philosofunk

what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin


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Corporate American Prison Culture

I know a lot about prison culture. This is from academic study, intellectual thought of that study, and personally knowing people who have been to prison. I also know a person who was for a short time a prison guard. Some of the most intelligent people I know have not achieved graduation from high school and instead spent their time focusing on immediate survival because the most dire of circumstances were occurring in their lives. They are beautiful human beings who have been forced through a series of situations, both beyond their control and within the scope of their control should they have made wiser choices at the time, to embrace the view of the world that we contain both the capability for doing bad deeds for reasonable reasons, such as feeding one’s own child and providing for their family in ways that they would not be able to achieve by the legally presented choices that are available to them. For some this had to do with race, but always it had to do with economic status. The intersecionality of race, socioeconomic status, and gender made each person’s experience unique in regards to how they interacted within what could be called, “the underworld”.

My time in the underworld was extremely colorful. I met some of the most influential people in my life, individuals who contributed greatly to my formation. All of these individuals committed illegal acts. Many of these individual’s familes knew that they committed crimes in order to make a living and accepted the money in order to live. I take a Kantian view of the law: the law is not inherently moral or ethical just because it is the law. Some of these individuals were my lovers, others were just my friends.

Currently, after devouring “The Jinx”, I tuned into “Oz” on Hbo.go (thank the Buddha for whoever came up with the idea of putting all of HBO’s programming online).  Yesterday, I picked up a copy of Harper’s and to my delight, Harper’s Index (an assortment of statistics that reveals a theme about domestic public policy or economic’s or sociological facts) focused it’s first on the American prison system, an institution I personally devote a lot of time to studying both academically and recreationally. Through my journey of “Oz”, I have found myself profoundly questioning the corporate American prison system. While reading Harper’s statistics, I found myself morally obligated to share my feelings and opinions publicly. For example,

  • Minimum number of times in 2014 that Rikers Island correction officers broke the bones of an inmate: 98
  • Days of solitary confinement a South Carolina prisoner was assigned in 2012 for threatening a prison employee: 41
  • Years of solitary confinement he was assigned in 2013 for posting on Facebook: 37

Read those last two statistics again. From this specific example, we can see that this inmate was being made an example of in the second statistic. In the first, we see what is viewed as a routine occurrence within prison due to the culture of violence. What can be derived from these statistics? That prisoner’s having access to the first amendment beyond the scope of the walls of the prison is more dangerous than a threat of violence to one of the prison’s employee’s.

This should be disturbing to any American who supports the first amendment because the discrepancy is between days and years. What is so horrible that a prisoner could tell us beyond inane ramblings of an inmate.

This this or this.

I am unsure what America is attempting to accomplish with the endorsement of a demeaning and violent prison culture given we are the number one nation for locking people in cages. I do believe that we need prisons, yet morally I feel obligated that a society should ensure the minimum number of human beings are confined by chains. Serious crimes that are directly related to harming other human beings are crimes that should be applicable for confinement away from society for a period of time, and these crimes are both directly violent and non-violent yet harmful. I do not believe that there should be a tremendous amount of comfort in prison, there should be bare conditions however they should be humane. If not for the prisoners, I am concerned about the mental health of prison employees working in such dire conditions.

The more disturbing phenomenon in the combination of corporate and prison culture in America is obviously the private prison system. Like Blackwater and other mercenary armies, private prisons are the antithesis to a democratic society due to the lack of government oversight and the inherently disturbing nature of making money off of the suffering of other human beings. In fact, this could be psychologically compared to antisocial personality disorder, known in laymen’s terms as psychopathy. American corporatism at it’s most depraved has already been compared to having antisocial personality disorder, especially given the Supreme Court decision that endorses the legal principle that corporations are persons.

If corporations are persons, and there are private prisons that are owned by corporations, then that means some of these prisons function as dysfunctionally as the violent offenders they house. This is clearly an ethical and moral threat to democratic ideals.


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“The Wire” Was Ahead of It’s Time (Part 1)

Note: I am not finished with the entirety of The Wire. Currently I am on season four, episode seven. Why do I love television so much? Because it’s story telling with words and images that is the same every time, there is no variation, there is no retelling, it is the one time presented, and you can analyze it over and over again. It’s not like oral stories passed on, the story itself remains the same but the significance changes over time. It is filmed in one era but can be viewed in another, making the experience different. The technological and anthropological significance of television is one that is truly intellectually underrated.

