Saturday, December 28, 2013

Making sense of '80s era Bob Dylan, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 It wasn't a particularly good decade, although it started out with some potential. "Infidels" featured more substantial writing than "Shot of Love', which, while decent and somewhat catchy, is mostly notable for not being as Christian as "Saved". 

After "Infidels", though, it goes downhill fast with the virtually unlistenable, "Empire Burlesque", followed by the still bad "Knocked out loaded", these two being Dylan taking on '80s mainstream  rock in a horrible, horrible, way.

Things look up a little bit in "Down in the Groove", which is actually well done, even if the lyrics aren't up to par usually. The drum machines and synths of "Empire Burlesque" and "Knocked Out Loaded" are no longer there.

The albums improve quite a bit with "Oh, Mercy!", which can tentatively be called one of his best, which introduced new writing, good lyrics, and a new sound that would form the basis for the more positive departures that Dylan would go down in the late '90s and 2000's.

But first, before that, there came "Under the Red Sky", whose badness is so epic that it deserves a category all its own. If looked at as "Outsider Art", i.e. by the mentally ill, "Wiggle wiggle" and the title song could get more appreciation.

Dylan, though, got back on it with two albums of covers of old, old, folk songs, first with "Good as I've been to you", then with the, in my opinion, better done and more worthwhile "World Gone Wrong". These two albums anchored Dylan back in the folk country tradition.

Combined with the vibe from "Oh, Mercy", set the stage first for the Grammy Winning "Time Out of Mind", and then " 'Love and Theft' ", the two classic albums that reestablished him as a relevant artist who was still doing interesting things.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The future of the Left in the United States in the Obama era

Cracks have appeared in the once stable bedrock of the left media in the U.S. in the post-Bush era., Rawstory, and others, are turning into outlets that repeat ideology without looking at the reality. For instance, the story run on asserting that the whole denomination of the Southern Baptists was full of racists and homophobes, the very questionable "year in cultural appropriation" on Salon, that actually had little to do with cultural appropriation outside of someone's deluded head.  The hit squad put out on Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who, in categorizing how the Tea Party viewed people, asserted that now mayor of New York Bill de Blasio's family, which is interracial, where his wife used to identify as being a Lesbian, was disgusting and not normal---he was slamming the Tea Party, not defending them, is another example.

The problem isn't the basic values themselves. Neither racism, homophobia, nor the blatant presentation of someone else's culture as your own are trivial issues. However, we've gotten so used to having the enemy be a Bush administration post-9/11 that presented an unambiguous united front that we've gotten lazy about how we think and what we oppose.

The nuance of the world that we live in makes the broad brushes that we've painted the world in no longer sufficient. So what is to be done?

My opinion is that what we need now is a synthesis of Right and Left, not the Tea Party right but instead the more principled, moderate, philosophical, conservative current, along with a solid left foundation, with a leavening of liberalism.

Right and Left fusion, I believe, can address many of the ambiguities and nuances that are being totally overlooked by the more mainstream Left wing media, and point a way towards a political doctrine and future that's less one dimensional and is better all around.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Our immigration exploitation scheme

One thing that upsets me about the U.S. is how we justify having a several tiered economy based on immigration status with hopes of a better future. I mean, sure, it's great, but it doesn't change the fact that having people who are immigrants occupying the bottom jobs makes it that much easier for people who are native born to occupy the higher ones. Immigration doesn't take jobs away from people--quite the opposite, it allows people who are native born to get better ones.

It's really convenient...get people who come from poor places to work here for less than native born people would be willing to work for, give them less respect than native born people would demand,  with the hope of a higher standard of living for them and potentially a much higher standard of living for their descendants. 

All of this 'no first amendment right' to be on television for the Duck Dynasty guy is rank hypocrisy

Because you know that if he was saying things that were progressive and was fired for them folks would be saying exactly the opposite.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Reagan, the Reagan Revolution, and Obama

Although I can't say I approve of it, I think that I now understand more of where the 'Reagan Revolution' was coming from, and how what Obama is doing avoids some of the pitfalls that lead to it. Specifically, although they may at times have called what they were opposing socialism, what in fact the Reagan Revolution was confronting wasn't socialism itself but a liberal welfare state. There's a difference, although there can be a socialist welfare state as well. There were a large number of government programs that addressed lots of issues without any sort of means testing to see whether they were effective or not, and that dodged the issue of class entirely. Why they did that is integral to their failure.

The post-war United States saw one of the biggest economic booms in all of history. Europe was destroyed, so was Japan, and the Soviet Union was closed off to outside economies, so we had world trade and development all to ourselves. Many people thought that what was in fact only a temporary situation was permanent, and that soon it would extend not just to the United States but to the rest of the world as well. Because of this, class was thought to no longer be an issue, and with that the difference between a socialist state and a liberal state became unimportant as well. But there, in fact, are important differences regarding how society itself functions, differences that would be important in good times as well as bad, most importantly the continued existence of a class system as well as the concentration of economic power in few hands. That people were in general prosperous only obscured what still existed below the surface.

So, without addressing the fundamental contradictions of society, the liberal welfare state just made more programs that touched the surface of things without looking at their root causes. This lead to lots of inefficiencies and a large bureaucracy, and in the later Carter years when the economy tanked, the shit hit the fan, so to speak. With the Golden Age over, all of those social programs had quite a hard time justifying themselves, especially with class asserting itself as an issue for a group that had been given short shrift in the social program arena: white working class males. The thing is that whatever guilt or responsibility white folks had and have, once the recession hit they were suffering just like anyone else, and ignoring that did not make people happy.

The regulatory legislation that was brought in at the same time as the social programs must have looked like bureaucratic do-gooder-ness, even though in many cases it did great the very existence of the EPA, for example. But perhaps taking over from resentment against the social programs the idea of grass roots citizen action in starting businesses in opposition to government bureaucracy gained traction.

However, the small business vs. big government paradigm that was established, that's been flailed about ever since, is based on a false opposition. Either a large top level set of programs that sits on top of society directing it or virtuous small business people. Socialism itself provides another option, or social democracy at least. Fundamental to socialism, if implicit in it, is the idea of society as a common wealth that everyone participates in, and to the role of government as making that commonwealth more participatory and equal through effecting structural change that once in place simply has to be maintained. The idea of endless social programs that don't solve problems is not what folks who are socialists should be aiming for--instead, what should be the case is action taken at the root causes that solves them so that less social programs in general will be needed.

Although business in its higher realms is of course effected by socialism, social democratic and otherwise, there's nothing stopping small businesspeople from getting started and taking initiative. Instead, what's recognized is that on the whole it's the larger accumulations of economic power in corporations and industries that makes the difference for society, and if you really want to effect change you'll have to alter the way they do business, how they function.

Despite claims to the contrary, I really do believe that Obama is moving us closer to a social democracy, and that this is a very good thing. If we continue to look at the root causes and try to find public solutions to them, for example with health care, we'll recognize soon enough that addressing structural problems in society does not mean turning society into a dictatorship. Instead, socialism, or most socialism, has always advocated changing the structure of society so that people can get on with living their lives.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

How the Enlightenment turned out the lights on learning.

I think that the Enlightenment, at least in the U.S., has, far from helping us, in fact hindered us in many ways. Now, the Enlightenment itself, taken on the whole, isn't the problem. Instead, it's a particular subset of it that has gotten the upper hand in society. And this isn't necessarily the radical enlightenment either. No, it's the orientation in the "Battle of the Books", as Jonathan Swift called it, towards jettisoning the past and all of the previous accumulations of learning for a quick fix explanation of humanity and human society.

What the Enlightenment has unfortunately bequeathed to us is the idea that if you have a formalistic understanding of human nature and human society, say as being made of atomic individuals who behave in ways that their biology tells them, you don't need to put much effort into thinking about the meaning of it all. Updated to the present, we have science, biology, psychology, and a notion of individuals as being autonomous to one degree or another, and all of that presents a scaffolding for the interpretation of life that allows people to shut off their critical thinking skills and go on auto pilot.

Jonathan Swift's battle of the books, between classics and moderns, was between people who were part of the Enlightenment who believed that in order to understand society and humanity in general, you had to draw on lots of sources from the past and carefully develop a perspective and understanding, and those who thought that you could just read a few books of modern philosophy that explained it all and not have to think about it further. Swift, being a partisan for the classic, derided the moderns as being immature adolescents who were glomming onto the next best thing.

We might not have that same zeitgeist of explanation these days, but the consequences of it are there: instead of considering society or questions about humanity ourselves, we let science take care of it, or socio-biology, and wait for the latest bit of news about a study about our supposed behavior as shaped by evolution to explain life for us. And besides, what matters is the market, right? Someone else can think about those things because they don't get you very far in life.

