Friday, December 30, 2011

"Fox asks Facebook users if Jews killed Jesus"

Albeit Fox Latin America coming out of Argentina.But,Jesus. This is the core historical motivator of anti-Semitism, and it's ugly for any Fox affiliate to bring it up. Without the drama surrounding Jesus, people who are Jewish would be just another ethnic and religious group among many.

In defense of the Hipster

In reference to Capitol Hill, Seattle. They say that you're derivative, that you're pretentious, but creating new works of art always looks pretentious. To create you have to have the pretension that you have something new to say. Creation always looks pretentious to the dominant culture. Any creation involves taking a chance of being derivative, of mining the past. But every band plays someone else's songs before they play their own, and every artist follows another before going their own way. So do your thing, hipster, as long you do it with a pure intent, and don't let anyone say you're wrong.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Straights of Hormuz

Why do we think we get to dictate to Iran just what is and is not 'acceptable'?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

NSK, Laibach, and Romantic Irony, Schlegel

Or, an excuse to talk about Romantic irony.

Laibach and NSK create works ironic commentaries that are camouflaged as innocuous examples of the subjects themselves. Irony, in this case, refers to a higher species of irony than is usually encountered.

The sort of irony they draw from on is dealt with by Friedrich Schlegel in his "Critical Fragments"

"42. Philosophy is the real homeland of irony, which one would like to define as logical beauty: for wherever philosophy appears in oral or written dialogues -- and is not simply confined rigid systems -- there irony should be asked for and provided. And even the Stoics considered urbanity a virtue. Of course, there is also a rhetorical species of irony which, sparingly used, has an excellent effect, especially in polemics; but compared to the sublime urbanity of the Socratic muse, it is like the pomp of the most splendid oration set over against the noble style of an ancient tragedy. [...]"

What Schlegel is talking about in relation to the Socratic dialogues is the process whereby a person is brought to a different awareness of his original question through a series of subsequent questions that eventually circle back to the start. At the end of a Socratic dialogue, a person sees his question in a new context, in a new and expanded environment, and sees how that question was limited. The awareness of the original, very profoundly asked question, as limited within a greater field of meaning is ironic in a higher sense. It's not just saying that the person who asked it was stupid, making fun of him, but provides material to help better answer what the question may have been concerned with in a much more informative way. The dialogue doesn't lead to a dead end, but opens up paths to new meaning. The question, when re-presented becomes an ironic statement, because both its initial limited intent, its expanded form, and the expanded realm of meaning that it's contextualized within, are now all known. The butt of the joke is the individual who buys into the initial question without being aware of any of the other factors. It's the ignorance of this type of person that becomes the object of humor, albeit one that can be easily overcome if informed about the joke. Irony can become instruction, as the Socratic dialogues demonstrate.

For instance, NSK created a famous "National Day of Youth" poster competition entry. They submitted a Nazi poster without the Nazi symbols and with Yugoslav ones in their place, and their poster won. This can be read in a few ways. First, there's the crude thrill of tricking the Yugoslav authorities to fall for Nazi propaganda, generically calling them idiots. Then, there's the meaning viewed within the expanded social and political context that the mistake took place in, that the propaganda apparatus of a (somewhat liberal) Communist State, was unable to differentiate between imagery supportive of it and imagery derived from its mortal enemy that members of the State had fought against during partisan warfare in World War II. The latter meaning was very intentionally included by NSK.

Looked at it from this perspective, the National Day of Youth poster is an ironic commentary more in line with ancient tragedy than with the pomp of splendid oration, as Schlegel puts it. That a self conscious parody of totalitarian art was accepted by the same apparatus as being the winning entry is a profoundly tragic commentary on the system that goes well beyond cheap points scored by rhetorical flourishes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A tribute to Robin Held, of the Frye Art Museum

She's departing as curator, and I have to say that she helped make the Frye the kind of cutting edge artistic institution you expect to find in Seattle, but, sadly, often don't. Starting off with her very excellent NSK exhibit, she continued doing provocative and insightful work throughout her tenure. As someone who loves NSK and its critique of totalitarianism, it was wonderful to see a group of it's members talk about the movement's work during the opening festivities. The show was a shot in the arm for avant-garde art. It showcased works that went far beyond stale, familiar, all pervasive, abstract expressionism in their conception and execution.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Hunt for Red October and the illusion of Reaganite war mongering

I Saw "The Hunt for Red October" on TV over the holidays. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, but now I see as just another bearer of Reaganite illusion. The upstepping of the Cold War during in the 80s, a response to the anti-war tolerance of the '60s and '70s, was based on a figment of the Republican elite's imagination. Back then, up to the Gulf War, you had a string of movies that played on fears of the "Evil Empire". To think that the Soviet Union under Gorbachev was intent on conquering the world, and so must be patriotically opposed, was laughably out of touch with reality. We portrayed the Soviets as evil Slavic conspirators while Gorbachev was allowing more freedom of speech and restructuring the economy. If there had been some relation of the rhetoric to reality, maybe there would have been some value to it, but there was no subtlety in pop culture portrayals of the Cold War. Much like the post 9/11 Bush years, in the '80s, media reality overcame physical reality and depending on your point of view, you either lived in a reality in touch with actual events, or one that was objectively, bizarrely, false.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tea Party unhappy about Boehner funding unemployment benefits and medicare

For two months without an offset of government spending elsewhere. I wonder how this will play in the heartland, because unemployment and Medicare aren't social programs perceived as mostly benefiting blacks and other minorities. When it comes to white people potentially not getting their unemployment benefits and old white people not getting Medicare, I'm sure the shoe is on the other foot, and that they won't like it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Excellent Stephen Cohen article about the Soviet Union: The Soviet Union's Afterlife, from The Nation

His book "Rethinking the Soviet Experience" comes highly recommended, and he's a legitimate academic, not a Stalinist. The article is Here In fact, he is/was an advocate of reform and Perestroika. Here are a few choice paragraphs taken out of context:

"In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was tragically lost—a historic opportunity, thwarted for centuries, to achieve the nation’s political and economic modernization by continuing, with or without Gorbachev, his Soviet reformation. While the Soviet breakup led American specialists back to cold war–era concepts of historical inevitability, it convinced many of their Russian counterparts that “there are always alternatives in history” and that a Soviet reformation had been one of the “lost alternatives”—a chance to democratize and marketize Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991.

***

The economic dimensions of Belovezh were no less portentous. Dissolving the Union without any preparatory stages shattered a highly integrated economy. It was a major cause of the collapse of production across the former Soviet territories, which fell by almost half in the 1990s. That in turn contributed to mass poverty and its attendant social pathologies, which still blight Russian life today.

The economic motivation behind Soviet elite support for Yeltsin in 1991, as opposed to the “socialist” Gorbachev, was even more ramifying. As a onetime Yeltsin supporter wrote thirteen years later, “Almost everything that happened in Russia after 1991 was determined to a significant extent by the divvying-up of the property of the former USSR.” Here too there were foreboding historical precedents. Twice before in twentieth-century Russia the nation’s fundamental property had been confiscated—the landlords’ vast estates and bourgeoisie’s industrial and other large assets in the revolution of 1917–18, and then the land and livestock of 25 million peasant farmers in Stalin’s collectivization drive. The aftereffects of both episodes plagued the country for years to come.

***

But the most influential pro-Yeltsin intellectuals, who played leading roles in his post-Soviet government, and who were hailed in Washington as “real reformers,” were neither coincidental fellow travelers nor real democrats. Since the late 1980s, they had insisted that free-market economics and large-scale private property would have to be imposed on a recalcitrant Russian society by an “iron hand” regime. This “great leap,” as they extolled it, would entail “tough and unpopular” policies resulting in “mass dissatisfaction” and thus would necessitate “anti-democratic measures.” Like the property-seeking elites, they saw Russia’s newly elected legislatures as an obstacle. Admirers of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had brutally imposed economic change on Chile, they said of Yeltsin, now their leader, “Let him be a dictator!” Not surprisingly, they cheered (along with the Clinton administration and the American mainstream media) when he used tanks to destroy Russia’s popularly elected Parliament."

Dreaming of the past:Russian Revolution

If only the Bolsheviks had absorbed some of the ideology of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, who were more decentralized, less dogmatic, and more in line with the people, or, even better, if only the Socialist Revolutionaries would have absorbed some of the positive aspects of Bolshevism, such as its attempt at a deep theoretical understanding of society, while still rejecting the Vanguard, the banning of political parties, and the centralization of the State, things could have been much different.

The Left Socialist Revolutionaries, or Left SRs, staged an uprising that Anarchists took part in as junior partners that threatened the Bolshevik state and sa Lenin non-fatally shot by a Left SR.

Friday, December 23, 2011

An article rewrite: Hegel's idea of "Mind" as it relates to logic

The original was posted a few weeks ago.

Mind: Hegel's logical category in plain English

The term Mind in Hegel's thought confused me until recently. Hegel saw logic, dialectical knowledge, and Mind as three phases or 'moments' of knowledge, as three aspects of knowledge that contain within them all potential meaning.

Logic refers to logic with no reference to the external world. Dialectical knowledge refers not to the dialectical method but to knowledge gained from empirical reality. Scientific knowledge is dialectical knowledge, as are practical rules of thumb, because it emerges from a dialogue or interaction with the world itself.
According to Hegel, the stage of knowledge labeled "Mind, Geist or "Spirit", is produced by applying logic to dialectical knowledge, and is a higher form of knowledge. But in what way, and what exactly does it have to do with "Mind"?

How is Mind different from dialectical knowledge? If you're looking at something scientifically there's logic involved, but if you take a pure empiricist perspective, rationalist analysis should play a small part. In pure empiricism, meaning is supposed to only come from what the facts themselves say. If you rationally reflect on the facts to find truth, you can commit grave errors because of the inherent bias that comes from personal experience, points of view, and preferences.

However, there are problems with only using empirical facts. Noam Chomsky argues that if scientists only used the inductive empirical method, where every hypothesis is based on strictly verified chains of facts all observed experimentally, we wouldn't have modern technology. Instead, we'd still be waiting to observe all the facts we needed. At a certain point, the chain of facts we have access to runs aground and we have to use other methods to find conclusions. If rationalism is biased because we're trapped in our own heads, and have cultural, historical, and personal conditioning that influences us, empirical deduction is flawed because it can be very indeterminate. The solution, or a solution to the problem of how to get valid knowledge without relying on minute empirical observation is that observed facts have an inner logic to them. If you've studied something intently enough, you have enough information to make speculations based on the apparent logic and meaning that the system of facts contains. The speculations can then be experimentally verified or disproven those. Facts can be manipulated over and over again without taking new observations. No one said that hypotheses have to be sourced to a 't' in order to be true. They just have to be experimentally proven.

What sets speculation of this kind apart from rationalism is that the deductions and manipulations occur after the initial observations happen, not before, and so are contextualized within the space of the observations themselves, which puts obstacles in the way of direct interference from prejudice. Creative license can also be applied, but creative license anchored in experimentally confirmable observations.

Such speculation is an instance of Hegel's category of Mind, an application of logic to empirical or dialectical data. I believe that Hegel called this kind of logic "Mind" because it's what we do when we think critically about our experiences, our lives, and the issues we face. Through using logic to make sense of empirical data while not rationalistically prejudicing the content, by using the logical faculty of Mind, we can produce quicker associations that can spur faster human progress than if we just slogged through the prison of observed facts.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

About Ron Paul's newsletters from the '90s...well, what did you expect?

Libertarianism always had this fringe element, in one form or another.

A come to Jesus moment not required to live a great life, although we want it to be.

Our society is strange. We tolerate the worst behavior by men, and when they want to change , to live life with real meaning, values, and responsibility, we naturally present Christianity as the Way. Capitalism pushes consumption and attitudes that fuel misbehavior and excess, and an empty, unhealthy MTV, football, and Jersey Shore environment, and the fundamentalist Churches offer to fill the void through being born again and following God. If you do, you'll be put in touch with the virtuous higher life.

One extreme follows the other, and often born again Christians pursue a separatist agenda, cutting themselves off from secular society, creating an alternate universe where good values prevail. The churches take advantage of people who want to change, convincing them that they need an intimate relationship with Christ, and a total Biblical worldview for change to happen. The seekers give them an inch of their inner thoughts and conflicts and they take a yard of their independence, pressuring them to absorb the fundamentalist cult mentality, when all they wanted was to lead a decent life.

You don't need to accept Christ, believe in God or the Bible to lift yourself up or lead a good existence. The principles involved are purely philosophical. There's nothing sacred about them, but our ethical tradition, influenced by unreligious pagans like Aristotle and Seneca, has been so Christianized that it's hard to disassociate the higher life from the Christian life.

Instead, society should incorporate adult responsibility and virtue into itself as something natural, no Jesus, God or Bible involved. It's not productive to either mindlessly involve yourself in "the world" or cut yourself off from it, and it's a mark against the U.S. that we don't have a good secular way to discuss how to live a good life.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thomas Mann, Blood of the Wälsungs, German Jewish life

Interesting. Reading a selection from the novel "Blood of the Wälsungs" by Thomas Mann that takes place in the context of German Jewish life in the early 20th century. A vanished world. It seems to me that, in a way, the retreat of people to Israel after the Holocaust, as opposed to say, the United States, is in a way an admission of defeat, one that's not necessary. The Nazis no doubt would have liked nothing more than to have everyone believe the notion that people who are Jewish can only live in a country controlled by them alone.

I can understand not wanting to live in the place where you were persecuted and your family was killed, but in my opinion the concept that people who are Jewish will only find peace in a country controlled by themselves does not follow. German Jewish life, as well as Jewish life in other countries in Europe, looks to have been very rich and creative, and was no doubt a synthesis of both mainstream European and Jewish traditions.

I say this as someone who, despite his slavic last name, is not Jewish, and who is pretty darned Americanized.

Misguided pro-Jury Nullification op-ed in the New York Times

Here. Like many things associated with marijuana legalization, the argument that jury nullification,like the initiative process, is always peachy keen is half baked. Jury nullification is the idea that juries should be free to not follow the law and instead not convict someone of a crime if they feel that the law that applies is unjust. While people like think of their pet causes as being championed by nullification, the fact is that if you open up the nullification door it will be used for other people's pet causes as well, ones that you don't agree with. The most salient paragraph in the op-ed, the one that nullifies the rest of it, is this:

"There have been unfortunate instances of nullification. Racist juries in the South, for example, refused to convict people who committed violent acts against civil-rights activists, and nullification has been used in cases involving the use of excessive force by the police. But nullification is like any other democratic power; some people may try to misuse it, but that does not mean it should be taken away from everyone else."

Of course, yes, I mean, if a jury in Kansas refuses to convict a person of killing an abortion provider because they object to abortion, it's just be a misuse of a kind and gentle power, not something that should harsh other people's mellow, right?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Decolonize Seattle vs. Occupy, or, now that it's over here are my thoughts

Personally, I think that the move to rename and rebrand Occupy Seattle "Decolonize/Occupy Seattle" was a bad idea put together by a bunch of activists who saw themselves as a Vanguard, and wanted to push it through no matter what people staying there actually thought. The idea of a "Decolonization" is not something that the 99%, whether they be white, black, or hispanic, either understand or give a shit about. It's the product of college radical theory courses and is not reflective of the on the ground reality that folks face. How ironic, then, that the people pushing it were people of color, who tried to guilt trip the white Occupiers with accusations of racism and white privilege when their pet proposal didn't get passed.
My guess is that if you go down to the Central District in Seattle and ask any regular black folks living normal life what they think about the concept of Decolonization they'll look at you and ask what the heck you're talking about. The same could be said, to a lesser extent, about Latinos. Although the idea of colonization is more real, a woman who works as a maid at a hotel is most likely more concerned with getting through the day and supporting her family than with having a metaphysical discussion about Decolonization.

The point is, these were just folks who had very strong ideas of their own who claimied to represent all racial and ethnic minorities in Seattle, the U.S., and the world. Literally in the world:they declared they were standing in solidarity with global struggles of people of color. Based on those claims of representation, made without any sort of verification about who they actually stood for beyond the organized hip hop community, they tried to push their dogma onto what should have been a dogma-less movement. It was no different than when Marxist-Leninist groups try to co-opt democratically organized protests and actions. It had nothing to do with the color of their skin, except that their skin color was a useful tool they were willing to press into action in the service of advancing their goals, thereby completely abusing the trust of white Seattleites who just wanted to be respectful to them. It's a sad fact, one that may have caused folks to look at activists who are people of color with more suspicion, unforunately.

Truth be told, egoism was the actor here, just like in any situation where a self declared vanguard tries to seize power. Not coincidentally, one of the Occupiers I'm referring to got a few gigs making commentary on local public radio station KBCS. There,on World AIDS Day, he enlightened us about how AIDS was a U.S. government conspiracy to kill Africans. How nice. But then, I'm sure I'm just being a racist for questioning it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On top of being a brutal Stalinist, in later years North Korea under Kim Jong Il gave up core aspects of Marxism...

Probably won't be commented on, but officially the military is designated as the social vanguard in North Korea under the Songun doctrine.

The last bat shit Stalinist dies---Kim Jong Il

HereThe last, with the possible exception of Lukaschenko in Byelorussia and the former Central Asian Communist cum Muslim Nationalist leaders. My hope is that North Korea will completely collapse and be absorbed into South Korea. While other states have transitioned to democratic governance and have had groups that tried get them to go on their own path, neither capitalist nor authoritarian (and have not succeeded, unfortunately), North Korea isolated itself to such an extent that I can't see a "Democracy with North Korean Characteristics" approach working. Its model is gone and should be buried with the country itself.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The IWW in relation to later Unionism

It seems to me, speaking ex cathedra here, that despite some successes in industrial strikes like the Lawrence Massachusetts textile strike, the main success stories of the IWW took place in extractive industries, i.e. in lumber and mining, and in small scale capitalist enterprises. When I was studying the Wobblies in Washington State as part of a year long program at Evergreen, one comment that stuck with me was that the IWW's approach to direct action wasn't really transportable to the complex industrial system that came to predominate American society in the wake of World War I. Like it or not, industry assumed a semi-bureaucratic character where simple direct action with no other consideration of strategy was not sufficient to alter the balance of power. Negotiation of some sort was required. Bureaucracy could dominate and out maneuver the strikers, and the IWW appeared to have a lack of understanding about what it would take to really counter it.

Industrial Unions like the the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO, that organized the sit down strikes in the Michigan auto plants, had a better approach in that they applied an understanding of how the different levels of organization on the part of management worked in order to make their tactics more effective. The IWW strategy was to use a strategic blunt instrument.

The eternal "Now" of the United States

A paraphrase from someone who's name I can't remember at the moment: "One of the biggest problems of the United States is that we have no historical consciousness." Instead of seeing ourselves as living in historical time, with the past absorbed into and sublimated under us, we tend to see ourselves as living within a present that is a simple extension of the founding of the country. The relativity and perspective that comes from seeing ones self as building on a past that's separate from the present is not there.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A nice thought from Remy de Gourmont

A fin de siecle French Decadent author who should be much more widely known:

"The aesthetic caste suffers less from seeing a poor thing applauded, than a real work disdained" from "Success and the Idea of Beauty" in "Decadence and other essays on the culture of ideas". What he's talking about is popular art, popular art in relation to high art. He's suggesting that all art has its own place and its own sphere, and that the representatives of high art do less harm by looking at popular artistic movements,trying to see what the participants are actually saying, than by ignoring them altogether.

*on edit: Remy de Gourmont was good friends with Jorg-Karl Huysmans, author of "Against Nature" and a few other definitive decadent works.

The stores are leaner....and more in line with reality....this year

I remember thinking, before the economic collapse, when I went to Victoria, British Columbia, how spare all the stores looked compared to those in America, how they looked half empty. Now, at Christmas time, the American stores look the same way. They didn't look that way because Canada was somehow poorer, but because the U.S. was overstuffed with consumer goods that it couldn't afford. The plenty on the shelves was based on credit flowing through the economy based on nothing but air. Leaner, sleeker, stores, from big box stores down to little stores selling art, are reflective of a more realist economy, of one that has started to accommodate itself to the economic realities most countries, even prosperous countries, have faced for quite some time.

Conspicuous consumption on a mass scaled isn't natural or sustainable, and we depleted our resources, polluted the planet, and outsourced our economy in the pursuit of it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The last time I saw Mr. J.

Mr. J was the principal of the smallish Junior High/High School that I went to in the country from roughly 7th to 9th grade. I came from another small town in the country, one that was marginally larger and more cosmopolitan, but when I passed over the county line I found myself transported into a world reminiscent of 'Deliverance'. My grades went down, I started hanging around with the 'bad kids', and after several skirmishes with the school administration I ended up transferring to the county Alternative School, where kids who were hardened juvenile criminals or who had been kicked out schools went. It had much to do with Mr. J. and the school, although he cast himself in the role of Pilate, simply obeying the dictates of conservative parents and school administrators. On a personal level, he presented himself as the cool Principal who would mix with the kids and hang out. On a practical level, he wasn't that much different from other school administrators.

In any case,the principal at the Alternative School saw that I was smart and that I shouldn't have been there, and so she started on a campaign to get me into a better school. She was successful, I got into a great private school for gifted children outside of Detroit, which I graduated from.

The last time I saw Mr. J. was at a friend's concert. My friend played bass with a few other kids from town, and a friend's cousin's parents or some such relation owned a small restaurant in the Detroit suburbs and allowed them to play a set. I was going to the private school at the time.Mr. J. was there to support my friend, a good gesture. He liked to be cool and mix with the kids. Anyways, after a while I went up to talk to him. His statement was "I'm glad you're still alive".

I thought to myself "No thanks to you.", stopped for a second, then turned and walked out, missing most of my friend's performance. I went back to my new life, back to my new school, and left Mr. J. and that other life behind.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The best bloggers...

Are people who don't write like bloggers. Just sayin'. I've put my share of vitriol and immaturity out there, but am glad that I'm unhooked from the circular yelling match that goes on in many liberal to left blogs, where people hooked into the same news cycle, who look at the same stories, make the same completely predictable off the cuff comments that add little to the discussion. Again, not saying that this blog contributes to the actual discussion consistently, but we can always hope...

Friday, December 09, 2011

How cultural ethnocentrism and conservative values can lead to biological racism: the Limpieza de Sangre of Spain and the New World

Limpieza de Sangre, or Purity of Blood law, enacted after the Reconquista, institionalized discriminated against Spainiards who had non-Christian ancestors. It was introduced not as a racial measure, because the concept of race didn't exist, but in order to ensure Christian cultural purity.

The problem that the new Christian rulers of Spain faced after forcing all Muslims and Jews to either convert or leave, was how to figure out whether a convert was a "real" Christian and not secretly practicing their original religion. After some strife, they decided the best indicator was non-Christian ancestors. They figured that culture and religion necessarily follows ancestry in that parents pass traditions down to their kids. If one had many non-Christian ancestors, the probability was thought to be higher they'd have some of those traditions.

People with non-Christian ancestors were discriminated against in a hierarchical system that gave different levels of privilege based on the percentages of non-Christian ancestry, with the highest honors being reserved for people with pure Christian ancestry, verifiably established. Participation in public office was limited to these people, as were some things such as entering the Priesthood.

In this way, descent and ancestry became a litmus test to full citizenship. Even though a person could be a bad Christian with purely Christian ancestors, and a good Christian could come from a Converso background, they looked at biology as a quick and dirty way of making a preliminary judgment.

Such a stand resembles that taken by the less fanatical Nazis, such as the Strasser brothers, who while extremely anti-Semitic sometimes stated that a person with an eighth part of Jewish ancestry would be okay provided that they had absolutely no contact with Judaism, with Jewish culture as a whole, and were purely culturally German (and hopefully Christian).

Furthermore, a similar rationales for cultural discrimination was given in the French conservative tradition in the 18th and 19th centuries. Louis de Bonald made the argument that people who were the children of divorce couldn't be trusted because they could have been raised in a corrupt environment. This would be, of course, unlike the case of folks whose parents were married but personally corrupt, I suppose.

A similar ambiguity can be seen in American society, where on the one hand people who are 'obviously' purely Anglo-white (although looks alone do not mean they are) are implicitly trusted by the more ethnocentric white folks, while people who are more ethnically ambiguous are treated with suspicion by them, and folks who are definitely not white are distrusted. Ethnicity and race blend into each other as signifying 'not like us'. But what does 'not like us' really mean? At heart, I would say it means culturally not like us and different in behavior. After all, there are many success stories repeated by conservatives, about racial minorities who completely adopt the dominant Anglo-white cultural and behavioral system and are accepted by the establishment. Even so, I would guess that in some eyes they're still tainted by their background.

Discrimination based on physical characteristics and background can certainly follow from conservative values used as a proxy for ethnocentrism.

*on edit: the concept of Limpieza de Sangre strongly influenced the racial notion of "Casta" in the New World

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A guideline for when to nationalize or heavily regulate corporations

Drawing on the thought they use in Europe and light weight economic thought.

Individually, small businesses don't exercise an excess of power over society. Your local restaurant, bar, or craft manufacturer doesn't have the power to determine where society is going and what it looks like as a whole. But as you go up the chain to bigger and bigger businesses, and to businesses that provide services that are more and more essential and that can't easily be duplicated, like phone service, energy, and water, their power to control society increases substantially. When a business comes into the position of being a king maker in society, it starts to infringe on the rights of society and of the public as a whole, and should be taken over by society. This applies even when the company is not a pure monopoly situation but part of an oligopoly.

We have several different phone companies for land lines, for instance, but we don't have hundreds or thousands of them spaced out across the country. Even though they have token competition, they exert a huge influence over our lives, and shouldn't be privately controlled.

If a business becomes a public concern, the public should control it.

*on edit: but that doesn't mean there should be top down central planning like the Gosplan in the Soviet Union.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Robert Michels, trade unions and political parties

Michel's book "Political Parties and the Oligarchal Tendencies in Democracies" is not a purely negative take on political life. In fact it offers some very good insights as to how the political system can be made to work better. Although in later life he would become extremely disenchanted with democratic politics, moving to the far right, at the time Michels wrote "Political Parties" he was still sympathetic to revolutionary syndicalism.

One of the best suggestions he puts forward in the beginning of the book is the idea that political parties can retain influence and relevance through being directly accountable to unions. He uses the example of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the early 20th century, arguing that it had a great deal of support at least partially because folks could see tangible benefits through the action of the unions affiliated with it, instead of just through legislation alone. Michels hints that a political party started by unions or that is an outgrowth of direct political activity producing improvements in life, that also remains accountable to these organizations, can create a long lasting organization equipped to realistically fight for deeper change in the structure of society.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Logic, Dialectic, and Mind: the three phenomenological categories of Hegel in plain English

I've been confused by these terms up until fairly recently, at least that of Mind. Hegel saw logic, Dialectic meaning, and Mind as being the three phases or 'moments' of knowledge, meaning three aspects of knowledge that within them contain all the potential meaning in the world.

Logic refers to the rules of thought taken in themselves, with no particular reference to the external world. Dialectic refers not to the Dialectical Method in the Marxist sense, although it's derived from it, but to knowledge gained from exploring empirical reality. Practical and scientific knowledge is Dialectical knowledge because it emerges from Dialogue with or interaction with the world itself. What Mind is, though is not so simple.

According to Hegel, the stage of "Mind" or Geist, "Spirit", is what comes from Logic being applied to knowledge gained from dialectical interaction, and is a higher form of knowledge. But how can this be, and what exactly does it have to do with the word signifying 'Mind'?

I've come up with the answer that Mind can be thought of as generated from the application of logic to general experience, including that which is scientifically gained. Surely, if you're figuring out scientifically something there's logic involved, but if you strictly look at it from an empirical perspective pure logical analysis should play a smaller part. Meaning in pure empiricism is supposed to come from an evaluation of the facts. Applying rationalism, the belief that Reason taken on its own can find the truth, is thought to be a grave error in evaluating empirical data because of its inherent bias.

However, using empirical facts alone produces problems. Noam Chomsky argues that if people exclusively used the inductive method, where every fact used to make a hypotheses is experimentally verified, we wouldn't have modern science. Instead, we'd still be waiting for the facts to correlate. Rationalism is biased because we're all trapped in our own heads, with cultural, historical, and personal facets of conditioning influencing what we think is Reasonable, but totally Empirical deductions can be indeterminate. The solution, or a solution to how we can get valid knowledge that goes beyond from pure empirical observation is that objective facts have an inner logic to them that allows their meaning to be manipulated after they've been gathered in order to produce new knowledge that can then be experimentally verified. This would be an application of the techniques of logic to data, and would be an instance of Hegel's category of Mind.

What sets it apart from Rationalism is that the deductions and manipulations don't occur before the observations but after it, and are contextualized within the observations instead of directly bringing in information from elsewhere. The inner meaning, the inner logic can be manipulated to produce inferences that go well beyond the bare facts themselves appear to say, and they can do it in many directions.

Mind, Logic making sense of Empirical or Dialectical knowledge but not determining it, can then lead to higher, quicker, associations that can spur progress through the amount of theoretical speculations they can generate.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Pick a party, not a president

I've been seeing web ads that entice people by asking them to pick a president, not a party. In fact, I think that the opposite should be true. Folks should not just accept whatever their party throw out there, but major political differences are more important than the individual style or policy a candidate. This assumes, however, that the party a candidate belongs actually reflects their beliefs, and that those beliefs are just, something that was arguably not the case with either Clinton, Gore, or the 'Third Way' centrist Democrats. The idea of putting personality over party brings us closer to the idea of personalistic government. I would rather have the support of parties, with all of the flaws that it entails, than to bring the U.S. closer to that. We're already half way there, being trained from birth to accept the idea of Great Men in government and society dictating to us.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Very contradictory for folks who are 100% pro america to be anti-internationalist

Because the U.S. is, if anything, international in origin. While the Tea Party hews to a vision of the United States that's white, rural, male, and Protestant, although not well off economically, the reality in the United States is something else entirely. Many different races, ethnic groups, religions, laid over each other from the Native Americans on up are what make up the United States as it really is. They're what make up that national sense of the United States.

New World countries are inherently synthetic, explicitly so. They are founded in historical time by groups and people who have paper trails. Even old world countries are agglomerations of similar but not identical groups and cities brought together under some sort of common flag. If we want to have pride in the United States, it should be in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious United States. A United States like that, however, is inherently international.

Since folks in the United States came here from diverse places, with the exception of the Native Americans, the United States retains bonds with the world outside it, even though it might not recognize that this is the case. Cultural conformity may have stifled the true survival of many cultural traditions here, but enough has survived and made its mark on the culture of the United States to give it characteristics not necessarily present elsewhere,all produced by its origins in the greater world. Synthesis doesn't mean the negation of what is being synthesized.

The people who want the United States to turn away from the world in order for it to retain some strange notion of 'American-ness', either don't know what they're talking about, or they're presenting ethnic and racial partisanship as something universal.


However, a multi-racial, multi-ethnic perspective brings with it the necessity of fighting for an end to racial and ethnic oppression and subservience within the United States itself.Just honoring things as they are skims over what still needs to be resolved within American society in order for us to truly be united on the basis of being diverse, yet fellow, human beings.

The racial and ethnic politics of the United States also exist within our economic system, and the notion that simple racial equality within the United States necessarily leads to a completely just society is equally unfounded. Our society could very well turn into one that sees blacks and whites both at the top and at the bottom, with the free market causing the division instead of racial politics. Both socialism and a multi-racial perspective are needed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The function of banks in modern society, and why they're not the root cause of our problems

Short and simple: because banks make a great deal of their money through financing business. Banks function as intermediaries rather than things in themselves. To find out where the real cause are you have to look at what they're intermediaries for. The home loan scandal was sort of an offshoot of this. Businesses take out loans from banks to get started and to expand. The approval or non-approval of new business financing by banks directly effects the way the economy expands. Home loans are a way for them to make money off of consumers, because unlike businesses consumers can be persuaded to take out loans they don't need.

Banks are also heavily invested in the stock market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

U.S. government not three equal parts

A fallacy. Tom Paine was the one who pointed out that the notion rendered everything indeterminate. There's a fundamental lack of clear values in the concept. Is the legislature the most important, or the executive, or the supreme court? In my mind, the legislature is most the most important because it's where the representatives of the people sit. In an autocracy, the Executive would be the most important. In a democratic system the executive should be the second most important branch, and the Supreme Court should be its own thing. The Supreme Court is in no way equal in status to the legislature, and plays a passive role in relation to the other branches. Even though the legislature should have some sort of check on it from the Executive branch, the Executive branch does not have to be completely separate to check the legislature. There are shades of grey.

*on edit: the three equal positives of the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches in American political life, with their mutual checks and balances, resemble the mystery of the Holy Trinity,both in the concept and in veneration. Supposedly equal, but in three mutually distinct parts...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Liberalism, something not commented on

It's often said that liberalism permits freedom and liberty of action as long as it doesn't negatively impact others. However, what happens if people, when granted a degree of freedom use it to hurt another person? In that case, the expectation of the other person not be hurt matters more than the first one's right to freely act on their liberties. In point of fact, the negative behavior would be a misapplication of liberty, an excuse masquerading as an application of legitimate rights. Disciplining people for breaking the law in this case does not violate liberty or freedom. In fact, if discipline in some form isn't done, the system falls apart, because the intent of some to mistreat of others is in effect being put above the freedom of others to live in peace. Liberation is wonderful, but people have a right to not be stepped on, and politeness shouldn't be an excuse to allow that to occur.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Reading Joan Didion's essay "Slouching to Gomorrah", bringing up some memories

"Slouching to Gomorrah" is Joan Didion's essay on the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco during the peak of the hippy era, in 1967, and focuses on the disturbing aspects of the scene. Didion interviewed runaways, hippies that only knew drug use and slogans, and folks who thought that it was groovy to give acid to kids.

One of the most poignant paragraphs talks about how these folks can't be counter-culture, because they haven't known culture at all. They came from bad backgrounds and skipt out of town to join the Summer of Love. I agree, and can most definitely apply that judgement to my own experience of the neo-hippy lifestyle in middle school and, to a much lesser extent, in early high school.

What does a twelve year old person know about the hippy movement? What I saw was a sappy ideal. I looked to TV during the early '90s revival of interest and saw documentaries, movies, and bands like Blind Melon, and I thought it all looked much better than what was around me. I saw a notion of folks motivated by peace and love who wanted to pursue a compassionate utopia. Of course I had no actual contact with the culture.

I drifted from there into a group of friends concerned with another ideal, the masculine fantasy utopia of gangster rap that was marketed to white people in the mid '90s. It happened without too much of a shock to my system. The reason, strange as it may seem, is that both communities, the neo-hippies and that of adolescent gangster rap fans, where composed of people who were lost and looking for something, anything, and one ideal looked just as good as another.

I eventually put the gangster silliness behind and moved into Alternative culture, where I've stayed every since, albeit with hippy idealism added in.

Lost child, the Lost Highway, perhaps there's a connection there.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The more things change, again. Israel-Palestine and the Right

Was reading back issues of the Seattle PI on microfilm recently and came across an article from '36 decrying Communist opposition to the colonization of Palestine taking place in Palestine. The PI, at the time, was a right wing newspaper owned by Hearst, and was anti-communist to the core. The arguments against this Communist subversion were similar to the ones used today, but with one crucial difference: I noticed several issues that the PI ran a quarter page ad for the Hamburg-American Line, a company that provided trans-atlantic travel via ship before airplanes became an affordable way to go. Reading it was quite chilling, because in '36, the Hamburg-American Line was very well integrated into the Nazi state.

So, while the PI Hearst was showing such sympathy to folks seeking to emigrate to Palestine, they had no problem accepting money from a virtual component of the Nazi state while Jews were being persecuted in the run up to the Holocaust.

Interesting morals there.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Search for Truth by Charles Peguy

I came across this short piece a while ago, and my interpretation of it has changed. Originally, I read it as being nihilistic, because he talks about leaving one opinion, going to another, and rejecting that one in turn, thinking that what he was getting at was being against all beliefs. Now, I see it as being about balance in what you do, what you think, what you believe. The solution isn't to go against everything but to go back to the start and integrate all of it into your belief system.

"I believe that in the history of the world one could easily find a very great number of examples of persons who, suddenly perceiving the truth, seize it. Or, having sought and found it, deliberately break with their interests, sacrifice their interests, break deliberately with their political friendships and even with their sentimental friendships. I do not believe that one find many examples of men who, having accomplished this first sacrifice, have had the second courage to sacrifice their second interests, their second friendships. For it commonly happens that they find their new friends are worth no more than the old ones, that their second friends are worth no more than the first. Woe to the lonely man, and what they fear most is solitude. They are most willing, for the sake of the truth, to fall out with half of the world. All the more so when, by thus falling out with half of the world--not without a little repercussion--they usually make partisans among the second half of the world; partisans who ask nothing better than to be the antagonists of the first half. But if, for the love of this same truth, they foolishly go about breaking with this second half, who will become their partisans?--

A brave man--and so far, there are not many--for the sake of the truth breaks with his friends and his interest. Thus a new party is formed, originally and supposedly the party of justice and truth, which in less than no time becomes absolutely identical with the other parties. A party like the others; like al the others; as vulgar; as gross; as unjust; as false. Then for this second time, a superbrave man would have to be found to make a second break: but of these, there are hardly any left.--

And yet, the life of an honest man must be an apostasy and a perpetual desertion. The honest man must be a perpetual renegade, the life of an honest man must be a perpetual infidelity. For the man who wishes to remain faithful to truth must make himself continually unfaithful to all the continual, successive, indefatigable renascent errors. And the man who wishes to remain faithful to justice must make himself continually unfaithful to inexhaustibly triumphant injustices."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

One of the best arguments against strict construction of the Constitution: the existence of other constitutions around the globe

Because, really, what point is there to being a fundamentalist about original intent if you can go to France, Italy, Germany, and on and on and see plenty of Constitutions that work and function not based on the American political tradition? Not only that, but, horror of horrors, they have similar ideas and concepts. It's only in our myopia, our sense of ourselves as being the only country in the world, that we can think of our Constitution as something so special, so sacred, that it can only be interpreted by diviners who feel out what a bunch of folks in the late 18th century may have thought, a task that as the years go on has much in common with the counting of the number of grains of sand on the beach.

Original construction, strict construction? Do you mean the strict construction of the French constitution of 1789, or the Weimar constitution of post-war Germany? Perhaps you mean the Italian Constitution created after Italian Unification?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Opposition to sales taxes as regressive from 136 years ago

Via the Gotha program of the German Social Democratic Party....the more things change, the more they stay the same, sometimes.

Gotha Program in English

"(8)[In addition to the demand for universal suffrage for all above twenty years of age, secret ballot, freedom of the press, free and compulsory education, etc.,] the socialist labor party of Germany demands the following reforms in the present social organization:[...] (2) a single progressive income tax, both state and local, instead of all the existing taxes, especially the indirect ones, which weigh heavily upon the people;[...]"

A sales tax is an indirect tax, because it's not paid directly on your income and has regressive components in that it takes more of a share of the income of poorer folks than it does of folks with money. It does this because while everyone has to eat, not everyone has to buy fancy stuff, meaning that as a tax it will absolutely effect people on the low end of the spectrum and only potentially impact people with higher incomes. When they're done buying the essentials they can save their money, or pick and choose in their purchases and what they pay sales tax on. The more money you make the less the sales tax you pay on essentials matters in your budget, and the less you make the more impact it has on your over all income.

Speaking of documentary history...The combined "No gods, no masters" edited by Daniel Guerin

Is the closest thing to an anarchist version of "Socialist Thought, a Documentary History" that's out there. If that's your political persuasion, I highly recommend you pick it up Here from AK Press.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Is To Be Done? by Lenin. One of the worst pamphlets I've read...

It's the basic Leninist presentation of Leninist party policy in relation to the working class.

Where to start? First of all, the pamphlet starts out by saying in response to challenges to Marxist orthodoxy that discussion and dissent shouldn't be permitted because it leads people to have opinions that aren't sufficiently 'Marxist' enough, at least as Lenin understands it.

Second, the rest of the pamphlet is devoted to dismissing workers' self activity and arguing that workers can only be liberated by bourgeois people coming to them and teaching them the pure socialist Marxist doctrine. Not only that, but in point of fact Lenin dismisses the self-activity of workers as somehow leading away from socialism itself.

It's pretty clear that Lenin had an understanding of radical socialist party functioning that was out of line with reality, and that his understanding of Marx and Marxism were based in large part on elements of fantasy, elements perhaps generated from surreptitiously and transgressively reading Marx in far away Russia without having any actual contact with the socialist movements of Western Europe. He seems to have had no awareness that Marx and Marxism came from the socialist movement itself, that life did not start with Marx and his writings, and that Marx's writings were incorporated piecemeal into the socialist parties instead of stamped into them in an inflexible way.

Marxism for Lenin, in this pamphlet, is just another revolutionary phase, another flavor of the month for bourgeois youth who want to engage in radical politics in Russia--no organic basis needed. Lenin wanted a socialist workers' state, but didn't want the reality of the proletarians to get in the way. Unfortunately, one of the legacies of What is to be Done is some anarchists and opponents to Leninism seeing in any attempt to talk to working folks about the ideas of socialism a bourgeois vanguard seeking to enlighten the poor benighted workers, who surely are regarded by them as only being capable of having 'trade union consciousness', right?

*on edit: if you want an alternative to this sort of thinking, the Bourse du Travail movement in French Syndicalism is a great counter-weight, sometimes associated with Fernand Pelloutier.

When voting isn't democracy--plebiscite, plus the American Presidency

I think that the pure existence of a vote does not mean that it's truly democratic. Case in point: Napoleon, dictator of France, put his policies as well as his status as ruler to a plebiscite referendum and when they passed he declared legitimacy and victory. The thing is that even though there was a vote, the overall structure of the system was anti-representative and a-democratic, and the vote was little more than bread and circuses. It's impossible to vote a dictator in, since representative government is fundamentally opposed to the idea of unaccountable dictatorship. A symbolic vote that over rules a representative system of government isn't legitimate or democratic, no matter how many people support it.

*on edit: in my opinion, for democracy to be real has to be transparency and effective representation. By effective representation I mean that the representatives in question, or the issues voted on, have to be linked to reasonably small units of voters. One representative for 300 million people is quite disproportional, while many legislators representing smaller blocks who then act in concert, is much more reasonable. The same can be said for initiative voting. Having an up down vote on a single issue is much less democratic than having groups of people tell their representatives what the spectrum of their concerns are about an issue, and then having the representatives work out and pass, or fail to pass, something that represents the nuanced sum of the voters'concerns.

Applying this criteria to the United States it's clear that there's absolutely no way the election of a single chief executive by hundreds of millions of people can be called authentically democratic, electoral college or not. Presidential elections might as well be Napoleonic plebiscites, even though real change can and does come through them.

A much more reasonable way for the Executive branch to be chosen is having the leader of the party in the House of Representatives be the Prime Minister, and other high ranking members serve in cabinet posts. The Representatives themselves would be elected in their own districts. Having the Executive, who's supposed to execute the will of the people, selected separately from the people's House, Congress, is anti-democratic in the extreme. They have to be linked.

If we in the United States are so big on not having kings, it's worthwhile to ask why we elect one every four years, and why we create and fawn over political dynasties reminiscent of monarchies such as those of the Kennedys and the Bushs.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Periodizing the blog: from the start to January 2005, it was going strong

And then it hit a snag. The snag came from being in the Pacific Northwest and, after living there permanently for about seven months, coming across the reality that a) my living situation in Pacific Northwest paradise was terrible, my landlords being unresponsive liars, b) my fellow Evergreen students in my program were mostly microcephalic morons who didn't do any of their work, yet acted self righteous to the core when it came to their own causes, c) many of the teachers at Evergreen didn't really give a damn about having their students actually get anything out of the programs, instead letting the above mentioned folks rule the seminars and class rooms, in the interest of 'democracy', instead of reigning them in so that actual learning--and teaching--could happen.

My romanticized notion of the Northwest came under heavy fire, shaking my political faith and the sense of moral certainty that fueled my writing. The writing itself lost focus, then eventually declined in quality as well.

But, it wasn't all bad forever. It recovered somewhat in late 2005 and early 2006 before facing another crisis of faith via the flakiness of Northwest activists in Olympia, one that took a lot longer to overcome.

Perhaps my writing shouldn't be affected so much by the attitudes of the folks around me, yet the way I saw it was that the Northwest was supposed to be a Progressive's paradise, a place where the really awesome people lived. If the folks I actually encountered ran the gamut from interesting, yet flawed, to raging idiots destructive to all norms of a sane society, then what did that say about me? Was I somehow wrong? Were these folks were actually the cream of the crop of left politics? It took a long time to realize that I stand on my own, and that what happens in Olympia or in any town in the Northwest does not define the Ur-meaning of Progressive or Leftist culture as it really is.

*on edit* I should add that a lot of this all or nothing thinking was made possible because like Cortez in Mexico, I burned my ships, my passport home. There was no going back to Florida, or to Michigan. The reality of it is difficult to explain in a short space and quite personal, but getting out of Florida was an imperative. I did it to prevent going to rot.

The Occupy movement as an insurrection within the machine

One way to look at it. An eruption of the repressed into the field of bourgeois consciousness, a necessary beachhead made in the Daydream Nation consciousness of American society, opening the door to further action for social change. What's the agenda? Besides lots of things, part of it is simply to be there, to be present, to keep making noise, and to keep interrupting business as usual, so that the mass media can't deny that people are upset, that people disapprove of the way things are, and that they want change.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Globalization, was never what it said it was anyways

The whole premise of globalization and neo-liberalism as a relevant political ideology, as opposed to an economic doctrine, in the '90s, was based on the idea that the Soviet model and with it all of socialism had failed, leaving unregulated capitalism as the only viable alternative. Social democracy was also seen as decrepit and failing. Behind the hype of total victory of the western capitalist model lied some ugly facts. First, the collapse of the Soviet model, as opposed to its liberalization, was aided and abetted, created some would say, by the United States. Yeltsin served the U.S., and did a good job of it, liquidating socialism in the Soviet Union instead of preserving the messy partial capitalism, partial socialism, with reformed planning mechanisms, that Gorbachev and the advocates of Perestroika were putting forward. If the Yeltsin coup, what I call his election, hadn't happened, the Soviet Union could have continued on the evolutionary approach to fixing its economic and social system. It would have preserved socialism as at least a semi-viable doctrine. It would have put lie the notion that globalization was the only road, and hastened the call to economic justice going on right now.

Berlusconi stepping down

Entertaining. Berlusconi proves the quip of Marx that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, the tragedy in this case being Mussolini. Berlusconi presented himself as a man's man, a semi-authoritarian tough guy, who was simultaneously vapid.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

...and CostCo wins it's corporate financed populist plebiscite

Initiative 1183, designed to privatize liquor sales in Washington, showing how the initiative process is flawed for things besides the ever popular legalization of marijuana. This Seattle Times article is amazingly candid about the company's influence on the campaign:

"Beginning June 1, grocery stores in Washington will begin selling liquor.

That's the result of a $22.7 million voter campaign that Costco Wholesale led to kick the state out of the liquor business and allow private retailers to sell spirits instead.

...

The campaign was a battle of corporate interests, with Costco contributing the vast majority of the money for the pro-1183 campaign.

"We are very pleased and grateful to all of the coalition members across the state," said Joel Benoliel, Costco's chief legal officer.

The coalition against I-1183 was financed mostly by wine and liquor distributors, who fear that liquor and wine deregulation in the measure will spread to other states."

One of my friends, who works at Amazon, has said that one of the reasons Jeff Bezos choose to locate Amazon in Washington State is because it has a low population that can be swayed by campaigns if it ever decides to raise taxes.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The serpent is biting its tail

I've decided that this blog has reached a good, positive, cross roads. I think of the present nine and some years of writing as forming a sort of coherent whole, even though the subject matter covered is diverse. Now, I feel it's time to go back to the beginning and reorient myself in line with the whole thing, with the whole trend of where I've gone with my ideas, where I've come from, in order to get some perspective on where to go next. The clear and present danger of Bushism has passed, and the Occupy Wall Street protests are doing the very thing that I've wanted to happen for years: they're talking about internal economic inequality in the U.S., bringing the discussion back home, beyond global inequality.

*on edit: not just talking about economic inequality but advocating socialist solutions to it.

It looks like a propitious time.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Viktor Bout: correct me if I'm wrong...

But my understanding is that he's been convicted in the U.S. of conspiring to sell arms to a Columbian political organization, one designated by the U.S. as being terrorist, and is not a U.S. citizen. Why exactly does the U.S. have jurisdiction over him? And why exactly was the DEA, in Thailand, involved?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Lenin Cat sings "The Song of Stalin"

Too absurd/funny not to post:

Qualification of Nietzsche, in reference to the below post

I should say that the whole business about moral sentiments not mattering is perhaps better phrased by saying that Nietzsche believes a) that the idea of morality itself is a historical product, and b) that the morality that we say we have is not what we believe but a false consciousness. Combining the two, you get the idea that morality is an optional concept evolved over time that legitimizes the brutal power politics, which means that, essentially, morality is meaningless. Good and bad can't be real because they're all lies. This is the whine of the person who is too jacked up on testosterone and alcohol, and who drunkenly exclaims against anything he or she sees. Simply amplifying your attack on what you consider to be hypocritical morality to the point of discarding it altogether is hardly an argument. In the process, Nietzsche somehow ignores thousands of years of evidence that his scenario is not real. Even the harsh peoples that he praises did not operate in a moral-free zone: they simply had different morals, but morals nonetheless. In any case, perhaps he shouldn't have let third stage syphilis do so much of his writing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nietzsche and anti-humanism

There are a couple levels of Anti-Huamanist thought in Nietzsche, but I just want to focus on one of them. His general cynical view of humanity doesn't interest me here. Something that's been disturbing me about "Beyond Good and Evil", that I wasn't able to put into words until recently, while, is that his rejection of Good and Bad limits the scope of human existence rather than extending it.

To understand why you have to go back to the title of "Beyond Good and Evil" itself, or rather see that it's an imperfect translation. A better one would be, "Beyond Good and Bad". You see, Nietzsche isn't really arguing against the metaphysical notion of Evil with a big 'E' as it's understood in the Anglo-American religious and philosophical tradition. Instead, what he's arguing is that the fundamental moral categories of good and bad in and of themselves, as conceptual categories, do not have relevance. What he's arguing is that the moral sensibility, whether liberal, conservative, atheistic or theistic, is fundamentally flawed and that the real dynamics of life have nothing to do with the things that we normally associate with it. It's problematic in that there are quite a few large sections of life and thought that are tied into the moral sensibility, and denying moral sensibility denies them as well. Denying the moral sensibility is not the same thing as having an amoral view of life or one that's not particularly moral. It's also not a support for a utilitarian viewpoint where everything is reducible to pleasure or pain. Morality in a very general sense, no matter what type of morality it is, is a mediator that between ourselves and the social, historical, and cultural world around us. It helps us to accomplish our goals, which are biologically human, more effectively.

Ultimately, our concept of 'a' right and 'a' good, no matter what the substance of our concept is, comes from our human, biological, structure. It's an integral part of everyday human existence. To be anti-humanist in this sense is to is to cut off a piece of one's self that helps you, as a human, produce the very great works of art, the great scientific achievements in technology, the great heroic actions, that Nietzsche championed. Without our humanity, none of that means anything except for the basic mathematical equations and scientific concepts we discover that have a completely a-human basis. To fulfill virtually anything that we can conceive of as desirable, beyond animal behavior, we need to engage our human side,because there's no other coherent model of being out there that's not a return to a more biologically primitive form. If we choose to live on the level of animals and reptiles, I don't think that we'll be able to produce anything of a higher or uniquely human value.

What you're left with is will and sensation, and blind instinct, with a formalistic extension of will being one of the few the marks of rightness. Realizing a higher degree of general, raw, will is not the same as realizing a more refined will to do a thing that's complex, inventive, or creative. To me, by cutting off validity to the moral sensibility, one that despite its imperfections is effective in helping us navigate a uniquely human existence, no matter what your justification is, leaves people with drastically less ability to meaningfully navigate the world that they live in, which, Sartre be damned, does in fact include other people.

*On edit: a qualification of what I mean by his objection to the idea of a valid moral sentiment.

I should say that the whole business about moral sentiments not mattering is perhaps better phrased by saying that Nietzsche believes a) that the idea of morality itself is a historical product, and b) that the morality that we say we have is not what we believe but a false consciousness. Combining the two, you get the idea that morality is an optional concept evolved over time that legitimizes the brutal power politics, which means that, essentially, morality is meaningless. Good and bad can't be real because they're all lies. This is the whine of the person who is too jacked up on testosterone and alcohol, and who drunkenly exclaims against anything he or she sees. Simply amplifying your attack on what you consider to be hypocritical morality to the point of discarding it altogether is hardly an argument. In the process, Nietzsche somehow ignores thousands of years of evidence that his scenario is not real. Even the harsh peoples that he praises did not operate in a moral-free zone: they simply had different morals, but morals nonetheless. In any case, perhaps he shouldn't have let third stage syphilis do so much of his writing.

Why reading about socialist movements can help you, Lassalle and Vahlteich

Lassalle and Vahlteich were two often conflicting leaders of the German Social Democratic Party. Neither of them was a theorist on the level of, say, Marx or Bakunin. Their importance lies in the movement that they were part of. When it comes to studying socialism, as opposed to participating in it, there are two ways of going about it: the conventional way, studying the big names, the big theorists, and the alternative way of studying the movements and the lesser names, both activists and thinkers, who came out of them. Personally, I think that while having a good grounding in the big names is very important,the real understanding comes from studying how these ideas played out in reality.

I remember hours spent, years ago at this point, in an isolated library in a conservative Christian town in central Florida, reading "The Encyclopedia of the American Left". They were some of the most interesting and productive hours I've had. There wasn't a lot to do in the town in your free time, and so I would go there, sit down, and read it.I went through most of it, looking at connections between movements and personalities, finding out about municipal socialism in Milwaukee and Farmer-Labor parties in Minnesota, to say nothing of the unsung people who are otherwise forgotten in American history who made substantial contributions. Many forgotten people have immediate connections with the present, for instance Harry Hay and his "Mattachine Society". A 40s and 50s socialist gay rights group, it grew out of Hay's speculations on Marxist history during his tenure as an official educator for the Communist Party, and pioneered the gay rights movement.

Memoir and interviews also played a large part in my life during that time: Howard Fast's "Being Red", outlining his time in the Communist Party during the '30s and '40s, and '50s, told me more about the Popular Front, the best time for the CP in the US, when it actually made a tangible difference in people's lives, than a hundred theoretical statements ever could. "Tender Comrades",by Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle, a book of interviews with blacklisted Hollywood actors, did the same thing. Talking to people who were forced out of Hollywood during the McCarthy years, some of whom literally left the country for Europe and never came back, gave life to an era.

The same can be said for Anarchist history as well. In fact, Anarchist historians have done a superb job in documenting the real force of the movement. Murray Bookchin's study of pre-Civil War Spanish Anarchism "Spanish Anarchism: The Heroic Years" is crucial. Paul Avrich's books, particularly Anarchist Voiceshis oral history of American Anarchism, "The Haymarket Tragedy", have a similar importance. And although Bakunin is wonderful, second generation Anarchists like Malatesta provide information on how Anarchism actually worked as a social movement in late 19th, early 20th century Europe that you'll never get from the first generation big names.

This strategy, focusing on movement importance to understand the philosophical concept, is also successful when it comes to socialist theory in general. "Socialist Thought: A Documentary History" put together by Fried and Sanders, is an amazing collection that should be near the top of the list for people interested in real socialism. It's only transcended by the similar, but more local "Socialism in America: from the Shakers to the Third International" also produced by Fried and Sanders.

Movement history isn't overlooked by the traditional, Trotskyist, or rank Stalinist, Marxist-Leninists either. In fact, if you press their saner representatives you'll find that they think of Lenin as the one who actually took Marx's work and made it work in reality, not an uncontested opinion. As an unintended consequence, their minds are often stuck in the early 20th century, circumscribed to viewing the present through Russian history and mechanically imitating Lenin's suggestions about how to conduct party politics. That's where the increasingly anachronistic commandment to parties to found newspapers came from. It's certainly responsible for producing many mediocre papers but on the positive side has surely benefited independent small printers. Arguably, they're the only group who's really seen any profit from most of them. In their self-appointed vanguard minds, if not in their hearts, they're on the right track.

The take home from this? Marx is great, but if you want to break out of your mind, movement history is the scholarly way to do it. And eat your vegetables, especially broccoli.

Friday, October 28, 2011

...and now someone claiming to be from the Seattle PD is crank calling me regarding Occupy Seattle

I don't believe for a second that they're actually from the Seattle PD. And the return number has a n area code from around Barstow California. Nice try, guys.

Ah, and in reference to the H.S. Chamberlain article....Mike Bickle, associated with Rick Perry

A pastor associated with Rick Perry's campaign. There's an article on the internet now going around going around that's saying that in a sermon he stated that the Jewish people were punished by Hitler for not converting, and that (implicitly) this was just. But the funny thing is that when you actually look at the video where the quote comes from, the very video put out by people to show that this is what he was saying, it's pretty clear that in point of fact he's not really saying that.

Instead, the video has him quoting from the Book of Revelations and interpreting it in the present time. The Book of Revelations has lots of references to people who are Jewish dying in the end times, and Bickle says precisely that, that he's following what's in the Bible, not putting it out there as his personal opinion.In fact says that he doesn't like it. What Bickle is saying is that the end times are happening right now and that the Holocaust was part of that drama.

That sentiment is not a very pleasant thing, but it's certainly not an endorsement of Hitler, or him saying that he's happy that the Holocaust happened. The fact is that lots of folks are supposed to die as described by Revelations, and Revelations is Israel-centric. He's not doing much more than interpreting the book in reference to present day life.

I give "Addicting Info", the site that posted the original article, a journalistic 'F' for trying to make a fundamentalist minister who believes stupid things out to be a Nazi sympathizer. People have said similar things in reference to the relationship between the founding of the State of Israel and the Second Coming many times before, although they're usually not as explicit in talking about the role of the Holocaust in it. The view that the establishment of the State of Israel is necessary for the Second Coming is a fundamental of 'Christian Zionism'.

And here's the video:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Nazis and Anti-Semitism, the Christianity connection, Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Nazi anti-semitism has always been a mystery to me. Previously, nothing that I had come across even rose to the level of pseudo-scientific pretension the scientific racism did, which is saying something. So, I decided to look at one of their acknowledged sources, "Foundations of the 19th century by Houston Stewart Chamberlain". Chamberlain liked the Nazis, and they liked him back. High Nazi figures visiting him in his last days, after they had seized power, and got a thumbs up from him for their actions.

"Foundations" certainly provides answers, but the answers lead back into familiar territory, that is to say to the tradition of blaming the Jewiswh community for the death of Jesus. After slogging through pages and pages of Chamberlain's writings on art, Greece, and Rome without seeing getting anything anti-semitic, I finally got to the section on Christianity. That's when it started. Turns out Chamberlain was a Christian, and viewed the death of Christ as the most important event in world history.

Chamberlain viewed Christ and Judaism in Manichean terms. Judaism, as the "Old Law", represented everything identified as bad, base, and material. He viewed Judaism as being purely legal, consisting solely of personal regulations, advice on life, with no spirituality behind it. His version of the culture of the Middle East is one of people utterly focused on the here and now and not admitting anything transcendent. Christ, who he didn't believe was Jewish, was supposed to be the anti-thesis: pure spirit, freedom, self direction, cosmic contemplation. If Judaism was supposed to be centered on the market, Christ was supposed to be centered on the Heroic, although the way he links Christ to things more commonly associated with Homer and the Sagas is circuitous in the extreme. I mean, dying on the cross after preaching for a few years is hardly great heroism.

From it followed that Christ's death was at the hands of bad materialists and that his resurrection both proved them wrong and opened up the door for cosmic redemption through heroic deeds of love and justice.

In distorting Judaism, both past and present, out of all recognition Chamberlain recapitulates the Passion story, but twists it through the interjection of a European or "Aryan" Christ,linking distant deeds in the middle east to 19th century Europe. It's very obvious that he's projecting into the past his feelings about the present-what he liked and didn't like about the world around him, what he thought was wrong and right with society. Everything that he doesn't like about the modern world....gets wrapped up into a bundle and then put onto people who are Jewish, changing their beliefs and maligning there religion to make it look like they believe the worst and most crass ideas around. Everything good, nice, and positive gets the opposite treatment....bundled up and ascribed to the Germanic "Aryan", or, failing that, to Europeans, or Indo-Europeans.

You get the feeling that Jews were picked out of the hat of history for this role, and that if it had been some other people and some other religion that had come to Europe that they'd have been the target instead. Their religion would have gotten the treatment, their culture would have been distorted and maligned. To me, nothing in Judaism itself provides the basis for what Chamberlain argues. Instead, it's all backwards projection based on a Christian interpretation of the role of Jews that assigns to them an old and primitive covenant and the murder of Christ.

Thinking about why many Lumpenproletariat folks tend to be conservative on many issues

An unfortunate truth. By Lumpenproletariat, or just plain lumpen, I mean folks who come from working class backgrounds who have dropped out of the system and are now leading a kind of twilight existence. These are the stoners and the gangsters, the hardcore partiers as well as the anarchists of all stripes who are connected to the street punk culture. As a former member of this group one thing that has always troubled me is why exactly is it that these folks, specifically the men, combine anti-authoritarian sentiments, hating cops, school, the establishment, bosses, with ultra-machismo, being insulting to women and homophobic. The latter characteristics are to me a pretty much uncontestable part of lumpen culture. You're much more likely to see a hardcore stoner treat women in a demeaning way while acting like he's a gangster, despite being white and not a gang member, then you are to see them be sensitive and aware of radical feminist arguments. Being hard, fighting, objectifying women, goes along with their support for the legalization of pot, medical marijuana, an end to the drug war, and end to police abuse, and less of a state. Ron Paul is popular among lumpenproletariat folks: all the libertarianism you could ask for without the social responsibility and equal treatment that left libertarianism demands. On the plus side, thought, racism is out of the picture.

I don't mean to be bitter, in fact, these folks aren't terrible people by any means, but the thing is that they really should be the ones who are leading the fight against our present economic and social system, while in reality they just support a libertarianism that doesn't interfere with their smoking habits.

Thinking about it from the inside, what I've come up with is that these folks are in rebellion against everything that society puts out there, both good and bad. They're against the cops, the schools, the establishment, but they're also reflexively against the social codes relating to women, how you take substances, fighting and machismo--codes that aren't so bad. What they feel is real, it's not just adolescent rebellion, but there's no recognition that just because something is supported by the establishment doesn't mean that it's automatically bad and must be opposed. It's that kind of thinking that's behind so-called 'iconoclastic' Fox News-esque perspective on liberal culture, irrespective of the reality of how liberal values play out in real life.

Me, myself, I separated from my Lumpen comrades partially for this reason, and partially because the people I was with were psychotic fucks and I didn't want to be associated with them anymore. I believed in the ideals of the '60s, or at least what I thought they were, and it became clear to me that the productive counter-culture didn't consist of just getting drunk and/or getting high, hanging out with people who were both ignorant and acted like they were on steroids. The way they treated people, their constant emphasis on 'hardness', was shit, to be blunt about it.
I went to a more liberal place, and then later found Progressive and Left ideas, ideas that to me explained very well what exactly is really going on with the world. I'm damn lucky that I did, and I'm thankful for it.

Other people in that scene weren't so lucky. I remember being contacted by one of them via Myspace a while ago, asking if I was a person that they went to school with. I didn't particularly want to talk to him, or have anything to do with him in fact, so I never responded. A week or so later I suddenly got a friend request from an obviously fake profile that had been created, where the person was a gay, native american, Muslim, who was intent on spreading the gospel of Islam. I had indicated on my profile that I'm interested in both men and women, and my political ideas were pretty apparent as well. I guess my non-dogmatic progressivism was too 'politically correct' to them. Perhaps they objected to my opposition of anti-Muslim sentiment in the post-9/11 world, even though they themselves listened to gangster rap put out by black people. The real world is a different matter, I suppose.

What sort of practical proposals could change this situation with the lumpenproletariat? Potentially, folks could try to spread liberal values among them, showing them that being cool doesn't mean hating gay people, that it doesn't somehow mean being weak, and that treating women with more respect doesn't imply being subject to "feminazis" or bowing down to authority. The Hardcore movement, which I was unfortunately never exposed to during my time in the Lumpenproletariat, has done a good job of steering people in a positive direction. This came about through the defeat of the Nazis in the American Hardcore scene, a very positive thing. By trying to reach out to kids it may be possible to moderate some of their blanket hatred of the world. Hopefully, if that can happen, if some sort of balance in their perspective is restored, they can start to figure out who's really benefiting from them being on the bottom, who's really on the top, and what they should do about it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yay for the Hungarian Revolution of '56!

Wikipedia informs me that today was the day it started.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A challenge with diversity--including folks in a non-class biased way

It's a mistake to say that elite institutions have never accepted minorities into their fold, whether they be minorities in the sense of gender, sexual orientation, or race. While the numbers of people from minority backgrounds who were accepted into elite institutions like the state bureaucracy, academia, and business, were small before the civil rights movement, they were still there. However, it was most likely the case that, whatever the individual's own beliefs were, in order to gain admittance to these circles they had to conform to upper class white norms. Which points to a problem.

Phil Ochs, in his song "Love me, I'm a liberal", wrote that "Some of our best Negros are friends", which despite its unfortunate phrasing has some truth to it. It's easy to accept folks who have copied the dominant culture's idea of what is right and proper, and idea that is most often not just race biased but class biased as well. What's harder to do, and possibly more worthwhile to do as well, is to also accept people who come from working class backgrounds whose culture doesn't mirror that of the white upper class. Of course, the cultural and class situation is not either/or. It's possible for people to come from backgrounds that are less working class while still retaining non-white culture, but the tendency as I have observed is for the people at the bottom of our economic system to retain more of their unique culture.

To admit people whose cultural norms clash with those of proper white society is the challenge, otherwise, what we're doing is, consciously or not, encouraging access to influential sectors of society by people who mirror the elite and discouraging others.

*on edit: I could also add women as well as GLBT people who aren't from upper class culture to this, white or not, as well as white working class people.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perhaps it's time for socialism in the U.S., not anarchism

I say that not because there's any sort of inherent weakness in anarchism so much as that the kinds of things that anarcho-communism wants to establish are right now pretty far away from the consciousness of most Americans. Specifically, the communal, collective, part of anarchism is, I'd wager, lost to most people outside of the anarchist movement itself. The collective side is, in my opinion, the essential point that differentiates anarchism from right wing libertarianism and the stoner libertarianism of places like (the otherwise good) Disinfo.com. Communal, social values, the kind of values that fuel people taking care of other people in their community and that fuel working for the good of the community on top of working for yourself, are pitted against an individualism that denies any validity to collective and social values whatsoever, and dresses its opposition up in anti-statism. It appears to me that before folks can come around to realizing how it can be possible for collective realization to coexist with personal realization, they need to know just what collective realization is, on any level. A wonderful way for them to get that understanding would be for society as a whole to move towards social democracy. By expanding the welfare state into a social democratic state, by winning the struggle to do so, America could establish the sort of foundational ethics that could then be built on to create a just society that could implement communal values without having a state form attached to it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pets and Seattle....a local neighborhood paper devoting it's biggest section to dog and pet issues

The paper in question shall remain nameless, but it's not located in Greenlake. It was amazing to get a copy of this paper, look through it, and first see a couple of articles on pets, then get to an entire section having to do with doggy issues, one that exceeded the straight news section by a slight margin. We have a fetish for pets here in Seattle, especially dogs. There are prominent dog training facilities, dog parks, even a dog bar/restaurant in Fremont where folks are encouraged to take their dogs. You can get gourmet dog food, high end dog toys, and dog clothing. Grocery stores and other stores have had to put up signs saying that according to health regulations only service dogs are allowed in.

Yet for all the attention we pay to four footed friends, there are still plenty of folks who live under the Viaduct, the name for the elevated highway that runs next to downtown Seattle, and there are more that live on the streets. Luxury in Seattle competes with outright poverty and social dislocation, although most of the poor people are segregated in far away districts like Rainier Beach, Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, and West Seattle.

We're a city that supports a gourmet cupcake industry, but isn't always good about having the poor either have their issues addressed and not eating cake, so to speak. If we could divert some of the money and attention that we lavish on our pets and cupcakes into addressing social issues, maybe that could change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Greenlake hole: pedophilia or affordable housing?

Another, half serious, comment on the Greenlake yuppie neighborhood of Seattle.

Folks in Greenlake sure love their kids, as is documented by the parenting styles in Clare Dederer's book "Poser", and some prankster recently put up a proposed land use sign on the huge fenced in hole off of 72nd that outlining his (or her) ideal of what that land could be used for (from My Greenlake.com"):

"The sign, a parody of a Seattle Department of Planning and Development land use sign, indicates that the empty lot will be used “to construct one ground level ball pit pond containing 1,200,000 cu. ft. of rainbow plastic balls.”

“Parking for for 171 bicycles, 65 unicycles, and 13 tricycles to be provided in 2 levels within the structure,” the sign reads. “Existing ramp to be converted to one 40 ft. slide.”

A map on the sign shows a trampoline, a concessions area and a “rescue claw.” "

Man, someone out there really loves kids. Besides being a little creepy, it shows where the focus of Greenlake residents are: the hole could easily be used for affordable housing or other worthy causes, but instead our prankster proposes a place that will give even more opportunities for the spoiled brats who live in the area, kids who already get more attention and money lavished on them than has in most of recorded history.

Will the ball pit include a resident Santa whose lap kids can sit in, who will listen to requests for further goods that the kids want to accumulate? Better check the sex offender registry before hiring for that one.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another strength of Occupy Seattle: the diversity of voices in the protest, unlike some other demos.

This one is an easy one. Many large protests, particularly those put on by ANSWER and other fronts for Stalinist or Maoist parties, such as the October 22nd Coalition, typically draw lots of people but don't succeed in creating continuations of the efforts. This is largely because of the hardline ideology that they make a keystone of their protests. While many folks would most definitely want to end war and eliminate racism, or eliminate police brutality, the ideological elements that the sponsoring groups of these protests put in their turn off people who would otherwise would be extremely supportive of them. Folks show up, concerned about the cause, get there, applaud for the speakers they like, then hear hardline speeches for anti-capitalist revolution, get demotivated, go home, and go back to business as usual--until the next protest happens, where the process begins again.

Occupy Seattle appears to be different. But, there is the issue of folks doing the equivalent of the vanguard parties' hardlining, while dressed up in an anarchist disguise. The truth is that when it comes down to it the things that ANSWER and others say alienates people even if it comes out of the mouths of Anarchists instead of Workers' World Party members. The same alienation from the cause will ensue. Folks should realize that in general Progressives from all levels of anti-capitalism will be much more likely to support a group that doesn't require them to commit to Revolution Now and a total and immediate overthrow of the capitalist system, followed either by its replaced by an Anarchist confederation or a hardcore Socialist state, than they are the contrary. Which isn't to say that these voices shouldn't be present. In fact, as individual I believe that much of the rhetoric is exactly what I support. They really should be included. Both forms should be there, as contributing voices, but in my opinion they shouldn't overpower the messages of folks who represent a good deal more people than they do. To put your hardline ideology out there in a my way or the highway setting, while limiting the voices of those who support more limited aims, is to put yourself forward as the vanguard whose opinions matter more than those of regular people, who aren't as 'enlightened' as you are. This, again, is true whether you're an Anarchist or a Marxist-Leninist. Same effect, different ideology. Vanguard is as Vanguard does.

Occupy Seattle definitely has room for a kind of diversity of voices that other protests don't, which is very good. If it keeps up, and there's no indication it won't, it will have the potential to attract people who otherwise would not want to participate in anything ANSWER does, whether that means anything beyond going to a single rally or march for one day or doing anything the day after the protest is over.

More Occupy Seattle: it's an alternative to Greenlake 'social activism'

Meaning the Seattle strategy that gets a lot of attention here of privileged yuppies doing things like eating organic and supporting local boutique businesses as social activism. There are quite a few folks in Seattle who, while leading lives that are excessive in their privilege, think that they're great supporters of social change because they've done a few token gestures with their money. These actions help them feel better about themselves, think that they're great people because of it, despite the fact that at the end of the day when it comes to their actions' impact on real social change, especially social change having to do with inequality and social justice, their actions have almost no impact.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Posted an update to the "subtantive Amanda Knox post" regarding racism and ethnocentrism in the Northwest

With the link being Here. I call it substantive because it contains more than me essentially yelling about the treatment of the Italian judicial system by the Knox family and by the Seattle based, and to a lesser extent nationally based supporters, of Knox as a whole.

The substantive thing about the Amanda Knox coverage: how it reveals underlying prejudices in the Pacific Northwest

The Northwest is many things, but one of the things it is, that's not talked about much in the coverage and praise of Seattle and elsewhere, is that it's white. I mean that in more than just the manner of a throw away phrase. Although the Northwest is liberal in many respects, when it comes down to race and ethnicity the liberality often times reveals itself to be only superficially so, in both my opinion and in others. We talk about equality, about honoring diversity, and yes, you probably will have less overtly racist incidents happening here, but when it comes to how people respond to each other in ways besides superficial respect, and to what they actually understand about folks who aren't of white-anglo ethnicity, the northwest is very sheltered, non-comprehending, and quite frankly separatist. The sheltered-ness doesn't just extend just to people of color but to white, European, ethnicities who are outside the realm of the accepted English, Irish, Scottish, German, and Scandinavian ones. People here often vote with their feet and with their social circles, simply and voluntarily segregating themselves from non-white and non-anglo folks through the means of moving to whiter areas and simply not engaging with non-white folks, at least with the non-approved non-white folks, in meaningful ways.

This makes the prejudice harder to see. However, because the people are so polite, on the surface, the prejudice often comes out unconsciously, in the form of mess ups that reveal preconceptions that folks out east, or for that matter out in California, would never make. Anti-Italian prejudice is one of them, and it comes out when you least expect it, and like the other types of prejudice makes you wonder where these people came from? What rock did they crawl out from under to be that naive?

More on this later.

*on edit: okay, here's the addition: One very poignant example of some of the entrenched feelings in the Northwest that I've experienced involves old people. One old person in particular. When I say old, I mean in his seventies. You could say that, well, old folks say the damnedest things, but bear with me.

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Ballard with this guy, Ballard being the Scandinavian neighborhood of Seattle. The reasons I was having coffee with him are complicated and have to do with my life outside of the World Wide Web. Now, ethnically, I'm a quarter Italian, a quarter Polish, with the rest being an amalgamation of the ethnicities I label anglo, so my appearance doen't necessarily scream out that I'm Italian. Me and the guy are talking, and all of the sudden he tells a joke: "What sound do you get when you run over a bunch of wine bottles with your car? Wop wop wop wop wop!" I sat back there struck dumb.

Now surely, there are folks out there whose grand parents have racist tendencies and who sometimes tell off color or really stupid and insulting jokes. However, this was the only time in my life that I'd ever heard something anti-Italian that was this extreme. In fact, it was one of the only times in my life that I'd heard overt and purposeful anti-Italian sentiment joke, as opposed to casual ignorance like assuming that all folks who are Italian have mob ties, or a general put down of Italians. I've also been around a lot of old people in my day, and none of them ever came up with something that extreme against a fellow European ethnic group.

My thinking is simple: if there are folks out there, in Seattle, of a certain age or not, who openly and unapologetically slam European ethnic groups that are non-Northern European, what must both those same individuals and others be thinking about ethnic groups that are far more different than them than Italians? To me, the joke wasn't just an offensive act, but was in fact a bellwether indicating what likely lies beneath the surface of the Pacific Northwest, a space containing material that's not pretty. I remember Edward Albee saying, in an interview, that his parents weren't just racist and anti-Italian but anti-Irish also, and how that was quite extreme for the times. Here, in 2010, when this happened, you have folks in the Northwest who still feel that Italians are meant to be the butts of jokes, and who see nothing wrong expressing it loudly and openly in a crowded coffee house, notably in the Scandinavian part of town.

What must folks like that think of the Ethiopians who live in Seattle? Or the Eritreans? or the Somalis? Seattle has a large East African community, believe it or not. What about the Vietnamese, or the Chinese? What about Latinos, what about Native Americans? What about African Americans? What about Arabs?

You see where I'm going with this. I see the disdain and unbelief that the Seattle area had for the Italian judicial system in the Amanda Knox case as coming out of some of the same ignorant ethnocentric attitude held in lesser degrees by many people that this older gentleman exemplified. Like I said, a great degree of ignorance by folks outside of ethnic groups outside of a small spectrum is common in both Seattle and in the Northwest as a whole. The difference is that most people in general don't make malicious jokes based on it.