Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Ebook Version of Digging Your Own Well is Out!

My new book, Digging Your Own Well:  Daoism as a Practical Philosophy, is now open for sale as an ebook. The price is five dollars at Smashwords, but other ebook resellers are offering it too, usually for a bit more. To get a copy, just go here.  Of course, if you want to hard copy, you can get it from Lulu books for fifteen dollars plus deliver.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Mind-Fasting and Donald Trump

A lot of people have been freaking out about the election of Donald Trump. As near as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that the sky is falling and we all need to panic immediately. Let me offer an alternative viewpoint.

Heaven and earth are not humane,
They treat the ten thousand beings as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane,
He treats the hundred families as straw dogs.
Between heaven and earth, 
How like a bellows it is!
Empty and yet inexhaustible,
Moving and yet it pours out ever more.
By many words one's reckoning is exhausted.
It is better to abide by the center. 
(Chapter 5, Laozi, Ellen Chen trans.)

Most people who read this blog have probably never taken part in a religious Daoist ritual, so they don't understand the images expressed in this poem. "Straw Dogs" were something that is sacrificed in a ritual to placate or help spirit beings. But the sacrifice was a bit of a sham, dogs were too expensive to really sacrifice, so little dolls made of straw were created to sacrifice instead. This tradition still exists in Chinese culture and to this day, in many Chinese groceries, you will find "Hell money" for sale to use in these events. Just like "straw dogs", this money is fake because people are far to practical to burn real money in ceremonies.
Basic Hell Money---notice the denomination!
I can remember---many years ago---folding up ingots of "Hell gold" and "Hell silver" for burning in rituals. I also remember chanting the Jade Emperor "sutra" outside during the full moon and burning "sutras" for the enlightenment of the dead.

Burning Hell money
The one time I ever tried doing this on my own, I researched a ritual and performed it to send a message to the "Ghost King" asking for his help trying to protect three cemeteries from a big box mall that Walmart was building. In that one I burned a paper horse and sent letters plus "travelling money" to various deities. I was told that it was "great theater" by the non-Daoists who were watching, (which was what I was trying to achieve.) We were very successful in our legal battle, so perhaps the ritual even accomplished something.  (The smoke from the altar set off the smoke alarm in the Jesuit center where I had the ceremony. This is par for the course---I'm told my teacher once set his Temple in Toronto on fire doing one of these ceremonies.)

Now the thing to remember about all these sacrificial offerings is that they are basically worthless things that get destroyed in part of a greater ceremony. The Laozi is saying that we people are like pieces of paper that are worth so little that we can be burnt at ceremonies with little regard. 

The verse goes even further and makes a statement about where every single person exists in the universe. It talks about the gap "between Heaven and Earth" being like a "bellows". Who exists between Heaven and Earth?  People do! And what does a bellows do? It helps in burning things up. Human beings are the fuel in the forge of the Dao! We aren't even the iron that the blacksmith beats into implements, we are simply the fuel that gets burnt in order to get metal hot enough to forge. Human beings are dispensable, we act out our short lives and what gets forged is history and culture. 


To understand and appreciate this point, think about the historical context of the Laozi. China has never been anything but an authoritarian society, Indeed, at the time that the Laozi was being created in an oral tradition by "the old ones", human sacrifice was still being practiced at the funerals of kings. From that time until today authoritarian rule has been pretty much always been the case, and life has still been cheap. And, want to know a secret?  it is just about everywhere else too. Society is cruel to people in prisons, people without jobs, people with psychiatric illnesses, people with drug addictions, people with disabilities, discriminated minorities---even ugly people. When I walk down to the pub in my city, in one of the absolutely grooviest places in the world---I still will see homeless people sleeping "in the rough". I suffer from watching the people I love suffer through life's torment. I know that sickness and death will eventually be my lot. All people's lives end badly.

So what is the Daoist response to all of this?

The Celestial Master and the authors of the Nei-Yeh  both suggest to people that they should "hold onto the One". By this, they mean that people shouldn't just take life as it appears to be, but should be constantly trying to figure out the hidden patterns and processes that reoccur. That is, "the One", is the Dao. And by "holding onto" it, human beings retain the ability to be conscious actors in their own life instead of mere objects that fate moves from square to square. The ability to act may be---and often is---profoundly limited by your environment. But the very least that we can always do is remind ourselves that we are on a chessboard and that we are not always responsible for the problems we face.

