Sunday, March 22, 2015

Fast Food Banned out of Sight but not out of Minds in Los Angeles

Image via We Heart It

        The 2008 ordinance in South Los Angeles, to ban free standing fast food restaurants, was a heartfelt attempt to weaken unhealthy behavior by reducing the tempting physical presence of fast food restaurants. The authors of this zoning regulation hoped that depriving fast food restaurants of visibility would translate into them losing power over individuals. Do you know who else was feeling heartfelt...the residents for fast food. According Roland Sturm's study, fast food consumption actually increased from 2007 to 2012. LA Times subtly reveals the crux of the issue by profiling Otis Wright, a minister at the West Los Angeles Church of God in Christ and probably a cornerstone figure in the community. He commented, while snacking on chicken nuggets at a Burger King in Baldwin Hills, that "they are wholesome and fill a spot." According to Wright, fast food restaurants such as the Burger King he frequents, can fulfill the need to have a clean environment for leisurely conversation. This is especially important in neglected or under-resourced communities. This Burger King is obviously lodged into Wright's social experience and lifestyle. 

      Although it may just be a fast food restaurant to outsiders, for the residents these restaurants serve an unique cultural purpose and thus fast food establishments will almost effortlessly maintain their soft power as cultural institutions. In addition, the fast food ordinance only targeted new restaurants, even though it is the old restaurants that are fully integrated into the residents’ daily lives and embedded in their deeper personal histories. The Great Recession also was in full bloom between 2007 and 2012; I imagine that it would be difficult to redirect comfortable behavior and change social norms during such a crucial time. Familiarity is soothing in difficult times.

        But why did the city hone in on reducing the external visibility of the fast food restaurants when it is clear that it is the more powerful invisible forces sustaining fast food as the fuel of South Los Angeles? Well the city's agency is compromised by their limited their funds, especially in comparison to the fast food industry. According to Roland Sturm’s study, low income communities are situated within South Los Angeles. Therefore the city probably lacked the funds to implement more comprehensive plans and programs that could strategically complement the ordinance. Officials just hoped that this ordinance would carve out ample space for market solutions. However even this plan is proving futile. The fast food industry has probably dominated the space for such a long time that now the city’s structure maintains its success. Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who co-wrote the zoning restriction, explained to LA Times that, 'the ordinance was meant to be a part of a larger strategy that includes bringing grocery stores and farmers markets to replace fast-food restaurants, but that part has been more difficult to accomplish." It definitely would be difficult for less powerful market forces, like farmer markets, to boldly take on the cultural and structural monopoly held by the fast food industry. So a main component of this plan, to cement the physical transformation of South LA's environment, has been hampered by invisible economic and social forces. 

      The residents, which are predominately made up of the working poor and working class, could probably identify with this lack of agency which contributes to the city's collective compromised agency. For example, the working poor and working class generally have less agency over their schedules and therefore it's understandable how fast food restaurants could be used as an accessible antidote to this issue. Wright explained how, "It’s convenient way to eat when you are moving around." Especially under the context of the Great Recession, job insecurity added pressure on this particular lack of agency.

     The study and news articles repeatedly commented on how restricted and limited the ordinance was, suggesting that the ordinance was almost guaranteed to fail. Even Barry Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, declared to NPR, "That little ban was just too trivial.” Despite how weak this ordinance appeared, according to LA Times, this law, "marked the first time a big city had succeeded in taking on fast food restaurants in an attempt to improve its residents' health." If such a weak ordinance is considered such a huge deal, then cultural, economic and political forces and the clout of the fast food industry had already preemptively reduced the efficacy of the zoning regulation. If the fast food industry has this much concentrated power to suppress cities, imagine how much power they have over individual lives. Fast food's strong hold over the city resembles their stronghold over hearts, minds and lifestyles. It's easy to ignore how the industry has literally changed the culture and make up of America. If South Los Angeles could of had a stronger ordinance, then all new fast food restaurants could have been blocked, not just the free standing restaurants which according to NPR "were rare to start with." If the older fast food restaurants, could have been eliminated this would had given the ordinance its intended effect by removing the institutions who are facilitating the deep entrenched habits and social norms. But obviously the chances of that policy being enacted is impossible, such an expansive policy would be  considered inconceivable. 

        The city’s lack of agency and power gives clues to why the citizens appear to have such a lack of agency to eat healthier. It’s just that the residents' lack of agency against the fast food industry is affecting them in a different manner from the city. The city is consolidating their limited resources but are severely restrained by a myriad of invisible forces. The residents are also restrained by a myriad of invisible forces. The city doesn’t have the power the make grander gestures but instead they are forced to wait for slow change in the midst of a public health crisis and "just give it more time," as Gwendolyn Flynn, policy director for nutrition services at Community Health Council advised. Similarly, the residents like Otis Wright understand, even if only from a shallow standpoint, that fast food "may not be the most nutritional" but their lack of agency firmly plants the fast food in their hearts, minds and thus behavior.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

The Covert College Bubble, Why the Burst Will be "Invisible"

