Monday, January 30, 2012

Speaking ex cathedra, a revolution in the U.S. needs to be both socialist and based on race and ethnicity

Because racial oppression can't be collapsed fully into socialism and class oppression can't be fully collapsed into racial oppression. The two need to co-exist for real change to happen, without one over-ruling the other.

A Kantian argument against nihilistic skepticism

Strange, because Kant is popularly associated with the "Thing in Itself", when he's associated with anything at all. On its surface the "Thing in Itself" is a very nihilistic concept. Kant believed that we can't perceive things in themselves but can only perceive processed appearances filtered through our mental machinery. Scientific equipment only helps partially, because human operators interpret the information through their own conceptual filters. It seems like we're pretty much stuck when trying to gain definitive knowledge of the world, right? I mean, we can't ever say that we've really gotten to what's truly behind things.

Well, not quite.

You see, one Kant's great insights, incorporated into all his philosophy, was that we ourselves are objects, and we possess consciousness, and because of this we can have insight into one Thing in Itself: our own. This can be done through self examination of psychological experience. Based on this fact, we can extrapolate that whatever's out there behind the things in themselves comes from the same root as human experience, human psychology, and human bodies. This is important because it means that, while not decisively knowable, some knowledge of the true nature of the world can be gotten by generalized analogy with interior human experience. We know that while the world may appear strange and different from us, much of it is natural, organic and living, and so probably shares similar characteristics with us to one degree or another. We can also surmise that life, or what we consider to be life, share's basic characteristics.

Kant's notion of personhood has been used by Tom Regan and others to justify animal rights based on similarities in psychology, but while these uses are perfectly valid, the concept can go much deeper. We have a personhood that entreats us to do unto others like ourselves based on our own experience of being human, but we also have primate hood, mammal hood, animal hood, as well as other hoods. As part of the components of nature, we potentially have insights into them that scientific observation might not be able to easily get to, the emotional experience of animals, for instance.

All of this matters quite a bit for philosophy, because philosophy is based on generalizations and the ability to make accurate generalizations that are connected to some sort of reality principle.

This possibility is what prompted later German idealist philosophers like Schelling and Schlegal to go towards a Naturphilosophie emphasizing nature as the ground of life and the start of philosophy, as well as towards Spinoza's concept of God as substance and all visible objects as variations on it, especially human beings. Significantly, according to Besier, these philosophers kept Spinoza's mode of thought close together with a subjective idealism presupposing radical self knowledge, because that was the surest way to get philosophical knowledge of the world. The position implies great freedom and autonomy for the individual within a somewhat determined schema, and prefigured much 19th century philosophy that integrated individual action within a structured social context that influences but does not determine it. In other words, in it's own way the Naturphilosophie was the forerunner of sociology, Marxism, and socialism in general, although Marx substituted economy for nature.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tyranny of the Majority? Occupy Seattle

Read the piece about the proposal to go to consensus decision making at the General Assembly because of the supposed "Tyranny of the Majority". This is confusing, because if you're really doing consensus it's almost impossible with a very large group. But there's a possibility that what's being advocated is something called 'consensus' that actually involves folks who can't get a majority getting their way. If so, and, actually, even if not so, it's ironic that people in a group that says it represents the 99% are complaining about the Tyranny of the Majority.

Let Gingrich become King of the Moon

There'd be little harm there, at least in the short term....re: Gingrich's advocacy of a Moon Base.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The difference between a Soviet style collective economy and a cooperative, communal, one

Although I'm no scholar of the Soviet economy, based on what I've read my impression is that it resembled a series of big box stores and corporations. Instead of locally controlled, cooperative, stores, you had a few large, generic ones whose mode of operation was dictated from above, and who sold a small number of mostly generic, standardized goods. At one time some Eastern Bloc countries didn't even have restaurants, bars, or cafes, but only collective cafeterias and dining halls owned by workers' organizations. I bet the situation was the same in Soviet Union. Farms weren't run or defined by people who had worked the land for centuries in a communal, cooperative, way, but by guidance from central tractor/fertilizer/technology stations who ran the farms like agribusiness. I'm not sure how the factories were themselves organized, or who had the power, but my understanding is that they were monolithic, megalithic, and non-competitive--except when they needed to fulfill the requirements of the plan.

A better way to organize things would be to have a communal, community controlled economy, also directed by a greater plan, but run cooperatively. The stores and factories would be owned by society as a whole, but would be decentralized and would compete with each other in a heavily regulated way. Anarchy, Left Libertarianism, Left Marxism, lend themselves to a limited market if it's kept in check, which is why the Right wingers have tried to co-opt it. In fact, Individualist Anarchists often talk about a simultaneously socialist and market based system being possible.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kim Jong Un, China, Stalin: Autocracy is always easier than messy democracy

Which is why so many countries have reverted to it. Stalin cast himself as the Red Tsar, although he never used the term, playing up the memes that tsarist autocracy had used for several hundred years, presumably in order to 'build socialism'. Mao became the Emperor, and the Chinese leadership collectively assumed the role of the Imperial bureaucracy. Bruce Cummings commented in an interview on Democracy Now! in December that a very minor Soviet official gave him his opinion that Kim Il Sung's son would replace him, and that his grandson would follow in turn, presumably based on the idea that North Koreans had never experienced democracy and so were treating rule by a dictator as just another monarch. This style of leadership has to be the biggest cop out of all, where leaders eliminate democracy and promote the cult of the autocrat in order to more easily get things done. They inevitably say it's populism, but it's nothing of the sort.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Romantic Socialism, Marxist Materialism, Modernism

Piggybacking on the post complaining about strange things Americans believe.

To me, Marx's belief that real socialism incorporates a materialism that disdains everything that's not concrete is a mistake that doesn't reflect the origins of the socialist movement. If you look at early socialists like Fourier, Proudhon, and Louis Blanc, their ideas contain reactions against French materialism combined with an ideal of social justice formed by criticism of free market Enlightenment thought. Not everyone shared Marx's opinion that bourgeois society was progressive because it created a new, rational, order.

Early socialist thinkers were sympathetic to the goals and ideals of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, but they didn't believe that materialism was sufficient to guarantee a good life and a just society. Life was more complicated than atoms bumping into each other, and the idea that human life resembled the interaction of billiard balls devalued the human condition and mowed down the ambiguities and subtleties inherent in life.

In fact, to assert that the Social, that society, is real and important in a non-rhetorical sense was to reject a key notion of materialist philosophy: the ultimate self sufficiency and autonomy of the individual. Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke, for instance, John Locke, denied the idea that the Social and Society are valid categories in and of themselves. Because of this, and their criticism of materialism, the early socialists were a type of Romantic, and are sometimes referred to as Romantic socialists. Like the Romantics they wanted to re-orient the world to what was not immediately tangible, philosophy notwithstanding. In the socialists' case they focused on social relationships instead of subjective experience.

As a reflection of their skepticism about materialist individualism, the early Romantic socialists were also in harmony with liberal nationalism. Liberal nationalists were not reactionary but wanted to assert their autonomy and cultural uniqueness in the face of non-democratic mono-cultural regimes. Isaiah Berlin argues in "The Roots of Romanticism" that they emerged in opposition to Napoleon's exportation of the French enlightenment across Europe, but a different perspective is that it was formed by peoples who benefited under Napoleon who now faced their old, undemocratic, mono-cultural oppressors. The original nationalists in countries such as Poland, Italy, and Hungary agreed with liberal principles, but wanted to implement them in their own way, and retain their own language and culture. The Romantic socialists and the liberal nationalists were the main progressive force in Europe from the turn of the 19th century to the years after 1848.

While Romanticism lead to Wagnerian excess and reaction, to a rancid organicism and ultra-conservative, exclusionary nationalism, that was a later development. Reaction set in when it happened, and the Romantics adopted more and more outlandish views, hardening from liberals to conservatives.

Modernism was not a simple return to Enlightenment values but a restatement of them within a context opened up by Romantic and Idealist criticism. Monistic materialism, for instance, the official doctrine of the Bolshevik party from Plekhanov on, was decidedly unlike classical materialism. It recognized social relationships and that society was more than just a collection of individuals, but it differed from organicist Romanticism in rejecting the idea that society is like a body with different social groups functioning like organs, and that it was in some sense 'alive'. Unfortunately, the socialists of the early 20th century outside of Russia who were dogmatically Marxist either forgot or never learned this.

Despite being active during the height of Romantic socialism, Marx only found his ideological home after the reaction against Romanticism took over. Marx heavily criticized the Romantics, but his criticism preceded the reaction by many years, and was formulated at the height of the movement in documents like the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848. To me, Marx fundamentally misunderstood the positions of the people he criticized and naively sought to turn back the clock to the French Revolution in a post-Hegelian setting. It should be noted that many of the people whom Marx condemned in the Manifesto, like Proudhon and the Fourieristes, had important followings while Marx was still just a journalist. His thought resonated with the Modernist critics of Romanticism, but depended on Hegelian principles that they themselves would come to criticize. Nevertheless, it provided grist for the mill for the less thoughtful in the socialist movement.

By reasserting Enlightenment values in an unthinking manner, these socialists fueled critics who saw the whole movement as crude, absurd, and stupid. After all, the ideas had been criticized for a hundred years ad nauseum, and were now being put forward again as if nothing happened. Despite the subtleties of Modernist philosophy, critics saw the same old problems lurking under the surface, and were afraid that a stupidly Modernist materialism would produce a greater destruction of social life than Enlightenment materialism itself. But the crudeness and insensitivity to aspects of life not reducible to atomic theory by these people was not only unnecessary to socialism but was in some ways counter to the impulses that started it.

I think it's possible for socialism to take the framework of the Modernist context, combine it with a changed Romanticism-- perhaps influenced by the Surrealist project of reinventing the world (a classic Romantic concept in a Modernist framework), and combine all of it with a post-modern sensibility to produce a socialism that meets the needs of the head, the heart, and the body without doing an injustice to any of them.

*on edit: here's an interesting take on Pan-Slavism from Engels in 1849, the year after the Manifesto was published. At the time, the tendency wasn't reactionary, and similar movements had been founded for Italian and German unity.

Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

"We repeat: apart from the Poles, the Russians, and at most the Turkish Slavs, no Slav people has a future, for the simple reason that all the other Slavs lack the primary historical, geographical, political and industrial conditions for independence and viability.

Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which from the time when they achieved the first, most elementary stage of civilization already came under foreign sway, or which were forced to attain the first stage of civilization only by means of a foreign yoke, are not viable and will never be able to achieve any kind of independence.

And that has been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. The Czechs, among whom we would include the Moravians and Slovaks, although they differ in respect of language and history, have never had a history of their own. Bohemia has been chained to Germany since the time of Charles the Great. The Czech nation freed itself momentarily and formed the Great-Moravian state, only immediately to come under subjugation again and for 500 years to be a bill thrown from one to another by Germany, Hungary and Poland. Following that, Bohemia and Moravia passed definitely to Germany and the Slovak regions remained with Hungary. And this historically absolutely non-existent "nation" puts forward claims to independence? "

Following up on the Gingrich 'open marriage' stuff...blowjobs 'not sex'

According to a Gingrich mistress. From the Village Voice:

"If you believe Newt Gingrich's former mistress Anne Manning, the Speaker has for decades relied on the blowjob as the sex act with built-in plausible deniability. Referring to her first date in 1977 with Gingrich, Manning told Vanity Fair in 1995: "We had oral sex. He prefers that modus operandi because then he can say, 'I never slept with her."'

Thursday, January 19, 2012

If there's a connection between linguistics and other sets of symbol systems

Such as Structuralism claims. If social life can successfully be analyzed semiotically, it may be because linguistic perception spills over into other areas of social life. Kant identified several modes of thought used by the mind in interacting with society and nature, that he called different kinds of reason. For example practical reason, which is practical knowledge about how to do things as opposed to analytic knowledge about what a thing is. It's conceivable that we use a unique way of organizing experience, a linguistic reason, that has its own rules and logic, when we talk to each other or tell stories. It's also possible that individuals unconsciously treat social products like they do symbols in an oral story. Repeated interactions over time with products by many individuals could produce complex symbol systems that appeared to be organized like a language. This would explain how structral systems can proliferate outside of a direct linguistic context.

A structural system would be the outcome of the mediation of members with products made by society or by nature, whether they're fashionable clothing, health products, or hot books. Preferences would be organized using rules implicit in the linguistic mode of perception as a secondary level of organization. The primary mode would relate to the main purpose of what's being looked at. For example, food's main purpose is to supply energy, but on a secondary level there are preferences that are less tied to nutrition than they are to social and cultural phenomenon. All this of course, presumes that belief systems, fashion, and other symbol systems really do organize themselves in a linguistic way, which is a huge 'but'.

If true, it would also mean that the conflict between structuralism and post-structuralism is irrelevant, because neither has a claim to reality, both being reducible to biological response. Deconstruction would simply point to the ambiguity of philosophical anthropology instead of to a complete, absolute crisis, in truth.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

American obscurantism the result of unchallenged economic dominance

Have written about this before, but unfortunately can't find the post.

I think one of the reasons that very strange beliefs like Creationism, Birtherism, and New World Order/ Federal Reserve conspiracies exist in the United States is that we've had it too easy economically. In the post World War II world the competition had literally been bombed into ruins, and we walked in and filled the economic void with whatever we made. Although the '60s and '70s saw higher education greatly expand to create a highly skilled workforce, the efforts focused on future white collar workers, not on everyone down the line in every community, although some teachers tried valiantly to bring good education to everyone.

There wasn't any particular need beyond general principle for everyone to have an up to date education. The U.S. school system, locally controlled to an extreme, also resisted change. During the economic golden age of the '50s, '60s, and '70s, you could get a job without much education. Because of this, in the U.S. peculiar ideas that withered when confronted with critical reasoning weren't challenged, while in other countries all citizens got a good education, because they knew that an educated workforce is necessary to compete globally.

Now, with our economy in a bad state and the results of off-shoring industry written on the wall, we're seeing the consequences of lax education come to the surface. We're seeing how many people live in a bubble of half truths about how the world works, and we'll find as time goes on that Ron Paul fantasies about conspirators aren't what's needed for a high tech manufacturing economy. The way out is reason.

Question of the Day:

If hard scientists like Richard Dawkins can talk about Sociology, does that mean that Sociologists can now talk about hard science? Enquiring minds want to know, because I can talk about DNA all day, no matter that I've never really studied it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The need to combine an analysis of race with class, the example of England

Not only does class effect everyone in society, but class is also the future. If, and it's a very big if, individual and institutional racism are somehow lessened, we'll likely find ourselves in a society where there are still large unequal divisions between different classes of people, only the two classes will be made up of people of all colors. Simply eliminating outright barriers to participation doesn't solve society's problems. A great test case is England.

England in the 19th century up to World War II was a very homogenous society. There were Irish, Scot, and Welsh migrants, but that was about it. The big conflicts in American society around race were absent. Yet huge, obscene, inequality existed, and was bolstered by stiff upper lip self help ideology, in the best bourgeois tradition. Self help didn't change anything, even though society was supposed to reward those who worked hard. Instead of self help succeeding, England gave birth to the militant labor movement, and while it didn't press for revolution as strongly as continental socialist movements, it was still as tough as they come. Eventually it formed the Labour party, and after World War II the Labour party took over and created a welfare state in the birthplace of self-help.

England represents the future of America. It is what America will face if outright barriers of racism and ethnic prejudice are dissolved. Not only that, but the same structures leading to the birth of pure class politics manipulate racism and ethnic prejudice to serve them better today.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Capitalist Aristocracy, revised

From Here. It's a lot more breezy than I like, but since it use to be the first link on my links page I thought it should be raised up a little bit quality wise. Basic idea is that inequality is an intentional fact in our society stemming from the social philosophy of the Federalist Party.

Something just clicked in my mind.
Facts that have been floating around in there, without making sense, suddenly have become clear.

Why is political and social reform so hard in the United States? The answer, at least partially, is because our social system is a semi-decentralized capitalist aristocracy.

Every town, every city, in the United States has it's political machine, and that machine is inevitably connected with the more prominent and wealthier members of the community. They're the ones who run for office and get elected.

They compose the power elite, per C. Wright Mills.

Over and over they're the ones who become the rulers, and it's just normal business. One has to either look at this and say that American life is extraordinarily corrupt on all levels, in every town, or say that this corruption is really a normal and intentional part of our social system.

I think the latter.

The social system envisioned by the Federalist Party, who framed the Constitution, was a blend of theories stating that only the better people should rule with ideas about free market economics that were relatively modern for their time, and its ideal was a society where commerce would flourish yet give rise to a stratified society where prominent people in business would rule towns and counties like the aristocracy in England.

Political power on the local level, on the State level, and on the federal level, isn't looked at by the machines as something open and abstract in and of itself, as something that can be fought over in an classical, open political arena. It's looked at as a thing people are entitled to because of their stature. In fact, high schools and colleges are oriented towards integrating young up and comers into the elite social strata. Half of the programs out there in colleges, making up all the business related programs as well as politics, are there to ensure that the right people make their way up the social ladder. We have a formal political system, but it's undermined by the socio-cultural world feeding people into the system.

America hasn't quite had a truly democratic revolution yet. Rather, we did, then we had a counter-revolution that overthrew it. We still exist in a nether world between true democracy and artistocratic rule.

When you start talking about taking on the system, you need to take on the entrenched power that fuels the machines, because this is the level where the real decisions are made...unlike formal politics, which for Americans is largely a fleeting pastime, especially at the local and state levels.

If we want true political reform we'll have to have true social reform as well, or else we'll end up with just another shadow show.

Re-vised Re-post: The King of the Rednecks

Sometimes, American political life is like a contest where you wait to see just what kind of stupid, inbred, ignorant, throwback to long long ago, spewing the inanest garbage possible, will come out on the field. Can we find the ur-hick, the long lost King of the Rednecks, whose family tree goes in circles, who has been kept pure, outside of modern civilization for so long that we can barely understand his speech, to say nothing of his thought processes? If we can, we may make him President.

"Why is Europe a dirty word?" by Nicholas Kristof

Here. I usually don't like Kristof, but he's nailed it:

"It’s a languid morning in Peoria, as a husband and wife are having breakfast. “You’re sure you don’t want eggs and bacon?” the wife asks. “Oh, no, I prefer these croissants,” the husband replies. “They have a lovely je ne sais quoi.”

He dips the croissant into his cafĂ© au-lait and chews it with zest. “What do you want to do this evening?” he asks. “Now that we’re only working 35 hours a week, we have so much more time. You want to go to the new Bond film?”

***

But the basic notion of Europe as a failure is a dangerous misconception. The reality is far more complicated.

What is true is that Europe is in an economic mess. Quite aside from the current economic crisis, labor laws are often too rigid, and the effect has been to make companies reluctant to hire in the first place. Unemployment rates therefore are stubbornly high, especially for the young. And Europe’s welfare state has been too generous, creating long-term budget problems as baby boomers retire.

“The dirty little secret of European governments was that we lived in a way we couldn’t afford,” Sylvie Kauffmann, the editorial director of the newspaper Le Monde, told me. “We lived beyond our means. We can’t live this lie anymore.”

Yet Kauffmann also notes that Europeans aren’t questioning the basic European model of safety nets, and are aghast that Americans tolerate the way bad luck sometimes leaves families homeless.

It’s absurd to dismiss Europe. After all, Norway is richer per capita than the United States. Moreover, according to figures from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, per-capita G.N.P. in France was 64 percent of the American figure in 1960. That rose to 73 percent by 2010. Zut alors! The socialists gained on us!"

To which I could add: European welfare state vs. Wal-Mart, obesity, and Nascar, along with creationism and fantasies about the Federal Reserve.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The notion that Utopia will spontaneously manifest: a dissenting view from the West Coast

The concept of natural self organization had quite a few test runs on the West Coast through the scores of towns formed from nothing by western migration. Unlike the Plains, once the Native Americans were destroyed, the fertile land of the West Coast was amenable to a high standard of living, giving it a paradisal aura. What did these spontaneously organized economic and cultural experiments and demonstrations of paradise in action, of the and the American Dream realized, create?

Well, if their descendants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries are any guide, they created prosperous, rabidly conservative, xenophobic societies. The West Coast's dirty little secret is that in the Northwest and California the settlers who preceded the later industry fueled migration created some of the most reactionary towns in the country. Medford in southern Oregon, a first wave timber town, was famous as a sundown town where black folks weren't welcome after dark. Joan Didion's Sacramento portrayed in "Notes of a Native Daughter" was hostile to outsiders in the extreme, not even tolerating people from Texas, although she indicated no racism.

This suggests that simply leaving folks to their own devices does not guarantee a just, inclusive, society. The very prosperity of the towns contributed to their xenophobic character. Folks are probably just as likely to create an ultra-conservative society as they are a left-wing one.

One can generalize from this to the "Heartland" as well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Marx's Capital--based on the idea of Rent from David Ricardo

Marx's idea of capital is based on David Ricardo's idea of rent on land. Rent is possible because titled possession to a scarce piece of property allows the owners to extract money from tenants. Because businesses own the machines and the facilities that workers use, they have an unequal amount of power and use it to extract the equivalent of rent from workers. It's value they take just because they can, over and above the market level wage.

This initial advantage of businesses over workers allows them to accumulate large amounts of capital over time, intensifying the differences in power. The collection of corporations and businesses forms the capitalist system, where possession of capital, jobs on the side of capital, and business ownership leads to the creation of an upper class.
Correspondingly, the of people who as individuals find themselves at the mercy of capital form the working class.

I'm not an economist, by the way.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Fundamentalist Christianity, or, maybe you're just making it up

Looking at Fundamentalist Christians, the creepiest thing isn't their stringent interpretation of biblical law, or their naive Biblical literalism, but their claim to have constant, daily, weekly, monthly, conversations with God and Jesus. They ask God to help them make their toaster work and they interpret the toast coming out correctly as divine intervention. I'm not saying that things like Jesus or God can't be real. In fact, I have my own spirituality, which is more pagan-ny and new age. What I am saying is that calling on Jesus constantly and interpreting things that pop into your head or happen around you as Jesus responding looks delusional. In point of fact it's probably your subconscious mind answering you back and you're just interpreting events in your life to fit what your wishes and expectation.

I mean, you likely aren't a monk. You'r not a holy man. You're an average person.

I think that the personal relationship with Jesus people claim to have is like a real life fantasy role playing game where they feel like they're on a great adventure, in a world with supernatural powers all around them, where they can call on Jesus and God and have him (or them) perform miracles with bitchin' CGI.

But folks shy away from saying that these folks aren't just conservative in their beliefs, whatever you think of that, but that they're probably fucking nuts too. Because that would be insulting their freedom of belief. However, there's a difference between self induced psychosis and religion, and I bet that in Churches in older and more established places, such Europe and the Middle East, this kind of thing is not so accepted. Although I may be wrong on this one.

Surely, there are folks even in closer places like South America who are horrified by the snake handling charismatic speaking in tongues business.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Sometimes things are too good to be true: Evergreen and the history of the IWW

Not the IWW in general, but the history of it I learned at The Evergreen State College.

Contrary to prevailing opinion, Evergreen is not, in general, a place where one ideological position predominates and where if you dissent you're ostracized by your teachers. I had many great teachers,sincere and committed radicals, who were open to dissenting viewpoints. But in this particular program the IWW was naively presented in a one sided way, as a fait accompli of goodness. Despite being a Northwest History course, all our information on the IWW came from IWW sources, consisting of a book by an IWW member and articles from IWW newspapers. Not only were there no other voices, there wasn't any mentions of other labor organizations in the Northwest of the early 20th century.

At a certain point people started questioning our teacher's approach, and she told us that what might be going on was that we were having trouble believing an organization like the IWW had actually existed, meaning that one as good as it had existed. My contribution to the conversation that prompted this response was questioning whether the IWW had been really as racially inclusive as it claimed.

No, we weren't hardened cynics, but when something looks to good to be true it usually is, especially in academia. Our skepticism didn't come from limited imaginations but from an awareness, on some level, that the information we'd been given was not nuanced and seasoned with the normal pitfalls of life, and errors, that all organizations experience.

Friday, January 06, 2012

The Monolith and 9/11

The strategy of the Monolith, coined by Alexei Monroe, in Interrogation Machine, refers to the symbolic strategy of art/performace/music groups NSK and Laibach of provoking questions using controversial, yet indeterminate, symbols that not only do not indicate concrete answers, but don't even imply where those answers can be found. The very obscurity of the Monolith in "2001" provokes an evolutionary response. It can't be destroyed, is made of an unknown material, and has no markings on it. Monroe uses the black equal armed cross of Laibach as his protoypical example, an oppressive symbol not identified with any regime or ideology.




The events of 9/11, the literal felling of the monolithic towers by planes, provoked similar questions without concrete answers. Although Al-Qaeda eventually claimed responsibility, "Why do they hate us?", "Why did it happen?", and "Who is the enemy?" were asked over and over again by the American public. 9/11 was a collective, assertive, Rorschach test that could not be ignored, that demanded a response from our largely apathetic and non-political society. The response, was well, very oppressive, but over the next decade collective self-searching, both crass and enlightened, by American society provided much needed education and self-definition, as it still does today.

Media theorist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard came to many similar conclusions, without using the 2001 metaphor, in his highly recommended essay The Spirit of Terrorism.


Call out to people with knowledge of Yugoslavia: why objections to self-management in the '80s?

I'm reading Alexei Monroe's Interrogation Machine, about the NSK art group,that included the industrial band Laibach, and I'm a little confused about their description of late '70s, early '80s Yugoslavia as being both decentralized, self-managed, and totalitarian. The decentralized nature of Yugoslav society is emphasized over and over again by Monroe, and although it may not have been perfect, Self-Management was the official doctrine. For a perspective on this I'd like see what folks who lived in Yugoslavia at the time have to say about it, honestly and from all perspectives. Surely it didn't resemble Romania. Here's an excerpt from the Wiki article about the economy of Communist Yugoslavia, emphasizing the impact of Edvard Kardelj:

"In 1970s, the economy was reorganised according to Edvard Kardelj's theory of associated labour, in which the right to decision making and a share in profits of socially owned companies is based on the investment of labour. All companies were transformed into organisations of associated labour. The smallest, basic organisations of associated labour, was roughly corresponded to a small company or a department in a large company. These were organised into enterprises, also known as labour organisations, which in turn associated into composite organisations of associated labour, which could be large companies or even whole industry branches in a certain area. Basic organisations of associated labour sometimes were composed of even smaller labour units, but they had no financial freedom. Also, composite organisations of associated labour were sometimes members of business communities, representing whole industry branches. Most executive decision making was based in enterprises, so that these continued to compete to an extent even when they were part of a same composite organisation. The appointment of managers and strategic policy of composite organisations were, depending on their size and importance, in practice often subject to political and personal influence-peddling."

That sounds really good to me, far from the one person dictatorship and planned to the individual bolt economy usually associated with Stalinism.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Ron Paul's newsletters, or, an elaboration on "What did you expect?"

Which was the one sentence answer I gave when the revelations came out. As always, the content of the newsletters is offensive and not good, but it's entertaining how many folks are shocked, shocked, by the content. They don't seem to be aware how the right wing media environment we've lived in for the past, oh, twenty or so years, really is. Virtually every day I see posts about outrageous things that Rush Limbaugh, and before he went off the air, Glenn Beck, has said. Paul exists within the same context, and as I look at the timeline of some of his worst newsletters, at the time he was far from alone in these sentiments. After all, the Los Angeles riots happened in '92, just four years after Bush Sr. authorized the Willy Horton ad suggesting that Michael Dukakis instituted a policy allowing black criminals back out on the streets to rape white women. It's all bad, but folks act like their virgin ears have never heard Republican figures make crass, racist statements before, and that doesn't jibe with obvious, day to day, experience.

The difference between the other Republican candidates, who aren't falling over themselves to denounce Rush Limbaugh, and Paul is that he put (or allowed to be put) these opinions on the record instead of sharing them in private. I don't believe for a second that either Romney or Perry are really, deeply, righteously, outraged by similar sentiments.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

An example of anti-immigrant prejudice against Slavs, Italians, and Jews, from "The Passing of the Great Race"

Racist tome by Madison Grant, published in 1916. Here are a few paragraphs that Italian anti-immigration advocates like Tom Tancredo and Joe Arpaio would do well to look at, because Grant's talking about their grandparents. It's a type of historical discrimination that, alas, has been forgotten much too soon (pages 89-91):

"These new immigrants were no longer exclusively
members of the Nordic race as were the earlier ones
who came of their own impulse to improve their
social conditions. The transportation lines adver-
tised America as a land flowing with milk and
honey and the European governments took the
opportunity to unload upon careless, wealthy and
hospitable America the sweepings of their jails and
asylums. The result was that the new immigra-
tion, while it still included many strong elements
from the north of Europe, contained a large and
increasing number of the weak, the broken and the
mentally crippled of all races drawn from the low-
est stratum of the Mediterranean basin and the
Balkans, together with hordes of the wretched, sub-
merged populations of the Polish Ghettos. Our
jails, insane asylums and almshouses are filled with
this human flotsam and the whole tone of Amer-
ican life, social, moral and political has been
lowered and vulgarized by them.

With a pathetic and fatuous belief in the efficacy
of American institutions and environment to re-
verse or obliterate immemorial hereditary tenden-
cies, these newcomers were welcomed and given
a share in our land and prosperity. The Ameri-
can taxed himself to sanitate and educate these
poor helots and as soon as they could speak
English, encouraged them to enter into the po-
litical life, first of municipalities and then of the
nation.

***
The result of unlimited immigration is showing
plainly in the rapid decline in the birth rate of
native [white] Americans because the poorer classes of
Colonial stock, where they still exist, will not bring
children into the world to compete in the labor mar-
ket with the Slovak, the Italian, the Syrian and the
Jew. The native American is too proud to mix
socially with them and is gradually withdrawing
from the scene, abandoning to these aliens the
land which he conquered and developed. The
man of the old stock is being crowded out of many
country districts by these foreigners just as he is
to-day being literally driven off the streets of New
York City by the swarms of Polish Jews. These
immigrants adopt the language of the native [white] Amer-
ican, they wear his clothes, they steal his name
and they are beginning to take his women, but they
seldom adopt his religion or understand his ideals
and while he is being elbowed out of his own home
the American looks calmly abroad and urges on
others the suicidal ethics which are exterminating
his own race."

"China’s President Lashes Out at Western Culture"

Here. Specifically, U.S. culture, particularly movies:

"“We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration,” Mr. Hu said, according to a translation by Reuters.

“We should deeply understand the seriousness and complexity of the ideological struggle, always sound the alarms and remain vigilant, and take forceful measures to be on guard and respond,” he added."

Good. I think the American culture embodied in our entertainment industry is in fact a negative force, for Americans as well as the rest of the world.

Also this though, from the same article:

"In his essay, Mr. Hu did not address the widespread assertion by Chinese artists and intellectuals that state censorship is what prevents artists and their works from reaching their full potential. In late December, Han Han, a novelist and China’s most popular blogger, discussed the issue in an online essay called “On Freedom.”

“The restriction on cultural activities makes it impossible for China to influence literature and cinema on a global basis or for us culturati to raise our heads up proud,” Han Han wrote."

Revised post: But Immigrants don't understand Democracy!

Original here . Edited for style, not content.


This is one of the arguments the right uses to attack immigration from Mexico.

Although until fairly recently Mexico was a one party state , I don't think right wingers base their opinions on an understanding of Mexican history. Often when dictatorships in Central and South America are brought up there are either covert or overt suggestions that they’re there because Latinos don't understand democracy. Commentators conveniently overlook the influence of U.S. foreign policy.

What's interesting is that the idea that immigrants "don't understand democracy", and the implication that mass immigration will turn the U.S. into a third world dictatorship, isn't new. It was used in a successful campaign to keep immigrants out from Southern and Eastern Europe.at the beginning of the 20th century.

The nativists argued that Southern Europeans, principally Italians, came from a state without democracy, which wasn't true post-Italian unification, that they were racially inferior, as well as Catholic, and so naturally under the authoritarian sway of the pope.

The argument against Eastern Europeans, was that they were completely outside of history, unlike Italians, who were at least bearers of representative institutions in the Renaissance and in Roman times. They also spoke languages that didn't even resemble English and were either Catholic or Jewish.

In fact, although I only briefly looked at it, there was pre-World War I book called "The Slavic Invasion", a classic 'They're taking our jobs' book, that dealt with the threat of mine workers from Slavic countries.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was heartbreaking in its simplicity. Besides outlawing immigration from Asian countries, it instituted a 2% rule, pegging the number of immigrants from a country per year was to 2% of the amount of population claiming that descent in 1890, before the influx of Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Later, the index year was changed to 1920.

Because the Irish and Germans formed a large percentage of the U.S. population in 1890, these countries got preferential treatment, even though immigration from Germany and Ireland had slackened off. Scandinavian immigration got a boost, and, perversely, a high amount of immigrants were allowed in from Africa, although few took advantage of it.

Here's an example from Wiki's article on the act:

"As an example of its effect, in the ten years following 1900 about 200,000 Italians immigrated every year. With the imposition of the 1924 quota, only 4,000 per year were allowed. At the same time, the annual quota for Germany was over 57,000. 86% of the 165,000 permitted entries were from the British Isles, France, Germany, and other Northern European countries."

Here is a chart from George Mason University showing the quotas.

An example: 3,954 were allowed in from France per year, although French immigration to the United States was miniscule, while 3,845 Italians were let in every year, although 200,000 had been coming in yearly since 1900.


It's funny how soon people forget the past, and how some people whose ancestors were abused, like Italians, who are still on the bottom of the white ethnic U.S. hierarchy, form part of the vanguard against immigration from Mexico. Such as people named "Tancredo". My intuition is that Tancredo isn't an English name you can find in British census records going back centuries. If the Tancredos had tried to come over from Italy after 1924 there's a significant chance they'd have been refused.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Coming soon: Nikolai Federov and the Philosophy of the Common Task, or, Sci-Fi Russian/Christian weirdness

That's also somewhat brilliant in places. Federov was an 19th century thinker best known for saying that resurrection of the dead through scientific means should be society's main goal, and indeed it's obligation. Resurrection is contextualized in a bizarre greater framework that includes one offs such as the idea that reason and Christianity dictates we have a duty to redesign and improve our internal organs. Rumor has it that he pictured space colonization. All within an Orthodox framework that unfortunately approved of Tsarist Autocracy. So, Orthodox Autocratic Space Colonizers, Genetic Engineers, and Scientific Reanimators. It doesn't get better than that. Picture Space-Tsars.

*added bonus: Russia was a pre-industrial country when he wrote it.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Antony Balch's "Horror Hospital" -- nothing to write home about from an avant-garde director

Balch directed the awesome "Towers Open Fire" short about/starring William S. Burroughs. Looking at ye olde Wikipedia, I found he was interested in camp cinema, and so decided to see "Horror Hospital", hoping it would be a combination of schlocky horror and avant-garde experimentation. But, no, not at all. It's what a director of avant-garde films thinks campy horror films are like, gimmicky and cliche ridden in the extreme, and doesn't have any cutting edge techniques or ideas. The closest thing Balch gets to experimental in the very badly written story are two motorcycle helmeted guards, most likely a homage to Cocteau's "Orpheus".

Reading Voline's "The Unknown Revolution"

So far, it's very good. Voline a comrade of Makhno.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Perhaps, in light of recent criticism...

I should say that I'm a racial separatist, instead of saying that race is a social construct, and that I'm an anti-Semite, instead of saying that I oppose what Israel does to the Palestinians as well as the founding myth of Israel as a country that did not displace any people in its founding. Oh wait, no, I'm not going to do that, because it wouldn't be true. Better luck next time.