Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Fallacy of Post-Modernism

The Fallacy of Post-Modernism. To me, it’s based on familiar ideas expressed in an exotic vocabulary. 
If you look at Lyotard’s original “The Post-Modern Condition: A Report on the Status of Knowledge”, what he says is that in the Modern or Modernistic world you had several “Meta-Narratives” that organized everything, and in the Post-Modern world you no longer have any “Meta-Narratives” at all. 
Well…what exactly is this “Meta-Narrative” spoken of? 

In truth, what Lyotard was expressing is almost identical to historical ideas from Hegel and others that said that every historical era and every culture within that historical era had its own unique fixations and values….and that with the change of history, over time, one set of values declines and another rises in its place. None of this is particularly new at all, and it manifests not just in history and Hegel but also in Marx with the processions of different modes of production. 

In Lyotard’s “Post-Modern Condition”, the question to be asked is why exactly the end of Modernism, as an era, would be replaced by nothing unique at all? One could argue very easily that the “Post-Modern” confusion he saw is a temporary condition based on the ending of one historical era and the beginning of a new one, a sort of lull in the historical stream between two eras, rather than anything permanent. 


If, however, we really don’t have any overarching ideas or values that would rule our historical era, but everything really is now up for permanent grabs with mixing and matching, that would be significant, very significant…..but the post-modernists don’t provide any proof for this, and give evidence of not even understanding the concepts that they advocate for. 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

"Black Coffee Co-op" is no more, and I'm rejoicing

Because it was a blight on the neighborhood and illustrated one of the key problems of anarchists in getting anyone to take them seriously: their link with street culture and punk culture. If you want social change, it's got to be social change that actually involves society itself as a whole, not just one tiny demographic. If large scale change is going to happen, you have to appeal to regular people, folks with relatively normal lives, and not simply declare that people who are part of a youth sub-culture are the vanguard of change.

I say that they were a blight on the neighborhood because it's true: along with all the traveling kids came people addicted to various drugs, or who had untreated mental health issues, that the cafe brought into the area. Again, meth heads aren't going to be the vanguard of the revolution.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Political thoughts...the liberal view vs. socialist.

One of the strange things with actually working with people who are disadvantaged, which I did in one form or another for about four years collectively, is that you kind of cut through the bullshit....which in my case proved to me that the liberal, as opposed to socialist, worldview was more correct than I gave it credit for. The socialist worldview, or at least one interpretation of it because there are quite a few versions, would say that those who are disadvantaged or having the hardest times socially are there because of economic reasons in one form or another, and that their presence is a symptom of a greater problem in society. The liberal version, on the other hand, says that social mobility and such works, and that the people who experience the heaviest hardships are those who the liberal set up of society fails because of some incidental cause like addiction or mental illness. It also privileges causes like racial discrimination as being worse problems than economic suffering.

Well, on a personal level, through lots of volunteering, I can say that the worst off in our society are those that conform to the liberal view of things as opposed to the socialist. I expected to find many economic victims of capitalist exploitation, but I found comparatively few, and instead people who had other problems that caused them to be in these positions. The origins of those problems may have had in some cases economic causes, but there was also the factor of personal responsibility in some cases.

I still am a socialist, and believe that economic inequality and the barriers that it puts up to people are a serious problem, but I've also gained a new appreciation for the fact that our economic system works to a degree that I hadn't suspected before. There is mobility, people do lift themselves out of poverty through hard work, not everyone is a victim of economics.

This view has also been strengthened by years spent in community colleges post-bachelors, first to study social work and then to transition into other sorts of worker retraining. I won't say that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds were absent at Evergreen, but there certainly were more of them at the community colleges I went to, and unlike Evergreen they weren't politically self selected. Instead, it was a broad spectrum of people....and despite the constraints on my fellow students, many were extremely determined to change and improve their lives through school and classes, and to implement upward mobility through it. They didn't see the economic system as fucked up enough so that there was no hope in challenging it, hope that would have to come through some sort of political movement challenging the government, or through creating an alternative society outside of capitalism. Both views are more common than you'd think in the alternative political universe of good old Olympia, Washington.

And politically, they were all over the board. The virtuous proletarians weren't all predisposed for the socialist cause but instead were just as often predisposed to libertarianism as progressive thought.

