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Sunday, February 08, 2015

A False Flag Operation?

As I read the Master and Commander series, I gained an appreciation for what "false flag" means: an action carried out under an identity other than that proclaimed and sometimes surreptitiously opposite to that of the claimed identity.

Just so with A New Way to Talk About Poverty in New York.

Slate is a bastion of mostly — but to be fair, not always — unreflective progressivism (which, unfortunately, continues to make the brand-sullying error of publishing Amanda Marcotte).

The point of the piece was to photographically document living in poverty and, ostensibly, provide an opportunity for empathy and sympathy in the viewer. And not black poverty, which is such a lightning rod, but rather white poverty in upstate New York.

To progressives, poverty is an indictment of society and the system and capitalism. Oh, and Reagan.

In contrast, for non-progressives, poverty is often the consequence of self-defeating choices, which should not be subsidized because the inevitable consequence is getting more of what you pay for.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this photo essay serves as a compelling indictment of right-wing capitalism. Here is the author's précis:

Brenda Ann Kenneally takes photographs, but to call her a photographer isn’t quite accurate. She prefers the term “digital folk artist,” and when you hear how she interacts with her subjects—families living below the poverty line in Troy, New York—and tells their stories ...

Kenneally lived in Troy, a city 140 miles north of Manhattan, and surrounding cities on and off as a child and teen. She left for good at the age of 17 after a young pregnancy and abortion, problems with drugs and the legal system, and time living in group homes. After getting sober, she studied photojournalism and sociology at the University of Miami. After graduation, she moved to Brooklyn and began photographing her neighbors’ struggles with poverty and drugs.

No doubt, part of this story is about the consequences of economic change: no one wants to live without it, but, particularly for some, it can be hard to live with, too.

... today, Troy is a city with serious social issues: According to a report released by the New York State Community Action Association in 2010, 21.4 percent of residents in Troy live in poverty, and about 70 percent of poor families are headed by a single mother. “I have dedicated my life to exploring the how and why of class inequity in America. I am concerned with the internalized social messages that will live on for generations after our economic and social policies catch up with the reality of living on the bottom rung of America’s upwardly mobile society,” Kenneally said in a statement about her work. “My project explores the way that money is but a symptom of self-worth and a means by which humans separate from each other. Poverty is an emotional (rather than simply) physical state with layers of marginalization that cements those who live under them into place.”

The rote boilerplate and passive voice is the false flag; the images themselves the operation. It is surprising Slate got taken in so easily. After all, it is clear enough that Kenneally's success came only after stopping make bad choices; or, for you optimists out there, started making good ones.



In this thread are some images that didn't make the cut at Slate — scroll down.

14 comments:

erp said...

The Slate website is just as muddled and incoherent as mainstream progressive thinking and the people in these pictures are just as much victims of that thinking as people who've survived an "act of God" type of disaster. The difference is natural disasters are far easier to overcome and aren't passed down from generation to generation.

Bret said...

"it is clear enough that Kenneally's success came only after stopping make bad choices"

Maybe so, but to me, it still looks like she's a rather slow learner: '...about 70 percent of poor families are headed by a single mother. “I have dedicated my life to exploring the how and why of class inequity in America."' Why would anyone need to dedicate their whole life to understand something that's been known for decades and is clear with 5 seconds of thought - that if you're a single mom, you'll probably be poor, and if you're not a single mom you probably won't be poor?

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] The Slate website is just as muddled and incoherent as mainstream progressive thinking ...

Not quite. Unlike most other progressive outlets (where I could have added "rote", "unthinking", "marxoid" -- and would have, if I didn't hate repeating myself), Slate does sometimes run pieces that don't affirm progressives' feelings of moral superiority.

For instance, on busing. Jessica Grosse (IIRC) authored a piece attacking "rape culture".

Mostly, you are right, Slate is a progressive amateur webzine; however, at least some of Michael Kinsley's DNA still lives on.

[Bret:] Maybe so, but to me, it still looks like she's a rather slow learner ...

Which is EXACTLY what you are supposed to think. Remember, for a false flag operation to work, it has to be convincing.

The date on that piece is months ago. I saved the URL, expecting to get to it in a very near future that is now months ago.

When I resurrected it, with the sort of timeliness that is leaving The Great Guys board of directors wishing I'd join Brian Williams in a very lengthy hiatus, I looked at the comments.

As it happens, I'm not the only one who suspected a false flag.

Regardless, herein lies the lesson progressives never seem to take on board.

Yes, the transition to a post-industrial economy was painful for Troy, as with a great many other places.

Ghettoizing blacks, then subjecting them to the tender mercies of the Great Society were two huge mistakes.

But in both cases, history cannot be undone. Things are what they are.

The question is: what do we, as individuals, do with things being the way they are?

I get it that my kids are the beneficiaries of all kinds of privilege. What progressives don't get is that most of that kind of privilege results from self discipline, investment in the future, delayed gratification (there I go, repeating myself) that progressive policies destroy.

Those sources of privilege are available to anyone. Kids whose parents care enough to take the harder path are going to, on average, do better than those who follow the path of least resistance.

Hence the false flag: progressivism is all about least resistance. Behold the results.

erp said...

Skipper, I should have been clearer about the Slate website. I haven't read in many years, so I don't know what they've been reporting. My comment was about the muddle of the actual website layout.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
The question is: what do we, as individuals, do with things being the way they are?
---
That's a very good question.

You see, to point out how people's problems can many times be traced to their own decisions is no great news.

The difficult question is how can you change a community (be it a neighborhood or an entire country) in order to achieve "better decisions". How can any particular system improve itself from within?

You are not only the beneficiary of the self discipline of the family you descend from, but also of the culture you have been raised in. In your case, it goes way back to the people who founded America, and even further yet to the culture and conditions that created those migrants back in old Europe.

We may have achieved great technological feats, but nothing yet short of substituting the natural selection (of people and cultures) of the last thousand years into some instantaneous solution to be applied in one generation.

In the meantime, you set yourself a too easy task to find blame in the shortcomings of those troubled people.

Hey Skipper said...

[erp:] My comment was about the muddle of the actual website layout.

You are right there — it manages to be both ugly AND chaotic.

[Clovis:] The difficult question is how can you change a community (be it a neighborhood or an entire country) in order to achieve "better decisions". How can any particular system improve itself from within?

Your phrasing contains some hidden assumptions that are self contradictory.

Take just one small aspect: illegitimacy. At one time, particularly among whites, it was either rare or "handled" — generally through adoption. That was 50 years ago. Now, the illegitimacy rate is roughly ten times what it was then.

Let's say we asked your question then, but look at the flip side of the coin: The difficult question is how can you change a community (be it a neighborhood or an entire country) in order to achieve "worse decisions". How can any particular system degrade itself from within?

Clearly, decisions changed. Did they change just on account of because, in some sort of random walk, or were people responding to outside incentives? If they were, then the first part of your question has already been answered; just because it is in the negative is immaterial.

In the meantime, you set yourself a too easy task to find blame in the shortcomings of those troubled people.

Did I blame them?

I didn't blame anybody; in fact, my only contribution was to suggest that the woman responsible for this "digital folk art" achieved an end far different from that which she intended (unless she was conducting a false-flag operation). While economic forces no doubt played their part, what is prominent in every photograph is the consequences of bad decisions.

Now, clearly the real question isn't whether their decisions were bad — it would take a truly heroic effort to provide a convincing case otherwise — but why these people made them.

Clovis e Adri said...

Skipper,

---
The difficult question is how can you change a community (be it a neighborhood or an entire country) in order to achieve "worse decisions". How can any particular system degrade itself from within?
---
I beg to differ. That's not difficult at all. It is simply the second law of thermodynamics under typical conditions: any macroscopic system abandoned to itself will degrade. To not degrade asks for constant input of energy.

"Illegitimacy" is our natural state, and absent the forces that changed that, we just go back to it.

---
Did they change just on account of because, in some sort of random walk, or were people responding to outside incentives?
---
Yeah, they may be responding to outside incentives. Or - which is the main case IMHO - they more often are just following their natural path given the lack of external "positive" incentive.

I understand it is very tempting to conservatives (at least the ones I see around blogs) to put the blame on liberal ideology. It exempts them from the failures in their own views after all, to wit, the belief that the desired "self-discipline" will support itself over thin air.

The kind of rank discipline you may be used to from the military has litte sway over the general populace, dear Skipper. People of olden days were usually moved either by sincere belief in a greater force and/or shear economic necessities.

Yes, welfare changed the economic part of that equation, a fact conservatives look to resent. But a change with even greater impact - from left to right - is the ultimate "source of incentives". Liberals try to find it in empty humanist sources. Conservatives either go for hypocrisy or to nothing at all, bypassing the question completely.

Maybe you shoud try yourself to chat with those folks in the picture, to convince them to stop waisting their life. Guess what, at some point they'll ask you for some ultimate reason they should do so. Please look them in their eyes and try to light a fire there with a good reason, the best you can possibly think of, then tell me afterwards how it goes.

Peter said...

the real question isn't whether their decisions were bad...but why these people made them

Perhaps because the decisions you are talking about are neither fun, easy nor even natural. To me, this is the inconsistency in the whole libertarian project. One moment they say that decisions about things like vice, family stability, savings, etc. (all summed up in the phrase "delayed gratification") must be matters of individual choice in a free society because individuals know better than anyone else what is best for them, and the next they are scratching their heads because so many people are making bad decisions. You are right that "right decisions" are few, well-known and proven, but if government support is deflecting people from the right path so easily, doesn't that suggest the decisions weren't that attractive in the first place?

The middle-class virtues of thrift, sobriety, savings, work, etc. were the ideal America was founded upon and they have served very well, obviously. But as we were discussing in previous posts, they were built on a plinth of a fairly severe and demanding Protestantism that is out of fashion. Gloomy and stark as it could be theologically, it did offer community cohesion, collective strength, transcendence and--oh yeah--a promise of eternal life. Not a bad payback. What do their secular descendants have to offer today except scoldings for making bad decisions and cranky finger-pointing?

We can all agree there are many ways government has corrupted many people and communities, but this single-minded fixation with government is making the right blind to profound cultural shifts it has been largely blasé about or even supported in the name of freedom. The political message the right is delivering today can be pretty smug and dreary, which may explain Obama's completely unmerited success.

Bret said...

Peter wrote: "...this single-minded fixation with government is making the right blind to profound cultural shifts it has been largely blasé about or even supported in the name of freedom."

Single minded? I think I've hardly mentioned government at all in my last dozen posts and have been very focused on "profound cultural shifts."

It is true that I'm "largely blasé" about those cultural shifts because I'm convinced that not only are they "profound," they're also unstoppable, and throwing ourselves (via government and/or other institutions) athwart the oncoming juggernaut yelling "Stop!!!!" is just gonna get us squished like a banana slug under a tire of one of Hey Skipper's landing cargo jets. In other words, Ouch, Yuck and Ewwwww!

Plus I think that freedom has at least a little value. We might as well let people be and see what happens. At minimum, it'd be better if government didn't make it even worse.

Peter said...

Not you, Bret. Your mind contains multitudes. In fact, judging from your series on the war between the sexes, way too many for me to keep up with. :-)

Hey Skipper said...

[Clovis:] I understand it is very tempting to conservatives (at least the ones I see around blogs) to put the blame on liberal ideology.

Keep in mind I haven't blamed anyone here; rather I've noted that a piece from a source that routinely blames conservatism (e.g., Harry and Reaganism) for everything makes it look suspiciously as if conservatives might have a point.

I beg to differ. [Degradation] is not difficult at all.

That sounds an awful lot like saying civilization could never have come into existence in the first place.

Maybe you shoud try yourself to chat with those folks in the picture, to convince them to stop waisting their life. Guess what, at some point they'll ask you for some ultimate reason they should do so.

Because I'm tired of paying for their decisions?

[Peter:] One moment [libertarians] say that decisions about things like vice, family stability, savings, etc. (all summed up in the phrase "delayed gratification") must be matters of individual choice in a free society because individuals know better than anyone else what is best for them, and the next they are scratching their heads because so many people are making bad decisions.

No, not quite. Libertarians a) don't believe They (in whatever form) should have the power to make personal decisions and b) there would be a lot fewer bad decisions of people who aren't making them are forced to pay people who are to keep making them.

I'm not a libertarian, because no one wants the downside results that applied libertarianism would create. But still, it seems they have a point.

erp said...

Skipper, where do you put yourself on the political spectrum? I consider myself a classic liberal and the closest modern term would be conservative meaning conserving those values. Libertarian, even one with a lower-case ‘l’ can go to ridiculous extremes, one of the most obvious being we can’t all decide for ourselves which side of the road we’d rather drive on. We do have to have a basic government and I think our FF did an excellent job of paring it down and distributing duties and responsibilities among the three parts of government.

When looking at the pictures you posted and I've seen others just as bad or worse, I wonder how much better their lives are than those living in Dickensian times.

One of the most important things the left doesn't understand is that man does not live by bread alone. Giving people the rewards of other people's labor with no strings attached and no guidelines leads to their being at the mercy of the basest among us.

There are many stories, in fact, someone write a book a few years back, about those who won the lottery or other big payout (from law suits, etc.) and found that within five years, almost every single lucky recipient was broke again. We actually knew of someone who was part of a class action and got a pretty huge payout. His was the classic case of being taken by every huckster imaginable, big house, big cars, boats, RV, cruises, etc. He was broke well before five years had gone by and not only broke, but in massive debt.

Annoying Old Guy said...

You see, to point out how people's problems can many times be traced to their own decisions is no great news.

Actually it is. The current MAL view is that people's problems, especially the poor, is not at all the result of their own decisions, but is instead due to Evil People (such as conservatives) stealing from them and oppressing them. This is in fact a, if not the, the major cultural divide between the MAL and conservatives/libertarians.

The difficult question is how can you change a community (be it a neighborhood or an entire country) in order to achieve "better decisions". How can any particular system improve itself from within?

I have to agree with Skipper, if you really mean this, how can you possibly believe our own civilization exists? Or do you think it inferior to the original hunter/gather societies? Or, I suppose, that it came from somewhere outside human existence?

You are not only the beneficiary of the self discipline of the family you descend from, but also of the culture you have been raised in. In your case, it goes way back to the people who founded America, and even further yet to the culture and conditions that created those migrants back in old Europe.

Perhaps by celebrating and praising that culture, instead of saying all cultures are equally good?

erp said...

... or deliberately trying to destroy it as the current administration is trying with great success to do.