Reflections On “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief”

I finally got around to watching Alex Gibney’s Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, the HBO documentary about Scientology.  It was everything everyone said it was.  The truth really is stranger than fiction.  I’m not going to do a full review, there have been plenty of others, and the film is still too new in my head to give it any kind of overall analysis.  There are just a few quick points and questions I wanted to address:

  1.  Watching the movie you see an alternative reality, where people believe things that can only be described as batshit insane.  Yet, many of these people are highly functioning members of society.  What widely held beliefs do we hold in our society that appear absolutely ridiculous to those viewing us from afar?  I don’t mean ones that differ from other societies, there are plenty of those, but ones that are provably false, yet a great deal of Americans put faith in them.
  2. Many of the people interviewed, the high ranking former Scientologists, that now have retired from the church, look back upon their former life with disbelief.  If we were to be removed from our current station in life are there things that we would view as absurd?
  3. When something looks and feels like a propagandist rally, it probably is.  There are creepy spectacles where the leader of the modern church, David Miscavige, and Tom Cruise speak to a stadium full of people in tuxedos and ball gowns.  Fireworks go off, people wave flags, inspirational videos are shown.  It looks like a megachurch combined with a political party convention combined with a sports rally.  All of these things are things in which every day America people have to suspend disbelief to participate in.  Sure, a sports rally is largely harmless, but you are essentially pretending that the action on the field somehow matters in your life, which unless you have money on the game, it doesn’t.  I think the other two examples are self-explanatory.

My point is that the church of Scientology is ridiculously absurd.  But at the same time, it is just an exaggerated version of many of the things that inhabit everyday life.  In fact when compared to some of the televangelists that John Oliver recently spoofed, it really isn’t any more absurd.  People in this documentary do horrible things to other people in the name of belief.  So many of the ills of mankind are based on a belief of some kind, but because they are more accepted, are not recognized as absurd.  The prison of belief.  One of the things that makes the documentary so powerful is that it is explicitly about Scientology, but it is also implicitly about the way that people get carried away by belief.  I would bet that even those of us that think we have a realistic view of the world have some pretty ridiculous notions if we look hard enough.  Hopefully this documentary will make people look at their own lives and not just the lives of the freaks on view.  That being said, the things Scientologists believe in are really, really, really fucking insane!

Reflections On Female Singer Songwriters and Women’s Rights On the 95th Anniversary of the Right to Vote

95 years ago today, women gained the right to vote.  Although it is better than before, women still only earn roughly $0.77 for every $1.00 earned by their male counterparts.  Women’s reproductive rights are still under attack by conservative religious groups.

I think you can get a sense of how just a culture is by it treatment of women.  While there are cultures that are far worse than ours, I would nominate any that perform female genital mutilation, for instance, we still have a long way to go.

As a musician, a lot of my heroes are women.  Joni Mitchell’s body of work is as impressive as anyone’s.  Kirsty MacColl, Patti Smith, Sinead O’Connor, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and on and on, have written songs that are poetically profound, that leave most male songwriters in the dust.  Marianne Faithfull, as an interpreter of songs, is the equal of any man.  Yet often critics and writers label them all as female songwriters, or female singers, in a way that imply that they are playing in a different game than the men.  While it is correct to call someone like Mitchell a female songwriter, to say she is a great “female” songwriter is incorrect.  Her work dwarfs all but the very best male songwriters and one can even argue that she is the most unique songwriter from this continent in the last 100 years.  While someone like Dylan combined different forms in unique ways and infused them with a new sense of language, Mitchell almost seems to have created new forms entirely.  There is a reason a lot of the serious jazz guys wanted to play with her.  O’Connor was right about the abuse taking place in the Catholic church and was vilified for being brave enough to say something.  Sainte-Marie was blacklisted by President Johnson for speaking her mind in the American Indian Movement.

Anyone that says women aren’t as capable, intelligent, and brave as men should be laughed at outright.  There are physical biological differences, but even these aren’t definitive.  I’d hate to be thrown in the ring with Ronda Rousey!

