The Redefinition of “Reading”

I was going to title this “The Assault on ‘Reading.'” but that sounded to curmudgeonly. Here’s an example of what I mean by the redefinition of reading:

I go to a site online to read a brief article–a blog post. The site could be CNN or ESPN or a newspaper. I find my way to the piece. As I’m attempting to read it from top to bottom, as I have been taught, according to the old Gutenberg-print method, advertisements pop up in boxes, or maybe the piece is encased on all sides by advertisements, like an artifact packed in cotton. Anyway, these things distract my reading, at least according to the way I read. But maybe the common form of reading now is to be able to “read” (see, hear) many texts at once, or at least to place them in your reader’s field of vision.

What’s more common every day is the presences of videos, so going back to my example, above or below the article will be a small “screen” (box). I may have choice of clicking on an arrow–or I may not. The video might just start. Then, in another, smaller box elsewhere on my screen, another video will be cued and will probably start on its own. So before I start reading the article, I have to take note of and deal with one or two videos (and their noise).

The conservative in me–not politically conservative but, well, old fashioned–is tempted to say that the technological culture is doing away with conventional reading, which I’ll define simply as reading one thing at a time. The culture needs to hurry and harry us because it seeks attention, which–in theory–means more money coming in, for every distraction comes with another “opportunity” (temptation, baiting) to be confronted with a visual, textual, or aural pitch for a product or a service.

Obviously, the old way of reading is just that: a relic. At least online this is the case. I still read novels (printed on paper or “printed” on Kindle) the old way–more or less one word, phrase, clause, sentence, line, paragraph, page (etc.) at a time, although of course I have different speeds and techniques, including speed-reading ones (in the event I’m getting bored–but if I get too bored, I simply stop and go to another book).

I wonder what the effects of the new reading will have on people’s brains, their argument- or narrative-processing equipment, so to speak. What effect will the new reading have on logical analysis? On genre? That is, will a typical article/essay/piece/story become shorter and shorter, and more hastily slapped together to keep up with the speed of multiple virtual conveyor-belts?

At any rate, the new reading has to have multiple consequences related to Orwell’s classic essay, for Orwell focused in part on the extent to which we are lulled or distracted by bullshit. Orwell was over the top in concentrating on jargon, euphemism, and “long words,” but his overall point about being dulled, lulled, and distracted obtains.  I think online we’re meant not to think with some degree of patience and discernment about units of expression–an article, a line of argument, a narrative unit, , etc.

Wither “close reading”?  Wither concentration? (Wither words like “wither”?!) It all rather seems like a vast, ceaseless magic trick, with multiple levels of misdirection. Good luck to us.

A Clear View of Trump’s Supporters

Thanks to Alex Cole at acnewstistics, which I accessed via Tumblr, for this perspective on Trump’s supporters. Clarity is good.

“How said it must be to be a Trump supporter: Believing that scholars, teachers, economists, & journalists have devoted their entire lives to deceiving you, while a reality TV star with decades of fraud and documented lying is your only beacon of truth & honesty.”

Is Trump “Barking Bad”? Ask the Phrase Finder!

Short answer: Yes. Today he looked to the sky and said, “I am the chosen one.”

But enough about Trump. Best to ignore him and concentrate, say, on enjoying life. For rhetoric and language nerds, this may include pondering the origins of phrases.

A good site for such exploration is The Phrase Finder from England: phrases.org.uk

The Phrase Finder thinks the most likely source of “barking mad” is the way people talked about rabid dogs in the 19th century. The PF cites the court record from the trial (for murder) of one Walter Tricker in England:

Mrs Hitchins, at the Inquest, says ‘It was not ordinary barking. They [the dogs] were barking like tearing mad.’

The PF discounts an alleged medieval origin linked to the town of Barking, England, where there was an asylum for the allegedly insane.

I am among those who have concluded that the President of the United States in August 2019 is insane. In addition to being stupid, corrupt, amoral, white supremacist, and poorly educated.

“The Basic Con,” by Lew Welch

The Basic Con

Those who can’t find anything to live for,
always invent something to die for.

Then they want the rest of us to
die for it, too.

