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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Turning Again: Been Down in the South

May22

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on May 22nd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

In 1961, when the Congress for Racial Equality planned a ‘freedom ride’ through the South to test the integration of interstate transit, they were experimenting in nonviolent direct action — a radical commitment to do what is right whether others deem it convenient, timely, or even legal.

As Black Lives Matter campaigns have arisen in the wake of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray’s deaths, many who are unsettled by their militancy have pointed to the nonviolence of the Freedom Riders and others in America’s Civil Rights Movement. Nonviolence sounds like a favorable alternative when Baltimore is burning.

But nonviolent direct action is never convenient; Mother’s Day 1961 was interrupted by images of a bus burning in Anniston, Alabama, when Freedom Riders were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan with the permission (if not collusion) of local authorities. For all of their commitment to nonviolence, the Freedom Rider’s direct action still unleashed a storm of fire.

When we pay attention, there’s a fire at the heart of our shared life in America. The question Baltimore is forcing us to consider is whether we will be consumed by these flames or saved from them?

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Urban Grassroots Mobilization in central-Eastern European Cities

May21

by: Kerstin Jacobsson on May 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

This article is part of the openMovements series on Open Democracy inviting leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of mass protests in central and eastern Europe and most notably in south eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, people have taken to the streets to manifest their disappointments with corrupt and unresponsive political elites and a societal development benefiting the few rather than the many. The protests have contained a mix of transnationally inspired anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity critiques and disillusion with domestic political leaders and parties.

A building facade in Metelkova, Slovenia.

Collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in former Soviet countries. One product of these is Metelkova, an autonomous social center in Slovenia. Credit: Demotix/ Ferdinando Piezzi.

Other forms of grassroots mobilization, however, tend to go unnoticed. An equally important sign of the transformation of post-socialist civil societies as the street protests is the rise and development of urban grassroots activism in the cities across the eastern European region. This type of local, often small-scale and low-key form of activism, related mostly to everyday life problem-solving, easily escapes the attention of the media as well as the lens of social movement researchers who tend to focus either on NGOs and advocacy-organizations capable of the effective lobbying of policy-makers or on more traditional protest events, such as mass demonstrations.

Even so, the protest-event analysis carried out in the Czech Republic and Slovakia suggest that local ‘self-organized’ civic activism, i.e. collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in these countries. This form of activism is based on ‘many events, no organizations, and few participants’.

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Social Contexts of Youth Bullying

May20

by: on May 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

Scantily-clad women serve food to men inside Twin Peaks restaurant.

It's no wonder that discrimination and abuse are still so prevalent. In a cycle that must be broken, restaurants like Twin Peaks, that feature barely-dressed attractive female servers, are a product of, and contribute to our male-centric culture. Credit: CreativeCommons / Ricky Brigante.

While studying a number of bullying prevention programs, I find that, while providing good overall theoretical and conceptual foundations and strategies for prevention and reduction of incidents, some crucial components are still missing. We must also discuss and examine the social and cultural contexts wherein bullying attitudes and behaviors often stem. We must find ways not only to understand and to actually engage in correcting these larger social and cultural contexts.

I contend that we must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially sanctioned targets for their aggressive behaviors.

The developmental and educational psychologist, Albert Bandura, proposed that young people learn primarily through observation, and that one’s culture transmits social mores and what Bandura called “complex competencies” through social modeling. As he noted, the root meaning of the word “teach” is “to show.”

Society presents many role models, from very positive and affirming to very negative, biased, aggressive, and destructive. Modeling, he asserted, is composed of more than concrete actions, which he referred to as “response mimicry,” but also involves abstract concepts, “abstract modeling,” such as following rules, taking on values and beliefs, making moral and ethical judgments.

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American Exceptionalism

May20

by: Jeffrey Vogel on May 20th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Exceptionalism is a neutral word as it can reference something exceptionally good or exceptionally bad — human beings, and their respective nations, have clearly shown themselves to be capable of both.

The notion of American Exceptionalism has been regularly referenced by President Obama — most significantly in his West Point commencement address last year where he said that “I believe in American Exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” He also said that “The United States is the one indispensable nation.” This blind and exclusive nationalism is the rationale that all imperial powers use to justify their military adventures and is especially dangerous when employed by our nation, the only military superpower on the planet.

The psychologist Erich Fromm’s thoughts on this exclusive nationalism remain very timely:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare – never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”

– Erich Fromm in “The Sane Society” (1955)


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The Mark of Cain. It’s Not What You Think It Is.

May19

by: Norman Allen on May 19th, 2015 | No Comments »

Stained glass Cain and Abel.

In condemning Dzhokar Tsarnaev to death, we would do well to remember Cain and Abel. Even after murdering his brother, Cain is shown unthinkable mercy and protection from God. Above, stained glass from the Genesis story in Fairford Parish Church, England. Credit: CreativeCommons / Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, handed down on May 15, serves as the grand finale to a year of public discussion about capital punishment. The Supreme Court is considering the potential cruelty of lethal injections, and Kelly Renee Gissendaner lives under a stay of execution in Georgia, prompted by fears of another “botched execution,” like the one experienced by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring. It seems a good time to step back and revisit what the Bible’s authors have to say about that book’s first murderer, and the consequences of his actions.

I found the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, remembering from my Sunday School days that God punishes the murderer with the “Mark of Cain,” a sort of brand that ensures Cain will spend the rest of his days as an outcast. I quickly learned, though, that my memory — or my Sunday School teacher — had it totally wrong.

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Field Office Annals, Part Two: Engagement, Vision, and Play

May18

by: on May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

This is the second in a two-part series based on interviews with two founding Cultural Agents in the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I hold the title of Chief Policy Wonk).(To stay current on everything this great project is doing, enlist as a Citizen Artist: it’s fun and free.)

Jess Solomon in Washington, DC, and Dave Loewenstein in Lawrence, KS, are the first two USDAC Cultural Agents to open Field Offices, USDAC outposts that serve as focal points for local cultural organizing and connecting-points for participation in National Actions. (See part one of this series to learn why they started Field Offices and what they’ve been up to ever since.)

One of the USDAC’s foundational ideas is that the local and national feed and support each other. For example, through local Imaginings, communities generate visions of the futures they desire, and those help to shape policy and program ideas emerging from the National Cabinet. Those can then be tested at the community level, with local experiences making national policy stronger, and vice versa. In this model, policy is rooted in lived local knowledge, not abstract ideas or expert credentials.

Obviously, this works best with a strong local network. Imaginings are part of that, and so are National Actions like the People’s State of The Union, with thousands of community members across the nation taking part. The network of Field Offices is just starting to add a layer, with Dave and Jess showing the way. They’ve already learned a great deal about how to engage people, how to self-organize, and what not to do, and they are happy to share.

When we spoke last month, I asked them what drew people in their communities to the USDAC.


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Blesed are the Meek: A Tribute to B.B. King

May16

by: on May 16th, 2015 | No Comments »

B.B. King — the king of the blues — is dead. He made his transition from time to eternity on May 14, 2015 at age 89 leaving behind a legacy of artistic expression that helps us all to hear and feel and know the complexity of our humanity. His life was an interpretation of the wisdom Jesus the Christ taught: “blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

We live in a world that mistakes meekness for weakness. We think humility is humiliation, and we count gentleness equal to cowardice. This is a deception. The Greek word that is translated as meek in several versions of the Bible – praus – also means humility and gentleness. To be meek is a kind of power, the power to endure, the power of patient striving, the power to bear the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to and then wait for our just due. The life of B.B. King shows us a man born into a context of grinding poverty and vicious racism, but he was also born into a family of faith. His mother took him to church as a child, and it was within his faith community and a community of family and friends where he found his sense of self-worth.

A preacher friend of his family came over to eat on Sunday afternoons and brought his guitar. The preacher taught young Riley B. King how to play. Later, as a young man, he joined a gospel singing group. During the week, he worked from can to can’t (from first light in the morning until dark.) On the weekends, he went into Indianola, Mississippi to sing for passersby to put money in the hat. During the day he played gospel. At night, he played the blues. The blues people gave him the most money.

He was told that at some point he would have to make a decision, that he could not play God’s music and the devil’s music. Time passed and one day while working as a tractor driver, he thought he had turned the tractor off, but it kept going and was damaged. He ran away to Memphis. While there he found a group of guitar players who gave him master’s classes in blues guitar. About six months later, he decided to go back to Mississippi and to work off the debt he owned to the farmer whose tractor he had damaged. He was proud that when he left Mississippi the second time to start his career in Memphis, he started correctly.

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Astronomy and Theism Are Not Incompatible

May16

by: Huma Munir on May 16th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

A telescope at sunset.

"Astronomy teaches us humility and compassion," writes Huma Munir. "Of all human virtues, humility is probably the most beautiful and important."

In 1990, spacecraft Voyager 1 took one last photo of the Earth from 6 billion kilometers away before drifting further into outer space. The Earth stood out no more than a tiny dot against the vast expanse of darkness in the space.

Inspired by the photo, famous astrophysicist and atheist, Carl Sagan, wrote a book titled Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In it, he said studying astronomy can be a humbling and a character-building experience. Though Sagan did not believe in a higher power, his work has greatly inspired me to connect with God, and has led me on a journey of self-reformation.

In many senses, and contrary to popular belief, astronomy is helpful to religious believers.

Firstly, it teaches us that the world is limitless.

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Yom HaBilbul: A Meditation on Conviction and Confusion in the Holy Land

May15

by: Rabbi Michael Rothbaum on May 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

If you’re not in a rush
take a train
Israel’s trains
take their time through
the countryside

but

the country has a
rapid transit
of holidays
in the Spring
rushing by like a bullet


train

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Latest Web-Only Articles from Tikkun

May14

by: Tikkun on May 14th, 2015 | No Comments »

Have you been keeping up with the brilliant web-only articles on tikkun.org? Don’t miss Jonathan Rosenblum’s powerful piece on the immorality of an economic system in which Big Oil is willing to risk workers’ lives for profit, Nancy Abrams’s world-transforming treatise on spirituality and science, Paul Krassner’s discussion of Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, and much more.

A God That Could Be Real by Nancy Abrams

Unconscious evolution of God-ideas is inevitable, but conscious evolution of God-ideas has been harshly discouraged. This must change, or else we’ll never be able to bring our best knowledge into the process of rethinking God for our time.Read More »


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