We just assume we know what's out there, and that assumption of certainty leads to laziness and consequent superficiality, as we disengage from thinking about the world and look to whatever transitory things are in front of us. And the state of society follows, at least in the United States, where we get on a path to reducing society to the least common denominator, culturally speaking.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Stuff vs Understanding

One of the very interesting things that is met with in the biographies of the pioneers of psycho-analysis is the extensive philosophical background that they had. Strictly speaking, that was not necessary. Freud, Reich, Jung, were trained as medical doctors. A knowledge of Kant isn't required to treat people, but the educational authorities at the time felt that it, along with familiarity with other thinkers and concepts, was something that any well educated person should possess. The knowledge, the study of that knowledge, would produce an understanding that transcended the base aspects of the profession, and would be by definition good.

How different are we today, where when people are presented with philosophy, or sociology, or anthropology, as courses of study the first question is often "What good will that do me?", meaning "How will that help me make money?". Implicit is the idea that money and what money can buy are substitutes for understanding.

With a lot of money you can buy a lot of things, use them, have them around you, possess them, consume them. They surely depended on skill to manufacture, but you did not manufacture them. They stand outside, always outside, of the person, alienated from them. Even if you eat something, it's gone in a second.  Understanding, on the other hand, is possessed intimately. What you know, what you understand about the world, about society, about your fellow human beings, is part of you. It does not stand outside, always inaccessible in itself, but is instead completely known in itself. It is non-alienated. A constellation of objects will always be a menagerie located outside the individual, a constellation of ideas that are part of the understanding will always be inside.

We look on material possessions as being substitutes for this understanding, or, if not substitutes, as markers that indicate that the person in question possesses something of equal worth to the objects possessed, without any proof. The measure of competence is competence, not what a person is able to accumulate around themselves.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Conservatives in the U.S.: right and wrong after 9/11

What happened after 9/11 was a shameful period in American history, one that we're still at the tail end of, as witnessed by the Tea Party. However, even in the rottenness of that time period there were still valid points raised. One of them was the rebirth of a sense of American values, of unique ones, and the criticism of folks who opposed this idea as being part of the 'blame America crowd'. The United States has done a lot of messed up stuff around the world, and continues to do it, however there are also positive features of American society and culture that do exist, and there's some truth to the notion that these things got a little bit of short shrift in the media before 9/11, although this is in some sense exaggerated. But, on the whole, true enough. 

The response to 9/11, though, was completely wrong, and many of those values were either superficially understood and mouthed as slogans, or not understood at all, and instead used to justify whatever revenge fantasy that the person uttering them had at the moment. These values were used to justify authoritarianism, Christian theocracy, racism against people of color who were either Muslims or who seemed to be them, discrimination against Muslims as a whole, the creation of a false 'culture war' between the West and the Muslim world, two invasions, one of which had little justification, the other having no justification whatsoever, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, the list goes on. 

What could have been at least somewhat noble, with a rediscovery of the positive within American society---not to the exclusion of what we do wrong, and have done wrong in the past, but put side by side with it--turned into a nightmare, with things such as the Flag being turned into symbols of oppression, that people in general had to respect--or else. 

Some of the criticism, that boiled down to things like not feeling comfortable in saying that you're proud to be an American before 9/11, may have had some truth....but the solution to that isn't to completely discount the negative things that America has done wrong, but to honor the positive side by side with it...and attempt to stop doing the negative things in the first place and possibly right some of those wrongs that have been committed.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela, rest in peace

A good man, who lead South Africa through a period of transition from one of the worst societies in the world to one that, while still having problems, is free of legal racism.

Friday, November 29, 2013

State and society

Following up on the below post, I think it's useful to think of the State as being the executive function of society on a high level, regardless of the lower organizations of society on more grass roots levels. The State is not society itself, of course, but society has it's own structure that transcends that of individuals, and the State on a high level can be seen as the administrator of that structure, hopefully empowered by the people themselves, in the pursuit of maintaining social stability and good functioning. This, of course, is based on that structure being good to begin with, otherwise, social stability and functioning maintains, at least in some degree, a corrupt system. This is why although reforms can and should be done, like increasing the minimum wage, the social system should also be transitioning to something where serious structural change has been accomplished to change the fundamental nature of society itself, in the relations of classes with each other, and in the relation of business with the people.

Wal-Mart accepting donations by employees for employees and McDonalds talking about how to stretch dollars illustrates proletarianization

The disgraceful and shameful act by Wal-Mart, where bins were set out in advance of Thanksgiving to collect food for employees who are not paid enough to get decent Thanksgiving dinners portrays Marx's concept of proletarianization in a nutshell.

Marx's idea was that capitalism works on a vicious cycle with regards to wages, where if nothing is done to stop it the tendency is for wages to get as low as they can before the employees themselves can no longer literally afford food and shelter.

It's a process that doesn't have to happen, and that in fact can be stopped by state intervention, in the form of higher minimum wages and other measures.

The absence of a good way to figure out how to deal with such a thing is a main weakness of anarchism. Usually, the suggestion for countering this is organizing on the job and direct action, but it's surely much easier to have the State approve a higher minimum wage and force employers to honor it or face the consequences.

A popularly empowered State that took action on these things could accomplish quite a lot.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Kant and Hume, part 1

 Hume made a very interesting case that simple perception of two things happening in close association with each other does not prove that one caused the other, and that in fact the idea of causation as a whole has problems.

Kant responded to this by saying that, in point of fact, that is a moot point because we never simply have a disconnected, abstract, point of view but always one that's contextualized within human cognition which produces causation as part of a greater set of assumptions that makes up a worldview that is mostly functional and verifiable.

Kant makes the point that there should be something more than just chance association to our ideas about things like causation, even if what it actually is is not clear, because there are a great many things that we can in fact know or deduce without direct observation that also prove to be correct when we find them in nature...math being a prime example. Without any observation of the external world, you can work out complex algebra that you can then find working in the world itself.

If all associations between ideas are just opinions made after the fact, how is that possible?

Kant is in effect saying that while the example of the billiard balls and causation might be superficially appealing, that if one truly took that logic and applied it to all of the things that we deal with on a daily basis, most if not all, of things that we take for granted, that do work to a certain degree in the actual world, would be invalidated.

Now, Kant does not suggest that what we think is the explanation of these things actually is the case. In point of fact, he suggests that to a very large degree the categories that we use to evaluate these things are the product either of culture or of a sort of semi-arbitrary biological programming. Yet, although they might be the product of something that is, in the end, programming and filters that are "false", or not what they appear to be, in and of themselves, they do appear to interface with the actual world and produce actual results, even if imperfectly.

That sort of mysterious connection between the categories of thought and the ultimately unknowable truth of the world, unknowable because it's very, very, difficult to truly go beyond our categories of thought themselves, is what makes Hume's point invalid.

Nations, the Nation-State, and Socialism

Nationalism is roundly condemned as being a right-wing aberration, however, in the United States this usually refers to the version of it found here, as opposed to that found in Europe. There are actually features of it in the European context, independent of atrocities like those that occurred in the Third Reich and in the former Yugoslavia, that make it not so easy to dismiss as a positive force.

I say that for the following: fundamentally, the nationalism of continental Europe was not based on the nation-state as it existed in France, England, and Spain, but on customs, geography, and language in common, and people who possessed these determining their own destiny without reference to any sort of autocratic monarchy that happened to possess their land.

The nation-state as it's usually referred to in these discourses is a descendent of the absolutist state, where a monarchy unified power in itself, taking it away from the more confederal arrangement of the local aristocracy having regional control. This monarchy then consolidated power and created a state based on this consolidation.

Most nationalisms in Europe originated in the 19th century, in the wake of the French Revolution, and originally had radical roots. Giuseppe Mazzini, the great example of cosmopolitan nationalism, was a socialist as well, and very liberal, and in part due to his influence after the unification of Italy there was a period of agrarian, socialist, reform and redistribution of land. The state that came out of Italian unification was a parliamentary democracy that was part of a constitutional monarchy, that was actually fairly progressive for the context that it existed in, not an absolutist state.

That there were internal differences in Italy and elsewhere that made these communities not homogenous was recognized from the beginning. It's kind of hard not to notice that the local dialect of a region in northern Italy is vastly different from that of Sicily. Yet, the people who pushed for unification in Italy and for self-determination else where believed that despite these differences, the people who lived in these areas had more in common with each other than they had differences. In the case of Italy, these commonalities included being part of the Italian peninsula, and related islands, being part of the Roman Empire, and in general having been part of the Greco-Roman classical world.