Lew Welch

Alienated from the Culture

The most serviceable definition of “culture” I’ve encountered came from an art history professor, Fritz Blodgett.  He defined it as “the sum of learned behavioral traits.” From this viewpoint, “culture” isn’t just high art like opera or low opera like professional wrestling, and it includes how or whether you use a fork to eat, for example.  Professor Blodgett encouraged us to see visual art in the context of the whole culture, not as a sequestered thing.

I find myself ever more alienated from “my” culture, chiefly because of aging but also because of temperament. The extent to which most people seem attached to their phones seems alien to me, but of course it is now mainstream behavior. For instance, I will see someone walking her/his dog and almost never losing contact with the phone. S/he’s either listening to it or texting on it. The immediate reality around her–trees, grass, traffic, sky, birds, etc.–is secondary. She must ignore it to live life as she wants to.

I’m also alienated from America’s gun culture, even though, having grown up in the rural Sierra Nevada, I was around guns a lot. But they were treated as tools to be used as needed–almost exclusively for hunting. When not needed, they were put away, and they weren’t discussed, and they weren’t linked to one’s sense of self or politics.  Now, of course, guns are everywhere, people display them, take them with them shopping, use them as a political symbol, and use them in massacres. Apparently a massacre-by-gun now occurs every 47 days in the U.S.  When I make an infrequent trip to the mall, I always wonder if this will be the day I get shot by a disturbed person further disturbed by online frenzy. America.

Also, death-by-police-shooting is now the sixth leading cause of death of young men–mid teens to mid-twenties. And this is all men, not just Black men, who of course have grown up in a culture that thinks they are expendable. (Alienation is nothing new for Black folks, obviously.)

The bad news is also the good news with my increasing alienation. I used to think I might have some role to play in changing things through activism. Not a chance, as I see now. The culture will go along on its merry way, a way that seems increasingly irrational and lethal to me, and I’m just one of 8 billion people. I assume Trump will be re-elected, and an essentially White Supremacist order of elites will continue to be ascendant, at least as far as power is concerned. The necessary critical mass of white folks doesn’t seem to be materializing to rip the guts out of White Supremacy once and for all. There are simply too many white women and men who require a myth of whiteness to go on.  They cling to it as the dog-walker clings to the phone. Accessories include enormous pickup trucks (their enormity not linked to job-requirements in trades) and guns and gun-decals on the mega trucks.

As I become more alienated every day, however, I’m blessed to be able to do things that are part of my personal version of culture: raising vegetables and flowers, watching this or that TV show from Europe, reading, writing, cooking.  Occasionally I will look at my phone, but I do not view it as a friend.  This is all good news to me. I rarely text  with it or even answer calls, most of which seem to be scam-related (another feature of our culture).  I find I don’t need a gun on my hip to pull weeds. Crazy, I know.

Why Is Trump Even Money to Win Re-election? That Would Be White People

Oddsharks and other betting sites have Trump at 50/50 to win (or steal) re-election. I find such sites to be more reliable than polling because their income and that of (most of) their users depends upon their accuracy.

Why does Trump, in spite of what he had said and done, a toss-up and not a long shot to win re-election? Because most White people like his views, policies, and ways of behaving. White people control those states, and districts within states, which will likely give Trump a second term. White people control Congress, particularly the Senate. And White people control the Supreme Court, which controls such things as gerrymandering and voter-suppression.

The truth  is that Trump’s policies aren’t that different from the USA’s policies pre-Trump.  The country has always favored more or less unregulated capitalism and thus put such things as environmental health and human health in jeopardy. The country has always been white supremacist and elitist at its core. It has also been anti-intellectual, and that characteristic features significantly in Trump’s popularity. Trump is gleefully ignorant, and although most politicians are required to be dishonest, his dishonesty and his dismissal of evidence have put him–and the rulers of the nation–in a fugue state of falsehood.

We may also state the matter this way: IF most white people found Trump and his policies to be unacceptable, he would have no chance of winning re-election. At least up until now, it has always been white people’s choice as to what kind of country this country will be.  The country we have now tells us what their choice has been. We may also come at the issue with this question: If our only Black president had done or said what Trump has done and said, how would most white people have reacted? They would have found the behavior unacceptable, and impeachment would have been swift. At a rally, for example, Trump said that he and Kim Jong-un “fell in love.” What if Obama had said that? What if Obama had sided with Putin to weaken NATO? What if Obama’s policies had exploded the debt the way Trump’s have? What if Obama had bragged about groping women or been accused of rape? All the white terror of Black sexuality would have driven most white people homicidally insane.