By: Dianne Heath

 Have you ever wondered about when you should take cover before the bursting of a bubble? 
 Well impending doom is sly peeking over the horizon when debt for a specific industry (especially a new industry or an old industry being used under a new context) is normalized. You should especially prepare for rainy destruction when this debt is declared a guaranteed investment and when people cease solemnly perceiving this debt as a risk. Before the Great Depression, burying oneself in debt to acquire stocks was the obvious choice since the economy was obviously expanding. Before the Great Recession, mortgage culture caused so many individuals to grow comfortable with loans they many causally promenaded into fraud's clenches while predators savagely feasted on the credit frenzy. It is when individuals blindly walk into debt that can't be discharged at bankruptcy and then are mired in confusion when life happens and now their interest rate payments are "unexpectedly" higher than the principle. It is when people can peddle grand claims about debt being the obvious choice that is guaranteed to eventually work out over a lifetime, then present outdated information to support their grand claims and they don't raise eyebrows. It is when 70 percent of college students are burdening their nascent adult lives with overpowering debt and number 1 trillion is not raising comparable panic. Then one can safely surmise that an industry is probably a bubble. But wait... there's a twist. There is a new type of bubble. It doesn't float and bounce around ominously as the public helplessly watches in anticipation. It's the covert bubble popping inconspicuously and spreading its wet disaster while victims and bystanders remain unaware.

The Covert Bubble Pops Solidarity Before Solidarity Can Pop It

     The college bubble offers the illusion of social solidarity. Students cheer at the same games, they share the same venomous and irrational rivalries, they share the experiences of oscillating between passion and sleepiness in classes, and they collectively cringe at memories of pulling the infamous all-nighter; but with the exception of the broke college student meme, financial solidarity is quite shallow. College costs appear to be rising for all students and families, but it will be hard to generate a mass movement because there is a high degree of invisible stratification in financial experiences. In fact many students don't even pay ticket price. Other students at elite colleges may not even know their colleges’ ticket price due to their families’ economic advantages. These differentiated financial college experiences constrain the idea of financial solidarity, especially since social solidarity is deemed more exciting and less contentious. The varied financial experiences bluff patterns, so families remain too paralyzed to act.

     Articles about rising college tuition are too generalized and thus are ineffectual to offer targeted insight into such varied (and possibly unbelievable) predicaments. This contributes to the paralysis. Since most articles are too generalized and nationalized, they don't probe into specific experiences so students fall into the trap of assessing their situation as uniquely shameful. Depleted of targeted information, most incoming students are restricted from developing the strategies and conjuring the confidence to make the rational choice about student loans. 

The Covert Bubble Settles into the Dark and Neglected Corners of Your Collective Wallets

     While debtors in these varied experiences subconsciously wait to recognized and saved by a cataclysmic, apocalyptic bursting ( perhaps because of the fear of judgment, perceptions of powerlessness and the structural constraints on being proactive), I'm going to predict (oh dear) that the college bubble won't be as visible as the housing bubble. I'm literally won't be visible. The housing bubble popped on our screens and then our consciousness with iconic images of lonely and depressed houses, eerie boarded up communities drained of residents and economic vitality and evicted weeping families as keepsakes were ruthlessly strung across a lawn with the media detailing (sensationalizing) the traumas of having to desert a place filled with intimate memories. The nation watched as urban municipalities deteriorated and gasped at the shocking stories of suburban poverty. The widespread visibility of these scenes fomented into the contentious Occupy Movement and then the backlash Tea Party Movement. Then there were prominent banks collapsing like dominoes, the stock market dramatically dropping as if relieved to let go of a heavy weight and blame being tossed around like a hot potato.

     I predict that the college bubble will be a more private and individualized experience. Firstly, the distribution of student loans is structured differently than mortgage loans. The bulk of the burden from student loans are placed out of prestigious colleges, and are externalized on the more powerless students; as opposed to how banks shared the shame of the foreclosure crisis. This mass externalization of the burden adds to the isolating experience. Secondly, the culture surrounding housing and mortgage loans is more public than college and student loans. Families avoid discussing too much in detail the nuances of their college costs and student loan debt to protect themselves from scathing judgment and even from jealousy.

    Thirdly, a geographical concentration of housing foreclosures is a dramatic, photography worthy, tangible and seemingly straightforward social issue. Its noticeably ruinous effect on the makeup and monetary value of whole communities is too visible to be denied. But with the college bubble, lives that haven’t bloomed will be covertly ruined. There is not a boarded up house to gawk at but a fallible human being whose story can be denied and refuted by more seemingly credible sources. There will be a hidden and struggling demographic whose marginalized and confused cries will go unheard of and even unarticulated. Initially, there will not be an explosive bubble but an unsettling and disconcerting stifling of lives and activity. It will be a type of covert financial oppression that dampens more than just economic activity.

