Monday, May 30, 2011

Criticism of observations about wealth inequality in the U.S. on Huffington Post and elsewhere

This comes from a sympathetic standpoint, but we should do our homework and not either be ignorant of what we're talking about or try to finesse data to make things look different than they are.

A big misunderstanding comes from simple definitions: wealth as measured by economists is not the same as income. Wealth is assets, stocks, bonds, land, homes, cars, bank accounts, while income is just that, income earned either from work or from wealth. Wealth inequality, that is inequality in who owns stocks and bonds and has big bank accounts, is not the same thing as income inequality. But too often the two are conflated. It's even worse when wealth inequality in the U.S. is quoted, and then compared to income inequality in other cases, such as bringing Sweden into it, as we shall see, because it's not only misleading but wrong.

Lets take This article from the April 29th Huffington Post by Wray Herbert. According to Herbert,

"Wealth inequality is at historic highs in the U.S. as well, with some estimates suggesting that 1 percent of Americans control nearly half the nation's wealth"

Bad, indeed, if that is the case, but how does this compare to other countries? The Gini index is a good comparative measure that can be used to assess the relation of possession of income or wealth by a percentage of people to the total volume of income or wealth of the country. The Gini Index runs from 0 for perfectly equal, to 1 for completely unequal, with a very small percentage of people owning mostly everything. The U.S.' wealth Gini index according to this study, the Luxembourg Wealth Study,(Luxembourg Wealth Study Working Paper Series #1, 2006) an international project run by central banks and statistical agencies, is .84. Pretty bad. Yet Sweden's is .89, Germany's is .78, and Canada's is .75 . The years for all of these are 2001, so it is a decade out of date at this point.

The Gini income coefficients for these countries, in comparison with the United States, are as follows, from Wikipedia (
"List of Countries by Income Inequality",) based on the CIA's data: according to the CIA, the US' Gini is .45 (2007). This is higher than the UN's estimate of .408 (2007). The Gini of Sweden is .23 (2005), that of Germany is .27 (2006), and that of Canada is .321(2005).

Shouldn't we be up in arms about the Swedes with their utterly disproportional distribution of wealth? Actually, they're one of the most income equal countries on earth. The U.S. has a higher incidence of income inequality than all of Europe, Western or Eastern, with the possible exception of Bosnia. It's on par with that of the countries of South America, as well as the new China. This is nothing to be proud of. But we shouldn't try to fudge facts by pointing to our wealth inequality and then, at times, pointing at the income inequality of places like Sweden and being shocked at the difference. Other countries that have much more even incomes still have very unequal distributions of wealth, so it alone is not a good indicator of how a country is doing. Still, it makes for a good statistic to shock people, even if that statistic has no relation to the reality of most folks, who may have proportionally little savings or assets even if they bring in lots of money month to month.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Criticism of the Israel lobby and U.S. attitudes vs. Anti-Semitism

Something that gets lost in the shuffle, in the back and forth, is that the nature of criticisms against the Israel lobby and against people who are uncritically supportive of Israel labels objects to the positions because they're fundamentally conservative. People who are uncritically supportive of Israel put their ethnic and religious interests in front of respect for universal rights much in the same way that folks alleging an extensive plot of oppression of Christians in Islamic societies and those who support their family's country of origin right or wrong do. The last time I checked, both of these tendencies, which could include for example support of right wing politics in Greece by the Greek community in the United States, and the same sort of thing, combined with religion, in the Christian Lebanese community in the United States, were conservative. This is important in that neither of these tendencies implies labeling people who are Jewish as embodying certain traits, being a united group who are all one way, or seeing them as somehow completely being separate from the greater community. There are folks who are Sikhs who support radical Sikh politics in India, yet to the extent that people are even aware of it I don't think that folks would label that some sort of dual loyalty. They have friends and family over there, and are passionate about politics over there, yet are citizens in the United States without contradiction. Maybe in Canada, with its different history regarding British colonialism and its aftermath, the situation is different, but my sense is not here in the U.S., although folks who wear turbans are of course singled out for being potentially Muslim. In any case.
The parallel can be expanded to other ethnic and cultural groups as well, for instance the Miami Cuban exile community. They're very passionate about what goes on in Cuba, have very definite ideas about what they want to happen, organize themselves as an interest group and pressure Congress, yet to criticize them does not imply an existential threat against their being. It only implies disagreement over the road they want to take, one that often involves threats and actions of terrorism against Cuba by members of the community.
Why should criticism of uncritical supporters of Israel be any different? For sure, the history of anti-semitism and anti-semitic ideology exists, but just because history has been a certain way does not mean that the present is necessarily an echo of the past. What people actually say and believe today should have more weight than haphazard generalizations based on past tragedy and experience. And the most virulent anti-semitism, historically speaking, was based not completely on the idea of people who are Jewish being particularistic and closed, only supportive of one another, which is what critics of the Israel lobby are often accused of believing, but on that idea combined with the notion that people who were Jewish spread morally degenerate liberal ideas.
German anti-semitism was not completely about the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a forgery based off an anti-masonic novel written in France in the early 18th century, but also about the idea of people who were Jewish being predisposed to sexual degeneracy, moral degeneracy, spreading atheism, desecrating national and patriotic traditions, introducing things like Modern Art and music, supporting homosexuality, allying with African Americans in spreading that terrible, awful, degenerate art form known as Jazz, on and on, along with ideas about being greedy, crude, obsessed only with money, and only caring about other people who were Jewish. I would challenge anyone to find evidence of any of these stereotypes in progressive criticism of uncritical supporters of Israel and of the Israel Lobby. They are simply not there. The progressive criticism is not that people who are Jewish are somehow (on top of all being the same) threats to the American community, but that the fundamentally conservative policy of supporting Israel right or wrong undermines commonly held liberal values of fairness and human dignity.

American Exceptionalism and Socialism, or, the old methods of avoiding it won't work anymore

American Exceptionalism has traded on the idea, from the very start of the US, that freedom and liberty are just naturally there, that the United States in colonial times already possessed great fairness and equality, liberty and freedom, and that the goal of society and social intervention since then should simply be to preserve this unique heritage.
Reading the Jacobin writings of Robespierre, a figure who turned bloodthirsty but who was also eloquent, they indicate that in the radical French Revolution one of the ideas was to put into action the same principles of the Enlightenment in society that American thinkers felt already existed in the United States. The Declaration of Independence talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and yet after the creation of the Constitutional system large inherited plantations were preserved, along with slavery, and indentured servitude persisted although it declined. Liberty, and freedom to make something of yourself, was thought to be guaranteed by the wide open frontier to the west of the colonies, where farmers and small businessmen could move when the concentration of wealth in a particular area grew too much. Class society could theoretically be avoided by giving these opportunities. Slavery as well presented an American Exceptionalist safety valve, in that white Americans in the South had an objectively higher standard of living in that the hard work was done by unfree labor. Slaves in a sense could be thought of as taking the place of the working class, thereby making free whites more able to share in economic prosperity without, theoretically, serious class divisions arising among them. Immigrants too were a source of a safety valve for the combination of white supremacy and American Exceptionalism, and remain so today. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the hard work of society, in the north, was done increasingly by immigrants from Ireland, Eastern and Southern Europe, and in earlier times Germany, where people from these backgrounds took the place of poor Anglo whites doing the dirty manufacturing and service jobs that they would most likely not want to perform. When it was seen that the increasing importation of folks from non-Anglo/Irish/Germanic countries had the possibility to jeopardize the racial and ethnic composition of America, strict rules were put in place that essentially stopped immigration from Italy, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. Convenience was not worth the potential long term effects.
Similarly, today Mexican laborers take the jobs that no one wants, that would cause an uproar in the white community if regular white people were forced to take them, and the emergence of class divergence is delayed. Geopolitical factors also played and play a part.
After the destruction of both the Soviet Union, Japan, and Europe in World War II, the United States emerged as the only intact power, able to rev up its factories to sell its goods to the rest of the world that was trying to reconstruct itself from the ruins. With the end of the war, America entered a golden economic age where it appeared that, no class society would not emerge here, and that the only thing needed to stop injustice was a few social programs here and there. The prosperity of America in this case was dependent on the desolation of other nations, and once those nations recovered the American economy started to stagnate because it couldn't effectively respond to the competition with better products, although it's a heresy to say as much. However, the lack of quality was possibly made from the top down. Now that the economy has once more tanked due to neoliberalism, the second time after the engineered shock therapy induced in the late Carter administration and the early Reagan administrations by Fed Chief Paul Volcker, what's being presented to us is evidence that American Exceptionalism, American economic Exceptionalism and the issues associated with it, is a flawed idea in a fundamentally capitalist system.
One can dispossess Native Americans and expand westward out to the frontier, can import slaves from Africa, import immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, and elsewhere in Europe, and invite workers from Mexico to the United States to work for nothing, but capitalism itself will still assert its tendencies and the preference for greed over social and economic justice will lead to a situation of collapse and inequality. And it will affect not just those on the bottom but the previously privileged classes, both ethnically and economically, up to a certain point, and they will feel the pain too. America as a bastion of free market economics sustained by an Exceptionalism guaranteed by a unique political and social path is unsustainable, and a socialist reckoning with both inequality and the way that economic decisions are made is inevitable.

Jacobins, Robespierre on Property, America

Robespierre continues to be very insightful. It's becoming apparent to me that a lot of the reasoning behind the radical part of the French Revolution has not made it to the United States at all. In particular, Robespierre highlights the different path taken, one that wanted to make liberty a fact and not just something latent in society. American Exceptionalism has traded on the idea, from the very start of the US, that freedom and liberty are just naturally there, that the United States in colonial times already possessed great fairness and equality, liberty and freedom, and that the goal of society and social intervention since then should simply be to preserve this unique heritage. But first here's a quote from Robespierre's writing "On the Silver Mark", along with a quote from his proposed "Rights of Man":

Talking about a poll tax, that is a tax required to be paid in order to vote, R says this:

"The people of whom you speak are apparently men who live, who subsist, in society, without the means to live and subsist. For if they are provided with those means they have, it seems to me, something to lose or to preserve. Yes, the rough garments that clothe me, the humble garret to which I purchase the right to withdraw and live in peace, the modest wage with which I feed my wife, my children; these things, I admit are not lands, carriages, great houses; all of them amount to nothing, perhaps, to those accustomed to luxury and opulence, but they are something to ordinary humanity: they are sacred property, beyond doubt as sacred as the glittering domains of wealth" (On the Silver Mark, pg. 9)

And on the Proposed Rights of Man:

"So let us in good faith set out the principles of the right to property; something all the more necessary since the prejudices and vices of men have sought to envelop the question in impenetrable fog.
Ask some merchant of human flesh what property is; he will tell you, pointing towards the long coffin that he calls a ship, in which he has packed and fettered men who appear to be alive: 'There are my properties; I bought them for so much a head.' Question some gentleman who has land and vassals, or who thinks the universe turned upside down because he has them no longer, and he will give you ideas on property that are more or less similar.
Interrogate the august members of the Capet dynasty; they will tell you that the most sacred of all properties is unquestionably the hereditary right they have enjoyed since ancient times, to oppress, degrade and squeeze legally and monarchically the twenty-five millions of men who inhabit the territory of France, subject to their good pleasure.
In the eyes of all those people, property does not rest on any principle of morality. It excludes all notions of justice or injustice. Why does your Declaration of Rights seem to present the same error? In defining liberty, the first of mankind's assets, the most sacred of the rights it receives from nature, you said, rightly, that its limits were the rights of others: why did you not apply that principle to property, which is a social institution?" (Draft Declaration of the Rights of Man, pg 67)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Robespierre, quite remarkable. Zizek's book, the Romantic revolution, and an excerpt

I'm reading with great interest Slavoj Zizek's selection of French Revolutionary Robespierre's works in English translation. The plot is thickening quite a bit in that it's become apparent that Robespierre's ideas had quite a lot in common with the Romanticism of the 19th century, much more so than I suspected, meaning that the Jacobin revolution and the radical ideals of the French Revolution may possibly be an example of the first flourishing of Romantic and Socialist ideas in Europe. I'll reproduce some texts later, particularly from Robespierre's proposed "Rights of Man" and from his writing "On the Principles of Political Morality", but here's an interesting piece from the writing "The Silver Mark", which takes as it's jumping off point opposition to a proposed poll tax in France, criticizing the English Enlightenment:

"England! ha! What good are they to you, England, England and its depraved constitution, which may have looked free to you when you had sunk to the lowest degree of servitude, but which it is high time to stop praising out of ignorance or habit! Free peoples! Where are they? What does the history of those you honour with this name show you? Other than aggregations of men more or less remote from the paths of reason and nature, more or less enslaved, under governments established by change, ambition or force? So was it to copy slavishly the errors or injustices that have long degraded the human species that eternal providence called on you, on you alone since the world began, to re-establish on earth the empire of justice and liberty, in the heart of the brightest enlightenment ever to have illuminated public reason, amid the almost miraculous circumstances providence has been pleased to assemble, to supply you with the power to restore to mankind its original happiness, virtue and dignity? "

Rousing words.

Perhaps there was a reason why Fichte, before he became a reactionary, was a firm supporter of the Jacobins, something that goes beyond simple preference for one section or another to deeper ideological affinity. An affinity that can be put forward to other progressive sections of 19th century Romantic thought.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

One of the funniest snippets out there illustrating right wing libertarianism: R.J. Rushdoony on Bill Moyers

Rushdoony is the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, which advocates complete biblical law for pretty much the whole world.

From '88:

"Moyers: But you would re-instate the death penalty for some of these or all of these Biblical crimes?
Rushdoony: I wouldn’t—
Moyers: But the reconstructive society–
Rushdoony: I’m saying that this is what God requires. I’m not saying that everything in the Bible, I like. Some of it rubs me the wrong way. But I’m simply saying, this is what God requires. This is what God says is justice. Therefore, I don’t feel I have a choice.
Moyers: And the agents of God would carry out the laws.
Rushdoony: The civil government would, on these things.
Moyers: So you would have a civil government, based upon–
Rushdoony: Oh yes. I’m not an anarchist. I’m close to being a libertarian. But–
Moyers: But the civil law would be based on the biblical law. And so you’d have a civil government carrying out a religious mandate.
Rushdoony: Oh yes."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pet peeves: people who advocate the ideas of Miguel Serrano and yet proclaim that they're doing no such thing

Because one thing I hate is being fucked around with. Serrano was a hardcore neo-nazi and an esotericist living in Chile who made connections both with the Nazi exile community there and with various groups living in Europe, such as one around Wilhelm Landig. Wrote "Nos: Book of the Resurrection" and a few other prequels, plus books such as "The Golden Band: Esoteric Hitlerism" that haven't been translated into English. His political positions and take on esotericism are unmistakable in what their orientation and intent is.
Now, let's say a person is a noise musician who made a big splash in the Bay Area before moving out to Denver. Not naming names, but some folks will have an idea here. Let's say this person has made a name for himself as being a provocateur, but has denied being on the far right in any sort of conventional way. Maybe, with the Da Vinci code and similar books coming out, he starts putting out articles about all this stuff about the Holy Grail, the South of France, the Cathars, all of it, seemingly respectable. In fact, it seems like a big departure from previous work, such that some outlets, like the Sci-Fi Channel, give him the opportunity to host a special on Rennes-la-Chateau in France, the now touristy hot spot that all this Holy Blood, Holy Grail, stuff centers on. What would happen if it turned out that, in point of fact, Miguel Serrano was the source of most of their ideas on the Grail, etcetera?
Such appears to be the case, both in this case and in certain others. The fact is, writings about the Holy Grail and such don't appear to have anything to do with Nazism, so on the face of it, without any knowledge of his actual writings, the association of Miguel Serrano with all of this appears far fetched. However, if you actually get a hold of a copy of "Nos: Book of the Resurrection", which I own but which is extremely hard to find, you'll see a weird semi-science fiction landscape unfold that combines racism, grail mysticism, extraterrestrials, white supremacy, troubadors and courtly love, the South Pole, and South America. I should add that, beyond Otto Rahn, the researcher who worked for the Nazis who researched this stuff, there really is no necessary connection between this stuff and Nazism outside of Serrano's mind, although connections between fascism and Grail mysticism are stronger. But all of this echoes very well with this individuals'writings....with specific articles posted on his website, such as the one strangely talking about the gods of South America having names similar to those of European gods, having much more than general connections in subject matter to Serrano.

Quoting someone who believes that what he calls, or called because he's dead now, the "Path of A-Mor" or courtly love, that he believes "Esoteric Hitlerism" is the contemporary manifestation of kills any claims to have credibility beyond that of the far right.

Here's a nice YouTube video of Serrano commemorating Adolph Hitler's 100th birthday

In my opinion, it's a shame that a left wing Chilean didn't knock off Serrano before he was able to die of natural causes. Simply repeating his ideas, of course, does not in my opinion merit such treatment.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

....and Osama bin Laden: an aberration made possible by oil money

Once again, good riddance. Saudi Arabia, like many other Gulf oil states, continues to be a place where religious ideology can be indulged in to almost any extreme because of the constant supply of cash flowing into the country through what's under the ground. Enormous excess, graft, and corruption, such as that exhibited in the Al-Yamama contract with Britain, along with sexual slavery, co-exist with pious religious police, whippings, and executions for religious reasons. How strange that a person who wanted to oppose the West was actually dependent on the West for his very prosperity, as opposed to being a Yemeni or Afghani villager. Bin Laden's 'Al Qaida' appears to be like the great empty buildings that Sultanates in the Gulf build for no other reason than just to break world records,only instead of pointless record breaking it was devoted to pointlessly spreading reaction and ignorance backed up by the power of the oil world.Hopefully with this aberration gone life will get back to some semblance of normalcy in the United States and elsewhere.

I feel that now that the guy is dead it's possible to lay it out without contributing to the right wing noise machine.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Machete kicks ass, one of the best commentaries on race and ethnic relations in the U.S. in a while

It may be old news, but I only got around to seeing it recently. The film is a combination of funny, entertaining, and biting in the points it makes. Virtually every scene has another layer of meaning in the form of points that are trying to be made, and none of it comes off as preachy, or as wooden.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Does competition encourage creativity? Sometimes...

This is just a little statement, not some heavily researched presentation. The thing with competition is that in certain circumstances it can discourage innovation and instead reward conformity to whatever is prevailing at the time. Look at it this way: if you have a situation where there's both cut throat competition and very high stakes involved, there's a disincentive to do something out of the range of the established norm because the further out you go the riskier success is. If a person's job is on the line and they have to choose between modifying a plan that someone else has come up with slightly and passing it off, or coming up with something new that may work really well but has a higher degree of risk through being less tried, the incentive is to go with what's worked in the past. If someone's job is on the line and there are lots and lots of people competing, the pressure to conform and to only modify what has come before increases even more, because your chances of winning have been reduced purely because of the larger number of people involved. In both cases, competition acts to inhibit people from putting forward new and creative ideas that could potentially yield good results.

If the consequences aren't severe, if winning and losing doesn't mean either keeping your job or losing it with little hope of getting another one, for instance, people are freer to put forward more interesting ideas because the consequences of taking the risk with something less tried are less harsh, possibly getting to a threshold where the risk/benefit tradeoff is deemed to be worth it.

There's also the issue of organizational conservatism if a person comes up with ideas that are interesting, but that implicitly threaten the status of people who have profited from putting forward the old ideas, something that can lead to people marshaling their forces to defeat something not because their side is necessarily right but because they'll lose out if the flaws in their opinions, ways of doing things, plans, come to light. That sort of resistance isn't honest competition because it assumes a power base that causes the different participants to not have an equal chance of winning. Choosing the familiar not because it's right but because it's familiar, circling ones wagons against what are considered to be outside threats, is nothing more than resorting to blind adherence to what's been done in the past as a guide to what to do in the future. It's a way to get out of having to justify your plans and opinions.

Newt Gingrich appears in Macon Georgia, calls Obama a "Food stamp president"

They symbolism couldn't be clearer. Or, maybe it can, if you look at the full quote (from The Washington Post:
"“President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.”

Hard working white southern Americans versus food stamp and welfare using black guy from the North.

Other parts of the Newt's program:

"Central to that promise, he said, would be eliminating the capital gains and estate taxes and reducing the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 12.5 percent. Those tax cuts, as well as freezing the personal income tax rates at their current Bush-era levels, is critical to creating jobs and spurring innovation, he said."

The Nakba in Palestine...Nakba day violence

The violence as reported by Rawstory. The Nakba, or mass expulsion of Palestinians from what is now Israel to make way for Jewish settlement, has to stand as one of the most nakedly hypocritical acts in the postwar world. After the tragedy of the Holocaust, when millions were murdered for racist ideology, where Nazi Germany openly proclaimed themselves a racialist state, gave official sanction to racialist history, research, made their sphere of domination fundamentally based on this principle, non-white lives were still viewed as less valuable than those emanating from Europe, in this case people who are Jewish. Arabs are supposed to be backward, so their land can be sacrificed in order to build another state for a persecuted people.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ayn Rand and Fascism, a better presentation....corporatism, Saint-Simon

I notice that a post I wrote a few years ago about Ayn Rand and fascism still consistently gets a lot of hits, so I'd like to update it a little bit and give a few brief thoughts about why in my opinion Rand has features of fascism in her philosophy, in a better way than in the original post.
While Rand does not engage in the state worship of Italian fascism, or advocate for dictators, her thought is most definitely shaped by corporatism of an industrial kind. Corporatism has had at least two different manifestations, each of which has been independent of fascism, although it of course drew on them. The first sort of corporatism looked back to the middle ages and to the system of the three estates, where lords dominated by supposedly shared power with guilds and peasant farmers, along with a circumscribed class of people living in towns and engaging in trade.The balance of power in this case is no different than feudalism, but theoretically the people have balances against abuses. The second type of corporatism, that could be called industrial corporatism or corporatist capitalism, looked at the rise of large industrial companies and super companies as the wave of the future, as being the shape of things to come.
Here, large industrial concerns organized by the free market and headed by industrialists thought to be either geniuses or great men, people like Rockefeller and Vanderbilt, were thought to naturally provide people with a decent living and to create a decent and just society. The corporate system in this case would operate for the benefit of people in general through industrialists wanting to put out good products and keep their market advantage. Since nothing legally had established the concerns, no state sanctioned monopolies, it could be said that these formations were naturally occurring and that therefore what appeared to be overpowering was really justified by the circumstances of life. It's this sort of corporatism that I believe Rand subscribed to, and subscribed to whole heartedly.
To give a good idea of where this train of thought comes from, and what it's like, the utopian socialist Henri Saint-Simon is a good source to draw from. Writing in the early 19th century, Saint-Simon's ideas were a mix of the very progressive and of strands that we'd consider to be regressive today. He believed in a sort of commonwealth without the State and without oppressive work, but also that the best way to achieve that was to make society itself into a sort of series of corporations that would be benevolently headed by engineers, scientists, industrialists, businessmen, as well as artists and philosophers, who would act in the public interest in coordinating them. His Here's an extract of his thought from this document on

"Let us suppose that France suddenly loses fifty of her first-class doctors,fifty first-class chemists, fifty first-class physiologists, fifty first-class bankers, two hundred of her best merchants, six hundred of her foremost agriculturists, five hundred of her most capable iron masters, etc…. Seeing that these men are its most indispensable producers, makers of its most important products, the minute that it loses these the nation will degenerate into a mere soulless body and fall into a state of despicable weakness in the eyes of rival nations, and will remain in this subordinate position so long as the loss remains and their places are vacant. Let us take another supposition. Imagine that France retains all her men of genius, whether in the arts and sciences or in the crafts and industries, but has the misfortune to lose on the same day the king’s brother, the Duke of Angoulême, and all the other members of the royal family; all the great officers of the Crown;
all ministers of state, whether at the head of a department or not; all thePrivy Councillors; all the masters of requests; all the marshals, cardinals,archbishops, bishops, grand vicars and canons; all prefects and sub-prefects; all government employees; all the judges; and on top of that a hundred thousand proprietors—the cream of her nobility. Such an overwhelming catastrophe would certainly grieve the French, for they are a kindly disposed nation. But the loss of a hundred and thirty thousand of the best-reputed individuals in the State would give rise to sorrow of a purely sentimental kind. It would not cause the community the least inconvenience. (Quoted
from L’Organisateur,
1819, by Charles Gide andCharles Rist, A
History of Economic Doctrines,

It's this sort of ethic that I believe Rand espouses, albeit without the humanitarianism of Saint-Simon. Instead, in point of fact, she's cheerfully anti-humanitarian, her supporters have expressed the opinion, when charged with social darwinism, that this is actually less important than the overall message, which is that if you let industry and the 'great men' take care of things society will be better off as a whole. Supposedly, if a person isn't a 'great man' or woman, but is still a good worker who pulls their own weight, they'll do well in a Randian society.

The flaws in this viewpoint come out of Rands own contradictions, which at once idealize people who find themselves in charge of companies and denies people at the bottom any right to organize or protest against injustices that people in this completely unregulated system might inflict. If folks following Rand's philosophy aren't ethically pure but instead take it upon themselves to, in their selfishness, cheat other people and use their power to exploit them, there's nothing that folks on the bottom can really do. This applies to consumers as well, and to citizens in general. The onus is on citizens to prove that products put out by companies need regulation at all, and that environmental concerns need to be addressed at all. Why should that be? Shouldn't society have a general interest in regulation, in that it's entrusted in looking out for the basic safety of people in general?

Rand's ethics also lead to contradictions, in that the notion is that doing a good job ensures that society will do well, but doing a good job entails also being as selfish as possible. Right there the temptation is of course to put selfishness above doing a good job, of using whatever power you have to cheat people and to enrich yourself by unjust means that have little or nothing to do with your actual merit or talent.

I don't see how any sort of idea of benevolent industrial corporatism can be self consistent with the greed is good philosophy of Rand. The only way, in my opinion, that a system like that could even potentially be positive is if a sort of populist or civic virtue based ethics was applied to the system, where people felt that doing a good job was doing their duty to the rest of the world as well. If you take that issue out of the picture, there are still very large problems, in that a corporate run system that's supposedly benevolent, why would folks who run companies get to make all the decisions? What exactly would entitle somebody who sits at the head of a large corporation to make decisions that, because of the absence of any kind of civil power to check it besides an almost non-existent one, would basically determine the course and shape of society? It would be a society where no one could do anything to object to the directors of the corporations, and where the answer to the question of 'how can we change things?' would be 'work hard and get promoted into the position at the top'.

A United States, a United world, of CEOs whose will would be considered to trump the concerns of regular people, because as the talented elite they would know what's best for others. The talented Il Duces who wouldn't rule by external decree but through the dominance over their companies.

Friday, May 13, 2011

...and one of the most shameful things that happened was the occasional praise of the Tea Party by leftists

It happened here and there. Glenn Beck was given backhanded praise as well. Yet these were the people bringing guns to demonstrations protesting the supposedly socialist policies of Obama. They would have shot down anarchists rather than join with them, yet some folks praised them for their ability to 'speak to the people'. Rancid right wing populism intersected in some folks' minds with the anti-elitist strain of punk rock culture.

Climbing out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", (almost) ten years of veiled violent threats.

That's what it feels like in a post-Osama world. The last (almost) ten years have been a bumper crop of ignorance, intimidation, and testosterone fueled bullshit. The veiled and sometimes not veiled threat of retribution, said more than acted on however, was always in the air, from Ann Coulter's statement that liberals now need to know that they too can be killed to Glenn Beck's statement that in the future it may be necessary to "shoot them in the head" regarding Obama supporters and progressives in general. And of course Gabrielle Giffords was shot, and a Glenn Beck fan was arrested in trying to carry out an attack on the "Tides Foundation", an otherwise obscure non-profit that Beck made a target of his tirades. Palin put out the map of gun targets, several congressmen's offices were vandalized (bricks thrown through the windows) in the wake of the health care debate, Tea Party folks showed up with guns at their hips at demonstrations and carried signs advocating violence against Democrats and the President [watering the tree of liberty with blood]. We should never forget this.

The exact quote by Ann Coulter is this:
"We need to execute people like [American Taliban] John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Rand Paul: right to health care like slavery. From the guy who felt stopping segregation in restaurants was illegitimate

Here"Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery."

Well, I suppose that not having a right to food frees restauranteurs from the bonds of that they can refuse to serve black people in line with their right as property owners.

Following Rand Paul's line of thought: do you have a right to vote? I mean, requiring people to work poll stations, even if it's so-called 'volunteer' work, implies that some people are required to do work on your behalf, ever year or so, just because you have this 'right', as you call it. Besides, the people who run elections who actually are paid are paid from tax payers' money, and no one ever asked them if they wanted elections anyways. So in other words, elections are legal extortion: money extorted from taxpayers, used to compel people to do work on these special days just because somebody said that folks have a 'right' to an election. I ask you: is the right to vote a negative right or a positive right, because all rights TO something and not FROM something are suspicious...

From Good Magazine: "The Two Births of Kim Jong IL"

The difficulty of 'is'

I'm a fan of the general thought of Merleau-Ponty, and one of his basic ideas is that we're condemned to try to express what can never be truly expressed with language and words. Words always fall short of the reality, there's always more to the reality than whatever connotation our words give it, yet words are the way we express ourselves, so we're condemned to try to make meaning, fall short, then try again, with the knowledge that no matter how close we get there will always be a gap between language and what's actually signified. Perhaps there are ways to partially get beyond this, such as trying to contemplate words in a more poetic vein, in ways that people in oral cultures or cultures that at least existed before the spread of mass media did. Being able to say words and meditate on the meaning of particular words and phrases...

But language, as Burroughs said, can also be thought of as a virus, something that lives with us and that we struggle with, sometimes cooperating with it, sometimes fighting against it. Burroughs' solution was to cut up language and reassemble it into new structures, thereby cutting up the systems of implicit control that he believed lay in language structures, control that unconsciously manipulated your thought through semiotic meaning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pissing what little prosperity we have left down the drain...

That's what the opposition to unions and in particular to public sector unions feels like. Sort of like a person who when faced with a leaky boat decides to make the holes bigger. The notion that we're somehow starved for competitiveness and need to take down unions is a farce, considering how our country is a free market haven compared to virtually every other western industrialized country out there. But that's really all the free marketers can do, argue for less, because they have no positive suggestions for how to make things better.

Playing the devil's advocate--Democracy Now! and World War I

I'm not for war and I don't approve of the mass slaughter that happened in World War I, but the comment by Adam Hochshild on Democracy Now! today that World War I " which really remade the world for the worse in every conceivable way—" is one that I'd like to question. Quite simply, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria got independent existences as a result of World War I, and I can imagine that between talk of it all being for money and for influence that folks in these countries, that were under control of either Austria or Germany, didn't think that the question was academic.

*edited for accuracy in the quote

Monday, May 09, 2011

To me, if you support the ethnic cleansing going on in Israel you're a moral leper

It doesn't matter what your other positions are, if you're Mr. or Ms. Progressive and have an armful of things right that you've done. If you're really progressive, but you compromise on Israeli settlements and how Israelis treat the Palestinians, then you're a hypocrite, pure and simple.

Man, Tony Kushner and CUNY

Found out about it through the Guardian and am just sitting back and watching it play out, although much of the drama appears to have died down in our 24 hour news cycle. Kushner, author of "Angels in America", was denied an honorary degree by the City University of New York because of his stance on Israel-Palestine.

One of the best parts is a statement by the person who blocked his degree:

"If his libelous statements against Israel were made by anyone outside the Jewish community, that person would be correctly labeled an anti-Semite."

There's actually nothing in Kushner's statement rebutting this and stating his actual viewpoint that hasn't been said by Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn.

But anti-semitism is a weird thing these days. You can be anti-semitic for not agreeing with the Likud party on Israel, or for suggesting that shooting kids in the street for throwing stones is wrong, as well as seizing and demolishing another ethnic group's homes in order to build your homes there. Anywhere else that would be called 'ethnic cleansing', i.e. kicking people out of their area and replacing them with settlements in which only your group can live, but not in Israel, because Israel is incapable of doing something like that. I mean, hey, the Serbs did it to the Croatians, and vice versa, but they didn't live in the holy land.

I should add with reference to kids being shot to throwing stones that that happened in Rafah in the Gaza strip, before Hamas took over by the way, and they were shot from guard towers that surround that part of the city. Maybe the fact that the city has guard towers staffed by Israeli soldiers around some of it should clue people in to what's actually happening.

The Royal Wedding, or 'Yay for Feudalism!'

Because that's what it seems to be when you get right down to it. The notion of kingship has no place in today's world, and folks in the UK who praise it should consider giving feudal fealty to their local lords in traditional ceremonies on an annual basis to make their self subjugation official.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Individual Reason vs. General Will in Democracy, or, not as opposed as is sometimes thought

Much of the modern support for democracy comes from a revised notion of what human beings are like that says that everyone is an autonomous individual who through their possession of reason can dictate where their life goes successfully, and through that can also make effective decisions about the direction of the community and of the bigger political entities that they're part of. In this conception, the workings of democracy and of representative government are thought to be the result of the addition of individual decisions based on reason to each other, that collectively come up with a good course of action. A rival, and often misunderstood, notion relies on the idea of democracy in action being the realization of the collective will of the community, with the fact of it being the will of the community sometimes improperly thought of as justifying it. This mischaracterization is very far from the case.
The idea of a 'general will' and most of the objections to the terms coming off of 'the will of the community' comes from Rousseau's "Le Contrát Social" or "The Social Contract". Rousseau, though, doesn't phrase the discussion of the general will in terms of a sort of self validating series of community decisions, where the reason that the decisions are right is because they're made by the community, which is somehow by definition always right. Instead, the general will refers to the will of the community that exists after the institution of the community has been established and folks have agreed to live by the laws and decisions of the community. People in this set up are autonomous individuals in a fundamental sense, but in choosing to recognize a system of government or of decision making, as well as a codified set of laws, they give up some of that autonomy to the new set of institutions, agreeing to honor and live by the decisions that the council or what have you have made and to obey the system of laws that they've recognized. Following Rousseau's thought, this is necessary because having multiple systems of government overlapping, all claiming the same kind of jurisdiction over problems doesn't really work, and the same can be said for having multiple codes of law claiming to be what people can expect to face and to live by. The general will, then, is the collective will of individuals acting within their capacity as citizens of whatever sort of polity they're part of.
Political groups, whether they be village councils, community decision making bodies, or higher sorts of representation, can be changed and reformed in their structure and composition, as can laws. What I think that Rousseau was concerned with is having a system in place that could make society work without it facing constant challenges to its fundamental structure over and over again. Whether this fear was justified or not is another thing. General will is not primal will but will within a created and therefore somewhat artificial context, a context created in order to perhaps reflect a real formation, like a real town, neighborhood, county, but that was not identical with it. Not the direct expression of the group but instead an expression of individuals' preferences as people who have a specific identity that itself has been created by common consent.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

An idea about why Christianity is so strange in the U.S.: a Brazilian parallel

There's an excellent book about folk religion in Brazil entitled "The Devil in the land of the Holy Cross", by Laura de Mello e Souza, put out by the University of Texas press. The opening chapters paint a picture of early Brazilian life as being influenced more by folk religion than by actual stringent Catholic doctrine, with the central authority of the Church being far away. In fact, according to Souza there really wasn't any sort of group accounting for theological clarity in Brazil for over a century after its initial colonization. What developed popularly was and is a mix of traditions that include many that don't actually have any official sanction, aren't in the Bible, but are instead derived from informal traditions that have been handed down. In Brazil, this has lead to some interesting developments, however, I would argue that a similar process happened in the U.S., but that the results have been nowhere as near as colorful.

Look at it this way: you have protestant groups that inherently have an objection to central authority, let loose on a continent where western migration further out into the country, further out into the wilderness, became the norm. These groups may have started out somewhat close to 'mainline' denominations, as the 'mainline' denominations like to refer to themselves as, but over time split, reconstituted, and became the dominant ethos in relatively isolated communities in the Midwest, the West, and the South. The South was an integral part of the frontier in the antebellum days, with homesteading coexisting with and making use of slavery. Without mass media and modern communications, places were free to develop without much interference from the outside world. Take the process further down the line and you come up with worldviews that support the Creation Science History Museum, that proudly portrays dinosaurs going on Noah's Ark, and the supposed several thousand year age of the universe. You get the bizarre ideas present in the Texas school board's recent curriculum revisions, that present the United States as created by Christianity and for Christian ideals.

And there are plenty of interlinking, mutually supporting, institutions like Bible Colleges and parochial schools that ensure that the 'unique' worldview indulged in by these sects gets perpetuated.

No wonder that there's constant paranoia in very Christian communities about the kids getting exposed to 'the world', coming under the influence of worldly mass media and fashions, going off to 'liberal' colleges, on top of the constant paranoia about books being taught in schools and stocked in libraries. These people have a charming mindset, much like the Amish do, and they want to maintain their way of life.

The problem comes when they try to convince the rest of the country that they're not batshit crazy but are instead the 'real americans' whose rights are being trampled on by godless heathens, who think that the world is as old as, say, some of the Lascaux cave paintings that at 17,300 years old must have been made over 11,000 years before the creation of the earth occurred.

Awesome pic: "Sorry it took so long to get my birth certificate...I was too busy killing Osama bin Laden"

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and enjoying it

Good book. He makes many good jabs at right wing authors in the first part of it, much interesting sarcasm. The problem is that unless you're actually familiar with this sort of fiction the commentary will probably be lost on you, and that's something that folks probably aren't willing to do, even though as a matter of course I believe that everyone should read everything, right, left, center, and otherwise, in order to be familiar with what's out there. I think, based on the book, that it also is reflection of the fucked up nature of Franquist Spain, that is Spain under Franco, where far-right ideas enjoyed a Mediterranean vacation for four decades, influencing things at large in a way almost not conceivable in the U.S.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bauhaus vs. Vkhutemas, organicism vs. constructivism...

Both being interesting and worthwhile. Of the two groups, Vkhutemas is the lesser known, although this shouldn't be the case. Vkhutemas was a school established by, among others, Alexandr Rodchenko in Moscow that taught a curriculum similar to that of the Bauhaus, but with a more formalist approach to things. There was cross fertilization on both sides. Bauhaus appears to have been more rooted in the idea of craft, and of a sort of melding of the ethos of William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement with industrial production, ironically, so that industrialism could be made human in a way. Vkhutemas appears to have worked for goals that are very, very, broadly similar, but from a completely different perspective. For Vkhutemas, art and design was to serve society, but it was still going to be art. The ideas in practice that fed into it were derived from the formalist movement where shapes, pictures, scenes, were dissolved down to their essentials and then built back up in order to create meaning starting from the most basic elements, that is the most basic elements that human beings pick up on. Formalism, and constructivism, involved aesthetics, creativity, harmony, artistic license, but appeared to do all of it in reference to deceptively simple lines and shapes, that appeared to be 'modernistic'.
The Constructivists' insistence that art should serve the Revolution in Russia has a parallel not in movements that have made art servile to the State so much as in the saying of Goethe, enthusiastically echoed by the Idealists, that architecture is frozen music, and that even society could become a work of art if elements of artistic reasoning are applied to it.
But, in a way, the subtle nature of the Constructivists' art, along with their self declared ideological strivancey, was their undoing, because the folks who came to power in the Soviet Union in the late 20s didn't see why functional art in service of the Revolution wasn't just straightforwardly propagandistic and non-artistically functional. The fusion of an artistic vision with a wish to reinvent society in a way imbued with human creativity over and above pure functionalism was lost. Indeed, the notion of 'Peoples' Art' being something more than propagandistic representations of 'the people' in a kind of heroic realist fashion, because of course 'the people' wouldn't like abstract art, was eventually lost in the Soviet Union.

But Vkhutemas, like the Bauhaus, remains as a documented experiment in what is possible, both artistically and socially, and could benefit from more attention....

What else in the retinue of interesting avant-gardes: George Grosz

A very good painter and satirist. Grosz was active in Germany and later fled, being one of the prime artists accused of spreading "Entartete Kunst" or 'Degenerate Art', including of course his satires on German society and on Nazism. Was a member of the Communist Party of Germany for five years after World War I. His working style for paintings was an adaptation of cubism, but like others who took from cubism he wasn't purely concerned with the fundamental questions that Picasso and others had brought up so much as using it as a tool for expression. This he shared with others, who he later separated with, and who later sympathized with artists and regimes that rejected abstract art all together and instead championed heroic vitalism, which they had initially used Cubism as a tool for communicating.

But his work remains interesting and stimulating, whatever the limitations caused by using Cubism as a tool for expressionism rather than a strategy in and of itself, limitations that remain no matter if the expression has a left wing context or one that's otherwise.

Another thing I have to get around to reading: "Blood Orgies", about Hermann Nitsch

I actually own a copy. Unfortunately, it seems to be out of print and very expensive, but I got it while it was still in print. Nitsch is one of the members of the "Wiener Aktionismus" or Vienna Actionist performance art movement, and his performances included and include a sort of anarchic liberation through....well, he gets back to primeval realities. This video will give you an idea of it. Nitsch, according to my understanding, makes sure that the animals used are slaughtered in a humane way before the performance. It's very intense, and made to be so, made to be challenging to the viewer, but ultimately valuable and not just done for shock value.

Happy May Day!