What They're Feeding Me

Beef with Swine

Reflections on the LEAD Retreat

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I’m in the back of a NAYA van on the way back to Portland after 2 days and nights in Lincoln City with the 2014-2015 LEAD cohort. LEAD, for those who don’t know, is a leadership development program that’s for Native Americans in the Northwest region to come together, build community, and develop culturally-rooted skills to enable community advancement.

We smudged, prayed, and attended a sweatlodge ceremony at the Siletz Indian Reservation. During group discussions I shared the values Arapaho people teach to children, we agreed on some shared values and ground rules for the cohort, and we revealed some hard truths about our lives. Particularly, we introduced ourselves as equals coming to this project as a group of emerging Indigenous community leaders. I have some insights to share.

I introduced myself in Arapaho, which I will spell here phonetically:
“Hee-no-no aye-en-aye-new” (I am a descendant of the Arapaho)
“Knee-oh-kay” or “Knee-tet-chen” or “Knee-ah-koo-ooh-see-nay” (it is a good morning or it is a good evening or it is a good afternoon)
“Shawn Fleek nah-ee-sit-in-naw” (my name is Shawn Fleek)

My family lost its Native culture. And there is pain that affects us to this day because of this. When you talk to elders, they will tell you that the most important thing you can do when you want to revitalize your culture is to learn the language. There are approximately 3,500 people who speak fluent Arapaho in the world. When the language dies, the culture is not far behind.

I shared my story. My lust for justice, democracy and dignity, inspired by the Oaxacan Indians of Central America, the Zapatistas, the EZLN. My long standing practice of Buddhism, and particularly the core values I have tattooed on my back; people fear the inevitable. We fear death, we fear life, and we fear change. But these things are inevitable and if you can overcome these fears you can find truth. The Oaxacan talk about “the wind from above” and “the wind from below,” the latter being the breath of the people who cry out for democracy, justice and dignity. The former, the wind from above, is the force that holds indigenous people down, and prevents the cries of democracy, justice and dignity from being realized.

I sought world cultures my entire life and found great beauty in Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, African tribal spirituality, Indian traditional Ayurvedic medicine, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam. And others. The tattoo on my back contains symbols from five such cultures, emblematic of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, the Four Jewels. And I believe that my lust for this cultural wealth was because my family was robbed of its culture by the wind from above.

It is not an uncommon experience and I have written at length about how important it is to me to be an Indian and to revitalize my culture. I told my brother I wanted to cover my adorable, brown skinned baby niece in feathers and teach her how to dance. I want to drum, shake rattles, and sing. In the sweatlodge this weekend I saw visions of myself in another thirty years (I am 30) and I liked the man I saw myself becoming.

Other members of the cohort are in similar places. We have struggled with our mixed identities and lack of cultural knowledge and feelings of inadequacy, self-blame for the hand fate dealt us.

I also related to the cohort my origins, how I came to be who I am. As a young kid I went to an urban elementary school that was mostly black. I lived across the street in the project houses. For whatever reason after two years my mom moved us away, to the country, to a school that was mostly white. I went from being the white kid to the not white kid. Seeing these stark contrasts in race relations in extremely racist northwestern Pennsylvania gave me passions for race reconciliation and social justice and politics that persist to this day.

I felt my entire life that I was different. In the sweatlodge, the songs and the prayers are traditional. And the music takes me over and I feel the song in my gut and it erupts from me as if it has been there since birth. I sing every song as though I learned them as a boy. I did not.

There was no Indian community I knew of in my hometown. My Elders were my grandmother, with her dangly earrings, the paintings on the walls, probably by white people, and the collectors plates that depicted tribal people, and the figurines of wolves, and the dreamcatchers, and the Eagle necklace my grandfather gave me. Only on occasion would grandma say “she’s Indian too” about her friend Ginger. And of course there are the less flattering indicators of being Native, the suicide of my uncle, the depression that many of us have battled, the hard smoking and hard drinking and gambling. The flaky earwax. And the skin, for some of us. My grandmother, my suicide dead uncle, me, and my baby niece. Once in a generation we get a kid who looks like an Indian. The gangly limbs and the skin tone.

