SO, WHAT NEXT?

As I am sure is no surprise to anyone who knows me, I have been doing rather a lot of thinking in the last week since our electoral college system saddled us with an anti-democratic sexual predator as president-elect.

I am never going to accept that Trump is the legitimate democratic leader of this country. When an elected official loses the popular vote and only wins in the key states due to voter suppression, I do not consider that person to be legitimately elected.

However, the people with the power to contest that result do not seem to be willing to do so, so we need to resign ourselves to living under President Trump. But what does that mean? What should we expect from him?

There have been a slew of articles that assume that now he has won the presidency he will be more moderated. I think this is wishful thinking. He might back off on much of the specifically GOP policy lines, but his core persona does not seem likely to change.

My basic read of Trump is that he is a thin skinned bully who holds grudges and actively seeks to destroy or humiliate anyone who ever wronged him. He equates force with strength and seems to believe wholeheartedly in the Thucydidean principle that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

This is going to be the strongest person in the entire world in about two months.

So some basic principles that guide what I expect to see from Trump:

  1. Anyone who crosses him will be suppressed with the full force at his disposal, legal or military. I expect him to use threats of violence both internally and externally. Opposition groups are likely to be targeted for police action as soon as he feels he can get away with it. Foreign countries that do not do what he says are likely to receive threats of violent retribution. The set of tools of force that Trump is being given are incredible and historically unprecedented, so expect him to use them.
  2. Any constraints on his power will be seen as annoying obstacles to be removed at the first chance. I do not believe that Trump believes rules apply to him. He will inherit an already powerful presidency, and I expect him to work to make it more powerful. He will also inherit a supreme court that is likely to be easy to stuff with justices that will not oppose him. I expect him to take full advantage of both. I do not expect him to take risks with his power at any point.
  3. Projects that flatter his ego are highest priority. The wall will be built if Trump has any say about it. Paul Ryan won’t like how much it costs, but Trump will not care. He might even risk war with Mexico if they don’t help him pay for it. The man is an egotist who sees his legacy as buildings with his name on them. The Great Wall of the United States will be the ultimate example of his ego at work.
  4. His political enemies on both sides of the aisle will be targeted for humiliation. I cannot see Trump being magnanimous in victory. I also cannot see his and Paul Ryan’s relationship staying stable unless Ryan brown-noses constantly. I expect there to be an early fight between Trump and the remainder of the GOP over where the party goes from here.  We already see the beginning of it with Ryan’s declarations that there won’t be a deportation force.
  5. He will surround himself with cronies and family. People who have supported him the whole way and who have a relationship of traded favors will be given high power positions. Old enemies will not find their way onto his staff.
  6.  He will attempt to build police and military support. He already seems to have the FBI on his side. He will likely attempt to build forces loyal to him and his ideals. One of the major warning signs to look out for is if he succeeds at building the special deportation force that Ryan has just promised will not happen.

In other words, I think we are looking squarely at a proto-dictator. The question this leaves me is “what can we do?” Much of this depends on the conditions of how exactly Trump acts and what issues confront him early. I can predict that Trump will be bellicose, but he doesn’t have policy, he has gut reactions.

If for the sake of argument, we assume that Trump does attempt to subvert democracy as a would be dictator, then there are two basic ways I see this playing out.

The first is the Dictatorial success scenario: Trump wins against Ryan’s congress. He takes control of sufficient support that he can aggressively pursue any policy he wishes. He rides the good economy he is inheriting and actually becomes more popular among white voters while progressively disenfranchising every type of voter that does not support him. This country becomes a very bad place to live if you do not conform to Trumpism. He packs the courts with supporters and starts removing threats to his rule. Those opposed to him play along until it is far too late and by 2020 he is unable to be removed legally. The US becomes increasingly self reliant and regionally bellicose when it comes to foreign policy and we almost certainly start offensive wars.

The second is a crash and burn: The narratives here are much more divergent than the success narrative. The basic gist is that Trump blows it completely, crashes the system, and someone takes him out of the equation legally or extralegally. Many of these scenarios are outright scary.

If we are lucky, Trump gets caught doing something that causes him to be impeached early while his support is still weak enough that illegal actions on his part matter. He is removed constitutionally and we can then have a nice discussion of how we allowed this to happen in the first place.