This can be a great consolation in hard times. I remember reading one of George Orwell's books, Down and Out in Paris and London, I believe, where he describes life as a tramp in Great Depression Britain. He mentions that the people who suffered the most from poverty were the ex-middle class. They had totally absorbed the idea that the poor were poor because of their own moral deficiencies. This meant that when fate drove them into destitution they blamed themselves for their situation. The people who had been poor all their lives had no such delusions about why they were poor, so at least that was one burden that they were free of.

Another Daoist response is to practice something called "mind fasting". As I was taught this, it is simply the practice of removing distractions from your consciousness in order to learn how your mind operates. We weren't given any theoretical talk about this, we were just told to sit. But the process of "just sitting" for long periods of time on a regular basis forced us to pay attention to how our minds operate. It was, in effect, a process of "holding onto the One" with regard to our internal world as well as the external one.

Learning how your mind operates is a very difficult process. Once you get into it, you find that you have enough work to do until the end of your life. For example, the last two nights I have awoken from sleep due to nightmares. In one I saw a group of women who had been sentenced to death by the state. The were executed by being hurled while still alive into a deep gorge, the floor of which was so filled with rotting corpses of previous victims that they landed soft and smothered in the filth. In the second one, I woke after a disturbing dream where I was with my sister-in-law listening to my wife who was tying up someone who sounded like a scared child who was begging and pleading with her to let him go. When I woke up I realized that the scared child was myself.

The process of mind fasting teaches the person who pursues it valuable insights into who they are by peeling away the "noise" that distracts us from our true nature. In the case of my disturbing dreams, I would suggest that what we call a "human being" is actually a complex mixture of different competing idea complexes that are at war for dominance. Through meditation and contemplation you learn to identify these different bits and pieces, and learn to control them to a certain extent. The women being executed in filth were people I love who are living in poverty because the world around them is indifferent to their medical problems. That scared child blubbering away in my dreams was the part of me that is afraid of taking on obligations towards the other people in my life. Another part of me tried to get me to fall asleep during the formal sitting part of my training. It is also what causes wild emotional freak outs and hallucinations among people who are doing serious meditation. These "beings" exist in all of us, and mind fasting is about learning that they exist and gaining some semblance of control over them so we can live lives of clarity and value.


So what has this got to do with Donald Trump?

The bellows of the Dao has been burning a lot of people lately in order to forge a new world. Not in the sense of there being a huge uptick in the material suffering of people. But the political process has whipped a lot of people into a frenzy of fear about what the new president will bring. They are afraid that Latinos, blacks, gays, Muslims, women, etc, are about to be horribly abused by a Republican party triumphant. To some extent, this may happen. But to a large extent I think that this is just a chimera that was created by the Democrats in order to win their election. (After all, in a lot of ways these people's lives were pretty crappy under the Democrats too.) They lost, but unfortunately the fear that they were counting on to fuel victory lives on after November 8th.

There are lot of Daos, some of which are dark and awful. One of them is the Dao of torture. People who have studied it realize that the worst part of torture is often not the torture itself, but rather people's fear of it. In medieval "jurisprudence" prisoners were usually "shown the implements of torture" before they were tortured, and offered an opportunity to confess first. This was done because the judges knew that if you whipped up people's anticipation, you could get a lot more confessions than if you just started out with the torture from the get go. Similarly, the military and secret services torture their own people in order to prepare them in case of capture by an enemy. This dramatically increases their ability to resist.

Unfortunately, the Clinton election campaign did such an effective job of raising voter's fears of a Trump presidency that a huge fraction of the public is now in a state of tremendous panic. Not only is this damaging to individual people's psyche, it is also tremendously counter-productive from a political point of view. The net result of all this "Chicken Little-ism" is going to be that the bar will have been lowered so far for Trump that people will think he is a success if he doesn't round people up in concentration camps, cancel all future elections, or, totally trash the economy.

