Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some of the reasons I like Laibach, plus Slavoj Zizek

Well, first off I basically had the same philosophical background as them. I'm not sure how many of their fans really take it seriously, but the philosophical parts of what they do aren't trivial. Before getting into them I had been familiar with Marxist Humanism, and specifically the Yugoslav variant of it, for years. Wolfgang Leonhard's "Three Faces of Marxism", where Yugoslav Marxist-Humanism was one of the faces, was a favorite, as was his "Eurocommunism: a challenge for East and West", which had a substantial amount on both Yugoslav Communism and variants that were related to it. Mihailo Markovic, one of the founders of the "Praxis" school in Yugoslavia, was familiar through his book "From Affluence to Praxis". All of this was part of a greater interest in less authoritarian forms of Communism as it actually existed in the world.

Before that, the writers that informed these guys, such as Herbert Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Erich Fromm, were also familiar to me, as were their later opponents. These would be Louis Althusser and his followers, whose "Structural Marxism", whose failings were pretty obvious from the start. Ye, I have been through the valley of Louis Althusser discussing the "Rational Kernal" in "Hegel Standing on His Head" in Marx, contained in the book of essays "For Marx", and have shown no fear.
And I have read many of the Post-Structuralists and Post-Modernists, two groups that Laibach identifies with in various ways.

The hidden dimension, or a hidden dimension, in Laibach and their critique of the Yugoslav state, is the role that New Left Marxist Humanism played as the foil against which their critique was aimed. Because of the relative freedom in Communist Yugoslavia, writers like Herbert Marcuse were well known, and given semi-official status by the state. Reportedly, the Slovenian army required all new recruits to read "One Dimensional Man" by Marcuse, and conscription was compulsory.

Many people, including the ones I just cited, Leonhard and others, saw Yugoslavia as having the potential to fulfill the promise of New Left ideology, with concepts such as self-management, the devolution of authority to Republics, and in general a more decentralized system. Part of what Laibach was about at the beginning was challenging this notion of Yugoslavia as a kind of already realized socialist paradise by pointing out some of the less seemly aspects of it, and rejecting the philosophical premises that were approved of by the State, the Marxist Humanism aspect, and instead confront it with a seemingly authoritarian counter-critique.

One of the lesser known aspects of the famous first interview with Laibach, where they had shaved heads and acted like ambiguous advocates of some form of totalitarian discipline is that the questioner, in asking them what they were about, also asked them about their opinion of certain things based on a kind of Marcusian ideology, which they shot down with more anonymous pseudo-totalitarian advocacy.

Call it similar to objecting to the notion that Hungary was the "Gayest barracks in the camp", that is in the Eastern Bloc.

Anyways, Laibach appears to have appropriated the more hardline ideas from folks like Althusser and his sympathizers, which were much more congenial to Stalinism and Maoism than Marcuse, and ironically turned it against the Yugoslav state, critiquing both the distance between the theory and the realization of classic New Left theory as well as that of Structuralist Marxism.

Althusser and his school were part of the turn of politicos in the late sixties and early '70s towards a more 'serious' form of politics that was perceived to be more rigorous than what came before, which involved a turn to political figures like Stalin and Mao that would previously have been off limits, as well as towards Communist states like Albania, almost universally considered to be hell on earth but in the view of these folks an exemplar to support. Their anti-Humanism was, quite frankly, anti-human.

They were superseded in turn by the Post-Structuralists, whose turn towards the post likely had more to do with the turn of the student movement after '68 that had embraced Structuralist Marxism  rather than serious philosophical objections to people like Claude Levi-Strauss, for example.

Laibach, in adopting a post-modern approach to things like authorship of works and the notion of individual creativity, employed the strategy of Structuralist Marxism against itself, taking it to the point where it became self destroying...while simultaneously making criticisms of the Yugoslav state's flawed adoption of Marxist Humanism. The Yugoslav State still put artists in jail, as well as intellectual dissidents, despite the freedom of speech that existed there.

Post-Structuralist and Post-Modernist, they'd be great exemplars of this but for the fact that the mass of theory that's grown up around these concepts is jargon filled, unclear, a philosophical dead end, and sometimes unable to come to grips with basic logic. The Alan Sokal Affair is a good example of this, where Sokal cut and pasted already existing papers together to produce a new one that tried to prove that gravity was a social construction, submitted it to the journal "Social Text", and had it accepted. Reportedly, there were even academics who praised the text as elucidating fundamental truths even though it was a fraud. Ultimately, I think the reason for the mire is that Post-Structuralism has never been able to shake the authoritarian streak that Structuralist Marxism gave it.

Which is where Slavoj Zizek comes in. I personally don't think much of his philosophy or his philosophizing, but I believe he's popular basically because through sloppily letting in types of philosophy from outside of the Post-Structuralist mire he breathes life into what is essentially a dead, inconsistent, paradigm. These non post-structuralist ideas often seem to come from the milleux of local philosophical ideas that were developed during the last years of the Yugoslav state, some of them coming from a radical re-reading of Heidegger, that are relatively unknown outside of afficionados of the thought of that part of the world.

He defends Laibach, with his usual vim and vigor, but I believe that Zizek is indicative of the system having to cannibalize itself in order to go forward.








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflections on Evergreen, Port Protests

Personal ones. I had the displeasure of basically being shut out of participating in the first one due to circumstances beyond my control, and when I could participate in the activism found that the ship had moved on, so to speak, and it was next to impossible to get on board. This despite the fact that virtually everyone who organized the first major port protest in 2006, and participate in it, were friends who I knew through being in political science programs there.

At the beginning of the organizing of the port protests, I was taking a break from politics, which I'd been studying at Evergreen non-stop since the summer of 2004, and instead taking a program in philosophy combined with a craft program about creating art using neon. This was my last quarter in school, and I decided something fun was in order. Once the protests started in earnest, it was far enough along in the quarter that I was afraid that if I got arrested and spent time in jail it would seriously impact my ability to graduate. I had gone back to school after a long absence, and was now in my mid-20s, and very much wanted to get college behind me. So, I went down there exactly twice, and that was it.
Then, after graduating, I took a triumphant road trip down the coast, first to Arcata and Eureka in California, then Berkeley and San Francisco, and finally to L.A., where I spent a week.

When I got back, I found it extremely hard to get into the organizing of further action that was happening, and spent about half a year as a para-student, somewhat participating in student activities, and in off campus activities with students, until giving up entirely.

There was progress, then a lot of reversal, and I found that the people who were being lionized in the alternative media were more interested in cracking fart jokes in their spare time and generally acting like a fraternity then actually talking about politics.....and because I hadn't been there at the start it wasn't possible to really participate further.

I had moved from Florida, where I was living at the time, to the northwest, to Evergreen, to participate in something exactly like this, and now was unable to.
But a conversation I had with one of the participants several years later was illuminating on why that may have been.

I was having a phone conversation with one of the main people whole I'll call "Reff", and in the middle of it "Reff" made the statement that before the port protests he really hadn't been involved in politics at all, and that in fact what he was doing later was spending time with a kid as part of a "Big Brothers, Big Sisters" program. The meaning of that was that, unlike me, "Reff" was a pure soul who naturally came to politics out of conviction rather than ideology, and instead of focussing on theory he volunteered in the community helping out. Little did "Reff" know that at the time of the phone call I was volunteering at a food bank once a week as well as volunteering at a soup kitchen once a week as well.  To presume that I didn't do anything concrete to help the community was the height of arrogance.

In any case, it seemed that, in "Reff"'s eyes, the very fact that I'd cared about politics previous to the port protests, had been involved with activism elsewhere, and had moved to the northwest to become further involved was enough to disqualify me from being a valid politico....which was very convenient for him considering that this was the first major activist action he'd been part of and it yielded him a good amount of fame and repute both in Olympia and to a smaller extent nationally. And maybe some women as well, who knows.

Fame corrupts, and the small does of fame that the initial port protesters received was enough to stimulate their fantasies about their self worth and close off participation to people not as famous--unless they wanted to basically be lackeys for them, or to regard them in awe as stars.

Anyways, I hope that now that eight years have gone by that "Reff" has been confronted by similar assholes who are now complaining about him being an old man in the activism scene, and about not deserving a place because of his prior involvement. It would be a sweet justice.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Left Gramscianism vs. the reality principle

One of the essential things that happened after 9/11, and that in point of fact had been happening since Bush was 'elected' President in 2000, was that an independent sphere of reporting and commentary was established, outside of the mainstream. The mainstream media was not willing to report all sides of the issues at all, and so websites consisting of news aggregators, blogs, and sites with general commentary by independent journalists took their place, along with large discussion boards such as Democratic Underground and others. This very much echoed the strategy of "Trench Warfare" in the Gramscian sense, where people surrounded by hostile forces established a small area of freedom where they could say what they wanted without being harassed for it. By necessity, such a thing has to be partisan, letting one side have its say while keeping the full force of the other out--you can't have every single article being challenged in every single way by the opposition or conversations about the basic ideas themselves can't take place.

However, at some point, what's developed in these areas of freedom has to be taken out of isolation and put forward to the greater world as a whole for commentary, and in this the principle of developing ones ideas gets superseded by the reality principle. The reality principle, originally coined by Freud for psychology, basically means that your ideas have to pass the test of basic logic and reference to reality with good arguments backing them up, and do so in a world where they can be contested.

Now that Obama has won, and has been in office for approaching six years, it's right and proper for people to get out of their hidey holes, their trenches, and their siege mentality, and rejoin the greater community. However, it appears that a number of people have serious problems with this.

What they want is for the stacked deck of the closed area of freedom to carry over into normal political discourse, which is a place that by nature is opposed in its very essence to the idea. What they want is for everyone to look at the assumptions that they have, without examining them, and simply submit to them without questioning---instead of relying on solid arguments to carry the day.

And to help out with that, when the premises are questioned, it's becoming common to accuse the other side of some sort of horrible ideological offense, with the intent of shouting them down and supposedly rendering themselves 'right' by shaming them....without proving their points.

This is not real political discourse, or discourse at all. Arguing with a stacked deck is what Fox News does, and it's properly ridiculed by people in progressive circles. People in the same circles really need to not condone the same sort of behavior by their fellow politicos and instead work to win against their opponents in free discussions that don't depend on ideological slander to win points.

Otherwise, there's little difference, and the new boss will be the same as the old---only he or she will have Elvis Costello glasses.



The rising political correctness from the Left---have they forgotten Bush?

It seems that now that the Bush years are (supposedly) behind us, people are feeling their oats again about issuing cultural fatwas against things they don't like, and feel should be shut down and vilified, not because there's necessarily something seriously wrong with them, but because it expresses an opinion they don't like or values they don't care for. Salon.com for instance, over and over again.

The thing is, and I hate to say 'I remember' as if it was that long ago, but I do remember the environment after 9/11 where any criticism of the Bush administration, or of the U.S., or of the actions being taken by the U.S. government were met with accusations of treason. I remember people losing their jobs for either saying a stupid thing taken out of context or sometimes in very conservative areas for being seen at a protest. I also remember Ann Coulter making statements intended to intimidate people with liberal ideas into not talking.  Much, much, more could be cited.

All of it was a form of 'political correctness' from the Right, and was gladly condemned by people, which is why now that the tide has turned I condemn the same impulses being put forward by people on the Left---that which is characterized by not to have a discussion of issues but to shut speech down by saying that it's offensive or so inappropriate that it shouldn't even be considered, when in actuality what's being discussed is not that extreme but instead is characterized by an ideological disagreement with the author.

*Also, I hate using the words 'political correctness', because it isn't like the rabid sector of the Right, which very liberally uses the term, isn't out there. But, there's not much of an alternative at this moment.

More Ferguson

Strangely enough, the revelations that Michael Brown robbed a convenience store for a pack of cigars, and then punched the cop when he tried to apprehend him (for reasons unknown), actually changes little of the basic issue. Even if Brown did all of that, including punching a cop and then running away, he was still unarmed and still didn't deserve to be shot. It still indicates the overreach that police officers use when dealing with black youth.

Personally, although there's not enough evidence to really say if this was the case, my hunch is that the business about him trying to steal the cop's gun is something cooked up to try to justify the shooting. Rationally, if a person is trying to get away from a police officer, trying to take their gun makes little sense.

People aren't perfect, and the story of Michael Brown as a kid who committed a minor theft, and roughed up a convenience store clerk, and then was shot when running away by a cop, is still a story of injustice---he doesn't have to have been completely innocent for an injustice to have occurred.