Article 43

 

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Welcome

This is a sticky post written the day we first appeared on the internet: Welcome to article43.com - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America.  It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.

In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE.  Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.

Everything here can be viewed anonymously.  Inserting or commenting on articles requires a free user account (for former AT&T employees with a real, non throw-away, email address.) Requests to the new user registration page are redirected to BLOGGED DOT COM’S site because most new signups I get are from COMMENT SPAMMERS and their ilk, so if you want to contribute, contact me through email, phone, or some other way.

There’s no third-party scripts here like privacy-eroding WEB COUNTERS, hidden datamining widgets like Pay-Pal donation boxes, or AMAZON DOT COM tracking stuff.  The RSS feeds are pulled by the server, and have no relation to anything you may be doing here.  Standard Apache WEB LOGS of info like IP, and pages visited are rotated every few days, and used internally to check the web server’s performance.  Logs of suspicious activity may be shared with law enforcement, or other ISPs, to deal with troublemakers.  Nothing here is for sale, and donations are not solicited.

If you get an email that claims to be from somebody here that’s anything but a request to post your article, or report suspicious activity (like logs sent to an ISP to report an attack) - it’s SPAM. I do not, and will not - ever - join the junk mail sender community. There are no mechanisms to prevent anyone from forging anyone elses email address in a “from” or “reply-to” mail header. For those of us whose email addresses are fraudently used, the best we can do is filter out NDR REPORTS.

Per U.S.C. COPYRIGHT LAW - TITLE 17, SECTION 107, this not-for-profit site may reproduce copyrighted material not specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such articles will either have a web link to the source, home page, and/or show credit to the author.  If yours is here and you have a problem with that, send me an EMAIL, and I’ll take it off. Stuff I wrote carries a CREATIVE COMMONS LICENSE permitting non-commercial sharing. In addition, this site’s owner forbids insertion and injecting data of any kind - especially advertisements - into ours by any person or entity.  Should you see a commercial ad that looks like it’s from here, please report it by sending me a tcpdump and/or screenshot in an EMAIL, then READ UP about how the PARTNERING OF INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDERS and companies like NEBUAD are DESTROYING INTERNET PRIVACY

Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.

Information on the Pension Class Action Lawsuit against AT&T is HERE.  More pension-related articles are HERE.

Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.

Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.

If you’re looking for telco nostalgia, you won’t find it here.  Check out THE CENTRAL OFFICE, BELL SYSTEM MEMORIAL, MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATIONS, TELEPHONE TRIBUTE, and THE READING WORKS websites instead.

This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.

Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.

...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files

No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy

Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
- Aquinas

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin

If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

Update 8/11/07 - As we head into the next depression, fueled by selfish corporate greed, and a corrupt, SOCIOPATHIC US government, MIKE WHITNEY has a solution that makes a lot of sense to me:

The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous subsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.

The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.

Posted by Admin on 09/05/04 •

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Suicide In White America

image: no hope

Financial despair, addiction and the rise of suicide in white America

The death rate for white Americans aged 45 to 54 has risen sharply since 1999, but Montana officials wrestle to explain why the state has the highest rate of suicide in the US at nearly twice the national average and it’s rising

By Chris McGreal
The Guardian
February 7, 2016

Kevin Lowney lies awake some nights wondering if he should kill himself.

“I am in such pain every night, suicide has on a regular basis crossed my mind just simply to ease the pain. If I did not have responsibilities, especially for my youngest daughter who has problems,” he said.

The 56-year-old former salesmans struggle with chronic pain is bound up with an array of other issues - medical debts, impoverishment and the prospect of a BLEAK RETIREMENT contributing to growing numbers of suicides in the US and helping drive a sharp and unusual increase in the mortality rate for middle-aged white Americans in recent years alongside premature deaths from alcohol and drugs.

A STUDY released late last year by two Princeton academics, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, who won the 2014 Nobel prize for economics, revealed that the DEATH RATE FOR WHITE AMERICANS AGED 45 TO 54 has risen sharply since 1999 after declining for decades. The increase, by 20% over the 14 years to 2013, represents about half a million lives cut short.

The uptick in the mortality rate is unique to that age and racial group. Death rates for African Americans of a similar age remain notably higher but continue to fall.

Neither was the increase seen in other developed countries. In the UK, the mortality rate for middle-aged people dropped by one third over the same period.

“This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround,” the study said.

Deaths from poisonings by drugs or alcohol have risen dramatically to push lung cancer into second place as the major killer with a sharp increase in SUICIDES NOW A CLOSE THIRD.

Lowney lives in Butte, Montana, where local officials see the Princeton study’s findings reflected in their community but struggle to explain them. The state has the HIGHEST RATE of suicide in the US at nearly twice the national average and rising up 7.3% in 2014. Those most likely to kill themselves are 45 to 65 years old.

“What’s been lacking in our town is an explanation for why this demographic in particular has been dying by suicide,” said Karen Sullivan, health director for Butte and the surrounding county, Silver Bow. “We want to take a look at what we’ve got going on in Butte. Is it economic in nature? Is it middle-aged white people discontented with where they landed in life? Is it isolation? A lack of a social network? Is it drug and alcohol issues? What do we have going on?”

Other officials see a number of interconnected forces at work and the rising rate of middle-aged deaths as indicative of crisis wider than those who kill themselves.

Growing economic inequality and increasing financial struggles are intertwined with other issues such as health and addiction. Some people living on low incomes hesitate to go to the doctor even if they have medical insurance because of the cost of out-of-pocket expenses. Chronic conditions can go untreated and become debilitating.

