E-Crises and Andidotes, All the Way Down

If you’re an American and in any way invested in the political system and political developments, then you are probably in your own e-crisis…

A few days ago I was washing dishes and listening to a podcast from the Trillbilly Workers’ Party.

I started listening to them this year, during Spain’s lockdown, when I’d take Alqo into the woods for a momentary escape. Hosted by Tanya, Tom, and Tarence from Appalachia, Kentucky (Tarence is a transplant from New Mexico), their perspectives as three marxists from a rural and conservative area are illuminating. Every so often, they reference the e-crisis, or epistemological crisis, that haunts the United States.

A crisis or knowledge. We cannot agree on basic, foundational knowledge or facts in the political, social, or religious realms. With heightened stakes for progress (societal and perhaps planetary survival) from pandemics, rising acceptance of authoritarianism, climate inaction, and many of us being ‘more online’ than ever, we’ve entered a new phase on how we relate to each other and the wider world. Obviously, disagreement spans centuries and geography, but the last decade’s technological and algorithmic advancements have given us our own finely-tuned informational vacuum that is not shared with even our closest neighbors.

We, the United States, with all our social and economic contradictions might be at the stage of the Weimar or late Roman republics. I say this knowing full well my own family does not see it like that. Granted, I tend to speak in extremes. Am I seeing something differently, (or missing something) because I live abroad?

But I also see the e-crisis in myself. I’m more annoyed and sarcastic when I scroll through Twitter in my morning. Why? Because all the outrage and governmental ineptitude is on full display right when I wake up. There’s no joy filter I can turn on. I just have to muster the willpower to log off.

Before I though of this crisis as collectivized, generalized. I had not considered to think deeply about my own internal epistemological crisis.

In this particular episode, one of the hosts, Terence, started dissecting the 21st century Marxist motto “A better world is possible”. He questioned this:

We’re constantly in this space where we think we can change the world, philosophically, … but we know deep down, empirically, that we can’t. That’s the e-crisis. It’s the space between those two things.

He continued by saying that some days he wakes up feeling inspired and optimistic about the future. If we keep on working towards something positive and democratic and for the benefit of all, good things will start happening. But other days, he wakes up with the grim thought that there’s not much those of us who hold no power or sway over large institutions can do.

The contradictions are stacking up, but for all we see with what’s happening (specifically in the United States), it is not producing the mass discontent, radicalization, and organizational action of people needed to overthrow the capitalist system. So Tarence ended his monologue with:

It would probably behoove you to get into religion, some sort of spiritual practice, or something.

From previous episodes and an article about them in the Bitter Southerner, I know that two of the Tarence and Tom are ex-Christians.

As with any book or podcast that’s meaningful to me, I started reflecting on my own trajectory over the last few years. In Mauritania and Mexico I had turned away from the (neo)-traditionalist form of Islam that seemed solid to me. In the end, I could square the legalist, non-mystical, and non-materialist framing that the celebrity imams and my Mauritanian friends seemed convinced of with my reading of the Qur’an and Islamic history. Even though I was relatively late to the party, I chafed at the sectarianism online and offline. But really, I was only rebelling against my own shaky conceptions of what it meant to be Muslim.

I had read a good deal about Sufism but did not consider myself one. My first encounter with Islam was through Rumi at university. I had never felt the ineffable mystical experience that the spiritual masters and poets described until my night with the chakruna in Peru.

That night healed my broken heart for the dīn, that way of life given to us by The One That is Closer to Us Than Our Jugular Veins and elucidated by the prophets since the first Homo sapiens, willingly adopted as my own. It also gave me the drive to start opening up about things that I consider incredibly complex and important. I don’t have all the answers obviously, and perhaps I’m wrong about many things. But I have enjoyed the path.

But if I’m being honest, I have become distracted from the ineffable. I externalized my peace of mind and happiness into the material with the Bernie campaign, wishing for improvements that might never come. I’m probably not alone. But with getting older, reading closely the arc of history and progressive movements. Sometimes the shoe never drops. I could live out the rest of my days with the anticipation of the sudden collapse of the global financial capitalist system that never comes. Tarence wasn’t suggesting religion to move away from fighting those necessary battles; racial injustice, the climate emergency, the neo-fascists. He was giving us a bigger anchor to hold on to.

I look to the Qur’an and Islam as one might look to Jesus and Christianity to steady myself and see the long game. To read the allegories of the prophets and the pronouncements for me is to gain a larger, more cosmic perspective of things. In the end, Justice will be served. It is up to us and in the same way, not up to us.

After I finished the dishes, I picked up my copy of Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? It was a field-changing book for Islamic Studies. I’m still in the introduction but in it, he picks apart the the conception of what is Islamic. Are wine-cups from the caliphs with Arabic inscriptions on them considered Islamic? Why do we consider the juridical perspectives of the great imams more Islamic than the philosophic-religion like Ibn Sina or Ibn ‘Arabi?

