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Sunday, July 3, 2016


Emailing me after Brexit, a friend writes:

What makes me really sad, though, is the complete division between peoples across all sorts of lines and boundaries. It seems to me that there's more need for empathy and discipline if we need to unite; empathy to understand the lived experience of people in different communities, and discipline to condemn evil regardless of where it happens, whether in our own camps or in the camps of others, and the discipline to not let crisis actors and mischievous folks break apart what has been achieved in unity. But then again, maybe all this is fantasy. There is no unity now. This reminds me a lot of the fate of the low castes in India, where there is a hierarchy *within* the low castes and that hierarchy is adhered to, even though collectively, they experience the oppression from the higher castes.

I respond:

I've always known that divisions will always endure, though its worst effects can be blunted. In 2010, I wrote:

"The poor man is almost always depicted as a racist but, on the lowest rungs, you’ll find much more tolerance than commonly suspected. The reason is simple, the poorest are forced to mix, whether on buses, in their work places or apartment buildings, and familiarity can also lead to accommodation, friendship, even affection, not just contempt. Black male, white female couples are most often seen among the poorest, giving at least some credence to Joe Bageant’s assertion that “Every redneck I know has a daughter who’s married to a black guy!”

"Visiting the Camden tent city, now shut down, I was struck by the number of interracial couples. The encampment itself was highly mixed, with blacks, whites and hispanics all living together. Up to a hundred and twenty people shared one bathroom, a honey bucket, and two shower stalls. They often ate communally. The self-appointed “mayor” was Lorenzo, a Jamaican immigrant, Vietnam vet, ex-con and near suicide. Jumping off the Ben Franklin Bridge years ago, Lorenzo was grabbed by a white cop. Together they plunged onto the water, 130 feet below. Lorenzo was saved, but the cop was paralyzed. This experience changed Lorenzo, transformed him eventually into a kind of pastor for his desperate flock. I don’t cite this tent city as any kind of Utopia. It was certainly a dire place, but it was also proof that the most abandoned could band together to help and protect each other. Camden is very menacing, frankly, but I never felt safer there than in this tent city.

"Gangs are nearly always ethnic, and as the economy collapses, we will likely see a spike in ethnic gangs terrorizing each other and the innocent, but no, America doesn’t have to become a kind of San Quentin from sea to shining sea, with the only havens isolated homesteads and gated communities, where the wealthy are already safely ensconced. Wealth always means isolation, private this, exclusive that—the rich don’t even want to share a toilet seat with their spouse—but poverty is communal. No chairmen, these are bench people. Think bleacher seats. Think Greyhound, which, to the poorest, is hotel as much as mode of transportation. Desperation will bind folks together, force them to share, barter and employ new and neglected strategies for survival.

"Petty commerce transcends racial barriers, creates social bonds and communities. Think of the thousands of Vietnamese manicurists servicing black, white and hispanic patrons. On El Paso’s Santa Fe Street, Korean shopkeepers converse with their customers in Spanish. In my own neighborhood, Philly’s Italian Market, third generation Italians sell stuff to blacks and immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America. To make a buck, people will get along, but they must have a chance to do business, unhindered by superfluous laws, codes and zoning regulations. In nearly all countries, you can just stroll down the street to get a bite or a drink, but most Americans must get in their car and drive for 20, 30 minutes, if not more, to buy anything. Small businesses are good, especially the smallest, even those conducted from stands and pushcarts. In poor neighborhoods across America—hell, in downtown Los Angeles—you already see these zero overhead operations. These should not be outlawed, but encouraged, because that’s how the poorest survive. If people could make some honest change, they’d be less likely to kill and rob each other."

In 2015, I elaborated and darkened:

"Seen as a village, Bridesburg harks back to a time when nearly everyone within the community was of the same race, if not related by blood, and as a foundation and model for what a community is, the village was always exclusive. Normally, you weren’t allowed to move in, but even when you could, it took forever for your surly neighbors to warm up to your annoyingly alien presence. In a traditional Vietnamese village, an outside family had to live there for three generations before the locals granted it partial citizenship. In southern Europe, innumerable villages and towns were built like fortresses on top of hills to defend themselves against people from nearby settlements. Assisi and Perugia, for example, attacked each other constantly. It was like Bloods vs. Crips, only more vicious.

"One village vs. another, town vs. town, these local allegiances and conflicts find modern expression in organized sports. At the high school level, the athletes are really local, but it is much less so with college teams and not at all with the professional squads that somehow provide civic pride and sense of community to the socially adrift city dwellers. The growth of professional sports coincided with rapid urbanization worldwide. Uprooted from villages and towns, those who have lost their organic and enduring ties to other people and this very earth must find consolation in purchasing over-priced cap, jersey, pennant, pajamas and blanket of the right colors and logo. On selected days, they can scream, curse or even weep, in joy or despair, at a television. Whereas the professional athletes are merely grafted onto a city, its gang members are truly grass roots, however, for they arise from its various communities.

"When civilization declines, warbands proliferate as economic and security solutions. They also appear wherever central authority is weak or lacks legitimacy. In slums across America, warbands already operate, though we merely call them gangs. As the economy sinks, our social fabric will turn to shreds and crimes will explode because hungry, desperate and angry people won’t equivocate too much before they blow your brains out, especially if you’re alien to them, or seen as the enemy, for whatever reason. Even with foodstamps, violent muggings are daily occurrences in each American city, so imagine what will happen when our bankrupt government can no longer maintain its already inadequate Access Card soup kitchen?

"War breaks out when there’s scarcity, and this is true not just between rival nations but gangs or warbands in your city, and remember, nearly all gangs are racially or ethnically homogeneous. There are no pan-Asian gangs but Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian or Hmong ones, and even when people speak the same language, the gangs are either Mexican, El Salvadorian or Columbian, etc. Yes, the Latin Kings includes a number of Hispanic groups, but it’s essentially Puerto Rican or Mexican, depending on the factions. As for whites and Jews, they share leadership in a most sadistic gang called the United States of America. Their foot soldiers are of every color, however, so that’s a heart warming triumph of integration and multiculturalism. Absolutely anyone can die for them, even you. Their current spokesman is also half black. If you think about it, the job of White House Press Secretary is totally redundant, since our so-called President is already a White House Press Secretary.

"When all is well, racial differences can be somewhat ignored, though many people struggle to do just that, but with tension or disagreement, much less life-and-death competition, the tribal angle comes out. Notice how often insults are prefixed by a racial or ethnic signifier. It’s not enough to call someone a “piece of shit,” you must brand him a Polish, Italian, Jewish, black or Korean piece of shit. Responding to one of my articles, a commenter writes, “Long Duck Dong or whatever his name is, can go suck a bag of hot dicks.” The truth is, all differences are registered, stored away and used as bullets if needed, for we define ourselves oppositionally.

"During the Occupy protests, the “99%” became a rallying cry for the supposedly unified masses, but there is no such 99%, not when Americans are rabidly divided between North and South, urban and rural, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, etc."

Just last month, I wrote:

"With lives of the working poor constantly threatened and disrupted by immigration, social turmoil is inevitable, for the masses can’t keep making and eating less, and moving into ever worse dwellings, if not onto a sidewalk. The backlash against immigration in all multicultural societies is no last gasp convulsion from the past, but a portent of the future. With nationalism and tribalism resurgent, we’re living through the last days of multiculturalism."

So yes, it will get worse, for sure, simply because most people will become more desperate.


3 comments: said...

Thanks Linh. This is another holiday weekend, so there are some sales to be had. Former white class homes of the 50s - in my hood anyway - are waaay up. Now going for close to a million to whomever has the bag of cash. This is celebrated by the well known economists in a nice way. Some little fish might get hit again, because they are making it easier to get hit. Suicide with Fannie Mae, and it happened in the last go-round, probably happen again. (Fannie Mae was tweaked to fund the bombing and other stuff of the Vietnam, back in the late 60s)

But it's all good according to the major newspapers and the town politicos - even the gadflys are bought off. It's the lynch pin or the whole thing is really going to go to hell. Old lumber, aluminum wiring and asbestos are now gold. What else can we sell? How much is a good kidney?

These days in "we're the wealthy areas", it's usually the Chinese who have a bag of cash. Nothing against them. They might have gotten away with it where they came from, but let's not ask those questions. Besides, it's the safest investment there is for the time being. It's all guarded by the system, the courts, the lawyers and the cops. So an essential need is up for grabs, and if loser is on the street with his second hand furniture (some of which he picked up at other evictions) the people can't be allowed to understand exactly how this came to be or how it's all managed. Much better to wait for the clue from management to hate the loser. The "employees" will then climb over each other to get at the enemy, snarling with righteous wrath. You don't want to be that loser do you?

The people are fooled into believing the answer is somewhere on a screen in front of them. Maybe, but usually it's someone who is investing time and effort into "going to work" on what you believe in, telling you what the problems are, but most importantly, making sure of what it is your believe. Plenty of opportunity to discredit yourself, self inflicted damage by a so-called innocuous off the cuff web posting. They are watching, waiting in preparation to defend against inevitable desperation, if not creating it for the purpose of "taking action" against it. But what do I know? I'm recommending paranoia, I think we're going to need it.

Anonymous said...

What's new at this this round is they have the media, and full control of education.
It's going to be far tougher than it was.

Anonymous said...

You are a fun writer sometimes, but you seem to be becoming a crank. You have mistaken politically constructed austerity for actual collapse, then all the "new world order" cliches start bubbling up. It's ok, I don't have to read your blog if I don't want to. Peace.


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), five of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007) and Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). Blood and Soap was chosen by Village Voice as one of the best books of 2004. My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.