Call it reality. The socialist critique still applies, but the dire doom and gloom assessment of our society is, in my view, not in connection with the actual facts of the society we live in. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Some of the reasons I like Laibach, plus Slavoj Zizek

Well, first off I basically had the same philosophical background as them. I'm not sure how many of their fans really take it seriously, but the philosophical parts of what they do aren't trivial. Before getting into them I had been familiar with Marxist Humanism, and specifically the Yugoslav variant of it, for years. Wolfgang Leonhard's "Three Faces of Marxism", where Yugoslav Marxist-Humanism was one of the faces, was a favorite, as was his "Eurocommunism: a challenge for East and West", which had a substantial amount on both Yugoslav Communism and variants that were related to it. Mihailo Markovic, one of the founders of the "Praxis" school in Yugoslavia, was familiar through his book "From Affluence to Praxis". All of this was part of a greater interest in less authoritarian forms of Communism as it actually existed in the world.

Before that, the writers that informed these guys, such as Herbert Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno, and Erich Fromm, were also familiar to me, as were their later opponents. These would be Louis Althusser and his followers, whose "Structural Marxism", whose failings were pretty obvious from the start. Ye, I have been through the valley of Louis Althusser discussing the "Rational Kernal" in "Hegel Standing on His Head" in Marx, contained in the book of essays "For Marx", and have shown no fear.
And I have read many of the Post-Structuralists and Post-Modernists, two groups that Laibach identifies with in various ways.

The hidden dimension, or a hidden dimension, in Laibach and their critique of the Yugoslav state, is the role that New Left Marxist Humanism played as the foil against which their critique was aimed. Because of the relative freedom in Communist Yugoslavia, writers like Herbert Marcuse were well known, and given semi-official status by the state. Reportedly, the Slovenian army required all new recruits to read "One Dimensional Man" by Marcuse, and conscription was compulsory.

Many people, including the ones I just cited, Leonhard and others, saw Yugoslavia as having the potential to fulfill the promise of New Left ideology, with concepts such as self-management, the devolution of authority to Republics, and in general a more decentralized system. Part of what Laibach was about at the beginning was challenging this notion of Yugoslavia as a kind of already realized socialist paradise by pointing out some of the less seemly aspects of it, and rejecting the philosophical premises that were approved of by the State, the Marxist Humanism aspect, and instead confront it with a seemingly authoritarian counter-critique.

One of the lesser known aspects of the famous first interview with Laibach, where they had shaved heads and acted like ambiguous advocates of some form of totalitarian discipline is that the questioner, in asking them what they were about, also asked them about their opinion of certain things based on a kind of Marcusian ideology, which they shot down with more anonymous pseudo-totalitarian advocacy.

Call it similar to objecting to the notion that Hungary was the "Gayest barracks in the camp", that is in the Eastern Bloc.

Anyways, Laibach appears to have appropriated the more hardline ideas from folks like Althusser and his sympathizers, which were much more congenial to Stalinism and Maoism than Marcuse, and ironically turned it against the Yugoslav state, critiquing both the distance between the theory and the realization of classic New Left theory as well as that of Structuralist Marxism.

Althusser and his school were part of the turn of politicos in the late sixties and early '70s towards a more 'serious' form of politics that was perceived to be more rigorous than what came before, which involved a turn to political figures like Stalin and Mao that would previously have been off limits, as well as towards Communist states like Albania, almost universally considered to be hell on earth but in the view of these folks an exemplar to support. Their anti-Humanism was, quite frankly, anti-human.

They were superseded in turn by the Post-Structuralists, whose turn towards the post likely had more to do with the turn of the student movement after '68 that had embraced Structuralist Marxism  rather than serious philosophical objections to people like Claude Levi-Strauss, for example.

Laibach, in adopting a post-modern approach to things like authorship of works and the notion of individual creativity, employed the strategy of Structuralist Marxism against itself, taking it to the point where it became self destroying...while simultaneously making criticisms of the Yugoslav state's flawed adoption of Marxist Humanism. The Yugoslav State still put artists in jail, as well as intellectual dissidents, despite the freedom of speech that existed there.

Post-Structuralist and Post-Modernist, they'd be great exemplars of this but for the fact that the mass of theory that's grown up around these concepts is jargon filled, unclear, a philosophical dead end, and sometimes unable to come to grips with basic logic. The Alan Sokal Affair is a good example of this, where Sokal cut and pasted already existing papers together to produce a new one that tried to prove that gravity was a social construction, submitted it to the journal "Social Text", and had it accepted. Reportedly, there were even academics who praised the text as elucidating fundamental truths even though it was a fraud. Ultimately, I think the reason for the mire is that Post-Structuralism has never been able to shake the authoritarian streak that Structuralist Marxism gave it.

