Los Lunes Son Para Libros, 7th Edition

For this week’s edition of Los Lunes Son Para Libros, I am going to talk about a book called Between the World and Me written by Te-Nehisi Coates. It is a short book and an extremely fast read. In total it took my two days to finish. Coates’ writing style contributes to the fact that you are able to fly through the pages. The book is like one long poem. Actually, it’s more like a mix of prose and poetry. Coates blends to the two styles of writing in order to create a narrative that is incredibly entertaining. With a background in journalism and poetry, Coates’ writing is entirely vivid and consuming. Each word of every sentence packs a punch and accomplishes a goal. Coates’s ability to story tell is what makes this book so special. In general, the book is a letter to his teenage son. However the way he writes it makes it sound like a terrifyingly beautiful, heartbreakingly uplifting story (warning) to his son.


Between the lines and underneath the imagery, Coates provides a chilling social commentary on the state of race relations in the United States. With that said, Coates also has no fear calling it how it is. He has no problem ripping the veil away from the politics, events and daily affairs of his characters in order to expose the barbaric ugliness that stains  much of what some people think is beautiful about the United States. If you are sensitive to critical racial and/or ethnic conversations, or do not resonate with the social facts of white privilege and/or institutional racism, normally I would say that I do not recommend this book to you. But on second thought, if that’s where you stand with respect to race relations in the United States, then maybe this book will do some good.

The lack of structure in Between the World and Me has got me struggling with how to talk about it. The book is split into three numeric sections. Between the chapters, Coates flows from one topic to the next and from one anecdote to the other. I had trouble deciphering what he was trying to accomplish with the  way he divided his book. The book is ambiguous in that way. However, the words Coates uses, the structure he employs and the vivid imagery he creates are all crystal clear. With that as some ground to stand on, I’ll choose a few of my favorite lines from the book (there are a lot) and use them to spur thought processes and social commentary.


 “But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy as much as one of hierarchy” 

Okay, short commentary here… race is not a biological/essential/evolutionary/scientific concept. It is SOCIAL. What does this mean? It means that the genes inside me, the things that give me phenotypical differences from another person, cannot and should not be attributed to race (or ethnicity). The racial and ethnic boundaries human populations have drawn around people are as imaginary as the ones we draw around countries. Not to mention the fact that both these processes were originally created by white and privileged male ‘scientists’. They are social/made up/cultural/ contextual. They change from place to place and from decade to decade. Race is different than what it was in the past and what it will be in the future. What probably will not change however,  is the social fact that race gets used to socially construct social hierarchies of humans.

“To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world, before all the guns, fists, knives, crack, rape, and disease. The nakedness is not an error, nor pathology. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear” 

Okay so here’s what I mean by potent imagery. If these few lines don’t evoke some sort of emotion– curiosity, sadness, frustration, resentment, confusion– then check your right supramarginal gyrus. Coates blends poetic and journalistic imagery to enhance a social critique, which in this case, is institutional racism. I would like to mention a few things here without going on too long about this incredibly dense topic. The institutional racism that Coates is referencing here is a direct result of the slave trade in the United States. Imagine being held back, beaten and locked up for 100s of years. Meanwhile, the country is developing. Laws are being written, social norms and values are being legitimized, children are being socialized etc. All of this happening without the equitable presence of African Americans (or any other diversity for that matter). Now imagine gaining freedom and joining that society. A society that was built from your labor. And if you came later, a society built on the backs of your ancestors. A society that never once took you into consideration when it was designing its structure, processes and institutions. How is one supposed to join that world at the same pace as everyone else? They’re not. And how are we supposed to rebuild that world to consider the decades of marginalization? Slowly. Really goddamn slowly. At least for as long or longer than what it took to create it, because after all, African Americans have been enslaved in our country longer than they have been free.

t coates quote1

“The Dream thrives on generalization, on limiting the number of possible questions, on privileging immediate answers. The Dream is the enemy of all art, courageous thinking, and honest writing”

