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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

My experience working in homeless advocacy in relation to radicalism and liberalism.

I don't want to overstate my involvement. I was an intern for a men's shelter in Olympia, handled some case work there, and then volunteered at the connected drop in center for a summer, working the front desk a couple of days a week, then I remained a friend of the organization. I won't name it, but you can find it pretty easily on the web. I still have a great many friends who were connected to it.

Anyways, what I learned was that the radical, liberal, and conservative takes on homelessness are all both simultaneously right and wrong.

First the radical. My experience was that there were few people who were homeless who had simply been exploited by capitalism. Class formed a general background to homelessness, but few in number were the people who had simply been dealt a bad hand and nothing else. This was several years before the economic collapse. The folks who were homeless because of something like that tended to not stay homeless for an extended period of time, but instead get their stuff together and get back on track.

Next the liberal. Surprisingly, for my radical sensibilities, the liberal notion of what caused homelessness was much more correct than I thought--although not completely. That is to say, in the liberal as opposed to radical model, society is basically fine and just except for incidental things like family background and other non-economic factors that cause people to do self destructive and outright destructive things.

Most, if not all, of the people who were chronically homeless came from backgrounds where their family situations and community situations were seriously fucked up. I say that as a fact. This background directly contributed to the problems that they picked up that lead to them becoming homeless and staying homeless. Those problems were frequently addiction, or simply chronic bad choices due to psychological factors.

However, people across the board, across all backgrounds, have experiences like this. What made the difference between folks who had bad family backgrounds and became homeless and those that didn't was usually money, class. Folks who became homeless didn't have the financial or social support necessary to help them negotiate their problems without having everything collapse. That was how the radical informed the liberal.

Now for the conservative. It wasn't simply family background and class position that predisposed people to becoming homeless, it was often folks own choices that they made that were not good as well. Personal choice had a great deal to do with it--but personal choice often made on the background of severely fucked up family situations and community situations. Nevertheless, there was a continuum of amount of personal responsibility that contributed to people becoming homeless, with some folks basically being fucked from the start and others fucking up their lives more than others.

So all three positions had elements of truth to them, although none was the whole story. People weren't simply directly victimized by capitalism, they weren't only victims of their family backgrounds, and they weren't all in the situation because of personal choices.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Google recognizes Palestine

Well they would. We all know what Google's record in World War II was like, hypocrites.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Dylanology: in defense of "Self Portrait"

A little bit of a departure from most of the posts on here. I'm a big Bob Dylan fan, and I've recently started listening to the famously unlistenable double album...and not only do I like it, but I think that the folks who have condemned it have seriously been barking up the wrong tree. The songs on "Self Portrait" look to be part of the same collaboration with The Band that saw the Basement Tapes, the live performances represented on "Before the Flood", and more broadly part of the same live performance tradition that produced the "Rolling Thunder Review" shows. All of these are non-standard Dylan releases in that they're not organized around any sort of a particular concept, except very broadly, and the songs themselves are less introspective, more representative of American music as a whole. What I think Dylan is doing in Self Portrait is exploring the same vein of Americana that the Basement Tapes documents, and in the process putting forward his personal favorites of the time. Unlike some reviewers, I don't believe that the cover of "The Boxer" by Paul Simon is intended ironically, for example. It sounds like a song Dylan just wanted to cover.

That folks at the time wouldn't like the Self Portrait of an artist, would be mystified by it, speaks volumes. This is Dylan as Dylan presents his interests and likes to the world unvarnished and unadorned, raw, without any consideration for making any other over-arching statement.

*on edit: to see some of the similarities, listen to the "Self Portrait" versions of "Like a Rolling Stone" and "She Belongs to Me", both of which are live, and compare them to the songs on "Before the Flood" and the Official Bootleg Series "Rolling Thunder Review". 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Isn't it great that Israel can bomb other countries and it's just okay?

I mean, an act of war against Syria, no big deal, because it allegedly targeted weapons that were allegedly from Iran that were allegedly going to Hezbollah in Lebanon.....that might someday have possibly been used by the Lebanese Hezbollah against targets inside Israel.

*addendum: from the New York Times:  "Syria Blames Israel for Fiery Attack in Damascus"....because it was Israel who attacked them. Should people blame Iran, which supposedly sent weapons that Israel was supposedly targeting?