If we are extremely unlucky, he is removed by violent means rather than legal ones. A coup or an assassination. Either would likely spark major system failures. The US is so powerful militarily that the only real legitimate threat to our existence as a nation at this point is our own military structures. An illegal removal of a president in that context could set a precedent that might turn that military against itself. Those sorts of scenarios get really complicated and violent very quickly.

Given this thinking, I think the response to Trump needs to be as follows:

  1. Goad him early and often while his support is weak. These protests are absolutely correct for this. Refuse to call him president. Constantly hit him with his failure to win a democratic mandate. Force him to fight for every piece of legislation he wants. Try to get those tweetstorms to happen. We need him to make mistakes. The window for this is short. We need him to be unstable enough to get himself impeached before he has consolidated power.
  2. Follow a course of absolute pacifism. Violent responses to Trump are dangerous. If successful they are likely to lead to situations spiraling out of control in unpredictable ways. Violence does not function as an effective method of supporting democracy, rather it tends to usher in autocratic groups. This pacifism needs to be in full expectation that his violence will occur against us and we have to figure out ways to turn that violence to the advantage of democracy. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be disruptive. Just that we need to be as aggressively non-violent in our disruptions as possible.
  3. Support each other. Do whatever you can to help the people you know that are hurting from this. I do not mean some solidarity symbol, but actively do what you can to help. Don’t just sit by when you see racist or sexist acts, speak up and make a stink about them. Those of us who have unearned privileged need to spend that social capital to draw fire away from those who are in worse shape.

This is going to get worse before it gets better, if it gets better.

A REFERENDUM ON WHITE AMERICAN MASCULINITY?

As this awful disaster of a year moves towards its end, I keep reading articles talking about the election as being about class and education. To some extent this seems true, but only to some extent. As others have pointed out, the supporters of Trump are not exactly white trash. What they are instead are primarily people who identify as men.

I think this is important. Trump is hideous. He is corrupt, racist, sexist, violent, and abusive. His foreign policy is a return to the era of “Woe to the Conquered.” His clear contempt towards everyone who isn’t a heteronormative white male is incredible. I see him as an oversized avatar of  the brash confident american man.

This is where the fact that it is primarily lower middle and middle class white men supporting him becomes so important. For Trump’s supporters, this election is certainly not about his policy or about where America fits in the world or even truly about economics. It is about the fact that we the societal room for a version of masculinity that believes in its own superiority has been shrinking slowly (far too slowly!) for a century now.

I see the defining feature of what I think of as traditional american masculinity as a belief in the exceptionality and superiority of a proper american man. There are many forms of this proper man, but they all rely on the idea that they are better than at least some other class of people.

Hence, sexism and racism, among other social constructions, are core requirements for such masculinity to function. The man needs to be clearly better than other people. To be an “alpha” rather than a “gamma,” to use the so called Mens Rights Activist’s bullshit terms, he needs to show his strength, his ability to bully others either physically or through words. He cannot show weakness. He must be strong. He needs to be virile and have a family to protect. So on and so forth.

And the easiest way to show this is to have things that you can clearly point to as making you superior to others. For the people at the top of the pecking order, this is easy. Well off College educated men can point to their degrees, their trendy clothing, their luxurious cars, their fancy houses, and so on. They can aim their need to be superior at men lower than them on the totem pole. They can be manly men while still proclaiming that they are not racist or sexist, because they can replace the racism and sexism with open classism. Part of why Trump’s support is “only” around even with college educated men may be because the college educated men can point their fingers at “white trash” and talk about how good they are in comparison.

The middle or lower middle class suburbanite, on the other hand, has fewer people to look down upon and to demonstrate superiority over. Sure there is a certain amount of attacks on the management and the effete latte sipping liberals, and so on. But the further down the class equation you get, the harder it is to believe that you are special and good. So, you find a different group to attack. People who don’t look the same. People who don’t talk the same. So on. But it seems to me that the target for most of this superiority complex is women.

These are the people Trump appeals to. The white men who believe that they are inherently better than women just because they are men, and who use that horrifying belief to hide from their own self doubt, are the core of his support. Them, and a smaller number of white women who have internalized their own oppression.

