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Call Them by Their True Names: American…

Call Them by Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays)

by Rebecca Solnit

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Call Them by Their True Names is a recent collection of post-2016 essays by Rebecca Solnit. Solnit is one of those people who can distill complex events to their essentials and make sense of them. There are eighteen essays organized into four groups. Electoral Catastrophes, the first section, concentrates on the misogyny of Trump’s victory. These speak to me most forcefully because for me, as for many women, November 8, 2016, is the day our fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons made clear the contempt they hold their daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. To grind that into our souls, they overwhelmingly supported a man who openly despises, mocks, abuses, and assaults women. It will forever be The Great Betrayal and Solnit’s essays speak to that anger and rage and the way women are erased, not just from value, but from understanding the election with all the false narratives designed to obscure the fundamental fact that by large majorities American men cannot accept women as equals.

In the second section, American Emotions, Solnit has four essays addressing the bankruptcy of our obsession with individualism and our cynical rush to judge civil activism as a failure by looking only at the short-term. I appreciated the essay tackling the temptation of violence on the left and tackling head-on the phony criticism of “preaching to the choir.” I remember someone saying that once and the great response, “if they choir isn’t voting, keep preaching.”

The third section, American Edges, has eight essays on topics from climate change to gentrification to Civil War monuments to Standing Rock. What they have in common is the violence done to people by those in power, whether it’s Kit Carson killing Califonios to our government killing innocent men on Death Row or neglect killing the homeless and racism killing refugees. Violence seems omnipresent in how our government interacts with people, implicitly or explicitly.

The fourth section, Possibilities, has only three essays. One about her hope that the media will start getting it right, to start reporting on climate change, to start reporting stories not click bait. The other two are about how activism has profound effects and then the surprising consequence of Trump’s election – the waking up of American resistance far more broadly than before.

I follow Solnit on Facebook where she sometimes posts a link to her articles. I actively look for her writing, so many of the essays were ones I had already come across, but several were fresh. It is also useful to read essays again within the context of the stories she groups them with.

I think Solnit is one of our more practical and accessible public intellectuals. Accessible is sometimes thrown around as an insult, as though writing with clarity is easy. It’s not. What’s easy is using professional jargon and inaccessible language to put gates on your ideas so they are safe from broad public scrutiny. Solnit never does that. She writes so her ideas are understood and not just by the like-minded reader.

Solnit writes with courage and is not afraid to criticize those who expect to be treated as allies. For example, in Facing the Furies she writes about nonviolence and the use of violence. While she does not mention Black Bloc or Antifa, she writes about those who justify petty violence and suggest criticism of their tactics is infringing on their freedom of expression. “Justified thus, violence becomes a form of personal expression, part of bourgeois individualism rather than global revolutionary strategy. One is really fighting against one’s own repression rather than that of others, and devil take the consequences. This is an argument that has nothing to do with strategy or winning.” In another example, she takes on those who argue on behalf of those who are pushing the Democrats to accommodate the White Working Class voter who left us years ago. “You think you’re recruiting; really, you’re losing your religion.” I want to steal that line and use it forever.

I think Solnit is a careful thinker and writer. She recognizes the danger and appeal of anger. She knows the media responds to conservative anger with credulity and liberal evidence with skepticism. It’s easier to nitpick facts than argue with anger. She is aware of racism’s pull on our country and on us as individuals, how much our country relies on racist impulses and beliefs to justify injustice. She tackles the issues of racism and sexism without fear, calling out the biases and bigotries on the left as well as the right

Even if you don’t read many nonfiction books on politics and current events, read this. The essays are short, incisive, and to the point. The writing is clear and active. This is writing to do more than persuade, but to inspire.

I received an e-galley of Call Them by Their True Names from the publisher through Edelweiss

Call Them by Their True Names at Haymarket Books
Rebecca Solnit author site
https://tonstantweaderreviews.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/call-them-by-their-true-n... ( )
1 vote Tonstant.Weader | Nov 27, 2018 |
From the Foreword:

There are so many ways to tell a lie. You can lie by ignoring whole regions of impact, omitting crucial information, or unhitching cause and effect; by falsifying information by distortion and disproportion, or by using names that are euphemisms for violence or slander for legitimate activities, so that the white kids are "hanging out" but the Black kids are "loitering" or "lurking." Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them. (2-3)

From "The Loneliness of Donald Trump":
There is a democracy of social discourse, in which we are reminded that, just as we are beset with desires and fears and feelings, so are others. (13)

From "Milestones in Misogyny":
[Footnote re: October 7, 2016: Obama administration's announcement that Putin regime was meddling in U.S. election eclipsed by Access Hollywood tape, which was itself eclipsed by Wikileaks' release of hacked DNC emails, "which a more diligent media might have connected back to the Obama administration's warning."] p. 21

From "The Ideology of Isolation":
Taxes represent civic connection: what we each give to the collective good. This particular form of shared interest has been frames as a form of oppression at least since Ronald Reagan...
But if you forget what you derive from the collective [e.g. sanitation, water, roads, bridges, etc.], you can imagine that you owe it nothing and can go it alone. (46-47)

From "Naive Cynicism":
Naive cynicism...bleeds the sense of possibility and maybe the sense of responsibility out of people. (52)

The inability to concretely assess what Occupy accomplished comes in part from the assumption that historical events [e.g. the Easter Uprising] either produce straightforward, quantifiable, immediate results or they fail to matter. (54)

Like mainstream naive cynics, those on the margins and to the left also doubt their own capacity to help bring about change, a view that conveniently spares them the hard work such change requires. (54)

From "Facing the Furies":
In my experience, those dedicated to practical change over the long term are often the least involved in the dramas of rage....The most committed organizers I know are not often incensed. Their first obligation is to changing how things are - to action, not self-expression. (68-69)

From "Preaching to the Choir":
Sometimes, rather than meeting people where they are, you can locate yourself someplace they will eventually want to be. (76)

The term preaching to the choir dismisses both the emotional and intellectual value of talk. (77)

From "No Way In, No Way Out":
The young can't remember (and many of their elders hardly recall) that few people were homeless before the 1980s. They don't grasp that this problem doesn't have to exist, that we could largely end it, as we could many other social problems, with little more radical a solution than a return to the buffered capitalism of forty years ago, when real wages were higher, responsibility for taxes more equitably distributed, and a far stronger safety net caught more of those who fell.

From "Bird in a Cage: Visiting Jarvis Masters on Death Row":
"Unconscious bias influences our lives in exactly the same manner as that current," Vedantam writes. "Those who travel with the current will always feel they are good swimmers; those who swim against the current may never realize they are better swimmers than they imagine."

From "The Monument Wars":
...who is remembered, and how, and who decides: these are deeply political things.

From "Break the Story":
The recent event on the surface is often merely the hood ornament on the mighty social engine that is a story driving the culture. We call those "dominant narratives" or "paradigms" or "memes" or "metaphors we live by" or "frameworks." However we describe them, they are immensely powerful forces. And the dominant culture mostly goes about reinforcing the stories that are the pillars propping it up and that, too often, are also the bars of someone else's cage.

[Post-Katrina] These were the crimes not of the underclass against the status quo, but of the status quo against the underclass.

We tend to treat people on the fringe as ideologues and those in the center as neutral...There is no apolitical, no sidelines, no neutral ground; we're all engaged.

Every bad story is a prison; breaking the story breaks someone out of prison. It's liberation work.

I think of the mainstream media as having not so much a rightwing or leftwing bias but a status quo bias, a tendency to believe people in authority, to trust institutions and corporations and the rick and power and pretty much any self-satisfied white man in a suit....

From "In Praise of Indirect Consequences":
Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it's all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing....Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written.

Newcomers often think that results are either immediate or they're nonexistent. That if you don't succeed straight away, you failed. Such a framework makes many give up and go back home just when the momentum is building and victories are within reach.

Ideas are contagious, emotions are contagious, hope is contagious, courage is contagious. When we embody those qualities, or their opposites, we convey them to others. ( )
  JennyArch | Nov 26, 2018 |
what a voice. happy Rebecca Solnit lives in my world.
  splinfo | Nov 26, 2018 |
This new essay collection by Solnit is both a scathing indictment of the current US administration and the president himself. Solnit also looks at continued racial disparities and gentrification. She ends, however, on a note of encouragement - peaceful protest has a history of accomplishment and will be able to bring the US through this strange period in our history. ( )
1 vote redwritinghood38 | Nov 6, 2018 |
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National Book Award Longlist Kirkus Prize Finalist "Rebecca Solnit is essential feminist reading." -The New Republic "Solnit's exquisite essays move between the political and the personal, the intellectual and the earthy." -Elle Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books, including the international bestseller Men Explain Things to Me. Called "the voice of the resistance" by the New York Times, she has emerged as an essential guide to our times, through her incisive commentary on feminism, violence, ecology, hope, and everything in between. In this powerful and wide-ranging collection, Solnit turns her attention to battles over meaning, place, language, and belonging at the heart of the defining crises of our time. She explores the way emotions shape political life, electoral politics, police shootings and gentrification, the life of an extraordinary man on death row, the pipeline protest at Standing Rock, and the existential threat posed by climate change. The work of changing the world sometimes requires changing the story, the names, and inventing or popularizing new names and terms and phrases. Calling things by their true names can also cut through the lies that excuse, disguise, avoid, or encourage inaction, indifference, obliviousness in the face of injustice and violence.… (more)

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