The Covert Bubble Pounces Wildly on Valuation and Flounces Being Quantified

     The convert bubble maintains its stealth power through the inability to standardize the mechanisms to determine the value of college for an individual’s specific needs. The stifling of lives and popping of bubbles will vary in intensity according to individuals. Some students in 100,000 in debt will interact so successfully with an enriching college experience that it will be worth it long term while for other students just 15,000 is an overvaluation of their college experiences and their capacity to interact with intellectual enrichment. Since houses are a commodity (even with complex valuation mechanisms) they can be quantified, so Americans could confidently declare a bubble. Humans and intellectual enrichment provided by college are not commodities. This variation in value, which depends on the college and student ability, will hamper a collective bubble that could constructively mobilize the public. Due to this difficulty in quantifying the worth of an educational experience, there is much room for fraud, self-delusions and narratives to obstruct the debate, thus intensifying the student loan crisis. 

     Yes, technically for profit colleges are exploitative and liberal arts degrees are a huge risk but how can this be reasonably quantified. Especially since the valuation of college can be dependent on factors outside that individual’s college’s control. College tuition can’t suddenly be declared a bubble and collapse. The mechanisms for setting tuition sharply deviate from how housing prices are determined. So as I shuttle myself from class to class, with each step the student loan bubble will be bouncing happily and covertly among unaware students.

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

How Abusers Trap their Victims by Manipulating an Audience

By: Dianne Heath


     The abuser needs background pressure that influences the victimized individual's perceptions of his or her environment, belief of available options and then induces subsequent dis-empowered behavior. One form of background pressure is creating and manipulating an audience for the relationship. Abusers deploy what I call, public entrapment. Public entrapment derives its efficacy and power from tools used privately to entrap a victim which usually involves teaching the individual to dishonor him or herself. I will focus on public entrapment because Chris Brown and Karrueche Tran offer a timely case study. 

     A predominate tool in the toolbox is how the abuser manipulates their shared social environment so that the victimized individual ceases to generate sympathy from the public. This is why Chris Brown consciously or unconsciously prefers for his breakups with Karrueche Tran to be on the stage for public consumption, despite the ridicule of both parties that invariably ensues. Depleting the sympathy of the public whether it’s the victims’ family, mutual friends or in this case fans is used as a trap by abusers.

Karrueche Tran's Christmas gifts by Chris Brown
Depletion of Sympathy 
     The victim must appear to hold an enviable position. Perceptions by the public or the relationship's personal audience of the victim's enviable position creates an illusion of the terms of condition for their eyes. The victim must be in an outwardly enviable position that invites jealously and third party pressure for the victim to feel gratitude for their supposedly good fortune. Never mind that the despite the external rewards, the abuse is destroying the victimized individual inwardly ironically negating the benefits for the enviable position. Never mind also that the external rewards aren't for the victimized individual's long term benefit but a tool of control for the abuser. The abuser doesn't want to provide internal enrichment with genuine love (and may not even have the capacity to provide love) because a healthy mind that loves itself is less easy to trap. Self-love strengthens the capacity and resolve to exit ruin. The abuser wants the victimized individual to continue pursuing external rewards that the abusers use to control the individual and the perceptions of the relationship’s audience. These deceptive rewards obstruct the victimized individual from their healing. But the public doesn't perceive this and the abuser can manipulate this collective blindness to their advantage against the victim. The public can't see these motives but green eyes can gaze upon a luxury vehicle and diamond rings. Many times even the victim will outwardly compare themselves to others and believe this deceptive narrative his or herself, while overlooking the long term damage to their emotional and psychological health. 

     The abusers are benevolent dictators who have bestowed upon you a platform or designed the template for your only chance at success. Or they abused you for your own good because that was the only way you have achieved, (diminishing your innate drive and qualities). If a person was willing to deal with the abuse to achieve, wouldn't that imply that the individual's  intrinsic motivation would had compelled them to strive and thus do not need abuse? Your intangible value becomes invisible; even when a victimized individual is reduced to being a punching bag despite the fact that this resilience has intangible value to the abuser who has someone to absorb their hatred so that they wouldn't unleash the self-destruction on themselves. Without the victim to feel powerful, the abuser wouldn't have the motivation or energy to even build an illusion or the talent to exploit. Chris Brown needs the public to know that he sacrificed for her and without him she wouldn't have her status. Yes, the relationship is not perfect but you have 2 million Instagram followers, and the "haters" who are telling you to leave don't. In abusive households there can be the illusion of upstanding, successful with good parents to assuage the public image while there is private decay. Abusers with less resources are largely limited to providing transient emotional and psychological rewards. But these rewards are conditional and shallow. From the outside the victimized individual can appear loved but are truly despised. 

     The idea that someone else might be more fulfilling inwardly despite having less external rewards is not discussed. Other scenarios are not presented to the audience, only an image that serves the abuser. Perhaps the abuser noticed the victimized individual’s essence and targeted the individual for exploitation and then lied by pretending they created the individual’s essence. Perhaps the abuser created such an abusive environment they transformed what the individual loved into something painful thus covertly limiting the individual’s potential. Perhaps they stressed the individual which dampened their capacity to capitalize on opportunities the abuser has "showered" on them. Perhaps the abuser took over the individual’s life making it impossible for the individual to realize their full potential or discover their own profitable niche. Perhaps the abuser stunted the individual’s growth or overemphasized one profitable aspect of the while the others remain anemic. Or controlled the individual with bad advice masquerading as caring advice. Perhaps the abuser covertly sabotaged the individual while in front of an audience bragged about what they've done for the individual. Perhaps the individual succeeded in spite of the abuser and not because of their malevolent presence. 

