broken walls and narratives

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Winnipeg With My Mother

Road Trip to Winnipeg (With My Mother)

Winnipeg Road Trip (With My Mother)


H. Bradford

8/18/19


In June, I visited Winnipeg with my mother.  I thought I would write up a summary of what we did, so other travelers to Winnipeg might have an idea of fun things to do, especially if they are traveling with a family member.  Winnipeg is about seven hours away from Duluth, MN and I wanted to visit during the centennial commemoration of the 1919 Winnipeg general strike.   You can read more about tourist attractions related to the general strike here: Winnipeg General Strike Travel Ideas.  My mother traveled to Winnipeg as a child with her own parents, so she was interested in traveling there for the sake of nostalgia.   Despite our different interests, there were several things that we enjoyed in common.  Here are some of the top attractions that we saw:


Oseredok, Ukrainian Museum:


This is a free attraction and the first place we stopped while waiting for check in time for our hotel.   Oseredok means “center” in Ukrainian.  It isn’t a place to spend hours, but it did have a floor that featured WWI era photos from Ukraine, which is the current exhibit.  I was tired from working night shifts and recovering from a stomach bug, so I will admit that my brain did not digest a lot of World War I Ukrainian history.  It doesn’t help that Ukraine really didn’t exist as a nation during World War I, as it was divided between the Russian Empire and Austro Hungarian Empire.   Thus, Ukrainians fought each other during World War I on behalf of the respective empires they were a part of.  The photo exhibit constituted a floor of the building and was the only public area open at the time of my visit.   There is also a nice gift shop in the museum with Ukrainian crafts and imports.  Winnipeg had Canada’s largest urban population of Ukrainians until the 1970s, as Ukrainian immigrants came to the area in the early 1900s to work in such areas as mining, railroads, factories, lumber, and so on.   Oseredok is located near the Manitoba Museum.


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Osoredok Website:

https://oseredok.ca/

184 Alexander Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0L6, Canada

More Info on Ukrainians in Winnipeg:

http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com/display.asp?linkpath=pages%5CW%5CI%5CWinnipeg.htm

 


 

  Manitoba Museum:


Near Oserodok is the expansive Manitoba Museum.  The museum is a lot to take in, and as I mentioned, my brain and stomach were not really up to the task of taking much in.  I wrote a blog post about the museum’s exhibit on the Winnipeg General Strike, but there was so much more!  A person could devote a whole day to exploring the museum.   The many things in the museum include dinosaurs, geology, natural history of Manitoba, indigenous history, Hudson Bay Company history,  and an exhibit on The Franklin Expedition.  The museum also features Animals Inside Out, an exhibition of plasticized animal bodies and organs.  Animals Inside Out is bizarre and beautiful, as there is something elegant about the skinless forms of familiar animals.  At the same time, I found it a little disturbing.  I guess I am a bit sensitive, as I felt anxious around the naked, dead, plastic, dissected animals.  That unusual state of display draws attention to their lifelessness and literally disembodies the whole of their being.   Kids seemed just fine running around and gawking at the sinewy nakedness of a plasticized giraffe, so I guess I am probably one of the few sensitive ones.  The museum is a bit spendy, but there is a lot to see.  I visited the Museum Galleries and Animals Inside Out, which is the most basic admission at $19.50.  There is also a Science Gallery and Planetarium which can be visited at additional cost.   The museum is located at: 190 Rupert Ave, Winnipeg, MB R3B 0N2, Canada


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Mantiboa Museum:

https://manitobamuseum.ca/main/visit/


 

  Assiniboine Park Zoo:

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Seeing dead, plastic coated animals at the Manitoba Museum made me feel a bit uneasy.  I prefer to see living animals, even if they are in captivity.  On our second day in Winnipeg, we visited the Assiniboine Park Zoo.  The zoo was established in 1904, and was one of the attractions that my mother had visited as a child in the 1970s.   Zoos are controversial, in that they do important work in conservation and education, but also normalize the use of animals for entertainment and the imprisonment of animals.   Despite the debates around them, I do enjoy going to zoos, as I like learning about animals and seeing them.   There are several things that stand out about the zoo.  One, there is a nice bird exhibit called Toucan Ridge, in which birds such as spoonbills and ibises roam semi-freely in a tropical plant filled dome.  There was a butterfly garden, but it was devoid of butterflies because it was a cool day and perhaps they were inactive.  There were also pretty neat Boreal Forest and Great Plains exhibits.  But, by far the best attraction at the zoo as the large polar bear exhibit which is part of the zoo’s Journey to Churchill area.  The polar bear exhibit features a cafe wherein patrons can eat their lunches while watching polar bears outside of the large windows.  There are also a few viewing areas of the grassy slopes where the polar bears are kept.  An educational center features interactive displays and acts as a small museum to the biology and conservation of polar bears.   The grand finale of it all is a glass tube, where visitors can watch polar bears swimming and playing above their heads.  Other Arctic animals are also featured in this exhibit, which really makes a person wish they could travel to Churchill.  Unfortunately, those trips are often over $7000 and zoo admission is $20.50 for an adult.  I suggest visiting Journey to Churchill last, as we did, since it really is a fabulous exhibit and worth saving until the end.


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Assiniboine Park Zoo: https://assiniboinepark.ca/zoo


Assiniboine Gardens and Leo Mol Sculpture Garden:


Once we had finished visiting the zoo, we went to the nearby Assiniboine Gardens and Leon Mol Sculpture Garden.  Both are free to visit.  Although there are several gardens in the park, we primarily visited the English Garden.  The entrance of the garden is marked by a statue called The Boy With a Boot, which dates back to 1897 when it was part of a fountain commemorating the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.  Apparently the statue was unpopular, as a boy with a leaky boot didn’t seem like an appropriate statue to honor the 60th anniversary of the queen’s ascension to the throne.  This is why the statue found its way from City Hall to the park.  An impoverished child seems like a good way to celebrate the senseless excess of monarchy to me!  The surrounding garden was full of roses, peonies, lilacs, mock orange bushes, and poppies during our visit.  There is a small cottage within the garden, which I have seen referred to as Grandma’s Cottage, though I am not sure what the story is regarding the building.  It mostly served as a quaint prop for photographs.

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Adjacent to the English Garden is the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden.  Leo Mol, or Leonid Molodoshanin, was a Ukrainian sculptor who emigrated to Canada in 1948, eventually settling in Winnipeg.   The sculpture garden features 300 pieces of art donated by Leo Mol, which can be found in the art gallery, studio, or gardens.  The sculpture garden was established in 1992.  Many of the sculptures depict wildlife, such as deer, bear, and a boar, while there is also a large assembly of lithe, nude women.  Taras Shevchenko, the Ukrainian poet, artist, writer, and independence/national identity figure also makes several appearances.  My favorite sculpture was The Blind Bandurist, since I had already seen a version of it Oseredok and the bandura is associated with Ukrainian identity, which was one of the themes of the city’s history.  My mother’s favorite sculpture was Moses, who is located by a pergola and iris enveloped pond.

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Living Prairie Museum:


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This is another free attraction, which is located within 10 minutes drive from the zoo.  Prairies are an endangered ecosystem that have almost all but disappeared.  In Manitoba, less than 1% remains of the original tall grass prairie that pre-dated European colonization.  The Living Prairie Museum is a patch of restored prairie, where visitors can walk along an interpretive trail to learn more about prairie plants and animals.  To be fair, it is not an expansive attraction or even one what will wow visitors with its pristine natural beauty.   It appears as a large field located by a school and apartment building.  But, if a person takes their time to enjoy the trail, one can appreciate the effort to restore this pocket of prairie with native grasses and wildflowers.   The preserve, located in a residential area, was set aside in 1968 after it was discovered to be a vestige of an original prairie and now features over 160 species of grasses and wildflowers (some of which are prairie plants from Illinois as prairie plant seeds were not widely available at the time).  Some highlights of the trail included yellow lady slippers, wild prairie roses,  prairie sage, prairie smoke, wild licorice, and countless wildflowers which I couldn’t identify.   The visitor center regularly hosts educational events, but was closed during our visit.  It may not seem like much, but our visit was relaxing and educational.  It is probably the best urban prairie that a person can visit!


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Grand Beach Provincial Park:


Grand Beach is located about an hour and a half north of Winnipeg on Lake Winnipeg.  It was once a bustling tourist attraction which drew tourists from Winnipeg on the multiple train connections a day.  But, over the years, the beach declined in popularity, its dance pavilion burned, and the train service was discontinued with the advent of car travel.  It has been a provincial park since 1961 and is a breeding area for the endangered piping plover.  While the beach is not as popular as it was in its heydey, it is worth the drive to visit the white sand beaches and to see Lake Winnipeg, the third largest lake within Canada’s borders.  I mostly spent the afternoon stalking the nearby forests and trails for birds, as the area is great for birdwatching- even if June isn’t peak bird watching season.   The lagoon near the beach is a hotspot for birds, though I didn’t see anything unique during my visit.  My mother spent some time on the shore and in the water, which she found to be full of algae (so better for looking at than swimming).  There is a boardwalk and a few shops.   Despite the jackpine forests around it, it is easy to imagine that the beach is located on the ocean or some tropical location.  A beach makes for a good family destination, as those who like to play in the water can enjoy that, others can hike, or a person can choose to read or relax on the sand.

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Birds Hill Provincial Park:


Part of our trip involved camping at Birds Hill Provincial Park.  The park is located about a half an hour north from downtown Winnipeg and is a sprawling forest full of trails and campgrounds.  The park hosts an annual folk festival.  While visiting, we camped and hiked.  One of the trails that we hiked along was the Pine Ridge trail, which visitors can walk along while reading the interpretive brochure.   The trail travels along what was once Pine Ridge, a community of mostly Polish and Ukrainian farmers.  Most of the structures are gone, but the brochure offers the history of the store, school, farmsteads that were one there.  One farm along the mile and a half trail remains in tact for viewing.   I also wandered along the Lake View Trail, which takes visitors to a beach.  A highlight of the camping experience was the dozens of Franklin’s ground squirrels that darted around the campground.  Although these grey squirrel sized ground squirrels are found in Minnesota, they prefer prairie habitats so they are not often found in my area.   The park features a variety of ecosystems, such as prairie, burr oak and aspen forests, and spruce and tamarack dominated wetlands.  Yellow salsify, yellow ladyslipper, coralroot orchids, and oval leaf milkweed were among the wildflowers that I spotted on the trails.   Among the bird species seen in the park, there were a variety of sparrows, including clay colored and lark sparrows, as well as ravens, catbirds, red eyed vireos, common yellow throats, etc.  A day pass to visit the park is only $5 CAN and also works at other provincial parks, such as Grand Beach.


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Lower Fort Garry:


When we visited, it was free to visit the grounds of Lower Fort Gary, which is located about 15-20 minutes away from Birds Hill Provincial Park.   Visitors can also opt to take a guided tour, which costs about $7 and allows access to the interior of buildings.  We ambled around the complex on our own, as a map and signage helped us interpret the fort and buildings.  The fort was built in 1830 and served the Hudson’s Bay Company for fur trading and as a supply depot.  The fort is known for its historic stone buildings and limestone walls, but I found the psychiatric hospital to be the most interesting.  It was offhandedly mentioned on a plaque that one of the buildings served as a mental health hospital (the first in what became Manitoba)which seemed like a pretty brief and sanitized version of history.  A warehouse at the fort was converted into a penitentiary and mental health hospital in 1871, under the administration of Dr. David Young.  Prisoners and those with mental illness were housed together.  A few years later, a separate facility was built for mental health patients in Selkirk.   While the signs say very little about this history, it can be inferred that that part of Canada was in the early stages of institutionalizing psychology and that mental health was lumped together with criminality (as it still is today in varying ways).  Aside from the early mental health facility (which seems more likely a prison), another point of interest was the York boat display.  York boats were used by the Hudson’s Bay Company to transport goods and were known for their sturdy construction and ability to transport tons of cargo.   Otherwise, the fort was a nice place to stroll around and enjoy the flocks of American pelicans flying along the Red River.


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For more information: https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/mb/fortgarry/visit


This isn’t an exhaustive list of everything we did during our visit to Winnipeg.  We also visited The Forks and stopped by the Hudson’s Bay Company Department Store, which my mother visited when she was a child.  As a child, she remembered it as a robust fantasy land of retail goods.  Today, it was a ghost town of vacant shelves, like most remaining department stores.  Our journey was met with a few mishaps, such as getting a little lost while looking for a Chinese Garden and learning the hard way that the U.S. border station near Tolstoi, MB closes before 8 pm.  We also learned the important lesson that gas stations are few and far between while traveling to one border station to another and along the Manitoba and North Dakota border.  Despite this hiccup in our border crossing, we had a good time and packed a lot of adventure into the four days that we visited.  Hopefully this gives readers some ideas of fun things to visit in Winnipeg and the region around it or things that could be enjoyed between an adult child and their parent (yes, I am an adult child…since I certainly acted like a child when the border was closed!).

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Defeat

Defeat

Defeat

H. Bradford

6/27/19


Everyone is gone.

They migrated to brighter places.

And I am here,

Caught like a butterfly in winter

or a bat in a tower.

Doomed to die of cold,  slow suffocation,

or containment.

And I am here,

naked as bones,

growing fat and old

in the long night of my complacency.

There might have been more, but I am too worn and slow

to keep up with the crowd.

So I am here.

I am here.

This is the cemetery for those who lost the war against wages,

veterans who raged against the taxation of body and soul-

everything we gave in hours.  So many hours.

I am here

in the purgatory of defeat.

They always ask why she stayed.

But, I think you know the math of it. 

I don’t believe in Hell

i don't believe in hell

I don’t believe in Hell

H. Bradford

6/7/19

This is a poem about abortion rights.

 

I don’t believe in hell,

but I’ve got an idea of what it might be.

Languishing orphans in a Romanian cage,

sitting in urine,

dying of AIDS.

The panopticon gaze on missed menses,

missed work,

miscarriages,

or visitor in the night,

his secretary,

his sister,

his kindly wife.

 

Every anomaly  is an invitation

for incarceration.

 

Hell is the body

under siege,

prone and pried open for all to see.

It is emergency room corpses,

sepsis, and secrets.

Deadly exorcisms of rape and incest.

 

Hell is hot like Alabama

or cold like the hands of a priest,

clutching the wealth of genocide gold

and clasping tradition like a rosary of bones.

 

Hell is a landscape where a thousand wombs bloom,

sprouting babies, soldiers, and beggars

each doomed to die ravaged and poor

Because life is a weapon

of wealth and

of war.

 

 

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

Care is a Wall

H. Bradford

6/5/19

I work at a domestic violence shelter, so much of my work involves care work.  Sometimes this is exhausting and demoralizing- especially the large amount of bodily fluids that appear around the shelter.  So, this is a poem I wrote about the not so wonderful aspects of care work.


Care is a wall,

A car crash for careers

And a barrier more than a connection.

It is blood in the halls

Leaky diapers on laps

And urine soaked sheets.

It is a thousand unmet needs

Needs that ooze biohazards and suffering

from the places quarantined by the state.

Care is the work of women

Women with accents and darker complexions.

Care is the everyday Chernobyl

Of tending to capitalism’s toxic leftovers

With no evacuation in sight.

Care is a wall

To fight, storm, or surrender.

To die hopelessly against.

Capitalism and Self Care

capitalism

Capitalism and Self Care

H. Bradford

3/27/19


Whenever I hear the word self-care, I feel a little skeptical.  It seems like one of those feel good notions that activists and “helping” professionals ritualistically throw around to pay homage to burn out, compassion fatigue, or just the very human need for food, sleep, and health.  The Marxist in me always feels a bit cynical about the whole thing. To me, self care seems self-evident. A world in which me must pause, consider our needs, and carve out some extra space and time to meet these needs seems extraordinarily exploitative.  The concept itself seems atomizing, as the inability of capitalist society to meet human needs is placed upon the individual, who is tasked with adequately caring for themselves. At worst, it seems like a hedonistic excuse to retreat from society or struggle.  Self-care seems like the chore of maintaining oneself just enough to continue to be miserable. Some of this pessimism regarding self-care is founded, but some of it is not. Indeed, self-care has radical roots which should be reclaimed to push back against the crisis of care created by capitalism.


Capitalism and the Crisis of Care


To begin, it is useful to examine care more generally and how “care” connects to capitalism.  Care is often an invisible, expected, and taken for granted role for women in society. Women have long been associated with care, as in the care for children or care for families, but capitalism created the conditions wherein economic production and social reproduction separated into two distinct categories.  In other words, capitalism created a dichotomy between waged work and “care” (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).  Economic production became something that happened inside of offices or factories, where it was remunerated with a wage (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). “Care” became the sentimentalized labor that women often do as a matter of love than for pay, and as such, it is not as valued or recognized in society (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


According to a 2015 report, 1.9 billion children under the age of 15 and 200 million older adults are in need of care.  This number is expected reach 2.3 billion by the year 2030. Globally, among 64 countries studied, 16.4 billion hours per day are spent performing unpaid care work.  76.2% of this is done by women (Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific, 2017). Around the world, women complete more unpaid labor in the home than men, wit the largest differences found in Asian countries such as Japan, China, India, and South Korea.  Women also spend less time each day engaged in leisure activities. For instance, in the United States, women spend about 262 minutes eat day on leisure activities, whereas men spend about 305 minutes. In Greece, women enjoy 318 minutes of leisure, whereas men have 393 minutes each day.  In Portugal, women have 200 minutes of leisure each day and men, 289 minutes (Taei, 2019). Among OECD countries, women complete 4.5 hours of unpaid labor each day or 271 minutes. In comparison, men average around 2.5 hours each day, or 137 minutes (Berman, 2017). The gender gap in unpaid labor starts young, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage girls perform 38 minutes of chores each day, whereas teenage boys do 24 minutes of chores each day (Gollayan, 2019).

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The lack of leisure time and large amounts of unpaid household care work, certainly create the conditions wherein women need self-care.  Beyond unpaid labor preparing food, washing clothes, cleaning homes, caring for children, or tending to the sick, women are often relegated to exhausting, low paid, undervalued “caring” professions.  97.5% of kindergarten and preschool teachers are women, 94.4% of childcare workers, 94% of nurse practitioners, 89.9% of maids and housekeepers, 89% of teaching assistants, and 84.5% of personal care aids are women.  Women make up the majority of the service industry, as they make up 80% of restaurant hosts, 72% of cashiers, 71% of non-restaurant food servers, 70% of waiters, and 66% of hotel front desk workers (Rocheleau, 2018). Thus, when women are not at home caring for children, workers, and retirees, they often find themselves thrust into paid care work, wherein they care for children, serve food,  provide medical care, or care for the elderly. Cashiers, waitresses, personal care attendants, and hostesses each have an average income of under $22,000 a year, at least according to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among teachers, those who serve younger ages make less. For instance, Kindergarten teachers average $52,800 a year, whereas secondary education teachers average $58,300 a year (Wile, 2015).   Thus, those who engage in care work often face a wage penalty.

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Image taken from: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-03/a-female-cashier-works-in-a-supermarket/6276318


One way that the amount of care work that women engage in can be explained is through Social Reproduction Theory.  According to Social Reproduction theory, capitalism charges women with the upkeep of capitalism. Social Reproduction posits that in order to perpetuate itself, capitalism needs both a future generation of workers and the upkeep of current workers, retired workers, and non-workers.  Thus, historically women have been tasked with having children, raising children, caring for the elderly or people who cannot work, cooking, cleaning, other household chores, and all of the other, mostly unpaid labor that goes into ensuring that capitalism can continue. Much of this labor occurs within the family, but some social reproduction may be provided for by the state or private sector (Arruza, 2016).  When the state engages in social reproduction, it can be said that the care work has been socialized. On the other hand, when the private sector engages in care work, it means it is commodified (Leonard and Fraser, 2016). For instance, when countries provide state funded day care centers or nursing homes, the state is engaged in the social reproduction of capitalism. However, as it will be argued later, many of the paid employees in such institutions are women.  As a whole, women are often engaged in what is generally called “care work” which is paid and unpaid labor that involves the care of people, but can also include care for animals, communities, or environments. While care work is not a specifically Marxist term or a phenomenon that is unique to capitalism, care work is an essential component to capitalism’s continuation. Capitalism is contradictory as it does not provide for its own upkeep. It requires workers, yet the profit motive drives capitalism to lower wages and lessened working conditions  The drive for profits also results in austerity, or cuts to social programs and the privatization of public institutions which provide care. This results in a crisis of care, in which women find that they have trouble balancing paid labor with reproductive labor (Arruza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, 2019).


The Crisis of Care is a profound insight to the nature of capitalism and may offer why self-care is so popular and necessary.  During the 20th century, many advanced capitalist societies expanded the state’s role in social reproduction. The global south did not experience this, as they were predated upon by imperialist powers of the north.  A strong labor movement pushed for social reforms that shortened the work day, banned child labor, provided some social welfare programs, and ensured a family wage. However, racism within more advanced capitalist countries such as the United States meant that not all workers enjoyed these benefits equally and access to the “family wage” was predicated upon heteronormative monogamous relationships (Leonard and Fraser, 2016).  Yet, in the last forty years in order to eke out profits in an increasingly competitive global economy, the gains of workers have been attacked in many ways. Following the post World War II boom, the United States began to lose its place in the world economically in the 1960s and 1970s as Japan and Europe rebuilt their economies. The United States also began to de-industrialize, as industrial union jobs went to more profitable, low wage, non-union places elsewhere in the world.  The loss of these higher paying jobs put pressure upon women to enter the workforce as a single family wage was no longer adequate, though the feminist movement also pushed to break down barriers to entry into the paid economy as a matter of equality, freedom, and self-determination. Between 1970 and 2003, 60% of new jobs created went to women, yet at the same time wages have been stagnant. For the first time, white women began to engage in paid labor as much as Black women (who historically have not enjoyed the privilege of working only in one arena of the economy).  Of course, much of this growth was in the service industry, though there was also growth in finance, real estate, and insurance industries (Eisenstein, 2005). These areas are interesting, because they are associated with what Marxist call fictitious capital, or a more unstable economic area where capitalists go when they’ve run out of space to invest elsewhere, so this sort of job growth is also indicative of the crisis of capitalism. While the United States was de-industrializing, there has also been a global push towards austerity and privatization (Eisenstein, 2005).   It is little wonder then that in the face of attacks at work in the form of depressed wages, longer hours, less stability and also the loss of social benefits, that the crisis in care has driven women towards self-care to restore stability, wellness, and balance in their lives.  Self-care offers a reprieve from the ravages of capitalism.

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Just an image of Real Wages over time


The Commodification of Self Care


The economic conditions of capitalism limits the ability of workers to take care of themselves.  Self-care may resonate with some women because they are stretched thin between paid and unpaid labor.  It is little wonder then that in recent years, there has been increased interest in self-care. In 2017, there was an uptick in the self-care activities with a 17% increase in therapy, 34% increase in yoga, 16% increase in meditation, and 19% increase in daily walks (Daniels, 2018).  There are over five million posts about self care on Instagram (Lieberman, 2018). Self-care became more mainstream after the 2016 election and was googled twice as much as in year following it (Aisha, 2017). The popularity of self-care related topics on social media contributes to differences in who engages in self-care.  For instance, millenials spend twice as much as boomers on self-care. This younger demographic is more internet savvy, which allows them to search for self care ideas and get exposure to self care through social media (Silva, 2017). Problematically, self-care within capitalism is commodified and individualized. It also reflects of disparities in ability, rage, class, sexuality, gender, and other areas of oppression.  For example, the beauty industry is quick to appropriate “self care” as a means to sell products. Ofra Cosmetics used the slogan “Turn Your Skin Care Routine Into A Self-Care Ritual,” to turn using skin care products into an act of self-care (Boyne, 2018). By 2024, the skincare industry is estimated to grow to $180 billion and even congress member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared her skincare routine on Instagram, divulging that she keeps makeup wipes by her bed to allow her skin to breathe.  Healthy skin is seen as virtuous, rather than a signifier of wealth (Hill, 2019).

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An advertisement for Mad Peaches Med Spa- http://madpeachesmedspa.com/skin-care-is-self-care/


One of the more obvious examples of the commodification of self-care is, Gwyneth Paltrow, who made $250 million by selling wellness products under her brand Goop.  The company sells such things as emotional detox bath soaps and vaginal steams (Daniels, 2018). These products fleece women of their money in the interest of classist and gendered notion of what it means to care for oneself.  Self-care could be a $10 tube of Goop toothpaste, an $85 medicine bag containing several crystals, or a $3500 gold sex toy (K., 2018). In 2017, the self-care industry was estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion globally. Over the past two years, the industry has a growth rate of 6.4%, which is twice the growth rate of the entire global economy.  The largest component is anti-aging, skin care, and beauty, which makes up $1.08 trillion. Another area of growth in the self-care industry is food, of which, foods categorized as keto, plant based, probiotic, low sugar, paleo, vegetarian, flexitarian, and gut healthy are the top food trends in 2019. Athletic wear, cannabis, and low cost gyms are also areas of growth within the self-care industry (Low, 2018).

Self-Care for the Cubicle-Bound

“Self Care for the Cubicle Bound”- From Goop- https://goop.com/beauty/makeup/self-care-cubicle-bound/


Self-care often gets mashed together with self-improvement and might be viewed as a modern iteration of this long standing theme in Western culture.  For instance, Socrates advised that young men should not enter political leadership until they have worked on themselves. Foucault observed that cultivating the soul and self was part of the thinking of Seneca, Epictetus, and many early Christian thinkers.  In U.S. history, the concept of self-care was used towards racist ends, as Samuel Cartwright justified slavery because slaves were unable to care for themselves on account of their inferior race. Scholar, Matthew Frye Jacobson used a similar argument against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, as he claimed they were unable to care for themselves.  The argument was also used to justify denying women the right to vote (Kisner, 2017). Within the self-care industry, the self-improvement industry is worth $11 billion. Mindfulness meditation, which seems like something that could be done for free, is a $1 billion industry (Lieberman, 2018). This aspect of self-care is dangerous for several reasons. Firstly, it does not challenge the notion that a person’s worth is predicated upon their efforts towards self-improvement.  As illustrated earlier, hierarchies of better or more capable selves and lesser capable selves, was twisted into arguments against immigration, women’s suffrage, and for slavery. Self-care is racialized inasmuch as wellness is often depicted as a pastime for white women. The arena of self care is often a white space designed for white women and wherein other white women profit (Daniels, 2018). Self-care naturalizes wellness as white while rendering the outcomes of self-care as virtuous (healthy skin, fit bodies, physical ability).  Secondly, because self-improvement costs money, it creates a divide between who can improve and who cannot. Wellness is reserved for the wealthy who can afford the time and money for such things as expensive fitness classes, skin products, or foods. Because self-care is an individual endeavour, it does not address or contextualize social problems such as poverty (Daniels, 2018). Finally, it is simply stressful and laborious to improve oneself, especially when people are already overburdened with paid and unpaid labor. In a UK study of 200 women who used fitness trackers, 79% felt guilty if they did not meet their daily goals, 59% felt controlled by the device, and 30% felt like it was the enemy (Lieberman, 2018).


This newest, commodified version of self-care is a new capitalistic incarnation of the concept, but it has meant different things throughout history.  The Civil Rights movement and feminist movement engaged in self-care as a political act as a reaction to the failures of white, patriarchal society to care for their needs.  Part of the early movement for self-care entailed setting up women’s health clinics to address the health needs of women as an alternative to medical institutions which many women experienced as sexist and hostile to women’s health.  Self-care was also a component of The Black Panther Party’s orgazing. The Black Panthers sought to address community needs that had been unmet by the state. As such, they set up clinics to address the needs of black people, such as testing for sickle cell anemia or lead poisoning (Aisha, 2017).  The Black Panthers established thirteen free clinics around the the country and connected poor health as an outcome of poverty (Bassett, 2016). Today’s concept of self-care, which focuses on the individual and is far less political and community based. Another understanding of self care is the medical term employed in high stress jobs such as social workers, therapists, and EMTs, who recognized the need for self-care to avoid burn-out or compassion fatigue.  This use of the term is certainly not as radical as the Black Panther or feminist movement concept of community building, but at the very least recognizes that work can be a source of personal strain. During the 1980s and 1990s, self-care became disassociated from its political roots and more connected to commercialized fitness and wellness trends that appealed to middle class white people. Fitness clubs and yoga classes are the types of ways that self care has manifested since then.  In recent years, feminists and activists in the black community have shown renewed interest in self-care as well (Aisha, 2017).  After the mass shooting in Orlando, LGBTQ people around the world used the hashtag #queerselflove to post selfies and Jace Harr, a trans man, created a popular online questionnaire entitled, “You Feel Like Shit: An Interactive Self-Care guide” which asks users if they have drank water, feel disassociated, feel triggered, and other self-care questions.  Devin-Norelle, a trans black man, posted about self care after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, saying “Healing is self-care is self-love, self-indulgence, and self-preservation, because sometimes we need to be reminded that #BlackIsBeautiful (Kisner, 2018).” Devin-Norelle’s post echoes a quote from Audre Lorde, who wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare (Boyle, ND).”  Similarly, Evette Dione wrote in Bitch Magazine that many people are poor, working themselves to early graves, and that self-care means pushing against society by asserting one’s own needs and existence (Kisner, 2018).

Image result for Black panther clinic

An image depicting the Black Panther’s Free Food Program- one of several social programs including clinics, food distribution, children’s breakfast program, and free ambulance.  From: https://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/26/8-black-panther-party-programs-that-were-more-empowering-than-federal-government-programs/


Conclusion:


Care often falls upon the shoulders of women.  Women are often tasked with caring for children, elderly, those who are ill, their communities, and the environment.  This is done in both the paid and unpaid economy.   The strain of this physical and emotional labor leaves little time for self-care, but a strong need for it.  Capitalism commodifies self-care, turning it into something that requires time, effort, and money and bestowing virtues upon those who can accomplish balance, health, beauty and fitness.  While self-care could be liberating, in this economic context, it is another trap. It is time to return to the roots of self-care. Today’s society needs the militant, collective self-care.   Pressure should be put on the state and our workplaces for parental leave, paid sick time, healthy environments, socialized health care, free and expanded public transportation, living wages, affordable housing, reproductive justice, and all of the other things that are needed to live full and healthy lives.  Self-care must connect the self to the social struggle and build up people together as communities. We must care for another, while empowering each other to fight for the structural changes necessary to end sexism, racism, heterosexism, poverty, ableism, and all other forms of oppression once and for all. Chocolates, bubble baths, and yoga are alright, but self-care should be enjoyed with a revolutionary consciousness that seeks to end the child slavery that produces the chocolate,  the cultural appropriation that decontextualizes yoga among white people, and fights for access to clean water for all!  I suppose this sort of self-care is pretty exhausting, since it isn’t self-care as much as it is struggle. But, perhaps we can do self-care together, caring for each other along the way, so that we have strength and energy in each other. Finally, I think there is an important self-care tactic within the International Women’s Strike movement.  This is the tactic of striking, which is withdrawing labor. Self-care can mean withdrawing unpaid and paid labor to demand better conditions and a better world. The ultimate way we can take care of ourselves is to work towards a world wherein we don’t have to work with such effort, little pay, lack of control, and uncertainty.


Sources:

Arruzza, C. (2016). Functionalist, determinist, reductionist: Social reproduction feminism and its critics. Science & Society, 80(1), 9-30.

Arruzza, C.,  Bhattacharya, T., and Fraser F. (2019). FEMINISM FOR THE 99%. New York: VERSO.

Bassett M. T. (2016). Beyond Berets: The Black Panthers as Health Activists. American journal of public health, 106(10), 1741-3.

Berman, J. (2018, April 15). Women’s unpaid work is the backbone of the American economy. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-is-how-much-more-unpaid-work-women-do-than-men-2017-03-07

Boyle, S. (n.d.). Remembering the Origins of the Self-Care Movement. Retrieved from https://bust.com/feminism/194895-history-of-self-care-movement.html

Boyne, I. (2018, November 15). Self-care must separate itself from beauty industry. Retrieved from http://miscellanynews.org/2018/11/14/opinions/self-care-must-separate-itself-from-beauty-industry

Daniels, J. (2018, December 05). Opinion | This Holiday Season, Resist The Unbearable Whiteness Of Wellness. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-wellness-holidays-trump-gwyneth-paltrow-goop_us_5c07e65de4b0fc23611249c6

Eisenstein, H. (2005). A dangerous liaison? Feminism and corporate globalization. Science & Society, 69(3), 487-518.

Hill, J. (2019, March 19). Self-Care And Skin Care. Retrieved from https://the1a.org/shows/2019-03-19/self-care-and-skin-care

K., S. (2018, September 11). How Self-Care Became a $250 Million Business. Retrieved from https://www.couturesquemag.com/single-post/goop-self-care-politics-and-profit

Kisner, J. (2017, June 19). The Politics of Conspicuous Displays of Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-politics-of-selfcare

Leonard, S., & Fraser, N. (2016, Fall). Capitalism’s Crisis of Care. Retrieved from https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/nancy-fraser-interview-capitalism-crisis-of-care

Low, E. (2019, January 28). Self Care Wellness Trends: Beauty, Fitness, Cannabis Fuel $4 Trillion Market. Retrieved from https://www.investors.com/news/self-care-wellness-trends-beauty-fitness-cannabis-market/

Gollayan, C. (2019, March 05). Teenage girls do more homework and household chores than boys: Study. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/03/05/teenage-girls-do-more-homework-and-household-chores-than-boys-study/

Harris, A. (2017, April 05). How “Self-Care” Went From Radical to Frou-Frou to Radical Once Again. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2017/04/the_history_of_self_care.html

Lieberman, C. (2018, August 10). How Self-Care Became So Much Work. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-self-care-became-so-much-work

Rocheleau, M. (2017, March 07). Chart: The percentage of women and men in each profession – The Boston Globe. Retrieved from https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/06/chart-the-percentage-women-and-men-each-profession/GBX22YsWl0XaeHghwXfE4H/story.html

Silva, C. (2017, June 04). The Millennial Obsession With Self-Care. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2017/06/04/531051473/the-millennial-obsession-with-self-care

Taei, P. (2019, March 08). Visualizing Women’s Unpaid Work Across the Globe (A Special Chart). Retrieved from https://towardsdatascience.com/visualizing-womens-unpaid-work-across-the-globe-a-special-chart-9f2595fafaaa

Wilding, M., & Wilding, M. (2018, August 15). When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage – Great Escape – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/s/greatescape/when-self-care-turns-into-self-sabotage-489cef9859e5

Wile, R. (2015, June 13). This epic chart shows the average wage for almost every job in America. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/the-average-wage-for-almost-every-job-in-america-2015-6

Women do 4 times more unpaid care work than men in Asia and the Pacific. (2018, June 27). Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_633284/lang–en/index.htm

A Rock and a Hard Place: A Story About Poverty and Wishful Thinking

A Rock and a Hard Place

A Rock and a Hard Place:  A Story about Poverty and Wishful Thinking

H. Bradford

3.11.19


I grew up poor.   Of course, poor is relative, and to some degree, everyone was poor where I grew up in rural Minnesota.  The median household income in Cromwell in  2016 was $26,094.  In contrast, Duluth, a city about an hour away, has a median household income of $45,950 So, it is a poor area for this region.  Against this backdrop, my family was poor, owing to the fact that only one of my parents regularly worked outside of the home for most of my childhood, my father’s employment was fraught with periods of layoffs and injury, and because my parents were very young when they had me (my mother was in high school).  While I wasn’t the poorest of the poor and benefited from support from my grandparents, I grew up aware that we didn’t have the nicest home (a trailer in the woods), best toys, braces for my teeth, other families seemed to have more, and that finances stressed my parents out.   I remember one winter when my father was laid off of work, we ate potatoes and eggs during January and February.  I remember wanting things to be better for my parents.  I remember, in about the first grade, wishing that Santa would bring us more money.   As a child, I really didn’t have the tools to understand poverty, how it works, how to escape it, or that escape from poverty is atypical.  In my immature mindset, poverty was something best escaped through some miraculous circumstance.  For instance, Charlie Bucket escaped poverty by finding a golden ticket in his chocolate bar and surviving the maniacal factory trials of a mad capitalist by virtue of his….virtue.  The Beverly Hillbillies escaped poverty by finding oil on their property.  Following this theme, I was convinced that we would escape poverty by finding a valuable rock.  This happened twice.


The swampy yard of my childhood featured at least two large rocks.  I would climb on one of them, which was mossy and would have been a good location for a rock garden if it wasn’t set in a swamp or shade.  Another rock that captured my imagination was located inside the forest across from our driveway.  This rock was also located in one of many swampy pools near our home which was ideal for finding frogs in the spring, but would dry up by summer.  Something about that particular rock captured by imagination.  It was gray and jagged.  Like the other rock, it was large enough to sit and play on.  Perhaps because it was deeper in the woods, surrounded by ferns and other prehistoric plants,  half submerged in a vernal pool, I imagined it was associated with dinosaurs.  I imagined that the rock had something to do with the extinction of the dinosaurs.  It became obvious to my mind that it was in fact, a meteor.  I knew, on a scientific level, that meteors are rare and valuable, so I decided that this was going to be our golden ticket out of poverty.   On a superstitious level, whenever we saw a meteor streak across the sky, my mother told us to say “money, money, money” as fast as we could, until it disappeared and perhaps money would come our way.  I was always disappointed that they never lasted long enough to say the incantation more than a few times, if any at all.  Money certainly never came of it.  In any event, I convinced my brother that it was a meteor.  It probably isn’t hard to stretch the imagination that far, since it was a large rock in the middle of a forest.  Obviously it got there somehow, so why not outer space?  My mind was not geologically grounded enough to consider glaciers.  My brother and I dragged my mother out to this meteor, convinced that it was going to make us some money.  She followed us to the rock.   Maybe she cautiously hoped that we had indeed stumbled upon something of value.  Just like Antique Roadshow, undiscovered wealth was waiting to be found.  I showed her the rock and explained the characteristics that clearly made it a meteor.  It wasn’t.  I don’t remember what happened after we brought her into the woods.  But, we never became wealthy from it and eventually I forgot about the rock and stopped playing in the woods.

Image result for rock with dinosaur toys

A random image of dinosaurs on a rock from FreePic


The second rock incident happened much later.  I went on a road trip to Thunder Bay, Ontario with my grandmother, brother, and mother.  I was about fourteen years old.  On the way back, we stopped at a rest stop or overlook, and I saw a large, clay colored rock.  I was convinced that this was an agate.  I suppose traveling up the North Shore of Lake Superior I had agates on the brain.  I convinced my brother that it was an agate.  Although it was dull and reddish brown, I was sure that if we loaded it into the car, then cracked it open, it would split into two perfect agate geodes.  The otherwise dull colored rock had a specks that glistened in the sun, which to me indicated that it was secretly an agate.   This was around the time my parents divorced and we were moving on to a new life in a low income apartment, on food stamps, in a new single parent household in Isanti, MN.  A magnificent agate would have been a huge help.  My mother was reluctant, but once again I got my brother on board.  We both convinced her to load the forty or fifty pound rock into our vehicle.  After all, we couldn’t possibly leave this opportunity for wealth behind.  It road around in our vehicle for months.  Eventually, my mother asked a rock collector at the county fair about it.  The expert scoffed at the idea that we would find such large agate.   But, we didn’t know how agates formed or how they would have broken up into smaller pieces over time.  I was disappointed that it was….just a rock.  It was a rock and an unwanted passenger in the backseat of our car.  I think we eventually rolled the rock onto the lawn of our low income apartment complex, which upset the management.  The last I remember was seeing it rolled up against a tree by the parking lot.  Did we get into trouble?  Did they make us move it?  Did they know it was our rock?  I don’t know.  I just know that once again, we pinned our hopes on a mineral miracle. Image result for agate geode

What I imagined we would find inside the rock….

              

I’ve been thinking about these stories lately.   It seems foolish that I believed, on more than one occasion, that we could escape poverty by finding valuable rocks.   But, these ideas are really no different than some of the other faulty thinking regarding poverty or social class.  For one, the idea of discovering something valuable to escape poverty is a common narrative in society.   I already mentioned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  The Antique Roadshow, and Beverly Hillbillies.  Any story involving hidden treasure similarly follows the notion that wealth is out there waiting to be found.   Lottery tickets similarly create the notion that wealth is out there.  It is just a matter of the right numbers at the right time….and SOMEONE has to win.  Even if the odds are low, it COULD be you if you just participate.   The Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes also reinforces the faulty thinking that wealth is something that can unexpectedly happen.  Game shows also promote this idea, as contestants compete for money or prizes.   Of course, some skill might be involved, but a person’s ability to solve word puzzles, guess the correct price, or answer trivia questions is generally not a surefire way to make it ahead in society.  In another example, one of my favorite children’s stories was called Silly Simon, about a foolish young man who was abused by his mother and could never do anything right, until his silly antics caused a princess to laugh.  He was awarded gold from a king for this feat.   This teaches that wealth is something that can happen in just the right circumstances or with a not so useful skill-set that suddenly has value.   Another common trope is the orphan who is adopted into wealth, such as Annie, Oliver Twist, or a low rated TV show that aired when I was a child called Rags to Riches.  At least I never once imagined escaping poverty through adoption!   I grew up in a world informed by Publishers Clearing House, scratch tickets, stories of orphans and treasures, game shows, etc.  At the same time, never once did my pre-college formal education tackle the topic of causes of poverty.   This is a disservice to children, who are often bullied for their social class.  I remember my brother was once upset that a classmate of his (in Isanti) said that our family lived in the dumpster by the school.  I remember a classmate (in Cambridge) picking on my family for using food stamps and another teasing me because my family didn’t own our own washing machine (which I hadn’t even considered a sign of poverty until teased for it.  I liked going to the laundromat).   If children are not raised to understand social class, then being poor is mysterious and easy to blame on lack of luck or some kind of flaw.

Image result for silly simon


Even as I entered college, I really didn’t understand class.  I felt embarrassed that everyone else seemed to have stories about going on vacations that involved sailing in Greece or backpacking in Europe.   I didn’t want to talk about myself.  (Of course, at this point in my life I have traveled a lot, but upon graduating high school I had never been on a plane and felt jealous when I met college students who had studied abroad in high school or went on elaborate family vacations.  I felt less than them!  That this was not a matter of money, but that I wasn’t “good enough” to have these opportunities.  But, these feelings motivated me to prioritize travel).  I felt ashamed that my parents were not doctors, professors, business owners, lawyers, or any of the other prestigious professions that other students’ parents seemed to have.  I felt that there was something wrong with me and my family.  I felt that I was inferior.  That if I was smarter, more attractive, harder working, more talented, more outgoing, less strange, or any number of other qualities, that I too would have an exciting and successful life.  So, rather than analyze the difference between myself and other students I met as a matter of socioeconomics, I felt that I was defective.   Internalizing being poor as a flaw or a failure was just as faulty as believing that wealth could come from meteors (or lottery tickets, sweepstakes, game shows, etc.).  Yet, this is more insidious and pervasive.  It is something that I believe to some degree even to this day.  Being poor….it did make me flawed!   I have crooked teeth because we couldn’t afford braces.  I have a crooked spine as well.  We didn’t have access or an understanding of psychology, so some of these needs also went unmet or unknown.  So, I am not the optimal person I might have been in other socioeconomic circumstances.  Certainly, I am a passable person and everyone has flaws.  Yet, for all of my passion for learning, all of my talent, hard work, or any number of positive attributes, I will never be “living my best life.”   In parts, I am to blame.  A scarcity mindset prevents me from taking too many risks or living too freely.  I will never feel empowered to quit a job I don’t like or make major life changes because in the back of my mind, I know that there is a lot to lose and fear of going without. Image result for living my best life

Yeah, not really.  But life is….okay.


The narrative of self-determination  is perhaps the hardest one to overcome.  I can rationally conclude that success does not come from meteors, agates, game shows, or lottery tickets.  Yet, I have not quite abandoned the notion that with hard work, education, talent, risk taking, determination, etc. I should be able to accomplish my goals and dreams.   This is the narrative that our educational systems socialize us to believe in the most, as in the context of capitalism, educational systems need to justify their own existence by promising that education can help us become self-actualized, successful people.   So, this is why I find myself up against a rock and a hard place.   This is also why I think we need to be careful about what kinds of stories we tell ourselves about class.   We must abandon the language of “living the best the best life,” goal digging, girl bosses, slaying and narratives of self-made successes.   This isn’t to argue that everyone should adopt “learned helpnessness” or the idea that nothing we do has an impact on our environment or life outcomes.   Instead, I think that narratives about upward mobility or class should be tempered by socioeconomic realities rather than individual efforts.  This itself is contested, as conclusions about upward mobility vary depending upon how this is measured and defined.   For instance, the U.S. Treasury Department posits that upward mobility is a reality for low income Americans, who on average see their incomes rise over time as measured by tax returns.  If one defines upward mobility as entering a new tax quintile, then yes, upward mobility is possible.   Marxists define things more broadly, as class is about a relationship to production.  A quintile increase in taxed income may not translate to increased access and control of capital.  Because upward mobility is not operationalized by Marxists as increased status or income, social mobility is less common in socialist interpretations.  In this broader view, capitalism itself is prone to instability and declining rates of profit over time, so income gains are never a given and always challenged by a profit motive that is inherently at odds with high or even stable standards of living for most workers.  But, one does not need to be a Marxist to understand that life is limited by class, and compounding this, it is limited by gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc.  It is also limited by job availability, unemployment trends, globalization, new technology, etc.  You can work very hard, have many talents, educate yourself extensively, make all the right choices, and you can still end up working menial, unrewarding jobs in which you worry about retirement and live paycheck to paycheck.


It was foolish for me to think that we would find money in the form of a meteor or an agate.  Even if we had, that money would not have sustained us for long.  I had so much hope back then.  But, of course, this is false hope and wishful thinking.  My favorite quote is “We must prefer a real hell to an imaginary paradise” by Simone Weil.  Of course, she was probably talking about some spiritual nonsense, but I have always interpreted it as it is better to think clearly without hope, than have false hope in ignorance.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot of hope that most working people will have a windfall of wealth, much less live their lives without economic hardship and worry.  There are no meteors, agates, winning lottery tickets, etc. to save us.  Even education, hard work, innovation, talent, etc. are not tickets to a better life.  A better life is secured through collective struggle, not individual efforts or accomplishments.  It is class struggle that shortens the workday, promises pensions, provides health care, mandates paid leave, and all of the other benefits that ACTUALLY do improve lives and creates opportunities.   Living our best lives is a function of the mass movements that seek to end war, protect the environment, provide public transportation, end police brutality, empower women, dismantle racism, etc.  So, I do have some hope, or at least, a methodology for betterment.

Of Communists and Kings: Rules for Feeling History in Romania

romania

Of Communists and Kings:

Rules for Feeling History In Romania

H. Bradford
12.21.18


One of the most interesting things to observe when I travel to “dark” places is how people behave.  Of course, almost everything in the world has “dark” history, but there are some places in which the dark histories are well known and less contested.  Some examples that come to mind are Auschwitz, Chernobyl, Hiroshima, the Killing Fields in Cambodia, etc.  These are places that most of mainstream society would view as having dark histories.  Interpretations of these histories may vary, but most U.S. citizens, for instance, would feel the need to be reverent or well-behaved while visiting the USS Arizona Memorial.  Indeed, while visiting this memorial, I found that the the mood was sober and quiet among American tourists.  The tourists were more subdued in ritualistic thoughtfulness.  So too, tourists at Auschwitz were generally quiet, subdued, and again, ritually thoughtful.  Tourists who deviate from this norm are sometimes shamed, as in the case of Yolocaust, a photography project wherein Jewish artist Shahak Shapira altered tourist selfie photos, placing them in historical Holocaust images.  Holocaust history is certainly contested, but at least in mainstream Western society it is acknowledged as real and horrific, even if specific Western complicity in persecution of Jews or failure to act against these atrocities may not be part of that narrative.  In both of these examples, most tourists follow social scripts of how to behave and express emotion.  These norms are called “feeling rules” a sociological concept developed by Arlie Hochschild.  There are socially prescribed ways to express feelings at work, school, weddings, funerals, parties, and the many other facets of life.  Tourists also follow unwritten social guidelines of how to express emotion.  The variation in these rules offers some insight to how history is interpreted.  For instance, in September I paid a visit to Primaverii Palace, a residence of the Ceausescu family. The following day, I visited two Romanian castles, Bran Castle and Peles Castle.  The tourists acted very differently at each of these sites.

Image result for yolocaust

An image from the Yolocaust photo series, which was used to draw attention to tourist behaviors at Holocaust memorials/historical sites.  The site was later taken down and tourists featured in the images often removed their selfies and apologized after being shamed by the project.


Primaverii Palace was one of over 80 residences of the Ceausescu family.  The house contains the bedrooms of the Ceausescu children, gifts from foreign dignitaries, a sauna, indoor swimming pool, articles of clothing, a private movie theater, and family photographs.  Tourists were very quiet in the house and there was a marked absence of laughter, joking, admiration of the tilework or decor, or anything that might come off as overtly positive. Why? Well, the house belonged to a dead communist dictator who lived well while the people of Romania were cold and hungry.  The house is not meant to be admired, it is meant to be a symbol of the contradictions and failures of communism, wherein those connected to state power enjoyed luxury while the masses lived leanly. The house represents the dark history of oppression. Of course, the mansion itself is fairly modest, as far as mansions go.  I have visited many larger, more ornate mansions belonging to capitalists. However, these mansions are de-politicized. The inequality associated with capitalism is normal and expected. Therefore, visitors to THOSE mansions do not have to be quiet and respectful.  They can be wowed by the woodwork or the gardens. Any Western visitor to the Ceausescu mansion  with an inkling of Romanian history and iota of respect for the suffering of others, will probably behave respectfully at the mansion. The mansion is political. There are many reasons for this. One, Romania’s experience with communism is not “old” history. It happened within the lifetime and memory of many visitors, who like myself, may have seen images such as emaciated Romanian orphans on the news after the collapse of Romanian communism.  Two, communist dictatorship is almost incontestably viewed as bad. There are few Western sympathizers with Ceausescu. I myself am a revolutionary socialists and while I can explain why things went so awry in the Soviet Union and subsequent communist countries, I have no affinity or apology for the Ceausescus. Communist Romania, like North Korea or Cambodia under Pol-Pot, is a country with what Goffman called a spoiled identity. In Goffman’s case, the term was applied to stigmatized individuals, but I would extend this concept to the notion that an entire countries can be stigmatized by the brutality of their government and resulting ostracism and isolation from the West.  For political reasons, communist labelled countries are more stigmatized than similarly brutal of regimes that were supported by capitalist powers. A person who supports a particularly brutal regime, even critically, faces the risk of having their own identity spoiled by associating themselves with human rights violations and state repression. Thus, the feeling rules while visiting the home of a communist leader dictate that one should treat the visit with the respect owed to those who suffered under communism. Failure to do so might imply support of state repression or insensitivity to victims of communism, both of which threaten to spoil a tourist’s identity in the eyes of other tourists.

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Primaverii Palace


This respect and quiet were not expected at the two castles that I visited.  Peles Castle was an expansive estate tucked in the Carpathian Mountains. It was shrouded in a misty forest of dark pines.  The immediate reaction of the tourists is that it looked like a fairy tale. Inside, the castle was richly decorated with gold leaf and walnut, for a rustic look.  The castles contains 30 toilets and 170 rooms. In contrast, Ceausescu’s palace contained 80 rooms. The castle was built by Carol I, though really it was “built” by nameless laborers who made the furniture, rugs, rooms, stairways, gardens, plumbing, electricity, and so on.  The grandeur of a castle is not framed as an expression of the oppression of others. The castle is apolitical. Yet, visitors could be quiet and thoughtful as they consider the inequality of wealth under feudalism and capitalism or the thousands of workers whose labor is rendered invisible in the splendor of the castle.  How did Romanians live under the rule of Carol I and his successors? What wars were they sent to fight in? For what purpose? Where did all of Carol I’s wealth come from? A king should very well be as loathed as any communist dictator. Kings represent a system of benefits based upon heredity. Carol I was from the German Hohenzollern family and when he came to power in Romania in 1866, 38% of the arable land was owned by 2000 individual landowners.  Serfdom was abolished in 1746 in Wallachia and 1749 in Moldavia. In Transylvania in 1848, landlords tried to privatize wood, which had been traditionally an item of the commons which peasants could use for building, fires, charcoal, barrels, etc. In this sense, Romania was in a process of transitioning to capitalism, though still mostly rural and agrarian. Under Carol I’s rule, Romania was a constitutional monarchy, but the king maintained the power to dissolve the parliament, controlled the military, make treaties, appoint ministers and government personnel, approve laws, etc.  There is nothing progressive about monarchy, which concentrates state power among wealthy men whose qualification to rule is hereditary. Yet, on Trip Advisor, the castle is described as charming, wonderful, historic, a gem, fabulous, and beautiful. It could just as easily be described as an icon for the oppression of women (who were not allowed to be monarchical rulers and even ruling class women were breeders at best) or an atrocious waste of resources that could have gone towards the benefit of Romanian peasants. The castle itself was built by 400 workers, by some accounts (it seems that a cursory internet search doesn’t yield a wealth of information on the actual working conditions or workers who built the castle) and that these workers spoke up to 14 languages.  Workers included some imported skilled laborers, but also Albanians, Turks, and Romani who were presumably less skilled or at least not noted as skilled in the scant descriptions of the workers. Considering the long history of oppression and marginalization in Romanian society, it is hard to imagine that Romani workers were anything but hyper-exploited. Slavery was abolished in Romania between the 1840s and 1850s and Roma made up the vast majority of Romanian slaves. In 1859 there were 250,000 emancipated slaves in Romania. Thus, when construction of Peles castle began in 1873, Roma laborers would have less than two decades of freedom from six hundred years of slavery. The castle, therefore, might also be looked upon as a monument to the oppression of Roma. Of course, tourists do not see this when they see the castle.  There are no feeling rules that dictate quiet contemplation or soberness. Monarchy is taken for granted unless notoriously cruel (such as King Leopold II of Belgium) and there is a sense that monarchs can be good, bad, or neutral unlike communist dictators which tend to be framed as some shade of bad. Perhaps these feeling rules would be different in a different era wherein the struggle against monarchy or the spread of capitalism was still in its infancy or this history was more contemporary. Unfortunately, monarchy is depoliticized, so visitors to Peles or that matter Versailles or Russia’s Winter Palace, are unlikely to seethe with anger at the excesses of monarchs, take joy in the violent mass uprisings against such inequalities, or quietly reflect on the lot of peasants or those less fortunate.

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Peles Castle


Finally, I visited Bran Castle.  The mood here was different from Peles castle and from the Ceausescu mansion.  It was one of whim, fantasy, and dubious history. Although Bran castle has little to do with the history of Vlad the Impaler or vampires, it was marketed as Dracula’s castle, where one could purchase an array of Dracula themed souvenirs and foods.  A tourist could even take a Dracula tour or attend a large Halloween party hosted there each year. The castle is famous because it is similar to the castle described by Bram Stoker in Dracula. While the story of Carol I is made bland by the slow taming of monarchy, Vlad the Impaler was a thoroughly brutal ruler who by some historical accounts killed 90% of the boyars to replace them by a new ruling class that would be loyal to him, abused and murdered his mistresses, and impaled over 20,000 Turks at the Night Attack at Targoviste.  It is debatable if his cruelty was uniquely terrible by the moral standards of monarchs of the 1400s. Because his atrocities are several hundred years old, he is a character that can be looked upon with dark fascination or even historical neutrality. Unlike Ceausescu, who is very real, Vlad the Impaler, although historical, is mythological in his association with vampirism. Thus, a visit to Bran Castle (which was not associated with him) is not governed by feeling rules that require respect for death and suffering.  In contrast, the castle is marketed to celebrate death, the supernatural, and spookiness. If anything, the castle is disappointingly normal in that it really doesn’t have a particularly dark history, as far as castles go. Again, the celebration of Dracula and Vlad the Impaler represents an extreme depoliticization of the excesses of monarchy. One of the only overtly political marker in the castle is the story of various Romanian monarchs and how the castle was appropriated by the communist state. After the collapse of communism, Bran castle was returned to the Romanian royal family (who had been exiled in 1948).  This is supposed to be viewed as right and just. The right of monarchs to the property is not questioned and is simply a matter of the order of things. The remnant Hapsburgs who own the castle have since refurbished it and opened it to the public. Their generosity and stewardship is to be celebrated.

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In a world where tourists should feel reflective and subdued in the face of communist atrocities, I feel that the same standards should be applied to those of feudalism and capitalism.  The double standard seems disingenuous, as if suffering matters, then all suffering is worth consideration. The world is imbued with inequality, injustice, and pain. In some cases, this is obvious to a tourist.  This has to do with how history is understood and felt. The rules of feeling and understanding history are political. I have visited many castles, but in almost all of them, the suffering is invisible and there is no questioning of inequality or wealth.  A castle is often nothing more than a pretty object to be stunned by. When it isn’t, it is perhaps a ruin or a damp remnant of some fantastic and distant time. Politics should be returned to these buildings so that tourists can remain alert for the contradictions and misery making inequalities of the world.  Excess and luxury should be fought against, whether it is the excess of communist rulers or the excess of kings. Both represent the theft of wealth from the land and from labor and lives of ordinary people. Almost everything should make us angry, disgusted, or sad. At the very least, feeling rules should be considered as they indicate norms of historical interpretation.

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Aitkin County Fair Review

Review of the Aitkin County Fair

Aitkin County Fair Review

H. Bradford

7/30/18

Aitkin County is Minnesota county with a population just over 16,000.  Despite the fact that is the neighboring county to Carlton County, where I grew up, I have never attended their county fair.  I usually attended the Carlton County Fair or a fair in St. Louis County.  This year, I attended the Aitkin County Fair with my family.   The fair was held early by fair standards (July 4-7th).  I attended on Saturday, which was the final day of the fair.  Here are my general impressions of the fair, though it may be an unfair assessment.


 

Pros:

 

Free Admission:

Most fairs charge a fee to enter.  This was always true of the Carlton County Fair.  The Aitkin County Fair costs nothing to attend!  There is a $5 parking fee, but this is easily avoided if a person parks further away.  This means that a person looking for free summer fun can wander around the fair at not cost.  Of course, rides and food are a bit spendy, but a person could choose to spend nothing! Image may contain: 1 person, standing and outdoor


Children Activities:

There were a variety of free activities for children.  There was an entire building dedicated to free crafts for kids, where children could make noodle necklaces and spinners.  My nephews did a few of the free crafts, but were less interested in other free activities such as viewing animals or learning more about farming in an interactive, children’s barn.

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Tractor Parade:

Another highlight of the fair was the tractor parade.  There is something really fun about watching a parade of tractors.  The drivers tended to be older men, but there were also some kids and women.  The tractors followed the perimeter of the fairgrounds for a 20 minute parade that showcased the mostly older model tractors. Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor and nature


A Variety of Booths:

The Aitkin County Fair featured a two buildings of booths.  My favorite booth was for the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  This booth was selling guidebooks on a variety of topics at half price.  I purchased a guide to ferns, a guide to moths, and a wildflower guide.  I also purchased two half priced children’s books for my nephews on the topic of bats.   I collected pamphlets from other booths on gardening in Minnesota, Minnesota trees, and pollinators- which may have come from booths for the DNR and University of Minnesota Extension.  The Aitkin County History Society also had a building at the fair.


 

Aitkin Gobblers:

This doesn’t have much to do with the fair, but the mascot for the Aitkin schools is a turkey, since the area was once known for turkey farming and processing.  Aitkin County once produced a half million turkeys each year and Land-o-Lakes operated a turkey processing plant in Aitkin until 1985.  The school adopted the turkey mascot because of the importance of turkeys to Aitkin.  Well, I think this is a great, unique mascot.  I made a point of trying to find an Aitkin Gobbler T-shirt while in Aitkin, but I could only find one at a local thrift store.  I purchased the shirt for $3, but was disappointed that it did not feature the image of a turkey.  At the fair, there were only a few turkeys.  One of them looked droopy and had an empty water dish, so I gave it some water (which it immediately stepped on and knocked over. Oh well, at least its foot was no longer dehydrated..)  There are not many turkeys in Aitkin any more, but at least a few could be found at the fair and I found a Gobbler shirt.     The range of wild turkeys is expanding, so it is more common to see wild turkeys in Aitkin and Carlton counties.  So, perhaps the turkey will return as a wild and free bird.  Fair organizers should really play up the importance of turkeys…

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Fire and Rescue Table:

Aitkin County Fire and Rescue had an awesome table tucked away in the far northeast corner of the fair.   The table gave away full sized bottles of water for free to combat heat exhaustion.  We were all given at least one bottle of ice cold water.  They also gave us vials of insect repellent and other free items related to staying safe.  We were encouraged to take us much as we wanted.  Maybe because of the isolated location of the table and the fact that it was the last day of the fair, we were given a large amount of free goodies.


 

Cons:

Banana Derby:

The Banana Derby should probably go into the “con” category.  It is one of those surprising things that seem out of place in this day and age.  The attraction was literally a race between two dogs with monkeys riding on their backs.  It was free to observe and money was made through promotional photographs with the monkeys.  This didn’t seem right.  Monkeys in sweaty, polyester jockey costumes holding on to dogs as they ran on a small track.  Even if the dogs and monkeys are treated well, that sort of performance is probably stressful and tiring for the animals.  Is this the worst offense of the fair?  After all, animals are put on display for several days or served as food.  This is a complicated issue, but there seemed like something distinctively exploitative about carting dogs and monkeys around the country and training them to race.  Perhaps it is simply the unusual nature of this particular entertainment that calls into question the issue of animal treatment.  I will say that whole thing was pretty surreal.

 

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Lack of Produce:

Because the fair is held in early July, most gardens have not produced many crops as it it too early in the season.  Tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, eggplants, peppers, and so on tend to arrive later in late July and August.  Thus, the fair did not have many vegetables on display.   What could be done?  Maybe people could be encouraged to enter peas, lettuce, or immature versions of the later season crops. Image result for shriveled vegetable

Not an actual photo from the fair…but my impression of the veggies…


Business Booths:

While there was a building full of booths for organizations, there was another that was focused on businesses.  These offered prizes to promote their business.   These prizes seem a little scammy.  For instance, I received a call that I was one of  the finalists for a prize at the “Atkin” county fair.  Considering that the caller did not know how to pronounce Aitkin, I felt that it was not a representative from a local business or a genuine prize.  My brother also received a call regarding another prize, and it was clear that everyone who entered likely got a call from the business.  The prize offerings seemed like a way to gather customer contact information to trick people into purchasing products and services.


Lack of Swag Bags:

While at the fair, I tend to collect various pamphlets and free things.  Soon, my arms were full of books, pamphlets, and booklets.   None of the booths offered any sort of bag to carry the items in…except…the Aitkin County Republican Party.  I grabbed several bags and gave them to my family members.  I didn’t mind carrying my stuff around in a bag that said “God Bless America- Aitkin County Republican Party” as I found it rather ironic.  I didn’t feel ashamed, as it felt more like a prank or that I was a troll.   Is this wrong?  Should have I cared more?  I would have felt more embarrassed with a Democrat bag, since at least that would seem halfway plausible to the rest of the world.  A long story short, I guess I should have come prepared with a purse or backpack large enough to carry my loot.

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Not an actual photo of the bag, but you get the idea…

 

Overall:

The Aitkin County Fair is definitely a small fair.  There aren’t huge crowds and it is easy to amble along, enjoying this slice of rural living.  Rural life has been in a long decline, so there is a sense of emptiness at the fair.  Still, there is a sample of what once was with barns of goats, rabbits, cows, turkeys, pigs, and chickens, even if there are only a few representatives of each.  The few withered vegetable entries were sad, but on the other hand, there seemed to be robust interest in creating art, as the art barn had many entries.   There are carnival rides, free activities for kids, organizations with booths,  and of course, the tractor parade.  There is also music, fireworks, tractor pulls, 4H demonstrations, and a magician.  I did not partake in those events, but I am sure that each would add to the experience.  As a whole, I think it was a charming fair and worth a visit precisely because it is a small town affair and because of the hard work the community puts into organizing it.

Ten Reasons Why Travel Won’t Make You Better

Top 10 Reasons

Ten Reasons Why Travel Won’t Make You Better

H. Bradford

6/18/18

With the death of Anthony Bourdain, there have been many well meaning articles which encourage people to travel so that they can become better people.  This is a common theme in travel writing- the transformative power of travel. However, I am uncomfortable with this framing- especially the claim that travel makes you better.  Sometimes this claim is qualified by saying that it will make a person more adventurous, more comfortable with strangers, smarter, more flexible, more self aware, etc. I think this is a dangerous narrative, and that believing that travel makes a person better can actually make a person worse.  At the very least, it is a hollow, self-congratulatory platitude for those who have had the privilege of traveling. So, to buck the trend of “travel makes you better” here is a top ten list of how travel doesn’t make you better.


1.Better is Comparative

What is better?  Better is a comparative adjective.  Thus, to argue that travel makes someone “better” means that there is an unnamed subject that the traveler is better than.   Perhaps travel makes a person better than the person they were before they traveled. The comparison is between the past and present self.  More darkly, the comparison could be between the traveler and those who have not traveled. This is problematic because travel is a privilege, which will be addressed later.  While it may seem benign to suppose that travel makes an individual better than they were before they traveled, this argument concedes that the worth of a human being has something to do with how much they have traveled.  Am I a better person because I have traveled? No, the quality of my humanity is no better. I may be more knowledgeable about certain subjects, have some fond memories, or feel proud of confronting my fears but my overall “betterness” is non-existent.  I am no better than the human I was before I traveled and no better than any human who has not traveled.  Really, this vague notion of “better” is inherently hierarchical, as it divides humans (even as individuals) into better and lesser. The danger of this is that, once again, travel is a privilege that not everyone has access to.  It also assumes that travel is intrinsically good.

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Bulawayo, Zimbabwe


 

2. Better is Subjective

Most people who argue that travel makes you better are probably not intending to divide the world between better and lesser people.  The sloppy comparison is not meant to be harmful. It is just an example of the taken for granted expressions of common speech. When travel blogs argue that travel makes you “better” it is meant to express that travel improves a set of specific characteristics of an individual traveler.  For instance, a travel blog might argue that travel makes a person better at problem solving or better at talking to strangers. Arguably, travel can make someone better at some things. For example, a person who travels frequently may be better at navigating public transportation systems or packing a suitcase (of course, these very specific applications of “better” are not typical of the “travel makes you better arguments” ).  It seems reasonable that a person who packs suitcases often may gain skills in fitting objects into a small space and deciding what not to pack as a matter of experience. Compared to someone who does not pack suitcases, this seems true. However, “better” must still be operationalized. How does one measure the quality of betterness at packing suitcases? The volume of objects that are fit inside? The amount of time it takes to pack said objects?  If these were deemed the measures of “betterness,” travel is not the only act that creates the improvement of these skills, but rather the act of frequent packing that is associated with travel. A person could develop this skill as a hobby, as a competitive sport (the made up sport of timed packing contests), frequent moving, because of work travel, or maybe even playing Tetris. The big idea is that most uses of the word “better” are subjective. “Better” is not an objective measure (as in the packing example, where it is based upon time and volume) but rather personal opinions, emotions, norms, or less measurable qualities.  A person who travels may indeed be “better” at talking to strangers by some objective measures, but this is unlikely to be universally true or true only on account of the travel experience. Finally, the improvement of this skill is only subjectively important. Image may contain: sky, tree, mountain, nature and outdoor

Travel probably has made me “better” at packing and camping… but only marginally.


3.Better is Fleeting

Years ago, I spent a semester in South Korea, I studied Korean history and language.  When I returned to the United States, I maintained my interest in the country for a short time by taking a another Korean history class and reading books.  For a time, it could be said that I was “better” at Korean language and “better” at history (as compared to my pre-travel self and the average American who had not studied these things).  But with time, this knowledge has faded. While I am still more knowledgeable about topics related to Korea than I would have been had I never studied or traveled there, there are still plenty of things I never learned, will never know, and have long forgotten.  The disciplined study of of another language or a country’s history, art, popular culture, music, etc. is a lifelong pursuit that cannot be accomplished simply with a visit, no matter the length. Even becoming an expert in a subject area related to a specific country or area is an ongoing struggle to stay abreast of the latest research.  Without ongoing effort to learn more, question what is known, build upon existing knowledge, and make connections to other areas of knowledge…”better” is subject to entropy. Thus, while travel may make someone “better” in the sense they are more knowledgeable, this kind of better declines with time unless effort is made to maintain or improve upon the original set of knowledge.

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So many forgotten experiences…so much lost knowledge…


Some travel blogs argue that travel makes someone better, not in the area of knowledge, but in personality traits such as flexibility, problem solving, interpersonal skills, etc.  I imagine that these areas are more variable in their decline. A person who learned to problem solve while traveling may have gained a lifelong skill, or, perhaps in other contexts, that same person could become rigid.  On the other hand, some of these traits might grow better with time, irrespective of travel. I imagine that the average person who must work and interact with people would over time improve their interpersonal skills simply as a matter of surviving in a society wherein some level of interpersonal skills are required for maintaining a job, maintaining friendships, and navigating social interactions to meet basic needs like food and shelter.  In any event, whatever “better” is, ultimately it is illusive, temporary, and contextual.


 

4. Better Rarely Matters

Suppose travel does make a person better in some ways.  I think that my geography skills are probably better than they might be had I never traveled (though my studious roommates who do not internationally travel are much better at geography than I am AND my comrade who has a P.h.d in GIS is infinitely better at geography than I am).  So what? Why does it matter? Why does it matter that I might be better than average at geography or alternatively worse than others at it? My worth as a human being is not dependent upon my geography skills. Knowing geography is useful in some contexts (such as teaching geography, current event literacy, or trivia), but the masses of the world do not live or die by my knowledge of geography.  The masses of the world live and die in poverty, by preventable disease, by the wars inflicted by my own country, and the legacies of colonization exasperated by the inequalities of global capitalism. My knowledge of geography is important only inasmuch as it can be used to understand and dismantle systems of power. Can travel offer insights that can work towards this end? Of course. It can connect people to others, be a tool of solidarity and collaboration, can mobilize others towards common causes, or be a source of education on injustices.  This matters, but only because I value the advancement of social struggle. Travel that makes a person a “better” activist in terms of their effectiveness in advancing struggle certainly has value. Travel that connects and fuels social movements has value. But, almost all of my travel is for pleasure, education, and self-fulfillment. Whatever I gain in the interest of these things, even if I personally become “better”- means little to the rest of the world…which traveling should teach is often entrenched in poverty. What does it matter if I become better at talking to strangers, packing a suitcase, navigating public transportation, or gain the sense I am a more whole person?  What does it matter if I become more knowledgeable about a country’s history or culture? What does better matter unless it is a means to an end? The end of self betterment is not globally liberating. The end of fond memories or confronting fear will not ensure a more just world. Becoming a “better” person simply doesn’t matter. We all die. So the goal of becoming a better person for its own sake is a dead end. Becoming a “better” person…in the interest of becoming a more useful and effective member of movements for social change expands the self beyond an individual life or needs. Of course, this is also draining, disappointing, and doesn’t make for great Instagram photos.  I am not selfless and tireless enough to only travel in the interest of building social change. So, what does my “better” matter, if not for those things? What does anyone’s “better” matter, if not for those things? And, since travel is not required to become better at the things that truly matter (as much as anything matters in the indifferent universe), does travel matter?

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Some of my knowledge from travel is useful when I play trivia with friends


5.Travel is a Privilege:

 

A major problem with the notion that travel makes you better is that not everyone can travel.   80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. For most of the world, international travel is not an option because it is simply too expensive.  This means that travel is mostly a source of “betterment” to people from wealthier countries (i.e. often those with colonial histories which enabled earlier economic development at the expense of exploited colonies).  Within wealthier countries where more people may have the leisure time and resources to travel, race, class, gender, sexuality, age, ability, and other sources of social inequality limits who is able to travel and who is not.  I have certainly seen many Australians traveling in Europe, but I would be hard pressed to find an aboriginal Australian among them. This isn’t to argue that aboriginal Australians never travel, but since 19% of the population lived in poverty (in 2014), it would be harder for many of them to afford travel.  16% of Americans live in poverty, but 27% of African Americans live in poverty and 26% of Hispanics. Larger segments of racial minority populations simply cannot to travel on account of poverty, not to mention other barriers such as incarceration or safety issues. 12% of Americans have disabilities. While having a disability does not mean that a person cannot travel, depending on the disability, it could create barriers or restrictions to travel.  Travel safety is also an issue. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, etc. travelers may be restricted in where they can visit to do fear of repression, hate crimes, incarceration, etc. Travel is far easier if you have money, are cisgender male, straight, white, healthy, young, and child free. Of course, there are plenty of people who are not these things and who travel. Still, 63% of Americans have never been outside the country. It is easy to think that Americans are ignorant, xenophobic bumpkins.  In a survey (conducted by a luggage company), 76% of respondents said they wanted to travel but it wasn’t financially possible and 25% said they lacked the time. Only 10% responded that they had no interest. The bottom line is that most people in the world cannot afford to travel or have social barriers to travel. It seems unfair to rate some people as “better” for doing something that is out of the reach of so many more.

https://nypost.com/2018/01/11/a-shocking-number-of-americans-never-leave-home/

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A street in Bridgetown, Barbados

 


 

 6.  Not Wanting to Travel is Okay

One of the myths behind travel is that it will open up the world, transforming the traveler into someone who is no longer closed minded, ignorant, prejudiced, provincial, etc.  This implies that people who do not travel are closed minded, ignorant, prejudiced, and so on. Now, I certainly want people to look at the world beyond borders. I want people to think against our foreign policy and national interests.  I agree that society would be better if there was less racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, and all the other “isms.” But, a person does not have to travel to be an open minded internationalist who wants to end social inequalities.  Travel is not the only means nor the best means to become open minded and globally aware. There are plenty of travelers who travel with their prejudices and ignorance. There are plenty of travelers who change very little after their experience. Travel is not the magic key to betterment.


Most of my friends do not travel.  Yet, all of my friends are aware of the world and committed to social justice.  Some of my friends do not travel due to income, lack of vacation time, health, criminal background, and other barriers.  I have one friend who adamantly says he does not want to travel. Is there anything wrong with this? Why would there be?  Not everyone wants to travel, just as not everyone wants to plant a garden, watch birds, go for long hikes, collect stamps, go to sporting events, attend concerts, scuba dive, or any number of other activities.  Not wanting to travel doesn’t make someone “bad” or stupid, or closed minded, or inferior. It is simply a matter of preference. A person can prefer not to travel, but still have a deep interest in learning about the world and still have a strong commitment to changing social injustices.  Just as a person can travel and be entirely indifferent to social injustice and blind to privilege. There are many ways to learn about the world. Formal education, self-education, employment, community engagement, volunteering, activism, hobbies, etc. can connect individuals to people who are different from themselves and broaden the mind to social justice issues.