The solutions to this problem are the same that the Daoists learned thousands of years ago when they had to deal with supreme autocrats who held ordinary people's lives in the palms of their hands. Hold onto the One---try to understand the subtle processes that govern the world around us. And practice mind fasting---learn how your mind operates so you can exert some control over it. In both cases, use the knowledge you have gained to find a little bit of personal peace---even if it is nothing more than realizing that we are nothing more than leaves floating down a stream.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The New Book is Almost Here

My new book, Digging Your Own Well:  Daoism as a Practical Philosophy, is finished. It is scheduled for publication as an ebook at the beginning of December. And the hard-copy version will be available as soon as I get my proof copy and work through any changes that might need doing.

In the interim, I need to start marketing. To that end, I'm looking for anyone who is interested in receiving a free review copy of the ebook in order to write a review for a blog, magazine, podcast, Goodreads, or whatever---or even just to put up on whatever ebook sales site they use.   If you are interested, just email me at: and I will send you a copy in the format of your choice.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Where have I gone?

I haven't published anything on this blog in quite a while so I thought I owed readers an explanation.

The local daily newspaper folded in my city, leaving a huge hole in local news coverage. I have "stepped into the breach" by starting a local, on-line magazine called "the Guelph Back-Grounder". It's become a fair amount of work, and it certainly deals with different issues and appeals to a totally different set of readers, so it has effectively robbed this blog of all the time and energy I used to devote to it.

This isn't to say that I have given up writing on issues Daoist related, however. I have finished a book on how to live a modern life as a Daoist, which I've titled Digging Your Own Well:  Daoism as a Practical Philosophy. It's already "in the can" and now I just have to go through the work of formatting it for publishing through Smashwords and Lulu Books. I will announce when that happens.

For the future, I've already started another book, on taijiquan, which I have tentatively titled Theoretical Taijiquan.

Looking at the statistics on my blog, I see that I get a lot of folks looking at posts that I have written years ago, so I see no reason to take it down.  It's become a resource for people interested in Daoism and I am still interested in intelligent comments, so I will keep an eye out for those too.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Cutting Through Delusion by Holding onto the One

I had high hopes for my summer vacation this year. I was going to head off to St. Louis to meet up with my dear, sweet, lovely wife;  stay for a while;  and then we were going to drive back to Guelph. She wanted to stay for several months. But when I arrived in St. Lou it was obvious that she was going into a psychotic episode. After a week of seeing her deteriorate, I bought tickets and went back to Guelph. When she gets like this, all I can do is leave her alone and wait the six weeks or so for her to come back to her rational mind.


When I got back to Guelph I still had several weeks of vacation booked. A friend invited me to stay a week with him and his wife in another city. I did and had a pretty good time. At one point, however, we were sitting in wonderful restaurant, eating a delicious meal, and it occurred to me that my dear wife would have loved to be there with me. At that point, I felt a tinge of sadness. A normal event, but I thought I'd share it with readers because several times people have asked me to go into some detail about my meditation practice.

When I felt that sadness, it occurred to me that I should be unhappy---that there was something wrong with me feeling good. In fact, I noticed that part of me was actually trying to feel sad. That I was obligated to feel sad, that if I didn't feel sad I was letting my wife down.

This is a textbook case of delusional thinking.

Looking deeper within, however, I noticed that one part of my mind was fighting with another. It had put forward this delusion and wanted to use it to dominate and control me. But this was a feeble attempt. After years and years of careful introspection from sitting and forgetting, I was able to recognize what was happening. And because of this self-awareness, I was able to recognize how the Dao was operating in my life at that exact moment.


"Sitting and Forgetting" (Zuowang) is something that I was taught by Daoists. It was nothing special at all, and wasn't even called "Sitting and Forgetting", and was actually called just "Sitting". And that's all they taught us how to do, sit. Why would we anyone do that? Well, because it is profoundly boring. And if you get bored enough, you start paying attention to what your mind is doing. And that, is a very useful exercise. Most people wander through their lives with only the barest of self-awareness. Ask them why they pursue some sort of behaviour and they will usually say "I dunno". Most will get angry with you if you try to get them to introspect and think about why it is that they do what they do. This anger isn't really with you, it's a way of changing the conversation. This is because there are different parts of a person's mind, and one part of it actively fights against you becoming self aware.