Coates writes about the concept of “the Dream” in his book frequently. Personally, I think it’s one of the most ingenious parts of the text. The Dream that Coates is writing about is the American Dream. But what’s so stunning about how he uses it is that his perspective come from the backside of the Dream. According to Coates, the Dream wasn’t designed for him, his son or people like them. In other words, there is a flip-side to any social phenomena. White privilege/alienation of diversity. Male privilege/delegitimized presence of women. Nationalism/xenophobic hatred. The list goes on. Coates’ commentary on the Dream is powerful for me because it’s the Dream I’ve been turning into reality my entire life. Loving home, good education, worldy travels, opportunity, privilege etc. And what did I do to deserve it? Nothing. I got lucky to get placed into it. And what did Coates do to deserve the flip-side? Nothing. He got thrown into it. If its all just luck, why do we place so much value–value derived from the persecution of others– into the Dream? I don’t have the answer, but I’m working to stay grateful and with my eyes open.

“In my small apartment, she kissed me, and the ground opened up, swallowed me, buried me right there in that moment”

Coates doesn’t only touch on topics of race, but also of love and intimacy. Coates is definitely a lover. A devoted father and spouse. This quote is from when he was talking about a girl he fell in love with. I just think its really beautiful. The cliche of ‘falling in love’ has never been so clear to me before I read this sentence. If you love someone, tell them!

“Everything that was the past seemed to be another life. There was before you, and then there was after, and in this after, you were the God I’d never had. I submitted before your needs, and I knew then that I must survive for something more than survival’s sake. I must survive for you” 

Here we are again with Coates’ ability to express his intimate emotions and love in an incredibly powerful way. In this quote he is talking about his son while also talking directly to him. When I read this I think immediately of my parents. And if they were poets or journalists, that they might describe their love for me in this way. But they aren’t and thats okay. They express this much love and commitment in other ways and I am grateful. Coates’ writing about being a father makes me want a kid, which if you know me, is something I’ve been contrary to. My thoughts are that there are enough kids in this world that need life and that I should adopt rather than create more. But damn, Coates has got me thinking otherwise.

t coates and son

“Think of all the love poured into him. Think of the tuitions for Montessori and music lessons. Think of the gasoline expended, the treads worn carting him to football games, basketball tournaments, and Little League. Think of the time spent regulating sleepovers. Think of the surprise birthday parties, the daycare, and the reference checks on babysitters. Think of World Book and Childcraft. Think of checks written for family photos. Think of credit cards charged for vacations. Think of soccer balls, science kits, chemistry sets, racetracks, and model trains. Think of all the embraces, all the private jokes, customs, greetings, names, dreams, all the shared knowledge and capacity of a black family injected into that vessel of flesh and bone. And think of how that vessel was taken, shattered on the concrete, and all its holy contents, all that had gone into him, sent flowing back to the earth”

I really love this portion of Coates’ book. In it, he is talking about a friend of his named Prince Jones. Prince was unarmed when he was shot 8 times and killed by an undercover narcotics officer in September 2000. To read more, click here. What I love so much about these lines are their ability to conjure just how much value is placed into a human life. I see myself in these sentences. I see the lost lives of my friends in these lines. The love, energy, time, money, commitment. We are nothing without the care of our families and friends. Coates’ ability to depict and pay homage to the consumptive process of raising human children with only his words is really impressive.

“Our moment is too brief. Our bodies are too precious” 

Coates spends a lot of time in his book contemplating the fleeting quality of the human life. This is a result of his up brining. One that was fraught with threats to human life– to his life and to the lives of his friends and neighbours. For Coates, it boils down to the body. Controlling bodies, taking bodies, breaking bodies, segregating bodies, killing bodies. Coates strips the symbolism from the human body and from the human condition, I think, because he is an atheist. He references multiple times in his book about how he is godless. For Coates, all the value, symbolism and power we have as humans is built into the one body, the one vessel, we receive when we come into consciousness. For Coates, there is no afterlife, there is no spirit. I personally don’t know where I stand on this, but I admire Coates ability to be so brave and clear about his beliefs.

“Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no resect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves” 

This quote comes towards the end of Between the World and Me.  It is incredibly well said and strategically placed.  Coates subsumes, with these incredibly vivid sentences, a critique of not only essentialist perspectives of race but also of the capitalist economic modes of production. Coates shines an environmentalist light in this paragraph and combines it nicely with a nuanced Marxist perspective. Nuanced not in the sense that his ideas are new, but nuanced in the way that he writes about the contradictory nature of capitalism itself and its exponentially increasing negative impacts on the limits and resources of our earth. The transition from human and horsepower to organic and jurassic sources of fossil fuels came with the industrial revolution. With the cities dirtied and suffocating from this new production, white flight and suburbinization took place rapidly. The private and public sphere, the black and white segregation and the urban and suburban division was more clear than ever. Connecting the two and making it possible was and is private transportation. The privileged ability to move oneself from one place to the next is often overlooked. Not only  for its environmental impacts, but also for its socio-cultural underpinnings. Freedom and mobility become intertwined with race,economic privilege and capitalist work ethics. This no doubt is a doom for our planet. A doom only exacerbated by our indiscriminate carnivorous diets, a dairy dependence, gluttonous and toxic agricultural practices and fetishes for the next best thing. There is a lot of bad that is hurting our world. But there is also a lot of beauty to be found in the silver lining. Books like Between the World and Me  and humans like Te-Nehisi Coates are just two examples. On what side of the fence do you find yourself?

t coates quote 2


Master’s Research: Theoretical Foundations, Part 5

Politics & Science

When thinking about the Peruvian moratorium on GMOs it is important to consider the relationship between science and politics. Specifically, Habermas (1970) writes about the scientization of politics. This process, similar to Weber’s (1958) ideas on bureaucratization, goes one step further by politicizing the issue. The scientization of politics highlights a shift towards a technocratic model of governmentality in which politics is replaced by scientifically rationalized administrations (Habermas 1970). It is crucial to note that this process can be somewhat self-destructive. Leaning on scientific claims in order support political ideologies is risky because scientists struggle to elucidate definitive answers (Beck 1992). This may result in a collapse or ‘detraditionalization’ of scientific power due to the porous and controversial quality of the findings or arguments (Lidskog & Sundqvist 2010), therefore generating gaps in which alternative voices and lay perspectives may insert themselves into the debate, weakening expert scientific prowess.

Nonetheless, scholars interested in the sociology of science and technology argue we operate within a scientized political hegemony. This ideology stands on the grounds of scientism, and dominates the production, implementation and regulation of transgenics. According to Kinchy, Kleinman and Autry (2008), scientism “is the belief that policy is best dictated by scientific reasoning, since science is presumed to transcend human values and interests and to provide answers upon which all can agree (p. 156). The authors further politicize their argument by writing, “scientism contributed to this project [of neoliberalism] by delegitimizing messy political debates in favor of “value free” assessments of risks and benefits” (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008 (156). In other words, the dual discourses of neoliberalism and scientism rationalize a position of minimal regulation of GMOs by squelching the voices outside the scientized political field, making any sort of decision about the regulation of GMOs seem scientifically sound and inevitable. This process is a major issue, especially for developing countries like Peru, because it bolsters policies that subordinate the cultural and economic interests of small farmers while favoring biotech corporations and the governments who are interested in those companies’ investments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008).

What we have then is a rift between two opposing modalities of knowing and decision making—scientific, expert knowledge and laymen and traditional environmental knowledge. This clash of two oppositional “politics of knowledge” (Goldman & Turner 2011) can be examined by applying Anderson’s (2002) conceptualization of post-colonial technoscience. This vein picks up on the back end of the scientization of politics. In other words, post-colonial technoscience can be viewed as the end, or result of an increasingly scientized and neoliberal hegemony— particularly when dealing with the relationship between two nations, such as Peru and the United States. Knowing this, it is argued that post-colonial technoscience seeks to expand the boundaries of Western scientism engaging with the complex reconfigurations of knowledge, violence, culture and scientific characteristics that transcend the boundaries of nations-states, and instead become embedded within an “emerging global order” (Anderson (2002: 643).