These are not, however, despite the many media reports about them, “white trash.” Unless we believe that a third or more of the voting population can possibly qualify under that label. The sob stories about the horrors of heroin ridden rural towns are often documenting real problems, but that is not by any means the core of Trump’s support. The core of his support is not doing anywhere near so poorly, as the Vox article I linked earlier pointed out.

The core of his support is white men of all stripes. Men who appreciate the old school James Bond sexuality. Men who approve of his bullying attitude. Men who believe firmly in a version of machismo that equates personal strength with power and effectiveness. And the vast majority of these men are suburbia’s dads and granddads.

The common element, the core thing that is absolutely required for anyone to not absolutely despise Donald Trump, is a belief that brash heteronormative white masculinity is a good thing. Racism and sexism correlate closely with this, but they are symptoms of a much deeper problem.

I see the attempt to move the target away from it being masculinity that provides Trump’s core support as an attempt to not deal with this problem. If our college educated and Hillary Voting “Good men,” mostly writing from urban settings, can make the story be about white trash rather than asking whether there is something inherent in our construction of masculinity that causes the toxic behavior, then they do not have to confront their own problematic behaviors. They don’t have to ask how much of their own self worth is based on an idea that they are somehow naturally superior to other people.

If we can keep it focused on the -isms and not the core belief that causes the -isms, then we are safe from having to ask ourselves about our own core beliefs and whether they are also problems. But that isn’t good enough for me. I want this election to be a referendum on the masculine ideal that Trump represents. I want to see white American masculinity broken, so that something far less toxic can rise from it’s ashes.

TO ‘OXI’

OXI Rally, 7/5/15 Synthagma
OXI Rally, 7/5/15 Synthagma

One of the things that I think the English language Media got consistently wrong last week was their absolute focus on the idea that the Referendum was a confusing and divisive thing.

On the face of it, this is understandable. The Greeks were voting on an expired deal that their Government had already irrevocably rejected; what was the point of the Referendum?

In fact, if European leaders had just ignored the referendum this might even have been an accurate narrative. If they had maintained liquidity in the Greek banks and if they had not attempted to change the meaning of the Referendum from being about a single offer to being about EU membership, then the vote two days ago would have been effectively pointless.

Instead, they chose to escalate repeatedly. The ECB put pressure on banks and forced credit controls. Figures like Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz made one attempt at another to make the οχι seem an apocalyptic choice. The media, both in Greece and in the West ran a series of absolutely absurd pieces about panic. The goal of all of this seems to have been to use the referendum in an attempt to remove the leftist party Syriza from power in Greece.

On the Fifth of July, however, the Greek people chose to overwhelmingly vote in favor of the οχι across the entire country. So what were they rejecting? Surely you don’t get a huge turnout and a landslide victory if the issue actually is a rather arcane financial question?

The answer gets complicated. To start with, the Οχι has more resonance in Greek culture than almost anyone in the western media seemed to understand. On October 28, 1940 the Greek government (then a dictatorship, but this doesn’t matter so much for the legend) was told that they had to allow Axis forces to take strategic locations throughout the country. According to the popular version of the story, the only response received was the single word οχι, that is no. This decision brought Greeks into a head on collision with Italy and Germany. They trounced the former, but were no match for the latter. October 28 is now commemorated as ΟΧΙ day, and has become a general Greek holiday dedicated to the rejection of fascism and foreign control of the country.

So, what does this have to do with a couple days ago? Well, by escalating the vote into more than it was, the EU leadership actively put themselves onto the wrong side of a narrative that the Greeks have well rehearsed in their national memory. The recollections of Marathon, Thermopylae, Vergas, the Italian invasion in WWII all present the same basic narrative as an essential Greek trait: When faced with people who try to use power or money to subjugate them, the Greeks say οχι.

What Greece said no to was not simply the terms of the deal, but the entire dynamics of the discussion. The idea that other countries with greater resources and power have a right to tell them how to run their own country is offensive. The constant attacks on their character as a nation from northern European and English language press is offensive. The feeling that the only reason anyone is still using the austerity plan is because of a moral sense that the Greeks should be punished is offensive. The idea that Northern European banking experts have a better idea about the problems in the Greek economy than the Greeks do is offensive. These offenses have all been percolating for years, but the Referendum brought it into high relief.