Pain is a driver of alcohol abuse and addiction to opioid painkillers, which in turn is feeding a growing heroin epidemic in the US. Stress and mental health issues are sometimes driven by constant worries about money and fear for the future as growing numbers of Americans look into a financial abyss at retirement.

What has changed?

Karl Rosston, Montana’s suicide prevention coordinator, said there are a number of constants that contribute to a historically high suicide rate throughout the Rocky Mountain region from social isolation to the availability of guns and a reluctance to seek mental health care.

But all of those are longstanding issues in Montana. So what’s changed to drive up the rate of people taking their own lives in recent years?

“Probably the biggest reason is socio-economic. We have about 150,000 people in our state that dont have access to any type of healthcare, which is a major issue. We have a lot of people living in poverty. Wages are not going up at the same pace as rising health costs, rising cost of living and inflation,” Rosston said.

“Definitely you see a lot of people that all of a sudden they hit 45 or 50 and they don’t see retirement as a bonus. They see something that theyre going to have struggle with and they’re not going to be able to retire.”

Sullivan sees that as tied up with “the expectation that as a middle-aged white person you would outdo your parents economically and socially, and that didnt occur”.

Lowney is typical of those baby boomers who have seen expectations dashed. His grandfather immigrated from Ireland to work as a miner when Butte was renowned as “the richest hill on earth” for the copper beneath. His father, Jerry, was raised in impoverished conditions but by the 1950s had moved up the social scale working as a civil engineer in a Butte hospital. He owned a house and a car. He had eight children, of which Kevin was the youngest, and retired on a comfortable pension without debt.

Kevin Lowney has not been so fortunate. He has never owned a house and is drowning in medical debt attributed to hospital costs and doctors office visits to treat his failing health.

I was a very hard-working American. Overly hard-working American. This is what brought down my health,Ӕ he said.

Lowney studied to be a mining engineer but Buttes copper mines shut down in the 1980s, taking with them well paid union jobs. The mine was bought out and reopened a few years but with a smaller, non-unionised workforce on an income dependent on the price of copper. By then Lowney had switched to a business degree and landed a job in California as a salesman for a food delivery company.

Lowney returned to Butte in 2002 and went to work for Walmart as a cashier. His health continued to deteriorate.

Rising healthcare costs

“In one year I had surgery on both hands, bladder cancer surgery, hernia surgery. My heart was starting to fail. I developed diabetes. High blood pressure. Enormous stress,” he said.

Lowney had health insurance but still ran up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. In 2007 he applied for a disability grant. It took five years to be approved, during which time he relied on food stamps and other small grants he was entitled to as a single parent raising his teenage daughter.

When the disability allowance came through in 2012, payments were backdated to the date of his application. But almost all of that lump sum immediately went to clear some of his outstanding medical bills. That still left him more than $40,000 in debt to doctors and hospitals.

“I have never drinked. I’ve never smoked. I’m a very strong Catholic and I practice those values. No way is this from any immorality on my part,” he said. “Here I am, I’ve worked hard all my life, put myself through college, raised three kids, been a single parent at different times in my life. Now I’m bankrupt. Not only bankrupt but with a remaining huge debt.

Except Lowney isn’t legally bankrupt because he says he can’t afford the $1,200 fee to file the paperwork. His only income is the $1,481 month disability grant. He lives in sparsely furnished two-storey public housing. On the wall next to the kitchen door is a picture of Lowney with former president Jimmy Carter when the pair were working as volunteer house builders for Habitat for Humanity in Mexico.

“We put up 100 homes in Tijuana in a one-week blitz,” he said. “The irony is I’m now living in public housing myself. Which, by the way, I’m very thankful for.

Much of his income still goes to pay for medical treatment, including the two trays on his living room table of an array of pills to treat his various conditions.

“I still pay at least $300 a month in medications,” he said. On top of that there are bills for regular visits to the hospital. Some months, he relies on the local food bank to feed himself.

In searching for explanations for why the US is alone among developing countries in grappling with a rising death rate among its middle-aged white population, Lowney contrasts his situation with a cousin, a fisherman in Ireland who was injured in a work accident at sea and spent a year in hospital.

“He told me it cost him 39 euros. That’s all because of the health system they have in Ireland,” he said.

Lowney ran up most of his debts before Barack Obamas healthcare reforms. They have been a big leap forward for many Americans by, among other things, preventing insurance companies from cutting people off mid-treatment or capping payments for expensive medications, such as for cancer. But even with subsidized rates for low-income families, a trip to the doctor can still prove expensive because most insurance policies require holders to pay the first few thousand dollars each year before coverage kicks in.

That has put many people in the position of paying for insurance but being unable to afford to go to the doctor.

According to the Butte-Silver Bow Community Health Needs Assessment for 2014 23% of people in Montana have no health insurance.

But the report said that even among those with insurance, nearly 40% faced obstacles to receiving needed healthcare. About one-third said they could not afford the cost of the doctor or prescription. Nearly 8% said they lacked transport to get to a clinic. More than 11% said they skipped or reduced prescription doses in order to save money.

Kristen Ryan is among them. She works with children with disabilities in Butte. Her husband is a maintenance engineer at an elementary school but has two additional part-time jobs, including bar shifts, to bring in extra cash.

“Its to keep our head above water, to keep our kids in clothes and hot lunches. We make too much money to get help but it still is difficult,” she said.

The couple owns a small house Ryan bought when she was single but it only has two bedrooms to house four children and they cannot afford to buy a bigger place.

Ryan and her husband both have health insurance through their jobs but they hesitate to go to the doctor because they have to meet the first $5,000 of treatment costs.