Self determination is another way of expressing what the nationalism of continental Europe was about, and is a term that is much nicer to the ears of us United States-ians. It should be, because a lot of what World War I was fought over depended on it. While it may be fashionable to say that the first World War was just fought over money, the dissolution of the German, Austrian, and Russian monarchies, as well as the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, wasn't a trivial matter to the people making up the present Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Lithuania. All of these countries only came into real existence as independent countries after the first World War. Before that, they were the property of either Prussia, Russia, the Kingdom of Austria, or the Kingdom of Hungary.  That was how Europe was organized before the first World War: countries of people who had similar languages, customs, religion, and who occupied coherent regions being subsumed under personal monarchies.

Finland as well. Some look at all these countries and dismiss it as all of those Eastern Europeans, countries that because of being absorbed into the Iron Curtain are viewed as more foreign and weird, but even Finland, considered now to be just a part of Scandinavia, was the property of the Russian Empire for a long time, and only got independence during World War I. If the Bolshevik Revolution (which later tried to forcibly incorporate Finland into Bolshevik Russia) hadn't happened, Nokia would be written in Cyrillic.

People generally agree that the independence of countries from servitude is a good thing, but what, then, is the ideology that motivates this drive? Because, by definition, to be an independent nation means to form a nation, nationalism is a very appropriate label for it.

As said before, this does not necessarily mean a quest for purity, either linguistic or otherwise, and does not necessarily mean the great perversion of ethnic nationalism, which imputed linguistic, cultural, and religious commonalities to a genetic or racial basis.

The more perceptive people did see that the borders that demarcated one country from another were vague, and that different peoples lived to a certain extent within several different related areas, including peoples like the Jewish people who otherwise didn't enough concentration anywhere to form a state, and they advocated for respect of their rights.

Which is not to say that things went smoothly. Greece, another country that achieved independence and national self determination in the 19th century, underwent with the Ottoman Empire a series of painful and destructive "Population Exchanges", where Greeks who had lived in present day Turkey for milenia were expelled to live in Greece, while Turkish people who had lived in Greece for several hundred years were likewise expelled back to Turkey.

It should be noted, though, that this and other actions, as painful as they may have been, also had a dimension of conflict between the oppressor and the oppressed, with the oppressor population being asked to leave. The rights regarding that are sensitive, but that dimension of domination and oppression puts into context things like the law that came into place in Latvia that intentionally penalizes speakers whose primary language is Russian. Latvia was not only part of the Iron Curtain but forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union itself, and underwent a good deal of movement of Russians, with higher social status and other benefits, into itself while part of that.

That this also has erupted into out and out genocidal madness is not in question. In fact, the conflict between the Serbs and the Bosnians is a result of this. Serbia was another country that gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, before it was incorporated into Yugoslavia, with Belgrade being picked as the capitol of the new Yugoslavia in deference to this. The Bosnians are simply Serbs who adopted Islam during the Ottoman years, and the war of the Serbs against the Bosnians, done in the name of supposedly 'liberating' Serbian land and of course the rights of Christian Serbs still living in Bosnia, was motivated by revenge against former oppressors.

But this does not have to be the end product of the impulse to self determination. In fact, in the U.S. itself, regionalism, which has quite a lot in common with the more cosmopolitan versions of European nationalism has a lot of support in progressive circles. Not only that, but self determination is compatible with social justice on the whole and socialism in general.  Besides the Italian agrarian reform, to which could be added the agrarian reform following the Mexican Revolution, were the proposals of people like Otto Bauer and the Austro-Socialists, who formed the "2 and a Half International", who advocated for radical social change in the former Austrian territories combined with national self determination.

Even the Soviet Union itself recognized that the two impulses, a socialist sentiment and a national one, were not necessarily enemies, in that all across the Soviet Union were built museums showcasing the local folk traditions of minorities in the regions. That these were somewhat trivialized does not change the fact that national minorities were able to have their own autonomous republics within the Soviet Union, which, not matter how this was undermined in practice, was quite an accomplishment. That the policy was initiated under Stalin himself also mitigates the idea that socialism and some sort of national sentiment are completely opposed.

So what does all of this mean, in the end? I think that socialism should come first, but that nationalism, whether it be expressed as a regional identity, as something based on common language and customs, or on other factors, touches cultural commonalities that go beyond a generic socialist framework and that color our lives in ways that are important to preserve. A multi-cultural society is better than one where there's a generic mono-culture that honors no cultural features whatsoever, and that replaces the diversity and richness of countries with a flat, official, formalism.

*on edit: I should also add as well that Serbia at the end of the 20th century was in a much different position from Serbia in the 19th century. It was a dominant force in Yugoslavia, so that it's claims to 'liberate' oppressed Serbians in Bosnia and Kosovo were the claims of a now dominant power against minority populations that had much less, both economically and socially, although Bosnia was much more developed than Kosovo.

Also, below all of this, there's one thing that unites everyone, and that's our common humanity, which transcends national boundaries, new and old.

Friday, November 15, 2013

It looks like Kshama Sawant will win, congratulations to one of the sane voice from Occupy Seattle!

Happy that she will most likely be on the city council. She was involved with Occupy Seattle from the beginning, and was always a voice of reason.

If it had been just people like her, there would have been no problems, and the whole thing would not have imploded like it did. However, human selfishness, a willing to exploit victim status, and a respect for direct democracy that went beyond all sanity, conspired to make it not so.

About the later, Occupy Seattle shows the weakness not of Democracy itself, but of total, deliberate, direct, democracy. You had so much time wasted on absolute bullshit that, if it had been present in any other system, would not have gotten out of committee, so to speak. Literally. I'm making this example of, but the sessions I experienced were like "Hey man, I believe that everyone should have free marijuana, that I'm being harassed by microwave thought control, and that the CIA has been following me sine 1997. I want free pot, microwave harassment, and CIA hijinks to be put on the agenda". And instead of saying, no, can't do that, you're fucking crazy and that's bullshit, people would be like "Well, okay, let's talk about microwave harassment, and about the pros and cons of the idea of law enforcement using microwave technology to beam secret messages to people".

The notion that by honoring all that anyone has to say will lead to better ideas getting out there is proven false by this. Maybe it should be honoring anything that anyone has to say provided that they're not fucking crazy, paranoid, or otherwise off their meds, and have good arguments to back up their opinion. Having some sort of more structured democracy, where, for instance, you might actually have a committee of people to go through, who would vote on a proposal, before it got to the main assembly, instead of pure direct democracy, is the way to go.

Clarification of political position

In light of a few things.

First, my position is a synthesis of socialism, liberalism and conservatism, specifically of Marxism, liberalism and conservatism.

Second, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are anti-semitic.

Third, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are either anti-immigrant or anti-Islam.

Fourth, within that synthesis I categorically reject and will have nothing to do with people who are anti-gay.

These positions are distortions, and in the present are very hurtful to individuals who have done nothing wrong.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

With Duggan, Detroit breaks tradition of demagoguery

The post Coleman Young mayors have been a mixed bag, but most, if not all, have been much better than him. The Detroit mayor's race came down to the head of the police versus Mike Duggan, and the Detroit police is not something that's either good or on your side. Duggan won. The people of Detroit ignored the race baiting and voted for the person who they thought was best for the job, someone who had run one of Detroit's best institutions, Detroit Medical Center, while it was still a non-profit. Hospitals versus cops, you decide.

The six year old boy who wants to be a girl---I'm not sympathetic

Not because of any doubt about the authenticity of transgender claims, but because of the age. Someone who's six is a small child; they can't make big decisions for themselves, they certainly can't live on their own, they need parental guidance and protection. They have also only recently graduated into going to school for full days and are being taught the very low end of books for elementary school readers. We're talking about people in First Grade. A first grader is not qualified to make decisions that in later years will lead to either surgery or hormone treatment, and they should not be allowed to switch gender because they suddenly have the idea that they're the opposite one.

Thinking that this is in any way appropriate is an example of the utter lunacy of ultra-persmissive parenting, that would rather indulge in decisions that later on may lead to serious harm, and to your child hating you, rather than apply common sense to decisions.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Perhaps I went too far in my Arafat post

To be explicit, through using the reference to the "Chosen People". Although they're small in number, real anti-Semitic discourse today makes great use of the concept, not simply to refer to people's feelings of an absolute right to possess the land that is now Israel and Palestine, but to refer to a huge number of other things. Specifically, the idea is that because people who are Jewish think that they're the "Chosen People", they feel that laws in general do not apply to them, and that they therefore act only for themselves in whatever situation they find themselves in. I completely and totally reject this idea.

The scope of the post should have been limited to Israel itself, and to the very feeling that that physical piece of land was granted by their God to them, in perpetuity, as his Chosen People, without framing it in a way that could have been taken to imply a set of behaviors that goes beyond just a relationship with the land of Israel itself and instead goes into things that are non-existent, completely false, and extremely prejudicial to people.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Arafat poisoned with Polonium

Here. Ruh-roh. I'm sure that it was an internal rivalry in the Palestinian Authority between Hamas and Fatah that lead to this, right?  Hopefully, this will prompt international action against Israel, the state that possesses the mindset that they are the "Chosen People" who can do anything they want in their territory. There are quite a number of Israelis who believe, pure and simple, that the piece of land that Israel/Palestine was on was granted to them by their God, and that they have a divine right to it, one that goes beyond all law, international and otherwise. They believe that they can do whatever they want on it, to whoever they want, and that there should be no consequences whatsoever, because they're their God's favorites. Maybe this will piss off their neighbors, and the rest of the international community, to prove that that is not the case.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The inadequacy of class alone to explain things

Let's take two people, one who comes from a working class background, the other who comes from a bourgeois background. One's parents are poorer, the other are better off. Now, the working class individual comes from an intact home where the family is well integrated into the community. They have a pretty healthy home life, despite not having that much money. The bourgeois person, on the other hand, comes from a highly dysfunctional background, with a split family and the family that remains being less than optimal, with lots of problems of their own. They're not well integrated into the community, in fact the community thinks that there's something wrong with them so they avoid them. However, the family members still have jobs that give them a good income.

Which of these two people are probably going to have a better position going out into the world? The working class person has the economic disadvantage, but they have a distinct sociological advantage that the other person does not. If you looked at the situation from the lens of class alone, well then, the bourgeois would not be worthy of sympathy because their family had more money, while the working class person would be, because they had less. Economic background is not everything.

We already recognize this in drawing a distinction between people of better economic backgrounds who are minorities, and those who aren't, so why not just generalize it?

*on edit: family background, class, and minority status all contribute to the whole, with both family status and minority status potentially leading to becoming declassed, despite claims that this can  never happen.

*on edit 2: there's also the issue of "Bourgeois Decadence". When the bourgeoisie do it, it's decadent, when working class people do it, it's a reaction to oppression.

One of the best examples of the poverty of the idea of bourgeois decadence is contained in Bernardo Bertolucci's film "1900". Although Bertolucci has since gone on to make much better films, "1900" is probably one of the most hack, stereotyped, wooden, socialist realist films ever made in the West. The people are paper cut-outs.  In the case of bourgeois decadence, the guy who comes from the prosperous family is portrayed as leading a life of leisure, cocaine, and women, while the virtuous worker spends his time schooling unappreciative fellow workers in basic literacy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Culture and Economics, how they're related, in reference to the United States and elsewhere

I see both of them as having a positive role to play in the construction of a healthy society. Material economic life can be built up, and it conditions people, but it the cultural values aren't there, it either won't last long, or it'll slowly decay. Unfortunately, while the positive contributions of culture, in the sense I'm meaning it, are easy to spot, the decay takes quite a lot longer before it becomes noticeable.

Cultural values here are meant to mean basic values held by society itself that shapes individual's understanding and interaction with the world at large. I see this as being quite independent from aspects of culture such as ethnic or religious culture, and instead having to do with what people on the ground actually believe, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, and act on.

Literacy and valuing learning, for example. Here in the U.S. college has become a joke, something that many, many, people party through while doing the minimum to graduate, just to get a piece of paper. Reading outside of college is at a very low point. I think it's more than possible to extend the apathy about learning to apathy in applying that learning in the outside world.

 Compare this situation with India. Here you have a culture that values learning, values literacy, and values applying all of that in the outside world, such that people who come from towns and cities that otherwise have very little in comparison with those of the U.S. possess a much deeper understanding of their chosen subject matter. Learning and higher education is valued over there as a thing in itself, not just as a way to make money, and being an educated person gives one status, as opposed to making one a nerd or what have you.

And the folks in India who have these educations are contributing to the growth and development of their country, moving it along, while we put more emphasis on football.

If we really want to get the U.S. back on track, we need to address not just inequality, which has progressed to an obscene and unheard of level here, but our cultural climate that is setting the country up for eventual failure on the world scene as well as destroying whatever non-material quality of life we still possess.

Both need to be developed in tandem, and addressed in tandem. The inequality is most likely linked to the climate of il-literacy and the prioritizing of material values before all else, which in the long run sabotages life, though it enriches some in the short term.

Often the calls for a more rigorous attention to college work are met with questions about what exactly will that translate out into in dollars? If people had taken that approach at the start of when this big pile of money that the United States sits on was being built, it wouldn't exist.

*on edit: student loan debt is an issue, and the fact that students in the United States who want to study hard have to contract it is an indicator of where we stand culturally on these things. Nevertheless, for every sincere student taking on debt there are many who still don't give a fuck and take on the debt anyways.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Veterans protest shut down of war memorials because of government shutdown---democracy at its finest

Because, of course, the reason it's shut down is because of the GOP, who these folks support. Not only that, but other agencies thought to be 'inessential', such as the EPA and food inspectors, have been sent home, but these folks aren't missed. No sir. Just the national parks, whose closure, as opposed to having non-toxic food, is an outrage.

You know, for all the talk about 'this is a Republic, not a Democracy', it's the Republicans who most act like the caricature that they paint. It's the moronic parent-teacher associations in small towns, representative of grass roots democracy at its finest, that leads to anti-evolution curriculum in the schools, along with most of the other outrages against common sense that typify primary school in the United States. It's the grass roots Tea Partiers that believe that Obama was born in Kenya, along with a host of other half-digested falsities. And its the grass roots veterans and friends lead by the inimitable Mrs. Palin that are protesting a shutdown that they themselves caused, yelling at Obama for being a bad, bad, man for closing national parks.

At times, looking at the scenery of the United States, where any damn idiocy is tolerated,  I would like to think that if we just had a requirement for footnotes and references to be supplied to any of these things in order for them to receive serious consideration, we'd do much better.

*on edit: to which I can add, that in the hype about the supposed 'controversy' regarding global warming, we have people with PhDs who actually go out and study the world pitted against people whose only distinguishing feature is a willingness to sit up late and read conspiracy theory websites, and the Bible. The two points of view are not equal, and there's no damn reason why Gunther from Arkansas, random anti-Climate Change fanatic, should be given equal time.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Seattle and Western Washington's strangeness, or, the travails of a new region

The strangeness of Seattle and of Washington State west of the Cascades doesn't come from progressive values or from people doing things that are in themselves necessarily strange. Instead, it comes from a generalized feeling of difference, of being in a place where everyday life exists in a familiar but slightly different form, one whose methods are recognizable, and navigable, but still off enough to have to be relearned. 

Seattle and Washington, taking that  to mean western Washington for the moment, constantly defy attempts at stereotypes. Coffee, Pike Place Market, ecological values, and the heritage of grunge rock, are all there, but they don't define it anymore than a glossy travel magazine's one off would.   Stereotyping Oregon is easy, especially Portland. When you go there you can recognize the city as possessing magnified tendencies that are found elsewhere in the country, and "Portlandia" trades on  it. Instead of organic chicken farms run by gurus,  Seattle's uniqueness comes from businesses that reinvent the types that they come from, in ways that are often not spectacularly weird, but second takes on familiarity.

Settled very late, Washington still plays catch up to the rest of the country. Western Washington is cut off from its eastern neighbors, both in state and out, by a forbidding mountain range on one side, and north enough that it's beyond the direct influence of California culture that Oregon experiences.  With no obvious model to go from beyond membership in a generic United States culture, it's still constructing the cultural and physical infrastructure that other states have absorbed naturally from their neighbors. It's still an unfinished work that's being created as we speak, and resembles a related country in formation. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Biblical worldview, the South, Creationism

Looking at all this opposition to teaching evolution in schools, and anti-science things in general, on the part of people both in the South and in the Midwest, I'm reminded of one of the comments that a writer on Southern culture made, that can be summarized like this: people there live with a worldview that is very religious, that goes beyond simply believing in a particular faith but instead shapes their fundamental interpretation of the world around them. The author defended this, didn't condemn it. When these folks look at evolution, global warming, and related issues, they don't just see a different thing that science has come up with, they see something that fundamentally conflicts with their understanding of how the world works.  What they don't realize is that having a worldview like that and accepting science aren't mutually exclusive, but in the process of getting to an interpretation of things that would allow both to co-exist they'd have to recognize at least some relativity in how people view and interpret the world. That's a tall order.

