Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The (partial) myth of the great difference between the pre-industrial country and capitalist cities

The existence of a pure country acting as a repository of both communal ethics and traditions is taken for granted in some circles, in places that look fondly back to the past for a solution to today's problems. According to this view, believed in as well by 19th century Romantics in England as well as by sections of hippy culture in the '60s and '70s, cities are places of deracine corruption, the product of a profound split between humanity and nature, one that can only be overcome by going back to the land. There is much truth in this view, as much as cities offer both alienation and isolation, as well as the potential for newness and connection, but the notion that going back to the country takes one back to pre-capitalist values, is near sighted in the extreme.

The reason is simple: capitalism is not simply made up of industry, of factories, technology, and Dickensian social states. It's also a system of property rights and social relations, and those features of capitalism exist as much in the countryside as in the cities. Marx and later thinkers, in particular historian E.P. Thompson, have pointed out that changes in the idea of what property was and what rights owning property entailed that happened in the countryside established part of the foundation for the development of first small scale capitalism and then industrial capitalism. The transition to individual ownership as entailing absolute property rights, making the farmer a small businessman, was also a transition to the sort of market values praised by right-wing economic libertarians today.

The countryside, especially in the United States but also in other countries like England, isn't a repository of communal values anymore, values inherited from the shell of a feudal system, so much as it is a repository of bourgeois values covered with a patina of social conservatism originating in a pre-capitalist state, an empty superstructure preserving the non-progressive forms of those societies. In the U.S. pockets of pre-industrial ideas and ways of thinking do exist. Places like the South, through the establishment of brutal feudalistic relations during slavery, the deep cowboy country of the West, formed by the absolute need for cooperation on the frontier, surviving Mexican society in states in the South and West that were originally part of Mexico , pockets of the Northwest, and possibly traditional New England villages, preserve some of the ethic. Beyond that, however, the countryside is predominately bourgeois in its attitudes, an example of what William S. Burroughs said of Harry S. Truman: that it has the mind of a haberdasher, or small hat salesman.

Politically, if you look at where the biggest supporters of the Tea Party are, of free market policies linked to anti-Statism, in the United States, it's the countryside, the agricultural country, that has the biggest concentration. Glenn Beck appears in front of a barn in the Midwest in the cover of his book "The Real America". Rural society praises not only government non-intervention but the aggressive positive value of buying and selling, the ideal of being an owner, manager, and businessman, marketing yourself, and lifting yourself up by your bootstraps in order to become another Sam Walton some day. True, there is in fact a lot of social conservatism in these areas, and a lot of religiosity as well, but even there none of it threatens their basic economic values . Protestant churches, especially Fundamentalist ones, encourage a basic individualism in both action and belief that starts with the Bible relying on individual interpretation and ends with the importance of individual faith against works as path to heaven. Jesus feeding the poor doesn't register, just your personal faith, going to Church every Sunday, and avoiding non-Godly culture. That social conservatism and bourgeois values can coexist isn't quite as strange as it might seem, because individual responsibility feeding into the Protestant work ethic is the justification of much of their moralism, certainly as it concerns gays, sexual freedom, and women's rights.

The capitalist countryside can also be considered a transitional form of social life, one that exists between the archaic thought of pre-capitalist society and the full worldview of capitalist society that includes social liberalism as one of its components. The city provides an outlet for people frustrated with the static shell of the hypocritical countryside , a place that preaches freedom while restricting people in practice, but in doing so also sows the seeds of what's to come next. Once social and economic liberalism have been fully realized the downsides of bourgeois society become evident, and people try to find positive solutions. The capitalism of the cities, decried by conservatives for its facilitation of social liberalism, has provoked people to create alternatives to the alienation that they experience through the organization of communities as neighborhoods, initiatives to improve the community, social centers, initiatives for work, and housing that's less personally destroying. In my opinion, all of it prefigures a better society that combines social liberalism with collective values.

I also think that conservatives have also been mistaken in thinking that it's the social liberalism of the cities alone that leads to some of the social problems they stereotype cities as having. Instead, what in my opinion contributes more to the reality behind their racialized conception of social problems, is the intersection of alienation and estrangement in capitalism with aspects of capitalist culture that make use of the worst possibilities social liberalism has to offer. In experiencing discrimination, people want to fight back through pursuing what our society portrays as the point of life. There are quite a few other ways to respond, though, and many people in these communities are working to establish better alternatives.

The way out of the crisis people feel in the disconnection created by life in cities, the aspects of city life that resembles being in an anonymous borg, mostly experienced by the poor, isn't to go to back to the country in search of a purity not found in the city. That part of society is not only substantially the same beneath the patina of social conservatism on top but is also very vocal about defending the most alienating tendencies of modern life. Even the closeness to nature present in the country has to be balanced against the anti-nature opinions and points of view that many residents possess, that see nature as something just to be exploited through modern agriculture instead of something to be preserved. Instead, the way out is to create something new. Newness can be fostered both in small and medium towns as well as in cities. Perhaps the country needs to be transformed itself in order to reflect the new sense of community that's being constructed around the country, in a role reversal. Perhaps instead of going back to the country for wisdom, parts of culture of the city should be brought back to the country in order to establish a new fusion, a new synthesis of culture and economic activity, one that doesn't negate what has come before but that adds to and deepens it in harmony with what has been learned about where the future is going.

"After class, skimpy equality" by Lisa Belkin

Here. Good article summarizing the situation on college campuses, where rampant sexism and super objectification is the norm in campus life. After having lived in Seattle's University district for a couple of years, not as a student but just as a citizen who saw most of these folks when they weren't in the classroom, I can testify that what she reports is spot on. I do have issues with the tone of the article, that reflects an exasperated puzzlement about where the attitudes come from.

The thing is that college behavior doesn't come out of a vacuum. Instead, college culture builds on high school behavior. If male college kids act extremely sexist, and female students are going along with it, it's unlikely that college environments and the behavior of older college kids are the sole sources. When we look at high school culture, if it's in any way similar to not only what I experienced but what is portrayed on MTV as well as other youth outlets, you not only have similar objectification but objectification bought by folks who are viewed,if not as the best and brightest, than at least as the 'right people'. People who are regarded as 'preppy' or 'jocks', the folks expected to go on to college and lovingly approved of by school administrations. Jock culture in high schools, and its female counterpart, is highly associated both with members of the upper class and people aspiring to become members, the football players, cheerleaders, sons and daughters of business people who are embraced by the schools as having the right attitude. In a way, the culture outlined by Belkin is really an indictment of the corporate class. After all, just who makes up fraternities and sororities?

Perhaps, though, as a reporter at the New York Times, if Belkin wants to find the sources of the culture she's reporting on, she should look around her, because surely the social circle of the New York Times includes just these people.

Monday, August 29, 2011

How the first chapter of Capital translates out into reality

The first chapter of Capital isn't as mysterious as it seems, and is in fact quite useful if you can get beyond the terminology. The main point that Marx makes concerns the distinction the appearance of money and store bought commodities, and the reality of the part of the core usefulness of the commodities as well as the role that labor has played in their production. For Marx, the actual value of a good is determined by a combination of the labor needed to manufacture it and the usefulness of the good. What we see as its money price does not always reflect this. Raw materials are also included in the computation, through the labor needed to extract them, as well as their general scarcity. Each of the factors can modify the others.

The difference between the money value of a commodity and its real value can be illustrated as follows. When you see a good at the store, what you see is an object devoid of any sort of social context. You don't see how it was made, where it was made, or who made it. You don't see what materials were used or what byproducts were produced. Whether the workers were treated decently isn't visible, neither is the ecological impact of the manufacture of the good. Instead, all you see is an object with a price attached to it. The social relationships that the object exist in are invisible. Which is not to say that price is the only thing that people look at when considering buying an item. If you're considering buying something, you hopefully will look at the quality of it. If it looks like it will be truly useful and durable, and you think that that quality is congruent with the price, and with your budget, it becomes a good buy. But two similar products can be of comparable quality and price and yet be the outcome of vastly different processes. The real value of a good, whether it's truly a good deal or not, consists of the price and quality as modified by the social and ecological situation and impact surrounding its manufacture.

Mainstream economists rationalize the lack of attention paid to social context by arguing that the price system naturally puts pressure on producers, to rationalize and economize their production in order to maximize their own benefit---to sell more and make more money. In order to sell more, it helps to be able to give a lower price for a similar quality good than your competitors. Eliminating waste in production lowers cost. It also is supposed to lead to innovations in production that make more effective use of labor in order to get more of a return from each employee. The price of any goods used in the process of making other goods is in turn subject to the same pressures. But natural resources, non-renewable resources aren't viewed with an eye for the long term, people are treated as one more input no more different than metal, with similar rights and obligations due, and pollution is downplayed as a serious problem, to say nothing of the actual quality of the goods produced. Price takes on a life of its own that reflects the values and interests of those who set the prices of the goods overall, that is the producers.

For example, lets look at the difference between the price of a car that's assembled from parts made in the United States and that of a car whose parts are made in China. All that the market presents to us are two cars that have different prices, the car using Chinese parts most likely being much cheaper. If we want to be good consumer, we can press the dealer a little bit about quality of the parts, with the assumption being that Chinese parts are of a lesser quality, although there's no hard and fast reason why that should be so. Considerations about what having a plant in a country where people make pennies a day and where serious environmental regulation is non-existent would of course not be presented at the dealership. The damage done by the supply of part after part, produced by company after company, laborer after laborer, coming from a country where very little of what we make is imported, won't be featured. The competition might feature the corresponding benefits of buying a car that is made by union labor in the United States . Under a free-market regime, considerations about what effects what where isn't relevant, and shouldn't be a concern of national policy. Instead, companies should do their best to carve out a niche on the world stage. I would say that information about the social and ecological impact on all levels should not only be made visible, but should directly figure into decisions made not just on a personal level but on a national level as well.

However, none of this is to argue that protection and a preference for social and ecologically responsible companies should come at the expense of quality, or that it should become an excuse for lesser products. The flaw in the "Buy America" movement initiated by the auto industry is that that the Big Three auto makers expected people to buy their cars while they themselves chose to put little effort into modernize their production process, or into raising the quality of their products to entice consumers not to buy Japanese cars. Even in a non free-market system, there would still have to be mechanisms in place to ensure constant that constant upgrades in quality happen. Any invocation of the interest of workers, whether in a free-market system or not, to excuse putting out an inferior product is unacceptable.

The free-market system makes it very hard for regular citizens to influence industry through acting on the true value of goods in their behavior. Buying green, buying responsibly, buying healthy, all of these things help, and they have lead to the evolution of a set of alternative industries that are more responsible. One thing they don't do is lead to a sustained change on a mass scale, the kind of change that a political movement could create. It's unlikely that a mass change in buying alone will ever move things to the point where better ideals win out. Instead, what's needed on top of better consumer behavior is for the companies themselves to be forced to change their operations in order to conform to industrial, ecological, and labor values that promote a better economy, ecology, and quality of life. Forcing is meant here literally, in the sense of not giving them the opportunity or means to do anything else. The corporations who make up the commanding heights of the economy, down to mid size corporations, need to be taken over by society and simply not be given the option of creating industrial waste, of using resources indiscriminately, of giving their workers substandard wages, or of moving to another country. Action should trump the free market.

In this way, society would take its destiny back from the ideology of the free market, an ideology which provides cover for the power that corporations have to control and determine the shape of society, the environment, and the world. I see this as a zero sum game.

Frank Stella's on linguistic meaning subverting artistic meaning in modern art.

Stella was one of the pioneers of hard edge abstraction, and yet in the post-pop art world turned against it in favor of more complex forms. His very insightful book "Working Space", culled from lectures on aesthetics given at Harvard, provides quite a critique of the strategies that much but not all non-representational art used, and points to some of the problems with movements and trends taking place in the present day.

The gist of Stella's criticism of abstract expressionism is that it replaces artistic values with linguistic values. Stella isn't objecting to folks making abstract shapes, or to art being non-representational, quite the opposite. These qualities have been part of his work throughout his career. Instead, he thinks that some modern art, starting with Kandinsky and going on, has eschewed pictorial sense in its attempt to make meaning and has instead depended on what Stella refers to as a linguistic sensibility in order to make what it has to say felt. Stella believes that there is a certain aesthetic mode of perception that is activated when we look at art, that uses certain cues to allow us to project into the painting an interior world or life that we as outsiders now have access to.

Stella's take on modern art as depending on linguistic meaning is simple: say you're looking at a Kandinsky painting that has reds, blues, and yellows, arranged in certain shapes--organic ovals, twisted circles, squares, triangles--surrounded by black outlines, punctuated with straight and curved black lines. According to Kandinsky, his colors are meant to convey certain feelings or emotions, and his shapes have similar types of meanings attached to them. A triangle puts out a different feel than a square does, looking either harmonious or energetic because of its points, for instance. A rectangle puts out a different feeling than an oval. Gestural lines, that is lines that are included that go in different directions without obvious relation to the shapes, are also thought to embody different feelings or moods. Each of these is a symbol. When the different sections of shapes, colors, and lines are arranged in juxtaposition they modify each other's symbolic meaning, building up a more complex set of meanings that, when extended, defines the over all meaning of a painting. But, even though all this is well and good, according to Stella what's really going on is that the viewer is constructing sentences of meaning from the different elements on the page, and the symbols elements serve as subjects, objects, verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. Successive sentences in turn modify each other to create paragraphs, so to speak. In Stella's opinion, this is not really art in either a conventional or non-conventional sense but just a complicated game. The unspoken hope in many of these paintings is that the sense of meaning being conveyed will be close enough to one that the viewer has either seen or experienced so that he or she will be able to identify it with something in reality itself. According to Stella, real art needs to make use of other tools to make its meaning known.

The relevance of all of this to today's artistic scene comes from the increasing infiltration of outright text into art. Following post-structuralism, saying that every meaning out there is composed of text and that everything is not only metaphorically but literally contextualized, literature has been used by certain artists' to not only modify and comment on but occasionally to completely replace the more straightforwardly aesthetic meaning in their work. The danger in this strategy of construction lies in the myriad of ways that insertions of text can create cheap gimmicks, twists on the norm that depend more on their linguistic content than on actual ideas, that depend on the unusual sharpness of novelty coming from a non-artistic strategy in order to make their work have meaning. Which is not to imply that all critical use of symbols and juxtaposition is gimmicky.

If a person has to depend on text and textual symbolic analysis for folks to really understand what they're trying to say, to decipher their works, then it suggests to me that they can't say whatever they want to say with artistic means alone. It's much easier to work a textual reference into a piece than it is to communicate the sense of what you're trying to say through the piece's composition, subject matter, or treatment, to say nothing of abstract elements present that are still linked compositionally to an overall whole that allows them to exist as something more than just word fragments.

Stella points to the later works of Rothko and the last works of Jackson Pollack as containing abstract techniques that transcend pure linguistic symbolism. Picasso's works done after analytic cubism are also cited.

Stella's solution involves creating interior space within the canvas where a suspension of disbelief can occur, leading to the perception of the shapes as meaningful in a way not dependent on formalistic elements.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

...and the revised writing about the psychedelic experience, Jung, and Reich is up

Here.

"How Israel takes its revenge on boys who throw stones" by

From the Independent, Here.

"The boy, small and frail, is struggling to stay awake. His head lolls to the side, at one point slumping on to his chest. "Lift up your head! Lift it up!" shouts one of his interrogators, slapping him. But the boy by now is past caring, for he has been awake for at least 12 hours since he was separated at gunpoint from his parents at two that morning. "I wish you'd let me go," the boy whimpers, "just so I can get some sleep."

...

There are many Palestinian children in the West Bank villages in the shadow of Israel's separation wall and Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands. Where largely non-violent protests have sprung up as a form of resistance, there are children who throw stones, and raids by Israel are common. But lawyers and human rights groups have decried Israel's arrest policy of targeting children in villages that resist the occupation.

In most cases, children as young as 12 are hauled from their beds at night, handcuffed and blindfolded, deprived of sleep and food, subjected to lengthy interrogations, then forced to sign a confession in Hebrew, a language few of them read.

...

Child detention figures

7,000 [Figure corrected, with apologies for earlier production error.] The estimated number of Palestinian children detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts since 2000, shows a report by Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP).

87 The percentage of children subjected to some form of physical violence while in custody. About 91 per cent are also believed to be blindfolded at some point during their detention.

12 The minimum age of criminal responsibility, as stipulated in the Military Order 1651.

62 The percentage of children arrested between 12am and 5am."

This is part of the truth about the state that America supports, not just with the weight of our declining power but with $3 billion dollars in taxpayer aid per year. Trying to excuse the behavior of Israel because of the Holocaust is obscene in the extreme. Uncritical support of Israel reminds me of a book that lauded Communist Albania, in that the majority of the book focused on the struggle of Albanian people throughout history to maintain their identity, as well their attempts at self government. Very little of it actually dealt with the reality of Albanian life in the present. The sections that did were interwoven with a romanticism about Albania's past that served to whitewash what the brutality of the current regime looked like.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Here's a link to one of the older articles on Jung and Reich

That's been revised. Here. There's one that's bigger, that deals with the connections between Jung, Reich, and the psychedelic experience that I still have to rework and repost. Incidentally, these articles are much more new age and mystical than the stuff I usually put out here. That's a personal thing, and something I usually don't share it on this site. Nor is it really proper, in my opinion, to do so. I'd rather have this site be about verifiable politics and philosophy, that have an edge to them, rather than be about my own personal interest in strange things and things like non-mainstream psychology. I'd much rather be known for that than for writing about Jung and Reich.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Jung and Reich: the Body as Shadow, the basic concept of Shadow and Body

That's the title of a book by John Conger. It's a good book. I was reminded of it when discussing the relationship between muscle work and the stimulation of old memories with someone I know lately. Jung's idea of the Shadow does indeed seem to fit Wilhelm Reich's idea that the body contains links to memories, and that these are stored by muscles. When the muscles are stimulated, the memories can be brought to the surface because, the theory goes, when bad experiences happened the muscles clenched, and the clenching never totally went away.

Anyways, the idea of the Shadow in Jung is that it's the dark, repressed, aspect of ourselves that's stored in our subconscious mind. It's not the only denizen there, in that the Anima and the Animus are thought to be more active parts of the subconscious related to but going beyond the Shadow. The Shadow itself consists of more passive repressed aspects of the self. If the body is the Shadow, then that could mean that our subconscious mind, and the unacknowledged parts of our selves that are stored there, interact with or actually mix with our body through the nervous system, making the subconscious as a whole not limited to just our head but extended to the lower nervous system and the parts of the body it touches as a whole.

By stimulating parts of the body through vigorous exercise or through muscle or joint therapy, so the theory goes, the subconscious can be stimulated to bring parts its contents, retained in the bodily mix of lower nervous system, muscles, and mind, to full consciousness, which can then be integrated into the conscious mind and into the personality.

Which brings up the question of just where the collective unconscious lives, but that's another story.

In any case, there was a biggish article I wrote on the subject a year or so ago that I'll find, revise, and then post a link to later.

Seattle Times—today, the redneck brother of the PI talks about "Muslim Areas" in New York City.

You daily dose of anti-liberal fuckery coming from a paper with Seattle in it's name is a story with the headline: "CIA helps NYPD move covertly in Muslim areas"

What 'Muslim areas' are the NYPD moving in? Could they be in Afghanistan? Iraq? Pakistan? Please. The 'Muslim Areas' in question are neighborhoods in New York City where lots of folks who are Muslim live. In other words, the sort of ethnic neighborhoods that New York is known for and that aren't third world countries populated by enemies, but by citizens and people who are productive members of society.

To see the anti-religious, and implicitly racist, prejudice in the headline more clearly, picture a newspaper headline referring to the South Bronx saying "CIA helps NYPD move covertly in African areas". Perhaps "Muslim occupied zones" sounded too racist.

It should be noted that although the story is from the Associated Press, the local papers are the ones who choose the headlines.

Thank you, Seattle Times, for making your biases obvious in a crystal clear fashion for all the world to see.

Permalink Here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It's funny that Ben Stein and company link Darwinism to the Nazis....


Because not only did the Nazis believe in a bastardization of Darwin, albeit one believed in by quite a few people at the time, but they were content to break it's own rules when it suited their purposes. Strange, but true. George Mosse, in his masterful book "The Crisis of German Ideology", outlines just why and how that happened in a way that's both simple and ingenious.

The thing about Darwinism, and implicitly about Social Darwinism, is that in it's conception of the world all species are subject to continual flux and change. Higher organisms can either continue to adapt well to their surroundings or eventually fail do so, and thereby move to a lower on the 'scale of existence'. Species regarded as being lower can improve over time. Nothing is set in stone. Not only that, but in the theory of evolution higher organisms evolve from lower organisms. There is no inherent superiority of species from the beginning of time on. If you apply this to human beings, it means that race is not an absolute guarantee of superiority. Within the Social Darwinist framework, pure Germans can go down on the scale over time, and other peoples can ascend. Moreover, there's no guarantee that every individual in a species is necessarily superior.

All of this conflicted with Nazi ideology in that according to them Germans had always been superior, had always been the producers of culture and social organization. Race didn't change, and races were never at some point equal. Germans were always superior and Jews were always inferior. No room for flux or change was included.

Racism, in this case, trumped considerations of 'survival of the fittest'. Many of the 'fit' people in Germany, scientists, engineers, artists, writers, intellectuals, were Jewish, and they were killed because they didn't fit the racial criteria for superiority. Their accomplishments were either dismissed or picked apart because of their background. On the other hand, even though potential SS members had to submit pictures of themselves for evaluation, plus detailed genealogical information, they never had to pass any test set out to measure intelligence, leading to a situation where killers who looked right but were intellectually dim were sent out to kill people who were accomplished both intellectually and otherwise but who did not fit the same aesthetic criteria.

The Nazis did believe in Social Darwinism of a kind, but they believed in the doctrine only when it suited their purposes. When the master race itself was threatened by said doctrine, race and racism trumped all other considerations. Germans were always superior to both Jews and everybody else in their minds, and no considerations regarding basic intellectual consistency were going to stop that.

Principles: another note for future reference

!) Marxism, 2)Ecology, 3) Libertarianism, 4) Values (in an ethical but non-moralistic sense)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

After disillusion, revitalization, episode from late 2002 regarding anarchism in its conventional form

This is another step in my saga of political evolution, notable not because it's mine so much as that the issues, IMHO, are interesting. In 2002 I was able for the first time, to go to a significant protest against globalization, that took place in the Midwest in early November. Although real, compared to other anti-globalization protests it was quite small. It happened to have been primarily organized by anarchists. Although the protest itself was very good, on a personal level the interactions that I had with the organizers and their friends shot down the hopes I had that this would be a case of me meeting a valiant, virtuous, anti-globalization movement. In my opinion it wasn't the anti-globalization content but the anarchists that were the problem. The folks that I encountered were less than spectacular and less than virtuous, instead proving themselves to be possessed with the same petty possessiveness, egotism, cliqueishness, and self seeking, that is present in mainstream society, with folks concerned with getting laid and getting fame. You would think that folks opposing mainstream society would try to do better than that.

As a consequence, and in particular because of a serious argument back and forth between me and a friend having to do with some of the behavior, that lead me to lose that that friend, I began to question just what it was that I had become involved with. I couldn't reconcile my hopes of being part of this great movement with the reality that I had encountered. At the time, I couldn't distinguish between this one small group of organizers, mostly young, and the anti-globalization movement as a whole, and was afraid that the whole thing may have been based on shoddy underpinnings. So it became a kind of existential crisis.

Searching through my memories and experiences, trying to explain to myself what had happened, I came back to David Hume's writings on politics. Hume, best known for his philosophical skepticism, was also a virtual anarchist in the political realm, but in a much different sense than usually attaches itself to the word. Hume believed that human beings, and the perceptions that human beings have about the world, are so inherently flawed that concentrating power in governmental or social institutions is a sure way to invite abuse of it. Therefore, he believed that governmental and social institutions should be radically decentralized so that accountability between the representatives of society and the people could be established. He also believed in a strict class system and that the people on the top of this decentralized world should be local feudal lords.

Thinking about my experience, it looked to me like one of the things that anarchist thought had not done at all, but that Hume did very well was to include the possibility of human fallibility in the scheme for social revolution and improvement,. This, I thought, was one of the factors that lead to the behavior that I had seen. People were so concerned with liberation, with liberating this, with liberating that, that they never looked at their own actions as liberated It's all well and good to be against oppression, but the act of simply not acting oppressively isn't the same as acting in an ethically way. In fact, if you only focus on not being oppressive while ignoring basic ethics, problems are sure to arise.

Fresh from these considerations, what I began to turn to were sources that, for lack of a better description, painted a picture of what pre-capitalist society was, and presumably how a post-capitalist society could be, that included positive statements about what values and ethics a communal and egalitarian society should have, as opposed to only ideas about how people should avoid acting. It was quite a convoluted process, but the general idea was that there were societies that existed before capitalism, not just in far off places but in both the U.S., the Americas and in Europe, that had solid egalitarian values about both helping other people out and being a good person, that combined a sensibility of mutual regard and mutual aid with individual accountability and right action. Sort of like small communities where everyone has a role to fill, everyone knows that the prosperity of the whole is dependent on both the individual contributing and on all the people in the community working together for common goals. Communal decision making was of course included. Roles, in this case, were modified by the absence of a dominating force like that of a feudal lord or of modern capitalists.

This more agrarian notion of society, similar to that annunciated by Wendell Barry and to a degree by Edward Abbey, seemed much better and healthier than what present day society looked like both politically and socially. As part of the content ,there was an understanding that in an agrarian situation people are connected more fully to a natural economy in a way that introduces the basic principles of life into work and society, something absent from the present world. If you mess up in a situation like that, people suffer, and the consequences of your actions are apparent. This provides a big stimulus to act in a positive way. By contrast, both people and institutions can mess up big time in our society, and the consequences are either warped and deflected or delayed down the line to the point where there's no real check or balance, especially if the institutions and individuals in question are linked to the power of capital. Call it naive, but there's a belief that if a person is acquainted with the real economy, instead of with just the imaginary economy of the white collar world or the pseudo-real economy of the service industry, that they'll be less likely to support policies and institutions that have the capability of doing serious harm to both the environment and to society as a whole. That said, the sensibility that I had identified was different than that of small communities that are socially conservative and view anything outside of their puritanical traditions as being bad and evil, and where the people involved rail against the corruption of easterners, always thought to have money behind them, and the shit that they supposedly get away with. It wasn't the mentality of a small town, but of liberated individuals acting in harmony with natural processes and learning ethics and behavior through that interaction.

The experience of working things out in a basic community, so the thinking goes, can lead to a reality principle being introduced to society, something in common with the phrase "natural law" if the Aristotelian social conservatism of it is taken out, and that this can stymie unsustainable plans. None of this suggested that the general notion of anarchism as a doctrine promoting individual and collective freedom was wrong, only that in practice it may take more than a liberalistic denunciation of all hierarchies and all forms of social and individual oppression to actually make something that can work.

Ed note: I have to emphasize again that although the idea outlined involves going back to premodern pre-capitalist ways of life in certain respects, that what is advocated is not an endorsement of the stultifying, ultra-conservative, rural environment that produces ideologies like the ones currently on show with the Republican Party. Some aspects of the past are better left in the past, and certainly "Young Earth Creationism", for example, saying that the world is really just six thousand years old, is a concept that the present world can do without. In this sense, it wasn't truly "pre-modern" but only selectively so, although I didn't realize it at the time, and was in effect a compromise between modern liberal ideology and pre-modern ways of being.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Just posted a completely re-edited and reworked version of "Confessio Fraternitas", my explanation of the origins of the political perspective of the blog

Which is accessible Here. Worth checking out, and I'm not just saying that to stroke my own ego. One thing that's happened since, that's beyond the scope of the article, is that I've come back to many aspects of Marxism, although not to Leninism, and have a perspective that's a synthesis of Marxism, Anarchism, and various other trains of thought that are mostly very unusual and hard to summarize in a short space.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Las Malvinas son Argentinas--a little background on the sign


I first heard about the Las Malvinas son Argentinas signs, the "The Malvinas (Falklands) are Argentine" signs that are posted on every major highway leading into Argentina, by a British traveler at a hostel who had just gotten back from a tour of South America. He was beside himself about going into Argentina from a remote outpost in what I think was Bolivia and running into these signs.
The Malvinas/Falklands were the site of the Falkland war between Argentina and Great Britain, a war that was looked at as a kind of farce by much of the world, as a way for Thatcher to get her war jollies on, much in the same way that Reagan got his war erection satiated with his invasion of Grenada. But be that as it may it certainly seems to have had importance to the Argentines themselves. The resentment of the British by the Argentines, and of their claim on the Falklands appears to have more to it than just vague territorial concerns. Islands? I mean, they're there, but it's not like Britain has any influence over Argentina itself. But wait, actually, it seems that in the 19th century, up through the first part of the 20th century, Argentina had gradually become more and more economically tied to the UK in trade relationship that grew to resemble a soft colonialism. The UK was Argentina's major export destination, and the things that it exported were raw materials and food. Beef became a big commodity with the advent of refrigerated shipping. Loss of economic independence is often a prelude to loss of political independence, and Argentina was reportedly referred to occasionally as "British Argentina". What does a small community of English speaking folks on a series of islands off the coast of South America, thousands of miles from the UK, have to do with perceptions about subjugation and control? Maybe a lot, if only as a potent symbol.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The false accusation of 'collectivism' that is used against socialism

'Collectivism' is a dirty word on the Right. It has a meaning and significance that goes well beyond that of simply being a designation for socialism. Unfortunately, despite the similarity of the words of 'Collective' and 'Social', the comparison doesn't hold true. So what do parts of the Right mean by Collectivism? Collectivism can be seen as a process where atomized individuals are pushed down into a uniform, pliable, conforming, mass. The more Libertarian Right sees atomistic individualism as a good thing, the more conservative right, in the guise of attacking liberalism, doesn't. Standardization, loss of individual identity, and loss of individual initiative are thought to follow, with citizens becoming robots to the cause and following orders instead of having their own wills. Socialism becomes a happy land where obedient workers without personality sing and work for the whole, and where Ayn Rand like individuals who don't submit are singled out and shamed, or worse.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of socialism and Anarchism, including most straight out Communism that's not extreme Maoism or North Korea like Stalinism, variants, promotes the creative organizing of society, positive construction, and positive action. Socialism in my opinion was born due to the failings of classical liberal politics to address the problems of society that went beyond the notion of purely preserving individual rights and doing nothing else. It was also animated in the beginning by people like Fourier, who believed that all individuals had a social feeling that lead to creative associations that would then organize themselves for common goals and purposes, in work and otherwise, if given a chance to play themselves out. I would argue that much of socialism combines the two thoughts, the need for a social policy beyond the individual and the natural tendency of people to form groups, in the quest to overcoming both the atomization caused by capitalist society and the economic stratification going beyond individual talent that has come with it.
Workers in the 19th century were increasingly being forced to be like a mass, but it was industrial capitalism itself that was the motor. The Unions and the socialist movements were the forces opposing this attempt at standardization and massification. Organizing meetings, community self-help organizations, strikes, educational sessions, and sometimes newspapers, socialists and unionists tried to create an alternative to the attempt to take from them their individuality and self respect, in a way supported both domestic prosperity and freedom. It was freedom at the workplace in the form of rights and protections, for your work not to dictate anything it wanted without a means to oppose it. It was freedom to create or recreate neighborhoods based on dignity instead of on neglect. It was protection from government abuse as well, on top of abuse from folks on the side of business. It was not massification, but anti-massifcation.

Socialism has been reproached for working through the idea of classes, saying that by making people think of themselves in terms of class they make them sacrifice their basic individual identity, leasing to them being standardized into an unthinking mass. But Marx said it best when he wrote that the first act of the proletariat, a strange word, would be to abolish itself. While there surely have been many motivations, class in general, in my opinion, has been emphasized because the economic reality of alienated industrial capitalism imposes itself on people. Capitalism chose and created class, the class without power did not create capitalism. Surely, there are other social groupings and characteristics that effect life, such as race, religion and sex, and socialism has tried to meet them half way, but socialism in the form of a practical politics as opposed to pure economic materialism sees the economic structure of society as permeating all other social relationships. The present economy did not create oppression against women, but oppression against women functions in an economic context. The economic structure of society is seen as a constant that provides another level of meaning to these issues, but that does not negate them totally.

It is true that the socialist societies that have come into existence, like Soviet Russia, have kept class consciousness going, but at least in the Russian example, at first some of it had a positive role to play. One of the purposes of it was to create a new society based on the ideas of folks who had been shut out from official culture and not allowed to have their say. Some folks were indeed uneducated, but the flip side was that the education that the upper classes and folks in the management classes received was not such that it really reflected reality. The limitations of people before the Russian Revolution could have been turned, and to some extent were turned, into fuel for a new educational construction that would make use of the full possibilities available for thought, a more complete and deep culture than existed previously. This does not mean that the education of the educated classes did not have any value, just that it needed to be retooled. Later, working class consciousness was turned into a propagandastic device, and of course, during the Revolution itself and after, class and accusations of class treason were used by some people as an excuse to settle scores to get things that others had that they wanted. However, although the unjust use of class to do those things is regrettable, getting back to the subject at hand it isn't really an example of a uniform, massified, consciousness. The people involved retained their individual wills, they just chose to conduct themselves in a way that was improper.

Perhaps the idea of a collective egotism is at work here, of transferring personal egotism to class egotism and acting on it, of giving excuses for ones actions based on what public policy is officially approved, but such collective behavior has been present from the start in many different kinds of groups. Egotism transferred to race, egotism transferred to sex, national origin, religion, have existed and still exist. That such a tendency would also exist within socialism does not negate it, but is proof that it partakes of human nature as well.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Lumping Islam in with Totalitarianism because of Sharia, a serious misjudgment

The lumping of Islam in with totalitarianism by rightwing commentators is, in my opinion, seriously out of touch with reality. Islam's code is not totalitarian as much as it is a different way of viewing thing than we're used to in our Christian society, one that doesn't shy away from engaging the world around us. Islam gives advice on how to live life in the world, as opposed to outside of it.

By trying to give answers to practical questions, Islam does not make itself totalitarian. Instead, it's attempt to fill the void can be looked at as if anything realistic. In fact, it's a kind of realism that has much in common with the pre-Christian pagan philosophy Rome and Greece. Stoic philosophy as well as Aristotelian morality on living the good life have much in common with Islam's core idea of virtue. Christianity, on the other hand, shies away from truly practical advice--it's too worldly, and therefore not valid.

Most often, Christianity either gives vague answers about life, like "Love thy neighbor" and "God is Love", or it simply provides a total, reactionary, condemnation of groups and practices, such as homosexuality or abortion. Simply condemning homosexuality says nothing about the way that a person who is not homosexual should live life in a positive way. The content directing people on how to go beyond simply abstaining from doing wrong is missing. In fact, although preachers are very good at talking up simple compassionate love and the absolutely forbidden, cases come up again and again of pastors who preach hellfire and brimstone doing the very things that they condemn. I think that the levels rise beyond that expected because of human nature and coincidence.


Instead of condemning Islamic sharia outright I think many people would benefit from a dialogue with Islam about its thoughts on what a just society and good way of life is. None of this is totalitarian, anymore than advice from the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle or from Seneca's letters on morality becomes totalitarian because they give tips on diverse areas of life.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Now that the S&P has downgraded American bonds, perhaps it would be a good time to look at the idea of 'economic rights'

As opposed to political and civil rights. In my opinion, one of the biggest weaknesses of Enlightenment liberalism was its naive belief that by just allowing people to engage in whatever economic activity they want without restriction society is aiding in the fulfillment of individual liberty. This belief, vouched for by some of the Philosophes, is embodied well in Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.
In Franklin's biography, which is not all bad by the way, it's just assumed that there's no real division between owners and workers, that every worker out there is either like an apprentices or a journeymen, and that will be able to become masters themselves and hive off, starting new business or businesses of their own. Franklin's world is a world where simple initiative and smarts translate out into harmonious businesses destined to productively serve the community. The reality of life under unregulated capitalism has been less spectacular.

Franklin's small scale capitalism, tempered by good Puritan virtue, quickly turned into a way for self centered economic interests to enter into and then to take over society. By abolishing the idea that restrictions on economic activity were justifiable policies , society took away every tool it had for countering economic greed and exploitation. Small scale capitalism then gave way to greedy fucks who didn't understand or care about the core civil and human rights of the Enlightenment , only seeing there pocketbooks. This gave way to an industrial capitalism that deepend and solidified the division of labor between owners and workers, and started to physically rewrite the landscape of society, a process accelerated with the advent of technologically advanced industrial capitalism. Both forms changed our world in ways that privileged exploitation to the satisfaction of human needs. Society began to be run for the benefit of the economy, with politicians being the puppets of capitalism, rather than the economy being run for society itself. The notion of a social economy went out the window.

Life, Liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the right to free speech, to free assembly, freedom of religion....of these only "the pursuit of happiness" in any way refers to economic rights. The original series of terms produced by Locke was "Life, Liberty, and Property", but Jefferson decided to broaden the definition of economic self determination beyond simply accumulating property. Even so, the right to pursue your own livelihood, to compete against other people for jobs based on talent and ability, and perhaps to start your own small business, all of these rights are minor in scope compared to the broad rights contemporary free market economic ideology asserts for itself. The idea behind accumulation of property and business being unreservedly good was that there was a kind of natural economy at work, a natural system of checks and balances derived from nature and from natural law that allow free people in concert with nature to self regulate, when started from an equal condition, eliminating distortions in how much or how little people got. But we don't live in an environment dictated by a natural law, one where all people naturally obey good morals and always look for the social utility of their actions, we live in a world where people determine their lives based on any number of kinds of principles, such as egotism and self interest. Combining these with incentives to enrich yourself at all costs turns the free market economy into a mockery of Enlightenment principles. The goal of self determination in any meaningful sense has been relegated to rhetoric. Instead, in life today you're supposed to both work hard as well as accept the unequal system that you find yourself in, that is unless you throw your lot in with those who benefit from the inequality.

If we want to honor the original spirit of the Enlightenment, we should privilege the ability of individuals to determine their lives in a meaningful way instead of formalistically approving whatever state of affairs the unregulated economy presents to us. If we want individuals to be able to truly determine their own destiny, then a class bound society based on access and alliance to capital cannot exist. If we want individuals to be rewarded for their abilities and not for who they know or what they grow up having, the power of money and capital to divide society into folks who are closed out of society because of where they come from and those who have all the advantages and options in the world based on their origin has to be eliminated. If the point of a free economy in the sense originally intended is individual benefit and not that of capital, not the businesses themselves but the people who work in the businesses, then surely regulating those businesses very heavily or socializing them altogether in order to make them serve the people as a whole, composed of individuals as well, should not be overly objectionable. In fact, it's one of the only options left for the principles of free speech, free assembly, and that of democracy itself to be able to continue to exist.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The non-crass materialism of American socialism, anarchism, leftism

An argument that's been advanced that the left is very materialistic, not in the sense of believing in historical materialism but in the sense of being crude and out of touch with the realities of life. Crude not in the sense of, say, making stupid jokes but crude in the sense of buying into a worldview that validates itself and that over simplifies life in order to prevent challenges to that self validation. If you identify yourself as the motor of history, and then dismiss any threat to that concept, or to the concept of a motor of history itself, as being delusional bourgeois attitudes out of touch with material reality, then you produce a hermetically sealed system of self praise. However, most of the American left does not resemble this.

These sorts of attitudes are, in other countries, mostly associated with reactionary wings of Communist Parties, and in the United States are only really believed in by Stalinists and folks in Maoist parties descended from Stalin, although some Anarchist groups share the attitude as well. In my experience, though, it's not that prevalent in the Anarchist scene. I think that a materialist outlook of this kind isn't natural to the Left but has to be taught and passed on in order for it to continue. It has to be cultivated, and much of the Left influenced by or descended from the New Left of the '60s and '70s has implicitly or explicitly rejected views that are materialistic. I feel that the criticism stands in our case, and that as Stalinism passes into the sunset it will have less and less influence. After all, the concept does not have the backing of a country or countries anymore, and in my opinion most people can see through folks justify their selfishness by appeals to material reality.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Leon Panetta, head of the Defense Department, say that he 'won't accept' spending cuts

Perhaps he'd like to face a treason charge instead? From Rawstory. When the head of the Department of Defense starts making statements like that, there should be consequences. Says Panetta:"I didn't come into this job to quit; I came into this job to fight." That sounds to me like a threat by someone who has a lot of folks with arms under his control

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Revising early posts--cleaning up, not altering intent

I'm in the process of starting at the beginning of the website and revising virtually every post. This process will preserve the intent and content of the articles as much as possible while improving their style and flow. A lot of them, a really big percentage of them, were written in a sort of gonzo style that privileged a kind of Kerouac-ian flow over careful editing and revision. Hopefully, the revision will make them easier to read, more comprehensible, and bring out more of what I intended to say. I have an advantage here in that I haven't declared myself as having grown "older and wiser", to use Phil Ochs' term, and turned my back on my original politics, the ones that informed those posts.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Sayed Qutb: not impressed

Read an essay on social justice by Qutb, one of the leading lights of the Muslim Brotherhood, in the otherwise very good collection "Islam: Its Meaning and Message", put out by the Islamic Foundation of Great Britain. Compared to the other authors, Qutb appears conceptually to be very superficial. Perhaps this is because he decided to go against centuries of Islamic jurisprudence, turning his back on ideas that were influenced by the critical method of Greek philosophy. He appears to have advocated a purified, idealized, concept of Islam that thought that it could vault backwards in time over a thousand years of history in order to reconstruct what Islam 'really meant'. Life is not so simple, and attempts like that often end in distortions as big as those that the people involved are opposing. In any case, his essay added banality to the superficiality as well. The idea of social justice in Islam that Qutb puts forward, is very similar to the free market system, with the proviso that economic activity be done with God in mind, and that the poor get helped out as well. That's pretty much moderate pro-market conservatism phrased in an Islamic voice as opposed to an Anglo-Christian one. I'm sure that this is not the only conception of social justice in Islam that is out there.

But, getting back to the book in general, the various essays, all produced by different authors, make some very interesting points. One of the primary ones coming up over and over again is that Islam is a religion oriented towards adults and to adults living in the world. Sometimes Christianity, especially its Protestant forms, and of those especially American fundamentalist ones, can come off as being a stern parent imposing rules on an adolescent that have little to do with the actual living of life. Islam appears to be much more practical in recognizing that a lot of the parts of life that are condemned by varieties of Christianity, such as enjoyment in the world and sex, are not bad in and of themselves, are normal in fact....with the proviso that they have to be enjoyed in a lawful way. But the lawful way itself appears to be much less stringent than that believed in by Christian extremists. Building character is another good feature that is focused on a lot in the book, going beyond "Love thy neighbor" into suggestions on how to actually act and fulfill ideas about conduct and compassion in real life.