Martin Schulz and the like became the face of a group of people that say that the Greeks cannot choose their future for themselves. A group that said that the Greeks need to let rich people from other countries tell them what to do. A group that said that the Greeks need to be deathly afraid of getting on the bad side of the European system.

And so the no wasn’t a no so much to the particular terms offered. It was a no to the entire idea that the Greeks should be scared of the Troika.

“No to Fear 5/7”

Out of the graffiti and the signs and all of the other OXI media that I saw in Athens and Thessaloniki last week, the biggest thing that stuck with me was the prominence of the association of OXI with fear. The Greeks didn’t just say no to the terms of the agreement, they said no to the entire idea that they needed to be scared about what would happen. They said no both to their own media and to the technocrats who had screamed the message of fear for the last week. The fact that the entirety of the Undecided column in the pre-election polls broke in favor of οχι is in many ways less a vote of confidence in Syriza than it is a rejection of the idea that the Troika and other EU institutions have the right to tell them that they should be afraid.

Syntagma 7/5/15
Syntagma 7/5/15

But this is not enough to explain the sheer sense of relief and the party atmosphere in the country. To explain that we have to turn to another Greek historical trope, namely the narrative that the Greeks are unable to come together in a crisis. This narrative also draws from a long history, but the basic gist of it is an idea that when push comes to shove the Greeks fight among themselves rather than rallying. Like the all such historical narratives used for culture construction this is a result of cherry picking the past into a cohesive story, the past is never so neat. But regardless of whether they are factual, these narratives have power, the idea that the Greeks would not come together was a common theme in the conversations I had in the run up to the referendum.

This is the narrative that the media was obsessed with over the last week. “The Greek Referendum is Dividing the Country” was the repeated theme. The stories highlighting chaos (which didn’t exist at all, in reality) caused Greeks to be scared that the no would win and caused me in particular to receive several worried messages from people back in the states. The narrative that was being pushed by the Yes camp and by the international press was that “Like always, the Greeks are not going to come together.”

In this case, the narrative produced the opposite result. The fear campaign pushed the undecided into the no column and the idea that Greeks would not come together seems to have caused the Greeks to come together. I think the parties that took place throughout Greece on Sunday Night happened in part because the Greeks had broken the narrative that they would not come together.

Parliament Building Crowd, Syntagma, 7/5/15
Parliament Building Crowd, Syntagma, 7/5/15

Greece is right now united in its total opposition to the dictates of Austerity and it is united in its rejection of the idea that it is a junior partner in the European World. Come what may, Europe is now dealing with a united Greece.

THOUGHTS ON GREECE

 

Every night this week I have been out in the bars and cafes of Thessaloniki, Greece talking to the people there. Every night the discussion has inevitably gone to the political situation. The people I converse with do not agree on Syriza. Many of them are undecided what to vote on the referendum. Others are just in a state of mixed disbelief and resignation that it has gotten this far.  As is completely normal in Greek discussions, they can be quite vociferous in their disagreement. But almost every point of view I have heard has a single thing in common: A sense that the Troika is out to get them.

This is not a new feeling. It is not something that has come into existence with Syriza’s victory. Last year at a hostel café in Athens, I asked the bartender, a competent trilingual woman in her mid-twenties with a masters in Psychology who was working for a minimum wage part time job, what she thought about the situation and was told that “We are bankrupt, our politicians just won’t admit it.” No one in Greece thought Austerity was working last year. For some insane reason, however, the world’s economic elite did seem to believe that things were better. The protests of 2011 had died down. The complaints were less loud. The economy was beginning to grow. Tourism had had a banner year.

If they had bothered going to Greece and talking to the people there they would have realized just how absurd this feeling was. Youth unemployment was catastrophic. Youth underemployment was worse. The few people who did have jobs in my age range were working in tourism, and almost all had full degrees and multiple languages like the aforementioned hostel café worker. Worse, a huge number of young degree holders had already left the country. Rather than things being better in 2014, they were just resigned and depressed.

Then came Syriza. I wasn’t in Greece for the election, but I could see its excitement all throughout my facebook feeds. This was something new. This was hope. Here was a party saying that if they just talked straight to the Troika (that is the main creditors of Greece), then they would see reason. Austerity hadn’t worked in the Greek case, it was time to change course. Surely the creditors would realize that debt relief and allowing the greeks to try other economic models would be the best way to get their money back in the long run!