But it wasn’t necessarily the contents of the book that comforted me that night. It was the convergence of hearing someone remind us of the importance of a larger spiritual worldview to strengthen ourselves for the important materialist fight for earthly progress and an important scholar exploring what it really means to be Muslim, using examples of practices and people who are occasionally considered heterodox (outside of the fold of Islam) that lifted me.

It’s a silly example that can only make sense to me, with all the things rattling around in my head. But I’m sure there are others who have similar experiences of different stimuli that converge at the exact right moment they need them to produce a personal mini-breakthrough. I needed that this particular night.

My own e-crisis will remain, I’m sure. I can’t turn it off and dive so fully into my own surroundings and hobbies that I forget about what goes on outside my family, my tribe, my spiritual community, or country. But reframing my thinking and using a “larger anchor” that I had momentarily forgotten have gifted me more acceptance for what might come. And for that I am grateful.

A Republic Without the Public

Rob Wijnberg from the Correspondent admonishing the news media to stop treating the United States as if it’s a democracy should be required reading:

It would be a major misconception to assume that the downfall of US democracy started in November 2016, when Trump was elected. In fact, it’s the other way around: the first openly kleptocratic president moving into the White House marked the consummation of its decay, not its initial conception.

Born from theft, built on slavery, held together by self-deception, the United States has grown to become the richest poor country in the history of humankind. It is a country that has violence in its DNA, inequality embedded in its genes, and a completely mythical self-image as its national identity.

It’s a country with the world’s highest GDP, where 40 million people live below the poverty line. The only industrialised nation on the planet without universal healthcare, any real social welfare system or decent retirement provisions. The only free nation where 1 in 40 adults are behind bars and which has more guns in circulation than people living within its borders. The only western economy where the richest three inhabitants hold more wealth than the poorest half of the entire population.

There’s so much here but one of our great faults as a nation is the utterly unearned exceptionalism.

  • Iran is a dangerous theocracy ruled by ayatollahs, but one Supreme Court justice’s passing is the difference between democracy and fascism.
  • West African states are corrupt and driven by cults of personality, but when the the president and congress do it, it’s somehow both abnormal but par for the course because, politics.

And on and on.

We aren’t honest to ourselves about our country. Which is why I think journalism like Slate’s If It Happened There series is important, because it highlights how complicit our media is, intentionally or otherwise, in our myth-making.

Left Abroad #3: Podcasting Spanish Politics with Alan McGuire

I talked to British writer, teacher, podcaster, and fellow immigrant to Spain Alan McGuire last week about politics, history, books, and his own podcast Sobremesa.

There’s a dearth of in-depth information in written or podcast form in English about Spanish politics that doesn’t have the same tired tourism angle and I wanted to talk to him about how he came to Spain, his own political trajectory, and why he decided to start his project.

It ran a little long, because Alan and I have quite a bit in common. Thanks to Alan for taking the time to and to you for listening to Left Abroad! Please give us your honest review on Apple Podcasts if you get a chance.

Show Notes

Blueprint for a Barely Functioning United States

With the untimely passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Republican hypocrisy regarding SCOTUS confirmations that liberals seem to think will eventually shame the GOP into doing the honorable thing (it won’t), massive unrest over the troika of economic, social, and environmental conditions, the contradictions in American life have become much too obvious for anyone with half a brain to ignore.

I hate to admit it, but there is no Left with any real power. And The American death cult and its financiers faces a weak centrist façade that placates and sloganeers. History will show the DNC to be the party of dangerous (white) moderates. The rest of us simply have no other viable vessel for political expression.

Nobody’s asking me, but this is my blog and we could start demanding some things to make life more livable:

  • Restructure the immigration system and dismantle ICE: Family separation, hysterectomies in immigrant concentration camps, young Americans of color locked up for weeks despite having citizenship, raids in hospitals. Tell me where to stop.
  • Abolish the Senate: An antiquated chamber that is wholly undemocratic. Wyoming and California are not equal. It impedes progress. But look, it was designed that way, a mechanism for the new American aristocracy to keep a lid on the popular classes.
  • Along with the Electoral College: Popular vote.
  • End impunity for the ruling class: Bush and Obama for American war crimes and accessories to Saudi crimes in Yemen. Trump for corruption, along with those senators accused of insider trading before the pandemic. If not in court trials at least a public reckoning. As a two-time Obama voter, it’s hard to deny his epic failures on Guantanamo, the Middle East wars, deportations, and more recently orchestrating the consolidation of centrists during the democratic primaries for Biden and squashing an NBA wildcat strike with a phone call. Sound like an impediment to hope and change? Thanks Obama.
  • Close the racial wealth gap and pay reparations: I’ll defer to Darity and Coates.
  • Green New Deal for planetary survival: Fires, floods, heat waves, droughts, etc. It’s happening and it’s finally not just confined to developing nations in the global south.
  • Legislate Medicare for All: Again, the only industrialized country to not have public healthcare. Pandemic, meet employer-based plans that work tooth and nail to deny coverage.
  • Cancel student debt: Give more economic freedom to the generations crushed by debt. It’ll be in everyone’s interest.
  • Reform the courts: Lifetime appointments are monarchical.
  • Demilitarize/defund the police: Duh. They keep murdering people of color without repercussions. They don’t need tanks, they don’t need heat rays, they need accountability.
  • Take away the assault weapons, at least: This one should have happened already.
  • Promote homesteading and invest in rural communities: The rise of masks, staying home, social distancing and telecommuting have pointed the way. Let’s be pioneers,
  • Reduce the workday: 6 hours at most. Let people live. Or at least be able to help their kids with Zoom school in the immediate future.
  • More municipal/state rights: How do we undermine an imperial presidency? By diminishing the reach of the office, building local power, and affecting change at a smaller, and more manageable, administrative level. We have a federal system. Things like health and LGBT rights must be built in to the whole system, but sustainable energy solutions, how to participate in civic life, and what to grow are all regionally and culturally dependent.

And many others. Stop the wars, stop the fracking, stop the pipelines over indigenous land.

Yes; Republicans, structural barriers inside the our political institutions, the “both sides”-ism of the corporate media, and disinformation on social media are huge hurdles to overcome. You know what is also a hurdle to progress? The Democratic Party. I’m almost 34 years old, and as much as I hoped and dreamed for the DNC to be a progressive party.

No more funding equivocating on economics or norms. One guy demolished all our norms and the economy almost collapsed just because people were staying inside and only buying essentials. We just gave away billions to corporations and dead industries like cruise lines. Planes are flying to nowhere to secure contracts with airports, despite their massive carbon footprint. And the government has left Americans with $1,200 (for some, not even that’s).

Whatever happens in November, we’re at the eleventh hour and it’s high time for radical thinking.

Rethinking Mauritania Policy Over Human Rights Abuses

After some deliberation, I’m moving links off of the main page. While I have added a menu option for links that is more prominent and they will still appear in the RSS feed, I removed them for a couple reasons. They are usually not directly related to the photos or journal posts and they are often extended quotes with a bit of my own commentary.

But that won’t stop me from sharing what I read. With reduced time in the my own vampire castle, I prefer the open spaces of the independent web even more.

I might occasionally bundle some diverse links together without any relation to each other, which is pretty in-character for me. But not today.

Amandla Thomas-Johnson, a Dakar-based journalist for Middle East Eye, is very reliable for Mauritania news in English. His piece about five Republican congressmen’s letter to the Secretary of State Pompeo warning of the human rights situation could be a good place to start for people unfamiliar to the country’s issues.

These efforts to lobby what are two of the country’s most stalwart allies come as Mauritanian activists make renewed calls for the government to address racial injustices amid a global groundswell of Black Lives Matter protests.

Mauritania is a key ally for the United States in its ’war on terror’ and hosts the second-largest diaspora community for Mauritanians, despite Trump’s ICE going after some of them.

Mauritania has a deep racism problem embedded into the fabric of society, so much so that even well-meaning people who are not subjected to second-class citizenship often fail to see the problem. Does this remind you of another country? I should hope so.

The congressmen’s letter said: “Mauritania has a long history of hereditary slavery based on ethnic and racial discrimination against Black Mauritanians.” The country formally abolished the practice in 1981 but criminalised it only in 2007, and in 2018 the Global Slavery Index estimated that 90,000 people in Mauritania were living under modern slavery.

On top of the vestiges of slavery that does not look like the chattel plantation slavery system of the America, Mauritania

The congressmen also criticised the lack of accountability for purges by state forces of Black African Mauritanians between 1989-1991, in which tens of thousands – about eight percent of the community – were deported or forced to flee to neighbouring countries. “Mauritania has not provided accountability for mass murders, repression and unwarranted deportations,” their letter said.

Most of those purged from the country were subsistence farmers working on the little arable land Mauritania has, which lies along the Senegal River valley in the south. Others were intellectuals, businesspeople and professionals, members of the thriving urban elites who were pushed out as the government pursued a sectarian Arab-nationalist ideology.

Black Africans make up about a third of the country’s population, as do Arab-Berbers, the dominant group. Haratin, the Black descendants of slaves once owned by Arab-Berbers, account for the rest.

Despite the violence, a law was passed to shield the perpetrators from justice and an amnesty was granted to the security forces involved.

Mauritania has been described as the other apartheid for its treatment of Afro-Mauritanians. As many in the the United States wake up to our own failings, it’s a small but positive step that some in Congress, from the own president’s party no less, are speaking up.