Which is where Slavoj Zizek comes in. I personally don't think much of his philosophy or his philosophizing, but I believe he's popular basically because through sloppily letting in types of philosophy from outside of the Post-Structuralist mire he breathes life into what is essentially a dead, inconsistent, paradigm. These non post-structuralist ideas often seem to come from the milleux of local philosophical ideas that were developed during the last years of the Yugoslav state, some of them coming from a radical re-reading of Heidegger, that are relatively unknown outside of afficionados of the thought of that part of the world.

He defends Laibach, with his usual vim and vigor, but I believe that Zizek is indicative of the system having to cannibalize itself in order to go forward.








Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Reflections on Evergreen, Port Protests

Personal ones. I had the displeasure of basically being shut out of participating in the first one due to circumstances beyond my control, and when I could participate in the activism found that the ship had moved on, so to speak, and it was next to impossible to get on board. This despite the fact that virtually everyone who organized the first major port protest in 2006, and participate in it, were friends who I knew through being in political science programs there.

At the beginning of the organizing of the port protests, I was taking a break from politics, which I'd been studying at Evergreen non-stop since the summer of 2004, and instead taking a program in philosophy combined with a craft program about creating art using neon. This was my last quarter in school, and I decided something fun was in order. Once the protests started in earnest, it was far enough along in the quarter that I was afraid that if I got arrested and spent time in jail it would seriously impact my ability to graduate. I had gone back to school after a long absence, and was now in my mid-20s, and very much wanted to get college behind me. So, I went down there exactly twice, and that was it.
Then, after graduating, I took a triumphant road trip down the coast, first to Arcata and Eureka in California, then Berkeley and San Francisco, and finally to L.A., where I spent a week.

When I got back, I found it extremely hard to get into the organizing of further action that was happening, and spent about half a year as a para-student, somewhat participating in student activities, and in off campus activities with students, until giving up entirely.

There was progress, then a lot of reversal, and I found that the people who were being lionized in the alternative media were more interested in cracking fart jokes in their spare time and generally acting like a fraternity then actually talking about politics.....and because I hadn't been there at the start it wasn't possible to really participate further.

I had moved from Florida, where I was living at the time, to the northwest, to Evergreen, to participate in something exactly like this, and now was unable to.
But a conversation I had with one of the participants several years later was illuminating on why that may have been.

I was having a phone conversation with one of the main people whole I'll call "Reff", and in the middle of it "Reff" made the statement that before the port protests he really hadn't been involved in politics at all, and that in fact what he was doing later was spending time with a kid as part of a "Big Brothers, Big Sisters" program. The meaning of that was that, unlike me, "Reff" was a pure soul who naturally came to politics out of conviction rather than ideology, and instead of focussing on theory he volunteered in the community helping out. Little did "Reff" know that at the time of the phone call I was volunteering at a food bank once a week as well as volunteering at a soup kitchen once a week as well.  To presume that I didn't do anything concrete to help the community was the height of arrogance.

In any case, it seemed that, in "Reff"'s eyes, the very fact that I'd cared about politics previous to the port protests, had been involved with activism elsewhere, and had moved to the northwest to become further involved was enough to disqualify me from being a valid politico....which was very convenient for him considering that this was the first major activist action he'd been part of and it yielded him a good amount of fame and repute both in Olympia and to a smaller extent nationally. And maybe some women as well, who knows.

Fame corrupts, and the small does of fame that the initial port protesters received was enough to stimulate their fantasies about their self worth and close off participation to people not as famous--unless they wanted to basically be lackeys for them, or to regard them in awe as stars.

Anyways, I hope that now that eight years have gone by that "Reff" has been confronted by similar assholes who are now complaining about him being an old man in the activism scene, and about not deserving a place because of his prior involvement. It would be a sweet justice.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Left Gramscianism vs. the reality principle

One of the essential things that happened after 9/11, and that in point of fact had been happening since Bush was 'elected' President in 2000, was that an independent sphere of reporting and commentary was established, outside of the mainstream. The mainstream media was not willing to report all sides of the issues at all, and so websites consisting of news aggregators, blogs, and sites with general commentary by independent journalists took their place, along with large discussion boards such as Democratic Underground and others. This very much echoed the strategy of "Trench Warfare" in the Gramscian sense, where people surrounded by hostile forces established a small area of freedom where they could say what they wanted without being harassed for it. By necessity, such a thing has to be partisan, letting one side have its say while keeping the full force of the other out--you can't have every single article being challenged in every single way by the opposition or conversations about the basic ideas themselves can't take place.

