Useful insecurities

I’m a white woman married to a Black man. I’m also the mother of two Black sons.

When I write that neoliberalism created the conditions for Charlottesville, it’s not to excuse racists, white supremacists, or nationalists. It’s not to to diminish the harm they can and do cause. It’s to put their rise into historical and political context, the better to rectify its root cause, or “the fundamental reason for the occurrence of a problem.”

I am deeply interested in my family’s ongoing safety. Such safety won’t be won by painting Manichean pictures of good-versus-bad, us-versus-them totality. It is much more likely to be won beginning with nuanced examination. By looking at history and asking, “How did we reach this point? How do we get away from this point, and build political systems that ensure we stay away for a good, long time, if not forever?”

While I began following #BlackLivesMatter about three years ago, I didn’t understand how its grievances fit within a larger context of oppression. It took last year’s American Democratic primaries for me to understand there is a larger context, and to realize I’d need to read more than a few short articles to wrap my head around that. Inspired by Hamilton and my siblings, I began a reading campaign.

With each book I read, I understand more keenly exactly how we reached this point. I understand intuitively, if not yet at a readily articulated level, what it will take to go–and stay–somewhere else.

I read Princeton professor Sheldon S. Wolin’s Democracy, Inc. in May. More than any other, this book helped me understand how a very specific sequence of actions and inactions brought the U.S. people the Trump presidency: Continue reading “Useful insecurities”

The Fifth Shelf

Last night, I finished reading Rebecca Solnit’s The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. This completed my fifth shelf of “politics-plus” reading since middle of last August. Back then, I’d picked up Glenn Greenwald’s With Liberty and Justice for Some in hopes it’d answer some new-to-me questions about the troubling state of so-called U.S. democracy.

In my hometown for the fiftieth anniversary of some of my adopted parents, I’d get my kids in their hotel beds nightly. Then I’d pace the length of our hotel room, back and forth, back and forth, unable to read such horrifying things sitting in place.

I really thought one book would do it for me, but … you can see how that turned out.

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As I discovered after finishing my first Greenwald book, even an excellent book can only answer so many questions, doing so while opening many more: Continue reading “The Fifth Shelf”

Hope in history

My last post, “Austerity the Dangerous,” summarized what I’d taken away from Mark Blyth’s Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea. I mentioned I’d had to read slowly to ensure I grokked enough to proceed.

After I wrote that post, I picked up a copy of Richard D. Wolff’s Capitalism’s Crisis Deepens. Within reading the first couple of essays, I wished I’d read it first. Wolff explains a lot in clear, straightforward language. The “key purposes of austerity policies,” for example, are “to (1) shift the burden of paying for crisis and bailouts onto the total population, (2) reduce the economic footprint of the government, and (3) reduce creditors’ concerns about rising US debt levels.” 

(As to number three, Wolff sums it up thusly: “because big banks and other large capitalists are among the major creditors of the US government, they wanted signs that their crisis-increased holdings of US debt were safe investments for them. Austerity policies provide just those signs.” Basically, to sum it up, austerity policies show investors that the government ranks paying lenders back as a far higher priority than, say, the health or employment of its citizens.)

While walking my dog a few minutes ago, I saw a chart that (1) made my blood boil and (2) reminded me yet again why understanding history is important.

From my last year of reading, I understood that a memo written by then-future Supreme Court Justice Powell in 1971 hugely shifted the U.S.’s economic and political history. Basically, Powell said that U.S. business was getting the shaft and needed to combine its various actors to change that situation. In response, U.S. business began acting in concert to ensure it succeeded–over labor and human rights advocates–in shaping the nation; the more resources for business, the better.

While lots of folks point to 1980–the beginning of Reagan’s presidency–as the beginning of U.S.’s takeover by corporation (“inverted totalitarianism,” per Wolin), business won some huge victories against its “detractors” in the couple years just prior. Powell had had his way, so that the foundation had already been laid  for Reagan and his cronies. 

(So sad for so many lives that this jackhole later became a Supreme Court justice! Business and other elite interests were given great power long before Citizens United.)

With each page of just about everything I read, I understand how the foundation for business supremacy was being crafted for at least decades before Carter’s presidency. Still, some sentences jar me especially as they remind me how much our (mis)understanding of history influences what we understand of now.


Referring to the above grid, Wolff writes, “After the war, corporations went to work to change the federal tax system. Not only did they succeed in shifting the tax burden from corporations to individuals already by 1960, but that shifting had gone on steadily to the present.”

Further, he summarizes more succinctly than anyone I’ve read so far, “The US federal tax system that right wingers portray as burdensome to the richest Americans allowed them for the last two decades to gather still greater income than everyone else. The US federal tax system enabled greater inequality.”

None of this was inevitable. It was shaped by people with shared vision and commitment. To move toward a different system–one which favors human life over corporate profits (and their executives’ obscene pay and bonuses)–will take like shared vision and commitment by people with different ideals.

In my vision, food, education, health, and shelter are human rights which want of profit cannot overcome. The U.S. tax system is completely overhauled so that corporations pay much, much higher portions of their income to taxes than do individuals with actual bellies to feed and thirsts that cannot be quenched without funds, given how privatization has granted these things to corporations (for their profit) at the expense of human wellness. Storing funds in offshore tax havens is criminal, with consequences for evasion that would help dramatically increase tax revenue to pay for life-improving human benefits. If corporations thrive, in my vision, it is because they’re bringing just benefits to all, not crushing more and more human lives so their balance sheets warrant gross bonuses.