The Wire might be one of the most bad-ass, gritty, and provocative television series off all time that was not only revolutionary for it’s time, but the social concepts explored in The Wire continue to be possibly more relevant today than at the time of it’s broadcast during 2002 to 2008. The early millennial had not socially approached it’s next revolutionary epoch in America, the likes of which we are seeing in the next wave of liberation movements (gay rights, the fight for racial equality, a focused discussion on what modern feminism is), most likely because Bush was in office and everyone was really patriotic because of the post 9/11 environment and focused on several international wars we had going on. From a national perspective with white Americans in charge, there wasn’t a lot of time to talk about race. So unfortunately for The Wire, while it was critically acclaimed and an arguable work of television perfection, was praised and watched, but the saturated racial environment explored by The Wire wasn’t raw like it is now.

Flash forward, and under our first black President, a barrage of social changes are accomplished. Gay marriage is legal in 36 states, marijuana is fully recreational under one state and medicinally available in 23 states in some form, and there is a frank national conversation about how rape victims are treated in this country from a non-male solipsistic perspective. Granted, this did not all occur at once under President Obama (gay marriage and medicinal marijuana were “a thing” before his administration though clearly the ability of both those movements to gain momentum forward increased dramatically under Obama), but the more liberalized political and cultural environment and clearly brought changes.

However, as a nation, we are seeing a discussion on race relations that still has the ugly unsettled undercurrents and full swirl tsunamis of white supremacy and hatred against non-whites that pervades in the hearts of some in this country. With all footsteps forward come backlashes, and as everyone knows the scope and breadth of hatred is long-winded. Ferguson was a national tragedy, disaster, and embarrassment to justice. It also caused Chris Rock to make one of the funniest jokes I have ever heard concerning how social relations now function in the new cyber world, “I found a new app to tell which one of your friends is a racist. It’s called Facebook”, referring to the number of pro-Wilson sentiments that many white Americans were exposing, some in the process exposing the ugliness and irrationality of their racist thoughts. Indeed, I defriended at least two people as a result of their hateful racism displayed on my Facebook feed.

Back to The Wire, the first season is pure gold. I am a cinema and television junkie, and The Wire proved so masterful in it’s story telling, character building, and plot development, that the next seasons unfortunately haven’t captured the same gold shine, though they do gleam as works of the most advanced and rich television series to date. However, the rest of the seasons are not without merit. The first season is a work of drugs, sex, money, power, politics, and what lays beyond the veil of civilized and polite company. The rest of the seasons tell the tale of how it gets to be that way, and unfortunately some of the sexiness wears off. Season Four is spent examining the broken lives of Baltimore’s children, hardly a “sexy” topic and nor should it be, but one of incredible seriousness that shows the generational impact of times that came before a person was born.

John Rawls is considered a father of “liberal contractionalism”, or the philosophical concept that all human beings have an inherent obligation to one another by virtue of being human. On your first day in Philosophy 101 class in college, you are taught Rawl’s “Veil of Ignorance”, a mind exercise that asks the person to erase any and all concepts of identity. Pretend that there is no civilization, you have no identity, and you don’t know the significance of any identity characteristics behind “the veil”. Now, while you’re behind this veil, you create what you want society to look like.

Is it based on your identity characteristics, and which ones, and why, and for what reason, and how?

Most likely you would say something along the lines of an equal society, because human beings are by virtue, of merit in and of themselves.

What this equal society looks like, is up to your imagination. But remember, when the veil is lifted and you are in a wheelchair, without physical beauty, of the ethnic group out of favor, and of a limited economic status, do you want to be considered of less value than a physically beautiful able bodied person who is part of the majority ethnic group with a lot of disposable income? Remember now, you didn’t know your identity and what it meant under the veil. You were just asked what equal treatment of human beings looks like.

After The Wire runs us into the underworld, introduces us to where political contributions come from in inner city urban areas, what people do when they are put in potentially deadly environments, and a healthy swig of cop culture, it brings us to what happens to the children when they grow up in this environment. And this is what America was not ready for ten years ago, an examination of what police violence, racial tension, economic degradation, illegal drug markets and poor understanding and treatment of people living with addiction can psychologically wreck on children.

Ol Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan, one of the greatest hip-hop groups to help tell the struggle of the African-American identity and experience in inner city America, once said “Wu Tang is for the Children!”. Most people rarely understood the extreme wisdom of this rambling man, and what he meant was, us, the Wu Tang, we tell the truth. The truth, what you let children know and how you let them know it, is how they know the world. Wu Tang wasn’t about lying to the children, it was about enlightening them to the harsh reality with their story-telling.

In Part II, I hope to offer an analysis of why America needs to rewatch The Wire in order to pull away our veil of ignorance. 


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Community Standards on Violence

On Wednesday I wrote about the veils of cyber reality and the impact it has on real life interactions through the platform of the popular social media site Facebook. Continuing in that sphere of thought, I’d like to comment on something very disturbing that happened on Facebook earlier this week.

According to Gawker.com , despite numerous requests from friends and family of a suicide victim, images of the victim taken by the victim himself were not removed from his page because they did not violate Facebook’s community standards.

Uh, what?

This man was a marine and the suicide statistics on veterans are extremely disturbing. The fallout from war, readjustment to normal civilian life, lack of understanding from society at large about the experience of war, and overall machismo military culture that historically has not been extremely friendly to the idea of mental health care are contributors that I am guessing cause veterans to fall into the dark hole of suicidal thought. It is extremely sad to see so many men and women who voluntarily committed their bodies and minds to the patriotic mission of the American military not be properly cared for when re-entering American society after completing their missions abroad.

Facebook is a hegemonic force within social media. Like hegemonic powers, the power it exerts over its users is often irrational and unyielding. Specifically, one of the more disturbing phenomenons is the discrepancy of its community standards with regards to sexuality versus violence. Sexuality is a big no-no in Facebook land. Nudity is point blank forbidden and enough of it can get a user kicked off the site. Even non-sexualized nudity is forbidden; I had a friend who posted photos of herself that featured body paint on her abdomen and exposed breasts, and within hours was required to delete the photos despite their beautiful artistic quality. The photos were not sexual, it was simply her body with paint on it. Indeed, if it had been a male abdomen the photos would have been allowed to stay up because everyone knows male chests are not sexy (tongue-in-cheek remark, folks) and only the female body can be sexualized (again, sarcasm). It does not seem that Facebook will ever reverse this stance on nudity.

However, violence, BRING IT ON. But wait, no, just kidding. Well, maybe, we’re not sure. The flippity floppity dippity doppity dance Facebook engaged in with regards to violence was a stark juxtaposition to it’s stance on nudity, declaring beheading videos were okay, then well maybe not, then “‘When we review content that is reported to us, we will take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video,” Facebook said in a statement. ‘Second, we will consider whether the person posting the content is sharing it responsibly, such as accompanying the video or image with a warning and sharing it with an age-appropriate audience,” Facebook said.”

Good fucking god.

Age appropriate audience? Your standards for sharing violence are age appropriate audience? As far as I know, my friend was not sharing photos of her naked torso with anyone underage, and the audience for those photos was all adults, most of whom I’m going to assume have seen at least one topless lady in their lives. Why can’t that apply to nudity?

I have a theory about why our society allows the gratuitous show of violence more than it allows the gratuitous show of sexuality/nudity. When done in a consensual context, sex is the ultimate bonding act between persons. Heterosexual sex results in children, and children are impressionable beings who can be imprinted in whatever way their caregivers so choose. Homosexuality, while not resulting in the begetting of children, is a sexual discourse that has historically been taboo, but in our modern society we are finally coming to terms with gay love and the legitimacy of that, and the idea that gay people can too raise healthy children. Love brings people together in ways that cross man-made social constructions concerning who it is proper for an individual to associate with based on a plethora of identity characteristics. In None of Your Business I explored why it was socially significant that I as a White woman have chosen to date outside my race. If I have mixed race babies, those babies (hopefully) will love me and their father. If there are enough of those babies who grow up to love both of their parents who are of different races, the white privilege system is in jeopardy. To prevent a dominance system from falling, there are codes of conduct that are implemented in everyday life to prevent this. Restricting sexuality is a big code of conduct that is massively policed.

Violence, however, destroys. It destroys people, it destroys relationships between people, and it destroys the spirits and wills of people. The threat of violence, though, builds. It builds power, co-opted by some for benefit which results in the loss of power for others. It builds its power by coercing people into confusion and fear to create and maintain hierarchical systems where some lives are viewed as more valuable. The paradoxical effect of love destroying violence results in ways of life that stand in stark contrast to those previously prevailing dominance and power systems. Systems of dominance remain due to both the experience of and threat of violence. Facebook, as a hegemonic force in our culture, is not going to challenge these systems of power. It is clearly dedicated to perpetrating them.

I do not know what Daniel Ray Wolfe, the marine who posted his suicide on Facebook, experienced in terms of violence, a different kind of violence than the type I wrote about in above paragraphs. Military violence results from the participation of individual soldiers carrying out orders and, as I noted when starting this post, I do not disrespect these men and women for their participation in the military because it is a necessity for our nation. In fact, I do not oppose the use of violence in all instances and I am not a pacifist. But I do know that we as a society do not explore the intrinsic nature of violence enough and we most definitely do not explore how it effects our identities. It does seem apparent that Daniel Ray Wolfe’s experience with military violence it had a disturbing effect on his psyche. His mind was clearly occupying a dark space and engaging in suicide is the ultimate expression of self-hate. One of his final posts read “Im serious I want a viking funneral (sic) push me out on a wooden raft soaked in gasand (sic) oil in a pond or lake once I’m a good distance out shoot a flaming arrow and torch my raft…”. I think these words speak for themselves about the despair this man felt.

Facebook did a violence against this man, his family, and his friends by not removing these posts at the request of the people who knew this man personally. Facebook’s “community standards” do not reflect the standards of any kind of functional community that is committed to the health of it’s people. Indeed, by allowing these disturbing posts Facebook is diminishing this man’s intrinsic value as a human and instead letting the darkest moments of his life prevail over the kind words family and friends are likely to share on his post-mortem page. Facebook pages of the dead are often used as a cyber memorial to remember the value of that person amongst the living. What Facebook is doing by not taking these posts of a mind in true and utter despair is disrespectful and shameful.

Facebook, I really wish you could make love and not war.


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Cyber Reality

Today is my birthday, and like most millennials, the highlight of having a birthday is seeing how many Facebook posts you get wishing you well and from whom. Before, in the old days I’m going to assume that people called you for your birthday, but now we display publicly how popular we are via social media.

My Facebook page hasn’t depicted my life in pictures in recent years for a number of reasons. I’d like to hope that a lot of that reason has been due to my being more mature, but some of it is due to lifestyle (a vague statement I know but I’m not willing the expand on it). Some of my friends, both actual people I maintain friendships with in real life (IRL) and pure cyber acquaintances, have actively taken up documenting their life through Facebook. I did this in college, when the most exciting thing aside from partying was the hungover morning after the party where we got to see the (and remember) the crazy shit we did and if we looked good while doing it. A bonding experience for the millennial tribe.

By all accounts, this is perhaps the most attractive photo of me ever taken from a night of partying, 334_553539899522_3408_n

Obviously I was being facetious, because my god what drugs was I on to make that face?! (Just alcohol, kids!) This is what I actually looked like that night
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There have been a few studies, such as this one about the impact social media can have on us. This study focused on teens, people who will grow up not knowing what it is like to be constantly connected via the internet (unless they are part of an off-the grid family), but I know that sometimes gazing at Facebook when I’m feeling less than stellar about the state of my life has made me feel more sad. It creates a veil of sorts, the appearance of a life lived versus the private reality of the individual who lives that life. Sometime you have that friend who shares posts about their depression or goes on rants about their bad day, to which they are a few. But like the contrast between those two pictures, what the essentialist quality of something (my face) and what something appears through distortion (my face on alcohol and silliness) are two separate realities. Cyber reality fuses the essentialist quality and the distortion effect to create cyborg personalities. My personality on Facebook, this blog, and my two Tumblrs (one about graffiti and one about pornography) are cyborg personalities that I have crafted (sometimes consciously, sometimes absent reflection) that are personas, mirrors of my IRL (in real life) personality. Am I the person I am on the web? Yes and no. Are both those pictures of my face? Yes and no.

I wonder what kind of impact growing up in the internet age is going to have on young people. I do not have children, but I do wonder how I would constructively deal with omnipresent technology and what the best limits would be for children. I wonder if this will change how humans interact with each other on a longer term scale when the people who were not raised in cyber technology die out.

May I be so blessed to have more birthdays to find out.