This elation did not last very long. Within weeks of Varoufakis’ initial tour of the European institutions it was quite clear that there would be no agreement. Syriza had misjudged. They had been too naïve. The facebook statuses turned acrimonious very quickly. But the question in the arguments wasn’t whether Syriza was right that Austerity was not working, anyone looking around in a greek city could tell you that austerity wasn’t working. Rather the question was whether Syriza were too amateur and whether they were making things worse by sticking to their principles so aggressively. That is still the discussion the Greeks around me are having this week as we have reached a crisis point and the negotiations have ended.

This is their internal discussion, and while I tend to sympathize more with Syriza than not, it is not my place to weigh in on what the Greeks should do on Sunday. I am more interested in talking about the other side of the issue, which is that this conflict cannot be blamed primarily on the Greeks and that successful nations of the western world all need to realize that their success has come at the expense of countries such as Greece for far too long.

The history of western colonialism in Greece is a long one, quite possibly the longest one depending on how you define the term. It begins with a Venetian and Frankish military adventure in 1204 CE that destroyed the center of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Fourth Crusade was intended to be an assault on Palestine, but got sidetracked by economic interests into attacking Constantinople (modern Istanbul), which was at the time the largest Greek speaking city in the world. In the aftermath of the successful assault, the region that is now modern Greece was partitioned into several western polities. For this discussion, the most interesting of these is the Venetian holdings. Where the Franks tended to move in and become local feudal lords, the Venetians set up the economies of their new holdings to directly benefit the Italian city state. Venetian Greece was used as a source of raw materials for Venetian products. These products could then be sold for significantly more than their material value, often back to the people who had supplied the raw materials. This is a classic colonialist model and also represents to a great degree the way the Greek economy has worked for the subsequent history of the country. Greek Olives are even now made into Italian Olive Oil.

I won’t go into the rest of Greece’s medieval and early modern history, as it would be a bit more of a book than anyone wants to read, but the region repeatedly became a battle ground and a pawn between western powers and the Ottoman Empire over the course of the next centuries. The most famous consequence of this is the destruction of the Parthenon in Athens in 1687 by the artillery of the Venetian general Francesco Morosini.

Engraving of explosion of Parthenon. From http://www.athensguide.com/elginmarbles/photos/explosion.JPG

The era which I am more interested in from a modern perspective is the 19th and 20th Centuries in which the Modern Greek state has existed. From the beginning of its existence the Modern Greek state has not been allowed to be an independent nation by western powers. In the London Conference of 1832 England, France, and Russia decided to appoint the Bavarian Prince Otto of Wittelsbach as the new king of the now independent Greece. This intervention on the part of great powers (all of whom were owed money by the Greek revolutionaries) ended the First Hellenic Republic and began the Kingdom of Greece. From its very beginning the modern Greek state has seen its development meddled with by larger and richer countries in Europe.

Otto I “of Greece” Image from Wikimedia

Of course, the European powers are not the only countries to have treated Greece as a pawn for their foreign policy. The country that has the longest modern track record of treating Greece as a geopolitical tool is of course the United States. In the Greek Civil war of 1945-1949, first Britain and then the United States actively bankrolled the right wing anti-communist forces. The US intervention was decisive in stopping communism, though I cannot believe that was worth the human cost. This began an era of US involvement in Greece that led to a military dictatorship in the 1960s and 70s. At the same time that the Marshall plan was spending money to rebuild Germany, the same exact foreign policy spent money that prolonged war in Greece and actively stifled democratic government.

The Military Junta Members Source: Wikimedia

The point I am making here is that Greece has rarely been allowed to develop on its own. It has been treated very similarly to how Latin American countries and other colonized countries have been treated for centuries. There has been a long tradition of more rich and powerful countries feeling that their power and interests justify them telling the Greeks what they should be able to do as a country.

The current situation here on the part of the economic elite is a continuation of that sort of thinking that treats the Greeks as an effectively incompetent people while ignoring the role the more powerful countries played in this mess. In the 2000s, the country of Greece began borrowing far more than it could afford to repay on the assumption that the growth from the Euro would be continuous. This heady experience of the Euro led a population that had been fiscally conservative to take mortgages on homes, build new buildings that would never have been built in the 1990s, buy cars on auto loans, and to host the Olympic Games. In other words, the spirit of the early Euro days led them to act exactly like Americans or western Europeans.