The sweet and kind Siletz man, Rusty, who ran the sweatlodge ceremony and poured the water on the stones, said quite plainly during the sweat “basically everybody is mixed now.” That’s not a weakness unless we let it be one, that’s not a strength unless we see it as one, it is just a fact. An intentional program of forced assimilation complemented the genocide of the American Indian. The parents and grandparents were killed for centuries before the white man realized we were never going to stop being Indians and just “fit in.” So they changed tactics. Children were kidnapped, put into Boarding Schools, forced to cut their hair, and punished if they danced or sang or prayed or drummed or spoke in the manner of their ancestors. This was less than 80 years ago. This was the US government so scared of our traditions it had to abduct our babies.

The child welfare system, by the way, still does this to our babies.

I have a strong suspicion this happened to someone in my family. Indian culture is strong and resilient and it doesn’t just disappear. My grandmother’s heritage is missing, presumed erased, despite the hundreds of dollars I’ve spent digging on Ancestry dot com. I’m still going to keep digging. But the fact I have to pay for my own blood line, that people from the poorest ethnic group in the US have to pay to access their lineage, weighs on my heart.

I have long credited my grandfather with giving me the ability to write, because he taught me how to program computers, thus teaching me how to type, and perhaps more importantly giving me the ability to compose sentences with great attention to syntax, as computer programmers don’t succeed by using the wrong tense or punctuation. I am typing this. I most often write by typing. Thank you, grandfather.

I also credit my grandmother with giving me the ability to read and to thirst for knowledge. She recognized my intellect and bought me books. My favorite book as a kid was The Indian in the Cupboard series. Having no community, the little plastic Indian was my mentor. He made long houses and rode a little plastic horse. I had no other frame of reference, and I figured the little Indian was what we used to be, and who I was today was who I am now. I saw being a cultural Indian as most white people see it: a figment of history. I called myself Native American, which was the extent of my being Native American.

My lust for knowledge, truth, to overcome fear of the inevitable, my passions for justice and democracy and dignity, for race reconciliation and social justice and politics, are long standing. My desire to foster my sense of cultural identity is relatively new.

Arapaho people teach the children the four kinds of respect: for self, for family, for elders, and for the Earth. Harming yourself makes your family and community weaker. Harming your family hurts your self. Elders are our source of wisdom and tradition, ancient knowledge. If you harm the earth, you harm yourself. Because we are all one with the earth and we must take care of the earth to care for ourselves, families and Elders, who pass this Earth onto us. Other Arapaho tribal values include giving and generosity, bravery, and honesty.

Until I really met and got near to other Native people who hadn’t lost their cultures, who knew their bloodlines and tribes and languages and customs, I thought of Native people, and myself, as a skin color and a title. And there is more, so much more, to the Indian experience. We refuse to be lumped into pan-Indian culture and have our unique identities erased.

My medicine, what heals and sustains me, is language. My grandparents gave me reading and writing, my grandmother gave me my identity as an Indian man. And while I am a writer, a passionate advocate for democracy and justice and dignity and truth and race reconciliation through my words, I also know that without my lineage, I have almost no chance of becoming enrolled in an Arapaho nation. But my cohort agreed as a foundation of our work that no Indian is more Indian than any other, regardless of enrollment or cultural knowledge or blood quantum. Everyone is mixed now. The concept of competing as Indians is a concept of the colonizer, used to turn us against one another. We should instead work together, for the sake of bringing uplift to our people.

If you talk to elders, they’ll tell you that to save the culture you learn the language. So I’m bringing my lust for knowledge and my need for self respect and dignity to bear on learning Arapaho. That’s my biggest takeaway from this weekend, my realization as to what I can do as who I am. It came to me in a flash during the sweat, like all things led by spirit and intended by Creator. That’s going to be my cultural practice that will contribute to the revitalization of Arapaho culture and that I will pass on to my kids intentionally, as a means of Indian survival, resilience and being a persistent presence on Turtle Island. For the seventh generation after me, who will know my name.

“Ho how aye eth to en eth en” (I thank you.)

Written by Shawn Fleek

10/05/2014 at 6:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Fair Skin, Red Blood, More White Denial Of Indianness

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This was written as a response to Eric Cash, a Portland comedian from California. I like him, but he lashed out at me in a pretty dumb and derisive way today, then refused to engage me meaningfully.