     But these instances are not presented to the audience and are usually not in the consciousness of the victim who devalued his or her positive attributes while the abuser’s minor "contributions" are disproportionately attributed to their success. Privately the victimized individual has dishonored their capacity to make it as far without the abuser and have emphasized deceptive external rewards over a healthy heart and mind. This narrative diminishes the victimized's intangibles. Abusers will conveniently ignore the initial power and resource imbalance to create the image as a savior even though you actually put more effort in relation your power, time and available resources. The individual's subsequent behavior must honor be them as a savior. Abusers with less resources than Chris Brown will create an enviable situation like telling someone your past successes or achievements. Others may harp on your enviable physical traits or talents in front of others with poor body image and/or low self esteem. 

     Constant public breakups are opportunities for abusers. Each breakup most be more critical and believable than the next. Not only is this the reorientation process, but it depletes the sympathy of audience the individual desperately needs in support of in such a dangerous and vulnerable time. This works to create universal disappointment and an incredulous social environment that disrespects the individual. If the individual is in an enviable position that the abuser has created, the narrative of a woman desperate to maintain her luxurious lifestyle, despite abuse may float in people's minds. In reality since the audience’s participation is only public and passive yet not private and intimate, their comprehension of events would be impossible. 

     The public especially stops rooting for the victimized individual when the individual chastises the audience for celebrating the dissolution their demise and then defends the abuser. People hate feeling foolish. Now the public resents the individual and have a natural suspicion of the individual's intentions. Now the abuser has manipulated the individual's identity to the public as a complicit, masochistic and sick individual trying to exploit their sympathies even though the individual secretly knows they are not leaving. Heck maybe even the abuser and the victimized individual are colluding break ups for attention!  The individual will be perceived as ready and willing to be punished, who knows exactly what he or she is getting into and is undeserving of continued sympathy. Now when the individual is truly serious about escaping, the support needed is gone and background pressure intensifies. 

Entrapment by Dishonor 
     Now that the victimized individual is depleted of sympathy, the abuser moves to create a hostile environment by "exposing"  the individual while they simultaneously become the only person willing to redeem and work with this inherently soiled individual. Victims who are already in vulnerable circumstances, have unfamiliar characteristics or struggles (which can be conveniently defined by the abusers to fit their purpose) or marginalized are easier to control with background pressure because the public is already biased against them. They attach stigmatized behavior that imply the individual’s tainted nature and identity so that no decent individual can identify with them or want to support them. They need to misconstrue the individual’s behavior, failures, struggles and unique characteristics. The individual didn't fail because he or she was depressed and trying to recover from a traumatic event, the individual failed because he or she inherently doesn’t value opportunities and therefore doesn't deserve to be saved by someone loving. Now the abuser and victim are both equally flawed and perfectly suited for each other despite the discrepancy of harm inflicted. 

    By claiming by Karrueche had threesomes validates that she was willing to the reprehensible to stay in the relationship, so she really doesn't feel abused. Most importantly it implies that she is immoral and too dirty for a stable and loving relationship. Abusers enjoy exposing individual by divulging in the dirty details of what you were willing to for them; never mind that the individual was probably manipulated, didn't understand the implications what they were doing, had low self-worth, was threatened or the abusers has been steadily manipulating perceptions of individual of who they are. Now the victimized individual is punished for obeying, even though abusers demand obedience as love. With enough exposure and humiliation the victim sees her support dissolve and she feels that she has become worthless to her social environment. The fact that she was accused of cheating on him supposedly negates his behavior. Only questions of her loyalty is shared for public scrutiny. Now they are equally perverse. My question... why does he still want her if she so horrible enough to cheat, so soiled, so perverse and enjoys abuse?
Apology Art

Notes about the Victim 
     Does the victim have perfect intentions in the relationship? No. Was the victim taught these new priorities for the relationship? Yes. Is the abuser being exploited as they claim? Absolutely not. Usually a victim has low self-esteem and/or low self-worth. Their definitions of a loving relationship and their priorities in a relationship are malleable, which is perfect for the abuser. At the beginning the victimized individual is desperately looking for love. The victim might be suffering through a horrible situation and asks for emotional support. But the victim doesn't even know if they truly deserve emotional support or in extreme cases doesn't know what emotional support looks like. So what does the abuser do...well they don't want to give love, they just want power so they'll give the victim money instead of emotional support and tell her that is emotional support. They teach the victim what to accept as love. Eventually the victimized individual with low self-esteem will give up on genuine expressions of love and accept gifts or the controllable external rewards as love. But this works against the victim because this changes her priorities from something honorable to dishonorable. When the victim attempts to escape, the abuser can take on the position as the victim who was exploited. 