Whenever you see something politically that is anti-women, it comes out of the outdated idea of the patriarchy.  But we should be smart enough at this point in history to know that respect shouldn’t be given, it should be earned.  It’s no wonder that some men want to cling to the kind of traditions that bestow power only due to the sex of their birth.  Control is a hard thing to give away.  But an idea is either a good idea or a bad one, based on its own merit and the way it holds up to reason.  With our environment going into the dumps, with endless war, with income inequality exploding haven’t us males done enough damage? I, at least, am ready for new ideas.  If a female can solve those issues, then I say have at it.

It’s far beyond time that we welcomed women as equals in all aspects of our society.  It’s not only the morally correct thing to do and the intelligent thing to do, but with the current state of the world, we are going to need everyone rowing!  So cast aside Medieval religious ideas and barbaric social orders that threaten to drag us under like quicksand.  More now than ever, with problems that are on a global scale, the old order that puts us in groups is going to lead to our demise.  As Kurt Vonnegut once said, when talking about the meaning of life, “We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.”

More Posts On Joni Mitchell Include: The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song)






People Know Next to Nothing About Reconstruction

Eric Foner

People Know Next to Nothing About Reconstruction

There is a really interesting article over at Salon that deals with the misconceptions about Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War, and what really went wrong.  The article is an interview with esteemed historian Eric Foner.  A sample:

Among other things, it’s a story of attempts at interracial cooperation from below, which ultimately failed by 1900. It’s sometimes argued that the political failure of Reconstruction in the South was due to the fact that Republican support among Unionist whites, which was significant at the beginning, seemed to have disappeared or diminished by 1877. Why do you think that happened?

That’s one of the reasons for the failure of Reconstruction — it’s one reason. Of course, there were some states where they never had any white support, like South Carolina and maybe a couple of other places. Louisiana had very, very little.

The problem of getting poor white support was very difficult and was exacerbated by the difference between the Northern Republican Party and the Southern Republican Party. In some of these states, like North Carolina or Georgia, there were poor whites, Unionists, and so on, who were interested in supporting the Republicans for economic advantages like debtor’s relief.

But the Northern Republican Party was not interested in supporting them. They rejected Georgia’s Constitution because it suspended the collection of debts, and they said, “Hey, I’m sorry, you guys have got to pay your debts.” It’s like Greece, they were acting like Angela Merkel.

I actually think the failure of Reconstruction was not solely or even primarily on that basis. Rather, you have to go to the federal level and look at what was basically a failure to enforce the law. There were these constitutional amendments — the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth — but you get a withdrawal from enforcement after a while, and that reflected changes in Northern society — political, economic, and intellectual. And without a willingness to enforce the law, the power structure in the South — the economic power structure — is going to take over eventually.

It’s possible to imagine continued federal intervention — not, you know, military intervention for forty years, but enough to make it clear that these laws will be enforced. Like what happened in the Civil Rights Movement. There was a social movement, but there was also the National Guard, federal courts, other things just making it clear to people, not that they have to love each other, but that they have to act in certain ways and they can’t act in other ways. That if people act in ways that are in violation of federal law, they will be punished. And if that becomes clear, then people eventually abide by the law.

More Posts On History Include:  Death, Mortality, Abraham Lincoln, and His Secretary Of War

Criticisms of Black Lives Matter and Why You Should Support Them

I was watching Larry Wilmore’s show from last night where he interviewed people from the Black Lives Matter movement.  I felt that, aside form the obvious end goal of having less black people murdered by police officers, which should be a no brainer for anyone with a sense of justice, the message was rather vague.  This is not the first time I have seen activists from this movement interviewed and felt the message was unclear, again aside form the obvious end goal.

Before I go any further I want to say that I too believe that police brutality is an issue and that a great percentage of that violence, though by no means all, is directed at the black community.  This is one of many issues that I believe black Americans have a right to be outraged over.

I’m not saying that calling attention to something is not an important first step. Testifying about a moral, social, or economic outrage takes courage in and of itself.  People need to be aware of something before meaningful change can be enacted.  Also, people will often criticize a movement for not having a solution.  But a problem may arise because there is no easy solution.  Until a healthy dialog has begun there may in fact be no way to come up with a solution.  But the activists that I have seen, and granted I am sure I am seeing a limited amount of appearances, have not even been laying out a very detailed idea of exactly what is going on.  We know that black people, predominately black men, are being killed by police officers at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but what are the actual statistics, details, that will give us an overall sense of what is going on?