But if you are one of those "odd ducks" who sticks with sitting, you have a good chance of becoming more and more aware of the complexity of your consciousness. And the more aware you become of how your mind operates, the harder it becomes for that part of the mind that sabotages self-awareness to remain in control. Because I have many years sitting and forgetting, first formally through sitting and then later through every moment of my life (what Buddhists call "mindfulness"), I instinctively started analyzing my thoughts the moment the idea entered my head about the necessity of feeling sad.


And once a person has developed the ability to be increasingly aware of how their mind operates at any given moment, they begin to have the clarity to see processes at work both within themselves and the world around them. This is what Daoists call "holding onto the One". (The "One" is the Dao.) It was because of the sitting that I could see how a part of my mind was trying to create a sense of guilt in order to regain control over my consciousness. And because I had held onto the One for a long time, I recognized a process that has been at work in my mind for a very long time---and which used to almost completely control how my mind operates.


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Constricted Viewpoint

In the Liezi there are a couple stories about how people suffer from constricted viewpoints that generate delusional behaviour.
In one a fellow misses his axe and develops the idea that the neighbour boy stole it. He notes that when he looks and talks to the boy, the boy looks guilty. After a while, though, the fellow finds the axe on his property where he had been using it last. Later on, he sees the neighbour's boy and decides that he doesn't look guilty at all.

In the other, a fellow walking through the market sees a display by a jeweler who has an ingot of gold sitting on his table. The fellow impulsively snatches the ingot and runs away. The jeweler yells "thief" and he is quickly caught by the crowd and handed over to the police who take him to the magistrate. The judge asks him why he would try to steal something so brazenly in the middle of crowded market. Didn't he see all the people around him who would grab him if he took the gold? The response by the thief is that all he could see was the gold.

This is a problem that happens to us all the time. We look at a situation and refuse to see what is right in front of us. Instead, we start off with a narrative and selectively seek out information that reinforces that original story and ignore anything that that doesn't fit.  The boy looks guilty, the gold will make my life better---.


Yesterday I watched a press conference by Hillary Clinton and saw a side of her that impressed me. She seemed to me to be a politician who are seriously concerned about how to make America a better place. What I found quite interesting was towards the end of the event. A reporter asked her to relate a specifically formative conversation that she had had with a black person. She fumbled greatly to come up with an anecdote and instead spent her time listing off all the great black friends she has and has had in her life. Eventually, she said that she just couldn't think of any incident that she'd like to share with the press. Another reporter then asked her to reassure people that she just wouldn't take Latino voters for granted. How would she make sure that she actually did some of the things that she promised to do? Hillary fumbled a bit to show the steps she'd take.  This is a difficult question for a presidential candidate to answer, as it is very hard to do much if Congress refuses to help any initiative---but I think she did a good job.

But at the end, she kinda answered the previous question. She mentioned that when she was twelve years old she volunteered in her church to do baby sitting for migrant farm workers. That's an interesting story that answers something that I want to know about a politician. I want to know that someone comes from a background that included doing this sort of "hands on" stuff for the greater good. I don't need Hillary to be a gushing bag of emotions---in fact I'd like her to be a hard-nosed politician who is also a policy wonk. But underneath all of that, I want a genuine human being who genuinely seems to care. And, to be honest, it seems more genuine to me if someone finds it hard to expose that part of themselves in a public setting. Really deep emotions are privately held.

I made a comment on the original news site to the effect that Clinton had totally "nailed" this news conference. I expected some negative comments, but I was saddened to see what really amounted to a "pile on" of Hillary haters. I just don't understand where this is coming from. Of course, she did a bit of prevaricating, that's what politicians do when reporters ask "gotcha questions" and they know that the viewing audience adamantly refuses to understand how hard it is to shepherd real change through the American maze of checks and balances. But all politicians do this sort of dance, and, usually a lot more glibly. I can't help but wonder if she really is being held to a much higher standard than other politicians. Maybe this is because she was the wife of another President, or, maybe it's because she's a woman. I suspect a bit of both mixed together.