As to Trump, then, it’s up to white folks. Again.

A Vaccination Against White Supremacy

Daily, weekly, racist news of one kind or another pours in. This week, it concerns singer Kate Smith’s recordings of racist songs, the re-discovery of which led to the Pittsburgh hockey team’s decision to cover the singers statue outside the arena. Black Church arson in the South–the culprit is the son of a sheriff’s deputy. Depending on the day or week, we might hear about another racist incident on a campus or in a fraternity. We might read another column about how baldly Trump appeals to White supremacy in his continuing efforts to make the immigration crisis worse. We might hear about nooses hanging in an auto plant, or a racist arrested at the border for kidnapping immigrants and threatening to kill candidates or office-holders. Cache after cache of weaponry owned by White Supremacists are unearthed.

The reactions and reactions to reactions are much the same. “This doesn’t represent our values,” says the standard PR response of a college, a fraternity, or a company.  Of course, it does represent a section of their vaules, and that’s the core problem, not the single event for which they are generating PR. Rep. Steve King might be relieved of his committee duties but continue to say racist things and to be a hero back home. David Brooks might right a column or a book about how important “character” is. Publications from the New Left will obsess over Rachel Maddow’s obsession over collusion with Russia but ignore the 300 pound blond racist gorilla in the Oval Office. Reparations are discussed elsewhere.

But nothing fundamental ever changes. Bandages cover wounds, at best.  Rituals of reassurance are re-enacted. We never seek a cure.

To begin to seek a cure, the country, led by the Democrats, the only Party without a “Southern [White Supremacist] Strategy,” must describe the GOP as the racist Party it is. Trump has merely exploited that existing racism, eschewing the dog whistle and picking up George Wallace’s bullhorn. Those Left of Right must take on the Left where it is in denial about White Supremacy.  Of course, none of this will happen because the Very Left has its semi-socialist working-class agenda, into which a fight against White Supremacy doesn’t fit, and because Left Center Field is afraid of offending parts of its White base.

People like George Will  and Max Boot and Bill Kristol get to wash their hands of Trump and “leave” the GOP but never fess up to the White Supremacy they allowed to determine the core strategy of that Party. If and when Trump keels over, they will be allowed to go back to the GOP without mending their ways.

White Supremacy has been killing and continues to kill Black and brown folks in the U.S. No news there. It is now killing the whole country, as the White Supremacist in Chief goes full authoritarian and continues to stoke the furnaces of hatred. Whatever shared powers the Constitution envisaged are being torn asunder. Voter suppression operates in full view. The N-word is tossed about gleefully in public. Police keep asking Black motorists what they’re doing in this or that neighborhood. The judiciary is getting saturated with White Supremacist judges. White Supremacy is coming for you, no matter who you are; it will take longer to get to White folks, of course, although it has already noshed on their souls.

Jonathan Metzl recently published a book on this topic:

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland

“The politics of racial resentment” is close to being a euphemism for White Supremacy. In general (not referring to Metzl here), white Americans don’t like to say “White Supremacy,” and they recoil from those who do use the phrase. Consider Jemele Hill, fired from ESPN for calling Donald Trump a White Supremacist. Here response later was to say, “I thought I was saying water is wet”:

Huff Post article on Jemele Hill

In the sphere of Orwell’s most famous essay, Hill was refusing to make murder respectable, in other words. A major media corporation fired her for simply mentioning a demonstrable fact.

Here is a data-rich article on White Supremacist violence in the U.S.:

“In Search of Data on White Supremacist Violent Crime,” by Sarah Tate Chambers

The Original American Sin. The American Dilemma. Plymouth Rock, the Rock on which America stubbed its toe: Langston Hughes’s lines. Malcom X’s line: he (his ethnic group) didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; it landed on me (us). The Lost Cause (the Confederate Meme that never dies). Call it what you will, it’s killing us. News reports, statements and books about values, sympathetic murmurs–none of it touches the core problem. By whatever non-violent means necessary, White Supremacy must be addressed personally, locally, regionally, nationally, politically, rhetorically. As with climate change, we’re about out of time.

The nation needs a vaccination.

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