7. Travel Can Be Unethical

There are many unethical aspects to travel.  Firstly, travel requires transportation- which generally means using more fossil fuels than one would use if they just stayed home.  Travel can also be a source of waste. For instance, the airline industry produces 5.2 million tons of waste each year in the form of such things as empty bottles, uneaten meals, packaging, etc.  https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/airlines-cabin-waste/index.html


Many countries lack waste management systems, so even if a person wants to recycle or compost, there is a lack of infrastructure to support this, much less the more basic service of garbage collection.  I have certainly littered when in other countries simply because proper trash disposal was nowhere to be found. Increased travel to natural areas can impact plant and animal populations and increased travel anywhere creates more demand for tourist supporting infrastructure such as roads, hotels, stores, and restaurants (which can result in loss of human neighborhoods or natural habitats depending upon where these are built). Travel does not make a person “better” in terms of their environmental impact. Image may contain: mountain, sky, outdoor, water and nature

An underground landfill fire in Grenada- indicating a waste management problem


Travel changes economies.  With the decline of industry in my own region, the economy has shifted more towards tourism.  The impact of this has been the expansion of lower paying, non-union, service industry jobs with higher turnover and greater sensitivity to economic downturn.  Of course, workers can always fight back for higher wages, better conditions, and unions- which has been happening in the service economy, but this takes time and organization.  On a global scale, catering to the tastes of tourists can mean a homogenization or Disneyfication of culture, shift in labor from subsistence to tourist economies or from production to service economies, marketization of culture and environments, privatization of resources, and dependency on tourism (which is a variable source of income), increased reliance on imports (as the economy shifts from producing things to services or to meet the needs of tourists) etc.


At the same time, economies change and tourism fills the gap of industries which once were (but are no longer profitable).  It is very hard for island countries to maintain a global, “competitive advantage” due to trade laws, transportation costs, lack of land, lack of money for capital investment, etc.  For instance, it would be very hard for many Pacific Island countries to be major exporters of produce, since the islands are far from each other, often small, and far away from global markets.  Because of colonization and globalization, subsistence ways of life have been disrupted. Tourism is a way to generate some income and create some jobs. Tourism isn’t necessarily evil and may have the positive impact of injecting money into these economies.  However, the plight of these countries is a complicated mix of colonization, current trade practices, climate change, and tourism. A well meaning tourist can attempt to patronize local businesses or engage in ecotourism, but the global economy is set-up to prohibit the development of some countries and continue the dependency of poorer countries on wealthier ones.  Travel is an aspect of this dependency and the consumption practices of a single traveler, no matter how well meaning, cannot alter the nature of global capitalism. Thus, travel does not make a person “better” in terms of their role in the global economy.


8. Travel is Made Possible by Imperialism

From a socialist perspective, imperialism is a stage of capitalism wherein due to declining profits, developed economies look to perpetuate capitalism and avoid crisis by expanding trade into global markets, integrating more workers into their economies, and by destroying economic competitors.  This is the motor behind globalization. As a U.S. citizen, I have found that ease of travel often correlates with degree of integration within the global economy and acceptance of the United States foreign policy. For instance, travel to North Korea is currently banned for most Americans (by our own government), Cuba was historically a place U.S. citizens were banned from traveling to due to our trade embargo, and American travel to Iran was briefly banned last year after the U.S. travel ban.  Ease of travel is a function of U.S. imperialism (but also imperialism in general). For instance, in countries like Belarus and Turkmenistan, I was unable to use my ATM card. This seems like a minor inconvenience, but generally, this also means that these countries are not well integrated into the global banking system. On the other hand, some countries literally use U.S. dollars. All U.S. “territories” (i.e. modern colonies) use US dollars, including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  Zimbabwe also uses U.S. dollars. For countries which don’t, I never have any issue converting my money, since it is widely accepted as a matter of our position in the global economy. The same cannot be said for someone carrying Albanian lek, who would be hard pressed to convert their money due to its obscurity and relative lack of value. In most countries I have traveled to, I have been able to find English speakers. Again, this is a matter of both American and British imperialism- which has spread the English language around the world and made it a language of economic and political importance.  Likewise, Spanish and French are also used due to the history of colonialism and imperialism. Infrastructure which today supports tourists, such as ports, airports, and roads, were often built by colonial powers in the interest of extracting resources from these countries or to support military interests (an extension of imperialism). For example, Kinshasa airport was first built by the Belgians, Cairo International airport was first used as an airfield by the U.S. during World War II, Ahmed Ben Bella airport in Algeria was first used by the French in WWII as an airfield, etc. This isn’t to argue that countries do not build their infrastructure on their own, independent of imperialism, but that imperialism has shaped the globe, making it far easier for me to travel than someone from a country that was never a world power.  Can I really argue that travel makes me “better” when my ability to travel has been lubricated by imperialism?

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(In North Korea in 2010)


9. Travel Has No Intrinsic Value

The nature of value is complicated, since the word value is used in a variety of ways.  In a Marxist sense, something has use value if it has “usefulness” or utility and exchange value if it can be expressed in price or traded as a commodity.  Travel is a set of experiences, but not a singular entity or commodity. It may be many commodities which are consumed in the process of travel. In this sense, to my best understanding, travel does not have use value or exchange value, though aspects of travel may possess these things.  Travel can be broken down into meals, hotel stays, flights, bus tickets, tours, and so on, which have exchange value. But, this is a very mechanistic view of what value means.


When most people talk about the value of travel, they are referring not to the economic value, but the value of memories and experiences.   Of course, on an individual level, these things have value. The problem is that some people idealize this value above other experiences. Is the value of travel greater than the value of other things?  It is tempting for some travelers to revel in the freedom of travel and to frame it as superior to such things as working 9-5, having children, settling down, staying in one place, forming routines, being tied down by responsibilities, and so on.  Does travel have more value than working? Well, travel is often a lot more fun than working. But, is the value of fun greater than the value of work? What is the value of work (not in the Marxist sense) but the everyday, more generic sense? I work at a domestic violence shelter, as a substitute teacher, and at a women’s health clinic.  Reproductive health is a heck of a lot more important than having fun! Access to abortion and other reproductive health care is fundamental to the equality of women (or anyone with the capacity of becoming pregnant). If everyone who worked in this field suddenly decided to take prolonged vacations, resulting in the shutdown of reproductive health services (this is an unrealistic scenario)  society would be worse off. My own work in this area is minimal and part time, so it is important not to overstate my own contribution to this area. The main point is that travel is often framed as better than work, but work has a lot of value. My full time job is at a domestic violence shelter- it is hard to imagine that travel, which is done for fun and selfish reasons, is of a higher importance or value.  Travel is important to me, but the social value of sheltering survivors/victims of domestic violence is greater than the value of travel. Leisure travel does not address a social problem or meet a social need. Image may contain: text


I don’t wish to overstate the importance of work, since work can be draining, stressful, exploitative, a source of struggle, and necessity for survival.  Because work is alienating and exploitative, escape from work through travel is idealized. But, escape from work does not improve labor conditions or improve the lot of working people.  It does not alter the conditions of work. Still, people SHOULD work less. There should be more vacation time and more time to pursue anything which broadens the human experience, including travel, hobbies, community engagement, relationship building, education, etc.  Yes, travel is one of the things that can enrich the human experience. But, so can having children, building meaningful relationships, connecting with a community, planting gardens, going for hikes, or any number of experiences. Work also has the potential to enrich the human experience, but to do so, it must be liberated from capitalist exploitation.


 

10. Travel Can Make You Worse

Finally, there is no rule that travel will make you better (whatever that is).  Travel can make a person worse. By worse, I mean, it can give a person a sense of inflated importance.  It can make someone believe that they are more knowledgeable or have lived a superior lifestyle. Like the character in Rocky and Bullwinkle, who prattled on about his marvelous adventurous, it can make a person a egotistical, elitist, and out of touch.  Look at me! I’ve been there! I’ve done that! I know all about that! I know the best place to stay! I know the best deals! Of course, I fall victim to this as well, since I often write about travel- pretending that I have some important knowledge or insight to pass on.  Well, I am doing that right now- passing on the insight that travel does not make you better! Image result for commander mcbragg


Travel can make you “worse” in other ways.  Travel can be tiring, stressful, socially exhausting, confusing, make people sick, costly, dangerous, frustrating, disappointing, etc.  The toll of the challenges of travel can bring out the worst characteristics in some travelers. I myself have become withdrawn, anxious, depressed, fatigued, frustrated, judgemental, etc. while traveling.  I can hardly say I am my best self when faced with challenges and new situations. I have certainly observed other travelers melt down or engage in maladaptive behaviors to combat or mute the stress of travel.  Excessive eating, drinking, and spending are some ways that others might cope with the hardships of travel. Drinking too much is especially common. While there might be some awesome, cool, well-adapted, roll-with-the punches travelers out there, there are probably many more than have yelled at hotel staff or looked at difference with disgust.


In a material sense, travel can make you worse.  When I spend money on travel, it means that I am not spending money on other things.  I am going to be far worse off in my retirement years because I spent money on travel rather than saving for old age.  I am not building my savings for a rainy day or unforeseen catastrophe. Travel is not the most prudent thing to spend money on.  However, I value the experiences so I continue to spend money on them.


Travel can make a person’s health worse.  I have been fortunate that I have never become majorly ill from travel, but travel does expose people to diseases that they might not otherwise encounter.  I have almost zero risk of contracting malaria or yellow fever if I just stay home…


 

Conclusion:

 

This may seem rather negative, but I really feel that travel does not make you “better” just as formal education does not make you “better”, having a professional career does not make you “better,” or any number of other things makes a person better.  I enjoy travel, but it does not make me better. In some ways, it makes me worse than others. I would love to travel more than I do. I encourage others to travel. I admire those who travel. However, I don’t know that it is the path to betterment or that such a pursuit is even a worthy goal.  What is betterment outside of comparison, hierarchy, or elitism? In what ways does “better” concede to an economy that makes money by making us believe that we need to be more than what we are? Of course, at some basic level I want to improve upon myself, grow, change, and experience new things.  But does accomplishing this make me better than others or better than my past self? At the core of these sorts of questions is the bigger question of what is meaningful in a world where everything dies or changes, where life is short and harsh for many, and never fully realized by the vast majority of us.  Through the prism of pain and dying, the “best” among us are those who work the hardest to make the suffering in the world less and work to build a world wherein more people can explore their full humanity. Travel can sometimes support this goal, but for me, it tends to be a diversion.

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This Beast

I have failed to write a poem for EVERY book I have read this year, but the most recent book that I read was The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa.   This book was well written and clearly identifies the long history of contradictions, empty promises, and duplicity of the Democratic Party.   The book is wonderfully enraging.    Here is a poem to express my revolutionary anger.

 

This Beast

2/12/18

Know this beast

Study it everyday

Like the features of a monster

With gnashing teeth to grind up the working class

Bludgeoning them like Hartley and Taft

The demon who ignores poor women

The Jekyll and the Hyde Amendment

The Jackal and the corporate cabal

Who broke bones with austerity?

Who championed NAFTA, WTO, World Bank, IMF, and the CIA?

These are not gladiators,

But emperors and vampires.

There is no lesser evil

There is only the evil of two faced capitalism,

Which devours children and shortens lives,

The time must come when people no longer bow before

Great and terrifying things

Yielding power to imagined behemoths

Their immortality is mythical

The immorality is real

We already possess the power to end this nightmare

To liberate the dispossessed

And dispose of every neo-liberal liberator

 

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