Eric is a guy who claims Native ancestry, but who identifies himself as white and rejects his Indian identity as well as my own Indian identity (because I have fair skin and so does he). He refuses to respond to me in private despite repeated requests, so I posted the following after having adapted it from a long as hell Facebook comment. I save it here because I don’t want to see it lost if deleted or buried on Facebook. Is also like Eric to be able to read it again and again until it sinks in.

Native American kids used to be kidnapped and forced into boarding schools. It was common, and done intentionally to prevent language and religion and culture from continuing, so the government could reclaim the reservations. Tribes were terminated and relocated, Portland being a relocation city that was popular in this area. Generations later, the Native community is the most biracial ethnic group in America. Statistics on ethnicity consistently misrepresent our numbers for this reason. We prefer a system that honors multiple ethnicity as it seeks to expose our true numbers. In Portland Public Schools, 900 students identify as solely Native American. 11,000 identify as Native and at least one other race. That’s not a coincidence, it happened on purpose.

Combine this with the fact that blood quantum, the concept of “I am half this and a quarter that”, did not originate in Indian Country but was imposed upon Indians so that the US government could deny Indians benefits (since they intentionally kidnapped and assimilated so many children). These are key ingredients in the plans enacted on Indians by the colonizer.

And voila, that’s a perfect stew of forced extinction for Indian people. Break up communities, force assimilation, and deny tribal rights because people have been assimilated and don’t have family ties. Genocide and colonization: That’s American history.

It is also the American present.

It has never been up to white people to determine our status, we have long known that, but seemingly some local white folk who spent most of the last two days denying my heritage didn’t get the memo. Our culture lives in songs, foods, dances, art, music, and a wide and growing body of first hand, narrative and scientific literature about the Indian experience. It isn’t reserved for people who meet a colonial standard of racial purity.

The fact that a group of white people on the internet feels so comfortable with denying both my testimony and my lived experience is typical but sad, and it proves that the indoctrination of our public schools, putting Indians in a box of ancient history and non-existence, has worked very well on them. The fair-skinned people in the Native community are no less native, by our standards. Only by those of the racially-motivated white system, a system I reject entirely as illegitimate and murderous.

I will go a step further: I don’t identify with my whiteness any more than a cis man identifies with his X chromosome. Any more than a bird identifies with a dinosaur. I have blood but no reason to have another culture. My grandfather spoke some Russian but that never really resonated enough to want to absorb it. My grandmother who was Swiss never spoke of her background. My German grandfather, source of my last name, was a cold and unenjoyable man, may he rest in peace. The only real and authentic culture I have ever had has been the Native culture my Indian grandma passed on, limited and assimilated as it was. I’m working on the daily to enhance my own understanding, make more connections to Arapaho and all Native people, and learn what was forcefully forgotten about my family. It gives me immense pride. It heals a historic trauma every time I hit a drum.

Native people are not white. We don’t share the white man’s passion for racial purity, we don’t share the linear thinking, we don’t share the colonial values. Those of us who buy into these concepts have colonized minds, and within our community we work to restore pride and identity and fix that problem. I pity any person with Indian ancestry who buys into this horrible trap of lost culture. We are only growing stronger by restoring it. We are fine without the continued attempts of the mainstream to impose its standards on us. Standards that have never helped us.

A person denying my heritage referenced how easy it is to prove lineage, as though a history of intentional erasure and disruption of family history did not take place. I know fully-blooded Indians who have a hard as nails experience trying to get a tribal council to acknowledge their roots and enroll them. Plus, the all-important Dawes Rolls are incomplete, meaning many Indians will never have the necessary proof of Indian ancestry to secure the respect of their tribe. The majority of Indian-descended people alive today can’t prove lineage. Many will never try as their minds are already lost, the Indian within them effectively eradicated, before the blood is fully diluted.