While the author viewed was hopeful about this, the other side of the coin is that this static reality is something inherited from the medieval world, where people  saw the world around them as static and unchanging. Isaiah Berlin, although he has some questionable interpretations about the history of ideas, makes a very good point in his work when he suggests that the precursor to what we understand as the current, commonly held, worldview, wasn't the pure scientism of the Enlightenment, but the earlier development in the Renaissance of the sheer possibility of society having been fundamentally different in the past and potentially being different in the future. There were actually works that argued that society and the world itself, and our views of the world on all levels, were not immutable, and that these variations weren't reducible to one being good and the rest being defective.

This is what the folks in these places who are very concerned about evolution and the modern scientific worldview being taught in schools are missing. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

From Al Jazeera: "Detroit: Closed for business"

The article, by Hasan Dudar,Here, presents a unique perspective. As a reporter of Middle Eastern descent, I think he was able to interview store owners in Detroit that appear to be mostly of Middle Eastern descent themselves, and get their perspective on things. Some things stand out, that are mentioned multiple times. For instance, the owner of a rare vitamin and supplement store reports: 

"Saba, whose customers come in for jugs of alkaline water and vitamin supplements, says part of the responsibility is on the storeowner to ensure that their business is part of the neighborhood and not just a corner store that profits off of it."

After outlining her hospitality to customers who go in there because it's a safe place,she says: "More stores, she says, need to create an atmosphere of respect and be part of residents' lives beyond their shop doors."

Talking about another store owner, "Maurice Jones, former president of a local community organization that looks after Dabaja's neighborhood, says the remaining residents consider Dabaja a pillar of the community and an advocate on their behalf for basic services such as lighting and policing.
"If Frank weren’t here, that gas station would be gone. That's the problem with Detroit: We won't work with the business owners," says Jones, a 63-year-old retired Vietnam veteran who has lived on the west side for 40 years." 
The thing is that, while I'm certainly not a fan of large corporations, the mentality that believes that businesses that are perceived as being not community based, which is often racialized, are parasites, is ingrained in the culture of the city of Detroit, and has been for quite some time. In fact, Coleman Young, the post-riots mayor for life who had no problem in continually alienating anyone who wanted to help the city, specifically mentioned small businesses whose owners weren't present in the city, who were mostly white, as criminals who should get out of town. The perception of absentee owners who were the wrong skin color went over to people who weren't absentee owners, who were part of the community, who also did not fit the bill. And they were alienated and left. 
The problem with the mentality that took over in Detroit after the riots was that this wasn't any sort of nice, thoughtful, one shaped by, say, thought out Marxist perspectives. Instead, you had a grab bag of folks who were pissed off who often had little insight into any larger context and instead reverted to seeing what was going on as a simplistic racial battle. And the riots themselves, it should be noted, even spilled into the schools, with several people who are anything but racist, who grew up either in the city or in integrated areas adjacent to it, reporting to me over the years as a matter of fact constant fights along racial lines and people being regularly stabbed. 
 Coleman Young did nothing to encourage a more nuanced perspective, and in fact played to the most base opinions in Detroit, all the while doing next to nothing to actually improve the city. When the machine that supported him really took over, other perspectives were pushed aside.
Detroit's problems, and indeed, the exodus of industry to the suburbs did start before the riots, as well as white flight, were exacerbated by an increasingly hostile atmosphere that did not distinguish friend from foe, or the people who were really exploiting others from those who were simply neighbors and community members. 
It's a story about how raw, popular, anger, isn't always right, despite what people might think. There's certain strains of anarchism that believe that the more raw and real, the less tainted by what are considered to be compromises with capitalist culture, people are the more naturally they'll do the right thing when the time comes. I don't believe that's the case, and that folks who complain about the supposed taint that critical thought gives to people are out of touch with the basic realities of life itself. 
Fetishizing a Rousseau like 'Noble Savage' pushes people who have more balanced perspectives aside, and leads to grotesqueries like putting faith in gang members and criminals, who have a patina of radical thought on them, on a pedestal. It should be noted that I'm not calling the people of Detroit, specifically African Americans, 'Savages', but suggesting that of the many different sections of the community down there, the ones that were not only tolerated but implicitly encouraged were some of the worst, to the exclusion of others. I expect, though, that some of those other sections would argue with this themselves, and see the relative self-determination they enjoyed as being somehow a nice prize. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Final, for now, thoughts on Occupy Seattle: they didn't know how good they had it.

First off, I think that Occupy Seattle was destroyed by a bunch of ideologues from the Bay Area who wanted to take over and run the show. They deployed, among other things, the sort of Critical Theory arguments that educated elites are unfortunately susceptible to, and guilt tripped them into going along with whatever came down the pipe.  

Now, I've just come back from a trip to the Midwest, and, while I can't say that it was comprehensive in the sense of visiting every state and every metro area there, I do have to say that Seattle most definitely has much more going on culturally, politically, and socially than vast areas in the middle of the country. This includes many areas in the more politically progressive Upper Midwest around the Great Lakes. 

Occupy Minneapolis and Occupy Madison were likely pretty major, but what about Occupy Cleveland, or Occupy Indianapolis? There are many places around the country that would give quite a lot to have what we have in Seattle, and the folks who chose their own limited goals and ideologies as opposed to honoring the spirit of "We are the 99%", that was intended to be a big tent movement and not a sectarian one, fucked it up. They, and we, had the perfect opportunity to build something enduring in Seattle area progressive politics and it was burned to the ground. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Detroit and it's issues

I've written about this before, but am in the metro area, so it's good to revisit it. While the origins of Detroit's problems are complex, I think it's worth noting that for a long time there have been plenty of people in the suburbs who have wanted to help out Detroit, who have wanted to see the city come back, but who have been rebuffed because their skin is the wrong color. These are folks who *like* the city, but unfortunately in the past, because they were white, they were considered to be interlopers, people who wanted to take over the city and co-opt it. Perhaps this is changing, but, quite frankly, if the people who live in a city are mostly poor and have little access to resources themselves, and they rebuff the people who actually have resources, who want to invest in the city, what can you do?

Folks talk about the racism of the suburbs, and it's certainly there, with Sterling Heights being nicknamed "Sterling Whites" and Dearborn having had a longstanding racist position on the part of the cops, something that changed only in the past two decades or so. The point, though, is that the people who wanted to help out Detroit weren't racists. They were fine with African-Americans, liked the black culture of Detroit, and they still were not welcome.

At least in part, Detroit shows what happens if you don't recognize who's trying to help you and instead pursue a policy of cultural purity.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

If Syria has used chemical weapons, we should intervene

I think that although peace is a good thing, one of the fundamental principles that has been established since World War II is that there are some actions that warrant international intervention to stop them, no matter if the countries intervening are not directly involved. What's happening in Syria is vastly different than what happened in Iraq, where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were a fraud, something cooked up just to justify an invasion. Syria's civil war has been playing itself out with remarkably little outside intervention, while everyone was obeying the rules. Now that this looks to not be the case, something has to change. What happens next is open for discussion: if we're still playing the neutral party, not favoring Assad or the rebels, it would be good to intervene in a way that doesn't bring about a particular "regime change". I don't think that the chemical weapons should be an excuse for the U.S. to completely remake Syria in its own image, or to intervene completely on the part of the rebels, even though I personally believe that they're right.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Creationists in the U.S., competition, science

Looking at the embarrassment that is U.S. Creationism, as well as the related things that are present, that don't in any way jibe with commonly held scientific facts, I have to say that the only reason these views exist in any numbers is because the U.S. profits from cheap labor in Asia. The fact that you can pay someone under a dollar a day to do work that in the U.S. would cost $15 an hour and up means that there are profits coming to the U.S. that in a truly competitive environment would not exist. We get more money, and a cheaper standard of living, than we otherwise would, and this surplus allows folks whose views would otherwise put them at the short end of the stick if they had to compete with the rest of the world to pursue their delusions. Bill Nye was right in saying that not teaching people science puts the country at a disadvantage as a whole.

Now, I've been pretty down on the scientific worldview in the past several posts, but in reality it's not science itself that I see as the problem. Rather, it's the misapplication of philosophical ideas gotten from an impression of what science is about to human life. The scientific-materialist worldview possessed by some people that reduces human beings to clockwork machines is different than the facts of science itself.

Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" is an excellent study of this, outlining how ideas which are really pseudo-scientific, in a true sense, have been misapplied to human life. It points out how the seal of approval and authority granted to people who speak in the name of science on human life sometimes leads to terrible things being done, some of which are only recognized as such later on, when it's too late to correct the damage.