She often gets tarred with the brush of having supported her husbands social policies that led to things like the dramatic reduction in welfare support. She's also attacked for supporting "tough on crime" legislation from her husband. She's also attacked for initially supporting the TPP treaty. But the thing to remember about these is that she never actually initiated these programs, instead, she was supporting someone else's ideas. And I know enough couples to realize that just because people are married, or, work as Secretary of State for another, doesn't mean that they hold exactly the same values and world view. Could it be possible that Hillary has different ideas from Bill on things like welfare reform and criminal justice?  Could it be that her understanding of these complex issues has evolved since she was the First Lady? As for the TPP, she is a lawyer and lawyers are trained to not state their own beliefs, but rather to advocate for the worldview of their client. As Secretary of State for Barack Obama---who most certainly does support the TPP---it was her job to promote his policy, not hers.

I have to ask, why are people so angry with her about things like this? What do people think, that every woman has her independent will sucked out of her whenever they get married or take a job? Or do they believe that anyone who makes a compromise in order to make a relationship or job work is some sort of vile "sell out"? If you can believe that, I would suggest that you spend a long time looking at the mirror, because you are far more deluded than the folks in Liezi's stories.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Black Lives Matter, Policing, and, Street Level Politics

I'm like an old war horse. When I hear the trumpet calling "charge", I want to rush off into action. This means that with all the demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter a big part of me wants to help out. But I'm old, I have responsibilities, and, I no longer have the time to do that sort of thing. What I can do, however, is write and I have a gift for explaining complex issues in a way that most people can understand. So what follows is my little attempt to explain what is happening between black folks and the police in the USA. I know, I'm not black and don't live in the USA, so if anyone thinks that I am getting things totally wrong, feel free to comment to that affect. I actually do read and think about any constructive criticism I receive. If you just want to call me names, don't bother. I just delete that sort of thing. If you believe that what follows has merit, please send links out on social media to others. I'm trying to cut through the fog that dominates this issue and it doesn't do any good if no one knows about it.


One of the memes that comes out in discussions is that people have to be "compliant" when they are stopped by police. Actually, there is a lot to be said for this point of view.

But having said that, there are also important caveats that need to be pointed out.

First, it is sometimes said that statistics point out that black citizens stopped by police are not killed in any larger percentages than white people. But it needs to be remembered that blacks are stopped in much, much, much greater numbers---in many communities, but not all---than whites. Moreover, studies indicate that when blacks are stopped by police in those areas the odds are much higher that the whites being stopped will have some sort of major criminal problem. This clearly indicates that different criteria---based on race---are being used by officers when they decide to stop cars. (Take a look at this Vox article, it deals with some of these statistical issues.)

Now it would be easy to stop at this point and say that this is evidence that most police officers have an unconscious or conscious bias against black people and stop there. But it's important not to jump to conclusions. It is well known that lots of small jurisdictions in the US run their police departments as revenue generation machines. Travelers from Canada often have stories about "speed traps" in small towns that are obviously designed to fleece people traveling through. As well, it is also well known that if you have a large amount of cash money on hand police will often just take it because of civil forfeiture "laws".

But fewer people know about the way some communities use municipal bylaws to fund their police departments. Just think about this for a moment. My home town spends about half of its total tax revenue on policing. For a police department to actually break even---let alone make a profit---it must be running its department in a radically different way.

They do this by taking something that is supposed to be about changing people's behaviours---fines---and making it into a "gotcha" that allows them to shake down people for doing things that almost everyone does. Recently people have been riveted by the horrific video that Philando Castile's partner took of him being shot and bleeding out in his car. (I'm not going to post that video, as I don't want to watch a woman document her partner bleeding out again.) What many people don't know is that Mr. Castile had been stopped 52 times over the past few years for various minor infractions.  A full 50% of those tickets had been tossed by judges, but still the remainder of fines probably represented a significant fraction of his disposable income. This problem has been very well documented by researchers in St. Louis Missouri.

Now, consider the fact that Castile had been able to "beat" 50% of those tickets. Everything I've read about this man seems to indicate that he was very intelligent, had a pretty good job, and, excellent interpersonal skills. These are very important assets if you are wanting to fight against an unfair ticket. America is far from a meritocracy, but as a general rule, people who are born poor, become poor, and, remain poor, tend to not have these qualities. Obviously, they don't have a good job. Intelligence is basically innate, but it can be damaged by lack of opportunity---such as an education. And in the US, there are HUGE differences in quality of public schools depending on what neighbourhood you live in. Mr. Castile had big advantages over lots of other people, which is why he was able to "beat" so many tickets. What would have the impact of those tickets have been if he lacked the skills necessary to get out of paying half of them? Wouldn't this have been the equivalent of the police putting boot on his neck and forcing his face into the dirt?

