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Our country is coming to resemble a long-sought libertarian fantasy, with only atomized acts of compassion for those left out. We would do well to guard against this despotic individualism—the natural condition of the social without the state—and to be sober about what spurred this renaissance of mutual aid and what it portends.
When labor-left movements were strong and could afford to go on the offense, the Great Depression created an opening for reform. If there is a lesson from mutual aid’s role in these past triumphs, it is that such community work was subordinated to the tasks of invigorating trade unions and pushing the state to enact universal programs.
Southern Democrats were successful in exempting massive numbers of Black and white agricultural workers from government largesse. Women were also excluded from programs like old age insurance, consigned instead to the far less generous benefits administered by states.
f the New Deal rendered mutual aid obsolete, the welfare state’s subsequent fissuring and rollback have been largely responsible for the rebirth of the private-sphere social safety net. T
By the time of the Wall Street crash of 1929, the inadequacy of mutual aid was becoming painfully apparent. In a rejection of small-scale efforts to tackle a colossus, the New Deal agenda of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration began an unprecedented expansion of social spending.
Despite their best efforts, mutual aid societies were not enough to stave off the worst of these crises. Slowly, as veterans’ organizations, federations of women’s clubs, and labor unions put pressure on the federal and state governments, early social welfare policies, including mothers’ and veterans’ pensions and state-guaranteed workers’ compensation, began to overtake the friendly societies.
But its anti-statist outlook ought to make mutual aid’s progressive advocates wary.
Though ideologically distinct, many on the left and the right now share a hope that mutual aid can overcome poverty and rigid class divisions through spontaneous, organic relationships rather than beginning from plans for serious structural reform.
But members of our crowd aren’t the only ones extolling the virtues of mutual aid. For decades now—and especially since the pandemic started—libertarians and conservatives from organizations like the Heritage Foundation and writers for National Review have commended care provided by those other than the state. Like their counterparts on the left, these groups have advanced an understanding of mutual aid not as a tactic alone but as a vision for remaking society.
Mutual Aid Can’t Do It Alone | The Nation
“They discovered a sense of self and a sense of connection to the people and place around them that did not go away, and, though they went back to their jobs in a market economy and their homes, that changed perspective stayed with them and maybe manifested in subtler ways than a project.”
“This moment is a powder keg.”
But the differences among the many volunteer groups that had suddenly sprouted were already sharpening. Some crisis volunteers find their work encouragingly apolitical: neighbors helping neighbors. Some are growing even more committed to socialist or anarchist ideals.
We talked about whether mutual-aid work represented what the state ought to be doing, or what the state could never do properly, or maybe both.
Invisible Hands had also registered as a nonprofit, Liam Elkind told me when we spoke again, in mid-April. Lawyers helped the group establish bylaws, official titles, and oversight practices.
hoping to reduce redundancy and share resources.
Because it had been clear from the beginning that the pandemic would last indefinitely, many groups had immediately begun thinking about long-term self-management, building volunteer infrastructures in order to get ahead of the worst of the crisis, and thinking about what could work for months rather than for days. “That’s interesting,” she said. “And I think it’s new.”
She continued, “But, still, the idea that what we need most, or only, is social solidarity, civic mobilization, neighborly virtue—it’s not so.”
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Historically, in the United States, mutual-aid networks have proliferated mostly in communities that the state has chosen not to help.
Mariame Kaba told me that mutual aid couldn’t be divorced from political education and activism.
Radicalism has been at the heart of mutual aid since it was introduced as a political idea.
A decade ago, the writer Rebecca Solnit published the book “A Paradise Built in Hell,” which argues that during collective disasters the “suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems” spur widespread acts of altruism—and these improvisations, Solnit suggests, can lead to lasting civic change.
Conservative politicians can point to such stories, which ignore the social forces that determine the shape of our disasters, and insist that voluntarism is preferable to government programs.
here’s a certain kind of news story that is presented as heartwarming but actually evinces the ravages of American inequality under capitalism:
The following week, the Times ran a column headlined “Feeling Powerless About Coronavirus? Join a Mutual-Aid Network.” Vox, Teen Vogue, and other outlets also ran explainers and how-tos.