Before you accuse me of nitpicking, let me go on.  But I am not just speaking about Black Lives Matter, but many left leaning activists whose intentions I support.  I was reading in Alain de Botton’s book The Consolations of Philosophy about how there is a difference between true opinion and knowledge.  True opinion is when you are right and knowledge is when you understand something in a detailed enough way that you can actually communicate to others through facts about why you are right.  I have felt that all along in aims the Black Lives Matter activists have been right, but I have seen a lack of that knowledge in the way that they have been communicating, at least when given moments in our shameful mass media.

So, after seeing their activists again on Larry Wilmore I decided to go to the Black Lives Matter website.  Now, in this modern world, perhaps this should be the first thing I did, but alas I did not.  Also, I have faulted some of the activists for Black Lives Matter for not being clearer in their messaging, but the media is also greatly to blame.  The media should, in a perfect world, make people understand something better, but they are more interested in showing activists breaking up a campaign rally then conveying to us the true actions behind that activism.  This is to be expected, but it is still ridiculous that our media is so inept.

So in going to their website I actually saw more concrete goals, ways to achieve their larger aim, and I believe they are things that more people should be interested in.  Here are three that don’t even have to do with any of the specific actions of police violence perpetrated in recent times (See their demands here):

  • We will also demand, through the network, that the federal government discontinue its supply of military weaponry and equipment to local law enforcement. And though Congress seems to finally be considering measures in this regard, it remains essential to monitor the demilitarization processes and the corporate sectors that financially benefit from the sale of military tools to police.

  • We will call on the office of US attorney general Eric Holder to release the names of all officers involved in killing black people within the last five years, both while on patrol and in custody, so they can be brought to justice – if they haven’t already.

  • And we will advocate for a decrease in law-enforcement spending at the local, state and federal levels and a reinvestment of that budgeted money into the black communities most devastated by poverty in order to create jobs, housing and schools. This money should be redirected to those federal departments charged with providing employment, housing and educational services.

The first one is something that many people are concerned about, even those that might not initially think they have common cause with Black Lives Matter.  In the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars military equipment has been making its way back to our police departments.  There are companies, companies that I would describe as war profiteers, that are trying to make even more money by selling this surplus equipment back to our police units.  Our police should not be using military equipment, equipment meant to be used to subdue a hostile foreign population, to keep our own citizens in check.  This is a whole other issue that could I could talk about for several posts, but this is a very important issue that many people of different political stripes should be concerned about.

The second one is also something that is just common sense.  If our police officers, those that are supposed to “protect and serve” are killing people, then we should have a detailed account of that.  Perhaps it is my own ignorance, perhaps there is a way of finding that information, but if there isn’t there should be.  I don’t see why any thinking person should find any cause to argue with this.  We have seen too often that police officers are allowed to use force with discretion.  If someone is killed or horribly maimed by those that are supposed to “protect and serve” is should be proved that they did so to either protect themselves or others from death or major injury.  There are situation where tragedies cannot be avoided, but the burden of proof should be on the officer to show that they used force as a last resort.

The last demand is also something that should be supported by anyone that is sensible.  This is a larger cultural issue, one that does not just affect the black community, but we should be spending less across the board on systems of violence, giving less money to our prison and military industrial complexes, and spending more money on learning and on our social safety net.  I know that some Republicans and independents will say that we should be spending less money period, and that is an argument for a different day, but at the very least, if we are spending money, the way we do is completely off balance in supporting the greater good.  Black communities, because they are often at a disadvantage, are not wrong to say we should spend more money there, especially in light of what we spend on prisons, military equipment, and so on, but that is only a start.

So I think if you go below the surface, what Black Lives Matter stand for is a good on many levels.  I only wish they were better at communicating these goals when our terrible media actually gives them a few small moments to speak out.

The reason I wrote this piece, after reflecting upon it, was not to be overtly critical of Black Lives Matter, or make it seem like their end goal is not an important one.  In fact, I think ending police brutality in the black community is a necessity.  However,  I am always thinking about how one communicates something to people that either aren’t natural allies, or people that would be allies if they only knew what was going on.  I am also interested in how something goes from a noble idea to a change in reality.  I don’t need to be convinced that black lives matter.  But when I watch the activists from this movement, I keep thinking that they are largely preaching to the converted.  I want to see them succeed.  I, by myself, am obviously not going to change what they do.  However, I think it is important if people think about these things.  How do you use language, how do you frame ideas, in a way that has the most potential for real change?  Also, why do I, as someone that would easily vote for any law that protected more people from police brutality, not feel, when I see this being debated on TV, that the true moral outrage that this issue is demads is not being expressed in a way that is truly effective.  


More Posts On Police Brutality Include:  Washington Police Kil More People Than Germany



Don’t Shut Up, Still Sing

I was just watching several clips of Morrissey on Larry King Now.  I haven’t watched the full program yet.  I will link to it when a link to the whole piece is available.  I was reading some comments somewhere, always a mistake, and someone commented the usual idiotic drivel about, and this could be directed at any number of entertainers, that he should just focus on singing and leave the politics to the “experts”.  But when the “experts” are just as often fuck puppets for corporations spouting buzzword tested groupthink, and not those who have thoughtfully examined a political situation from all angles, is that really what you want?

For entertainers, like all people in all professions, can run the gamut of human intelligence.  Plus someone like Morrissey (or Jackson Browne, Chuck D, Bruce Springsteen, etc.), is extremely well-read, well-traveled, and has spent a great amount of time talking to people of all stripes, often including many of those that actually have some say in our culture.  While many entertainers are grown-children that remain vain mutants, boxed off from reality in a prison of sycophancy, there are often those that are trying to make real sense of this strange world.

It is never who someone is that should make us listen to them.  It is the strength of their argument and the thoughtfulness of their thinking.  Many of us have worked jobs where someone in management or some other position of power hasn’t gotten a clue.  Do you not think that this doesn’t happen sometimes at even higher levels?  Also, the human brain is like a muscle, just because someone has exercised one part of it thoroughly doesn’t mean that the other parts have received the proper conditioning.  A brilliant doctor doesn’t make someone a great thinker when it comes to socio-economic arguments.  Being an entertainer, even if they have traveled and met with people of power, like any other profession, doesn’t make someone smarter, but it doesn’t cancel out what they have to say either.  Meanwhile an entertainer, if they do have a curious mind and a rigorous thought process, very well might have insights that are worth listening to.

But anyone that knows anything knows this.  It is only the daft, those with closed minds, who don’t want their world view inconvenienced, who would say otherwise.  So I say don’t shut up and still sing.

I personally like my entertainment barbed with things like ideas.  Not all of the time, but often, I want my music to be like an intellectual boxing match.  I want to be pushed to the limit and challenged.  And if I get tired of that, and need to turn off the mind for awhile to relax, I can put on some Ted Nugent, and give myself a temporary lobotomy…


Walker Apes Trump: The Abyss of Spectacle

I always make a brief stop over at Huffington Post in the morning, just to get a brief glimpse of the headlines.  (Huffpo is often lacking in depth, but is a great place to just get a sense of what people are talking about.)  Today’s headline, which is actually from a Washington Post article, is about how, “Walker Apes Trump.”

Just seeing those three simple words in the morning makes you feel like someone has just vacuumed out your soul.  The mind and the heart have turned to dust and have been blown away into an ancient void.  Is Huffpo participating in voter suppression?  Do they want people like me to give up paying attention to politics for crack cocaine and kazoo lessons?

If there is anyone that can make Donald Trump look brilliant, it is Scott Walker.  How did we get to this point?  Trump looks like a space god bringing fire to man next to Scott Walker’s monkey-see-monkey-do routine.  And we all know that Trump is just a rich kid that got lucky a few times and whose boneheaded bravado is perfect for the bar lowering of reality TV.  Everyone wants to line up to see the freaks.

I know the election is far away, to not get too invested in anything.  I know that the political landscape should look vastly different by next year.  And the truth is I am sort of enjoying this clash of the mutants.  But every once in awhile the reality of the situation hits me and I realize how we must look to the rest of the world.  It’s like we’re a cross between a World Wrestling match and a gladiator bout at the Coliseum, gaudy clowns that actually do destroy other people for the benefit of a few and the entertainment of many.

If you need hope, in the midst of this insanity, know that in several ways our country has gotten more tolerant and fair over the last several years.  It’s a long ugly grind up the mountain, but things are slowly getting better in certain ways, if you pay attention to the long arc of history.  The question is, with the environment melting down, with more and more wealth being transferred to the few, can we get to the top before time runs out?  Or will we get sucked into the abyss of spectacle before before the final bell tolls?

More Posts On Scott Walker Include:  Scott Walker and the Fate of the Union

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“This is a Night for Americans!” – Republican Version 2015

billthebutcher flag

I was reading the article over at Huffpo about how certain Republicans want to repeal the 14th Amendment, ending birthright citizenship.  I started thinking about the film Gangs of New York, where Daniel Day Lewis’s character, Bill the Butcher, represents nativist sentiment in America at that time.  Only at that time Hispanics weren’t the target, but Irish Roman Catholics.  Here is a brief history of nativism in the United States over at wikipedia.  My family, going back, was partially Irish Roman Catholic.  The groups that are deemed outsiders change, but the story remains the same.  Certain groups think that they have more of a right to America than others.  Sure, there needs to be some kind of fair and sane way to bring new groups into America, to make them part of the social fabric of the country, but that is far different than what shenanigans the Republicans constantly seem up to.  Not only is the Republican strategy a losing one over the longterm, but don’t those at the base level realize they are part of a long line of people that lost out in the end, only to see the group they demonize enter the American mainstream? I’m sure once it becomes politically untenable to demonize Hispanics there will be some new group to suit their need to divide.

This is a long serving and predictable political tactic, to divide and conquer, bait and switch.  A group in economic power will make groups with less economic power fight it out, so that those groups don’t unite and take a larger slice of the pie.  Income inequality goes up, and poor whites, many that are of Irish, German, and Italian descent, all of which are groups that were scapgoated in the past, are lead to believe that it is poor Hispanics that are destroying their way of life.

Republicans will scream some version of Bill the Butcher’s line in Gangs of New York, “This is a night for Americans!”  But which Americans are the ones really winning out by such a thing?

John Oliver Tonight: Televangelists

I spent last night catching up on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.  It’s consistently amazing.  Last night he took on televangelists, even going as far to create a tax-exempt organization in the name of “religion”.

I have seen some of these televangelists on TV late at night while I was out on tour.  They are even more unbelievable when you encounter them in their natural habitat, not expecting them, wondering if they are a parody.  In Oklahoma I saw like three of them on television in one night.  Holy shitballs!

More Posts On John Oliver Include: John Oliver On Torture

Is Our Environmental Past Prophecy of a Dark Future?

In reading about whaling in the book In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick, a great example is made of what happens when human beings destroy nature for economic pursuit.  I’m not talking about the whaleship Essex being sunk by a sperm whale, which is what the book is largely about, the true story that Moby Dick was based on.  I’m talking about how Nantucketers, in their ever increasing greed for more whale oil and their stubbornness in following tradition, built an entire economy that was doomed to eventually collapse.  The real story, which if you are interested in you should read the book, is more complex, but basically Nantucketers over-hunted whales and had to keep going further and further to find them.  Also, because they had such a closed off culture, when it did become apparent to others to seek even new hunting grounds, the Nantucketers could not adapt fast enough.

This is a story that has been seen again and again.  The fur-trade wore itself out from overhunting of beavers.  Almost any American school child knows about how the Buffalo almost became extinct from overhunting.  On a different note, with something like mountaintop removal in places like West Virginia one can see how whole economies rise and fall around something environmentally destructive, leaving a populace with nothing left to show for something other than a small few making a lasting fortune.

I don’t see how one can look at something like the oil industry and climate change and not expect the same to happen on a much larger scale.  This time it will be more than a single species almost driven to extinction, a single region driven through a boom and bust cycle.  While it is true that those species mentioned did manage to rebound somewhat, the ways of life they were based on never did.

As the old quote goes, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”  Humans, now more technologically advanced than ever, also have greater destructive powers than ever before.  The game we are playing is much bigger now, but the story is old.  Are we, as a species, truly capable of learning from our past?  Or is the past merely a series of small prophecies of what is to come of our future?

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