It's also very important to understand that interpersonal skills can be very different depending on what milieu you are used to. I read a book titled Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America  about murder in the rough parts of LA. The author made the startling disclosure that in the LA police department being a homicide detective is considered a low-prestige job. Police officers believe that the real job is in "crime prevention", which involves driving around, identifying "bad guys", and, keeping them from doing anything wrong. There are no "beat cops" in South LA, just macho guys riding around in cars who "hassle" people who seem to be "up to no good". As a result, you have this awful situation where most young men have been pushed around for just being "young men" and the rest of the population that have almost no interaction with police officers and know that if something bad happens, the police are not going to put any real resources into finding out who caused the problem.

This means that even though South LA feels like it is under the thumb of an "occupying army" of police, it is actually under-policed. This means that people feel that they have no recourse but to "take matters into their own hands" if they are going to not end up being considered "easy pickings". This is a prescription to teach people to massively retaliate to perceived slights.  This maximizes the number of violent interactions between people. People who have never lived in "under policed" areas have a hard time understanding this, as we know that all you have to do to deal with a problem is dial "911" and within 15 minutes or so, help will be on the way. If you know that that isn't going to happen, you are left to your own devices.

A lot of people won't understand how this operates, so I'm going to spell out with an example that was related from a Justice of the Peace to a friend of mine. People who sell drugs are totally "under policed" because they have no recourse at all to the courts system. A fellow had fronted some drugs to another guy, who failed to bring in money for the drugs at an agreed upon time. Since the first fellow couldn't sue the second one for breach of contract, he had no recourse other than violence to force compliance. Even worse, if word got out that he was an "easy mark", he would probably have other people trying to rip him off. As a result, he felt obligated to do something to harm the fellow who hadn't brought in the money. So he stabbed the guy in the leg in order to "get the message across". He clearly thought that this would just hurt a lot without being life threatening. But instead, he severed a main artery and the guy bled out. So as a result of being in a business that is "under policed" he ended up being charged with murder with the result of losing the next 20 or so odd years of his life to prison.

I'm sure that lots of people will think "so just don't sell drugs", but in many communities this is simply the only way a person can make any money at all. (This is part of the reason why the war on drugs is such a terrible idea.) But even if you totally choose to avoid criminality, in a lot of "sketchy places" it is pretty darn hard to go through life without learning how to push back pretty hard. If you don't, the word gets out that you are weak and that makes you "easy pickings". In those places, you learn that aggression is the only way to protect yourself.

The above is an example of what you have to learn to do if you are going to survive in some areas of the world---including many parts of the USA. Teaching people to "always be compliant" isn't really a smart life strategy in many cases. Unfortunately, "you play the way you train", and if your experience is that you have to protect yourself your instincts are going to react the same way when you are being menaced by a thug with a uniform and a badge. Just by way of a bookend, take a look at what sort of thing happens if people are too passive and refuse to get aggressive.

I kept hoping that someone who wasn't "compliant" would get involved and kick that man's ass. But if you teach everyone to be compliant and non-aggressive all the time, this is what happens. Again, you can't just turn your response to injustice on and off. If you live your life caring about right and wrong, you simply cannot turn it off when the person doing wrong is wearing a badge and a gun.

The above, very funny Chris Rock video recommends that people "shut the fuck up" and "be polite" if they want to avoid a police beating. But people's anger has to be put into a context. If you have repeatedly been "shaken down" by the police, have no ability to defend yourself in a court setting, and, have learned through life experience that "compliance" in most settings makes things escalate, you are going be at risk of "losing it" and mouthing off to the police.

A second point that needs to be considered is that all those municipal fines have consequence. If you cannot pay them because you are very poor, you can end up in jail. And, if you are in jail, you usually lose your job. And, to a large extend---in many places---having a criminal record will ruin your life. Many jurisdictions will not allow people who have served time to vote or access benefits like subsidized housing or even welfare. It is a lot harder to get work too. As a result, many people try to avoid the whole legal process---which means that they get served with a warrant. Remember Chris Rock suggesting you ask all your friends if they have a warrant issued against them? In some neighbourhoods this can be a very large percentage of the population---mostly for very minor municipal offenses. A police stop can totally trash your life---is it really surprising that some people "explode" at a "routine police stop"?