The next day, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez held a public conference call with the organizer Mariame Kaba about how to build a mutual-aid network.
But, suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere.
It’s not a new term, or a new idea, but it has generally existed outside the mainstream. Informal child-care collectives, transgender support groups, and other ad-hoc organizations operate without the top-down leadership or philanthropic funding that most charities depend on.
Physical connection could kill us, but civic connection is the only way to survive.
other people are both a threat and a lifeline.
What Mutual Aid Can Do During a Pandemic | The New Yorker
What, then, is normal? Genetic testing, as a medical service, is used to enforce the boundaries of “normal” by screening out the anomalous, but seeing all the anomalies that are compatible with life might actually expand our understanding of normal.
Talk of minimizing the risk of conditions like diabetes and mental illness—which are also heavily influenced by environment—quickly turns to designer babies.
And if you’re already going through all this to screen for one disease, why not avail yourself of the whole menu of tests?
In the world of genetic testing, Tay-Sachs is a success story. It has been nearly eliminated through a combination of prenatal testing of fetuses; preimplantation testing of embryos; and, in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, where the mutation is especially prevalent, carrier screening to discourage marriages between people who might together pass on the mutation.
Most parents choosing genetic testing are seeking to spare their children real physical suffering.
Garland-Thomson calls this commercialization of reproduction “velvet eugenics”—velvet for the soft, subtle way it encourages the eradication of disability.
The politics of prenatal testing for Down syndrome and abortion are currently yoked together by necessity:
These differences worry Hercher. If only the wealthy can afford to routinely screen out certain genetic conditions, then those conditions can become proxies of class. They can become, in other words, other people’s problems. Hercher worries about an empathy gap in a world where the well-off feel insulated from sickness and disability.
In the United States—which has no national health-care system, no government mandate to offer prenatal screening—the best estimate for the termination rate after a diagnosis of Down syndrome is 67 percent.
own syndrome is unlikely to ever disappear from the world completely. As women wait longer to have children, the incidence of pregnancies with an extra copy of chromosome 21 is going up. Prenatal testing can also in rare cases be wrong, and some parents will choose not to abort or not to test at all. Others will not have access to abortion.
The introduction of a choice reshapes the terrain on which we all stand.
Fewer people with disabilities means fewer services, fewer therapies, fewer resources.
And when fewer people with disabilities are born, it becomes harder for the ones who are born to live a good life, argues Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, a bioethicist and professor emerita at Emory University.
She was disappointed to find so little in the media about the experiences of women like her. “It felt right for me, and I have no regrets at all,” she told me, but it also feels like “you’re doing something wrong.”
For the women in Lou’s study, ending a pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis was very different from ending an unwanted pregnancy. These were almost all wanted pregnancies, in some cases very much wanted pregnancies following long struggles with infertility.
They still carry a stigma.
Danes are quite open about abortion—astonishingly so to my American ears—but abortions for a fetal anomaly, and especially Down syndrome, are different.
She wouldn’t have chosen this life: “We would have asked for an abortion if we knew.”
peculiar effect of Denmark’s universal-screening program and high abortion rate for Down syndrome is that a fair number of babies born with Down syndrome are born to parents who essentially got a false negative.
Some even grieved the possibility of aborting a child who might have had a mild form of Down syndrome. But in the end, Lou told me, “the uncertainty just becomes too much.”
(Eleven other babies were born to parents who either declined the test or got a false negative, making the total number of babies born with Down syndrome last year 18.)
Perhaps all of this has had some effect, though it’s hard to say. The number of babies born to parents who chose to continue a pregnancy after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in Denmark has ranged from zero to 13 a year since universal screening was introduced. In 2019, there were seven.
That language too has long since changed; in 1994, the stated purpose of the testing became “to offer women a choice.”
The term eugenics eventually fell out of favor, but in the 1970s, when Denmark began offering prenatal testing for Down syndrome to mothers over the age of 35, it was discussed in the context of saving money—as in, the testing cost was less than that of institutionalizing a child with a disability for life. The stated purpose was “to prevent birth of children with severe, lifelong disability.”
In the 1980s, as prenatal screening for Down syndrome became common,
Denmark is unusual for the universality of its screening program and the comprehensiveness of its data, but the pattern of high abortion rates after a Down syndrome diagnosis holds true across Western Europe and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the United States.
