Describing the Elephant in the Room

It’s your turn. You’re this guy — what does it look like to you?

Gross and still appropriate:

There is this great parable of six blind men and an elephant. It says that each man, touching only a piece of the elephant saw his part as something completely different. One assumed an elephant was like a spear, another like a tree trunk, another like a wall, one like a rope, touching the ear made it a fan, and so on.

But there was a seventh blind man who isn’t talked about. He was the one who was forced to reach into its ass because someone has to do it. But the one whose head was in its ass, no one ever asks him what he thought. Maybe they couldn’t hear him or maybe they just assumed he wouldn’t be able to give any better accounting than the rest of them.

Bear with me. I am beginning to feel like that poor fellow whose head is in the ass of the elephant and no one feels compelled to ask me of my experience because, frankly, I’m covered in elephant shit and my perspective may be a bits skewed, given this.

But I might also be the only person who recognizes there is more going on here than just a lack of vision, this may be an issue where perspective, position and a lack of status, may give a more honest point of view than people who have to worry about a paycheck or offending a sponsor.

With that said:

I will admit it has been a few weeks since I have spoken with you my patient audience. I have been unable to wrap my mind around the world as I see it taking shape and being the media consumer I am, I wanted to absorb the wealth of information being presented, with the understanding that, in the end, both sides, the Left and the Right, the Democratic and Conservative, the uninformed and the unenlightened, would make their case for the state of the nation and Americans would take sides.

I am sick of it. Because from where I sit, no one should be crowing about their success in any way, shape or form. When pedophiles and would-be rapists run for office without shame, when political parties fail to represent any of their constituents who put them in office, when lobbying organizations, support economic ideals which benefit .01% of the population while leaving the rest of the populace with less money, less opportunity, fewer chances at success; while diametrically promoting the false equivalence of opportunity, parity and economic largess to the general public, someone should point out the contradiction, without the fancy verbiage so common in magazines who have forgotten their real job was to inform people of injustices being done to them, to make them aware of opportunities lost, the failures of their government, at large, and to remind them to do their part to hold their leaders accountable.

Now our news says what it’s told, does what it’s bid, and reminded of how expendable they are as algorithms are being prepared to write the news the powers that be want to hear.

That everything is fine, there’s nothing to worry about, and your leaders have your best interests clearly at hand. Even when not a single one of those things is even REMOTELY true.

I admit to having been unwilling to tackle any of these things because, frankly, I just want to contend with the issues already plaguing my personal life and maybe get a handle of them first.

Things such as my health issues, my wife’s health issues, my son’s autism challenges, the Bay Area’s continued economic shifts, gentrification, rising costs of housing, gasoline, services, as well as increased time on the roads, crowding, accidents, and a skewed economic job perspective which makes the Bay Area sound progressive but the continued exodus of Black and Brown faces from the area presents a completely different economic picture.

I think what I am realizing is my depression lately is the ever-present indication that my options as a person of color are being ACTIVELY diminished. Once I could pretend, if I fought hard enough, was loud enough, worked hard enough, I could FIGHT my way to equality. I bought into the American story that my merits could overcome my Blackness, my educational and social deficiencies (as perceived and presented to Whites about ALL people of color) and if I simply worked twice as hard as any White person I would be allowed to participate in the economy of the Bay Area.

What I hadn’t realized that such an outrageous effort would come with a terrible price tag as I grew older and such efforts would become less and less sustainable in a work environment growing more partisan, more fearful, more racist, with each passing day. I was laboring under an unsustainable illusion. An illusion fostered by the 80s Bay Area when there was simply more work available than they could actively keep me from participating and being successful in.

As markets continue to shrink, as quality work becomes harder to find, as good salaries dry up and blow away, as modern workers struggle against a system actively attempting to reduce EVERYONE’S opportunities, the rise of the algorithmic or gig economies, I am seeing the disenfranchisement of Black workers taking place, even as the current administration does the double-speak, forked-tongue dance saying how low Black and other minority unemployment is currently.

No one is taking into consideration that every job that is being counted does not mean a one-to-one correspondence. 300 jobs once meant three hundred people were employed. Now with people being forced to take more than one part time job to make ends meet, it could mean, 100 people have 300 jobs and 200 people have been unemployed long enough they aren’t being counted by any system which tracks the unemployed.

I recognize my lack of desire to write on these and many other topics, may stem from the active disenfranchisement of Americans in general, with the president, Donald Trump, reducing opportunities across the nation by attacking things which have shown America attempting to find a way to progress without using WAR as its primary means of planetary interaction and growth. His active dismantling of trade agreements with the introduction of new tariffs shows just how little understanding he has of international relationships and his expectations of “America, First” are rooted in 1950’s “American exceptionalism” and outdated expectations of protectionism, which is repeated again and again but he refuses to acknowledge the previous failures of those ideas in the past and what will fail again in the present.

It appears that time has ended as the US has entered into a period of isolationism, fundamentalism, radicalism, protectionism, fear-mongering and racial animosity not seen in this nation for decades, now returning with a potentially nation-crippling vengeance.