It has to be something pretty significant for me to go and the same for my husband,Ӕ she said. I see that in my husband where his back will hurt or heӒs got a funky foot and sometimes hes in a lot of pain but he wonҒt go because he knows that its going to end up costing a lot of money just to see the doctor.Ҕ

Chronic pain and suicide

The Princeton study and Rosston both identified chronic pain as a big driver of suicide among middle-aged people.

“The typical death certificate that I often read is a typical 55-year-old male who is having chronic pain issues in his back and is not being treated,” he said. “We know nationally that about 30% of the people who die by suicide have issues of chronic pain or chronic illness. We saw even higher numbers in Montana.”

The increase in chronic pain has been tied to the surge in abuse of opioids such as Oxycontin, which have taken hold across the United States. That has contributed to a sharp rise in unintentional poisonings from drugs and alcohol which have risen by about 160% nationally since 1999. Montana has 82 painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people.

Case and Deaton say that addictions are hard to treat and pain is hard to control, so those currently in midlife may be a lost generation whose future is less bright than those who preceded them

Sullivan thinks it is less bright for other reasons. She said for many the prospect of retirement is a fresh crisis.

“Where people landed in life, expecting to exceed what their parents accomplished, really is at play in our country,” she said. “Once you retire, you’re on a fixed-income when life becomes more interesting and not in a good way. What do you do with your limited income?”

Lowney had to cash in his small pension of $17,500 to pay medical bills. Ryan sees no prospect of retiring.

“My job cut the employer contribution to my pension a couple of years ago. I prefer not to think about that because I know I don’t have anything. It’s very small. Its not going to be enough to live on,” she said. “I think public housing or something like that might be in our future as we get older because I don’t know that were going to be able to do it on our own.:

“We owe my mother-in-law quite a bit of money because sometimes more goes out than comes in. You don’t expect to have to borrow from your parents at this age. You would hope that they would be able to borrow from you if they needed to but that’s just not the way that its turned out.”

The Princeton study also notes that a higher proportion of middle-aged suicides are among people who have less than a university education, suggesting they are more likely to be in lower income jobs and more severely affected by growing economic inequality. Rosston sees that in Montana too.

“I actually review every single suicide that occurs in the state and we see that a very high percentage about 80% had less than a college degree. That may correlate with the type of jobs, the labour jobs, that they had because with only a high school education or maybe just a little bit of college you’re more likely to be in those labour intensive jobs,” he said.

Tracy Thompson heads the Laborers’ International Union of North America in Butte. She used to be a construction worker and then held a job at a pulp mill in Missoula, to the west of Butte, until it shut down in 2009.

“We lost four people to suicide when they closed their doors. These were individuals making $50,000 or $60,000 a year, maybe more. All of a sudden they’re forced into early retirement or to find employment elsewhere. One guy had worked there for 30 years. We were all shocked he took his life,| she said. “You see it all around. You see a guy dies at 53. What did he die of?”

According to the Butte-Silver Bow Community Health Needs Assessment for 2014, more than one-third of residents show symptoms of chronic depression.

“I grapple with depression,” said Ryan. “I take an anti-depressant. I find my situation very stressful. I find that I have trouble sleeping. I have to tell myself not to think about it so I can go to sleep. Its hard not to be able to do for your kids what you want to be able to do.”

“I’ve heard that the majority of Americans are afraid of even a $500 emergency. They’re one broken refrigerator away from not being able to make it. Thats us.”

That may go some way to explain the differing middle aged death rate with other developed countries that have extensive welfare systems, free or cheap health care and greater support for pensioners. The proportion of US pensioners living in poverty is more than double that in Germany and nearly six times that of France. Few western Europeans are fearful of losing their homes to pay medical bills.

Sullivan also thinks there may be something else unusually American at work.

“I’ve watched WHITE MALES rule this country from the beginning. The power that this traditional white male used to have is decreasing. Weve evolved and white males aren’t necessarily at the root of power anymore. Everything from the Oregon military takeover to the abuse people have hurled at our president, I think a lot of that is at play,: she said.

African Americans on the other hand have long struggled against inequality and have generally held fewer assumptions about social advancement, which may explain why the same increases in suicides and drug and alcohol deaths have not been seen among middle aged black people.

Rosston said that whatever the causes, the increased numbers of suicides reflects a mental health crisis that is not being addressed in part because of a lack of professionals but also because of a reluctance to seek their help.

“We have a very high shortage of mental health professionals in our state, specifically psychiatrists. About 80% of the people who take psychotropic medication in Montana have never even spoken to a psychiatrist,” he said. “Also,there’s a stigma when it comes to mental illness. We have that kinda cowboy mentality, frontier mentality of taking care of your own, and people see depression as a weakness.”

“The words I often see when I review suicides is that the person thought they were a burden. That they weren’t serving a purpose anymore or they’re tired of dealing with things. When you feel that way, youre not going to ask for help.”

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Posted by Elvis on 02/09/16 •
Section Dying America
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The Future of Work and Jobs

The future of Work and Jobs
A short overview of the key issues, illustrations, stats and videos

By Gerd Leonhard
April 25, 2015

The future of work and jobs has become a major topic for me. It is abundantly clear that the exponential digitisation, optimization, automation, virtualisation and robotisation (phew!) of society will result in a huge number of job losses around the globe, first in blue-collar jobs and then in white-collar jobs and among the so-called knowledge workers.

It is also clear that we will have a lot more work and jobs many of them not even invented yet - in all segments having to do with technology, e.g. big data, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, deep learning, robotics etc. I guess it would be fair to say that pretty much any job that has to do with technology, data and programming is safe for the foreseeable future.