What the Victim Must Do 

     A victim’s decision to escape should not be manipulated by these questions. These questions of how much of their partner’s behavior is deliberate are important for planning the escape because they have implications but if the victim doesn't like their treatment, whether it is love does not reduce the damage. For example, financial abuse may not feel like abuse if the abuser can manipulate perceptions and declare it’s for the victims own good, but in the end the damage to credit, work history and personal control is very real. The abuser has already taught you that the core of your identity is being a victim (and/or a child!) and has rewarded you for being a victim (and/or child) by implicitly socializing the individual to the abuser's painful definitions of "love". But now it is time to pan out and evaluate the situation in its entirety. The stories about the uncontrollable yet loving abuser and you the victim can cloud judgment. Eschew these deceptive narratives or you'll remain entangled. Take away narratives about the abusers identity, their implicitly narratives about your identity and peek into reality. Then you can take on rational behaviors.

This post was inspired by the Chris Brown and Karrueche Tran debacle and by the book Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen.

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

When a Break Up Really Isn't a Break Up

By: Dianne Heath

      There are millions of pages devoted to prying open the minds of abusers to reveal the venomous thinking patterns directing their behavior. Some are heart-wrenching stories that read like psychological thrillers while others attempt to scientifically probe into the madness using a clinical and detached approach. There is a compulsion to peer into the deceptively irrational to make it rational, intelligible and explainable. Just consider this another one of the millions struggling to decode the enigma that is the abuser (for part two click here).

     Abusers rule with confusion. I believe that an abuser's behavior is at the peak of confusion when the individual they are victimizing becomes aware of the toxic dance and starts to wriggle from its cruel grasp. During breakups, it is usually the victim's confusing and seemingly irrational behavior that is scrutinized under judgment’s glaring microscope, but I would like to investigate what victims are directly responding to.

Chris Brown "packing" Karrueche Tran's bags in 2012. Part Two: When Abusers Manipulate Family & Friends

Implicit Reorientation

     While for most relationships, breakups signify the messy severing of bonds, for abusers, breakups are the prime opportunity for a power grab in the form of reorientation. The abuser already assumes that the breakup is temporary. Reorientation is the abuser implicitly demanding to increase your threshold for emotional pain, the bulldozing of protective boundaries and the starving any forms of empowerment, all for the comfort of the abuser. The abuser is demanding for more abusive behaviors to be acceptable; for new norms, new lows, even if unpleasant, for the relationship. 

     Generally the abuser causes so much obvious damage that the individual being victimized is forced to breakup or at least re-evaluate the relationship. For example undeniable betrayal such as cheating that the victimized individual has previously considered as unacceptable and grounds for breakup are directly bluffed by the abuser. The individual may have opened up at the beginning of the relationship by recanting about how the brutal divorce of her parents caused by cheating caused a significant amount of pain that she would never want to go through this, the victim is unknowingly outlining a boundary for the relationship and creating a rule to be broken. The abuser sees this as a threat to his power and using cheating as a tool to obviously challenge this threat.

     Instead of being honest about their intentions, abusers takes on the role of the victim, begging for forgiveness and using guilt by implying they are willing to change if the heartless individual would just give them a chance. Little does the individual being victimized knows, is that the abuser secretly feels entitled to abuse the other. The victim dared to exercise a semblance of power and control over their environment; even though  in reality the individual is probably just too brokenhearted to continue with the relationship. Unfortunately instead of candidly explaining the victimized individual  "I feel entitled to cheat on you even though I expect you to be faithful to me" or "I believe that physical abuse if a great way for me to get what I want while neglecting your needs" the victim is depleted of explicit information and thus the confidence and power to make a rational decision. Just when the victim is putting the last pieces of the frightening puzzle together, the blood stained images and jagged shapes mutate into something soothing. Perhaps what the individual visualized didn't really exist in the first place? There's the confusion of abuse and then there’s abuser's remorse and desire for the relationship. 

      Now if the victimized individual was to reinitiate a relationship with the abuser, not only will the victim be reoriented into a new acceptable low, but this will slowly manipulate the perceptions of his or her identity. Reorientation implicitly manipulates you by showing you who are really are... a willing victim. Now the abuser doesn't have to risk telling you what they are entitled to, you subconsciously believe it. They are re-orientating you on what is love... them unleashing unbearable abuse and you accepting it, even after some resistance, and eventually moving on. You are now the resilient punching bag. This also increases your emotional investment and psychological ties to the relationship thus increasing their power. The imbalance of hurt and investment is creates a significant power imbalance. Few people would easily walk into these harsher terms of conditions, especially if the abuser started off charming. So the abuser takes out their entrapment toolbox that produces background social pressure even if not obvious to the victimized individual. Read part two of the series: how abusers manipulate the victim's social environment!

This post was inspired by the Chris Brown and Karrueche Tran debacle and by the book Stalking the Soul by Marie-France Hirigoyen. 

