The Result of University Cost-Cutting Measures . . .

the Plausible Deniability Blog takes up where the PostModernVillage blog left off. While you'll see many of the same names here, PDB allows its writers and editors a space away from financial strum und drang that torpedoed the PMV blog.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Beyond the Industrialization of Rationality

by Lael Ewy

A recent article in National Geographic noted that exposure to the natural world increases human health, reduces stress, and increases critical thinking skills. This is all fine and good; we need more appreciation of the ecosystem on the whole and our local environs in particular. But the major bent of the article was what nature can do for us and how it can make us better able to return to our soulless offices, shallow relationships, and consumerist ways of being. In other words, the article is about how exposure to the natural world can make us better equipped to perform the business of destroying the very natural world that has prepped us to the task.

The article points out a major philosophical problem in the western world, one that floods in from many different streams of thought. Rationalist thought insists on mechanistic explanations and direct means of causation. Using the rationalist ways of thinking that still dominate the sciences and all other “outcomes based” human activity, we insist that all things happen for a reason and that all things that happen therefore must have reasons for being allowed to happen.

Thus a means of inquiry becomes a method of being; a way of doing science drifts into a way of making value judgments about what humans ought to do.

By imposing this rationalistic value judgment on human activity, we lose the idea that anything we do has an inherent value: there always has to be a why, and that why always has to be justified within an interlocking system of causations.

The ultimate limit of this way of thinking appears when we start to ask questions about prime movers, ultimate causes, the first event in the great chain that leads the universe inevitably to us, at the present moment, contemplating how we got here, thinking about how the universe was gracious enough to lead up to us, a set of beings so smart as to contemplate how it was the universe’s duty to create beings who can think about how they got here.

Only recently, string theory, ideas contemplating multiple universes, and quantum mechanics have begun to dissolve some of these first mover quandaries, but they have yet to devolve into popular thought.

In the lives of those living in the United States, this problem is compounded by puritanism, which underscores the lockstep linearity of rationalism with a very specific goal: eternal salvation. By focusing only on those activities deemed holy, we both assure our places in heaven and avoid the temptations of those things we do for fun, because fun things lead us to inevitable perdition.

But neither science nor puritanism are quite as powerful in our lives as the free market business model. While it is true that organizations like The American Enterprise Institute, backed by laissez-faire billionaires such as Charles and David Koch, have done a lot to promote free market thought in the last 40 years, the ideas go back much farther than that. After all, Charles Dickens was already savagely critiquing the point of view that every human activity must be geared toward the bottom line in the 1840s through works such as “A Christmas Carol.” Dickens’s writing was informed by the conditions of early industrialism, and we’ve gone a long way toward denying those conditions are still with us, primarily by offshoring to other parts of the world the nasty work to be done by people of whom we don’t think much.

But the rationality of industrialism still dominates our new, supposedly more creative, and “knowledge-based” economy. Instead of being part of a literal machine, we use strict schedules, quality assurance measures, and monitoring technologies to make sure people are not goofing off at their desks. The Taylorist factory has given way to the open floor plan office. The 12-hour factory shift has given way to smartphones and laptops that assure constant contact with the people at work.

Pressure on lawmakers by business-backed groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council have turned what was supposed to be a government by, for, and of the people into one dominated by business interests and interested only in maintaining the bottom line. Changes to work rules, taxation, and even the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech have oriented the purpose of American society entirely toward the generation of profit. These changes have devolved social power ever more towards employers and financiers and away from those who actually do the work.

As the National Geographic article implies, all of this has been devastating to our health. Rates of stress-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension have skyrocketed. Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality are also on the rise. At this point in history, nearly one in four American women are taking antidepressant medications, as they are asked to do all of the aforementioned work underlining the bottom line, plus clean the house, raise the kids, cook for the family, and put up with sexual harassment, all for 30% less money.

“Helpful” websites abound, full of techniques for busting stress and overcoming the blues, full of advice for simplifying life and streamlining our vanishing personal time. But few of these sites promote such things for their own sake; we meditate and do yoga, journal and run marathons not simply to do them but because doing them makes us better workers, more “highly effective” people,” “better” moms and dads. All of this desperate chilling out and throwing out, pumping up and efficiency creation exists against a backdrop of genuine existential threat: in the United States, in particular, one is only allowed to be fully human when gainfully employed or independently wealthy. Everyone else is sanctioned by legislation, internally displaced, forced to live in squalor, incarcerated. For those deemed “disabled,” a life of poverty and medication awaits. For those able-bodied folks who happen to be un or under employed, benefits are tied to a progression of increasingly demeaning and intrusive tasks and to standards of employability that only exist within the delusional and paranoid thoughts of the legislators who enstated the rules. And for too many there is homelessness, increasingly made illegal by laws ostensibly about “cleaning up” the civic landscape, as if the bodies of the unfortunate were so much misplaced refuse cluttering up the view of yet another Tuscan styled strip mall.

