Thursday, March 29, 2012

Scientific Determinism as Disempowerment

The notion that we live in a clockwork universe where the present is determined by the past surely has its applications, but too often people apply the concept in their own lives in a way that disempowers them, inhibiting them from believing that they can improve their situation. The ecological systems model, a model used in social work, on the other hand, recognizes that although there are macro factors that shape a person's life, factors that Marx deals with very well, there are also micro situations that a person finds themselves in that shape one's life. Society might be a certain way overall, but on the micro level individuals live in particular situations, doing particular things, within particular social relationships. While it may be harder to change society on the whole, there is much more freedom for action and improvement as a person goes down the scale to the more micro aspects of life. It's here that general scientific determinism can be extremely disempowering, because broad generalities don't apply to situations that folks actually do have some direct control over, and if a micro aspect of one's life isn't going very well, looking at it from a deterministic perspective can inhibit you from doing something to change it for the better, because you believe, falsely, that what is to be must be and that you don't have any control over it.

At that point, broad generalities become false, but our society regularly makes the leap from speculation about genes to assumptions about human evolution that refer to times we don't have much direct evidence for, to present day behavior, as if we don't have freedom in our daily lives to rationally deal with and change basic situations on the ground level.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Origins of American liberty....a lucky fluke in policy

Ostrander, in "The Rights of Man in America", points out that much of what was considered to be the traditional rights and privileges of people in the United States were the product of a lucky oversight. According to him, the initial English colonization policy in the United States was very haphazard in that they didn't really keep thorough track or tabs on what people were up to if they were small farmers or other folks low on the totem pole. This allowed people to have great freedom in the colonies, much more freedom than they'd actually have had if they had lived in England itself. Later, in the 18th century, when England started to organize its colonial system more stringently, the pattern of a very libertarian lifestyle had already been established, and so the attempt of England to integrate the U.S. into its system were met with the hostility that lead to the Revolution and Independence. The English rightly pointed out far from being oppressed the people in the United States, actually had lots of freedom. But what the English didn't realize was that the idea of self government had already been established in the United States, and the colonies had already mentally seceded, making their arguments beside the point. All of this was quite a bit different than the story that the U.S. tells itself about its founding. In point of fact, down in Mexico, during Spanish colonialism the Inquisition set up shop, and people were regularly brought before it, tortured, judged, and sometimes killed for not complying with Catholic doctrine. While torture existed in the U.S., England never set up anything like that. Personally, I think the libertarian origins of the U.S. as an island utopia should be more publicized. However, that doesn't play well in Peoria.

Website Anniversary: 10 years later, the Jihad continues

By which I mean the inner struggle for truth and justice. The 27th is the official anniversary of the site, although it was formally started on the 16th. Ten years of conceptual continuity, more or less, that have allowed for many developments and permutations within that framework. Amazing to think that when this blog started, folks who are currently college seniors (if they've stayed on the four year plan) were in 6th grade.

Anyways, this blog continues in force, and is now trying to implement some of the foundational ideas outlined throughout the decade and go deeper into them. Phase two is being put into action (maniacal laughter).

In any case I have to give credit where credit is due: this blog wouldn't exist without This Modern World, by Tom Tomorrow. I found his website and thought that it was the coolest thing in the world that a comics artistI loved actually had a site where he could talk about stuff he thought about outside of framework the comic. Tomorrow posted articles on what a blog was, how it worked, why you should do it. I thought what the hell, I can do it too. He in turn got the idea of setting up a blog from Will Wheaton's blog/website.

Previous to the blog, I had been making very long, no doubt annoying, comments on articles on other people's sites, comments that were actually mini articles made in response to the points raised, and had also been coming across so much obscure New Left material in the wake of WTO that I felt I needed to share some of it with other people. So, I decided to start my own site and put all of it forward, along with my own thinking, instead of polluting other folks sites with what were essentially complete works.

There have been ups, and there have been downs, such as in the fall of '06 when I basically told everyone to fuck off, and became even more cynical than usual. Yet it has persisted, and, in fact, has recently undergone a renaissance of sorts, if I do say so myself.

I think I've done a good job of resurrecting some of the actual thought behind socialism in Europe, stuff that few people in the U.S. are aware of. Now's the time to collate it, scattered as it has been over the years, and do something creative with it.

U.S. Independence....equality and not colonial subjects

Something that gets forgotten/not mentioned with regards to the aims of U.S. independence. Folks chant "Taxation without representation" over and over, but have little idea that it wasn't just about a bunch of rednecks in pickup trucks resenting paying taxes in 1776 but that the issue was that the British Empire had very distinct ways that it treated people who lived in the colonies, ways that that the colonists in the U.S. didn't like. There were restrictions on not just economic activity but requirements such as quartering soldiers, etc.., among other activity, with the government intervening more than it would have elsewhere.