However, at some point, what's developed in these areas of freedom has to be taken out of isolation and put forward to the greater world as a whole for commentary, and in this the principle of developing ones ideas gets superseded by the reality principle. The reality principle, originally coined by Freud for psychology, basically means that your ideas have to pass the test of basic logic and reference to reality with good arguments backing them up, and do so in a world where they can be contested.

Now that Obama has won, and has been in office for approaching six years, it's right and proper for people to get out of their hidey holes, their trenches, and their siege mentality, and rejoin the greater community. However, it appears that a number of people have serious problems with this.

What they want is for the stacked deck of the closed area of freedom to carry over into normal political discourse, which is a place that by nature is opposed in its very essence to the idea. What they want is for everyone to look at the assumptions that they have, without examining them, and simply submit to them without questioning---instead of relying on solid arguments to carry the day.

And to help out with that, when the premises are questioned, it's becoming common to accuse the other side of some sort of horrible ideological offense, with the intent of shouting them down and supposedly rendering themselves 'right' by shaming them....without proving their points.

This is not real political discourse, or discourse at all. Arguing with a stacked deck is what Fox News does, and it's properly ridiculed by people in progressive circles. People in the same circles really need to not condone the same sort of behavior by their fellow politicos and instead work to win against their opponents in free discussions that don't depend on ideological slander to win points.

Otherwise, there's little difference, and the new boss will be the same as the old---only he or she will have Elvis Costello glasses.



The rising political correctness from the Left---have they forgotten Bush?

It seems that now that the Bush years are (supposedly) behind us, people are feeling their oats again about issuing cultural fatwas against things they don't like, and feel should be shut down and vilified, not because there's necessarily something seriously wrong with them, but because it expresses an opinion they don't like or values they don't care for. Salon.com for instance, over and over again.

The thing is, and I hate to say 'I remember' as if it was that long ago, but I do remember the environment after 9/11 where any criticism of the Bush administration, or of the U.S., or of the actions being taken by the U.S. government were met with accusations of treason. I remember people losing their jobs for either saying a stupid thing taken out of context or sometimes in very conservative areas for being seen at a protest. I also remember Ann Coulter making statements intended to intimidate people with liberal ideas into not talking.  Much, much, more could be cited.

All of it was a form of 'political correctness' from the Right, and was gladly condemned by people, which is why now that the tide has turned I condemn the same impulses being put forward by people on the Left---that which is characterized by not to have a discussion of issues but to shut speech down by saying that it's offensive or so inappropriate that it shouldn't even be considered, when in actuality what's being discussed is not that extreme but instead is characterized by an ideological disagreement with the author.

*Also, I hate using the words 'political correctness', because it isn't like the rabid sector of the Right, which very liberally uses the term, isn't out there. But, there's not much of an alternative at this moment.

More Ferguson

Strangely enough, the revelations that Michael Brown robbed a convenience store for a pack of cigars, and then punched the cop when he tried to apprehend him (for reasons unknown), actually changes little of the basic issue. Even if Brown did all of that, including punching a cop and then running away, he was still unarmed and still didn't deserve to be shot. It still indicates the overreach that police officers use when dealing with black youth.

Personally, although there's not enough evidence to really say if this was the case, my hunch is that the business about him trying to steal the cop's gun is something cooked up to try to justify the shooting. Rationally, if a person is trying to get away from a police officer, trying to take their gun makes little sense.

People aren't perfect, and the story of Michael Brown as a kid who committed a minor theft, and roughed up a convenience store clerk, and then was shot when running away by a cop, is still a story of injustice---he doesn't have to have been completely innocent for an injustice to have occurred. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The responsibility for ISIS, and now for Boko Haram, lies with us

For one simple reason: I would argue that these groups are the dissident groups that are leftover now that the U.S. destroyed the militant left-wing alternatives. There used to be plenty of secular armed groups in the Middle East, but we did our best to destroy them all (plus some funding dried up once the Soviet Union kicked the bucket). Now, the strongest dissident groups are Islamist. The thing is, I would much rather have to negotiate with people coming from a Marxist background than an Islamist one, but that possibility has been closed for some time since those groups are now marginalized.