The decisions parents make after prenatal testing are private and individual ones. But when the decisions so overwhelmingly swing one way—to abort—it does seem to reflect something more: an entire society’s judgment about the lives of people with Down syndrome.
It’s been here for an entire generation.
Down syndrome is frequently called the “canary in the coal mine” for selective reproduction. It was one of the first genetic conditions to be routinely screened for in utero, and it remains the most morally troubling because it is among the least severe.
Two years after he was born, in 2004, Denmark became one of the first countries in the world to offer prenatal Down syndrome screening to every pregnant woman, regardless of age or other risk factors. Nearly all expecting mothers choose to take the test; of those who get a Down syndrome diagnosis, more than 95 percent choose to abort.
Prenatal Testing and the Future of Down Syndrome - The Atlantic
Last month's decision by a divided 6th Circuit court, which includes six justices nominated by Trump, reversed two earlier decisions that had blocked enforcement of the 2017 Ohio law. Doctors could face a felony charge, be stripped of their medical license and be held liable for legal damages if they are aware of a Down syndrome diagnosis when performing an abortion.
In past years, courts routinely blocked state laws seeking to ban abortion if it was based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome or other fetal anomalies. Trump’s judicial appointments to lower-level federal courts as well as the Supreme Court has altered the legal landscape.
There are no official figures on how many prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome prompt a decision to abort; a 2012 study by medical experts estimated the abortion rate was 67%.
According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about one in every 700 babies in the United States, or roughly 6,000 annually, is born with the condition,
Opponents of the bills, including some parents with children who have Down syndrome, argue that elected officials should not be meddling with a woman’s deeply personal decision on whether to carry a pregnancy to term after a Down syndrome diagnosis.“There’s something condescending about these bans, suggesting people don’t have the ability to make their own decisions,” said Holly Christensen, a teacher and newspaper columnist in Akron, Ohio, whose 8-year-old daughter, Lyra, has Down syndrome.
Roe essentially legalized any abortion taking place before a fetus could survive outside the mother’s womb, generally around 24 weeks.
Governors in Arizona and South Dakota recently signed such bills into law, and similar measures are pending in North Carolina and Texas. Most significantly, a federal appellate court said Ohio could begin to implement a 2017 law that has been on hold.
Anti-abortion activists say 2021 has been a breakthrough year for legislation in several states seeking to prohibit abortions based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Down Syndrome Abortion Bans Gain Traction After Court Ruling | Ohio News | US News
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The day after Biden’s victory over Trump was announced, a Falun Gong website posted a brief poem by Li Hongzhi, titled “On the General Election.” His first public statement in months, it was reprinted on the front page of the next edition of The Epoch Times. “
Listening to the interview, it struck me that while Trump has been of use to The Epoch Times in recent years, it may not need him going forward. The Republican Party has in many ways moved in The Epoch Times’ direction. To the fixation on China, add the distrust of medical expertise, the belligerent nationalism, the taste for conspiracy theories, and the hysterical outcry at the specter of socialism.
The zealotry of the labor force is also a key component of the business model. Falun Gong followers often donate not only their time but their cash; unsold Shen Yun tickets are bought by followers, who see the performances over and over. Ming Xia, a political scientist at CUNY Graduate Center and the College of Staten Island who studies Falun Gong, compares the group to a multilevel-marketing scheme, in which members recruit other members ad infinitum.
In 2019, the Epoch Times Association, the nonprofit under which the newspaper is lodged, brought in more than $15 million in revenue (compared with about $4 million in 2016), about half of which came from subscriptions. Whatever The Epoch Times’ financial situation, the publication’s bottom line pales in comparison to that of the more glamorous Shen Yun. In 2018, the most recent year for which tax forms are available, Shen Yun reported a profit of $26 million and net assets of $122 million.
(The Epoch Times maintains that it only began advertising under different pages after Facebook, without explanation, prevented it from advertising under its own name. It denies any affiliation with the BL.)
By then, Facebook said, the group had spent close to $9.5 million promoting itself, accruing 55 million followers worldwide.
