It was a perfect storm that may have forced the American President into a corner, acting on any information he had—whether real or fake.

The reality is that if the state has an agenda, too often the media supports that agenda. While we should all be cognizant of conspiratorial stories (like those claiming that the Daily Mail deleted a story in January 2013 about a false-flag attack in Syria involving chemical weapons) we also need to recognize (in the Foucauldian tradition) that there is no one, single, “Truth”; there is nothing to say that mainstream media is telling “the Truth” all the time. As a country that fought a civil war–and emerged from it better off (and without major meddling of foreign powers)–the United States should be the first to recognize that there is little “Truth” (with a capital “T”) when it comes to civil war. There are embedded messages in every news story we read. That even a humanist story about a nation’s football team can carry political undertones—in this case directed against the Assad regime in Syria—is worrisome, regardless of Mr. Assad’s record (he is not a saint after all; politics is a dark game and political leaders rarely are saints).

 

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No One Can Be a Saint When a Country Is This Divided. Readers Should Imagine What They Would Think If Their Own Country Was as Divided as Syria Is Now. Would They Be Happy With Foreign Intervention? Would They Support The Government? Would They Support the Rebels? Empathy is Important in Moments Like This, Since It Allows For a Humanist Approach to the Issues at Hand. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/syria_football_on_the_frontline

 

It means that—when used hand in hand with the policies of the state—the media can act as a shepherd of the masses; the media can condition public opinion before any action is taken by the state so as to mitigate the possible negative reactions to the state. Time will tell what the fallout of Mr. Trump’s actions will be in Syria and the wider Middle East; in the mean time the best we can do is be cognizant of the biases inherent in every kind of news story we read—whether about sport or politics—so as to increase our media literacy. Honing these skills will allow us to avoid being drawn in by “fake news”, while also allowing us to take a more critical view of mainstream media.

Troubling Times for Democracy All Over the World: A Few Thoughts from a Marginal Sociologist on the Budding Hobbesian War of All Against All in the Field of Culture and the Threat It Poses to Democracy

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When I wake up in the morning my usual routine consists of a cup of tea and a cursory search of “news” on Google so as to get as varied of a perspective that I can. The very fact that the vast majority of news outlets available to American readers are extremely biased towards either end of the ideological spectrum is concerning in and of itself; this type of polarization does not bode well for the future of “democracy” (in “quotes” because it is, itself, a debatable concept) in the United States, or the coherence of American society.

 

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A Useful Graphic With Which to Navigate the Culture Wars. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/check-political-bias-media-site/

 

That some news outlets are so questionable (to an unprecedented degree) is extremely worrisome. Yet, sometimes, even the “questionable” outlets can call out other “questionable” outlets in the form of a Hobbesian “war of all against all” in the media field (Bellum omnium contra omnes in the Latin for those readers who, like me,  slaved away studying Latin in high school). The Rightist Breitbart media (rightly) called out the false reporting of “Left” leaning Time Magazine in a very surprising—and sports related—story. Time Magazine Tweeted that Olympian Fencer “Ibtihaj Muhammad was detained because of President Trump’s travel ban”, and a subsequent story by  Motto, a Time publication, failed to rescind their earlier statement even though Ms.Muhammad explicately tweeted—four days after her original post—that her detention occurred in December (during previous President Barack Obama’s administration, and not during President Trump’s).

 

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Time Magazine’s Poor Journalism and Why We Should Always Question Media. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/sports/2017/02/14/muslim-american-olympian-claimed-detained-trump-travel-ban-detained-obama/

 

While Breitbart provides a portion of Ms. Muhammad’s interview (where she misleadingly insinuates that she was directly affected by Mr. Trump’s “ban”) The Washington Examiner quotes a customs official who, confirming that she was detained for less than an hour, said “She comes and goes many times. She travels quite extensively. She has never been stopped before. She wasn’t targeted. The checks are totally random; random checks that we all might be subject to.” And this is the issue. People have been detained at U.S. airports long before Donald Trump became President. The supposedly “totally random” checks are not all that random—I myself have been detained upon returning to the United States from Turkey and treated extremely disrespectfully by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (this happened under Mr. Obama’s administration, I may add); my only fault was coming from Turkey and being half-Turkish. Clearly, these checks are not so “random” and these are things that the Leftist media would be better served addressing; as I myself have noted before the dystopian nature of American airports is alarming. But to blame it on a specific President—without looking at the bigger picture—is worrisome and brings into question the very existence of an independent media.