Ferguson

Been silent on this blog, but, I hope like most people that what's going on will cause a new conversation about race in America. This stuff has always been there, although it's sad, it isn't surprising that it's gotten back into the national consciousness.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The State and Society

I'm in favor of a fusion between the State and Society as a whole, but with Society being the force that takes over the State and uses it for its own ends. This would be the State as an expression of the fundamental constitution of Society, where 'constitution' doesn't mean a document that has been agreed on but the basic structural setup of society as a whole---it's class system or lack thereof, with lack thereof being the chosen path, it's structures of institutional power. This would be manifest in social programs as well as in economic planning, and other things.

I think it's important for society to take back the State and instead of having it be an oppressive body living on top of it having it be integrated into many aspects of life as an organic expression of society. Which is not to say that private space would not exist. Instead, many of the areas that would be part of the State/Society fusion would be those which previously would have been dominated by corporations and by capitalism as a whole.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Hobby Lobby ruling is an excellent example of why

People should control institutions, not institutions people. If we're going to have some alternative to lots of mom and pop stores of this sort, i.e. if chains like this are going to exist, they're going to have to honor the rights of the workers who are employed there, as well as the will of society as a whole.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Following up on the previous post, ultimately, people have to be educated for direct democracy

Because, in my opinion, just putting people into a situation where they suddenly have the ability to deliberate on the execution of every aspect of policy does not work. I'm far, far, from being against the principle of democracy in general. Instead, it's some of the excesses that are proposed in various anarchist circles about how society itself should be structured that I have a problem with. 

Robert Michels, political parties, and bureaucracy

I can't vouch for his later writings on this, but it's somewhat sad that Michels' work on political parties is sometimes looked at as approving on Corporatism. The book is a look at organization in the political parties of Europe in order to try to figure out what makes certain ones successful and which ones fail, and Michels comes to the conclusion that the ones that succeed are the ones that have a higher degree of formalization, paid members, and a nascent bureaucratic structure.

Michels argument about the inadequacy of very decentralized groups to get much done, and the necessity of at least some sort of super-structure that includes a bureaucratic system in it can also be applied to economics as whole. While it's appealing to pretend that all the things that we have these days can be produced by small businesses, that isn't the truth.

To effectively provide for all the things that we're used to, there needs to be extensive organization and coordination, and this requires some type of bureaucratic apparatus. Which is not to say that there should be an ultra-hierarchical top down structure with no countervailing aspects to it.

In my eyes, large scale economic organization is a fact of life, and the only choice we really have in the matter is whether to bring it under social control or to have it control us. I would much rather have big corporations, and those who make up the commanding heights of industry, be nationalized, with their profits going back to the benefit of society as a whole.

This stage in capitalism was foreseen by Marx as being the logical end towards which things were tending.

The questions that Michels brings up also cuts to the heart of the debate about how participatory a participatory democracy can really be. Michels' study points to a hard reality where although participation by large amounts of people is promoted, it's only partially successful. Instead, the work in political organizations, as he saw them, constantly devolved back on to a smaller group of people who were consistently prepared to do it.  In the system of the German Social Democratic Party, this was not a problem in that these folks were eventually made professional employees of the organization and they went on to really effect change. In the other parties that Michels studied, however, that were more decentralized, it was, in that they couldn't just go out and do their thing but had to go through a largely apathetic series of local bodies that were attended by people who were lackluster about doing anything themselves.

What Michels describes as the oligarchical tendency in society was not in this writing of his something that he rejoiced in, but a grim fact that he had come to after being an activist in the radical syndicalist arena for a while. Fundamentally, it would be great if the decentralized notion of things could actually function, but at some point you have to choose between actually accomplishing things in the world and paying lip service to increasingly unproductive process. Faced with this, Michels choose accomplishing things, even if it was not done in a way that went beyond normal democratic accountability and went instead into realms of ultra-participation, where something positive becomes a reducto-ad absurdam.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Dead Kennedys and class consciousness, a critique

Because I've seen quite a bit of it. The DKs are, or were, unique in that they actually talked about rich people and rich kids...however, the funny thing is that in my experience the people who have been most impressed with the DKs perspective, and have taken it most to heart haven't actually been people from working class backgrounds but those from middle class ones, who have become activists or some such. I think there's a very good reason for this, and it has to do with Jello Biafra's class origin itself.

Biafra didn't come from a working class background but was the kid of two librarians working for the University of Colorado at Boulder. Presumably, they at least had bachelor's degrees, and they exposed him to a lot of sophisticated culture more typical of the middle class than the working class. His perspective was shaped by seeing rich kids come to the University of Colarado while his parents as staff at the University didn't do as well. This is quite different than the experience of most working class people.