For me, the "New Atheism" is the epitome of the reductionist tendency, but, on the other hand, in rejecting their application of a worldview that originated in the 18th century, and that hasn't changed much except for a little bit of Darwin added here and there, I don't think it's necessary to reject the actual facts of science itself. The humanistic, or at least the world centered on human life, and the scientistic, can co-exist, if human life and culture is recognized as being much more complex than the "New Atheists" and other reductionists view it, and the burden of proof of explaining human life is put on science itself, as opposed to human beings defending themselves from those who think that humans an billiard balls on a table have something in common.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Lady Gaga, Marina Abramovic, and the crisis of liberal materialism

Recently, Lady Gaga put together a video of herself doing some of the exercises in the Abramovic Method, partly I think to raise money for the new center that is being crowd sourced, with the pull of lots of nudity. What I find fascinating about the Abramovic Method, based on Abramovic's experience in performance art, is that in her video explaining it she uses explicitly spiritual terms, deriving them from Orthodox Christianity and other traditions, and the practice in Gaga's video involves large crystals and such.

Surely, as rational beings, such things are to be scoffed at, beneath our consideration, right? To me, the fact that this exists, and is being given a big push by one of the biggest stars out there, points to an awareness by some of the dead end that the rational, liberal, materialist mindset has lead us to. Not the values of liberalism per se, although those are not inviolate, or the spirit of those values, but the scientific worldview that was born of Enlightenment skepticism. Quite frankly, we can talk about skepticism till we're blue in the face, creating a culture of criticism that shoots down any idea that doesn't fit into the dominant paradigm, but in the end we're left with two things: first, a kind of blank nihilism that leaves us with the universe as a very limited place, and secondly, the lived experience of things that do not fit into that mold, that go beyond it implicitly. Which is not to say spirituality in the classical sense, necessarily, but also the idea that there are dimensions to emotional and experiential reality that are not reducible to neurotransmitters, hormones, and evolutionary psychology, a dubious field at best that infers behavior from unobservable hypothetical events that supposedly happened in the distant past.

People have a choice: either a very sophisticated critique of virtually everything that leads absolutely nowhere, or the very present lived life, which although sometimes conceptualized in crude ways, at least frees us from the prison of ever present criticism with no productive answers.

Friday, August 02, 2013

One of the reasons people in the U.S. have trouble understanding Marx --Hegel

Namely, they don't have the Idealist background that Marx and the folks who were with him were working from. Although he called himself a materialist, Marx on many occasions set himself apart from the vulgar materialists of the rationalist school of his day, instead seeing his materialism as finding the material truth within the idealist conceptions of society and history that were present. Actually, "Organicist" would be a more accurate term of what Marx was operating within. Putting the issue of the Ideal within Idealism aside, the social ground that Marx was covering was heavily influenced by the idea that society and human life was structured in a way that resembled organic, biological, life, in many respects.

Now the key word here is "resembled". Many people took what was a different way of understanding truth in general, the holistic view as we'd call it today, as being literally true, with disastrous consequences.  What the more thoughtful people who followed the Idealist movement were trying to put out there was that beyond the normal, analytic, rationalistic, idea of people as separate points, there was also the notion that the relationships between people themselves were important, and that added up these many different social relationships constituted a different whole of society that added a different total truth to that of the individuals that made it up.

August Comte made a distinction between the truth of bare facts and the truth of the relationships between those facts, saying that to get to the full truth of what a fact was about you had to not only consider it in its relationship with other facts but to consider that totality of their relationships with each other, and that together both the individual facts and the content of the relationships described the whole truth.

What was noted by many people was that this perspective of wholes and the relationships between the parts that made up wholes resembled in certain ways the functioning of organic systems, whether these constituted the body or something else. This whole/part functioning was also generalized to the functioning of the parts of nature itself with itself, making up an ecosystem that could be looked on as a self regulating whole, something that we still use today.

The problem came when these ideas were directly applied to human society as it exists in relation to nature itself, and to human societies in relation to each other. The defining feature of human society is that although we're part of the natural world, we're not integrated into it like animals are but have the freedom to pursue life from a more relaxed standpoint. The development of the economy as a whole frees us successively from the dictates of pure nature. We exist in symbiosis with the natural world, sometimes healthily, sometimes very unhealthily. Because we're not directly integrated into the natural world like animals are, it's not possible to use metaphors and ways of thinking about things that would put human beings as just one more animal species in an accurate way.

Instead, Marx and other thinkers who focussed on the lived reality of human life instead of on abstractions took the organic whole/part relationship and applied it to society in a way that was stripped of many of its biological features. Many of those features introduced confused philosophical notions into things, such as teleology, that is looking to the ultimate purpose both of the parts of society and to society as a whole, as well as those that come from trying to apply human biology to a complex social system made up of a group of people interacting with both nature and each other over time.

While the literal biological metaphor might not stand, the whole-part arrangement and the idea of organic relationships that form a part of it have faired much better, and it's these that are really necessary for a good understanding of Marx, and are what we're lacking in the U.S.  People just don't have a concept of social relationships in their totality as forming a whole that supplements--but does not supersede, the individual. The reasons for this are largely historical in that the intellectual evolution that Europe took in the 19th century was not followed here, and every time that a more organic notion of society was attempted to be introduced it was defeated.

But the totality of individuals within a community, taken in relationship with each other, do in my opinion form a kind of whole, but not one that negates the individuals that make that up. Both the organic and the analytic features of people and a community are both true, it's just that if you want to understand a community, or a society, simply interviewing everyone about themselves and adding that up is going to miss an essential part....which comes from looking not only at the individual but in his or her interrelationships with other individuals, and then trying to sum up what those interrelationships on the whole add up to.

The whole could then be seen as the sum of the inter-relationships, or the social structure that is produced by multiple individuals interacting with each other over time.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Classicism and Christianity

It's always entertaining to read the Greek and Roman writings from the first years BC and compare them to the Christian ones that emerged in the first century. What it shows, at least to me, is how much like our own world and our day the problems that, say, the classical dramatists dealt with, and how utterly crude and obscure are the Christian writings. Although possibly not accurate in all aspects, I think that there's some truth in Nietzsche's assessment of Christianity as being a kind of folk belief of ignorant people on the bottom of society.  I have little sympathy for the Old Testament as well, although I think that Judaism as a whole has done a good job of taking it and making something positive out of it.

But what comes out with Christianity, what may have come out at the time and, regardless, is still with us today, is the fusion of bad philosophy with interminable stories that have little to no actual theological or philosophical content.

So on balance, you have that, and then you have the wonderful literature of the classical world, that is clear, that is prescient, that deals with problems that we can identify with today. Seneca the Younger's letters are more coherent than the whole New Testament. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Monarchism, Capitalism, and Republican Socialism

Although it had obvious flaws, the monarchical system of the Middle Ages and upwards did have the positive feature of creating an ideology and a force of social cohesion that was able to withstand the challenges of capitalism, until it finally succumbed. Since that happened, we've been in a kind of vacant place, with whatever forces that want to control society free to have control of it due to the weakness of our institutions. The parliamentary system as it exists at present becomes a plaything of private forces, that it does not recognize as having a particular status separate from that of citizens and citizens institutions. There is a major difference. I think that what's needed is a kind of Republican socialism, Republican in the sense of the French Republic, that also has features of conservatism to provide the framework for cohesion and justice that can fill the space the monarchical system once occupied and serve as a base for resisting capitalism  and private power.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Israel slams EU's decision to prohibit doing business with occupied West Bank companies

Here. I really don't want this blog to become one that focusses too much on Israel. There are bigger fish to fry in the world, quite frankly, but this is timely.

Says Netanyahu: "We will not accept anyone on the outside dictate our borders to us. This topic will only be determined by direct negotiation between the two parties."

Let's look at the logic there: first off, these are agreements between two sovereign countries, who can do whatever they want. Secondly, Netanyahu appears to be trying to dictate to the EU that it should recognize their borders, exactly what he's accusing the EU of. Neither the EU, nor any other country in the world, is obligated to recognize Israel's violations of international law, and the fact that Netanyahu seems to think that what his little presidency says goes indicates the sort of delusions of grandeur that often accompany Israeli politics. Without the U.S. backing it up, Israel is a small, relatively powerless, country in the Middle East. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

As the U.S. goes, so does Israel...

Which is a good thing. The U.S. routinely protects Israel from the consequences to its abuses of human rights that it should rightfully face and finances its military, using its power on the UN Security Council to veto resolutions on a regular basis. In measures submitted to the UN as a whole, at this point the only countries that vote against measures censuring Israel for what it's doing are the U.S. and it's client states around the world, most entertainingly small nations in the South Pacific who depend on the U.S. for trade. Not even Europe votes against measures censuring Israel anymore. We're the only ones that do it, and in a changing geo-political situation that's seeing the rise of China and India, our power to protect our little ally in the Middle East will go down in proportion to our fall in influence.

Truthfully speaking, it's really only the U.S. that feels that Israel is worth protecting at all costs. It would be different if Israel had become a beacon of tolerance and peace in the wake of World War II, justly treating the Palestinians and acting as an example to the world of an alternate way to act, but it's fucked it up. That isn't the path Israel chose, and the rest of world is understandably annoyed by the hypocrisy and outright lies that accompany the U.S.'s defense of a state that, if it were anyone else in the world, would be facing sanctions at the least.

But that exceptionalism is directly tied to how powerful we, the U.S., are in the world, and by putting all their eggs in one basket Israel has made a grave mistake. Once the fall comes, and the state has to start obeying all the rules that the rest of the world has had to obey for a long time, and that the U.S. has pontificated about them obeying while ignoring what Israel does, it won't be pretty.  Of course, the extent of that will be proportional to how fast Israel itself can adapt to the changing reality, but I doubt that our boutique state will realize what exactly it's facing until it's too late.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Responsibility of some commenters for fanning the flames of Islamophobia based on their religion

It's been pretty widely recognized what the role of right-wing, rural, or at least red state, bloggers and writers in demonizing Islam has been....yet what gets almost no attention whatsoever is the role of bloggers and writers who are Jewish in fanning the flames of Islamophobia through projecting their anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel bias onto the whole world. It's not polite to talk about, but some of the most strident voices aimed at destroying any sort of positive image of Islam in the United States, such as Pamela Geller, are not only Jewish but proudly wear their support of Israel on their sleeves, or on the sidebar of their websites, as it were. Yet, while the stereotype of the rural, idiotic, very white, male, conservative anti-Islam commentator gets traction, the prospect of people who are educated, sophisticated, and from the east coast (to use a stereotype), also having beliefs that are on par with those cave men is something that people in general are less likely to confront.

Yet it's extremely important to point this out, because, quite frankly, one group's conflict going on in the Middle East between their beloved country and Arabs should not be an excuse to promote the demonization of a whole religion as well as the promotion of wars against members of those religions. This isn't abstract--we invaded Afghanistan, we invaded Iraq. The people who took their anti-Palestinian sentiment and wove it into animosity against Islam as a whole, and the Arab world in general, supported both of these whole heartedly, and still do. Part of the conservative caucus out there believes that Muslims are secretly on a Jihad to destroy the United States, for example with the fictional "Ground Zero Mosque", interpreted as a signal of Islamic dominance in the United States. These words have consequences, and have had consequences in contributing to tens of thousands of lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, both directly and indirectly in the form of internal struggle.

They should not be given a pass because of their religion. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Atomization, mass politics, and 9/11

I think that the outpouring of pseudo-patriotic chest thumping and xenophobia that followed 9/11 can be traced directly to the alienated state of society that existed before the event. Loss of community and structures to support the individual lead to a  state where, following a tension causing event, people went spontaneously from being atomized to being part of a generic mass that was vulnerable to suggestion by elites who were eager to manipulate them for their own purposes. Patriotism became a convenient rallying point in a society that had been hollowed out from within as regards meaning and purpose, and the sudden integration of society that followed became a prime example of how this shouldn't be done. People found meaning in patriotism, in their perception of American values, and in the perceived difference between those values and those of the vaguely defined "Axis of Evil", but there was no restraint. It was basically mob rule in an almost pure form, with Bush and company directing the juggernaut here and there to serve their purposes.

Earlier writers who have talked about mass society and mass man have almost exclusively associated it with working class folks and with things like the labor movement, but I don't think that there's any necessary connection between the two. I think that a mass state is something that is ultimately temporary, can happen to any social class, and can be avoided by fostering both social integration and economic justice. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

The duality of culture and economics

I believe that those who talk about cultural alienation and those who talk about the economic substructure of society are both right. Marx, in my opinion, was correct in saying that to focus exclusively on the cultural without looking at the economic background to it is to miss the point, but it goes the other way as well, and by that I mean I think that it's possible to have an economically prosperous society that is nonetheless alienated and disconnected in ways that have been labeled 'cultural', as well as a culture that's very much connected and non-alienated that's economically fundamentally unjust, where culture just papers over the inequities under the surface.

While I think that economics determines that great divisions of society, and the power dynamics that exist between those divisions, the more subtle interpersonal and communal experience that's labeled culture seems to have an independent existence from economics. Because of this, I think that it's important to address both issues: to put forward a vision of socialism that's based on the Marxian conception of how economics functions in its broadest sense while also promoting non-alienating forms of culture as a subsidiary to that.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Where I think a lot of things went wrong: Charles Maurras' "quatre États confédérés"

When I say when things went wrong I mean the possible positive fusion of revolutionary socialist politics with some sort of conservative belief system as a subsidiary force. Maurras of the Action Française labeled people who are Jewish, Masons, Protestants, and Foreigners, as being the four confederate states that were secretly undermining France. This, in turn, was derived from traditional fringe theories that had been circulating in France since the Revolution, the fallout of the Dreyfus affair, Maurras' preference for Catholicism, and other things. 

Many of the ideas that Maurras came up with regarding an integral state aren't that bad on their own, although they encourage class collaboration instead of workers' power, but when combined with the above they become a deadly combination, literally, in that Nazi Germany quite willingly embraced them with open arms, although preferring Protestantism to Catholicism. Linking all of this to biology, something Maurras didn't do but others after him did, could be a fifth thing that undermined all of it. 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Democratic rights and wrongs: marjiuana legalization, abortion, segregation---gradualism as opposed to fiat

Because although revolutionary change can be necessary, when it comes to shifting social values, democracy is often served better through gradual change.  Marijuana legislation in Washington State is a great example. Here, it piggy backs on a very long period of increasing acceptance of marijuana use, by people in all parts of society. It went gradually from being tolerated, to being legalized for medical use, to being fully legalized. Medical use was a great test in that it demonstrated that, despite the potential out there for misuse of the privileges, making it at least semi-legal for some people wouldn't bring down the fabric of society, so to speak. With marijuana partially legalized for certain purposes, riots of crazed pot smokers out of "Reefer Madness" did not run rampant through the streets. Part of the reason why it worked, and is currently working, is that a culture of responsible use was created over time, and people learned how to have this be part of life without destroying things.

Abortion, sadly enough, did not go that way. The current impasse about abortion, the whole fact that abortion is an issue right now at all, demonstrates what happens when you go over people's heads and make a court ruling on a controversial subject that a heck of a lot of people are completely opposed to. It's legal....but in a lot of places that doesn't matter. Although this may be seen as a terrible, terrible, thing, quite honestly you don't get into a situation where there's one abortion clinic left in Mississippi and the governor openly talks about putting laws in place to shut it down without most of the state, including women, approving of it. The idea that Mississippi is home to a large population of radical feminists who are being oppressed into not saying anything about this move doesn't ring true. Instead, it speaks more about Northern and other notions about what people are like being projected onto the state.

What if abortion had been legalized in the way that marijuana is now being legalized, or that gay marriage is being legalized, state by state instead of across the country by fiat? It would still take time for it to come around, but the results would pile relation to the action of activists on the ground level working to change people's attitudes. That way, when the legalizations happened, they would tend to stick, and not be as contentious as the issue is now. The choice with choice, so to speak, isn't a bi-polar world between complete access to abortions and complete non-access, and, quite frankly, if so many people are opposed to it why shouldn't they get their way?

Before jumping on me for this, think this over: if abortion was not only effectively illegal in Mississippi but actually illegal, based on State and not Federal law, it would still be possible for that to be changed if people worked really hard to actually change the opinions of the citizens of the state from the bottom up. And why would that be a bad thing?

Some would say that the ending of segregation is an argument to the contrary, but I'd disagree. Looking at the history of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as writings about it by folks like Howard Zinn, segregation wasn't overturned at once by legislative fiat, but at the end of a very long process of ground level activism that changed the opinions of people in South enough for that legislation to take place without enduring resistance. George Wallace might have stood in front of a schoolhouse door, and the national guard may have had to be called in, but, as abortion itself has shown, if the people of the South truly did not want integration to happen at all, they would still be doing things to impede it. At present the only things related to that we hear about is the rare place in a rural area that still has two separate Proms. It could be much, much worse than that.

Another thing is that, despite the claims by some people in the South themselves, segregation wasn't ended primarily by Northern activists coming down and helping out. They were invited and worked in tandem with organizations that already existed on the ground level. Democracy, ground up democracy, worked in this case, and the actions of the Federal Government ratified and pushed forward what was already going on, as opposed to making something out of nothing.

Some folks would look at the hostile climate to abortion in places like Mississippi and North Dakota as the end of the world, other folks would look at it as another job to tackle. In any case, the difference between the relative ease that marijuana has been legalized in some places and the opposition to abortion in others illustrates the importance of actually consulting the people who you're making your laws for instead of just approving them based on an abstract legal concept that you've suddenly found, and feel has universal applicability.

Friday, June 07, 2013

In defense of Obama on the spying issue...

It's not good, but it also did not start with him. Like the drone strikes, Obama is continuing policies that Bush started, rather than starting new ones. While the surveillance shouldn't be happening, it's also probably not part of some grand scheme of Obama's to implement an authoritarian state. That would be Bush you were thinking of.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Clarification about the site

Most folks have noticed the change from a pure left wing site to one that incorporates ideas from the right, as well as from straight liberalism, into it, on top of it all. With that, my main interest is in social conservatism, and the philosophy that goes along with that, not in fiscal conservatism. Right wing, pro-corporate, libertarianism has little attraction for me.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

"New Immigration Approach? Give me your skilled masses, yearning to succeed", fuck that.

From the Seattle Times:

"Consider this: Two young people, both living in Honduras, and each with a strong desire to emigrate to the United States.
One has learned English, was valedictorian at his high school and is in his second year of college. The other dropped out of high school, has minimal skills but has a brother already living in the U.S.
Considering what’s in the best interest of this country, which of the two should be allowed in?"

I say the one with the brother living in the U.S. The article is about a potential shift in visas allowing lots of high skilled jobs to go to folks from overseas. Frankly, I think we need a completely mercenary approach to this, in that we're not obligated to be the high end employer of the world, but need to provide jobs to people who are already here.

To me, in point of fact, the person with minimal skills who wants to make it in the U.S. is a better candidate, in that if you're really talking about people "taking our jobs", it's not folks like him you have to worry about. In fact, I think that the people who are in the country either illegally or semi-legally working menial labor should be legalized, and should be paid more for what they do. 

If we want to preserve any vestige of economic and political influence in the 21st century, in the face of other rising super powers, the first thing we need to do is to stop giving away the high powered jobs to people from overseas and instead grow our own talent, and be, frankly, very outright about our preferences.

*with the other folks too, there the issue of Mexico and Latin America also being areas that are, in fact, Native American to one degree or another, meaning that immigration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America to the U.S. really isn't immigration to a foreign country...

**to clarify: if you want to know what the American Dream is about, it's about people coming here with nothing working hard and making it. It's not about people who already have lots of skills, who could easily be applying them in their own countries, coming over here and taking high paying jobs.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Seattle and Washington, in relation to the '90s, WTO, and how things are now

Because it's somewhat different than I think people usually picture it. Not bad, just different. Here's why:

The notion that I had of Seattle when I moved to Olympia, in Washington State, in order to get back to school, was that Seattle and the Northwest were this huge hub of hardcore radical activity, and that the WTO directly came out of that. This was only partially true. The bigger context was that the radical activity that lead to the WTO was a subset of the greater, across the board, counter-culture activity that came with the alternative culture of the '90s. Seattle wasn't just the head of radical culture, but also of fringe culture, conspiracy theories, alt cinema culture, retro culture, punk, other weirdness, you have it.

A good indicator of this is how AK Press and Distribution was even in the early '00s, directly after WTO. At that point, AK still distributed a huge amount of 'zines and fringe culture topics, on top of the anarchism and radical politics. At a certain point, the 'zines may have been a bigger seller than the anarchism. These days, AK publishes lots of solid left books on history and politics in general, but this is actually a shift produced by the increased interest in these subjects that the WTO demonstrations produced.

I think, though I would have to interview a bunch of people to confirm, that the radical organizing and culture that lead into the WTO wasn't the first start of a radical culture coming to the surface, but was instead the end, the crowning moment, of alternative culture, where despite the many tendencies and interests, people came together to make a statement on things that were messed up in the world. And after the demonstrations, I think, but I can't prove, that although progressive organizing continued in Seattle, eventually folks went their separate ways, and the different parts of the counter-culture slowly went back to doing what they were doing before it happened. A lot of politically minded people moved to Portland, and contributed to jumpstarting things down there, although like Seattle, Portland was one of the foci of alternative culture itself.

Because of this, I don't think that Seattle was ever the utopia of radical-ness that folks sometimes made it out to be. It was the utopia of alternative culture as a whole, of which some radical culture was a part, but was not, as I thought when I moved up here, the natural place for the next step for the politics of the country. Instead, the rest of the country most likely did a lot of things that went far beyond what Seattle did.

But the thing is that the alternative culture that existed in Seattle back then still shapes the culture of the place, although separated by the course of some years. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Compulsion in capitalist society

Socialism gets a lot of flack because things like universal healthcare would be compulsory, but what about capitalist society?

In socialist society, people can vote on what things they want to be compulsory, but in capitalism, the supposed realm of freedom, you have no choice.

Compulsion in capitalism comes from the threat of being reduced to destitution if you don't tow the line. People have complete freedom to believe, think, and act in any way they want. Employers also have the right not to hire those folks. If you want to eat, to have shelter, to have clothes, it helps to act in ways that are consonant with what businesses want. That's quite an incentive. Businesses as a whole can reduce people to nothing, but the same thing cannot be said about people, unless they organize. There's a structural inequality and power relationship between business and employees that defeats the supposed freedom and introduces compulsion into the mix.

Folks sometimes talk about people being free agents, about the ability of workers to independently bargain with employers to get a truly just deal, but in practice that only really applies to people who have particular skills that are valuable enough that they can use them in that way. For a great many people, this isn't realistic, because the skills they have are fairly replaceable, everything being said and done, and there are plenty of other folks waiting at the door if the deal  presented isn't acceptable.

Compulsion in capitalist society is a reality. A certain kind of compulsion is present in socialist society, but the difference is that instead of hiding behind an illusion of absolute freedom, socialism presents what's happening outright, and lets people democratically decide whether they want it or not.


Also, government healthcare in a nutshell, without abstractions, a hypothetical situation

We have our village again. People get sick, no one really knows how to treat them. So, the people of the village call a meeting. They say they know of a doctor who makes a circuit around the area who will come once a month, or every two months, provided they give him a place to stay and compensation. The people agree that this is a good thing, one person figures out where the doctor can stay, and they take up a collection to pay for his services. The doctor comes, stays, treats people, gets compensated.

Government health care.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How government can be justified, maybe how it started, a quick example

You have two villages. There's a very badly maintained trail between them, and it's hard to get from one village to the other. Somebody in one of the villages thinks that it would be good if there was a road between them. A village council is called, people discuss it, and come to the conclusion, yes, it would be a good idea. They arrange for a couple of people in the village to work on the road in together in their spare time, and take up a collection to compensate them for their work.

They do the work, the road gets built, it's easier to travel between the villages. Voila. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

For a nation centered socialism

I think that the future of socialism in the United States, at least, lies in the fusion of working class lead revolutionary socialism with a national as opposed to international focus. "Socialism in one country", annunciated unfortunately by Stalin, makes sense in our condition as a soon-to-be-post empire. Once the American empire has truly gone by the wayside, due to our own ineptitude, it will be time to go inward once more and set our own house in order. On top of demoting the rich, and promoting the working class, the United States needs a national program of economic development that will build and restructure the economy so that it can viably compete in the world arena.

"Proletarian Internationalism" has always been more of a dream, a myth, rather than a reality, and the Soviet Union even rejected the pure notion of a one culture, one state, socialism as opposed to one that honored regional differences and the individual ways of life of particular countries.

What that means for the United States is complex. I'm in favor of honoring the actual cultural fabric of the United States, which is multi-cultural and includes people of all racial, ethnic, and religious groups as opposed to praising some sort of idealized, and non-representative, notion of what the United States is.

If a nation-centric socialism comes into being in the United States, it should reflect this diversity as well, as opposed to playing the politics of internal domination by one group over the other.

*and to add, on edit: Despite becoming one of the worst mass murderers in history, Stalin wasn't all bad. A lot of his ideas that he had before he started killing mass amounts of people weren't completely off the mark. "Foundations of Leninism", written before he seized power, remains a positive book.