In my mornings I also focus on Turkish news. Unfortunately, in the past few months, the news coming from the two countries has—surprisingly—become more and more similar! Since the attempted coup of July 15, 2015 more than 33,000 employees have been dismissed by the Turkish Ministry of Education; on 7 Februrary 2015 it was announced that more than 4,400 civil servants—including police and 330 academics—have been purged in the crackdown following the attempted putsch. Even Turkish diplomats are fearing for their lives in this authoritarian climate. The Turkish state is exercising its power to the fullest extent; emphasizing a Weberian “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”. Interestingly, the situation is not very different in the United States and it is something that should be worrisome for those concerned about the state of democracy worldwide.

In the United States there seems to be a power struggle between the intelligence agencies and President Trump (no doubt if it happened elsewhere it would be covered with a much more critical eye by the U.S. state media). The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. intelligence officials are withholding information from the President of the United States; this is clearly worrisome, since it would seem—to anyone—that this would hinder any good faith attempt for Mr. Trump to actually do the job that he was democratically elected to do. I put it in italics to emphasize a point that, clearly, many in the U.S. seem to not understand. One such pundit, Bill Kristol, went so far as to say “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state”. For the uninitiated, “The ‘deep state’ is jargon for the semi-hidden army of bureaucrats, officials, retired officials, legislators, contractors and media people who support and defend established government policies”. Any of those familiar with Turkish politics will know how dangerous the deep state is for democracy, and it is something that I have mentioned before.

 

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The Insulting Words Of a Woefully Uninformed Man Who Has Only Lived The Privileged Life of the United States. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/02/15/bill-kristol-backs-deep-state-president-trump-republican-government/

 

While the dismissal of Mr. Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may not be the worst thing in the world (according to the Economist who are known for their sober analyses; please see here and here) , it does raise other questions—but not the type The Economist raises. Surprisingly, it was Bloomberg News’ Eli Lake who provided a useful analysis:

[F]or a White House that has such a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth, it’s strange that Flynn’s “lie” to Pence would get him fired. It doesn’t add up […]

It’s very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress. Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do […]

[A]ll these allegations are at this point unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government. Flynn was a fat target for the national security state. He has cultivated a reputation as a reformer and a fierce critic of the intelligence community leaders he once served with when he was the director the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama. Flynn was working to reform the intelligence-industrial complex, something that threatened the bureaucratic prerogatives of his rivals.

 

These words—particularly the bolded portions—should deeply upset any American who cares for the semblance of “democracy” that they currently enjoy. Regardless of one’s political position, one should be concerned when a state begins to attack its citizens for doing nothing that is actually illegal (especially after rumors have come from both the “Right” and the “Left” that former President Mr. Obama is planning a “challenge” to Mr. Trump). Were Mr. Flynn’s actions questionable? Sure. But they were not illegal. And when the state’s intelligence agencies—ostensibly neutral—begin to undermine an elected government it is a slippery slope. Rather than celebrate these attacks on an elected government Americans would do well to realize that they risk surrendering their own “democracy”—with their own hands—to a nebulous, anonymous, and (most alarmingly) unelected group of individuals in the intelligence community. As alarming as Mr. Trump may be for some people, he is still—ostensibly—at least accountable to the people. That is something that cannot be said for the “deep state”, and this may be one of the biggest threats to democracy in American history (in the same way the totalitarian ideology of globalization represents a threat to democracy worldwide: just look to Turkey for an example).

Sports Stars and Extreme Capitalism from Necati Ateş to Stephan Curry: The Continued Atomization of Extreme Capitalist Society

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Necati Ateş in Action For Galatasaray. Image Courtesy Of: https://alchetron.com/Necati-Ates-145199-W

 

The other day a friend sent me a picture of himself with Turkish football star Necati Ateş. In and of itself, this small “event” is not very significant; a friend had a random interaction with a famous footballer in a restaurant—itself a democratic space since everyone has to eat. Yet, for me, it was indicative of the fact that extremely wealthy celebrities, like footballers, do not have to be distant from the very people that support them: the average fan. I was moved especially by Mr. Ateş’s smile; he seemed genuinely happy to be in a photo with my friends. For me a simple picture—while maybe not telling one thousand words—did show that 1) celebrities can be accessible and 2) that celebrities can also be normal people. That this kind of interaction took place in Turkey is not insignificant.

 

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Some Beautiful People in a Beautiful Picture. Mr. Ateş is Pictured Third From the Left (In the Middle, So To Speak). Image Courtesy of E.C.

