Change and Terror of Change

The story of life is change, a reality that can be hard to embrace sometimes. Cycles of change, and life’s adaptation to change, are the animating force of nature, and the story of human history. The only constant in life, we learn, is constant change — and, as we also learn, constant resistance to change. Most human conflict has its origins in change and resistance to change.

I recall a racist teacher at my elementary school, snarling at some of the Black students who’d been bused into PS178 starting when I was in third grade. This nasty woman was a fifth grade teacher I would later butt heads with when I was in her class, but I barely knew her as I sat in the lunchroom that day. I had a front row seat, on the long lunch table bench, to her shameful performance shortly after the first Black students arrived in our quiet little public school on a hill.

She was on lunch duty, tasked with keeping order in the lunchroom. As a teacher years later I’d learn how odious this rotating duty was. It was a thankless job trying to keep a lid on childish energy during their lunch break, a work assignment, during what was usually your own lunch hour, requiring patience and humor — neither of which this woman had that day.

I vividly remember my disgust, as a boy, watching her mistreatment of a Black kid named Adrian, who was probably ten years old. For some reason, she was telling him over and over that he’d be on Welfare in a few years. I remember his face as he shot back that she’d be on Welfare, and her face. I didn’t know, at the time, that this snobbish woman was a racist, I barely understood what that was, but I know it very well now.

She was upset about a big change, I realize decades later, and being on the losing side of what she felt was a righteous war, and she was acting out like angry people often do. Her side had lost the long battle to keep PS178 segregated. There were two armed camps in the PTA, one stridently opposed to busing kids from other neighborhoods in to integrate the school as the Supreme Court had ordered a decade earlier (this group sometimes derided the other side as “Commies”), the other faction, the “Nigger-lovers,” (in the colorful phrase used in liberal NYC in the mid-sixties) put on a Brotherhood play called the Lonely Abelonian, shortly after the school was finally de-segregated when I was in third grade.

We went to school one evening to watch the play put on by our mothers in the school auditorium. They were dressed as various animals, in pairs (my mother hopped around in a tan kangaroo outfit with her fellow kangaroo, their big ears flapping, their long, sturdy tails slapping the stage, my classmate Rani’s mother crawled on her stomach in a snake outfit alongside her snake friend played by my mother’s best friend Arlene). When the solitary Abelonian tried to join, she was shunned by the other animals. I recall my mother and the other kangaroo, turning tail and hopping indignantly away when the Abelonian asked “will you be my friend?” In the end, of course, everyone discovered the Abelonian was a lot like them, and remembered how painful it is to be lonely, and they were all playful friends as the curtain fell.

The white kids in school, as far as I recall, didn’t need the lesson of this idealistic play. I don’t remember any tension between neighborhood kids and the new students who arrived on the E, F and G buses (though, it could be, as is my prerogative as someone not the object of racism, that I didn’t see it because it wasn’t directed at me). The presence of Black kids, and their parents, was only a major problem to people like that racist teacher.

They no doubt felt that their perfect little school (it had the highest test scores in Queens, NY, possibly all of New York City, at the time) was being ruined by the forced admission of Black kids from other, less desirable, neighborhoods (with worse schools, kind of proving the whole point of de-segregation…), with all that goes with being forced to associate with people you didn’t want to associate with.

We can go down the catalogue of change in human history, and there is always this tension between those welcoming, or at least adapting to, a given change and those dreading it and resisting it by any means necessary. There are changes large and small, eternally taking place and the challenge we humans always face is adapting to our constantly changing world.

Sekhnet and I are both assailed by sometimes severe joint pain when the humidity is on the rise. When I grimace and grunt walking up or down the stairs the night before thunderstorms, she reminds me “you’re old.” I am old, and while most aspects of aging are fine, some changes are unwelcome. I don’t like having to acknowledge the wisdom of Kurt Vonnegut’s “be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.” I am also no fan of nocturia, or hematuria, for that matter.

I am constantly angry, for example, when confronted with corporate practices, routinized indignities, that are now ubiquitous in our Free Market. The people I complain to about having to wade through long recordings before you can elect to talk to a representative, the long waiting times on the phone, the constant advertising and blaring loops of muzak while you’re on hold, the endless reminders of how important my call is, and that I can get faster service on-line, and so forth … correctly regard me as a griping, cranky old bastard.

These people, I have to remind myself, never lived in a different world, have no concept that banks once paid interest to depositors, didn’t charge you a monthly fee to have an account, or every private business you deal with requiring your social security number (essential for collecting a debt against you), and an ironclad legal agreement not to sue them, no matter what, before you can do business with them.

Change is inevitable, as is resistance to change, which emerges from terror about change and/or anger about changes for the worse. Look at what’s happened to the Republican Party, as it was steadily taken over by fabulously wealthy right-wing liberty lovers like Charles Koch and associates and turned into the extremist John Birch Society.

What was the premise of the John Birch Society? It was a group of wealthy right-wing freedom lovers fighting a vast conspiracy of godless Commies who were using the imagined grievances of American Blacks, and other disgruntled Americans, to drive a stake into the heart of American society and our cherished liberties. You can visit their website today, the John Birch Society (founded by Koch’s dad a few years after the scandalous Supreme Court decision that ruled segregated schools were inherently unequal, and therefore unconstitutional), they are peddling the same pile of reeking scats right now, in our giddy age of Alternative Fact.

What is the current premise of the modern Republican Party, its hope for regaining power? That an election their candidate lost by a substantial margin was stolen by fraud, somehow rigged in a way that avoided detection, left no evidence, fooled election officials of both parties, and defrauded the American public of the one-party state we actually want, need and deserve. 70% of Republicans believe this wild conspiracy theory about a massive, vicious betrayal of democracy, no so-called “proof” needed. Alternative facts, that’s all. Let’s agree to disagree, you cheating, thieving fucks.

I heard the term Limpieza de Sangre, purity of blood, for the first time today. It came into use during the dawn of propaganda, when the Pope was using the printing press, and outfits like the Jesuits, Defenders of the Faith, to propagate the One True Faith, against the mounting Protestant incursion into Christianity. The Spanish Inquisition had made it a capital offense not to believe in the teachings of the Son of God and many of the tortures we know today were developed to torture the truth out of godless people trying to save their lives by pretending to worship and adore Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, while secretly rejecting His love.

The doctrine of Limpieza de Sangre was designed to separate Catholics of pure blood, born into a long line of devoted believers, from those who had converted from Muslim or Jewish backgrounds, simply to escape torture and death. You understand, the blood itself must be pure for your faith to be pure, as Jesus never taught.

Change is eternal, but the techniques of reaction have certain constant features. Every regime that has ever set armies to murder enemies has first had to reduce those enemies, whether civilian or another army, into hated, dangerous insects, deadly, inhuman infecters of the life blood of the rest of us. So we have the long line of insane ideas like Purity of Blood, used to justify the spilling of impure or polluted blood.

In the former slave states, during the “Jim Crow” era, the amount of Negro blood in a person’s lineage determined his or her status under law. Never mind that almost every drop of the “white” blood in a “mixed race” person was the result of rape of the darker person owned by the lighter one. You know, if you teach a disgusting thing like that to children you should be ashamed of yourself– and fired from your job!

OK, OK, calm down…

You have Homer Plessy, a light-skinned, blond-haired octoroon (one of his eight great-grandparents was Black), on an interstate train down south, sitting in a car reserved for Whites Only. His blood, you understand, made him, according to the laws of Louisiana, where his offense took place, a Negro. Looked as white as Ronald Reagan, boys and girls, but the law’s the law.

Plessy was a Negro, somebody blew the whistle on him as he sat in the Whites Only car and he had to be ejected from that car and put into the less plush Coloreds Only car. Plessy made a small fuss, I believe, and was arrested. He’d been planted there, in 1892, by civil rights activists, as was the person who outed him to the authorities, to challenge segregation under federal law (hence the interstate train, one of the few 14th Amendment rights recognized by the Supreme Court was the right to travel freely from state to state, and there was, possibly, also the Commerce Clause– federal oversight of interstate commerce).

The federal case got up to the Supreme Court where segregation was upheld, in Plessy v. Ferguson, under the famous slogan of “Separate But Equal”. Check out the photographs of the segregated south, the water fountains and bathrooms of the respective races.

Segregated Water Fountains in North Carolina, 1950 ~ Vintage Everyday

Also, consider: the southern racial blood laws were even stricter than the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws the Nazis promulgated decades later after studying the race laws of the states of the former Confederacy. Teach that in an American public school and you’re asking to be lynched, just sayin’…

Makes you think.

I think about the rash of police violence that has resulted in the killing of dozens of unarmed, mostly Black and brown, people just since the recently concluded trial of the murderer of George Floyd started. A long parade of victims, one as young as thirteen, shot dead or otherwise killed by police, leading to a series of scrupulously nonviolent protests in just about every case. Leading, in turn, to renewed urgency to pass a series of identical laws to redefine the term “riot”, making it harder for people to organize and participate in First Amendment protests without risking 15 years in prison for a newly created felony. Because, while the right to protest may be protected by the First Amendment, the “right to riot” may be forcefully prevented, and vigorously prosecuted under the criminal laws of the state.

It is, of course, no accident that these dozens of proposed anti-protest laws, like the 361 laws making it more difficult to vote, now being debated in 47 states, are more or less identical. They are drafted by the same highly partisan weasels, distributed to individual state legislators through outfits like ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. “Stand Your Ground” laws, for example, a law that allows citizens to shoot other citizens in the street if they are truly afraid for their lives, were drafted by ALEC.

The influential outfit, formerly known as the Conservative Caucus of State Legislators, was founded in 1973 to “counter the Environmental Protection Agencywage, and price controls, and to respond to the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election [1]. ” You know, to organize and fight progressive policies of any and all kinds in the interest of preventing meaningful change of the status quo.

I know most Americans don’t care much for history, or a nuanced debate over every little damned thing. We are organized into tribes now, embracing the big picture emotion of our tribe and reflexively believing what the rest of our tribe believes. This tribalism has been wildly accelerated by “social media” which constantly and instantly buzzes updated, self-confirming opinion into our phones, and ads:

I get all this, it just makes me crazy, being constantly forced to hear idiotic arguments over fact-based things like which Big Lie is actually THE Big Lie — the one about the 2020 fake election results that has been supposedly proved in the courts, challenged, confirmed by recounts, by bipartisan certification, all faked — or the one the always truthful leader of the loyal 39% says is a Big Lie — that an election without “integrity” was free of widespread fraud, a lie peddled by the dangerous, radical, corrupt liars who are trying to destroy our great, unified nation by violence in the streets by claiming the stolen election was NOT stolen by these evil maniacs. You know, Communists like Mitt Romney.

[1]

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a nonprofit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector representatives who draft and share model legislation for distribution among state governments in the United States.[2][3][4]

source

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