Book Review: After Freedom: The Rise Of The Post-Apartheid Generation In South Africa

After Freedom: The Rise Of The Post-Apartheid Generation In South Africa, by Katherine S. Newman and Ariane De Lannoy

Like many who have written on the recent history of South Africa [1], the authors come away from their story with a strong sense of unease about the way in which the hope and promise of a “post-racial” South Africa has been squandered in the face of political apathy by a generation that feels itself robbed of the promises of advancement that they felt their due. Given the issues of political corruption and the decline of safety and the collapse of education and infrastructure in South Africa, the authors see a great deal of insecurity even among those who have been well-equipped through their education and family connections in contemporary South Africa. For those who lacked such benefits, there has been a rising sense of frustration with a lack of progress and an inability for an economy to provide jobs for those who want to work but are unable to find it, and those are a huge portion of the South African population, a worrisome level it must be admitted. This book tells the stories of a variety of people in South Africa and explores the shared frustration with the way things are as well as with the wide gulf between how some of them have fared as opposed to others, and the troublesome nature of the nation that they share.

This book is a bit less than 250 pages long and is divided into ten chapters that focus on various themes that are present in the lives of the people interviewed and studied by the authors, all of whose names have been changed, presumably so that they do not suffer repercussions for sharing information with the researchers. The authors begin with a preface that explains the germ of their idea for this project, before an introductory chapter that discusses the people that this book is about (1). After that the author looks at the legacies of apartheid explored from various perspectives (2) as well as the struggle for one of the women in particular to find work (3) and keep her mental health going. The author explores the dilemma faced by successful blacks who are viewed as being coconuts for being white on the inside (4) as well as the way that coloureds have been forgotten in post-apartheid South Africa (5). The authors look at the other side of the coloured divide at those who are doing well (6), discuss the question of how it is that people deal with the past, being wrong but the past (7), as well as the movements and migrations to Cape Town and other cities and outside of South Africa and back (8), before the authors discuss the political anger of many of the people in the book (9) as well as the sad state of South Africa after freedom (10). The book ends with a note on terms and methods, acknowledgements, notes, works cited, and an index.

The authors are clearly cosmopolitan and “liberal” Westerners whose research was inspired and influenced by previous looks at societies struggling with deep racial divides, like the American South in the first half of the 20th century. That said, the authors note that there were indeed great differences between the American South of the 1930’s and contemporary South Africa. For one, the education system of the United States was better than that of South Africa, and there were a lot more jobs available as well in a society moving out of the Great Depression and facing the expansion that comes from war and then consumer-driven demand than is the case for a post-industrial South Africa that struggles to find enough to do for its people in the face of massive mistrust and insecurity in the stability of small businesses and the atmosphere they work in. And if the authors, who are not inclined to be particularly pessimistic about a society they want to see succeed, are so downcast about South Africa’s glacial progress towards widespread well-being, the reader can scarcely be more optimistic about such matters.

[1] See, for example:

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What’s It Worth To You?

Before coming into work today I had a couple of medical appointments. First, there was a trip to LabCorps. I figured that with Covid happening as it is, that there would be better parking than usual, and to a certain extent I was right. If I was not able to park in the immediate lot I was able to park not very far away and hoof it in. I’m not sure if this was necessarily a good thing, though, as while a rousing bit of exercise is good for you, it is not always good for your pulse, which was a bit higher than usual, likely due to my usual white coat hypertension [1], which is what it is. It did not take long for my blood sample to be finished, and quickly I was off to my second appointment at ZoomCare for my Covid test. I read on the window that they did not want us to come in until 5 minutes before the appointment so I sat outside and read some and then came in at five minutes to noon. I barely had time to look at my phone before being called in to take the swab test, which involved rubbing the swap all around in my nostrils, which isn’t the most attractive thing but was done quickly, and with that I was done.