 

The extreme capitalism of the United States is based upon a belief in the supremacy of the individual; in advanced industrial capitalist societies the individual is effectively subordinate to the system. As an American-born kid growing up in Turkey I was often asked if I saw famous people on a daily basis. Of course I didn’t, I lived in Providence, Rhode Island (a beautiful city yet hardly a destination for A-List celebrities). And even if I lived in New York City or Los Angeles, celebrities—in the United States—often frequent such exclusive places that a normal, middle class citizen would be unlikely to even interact with such people. The country is simply too big (and too stratified) to be conducive to such interactions. But in Turkey it is different—the country is smaller, and people are—generally—more ready to interact with their community than people in the United States. And that is one reason that Turkey is such a warm and inviting country.

Mr. Ateş seems to show, in this small interaction, that there can be a place for humanist interaction in societies that are negotiating the relationship between capitalism and “extreme” capitalism. In the United States, it is difficult to get the autograph—let alone a picture—of a star athlete. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that often-times athletes (and celebrities) come to believe (due to encouragement from the culture industry) that they are somehow “above” normal society—Beyonce’s self-beatification during the Grammys is a good example of this process.

 

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The Beatification of Beyonce; Celebrities as Above the People. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/beyonce-grammy-goddess_us_58a203d0e4b0ab2d2b17d4ce

 

Similarly, some athletes completely disregard the people that support them. NBA star Steph Curry’s comments regarding Donald Trump are an example of this process. After the CEO of the sportswear company Under Armour called President Donald Trump “An Asset to this country [the USA]”, Steph Curry (who is himself sponsored by Under Armour), said “I agree with that description if you remove the ‘et’”. While I would not go so far as conservative commentators who called for Under Armour to “rip up” their agreement with Mr. Curry, I would say that Mr. Curry’s comments are ill-informed; he evidently did not realize that many normal people—including parts of the middle classes in the United States—indeed voted for Mr. Trump precisely because they felt forgotten by mainstream America’s celebrity culture. It is a process that has characterized the neo-liberal era in the United States; even in 2000 a University of Wisconsin sociologist noted how ignoring middle-America was problematic. Evidently, no one listened.

 

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Steph Curry In Action for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Image Courtesy Of: http://clutchpoints.com/steph-curry-deflects-question-about-kevin-durants-comments-about-his-defense/

 

A society divided between rich and poor cannot sustain itself and, sadly, celebrities are perpetuating this divide in the United States currently. While I agree that sports stars should speak their mind (since they are a large part of the public sphere), they should do so in an informed way. By succumbing to blind ideology, they send the wrong message to their fans. Mr. Curry would have been better off taking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s path, who attempted to bridge the gap in American society rather than widen it further. In so doing, Mr. Johnson showed that he is more in tune with his society than Mr. Curry and—coming from a celebrity—this is something to be commended. Money, and the search for it, need not distance us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, extreme capitalism in the United States tends to glorify the celebrity. I appreciate Mr. Ateş’s actions for showing a side of Turkey that current news stories tend to miss: it is a beautiful country with extremely kind people, struggling to stand up to the ravaging forces of extreme neoliberal capitalism. If only more American celebrities could recognize the dangers of their own disconnectedness from wider society.

A Marginal Sociologist’s Take on Globalization as Seen Through The Hypocrisy of Starbuck’s Coffee: A Modern Day White Man’s Burden?

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All Aboard the Train of Cultural Imperialism? No Thanks, I’ll walk. Image Courtesy Of: https://news.starbucks.com/news/all-aboard-the-first-starbucks-on-a-train-with-sbb

 

Since I wrote about the sports world’s response to US President Donald Trump’s move to suspend immigration from seven majority Muslim countries the furor has not subsided. Indeed, in discussions with fellow sociologists, I have been able to see first hand the anger that Mr. Trump’s poorly-executed policy has spurred. Such discussions are usually fruitless since—as I have also written about in the past—many Americans do not have a clear sense of the world because they have not travelled. This kind of “international ignorance” may well be one of the biggest shortcomings of modern American society; it is a society that has continually fostered this kind of ignorance while not encouraging what I would call “international competency”. It is unfortunate, and the problems it creates are wide-ranging.

In the piece I wrote earlier I used Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s conception of the “self”: essentially one defines the “self” in relation to how one perceives others see them. It grows out of an acknowledgement of the “other”. Most Americans—having never left the country—do not have any conception of an “other”; this leads to the kind of extreme individualism that I wrote about in the context of American sports. Of course, emphasized individualism is a product of extreme capitalism since modern industrial society encourages individualism; having fewer communal ties makes one more likely to wholeheartedly accept the culture of competition which is necessary for capitalism to flourish.

