Saturday, April 09, 2011

Roller Coaster at Reed

:: harmonic convergence ::

I've been enjoying the roller coaster ride at Reed College (metaphoric). I'd misread the program calendar so had given up on seeing "Juliet Alpha" do a PowerPoint based on his most excellent anthropology blog. Glenn and I just got back to 97214 from Eliot 103, where he spoke. I was happily surprised that I still had this chance.

Alpha's daughter went to Reed. His real name is John Allison, and he was here to warn present generations of what was coming: more of the same, in the sense of COIN type programs openly directed at those who might cut off its funding, the security-minded sponsors of modern warfare.

John's chief beef was that the Afghani people he'd lived with as an anthropologist some decades before (his contemporaries then and now) were being targeted for mayhem and his only role was to provide window dressing, like a flower at a funeral parlor.

"Winning hearts and minds" among the empire's victims is no longer considered either realistic or essential. The main thing is to please the bread and circuses crowd, and to scare it with images of domestic monsters they might need defending against.

The US Army has played this role of pleaser protector for a long time and every generation gets to play out its version of the narrative, taking up roles in the drama, though in Glenn's case he did COIN training with the Navy before serving as a cryptographer in theater then joining the cast at Antioch and becoming a "granola hippie" (the real deal, raising a family off the grid).

The Reed kids in the room, thoroughly embedded and "sewn in" as John put it, were using words like "narrative" and "trope", knowing it's science fiction they'll be living (of one kind or another), have lived to this point.

Elaine suggested it comes viscerally, not just through the imagination, to act on principle and conscience and to raise one's level of consciousness. The discourse sounded political but might just as well have been Buddhist -- not that Elaine had any kind words for what she called "new age racism" (neo-liberalism) nor had she ever felt especially worshipful towards the Clintons.

Initially, Juliet Alpha (John Allison) had had hopes of making a difference from the inside (as well as earning a hefty pay check), as if imperial reflexes stretching back to Roman times and before might be effectively countered by some academic alchemy. Quite the contrary, universities are in his view mostly outposts of this same culture, hell bent on conquest. Complicity is the name of the game, especially when Iron Mountain pays the bills.

"Kinetic warfare" (outward violence) continues unabridged but shoppers at Trader Joe's will be lenient and forgiving and not protest the wars too much, because this is now a kinder / gentler America; an anthropologist with a human face, is supposed to keep shopping secure. Hence the HTT program, which costs many schools and hospitals -- yet contains elements of both.

Elaine Brown was the invited speaker the night before, and she did a wonderful job explaining her position on the 13th Amendment, which bans involuntary servitude (slavery) within the USA jurisdiction. The slavers get around this ban with euphemisms, as slavery is alive and well. Even where prison time is being served as punishment, free labor is expected on top of that, in an economy which feels entitled to such services.

Yet the currently unincarcerated seem complacent and quasi okay with this new state of the planet, or world order if you prefer. Reed College is comfortable and how would making speeches in Pioneer Courthouse Square make any difference? I was reminded of my time at Princeton, where ending apartheid in South Africa was a number one ambition. We needed to shine for each other, as a next generation lighting the way. We were our own primary audience.

Like John, Elaine is somewhat at a loss for answers. She knows there's a zeitgeist, and it works in mysterious ways. It's not that her generation was genetically more heroic, just that the meme wars have taken us into some new spaces.

History does not repeat.

Maybe the young will have some heroes, and not just obsess about Charlie Sheen or whatever is going on in the moment (Michael Jackson was not mentioned).

Prior to Elaine's speech: COINTELPRO 101 (the movie). This is being shown in high schools and middle schools, where the typical reaction is a sense of betrayal i.e. why is my adult community not daring to give me more of the real story?

Welcome to vast wastelands of ignorance kid. It's not like everyone has time to ponder weighty matters of Empire and its sorrows.

I forgot to mention that Elaine Brown had been a leader of the Black Panther movement.

John had served in the military in Korea, prior to getting that PhD in anthropology and working with the Afghanis. Then he got recruited by British Aerospace and Engineering though CLI for this HTT job, as an embedded anthropologist who would be one of the "good guys".

Times are hard in the US and the only jobs are military and intelligence, which overlap in the prison (so-called justice) system and the media. There's a sense of Sparta meets Athens, and the movie Avatar.

Elaine's adopted son is the 13 year old Little B, tried as an adult and serving a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit against a person he didn't know. Kip Kinkel, on the other hand, loaded up and shot a lot of people, but was given kid glove treatment by comparison. This is how the mother of Little B would tend to see it. The packed Reed auditorium appeared to empathize and gave Elaine two standing ovations. She also quoted Buckminster Fuller appreciatively, which I took as a signal.