I pondered that the test had cost me $140.00, and had taken about half an hour in a video-conference meeting and about five minutes of testing. Is it worth it, though? Considering it is a requirement for travel, it is worth it, but I can see there being a great deal of profit here. I’m not sure how much the lab tests were that my company had paid for that I took before then, but was it worth it? I imagine so, as they require it every year, giving employees $25/paycheck off in exchange for doing the task, and putting enough weight that managers lean on their employees to do it. It must be worthwhile to have information about their employees. I would not be surprised if it was worth a great deal to them to be able to subtly encourage employees to take on gym memberships and to eat healthier, but all the same it is not something that I feel completely happy about. I personally hate the nagging that tends to happen regarding health, and also tend to find that the encouragement to better health is often lip service only [1].

Recently I heard a message from our local pastor, and part of the message included a discussion on the repercussions of decisions made about Social Security and Medicare that forced the church to set aside money to pay for the health issues of aging pastors when it had been expected that the world would end before pastors reached the age of retirement, something that was obviously not the case, as we can see now. Companies make decisions about life all the time, and those decisions do not always work out for the best interests of others. What it’s worth to others has to be balanced with what it’s worth to me. It is for this reason that we have to ponder what it is that others are willing to offer us so that we will do something that is of obvious benefit to them? Sometimes it can work out where everyone can get some sort of benefit out of it, and sometimes that is not the case. When it is the case, though, it is always interesting to see the different things that people wish to get out of something, even something as simple as drawing blood or testing one’s nose swabbing.

[1] See, for example:

[2] There are various reasons why I feel this. The most obvious one being that the company itself profits from selling junk food to employees, or at least did, and has not always acted in such a way as to keep employees having access to good drinking water, to say nothing about anything else. Claims to support the well-being of employees strike one as rather hollow when this is the case.

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Book Review: Penguins (Nature’s Children)

Penguins (Nature’s Children), by Lucia Raatma

There is something fascinating about seeing the way that a variety of publishers feel the need to publish books about penguins because they are obviously a very popular animal. There are a lot of things that can be said about penguins, to be sure, but one thing that is easily noticed when one reads a few books on the animal is that the same things get mentioned over and over again. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just more evidence (if more was needed) that the driving force behind the creation of more books about penguins is not necessarily that more is known about them, but that enough people enjoy reading them that there is a high degree of competition among authors and among publishers for having books about them with glossy photographs and quirky information to compete for the obvious reading audience. It is remarkable to see that this is a phenomenon in books about animals just as it is in books about geography where school assignments and even homeschooling allow for a large enough market to exist to sell books about odd and beloved animals like the penguin (although certainly not only them), even as one can find exactly 0 books about the hyrax in one’s local library system, if you are like most people.

This book is a short one that begins with a fact file on penguins that hints at the complexity of the animal, including the fact that “scientists agree” that there are currently eighteen species of extent penguins, and that their habitats include cold icy areas as well as tropical islands. The rest of the contents are divided into five chapters. The first chapter claims to be “all about penguins, and it contains some pictures and some basic information about some of the various penguin species (1). After that there is a discussion of how penguins stay alive, including their diet, their grooming and transportation habits, and the predators they have to deal with (2). Then there is a look at life in a penguin colony (3), which includes information about building nests (!), hatching and raising chicks, and the changes that happen when chicks grow up. This is followed by a chapter on the penguins of the past (4), which includes information about human-sized penguins and speculation on the increased competition from dolphins and whales that apparently led to the extinction of these massive penguins who could not find enough to eat. Finally, the chapter on today and tomorrow (5) looks at the threats to penguins from human causes as well as supposed climate change and what can be done to protect the adorable animals. Combined with a glossary, habitat map, resources for further information, an index, and information about the author, the book comes out to around 50 pages.

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Book Review: Penguins (Seedlings)

Penguins (Seedlings), by Kate Riggs

It is always entertaining, at least for me, to read books that are clearly geared to people who are almost four decades younger than I am, and this book is clearly an example of that. This book, and presumably the whole series it is attached to, is designed to be a picture book with very limited text that is designed to be read aloud to little children as a way of informing them about penguins. Books like this help little kids develop a lifelong appreciations for penguins, which are an easy bird to love and full of such quirky ways that they are easy to relate to for awkward but dapper people of all ages. This is precisely the book that I could see myself showing to an appreciative infant or toddler and I’m reasonably positive that this is the purpose for the book in the first place, so it is a case where the design of the book and its very simple text is designed to encourage appreciation of penguins and the conveyance of a little bit of knowledge about them in a way that is very basic and fundamental, and not nearly as complex as the life of penguins in general.

The contents of this book are, as I mentioned earlier, pretty basic. Indeed, all of the words of this book could be printed without it taking too long. The photos, though, or gorgeous, so when you read “Hello, penguins,” you see a gorgeous penguin in rich blue water in full swim and another penguin fuzzy. Sometimes the basic information included can be a bit incomplete, as when a page says that most penguins live in or near Antarctica, which is true enough until you realize that their range includes forests in New Zealand as well as the cost of South America up to the Galapagos islands. I myself have personally seen penguins in central Chile, which was an enjoyable sight. The book includes basic information about the feathers of the penguins and their notable qualities like flippers (instead of wings) and webbed feet as well as introducing the fact that they live in rookeries, although that is not necessarily so for all penguins. Still, if this book gives very little information compared with how much it could give, at the very least it is an enjoyable book to read to young audiences that may encourage more serious books later on that provide nuance.

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Book Review: Penguins (Animal Families)

Penguins (Animal Families), edited by Tim Harris

Penguins are pretty uniformly loved animals. Not only are they attractive in the sense of looking very formally dressed and proper, but their quirky waddling and graceful swimming and generally adorable ways make them an animal that is very easy for kids to enjoy growing up. Penguin rookeries in zoos are nearly always very popular areas and as someone who does not differ from the common taste in enjoying penguins a great deal, this book was one of several animal books at the library I picked up to read and review and see just how many different ways this animal was discussed by writers who wanted to appeal to the general taste for penguins and educate children on the matter as well. There are some things that just about every publisher of children’s books wants a title on, at least, and penguins is certainly one of those topics. If my own library reading collection is any indication, penguin books of a striking degree of quality and nuance are available to be read, and for those who like this sort of thing, this book is certainly an enjoyable book that tells a lot of information about penguins that would be of interest to readers young and old alike.

In terms of its contents, this book is a short one at 32 pages, and it is divided into a variety of non-numbered sections. The book begins with an introduction. After that the author explores the way that penguins live socially and seek safety in numbers like a great many other herd-type animals (including, it should be noted, human beings). The book then explores penguins diving for fish and how they behave when it is time to breed. There is a look at the process of egg-laying and incubation as well as the way that penguin parents bring up chicks and how one can see the baby birds growing bigger and less vulnerable to predators. There is a focus on streamlined swimming as well as the contrast between ancient and modern penguins–there are apparently fossils of an ancient penguin the size of a human being. The book discusses the multitude of enemies that penguins face as well as how they find homes in unlikely places, including dens in the forest (!). Yet penguins never live too far from the ocean, and the author makes a point about conservation and the relationship between people and penguins, after which the book closes with a glossary, suggestions for further reading, and an index.

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I Wanna Go Back

It is easy to be fond of the music of Eddie Money. I’ve written about him and his music several times already [1] and will likely do more so in the future, I have always found something immensely appealing about his traditional straight-ahead rock appeal. Like many rock & roll musicians, he began as an artist who appealed largely to younger audiences, and by the time his popularity was on the wane he was mostly charting on the adult contemporary songs with songs that appealed to older people, as his audience aged with him as is frequent with artists. Given that Eddie Money always had a bit of nostalgic appeal with his approach to music, it is little surprise that his music explicitly deals with the issue he and other rockers have had to face as they get older. Popular music and the music charts in general have often been for younger people in particular, and just when the sound of an artist starts being “mature,” it is a sure sign that they will often be suffering for mainstream success as a result of the fact that their material is starting to deal with the concerns of middle-aged people and not young people.

As a person towards the younger side of middle-aged, I find that something to be regretted. There is immense worth in music that is able to relate to the concerns of aging, and it is quite telling and fortunate that Eddie Money is one of the artists who has been able to have a successful hit with a song that dealt with the nostalgia one gets when one is getting older and one realizes the intensity of one’s desires to go back and the inability of doing so. We wish we could tackle the problems of the past with the wisdom of the present, and perhaps also long for a time when our bodies felt less frail and more energetic. If it is hard to imagine a song like “I Wanna Go Back” hitting the pop charts in the contemporary music climate, it is nice at least that in the 1980’s it was possible for a middle aged artist to make music about things that were very easy to relate to for middle aged people and have the song be viewed as energetic enough to appeal to younger audiences as well. That kind of generation crossover doesn’t happen all the time and it is always nice when people can appreciate something while also getting a preparatory lesson for themselves when they get a bit older.

Yet it should be noted, and the real purpose for bringing this is, is that nostalgia as a motivation is a very important and a very powerful one. We live in times of crisis and malaise, where we feel that the promises and opportunities of the past have been denied to those of us in the present. Even if I am more reactionary than most, I would say, I still get the feeling that a great many people look at some aspects of the past as being well worth recovering for many people, just as I do not feel that all aspects of the past are something that we would want to live through again. At least for me, a way I curb my own enthusiasm for restoring the past is to think of what previous generations and societies would do with someone like me, and at least mentally I envision a rather grim fate for me in most past societies, not being someone who does a good job at blending in or keeping my mouth shut. And it appears as if our own society is moving in a direction where that will become increasingly problematic as well. The benefits of elite status have never been so clear.

And it is well worth wondering if the desire for nostalgia is related to the way that we divide what we think about the past into the elite past that we glorify and the past for the ordinary masses of humanity that we shudder to think about. If you are an elite, just about any time and place in history can be an enjoyable place to be. You will have enough food to eat, your opinions will generally be respected, you will have the opportunity to do meaningful work and be well-regarded and remunerated for it, and you will have at least some modicum of social and political power. There is a reason, after all, why it is that elite status of some kind tends to be at the bottom of most historical fiction, since even those who want to write about slaves want to imagine that the slaves were some kind of princes back in the old country who aspired to a return to their high status through violence against oppressors. Who wants to write stories about poor people whose ancestors have been poor forever and who grind along in dismal poverty generation after generation? That is not the past that any of us want, even if it is the past that a huge amount of previous generations actually lived. When we say we want to go back, it is for castles or mighty fortresses or elites in palaces, not for peasants dying anonymously and illiterate in their twenties and thirties in malaria-infested latifunda who live their miserable lives in miserable hovels. And when we envision what a beautiful future is, we always see ourselves as some sort of elite, or else we do not see the future as being worthwhile at all. How can we act so that as many people as possible can enjoy the elite life that we strive for and dream about?

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: Prevail

Prevail: 365 Days OF Enduring Strength From God’s Word, by Susie Larson

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The devotional is form of book whose appeal is obvious from the large number of them that I have in my collection that I have reviewed over the course of the years [1]. In some cases, as is the case with this book, it is easy to recognize the appeal of a book without necessarily understanding why it is that the author did not attempt something more ambitious than a devotional. Given this particular work and what the author has to say in it, it seems that the author faced a great deal of insecurity about being taken seriously as an author. This is lamentable but also not very uncommon, as it is hard to recognize the extent to which one has something to say as an author. It is awfully uncharitable to be harsh on a book because the author lacked the confidence to tackle something more ambitious even if it could have been achieved given the materials included here, and perhaps if this book is successful that it will encourage the author to try her hand at a more demanding genre than the devotional, even if this happens to be a pretty good devotional.