I have a family history that mostly only exists in memories because we aren’t sure of our direct connection to the Rez. We think, we don’t know, but we know in our hearts. This is a likely story in Indian Country. Some of the most respected Elders in my urban Indian community lived through boarding schools, and nearly lost all their culture before finding community with other Natives and beginning to make sense of it all. If I were to allow that history and my part in it to be ignored and forgotten I would be doing an immense disservice to my people, much as my supposedly-Indian but now just white friend is doing to his own, by essentially arguing that assimilation worked on him: his grandfather’s culture is no longer important to him, he is just another white person now. And he is proud that he doesn’t speak up about being Native! Proud the white man eradicated his history. He wants me to pipe down and stop talking about being Indian. But I refuse that assimilation and consider it a shameful display of acquiescence from someone (Eric) so clearly into defending marginalized groups in other contexts. This guy understands the nuance of sex worker defense in modern contexts, makes powerful and challenging arguments on the topic of sex workers that the mainstream would cringe to hear, but he has bought into a white power structure originated concept whole cloth. This is intersectionality on display.

I frankly don’t care if anyone else can or will recognize me as Native. Especially not people who identify themselves as white, an identity that’s awash in the erasure of all cultures, first and foremost those of my ancestors, secondly the culture of anyone lumped in with “white.” I recognize myself, and if Natives are anything we are sovereign. You can pry my Indian identity from my cold red scalp.

Written by Shawn Fleek

06/30/2014 at 6:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Eliot, The “Crazy Lone Wolf,” Rodgers (triggers)

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Imagine if this kid was a Muslim posting videos about hating Christians. Gitmo would already be force feeding him. Calling this murder spree a one-off by a mentally ill person is a total abdication of cultural, political, social and economic responsibility.

His rich family lawyer says Eliot had “Aspergers” and suddenly imperial sexist patriarchy is no longer on the hook at all. Rich people win again. We now have an acceptable scapegoat from outside the mainstream. It wasn’t that he was a white man who was rich and entitled and a racist sexist. No, he was mentally ill. That’s it.

Deniers of privilege / rape culture / persistent racism either consciously or not deny the systemic forces forever justifying this type of murder. HE WAS JUST CRAZY they insist.

It can’t be all the things that make people privileged. It had to be the one thing that disadvantaged him. That’s the culprit. That’s where to focus blame. “We need better mental health” becomes the consensus. Not “we need less racism and sexism and violence and entitlement.”

For the love of God a commentator on Fox News tried blaming “homosexual tendencies” for this. If that doesn’t open your eyes to the need for a witch hunt, a scapegoat, what will?

He wanted women to act like his property. That was the actual problem. That was what he himself said is the reason he killed the people he did. Yes, he killed some men. But he did it because he wanted women to be his property.

While simultaneously denying his race, sex or class have anything to do with his behavior, the people scrambling to defend this murderer have to put him in a marginal box mentally in order to assign blame. So they call him “nuts” or “crazy” or just take the word of the family lawyer and leave it solely there.

The kid was a racist, enabled by our racist society. A sexist enabled by a sexist society. He treated women like property just like his culture does. He thought murder was a tool to obtain a desired end, just like his culture tells him. He blamed others for his own failings, just like his culture says is acceptable. He thought weapons were a substitute for a personality just like the open-carry-crazed weirdos sitting inside Chipotle, then Carls Jr, then Sonic, desperate to be seen and validated as strong white male defenders of property, and just like their defenders. This kid found solace in the internet where other racist, sexist, entitled, wannabe-women-owners would reinforce his tendencies, confirm he was right, egg him on. He had a myriad of resources provided him to make this happen.

He wanted to be seen as desirable, so he got the car, the hair, the mannerisms. He thought sex was a transaction: my whiteness, money and textbook pickup lines for your submission. He didn’t understand the nuanced interplay of human relations, that sometimes money isn’t enough, that it isn’t about skin color or standards of beauty or politeness. It’s about attraction, love, passion. He was too cold and calculating and obsessive with the minutiae of race and sex and class to ever get sexual contact, and it frustrated him because people like him, rich attractive white men with nice cars, are supposed to get everything handed to them. He said it all himself. There is a record of his pathos for anyone to read and view. His childhood love of lobster. The struggle when his parents took away World of Warcraft. His obsession with the opposite sex refusing to be subservient to him.