Now let's add a little cherry to the top of this "shit sundae". Do you think that the police are encouraged to go after wealthy, white people for petty revenue generating reasons? Not likely. It can be a "career limiting move" to ticket an "important person". Even if you did, these people hire lawyers and they take issues to court instead of just meekly paying the fine. Court time costs money, and even if you win the case, the revenue from the fine is not going to pay for the cost of bringing in a police officer, paying for the judge, bailiff, prosecutor, etc. What this means is that the police are going to be encouraged to only go after poor people. And for various reasons that usually means black people. So blacks are pretty darn sure that there is a racial component to the way policing is done in large parts of the USA.


Having written all of the above, let's look at things from the point of view of police.

You don't even have to be working for one of those services that are systematically jerking around the citizenry to routinely come across people who have been primed to absolutely loathe police officers. This is because policing in the US is decentralized in a way that no other country in the world would allow. Each tiny little town or municipality has its own police force. This happened, bye and large, because of slavery and Jim Crow. Because of slavery, the racist slave states were absolutely adamant about decentralizing as much power as possible to the lowest level possible. This is generally described as "state's rights". They wanted this to prevent the more powerful North from forcing them to treat black people like human beings. Moreover, after the Second World war large cities began to desegregate, which meant that huge numbers of whites moved from large cities to small municipalities where they would still dominate local government and be able to preserve their "right" to treat black people like shit. Of course, you can't really treat blacks like crap unless you control the police force---which is why policing was never amalgamated, like it has been in Canada. This means that you can drive a couple miles from one area with a fairly progressive police force to one that is little more than an occupying army keeping the "coloureds" under control.

Now let's add some gasoline to this slowly smoldering fire. The gun lobby in the USA has been progressively stripping-away every last vestige of gun control legislation. This means that in many parts of the country it is tremendously easy to legally purchase and carry fire arms. "Conceal carry" permits are literally easier to get in many states than a driver's license. As well, many states have laws that allow anyone to carry around a long gun or pistol as long as it isn't hidden.

So a police officer may or may not be in the process of shaking down a marginalized "under class", but he wears a uniform and people who are oppressed rarely make such fine distinctions. So that means that no matter what, a significant fraction of the public that they have to deal with ABSOLUTELY HATE POLICE. Add to that the fact that there is a very good chance that those people may have a military grade weapon at their disposal.

Now, let's look at the internal dynamics of the police. Most police are just "regular folks" who are trying to get by in one of the few working class jobs that actually pays something like a good wage. That means that they try to keep their heads down and avoid "making waves". As one ex-officer puts it,
On any given day, in any police department in the nation, 15 percent of officers will do the right thing no matter what is happening. Fifteen percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70 percent could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
This shouldn't be all that surprising. Only a small percentage of people in the general population make any effort to think for themselves or show any initiative. Mostly, they just follow other people's lead. This is what causes the phenomenon known as the "unresponsive bystander".

In most occupations, this is no big deal. But the problem with police is that they hold a monopoly of force in society. Moreover, the legal system is set up to give preferential weight to the testimony of police officers. This means that when that 15 percent of bad officers get into trouble---and the other 70 percent back them up---the police can literally get away with murder. This has been going on for a very long time, as various investigations of police have shown over the years. But what has changed now is the proliferation of video evidence in the form of security and cell phone recordings, and, Social Media on the Internet to disseminate it all over the world. This is important because while in the past there were eye witnesses to various crimes, the courts automatically discounted any testimony that contradicted the police. Moreover, the "Lame-Stream Media" routinely refused to publish anything that contradicted the police narrative because crime reporters require access to the police to do their job. Anything that jeopardized that access would be avoided. But now there is an alternative to the crappy newspaper, radio or television news that fed people pablum. Now we have websites like "Democracy Now" and "The Young Turks" that will show you exactly what happened---because their reporters don't get any access to the police anyway and as a result have nothing to lose. As a result, a lot of people are really pissed off with the police now---even people who have never been shaken down by the cops. This is creating a lot of confrontation in society.


This isn't the first time that increased visibility has led to social unrest. I grew up in the 1960s and can remember a time when city after city would routinely explode into race riots all across the USA. I am of the opinion that a lot of this came from television coverage of the civil rights movement.

Society back then was facing an impasse over whether or not black people were going to get the real right to vote. The political parties originally refused to pass legislation that would give them this right for a very good reason---whichever party did so would suffer huge electoral consequences. Eventually, the Democratic Party did so, and its support totally collapsed in the Southern USA. This destroyed the old "New Deal" machine. The Republicans instituted a "Southern Strategy" which allowed them to vacuum-up all the racist voters and elect people like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, and so on. Democrats became terrified of pushing too hard for helping out the poor and blacks because they don't want to see support for their party collapse like it did when LBJ brought in the Civil Rights Act.

Bill Clinton only brought the Democrats back to power through pushing left wing politics into what was called the "neo-liberal consensus". This is an idea that the role of government is quite limited and instead the free market---through things like deregulation and free trade agreements---should be allowed to govern most of human interactions. This is what led to NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagal, which in turn led to America losing huge numbers of good-paying manufacturing jobs and the 2008 crash. Clinton was not alone in shifting to the right, as the New Democratic Party in Canada also did so, as did Labour---under Tony Blair---in the United Kingdom. Because of this consensus, "taxes" became a dirty word and everywhere government was starved of funds, and, social and physical infrastructure was left to fall apart. (This is why so many of those municipalities have turned their police departments into revenue generation machines---their rich citizens refuse to pay more taxes, and, their poorer ones simply cannot.)

Clinton didn't sell this shift to the Democratic party as "capitulation" to Republican ideology (even though that's exactly what it was), but rather as "triangulation". That is to say, he was arguing that what he was doing was finding some common ground that would allow him to peel away part of the Republican base in order to get enough votes to win an election. This was based on the unspoken assumption that the Democratic base (blacks, progressives, etc) couldn't possible go towards the Republican party, so they could be totally ignored when it came to developing policy.

The problem with triangulation is that eventually progressive voters realised that they were being played for fools. There was no viable third party in the USA, so the only way they could show their anger with the Democrats adoption of the neo-liberal consensus and triangulation was to simply not bother to vote. This is why so many people argued that "there's no difference between the two, so I'm not bothering to vote". Of course, the problem with not voting is that it plays into the hands of the Republicans and allows them to win election after election. As a result, Republicans have been able to win both Congress and far too many state governments, which has resulted in regressive policies that have accelerated the stratification of wealth in society. Vote in the Republicans and you will get worse poverty than if you vote Democrat---although the difference can sometimes seem slight.

This association of Democrats with neo-liberalism and triangulation hasn't been helped by the rise of Hillary Clinton. While it is very important to remember that she isn't her husband, she still is associated in many people's minds with neo-liberalism. This is why progressives are so often grudging in her support. One hopeful sign seems to be that she is actually much more willing to listen to other people and change her policies as a result. More importantly, the surprisingly strong campaign of Bernie Sanders seems to be an object lesson to the Democratic party that if they stop trying to triangulate towards elements of the Republican voter base, they will be able to get huge numbers of progressive voters to come out to the polls. If the Democrats can increase the voter turnout, they can not only win but probably annihilate the Republican party.


I have focused on the politics of triangulation because the underlying causes that created the battle between blacks and police all come from economic policy. And that means you simply cannot fix the problem without getting progressive politicians elected into office. If you still have wild wealth stratification and penny-ante police forces in tiny little municipalities, you are going to have police forces that are out to extort poor people.  As a result, you are going to have a lot of people who hate the police. If you don't have decent gun laws, you are going to have police officers who are terrified of getting shot. As a result, they are going to continue to be trigger happy. This means that if people really want to stop this mayhem, they are going to have to vote the Republicans out of office and ensure that the Democrats they elect are really progressive, instead of Bill Clinton-style "New Democrats".

I think the Dallas police chief was getting at the need to get beyond the neo-liberal consensus and start instituting a new "New Deal" in American society when he said that America asks too much of the police. One of the saddest things about the sniper attacks on the Dallas police seems to be that it is probably one of the most progressive police departments in the country---probably one that has made the greatest strides towards dealing with the issues that Black Lives Matter has been bringing to people's attention. But, as many people over the years have said, "life ain't fair".