Saturday, July 31, 2010

"South of the Border" by Oliver Stone, some criticisms

Hey there,

Just got out of "South of the Border" by Oliver Stone and I have to say that while it wasn't really bad it wasn't nearly as good as I imagined it to be. I stood as a kind of mediocrity, somewhere in the middle. The film is Stone's attempt to chart the movement to the left that South America has been engaged in since Hugo Chavez defeated the coup attempt in 2002. To do this he interviews Chavez, Evo Morales, Cristina Kirchner of Argentina, Lula de Silva, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, and Raul Castro. While the premise is interesting, and something that obviously had a lot of potential to really be turned into a top rate film, Stone and his writers treated the film like it was a fifteen minute radio or TV piece as opposed to an hour and a half long movie that could get into the real details about political life in South America. I think he started to go wrong, in the preparation for the movie, when he made the judgment call that Chavez was the leader of all of the movements for social justice in South America that have yielded the elections of progressive people, and that all of these countries are bound in some sort of Chavez inspired or lead unity. All of the countries in question, including Venezuela itself, have rich traditions of organizing for social change that lead to the changes in government that have happened. None of it, including Chavez' actions, were produced by charismatic leaders themselves, but through the combination of movements of regular people with folks who came into leadership positions, either very willingly or not.

Stone starts out the film focusing on Venezuela, and provides some valuable background about Hugh Chavez and Venezuela before his election and then after the defeat of the coup attempt, topics that the excellent movie "The Revolution Won't be Televised" doesn't cover. But then when the figure of Chavez as a popular leader is established Stone doesn't make the transition from talking about Chavez as a person to actually going into the policies and programs that Chavez has put into place. There's only a reference to the nationalization of some of the oil companies and a trip out with Chavez to a communal farm, plus a brief mention that Cuban doctors come to Venezuela. Instead of talking about the experiments going on there, and about the different ideas that are percolating, we get treated to a scene about his grandmother, a visit to the location of his early childhood home, and a scene where Chavez talks about the people who died in the coup attempt. What has Chavez done? Similarly, talks of human rights violations aren't dealt with but are dismissed on the grounds that Columbia, which is in the middle of a civil war, does much worse. Okay, that may be the case, but at least give some detail about what's been alleged and what actually seems to have happened. The same lack of detail plagues the coverage of Simon Bolivar himself. We know that Chavez really likes Bolivar, and we know that Bolivar headed the liberation struggle from Spain, but no detail about how Bolivar's overall philosophy or attitude translates into Chavez's movement is given. There's no elaboration even of what 'Bolivarianism' in Chavez' usage means. This link to the Bolivarianism article on Wikipedia provides much more information on what Chavez stands for than the entire section devoted to Venezuela in "South of the Border" does.

With that out of the way, lets look at the other players covered in the movie. Of the six heads of state interviewed I thought that Evo Morales and Fernando Lugo came out as being the best, with Raul Castro getting honorable mention, Lula de Silva doing good, and then the Kirchners and Correa being on the bottom. Morales was able to make a case for Bolivia and for social justice that while acknowledging Chavez was clearly based on independent principles. Lugo too, although the interview was much too brief, had a unique and integrity based approach to things, this brought in from Liberation Theology. The Kirchners I viewed as snakes who didn't really believe in what they were saying but who were instead mouthing slogans in order to get popular support. We have the Kirchner dynasty going on, with first Nestor and now Cristina ruling Argentina. In point of fact, and I should modify myself here, it was Cristina Kirchner who came out as more of the snake, willing to mouth revolutionary slogans while in fact being a middle or upper middle class lawyer who went through the conventional political system and then became president because of her husband. Nestor Kirchner came off as a mildly anti-global centrist, not as a revolutionary, which is good because that's what he basically is. Neither of the Kirchners were known to me as being particularly radical before I found out about their inclusion in the movie.

Correa came out as a slick politician who was basically pro-US but who made a little bit of a mark and a PR impact by refusing to reauthorize a US base in Ecuador, and by suggesting that if the U.S. wants to put a base in Ecuador that Ecuador should be able to put a base in Miami. When pressed, he didn't really have much to say, certainly nothing about internal policy beyond a half hearted commitment to reduce the influence of the DEA in Ecuador in relation to the drug trade. Seemed to be using the film for self promotion, as Cristina Kirchner was apparently doing.

Lula was good. He wasn't particularly revolutionary, but he does support progressive reform in South America, and he does come from both the tradition of union organizing and from the PT, the Workers' Party, which painstakingly constructed grass roots popular power in Brazil before winning the presidency. He's less intense than Chavez, but that's just who he is. Lots of people, myself included, were very optimistic about de Silva when he got elected, but the issue isn't any sort of serious turn of face or betrayal as much as it is a kind of watering down of the original policies.

Raul Castro came out doing very well as well, sort of as the grand old man of Latin American politics. I actually wish there had been more time with him and with Cuba in general. Cuba is not a free society politically, but Raul Castro certainly knows his stuff, and has a better idea of what's going on than the hazy populism that Stone sometimes advocates seems to contain.

That said, I think some of the problems in the film came through looking at the heads of state specifically instead of also interviewing some of the members of the popular movements. Politicians are politicians, and no matter who they are you can only get so much out of them, especially if like in my opinion Cristina Kirchner they see opportunity for self advancement as part of the deal.

It also presented as a sort of accepted fact positions that in the course of any presentation should be argued for. Journalism is supposed to be journalism, even if the people involved have their own ideas, are very passionate about them, and don't shy away from letting their viewers, listeners, or readers know what they are. Being committed to your ideas doesn't get you off the hook of having to justify them in your work.

But, see it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Conservatism and the Free Market

It always amazes me, being familiar with the history of political thought, when conservative book companies put out book after book about conservative social values and then complement them by a few fawning books about the free market. The reason for this is that conservatism, as originally established, was anti-free market. The folks who held this position weren't holding it out of any special concern for social justice but because they were the aristocrats and the beneficiaries of the feudal system and saw the liberals and the small scale businessmen as threats to their authority. Liberalism and capitalism were thoroughly linked for a while, and not just in the sort of almost mechanistic Libertarian way we see today: liberals actually believed that the free market would lead to social justice. Support of the free market only became labeled as a conservative position after the rise of socialist movements in the 19th century. More common was a sort of hybrid ideology that advocated conservative social values along with a semi-free market, the same thought that informs today's conservatism, but in the era in which it emerged, the 19th century mostly, it wasn't viewed as pure conservatism but instead as a sort of 'Third Way' between conservatism and liberalism. It had influence both in the United States, France, and in the United Kingdom.

But folks on the conservative right don't seem to comprehend that some of what they're advocating is either a compromise position or is in fact incompatible with their hard line theocratic social values. How could a Biblical society also be a free market capitalist one? What happens when someone wants to open a sex shop based on free market principles? Or print ungodly literature? How does the concept of Tithing, which was originally there not to buy Evangelical ministers mansions but to help the poor, coincide with this free market paradise?

In any case, what they're advocating makes little sense when taken together, unless of course your unconscious aim is to provide cover for a corporatist system, where things like bad opinions coming from a free system wouldn't have much of a chance of getting off the ground. See the Tea Party for details on this one.

Yay Van Jones!

Just in general. Came upon a reference to him in a Salon article talking about the Civil Rights Movement, that said that Van Jones was probably closer to the original people involved than anything Beck put out, then went looking up stuff about him. The charge of 'Communist', while technically right, turns out to be something very different than what was implied. This from Wiki's cite of STORM, , the group that Jones was involved in in the Bay Area:

"He got involved with Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM), a socialist group whose official Points of Unity "upheld revolutionary democracy, revolutionary feminism, revolutionary internationalism, the central role of the working class, urban Marxism, and Third World Communism."

That's from This, a statement put out by STORM after its dissolution.

I have to say that I agree with most of it. It sounds all right to me. 'Communist' in this sense doesn't mean loving the Soviet Union but being in solidarity with movements around the globe who identify themselves as being part of the general Communist current, who in themselves often have had stormy relationships to both the Soviet Union and China. Being a Communist in India, for example, means something very different than being a member of the CPUSA in the United States.

Van Jones should be applauded, by those who understand these politics and don't just react to labels, as having been associated with something on the right side of history.

But, and this is something that often goes unremarked, while the idea of oppressed minorities as the main subject in the United States might make sense in large cities like New York and San Francisco, it doesn't reflect the greater reality of the United States, including the reality that exists in poorer suburbs outside of these same cities. The fact is that, admittedly in my own calculations, members of the working class who are white number about as many as the entire black population of the United States. Minorities are still that, folks who make up about 35% of the population. Any real revolutionary subject formulated in the United States should take account of the broader picture, which includes whites and well as non-whites, and not let the reality in urban centers blind them to the whole.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The funny thing about entrepreneurship

Is that despite all the focus in the United States on it, most countries out there that have recently developed have done so under state sponsored programs. We can praise that idea of the lone entrepreneur all we like, but the reality remains that the motor of economic development has recently been collective action.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cutting the Gordian Knot on the topic of what 'Progressive' means

By simply saying that folks at places like the Huffington Post aren't really progressives, not in any meaningful sense anyways. I've been going back and forth on this, reading things on the Huffington Post and elsewhere, in the more widely known news outlets that are associated with being progressive, like shows on MSNBC, and thinking that they were pretty hackneyed, lightweight, and often very inconsistent with progressive values, if we describe progressive as a sort of spectrum between liberalism and the Left that in fact bleeds into the Left and shares common ground with it. The inconsistencies aren't due to the fact that progressives aren't out there, they're due to the fact that a lot of folks who are really liberals, albeit liberals who are slightly to the left of moderate liberals, have now become involved in web based politics in the wake of the Bush administration, 9/11, and the Iraq war.

Specifically, my own thinking came out of the inconsistency featured on the Huffington Post between their coverage of Israel and virtually any other issue. Despite being liberal and putatively progressive, they veer to the right at virtually any turn where Israel is involved. But the thing is that this shift isn't reflective of progressive politics as a whole, which on the whole has been vitally critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, but of Huffington Post. Therefore, it's not fair in any sense to shift the issue from that of one website's coverage of a topic to that being one of a whole spectrum of a political movement as a whole.

The fix, the thing that makes it comprehensible, is that the folks at the Huffington Post, and on other issues the folks at places like shows on MSNBC, aren't actually thorough going progressives but are instead either left of moderate liberals or folks whose progressivism is just a mish mash of principles that happen to be popular at the moment rather than a real thought out attitude to world issues in general.