This is happening all around us every day: a sick system that reinforces the worldview this kid clearly had fully accepted. Maybe he had a mental illness, likely he did, but if you see that as having had anywhere near the same amount of influence over this than DAILY AND PERSISTENT BIGOTRY ACROSS ALL MEDIA AND ALL SOCIETAL NORMS then you are in denial. He didn’t act alone. He acted in collusion with hundreds of years of Americans just like him.

And the root of this wasn’t him “being horny” either. Society said he deserved sex. He could have paid for sex, but he felt like getting it for free because he was supposedly racially superior. He was so entitled he didn’t even want to spend money on sex. He was one more power-obsessed white man, killing himself and others for domination of that to which he has no real claim. One more rapist rich kid who has it all and still has power and control fantasies because society forever tells him “you deserve more.”

Capitalism makes the gun the final resort of a white man being denied his property rights. Violence is the solution when all your options are exhausted, even if you never attempted anything else because you didn’t feel you should have to.

A white rich man had a real easy time finding a gun for someone who is mentally ill, wouldn’t you say? Do you think for a poor woman of color who was mentally ill that would happen? I suspect she would have been under close watch. If a trans person regularly posted videos claiming they wanted to kill cis people, that person wouldn’t get very far. Not without a pricey lawyer at least. That’s America: freedom for me but not for thee. He could threaten all he wanted because he is supposed to. That’s his class. His caste.

If anything he is guilty for knowing his role in society too well and acting upon it. Rarely do we get such a crystal view of this type of delusion. Not mental illness but sheer delusion. Delusion fueled by systemic oppression, the same delusion that blinds a good deal of whites to white privilege, males to male privilege, etc.

He didn’t only feel entitled to sex. He felt entitled to kill. Because our society enables and encourages white male sexual violence. It’s called rape culture.

So don’t blame his mental illness, and don’t pretend he acted alone. Plenty of mentally ill people have nowhere near the cultural, social, political and economic resources to do something like this. He had resources, he maintains supporters online (and off, though they’re hard to find as they know they need to hide). Only a certain societal caste regularly gets the institutional support necessary to commit mass shootings. It isn’t marginalized people. It’s the people who marginalize others. By definition, they assert their dominance in any way possible. Usually it is just speech. Occasionally, it becomes rape, the theft of sex, and murder, theft of life.


Written by Shawn Fleek

05/26/2014 at 8:41 am

The Only Thing I Can Think Of

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It is inevitable and yet we fear it. It is the one essential feature of life before death and yet we hate it.

Everything changes.

I am in a period of rapid, exponential change and I am terrified and I am worried and I am consumed with guilt for everyone I leave behind and I am overwhelmed with joy for everyone I have yet to meet. I leave a change wake. This is either a fault or a virtue depending upon who I affect and who is affecting me.

My family will always affect me and those who don’t affect lose me like clockwork. I shed my skin like so many reptiles, and crawl back to the den I’ve always occupied. I would sit in a park in public with hundreds of other people, for days, making clear demands, only to be swept aside by cries from my fellow campers that my ideas are not potent.

The pigs infiltrated Occupy, whether police or just sexists, and they brought us down with their stubborn refusal to accept our terms.

It is irritating, like being offended at your spouse: you’re stuck with it, and it irks you. A decade and more of distrust in government has given me a long-standing inability to appreciate the current moment. No matter how good things are in America, I’m pretty dissatisfied overall with the state of the world that America runs. The only thing I can think of is: will this get better?

I reminisce, and pontificate on the past. I fantasize, and anticipate the future. I always seem to have a difficult time remaining in the here and now, where there are material conditions to observe. I am a dreamer, of a former and of a future self. My ideology demands proof but my heart sings songs about the sunset in intangible, convoluted, hypocritical keys. I believe only in that which can be proven through material analysis, and pretend the Zodiac is a valid GPS unit to the map of universal truth.

I can’t reconcile this. At a certain point I stop trying to conceptualize the reality in which I live and, I just hold my fears proudly. I don’t know what happens when I die, I don’t know if cosmic forces control us intentionally or indirectly, I don’t know how much mass or matter, or how many stars exist, I am just this genius monkey on this twirling, spiraling globe out of control and by the time we might answer all these questions we’ll all be dead in the ground, hurtling through suns.

