Taking a break from the news over the weekend, I had not paid attention to the emergence of Naked Athena until I heard NPR’s Michel Martin talk with Portland NAACP President E. D. Mondainé about ongoing protests taking place there. Martin begins saying:
“Let me just go to the piece that you wrote. It’s gently worded, but it’s very tough in its message. You said that I don’t believe it’s a time for spectacle; unfortunately, spectacle is now the best way to describe Portland’s protests. Vandalizing government buildings and hurling projectiles at law enforcement draw attention. But how do these actions stop police from killing Black people? Was there a particular moment in the course of all this that made you feel this way? I mean, in your piece, you speak about the woman who’s being described as Naked Athena…”NPR’s Michel Martin — Portland NAACP President On Protests As A ‘White Spectacle’
Reality is Messy & There is Never One Simple Narrative to Explain It, Ever
I had to see Naked Athena in Portland, OR. When I found her, I did not see spectacle. I saw splendor. For centuries, women have live under lopsided male-centered, patriarchal cultural bondage. It goes on today taking many forms, but the core impulse is to control women and deny them their rights as a human being–often cruelly and violently. The same weekend as Naked Athena made her appearance in Portland, teenage girls were harassed and spit on by the Moral Police in Iran. I heard this report on the BBC and found it written up in UK The Daily Mail.
“An Iranian undercover morality agent spat at teenage girls and asked them ‘where’s your dirty owner?’ after seeing them without a hijab. In a shocking video, which has been circulating on social media, a man stops his car and gets out before hurling abuse at the youngsters.”Undercover morality agent SPITS at teenage girls, asks ‘where’s your owner?’ and says ‘I’ll f*** your mother’ after seeing them without hijab in Iran
You think these two events are unrelated?
Think again. Reality is never as simple as we would like it to be as human beings. It never has been, nor will it ever be. But our propensity as a species to simplify reality is tremendous. It always has been, and probably always will be.
In times long past, humans used myth, folklore, and magical tales to explain complicated, perplexing, and frightening things that confronted them and challenged their survival. In my last blog, The Beautiful Gift of Outrage, I give an example of old Scottish folklore about fairies that swap out a healthy human baby and replace it with a changeling to explain why a new born infant would fail to thrive. They did not know modern medicine. They did not understand that their newborn baby was sick and needed care, not to be left out on a fairy hill to see if the fairies would bring the real child back to them. But our species has created many stories that now days sound strange and outlandish to explain the unexplainable.
And, we are still doing it today.
Untied States of Conspiracy
Frontline is airing an episode tonight titled: The United States of Conspiracy. Also, Fareed Zakaria aired a special on CNN about Conspiracy Theories; Mondaire Jones; Hillary 2016 Communications Director; Your Anecdotal Census; and Protesting During a Pandemic. Both of these episdoes explore the deep roots of misinformation entering into American culture, politics, and the rise of Trump who has long purported kooky conspiracy theories, such as the birther theory hurtled against President Barack Obama. Trump used this cockeyed theory to launch his political career (or more aptly to launch his political farce and mockery of democracy). Zakaria covers all the conspiracy theories of the past 50 years, including one of the most recent to emerge: QAnon, which is a far-right conspiracy theory detailing a supposed secret plot by an alleged “deep state” against U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters. Zakaria makes the connection between believing in fairies and fairytales in times past to believing in whimsical, outlandish, bizarre conspiracy theories today. Doing so, provide simple, linear explanations to reality, especially to people who feel like they are losing control of their lives or their values or their culture.
From the Frontline report , a write up says:
“The United States of Conspiracy includes a striking sequence that illustrates how Trump adopted Jones’ claims — voicing them publicly in a way that shocked even InfoWars staffers as he ran for the highest office in the land.”Alex Jones and Donald Trump: How the Candidate Echoed the Conspiracy Theorist on the Campaign Trail
It further states:
As 2015 drew to a close, then-candidate Donald Trump made an appearance that was unprecedented in the history of modern presidential campaigns.
It was on InfoWars, the hard-right outlet run by extremist conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a trafficker in false information who had exploited national tragedies from 9/11 to Newtown. And it was brokered by Trump’s longtime associate Roger Stone, a frequent InfoWars guest, in a bid to win over Jones’ millions of viewers.
A new FRONTLINE documentary traces how the alliance between Jones and Trump, facilitated by Stone, would help to bring conspiracy theorist thought into the political mainstream — ushering in the current era, in which misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic has spread like the virus itself.Alex Jones and Donald Trump: How the Candidate Echoed the Conspiracy Theorist on the Campaign Trail
So, What Does This Have to Do with Naked Athena
Everything. The spectacle is Trump and the rise of modern myths and fairytales that millions of people believe–stories that are just as strange and farfetched as fairies and changelings. Trump is taking advantage of this human fallibility to win. He got away with it in 2016, but reality is catching up with him. The Coronavirus refuses to comply to his fairytale, and his complete and utter failure to deal with it is causing him to lose in the polls. Of course, he is losing in the polls because of this. We are nearing 150,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19. Meanwhile, many European and Asian countries have successfully gotten the novel virus under control so they can reopen their economies safely and mark COVID deaths in the hundreds… not the hundreds of thousands. But, not us.
What exactly does 150,000 deaths looks like? What if all these deaths were concentrated in one geographic location? What would it look like?
It would be like losing McAllen, Mesquite, and Killeen, Tex.; Dayton, Ohio; Fullerton, Orange, Valencia, Torrance, Pomona, and Pasadena, Calif.; Syracuse, Borough Park, Astoria, and East Hampton, N.Y.; Savannah, Ga.; Bridgeport, Conn.; Naperville, Rockford, and Joliet, Ill.; Paterson, N.J.; Clarksville, Tenn.; Hollywood, Fla.; Kansas City, Kan.; Alexandria, Va.; or Springfield, Mass. Eric A. Gordon captures this for us to imagine in a compelling article titled: 150,000 dead of coronavirus in U.S.: What monument will they have?
So Trump needs a distraction. He needs his loyal believers of his fairy tale about reality to not look at the real spectacle of this moment–his utter lack of interest and ability to deal with reality–but to believe that America is falling into the clutches of the fatal-thinking, wacky left wing democrats. So, what does he do? He co-opts the beautiful, genuine cascade of Black Lives Matter protests and marches that are sweeping across the country, and across the world, after the brutal murder of George Floyd by a white police officer who believed he could get away with murder. Well, he didn’t. Here is a map a professor created of all the protests around the world evoked by George Floyd’s death.
This is the battle Trump is fighting. He is turning a long overdo moral accounting of White Privilege into an urban war to scare the hell out of his core supporters. He and his collaborators (like Barr) are not interested in saving or protecting human lives. If so, Trump would be sending PPE and swabs to hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, clinics in the 70% of the country he said not to look at when he was telling America how well we were doing in combating the coronavirus. He would be much more concerned with human life (black, brown, elderly, and everyone else) rather than abusing his power as President of the United States of America to protect a building in Portland. In the same insane compulsion to win the 2020 election, Trump is systematically and cruelly undermining all the hope and promise that the Black Lives Movement is bringing into the light of day. This means coming to terms and reckoning with everything this country has done to black and brown people–slavery, Jim Crow laws, Redlining, endemic impoverishment of black and brown people due to racism and structural inequalities putting white people first, and police brutality.
This is Trump’s War. He is making sure these changes don’t happen on his watch and that’s why his supporters need to reelect him in 2020, but what he keeps hidden to himself is that he doesn’t have an ounce of empathy for his supporters. He does not care what happens to them after he is elected. He is demonstrating this right now in more outlandish ideas about miracle cures for COVID-19 citing a doctor (just yesterday) who talks about demon sperm. He just wants to serve himself to more helpings of greed and gluttony for another four years.
Wag the Dog
Most U.S. Presidents who have gotten in trouble just before their second term are fabled to begin a war to keep in power. Trump’s war is with Americans. He is sending in federal troops (many contracted military units not trained to deal with lawful protesters) to stir up trouble precisely so he can get great photos and video footage to bolster his lopsided narrative of America falling into chaos and violence. This is the spectacle.
Naked Athena is the beautiful emergence of ancient knowledge and wisdom of dealing with men like Trump and the troops his has sent into cities that do not want them there. It is no accident she was named Naked Athena–the Goddess of wisdom, handicraft, and warfare. These ancient Gods and Goddesses are not dead because we no longer believe in them. They live inside of us. They are part of us. They are the building blocks of our psyches that hold the energies inside each of us that move us to take action. How that action is expressed depends on the constellation of archetypes that begin to take shape when we are born and become consolidated when the ego is born at the moment of the Primal Split, as defined through Melanie Klein’s work and object relations theory. Archetypes were first described by Carl Jung. They are poorly understood by modern humans, but they hold the psychological templates of everything that we feel and do: love, fear, greed, war. If we do not pay attention to them and the balance of our inner worlds, they can get triggered and take over our minds–sometimes this is good, often it is bad. They can also emerge collectively in moments like these and quickly turn into monsters. Naked Athena placed herself between the beasts of our collective rage on both sides of the divide. She emerged at the right moment like soothing rain to calm the archetypes rising in rage against each other. That’s what the ancient myths, legends, and folklore are all about. They are stories about our own abilities to create reality or to destroy it. To me, Naked Athena is a beautiful counter force to hate and violence–in her nakedness, she is vulnerable and unadorned by trappings of modern civilization, placing her body bravely in the middle of the line of conflict. Some say this is the moment that these protests descended into spectacle. I say, it is a moment they ascended into a realm of transformation and good trouble. We must remember how to travel and navigate our inner spaces. This is where things become cloudy, inside the mind, for the body is a clear place.
Appendix of Resources
I am not going to digest all these things here, but all of them feed into my ideas about why Naked Athena is part of the Splendor of this moment rather than the Spectacle of it. White people have a lot to work out now and a lot of it is between other white people. So much has been hidden, kept secret, silently enforced. There is a reckoning going on many levels and the streams inevitably will spilt, but the force all of them are pushing back against is the spectacle of Trump, his base, and his collaborators, not naked Athena or any of the protests going on that include examples of Good Trouble and Bad Trouble, yes, reality is messy and there is not one easy, simple, all-inclusive narrative to explain any of it.
A flawed response to a global pandemic. A string of falsehoods concerning the efficacy of mail-in voting. A violent and undemocratic response to nationwide protests against police brutality and racism.
The president of the United States has a lot to answer for in the eyes of his critics.
Ibram X. Kendi is the author of “How to Be an Antiracist” and the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University. He’s written a cover story for The Atlantic detailing how President Donald Trump’s racism has forced America to confront its own, especially the prejudiced systems which have allowed the oppression of minority communities in the United States.
Ed Yong is a staff writer for The Atlantic. He recently published a piece for the same magazine painstakingly detailing the numerous failures and inadequacies in the federal government’s approach to combating the coronavirus. Yong explores how the underfunding of medical resources left minority communities particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, contributing to the country’s skyrocketing death toll.
We ask both of them: Is America ready to reckon with its past? And what happens to America’s future?
How Is The Federal Crackdown On Cities Sitting With Conservatives? — NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks to conservative writer Jonah Goldberg about the tepid response from conservatives against the president sending federal troops into cities which have seen violent protests.
This is a five-minute listen that is time well spent. One of the thing Jonah says is ‘we are going to see glorious video clips of how violent and degenerate America has become in future Trump for President ads and during the republican national convention.’
Seattle mayor calls Trump’s response to protests ‘un-American’ — Protesters and police again clashed in a number of U.S. cities over the weekend, including Portland, Oregon, and Seattle. President Trump has defended sending federal law enforcement to the cities, but many local officials say their presence is only exacerbating the existing unrest. Amna Nawaz reports and talks to the mayor of Seattle, Jenny Durkan, about what she’s seeing in her city.
I found the following part of this interview particularly compelling:
- Amna Nawaz: Mayor Durkan, I should point out, your critics will point to the fact that, for weeks, protesters several weeks ago had basically taken control of a few downtown city blocks.Your police chief had to go in earlier this month with heavy machinery and riot gear to clear that area. There was already concern about violence over the weekend. The police chief called it a riot on Saturday night.Do you think that the presence of federal forces could help quell these protests before they get out of control, and something similar to what happened before happens again, where protesters are able to take over some chunk of city space?
- Jenny Durkan: I think that when you saw that the area on Capitol Hill that we were able to return to normal, that our police were able to go in there and clear that area with very little conflict and restore it back to a place that all the neighborhood and businesses could enjoy it.Contrast what’s going on in Portland, where, night after night after night, it is proven that what they’re doing is not working. They have not quelled anything. To the contrary, they have escalated it.So I do not believe that there’s any evidence whatsoever that any of the strategies that the president is trying to employ will lead to peace. And I don’t think he wants it to.He’s been very clear that what he is doing is targeting cities that are led by Democrats to show that there can be division and the lack of law and order, so that he can run on that as a president.That kind of political maneuvering of law enforcement really is un-American. And I think it’s dangerous for us to go down that path.
- Amna Nawaz: Mayor Durkan, very briefly, you weren’t told before the current federal team that’s on the ground in Seattle was sent in. Do you have any assurance you will be told in advance of any further deployment?
- Jenny Durkan: So, the assistant secretary did say he would call the chief of police and myself if the posture changed. But I know that — look, there’s one person who’s guiding the activities of this administration, and that’s the president of the United States. And so, regardless of assurances that anyone else might give me or any other local government official, we have to take the president at his word. And he keeps escalating his rhetoric, and then the behavior follows that rhetoric. And so, as a mayor of a city, I will tell you, I do need the federal government’s help. I need more testing for COVID-19. I need to make sure that, as this health emergency gets worse, that my hospitals can withstand it. I need the kids who are hurting not going to be back in school to be able to learn. That’s the kind of help we need from this federal government that we don’t get. A president should step forward and lead the nation. And, instead, he’s dividing the nation. And I think it’s a really dangerous time for America to be on this point of inflection in our history. And what — our choices today will decide what happens for generations of Americans to come.
When Trump first pulled this stunt (with Attorney General William P. Barr serving as his hedge man and is is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee this very day about this despicable day of failed democracy), I published this short video blog:
Portland NAACP President On Protests As A ‘White Spectacle’ — NPR’s Michel Martin talks with Portland NAACP President E. D. Mondainé about ongoing protests taking place there — and the federal government’s response to them.
This is the interview that spurred me to write the blog.
White Supremacy A Pervasive Scourge In Oregon History — This is a very important part of this story and why Naked Athena was such a brilliant move in the face of Trump’s culture war. KLCC reported this a while ago, and we need to really pay attention now:
“White supremacy has made recent local news, between Jeremy Christian’s murder trial in Portland, and the presence of white nationalist groups in rallies across the state. A special edition of the Oregon Historical Quarterly is out now, that reminds residents that the problem is actually rooted deep in state history.
KLCC’s Brian Bull talked to the journal’s editor, Eliza Canty-Jones. Bull asked how ingrained white supremacy is in Oregon’s settlement.”
Chris Cuomo and Difference Between Good and Bad Trouble — The CNN anchor went on to define what is “good trouble” and “bad trouble.” Cuomo echoed Lewis’ assertion that the Black Lives Matter movement was “good trouble,” but noted that the “riots” and “touching to hurt” and “destroy” was not included, suggesting that focusing more on the violence rather than the protests is “bad trouble at work.”
This is a Fox News report. I watched this broadcast when Chris Cuomo made these comments and did not come to the conclusions being made in the Fox article. But, we all do this, twist what we see and hear to fit our narratives. Trump is a master in doing this. He has a natural born instinct how people are reacting and how to twist any reality playing out in front of him to appeal to his willing supporters and collaborators
Complicit Collaborators: Journalist Anne Applebaum On The ‘Twilight Of Democracy’ — This aired 7/27/20 on WAMU’s 1A. It is the most important nugget of the resources I have listed to consider and attempt to understand in order to survive the moment we are in right now. The description of this broadcast states as follows: Across the globe, authoritarianism is on the rise. We talk about it almost every week on the Roundup,as we scrutinize Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. And the U.S. isn’t immune, as historian and journalist Anne Applebaum argues in her new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. In addition to focusing on the military and government officials that enable nationalist leaders, Applebaum also examines how she’s noticed friends get lured to the far right. In a feature for The Atlantic, she writes:
“To the American reader, references to Vichy France, East Germany, fascists, and Communists may seem over-the-top, even ludicrous. But dig a little deeper, and the analogy makes sense. The point is not to compare Trump to Hitler or Stalin; the point is to compare the experiences of high-ranking members of the American Republican Party, especially those who work most closely with the White House, to the experiences of Frenchmen in 1940, or of East Germans in 1945, or of Czesław Miłosz in 1947. These are experiences of people who are forced to accept an alien ideology or a set of values that are in sharp conflict with their own.”Complicit Collaborators: Journalist Anne Applebaum On The ‘Twilight Of Democracy’
One of the powerful things Applebaum said during this interview is that politics are just ideas that men and women form in their minds, then get together to try to implement in society, nothing more. Often these ideas have nothing to do with the reality of the people. Rather, they tend to be overly idealized and simplified ideas of how to run a civilization. For Trump, it is even more lopsided because he knows the ideas he promotes has nothing to do with reality. To him, it is a game to see how many people he can get to believe them.
The example of the old Scottish folklore about fairies swapping out a healthy human baby and replacing it with a changeling, comes from Outlander. Claire is the lead character of this series, and she would soon find out why her friend Geillis Duncan warned her not to go up the Fairy Hill. Claire did not listen. She searched for the child, but found it too late. It died from exposure. All she could do was hold it tenderly; her heart broken because she could not find it in time. Her beloved Jamie finds her, puts the baby back in the tree, and takes her home… telling her perhaps believing the real child will live forever with the fairies will bring comfort to the parents who lost their child.
In the next episode or so, we find out why Geillis warned Claire not to go up the Fairy Hill. She was not warning Claire about the fairies, but the town’s people. When Claire and Geillis get arrested and put on trial for being witches, Claire listens in horror as the mother of the child she tried to save testifies to her witchery and spells. She realizes as she listens and looks at all the town’s people crammed into the court that they are turning into an alien, broiling, in-human lump of hate and violence that seeks only one thing: To see her and Geillis burned alive. The Fairy Hill was a metaphor for the townspeople who lived in a one-sidedness that was unsustainable. The monster inside of them all had to be let out once in a while, and it was coming out now as she and Geillis were about to be killed by these gentle folk. They were they fairies, and they were turning into zaries right before her eyes–evil, mischievous, in-human things.
Watch out… watch out… the Zaries are rising…