The United States is extremely class segregated, and although the situation might be different in smaller communities, in general working class people don't really see the rich and the powerful close up. They're there, out there, somewhere, but live in worlds miles away, or in the next county. They're represented possibly by parent's bosses, or their own, but even then these people may just be the employees of the owners, of the truly rich, who remain absent and not rarely seen.

Because of this, although there may be class resentment on the part of working class folks, it isn't shaped by as much detail as is reflected in the songs of the DKs. Biafra and company document the foibles minutely, and besides special cases like kids who grow up in university towns, the only other people who see these folks as up close and personal, and who cultivate a resentment towards them, aren't workers but members of the middle class itself.

Working folks aren't the only ones who resent the rich. They're also resented by middle class people who have solid middle class values, who don't really care about workers or the working class at all, but who instead resent the fact that there's this stratum of folks above them who have more privileges than they do. It seems that many of the middle class fans of the Dead Kennedys are children of these people, who have seen the rich up close and personal, and resented them not because at any time in their lives they wanted for anything, but because they don't have as much money as them. This is quite different.

Surely, the parents of some of these folks are working quite hard to join the ranks of the very people whom they resent. The problem isn't money itself, potentially, just that they don't have it yet and they want it. The kids take a different approach, and see their class consciousness raised again, not by the fact that as children of business owners or lawyers they ever wanted for anything, but because in relation to the rich they had to do some sort of token job, or had to contribute money to their parents buying them a car instead of them paying for all of it.

This is not class resentment so much as greed resentment, resentment not from the perspective of oppression but from the perspective of upwardly mobile professionals who believe that those above them, who have things that they want, don't deserve them, and that they do.


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Jackals have come out, re: Bergdahl

I would hope that this would be a moment similar to that where, when accusing the Army of being part of a Communist conspiracy, one of the Senators in the House Un-American Activities Committee responded to McCarthy by saying "Have you no shame?".

This guy was a member of the armed forces held captive by the Taliban for five years, the last American held captive by them, and instead of celebrating his release, the Right, especially the Tea Party has objected to his release and accused him of being a deserter. The Tea Party, and the Republican Party, don't "support the troops", they support their own policies, and if throwing the troops under the wheels of partisanship furthers their war with Obama they're more than willing to do it.

Capital and individual effort, or Marx vs. the Marxists

Because the notion of a specific class determinism, while present in Marx's philosophy may not be nearly as important as some make it out to be. Social mobility is a factor in society, whether people like to admit it or not, with people regularly changing their lives for the better. Class, then, is not destiny, and this cuts both ways, with those on the bottom going up and those on the top going down.

What intervenes in society is not the literal circumstance that someone was born into but the force of capital itself. Society is stratified into those who work on the side of capital, and who benefit from it, and those who work for capital, and who are shut out of its benefits. This presents an implicit class system that exists despite social mobility, and that impedes, though it does not stop, the social mobility of individuals. There's a tendency for people who are born into circumstances where their family are beneficiaries from capital to maintain that status, and for those born into the other side to face extra obstacles in rising above their situation, yet these are still tendencies, not written in stone.

However, even if we lived in a world where social mobility was perfect, where people's status in society would be completely determined by their own talents and efforts or lack thereof, there'd still be the force of capital changing things, because it's not dependent on individuals but on the accumulation of money by large businesses distorting the system. Large business is the key here, as the often cited reality of small businesses coming and going, competing with each other, is less a collective factor that distorts the system than the influence of large businesses that have many resources.

Even with perfect social mobility, the winners would win more than the losers, because capital would still distort the benefits and disabilities that people in society would receive.

Additionally, the development of large businesses can't be reversed. The idealization of a world that has returned to small businesses purely is a fantasy. The development of capital itself is, in a sense, natural. The question, though, is who controls that capital. Is it in the hands of private entities, who use its power to enrich themselves and to push for a stratified society, or is it in the hands of the public at large, where instead of benefitting private power its benefits are shared by society at large and thereby work against a stratified system?

Capital, in a sense, can work against the natural tendency that it possesses if it's controlled by society in general as opposed to private hands.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Criticism of the "Right to be Forgotten" in the United States shows our hypocrisy on these issues

Because though we say we're all for individual liberty and such, we're also conditioned by the Puritan ethic that believes that you really don't have any expectation of privacy if you're doing something society doesn't like. Good old collectivist Europe, that realizes social rights, also respects the right of the individual to their own acts and beliefs much more than we do here. Perhaps it's because they fought massive civil wars over religion that lead to a huge amount of deaths over the issue.