Magic isn’t real.

I worry about my ability to stay afloat given my total ignorance of the current. I have no actual idea who Mackelmore is, and for that matter what is a Lorde and why are Grammy? I give no actual fucks about awards presented from a music industry that has killed all my favorite artists. I like music that never gets invited to the Biggest Music Event of the Year because it’s just that fresh, challenging and new. I listen to bands years before they’re on TV, just like I watch comics and just like I vote Sawant.

In another world, a more perfect one, I’d be content to sit and be present while memories evaded me and the future was a wonder of mystery I couldn’t conceive. But something about my brain, mind, mind-body insists upon inference, demands to determine the path we’re on based on the path we’ve traveled. I don’t think of my brain or my mind as separate from me, the narrator, but I certainly wonder sometimes, from where does this narrative come?

I look forward with hope, no matter how bad the past and present may be, because I have always looked beyond how bad things were, toward something more. I did not have an ideal life by any means but I persevered because I am an eternal optimist, and I know that better things are ahead, for everyone I hope.

Written by Shawn Fleek

01/28/2014 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Protected: Fuck December

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Written by Shawn Fleek

12/23/2013 at 9:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Contrary-For-Profit: Publish or Perish or Pretend

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In April 2012 the New York Times reported that the number of retractions from scientific journals has increased as of late. Not just because the number of papers published has increased, but also because a larger percentage of poor-quality papers have been passed, many of them if not willful manipulations of data, then certainly negligent.

One cause: increased competition in the sciences. There are more scientists than ever before, but not as many new sciences, so there aren’t many new professional scientific associations, so there aren’t as many new journals. In the world of science, the journals are it: publish or perish.

In this environment, a contrary finding, hugely damning of current scientific consensus on a given topic, or that drops a bombshell into what was whence considered solved, carries the incentives of money and notoriety. Never mind if the paper is retracted, it will never, ever die. Once published, the author is set for life so long as the author remains righteous, even if the journal retracts the study.

Competition is driving a rush for scientists to put out research that seems revelatory but is wrong. The authors either know, or they don’t. And in this case, ignorance isn’t quite so bad as the intentional scientific huckster. And thanks to the internet, being published isn’t even necessarily required. It’s publish, or perish, or pretend.

There are two types of woo-spooners. There are the pushers and the pushees. The pushers know the science is bunk, but they’re making money off of it. They’re selling books on vaccine-autism links, they’re doing speaking engagements on the dangers of fluoride, they’re getting their climate-denial columns published, they’re on TV telling you how to lose thirty pounds with baking soda in a way you shouldn’t talk to your doctor about. The pushees, poor souls, believe every contrary word, and remember the seemingly bombshell arguments and foist them upon everyone around them because it seems like news. The pushees are generally either scientifically indiscriminate, never much caring about who tells them what they think they know and never much looking into it; or they’re apoplectically disillusioned, spit-flecked with rage at an economy that has never much helped them, with every frame of the Zapruder film memorized by number.

I point out the profit motive in playing scientific pretend, as opposed to in publishing, only because pushers often shroud their bogus claims in a web of conspiracy, activating that paranoid instinct in the pushees who most clearly need to calm down. “The vaccine makers, or the GMO producers, or the fluoride manufacturer, or the chemtrail sprayer, or the government, or Al Gore, or the medical establishment, is suppressing the truth, manipulating the media, and buying the journals off. You can’t trust what the majority is saying because the majority is deceived: the journals, the professionals, and the people who trust the journals and the professionals, are all in agreement and that’s suspicious and scary. Tell everyone you know.”

While this is certainly possible, while industry and government certainly can suppress findings, this truth is not itself proof that all contrary findings are truth. Rather it indicates we must examine contrary findings thoroughly, ad infinitum, with respect to the scientific process, thorough documentation, and a demand for peer-review and replicability, when qualified scientists can conduct controlled experiments separately and arrive at similar conclusions, double-blind. The contrary-for-profit publishing model is unsustainable in the stone-cold face of empirical evidence. Let’s just hope we don’t all end up the rubes of the profit makers, no matter if they’re systemic conspiracies of corporations and governments, or the money-grubbing actions of lone pusher jerks.