In other words, when our lives are bent entirely toward the cause and effect relationship posited by industrial capitalism that has as its end point greater profits and increased market value, most people suffer. It becomes not just immoral but impossible to think of anything worth doing for its own sake, and those things we do to “recharge” become distractions from our misery: mindless and violent video games, awful blockbuster movies, increasingly sensationalistic television, and any number of mind-numbing substances of varying degrees of legality (and lethality). These latter chemicals, when dispensed by physicians, are purchased through a system that is itself driven by market factors and not person care, no matter how well-intentioned the caregiver may be.

Environmentalists have long argued that industrialized capitalism is unsustainable. At some point, it will deplete the finite resources it relies on for its model of continual growth, if it doesn’t first so poison the ecosystem or so warm the planet that civilization becomes impossible to maintain. But there’s another, deeper reason it can’t go on like this: it demands that people devote themselves to nothing of inherent value; it demands that most of us devote most of our time and all of our usable energy to helping other men hoard wealth.

Another article comes to mind as I write this, this one from The Guardian, warning against a newfound interest in the western world in ancient, eastern meditative practices. Mindfulness, the article warned, is not always pleasant. It doesn’t always calm you down or chill you out. Bottom line, it’s not for everybody, so don’t throw out that bottle of Paxil quite yet.

But, of course, calming you down or chilling you out is not the point of mindfulness meditation; mindfulness is. If you’re looking to it to do those other things so that you can be a better worker, more well-adjusted to a crappy system, you’re doing it wrong. We have become so devoted to using such tools to become better worker bees that we have forgotten about the hard (and sometimes unpleasant) work we need to do to become better people. We have lost sight of becoming —and maybe even lost the ability to become—fully engaged in those things we do as fulfilling activities in and of themselves, of entering those places where judgments about being “better” employees or even “better” people tend to fall away.


Meditate for the sake of meditation.

Work for the sake of work.

Create for the sake of art.

Rationalize for the sake of clarity.

All else falls unto the worship of false gods.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Latent Heat of Victimization

by Lael Ewy

At first, it would seem odd that a nation bent on social climbing, personal betterment, and the acquisition of wealth would also be so enamored of victimization.

On further reflection, though, it makes sense: if we gear everything for competition, we have to have something to do with all the losers. And, more important, the losers have to have some type of identity other than “loser,” which is, in the United States, a much worse label than “died trying,” or even “cheated his way to the top.”

In some cases, the victim identity can be a way of bringing attention to real social inequities: those exposing racism, sexism, and rape culture have all successfully “played the victim card” in order to help the rest of us see the real problem for what it is. For some people who are victimized by their social conditions, publicizing victimization brings unexpected social power, such as in the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year old lynched in 1955. Till's mother insisted that his body be publicly displayed in order to show the brutality of the crime perpetrated against him, helping to further the cause of the Civil Rights movement of the time.

Inevitably, this necessary demonstration of social evil creates backlash among those on the wrong side of history via claims that it's not as bad as the victims say (“They were happier when they were slaves.”), that those pressing their social cause are undeserving (“They're faking,” or “They're gaming the system.”), that they had it coming anyway (“If you dress like that, you're asking for it.”), or that they are, themselves, the victimizers (“Feminazis.”).

The advantages of victimhood are, while powerful, by nature also limited: once the victim identity has been publicly acknowledged and attention to the cause secured, incremental court decisions or legislative changes are made, and then those in power, satisfied that they have “fixed it” go on doing their thing, which is staying in power. This, then, marks the end of the social power of victimhood and where the limitations of the individual power of victimhood become apparent. The victim, by using that term in order to gain power, finds that she only has power within that frame and can never again step beyond it and back into full, human identity. The disabled person may be able to press her case for a reasonable accommodation using the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example, but that does not guarantee access to executive positions, marriage partners, or academic appointments,

Both despite and because of the advent of things like Affirmative Action and the ADA, the power structure goes out of its way to increase the barriers to moving forward and moving up. “We've given you what you want,” the powerful seem to say, “now shut up and go away.” Understanding this attitude is key to understanding the sources of institutional discrimination and how oppression becomes structural. By setting up structural barriers, those in power protect themselves and those like them. As demographics shift, you'll see (and probably have already seen) the traditional, white, male power structure become ever stronger, the reins of power ever more difficult to take in hand for those who haven't proven their loyalty to the status quo.