This may be one reason that so many in the American public have been ready to make the immigration cause their own without thinking about other issues; in their mind “American” society is the best there is. Ready to encourage this kind of sentiment the media have featured South Sudanese NBA Star Luol Deng’s message prominently. Mr. Deng explains: “It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others. Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them”. Of course, Mr. Deng is right: we must humanize the experience of others and recognize that people are just trying to make the best of the perils that globalizing society has produced.

 

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Mr. Deng’s Words Should Be Recognized. Especially the Emphasis on “Humanizing” as opposed to Corporatizing. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/LuolDeng9/status/826186188650221568/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

Unfortunately, the media fail to realize one crucial point: The American model may not be the only model for world society; in fact, there are many functioning societies around the world that are much less individualistic than America’s and which still maintain their stability. We must keep this in mind, lest we push a form of imperialism that borders on societal engineering and is eerily similar to the “white-man’s burden” of colonial times. What works in America works fairly well—but that doesn’t mean it will work everywhere and it certainly doesn’t mean that it should work everywhere. The media fail to realize that all of the countries President Trump suspended immigration from have been victim to some degree of American intervention in the past (as the President himself admitted, the United States is far from innocent); the more this kind of imperialism is pushed the more unstable the world becomes.

Starbuck’s Coffee—themselves guilty of the kind of cultural imperialism that globalization encourages—decided to take action following Mr. Trump’s order. It amounted to an extremely hypocritical move. Starbuck’s announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees for its stores, sparking ire from Americans. Starbuck’s’ PR department seemed to have smoothed things over as their hometown newspaper the Seattle Times reported that veterans were already well-represented within the Starbuck’s community, and Business insider noted that “The coffee giant responded with links to a press release on its recent work to open stores in lower-income communities and a website on its veteran outreach” (Author’s Note: I have retained these links for readers who are interested). Even more hilarious is that Starbuck’s—despite their unending cultural imperialism—don’t even have locations in any of the seven countries Mr. Trump chose to temporarily stop immigration from. I wonder why?

 

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Locations of Starbucks Worldwide Are Colored In Green. I Guess The Seven Muslim Majority Nations Were Deemed Too Unsafe Even For Starbuck’s (!). And What About Africa? I Guess Starbuck’s Might Be A Little Racist Too (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks#Locations

 

The issue here is that Starbuck’s, in their bid to be “inclusive” and “progressive”, are merely painting over their own questionable past. Starbuck’s in Turkey (and I imagine it is similar in other countries that have an existing “coffee culture”) has emphasized a form of cultural imperialism; traditional coffee houses are pushed out by the ubiquity of Starbuck’s’ locations. In addition to their imperialism, the company also has put the demands of international capital before the concerns of human life. As someone who closely followed the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, I know that Starbuck’s closed their doors to protestors affected by tear gas and attacks from the police; it was such an affront that many in Turkey wanted to boycott Starbuck’s wholesale. Starbuck’s—again through the mouthpiece of a hometown Seattle news source—tried to cover up their deplorable actions and Christian Leonard’s piece for the Seattle Globalist carries the headline “Starbucks lends a hand (and a toilet) to Turkish protesters”. The truth is far from it; they in fact had closed their doors (and toilets) to protesters. This kind of “alternative reporting” is a result of Starbuck’s’ propaganda machine, as one Canadian source points out:

 

In a world where millions are instantly united by social media, political actions can be quick and effective in situations like this. Starbucks has been criticized by protestors, who claim that when the police tear gas attacks began, Starbucks was one of the only shops to close its doors and refuse to allow in those injured and seeking shelter. Starbucks has since been scrambling to regain its credibility amid calls for boycott: Tweeting images of its staff helping protestors, and posting notices around campus denying that it failed to provide assistance.

 

The aforementioned story is an example of Starbuck’s’ attempt to “regain its credibility”. Unfortunately for Starbuck’s, anyone who knows about the company should know that it is morally bankrupt.

Current CEO Charles Schultz sold the NBA’s  Seattle Supersonics, allowing the team to move to Oklahoma City and alienating many basketball fans in the process. The company also turned a blind eye to insults directed at NASCAR fans after the company attempted to enter the motorsports world. The company even sparked a controversy over Christmas (I italicize it because it is so ridiculous) in order to keep with America’s obsession with political correctness; for the company “Merry Christmas” was deemed offensive.

Those who think that Starbuck’s is standing up for refugees might want to look at the situation from a different perspective. They might be looking for cheap labor from desperate sources (if so they really represent one of the more reprehensible forms of extreme capitalism) or they may just be looking to glorify their own moral standing, championing the consumerism of America while reaching out to the “less fortunate”. In any case, those searching for virtue in Starbuck’s would best be “served” going elsewhere for both coffee and virtue.

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