Don’t come around here no more

By Mary Odum

In case my fellow Americans have been overwhelmed by all the other news during this chaotic era of descent, a white supremacist is making the rounds on college campuses inciting racism, hatred, and ethnic cleansing. His speech caused a murder and other violence in Charlottesville two months ago. He is now coming, uninvited, to the University of Florida on October 19th. The administration has waffled three times back and forth as to whether to allow it. They are now going to allow it, on the basis of overturned decisions on another campus and First Amendment free speech concerns. And they are funding the process with at least $500,000 in public, university funds.

My grandfather, Howard Washington Odum, was a prominent social scientist in the south, and was a tireless activist for racial integration. My parents taught me that racism, white supremacy, and Nazis are not a subject that one remains silent about. And I was taught that activism and science are not separate spheres. So here we go, within a bigger-picture context of energy descent.

People are confused about the rapid changes occurring in this country, but this is all predictable from a scientific, thermodynamic basis. The idea that even our politics are subject to the laws of physics is a novel perspective for most people. In my last post a year ago, I suggested that a future with less resources and more people would mean less freedom and a return to xenophobia. A year later, here we are, at a major turning point in the struggle for America’s soul. This past year has illustrated what early collapse in the United States looks like. Nature abhors a vacuum, and collapse is creating spaces allowing emergence of new behaviors, good and bad. From the top, the US racist president, Trump has cut a huge hole in the existing cultural canopy of our stagnating society, allowing emergent new growth from the bottom of new (or old) invasive ideas by people attempting to reestablish institutional racism. Unfortunately the germination rate of these invasive ideas appears high, especially if they are not weeded.

  • How is a racist whose speeches have incited murder NOT a danger to the safety of students and employees of UF?
  • Are we going to continue paying in money and hazard for this guy to come promote ethnic cleansing on our campus? Is it free speech to allow an uninvited racist to come on campus and give a speech with controlled ticket distribution (he is handing them out to his supporters alone)?
  • Would we, as a culture, be allowing him to promote ethnic cleansing here (or anywhere) after Charlottesville if he was black or Muslim? Somehow I don’t think so. Unfortunately, the law and how we and the Supreme Court interpret the constitution are reflections of our culture, and the culture has shifted radically in the past decade, especially when we have elected a white supremacist president for our country, have given unprecedented power and identity to corporations, and protection of hate speech.
  • Is the law the highest moral standard for UF’s decision-making? The law is “the least ethic.” And our Constitution was written during a time of slavery, so please don’t hold up the Constitution as sacred ground. Promotion of hate speech represents an “existential threat to civil society” from which we may not recover in an era of energy descent.
  • Where does it stop, and would the UF administration be making this decision if they knew that this is the beginning of a permanent return to fascism or a totalitarian state? Since the appearances have caused a death, how many deaths are we proposing to allow so this guy can spout evil? How long are we going to fund it? The UF administration’s passive approach to this problem is to pay for security and pretend it’s not happening, while encouraging people to stay away from the event. A more active approach would be to say no and allow court challenge. I have to wonder at the passivity of the University of Florida’s administration and board of trustees.

I agree with Professor Ortiz: “I think history states very clearly and speaks very loudly on this: You can not ignore evil. If you ignore it, you are complicit. This is the lesson the people of Italy learned in the 1920s and the people of Germany learned in the 1930s. Because back then, there were individuals and leaders who said, ‘Oh, just ignore Adolph Hitler. He’s so unreasonable. People will eventually learn about how wicked he is and then they’ll go away.’”

I also agree with James Thompson when he says: “I am a free speech purist. I do a lot of free speech advocacy around here. But the fascist and Nazi arrival here, because they have so much power at the national level . . . . and because they are violent and are planning violence, they represent an existential threat to civil society . . . . I do not consider what they are planning to do here, or even thinking of being here, an act of free speech or assembly. I consider it contrary to everything about the First Amendment, as we understand it.”

It is sad to watch our country slip away. Local leaders seem to be operating on the assumption that this racism is a temporary aberration, based on their business as usual (and in some cases neoliberal) world views. But the fossil-fueled America of the last five decades is not coming back again—this is thermodynamic certainty. It is our choice from here on out what emerges locally. What kind of world do you want to live in?

Those who choose to build local, inclusive, fair communities may survive. I will be protesting this hate speech somewhere on Thursday, peacefully, in support of a rapidly disappearing civil society. I channel the spirit of Tom Petty in my protest, “Don’t come around here no more.”

  • will, mdjd

    Thanks for this and other posts Mary Odum – and for continuing with the family tradition of developing and sharing important knowledge. Others have alerted us to the dangers of fascism, but almost no one it seems understands or writes about the connection between resource scarcity and social stress and ultimate decline, which you repeatedly highlight.

  • Kex Che

    Mary, all my support to your words. A hug

  • I’m so sorry to hear all your angst. These are difficult times, indeed.

    At times, I feel guilty about “jumping ship,” rationalizing that I was establishing a “lifeboat community” rather than simply saving my butt.

    I left after the second “Bush (s)election,” thinking things were inexorably sliding down. But then I arrived during the Harper nightmare, which made me question my choice. A Westminster Parliamentary System is little more than “serial dictatorship” when one party has a majority, and Harper used that to dismantle decades of environmental programs and indeed, even environmental history, to the point that scientists were crawling through dumpsters, crying, trying to salvage something, anything.

    It appears that the courts and even members of his own party are working to keep Trump in check, and it is doubtful that he could achieve something as nasty as erasing 50 years of important climate data, as Harper did. This too, shall pass.

    • Well, I am very proud of Hogtown, who represented peacefully and well yesterday, with a very multi-layered approach. Even the UF carillon participated, playing a version of the black anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, a much more beautiful anthem than the US national anthem.

      I’m afraid this era won’t pass, Jan. Energy descent and population dictates that there will be less freedom. Al Bartlett’s bathroom metaphor, which I know you’re aware of, but I will repeat here for others:

      “I like to use what I call my bathroom metaphor. If two people live in an apartment, and there are two bathrooms, then they both have freedom of the bathroom. You can go to the bathroom anytime you want, stay as long as you want, for whatever you need. And everyone believes in freedom of the bathroom. It should be right there in the constitution. But if you have twenty people in the apartment and two bathrooms, then no matter how much every person believes in freedom of the bathroom, there’s no such thing. You have to set up times for each person, you have to bang on the door, ‘Aren’t you through yet?’ and so on.” And Asimov concluded with one of the most profound observations I’ve seen in years. He said, “In the same way, democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive overpopulation. Convenience and decency cannot survive overpopulation. As you put more and more people into the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears. It doesn’t matter if someone dies, the more people there are, the less one individual matters.”

      And unfortunately, the guns are going to make it very difficult to protest. I felt very safe yesterday protesting (it felt like a love-in), but that feeling was engendered by $600,000+ in heavy security in the form of riot police, military drones, highway patrol, police sheriffs, choppers, planes, and snipers. So where are we headed with all of this? I read this this morning from a historian, and it encapsulates why I felt it necessary to be present yesterday.

      “What are some of the more difficult and challenging things that people can do?
      The last lesson in “On Tyranny” is to be as courageous as you can. Do you actually care enough about freedom that you would take risks? Do individuals actually care about freedom? Think that through. I think if enough of us take the little risks at the beginning, which aren’t really that significant, this will prevent us from having to take bigger risks down the line.

      We are still at a stage where protest is not illegal. We’re still at a stage where protest is not lethal. Those are the two big thresholds. We are still on the good side of both of those thresholds and so now is the time you want to pack in as much as you can because you could actually divert things. Once you get into a world where protest is illegal, then the things that I recommend like corporeal politics, getting out on the streets — they have to happen but they are much riskier. It’s a much different kind of decision.”

  • The yields of peaceful protest–we have beautiful people in Gainesville.

    “Rodney Long said his son told him he wanted to go to see Spencer speak and talk to him to understand his views. But once Julius Long saw how hundreds of angry people were treating Furniss, he said his son knew he had to step in and help. “He kind of helped the guy (Furniss) get away from a volatile situation and what I kept telling him was if you have hate and he has hate, you can’t communicate,” the elder Long said. “The only thing that can overcome hate is love, somebody has to be able to love a person in spite of what their differences are in order for you to be able to communicate.””