To see our contradictions, just take the patriotic jamboree that took place after 9/11. In the defense of individual freedom many people declared that it was necessary to implement things like the USA-PATRIOT ACT (it's an acronym), that allowed massive spying, all the while waving flags and declaring how lucky we were to be in America.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One of the prime problems with the Left today, particularly the Anarchists...

Because it seems we're having a resurgence of folks who are more ideological than most Progressives used to be.

One of the prime problems is that they've forgotten some of the base line values contained in classical liberalism that Marx and others were well aware of and supported. For example the notion that people should be rewarded, and recognized, for hard work, and that such things should be encouraged. One of the reasons that socialism started as a force was because it was recognized that capitalism was not rewarding people in line with what their actual contributions were, but rewarding some far more than others. The goal was to equalize things so that this disparity could be corrected, but, of course, that meant recognizing the underlying principle as well. Most of the socialists, or Social Democrats, and even folks who are further left, in Europe, recognize this, however our home grown people look at the equality but forget the principle of effort that is supposed to be behind it.

Instead of rewarding hard work, they seem to not even realize that something that an individual could be responsible for on their own could make a difference. If someone comes from a well off background, that person is bad and the things they do aren't as good. If they come from a less well off background the opposite is true. The same goes for race. Underlying all the qualifiers are the characteristics of the individual....and someone with the right mix of hyphenations, from the right background, can be lazy and inept, while someone from all the wrong ones of those can be hard working and smart. At the end of the day, if you want to get something done, as opposed to letting abstract categories rule things, do you want the person who is lazy or the one who isn't?

A scientific formula or invention produced by someone who comes from a well off background and the rest doesn't work any less effectively because of it.

All of this can be accommodated within a socialist system. The people who cite these arguments and then use them as a basis for a kind of free market fundamentalism go too far, and quite frankly ignore the real conditions that an unregulated market produces.  However, it's equally true that those who don't even realize that there's a problem with evaluating people completely because of the categories of characteristics that they carry with them as opposed to their own talents and character would take us back to a society ruled by brutality and idiocy, where those who were most willing to take advantage of belonging to the right background, which is a semi-criminal mindset, would exploit the situation to their own advantage.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anarchists are more of an obstacle than an enabler to positive change

Because of their complete dislike of anything involving the State, including common sense social benefits that virtually every other industrialized country has. Instead of fighting for things like universal health care, or other benefits, anarchists are content to organize small collectives for making art and march every now and again. The same goes for virtually any social democratic policy. What's the anarchist solution to higher education being too expensive? Well, why do you want to go to college and be a sellout anyways... Similarly, and most shamefully, anarchists at times have even sided with anti-labor forces against unions because they feel that they're too bureaucratic....deciding not to support any unions that people actually belong to and instead going for the purity of the IWW, which is mainly populated by anarchists themselves as opposed to the working class.

All of this energy could be devoted to causing positive, tangible, change and improvement in our society, but instead it's wasted on bike collectives, because bikes and gardening are where the revolution is at, as opposed to keeping people from starving via government benefits...oh, I'm sorry, Food not Bombs can replace food stamps, how silly of me.

Blaming Obamacare, by Jen Sorenson

Blaming Obamacare



This is really good. One of the the things that our lack of a social safety net does, I believe intentionally, is to make it so that people have a harder time doing creative jobs as well as fighting back against having to take bad ones. If you need health insurance, you're not as likely to raise issues about the job that gives you it, even if it's bad. Likewise with student loans. If you're paying them off, and have to pay them off, are you going to be as likely to try to change things at work that are bad? 

Social safety nets allow for a better civil society where people can actually challenge abuses instead of being trapped in situations where they can't because of economic necessity. 

Christian Parenti has actually written about this, about how at least some of the attack on the safety net in the late '70s was motivated by concerns that it gave labor a better position. 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

One of the best responses I've seen to partisanship on the Left came from a union rep

Who, when asked why his positions weren't more radical, said that in the unit he represented there was a guy who was a minister outside of work, there were people who were conservatives, and he had to represent them all, not just some of them. If you want popular democracy, that's what it has to be: popular, and that means that certain things take time to convince people of. Otherwise, you're just putting your own position out there and expecting everyone to fall in line behind it, which isn't democracy but another form of oligarchical, undemocratic, politics.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The connection between Bowie and punk

It's something that looks unlikely at first glance. After all, part of punk is about being your own hero and not living vicariously through others, about getting beyond the notion of big stars dominating everything, and Bowie appears at first glance to embody that totally and completely. However, the link between Bowie and Iggy Pop, one of the god fathers of punk, sheds more light on the situation.