Reverse victimization plays into the ways the powerful stay in power. Donald Trump insist that those whom he insulted apologize to him; white students claim “reverse discrimination” when they don't get into the college they want to get into; whole political movements rise to power on the idea that we need to “take America back” from the teeming mob who stole it from them. Those who play this game often fail to realize its limitations, that they, too, will be duped by the truly powerful people who help them promote their sense of victimization. The poor and middle class white people riding Trumpist and Tea Party politics will, if history is any indication, be no better off or even lose ground under the leadership they promote. This is just fine with those who stand to gain from such sentiments among the hoi polloi: after all, the Tea Party backers won't be “losers”; they'll be the perpetual victims of black people, brown people, and inner-city “welfare cheats,” perpetually able to be called upon to add “populist” credibility to what are essentially authoritarian political figures.

The culture of right-wing victimization has not yet, like the left, begun to move past the language of victimization and into the language of survivorship. Survivors of sexual assault, for example, have begun to harness this new power in order to be seen as credible brokers in dismantling rape culture on college campuses and in communicating a deeper understanding of how to end rape culture on the whole. The #blacklivesmatter movement has received criticism for its directness and for not being the squeaky-clean thing that white folks want it to be. That arises from #blacklivesmatter being made up of people who refuse to play the victim in the first place: the movement gets criticized because it's no longer possible to ignore. The white power structure had become comfortable with the image of the black victim—of poverty, racism, and overall downtroddenness. As long as there were black victims, whites could take comfort in a kind of well-meaning but entirely patronizing sympathy, to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. as a fallen national hero, to declare a black history month, and to mention Kwanzaa in defense of a “happy holidays” greeting. This is the same mentality that promotes the idea of the “Magical Negro” (noted by Spike Lee in regards to such characters as Bagger Vance) and safe sidekicks such as Danny Glover's character in the Lethal Weapon franchise. This safe view is distinctly challenged by the idea that black people are also allowed to be, you know, people.

In the mental health field, the antipsychiatry movement of the '60s and '70s transformed into the “consumer” movement of the '80s and '90s and into an “illness” movement of the '90s and '00s. The idea was that by identifying as “the mentally ill,” as victims of a blameless disease, suffering people would gain access to treatment, decent housing, and disability benefits. The “it's better than being on the streets” mentality has grown to embrace an acceptance of psychiatric incarceration, anathema to early activists.

The real danger looming in all this is that if people move beyond victimization and into survivorship, they might become assimilated into a culture that they don't recognize, and that people may lose their identity in the process. Can a black American be both an American and black when one of the defining features of American culture is structural racism? This is the field upon which Barack Obama has played out his political career, and the deep contradictions it creates can be seen in the deep contradictions of his administration: successfully bailing out some of the least deserving parts of the power structure, such as Wall Street and General Motors, while simultaneously challenging that power structure in the realm of gay rights. President Obama ground his entire political machine into dust in order to pass the Affordable Care Act, an immensely compromised attempt to expand access to health care that also carefully maintained the least deserving part of it: the profits of private insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies.

A fuller understanding of how power works in the US is in order, one that goes beyond the simple mechanisms of victim and perpetrator, loser and winner. Kimberl├ę Crenshaw's ideas about intersectionality move toward this, and may prove vital in understanding how power works in a nation in which there is no official, hereditary class structure. We are far from the point at which we can make such ideas meme-worthy, though, and you'd be hard-pressed to hear them discussed in a seven-minute spot on NPR, much less a two-and-a-half minute piece on the CBS Evening News.

Our next step, then, is not to create another reactionary political uprising, but to foment a genuine social movement that can articulate a vision of a future of both genuine equality and robust cultural diversity.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Gun Violence from a Trauma-Informed Perspective

by Lael Ewy

In what ways does a trauma-informed, harm-reduction approach make sense in challenging the prevalence of gun violence?

Let's make the assumption that the presence of a gun and the beliefs associated with that gun are important to the gun owner. This is a pretty safe assumption given the outsized emotions that even low-level discussions of gun violence elicit. The trauma-informed perspective would lead us to see these beliefs and emotions as linked to a sense of safety for the gun owner, that while guns themselves are dangerous, the safety they provide outweighs the danger.