Of course, when the bubble burst in 2008, the world decided that people who took loans must be punished, but the banks who decided to give the unwise loans should be protected. In the US this took the form of the bailout, in Greece this took the form of massive loans attached to austerity and debt restructuring so that the Troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank took over the debt that had previously been heavily private. Greece has been given a great deal of money in the last years, but the vast majority has gone right back into the hands of the banks that had made the unwise loans. In return for not defaulting, Greece had to cut government spending so drastically that they collapsed their economy. Basically, Greece’s population was on the hook for a bail out of the banks. We have across the world prioritized capitalist institutions more than we have prioritized populations of people.

The way this has been structured is a direct return to the sorts of thinking that led to the military Junta. The Troika treats Greece like teenagers who need to be taught not to spend more than they consume. They assign the blame to the Greeks, rather than splitting the blame between the Greeks and the capitalist ideology that caused the Greeks to behave in such a foolish way when it seemed like there would be eternal growth. They certainly would rather blame the Greeks than their own policy of austerity.

Since Syriza has come into power the Troika has begun a form of economic gunboat diplomacy. Rather than sending the British navy to blockade the port of Athens (as happened at one point in the 19th century), they have blockaded the money flow to the Greek banks. Of course, if you want a breakdown of the numerical and policy wonk details of the current situation, an archaeologist spending the summer in Greece is not the best person to talk to. There are more detailed articles by more knowledgeable people (some by Nobel laureates) on exactly how the ECB and company have forced Greece’s economy to this point.

But where a historian and archaeologist can add something is to suggest that this is a direct continuation of the colonialist policies that have plagued Greece’s interactions with the west for the country’s entire history. When the Troika accuses Syriza of being “Amateur” they are continuing a long tradition of powerful and lucky countries dictating policy to less lucky and weaker countries.

This is justified by nationalist lies. The Greeks are portrayed as lazy, incapable, and so on. They are penalized for not being perfect, when we ignore that we also are not perfect. We proscribe policies that we think worked for one western country or another, and then we blame the Greeks when something goes wrong with those policies.

If you listen to the rhetoric of the anti-Greece articles (basically anything I read on Forbes or from the Economicist, for example) there is something fundamentally wrong with the Greeks that they don’t act like good little Germans. This is western cultural imperialism at its worse.

If the Greeks do not trust banks (and they don’t), then it is because they have a long history of being abused by banks and of banks failing, often due to the actions of larger powers. If they don’t trust politicians and think they are corrupt and stupid, then it is because they have a long history of having puppet governments and corrupt governments that were actively put in place by the western powers. Every time they have made the mistake of trusting governments and banks in the last century or so they have regretted it. Why should this time be different? Why should they possibly trust that the unelected European economic elites actually have their best interests in mind and should be trusted?

If we really want to see a strong Greece, rather than a destroyed Greece, then the way that this is accomplished must start first and foremost by supporting their democratic decisions. The way in which the Troika has escalated this whole nightmare since February is unacceptable. The constant cries of amateur at Syriza are designed to absolve the Troika of blame from the way this has gone.

I don’t see Syriza as the escalatory side in this debate. I see escalations coming primarily from the side of the Troika, which holds all of the cards. The decision to allow the Greek banks to run out of money is one that I read as designed to punish the socialist government for attempting to follow its democratic mandate to say no to austerity. The escalation of the meaning of this referendum by the heads of Europe from a referendum on the austerity deal to a referendum on the Euro vs Drachma is a cold blooded act of demagoguery designed to head off a conversation about whether austerity and the euro are fundamentally connected things. The Greeks want to stay in the Euro. Syriza wants to stay in the Euro. This is blatantly clear. But neither can afford to do so if they have to continue the austerity policies forced upon them. The Greeks might well chose to accept more austerity next week, but the decision they are making is between accepting austerity and a change of tack.

Making the vote more than that is an attempt to not have a conversation about what it means to be in the EU or the Eurozone on a much larger scale than just the issues in Greece. The Greeks either are cowed and toe the line, or the Troika can pretend it was justified to kick them out. After all, if the Greeks vote to leave that is their problem… never mind that they won’t have actually voted to leave.

If the creditors of Greece really cared at all about the population of Greece, they could easily have worked with Syriza. The first start would be to scale back the proscriptions attached to their loans and to delay repayment and accumulation of interest. If they want Greece to come together and support its government and democracy and work to actively improve itself rather than avoid taxes and hide money, then they need to actually say that the Greeks are allowed to attempt their own solutions.

By not doing so, and instead trying to punish the socialist government, the Troika, and by extension the European Union, just becomes another foreign colonialist power telling the Greeks what to do.

For my part, I don’t want to try and say what the Greeks should do this week. It is not my place. All I can say is that their reaching this point is far more the fault of colonialism and globalized capitalism than it is truly a problem of their own making. They do not deserve this level of externally enforced misery. No one does.

OVERDUE THOUGHTS THE REQUIRES HATE REPORT

So I missed this report by Laura Mixon until the Hugo award dust up hit, but I think it is a really important piece of work. It is an incredibly thorough report on how a particular individual over the years abused the rhetoric of social justice as a way of really hurting other sci-fi authors, many of whom were people really working to help promote social justice issues through their writing. If you haven’t read it, stop reading my notes on it here and go look at it.

Now, one element I find fascinating (and disturbing, in part because I had read some of Requires Hate’s writing and bought her arguments in the isolated pieces I had seen) is the way Requires Hate primarily attacked people belonging to historically discriminated against categories while still using social justice rhetoric.

I think one takeaway from reading this is that causes (especially ones that are just!) produce power, and power produces people who want to monopolize that power. For RH it almost seems that any other progressive woman of color was competition rather than an ally and was targeted as such.

Part of what made this so easy to do with social justice issues is that effectively no one in the world is personally perfect on them. If someone who is more interested in defeating people than in building up people adopts a zero tolerance approach on social justice, even the best people become easy targets simply because our society guarantees that everyone is always going to have a blind spot somewhere. Those same people who are trying the hardest are then the most vulnerable if someone maliciously goes after them when a blind spot is exposed. RH took people who are truly invested in fighting sexism, racism, and the like and then told the community that those people were the very thing they hated. She didn’t do this nicely. It wasn’t a “Hey, here is this problem in the work you did that might be worth digging into so that we can improve our ideologies for the future.” Instead, it seems to have always taken the form of a vicious attack on the people themselves.The point of the exercise wasn’t to fix a blind spot, rather it was to drive away other people who were competition, either by convincing the community that they should be ostracized or by destroying the target’s self worth and causing them to self-ostracize.

It is a behavior pattern I have seen quite often before in subculture communities, especially ones that are relatively insular. I just hadn’t put my finger on it until reading this particular report. It has me asking questions both about personal behavioral patterns (i.e., how does one work to make absolutely sure that they avoid falling into behavioral patterns like the ones that show up in the report?) and about how a group can protect itself from abusive individuals.

VALUING TEACHING

So, I just watched an interview on the Daily Show in the midst of grading a stack of papers on Roman Barbarians and found myself getting rather worked up.

In this interview Stewart and Fareed Zakaria have a conversation about higher education. They start out well, but as they got into the details the discussion became profoundly troubling to me.

I absolutely agree with the idea that liberal education is a good thing and that the drive towards STEM is bad. I agree with the rejection of concepts like common core in favor of a more diverse curriculum. I agree with the value of an inspirational teacher no matter what subject is being discussed.  They are on the right line of discussion on the really big issues.

But then they don’t ever get to the things that prevent the inspirational teaching to think that they talk about. They never get to the problems of underpaid and overworked teaching labor. They don’t talk about the almost complete death of the full time teaching job. They don’t talk about how much damage is done by the idea that the purpose of college is job preparation rather than life preparation.

Instead they talk about Massive Online Courses.

Massive Online Courses are not the bloody answer. They shouldn’t even be a part of the discussion.

It is not that they are a bad thing. They have the potential for immense value, especially in the area of continuing interest based education. But if online courses are going to replace traditional classes they cannot be so large. Remember the much touted value of that archetypal inspirational teacher? I hope anyone reading this had at least one in their lives. That teacher is effectively excluded by the MOC model. You cannot get the person that actually takes the time to try and help you get better rather than just slapping a grade on your work in a huge online course. You cannot get the person who tries to engage with you and improve your thinking. You cannot get the teacher who gives you a job reference or writes you a letter of recommendation. You cannot get the teacher that you can contact years later and know that they won’t have completely forgotten who you were. Eventually online courses might allow that level of student teacher engagement, but the massive online model will never do so.

Also, only someone who is not a teacher themselves and who has very little concept of education before the twentieth century could think that education hasn’t changed before online courses as Stewart and Zakaria’s conversation suggests. Our intellectual technologies of education have changed rapidly and constantly, often seeing paradigm shifts several times in a century. Many of the things we take for granted in a university system are less than 200 years old. Most of our departments were late 19th or early 20th century developments. Someone listening to a philosopher in the Painted Stoa of Athens in the 3rd century BCE would have had a very different experience than a student in the University of Paris in the 14th century BCE. And both would barely recognize the university system we have today. The idea that teaching hasn’t changed and that this new technology changes everything is just bald ignorance.

Now sensationalist rhetoric about new technology is nothing special and normally I would not really bat an eye about it. In this case, however, it distracts from a very real problem that need to be addressed first. That problem is the devaluation of teaching.

University degrees are more expensive than they have ever been. Yet teachers are not being paid more. They are being paid less. In a significant number of cases, teaching a course is only worth a few thousand dollars.

There is a serious disconnect between the public discussion about what people are looking for in college educators and the compensation for college educators. We demand top notch work from teachers, but we are not interested in paying people top dollar for top work.

If people want to see more inspirational teachers then they have to pay them what they are worth. They have to pay teachers enough that they don’t leave for some career with higher rewards. They have to pay them enough that teachers don’t prioritize their research over their students. They have to pay them enough that teachers feel justified in spending their time dreaming up ways to make their classes better the next time around or spending time really trying to make sure that their comments on a student paper are useful rather than cursory.

If we are going to talk about what it means to revitalize more Liberal forms of education, then we cannot look to gimmicks. Massive Online Courses are a tool. They may even prove a valuable tool. But they won’t help anything unless we actively start reversing the trends when it comes to valuing the work that teachers do.

HERAKLEIOS’ HANDLEBAR

I have spent much of the last few years thinking about ancient facial hair. Given the current fashion of guys in their twenties growing out as impressive beards as possible, an attempt to explain 1300 year old facial hair is a somewhat amusing project to be working on.

The project in question is looking at a change in the way the seventh century Emperor Herakleios portrayed himself. In 629, the year after the end of one of the more brutal wars in ancient history, Herakleios changed his image on his coinage rather dramatically.

For most of his reign, Herakleios had looked something like this:

Image from http://www.dirtyoldcoins.com/

But in 629 his facial hair had grown to epic proportions:

image from www.dirtyoldcoins.com

This was a rather strange decision on Herakleios’ part. No Roman emperor had ever portrayed himself with facial hair on the scale that Herakleios did in 629.

There were bearded Roman Emperors from time to time. But they tended to look more like Marcus Aurelius does here:

Image from Wiki

So one of my projects in the last couple years has been to try and explain what the heck is going on when a Roman Emperor grows out a handlebar mustache.

This has involved looking at a rather astonishing assortment of facial hair images ranging from Jesus or David to Persian and Parthian Kings.

Mosaic from Saint Catherine’s Monastery. Image from www.touregypt.net
One of the David Plates. Image from Wikimedia.

 

Vologases IV, from Wikimedia
Khusrow II, image from Wikimedia

By far, the closest images I have been able to find to Herakleios’ appearance is a much earlier (2nd Century) coin image for the Parthian Kings and a much later (10th century) statue of an Armenian king.

Vologases IV, from media.liveauctiongroup.net
Gagik I Bagratuni. Image from Wiki

Now, I am going to stop here, given that I need to save my full attempt to explain this for an academic article (One that I really should be writing instead of this blog post) and it all gets complicated pretty quickly. But I do think that one lesson that can be taken from this gallery of mustachios is that the current fad may not in fact have reached “peak beard” the way the news articles have said. The abundance of facial hair has a good deal of filling out to do before it reaches Herakleian levels.

Herakleios, from thehistoryofbyzantium.files.wordpress.com