As is the case with a book of this kind, a 365-day devotional, the book consists of a large number of very small sections that are all exactly one page long and have a standardized design. In this particular case, the format numbers the days in a normal Gregorian year, gives a title to each devotional, includes a single verse that is organized according to the order of the normal Protestant Bible, then contains a longish single paragraph discussing the author’s thoughts on the verse and why it hits her particularly hard. Some of these involve books she has read, including Bible commentaries, but some of them deal with the personal experiences she has had where she has faced her own struggles with insecurity as well as her own interests in leadership and ecumenical action. After this there is a learn section that involves additional reading for the reader, a suggested course of action to take for the reader in order to help further spiritual growth, and a short prayer for the reader to give that matches the theme of the daily devotional. Besides this the book begins with a table of contents that shows the devotionals by their subject matter as well as a short introduction.

In reading a book like this, it is striking to see which parts of the Bible are emphasized and which are not. It is inevitable, and certainly the case here, that the New Testament is overrepresented relative to the amount that it takes up in the Bible, which is all to be expected from a book by a mainstream Christian who is going to be a lot more familiar with the New Testament than with the Hebrew scriptures, it must be admitted. It is also telling that this book makes a great many references to other works. This demonstrates at least a couple of things. For one, it is yet more evidence of the author’s timidity and desire to receive the reflected credibility of the sources that she uses in the book. In the main this strategy works well, as the author has a great taste in other works which help to prove that she reads well and draws good conclusions about the struggle to prevail that we face against that which would keep us down as Christians. The author also has a great deal of success in this book speaking about her own experience, although this is a higher risk strategy in that the reader is not likely to know much about the author, as I did not when reading this book.

[1] See, for example (this is not an exhaustive list):

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Book Review: The Fire Of God’s Presence

The Fire Of God’s Presence: Drawing Near To A Holy God, by A.W. Tozer, compiled and edited by James L. Snyder

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

While I think this is a very excellent book, I’m not sure how much of this book is A.W. Tozer and how much is James L. Snyder. Ultimately, as a reader, it makes little difference to me who gets the credit for this striking and powerful work, assembled posthumously out of sermon messages and stitched together elegantly to create a powerful book about the importance of holiness in the life of the Christian and in the importance of fire as a symbol of God’s presence. It is indisputable that a book by A.W. Tozer [1] is far more marketable, even decades after his demise, than a book by the editor and compiler, but the way that this book is written, it is hard to know how much credit to give to the person who formed this book out of the raw materials provided by a most excellent and rather pointed writer and speaker. So in praising this book, while I do not know how much credit belongs to which of the people involved, credit is well-deserved in any case for a powerful book that, even if made out of materials that are decades old, still hits hard today.

At about 200 pages long, this book is made of 20 relatively short chapters that together discuss the encounter between various biblical figures and God. The fact that so many of these encounters have such similar and such striking parallels gives the book an overall unity that drives home a point about what it means to truly know God rather than simply know about him. This book begins with a series of chapters that deal with the experience of Moses and the Burning Bush (1-9, 11), which gives a framework for the work as a whole and suggests that the encounter between God and Moses in Sinai was something that Tozer returned to over and over again in his messages and drew something fundamental from. After that there are other chapters that deal with the barriers we try to put up against God’s presence (10), and a few chapters which discuss other figures of faith who had their own encounters with God, like Isaiah (15), Ezekiel (16), and Elijah (17, 18), as well as Daniel’s three friends (19), all of which the author uses to illustrate the importance of experiencing and being blessed by God’s presence in our own lives (20).