By the end of the summer, numerous accounts associated with the paper had been banned from advertising on Facebook. Meanwhile, the website Snopes had started reporting on an outlet called TheBL.com (BL stands for “Beauty of Life”), which had created hundreds of accounts, groups, and pages to promote pro-Trump, anti-CCP content. TheBL.com was created in 2016 by Trung Vu, then the CEO of the Vietnamese edition of The Epoch Times;
hina coverage has been The Epoch Times’ most prominent calling card, but under-the-radar measures may have spurred the paper’s growth.
Li speaks at length about the newspaper’s role in exposing the “wicked CCP,” then fields questions about various Falun Gong—or “Falun Dafa”—activities, including the management of “our media.”
Because Falun Gong adherents spend countless hours of personal time delivering newspapers or handing out flyers for Shen Yun, working for The Epoch Times or NTD is as much spiritual practice as it is a career choice.
(The Epoch Times says all staff are paid.)
But ultimately the paper’s mission was to grow.
The most important thing to know about the paper, this source told me, was that virtually all of its staffers were Falun Gong adherents.
West 28th Street in Manhattan, where The Epoch Times and NTD share part of a building.
A significant share of Falun Gong practitioners in the U.S. are Chinese Americans. But the most prominent faces on Epoch-affiliated outlets are young or middle-aged white men.
In short order, the newspaper lost the liberal goodwill it had accumulated in the post-crackdown period. But it gained a new cohort of conservative readers with a reflexive suspicion of China. The timing couldn’t have been better.
In 2016 came a promising new opportunity for Falun Gong, in the form of Donald Trump. For the first time in decades, a major party’s presidential nominee was running an overtly protectionist campaign, with China in his crosshairs. Falun Gong came to see Trump as a kind of killer angel, summoned from heaven to smite the Chinese government. The Epoch Times ramped up its spending on Facebook ads and hitched its wagon to the 45th president. In 2018, it hired a Texas-based GOP consultant, Brendan Steinhauser, who helped arrange for appearances at high-profile right-wing conferences and booked otherwise ungettable interviews.
The path to salvation involves Li planting karmic “wheels” into the abdomens of his followers; the extra-devout can accrue powers such as telepathy.
In 1992, he founded Falun Gong
And while The Epoch Times’ editorial product can be absurd, the paper is not exactly wrong to home in on President Xi Jinping’s incarceration of ethnic minorities or his crackdown on Hong Kong.
But there was no predicting when the content would get weird.
the sterile look of a satellite-news channel
$11 million in advertising on the platform.
Recently, though, Balmakov started showing up in everybody’s social-media feeds. The paper had begun supporting Donald Trump, and in 2019 The Epoch Times had launched itself into the higher echelons of conservative media:
For a decade and a half, the paper’s affiliation, like its politics, hardly mattered. Even as it established outposts around the world—now in 36 countries—The Epoch Times occupied a position of near irrelevance.
In 1999, the Chinese government concluded that Falun Gong was growing too popular. Beijing labeled the movement a cult and suppressed it. But Falun Gong flourished abroad among the Chinese diaspora, and its teachings took on a fervent anti-Communist bent.
encourages believers to abandon lust, greed, alcohol, and other worldly “attachments.” Some of the more unusual characteristics of its outlook include a distrust of medical doctors and a belief in malevolent, Earth-roaming aliens who created impious technology (such as video games).
mix of straight news, religious belief, conspiracy-peddling, Sinophobia, science denialism, legitimate grievance, and political expediency at the heart of the institution—a mix that, despite the paper’s mysteries, makes it a strangely fitting poster child for this unsettled moment.
The newspaper, whose revenues have quadrupled in the Trump years, has used every opportunity to call Biden’s victory into doubt.
Balmakov himself now has his own YouTube channel, Facts Matter, devoted to the notion that the election is not over; in less than two months, the channel has amassed more than 400,000 subscribers.
Following Joe Biden’s election as president, the newspaper reconstituted itself into a vehicle for esoteric voter-fraud allegations
stands a massive replica of a Tang Dynasty temple.
At the center of the compound
427-acre compound Dragon Springs.
Inside ‘The Epoch Times,’ a Mysterious Pro-Trump Newspaper - The Atlantic