The interesting charge of bias as it appears in the right-wing media

Bias happens all the time, but the right wing media has taken the idea of it out of the realm of social bias and instead made it into a concept where if a person has expressed support for any sort of ideology--that is, if they've said that they're liberal--that nothing they say can be taken seriously as objective arguments. They evade the question of whether or not the person is actually right by a sort of character assassination that makes everyone with a point of view out to be a sort of seething demagogue who doesn't have a leg to stand on with their arguments--without looking at the arguments themselves whatsoever. In fact, they often don't cover the specific arguments that people have or they purposely distort them in order to make them less attractive. So bias becomes the lazy person's way to avoid having to argue, to engage in arguments that might actually reveal some of what the person in question believes and therefore make them less than pristine in the sympathetic right wing public's mind.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Individual freedom and social justice

I think that, contrary to popular belief, these two aren't completely dependent on each other, but can exist in a sort of pure form on their own. A society can let folks do whatever they want as individuals, and yet be so constructed that the economic system is highly unequal and stratified, distorted by class. A society can on the other hand be perfectly just in terms of economics and economic power, with economic power collectively resident in the people themselves, and yet in the sphere of the individual allow for little personal freedom. Some would argue that individuals can't truly be free in a class society, and this is broadly the case in certain aspects of life, yet when we look at the individual as a pure individual it's apparent that these aspects have more to do with access to resources than with an actual prohibition by the State against certain kinds of behavior. Capitalism can get on fine without much of a State and much coercion of individuals to obey moralistic rules that go beyond basic ideas of not hurting yourself or others, and it can still be perfectly unjust. Others too may object to the opposite scenario, where economics are collectivized, as not really being just because a just society because of the lack of individual freedom, but are the two really dependent on one another? Sure, you can argue that lack of individual freedom makes a society unjust because it inhibits personal economic initiative, but if you're talking about social justice, and recognize that something called social justice exists as a thing beyond just whatever capitalism happens to spit out as a result, then in the main you can have a society that's very just in many ways that nevertheless in the individual sphere restricts freedom, freedoms that have nothing to do or at least very little to do with social justice in the abstract. In fact, it can easily be the case that a person can have a perfectly just life, sharing in the produce of society and enjoying themselves, in a traditional Communist socialist society provided that they don't rock the boat too much. Many people in the former Soviet bloc did just that, and got along fine, and this is more and more acknowledged now that folks see some of the folly in letting a desire for democracy and individual freedom lead them also to support pure market economics.

The trick is to bring the two together so that we have a just society that also honors freedom for the individual in a real way, and that has a democratic basis to it so that the people involved have power over their own destinies, individual and collective.

*on edit: perhaps, even, the democratic process can be the connecting point between the individual sphere and the collective sphere, making the collective sphere and the administration of the collective sphere honest and publicly accountable and limiting structural economic constraints that inhibit the expression of individual freedom.

*on edit #2: the lack of interdependency between a basically just society and one that honors individual freedom is a reason why so many pre-capitalist societies that went over to the Soviet bloc were able to implement social reform, and stay relatively popular, without bothering to pay much attention to individual freedom.

Note to self: democracy as the arbiter in both issues of structural impacts on individual freedom and on issues of lack of individual accountability in the collective sphere.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interesting rape case in Israel: a guy who was Arab diguised himself as Jewish and is now convicted of 'rape by deception'

Here. Hard to see how this is any different from something similar happening in the Old South between a white woman and a mixed race man.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Question for people who question the Enlightenment: how do you diverge from Traditionalists?

It's a vital question. There are a lot of reasons to dislike parts of what the Enlightenment has bequeathed to us, but it also brought us ideas of democracy and liberty. The thing is, in the universe of folks who take issue with the Enlightenment there aren't just Progressives and folks who have studied post-colonial theory, there are also right wing people associated with a current of thought known as Traditionalism or Integral Traditionalism, that was started by a guy named Rene Guenon but brought into full political fruition by a Fascist named Julius Evola. These folks make some of the same sorts of arguments against the Enlightenment that people on the Left sometimes do--it lead to a rise in materialism, it lead to a reductionist, determinist, view of life, to one where the sense of the sacred is sacrificed all together, with the religion of science replacing more traditional systems of belief. Yet they're model for what society looks like combines all of this with a belief that the ideas of equality, democracy, and liberty are likewise ill defined reductionist ideas born of the Enlightenment and so therefore not valid. They envision a state of return to a pre-modern system of belief and social organization that would be organized around neo-fascist lines. So the question is, then, what exactly makes certain left wing objections to the Enlightenment different than them, which is another way of asking how exactly would you preserve ideas like liberty, equality, and democracy while attacking the Enlightenment as a whole?

I'm not asking this as a hostile questioner. I have plenty of problems with certain aspects of the Enlightenment--and I have answers as to how to reconcile a belief in liberty, equality, and democracy with objections to what the Enlightenment has done (that don't exclusively rest on the Renaissance, if you've been following my recent posts on this subject). But I want to both hear from people about their ideas and get folks to think about what really does define them against the fascist traditionalists. There should be something. If not, you've got a problem, because the very ideology you're using for liberatory purposes could easily be turned against them and put to use for extraordinarily anti-libertarian and anti-human ends. And simply saying that because you belong to x group of people and x group have traditionally been oppressed, that you naturally wouldn't do anything fascist, doesn't cut it. What in your ideas makes you different from the fascists?

And it's not an idle question. Julius Evola, the person mentioned above, was the guru for the terrorist right wing in Italy in the 1970s. Folks who were his followers bombed leftists and other targets, and folks who follow him have lead the charge in re-establishing the Far Right in countries that were once part of the Eastern Bloc, like Romania and Hungary. Evola remains a fixture in the reading lists of the neo-fascist New Right both in Europe and in their American manifestations, which currently exist under the radar and don't attract mass attention even though they are out there.

How are you different than Alain de Benoist, to throw out another name?

Something to consider. The pre-modern world was also extremely cruel. It wasn't all just naked hippies fucking in the woods. If you open the door to the pre-modern don't expect to not have to face the cruel along with the peace and love, unless you have something up your sleeve that explains how peace and love is the thing to do within that context.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Points from dead philosophers

Here's one from Aristotle, from the start of Book III of the Nicomachean Ethics:

"An action is, properly speaking, compulsory when the origination is external  to the agent, being such that in it the agent (perhaps we may properly say the patient) contributes nothing; as if a wind were to convey you anywhere, or men having power over your person.

But when actions are done, either from fear of greater evils, or from some honourable motive, as, for instance, if you were ordered to commit some base act by a despot who had your parents or children in his power, and they were to be saved upon your compliance or die upon your refusal, in such cases there is room for a question whether the actions are voluntary or involuntary"

Afghanistan, anyone? The idea that 'they forced us to do it' or that we had no choice but to invade Afghanistan after 9/11 was one that was endlessly trumpeted at the time and that still makes the rounds (in a somewhat less ostentatious way) today. The question is what do you mean when you say you 'had' to do it. Did you really 'have' to do it or did you have a choice in reality but chose to do it? Did you 'feel' that you had to do it but in reality were not completely forced to do it?

Syndicalism and National Syndicalism

Although it's frequently overlooked, and its existence even denied by people who wish it didn't happen, National Syndicalism should really be examined as a reminder about some of the limitations of pure syndicalism. National Syndicalism was the nationalist, proto and outright Fascist complement to anarcho-syndicalism, and had strong followings in Italy, France, and somewhat in Spain, where it fought against the CNT. Folks who were in anarcho-syndicalist unions became drawn to increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic rhetoric and eventually sided with Fascism over it.

Why did this happen? I think the answer is simple: anarchists, and by extension anarcho-syndicalists, have just assumed that when workers fight for their rights against bosses that they're automatically also in favor of liberal values. Want more power on the job, or higher wages? Surely you're against the Church. The truth is that the automatic correspondence of workers with liberal values is a Marxist invention drawn from an examination of the French experience in the first half of the 19th century. There's no reason why folks concerned about their work should necessarily not be sexist, or racist, not worship the flag or believe in a strong role for the Church and for religion. Which is why liberal values have to be promoted at the same time as syndicalism.

Nestor Makhno, of anarcho-communist fame, once wrote that people know what freedom is, don't need a program to tell them what it is, and that given the chance they'll naturally go for it. Maybe they'll go for something that they consider to be freedom, but the notion that they'll go for a radically democratic and libertarian notion of what freedom is is an extraordinarily unjustified, superficial, and shallow idea. For example, in the Russian Revolution there were pogroms against Jews in some of the more isolated rural areas. Why? Because the people there were told that a revolution against the oppressors was going on, and had been told before by the government and the other powers that be that the Jews were their enemies. So, these people naturally pursuing their idea of freedom, given the chance and without any other sort of input, killed Jewish people in their communities who most likely had nothing to do with their real oppression.

Workers' power is necessary, but workers don't automatically fit into the Marxist mode of being bourgeois liberals just straining to implement free thinking ideals when they get the chance. There are workers who are lefties, liberals, centrists, rightists, and ultra-rightists, and there's been a concerted effort in the United States for several decades now by the Right to court workers and turn them against liberalism.  Which is why liberal values have to be promoted next to workers' power. If not, then you'll get a situation where many of these workers praise the flag and support authoritarianism on top of syndicalism.


An Afro-Cuban Jazz band from the '70s, is off the hook in terms of its progressiveness, innovation, and general, dare I say it? psychedelic-ness.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Derek", film by Tilda Swinton

About the Avant-Garde film maker Derek Jarman. Good, but I couldn't but notice a fundamental hypocrisy about it. Swinton narrates about the uptightness of British society and the notion of the film industry as corporate capitalism, yet when it gets to the section about Jarman's work with the groups Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and COIL, making music videos for them, they're basically dismissed with a couple minutes of montage. These groups, unlike Punk Rock in Britain, have never been reabsorbed by mainstream culture. They stand outside it in their work as dangerous, controversial, decadents, which I thought would be the thing that Swinton is looking to praise. But, ah, there's the frisson generated by the image or self talk of being a rebel and then there's the price you pay for truly putting rebellious works out there, and it appears that the latter is something that she would rather not deal with.

A hidden essential masterwork: Kant's introduction to his "Critique of Judgment"

Here. Kant's Intro to his Critique of Judgment is both a great introduction to how he structures his thought in general, but is also really important because the idea of aesthetic cohesion that he introduces would prove to be something that profoundly influenced 19th century philosophy, particularly the line of thought going from the Romantics, to the Idealists, and then outwards, with Marx influenced by it through Hegel. It's a hard read, like most of Kant, but is rewarding for the insights about life and consciousness that it gives.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Yes! "On Spiritual Unity: A Slavophile Reader" has arrived

This one was one of my favorites. It's unfortunately been chucked out of print by Lindisfarne and landed in the deep discounts pile at Powells, but on the bright side that means that I can get it for almost 1/3 of the cost. The word "Slavophile" in this context is a little bit misleading. "Slavophile" has come to mean anyone who is pro-Slavic, i.e. people who are either Pan-Slavic, believe in the nationalistic or genetic superiority of Slavic culture, or who are just Russian nationalists. But before the word took on that meaning there was a small group of academics in Russia who sought to reinterpret philosophy, social philosophy, political philosophy, and theology, from the point of view of Russia as being a partially non-Western state who because of its unique historical position in the world had a different way of viewing things than what was common in Western Europe. The Slavophiles sought to reinterpet Western European thinking along Russian lines. There wasn't any sort of racial base to it, and they weren't necessarily nationalistic. In fact, they opposed the Russian state to a certain extent because they felt that it had caved in on Westernization.

And they're smart people. So reading them is a joy. The folks involved are Khomiakov, Aksamov, and Kireevsky, names that probably mean very little to most folks. They meant little to me until I read a thesis that a guy had published about the Slavophiles in 2005.

Finally, we're questioning Afghanistan, something that will almost inevitably lead to a public questioning of what happened in the U.S. after 9/11

Because you really can't separate the two. The invasion of Afghanistan wasn't a rational decision. It wasn't as if a bunch of legal scholars sat down after 9/11 and thought about what would be the just way, the way in accordance with international norms, to deal with Al-Qaida in the wake of 9/11. Instead, it was a full out unilateral strike, directed at a State because States are what you make war on. We twisted the UN's arm to give us authorization and pressured our allies to send troops in order to provide a modicum of legal cover, but there was no doubt that this was the U.S. applying its will on the world without really bothering to pursue legal options besides war in order to respond to 9/11. And it wasn't exactly something that was isolated either. The push for war in Afghanistan was united with the attack on Muslim communities by the INS, which sifted through them and detained people without warrant or justification, it was united with the push for the PATRIOT-ACT and legal spying on your neighbor, and it was united with the America--Love it or Leave it sentiment that sprung up immediately after 9/11.

Once you start questioning whether or not invading Afghanistan was a good idea, irrespective of Al-Qaida being there, you open up a whole can of worms that implicates a whole lot of people in everyday life who may have been against the Iraq War, and who may have been against Bush, but who participated in the general blood lust that followed 9/11, and who are guilty of urging the U.S. on to a dictatorial, nationalistic, state.

Monday, July 12, 2010

"Unemployed Become a Political Football GOP hysteria throws goodness, and American families, under the bus." by Karen Dolan

"As noted economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research explains, joblessness receded slightly only because 652,000 Americans left the labor force in June. Additionally, the number of employed workers fell by over 300,000 and the "establishment survey" of businesses, used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that average hourly wages and workweek hours are declining.

Thank goodness for unemployment insurance, which helps cushion us from abject poverty in the face of such a dearth of jobs. At least Congress consistently does one thing right. Historically, both sides of the aisle have been able to agree that when unemployed workers are unable to find jobs due to no fault of their own, a decent society provides a cushion so that they can weather the storm until able once again to contribute to rebuilding our economy.

Wait...Goodness is telling me that it has no reason to be thanked--Congress hasn't consulted it. In fact, Republicans and deficit-hawk Democrats have not only turned their backs on goodness, but on the nation's 15 million unemployed people, and the children and families who depend upon them.

Even though economists of all stripes and allegiances understand that unemployment benefits are among our most effective tools in a job crisis and the current recession, lawmakers are betting that fanning the flames of deficit hysteria will get them re-elected in the fall. Despite attempts to extend critically needed, but expiring, unemployment benefits, the Senate has once again let us down. Republicans filibustered attempts to help American workers. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a Democrat, joined them, leaving Senate Dems one short of staving off a bit of suffering to millions of us before leaving town to enjoy their own sumptuous Fourth of July picnics."

NAACP to condemn the Tea Party, the Tea Party now condemning the NAACP

Here. Very interesting. It brings up the point that although the Tea Party itself has objected to characterizations of it as being racist, despite tons of signs with racial overtones and a strange fixation on Obama, actual African Americans seem to have a different opinion.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Communist Manifesto

I was going to do a demolition job on parts of the Communist Manifesto before, re-reading it again, I realized that in the main part it's right. If you don't take some of the attitudes that Marx puts out there about religion and morality in a fundamentalist way, i.e. you recognize that true freedom includes the freedom to be religious and to care about morality, it's pretty much right on. The Statist aspects of the practical proposals that Marx puts out there are troubling, but you could easily draw different conclusions about what should be done from the basic outline that's given in the rest of the Manifesto. But, be that as it may, the Communist Manifesto is not a complete outline for how life is. I believe in truth, and that truth as well as justice isn't totally historically determined, although of course different historical epochs have had slightly different ideas about what justice is, and what one group considers truth is in fact influenced by the society they live in. It's influenced by history but in my opinion not totally relative, and it's erroneous to dismiss morals simply because there likely, more than likely, is not just one valid moral truth or system.

There is much to lament about Marx's desire, because it's almost a desire, that workers become not just workers but completely proletarianized workers as a prelude to the Revolution, with anything aiming to stop this from happening considered to be reactionary, as is action in general that seeks to restrain what's today referred to as corporate power.

In fact, lots of what Marx describes as a virtue in the proletariat, i.e. the destruction of family life, the elimination of any sort of communal values beyond the raw fact of working for an industrial company, is in my mind a serious problem, a state of being that no one wants to be in and that at its root will not be saved by simply organizing for economic and political power.

The deeper values of society, as well as some of the sources of alienation in the big, with the large scale industry not criticized, are not addressed, and should be considering both normal life especially the environmental catastrophe that we're engaging on. Capital does not only need to be taken over by the workers it needs to be limited in its power and in its scope to stop being this machine of domination against the natural world that only expands and never contracts.

Also, a reaffirmation of the values of liberty and democracy, and not a reading of them where liberty is dismissed as being a bourgeois value and democracy isn't even mentioned, would be nice too.

Oakland v.s San Francisco, the police shooting

I find it interesting that at the same time that a verdict of involuntary manslaughter was handed down on Johannes Mehserle for an Oakland murder San Francisco's city council is debating a law to ban all pet sales within the city, citing the number of hamsters that are abandoned annually. San Francisco has turned into a boutique liberal enclave, populated by the rich, while the real guts of life go on just across the bay.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A thought on the Communist Manifesto: the Proletariat

Have been reviewing the Communist Manifesto after not having read all of it for a few years. The part that I tended to focus on before was the historical part entitled "Bourgeois and Proletarians", but instead of that I looked at the latter parts that talked about more commonplace ideas about how all of this should be applied to the world. What struck me was that the emphasis was not so much on the working class in general but on Marx's pet notion of the Proletariat. You'd expect that a socialist would be for the improvement of the situation of workers as a whole, and in proposing a program for change and for the eventual takeover of society by the workers make the call broad, but instead Marx creates a notion of a class called the Proletariat that's separate from the everyday notion of the working class, that specially fits in with his economic theories, and anoints them as the leaders of the Revolution. The fact of the matter seems to be that this comes less out of a sense of compassion for people who have nothing on Marx's part than out of the fact that conceptually these people are important for Marx's scheme of where society is going to work.

It's not enough to be workers, you have to be Marx's kind of worker in order to be in the vanguard. And to resist being taken down to the lowest possible level through the pursuit of reforms designed to actually improve peoples lives, so that the nightmare that the idea of a mass proletarianization of society implies doesn't come to pass, is to promote a false solution standing in the way of the inevitable motor of history, one which supposes that people should have everything taken away from them and become completely miserable in order that they might more completely transform society into a Marxian socialist state. Union activity presumably only stalls the Revolution from happening, even though Unions have made the difference in life in actually preventing a sizable number of people from either sliding into or remaining in the type of state that Marx describes as being the Proletariat. Because of course you can't be revolutionary if you're actually fighting for practical everyday improvement in the lives of people.

Democracy Now! today. Vandana Shiva is fucking insane...

Democracy Now! just broadcast and you had Vandana Shiva ranting and raving about science and the narrowness of science, in the context of Geoengineering, and saying that global warming and the immediate threat of global warming doesn't matter, in the face of someone who has actual proposals to make the world better. Not that they're necessarily the right proposals, but they're based on empirical facts nonetheless. All this might sound strange coming from someone who just recently criticized scientistic thinking and advocated going back to a more holistic viewpoint such as that believed in by the people of the Renaissance. But the problem isn't the scientific method or science as an abstract pursuit, the problem is the cultural context in which science exists, which draws on philosophy from the 18th century that doesn't necessarily have real validity. When you talk about 'science' in the United States there's a lot of cultural baggage that comes with it that doesn't have to be there, in other words. What Vandana Shiva was doing was using the cultural context that science exists in to shoot down the actual objective work that people have been engaged in, suggesting that no science whatsoever is valid if it appears to violate Shiva's pet ideology.

The last interchange between Gwynne Dyer and Vandana Shiva was interesting. In the face of an immediate threat to human life caused by climate change, that will intensify over a tipping point in the next decades if something isn't done about it, Shiva questioned the ideology of immediacy, just as she questioned the importance of global warming because mother earth would adapt, and suggested that if all farming worldwide changed to organic farming it could be done in three years. Yeah. If all the farming in the entire world changed to organic farming. Think about that for a second. Here you have objective proposals about how to stop global warming versus pie in the sky thinking about how something that would likely require a social revolution, or several social revolutions globally, in order to take place. And Dyer ended by suggesting that if Vandana Shiva was the dictator of the world and could change land ownership in a second she could do it, which Shiva responded to by sputtering about "The Young! The young people!" that they'll do it.

I don't particularly have any feelings about Geoengineering, but there's nothing in Shiva's critique of it that couldn't be applied to almost any large scale science based attempt to stop climate change, no matter how well considered, and I think that that's pretty unreasonable to say the least. In fact, I'm restraining myself from saying what I really think about it.

To go on, there's quite a difference between science as a pursuit, what might be part of the culture of doing science, and the effect of classical scientific ideology on society as a whole. Science itself can go against the sort of deterministic mindset that came out of the 18th century. The culture that science exists in can similarly change to be more accommodating of critical views of the deterministic model. What's the most hard to change is the effect of this cultural ideology on the greater society at large. It appears, though, that in some circles of science, particularly those dealing with the environment, the critique of deterministic thinking is gradually getting more of a hearing, which demonstrates that not all science and large scale projects dependent on science are therefore by definition bad.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Origin of the Sterility of Western Culture in the Protestant Reformation

A heretical thought, especially to those who don't think that our culture today is particularly sterile. My feeling, though, is that it is, and that the cause is the dictatorship of the scientific worldview over people in general, the replacement of a diversity of opinions on the nature of human beings and society with one that says that we're just pool balls hitting each other, acting and reacting, in a semi-deterministic vulgar materialist way, with nothing going on inside of us but a sort of interaction of chemicals and neural electricity. Love is Oxytocin, for example. There's nothing to life but dead, cold, matter. Marx, by the way, was careful to distinguish his materialism from that of the Englightenment philosophes who, in proposing this system, probably didn't know what they were doing. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, and Democracy came out of the Enlightenment but they did so wedded to an ideology that denies the basic richness of meaning in life. Whatever is rational is real, and if it doesn't agree with my idea of rationality than by definition it cannot exist, no matter that my idea of what's rational may be superficial and ideologically biased, founded on bourgeois middle class notions of society and propriety. There's a need to reimagine the world around us in a way that returns meaning to a meaningless world. A Romanticism is necessary, but I've already dealt with this elsewhere, although I'll probably do it again later. But, to stay on the subject, how is it that this enthronement of a particularly restrictive definition of reason, wedded to a particularly reductionistic definition of what the world according to science establishes came to be? My thought is that the way for the reduction of man to a machine started with the religious upheavals that characterized the Reformation.

Many people have remarked that in certain ways modern ethics are secularizations of protestant principles. You have democracy coming from the idea of every man being a priest and liberty of conscience coming from the ability of every man to interpret the bible himself. All of this definitely had an influence, a deep influence, but the ideas of democracy and liberty were already being resurrected from their Classical slumbers by the Renaissance, and one thinks that in some cases historical and economic reasons may possibly explain why the revolts for Democracy and Liberty happened as opposed to ones based on controversies over religious ideology. But be that as it may the democratic and liberal strands of the Reformation came into being wedded to theocratic society ruled by the Bible alone.

The Reformers destroyed the richness of the regular life of the people to a certain extent in places where they had power, purifying the world according to biblical law and biblical standards alone, cutting off freedom of thought unless it was expressed in a biblical key. To cite one example, Christmas carols were banned in Puritan England under Cromwell as being unchristian. Symbols, allegories, subtleties of thought that had been preserved within the Catholic Church were swept away along with the corruption that had set in within the institutions. And the Renaissance was ended as being as heathenish as anything else. By establishing a biblical dictatorship based solely on scripture and nothing else society received a blow to its worldview that we have not recovered from, because the next step, after the fury of reforming had died down, was to repair society and guide it to something that was more just, while not returning to the past. So, the Reformation was secularized, the religion was taken out of it, but the extremism of a totalistic worldview remained, only now instead of it being filled with the Bible it was filled with Nothing. And now we ask why scientistic liberal society doesn't give us what we wish when we look out in the world and look for something valuable in life beyond just the billiard ball universe that we inhabit.

I'm not suggesting returning to a Catholic mindset, or even a Medievalistic one. Both of those have obvious flaws. I'm no friend of religious theocracy, social or otherwise, whether it comes in the guise of Catholicism or Protestantism. And the Folksy Middle Ages were a time of happy delusion as part of the general richness of popular culture and church culture. But, fortunately, an alternative presented itself, one that was squelched by the Reformation itself: our friend the Renaissance. The Renaissance preserved the sort of rich popular worldview of the Middle Ages while bringing to bear Classical learning and sophistication. Instead of a sort of championship of liberty that was accompanied by dessication the Renaissance put the idea of human liberty in a context full in descriptive power regarding the nature of the world and of society. Man appears not as a cog but as a full being whose capabilities can be extended to an almost infinite extent. Learning, the arts, politics, retains its subtleties and varieties, infused with the classics but not viewing the classics through a lens of secularized fundamentalism. The Renaissance, as a departure, is a place that we can draw back to for meaning. However, just going to back to the Renaissance for inspiration about the present day is not enough. The Renaissance, as part of its positive worldview, made no distinction between the supernatural and the normal, between religion and science. Within this richness we should uphold the right of a secular world within an expanded worldview that allows for the non-secular. To do otherwise would be to doom people to yet another theocratic idea--that of the unconventional spirituality--instead of liberating them. A somewhat secularized Renaissance perspective could work, but the door would always have to stay open in the official culture to the non-secular, in whatever guise that may appear, because to do otherwise would be to reimpose the sort of totalizing ideology that we're trying to get away from. Science would have to sacrifice not itself as a doctrine but make room for perspectives rejected by it to have play in the world as well, which doesn't mean don't teach science but don't try to have a monopoly of meaning. In the wake of the breaking of the monopoly of Scientistic, as opposed to Scientific, thinking, society will have the opportunity to reassert itself in a more balanced form that will hopefully lead to a sustainable perspective, both socially as a species in the form of economics and as individual societies themselves as collections of human beings sharing common life. Simply asserting anti-scientistic or deterministic thinking as being good does nothing to answer the question of what such a thing should be based on. The field of consciousness that the Renaissance worldview contains can provide a substrate for a freer interpretation of the world that goes beyond just such a mindset. Or at least it can for Western society, which is what this is all aimed at.

P.S. We also need Marxian inspired libertarian socialism without the atheism.

Planning without a State

It should be possible to do some economic planning through groups of anarcho-syndicalist federations getting together and collectively planning economic activity to be engaged in, then going back home and implementing it themselves. Since the same organizations plan as implement, and hopefully the base counts more than the top level planning facility, flexibility in implementation is assured in that if the plan doesn't completely work or there are problems with it the organizations on the ground can alter it and if needed call another meeting of federations to discuss the problems and come up with a revised plan. And not every nut and bolt would have to be planned out. With the flexibility of implementing it yourself comes authority with self management to exercise a greater initiative in manifesting the goals in reality. And the goals would also be integrated with real life instead of being a sort of oppressive presence over everything that had to be fulfilled or else.

Interesting story by a former head of Intel about jobs and how to make them in the U.S., Andy Grove

How to Make an American Job Before It's Too Late: Andy Grove. Grove argues for an industrial policy on the part of the government like that in South Korea, which proved that it could build jobs and an industrial infrastructure. Even though this is by definition Statist, something has to happen to cause jobs to be built in the U.S. Here are some excerpts from Grove's article about the flaws of the "knowledge economy" model:

"Mythical Moment

Friedman is wrong. Startups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.

The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs.

Scaling used to work well in Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs came up with an invention. Investors gave them money to build their business. If the founders and their investors were lucky, the company grew and had an initial public offering, which brought in money that financed further growth.


You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work -- and much of the profits -- remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work -- and masses of unemployed?

Since the early days of Silicon Valley, the money invested in companies has increased dramatically, only to produce fewer jobs. Simply put, the U.S. has become wildly inefficient at creating American tech jobs. We may be less aware of this growing inefficiency, however, because our history of creating jobs over the past few decades has been spectacular -- masking our greater and greater spending to create each position.

Tragic Mistake

Should we wait and not act on the basis of early indicators? I think that would be a tragic mistake because the only chance we have to reverse the deterioration is if we act early and decisively.

Already the decline has been marked. It may be measured by way of a simple calculation: an estimate of the employment cost- effectiveness of a company. First, take the initial investment plus the investment during a company’s IPO. Then divide that by the number of employees working in that company 10 years later. For Intel, this worked out to be about $650 per job -- $3,600 adjusted for inflation. National Semiconductor Corp., another chip company, was even more efficient at $2,000 per job.

Making the same calculations for a number of Silicon Valley companies shows that the cost of creating U.S. jobs grew from a few thousand dollars per position in the early years to $100,000 today. The obvious reason: Companies simply hire fewer employees as more work is done by outside contractors, usually in Asia. "

"BP/Government Police State" by Glenn Greenwald

Very interesting story about how BP has essentially bought the State in parts of the South:

"She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who -- after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because "BP didn't want him filming" -- was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official. McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding: "One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff's office."

Today, an article that is a joint collaboration between PBS' Frontline and ProPublica reported that a BP refinery in Texas "spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies" two weeks before the company's rig in the Gulf collapsed. Accompanying that article was this sidebar report:

A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

No charges were filed.

Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.

According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be "taken in" if he declined to comply.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Fareed, that's how it's always been. Fareed Zakaria on Afghanistan

"areed Zararia, the editor of Newsweek's international editions and CNN host, criticized the war in his strongest terms yet on his CNN program Sunday. "If Al Qaeda is down to a hundred men there at the most," Zakaria asked, "why are we fighting a major war?"


"The whole enterprise in Afghanistan feels disproportionate," Zakaria remarked, "a very expensive solution to what is turning out to be a small but real problem. ""

Yes, the whole enterprise has been disproportionate, from its very start. Even if there were several thousand members of Al Qaida in Afghanistan the invasion, destruction, and occupation of that country constitutes a sort of collective punishment against people who were suffering mightily under the Taliban already.

"Social Intelligence" and "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman

Both are recommended, and both have surprising intersections with social justice, albeit with the subject matter of Social Intelligence lending itself more naturally to collective issues. The links to them are Here  and Here. The bottom line is that we are set up to be social beings, who thrive or die based on the level of support from the community that we receive. There are several systems at work in our brains, a Low Road that's based on instinctual and impulsive responses and a High Road that can defuse the Low Road through critical thought about situations, as well as a sort of social brain that's tuned into how other people respond to us in our daily lives. If we receive emotional support we can not only feel better about ourselves as people, more connected, less alienated, but can also defuse our Low Road, which otherwise disengaged can lead to selfish and in fact psychopathic behavior. The message is that our current economy praises the Low Road: people get ahead by being mean and vicious, not being sensitive to others' needs but instead pursuing their own self interest and their own sadism above anything else. One could say that our culture breeds psychopaths, in the boardroom as well as in the streets, as the book "American Psycho" by Brett Easton Ellis so lovingly portrays. And what about our streets? We're breeding a culture of people desensitized to violence who are encouraged to pig out on the sexual stimulation of porn at every juncture, leading to a warped sensibility about women and about the world in general. We're teaching them that violence and selfishness is cool, that it's gangster, with the biggest consumers of gangster rap not being folks from the inner city itself but from the suburbs who are white and come from privileged backgrounds. Consumerism feeds instant gratification, which compromises our impulse control, helping  make us servants of desire instead of its master.

Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence are wake up calls. Our economy and our society cannot support the lack of basic compassion that's currently on display everywhere, and capitalism, although Goleman doesn't come out and say it or go this far in his analysis, is a root cause of this. The pursuit of profit to the exclusion of all other values destroys the fabric of society.On the level of culture the fix isn't to try to ban violent movies or massive consumption of porn but to raise awareness of how these things effect people in order to promote a voluntary decrease in their use, but also to keep options open so that talk about these things revolves around real evidence and not purely around standards that could be holdovers from puritanical values as opposed to things instituted for unbiased human welfare.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Check out "1st-for-all" and support the First Amendment

Here. It's a nice little site. They're running an ad now promoting awareness about the First Amendment, which is below. A link to frequently asked questions about the First Amendment is Here.

For the 4th: William S. Burroughs, "When did I stop wanting to be President?"

We have many freedoms in the United States, but our political system, as well as our economic system, leaves much to be desired. Here's William S. Burroughs giving a good picture of what politics is like in the United States, and to an extent what the U.S. is actually like in practice.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

The cost, or one of the costs, of the BP spill: some pictures of wildlife affected by it

General link Here. Specific pictures:

Evolution Control Committee and Bran Flakes in Seattle

Saw them both tonight at Chop Suey. ECC was a nice mashup duo from San Francisco who mixed interesting combinations of songs on the fly while Bran Flakes was/is a Seattle band who take '80s kitsch to a new, post-modern, level, with a sort of math rock beat, home made computer animations, heavy samples of pop culture, graphics from the era, and a nice floor show that involves a hot dog and a squid. And they have audience participation as well. Both were really good. See them, worship them, and buy CDs that you then defile with your vital juices in acts of love in your bedroom.

*sort of like a live "Tim and Eric Awesome Show"