Saturday, June 30, 2012

Being on the Left doesn't make a person better or more virtuous

It's just a political position like many. Taken me a long time to realize this. You can draw a parallel between this and the sex positive community: Wilhelm Reich, the famous psychiatrist and advocate of sexual freedom, believed that in a sexually liberated community everyone would be more virtuous, everyone would be more enlightened in how they treated each other, and all living would be harmonious. In point of fact, there are plenty of people who are very sexually liberated who, comparatively speaking, have very little to offer the world except their horniness and willingness to explore things.

When I got into the Left I did so from square one. Although I came from a liberal background, and my family was also pro-environment, there was nothing really left wing there in the normal sense of the term. I grew up on the fringes of the country in Michigan, and lived there until mid way through high school. For me, finding the Left was something that was done in stages through extended effort. First finding some magazines that were more progressive, then finding more and different magazines, looking up a liberal author, than a more liberal one, tracking down ideas. I date my real start in interest in the Left as early '97, and it took me until late spring of '98 to actually buy a book by Marx, the reason being that before then I would have just assumed that Marx was a crazy ideologue.

There were no people around me who were into this stuff. There wasn't anyone else who was interested in these ideas,  that I knew about at least. The notion that a person could just go down to their local Barnes and Noble and buy a book that gave a popular introduction to all these things because a punk rock band recommended it, because it was trendy, and not really know what was going on never crossed my mind.

Since then, I've often been disappointed by folks on the Left. Not all the time, but significantly enough for it to stand out. The reason has nothing to do with the ideas themselves, but the fact that to get to these ideas these folks didn't have to do much, and so they treat them as something superficial to their lives. I don't.

Some people say that I'm over serious about these things, but, to me, that's what it's all about: people living and dying, being killed, being oppressed, having the scope of their lives cut short. It's not about fun, and it's not about trends.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Health Care mandate stands! A great day for the U.S. and for the future of socialized programs

I'm overjoyed at this. The court has provided a rationale for universal programs through seeing them as  taxes as opposed to regulations on interstate commerce. We will hopefully regain membership in the "civilized world", so called, a club that includes countries like Pakistan and others from the former Third World, where health care is a right.  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Arizona immigration law ruling: an example of how opinion echo chambers sometimes miss the facts

Because is trumpeting the overturning of three of the four provisions of the law as a great success, and mocking Jan Brewer for saying she won. The problem? The one part of the law that stood is the "Papers, please" provision that Rawstory and many other opinion websites made the focus of their opposition. That is not mentioned in the story linked above. If you only read Rawstory, and didn't read the actual reporting on what happened, you would have an impression of the situation that is 180 degrees away from what's actually the case.

Blame it on the opinion blogosphere, and read some news for yourself instead of depending on it being processed for you by others. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Alan Sokal's "Fashionable Nonsense"

About the critical theorists and how they abuse science at times to make their points, literally blabbering on about things they know nothing about to make themselves look more intelligent. Sokal was first known for creating a paper that was a montage of the writing of critical theorists that refuted the notion of gravity as a social construction, that was accepted into the journal "Social Text".

I like the fact that they've taken down some of these people, but I can't help but think that more attention should be paid to the opposite trend: people who know nothing about the social sciences, but have a hard science background, making pronouncements about society and being taken seriously. The folks that Sokal cites use hard science and math concepts improperly and are accepted for it, but scientists who have either purely studied genes, like Richard Dawkins, or who have spent most of their careers studying birds, like Jared Diamond, and who have either never studied the behavior of actual, living, people or societies, or have done so only briefly, get more respect than folks who professionally study actual, living, individuals. Sociologists are looked down on as being non-scientific, while folks who spend all their time looking at genes are thought to be experts on how society functions, simply because they have a hard science PhD. So called "Evolutionary Psychologists" get more attention than Anthropologists who have actually lived among isolated tribes studying them for years at a time.

Pride in Seattle and on Capitol Hill and QFC

I've been pretty docile this Pride, unfortunately, but one thing as an openly bisexual man I appreciate is how far the two QFC stores on Capitol Hill have gone to be supportive of Pride. Yes, they're a chain that's owned by Kroger, but on the local level they have not only  put  up gay pride flags, but  have put up the leather pride flag, and at the location further up Broadway the employees are wearing shirts that say "LGBTQFC". That's pretty impressive. I think that when companies make progress they should be recognized for it, even if the overall system they're a part of needs to be overthrown.

*on edit: actually, the "Q" was the Q from the QFC logo.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Seattle: most diverse zip code in the United States, all the good areas look like Norway

Just sayin'. The fact that Columbia City is highly diverse, largely because of refugees and recent immigrants from overseas, doesn't change the fact that many people in Seattle mistake Italians for Hispanics

If Israel and the U.S. are now creating computer viruses and aiming them at Iran, isn't that terrorism?

Just asking, because, you know, when China does similar things the label 'cyberterrorism' is bandied around. 

The Evergreen State College and the failure of liberal anarchism

As opposed to communist anarchism. I graduated from The Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington after being a student there for two and a half years. On consideration, there were quite a few problems that could have been easily corrected if the administrators and teachers hadn't been so fundamentalist in their beliefs about the educational philosophy of the place.

Evergreen prides itself on having a student driven contributions to learning loom large. These are manifested especially in seminars, meetings that make up half of the instruction. Seminars are discussions that are student lead, more or less, formally lead by one of the instructors. Evergreen runs on interdisciplinary programs instead of on individual classes, so you always have several teachers.

The problem, or at least one of the problems, with Evergreen comes from having so much student involvement, from having the absolute autonomy of individual student respected even when the greater group suffers. At Evergreen, I saw students who hadn't done their work dominate seminar discussions, talking about nothing, and when called on it they accused others of infringing on their rights, and the teachers supported them. The absolute respect Evergreen gives to individuals includes a consent to  break the rules and get away with it. All an individual has to do is invoke their individual autonomy and make a half hearted excuse and suddenly their negative behavior,  often interfering with the functioning of the class, is absolved.

This makes life for many other students suck, quite frankly. This tolerance for individuality includes tolerance for people who have come from non-academically rigorous backgrounds who complain about the tempo of the work. Often, in response, the work and difficulty level that the program does is reduced to fit that level, instead of the instructors telling the students to work harder and stop complaining. Requirements for work can also be mysteriously forgiven if  students can think up a convincing excuse about why exactly they weren't able to do the work. The sound of a thousand tiny violins fills the air, and many instructors are taken in by these exaggerations and lies from their students.

Laziness and dishonesty amongst the students are widespread, and most of that behavior has the purpose of  getting away with having to do as little work as possible. The instructors often play along, and the rules of grading sometimes have little value in practice, leading to a double standard between the students who actually do the work and the lazy students who lie to get out of it.

This is liberal, individualistic, anarchism taken to an extreme, to an extreme where the group suffers from the actions of a few. A more communist ideal of anarchism would include a responsibility to the group as part of its credo,  a group that is in turn anchored first in the material structure of society and second in the community. The point here is that the rights of the sovereign individual alone are not the summum bonum, the be all and end all for society. Individualism is great if it can be demonstrated that the individual's actions do not hurt others.  Society is a combination of the individual and the group, and both have to work well for everyone to prosper.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Instead of a 9/11 truth movement we need an after 9/11 truth movement

One that brings back to light all the infringements on civil liberties that happened in the wake of 9/11. They have been conveniently forgotten, although there's a solid trail of documentation behind them. They're not going to go away, and they should be brought back into the country's consciousness.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Nationalism, regressive and less so

I've thought about this a lot in the wake of 9/11, trying to figure out why the country went insane. I think that nationalism has been a positive force in many cases when the countries in question are ones that have been oppressed by others, or are peoples within larger states who do not have a voice. However,  it's been extremely regressive in countries that are either the currently or in the past dominate others. Speaking ex cathedra here, you could even look at the two phenomenon as separate things connected by common external features but differentiated by internal ones. Clearly, the nationalism that welled up in the United States after 9/11 was regressive nationalism on the part of an oppressor nation.

None of this is to say that mutually oppressed peoples can't do terrible things to each other in the name of nationalism, but there's a difference between the "nationalism" felt by the French during the Algerian war and the nationalism of the Algerians themselves in their fight for freedom. There's a difference between the "nationalism" felt by the Belgians during the decolonization fight in the Congo and the national unity promoted by Patrice Lumumba. Similarly, English nationalism based on praising the British Empire, and wanting to see something like it fly again, is different from Kenyan or Indian nationalism.

Taking it  even further back, the nationalism of the Third Reich was quite different from the nationalism of the Czechs and Slovaks after the first world war. In Nazi Germany, like in the United States, nationalism was based on a reaction to the shattering of a national myth, to the myth of national superiority. Germany and Austria had ruled over the peoples of central Europe, up to the borders of the Russian Empire, and thought of themselves as the superior, cultured, race. The loss of face in World War I surely couldn't have been explained by the two empires simply not being good strategists and militarists, it had to be the product of a stab in the back caused by international conspirators.  Their founding myth of an oppressing nation was shattered.

With 9/11, surely they didn't hate us because we've fucked up the Middle East and try to dominate the globe, surely they did 9/11 because they hated our Freedom, that principle of our founding myth that says that we're a country full of liberty that's the greatest nation on earth. We're a place where freedom reigns and anyone who works hard enough can rise to the top. We never intervene around the globe, sticking our noses into other peoples affairs, we're the good guys. So instead of seeing 9/11 for what it was, an attack by religiously motivated yet, ironically, highly educated people who combined a liking for ultra-conservative Islam with a critique of American empire, for them 9/11 had to be an attack by Islamists who simply hated the idea of Uncle Sam because of his existence. He, we,  were out there, serving as a beacon of freedom to people who the Islamists wanted to oppress.

That is our "stab in the back" story, the one that formed the Tea Party and Birthers movements around itself because the American people couldn't accept that parts of their deeply held belief system about themselves and the country that they live in were lies,  and that the U.S. has in the past and currently does intervene to stop countries from being free if they want to be free in ways that aren't friendly to foreign investment, foreign investment coming from the United States and its corporations.

Why did Critical Theory take over in the U.S.?

My theory is that the unholy alliance of literary theory with philosophy came about because of the self-immolation of straight left politics in the mid to late '70s through the firestorm of Maoism and Stalinism. After all that passed and the Reagan reaction kicked in, politics on the academic level was not a place where large scale radicalism could really exist in the way it had in the '70s. But literature was left intact, and not only was literature  a viable place for discussion of politics, but the exclusion of women and people of color from the literary tradition, along with the pseudo-sociological information that can be gotten from fictional texts, made literature an especially good, although  seconday, environment for radical political discussion.

Once the '80s were over, not just literally but metaphorically through Clinton taking office, literary critics were able to step into the breach in a way that their political counterparts were not able to. It  took several more years for left politicos to regroup, basing themselves on the non-authoritarian politics that had evolved in the late eighties and early nineties.  So, strangely enough, these lit crit folks, who had little training in actual politics, who had litttle understanding of leftist history  outside of their own theoretical background, and who did no actual sociological studies, carried the field as the defining force in the political and elite cultural avant-garde, at least for educated liberal folks.

That said, we're at a place where we no longer have to depend on secondary, substitute, venues, for political discussions, and using literature and literary theory as a proxy, is a terrible way to go about doing what could be done using good 'old political philosophy and political science.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Racism and racial ambiguity in the Pacific Northwest

I've lived here for eight years, and it still gets me that there are folks here who think  I'm non-white. This tends to happen when I'm wearing a hat or clothes that aren't up to the yuppie standard. I'm a big guy, so they assume that I'm a large hispanic man, or that I belong to some other vague browned skinned ethnicity. I find all of this quite outrageous and funny, considering that my actual ethnic origins are Italian, Hungarian, Polish, and ethnicities lumped in together as "Anglo"---Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English.

 The fact is, mistakes like this don't happen in any area from Chicago east. No one in Chicago mistakes Italians or Hungarians for being hispanic, no one mistakes people in Detroit, and no one makes that mistake in New York City. Being from Detroit, the idea of never claiming to be someone you're not, if that someone is oppressed, was drummed into me. In fact, a recent memoir by a racist skinhead from Philadelphia recounted that three quarters of his crew were Italian. They may have been very confused on politics, but they certainly identified themselves as white.

In itself, being misidentified as Hispanic doesn't really bother me. I have nothing whatsoever against Hispanic culture, and even think that in many ways it's superior to mainstream Anglo culture. What pisses me off is the racism implicit in the misidentification, and the visible difference in treatment that happens when I take off my hat, my coat, and start speaking, revealing that I don't have a foreign accent and am  well educated. Hell, I even have a touch of Midwestern accent from living in the country for part of my youth, so I can even sound like a redneck if I want to. They're visibly relieved that there's not this big, crazy, Mexican in their store.

People are often apologetic after this unveiling happens, but if folks in the Northwest have that much of a hair trigger when it comes to race, why I should I be thankful to them for giving me better treatment?

Quite honestly, in any other part of the country, including California, this experience would not happen, and the people who had that response to slightly darker skinned people would be looked at as racist pariahs, but because we're here in the progressive northwest, home to social justice and liberal values, this experience of hair trigger racism is ignored, treated as if it didn't exist. This is not surprising, since many of those progressive Pacific North Westerners are the perpetrators. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The U.S. Christian Right as a backwoods revival

If you look at the far right and all of their weirdness as the product of a revival by uneducated folks on the plains who had their own strange ideas of religion, it all makes sense. Unfortunately, the colonial weirdness has worldwide implications, and goes farther than a few odd beliefs by people with prominent brow ridges in Iowa.

Margaret Thatcher and Hegemony

A great example of hegemony in action is Thatcher's statement of TINA, "There is no alternative". Of course there is. There has always been an alternative to neoliberalism and there always will be, but in the sweep that put both Thatcher and Reagan into office the dominant forces in society mobilized to try to convince the public that that was not the case. TANSTAAFL, "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch", coined by Milton Friedman, is another example. In that case the "free lunch" referred to Keynesian stimulus programs. Keynesianism was not a "free lunch", but folks in power certainly wanted, and want, people to believe that it was.

But this is all appearance alone, all political maneuvering, an attempt to convince you that your ideas and beliefs aren't reasonable but are somehow flawed in their very core and that you shouldn't believe them, pursue them, or promote change based on them. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gramsci's "Hegemony" as a better restatement of Nietzsche's critique of Good and Bad

Because unlike Nietzsche, Gramsci makes no claims regarding the truth value of doctrines and ideologies.  Nietzsche pointed out that often what we call what's good or bad is simply what the dominant forces in society say is good or bad, but went on to say that meant there was no such thing as good and bad, good and evil, whatsoever, and that it was all socially constructed. Gramsci makes his claim that ideas have hegemony at least in part because they have a large structure of social support behind them, but he says nothing about whether ideology itself is true or false. In fact, as a Marxist, he believed quite strongly that ideologies could be true.

An example of Hegemony is this: why is it that there is no large tradition of Marxist economics and economic research in the United States? Is it because there's no truth value to those ideas at all, or is it partially because Marxist economics don't get supported here whatsoever, while the even the most extreme pro-capitalist doctrines get bankrolled? This situation doesn't mean that Marxist economics are therefore  true automatically, or that capitalist economics are automatically wrong, but it's a sociological explanation for why, when confronted with sophisticated research and presentations justifying capitalism Marxist economists can't really respond with anything at the level of quality of their opponents. In other societies, this is not the case. There is more tolerance for leftist economic research in Europe, and during the Soviet era you had Marxism taught as an official doctrine in every college in Russia, an example of hegemony as well.

 That Marxism was the official dogma of the USSR meant that along with a lot of very bad information produced because of the requirement of ideological conformity, there were also sophisticated interpretations of Marx as well as breakthroughs in the application of Marxism in research that could not have been produced in an aggressively pro-capitalist country.

Unfortunately, in both the USSR and the United States, the dominant elites sought and seek to convince everyone in their societies that because the ideas were well developed, using every advantage at the disposal of society itself,  they were right, and their opponents were wrong.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Something to think about for folks who want to smash the state

Ever wonder why it is that corporations spend millions of dollars each year to buy and try to dismantle government government ? They do it because government  has the ability to interfere with their power, and limit it. The fact that anarcho-capitalists exist, people who are very much against the State while being very much for corporations, should give folks who completely oppose the State pause. Perhaps their opposition is an indication that people should work with the State in order to effect positive change. I can see the folks in power laughing at anarchists who want to destroy the State, and who purposely stop themselves from participating in government and only stay out in the streets. The people in power want the State destroyed, so I'm sure they have no problem with Anarchists opposing it and taking themselves out of it.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Seattle Times: "Michael Fassbender brightens[...] Prometheus", white, quaffed hair, and synthetic

Just like Seattle likes 'em. < a href="">Here

"David is a synthetic human crewman of the deep-space exploration ship Prometheus, a character of the same lineage as Ian Holm's in "Alien" and Lance Henriksen's in "Aliens." He is also the most interesting individual in the picture, by far.
As it happens, there's some other cinematic DNA in "Prometheus," and it comes from another sci-fi classic: "2001: A Space Odyssey." Remember red-eyed computer HAL 9000? Silken-voiced. Preternaturally calm. All-knowing. Malevolent. Yeah, him. Now picture him walking around with a Mona Lisa smile and hair styled like Peter O'Toole's in "Lawrence of Arabia" (David's favorite movie). And David, like HAL, has the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. But what that mission is, exactly, only he knows."

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

People defend liberty against the government, but they're happy giving it over to corporations, re: Liquor privatization in Washington State

We had a nice little system here in Washington where the government ran liquor stores, sold spirits for good prices, and prohibited private stores from selling any. The state stores had good selections and were over all satifactory. But, the specter of government tyranny was aroused in a campaign co-sponsored by  Costco, and an initiative was put on the ballot to put all of those state stores out of business, making all liquor sales private.

A blow against the State, you say, a victory for regular citizens and for individual rights. Yet, there was a provision in the bill that made sure that only stores with a very large square footage could sell liquor. That meant that corporations, not mom and pop stores, and certainly not individuals, were the ones who got the freedom to sell liquor. The only freedom that individuals received was the freedom to buy from their liquor from those corporations.

If you look at it that way, before, the freedom we had before was the freedom to buy liquor from the State, which at least we had some control over. Now, that's changed to the freedom to buy from  corporations, who have no responsibility to citizens whatsoever. All of this is a prime example of the bread and circuses capitalism uses to promote its own interests under the banner of  individual freedom.

So how exactly is this more freedom? 

Monday, June 04, 2012

Re: Bilderberg

Howard Zinn had a great response when asked about conspiracies. He said that there is in fact a really big and well organized's called capitalism, and it works without the need of a small group to coordinate things.