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Dangers of Using History to Compare with Today's Issues

By: Dianne Heath
It's a typical news day with reports about the economic crises delivered under a veil of monotone composure. This time the reporter is droning on about the possible implications of TARP, a controversial corporate bailout. Ben usually avoids the news, but since his financial fate is intimately entangled in Great Recession he decided to tune in. There have been uneasy murmurings at his workplace about possible layoffs. Just as Ben begins to doubt his decision to get more informed via cable news and lethargically reaches for the remote, a fiery commentator is invited to present his scathing quips. The commentator is full of righteous indignation and begins to forcefully warn about "Fascism, corporate fascism!" Ben's head becomes flooded with images of merciless, bloodthirsty and brainwashed masses marching in unison as a ruthless dictator's arm guides them to the next kill, as the commentator rants in the background. Suddenly his shoulders are filled with tension and a rush of urgent emotions flow over him. He is no longer lethargic as his mind is actively reaching epiphanies about corporate fascism taking over government.
The Shortcut

     Associating and comparing historical events with problematic present issues, attempts to highlight, clarify, enlighten, familiarize, normalize, simplify and even romanticize or inspire. Associations utilize a store of available emotions, instead compelling the public to sap away potential emotional energy with intellectual pondering needed to grasp the intricacies of complex and perplexing events. By using direct comparisons, seemingly unprecedented issues with a blank slate with imprecise and shallow emotional and intellectual attachments, can take on greater meaning since deep emotional investment to historical events can be applied to new instances that you might not have cared as much about. These emotions make sure to highlight the significance of the new event, convey what is important and make sure that it is not ignored. This is especially important when a shocking crisis when urgency is almost demanded. But this also stifles other emotions and consequently actions that are more suited to the occasion. This dilutes the quality of citizen participation.

      But why do some historical events have the capacity to generate such a powerful emotional response? Well, horrific historical events are generally infested with emotional wounds such national regret. Events with a paradox of emotional pain and triumph, is ripe for generating a visceral emotion filled reaction, especially if the negative emotions are suppressed and unresolved. These historical wrongs must have widespread awareness that is infused with cultural meanings and shared understandings on what should have happened. Usually associations manipulate historical traumas when, before the triumph, mass scale efforts were futile, when the masses are perceived to have acted as sheep consenting in their own demise or simply remained as weak bystanders.

     Some historical events always with today’s issues more than others because some wounds are more valued than others. For example, events with pain that can remain overlooked since it’s overshadowed by the eventual triumph like in the Great Depression and the Holocaust are frequently evoked as opposed to the Stalin's forced famine that killed millions. Referring to the well-known emotional wounds of other nations that were saved by your nation can be safer and less painful. The goal is not to conjure helpless and paralyzing emotional pain but just enough to scare away the apathy.

Courtesy of  the Library of Congress;
Coming Soon! A mini case study about monopsonies being confused for monopolies.

Ben has now turned in a Googling maniac. He looks up corporate fascism, and then he looks up talking points about TARP. The resemblance is uncanny. The context and inner-workings of neoliberalism, the rise of 1980's deregulation in a backlash against the New Deal and financial dominance are rendered useless and fade in the dejected background. Its fascism, point blank and a sinister corporate takeover abounds. Ben is livid, nervous and stricken with horror that compels him to act. Now he has the confidence to oppose TARP. What exactly should he and can he do?

      Direct comparisons to history bestow the misleading illusion of thorough knowledge and education. The new challenge appears deceptively familiar because nuanced details that don't fit the figure's agenda are slyly escorted out the narrative or strategically misapplied. Thinking you know more than reality stifles genuine curiosity to learn more, demand more information and encourages you to uphold undeserving demagogues as experts. Then the brain is subconsciously constricted to a narrative that is under a historical context and events appear to neatly reflect on another.

    In addition, cultural narratives of history are often riddled with assumptions that tell you how to interpret the new event, thus constricting the meaning and implications of the new crisis. When historical narratives are recklessly applied to new issues, your reaction is framed and misdirected accordingly to the historical crisis. But the dynamics of today are new so updated reactions are required since modern life isn't stagnant.

      When a figure uses historical comparisons as a template for comprehension and not as a loosely based guide or reference point, the question should become what is the agenda? What emotions does this figure or entity want me to feel then what type of action based on these emotions to take. For example, if you directly relate the Great Recession to the Great Depression, you'll perceive absolute calamity and sure financial collapse. You might be more willing to accept government intervention in the form of TARP and relate it to the celebrated New Deal. If you truly believe that the Great Recession is directly comparable to the Great Depression, then you will possess perpetual imperfect information since your interpretations of current economic conditions will be faulty and you will be unable to make the rational decisions to survive in the maturing capitalist system.

      What's even more disconcerting is that popular understandings about historical events are not wholly accurate. Culture interpretations are often too shallow, biased and filled with imaginations that depart from reality for genuine understanding. For example, background events become nonexistent which creates a lopsided and one dimensional image of history. Overarching lessons about the stock market and greed contributing to the Great Depression erases a background contributor to the bubble, the discrepancy between the maturing manufacturing industries and speculation. As evidenced, focusing on a single factor within a false narrative will completely misconstrue the present.

How can this be combated? Fight it with contemplation and investigation. Broaden your knowledge of history from a variety of perspectives, learn about obscure events with less happy endings and don’t box yourself into any narratives about current events.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ode to the West Wind Analysis, Percy Shelley's Exaltation of Nature's Power

By: Dianne Heath

In "Ode to the West Wind", Percy Bysshe Shelley eloquently expresses his private thoughts about nature and humanity by honoring the virtues and power of the Wind. The consistent rhyme scheme demonstrations his dedication to praising the Wind and admiring nature. "Ode to the West Wind" is heavy with descriptions, allegories, stunning imagery and hidden themes which reveal Shelley’s close observation and life long commitment to the subject. Most importantly the poem is brimming with emotion, ranging from adulation, worship, desperate pleading, sadness, and humbleness. Shelley elevates the Wind by treating the Wind as if it's a divine figure so that the underlying message and theme is more pronounced. Just as the ancients recorded their deepest vulnerabilities and fears through open prayer while simultaneously adoring their deity; Shelley also uses the same technique throughout the poem.

Fall at the Dallas Divide, Courtesy of Matt Santomarco
The untamed, powerful and majestic Wind gifts life to seasons and fuels nature's movement, explains Shelley, "thou breath of Autumn's being". The wild Wind has the power and freedom to breathe life into the seasons just like a deity would breathe to life to humans. The Wind is an unseen force yet powerful guardian of nature. It can objectively take away life in one season and lay nature to its death; while spurring reproduction to bestow life in another season. Like a mystic conjuring up a spirit and then fleeing its production, this is how fast the leaves are floating away from the source of their life after contact with the Wind. Shelley uses this metaphor to highlight the incredible & frightening strength of the wind. The leaves anticipate and rapidly accept their morbid fate. 

There’s no gloomy mood but a “hectic red”. Shelley then begins to use human like characteristics to relate nature to our stories and experiences. He uses extensive imagery so that we can see and feel the pertinent message. “Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red pestilence-stricken multitudes,” evoke visuals of decaying victims of a  deadly plague. Autumn is like a deadly epidemic, slowing sickening and sapping away the life of the leaves that are desperately clinging on. However the Wind, like a king, majestically“chariotest” away the deadened leaves and guides them to their grave, "their dark wintry bed," with dignity. The phrase, “O thou” is conspicuously unrhymed for distinct reverence and to redirect attention to the subject of exaltation. Shelley manages to compress observations about two seasons in the first two stanzas which sets the tone for the message of the poem; seasons, life, death and power. 

Shelley describes the seeds as winged to indicate the freedom they are endowed with once in contact with the Wind. They are “like a corpse within its grave” until spring Winds blow new life. Shelley uses blue and azure color imagery throughout the poem to indicate the Wind’s presence in its various forms and to apply Wind-like qualities to other aspects of nature.

Like a loud harmonious trumpet (e.g. religious events, battle cries, festivals, which grabs the attention of multitudes due to its importance and emotional investment by the inhabitants) that fill the city; the spring Wind is boldly declaring a new season by breathing life into seeds. The winged seeds are now described as buds to quickly snapshot the cycle of life from seed to bloom. The buds are driven to the sky "like flocks to feed in air" and lifted up by the Wind to reach its nourishment. The spring Wind fills the earth with living hues and sweet odours. This scene contrasts sharply with the autumn colors, signaling death "yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red." 

 Shelley directly states with reverence, the Wind’s omnipresence "which are moving everywhere" and its dual power as "destroyer and preserver". He entreats this wild Spirit, to “O hear” his humble request. 


The same power who initiated "earth's decaying leaves" to shed is the same power bringing more commotion in the sky and loosing up the clouds. The Wind’s power is evident from the heavens and the ocean. Percy uses the word heaven, as if the Wind resides as a deity. 

The Wind’s angels are rain and lightning, who are spread on the wind's surface, the sky, like "bright hair on the head". Shelley uses more religious undertones, "some fierce Maenad and "thy congregated might", demonstrating rain's and lightning's strong devotion to the Wind. Shelley also uses death connotations, such a "dirge" and "sepulchre" to express how these elements congregate to end the day. Night is like a dome encompassing the entire earth in its darkness. 

Wind is now in the form of vapor, the solid invulnerable sky who directs powerful "black rain, and fire, and hail" to burst without fear. The authors uses actions words such as commotion, uplifted, shook and burst to describe the powerful relationship between the Wind and natural processes. The Wind is too powerful to incur damage in the process and not prone to be intimidated by other powerful elements. Once again Shelley is entreating the Wind to hear.

Natural Bridges, State Park Courtesy of  Lori Branham

Shelley continues praise and admire the omnipresent Wind in its many forms. He acknowledges the Wind as a formidable ally and demonstrates why its powers are suited for his humble plea. Once again we see the color blue. The Wind has taken form in the summer within the Mediterranean waves as the engine for stream. The Wind is so powerful that although this function requires a tremendous amount of energy, the Wind is lull'd. There is power in calmness.