Seeing anything like this come to fruition seems impossible … but then, the more I read history, the more I understand how today’s impossible was yesterday’s actual.

I didn’t see it a year ago, but today it’s crystal clear:

There’s hope in history. 

The Fourth Shelf

On Friday evening, I finished reading both Requiem for the American Dream and Is Just a Movie. The latter was the final book on my fourth shelf of reads since I began delving into politics-plus.

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“This fourth shelf? Some of the best books I’ve read so far! Doughnut Economics may well be my favorite yet (so much compassion, humor, and hope!), but Requiem for the American Dream is possibly the most readable, succinct entry point to current affairs yet. Both these books are especially conversational, informative, and humane.”

This shelf was full of reads that stretched my mind and heart, from Just Mercy to How Did We Get into this Mess? to The Age of Inequality and Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. I’d love to say a little about how each broadened my range of intellectual and emotional perspectives, but “a little” never remains just that. Once I start typing, I find dozens of things I want to say about each book.

I’ll definitely write a standalone post about Doughnut Economics. There’s so much to say about this book, the little bit I’ve already written doesn’t even scratch the surface:

More than any other book I’ve read so far, Raworth looks squarely at what’s wrong and asks not, “How do we incrementally chip away at these problems?” but “How do we look at these problems in fundamentally different ways, so that our new perspective guides us toward a more just and sustainable world?” More than asking the questions, she offers suggestions while inviting readers to join in on both the dialogue and the action.

I called this blog Returning by Book for a reason: “As a child, I found hope by reading. Two decades into adulthood, it’s a joy to be Returning By Book … to hope.”

In a shelf full of excellent reads, Raworth especially has expanded my horizons, and in so doing nudged me toward sustaining, sustainable hope.

Information and inspiration

Last weekend, I went on a rare date with my husband. Drinking a beer before our show began, I explained that I’ve reached the point where I need two things from each of my political reads: information and inspiration.

Inspiration without information, such as are found in pretty-picture memes, are insipid. They paper over reality and encourage people to see only what it comforts them to see. Such reads neither enhance my understanding of the world as it really is, nor leave me more optimistic about the world my children will inherit. So many people actively choose denial because it feels better now, never mind that the costs (of a barely habitable planet) will be borne by our children and grandchildren.

I’m often reminded of an apt quote by Gavin de Becker: “Denial is a save now, pay later scheme.” He wrote these words about personal safety, but they apply no less to humankind’s future. Continue reading “Information and inspiration”

Returning By Book

I sought–and found–refuge in books growing up. My physical world was marred by poverty and abuse within my home, and predators who recognized easy prey outside of it. Within the pages of books, I found escape: virtual worlds in which I could be anyone, anything, anywhere. In other words, I found hope.

I haven’t felt very hopeful the last few months. I’ve read the miserable details of miserable (true) stories that could never have unfolded without my government’s blessing. I’ve learned to see that the current comfort of well off Americans around me is an illusion; the sturdier protections of the past are giving way, so that the payments for having allowed their erosion are slowly coming due.

A couple decades ago, I actively immersed myself in hopeful things to create a protective buffer around myself. These hopeful things were different kinds of salves that eased old wounds, if they didn’t heal them completely. This acted-upon determination to lift myself up by–and to–hope helped me escape the grips of poverty and despair.

I spent a couple of weeks so certain that Earth’s utter destruction’s inevitable, I gave up. I wished I’d just not wake up, and would despair each time I did awaken.

But then something small (outside the scope of this post) really pissed me off, and I found a little fire. It reminded me how I escaped despair before: by seeking hope. When I couldn’t find it inside me, I found it within rectangles of pages.

Early yesterday morning, I ordered a few Verso books. One was George Monbiot’s How Did We Get into This Mess? With almost every page I read this morning, I felt my buffer of hope growing. One essay in particular included exactly the kind of thoughts I needed to read:

So what do we do now?

Some people will respond by giving up, or at least withdrawing from political action. Why, they will ask, should we bother, if the inevitable destination is the loss of so much of what we hold dear … it seems to me there are at least three reasons.

The first is to draw out the losses over as long a period as possible, in order to allow our children and grandchildren to experience something of the wonder and delight in the natural world and of the peaceful, unharried lives with which we have been blessed. …

The second is to preserve what we can in the hope that conditions might change. …

The third is that, while we may possess no influence over decisions made elsewhere, there is plenty that can be done within our own borders.

I wanted to keep plowing through Monbiot’s essays this morning, but I set the book down. I need the remaining essays for fuel when my internal reservoirs of hope are depleted.

What he’d written reminded me of something else I’d read recently. I picked up my copy of Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark and found the passage I was looking for:

In many cases [many scientists whose fields have something to do with climate are] scared, they’re sad, and they’re clear about the urgency of taking action to limit how disastrous climate change is for our species and for the systems we depend upon. Many people outside the loop think that it’s too late to do anything, which, as premature despair always does, excuses us for doing nothing. Though there are diverse opinions quite a lot of insiders think that what we do now matters tremendous, because the difference between the best and worst case scenarios is vast, and the future is not yet written.  

Sometimes I can’t find the spark inside myself. In those moments, the answer isn’t to cave in to hopelessness borne of shortsightedness. It’s to seek the flames others have lit, and oh! They’ve lit some soul-warming ones.

As a child, I found hope by reading. Two decades into adulthood, it’s a joy to be Returning By Book … to hope.