The reason that the British government was doing this, why it was 'oppressing the colonists', as it were, was because the colonies were considered to be money making ventures, and not fully equal in British society. People just happened to also live in them with the aim of pursuing a different kind of life. In the future U.S., colonial subjects, complained they weren't being given the rights given to free born English men. The English replied that you're not in England, you've signed up to live in a colony, and so you have no right to those things. From opposition to that came the notion that in fact all people both deserve, and inherently have, those rights, whether they're members of colonies or not. Self government was necessary because the distance between England and the U.S. was impossible to bridge in order for U.S. representatives to participate in Parliament. Because of that, independence was preferable, and was possible and just based on our human right to self governance.

So in a way U.S. independence wasn't directly against monarchy, in the way it would have been if it had occurred in England itself, but against a colonial system, and it turned into generalized to anti-monarchial sentiment. It would have been interesting to see if folks would have revolted and demanded independence if they'd just have been given equivalent rights to people in England at the start, instead of having to live within an artificial system more oppressive than in the home country.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Relativity and the community of nations

Speaking totally ex cathedra here, it seems to me that until the U.S. detaches from its mythic narrative interpretation of its destiny we will never have the sort of self reflection necessary to situate ourselves within the community of nations. What I mean is this: because we've integrated ourself within stories about things like The Global War on Terrorism and before it the Cold War, we've studiously avoided actually looking at ourselves, at least since the '70s. Our self meaning is provided by externals, and the interior of life in the U.S. is glossed over by platitudes that have little relation to reality. But this mythos not only detracts from true self awareness, it is also dangerous to the world in that in order for us to really maintain an identity, we have to intervene in the rest of the world, for "freedom", for "justice", in a messianic way, setting things right.

To be truly able to subsistent within our selves, the U.S. would need to relinquish these ideas of grand international destiny and instead get back to the basic concrete reality on the inside of it, and then see what's inside is roughly equivalent to what's inside other countries, although not identical. An appreciation that the U.S. is at once unique, but that, as the saying goes, it's unique just like everyone else, would go a long way to preventing our country from acting like a bull in a China shop with regards to the rest of the world.

...and Portlandia gets the ultimate endorsement: derision by hipsters

Here, from the venerable Seattle alt. weekly The Stranger"There Will be a Third Season of Portlandia: IFC Channel announces they've renewed the hipster parody sketch comedy show. I was really into Fred & Carrie's original Thunder Ant videos, but since they've gotten more recognition, their routines have been fairly underwhelming pap."

In other words, they used to be cool, but since they've gone mainstream they've lost their edge, and anyways they're not that funny.

*on edit: I'm fairly certain there's no irony intended in that post.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Trayvon Martin and Sanford Florida

It figures that the killing happened outside of Orlando. Folks who haven't lived there are perhaps unaware of the great cultural divide between the Miami area, the southern coastal areas, and central Florida, where Orlando is. Orlando is really part of the South, albeit in a much lighter, urbanized way than you'll find in, say, Tallahassee. Combine that with the paranoid neighborhood watch mindset, and, voila.

Excellent CounterPunch article: "The Myth of the Knowledge Economy"

Here, attacking the notion that more traditional college education is the way to go to improve life in the U.S. General education in the U.S. surely needs improvement, and we need a workforce that's technically skilled and educated to go with an increase in technical jobs, which we should be creating. However, the article makes the very good point that most jobs in the U.S. don't actually require a college education for people to know how to do them. Sure, the way things are, you need a college educations in order to be competitive, and are more likely to get a job when placed against someone without one, but that doesn't mean that it's actually necessary. In fact, in my opinion, with some jobs it's probably doubtful that it really improves performance, because they're fairly simple anyways.

Not only that, but as the article states, a hell of a lot of people in college don't care about actually getting an education but are instead are there just for the sheepskin, meaning they don't even have the putative skills that folks think they should have. In fact, they don't learn much. The notion some people have that college is split between virtuous science and engineering people and lazy liberal arts folks is false. Besides liberal arts folks coming out on top in critical thinking (according to the article), there's a third force in the college that alters the whole game: massive numbers of students who don't major in either the sciences or the liberal arts but in much less rigorous programs such as business, marketing, and communications. These folks are the lazy ones. They tend to be the people just looking for cheap degrees that will allow them to make as much money as they can as fast as they can, as opposed to either wanting to do research, creating something via science and engineering or doing something useful for humanity through the general application of, well, the humanities. Even folks in such mercenary fields such as pre-med or pre-law, not all of which are in it for the money, are more devoted to their studies than the third group, because, you know, they actually have to prepare for real schooling after they get their degree. The pseudo-students tend to not really care about the finer points of education.

This points to another weakness in American society: the notion that simply teaching everyone to be managers and "entrepreneurs" will save us. In point of fact, I think a lot of these folks would be better off learning a trade instead of trying to be unproductive free agents.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The rhetoric of living in a rational, free society and the Constitution

It's all well and good to pontificate about our liberty, our freedom, our democratic system here in the U.S., how we were the first example of a functioning democratic order beyond the dutch free states...but there's the problem of the Constitution. When you get to the Constitution, and the thought that went into it, what you see is actually a mess, unclear, conflicting, as is the American political system that came out of it. I'll give folks a hint: if you have to spend years reconstructing what someone meant to say because their obscure thought and the many odd sources that they used, that are mainly forgotten today even by political philosophers, you're not dealing with a pure embodiment of an ideal, you're dealing with something messy that could have probably been expressed in a better way. States such as France have much clearer implementations of the principles we claim to have embodied in our laws, while we have a mix of archaisms that hearken back to the 17th century.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Re-edited a post: "The Movie 'I Am' and Tommy Pitera"

Here. About the movie "I Am", which, while being very idealistic, does not deal with the dark core of life.

"The movie stresses that social connections with each other are hardwired into our brains, as well as tendencies for compassion. Fundamentally, there's a problem with naive interpretations of cooperation, love, and social cohesion, and that problem can illustrated by a man named Tommy Pitera."

Who was a "Mafia Psychopath".

I believe that all of things that are outlined by Tom Shadyac in the film are good and should be worked for, but that at some point society needs to deal with the hard questions about folks who commit truly terrible acts in their midst.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Natural Beauty, Abstract Beauty, Human Beauty, more Kant

I part ways with him on this. Kant links the sense of beauty to the imaginative faculty. What he means by that is this: when we look at something, we form an impression of it in our minds that we then make judgments about. When we consider something from an aesthetic point of view, though, we don't just form an exact impression, rather, we apply our imagination to it, altering it and then we make our judgments about that altered conception. It's the power of imagination, of our ability to abstract from reality, both in terms of patterns with visual art and in terms of story when you're dealing with writing, that powers our aesthetic judgment. We like pieces of art because we can see pleasant patterns and ideas in them that, although they might be implied, we ultimately make ourselves as part of the art's "meaning".

Kant believes that there is a generic imaginative faculty that makes, or can make, completely abstract objects up that are aesthetically pleasing, and these things are the base of art. Abstract designs in the outside world like Celtic knots, Islamic calligraphy, are examples of this pure imaginative faculty put into action.

Where Kant and I part paths is his conception of possible preconceived Ideals or embodiments of a personal Idea of beauty. He thinks that the only real Ideal we have in our heads comes from the human form. This is not just because we're human and can completely relate to subject, but because we can see the subject as having a "purpose", as being something other than abstract patterns. But, of course, there is more in the world than just abstract shapes, humans, and things that humans have made (which are also purposive). There is Nature itself and the forms of nature, which are as surely applications to an ideal of the abstract idea of Beauty as is the application of the abstract idea to human beings. We seem to be set up to see an inherent Ideal of beauty in Nature, even though it does not appear "purposive" to us. There is no apparent "purposiveness" in beautiful mountains, or forests. Yet perhaps purposiveness is not the only criteria for an applied, concrete, idea of beauty. Whatever Nature is, or has within it, both goes beyond abstraction and appears to resonate with us according to an ideal or ideals of beauty that we've most likely evolved through countless years of living in the natural world, which is our home, after all.

Kant's idea of aesthetic judgment as applied to real world examples

Because Kant has been derided as being too abstract, not concrete enough. Briefly, his idea of aesthetic judgment locates it between two different tendencies that or ways of perceiving things: that of getting pure pleasure from something and that of completely rational reasoning. Something that is beautiful, or aesthetically pleasing, to Kant, partakes of features of both, but in a unique way.

In regards to pleasure, a true work of art shouldn't appeal to cheap shots or somewhat crude images in order to sell itself ....for instance, if you're going to do a nude painting, there's a difference between a nude painting done in the style of Playboy or Penthouse, with the model being featured purely for her features, and a work of art done with a model that, while having those features, incorporates them in such a way that they're not the main draw but are part of a bigger composition with its own meaning. If they were the draw alone, that would be art playing on the instinct of pleasure instead of justifying itself as a work of art in and of itself.

The same can be said for folks who include provocative things in their work to either be fashionable or to shock people without anything beyond it being attempted. Sure, it gets people's attention, and it gets them riled up, but unless there's more purpose behind it you're just unproductively pressing people's buttons, which gets adolescent and tiresome. See the latest of three decades of punk rock bands shocking people yet again with provocative names that include naughty words and naughty body parts.


The other side of the coin, the rational side, is art that's really about concepts and not about the piece as a piece of art. Kant emphasizes over and over again, in fact makes it the core concept of his aethetic work, that true art is not instrumental but allows a certain degree of play and interpretation on the part of the audience. If you're really just producing a piece of art to communicate a specific idea in a ham handed way, you might be better off just writing a pamphlet, because people don't get the same amount of aesthetic enjoyment from things like that are presented to them in ways that deny their ability to make their own judgments. If someone presents you with a piece of art and either implies how you should regard it, or it's very, very, obvious that the person has made it just to make a point and nothing else, there's not that much reason to look at it. Not twice, maybe not even once. It's effective propaganda, but propaganda is not art, and presenting propaganda as art is something that shouldn't be done.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Help Pratt Fine Arts Center

Not sure if having the support of a radical/weird website is a good thing, but....Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle (not connected to the college in Brooklyn) is an awesome institution. They're one of the few places where a person can come off the street with nothing but an idea, take a class in bronze casting and learn how to turn it into a reality, or do the same with stone carving. They're a resource that has probably trained a good many of the glass artisans in the Seattle area. Their print program, teaching both linocut and copper/zinc etching, is wonderful. Right now they're going through hard times financially. If you have a few bucks to spare, consider surfing over to Pratt Fine Arts Center and kicking down a few.

What repressive regime regularly kills its own people and invades other countries?

Israel. Syria is horrible, but Israel has been doing the same things, at a lower rate (but not that much lower) over its entire existence.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A wonderful selection by Schiller about some of the problems of contemporary society

Which despite the two hundred and some years between then and now is still valid. From "Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man". Some would say that it's tl;dr, but, trust me on this.

"At the period of Greek culture, which was an awakening of the powers of the mind, the senses and the spirit had no distinctly separated property; no division had yet torn them asunder, leading them to partition in a hostile attitude, and to mark off their limits with precision. Poetry had not yet become the adversary of wit, nor had speculation abused itself by passing into quibbling. In cases of necessity both poetry and wit could exchange parts, because they both honoured truth only in their special way. However high might be the flight of reason, it drew matter in a loving spirit after it, and, while sharply and stiffly defining it, never mutilated what it touched. It is true the Greek mind displaced humanity, and recast it on a magnified scale in the glorious circle of its gods; but it did this not by dissecting human nature, but by giving it fresh combinations, for the whole of human nature was represented in each of the gods. How different is the course followed by us moderns! We also displace and magnify individuals to form the image of the species, but we do this in a fragmentary way, not by altered combinations, so that it is necessary to gather up from different individuals the elements that form the species in its totality. It would almost appear as if the powers of mind express themselves with us in real life or empirically as separately as the psychologist distinguishes them in the representation. For we see not only individual subjects, but whole classes of men, uphold their capacities only in part, while the rest of their faculties scarcely show a germ of activity, as in the case of the stunted growth of plants.
3
I do not overlook the advantages to which the present race, regarded as a unity and in the balance of the understanding, may lay claim over what is best in the ancient world; but it is obliged to engage in the contest as a compact mass, and measure itself as a whole against a whole. Who among the moderns could step forth, man against man, and strive with an Athenian for the prize of higher humanity? 4

Whence comes this disadvantageous relation of individuals coupled with great advantages of the race? Why could the individual Greek be qualified as the type of his time? and why can no modern dare to offer himself as such? Because all-uniting nature imparted its forms to the Greek, and an all-dividing understanding gives our forms to us. 5

It was culture itself that gave these wounds to modern humanity. The inner union of human nature was broken, and a destructive contest divided its harmonious forces directly; on the one hand, an enlarged experience and a more distinct thinking necessitated a sharper separation of the sciences, while on the other hand, the more complicated machinery of states necessitated a stricter sundering of ranks and occupations. Intuitive and speculative understanding took up a hostile attitude in opposite fields, whose borders were guarded with jealousy and distrust; and by limiting its operation to a narrow sphere, men have made unto themselves a master who is wont not unfrequently to end by subduing and oppressing all the other faculties. Whilst on the one hand a luxuriant imagination creates ravages in the plantations that have cost the intelligence so much labour, on the other hand a spirit of abstraction suffocates the fire that might have warmed the heart and inflamed the imagination."

*on edit, corrected name.

Friday, March 16, 2012

New York Times: "How not to attract tourists"

Here, op-ed about how the U.S. customs and TSA folks look to travelers from abroad. Seriously, the folks employed by TSA at airports are the same stupid, brutal, hicks that authoritarian regimes the world over have recruited to do their dirty work.

Folks from abroad have to fill out something online called ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, in order to be able to get into the U.S. when they get here:

"ESTA asks for basic personal data, like your name and birth date. It also asks whether you are guilty of “moral turpitude,” whether you’re planning crimes or “immoral activities” and whether you suffer from “lymphogranuloma venereum” (don’t ask). If you’re involved in terrorism or genocide — and for some reason you’ve decided to take this opportunity to inform the United States government — there’s a box for that. And if you’re a spy — a particularly artless one — please let us know.

***

Aesthetically, ESTA’s Web site — America’s digital front porch — is a disaster: uninviting and embarrassingly inconsistent with America’s information technology pre-eminence. Ten dollars of ESTA’s fee is earmarked for “visit America” ad campaigns. Tourism promotion is common sense. But we might reconsider the wisdom of requiring travelers to subsidize it in exchange for a grilling about their sexual health and genocidal activities.

***

Finally, when travelers actually disembark, they are too often subjected to inaccurate lessons in American manners and common sense. Americans may be surprised by the conclusions of a 2006 survey by the U.S. Travel Association, which found that foreign travelers were more afraid of United States immigration officials than of terrorism or crime. They rated America’s borders by far the least welcoming in the world. Two-thirds feared being detained for “minor mistakes or misstatements.”

***

This security mind-set occasionally veers into the absurd. Recently, two young European tourists were detained at Los Angeles International Airport for tweeting loose banter about plans to “destroy” America (an apparent reference to partying) and to disinter Marilyn Monroe. Vigilant border personnel reportedly searched their luggage for shovels, then deported them. Overseas commentators reacted with eye-rolling weariness but little surprise."

Great ending to "The Enigma of Bhutan" by Kai Bird

Here, about the country's expelling of 1/6 of its citizens 20 years ago, yet having pleasant things in the present like the Gross National Happiness measure:

"Bhutan is a beautiful place. High-end tourists love it. Here is my revealed prejudice: I have lived in Nepal for the past four years. In contrast with Bhutan, nothing works in Kathmandu. The electricity is off as much as eighteen hours a day in the winter months. The streets are jammed with unimaginable traffic. The Bagmati River is clogged with plastic bags and other refuse. The drinking water is sickly. But in 2006 there was a people’s uprising that threw out a truly decadent and inefficient royal family. The royal palace is now a national museum. The newspapers are filled with scurrilous attacks on anything and everybody. Anyone can say anything he or she wants. The politicians dawdle irresponsibly, and the Brahmin elite shamelessly does everything it can to perpetuate a Hindu caste culture that holds the country back. Every month or so one of the twenty-four political parties declares a bandh—a strike—and the city comes to a screeching halt. Chaos reigns in Kathmandu. But I like it. It smells of freedom. And I dare say, someday the Bhutanese will get a whiff of it."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Re "In defense of Rush Limbaugh" by Ted Rall

Which is Here. I like Ted Rall, and have been following him for years, however, I disagree with his point here.

"Not his words. Nor his publicly-stated political opinions (which, I have excellent reason to believe, are purely for marketing purposes).

Calls for economic censorship are dangerous. Whether they’re from the Right against the Left (as when various right-wing pundits called for me to be fired, jailed or shot after 9/11), or from the Left against the Right (as in the current calls for Limbaugh to be fired for calling a Georgetown Law student a “slut” and a “prostitute”).

You know where I stand on Limbaugh. And where he stands on me. We despise one another. And I doubt he would defend my right to speak, or even live. But whatever.

When you call for censorship you open up your own partisans to similar calls in the future. Hard as this might be to fathom, my politics are just as objectionable to right-wingers as Limbaugh’s remarks are to those of us on the Left. Call for Limbaugh to be canned and you make it more likely that I’ll be canned for saying or drawing something that pisses them off. You just don’t want to go there.

Don’t like Limbaugh? Ignore him. Or declaim him as the fucked-up sexist shithead blowhard that he is. Calling for his sponsors to drop him is just a lazy substitute for a powerful counterargument.

P.S. Spare me the idiotic comments that only governments can censor. The dictionary says otherwise."

I think that with Limbaugh a lot of the arguments for sponsors to drop him are about parity in response, not about censorship in general. If anyone else but these ideologically subsidized blow hards on the right were to say the things they do, they'd lose their sponsors and be off the air. It takes loads and loads of misconduct by them, for instance the trail of dead left by Glenn Beck in his wake, to actually make them lose enough sponsors to create change, in that case to lose his job. If other journalists or commentators have to live up to those standards, with the fair skinned and fair minded folks at NPR, for example, having to quiver about appearing to favor liberalism, why shouldn't conservatives?

The difference between Ted Rall, who (like myself) says outrageous things from a left wing perspective, and Rush Limbaugh is that Rall has problems even getting through the door in order to get his stuff published, while Limbaugh gets air time on station after station after station. People always apply double standards to alternative and left wing material, but if they're going to do it to us, the least we can do is to ask for some consistency in treatment.

Awesome "I, Anonymous" column from "The Stranger", about race in Seattle

"I'm dark-skinned, wearing a baseball cap—that does not mean I'm a thug. You were obviously enjoying a drunken night out with friends, crossed my path, got in my face and decided to yell, "YO! YO! YO!" waving your hands around like they were guns.

...

I've seen a very ugly side of you, Seattle. Sometimes, White women literally run across the street in order to avoid walking down the same sidewalk as me. I'm a queer, Latino university student and human-rights student activist—and you're afraid of me? "

Reminds me of the essay by Brent Staples entitled Black Men and Public Space, where he talks about white women being irrationally scared of him just because he's walking around at night while black.

That's one thing that, unfortunately, the feminist movement hasn't really reckoned with publicly--the fact that racialized stereotypes about who is a potential rapist still percolate throughout the culture, although they're not as explicitly framed as they once were. Early advocates for women, and women/feminists themselves, in the early 20th century talked about the necessity of protecting white womanhood from sex crazed dark skinned men. I mean, that was what "Birth of a Nation" was in part about, the necessity of protecting white woman southerners.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Ayn Rand was right on

Because a while ago, there was an accusation that I hadn't actually read her work. Even a stopped clock is right two times a day. The thing is, the positive points she makes have little to do with socialism as it actually exists, or as it rhetorically existed, but with liberal culture in the United States and England. What Rand's really talking about is liberalism, particularly what would be called welfare state liberalism, and not Soviet Communism, even though she imputes the same sorts of ideas to it.

Basically, it comes down to this: there are quite a few liberal folks in the US and elsewhere who make large, emotional, appeals to people in order to get them to do things out of a concern with and interest in humanity, out of some sort of general sense of moral concern, without much thought behind it, and without much substance. Save the Children, with the spokeswoman being skewered on South Park for being fat while advocating for helping people, is a prime example. Rock stars group charity songs in the '80s is another one. The folks who do these things expect you to just go along with their program because of the intensity of their emotional appeal, which is stupid, quite frankly. Rand criticizes this, and in so far as these people and their attitudes actually exist she's right on. Some people really are just a bundle of emotional preferences without any real thought behind them. However, the truth of the matter is that the better liberals in the U.S. rise above that sort of thing and actually provide reasons for what they do and for what they want to happen in the world above and beyond making emotional appeals. They provide justifications for why people in general should fund it, as well, that are compelling and go beyond guilt tripping.

Conservatives, particularly followers of Rand, tend to act like these reasons and justifications don't actually exist, and that only emotional appeals rule the day with liberals, which provides a cheap excuse not to actually look at the evidence to the contrary.

As for the strength of emotional appeals versus Reason regarding conservatism and liberalism, we now have over ten years of prime evidence regarding conservative group think that employs heavy emotional appeals to justify war, spying, the squashing of dissent, invasion of privacy, and torture. All of those things also involve monetary sacrifices as well as sacrifices of individual liberty. Although some libertarian groups have consistently opposed all of it, the greater right wing, the same people, like Glenn Beck, who cheer on Ayn Rand, have been the perpetrators of it. They haven't checked it as being not rational, they've implemented it. To me, that sort of skewers the idea that it's only liberals who engage in emotional group think.

Regarding the Left itself, and if the Left, particularly that of Soviet Russia where Rand got her street cred from, ever resembled the caricature that she portrays, let's just say that the ethos of Stalin was far only being believed in by Old Joe alone. Although Stalin took it to murderous extremes, most hard line Soviet socialists, were far from indulgent to people who Rand would consider to be social parasites. Stalin left a trail of human misery in his wake, but it wasn't because he was indulgent and soft, it was because he was strict and unsympathetic to humanitarian ideas, being content to let people starve to death rather than help them. In a much, much, less perverse and extreme fashion, the general ethos of supporting hard work, productivity, and value, was shared by much of Bolshevik and worker culture.

First world problems: "Traveler books a four-star hotel, gets a three-star instead"

Here. And he paid $58 for it, in Prague. The nerve of them! I mean, it's like ordering grass fed organic dry stored beef and finding that you've gotten American strain Kobe beef instead.

One of the best things I've heard tweety, I mean Chris Matthews, say in a long time, GOP and the female vote

Which is to say that the GOP acts like women don't get out there and vote, because they're sure doing their best to alienate them. Tweety is my personal nickname for Matthews.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The WTO orders U.S. to stop paying subsidies to Boeing---the shoe is on the other foot.

Of course people around here, in Seattle, will oppose it, but I'll be curious about folks in the greater United States. I mean, Boeing is an important U.S. industry, as is the U.S. aviation industry in the United States in general. Perhaps if, with our sagged economy, cutting subsidies to Boeing is looking unappetizing, we should think about how our demands given through the WTO to countries in the Third World to stop subsidizing scores of local industries felt to them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Plus ça change, Barbara Kingsolver on the Gulf War

Funny. I'm reading her collection of essays "High Tide in Tucson", and in it is one called "Jaberwocky", about the U.S. culture of patriotism, along with our history of supporting dictators. The arguments could have come from the from today's front page.

Friday, March 09, 2012

"The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State", a terrible book

Written by Engels, not Marx. It's terrible because Engels puts into it all of the crap floating around in the late 19th century about supposed patterns in the evolution of civilizations, and then tried to pretty up with a 'scientific basis'. The scheme it puts forward is racist, as well as demeaning to the cultures involved, from the terms themselves, i.e. the differences between Savagery and Barbarism, to the notion that the cultures of indigenous peoples are simplistic, inferior products done on the way to glorious European capitalist civilization.

Although I can't get into Marx's head, my intuition is that Marx himself would most likely have criticized Engels' methodology, in that it's not actually scientific. Engels fixates on the idea of stages of civilizations as interesting things in themselves, as opposed to viewing them as forms of social organization that happened to have happened, or changed into one another. Marx was much more careful about these things, as evidenced by some of his writings about pre-capitalist economic formations that analyzed these societies in a way that minimized the current fashions in ideology and instead looked at the economic/material structure of the societies themselves.

Engel's book has done much damage, not only because it reinforced the worst of what was floating around in his time, but because it gave the Soviet authorities a rationale to dominate indigenous and colonial peoples within the Soviet Union on the basis of them being representatives of more primitive civilizations.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Contra Santorum, if anything, more education is needed to really save the economy

Because states that have industrialized late have all put a foundation of education below them, except for the Soviet Union, which was cut off from the rest of the world.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Charity vs. Socialism 2, objections to pooling of resources

In the first post, I pointed to the pooling of resources to provide a baseline of benefits for society as the first step of socialism. Surely, though, your work is your work, and pooling benefits just enables people who don't work and pull their weight to profit off of those who do. Well, not quite.

Marx would argue that we're already pooling our resources every day in capitalist society, but it's being done unconsciously and in a way that allows the owners to appropriate most of it. What I mean is this: any useful work a person does, no matter how individualistic, contributes to society as a whole. You make a product and sell it, that product is bought because it satisfies some need on the part of the person who buys it, and so contributes to the well being of that person and by extension society. On the job you provide a service, like serving as a checkout person at a supermarket or at a store. You check out products and answer questions, thereby facilitating people getting their stuff and getting the knowledge they need, which contributes to society getting along as a whole.

All work contributes to the well being of society, advances it, yet unless you own your own company or are an independent producer you don't really decide what value you get in return for providing those services. There are prevailing wages for different kinds of work, but it's all decided within the corporate structure, meaning that they're the wages that corporations are willing to pay you for your work as opposed to what you'd get if you had a hand in determining the value yourself, say if you owned part of a small company and had a say in what your wage might be. The two values, that decided by corporations and what the actual value of your work might be, may correspond, but they may not. Now, when the two don't correspond, that extra value goes somewhere, and it goes to the corporation, that uses it for its own purposes, which include building the business as well as profit and salaries for CEOs and executives.

Although corporate appropriation of value can be unfair, it brings up an interesting point, that is to say that if everyone got the exact value of their labor in return for their work, and all of it went solely for personal spending, there would be no money left over for investment in expanding companies or planning for the future. This can be seen in the case of people who are in business for themselves, making and selling their own products: they quickly find out that they if they want to stay in business they have to save money and put it back in the business and not take the maximum for themselves.

Because of this, having everyone just get the full value of their labor back, while fair, would likely lead to economic collapse. What's needed is for some of that value to be pooled for common ends, decided on democratically. Businesses, or places of work, individually would have money available to grow themselves, but the money that in our system goes towards profits distributed to the owners or shareholders, or to CEOs as salaries and bonuses, or to executives and higher management as inflated salaries, would go to society as a whole to be used for purposes that benefit everyone, and would not be personally appropriated by anyone.

on edit: alternatively, a lot of that money would or could first go back to the workers themselves, but folks would hopefully decide to voluntarily reinvest it in society for social ends.

Charity vs. Socialism, some thoughts, with ideas from James Connolly

The great Irish Republican. There's quite a difference between the two, yet folks often think that socialism simply means a welfare state on steroids instead of a transition to a fundamentally different state of affairs. Dependency is not the goal in socialism, the goal is a modified self sufficiency that's created by everyone first producing, then pooling that wealth to produce a baseline social structure that applies to everyone, and that everyone benefits from, then allowing individual variations within that social structure based on effort and skill. Even hardcore socialist, Communist, countries operated in this way. The difference between this and the welfare state is that a socialist society would largely work in the background, with many everyday things being subsidized, instead of being provided for through direct transfers of wealth, or cash benefits, except possibly for people in emergency need. It would also establish maximums in income and power as well as minimums, upper limits as well as lower limits. On edit: this would also take place within the context of public ownership.

Connolly, in his "Workshop Talks", outlines some of the humiliation and condescension that folks needing assistance under capitalism face, as well as the notion that under socialism this would either not be necessary, or if so it would be done in a way where people could maintain their pride in themselves.

"There are tens of thousands of hungry children in New York today as in every other large American city, and many well-meant efforts have been made to succour them. Free lunches have been opened in the poorest districts, bread lines have been established and charitable organisations are busy visiting homes and schools to find out the worst cases. But all this has only touched the fringe of the destitution, with the additional aggravation that anything passing through the hands of these charitable committees usually cost ten times as much for administration as it bestows on the object of its charity.

* * *

Also that the investigation is usually more effectual in destroying the last vestiges of self-respect in its victims than in succouring their needs.

* * *

In the midst of this difficulty Superintendent Maxwell of the New York Schools sends a letter to a committee of thirteen charitable organizations which had met together to consider the problem, and in this letter he advocates the method of relieving distress long since initiated by the Socialist representatives in the Municipality of Paris. I quote from the New York World:

A committee of seven was appointed to inquire more fully into the question of feeding school children and to report at a subsequent meeting. School Superintendent Maxwell sent a letter advocating the establishment in New York schools with city money of lunch kitchens, these to sell food at actual cost and to give to needy children tickets just like those paid for, to the end that no child might know that his fellow was eating at the expense of the city by the color of his ticket. This is done in Paris.

Contrast this solicitude for the self-respect of the poor children, recognized by Superintendent Maxwell in the plan of these ‘foreign Socialists’ with the insulting methods of the capitalist ‘bread lines’ and charitable organizations in general."

Friday, March 02, 2012

If Iran is attacked...

I think it should hit back with everything it's got, period. There need to be consequences if the constant tough talk on the part of Israel translates out into actual acts of war. Israel seems to think that it's invincible. Perhaps if it's stupid enough to actually attack Iran it will learn that's not the case.

*on edit: I forgot to add, it would be nice if Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq decided to simultaneously invade Israel in response to such an attack, although Iraq would probably not do it.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wonderful thinking from the Critical Theory crowd regarding race in 19th century Europe

Also, this is unattributed, unsourced, and without context, so take it for what you will.

One person talking about race in Europe seized on Marx's comment that socialist politician Ferdinand Lasalle was a "Jewish N*gger" to make the odd claim that having African ancestry was accepted in 19th century Europe. He did not get that Marx was being both anti-semitic and racist at the same time. Lasalle was a darker skinned person of Jewish descent who had curly hair. He wasn't African. Yet, presto-chango, Marx's slur turns into proof of the variability of racial standards in Europe over time. Such a thing was no doubt true, as there were folks like Alexandre Dumas who had African ancestry and were accepted into European society, so there's no need to fabricate evidence from misunderstood insults by Marx or others. In fact, such things make those who put them forward look like they have no idea what they're talking about, and help to discredit the idea of variability of racial concepts in the popular mind, if they're there to begin with.