Even the grandest man made structures such as "old palaces and towers" and "pumice isle in Baiae's bay" quivers with the Wind's intense motion when it's just laying down. The word blue, a characteristic of power associated with the Wind,  describes the moss and flowers that overtake these structures like a ornament. Their scents are so sweet that you are enamored by what you imagine them to look like. But the powerful vegetation that appear to level with the Atlantic are still at the mercy of the waves produced by the Wind's force. They "cleave themselves into chasms" at its presence. 

Shelley breaks rhyme scheme again to bring attention back to the subject with the simple yet respectful, "Thou". He uses the "sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear the sapless foliage of the ocean" to reflect how is feeling at his lowest state when not beautifully taking over the world like the flowers or moss. At Shelley's strongest and weakest, he respects, trembles and despoils himself with recognition of the Wind's power and role in nature. Shelley has waited so long to make this request that, he "suddenly grow grey with fear" but he courageously asks for the ear of the Wind, O hear!"


Shelley is now directly addressing the Wind directly as if it were a powerful divine force, a deity worthy of worship. There is no more mention of azure or blue because now we are interacting with the power; we know its forms and force. "If I was a dead leaf thou mightest bear." If Shelley was a leaf, he could still have more power from the benevolent Wind who powerfully guides and generously bestows immortality. Shelley is not interested the illusion of power as a human which can be unpredictably and maliciously swept away. He realizes the limitations of humans and wants pristine freedom. He would love to be lifted up by the by the Wind in a wave or fly with the Wind as a cloud to behold the wonders of nature. He wouldn't be a powerful as the wind and only immortal on borrowed force. But at least more free and protected than as a human since he is under the "impulse of thy strength". Yes the elements work tirelessly and pant but they are not brutalized or enslaved by the Wind. Although the Wind can be dangerous and wild it is not deliberately cruel. 

Yes the leaves, clouds and waves have less power but they are "only less free". The Wind powerfully guides the seasons but it doesn't unduly subdue its subjects but instead invites all of nature to share its majesty. Wind does not target individual elements with death; it objectively guides the process. Shelley acknowledges that the Wind is uncontrollable, but he continues with his request. He refers to an innocent time in boyhood and wishes he could had been a friend of the wind wandering over heaven instead of through the limited experiences of humanity. Nature is Shelley's heaven. 

What the wind has the power to do, Shelley couldn't have even strove for. Now Shelley admits that this is an emotional prayer spotted with apprehensive pain. He is desperate yet full of trepidation. He wants to the Wind to lift him up as a "wave, a leaf, a cloud." He alludes once again to religious protestant allegory of unpredictable death from prosecution. "I fall upon the thorns of life, I bleed." 

Time is eloquently described as a "heavy weight of hours" who has the power to chain the human existence. The hours are symbolic of impending death. Humans are chained to the passing years; which becomes the enemy of youth and life. Asking for time to stop and death to never come is too bold and a seemingly impossible request. He hopes to circumvent this "tameless and swift and proud" character and have the Wind be his protection against this character. The Wind is just as powerful as Time and could be the most formidable defense death by granting immortality and lifting his fruits to another season.

Snow Covered Cars. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Courtesy of  emilydickinsonridesabmx

Shelley wants the Wind to artistically use him like instrument; to flow through him creating soothing yet strong melodies just as the forest is a lyre for the Wind to sweep through. Shelley already experiences pain, sickness and death so why not it be for the glory of the Wind as a "tumult for thy mighty harmonies."

The deep autumnal tone signals impending death due the upcoming winter, but it isn't as morbid or unpredictable as the human's cold end. The leaves are pale and falling leaving a sad bare tree. However this scene is also sweet and comforting. It's just another appreciated cycle guided by the powerful Wind who provides protection and certainty of rebirth. He entreats the Wind to let its Spirit work through his spirit.

He doesn't want bleak mortality but like the leaves experience the seasons. He wants the wind to drive "my dead thoughts over the universe" and chartiotest throughout nature. He longs for the Wind to use his thoughts to "quicken a new birth" and provide nourishment to hasten growth for spring. He asks to be immortalized through his words and his poems to fertilize humanity's new insights. 

His requests for his words to scatter like "ashes and sparks" from a hearth that can't be distinguished among mankind. He wants a guarantee of spring after the autumn and especially after the winter. He wants the wind to lift his words through his lips to "unawken'd earth." The Winds' movements are prophetic as it boldly indicates which seasons are next. The Wind is "the trumphet of prophecy" spurring the seasons and cycle. Atleast in the natural world if death and winter is looming surely spring and rebirth isn't too far behind. Shelley hopes that this phenomenon is possible for him to.

Percy Shelley is awed by nature's ability to have immense power without intentional cruelty. Thus he feels comfortable being vulnerable to the Wind even though it is wild. The Wind encompasses all the elements without exploiting them. Humans often interpret power as who can procure the most evil but the Wind does not need evil to be powerful. The Wind has no gender identity because it is supposed to be above human concepts of behavior. He wishes that he could fully experience natures power, which although terrifying at times, is emotionally safe and soothing. Shelley praises the seasons and nature's capacity for rebirth. He wishes that he could intimately be a part of it to defy time.

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