Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fichte on Freedom

Not really the fire breathing right winger I'd been lead to expect, at least not in the series of lectures entitled "The Characteristics of the Present Age". Anyways, he makes a basic but good point: that is that freedom, by definition, is meant to be used, and that freedom without the actual use and application of it is pretty empty and somewhat meaningless. Take for example Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom of Religion. If most people don't speak their minds, decide to gather with other people in groups, or to practice a religion that they've decided on then what exactly is being accomplished with having these rights? If folks are conformists and obedient, then the society they live in might as well not have these sorts of rights, because they don't really need them. To really need these rights a society needs to have active people who think and express themselves in ways that they, and not the society around them, determine. A very Fichtean statement.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marx in relation to organic wholes and freedom, Schelling, Fichte

I'm indebted to Beiser's "Romantic Imperative", about the early German Romantic philosophers for this line of thought. It seems that the absolute freedom of the individual 'I' to determine its own destiny first goes out to be a collective determining through democratic decision making, where many 'I's determine the way society as a whole should go, thereby transferring the action from the individual 'I' to the collective 'I' that we as individuals help make up and that is partly made up by the social relationships that we have with one another. This collective, social, 'I', in its power to determine its own destiny, can choose to recreate the social, socio-economic, organic structure of society in any way that it sees fit, with the only limits being the limits imposed by the viability or non-viability of the structure itself. Because of this, people can essentially co-create their future through a sort of revolution in the form of society taken as a socio-economic organic whole, directing it through the recreation of society to something juster and more meaningful. Marx's particular view was that the social 'I' in capitalist democratic society did not remain united but was undermined by the economic progress that separated citizens into workers and owners. Capital took control of society, putting another barrier between forces of the social 'I', and the owners of Capital thereby dominated society. Society, in this opinion, needs to take back control of Capital, to put it under social control, but in order to do that the folks who were shunted into the role of workers need to come to power. Once workers are in control of society, and have social control over the Capital that has previously dominated over society, and other class divisions are eliminated, making everyone workers to some degree or another, then the social 'I' can be reformed and society can truly act in concert in order to direct its social development towards a new socio-economic organic whole of its choosing.

On the young Marx in relation to Fichte, Schelling, Hegel et al. Socialism as Freedom realized

An interesting thing about the Young Marx's philosophy, i.e. the philosophy of Marx when he was more Hegelian, is that the idea of radical freedom espoused by some of the idealists as the state of the individual appears to be socialized to society as a whole. Many of these thinkers saw humanity as a sort of self conscious pinnacle of the development of nature, where matter, going through vegetative and animal phases had emerged with full self consciousness and the full ability to determine its own destiny. Individual humans were uniquely free because of the power of self hood and of reflective reason, and human society could be seen as an extension of the powers of self-perfection going from the animal world into the physical world, as history propelled individuals to realize more of their inner potential through creating situations such as cities and economies where such things would be possible. It seems that for Marx the march of economic history was also the progress of mankind towards a state where they could realize this radical freedom through pure self-awareness of the 'I' by the 'I', which he believed happened with the advent of capitalism. The next phase of society would then be that where the lessons of pure self consciousness are applied back out from the individual into the world itself, where the radical self determination possible through all of this is applied collectively to transform the world into a sort of ideal state of affairs for personal and collective self realization. This could only happen with a radical restructuring of the economic system, which serves as a mediator between human beings and nature and therefore defines the ultimate limits of collective human endeavor. Personal motivation in this case can't be abstracted from economic Work, and living in and participating in the economic system, which makes up much of the process of life and living.

Americans may possibly defeat the Hegelian dialectic

Because Hegel's idea of the progressiveness of history depended on folks in every generation getting off their asses and doing something, with 'something' not just meaning something political but something that in some way engages the world around them in a way above utter passivity. I think we're approaching a sort of nadir here in the U.S. where despite lots of world issues going on that our country is directly involved with people are more inclined than ever to just sit at home and unplug themselves from anything beyond the most material preoccupations, and instead of trying to in any way understand the world to just be vegetables with brains that go to work in the morning, come home, consume and sit on the couch, go to bed, and then repeat the process everyday ad infinitum. Hegel responded to critics who asserted that his ideas of history and of things like the 'world spirit' or the 'spirit of the time' were mystical by saying that, no, it was all just how accumulated human actions manifested themselves. But of course without something from beyond pushing human action there's the possibility that humanity itself will default and either no progress or reverse progress will take place, that humanity will either stagnate or go backwards to some less sophisticated form. Witness the Tea Party.  Marx had the idea that continued economic necessity powered history, but that gets us into territory that goes far beyond Hegel's belief that humanity would always be something above and beyond educated animals.

Cognitive dissonance department: on Obama

Even though he went on the rampage against the base that elected him, there's barely a ripple of discussion about Obama's comments on  the Daily Kos and the Huffington Post. One could say that it's 'old news' since it happened more than two days ago, but, come on, folks on these sites keep things going for weeks and weeks. Yet when they're dismissed by the President they keep silent rather than criticize him. For instance, they're keeping on about O'Donnell's forged education background. Granted, she's kind of nuts, but isn't it more important to respond to the President directly criticizing you than it is to keep on with minutiae about a kind of freak show? Glenn Greenwald made the argument that the focus on some of the Tea Party candidates by Democrats was just a bid to get the focus off of their lack of positive goals and their caving in on issues. At first I only partially agreed with him, now it's making a lot more sense. It appears that Christine O'Donnell has basically sabotaged herself in Delaware to the point where she's no longer a viable candidate as well. In any case, the failure of progressives to respond to Obama's criticism, or at least the failure of some of them to, demonstrates how much some of the progressive movement has been co-opted into the Democratic Party sphere of influence. Obama works for us, we don't work for them, and the reason why progressives formed in the first place was because politics as usual from both parties did not work.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Last night I dreamt I met Kenneth Rexroth

And told him that I was interested in his anarchist essays, as well as that I had read "The World Outside the Window", a collection of his prose essays.In my dream he was very enthused about this, saying that not many people asked about it.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Freakonomics, how the economy secretly effects life.

A little known fact is that the aggregate pursuit of profit by small producers leads to the creation of large scale enterprises that have a unique division of labor, into workers on the one side and owners, managers, and the adjuncts of them on the other. This 'division of labor' eventually works its way through society as a whole, creating a 'working class' and an 'owning' or 'ruling' class. The formation of these classes makes it harder for folks to jump from one class to another, thereby undermining the idea that everyone has an equal chance in life. So amazingly, from seemingly inconsequential actions, i.e. small businessmen trying to make a profit, large scale change happens.

An interesting Fight Back! member website, "The Marxist-Leninist"

HereThe restraint about Stalinism now shown on Fight Back!'s main website is nowhere in effect.  These are some interesting pictures from the front page. Fight Back! members were targeted in the raids in Minneapolis and Chicago.

People raided in Minneapolis and Chicago

It seems that the folks involved were members of Fight Back!, or Freedom Road Socialist Organization-Fight Back! which was a product of the Freedom Road split a few years ago. The interesting thing about Fight Back! is that it lists very publicly Stalin and Mao as people it admires and also openly talks about its support for the FARC and for the PFLP. The FARC and PFLP are listed on the FBI's terrorist list. One of the people involved, a member of Fight Back! had traveled to Columbia and to the Middle East. The folks involved were also involved with anti-war demonstrations.

Friday, September 24, 2010

"The Rightwing Upsurge in the U.S.: Less Than Meets the Eye? " by Mark Weisbrot

Thank Goodness. Weisbrot makes the very reasonable argument that, you know, the Left, can probably attract voters who would be attracted to the Tea Party by offering some economic populism. This is good. It doesn't do much good if folks derided as latte drinking elitists don't even bother to defend themselves by saying that they care about inequality and aren't on the side of the rich. The construct that the Right has built up about what the "liberal elites", meaning liberals in general, are like is tenuous in the extreme. But inequality has to be addressed for any of that to come crashing down, and folks on the Right are banking on the notion that folks on the liberal-left are too scared of being labeled Commies to engage in economic populism.

"But 55 percent of voters – a record for the past 20 years – say it is time to give a new person a chance to represent their district.

The conclusion is obvious: Voters are angry – not the anger of the rich who believe, as John D. Rockefeller famously said, that “God gave me my money.” It is a populist rage that will drive some independent or swing voters to vote against incumbents and the incumbent party. Even if it means voting for people who they don’t particularly like, trust, or agree with on the issues.

Republicans were able to keep this country moving to the right for nearly four decades – including through the Clinton years. For much of this time they used a fake populist appeal based on cultural issues, portraying a “liberal elite” who was contemptuous of the values of working-class white voters – who have generally been the biggest group of swing voters. The strategy succeeded because Democrats refused to make the obvious economic populist appeal to the real interests of these voters – who were getting hammered by the loss of manufacturing jobs, weakening of labor and redistribution of income that was engineered by the leadership of both parties. In 2004, non-college-educated whites with household income between $30,000-$50,000 voted for Republicans for Congress by a 60-38 percent margin; in 2006 a switch to a 50-50 split (22 percentage points) contributed significantly to the Democrats’ victory in Congress.

The Republicans’ long-term strategy collapsed in 2008. The Democrats were lucky in that the peak of the financial crisis hit just before the elections that year. In October 2008 the number of Americans believing that the country was on the wrong track hit an all-time record of 89 percent. Most importantly, this situation focused the attention of swing voters on the economy, something that negates the potential appeal of “distraction” issues such as abortion, gay marriage, guns or even the thinly-veiled racism that had been part of the Republicans’ appeal since President Nixon’s post-civil-rights-movement “southern strategy.” Obama himself had eschewed economic populism in his campaign (making an exception in Midwestern primaries such as Wisconsin, where he needed more working-class support in order to win), in keeping with his carefully cultivated media image of post-partisan conciliator. But the economy did the job for him, and for the Democratic Party.

What does this mean for the elections of 2010? I would predict that Democrats – even in some not-so-Democratic districts – who appeal to the massive populist discontent among the voters will do better than those who follow the conventional wisdom and run to the right of Obama on such issues as health care reform or taxes. This applies especially to the swing voters but could also be significant in rallying the party’s base, which is somewhat disillusioned and needs to be energized. Since this is a non-presidential-year election, voter turnout could easily swing the election."

An interesting fact: the Quran burner in Florida had lived in Germany for two decades before moving back to the U.S. last year

This puts a whole 'nother spin on it. Thanks to Der Spiegel for pointing this out.

"The world is holding its breath -- and it's all down to a tiny Christian fundamentalist church in Florida.

Next Saturday, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Rev. Terry Jones and his colleagues plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran on the church's property in Gainesville, Florida"


"In the United States, Jones has already attracted attention on several occasions as an Islamophobic provocateur. What is less well known is that the pastor led a charismatic evangelical church, the Christian Community of Cologne, in the western German city up until 2009. Last year, however, the members of the congregation kicked founder Jones out, because of his radicalism. One of the church's current leaders, Stephan Baar, also told the German news agency DPA that there had been suspicions of financial irregularities in the church surrounding Jones. "


""Terry Jones appears to have a delusional personality," speculates Schäfer. When he came to Germany in the 1980s, Jones apparently considered Cologne "a city of Hell that was founded by Nero's mother," while he thought Germany was "a key country for the supposed Christian revival of Europe," Schäfer says.

Terry Jones used his powers of persuasion to expand the congregation. By the end, Schäfer estimates, it numbered between 800 and 1,000 people. They had to work in the so-called "Lisa Jones Houses," charitable institutions named after his first wife who has since died, under very poor conditions."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Obama is going to have to make a choice--acknowledge Progressive demands or lose more influence in Washington

The door swings both ways. The reality is that Obama needs Progressive support to be able to have a Congress that can get things done, and he's in no position to dictate demands to Progressives who in fact hold the balance with independent voters of whether he'll be able to do that after November. Ultimately, it's not just about Republicans and Tea Party people taking over and gaining influence in the House and Senate, it's also about whether Obama personally will be able to act in ways that he would like to act, it's about his own personal agenda. He'll be able to work that personal agenda to a greater degree if he acknowledges Progressives and Progressive demands as being legitimate, thereby garnering at least some good will from them. As it stands now, people don't want to be abused and then asked to support candidates that they don't agree with. What have you done for me lately, Obama?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Obama tells Progressive to fuck off

Pretty much.Here:

""When I hear Democrats griping and groaning and saying ... 'the health care plan didn't have a public option', and ... 'the financial reform -- there was a provision here that I think we should have gotten better', or, 'you know what, yes, you ended the war in Iraq, the combat mission there, but you haven't completely finished the Afghan war yet', this or that or the other, I say 'folks, wake up', " Obama told wealthy donors at a Democratic National Committee dinner."

Gee, thanks. Without these same Progressives and a generic advocacy of "Hope" and "Change" that conveniently left out specifics much of the time, allowing people to project onto your campaign what they secretly wanted you to believe (as Tom Tomorrow has pointed out) you wouldn't be in office today.

Taking on Adam Smith


"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens."

"From a regard to his own interest, therefore, the making of bows and arrows grows to be his chief business, and he becomes a sort of armourer. Another excels in making the frames and covers of their little huts or moveable houses. He is accustomed to be of use in this way to his neighbours, who reward him in the same manner with cattle and with venison, till at last he finds it his interest to dedicate himself entirely to this employment, and to become a sort of house-carpenter. "

Not completely. Although this is taken as gospel, one thing that Smith is forgetting is that 'self interest' doesn't necessarily mean money. In societies other than our own, particularly ones that are less centralized and where a sort of community still exists, Recognition, with a big 'R', and respect are valuable commodities. By Recognition I mean the recognition that a person is skilled in whatever it is that they do and by respect I mean the respect that comes from the community in consequence of that Recognition. To be recognized as someone who has great skills in whatever they do and is a good worker is something important in and of itself, but the necessary consequence is that people who are Recognized as such are able to charge more for their skills than other people in the same field. So more money does come from it but getting more money isn't the point. The point is doing good work and contributing to your community through it. I would say that there's a fundamental difference in the sort of motivation between someone who thinks primarily of doing their job just to get money, to feed their self interest, and someone who does their job in order to do a good job and who expects that as part of doing a good job they'll get compensated for it. Using the example of the butcher, you can think of one butcher who's motivated by money making who puts up flashy graphics in his store and runs gimmicks to get people in, but who does a poor job, and of another who's more modest about how he (or she) presents himself, is less ostentatious, but does an excellent job. My guess is that many people would look at the first butcher as being sort of cheap. The spirit of capitalism leads people to lower themselves to the least common denominator and to pander to the worst in human nature in order to make a buck. The least common denominator, an interesting idea, is something that's created rather than given by nature. There are always people out there, in all classes and in all ages, who don't really care about life but just sort of get by on a superficial level. Capitalism promotes this and elevates being like this to one of the most desirable states there is.

A socialist society, by the way, does not necessarily imply that everyone doing the same thing will get exactly the same compensation. It just implies that compensation will be controlled and not become unlimited or out of proportion to the work actually performed.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The fundamental fallacy of the market system expressed in plain language

Quite simply it's this: economists and everyone under the sun acknowledge that the first interest of businessmen and business is to make money for themselves. They then argue that despite this, competition forces businesses to create products and services that people want, therefore mitigating the greed motivation, or at least transforming it into a socially positive thing. Sometimes they acknowledge that regulation is needed to keep greed in check, sometimes they don't. To me all this is highly suspect. I mean, we acknowledge that our economy is founded on people trying to get the most out of others at the least cost for themselves, and then say that that's okay because competition means that the people using the worst methods of conning people will be driven out of business by people, also interested in getting as much as they can, who are offering products that people can honestly use? You can slice it anyway that you want but at the end of the day the point isn't to bring people better products and better services, the point is to make money, and if the market forces some good products to get out there it has a positive side effect, and if doesn't then the motive for greed remains and the side effect isn't present. Oh well.

What would make more sense would be to enforce a system where the profit motive is broken as the primary motivator and replaced by, solely, making good products while retaining a modest profit. And/or a planned socialist economy. But for the moment let's focus on this idea. Businesses should be forced to be socially responsible. Period. End of story. If they complain that the notion of social responsibility is vague and untested I'd counter that the idea that the pursuit of profit above all else as a good for society is something that's vague and untested as well, and that the collective will in this case outweighs the personal profit motive. Or, to put it another way, the collective will outweighs personal greed. And that the rights of minorities against the general will does not include the right to be a greedy bastard.

"‘Horrorcore’ rapper ‘Syko Sam’ pleads guilty to four murders", my take on Horrorcore, being from the Detroit area

Here's the original story.

"An aspiring rapper in the "horrorcore" genre pleaded guilty Monday to killing his 16-year-old girlfriend, her parents and her friend days after the adults chaperoned the teens at a music festival featuring artists rhyming about raping, killing and mutilating people.

Richard "Sam" McCroskey, 21, was sentenced to life in prison as part of his agreement to plead guilty to two counts of capital murder and two counts of first-degree murder. He initially was charged with four counts of capital murder, which could have resulted in the death penalty if convicted on the charges."

My perspective on this is interesting in that I actually listened to folks who were part of the original Horrorcore scene. I listened to ICP and Esham well before there was any major label interest in this stuff and when you could only buy their stuff on cassettes that had green, red, and yellow foil labels. To give some idea of the time frame, "Syko Sam" was only five or six years old when I was listening to this stuff.

The way I see it is this: Detroit in the '80s was extremely violent. There was a crack epidemic that swept through it that fueled ultra-violent gang action. All of this was chronicled by rappers like Esham. But what happened is that white rappers, like ICP, took up the more fantastic elements of it and started to export it to a less black and less urban audience. From ICP, who did live in Detroit albeit near the down river area, were spawned white rappers who had no connection with the city itself, as well as followers whose own connection with the level of violence that they rapped about was nonexistent. What started out as a sort of messed up representation of life became a fantasy land for white kids who wanted to seem hardcore. Even in the time I was listening to them this was already on the rise. I didn't live in the city of Detroit, I lived in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the Detroit area, and yet was listening to people rap violently about the inner city. The difference, if there is one, was that folks developed connections to other people within the city and tried to insinuate themselves into sketchy life down there if they were able.


Fiction overcomes reality and takes on a life of its own that's frankly juvenile when not linked to that reality.

*on edit: wow, looking through the net it turns out that the people of Insane Clown Posse didn't even grow up in Detroit. They grew up in the suburbs and then "Violent J" moved to downriver suburb of Detroit after 9th grade.....but then returned to Ferndale, another suburb. This is interesting as the whole thing when I was listening to them was that they were from Southwest Detroit and therefore really hard core. Instead, the towns that "Violent J" and "Shaggy" were from were Berkeley and Oak Park. I know Berkeley and Oak Park, and Ferndale for that matter. Berkeley is a typical sort of middle-middle class suburb that's surrounded by really wealthy areas, with Royal Oak being somewhat wealthier and Birmingham being a lot wealthier. Oak Park is more working class, but I wouldn't consider it to be really "tough" in the way that some folks on the 'net are implying. It's not Warren, which is where Eminem is from, and which is legitimately a tough place. So in other words ICP is another con job from white rappers who haven't actually experienced the kind of life they talk about and sometimes claim to have experienced. Ferndale, by the way, is one of the centers of hipster indie culture in Detroit, as is Royal Oak. You could argue that times may have changed, but the fact is that Ferndale, where Mr. Violent J lived, now resembles Williamsburg more than the hardcore life of Detroit.

Glenn Greenwald on Democracy Now! about the Democratic media

Although I agree that the Democrats on the whole are avoiding things like Afghanistan, I don't think that there's any particular conspiracy by folks like those on MSNBC to avoid covering them and instead cover the Tea Party candidates. This is what Greenwald seemed to be implying, and I don't use the idea of conspiratorial thinking lightly because it's been used over and over in improper ways to try to discredit the Left. But this is what Greenwald seemed to say. Instead, I think that the lack of focus on Afghanistan and Iraq is an outcome of the basic positions of the commentators. They're less likely to challenge the Democratic establishment, and the Tea Party is a very valid concern, so they focus on the Tea Party while ignoring some of the flaws of the Democratic party. No conspiracy necessary. When it comes to particular Democratic candidates and their campaigns it might be a different issue, not really with O'Donnell since Karl Rove of all people, Bush's fixer and strategist, has been extremely vocal in condemning her, but with Sharon Angle and Harry Reid. Reid is unappealing, and Angle is nuts, so it's in his personal interest to bring the focus on her and divert it from himself. Yet there's a difference between Democratic campaigns and the Democratic media. Rachel Maddow and Olbermann don't actually work for Harry Reid even though they may be less willing to challenge him than other commentators.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fundamentalist Christianity an American disease

Unlike conservative Christianity in other countries, Fundamentalist Christianity in the United States is born out of a kind of intellectual degeneration that's occurred in certain areas, where as a trade off for greater freedom and economic opportunity, and not having anyone tell you what to do, great ignorance has grown up that leads to stupidity manifesting in multiple forms. Little towns established out of nothing in the middle of nowhere by folks looking to be farmers and be prosperous turn into barren mental wastelands because in rejecting the greater culture the people involved also reject the idea of using your brain for anything besides the most banal activities. Into this void walk fundamentalist preachers who are barely educated themselves and who view interpretation of the Bible as a sort of divinatory exercise that makes use of chance meanings that disregards any overall strategy for interpretation that would be recognized by serious Biblical scholars, or clergymen seriously educated in what the Bible is about. And the folks in the towns eat it up. Fundamentalist Christianity in these cases is on par with books like 'The Bible Code', which suggests that there are prophecies specifically relating to late 20th Century America, and Israel, encoded somehow in the Torah. It's also the reason why some folks who are fundamentalist Christians believe that an apocalyptic New World Order is on the way and don't care about who knows that they believe this.

The idea of 'culture' is very subjectively interpreted here. We're not dealing with Bourgeois philistine culture here but something even worse and more primal, the culture of people who established a sort of mind free utopia in the wilds of North America, particularly in what's known as "The Heartland" and who are pissed off when you point out that their delusions based on a kind of primal willful ignorance in fact don't conform to any accepted notions of logic, truth, or fact. Complete, deep, willful ignorance is a good way to describe it. Add the Constitution in their to the Bible, with similar esoteric methods of interpretation that have either nothing or next to nothing to do with how people in the law actually interpret the Constitution and you get a potent recipe for people to try to mess up the rest of world by.

These folks live in a dream world, and if I was less kind I'd suggest that we establish parks for them to live in, label them a protected species, and erect high walls around the reserves so that they would never be allowed to influence the rest of the country outside of their little territory, looking at them as historical curiosities from a bygone age. We have to deal with them seriously, however.

And that's hard, because they believe in things that are manifest lies that can easily be disproven with basic logic but refuse to admit that. Eventually there's going to be some sort of a confrontation with these people, and the issue will be decided: either a Fascistic dictatorship run by morons and idiots who look to Bible verses for predictions of the immediate future, or a more Enlightened country that while respecting these folks freedom of thought and religion refuses to let them run things.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Will AK go for O'Donnell as well?

Some may say I'm beating a dead horse here, and of course I respect all the work AK has done in putting out both lots of classic books by Anarchist authors, works of history on the Anarchist movement, and new books by Anarchist thinkers, but it's still disturbing to me that they'd laughingly support Glenn Beck because he's against the Left, which they seem to be as well. Which is strange, because Anarchists are Leftists, and I thought that fighting corporate power and capitalism was more important than internicine fighting about who's an authoritarian and who isn't. Yet in the face of a straight out Fascist who first treats all progressives like they were Stalinists and then intimates that enemies of America should be shot without trial (the infamous Shoot him in the head clip about a Taliban leader)....and who constantly links the Left to terrorism....AK issues a funny funny open letter to Glenn Beck complaining about the Left really sucking and saying that the book he's featuring that they put out isn't about Communism it's about Anarchism, which is tooootally different than most Leftism altogether. They're totally square, man, and they persecuted people in Spain who we have no connections to but whose writings we read once.

So I wonder if they'll continue to respond to the Tea Party in this way. Christine O'Donnell of Delaware has apparently just given a speech where she has repeatedly referred to liberals as the ruling class and the ruling elite and has put herself on the side of the people, as well as traditional values, religion, and the constitution. Now, given that there is actually populist uproar about the economy and against fat cats, will the folks there, in their public statements, say that they understand the frustration but defend liberal values as well, or will liberals and liberal values get the same treatment as leftists--people who don't matter. Fascism in Mussolini's time made lots of appeals to workers and to the people, and in Nazi Germany the constant theme was that Jews were oppressing workers with Jewish finance capital. Just because a person makes an appeal to The People doesn't mean that they have the right idea, and to quote Jello Biafra's song "Nazi punks--Fuck Off!", for folks who think that there's any sort of similarity between leftist expressions of populism and right wing expressions of populism, when the real Nazis come you'll likely be the first to go.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"What a Wonderful World" The Flaming Lips

Awesome cover. Originally from "In a Priest Driven Ambulance", which has been re-released as part of "The Day they Shot a Hole in the Jesus Egg"

Casual advocacy of breaking labor laws in a book on increasing your productivity called "Thriving in the Workplace"

Part of the "For Dummies" series. Yes, I'm reading "Thriving in the Workplace for Dummies", and yes it has a section where the author casually refers to people as nuisances who point out that labor laws are being broken. The offending paragraph is below, with the sentence in question put in bold. If you're looking at the book itself it's on page 383, Chapter II of "Book V", under the section "Understanding Personality Types", relating to the work place:

"The obsessive worker
This person wants to get things right. He's an information junkie and may be a loner. You can identify this person by the way he devours information -- the more, the better! He'll do outrageous amounts of work, but he doesn't like to make decisions because he's afraid that the decision he makes may be wrong. He also generally functions as the watchdog for the company, being the first to point out that the company or employees aren't following policies or labor laws. Working with the obsessive personality takes a lot of patience. In most cases, the best response is a polite "thank you" when offered advice or suggestions, but don't try to absorb or understand everything that is being said. Try not to feel this person is trying to outsmart you, accept what is factual, and attempt to disregard all the superfluous overlays."

I know, those busy bodies who point out when a company is breaking the fucking law, what pains in the ass.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Maureen Dowd, her new tagline should be....

I'm Irish and Catholic and I'm oppressed, oppressed god damn it! YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO GROW UP IRISH IN AN ANGLO COUNTRY!!!!1!!!!!11!!!Give me a fucking break. There are more people who identify as being of Irish descent in the United States than there are folks who identify as being of English descent. And just because you're IRISH doesn't mean your fucking oppressed, got it? This isn't the 19th century. The fact that ultra-elite WASP, White Anglo Saxon Protestant, resorts in Massachusetts might look at you funny if you walk in there being obviously Irish doesn't mean you're oppressed.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Interesting statements by residents of Ocala, FL, where I lived on September 11th

I wasn't planning on writing about Ocala, where I was living when the attacks of 9/11 occurred, but because of the Quran burner up the highway in Gainesville I found myself on, and so checked out their coverage. Here.

The quotes are so nice: "“Evil tries to destroy hope,” he said, “but we’re a different kind of people.”, and "“I really think the whole of America has lost sight of what happened,” Bruce said. “We need to get back to basics, to believing in ourselves.”"

They obscure things like the fact that an owner of an Ocala furniture store (or was it a carpet store?) who had large display windows facing the street put up in six feet high letters the words "No Muslims" on them using masking tape. Or the general patriotic and xenophobic hysteria which erupted in this very Christian city, often expressed in religious terms, with talk about retribution and violence, with immediate and total support of both the invasion of Afghanistan and the concept of a War on Terror on the Islamic world filling the Star Banner. There wasn't much hope or believing in ourselves, there was lots of blood lust.

I was going to school at Central Florida Community College in Ocala at the time, and heard from a person I was living with that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center before I left for classes, but I thought that it was something like a Cessna and that it was just a kind of freak news story. By the time I got to school I had realized that this could be something much more serious, and folks were walking around talking about how not a Cessna but a jet, and then jets, had hit the World Trade Center. It was utter confusion. There was a TV lounge on I believe the second floor of the library, although it might have been another building, and I eventually made my way to it after getting an idea of what was going on from some people, and sat there watching the coverage of it on CNN for a while.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Jack Chick tells us what he thinks of black people....through what he leaves out of his tract "Adapted for Black Audiences"

Known as "Hard Times". Well, the most obvious thing that Chick has left out is words! Yes sir, in this tract specially "Adapted for black audiences" (scroll down to see it), the story is not just set with an all black cast but in fact has no words spoken by the characters whatsoever until the last couple of cells, where one character says "Jesus loves you! I'll go for help!" and the main character has a "Jesus loves me?" thought bubble. However, before that, there is a flier the boy finds that says "Somebody loves me", and his alcoholic father who kicks him out on the street does say "Hic". It's all told in a sort of wordless mime up until the end though, making one reach for the strange and unnerving induction that Jack Chick believes that black people can't read, and that therefore any tract specifically addressed to them can't have any words in it. In virtually every other comic he's written the characters are extremely wordy, engaged in talk about Christianity, God, Jesus, that whole thing. From a preacher who believes that the Catholic Church created the Holocaust, as well as Islam, something so offensive in his treatment that it should be given a post of its own, looking at black people as being somehow illiterate seems a little misplaced. But, check out the tracts, as well as the Wiki page on Chick, which is where you can find Chick's anti-Catholic, Islam, anti-Hindu etc... hijinks, along with the normal ones of witchcraft, satanism, homosexuality, and rock music.

Yay! The World Economic Forum has downgraded U.S. competitiveness

Which means we're doing something right. Because what the World Economic Forum calls competitiveness really has to do with the amount of regulation of the economy. That and the general size of the industrial base, whereof you have a band of countries underneath the US in competitiveness that are both industrialized and heavily regulated but countries that are largely unregulated but not heavily industrialized further down. You can't really say, for example, that France is not more competitive than Thailand and still be remotely credible, so they don't. What goes unspoken is how those industrial powers that have regulation got there in the first place. In many cases it's by shirking free market policies and instead pursuing active industrial policies designed to foster growth. The full list in PDF format is Here. But be that as it may it's no mystery where the WEF is at. They want deregulation, free markets, and capitalism, and their competitiveness report is largely about making money.

Good old USA, we won't teach your kids but we'll monitor them to make sure they aren't doing anything 'wrong'

Here. A Democracy Now! report on the Philadelphia school system that turned on the cameras of kids laptops, took pictures of them, and captured screen shots. One kid was reportedly called into the principle's office for using drugs (at home) because they saw him eating Mike & Ike candies in his bedroom, which look like colorful pills. Want to make a bet about the level of actual learning going on in that school? Of course, they just instituted this program, so they obviously have money, so they may teach the kids something, but in general this is representative of how the American public school system really is---they care about things that do not matter, like trivial behavior outside of school , while not actually teaching the kids anything inside of school. Puritan control lives on in the ethos of the American school system, where, darnit, the kids will be forced to obey arbitrary and often pointless rules while they don't in fact learn anything. And, of course, the idea that they're not learning anything isn't just a subjective statement but one clearly borne out both by international rankings and by the overwhelming ignorance of large segments of the population about basic matters.

In other news from Democracy Now! a pre-school in the Bay Area has tagged their children with RFID chips, the same type of chips used to monitor cattle. Why? So they don't have to take attendance for the overwhelming 200 pre-schoolers that they have to deal with. I suppose that if a kid is actually missing, i.e. that they fucked up enough to let a kid go missing, that they can chase them down with an electronic sensor to locate them, but wouldn't it be easier for them to just do their jobs and keep track of kids physically, and also to physically count the kids, as opposed to taking the lazy way out and putting all the emphasis on electronic technology? And the cost is $150,000 for 200 kids, or $750 per kid. Man, let the Cheetos eating begin.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

More from Handsome Dick Manitoba and the Dictators

California Sun, done in a style that entertains as it destroys the song itself.

Funny, and intentionally funny, song by the Dictators: "Cars and Girls"

Headed by "Handsome Dick Manitoba"

Cars, Girls, Surfing the American Dream.

Aristotle on what pleasure is---a damn good definition.

Pure Aristotle, and so not especially easy, but worth the effort. This is from the D.P. Chase translation of the Nicomachean Ethics, from Book X. The summary, at least in my own words, is this: that pleasure isn't really something you get in and of itself but that it's a byproduct from other things you do, so to get a lot of pleasure engage in the activities, or the 'workings' as Aristotle refers to them as, that have pleasure as byproducts, but not as their stated purpose. Good advice.

"Now since every Percipient Faculty works upon the Object
answering to it, and perfectly the Faculty in a good state
upon the most excellent of the Objects within its range (for
Perfect Working is thought to be much what I have described;
and we will not raise any question about saying "the Faculty"
works, instead of, "that subject wherein the Faculty resides "), in each case the best Working is that of
the Faculty in its best state upon the best of the Objects
answering to it. And this will be, further, most perfect and
most pleasant: for Pleasure is attendant upon every Percipient
Faculty, and in like manner on every intellectual
operation and speculation; and that is most pleasant which
is most perfect, and that most perfect which is the Working
of the best Faculty upon the most excellent of the Objects
within its range.
And Pleasure perfects the Working. But Pleasure does
not perfect it in the same way as the Faculty and Object of
Perception do, being good; just as health and the physician are not in similar senses causes of a healthy state.
And that Pleasure does arise upon the exercise of every
Percipient Faculty is evident, for we commonly say that
sights and sounds are pleasant; it is plain also that this is
especially the case when the Faculty is most excellent and
works upon a similar Object: and when both the Object and
Faculty of Perception are such, Pleasure will always exist,
supposing of course an agent and a patient.
Furthermore, Pleasure perfects the act of Working not in
the way of an inherent state but as a supervening finish,
such as is bloom in people at their prime. Therefore so long
as the Object of intellectual or sensitive Perception is such
as it should be and also the Faculty which discerns or realises
the Object, there will be Pleasure in the Working: because 1175a
when that which has the capacity of being acted on and that
which is apt to act are alike and similarly related, the same
result follows naturally."

International Burn a Quran Day on 9/11.....I used to live in that city, and it's not what you think

The story is this: Dove World Outreach Center is located in Gainesville, Florida, yet Gainesville isn't your typical small town in the middle of nowhere. Instead, it's a small city, home to the University of Florida, and quite liberal. It even has a gay mayor currently. Size wise it's about on par with Ann Arbor in Michigan. The thing is that it's surrounded by conservative Christians who resent the presence of the University, yet, ironically, are often economically dependent on it for jobs in one way or another. So every once and a while they decide to do something provocative, something that they know will make the liberal folks of Gainesville upset, and the Quran burning day is one of those provocative acts. Unfortunately, it's gone from just being a local thing that's distasteful to being something that's getting both national and international coverage, which probably goes beyond the wildest dreams of the people who started it and who are running it. They most likely want lots of confrontation.

As for the Quran itself, they might not know this, or they may have found it out after they announced the burn a Quran day, but the Quran is looked at in Islam not as just a book, but as the mother of the books, as the sort of primal source of not just all other revelation but of all knowledge itself. The Quran is the physical manifestation of a primal Quran that existed before time and that contained the seeds of all this wisdom in its writings. By burning Qurans, they're burning a sort of primal knowledge of both the sacred world and the material world, according to Islam. Not a good thing to do.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Good 'old Vandana Shiva, has a new link up, turns out she lied about the UN's position on organic farming

I see there's a new link on Common Dreams to a video of her. Haven't seen it, but the whole Vandana Shiva thing reminds me of an interchange on here about her from a few months ago where, as part of the justification for Shiva being right, the person who I was engaging with said that the fact that she speaks more than one language is one of the reasons why she's right. I was being insulting to Shiva, and shouldn't have been so bad, but my being insulting does not equal the other person being right, and saying that a person who speaks another language and is from a third world country is necessarily right because of that is pretty damn weak. Shiva also has some quite interesting opinions, like this fantastic UN study out there that supposedly says that organic farming would be cheaper than conventional agriculture if implemented on a large enough scale, which seems to go against all available evidence. Where is this UN study that supposedly exists? Why hasn't agribusiness in the US magically gone all organic, and why, for that matter is organic food so damn expensive if it's really cheaper to grow than mass produced agriculture? Inquiring minds want to know, and laugh. Because just saying that a UN report exists out there somewhere doesn't mean much if you don't provide links to it, its name, when it was made, etc..Oh, in fact, it turns out that Shiva is misrepresenting what the UN said, according to the UN itself:

"Organic farming alone will not ensure global food security, cautions UN agency

10 December 2007 – While organic farming produces nutritious food and represents a growing source of income for developed and developing countries, it cannot be relied on to ensure global food security, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

Responding to recent press reports suggesting that the agency endorses organic agriculture as the solution to world hunger, FAO’s Director-General said there was no reason to believe that the practice can substitute for conventional farming systems to feed the world’s hungry.

“We should use organic agriculture and promote it,” said Jacques Diouf. “But you cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers.”

In 2006 organic farming – which excludes any chemical inputs – generated some $24 billion in sales in the European Union, United States, Canada and Asia. Roughly 2 per cent of the world’s cropland was farmed organically in 2005.

The data on the productivity of organic versus conventional farming show that the potential of organic agriculture is far from large enough to feed the world, states FAO.

Generally, products that are grown organically attract higher prices than those grown conventionally, boosting farmers’ incomes. However, the large-scale investments involved in this method of agriculture are often beyond the reach of most poor farmers in developing countries.

Mr. Diouf noted that careful use of chemical inputs, especially fertilizers, could help significantly boost food production in areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, where the soil suffers from low fertility and needs added nutrients.

“However, chemical inputs must be used with care,” he cautioned. “You have to choose the right inputs, right amounts, and apply them in the right way and at the right time.”

The Director-General stressed that there is no one solution to feeding the world’s hungry and poor, noting that ensuring present and future food security will require increased public and private investments, the right policies and technologies, knowledge and capacity building, grounded in sound ecosystem management.

Ensuring the world’s future food supply will be the focus of a high-level meeting hosted by FAO next year entitled “Feeding the World in 2050.”"

Friday, September 03, 2010

An oldie but goodie about a famous aritst: "Salvador Dali, Fascist" by Vincente Navarro

Which reveals that Mr. Dali, who was always a great self promoter, was a lifelong supporter of Franco. Here

"For every political assassination carried out by Mussolini's fascist regime, there were 10,000 such assassinations by the Franco regime. More than 200,000 people were killed or died in concentration camps between 1939 (when Franco defeated the Spanish Republic, with the military assistance of Hitler and Mussolini) and 1945 (the end of World War II, an anti-fascist war, in Europe). And 30,000 people remain desaparecidos in Spain; no one knows where their bodies are. The Aznar government (Bush's strongest ally in continental Europe) has ignored the instructions of the U.N. Human Rights Agency to help families find the bodies of their loved ones. And the Spanish Supreme Court, appointed by the Aznar government, has even refused to change the legal status of those who, assassinated by the Franco regime because of their struggle for liberty and freedom, remain "criminals."

Now the Spanish establishment, with the assistance of the Catalan establishment, wants to mobilize international support for their painter, Dali, portraying him as a "rebel," an "anti-establishment figure" who stood up to the dominant forces of art. They compare Dali with Picasso. A minor literary figure in Catalonia, Baltasar Porcel (chairman of the Dali year commission), has even said that if Picasso, "who was a Stalinist" (Porcel's term), can receive international acclaim, then Dali, who admittedly supported fascism in Spain, should receive his own homage." Drawing this equivalency between Dali and Picasso is profoundly offensive to all those who remember Picasso's active support for the democratic forces of Spain and who regard his "Guernica" (painted at the request of the Spanish republican government) as an international symbol of the fight against fascism and the Franco regime.

Dali supported the fascist coup by Franco; he applauded the brutal repression by that regime, to the point of congratulating the dictator for his actions aimed "at clearing Spain of destructive forces" (Dali's words). He sent telegrams to Franco, praising him for signing death warrants for political prisoners. The brutality of Franco's regime lasted to his last day. The year he died, 1975, he signed the death sentences of four political prisoners. Dali sent Franco a telegram congratulating him. He had to leave his refuge in Port Lligat because the local people wanted to lynch him. He declared himself an admirer of the founder of the fascist party, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera. He used fascist terminology and discourse, presenting himself as a devout servant of the Spanish Church and its teaching--which at that time was celebrating Queen Isabella for having the foresight to expel the Jews from Spain and which had explicitly referred to Hitler's program to exterminate the Jews as the best solution to the Jewish question. Fully aware of the fate of those who were persecuted by Franco's Gestapo, Dali denounced Bunuel and many others, causing them enormous pain and suffering.

None of these events are recorded in the official Dali biography and few people outside Spain know of them. It is difficult to find a more despicable person than Dali. He never changed his opinions. Only when the dictatorship was ending, collapsing under the weight of its enormous corruption, did he become an ardent defender of the monarchy. And when things did not come out in this way, he died."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The new translation of Seraphita by Balzac to be put out by Dedalus Books later this year is eagerly awaited

Home page of Dedalus, with a stylish book, a cigar, and glass of Absinthe on a table. I like these people. ***on edit, wait, it's not a new translation, it's the old translation reissued. Oh well. Dedalus still rocks, and is still the finest purveyor of Decadent and Symbolist literature out there, one that's completely unique in its focus. And they're scholars as well, which means that you don't just get rehashes of the classics that everyone knows are sort of 'Decadent' but real works that are meaningful within the history of the movement itself. In other words, stuff you might not be familiar with but that's really good and that you should read.

Dedalus' "Seraphita" page is Here.

The subsection of their general catalog page entitled "Decadence/The Empire of the Senses" is Here

Great Ted Rall column saying that personal political opinions should be legally protected with regards to work

Here "The Libertarian War on Free Speech". Rall's basic point, which is well taken, is that a person can't be fired for their religion, so why should it be permissible to fire them for their political beliefs? Currently, there's really no such protection, meaning that while you have the right to believe whatever you want politically, you can't write about it on the internet or else, if you're unlucky with regards to employers, you won't be able to work. Of course, such a thing is hard to prove in that employers have the excuse of 'fit' in deciding whether to hire or to reject you. It's a little hint to tow the line of the mainstream. Imagine if a similar standard was applied to religion: you can be whatever religion you want, but we won't hire you if you're not a Protestant Christian. I have an interest in this because I have opinions that are considered radical and outré, but in point of fact this has little bearing on whether or not I can do a particular job. Here's Rall:

"A letter from Joseph Just was typical, but better written than most (which is why I quote it here):

"Ms. Thomas has been denied not one of her constitutional rights. She faces no fine, legal censure or criminal charges for saying what she said. Her immunity from the threat of such sanction (rather than immunity from being, shall we say, 'asked to resign') is what the First Amendment protects. The only reprisal Ms. Thomas has materially suffered (in addition to the public opprobrium directed at her) is the loss of her job at Hearst. She held her job at the pleasure of her employers, and if they decide that due her comments they no longer want her around, they are not obligated to retain her. She is not--indeed, none of us is--entitled to a forum...particularly a paid one."

Legally, Just is right. The First Amendment does not protect us from economic reprisals. I was arguing that employers ought to choose not to fire people for speaking their minds.

story continues below

Unfortunately, employers seem to be whacking people for what they say outside of work more than ever. Countless workers have gotten canned for statements they made on non-work-related blogs and social networking sites. Even more worrisome, many citizens don't have a problem with that. Even self-described leftists have embraced the libertarian extremist view that you have the right to say whatever you want--but don't expect to be able to feed yourself or your family if you do.

Posters at Democratic Underground, a left-of-center discussion site frequented by that rarest and most appreciated of creature, balls-out Democrats, has long been a community I've been able to count upon. On the Thomas issue, however, they sound like Sean Hannity. "Private organizations aren't and shouldn't be required to put up with speech they don't agree with," said one poster." "Free speech is not guaranteed to be speech without consequences," wrote another.

"Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom from criticism," argued a third. "It means that you can say what you want without the threat of being thrown in jail."

Funny, these same libertarians would have freaked out if the artists who created the Danish Mohammed cartoons had all gotten fired by their newspaper.

True, the First Amendment doesn't protect your right to keep your gig as a community banker even though you wear a swastika T-shirt and whistle the Horst Wessel song on your lunch break.

But it ought to.

If the First Amendment is to truly protect freedom of speech, it must allow Americans to say and think whatever the hell they want, no matter how outrageous. So the First Amendment should be expanded to prohibit economic reprisals. "

The Marquis de Sade, decadence, Quills

I remember seeing the film adaptation of the movie 'Quills', about de Sade, and being impressed with one particular scene where the woman who has befriended him clutches a copy of 'Justine' to her heart with both hands, just published, closer her eyes, and smiles. As someone who has actually read 'Justine', and in particular the version called "The New Justine"--which was the one that the character was holding--I can't help but wonder what part of it made her sigh. Was it one of the times when Justine is repeatedly and violently raped by men who have presented themselves as benefactors? Possibly the scene where the monks isolated in an abbey for wealthy but degenerate clergy men torture a pregnant woman? Justine is an interesting book, but the idea of both it and of Sade's writing in general has no relation to the reality of it. Philip Kaufman, the director, seems to think that what Sade was writing about was sex with a little bit of spanking, a little bit of bondage, involved. Sort of a kind of naughty sexuality. In point of fact, of all of the sex scenes in Justine I would wager that either none or possibly only one or two are actually consensual. Justine isn't just played with naughtily, she's beaten and raped over and over again, with the brutality not covered up by some sort of late 18th century date rape euphemism. No, things happen like she trusts a guy to help her out, she turns her back, he punches her in the head, takes her down, and brutally rapes her. And that's just one of the first ones. As said, the monks, in what is probably the darkest section of the book, literally have a contest about who can torture women most creatively.

Part of the point, or actually, most of the point, is to contrast Justine's view of human beings as basically good and benevolent with Sade's perception of real life as being mercilessly violent and cruel. The characters often deliver philosophical monologues about the nature of the real world after they've finished raping Justine. But even so it's hard to see Sade making the book even more brutal against women unless he just turned it into something based on mass murder. Either way, it's not exactly naughty-naughty sexuality that's being dealt with and certainly not, "Oh, he's such a good writer, he warms my heart" swooning such as the female character in Quills does over "The New Justine". But then, the movie was made by an American, so I suppose these things are to be expected, especially with Hollywood's titillation fixation, which until recently just hinted at the naughty and forbidden in order to keep people's attention.

In any case, despite the subject matter, The New Justine is a good read, if you can withstand it. Especially for the philosophical dialogues, which are very interesting if ultimately very depressing.

As for censorship, personally, my feeling is that it doesn't have a place in modern society. Not to say something that makes light of real suffering in the world, but if a person wants to write a fascist novel about raping little children while praising Hitler they should be allowed to it, have it printed, and have it sold.

But that's just me.

Now on Twitter.

Click the button on the right to get to the Feed.

Remy de Gourmount: Decadence and other Essays on the Culture of Ideas

A wonderfully decadent collection, available for free Here at Google Books. When I checked out Remy de Gourmont I didn't really have any idea of what I was dealing with. I knew that he was one of the Decadents from France, but I don't think that I was prepared for his point of view. The essays start out so simply, they have innocent sounding titles, but then things take a turn for the worse and enter territory way beyond that which you'd expect. Take the first essay "The Disassociation of Ideas". It starts out pretty simple:
"There are two ways of thinking. One can either accept current ideas and associations of ideas, just as they are, or else undertake, on his own account, new associations or, what is rare, original disassociations. The intelligence capable of such efforts is, more or less, according to the degree, or according to the abundance and variety of its other gifts, a creative intelligence"

Who would have thought that a main point of the essay would be to praise unbridled carnality and to disprove the idea that Justice is a relevant concept in today's world?

This is but one example. I heartily recommend it, even if I don't agree with all of Gourmont's conclusions, for example the whole justice being wrong business.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Dostoevsky's "Grand Inquisitor" and Stalin

I think, based on my understanding of Stalin and Stalinism, not as an abstract bad things but as something that proceded in a particular way, that Stalin's mode of action and aims can be understood as being similar to those of the Grand Inquisitor.

For people who don't know, the basic story, which is an extract from the Brothers Karamozov, goes like this: it's Spain during the Inquisition. Christ returns to earth and starts preaching. He's arrested by the Inquisition and faces the Grand Inquisitor. Christ himself says nothing but the Grand Inquisitor gives a lengthy speech talking about what he's doing, why he's doing it, and what he hopes to accomplish---and why the appearance of Christ could be the undoing of it.

The crux of the matter is that the Inquisitor in Dostoevsky's story wasn't being cruel solely for cruelty's sake. Instead, his aim was to provide a basically Christian society where people could be happy. Where people could be content and live in a stable, predictable, way. The brutality, the torture, the executions, were all in the service of clearing the way for the manifestation of this state on earth by weeding out all those tendencies that might oppose the maintenance of this state of affairs. The Inquisitor admits that this is not really the Christian ideal in its classical sense, but that it's close and presumably good nonetheless, and possibly the best that folks can hope for in this world. So says the Inquisitor. In other words, he wanted to destroy Christianity in order to create a roughly Christian society.

One of the truths of Stalin's approach was that he sought to destroy half of Soviet society by terror and violence in order to build his ideal of what a completely socialist state should look like. By relentless purging of the opposition and of any power group that could articulate a different vision of society, along with the forced discipline of the people at large, he sought to manifest his idea of pure socialism, accomplished by a total authoritarian revolution in the name of the people. This is often referred to as the Revolution from Above, and should be contrasted with the Russian Revolution as a whole and the Bolshevik state that came out of it. Stalin literally killed the Revolution in order to try to ostensibly 'save' or 'build' socialism, but in reality to impose his idea of socialism on the country.

The Bolshevik state itself before Stalin was not as monolithic as people think. It was sensitive to changes in opinion and internal force and could have been reformed, with independent organs having more power and the Party having less of an influence over things. It could have gone in many democratic directions, although the particular direction of Anarchism, which is what Anarchists mostly care about, was probably unlikely. Stalin changed all of that by committing Soviet society to an ultra-revolution so thorough that it marked it throughout, with Gorbachev undoing some of the damage yet at the same time losing control and letting Russia implode. In fact, the legacy of Stalin has lasted longer than the Soviet Union itself. Russia in the form of the Russian Federation is still highly influenced by the political and cultural legacy of Stalin and Stalinism. Putin is a kind of neo-Stalinist in his stylistic approach to both ruling and to culture, with economics only slightly but significantly entering into the picture.

Stalin killed the entire party, the people who could have lead the Soviet Union in a different direction, and sought to remake the State in his own image. Yes, I'm not making the doctrinaire denunciation of all things Soviet, but, you know, Stalin wouldn't have killed them for no reason. If everyone was just chummy authoritarians with no differences between them, who were just happy to be dictators, Stalin wouldn't have needed to execute and purge them in order to accomplish his goals.

In any case, the Christ in the "Grand Inquisitor" could easily represent the sincere socialist, a member of the Church of socialism, who could have appeared in Stalin's time, but who could have been arrested as a traitor since he didn't sign onto the particular vision of the future that Stalin was offering.

I'll never be an 'Ex-Communist'

It's something I vowed when I first became associated with the Communist movement and it's something that I've stuck to. My first organized political involvement was with a group that had split off from the Communist Party USA and had moved towards much more democratic positions. Unfortunately, many members of this group have since gone back to the CPUSA. In any case, the group represented the more democratic currents in the international Communist movement, particularly in regards to Eurocommunism, like the Communism that was and is prevalent in Italy, as well as Glasnost and Perestroika. But getting back to the point, I decided then that I would never become one of those people who seemingly suddenly get religion, or who experience a sort of Saul of Tarsus conversion on the road to Damascus and suddenly disown all of their beliefs wholesale.
I believe people who identify with something and who fight for something for years on end and suddenly declare that they were wrong are either being dishonest to others or to themselves. You don't just disown beliefs like that. Sure, if it was a flirtation of small duration, maybe, but not if it's been part of your worldview for a substantial period of time. It's always politically convenient to apostatize yourself if you're a leftist. The Right will always welcome contrite and apologetic ex-Lefties who tell stories about how wrong they were. These people are like Judas betraying Christ for his thirty pieces of gold. Sometimes people's opinions change, but when it happens in a genuine way it happens gradually, or is triggered by something very concrete, like Khruschev's secret speech, which lead to the defection of many people from the Communist cause but not necessarily from the Left itself.

Me, my opinions have changed. I started out with my core beliefs as a socialist humanist, identified the sort of 'revolutionary humanism' in the Communist movement that I believe either Che Guevara or Castro talked about, but eventually criticized even the Eurocommunist movement for residual Stalinism in its worldview, eventually moving on to more libertarian expressions of what I believed in. But there was no sudden break. Instead, there was a logical series of steps that lead from where I was to where I am now, with lots of stuff intervening in the in between time. I started this whole involvement, ironically, in the months leading up to September 11th, and started to criticize residual Stalinism in the post-9/11 era, regarding the sort of easy attitude towards implicit nationalism that certain Stalinist doctrines have. Very topical when the country that you're in is devolving into a patriotic frenzy.

But, I like to think that I'm still connected to the general Communist worldview, particularly that part of the worldview that didn't view the Brezhnev era Soviet Union with much enthusiasm but instead put its hopes in the Communist parties existing outside of it. I have a more libertarian approach to things now, but I think that understanding this sort of context has been a valuable political education.

Profit a social construct as well

Why? Because despite what people say about The Market, profit is always a choice by companies. Profit is simply the money you make above and beyond costs, and the way you make it is by pricing your products higher than what they cost to produce. Granted, when you do this you face competitors who are willing to take less profits in order to reduce prices and sell more than you, which in turn pressures you to reduce the amount of profit you make off of each item you sell, but companies still choose to make profit and in fact to try to make as much profit as possible, which devolves into a combination of profit in through a markup in prices and a high volume of sale. One of the classic question in economics, or at least what used to be one of the classic questions, is why exactly profit exists in a competitive market? If a market is perfectly competitive, with lots of players, the amount of markup that a company can afford to put on their products is reduced to zero. In practice, it's 'marginal utility' that determines how low profits go, which means it's as low as it can go before people are willing to throw in the towel and not participate in the industry anymore. As you go from perfectly competitive to less and less competitive there's more and more opportunity for companies to maximize profit through higher prices in the form of more takings. People point to monopoly as the be all and end all for this, but there are lots of levels short of monopoly where profits through takings can be made.

Since profit is determined by takings modified by volume sold, a common approach it to optimize volume sold, or market share, in a semi-competitive economy, one with imperfect competition, meaning that there aren't enough players to reduce the amount of takings to zero. Maximizing market share opens up another layer of social construction. On the one hand the ideal is to fairly cut costs in production and increase the desirability of the product sold so that more people buy it, at a lower cost. Desirability in theory would mean a generally better product in terms of both quality and satisfying a need. But in practice, companies adhere to norms about what's a legitimate way to cut costs and what's a legitimate way to get people to buy more stuff that are frequently dishonest and immoral. And no one is forcing them to do it. In the United States we're very permissive in what we think it's 'right' for a company to do, because our culture has been saturated with the idea that the market is always right, and that it's the market that 'forces' people to do this. In other countries different norms apply, and things that would be considered legitimate business practice in the U.S. are looked at as completely out of bounds there. In reality it's not market forces, but people's response to market forces, that determines what businesses do. The pressure is to make a buck, and it's the call of the business community about how they want to go about doing this, about what's right and what's wrong with regards to actions taken, with the consensus frequently being that there are no rules for right and wrong, for moral and immoral behavior, and that any action taken to raise sales and cut costs is justified. It's a moral-free zone, with the idea of social norms shaping business behavior being routinely ridiculed by economists as being not scientific. The problem is that underlying mainstream U.S. economics is an implicit series of very un-scientific values that in fact shape what economists think is proper and not proper for companies to engage in. The absence of morality is still a type of moralism. You can't get away from the human factor and you can't get away from the impact that shared values in the business community have on business behavior.

And let's talk about costs for a second. But first, maybe it would be better if business' takings in the form of profit were regulated in some way and not left up to the discretion of the businesses themselves to set. Ok, back to costs. When a business breaks even, doesn't lose money, doesn't make money, they cover their costs. Now, when most people hear the word cost they think of the cost of producing one unit of whatever is being sold. Fair enough, but costs also reflect the amount of money paid to both workers and managers, and executives. A company simply breaking even could still be paying its CEO a million dollars a year. Of course, one of the ways to cut costs would be to cut executive pay dramatically, but, well, it's the executives who set their own pay rate and they're not really willing to compromise. It's good to set your own salary. Of course, a board is theoretically in charge of this, but most boards have taken the kool-aid that says that enormous compensation for executives is needed to attract people with skills, something promulgated by executives themselves. And the inclusion of very high salaries in the normal cost of doing business isn't just limited to CEOs. It percolates down through the pyramid, with folks closer to the top necessarily being insulated from cost cutting measures because in one way or another they run the place. The pyramid's base is middle management and to a certain extent lower management. Workers aren't part of the pyramid at all, unless they're very skilled white collar workers, and so when costs are cut they're the people whose wages suffer, who get laid off, whose work place becomes unsafe, and whose hours increase. This is because they're not part of the managerial pyramid and don't have any influence over it whatsoever. Unions are the only way to get some influence, and they're of course vehemently opposed by management, for that very reason, the same management that wouldn't consider putting its salary under the same microscope that workers wages are put under.

So 'necessary costs' and 'necessary cost cutting measures' are socially constructed as well. It's a 'necessary cost cutting measure' to cut employee pay, to lay off people, while the management retains sky high salaries and bonuses, which are all considered to be 'necessary costs'. No one is forcing them to behave this way. It's a choice, one that's established by the character of the corporate culture in the United States and elsewhere voluntarily, in response to the profit motive and to the desire to maximize sales and market share.