Monday, August 21, 2017


Yep. Amazon has it.

I’ve never been in a real mob out to make big trouble.  I’ve been through two strikes, one as a Multnomah County animal control person in the Seventies and one as a City of Portland employee.  When I was at animal control, I had just technically become “management” because of developing an education program that was partly for our self-training and partly for influencing the public.

That’s not what the strike was about.  It was just pay raises, as usual.  My problem in this case was that since I had a camera for PR pics, I was asked to go take photos of the picketers, who were our officers and shelter attendants.  There was no internet in those days, no computers, no real use for photos, but it is intimidating to be identified like that.

The City of Portland strike (also mostly about pay raises) in the Nineties consisting of going around and around the Portlandia Building, every time we passed the front of the building looking up at the statue of a giant woman with a fork about ready to gig giant frogs.  Or us.  I was not management that time, but aging and with a bad back so that I had to struggle to keep walking.  Then the Water Department men and other manual labor groups with deep voices and big muscles showed up and joined us.  A palpable surge of energy and a kind of joy ran through us.  Empowerment.

It was daytime and we didn’t have any Tiki torches, but it was possible to feel the surge and justification that being in an aroused crowd of big guys can provide.  I had seen it many times in dog packs.  In a group they would do what few of them would do as individuals, so much so that their owners had a hard time imagining their pet tearing the throats out of sheep.  Humans have “connectomes” where different patterns of connected neurons support different behaviors in different contexts and so do dogs.

I’m reflecting about this because of Charlottesville. “When Abraham Maslow created his Theory of Human Motivation in 1943, he identified five levels of motivation or five needs that humans strive to satisfy. Those needs are, in order: Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, and Fulfilment.”  It appeared to me obvious that those Charlottesville belligerents, hard to distinguish from a soccer mob, had not been getting much fulfillment from life.  Particularly in terms of social relationships and feedback of esteem, they were — my guess — short on economic safety and worried about their survival.  They were passing on their distress, since they couldn’t seem to have any other impact.  It's the game called "Uproar."  My guess is that the Nazi and swastika stuff was little more than team markers.  Get those guys off separately and a little drunk, and the reaction is more likely to be crying into beers.  (There are vids.)

The hardcore fascists do not risk.  I read about Bannon in the days when he was managing Biosphere 2. 2 was meant to lay groundwork for future space colonization missions, as well as act as an environmental and social experiment: Eight scientists were to be locked into a three-acre dome containing five different earthly biomes for two years, from September 1991 to September 1993. The goal was to see if humans could survive and become self-sufficient in a "closed system"—that is, one that was not supposed to have any supplies coming in or out.” 

In short, these people were ants in an ant farm, under glass.  In the end the glass had to be broken in an act of civil violence — over Bannon’s objections — to end the experiment because it was endangering the people.  There is testimony about him watching from outside, calmly regarding distress.  The word “monster” was used.  This is his attitude towards politics.  He never considers that the glass of his own fishbowl might be broken. Or maybe he does: Biosphere was based on the fear of the world ending.  Now Bannon is outside the glass again.

Change feels like an end for people who are deeply embedded in their world.  Many of the fathers of these “nazis” fought in WWII, came home, started jobs and families, only to be bummed out by industrialization: machines that could do on the assembly lines what humans used to do.  A new wave of that phenomenon is being pushed, now called AI.  To be asked to start over again with computer technology that requires good eyesight and nimble fingers they no long have, is just maddening.  So they take it out on sons.  I wonder how many of these stick-waving sons have been abused one way or another by their frustrated fathers.  

But what about my maddening dilemma: an old house that needs constant maintenance in a world where there are no plumbers or electricians or small repair people.  There are not enough people to ride the ambulance as EMT’s or to volunteer to fight fires or to deliver Meals on Wheels.  There are lots of jobs that will never be done by AI.  There is no robot that can crawl under a house in the dirt to make plumbing repairs.

I’ve never forgotten being told that there are high school coaches in Montana who believe they can “win state” if they are “red blood coaches” who tell their players to pretend that their adversaries had killed their mothers and raped their little sisters, just as we see illustrated in foreign countries on the news every night.  To get high school kids into a state of testosterone emergency based on such a vivid fantasy is to damage those boys for life.  Not just psychologically but in ways that show on an MRI of their brains and feed into violent confrontations in public life.

In fact, the coaches must be damaged themselves.  I think they imagine they are running a boot camp for combat and that they see life, including their employment as coaches, as a kind of combat requiring strategy, force, and whatever else might work, regardless of the morality of it.  They are confident enough to not be particularly secret, not even in the sexual dimension.  Maybe they were concussed when they were players and are literally brain-damaged.  Their minds were raped.

I’ve told about the time a mob turned on me in “Dog Catching in America,” which is about my five years as an animal control officer.  I was sent to a surging mass of about a hundred kids on lunch break outside a Portland high school because one of the boys was siccing his dog onto people.  I waded in, grabbed the dog by the collar, and yelled at the boy.  

He started trying to pry my hand open, a big boy held my arms behind my back but I didn’t let go, so another big boy began to strangle me.  The dog’s collar broke and the dog ran away.  A vice-principal was yelling from a second floor window but did not call the cops.  I had only a truck radio, dependent on the engine for power.  Another kid put up the hood and ripped out wiring.

The situation ended by itself.  No cops.  I was the cop.  My neck was bruised and I was hoarse for a week.  In a job like this one one expects a certain amount of wear and tear.  The school officials were very conciliatory.  I can only imagine how the Survival, Safety, Social, Esteem, and Fulfilment of the boy changed because of the incident.  No doubt it was mixed.  Everyone involved was white, about half female.

A few weeks later I saw the dog alone on the street.  In thirty seconds I had it in the back of the truck behind a locked door, my windows rolled up.  Ten seconds later the boy was there, pounding and wrenching and screaming, sprawled over the hood while he tried to break the windshield.  I drove off very slowly, hoping he would not fall under my wheels.  No cops.

To get the dog back, the boy’s father paid several hundred dollars, buying a dog license and a rabies shot, paying fees, and accepting a ticket for juvenile court.  The dog was innocent: there was no “bail” as is often anthropomorphized.  I suspect the boy took a beating that night.  When I got to court, which was a small panel sitting around a table with the boy and his father and me, the boy’s record was on the table, a foot-tall stack.  I forget what penalty they gave him — it was trivial.  I never saw either the dog or the boy again.

But it’s pretty easy to imagine this boy — though he was a little younger than most of the men with Tiki torches and Trump hats — running through the dark streets shouting threats, but really only knowing that his life was miserable.  Thrashing.  Uproar.

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