Why exactly would Bowie, who depended on presenting himself as sophisticated and arty, take Iggy Pop, a guy who wasn't sophisticated, at least initially, and who wasn't particularly art inclined, under his wing? If you look at Bowie's creative output, even from Space Oddity but particularly from Ziggy Stardust onward, much of it has to do with figures who are literally alienated from everything by being, well, aliens, or something similar as in the Halloween Jack character from "Diamond Dogs", a leader of a post-apocalyptic mutant gang. Bowie's characters may have a big presence on the stage, but in and of themselves they speak of individuals being personally alienated from the society they live in, of being out of place, awkward, not privileged, to use a loaded word. Bowie's sexuality is another great example of this, and it's striking that on the same record where the Halloween Jack character is introduced there's a long, over ten minute, ode to anonymous gay sex, in one of the most explicit terms ever recorded by a major artist.

Bowie comes, and came, at things not only from the perspective of a star who enjoys being on stage, but as an artist who's alienated from the rest of society for a variety of reasons who is expressing that alienation and presenting it on stage, dramatizing it in the character of Ziggy Stardust and others. Bowie performs stories of personal alienation on the stage, inviting people to identify their own alienation with it.

Iggy Pop coming from a poor background, being creative and having to fight against the system to get his place in society has much in common with this perspective. Although from different social backgrounds, Bowie being middle class and into the art scene, they must have been kindred spirits to a certain degree. Bowie helped Iggy Pop to get the cultural background that he never got a chance to acquire, teaching him about art and culture, presenting him to the European scene, getting him up to speed on things.

From Iggy Pop and his "Raw Power", and stories of alienation came punk and the punk movement to a large degree. Pop as a transitional figure was and is a star on the stage but engages in anti-star behavior, attacking the notion of stardom and of big figures on stage, and instead trying to include the audience in the show. It's a small step from that to the Ramones, for instance, who dispensed with the star motif altogether and said get a guitar, learn three chords, and start a band.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Scalia disagrees with freedom of the press ruling

That made it possible for people to criticize public officials without fear of libel. Here. He says that it's not what the "Founders" intended. I've got a thought: what about what's right and wrong? The "Founders" thought slavery was okay too, does that mean that we should put it back on the books? 

Hiding behind the Constitution does not absolve one of moral responsibility. Right and wrong, what's just and unjust, transcends a simple document--and should be what that document is in conformance with anyways. If it's not, the document should be changed.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Two great articles related to #CancelColbert, by Michelle Goldberg and TBogg

First, Michelle Goldberg's piece "#CancelColbert and the Return of the Anti-Liberal Left", which is good throughout but features this very nice paragraph: 


"There’s a cure for this sort of thing, though it’s worse than the disease. When the right takes power, the left usually discovers the importance of unfettered speech. In the 1980s, with conservatives leading a crusade against the National Endowment for the Arts for funding projects deemed anti-Christian and pornographic, tolerance no longer seemed quite so repressively bourgeois. The same was true during the Bush administration, when opposition to the Iraq War got Phil Donahue fired from MSNBC and the Dixie Chicks pulled off radio playlists nationwide. That’s why the Colbert Report was so cathartic when it first appeared—his relentless mockery cut through the bombastic jingoism, the right wing political correctness, that was stifling us."

Next, TBogg, from Rawstory.com "
An oppressive white privileged heteronormative look at Suey Park’s SQUIRREL! interview"
, that features quotes from the founder like:

 "I always paint my white characters to be singular, to be ignorant, to reverse the gaze onto them instead when they are our subjects, instead of always constantly saying people of color are fucked and a way to kind of always reinforce our subject’s location in reference to white men as some metaphor.I think it would be a more realistic socially commentary if I were able to joke about the totality of white supremacy, but I don’t think that’s going to happen on national television."


After which TBogg comments: "David Chapelle wept." Because people joke about stupid things white people do all the time on TV and no one really has much of a problem with it. Ms. Park wouldn't be a trailblazer there.

Both of these folks are progressive and are writing for progressive publications. