Should Individualism Be Saved?

“The liberalism of the past was characterized by the possession of a definite intellectual creed and program…Liberalism today is hardly more than a temper of mind, vaguely called forward looking, but quite uncertain as to where to look and what to look forward to.”

These could be the words of any number of our political thinkers today, bur in fact it was the prescient sociologist and philosopher John Dewey who made this observation in a series of articles for The New Republic in 1929-30. The series was later published in book form as Individualism Old and New.

When he began writing the Great Crash had not yet occurred. It could be said, though, that Dewey’s essays and that tragic event of October 24, 1929 had shared genesis in the massive cultural changes sweeping the nation since the turn of the century.

The Democratic trust-busting machine having temporarily run out of steam, America was increasingly embracing a multifaceted and pervasive corporatization. Conglomerates were being established in retail, manufacturing, transportation, finance, and many other sectors.

A decade before, President Woodrow Wilson had set up his Committee on Public Information where leading intellectuals Edward Bernays and Walter Lipman built on state propaganda tactics learned during the war. Bernays described what they did there as “the engineering of consent.”

At the same time, professor-turned-executive John B. Watson was employing his pioneering work in behaviorism to revolutionize marketing and advertising. It didn’t take long for them to devise ways to work together. Government had an interest in generating ideological consensus in favor of its political, economic, and social agendas; corporations desired standardization and uniformity in order to reduce costs and to induce consumerism.

These agendas and tactics employed a strong molding effect on society. Through ad campaigns on radio and in newspapers, they disseminated the ideology of the “American Dream.” All this dream required from the people was hard work and dedication to the job. In return they would have material prosperity and be able to own all the great new products being produced by the nation’s manufacturers. And with this new economy employment also changed. Nationwide corporations needed a workforce that could keep up with the demand they were creating; hence the company man was born.

Dewey was concerned with how all of this effected “the change of social life from an individual to a corporate affair.” He saw in this change the suppression of the “old” individualism which was “dependant on stable objects to which allegiance firmly attach[ed] itself;” objects like religion, law, politics, art, philosophy, etc.

People need set social structures from which they can derive a sense of self and a sense of purpose in the preservation of society. In this vein, the individual of the past was characterized by the desire to achieve through their own effort, but with a mind oriented toward the flourishing prosperity of the whole society. This, in Dewey’s opinion, was the individualism of the pioneer, the entrepreneur, the progressive, of the American Dream.

The collective foundation of establish institutions and set social functions, rather than controlling the individual, found expression though them and provided a sense of direction. The internal motivation provided a sense of direction. The internal motivations of the individual ultimately went to the benefit of everyone by strengthening those foundations, and as a result, society and the individual remained integrated.

By 1929, however, this integration had largely broken down (if it ever even existed in the idealistic sense). In “The Last Individual” Dewey describes this disintegration as “a moral and intellectual fact which is independent of any manifestation of power in action.”

“The significant thing is that the loyalties which once held individuals, which gave them support, direction and unity of outlook on life, have well-nigh disappeared. In consequence, individuals are confused and bewildered. It would be difficult to find in history an epoch as lacking in solid and assured objects of beliefs and approved ends of action as in the present. “

Dewey was adept at observing and diagnosing contemporary social phenomena, but he failed to shed the romanticized idea of the past so common to the unoppressed. He neglects the reality that the common individual of the past was chiefly concerned with survival, and unless you were a white male, the institutions and set social functions were very controlling and seldom beneficial. But for Dewey, what characterized the society of the late 1920s was seemingly opposite the recent past: external motivations geared toward the beneficence of the individual often at the expense of society at large.

One of the things Dewey lamented most about this change, quite relevant to the time in which he was writing, was a disproportionate and misdirected focus on pecuniary gain. “This manifested in various ways. People began dedicating their lives to increasing their personal wealth and that of a company they did not own as corporations expanded and began employing larger and larger swaths of the population…completely detached from anything real.” The thing is, this shift also pulled a large portion of society out of poverty, an opportunity people can’t be blamed for taking.

This obsession with money had also entrenched itself in the political realm. Along with the increasing size and prevalence of corporations came a growing political influence from the private sector. This influence was not exercised in the interest of society, as was commonly claimed, but of the businesses themselves , or, more accurately, their leaders. These developments took a serious toll on the political parties and their connection to the people. As Dewey explains: “It would be a waste of words to expatiate on the meaninglessness of present political platforms, parties, and issues.

Individuals derive part of their identity, especially in relation to their country, from their political allegiance. When the thought and actions of the party become incoherent, the confusion deprives people of that sense of self. This effect was exacerbated at the time because of how this political reality conflicted with the ideological consistency the government was trying to cultivate.

Liberals were particularly affected. In the past, “liberals operated on the basis of a thought-out social philosophy, a theory of politics sufficiently definite and coherent to be easily translated into a program of policies to be pursued,” but this was no longer the case.

With so many monetized groups vying for their own interests which were irreconcilable with one another, not to mention with the parties’ larger constituencies, it was impossible to maintain the old philosophy. As a result, many liberals outside the parties and outside the upper echelons within, were left “groping their way through situations which [did] not give them direction.” Their ideals and methods no longer accorded with the changing society in which they lived.

It could easily be argued that liberals and liberalism are in a similar state today, ninety years later. It could also be argued that the confusion felt by so many now is simply a carry-over from the previous century; the problems exposed in Dewey’s time were never really remedied. If anything there is a greater rift between liberal party ideology, and the liberalism of the people has never been more pronounced. This can largely be attributed to two main factors: the liberal base is far more diversified and dynamic than it was 90 years ago while the parties have only become more gentrified and money-saturated. But the seeds of both of these present states can be traced to at least the early Twentieth century.

Again in “The Last Individual,” Dewey speculates on a possible solution, namely the development of a “new” individualism consonant with the present age. Not a novel suggestion, it nonetheless provides a pragmatic course of action. He asserts that: “Individuals will refind themselves only as their ideas and ideals are brought into harmony with the realities of the age in which they act…If we could inhibit the principles and standards that are merely traditional…the unavowed forces that now work upon us…would have a chance to build minds after their own pattern, and individuals might, in consequence, find themselves in possession of objects to which imagination and emotion would stably attach themselves.”

We are not to mindlessly give in to the new tendencies, but rather mindfully take stock of our new social conditions and adapt accordingly. Dewey contemplated a find relationship between the modern individual and the corporate aspects of modern society as a means to integration. While society might benefit from a mental alignment with this corporateness, it does not benefit from the mass consensus and standardization being imposed upon it. The seeming uniformity of thought and social normalization attempted by government and big business are in fact superficial and damaging. They cannot provide a deep and lasting unification only an external conformity.

Dewey says that conformity “is a name for the absence of vital interplay [among individuals]; the arrest and benumbing of communication.” This shallowness of thought and connection is the primary cause of the individual’s lack of anchoring. On the other hand, a conscious alignment with the “actuating social forces” of the day, rather than creating passive minds, may, in fact, release our creative individuality.

The key here, Dewey claims, is intelligent, intentional participation. But which of the many social movements should we be guiding? Dewey assumes an inherent benevolence to modern technological and social advancements; they may be corrupted and corrupting, but with the right control and motivation, they can be turned to our collective benefit. But I don’t think this is the case, or at least not entirely so. Some things are just bad, and others contain mechanisms that are just too easily put to uses which harm us.

Dewey envisioned the creation of a liberal individualism reconciled with the prevailing social forces. But he also saw those forces as originating from those in (economic) power. His idea was that we could mold these forces into institutions to which the new liberalism could be anchored. This type of liberal individualism is still rooted in a positive perspective on the past which must be rejected. Instead, any new foundation must be rooted in the real social environment and used to shape corporate and political bodies.

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What Is Happening in the CDC-R

By Hank Watson #AA-4712

Recent laws have passed, namely prop. 57, which will begin to empty bodies from the CDC-R (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation). Each of these bodies represents a dollar sign to a Draconian prison industry manned by 2nd and 3rd generation C/Os who’ve fallen into a state of decadence raking in $100k, and sometimes $180k (specifically transportation guards) at the expense of the American taxpayer. You see, Prop. 57, which passed in 2016, allows for parole considerations for nonviolent offenders, credits for good behavior, and punishment changes for juvenile offenders. Simply put, this measure removes bodies from the prison system and the kickbacks prisons get for having a full house, and something needs to keep those bodies inside.

Seeing the probable end of the construct they’ve created, in a state where public awareness begins to question the necessity of this over-bloated, bureaucratic union, the CDC-R has established a retaliatory game plan to put them back on the offensive. Pitting inmates against one another and racking up violent charges tacks on extra convictions and lengthens sentences.

What the public does not know or understand is that 90% or more of prison violence stems directly from overpopulation and the double housing of inmates in cells initially intended for one person. In fact, recent cases filed and won by prisoner rights organizations in Illinois prove how detrimental this practice can be. The official perspective they’d like you to believe is that inmates walk around all day trafficking in drugs and weapons when the truth is prisons across the state are filled with guys who just want to chill in the sun, talk about music and cars, and be left alone. No one has any issues until you try to stuff two humans in a cell the size of a walk-in closet.

A history of violence erupting for these very reasons has allowed the CDC-R to weaponize the mental instabilities of inmates facilitated by a compliant mental health department. Both have essentially conspired together to place inmates in living situations that could result in injury or death and use this to their advantage. And so far it is working. Many “problem” inmates have fallen victim to violence incited by living conditions, and others told to prove their need for more space by taking one of the problems out.

Mental health serves as an apparatus of the prison-industrial complex effectively sheltering custody from all legal repercussions by facilitating these negligent moves and minimizing and dismissing the real possibilities of the cell violence and homicides in order to keep the gears greased. They all draw their checks from the same source after all.

As a prisoner, if you were to tell your clinician specifically this, “if you house me with a rapist or a sex offender, I believe that I will no doubt harm him,” the clinician will simply note that the inmate seems “irritable” at the idea of having a cellie effectively nullifying any history or warning you may have given the CDC-R leaving their hands clean. Even if you give specific examples of how you might act or what you feel, their reaction does not change.

For California, if you need to speak to a counselor for any reason, you have to fill out a CDC-R Form 22 which is essentially a request for an interview or service. If during that interview you were to ask that a chrono (or informational addendum) be added to your file stating you believe “the CDC-R is weaponizing inmate mental health patients in order to achieve violent results that will benefit the prison and its employees’ bottom line,” the counselor would simply put it into the same bureaucratic run around that we always get and never actually put it into the computer system to hide evidence of mental illness. Any noted indication that you do have a mental illness that could result in violence could make them liable when they get the results they want.

Their most recent idea, cooked up in their union  think tanks, is to have two groups of inmates—general population and SNYs (sensitive needs yards)—pitted against each other then move them onto the same yards. The tension between the groups has been building for some time, but moving them together is new and seems to be a direct result of Prop. 57. The hatred between these two groups (SNYs often house sex offenders, for example, which is a major issue in prison politics) has been brewing and fed for so long, and with the CDC losing bodies, this hatred has become their ace in the hole. Put these yards together, and now the administration can say, “See! We told you that you need us!” And imagine that, it became true. They will file for more funds for overtime and hazard pay. Lockdowns will be popular to warrant the pay needs. And no one will look past the violence to see the truth while it’s the people inside who suffer for it.

Progress, at least when it comes to  the prison-industrial complex, almost always comes at a cost for us.

Tattoos on the Heart

By James Trent

Many Americans here been indoctrinated to believe “The American Dream.” We are taught from youth that America is the land of opportunity, a chance for the immigrant to have a fresh start and second chance for a prosperous life. The dream teaching is hammered into our consciousness from birth. it is taught in schools, found in text books, preached by our religious institutions, displayed in art works, campaigned by political leaders, cited by officials, mentioned on the news, seen in movies, written in newspaper articles, and harped upon by the government. The dream informs us that it does not matter what social class a person is born in, what race they are, or what circumstances may bring; that if a person works hard, makes smart decisions, gets an education, and follows the rules of society, they will become a prosperous and successful person.

The American Dream Ideology is full of great words of hope and promise. But are these words based on the current reality of all social classes in American Society? is the Dream possible for the convicted felon, the undesirables, and castaways of this country? Does the Dream apply to those who are trapped in extreme poverty, those who are raised in broken homes, or those who have experienced horrific violence and abuse? Is success possible for people who have seen drug abuse, prostitution, vandalism, are unemployed or attended a failing school system?

With all of the enormous life obstacles, how can the dream become a reality in a person’s life? Sociologist Robert Merton’s Goal Means Gap Theory says that American society is encouraged to pursue success but the opportunity necessary to obtain that success is not provided. Merton’s theory focuses on the point that if OPPORTUNITY is available, success is obtainable.

Father Gregory Boyle has proven that Merton’s theory works by providing opportunities to promote positive change in people. Father Boyle has written a book, Tattoos on the Heart, where he shares his life experiences during his ministry work in California. He has dedicated his life to focusing on the local gangs. he offers them a lifestyle change from gang culture to become successful members of society. He provides them jobs and tattoo removal services. He offers mentor-ship programs and college education. He knows that many of them have never been out of their neighborhoods, so he takes them on trips. He has them speaking at key events all around the country.

In his book, Father Boyle is driven to make a person successful. His description of success is different than how it is defined in Mainstream America. It’s not owning the big house, having a nice car, wearing expensive clothes or having a well paying job. His version of success goes beyond material possessions. He tries to reach a deep level IN a person to change their character. At one point he tells a story of a fifteen year old kid named Scrappy, whose probation officer has assigned him to Boyle’s ministry. Scrappy was so rebellious and troubled that while in a fight, he pulled out a gun and waved it around wildly. Father Boyle stopped the fight and Scrappy pointed the gun at him and said, “I’ll shoot him too!” A few years later, Scrappy returned to Father Boyle’s office to talk to him. Scrappy tells him, “I know to sell drugs, I know how to gang bang, I know how to shank fools in prison. I don’t know how to change the oil in my car. I don’t know how to wash my clothes. NOW WHAT DO I DO?” Father Boyle hired him that day but more importantly he reached his soul.

Father Boyle does not limit his help only to the gangs, he also reaches out to the community as a whole. He rides his bike in the neighborhood and visits families. he started a bakery and graffiti removal program to provide employment to troubled youth. he does not reject or refuse to help anyone that wants to change their life, but he does require commitment and sincerity. If a person isn’t ready for a lifestyle redirection, Boyle gives them his card and tells them to call him when they are.

Tattoos on the Heart is a roller-coaster ride of events. When reading the book, I found myself on an emotional thrill of joy, excitement, humor, surprise and sorrow. The book is filled with compassion and kinship. It has something beneficial for everyone who reads it. Hope for the incarcerated. Encouragement for the ex-con. Inspiration for the activist, and prodding the action for those sitting on the sidelines of advocacy.

This book is such an awesome read that I had to unite a review about. It’s so uplifting and inspiring! If you want to enrich your heart, mind, and soul, GET THIS BOOK!!!

Labels: James Trent, Review, iconoclastic iconoclastheroes, Iconoheroe, Tattoos on the Heart, father Gregory Boyle, advocacy, American Dream, Review

The Demand of Social Media

“For machinery means an undreamed-of-resevoir of power. If we have harnessed this power to the dollar rather than to the liberation and enrichment of human life, it is because we have been content to stay within the bounds of traditional arms and values although we are in possession of a revolutionary transforming instrument.”- John Dewey

I have been an attentive spectator of the contemporary social movements, especially after the atrocious shooting in Parkland, FL. I was floored by the way the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were able to evoke huge numbers to move in the days following.

This generation time and again, that they are no longer content with the traditional “arms and values” and are bringing about an era of ethical liberation made possible because they’re in possession of a truly “revolutionary transforming instrument” (social media).

I’ve been incarcerated for over 17 years and haven’t been able to experience the force that social media platforms can be; I’ve even criticized them in the past, mainly because of the ills that came with it, yet I’ve watched people, with such platforms, effect real political change, even topple governments, and I’ve realized the power social media wields.

This generation of activists has changed the way I see the social advancements; they have the ability to re-shape the world.

.          .           .

There was an article in May 2018 issue of The New Republic titled, “Corporate Political Conscience: Why Big Business is Suddenly into Liberal Politics”, by Andrew Winkler where he writes about corporate entities getting involved in the controversial political issues they had once steered clear of (like gun policies).

Winkler wrote, “Companies are now embracing the idea of corporate political responsibility” because today’s consumer habits are directly tied to political beliefs. We would like to hope that companies are becoming more conscientious, but unlikely, because as Winkler pointed out, “… it’s important to remember that the existential purpose of most corporations is to generate profit.”

Corporations aren’t having some miraculous change of heart, they’re starting to figure out that it is now more beneficial to pick a side.

What Mr. Winkler points out in his article is the same thing John Dewey noticed during The Industrial Revolution all those years ago; the effect mass production and mass consumerism has on the economical and cultural identity of society. There is power in numbers.

In the capitalist dominated world, capital dictates everything; we need to stop and realize that we as consumers control of capital because we are in control of the demand.

Winkler offers an interesting insight, “That’s why today’s corporations obsessively monitor social media: any complaint about them anywhere has the potential to go viral…Companies can no longer afford to wait for the latest tweetstorm before getting involved on political issues.” Look at the women’s marches, #metoo and the protests against gun violence and more, the ability that social media gives to organize and more almost instantaneous has them scared. Social media doesn’t only have the potential, at any moment, to more millions of people, it can also move millions of dollars.

The power at our literal fingertips can move mountains, we only need to choose the mountain.

.         .        .

We are living in a time where most people feel as if their politicians aren’t listening, which is part of the reason we ended up with Donald Trump as our presidents; people felt like shaking things up, simply to show their vote counts. Trump is the result of political distrust.

The problem with politics, the reason why people can’t be heard, is that the lobbyists employed by big business have the ear of the politicians.

They don’t listen to the people because they’re too busy listening to those they think control the economy; what we as the people need to understand is that we have the power to wrestle that control away.

We as consumers control the flow of money, and we can focus that plow to generate power by directing it through controlled financial boycotts.

.          .         .

Larry Fink and Black Rock was able to get many stores to change gun sale policies, and the reason he did so was out of fear of social media and the movements that were being organized against gun violence.

Understand what that means?

Big business fears the effect such movements can have on their profits, so if we could focus such protests and the millions who are willing to get involved toward controlled boycotts of their business we could force the world to listen.

Corporations par out millions of dollars to lobbyists and politicians in order to get what they want done; if we can’t get our policy-makers to listen, then we must get the corporations and their lobbyists attention.

Imagine the millions who came out in support of gun reform, women’s rights, DACA and so on; instead of organizing coordinated marches what if there were coordinated boycotts. They wouldn’t have to go on for extended periods of time; one week, even one day, would get some attention.

Economists say capitalism is amazing because it gives power to the people, through the Law of Supply and Demand. Couple that power with the power of connectedness through social media and there could be created an unprecedented movement. There is an ability to organize like never before and move as one body, instantaneously; don’t we have the responsibility to each other to do so?

Did You Know Felons Can Vote?

By Clifford Powers

Did you know that Illinois is one of the few states that allow people convicted a felony to vote in state and local elections?
If this comes a s surprise to you you’re not alone. So many people just assume that if you’ve got a felony on your record it closes so many doors, and it does, but not this, at least not in Illinois. If you’re an Illinois resident you *can* vote this November and that’s a big deal.
It means you have a voice at a time when we must be heard.
My sister came home almost 5 years ago and she just recently found out that she can vote. I’ve always known she could but I never brought it up because I just assumed she knew. I shouldn’t have. What I should have done was make sure she knew she has this right and encouraged her to speak up at the polls for the causes she believed in.
When she told me, I was surprised that none of the organizations she’s worked with since being home had told her. Why wasn’t this essential information?
Those of us who know, and those of you now reading this, have a responsibility to get this info out there. So many people and groups are working to it near impossible for poor people and minorities. In just the last year and a half, Republican legislatures across the country have passed dozens of laws effectively and blatantly disenfranchising those who would vote against them. We don’t need to do their work for them.
If you’ve been to prison you know how small our voice is from in here (and if you haven’t, you know the lack of hearing it). You know the issues, the changes that must happen, and now you have the power.
Those of us still incarcerated can’t vote; we’re counting on you to be our voice. And not just on issues of prison reform, but gun reform, immigration, equal rights, government accountability, and so much more. There’s a lot at stake right now. You have an opportunity to step up for the community you left behind in prison and the one you’ve rejoined.
The first thing you need to do is register to vote as soon as possible (whether or not you have a conviction). There are several organizations willing to help you this and I’ll include some links below. It’s more important than ever that you cast your vote and take a stand. Change is happening and we need to push it in the correct direction.
Links to Voter registration organizations:

Contradictions, Quick and Easy

By: Clifford Powers

  • In the United States every elected official must win the popular vote except the President.
  • Black people make up about 12.7% of the population in America but 40% of the prison population.
  • In undeveloped and developing countries the rich are fat and the poor are thin; in developed countries, like the United States, the rich are thin while the poor are fat.
  • Some of the richest (and most unequal) countries have the most health and social problems.
  • The more fame and money you have, the more free stuff you get; the less fame and money you have, the more you get charged for things you can’t afford.

Read about these and other societal contradictions in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.

A Scandinavian Experiment in Illinois

By: Jenniy French

Kewanee Life Skills Re-Entry Center is a brand new facility in Kewanee, Illinois designed to prepare inmates near release for life on the outside. General adult education and psychology modules are part of the requirements, but inmates are mostly helped with learning how to navigate aspects of life they either have never experienced, never learned, or have been away from for some time. Inmates can learn necessities like basic domestic chores, how to navigate insurance, balancing a budget, paying bills, etc. as well as hobbies or potential career skills like painting, horticulture, and computer programming. The prison allows free movement and operates more or less like a community to teach stronger social skills and emotional development. There is also a part of the program that teaches longer term inmates these skills through a mentoring program. After completing the program those inmates return to their regular prison to serve their peers.

Illinois’ prison system has a budget problem. The cost of running a prison like Kewanee per inmate is three times the amount of the average prisoner, but many in the state understand something has to change. Roughly 50% of all people released in Illinois return to prison within 3 years, larger than the national average. That number grows when the time extends to 5, 7, or 10 years. Illinois also houses more inmates than several larger countries. Together these issues will contribute a projected cost of $17 billion to the state by 2020. This problem costs children their parents and families their ability to afford basic needs. It reduces the number of people working and spending in Illinois’ economy. It can present a safety issue for the community as well. Returning inmates to a community without doing as much as possible to help them stay out of prison costs the state and its residents far too much. Kewanee may be the kind of change needed to stop it.

A lot of influence for a facility like Kewanee comes from Scandinavian prison systems. In those countries such as in Norway, which boasts the humane prison in the world, prison populations are low (only 75 per 100,000 compared to 707 per 100,000 in the U.S.), recidivism rates are low (20%), prison violence is even lower, and assaults on correctional guards are almost unheard of. In these prisons, inmates are allowed to move freely and have living spaces designed more like dorms. Programs allow for social interaction and basic education. Even the guards get involved and often eat, play games, and participate in sports alongside the inmates. Those relationships are vastly different than those seen in the United States. In essence, Scandinavian prisons run like a small community, and inmates are helped to learn to live in a community and treated like human beings to prevent future crime. And it works. The numbers prove it.

North Dakota has recently jumped on board with a similarly run program in a prison albeit a small pilot program. After visiting prisons in Norway, the prison chief over all the prisons and juvenile facilities in the state and one of her deputies new changes needed to happen or at least be attempted. So on one of her prison campuses, she instituted a program with similar, more private housing as in Norway, no fences, and fewer interaction rules that result in disciplinary action–arbitrary rules designed only to control not to help. The inmates in the program have opportunities to earn trips to go shopping or day passes home and get to participate in a myriad of programs designed to improve their ability to live in a community. There is also a behavioral unit right in the midst of the housing area so issues are addressed early and often. Even being small and new, the inmates are less violent, less aggressive and report feeling safer. By being treated like human beings with current and future value, transformation happens for them and could also happen on a larger scale.

It’s beyond time to see this kind of program and facility be the standard here in the U.S. which boasts the highest prison population in the industrialized world and a ridiculously high recidivism rate. Something has to change and facilities like Kewannee are a good start.

Learn more: