About Bracing Views

Bracing Views is dedicated to creative and critical thinking about our world. My goal is to bring clarity to some of the more vexing and perplexing issues that face us as human beings living on an increasingly crowded and fragile world.

On occasion, Bracing Views will feature articles by authors other than the site’s creator. The views of these guest authors are obviously their own and do not necessarily reflect my views.

The name “Bracing Views” occurred to me when my wife and I were out for a walk on a chilly January day.  A bracing wind was whipping off the water, and I made a comment on it.  My wife said, “bracing news” — might be a good name for a site.  Not wanting to be tied to the news cycle, I said, maybe “bracing views.” And there you have it.

Much like a cold January wind, Bracing Views aims to be brisk, refreshing, and just a bit biting.

earth

11 thoughts on “About Bracing Views

      1. Thanks. Not sure I qualify. The Toner Award appears to be for in-depth reporting; “commentary” is excluded, and most of what I do is commentary.

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  1. “I ask myself how America today could have become such a land of weapons and warriors, guns and gun exports, prisons and fear, led by a boastful and boorish bullyboy.”
    Asking this question seems to assume that there was some fair, honest and peaceful America somewhere in the past.
    I don’t think this was ever true. From the decimation of the aboriginal peoples, to the slavery, the foreign invasions, the racism, needless wars and now the murders, more BS wars and the massive inequality America continues to be the most negative country on this planet. Not understanding this or acknowledging this is one of the reasons America continues to be such a force for evil on this planet.

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    1. I don’t assume there was an idyllic “fair, honest and peaceful America” in the past. The USA is a country made by war. As you note, crimes against Native Americans, Blacks, immigrants, other minorities, as well as the marginalization of women, and many others remind us that America is a land of great inequality and gross imperfections. But is this not true of most other countries and nations on the planet? Look at the history of France, for example: religious wars, Napoleon, imperialism, French Indochina, Algeria, and of course bloody revolution. Look at the British Empire. Look at Belgium’s treatment of the Congo. Look at Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, or Stalin’s deliberate starvation of millions in the Ukraine in the 1930s.

      When I taught a course on the Holocaust, I came across an encyclopedia dedicated to genocides, sobering testimony to humanity’s harsh history around the globe and across the centuries. Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda — when will it ever end?

      So, I wouldn’t agree that the USA is “the most negative country on the planet.” This certainly isn’t true over time. Think of World War II, for example, and the crimes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The USA played a key role in defeating those fascistic and militaristic powers: a proud chapter in our nation’s history. Perhaps the Cold War was avoidable, perhaps not, but the USA stood for something better than the totalitarianism practiced by Stalin and his successors. And we might add Mao’s China into the mix, and the horrendous human costs of his cultural revolutions. No country, certainly no major power, is pure. All are impure, all are flawed; there are no exceptions.

      What saddens me is the way the USA has embraced militarism as well as military action in the aftermath of the Cold War. There was an opportunity c.1990 for the US to walk a different path, but we chose a more bellicose and less wise one, and that mistake is the subject of my recent essay for Tomdispatch.

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  2. When I first saw the name I wondered whether this might also have been a bit of word play referencing the extremely rigid form of attention, the military brace. As it is not mentioned I am guessing not. Still, it retains that association for me, having encountered a brace very early on (in Civil Air Patrol, years before joining the Air Force in 1968).

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  3. “America’s Real Red Scare”: Bracing indeed and absolutely spot on. Thank you. Have emailed it to all on my political lists.

    John Marciano
    Talent, OR

    How does one email you directly? Think I have in the past but can’t bring up your email address. Writing a book on the Cold War with a historian and would love to correspond on mutual concerns. Great site so please stay the course.

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  4. “losing” wars?

    Did the U.S. and allies create violent chaos in countries not fully loyal to and integrated in the dollar hegemony? If so, then it “won” those wars.

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  5. Dear Professor Astore,

    Thank you very much for all the details of which you write in the Death of Peace. The underlying reality all those pixels reveal is so evident to anyone who cares to understand, it makes one weep. The great question, of course is why do so few care? And how can that be changed?

    I believe the fundamental reasons are A) that we have all been trained since our first day in Kindergarten to not think, but rather, to fill in the blank. And B) that the whole, massive pyramid that is the military, industrial, congressional etc. complex, rests on military Keynesianism, and that it does not actually matter to our oligarchs and their puppets—whether in Congress in Washington, on an assembly line in Arkansas, a cubicle in Silicon Valley, or a battlefield in Afghanistan—whether we actually win or lose. Only that the pumps stay primed.

    This reality is so terrible, it is impossible for most people to accept. Like the one-armed Nazi foot soldier I once heard about who, as Soviet tanks were crashing into Germany, assured his comrades that Hitler was just drawing them in, to crush them.

    I am enclosing a two page piece I recently wrote for a small group of activists belonging to the International Socialist Alliance. Their passion is organizing little demonstrations against this or that local manifestation of injustice. They are distinguished from Democratic Socialists by their aversion to electoral politics. This is, of course, perhaps the biggest fault line on the left.

    I wrote this in the hope of persuading them to think more deeply about what they are doing. I only just distributed it, and don’t know if I will have any success. But this seems to me our fundamental challenge. Just as the Koch Brothers understood that they needed to fundamentally alter the intellectual climate on college campuses across the country, we who hope for peace need to help people see the big picture, and re-think their entire point of view.

    Few people are willing to walk into the unknown. In order to change people’s minds, we need to paint in broad strokes a credible vision of a better world. Marxist revolution can’t cut it. We need to envision something new.

    Sincerely,

    Thomas W.
    How Socialism Can Triumph!

    Socialism is based on the fundamental understanding that we all depend on each other for our common security, welfare, and happiness. That even exiles alone on an island depend on skills acquired while in society. And that there are no true goods that are not of the common good.

    Capitalists, nationalists, racists and other “me-firsters” always imagine they are special. That they are above the common herd. That their privilege is reflective of merit, rather than luck. As the rich and powerful have many ways to manipulate what the rest of us read, hear, and think, many believe their propaganda. Especially if in some small way they share—or once shared—in their privilege.

    The rich and powerful don’t just own Fox News, CNN, NBC, and The NY Times; they strongly influence who writes textbooks, who gets tenure at universities, and thus who sets the limits of allowable opinion. This is especially true in times of increasing inequality, when the doors of opportunity are slamming in peoples’ faces.

    Whenever there is a huge and widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, those who fear they are falling down the ladder of opportunity need little encouragement to blame not those who are pulling the ladder up, but those who used to be safely below them, but are now competing against them. This is the fundamental reason for the election not just of our current president, but of both Bushes and Reagan, who all fueled the fires of fear and resentment. Even as the pseudo-progressive Clintons and Obama sold us out.

    Capitalism means that capitalists rule. Capitalism celebrates cut throat competition and all the lies that justify government give aways to the rich, even as they moralize about the effect of welfare on the poor. Socialism means that every society can set its own rules. Because the demands of capital are everywhere the same, capitalism is everywhere fundamentally alike. Whereas real socialism must differ in every society.

    Throughout the long period of our evolution, we survived by virtue of our extraordinary powers of cooperation. We evolved not so much as individuals, but as groups. If our group survived, we survived, even if we were blind, lame, or halt. If our group was destroyed, we were destroyed, no matter how fit we might personally be. We thus evolved to share, care, and take care of each other.

    Within our groups, everything was shared. When there was abundance, all feasted. When there was want, all hungered. We thus learned to put the well being of others on a par with, or even ahead of our own. This is the basis of our extraordinary willingness to work, suffer and even die for each other. A trait utterly unknown among other primates. Try to imagine 300 chimpanzees sitting peaceably in a 747 for 20 hours, and then patiently filing out. Or waiting in line to be fed. Or marching into machine gun fire.

    What happened? With the development of agriculture and the rise of civilization and war in Mesopotamia 6000 years ago, our willingness to sacrifice was turned on its head. Instead of sacrificing for those we love, we are divided into innumerable nations, factions, castes, clubs, religions and classes, all caught up in the endless quest for dominance. Capitalism is simply the latest form of that terrible, perpetual quest.

    Is there nothing we can do?

    Our fundamental problem is that we are all profoundly shaped by the systems of domination within which we are all raised. We all learn to compete as best we can, joining cliques to enhance our positions in our various communities, just as we join together in nation states and corporations to enhance our positions in the global pecking order. We thus all recreate in our own lives the very behaviors we decry in our current president. He is merely more extreme. A caricature, but not so unlike us as we would like to believe. This is why his supporters supported him; and why his opponents failed to stop him. He is the mirror of our own worst selves. We have met the enemy; and he is us.

    This is hard to grasp. Just as Trump’s supporters blame liberals and socialists; liberals and socialists blame Trump’s supporters. This can go on forever without anyone being the better or the wiser.

    The neo-liberal economist Milton Friedman liked to say that the popular opinion of today is legislation 20 years from now. Neo-liberals played a long game. If socialists wish to succeed, we too must learn to play a long game: the principle object of which must be to counteract the propaganda of the powerful, reminding people that we evolved to cooperate, and that cooperation is our only hope. That lives based on cooperation are infinitely happier than those based on competition. Even for winners. And that old ideas, like slavery, can die. Slavery still exists, but only on the margins, as it is no longer possible to defend it. In the same way, we need to bury the idea that endless, ruthless competition is the key to prosperity and happiness.

    Though the propaganda of the powerful is everywhere, it consists entirely of carefully crafted lies. Lies need to be constantly, endlessly repeated. Truth needs to be understood but once. But this understanding takes effort and time. It requires the willingness to think again about what we were once mindlessly taught. That we step back from the fray, and think and feel on our own, and in our own time.

    Socialism cannot emerge overnight. First of all we must transform ourselves. It is not possible to persuade others of what we ourselves cannot practice. Neo-liberals practice the greed they preach. Socialists must learn to actually practice cooperation in our day-to-day lives. This is not easy, as it goes against everything we have been taught since kindergarten, when we were pulled out of our families and communities to compete for the approval of anonymous authorities and transient peers.

    Throughout all history, we have always survived with the help of families, neighbors and friends. Now we are taught that we must succeed on our own, holding “losers” in contempt. We struggle to buy insurance for ourselves, and every manner of glittering toy to distract us from our lack of family and real friends. These instruments of distraction turn us into the shadows of human beings, powerless to fight even for our own survival. We need to wake up, stop being distracted, and learn to fight creatively for what we know is right.

    Attending an American university is considered a privilege. And in the competition for the dwindling supply of “good jobs,” it certainly is. Many mortgage their lives to buy it. But even for the winners in the good jobs sweepstakes, how great a privilege is it to work 60 hours a week, striving to outdo the guy in the cubicle next to you at creating products whose net effect is likely injurious? Meanwhile for the losers, this privilege results in lifetimes of debt, dashed hopes, recrimination, addiction and even suicide.

    Every student faces a hard choice. They can put all their energy into the “good jobs” sweepstakes, or they can learn how to cooperate and change the system. Virtually all the goods we take for granted—including habeus corpus, trial by jury, and the 8 hour day—are the result of the struggles of those who worked not just for themselves, but for others. If even small groups of socialists learned how to actually cooperate, this could have a powerful effect on the multitudes of the lonely and afraid. It could change not just how they vote, but how they live their lives! We should never forget the prophetic words of Margaret Mead:

    Never doubt that small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens
    can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

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