Our foreign allies look at the US as a nation demonstrating a lack of personal awareness, a leader who both lauds dictators and seems more like one every day. So much so, even his own mouthpieces in the media slip and let loose the idea of him being a dictator when discussing his meeting with the problematic and autocratic Kim Jong Un.

Blasting long-running trade agreements with our national allies of decades, causing economic unrest across the planet, promoting job development with China while causing businesses to go under in America, has left a beleaguered United States citizenry wondering just whose side Trump appears to be on.

Yet, among his fanatical, and presumably uninformed base voters, we are left to wonder just how much longer they will cheer his “random acts of policy” as said policies undermine the health, welfare and future economic prosperity of the nation.

Fear of an Autocratic President (Pre-Dictatorship)

There doesn’t appear to be anyone who will publicly support his policy without furtive looks off-camera with the awkward pauses associated with candidates who wonder if this statement will be their last before their public excoriation regarding their support of the Trump Administration.

It would seem even the Grand Old Party of Republicans have begun to wonder should they stop bailing the sinking ship and just get rid of the dead weight that is the Trump kakistocracy, his cronyism and clear nepotism which can be shown to clearly be benefiting only a tiny segment of the American population, its most powerful corporations and of course, in any dealings with Trump, himself, most of all.

We would like to think there is a possibility that the Mueller investigation would have some capacity to defang this talentless fraudster, but it appears if there were any teeth at all, our media would be dragging it into the light for further scrutiny. Instead, we see the media rising from its flogging at his hands, more docile and less resistant than ever. All he has to say is “fake news” and the media crumbles before his mind-bending charismatic and autocratic “whataboutisms” each without any merit but no media willing to take them on for fear of his response making them look worse for the effort.

Nothing good happening on the Democratic side of the house, either, as its most vocal proponents have been silent for weeks, even as Trump accuses Canada of burning the White House during the War of 1812 (he was, of course, wrong, that was the British). Recent election successes on the Democratic side of the House has not made the Democrats more bold or decisive and no significant candidates under the age of seventy-five, have been presented for the 2020 Presidential elections.

It would appear Trump has settled in to his role as Autocrat-in-Chief with his incompetent and incomplete Administrative staff limping along doing nothing useful, creating no significant beneficial policies for common Americans and undoing any legislative ideas presented during the Obama Administration with increasing speed. His government agencies lead by some of the most incompetent administrators in recent history, DeVos, Carson, Pruitt and Sessions have proven they also have absolutely no capacity to think beyond the next fifteen minutes or how they can benefit one of their friends in whatever the lobby-of-the-day is.

Scandals rock the White House, its administrations, its foreign policy, such as it is, and the apparent connection to Russia, which apparently cannot be found by the investigative teams of any newspaper services or legislative services anywhere on the planet, while Trump primps and postures on the behalf if the Russian government every chance he gets.

From his loosening of sanctions in Russia, Korea and anywhere else dictators remain friendly to his overtures, to his demand Russia be returned to the G7, to which he himself, barely attended, seems to be exactly the kind of steps Russia would want for the US if we were actively in its employ. Unable to compete economically, Russia appears to be working behind the scenes in a way the writer of The Manchurian Candidate (it’s an old book, look it up) would be proud.

Reducing our friendships to the EU, distancing ourselves from useful conversation in foreign trade, promoting extreme conservatism in foreign governments, isolating the US from any active roles in meaningful world affairs would make Russia, no matter how economically small it appears on the world stage, giving it an over-sized espionage, cyber-warfare, and political footprint, with a willingness to be aggressive anywhere the US is ceding its social and economic leadership.

For the first time in fifty years, the US is no longer a leader in foreign politics and at the rate we are continuing we will move from a flawed democracy to a former one in the eyes of the free world.

I hadn’t wanted to address any of this. I just wanted to write science fiction, a bit of fantasy and the occasional thoughtful movie review from time to time. I found myself embroiled in “identity politics” racial analysis of public events and challenging the economic status quo as jobs and automation clashed in catastrophic and unexpected ways. When I began my career as a writer, I intended only to write works designed to inspire humanity to envision a better future.

How did I end up here? How did I end up cataloging what would appear to be a political disaster, being followed by an economic tsunami and a cultural firestorm all at once?

At my lowest point, at a place where I straddle poverty and homelessness, opportunity and fragility, the truth and media doublespeak, I found myself. In the unenviable position of a writer who cannot believe what he reads in the media.

Conservatives tell me everything is fine, that minorities are the reason the nation is bad and once we get rid of them, build walls, promote Whites to every position of leadership in the nation, we will return to greatness.

Liberals tell me, all the policies of the Conservatives are wrong, but they lack the cohesiveness of message to put anyone at ease and thus are actually helping the conservatives consolidate power because they refuse to address the elephant in the room.

There is an elephant in the room.

Democrats describe the elephant the same way the blind men would: each touching only the part of the elephant closes to them, and never considering the actual story of our nation, is more challenging, more historic, more base, more ideal, more terrible, more magnificent than either group dares to promote.

Because if they did that, they would lose the power polarity is offering them. The ability to say: The other side is more terrible, more monstrous, more unenlightened than we are.

Given where I stand: Both sides are failing miserably and I am now forced to catalog these failures, if for no other reason, because someone must. I recognize my bias is just like anyone else’s and yet, from where I stand, dancing on the edge of the razor, I must say something, lest I go mad with fear. With the daily expectation, that today will be the disaster that undoes me, that costs me my home, my family, or on a particularly bad interaction with the police, my life.

I hoped Trump would be seen in the light of the monster he appeared to be to me, as a former New Yorker, my experience with him is untempered by any particular love of his money or his so-called business acumen. His willingness to harm others was his only trademark for any New Yorker who was able to see him for what he was.

Two Years Later:

I was, pessimistically hopeful, that as he grew more emboldened, as he took away healthcare, returned the specter of pre-existing conditions, hid any talk of climate change, destroyed information on public web-servers, actively reverted policies which made the nation more fair, more just and more peaceful to an every-growing diversity in the US; I must now admit, White America, those members of his society who cheer every attempt to separate minority children from their parents, whose attempts to keep Muslims on the fear menu and out of the nation, every White person who feels empowered to call the police for even the smallest infraction with the hope the police will respond with its continuing increasing tendency toward greater violence toward minorities, America grows more polarized and terrible for minorities every day.

It seems his goal is to render the minority members of this society as enemies of the state, to be tracked by census, monitored by Big Brother, controlled by the police state, imprisoned by the penal-industrial complex, economically-limited by the opportunity-wranglers of big business until no one, Black or White is clear where the battle lines lie and every interaction between Whites and any other group of people has the potential to boil over into an emotional firestorm; a rhetorical battleground complete with highly armed, emotionally-stunted, and intellectually-challenged members of a nation poised for an economic meltdown of epic proportions, the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Recession of the 1920s and 1930s.

This isn’t exaggeration. I only wish it were true. Debt is at a all-time high. Student debt is in the trillions. Credit card debt follows it. The average American, if they were to experience a crash of the stock market could not scramble together $500 from their savings for any emergency.

Any significant sickness can put a family on the street, with no idea how long before, (or even if) they could return to having a place to live, a job to sustain them, or a return to good health in less than three to five years. Should markets crash, banks lack the liquidity necessary to do anything for their clients and the money to bail out these banks SIMPLY DOES NOT EXIST.

If you aren’t aware of how precarious things are, you aren’t paying attention. This must be the only reason I can use to explain why no one seems perturbed in the light of our nation’s falling renown, our economic precarity, our individual debt ceilings, or the lack of upward mobility from the last twenty years. I assume if you knew, you would say something.

Like the signs posted all over the transit systems of every major metropolis, I would think, if you see something, you would say something. Since no one is talking, I guess we can just go ahead and assume Trump 2020 is going to be the order of things. Maybe by then he can repeal presidential term limits and go for Trump 2024.

By then, we should be a good and righteous autocracy under martial law with the world recommending for the first time in history, to not allow Americans to come to their shores for any reason save humanitarian ones. Assuming anyone remembers what humanitarian means by the year 2024.

In which case, we may be watching Canada and Mexico building their own border patrols to keep desperate Americans and their related issues, INSIDE our borders for their own good.

I Don’t Want This Job (and it doesn’t have benefits)

I did not want this job. I wanted to tell stories which would one day, render unto me a Hugo, a Nebula, a bit of notoriety and the ability to place myself alongside my writing heroes who made my less-than-ideal childhood bearable.

Now I find myself wondering if my work shall instead find itself a cautionary read in the same likes as 1984 or the Diary of Anne Frank, a signpost representing a moment before a nation slid into a fearful darkness in which an entire world watched in fearful anticipation of what would happen next.

If you write, consider your duty to the future. Talk about the world at large in relationship to yourself. Only then will historians be able to piece together what happened. Because as with most things, history is written by the victors. Those 60,000 plus Americans who died in 2017 during the opioid crisis can’t tell us what happened but someone who knew them should.

We all should tell our stories, because history says, the only story Trump is going to tell you is how great a president he was. And nothing could be further from the truth. Resist and chronicle your challenges. Hearten your brothers and sisters around the world and let them know, this is not what you wanted for your nation.

Not for a second. Stay strong, people.

Thaddeus Howze
The Cognitive Dissident

Blind Men and an Elephant © 2013, by David Meng

See Also:

As a prolific writer of speculative fiction, scientific, technical and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California, Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.

Thaddeus works as a writer and editor for two magazines, the Good Men Project, a social men’s magazine as well as for Krypton Radio, a sci-fi enthusiast media station and website. He is also a freelance journalist for Polygon.com and Panel & Frame magazine. Thaddeus is the co-founder of Futura Science Fiction Magazine and one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop in Oakland.