On the other side of the equation, any job that makes good use of human-only skills such as imagination, curiosity, design, understanding, empathy, social and emotional intelligence, synthesis etc is also fairly safe, such as designers, therapists and social workers, negotiators, inventors, entrepreneurs etc (see images below). Crafts people, plumbers, electricians and carpenters will also be safe for now - as their work is actually really hard to sufficiently automate, and requires a certain amount of lateral, non-rules based thinking.

At the same time, it is also pretty clear that 100s of Millions of jobs that are primarily routine-based, repetitive and rules-based will without a doubt be increasingly done by machines, and this will eventually lead to a) a dramatic reduction in work hours for us, individually b) a society in which there is no need to work for a living - i.e. for money.

Sooner or later, definining ourselves by the work that we do, and how much money we derive from that, is over. We will very likely end up with a total redefinition of our economic system and the logic of capitalism, as well as with some kind of a BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE (check out a scenario I like to call #workupation)

Read my OTHER POSTS on the future of jobs.

Read my ECONOMIC TIMES INDIA piece on the future of work and jobs

READ THIS PDF on the future of learning (Enhance magazine): Future of Learning Gerd Leonhard Enhance-Issue-5-2015

image: probablility of future job automation

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Posted by Elvis on 02/09/16 •
Section Revelations
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Saturday, February 06, 2016

The End of Marriage Capitalism and God

This is the end of marriage, capitalism and God. Finally!
My fellow boomers might mock millennials, but what if the new generation has the big questions absolutely right?

By Jeff DeGraff
February 6, 2016

he next big thing isnt a clever gadget or miracle drugҗits a way of life: not a breakthrough invention but a social innovation. And itҒs not so much a beginning as it as a series of endings.

Rising numbers of young people are now deciding to do everything their parents didnt. TheyҒre eschewing cultural and economic convention to challenge what we take to be civil society. They arent marrying. TheyҒve become the refuseniks of our competitive corporate culture. And many of them have opted out of organized religion.

Lets start with a quick look at some facts:

The End of Marriage

According to the New York Times, over half of all American women under 30 who give birth are unmarried. When adjusted for levels of education and economics, the numbers skew dramatically higher.

Of course there are an array of possible causes for this trend, including everything from the relative economic independence of educated women to a shift away from the cultural stigma of unwed parentage to even a latent reaction to the divorce of their own parents. This change brings a complex array of challenges. For example, marriage is a foundational element of our legal system connected to property, beneficiary and custodial rights and obligations. Some believe that the decline of matrimony has led to the increase of children living under the poverty level. These skeptics say that if we pull the thread of marriage from the fabric of our society, it is unclear what will unravel or remain intact. While societal norms may have changed, adjusting our legal system to protect unwed mothers and their children may still be far behind.

But the end of marriage may also be a sign of something great: just look at the Scandinavian countries, which rank among the highest educated in the world with a standard of living positioned well atop of our own, and youҒll see the same downward trend for marriage among the young. Their society has not collapsed, their children are well attended, and by, most discernible standards, they are prospering.

The End of Capitalism

Well before the collapse of the middle-class economy in America, Europe and now Asia, young people started cultural movements that shifted the center of balance from economics to social values. According to Pew Research, this change is creating an enormous generation gap between boomers and millennials that is still widening. Its likely a response to the worst employment prospects for young adults in almost a centuryҗand a renewal of idealistic frontierism, with the New Urban Corridor as the 21st-century Wild West. What were once areas of blight are now shining lights for our youth. Signs of the new anti-commercialism are everywhere: shared houses and cars, urban farm collectives, and the end of intellectual property rights. Millennial survival guides abound in the form of countless blogs that offer advice on how to hack the new world. Pass the beer nuts, comrade.

Time went so as far as to call millennials the Me Me Me Generation.Ӕ While tons of readers disapproved of the essays snarky tone, what the essay really missed is the collaborative nature of this age group. There is a noticeable shift away from traditional careers in favor of values-centric goals of communal harmony. For example, a much larger percentage of recent college graduates now seek work in the nonprofit sector than graduates in the previous four decades. Many might have attributed this to the dismal job market or the availability of posh parental support, but this global, inclusive view of millennials suggests a real change in attitudes about what constitutes meaningful work.

The End of God

According to the Washington Post, 25 percent of millennials donҒt affiliate with a faith-based tradition and almost twice as many dont belong to a church. More so, a Pew Research study suggests that an astonishingly low number of youth believe in the existence of a God. As religious participation, affiliation and even belief wane in both post-Christian Europe and the Americas, atheism is now among the fastest-growing affiliations among young adults who have turned anti-faith into its own kind of faith.

What has driven our youth away from their spiritual traditions in record numbers at record speed? A recent report from progressive think tank Center for American Progress suggests a culture gap. The organization characterizes this gap as both a push away from church dogma regarding same-sex marriage and reproductive rights and a pull toward science and personal development. Abuses by clergy and power plays by the bully pulpit may also factor into this divide. Even evangelical magazine Relevant notes that social media-savvy millennials are increasingly rejecting the hierarchy of the church and turning to each other for spiritual solace and advice. Though they may not be attending traditional services, they might well be creating their own personalized spiritual playlist.

This is certainly not the first time weҒve seen this combination of individualism and communitarianism. This was, after all, the basis for American progressivism in the early 20th century. But the institutional constructs that formerly served as bridges for diverse peoples with varied views are now impassable and separate us.

Why is this Happening and What Does it Mean?

Some social theorists suggest that this transition is merely the 21st century version of the same irrational exuberance we saw in the late 1920s and 1960s. They often frame these transitions as the adolescent stage of a grand cycle of divergence and convergence. This explanation implies that we should just let the cycle run its course and things will return to normal. In reality, though, boundless connectivity has changed the way we integrate our lived experiences with our interpretation of those experiences and has created a new type of normal. With all these connective technologiesfrom smartphones to social media to translational technologiesחwere getting get a wider view, but that view is through a smaller lens.