I found myself reading this book on two different levels. One of the levels is the author’s intended one, a reflection on what it means to know God and the way that encounters with God make the believer feel uneasy as a result of the knowledge of our own fallen state and the incredible holiness of God, before which no unholiness can stand. The fire of God is a refining fire, but it is a deadly fire for beings as unrefined and impure as we often are. It is all too easy to forget this when we think of God as our pal instead of our Creator and Master, and Tozer never lets the reader forget the seriousness of the material that he is dealing with, as is his custom in general as a writer. On the other hand, though, the way that the book was made out of sermons and formed by someone after Tozer’s death opens up the obvious question of how much of this book’s form is due to Tozer’s own message and how much is due to the work of a skilled editor and compiler? As a writer of somewhat scattered material, it is a somewhat haunting question for me personally as to whether anyone will ever think to stitch together my own writings as has been done here.

[1] See, for example:

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Book Review: The Nations Rage

The Nations Rage: Prayer, Promise And Power In An Anti-Christian AGe, by David Sliker

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

The author seems to think that this book is one of the most important ones that a reader will encounter. While I am not sure if that is the case, as a man who encounters many books, this book certainly is a very striking book in the way that it seeks to deal with the tension between the recognition that God is in charge and things are going according to His plans, however it may seem, and that the nations rage against God’s people because they remind them of their rebellion against their Creator and Lord. That tension is a fascinating one and is the subject of a great deal of thoughtful and worthwhile writing by the author as he blends post-millennial optimism with some downbeat reflection on the reality of near-future persecution. This is a complex book, and anyone reading it should not expect an easy one to deal with or understand, but it is a book that it is easy to appreciate nonetheless, even if one’s own prophetic perspective is likely to be a bit different than the author’s is.

This book is between 200 and 250 pages and it is divided into three parts and twelve chapters that deal with different aspects of the writer’s prophetic thinking. After a foreword and introduction, the book begins with a discussion of the church and the coming storm of glory that the author sees ahead (I), which includes chapters on how to engage in the future now (1), divine justice and the return of Jesus (2), three storms that will change the world (3), the coming storm of revival that the author expects to usher in the millennium (4), the storm of rage among those who are hostile to God’s ways (5), and the coming storm of political and economic disruption that one can expect to come in the future (6). After that there is a brief discussion of the Church in an anti-Christian age (II) with chapters on the birth of cultural narratives (7) and the modern cultural narrative (8). The rest of the book then contains discussion of the promise of the victorious church (III), with chapters on the way of victory and redemption (9), preparing the next generation (10), burning and shining lamps (11), and being counted worthy of this calling (12), after which the book ends with notes.

Ultimately, this book appears to be written in a sense of post-millennial optimism. Post-millennial optimism is to be differentiated from pre-millennial optimism in that pre-millennial optimism depends on the establishment of God’s rule over earth by Jesus Christ himself in opposition to a hostile and rebellious world. This amounts to a massive discontinuity in human history and a recognition of the failure of the world to heed the example of the godly in their midst. On the other hand, post-millennial optimism assumes that the rebelliousness and hostility of unredeemed mankind is merely the resistance to a future revival that will lead to a great and powerful conversion of humanity to God’s ways. The author appears to be a post-millennial optimist, and it certainly colors his expectations of the near future as he swerves between caution and fervent hope that these times and the crises of these times means that the spread of the Gospel through the earth is almost here, while this reader is a pre-millennial optimist in having no such expectations of widespread conversion to take place in the absence of God’s firm rule. Regardless of one’s eschatalogical approach, though, there is much to enjoy and appreciate about this book and the author’s own discussion of prophecy and societal trends.