By applying the post-colonial technoscientific framework to Peru, critiques of the neoliberal hegemonic rhetoric can be elucidated. It can be argued that material violence is occurring to Peruvian farmers and environment through the implementation of biotechnology (funded and implemented by top-down pressure from the Peruvian State and Western multinational corporations) which then has the potential to degrade traditional, often indigenous environmental knowledge and lifestyles. Taken one step further, violence can also occur “epistemologically by denying the legitimacy of other ways of knowing and managing nature” (Goldman & Turner 2011: 17). In a commentary on biotechnology, Shiva (1995) echoes this argument by writing, “ecological erosion and destruction of livelihoods are linked to one another. Displacement of diversity and of people’s sustenance both arise from a view of development and growth based on uniformity […] In this process of control, reductionist science and technology act as handmaidens for economically powerful interests” (p.198-199).

Fortunately, thanks to the moratorium on GMOs, this type of neo-colonial and epistemological violence has been postponed for the time being. A lot of energy and effort—on behalf of activists, scientists and government officials—has been placed into enacting the moratorium. Goldman and Turner (2011) argue that environmental knowledge is “embodied in local contexts” and that it “is framed, funded and publicized in widely different social arenas” (p. 3). Luckily for anti-biotech supports in Peru, these knowledges from various social arenas have coalesced into a unified social movement. By doing so, they “fight to ensure that expert discourse does not overshadow citizens’ perspectives on environmental, social, economic, and moral issues in decisions about scientific and technological developments” (Kinchy 2012: 16), because after all, “opposition to [genetically-engineered] crops is a struggle over material resources […] These struggles are, at the same time, battles over meaning, classification, and cultural rules” (Kinchy 2012: 12).

The moratorium on transgenics in Peru reflects an important pushback to the industrialization of agriculture sustained by the entanglement of neoliberalism and scientism. Despite the moratorium being only a buffer for the potential future introduction of transgenics on a massive scale (assuming the Peruvian government solidifies a proper governance apparatus), it represents the power of social movements as well as the weakness of a scientized and neoliberal hegemony. “If we acknowledge that neoliberalism is a policy discourse, the ascendancy of which was by no means inevitable, it is analytically possible to see that neoliberalism”, along with inequitable and scientized political debate, can be confronted by utilizing the appropriate mixture of social, cultural, economic and scientific arguments (Kinchy, Kleinman & Autry 2008: 154). Where these arguments come from and how they are arranged into a unitary voice is contextual and will change depending on the country, type of government power and citizenship participation. What is important to include in whatever case, especially for countries where rural lifestyles are still a major part of contemporary life, is the perspectives these individuals, and in the case of Peru, of the indigenous voices.

About Me

When I think about trying to describe myself to other people, I feel as if making a list would be the easiest option. Then again, subsuming my entirety into a single list is kind of sad. However, for the purposes of this blog, I am going to do it anyway.

If you feel as if this list cannot possibly do me justice (I hope?!) then feel free to reach out and get to know me better. Alright, here it goes:

1.) Currently living in the heartland of Illinois, surrounded by soy beans and corn fields.

2.) Originally from Pasadena, CA. However my heart resides in Colorado (sorry mom).

3.) Emphatically in love with skiing, soccer, rock climbing, cycling and most other high-speed, dangerous activities.

4.) Academically interested in: environmental sociology, food, agriculture, Peru, biopolitics, risk sociology, indigeneity….the list goes on.

5.) Vegan, except for pizza.

6.) Word play and poetry are intellectual hobbies of mine and part of the inspiration behind this blog.

7.) Practicer of slow flow, yin style, restorative yoga and meditation.

8.) My next adventure will be as a Youth Development Facilitator for Peace Corps, Peru. Departure is set for August 15th, 2017.

9.) YMCA ‘lifer’ and youth programming guru.

10.) Grateful son of Big Ted and Suzanne.; if you don’t know them, get to know them. Also little brother to Danielle, even though I’m bigger.


The Truth Behind Drone Warfare

During my undergraduate education at the University of Colorado-Boulder, I published a political article on the usage of drones in warfare. It was a revised edition of an academic research paper I wrote for class. To read the article, please CLICK HERE.

If the full version of the paper and citations are wanted, let me know. I will be happy to share.