The peer-to-peer nature of contemporary communication appears to be horizontal, democratic and inclusive, yet all of these smaller communities also result in exclusionҗan exclusion from broader forms of sense-making. In other words, we have all of these micro-segments and there is little consensus: there is no grand worldview that we all share. Rather, there are personalized worldviews.

Max Weber, a founder of the field of sociology, anticipated this situation over a hundred years ago when he suggested that the disintegration of socially ascribed roles would lead to the decline of integrating institutions and the rise of extreme individualism. This would create a polemic of horizontal pluralism: the absence of a unifying perspective to integrate values except for a nominal all-encompassing view. Webers vision for the future is not so far off from today’s reality. Without marriage, capitalism and God providing a nexus to integrate our common experience and interpretation, we lack a common identity or sense of purpose. We has become a collective Me.

Is This the End of Marriage, Capitalism, and God?

Yes and no. Yes, because more and more people are not only opting out of these institutionstheyגre actively positioning themselves against them. No, because, no matter how many alternatives arise, there will always be a need for stable family units, meritocracy, and a belief in something more than the Self.

The irony is that the people who love these institutions and belief systems most are the parents of the people who are rejecting these institutions today. Boomers were so focused on personal liberty and freedom that they forgot to clear a middle way for their children.

In place of the collective sense of destiny that bound mid- and late-20th-century Americans together are individualized acts of compassion and self-actualization. Rather than furthering a greater good like curing a disease or putting a man on the moon, millennials are furthering a greater personal good. This isnt to say that young people are selfish. In fact, the opposite is true. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Teach for America give people the chance to help others and cultivate themselves in the process: ItҒs a powerful combination of altruism and personal development. Our pieces are now our wholeness. In the face of the fragmentation everywhere, our next generations of creators and thinkers are finding themselves and inspiring other people to do so around them.

Marriage, capitalism and God will persist, but theyll reappear in new guises: grand forces on a more personalized, intimate scale. The key concept here is hybridity, mixtures of old institutions and innovative values: marriages with more flexibility and wider definitions, economic systems that defy categorization like microfinancing and bitcoins, and religions that are mash-ups of ancient traditions and 21st-century personal development practices from spiritual yoga to psychotherapy to eco-goddess worship.

In reality, though, we can only speculate so much. The truth is that we’re moving into unchartered territory, and we need to become OK with that. We all want to see the futureitגs in our naturebut we simply canגt: The fundamental difficulty of innovation is that we have no data on whats to come. It’s a perennial frustration, yet its also a source of vast possibility. We need to let go of traditional structures and allow for boundaries to loosen up and break down. A married Catholic capitalist, I may seem like the quintessence of the Old Guard. But with my judgment suspended and my mind opened, IҒm not just ready for everything I know to be dismantled I’m excited for it. And you should be, too.

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Posted by Elvis on 02/06/16 •
Section Revelations
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Monday, January 25, 2016

Cultural Stupidity

America: Why R Your Peeps So Dum?
U.S. culture is going down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

By Joe Bageant
December 9, 2010

If you hang out much with thinking people, conversation eventually turns to the serious political and cultural questions of our times. Such as: How can the Americans remain so consistently brain-fucked? Much of the world, including plenty of Americans, asks that question as they watch U.S. culture go down like a thrashing mastodon giving itself up to some Pleistocene tar pit.

One explanation might be the effect of 40 years of deep fried industrial chicken pulp, and 44 ounce Big Gulp soft drinks. Another might be pop culture, which is not culture at all of course, but marketing. Or we could blame it on digital autism: Ever watch commuter monkeys on the subway poking at digital devices, stroking the touch screen for hours on end? That wrinkled Neolithic brows above the squinting red eyes?

But a more reasonable explanation is that, (A) we don’t even know we are doing it, and (B) we cling to institutions dedicated to making sure we never find out.

As William Edwards Deming famously demonstrated, no system can understand itself, and why it does what it does, including the American social system. Not knowing shit about why your society does what it makes for a pretty nasty case of existential unease. So we create institutions whose function is to pretend to know, which makes everyone feel better. Unfortunately, it also makes the savviest among us—those elites who run the institutions—very rich, or safe from the vicissitudes that buffet the rest of us.

Directly or indirectly, they understand that the real function of American social institutions is to justify, rationalize and hide the true purpose of cultural behavior from the lumpenproletariat, and to shape that behavior to the benefit of the institution’s members. “Hey, they’re a lump. Whaddya expect us to do?”

Doubting readers may consider America’s health institutions, the insurance corporations, hospital chains, physicians’ lobbies. Between them they have established a perfectly legal right to clip you and me for thousands of dollars at their own discretion. That we so rabidly defend their right to gouge us, given all the information available in the digital age, mystifies the world.

Two hundred years ago no one would have thought sheer volume of available facts in the digital information age would produce informed Americans. Founders of the republic, steeped in the Enlightenment as they were, and believers in an informed citizenry being vital to freedom and democracy, would be delirious with joy at the prospect. Imagine Jefferson and Franklin high on Google.

The fatal assumption was that Americans would choose to think and learn, instead of cherry picking the blogs and TV channels to reinforce their particular branded choice cultural ignorance, consumer, scientific or political, but especially political. Tom and Ben could never have guessed we would chase prepackaged spectacle, junk science, and titillating rumor such as death panels, Obama as a socialist Muslim and Biblical proof that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs around Eden. In a nation that equates democracy with everyman’s right to an opinion, no matter how ridiculous, this was probably inevitable. After all, dumb people choose dumb stuff. That’s why they are called dumb.