By this perspective, any statistical, regulatory, or traditionally argumentative approaches to addressing gun violence are destined to fail.

Only by looking behind the gun to whatever need is being met by the presence of the gun can we begin to address what's really going on. We need to take the emphasis off the sacred object itself and onto the felt sense it satisfies or worldview it completes.

Let's go back to the sense of safety. If, as is often noted by gun-rights activists, a gun makes them feel “safer,” and they feel they need that gun wherever they go, the obvious conclusion is that they feel unsafe most of the time, indeed, that the world itself is not merely unsafe at this time but fundamentally an unsafe place. For these people, for some reason or another, threats loom around every corner, and the most likely target for those threats is the individual.

If so, then banning guns will be just about as effective as banning drugs has been: people will get them anyway. The drugs are meeting a need that the person feels she cannot meet any other way, and so also with the gun.

Whatever happened in the lives of gun activists, from assault to combat, from the presence of Mexicans to the election of a black president, makes them feel that an existential threat is ever-present, and that so they must be ever vigilant.

How much of this rises to the level of actual trauma or whether it's simply due to the overactive imaginations of otherwise high-strung people is immaterial; again, you can't argue someone out of a feeling of existential threat. But we can begin to help people address why they feel so constantly scared.

Unfortunately, it will require us recognizing and listening, without judgment, to perspectives that are often very difficult to hear.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

On the Market as an Expression of Cultural Value

--Lael Ewy

Another way of thinking about money is as an expression of what we find valuable. We invest, in the form of wages and spending, in those things we care about, and we ignore or divest from those we don't.

In this respect, certain parts of our economy, such as energy, real-estate, technology, and money itself (in the form of finance), would seem to track fairly well with our expressed values. These industries are generally fairly robust and salaries within them fairly high.

But for a nation that claims to be all about “family values,” we fall very short, if measured in how we spend. While public schools are large parts of most state budgets, they pale in comparison to what we collectively spend on entertainment, and compared to entertainers, teachers are poorly paid. The elderly and preschool-age children are taken care of by some of the lowest-paid workers there are, when that work is paid. For the most part, it isn't, being taken on by parents or grandparents, as even the relatively low wages of childcare are still too high for most of us to pay out of pocket.

We're happy to pay entertainers exorbitant salaries for mediocre work, yet we expect artists who have spent years perfecting their craft to work for free.

Except for the few of us who can afford to keep domestic workers—many of whom are undocumented and paid under the table anyway—most work that goes into maintaining a household goes unpaid.

Jobs tied to maintaining history and culture are also below industry standard or volunteer, as is almost all work involving the very poor. These sectors are dominated by non-profit NGOs, often chosen to supplant what was once done by well-compensated government employees as local and state governments have shifted ideologically Right.

So for a nation that, at every campaign stop, is touted as being “great,” and as a nation that gets collectively teary when we talk about the importance of family and our national heritage, we do a terrible job of actually compensating the people who keep us culturally afloat and domestically stable. The work of the tens of millions of Americans whose time and energy is invested in creating culture and maintaining families is, in a very literal sense, considered worthless.

This isn't merely an issue of putting our money where our mouths are; this is the way the market, rather than being some natural force, is actually a truth-teller, revealing our real values—and those values are rotten. If we merely follow the money, we can easily see that we value management culture over labor, for example, because the power structure that helps set wages is created by that power structure itself, and it's never going to invert its relative value by paying itself less than those who actually get things done.

We value work outside the home more than we value work inside the home because the people who decide where the money goes work outside the home. We value entertainment over education, sensation over art, because the former are welcome distractions that meet an immediate need, and the latter require reflection and thought, our energy and our active participation. We value entertainment over art because the former reinforces the power structures and the latter is a threat. And so the decision-makers invest in bread and circuses instead of philosophical symposia, give the latest summer blockbuster a fifty-million dollar marketing budget and the public library's summer reading series a shoestring.

The notion that the market is, in these cases, merely giving people what they want ignores the role that the existing power structure plays in deciding what's even available to be had. Try buying a simple, double-sided razor blade, for example. You'll find a gajillion different high-dollar multi-bladed disposables, but that simple, double-sided blade has now become a “specialty item,” even though it costs a fraction of a penny to make and uses many fewer resources. And advertising is, after all, not merely informational; it's social engineering on a grand scale, and we've long ago stopped even asking questions about how it forms our idea of “what people want.” Try asking a class full of literature students what local plays they've seen, for example, and listen to the crickets chirp. Now try asking the same class about the latest Star Wars movie.

The same phenomenon explains why celebrity chefs make millions and the local soup kitchen is staffed entirely by volunteers.

The “we're just giving people what they want” line also ignores the trillions of dollars the ├╝ber-rich keep for themselves and the implicit messages their spending decisions give to everybody else: a big house for an individual is more important than modest houses for the homeless; owning a huge SUV you can barely park or a flashy self-driving electric car is better than having decent public transportation; boutique private space flights are more important than a living wage.

Rather than being slaves to the whims of ordinary folks, the market is an expression of how power plays out within a society, an expression that creates its own set of standing waves, pushing the social order hither and yon. You may or may not be staying afloat, but unless we little folk start paddling hard in a very different and more just direction, we're all just along for the ride.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why There's Still a Tea Party but Not an Occupy

by EW Wilder

1. Money.

The most obvious reason should be addressed first: the Tea Party has the backing of a couple of billionaires. This helps it survive, but as Occupy itself demonstrated, a lot can be accomplished with very little. The money is part of why the Tea Party still exists, but it it's far from the only reason.

2. Occupy has no electoral strategy. The Tea Party does.

It's as if no one from Occupy paid attention in high school civics class. The government in the US is not a top-down affair, and though Tea Party people complain endlessly that it is, they act very differently. We actually have a mixed system of local and federal control, a system in which the individual parts interact.

The Tea Party has what is sometimes called a “ground game.” This involves getting voters to vote for you. It involves meeting people. It involves fielding candidates. It involves knocking on doors. Occupy people are good at organizing rallies, but most voters tend to view that sort of thing as silly at best and threatening at worst. Occupy people are good at snarky Facebook memes. Tea Party people are good at winning.

Electoral strategy involves understanding that the county commission or the city council has more impact on the everyday lives of people than what happens in Washington, DC. Local government negotiates tax incentives for businesses, fills potholes, and makes sure the housing authority is doing its job. This is the level at which the tone of government is set. The utter absence of Occupy at this level means that the Tea Part message is the only one that gets heard. The voices of local health coalitions, food banks, and nonprofit service agencies sound like the “special interests” the Tea Party loves to vilify when there's no countervailing voice articulating why these things are important and deserve government backing.

State legislatures are important because, among other things, they determine federal congressional districts. We complain when these districts are gerrymandered, but, like it or not, this is the way things work. By failing to pay any attention to state legislatures, Occupy assured that Tea Party types would draw congressional districts. This made certain that Tea Party candidates would always win, as congressional districts would be “safe” for them for the foreseeable future.

As we have seen in Kansas, state and local officials also have tremendous power over voting regulations, and Occupy's seeming blindness to state and local government has allowed voter ID laws to keep people who agree with the Occupy message away from the polls.

This is sad because state and local offices are relatively cheap and easy to win. Since Occupy is great at organizing via social media, it should have representatives all over the place, but it does not.

3. Occupy decided to be about making a scene and not about making change.

As much as we'd love to think so, elections are not decided by Facebook “likes” or retweets. They're not won by high-quality bongo playing in Zuccotti Park. And while Occupy probably made the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren possible, it did nothing to make Occupy a political force across the nation.

We are rightfully pissed off at Wall Street, but investment bankers are not, on the whole, capable of being shamed. Going to the physical location of the problem made for great theater, but it made for terrible politics. Contrary to what some in the Occupy movement seem to think, there are places in the country that are not Manhattan and not Cupertino. Even if Occupy had influenced politics in New York (it didn't much as Chuck Schumer is still office), that would have captured only a few congressional districts, giving Occupy only a smattering of votes among 435.

What can be done about it.

Had Occupy, instead, focused on winning over voters in Butte, Montana, it might have produced a senator or two, and a senator can filibuster. Had Occupiers stayed awake in civics, they would have understood this and focused a bit more deeply on the so-called “red” states. After all, our system of government actually favors the states, not the population on the whole. The fact that the majority of people agree with Occupy on policy makes little difference politically: he who controls Congress does matter.

Where Occupy got the idea that it could foment real change by focusing on New York City I'll never know—perhaps it's just an assumption that flyover states are inherently conservative and therefore not worth the effort. And while it's true there were small, local bands of Occupy activists all over the place, the bulk of Occupy energy went into making its point to people who simply don't care and structurally don't have to.