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On The Ambiguity Of Color Politics

On a recent drive I took a couple of days ago to The Dalles, I saw two billboards, one on the way there in the rural hinterlands of Portland and one on the way back, in Eastern Portland itself on the way back, that either spoke in praise of the blue or urged the driver to do so. I took this to mean, given the symbolism involved in the billboards, to be a praise of police officers, which takes a fair amount of bravry to do in American cities. Yet while I have no issue with this sentiment whatsoever, being in general a fan of law and order behaving decently and receiving the respect and honor of similarly law-abiding citizens accordingly, it does at least give some indication of the ambiguity of color politics. Similarly, for example, I am listening to an audiobook that has spent some time talking about red scares, and in the context of politics, red scares refer to fear and panic about the threat of Communism within the United States (and other Western countries). Yet these colors have specific political references that vary widely with their significance in other politics-adjacent subjects. For example, those who are fond of Red America (because they vote Republican) are immensely hostile to reds (as is Communists) but are often very strong in backing the blue (referring to police officers). Likewise, those who support Blue America (because they vote Democratic) are often pretty soft on reds (Communists again) while being much tougher on cops (blue) because it gains them support with their political base of leftists who resent any kind of restraint and orderly tendencies hemming them in.

And things get even more complicated when you add more colors or more contexts to it. In Thailand, for example, red was the color of the populist political coalition that has been dominant electorally for the last twenty years or so in Thailand and its most popular in the North and Northeast of the country but which has been periodically thrown out of power by military coups. And that is not even adding other colors to the mix. For example, it has become popular in certain areas and in certain circles for people to show black patches to show they are in support with Black Lives Matter, a Marxist group that is dedicated to using racialist politics as a way of spreading the gospel of victimization. When it comes to my own political views, though, I am a strong white in at least two reasons. One of them being that I have zero tolerance for political worldviews that are hostile to any of my own personal identities, be they being white, Christian, male, and so on. I am also strongly white in the sense of politics as white being hostile to Communists and socialists, as in Russia, Finland, Spain, and so on in their civil wars over Communism and socialism. In this case, the ambiguity of color politics is not an issue because the same color can be viewed in multiple senses and be generally valid, albeit with some important qualifications, in both cases.

But there is significant ambiguity in such matters. Colors are powerful ways of representing people and categorizing them because they make it easy to see who is on our side and who is not. It is little wonder that colored clothing and uniforms have long marked a large part of the identity of such groups as urban gangs, political parties, military and paramilitary forces, police and fire departments, and the like. It is often hard to know who is on one’s side in ordinary life when one walks wearing one’s own clothing. But there is no doubt when you are part of a group of hundreds or thousands or even more people together who is on what side by virtue of the uniform or color scheme that one is wearing. There is a sense of safety in those numbers that gives a strong sense of identity and bonding with people one would otherwise be strangers to. It takes a long time to get to know someone personally and figure out where they stand, if they will let you know in the first place (which, if they are a private sort of person, they may not). But if you see yourself and others carrying the same flags and wearing the same uniform, there is a sense of comradeship and friendly fellow feeling with them because you have symbolically communicated to each other and to others that you are all on the same side, all working together for common goals, all possessed of the same identity. And that communication means a lot, as it can lead people to act in concert that would be extremely difficult to do based on one-on-one motivation.

Yet the power and the ambiguity of color politics ought to be plain. The obvious power that is presented by the solidarity of sharing the same colors and symbols encourages some people who may not necessarily share a passion for political matters to virtue signal by wearing certain colors. At times, people who are entirely ignorant of such matters may accidentally and unintentionally and unwittingly communicate something to someone else, as when a clueless person totally unfamiliar with the gang situation in an urban area just happens to wear the gang colors of the local area by chance. At still other times colors may be seen as being in conflict with each other, so that people of very different political worldivews may attempt to appropriate the same color or the same symbol in support of very different belief systems, or where one group will attempt to prevent anyone else from using a particular symbol or cultural marker outside of a privileged in-group. And of course, the very obviousness of the symbols and colors used by different groups makes it easy (if very hazardous) for people to engage in espionage as a way of infiltrating such a group. Whatever can be used to signal and communicate something can be corrupted by those who would wish for others to think a certain thing while the truth remains different. The problem of communication and the problem of trust and the issue of lying are always connected to each other, since anything that can convey truth can also be used to attempt deception.

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