But throw in sixty years of television’s mind puddling effects, and you end up with 24 million Americans watching Bristol Palin thrashing around on Dancing with the Stars, then watch her being interviewed with all seriousness on the networks as major news. The inescapable conclusion of half of heartland America is that her mama must certainly be presidential material, even if Bristol cannot dance. It ain’t a pretty picture out there in Chattanooga and Keokuk.

The other half, the liberal half, concludes that Bristol’s bad dancing is part of her spawn-of-the-Devil mama’s plan to take over the country, and make millions in the process, not to mention make Tina Fey and Jon Stewart richer than they already are. That’s a tall order for a squirrel brained woman who recently asked a black president to “refudiate” the NAACP (though I kinda like refudiate, myself). Cultural stupidity accounts for virtually every aspect of Sarah Palin, both as a person and a political icon. Which, come to think of it, may be a pretty good reason not to “misunderstimate” her. After all, we’re still talking about her in both political camps. And the woman OWNS the Huffington Post, fer Christsake. Not to mention a franchise on cultural ignorance.

Cultural stupidity might not be so bad, were it not self-reproducing and viral, and prone to place stupid people in charge. All of us have, at some point, looked at a boss and asked ourselves how such a numb-nuts could end up in charge of the joint.

In my own field, the book biz, the top hucksters in sales and marketing, car salesman with degrees, are put in charge of publishing the national literature. Similarly, ex-Pentagon generals segue from killing brown babies in Iraq into university presidents and CEOs. Conversely, business leaders such as Donald Rumsfeld who fancy themselves as battlefield commanders and imagine their employees as troops to be “deployed,” find themselves happily farting behind Pentagon desks. On the strength of having mistaken Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as a business text, they get selected by equally delusional national leaders to make actual war on behalf of the rest of us.

But the most widespread damage is done at more mundane operational levels of the American empire, by clones of the over promoted asshole in the corner office where you work. At least one study demonstrated that random selection for corporate promotions offset the effect significantly. Research again confirms what is common knowledge around every workplace water cooler in the country.

Save my spot in the gulag, I’m off to Wal-Mart

Cultural ignorance of one sort or another is sustained and nurtured in all societies to some degree, because the majority gains material benefit from maintaining it. Americans, for example, reap huge on-the-ground benefits from cultural ignorance—especially the middle class Babbitry—from cultural ignorance generated by American hyper-capitalism in the form of junk affluence.

Purposeful ignorance allows us to enjoy cheaper commodities produced through slave labor, both foreign, and increasingly, domestic, and yet “thank god for his bounty” in the nation’s churches without a trace of guilt or irony. It allows strong arm theft of weaker nations’ resources and goods, to say nothing of the destructiveness of late stage capitalism—using up exhausting every planetary resource that sustains human life.

The American defense, on those rare occasions when one is offered, runs roughly, “Well you commie bastard, I ain’t ever seen a sweatshop and I got no Asian kids chained in the basement. So I’ve got what the guvment calls plausible deniability. Go fuck yerself!”

Uh, don’t look now, but the banksters own your ass, your country has become a work gulag/police state and the most of the world hates you.

Such a thriving American intellectual climate enables capitalist elites to withhold and ration vital resources like health care simply by auctioning it off to the richest. Americans fail to grasp this because the most important fact (that a helluva lot of folks can’t afford to bid, and therefore get to die early) never gets equal play with capitalist political propaganda, to wit, that if we give free medical attention to low income cleft palate babies, a wave of Leninism will seize the nation. That is cultural ignorance. We breathe the stuff every day of our lives.

But when Americans too poor to buy health care nevertheless vote to retain the corporate auction process, that is cultural stupidity.

(Let us now pause to clutch our hair in our fists and scream AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!)

Like the old song says, “Them that don’t know don’t know they don’t know.” I venture to say that even if they did, they would not know why. Primary truths elude us because of the junk affluence and propaganda. We get buried under a deluge of commodities that suggest we are all rich, or at least richer than most of the world. A mountain range of cheap shoes, cars, iPods, ridiculous amounts of available foodstuffs, and the entire spectacle of engorgement defines, and is enforced as, “quality of life” under materialistic commodities capitalism. The goods we have in our clutches trump the philosophical, or even the most practical considerations. “I may die early eating unidentified beef byproducts soaked in waste chemicals, but I’ll die owning a 65-inch HDTV and a new five speed automatic Dodge Durango with a 5.7 L Hemi V8 under the hood!”

Even the threat of toasting planetary life is not enough to shake Americans loose from this disconnect. As Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Guy R. McPherson points out, “79.6% of respondents to a Scientific American poll are unwilling to forgo even a single penny to forestall the risk of catastrophic climate change. Scientific American readers undoubtedly are better informed than the general populace. And yet they won’t pay a thing to avoid extinction of our species. Kinda makes you warm and fuzzy all over, doesn’t it?”

Let us pray the next generation is a tad sharper.

Taser the tots

The “American Lifestyle,” increasingly suspect as it is these days, is heavily soldiered and policed in the name of keeping we self-defined lotus eaters safe and secure from a jealous outside world. Which according to cultural consensus is a world that is at this very moment stuffing its under drawers with explosives and buying plane tickets to Moline. Cultural ignorance dictates that the best way to stop foreign terrorists flying into the country is by humiliating American citizens flying out of the country. Go ahead, grope me, X-ray my dick and for god sake don’t let anyone bring a large bottle of shampoo on board.In an obedient, authority worshipping police state, physical insult and surveillance are proof of safety.

It’s profitable too, and not just for scanner manufacturers. The brouhaha over body scanners and crotch groping provide media with titillating fuel for ratings, thereby driving up TV advertising rates, which is passed on in the price of products we buy. So we pay to be insulted, have the hell scared out of us, and to unknowingly have our behavior shaped. Under American style capitalism, this mobius strip of cultural ignorance is called a win-win situation for everybody.

This also conveniently distracts us from the everyday human insult we practice on one another, as a result of state manufactured cultural misinformation—fear. Ten years of orange alerts and post 9/11 fear mongering have led us to draw some paradoxical cultural conclusions.

Let us briefly careen off into one of these paradoxes. For instance, that we can taser our way to domestic security and tranquility. Yes, it’s ugly business, but tasing the citizenry must be done. And besides, in these days of high unemployment, it’s a paycheck for somebody—usually, the guy who sat behind us in grade school happily eating chalk.

With taser packing police officers in thousands of schools, even grade schools (a weird enough cultural statement to begin with—needless to say, the resulting deaths and injuries of school kids have personal injury lawyers shouting eureka and contemplating new recreational sail craft moored at Martha’s Vineyard. Such are the rewards of righteous works through cult-ig.

In any case, the chance at a juicy lawsuit is accepted as a satisfactory offset to any screaming and writing in our school hallways. What are 50,000 volts and a little nerve damage, compared to a shot at paying off the credit cards, upgrading the family ride, and maybe remodeling the kitchen too?

But we gotta stick to the subject of cultural ignorance here, mainly because I wrote the title first and am determined to maintain some illusion of a theme here, or at least bullshit the reader into thinking that I have.

Soooo . . .

It can be safely said that cultural ignorance consists of the rational, sensible questions that never get asked. But it also includes the weird ones that are. For instance, one of the questions asked regarding tasering school kids is: What is the allowable weight range of a child to be tased? (Taser manufacturers say 60 pounds.) Somehow, by this geezer’s prehistoric reasoning, that sounds like the wrong question, not to mention one that by its nature leads us away from the cultural truth.

The truth is that we live in a society which sanctions semi-electrocution of its own children on the grounds that it is not fatal, and therefore not true electrocution. It springs from the same streak of cultural cruelty that deems semi-drowning by water boarding not to be torture because it is seldom fatal.

This is not to be uncharitable to American communities willing to pony up tax money for school tasers. They’ve amply demonstrated their affectionate commitment to their children by bringing creationism and pizza-for-breakfast into the schools. But there remains the question, “What kind of community comes up with the idea of tasering its own children?”

The information racketeers

It is the job of our combined institutions to manage cultural information so as to deny the harmful aspects of the rackets they protect through legislation and promote through institutional research. That’s why research shows that cell phone microwaves cause long term memory loss in rats, but do not harm people. Evidently, we are of different, more bullet proof mammalian material.

Our hyper capitalist system, through command of our research, media and political institutions, expands upon and disseminates only that information which generates money and transactions. It avoids, neglects or spins the hell out of information that does not. And if none of those work, the info is exiled to some corner of cyberspace such as Daily Kos, where it cannot change the status quo, yet can be ballyhooed as proof of our national freedom of expression. Here come the rotten eggs from the Internet liberals.

Cyberspace by nature feels very big from the inside, and its affinity groups, seeing themselves in aggregate and in mutual self reference, imagine their role bigger and more effective than it is. From within the highly directed, technologically administrated, marketed-to and propagandized rat cage called America, this is all but impossible to comprehend. Especially when corporate owned media tells us it is.

Take the world recent shaking WikiLeak’s “revelations” of Washington’s petty misery and drivel, which are scarcely revelations, just more extensive details about what we all already knew. Come on now, is it a revelation that Karzai and his entire government is a nest of fraudulent double-crossing thieves? Or that the US is duplicitous? Or that Angela Merkel is dull? The main revelation in the WikiLeaks affair was the U.S. government’s response—which was to bring US freedom of speech policy firmly in line with China’s. Millions of us in cyber ghettoes saw it coming, but our alarm warnings were shouted inside a cyberspace vacuum bell jar.

Bear in mind that I am writing this from outside the US borders and media environment, where people watch the WikiLeaks story unfold more in amusement than anything else.

The WikiLeaks affair is surely seismic to those whose asses ride on the elite diplomatic intrigues. But in the big picture it will not change the way the top lizards in global politics, money and war have done business since the feudal age—which is to say with arrogant disregard for the rest of us. Theirs is an ancient system of human dominance that only shifts names and methodologies over the centuries. Two years from now, little will have changed in the old, old story of the powerful few over the powerless many. In this overarching drama, Obama, Hillary and Julian Assange are passing players. Watching the sweaty, fetid machinations of our overlords with such passionate involvement only keeps us from seeing the big picture—that they are the players and we are the pawns.

Still, I for one am in favor of giving Assange the Mdaille militaire, the Noble Prize, 15 virgins in paradise and a billion in cash as a reward for his courage in doing damned well the only significant thing that can be done at this time—momentarily fucking up government control of information. But “potentially stimulating a new age of U.S. government transparency,” (BBC) it ain’t.”

Which brings us to back to the question of cultural ignorance. For ten points, why was Julian Assange forced to do what the world press was supposed to be doing in the first place?

Bulletin: PayPal has caved to government pressure to pull WikiLeak’s PayPal account for contributions. However, the feds generously let PayPal keep its porn and prostitution clients.

The transparency scam

It is a form of cultural ignorance to believe that at some point or other, we were more in charge and that our government was somehow more transparent in the past. Societies declining into obsolescence understandably resist looking forward, and hang onto their past mythologies. Consequently, both liberals and conservatives in America feed on myths of political action which died in Vietnam. The results are ludicrous. Tea Partiers attempt to emulate the 1960s protest gatherings by staging rallies sponsored by the richest beneficiaries of the status quo. For the average TP participant, the goal, near as I can tell, is to “start a new American Revolution,” by wearing foodstuffs, screaming, threatening, and voting for nitwits. Media pundits proclaim the Tea Party “a historic populist movement.”

Neither populist, nor authentic movement, the Tea Party may yet prove historic, however, by seriously fucking things up more than they already are. Spun entirely from manufactured spectacle (and thus void of cohesive political philosophy or internal logic), the Tea Party lurches across the political landscape bellowing at the cameras and collecting the victims of cultural ignorance in sort of a medieval idiots crusade. But to the American public, seeing the Tea Party on television is proof enough of relevancy and significance. After all, stuff doesn’t get on TV unless it’s important.

Progressives also fancy a revolution, one in which they participate through the Internet petitions, and media events such as the risk free Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity, where no one risked even missing an episode of Tremaine. Seeing people like themselves on television was proof fighting the good fight. The Stewart rally was nonetheless culturally historic; we will never see a larger public display of post modern irony congratulating itself.

In the historical view, cultural ignorance is more than the absence of knowledge. It is also the result of long term cultural and political struggle. Since the industrial revolution, the struggle has been between capital and workers. Capital won in America and spread its successful tactics worldwide. Now we watch global capitalism wreck the world and attempt to stay ahead of that wreckage clutching its profits. A subservient world kneels before it, praying that planet destroying jobs will fall their way. Will unrestrained global capitalism, with all the power and momentum on its side and motivated purely by machinelike harvesting of profits, reduce the faceless masses in its path to slavery? Does a duck shit in a pond?

Meanwhile, here we are, American riders on the short bus, barreling into the Grand Canyon. With typical American gunpoint optimism, we’ve convinced ourselves we’re in an airplane. A few smarter kids in the back whisper about hijacking and turning the bus around. But the security cop riding shotgun just strokes his taser and smiles. Not that yours truly has the ass to take on the security surveillance state. Hell no. I jumped out the windowwhen the bus shot past Mexico.

What America needs is some balls

GOP honcho Mitch O’Connell says what America needs is for Republicans to finish beating the snot out of Obama, and strengthen the already rich by eliminating taxes for them and shifting the burden onto us. Obama says America needs to find bipartisan cooperation with the party of ruthlessness. Elton John says that America needs more compassion (Thanks, we never noticed).

What America really needs is a wall-to-wall people’s insurrection, preferably based on force and fear of force, the only thing oligarchs understand. And even then the odds are not good. The oligarchs have all the legal power, police, jails and prisons, surveillance and firepower. Not to mention a docile populace.

Shy of open insurrection, a nationwide refusal to pay income taxes would certainly shake things up. But broader America is happy in the sense they know happiness as an undisturbed regimen of toil, stress and commodity consumption. Despite the way it looks in the news, most Americans remain untouched by foreclosure, bankruptcy and unemployment. So risking loss of their work-buy-sleep cycle in an insurrection looks to be sheer lunacy to them. Like cows, they are kept comfortable in the pure animal sense to be milked for profit. Animal comfort kills all thoughts of revolution. Hell, half of mankind would be thrilled with the average American’s present material situation.

And besides, revolutionary history does not exist for Americans. The 20th Century’s successful revolutions in Russia, Germany, Mexico, China, and Cuba are wired into our minds as history’s evil failures, because all but one were Marxist. (The only successful non-Marxist revolution of the 20th Century was Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution).

So if we are talking change through revolt, we’re necessarily talking about deconditioning because the thing we fear already has a life deep in our own consciousness. Deconditioning from cultural ignorance is at the heart of any insurrectionary politics.

Deconditioning also involves risk and suffering. But it is transformative, freeing the self from helplessness and fear. It unleashes the fifth freedom, the right to an autonomous consciousness. That makes deconditioning about as individual and personal act as is possible. Maybe the only genuine individual act.

Once unencumbered by self-induced and manufactured cultural ignorance, it becomes clear that politics worldwide is entirely about money, power and national mythology, with or without some degree of human rights. America still has all of the above to one degree or another. Yet for all practical purposes, such as advancing the freedom and the well being of its own people, the American republic has collapsed.

Of course, there is still money to be made by the already rich. So the million or so people who own the country and the government use their control to convince us that there is no collapse, just economic and political problems that need to be solved. Naturally, they are willing to do that for us. Consequently, the economy is discussed in political terms, because the government is the only body with the power to legislate, and therefore render the will of the owning class into law.

But politics and money are never going to fill what is essentially a public vacuum that is moral, philosophical and spiritual. (The latter was instantly recognized by fundamentalist Christians, disfigured by cultural ignorance, as they may be.) Not many ordinary Americans talk about this vacuum. The required spiritual and philosophical language has been successfully purged by newspeak, popular culture, a human regimentation process masquerading as a national educational system, and the ruthlessness of everyday competition, which leaves no time to contemplate anything.

Still, the void, the meaninglessness of ordinary work and the emptiness of daily life scares thinking citizens shitless, with its many unspeakables, spy cams, security state pronouncements, citizens being economically disappeared, and general back-of-the-mind unease. Capitalism’s faceless machinery has colonized our very souls. If the political was not personal to begin with, it’s personal now.

Some Americans believe we can collectively triumph over the monolith we presently fear and worship. Others believe the best we can do is to find the personal strength to endure and go forward on lonely inner plains of the self.

Doing either will take inner moral, spiritual and intellectual liberation. It all depends on where you choose to fight your battle. Or if you even choose to fight it. But one thing is certain. The only way out is in.

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Posted by Elvis on 01/25/16 •
Section Dying America
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