Written by Shawn Fleek

12/04/2013 at 1:27 am

Posted in Health Care

On Cheap Food and Revolutionary Struggle

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It sucks how many people are in hunger. Hunger and poverty go hand in hand but there is no guarantee that impoverished people are hungry. Almost assuredly, though, hungry people are poorer economically than they need to be to acquire food and eat until full.

I find this arrangement deplorable and I would hope as we struggle we keep the hungry in mind. At the same time, I am fully aware that revolutionary struggle can oftentimes make things a lot worse for the poor before they get better.

This is one of the reasons socialism is difficult; capitalism provides cheap foods to busy poor people. While a value burger or taco might not have all the nutrition one needs, it can make the difference between a hungry person and a full one, and at a lower cost than anything else, so it seems perfect when a person is in a bind. For such a reason, looking down on fast food, and cheap goods like those at Walmart, and looking down on consumers of these things, doesn’t take place in a vacuum. Often leftists take lifestyle approaches to their politics; spending decisions become the ultimate exercise of agency. So Chipotle replaces Taco Bell, and Whole Foods replaces McDonalds. The means of acquiring goods barely deviates, just the vendor. Not much of a change, eh?

In the long term the goal is to eliminate the exploitation and retain the options. If you want poor nutrition food in a hurry, fine, so long as you chose it. Rarely would the average consumer of such things always choose them in an even offering, such foods are just all that is available at that price point. We have to determine an exit strategy from our current situation to a better one. And that path is not easy. It will almost definitely not be able to offer the affordable, high speed, low-nutrition crap that’s at McDonalds.

A common fallacy in revolutionary thought is that revolutions immediately establish the societal goals they set out to accomplish. This thinking ignores the needs of capacity and institution building, of establishing dual power, an alternative state operating within and around the current state. Rejection of the current state and adherence to the revolutionary apparatus is required at some point in the transition; otherwise, the modes of production of the current state remain in effect, and no change can occur and last. And so it is here that a very difficult situation arises: how do we convince the proletarians, whose day to day hunger may be immense and whose ability to strive without starving is exceedingly limited by capital’s constraints, to reject the easy food of the value menu?

Briefly: we must feed the masses. Hunger is unacceptable, malnutrition is a non-starter, for any sustainable revolution against capitalism. We must focus early on establishing a food system that is ethical, where workers on farms are themselves able to survive and eat, and where affordability is maximized before the role of currency in food exchange is eliminated.

I ran afoul of some local friends by stating my argument against “easy” food as one against “lazy” food, food available because capitalism makes cheap, low-effort food available to poor people in a way that an underdeveloped socialist regime cannot. It is the responsibility of anyone who identifies with revolutionary struggle to work for solutions that bring food out of the clutches of capital and under the direction of the multitudes: nutritious, available, free food. It’s a vital early step in dual power that can’t be disregarded or ignored. The revolutionary fast food restaurant needs to open early in the transition.

I made the mistake in a recent conversation, in my desire to make this truth about capitalism seem less desirable, in using the word “lazy” to describe this food, and that terminology was then ascribed by someone observing the conversation to the poor people eating it, as though I thought poor people were lazy (news flash: poor people work harder than anyone else). Such a horrid view wasn’t my intention but you know how intentions go when met with perception. I meant easy, cheap, low-effort food. The kind of food that keeps people hungry, just barely fed, and lacking the control over their own food supply. I called it “lazy,” when a better word might have been “gruel.” It’s what you get, and if you don’t take it, you starve.

We can’t ask people to starve.

The truth is that creating a world with less suffering will almost certainly require struggle in the shorter term; to replace our illegitimate and abhorrent exploitative system from the ground up is almost certainly going to require a period where the benefits of the illegitimate and exploitative system are cast away. It is an ugly and uncomfortable truth for those of us who are interested in getting to better world, but one we ignore at our own peril. It’s part of the package you accept when you strive to replace the current state with a better one. All of us who are used to being poor and hungry would do well to stock up on food, procure a few garden tools, and get ready to be a bit hungrier while we build an arrangement that does a more equitable job of distributing precious sustenance.

Written by Shawn Fleek

11/18/2013 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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