Tag Archives: Jonathan Donald Jenner

Forests, Trees, and the Limits of Moral Reasoning from the Belly of Capitalism

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

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Capitalism is all around us. And because of that, we easily forget about it, in the way that a squirrel might be thrown by the concept of ‘forest.’ Of course, if prompted, we know it’s there (it’s on our citizenship exam!). It’s one of the amazing things about capitalism: as it lives in our minds, it’s both everywhere and nowhere at the same time. We contribute to this omnipresence/invisibility when we posit the capitalist process as natural, or as the inevitable end of history, or collapse the particular social institutions of capitalism into the generic and universal term ‘the economy.’ That is, we push capitalism into the background and inhibit our ability to use capitalism as an analytical category in our moral reasoning. This erasure, then, weakens our moral reasoning and hinders our ability to liberate ourselves.

When we look around the world, we see things we don’t like: poverty in the midst of plenty, persistent unemployment, long standing and widening disparities between groups, and environmental ruin. To engage in adequate moral reasoning about the things we don’t like, we need to understand what their causes are. Here by way of assertion, but worked out elsewhere in detail: many of the things we don’t like are caused by capitalism. But since the culprit – capitalism – is pushed from our field of view, our moral reasoning is rendered inadequate by extension. Read more

The Stories Hollywood Doesn’t Tell – How the Structure of the Film Industry Marginalizes Narratives of Minorities & Women

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The #oscarssowhite and #oscarsstillsowhite not just because the academy snubs the contributions of non-white actors, writers, and directors who have excelled in a particular year, but also because of the many films that are never made by minorities and women.  Behind the film industry in Hollywood sits financial power whose whiteness, masculinity, and money is reflected both in the stories that are told and in those that are not told. Telling stories that are everyone’s stories requires thinking through and beyond the power structures which shape Hollywood. Here are some anecdotes, some facts, and some implications for building an inclusive cinema.

Oliver Law

Oliver Law, American hero seen here in real life fighting against the fascists in Spain, won’t be found on the silver screen.

Anecdotes:

Oliver Law’s true hero life story reads like a made-for-Hollywood film synopsis:

Son of West Texas and Army veteran Oliver Law becomes radicalized in Depression era Chicago, and joins the Abraham Lincoln Brigades to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, quickly rising to become a battalion commander (the first African American to lead an integrated military unit), before being killed in Boadilla del Monte as the battle for Castille raged on, whose memory lived on as a martyr for the Spanish Republic.

This film does not exist, even though Paul Robeson attempted to make it. Read more

Economic Crisis, Self-Blame, & The Dangerous Underbelly Of The American Dream

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

The American Dream, by attributing success to personal attributes like hard work and trumpeting the idea of a ‘level playing field,’ also causes people to blame themselves when they experience economic difficulty. This occurs even when the hardship is clearly not caused by the actions of individuals, but from the structural failures of capitalism[i].  This misplaced blame has dangerous effects on our health, affects our ability to mount viable responses to the structural failures of capitalism, and worse, allows snake-oil salesmen to direct that blame outwards – on immigrants, the poor, and other marginalized groups.

The American Dream has such a hold on the American imagination, in part, because it’s our great equalizer. Though some of us are poor and a few of us are rich, we can all still work hard. And we live in a structure, so the Dream goes, where hard work can make you at least not poor. Never mind that the Dream is substantially untrue, or that whatever elements of truth it may have had are eroded by the day: substantial amounts of Americans still believe it! The hold on America’s collective imagination has been weakened by the Great Recession, but it’s still there – last year, according to the NY Times, 64% of American’s believed that hard work can make one rich, down from 72% at the beginning of the Great Recession. Another poll though, by the Public Religion Research Institute, found that only half of Americans believe in the American Dream[ii].

‘Despair,’ from Zoja Trofimiuk’s Raw Emotion Series, 2012.

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The National Pharmaceutical Development Administration (NPDA) Doesn’t Exist, but It Should

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

Publicly funded research should yield publicly owned drugs which are available to the public at the cost of the production. 

In the capitalism of today, research by the pharmaceutical industry is guided the whims of the market, buttressed by companies’ ability to price gouge under the pretense of research-incentivizing patents, or government granted monopoly power. This kills us (see our own Brian Callaci’s great piece ‘Maximizing Shareholder Value Is (Literally) Killing Us’). But we don’t have to pay for and develop new drugs the way we do. A (hypothetical) National Pharmaceutical Development Administration (NPDA), funded by taxpayers, could develop drugs that would then be owned by taxpayers, who, for obvious reasons, wouldn’t price gouge themselves.  More, research priorities for which drugs to develop would be set publicly, and go to diseases where we need them the most.

Dr_Jonas_Edward_Salk_(cropped)

Dr. Jonas Salk found the cure for polio and made the cure freely available, refusing to patent the drug, and helping millions around the globe. And yet, his research is the exception, not the rule, in biomedical research. Why don’t we make it the norm?

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Marinaleda in the House

By Jonathan Donald Jenner

Everyone needs housing, and housing is canonized as a human right across many declarations including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Yet across the globe, housing is largely distributed to individuals on markets, from private owners to private buyers.  Private owners have their own rights, which include the ability to exclude and the ability to set the rent too damn high. Save for those who profit from ownership of real estate, we’re all hurting. As we work to stop our hurting, we’ve got to recognize the good work of activists and organizations who are helping out those hurt the most.  But we’ve also got to bring ideas for structural change to the table, and expand our imagination beyond only shoring up the egregious offenses of an unjust system.  One shining example of a structural alternative to housing comes from the small village of Marinaleda, Spain.

Live in a three bedroom apartment for $22/month in Marinaleda, Spain. No joke & no gimmicks – just a municipal government that serves its citizens, not landlords.

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