Instead, Occupy should have focused on crafting its message to appeal to the people who are actually being hurt by income inequality, rising health care costs, skyrocketing tuition, and declining levels of public service. These people distinctly do not work on Wall Street; they work at McDonald's and Tractor Supply, at small manufacturing firms and as unpaid interns, as adjuncts and delivery drivers and inventory stockers at Sam's. These are people who maybe once were middle class, and the Tea Party has a big head start in winning them over by making liberals look like dirty hippies and uncaring elites. These people may vote against their own interests, but they vote for people who are “like them,” at least in the sense of projecting a sensible, hard-working image. The fact that most prominent Tea Party politicians have never actually had real jobs and are mainly career politicians is, again, immaterial; they are not people who outwardly look like they don't work at all.

The Tea Partiers and those who fund them are not wise, but they are clever, and they know how the government they purport to hate really works. It's high time those who supported Occupy start boning up on basic civics. A distaste for retail politics will simply guarantee Tea Party control from now on.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and What We Get Wrong

Part of the reason our public discussion of public mass shootings in the US tends to devolve into arguments that we should just “Keep the guns away from the crazies!” is that we have a poor collective understanding of what mental illness actually is.

“Mental illness” is, technically speaking, psychiatric diagnosis, and psychiatric diagnosis is, in this part of the world, determined by the DSM-5 The DSM-5 is a diagnostic manual created by the American Psychiatric Association, and the diagnoses therein are based on descriptions of symptoms that tend to cluster together. 

Whether a person has these symptoms is determined by self-report (often on a simple form) and observed behavior. 

There is no blood test to determine mental illness, and the brain imaging studies that have been done so far aren’t definitive. If that seems surprising, consider that describing Picasso’s Guernica in terms of it being made of certain tones of oil paint on canvas won’t help you understand the Spanish Civil War, fascism, or cubism, for that matter, nor will it help you understand Picasso’s peculiar genius.
There is some preliminary association between these observed behaviors and reported states with certain genetic profiles, but there’s little understanding of the epigenetics involved (why people with the same genetic profile can have very different psychological experiences).  

And none of this stuff matches exactly with what people actually experience when they’re suffering psychologically or going through extreme states of mind.

In other words, mental illness is descriptive, no prescriptive; the idea that we can just screen somebody and divine the next ticking time bomb is a convenient Hollywood plot device, not reality.

There’s little daylight between the notion that people “just snap” and “start shooting” and the idea of demon possession. What’s compelling about this Vanderbilt report is that it begins to see what leads to public mass shootings as something that’s probably complex, that is, like so many human behaviors, a cultural and “biopsychosocial” experience, not a simplistic bit of myth. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On Being in Trouble

by Lael Ewy

1.0. Being in trouble—and the feeling of being in trouble, with its flush of the cheeks and stomach's continual fall—presupposes the existence of an authority, real or imagined, to be in trouble with.

1.1. An authority has his hooks in you, even before you know you're snared.

2.0. Grown-ups are just as prone to feeling like they're in trouble as kids are, which

2.1. tells us that being in trouble is not a necessary part of being a child, but rather it's the first step of becoming an adult:

2.2. the realization that one's power is limited, her place in the hierarchy not as lofty as she thought.

2.3. This leads to a few different reactions. Among them are acceptance and rejection.

2.4. Rejection of one's place in the hierarchy can be further subdivided: rebellion against the hierarchy and a grinding need to continually further one's place within it.

2.4.1. These reactions are not mutually exclusive within any given individual, but one generally outweighs the other.

2.5. From the first subdivision we gather rejects and weirdos, artists and originals. From the latter we gather stockbrokers and social climbers, politicians and revolutionaries.

3.0. These latter types, unable to make sense of their existential positions through personal or creative expression, are all trying to defeat the same thing: the constant, sinking feeling that they are in trouble.

3.1. This feeling is similar to the feeling of responsibility, but it floats free, exhilarating, yet unattached to compassion or love, and one runs across it unbidden, at moments as arbitrary and pernicious as the projection of power:

3.2. the agent's probing stare, the buzz of an alarm clock, white letters on a field of red.

3.3. If a politician paints himself as an outlaw, with war paint and feathers, he is a liar, as much as a revolutionary who claims to be bringing The New Law;

3.4. they are both headed for the comfort of the same old throne, the place from which they can be the trouble they always see in the world.

4.0. Power, then, is the fundamental problem of being in trouble, the internalization of shame, the call to forever destroy one's own dignity before it is publicly quartered.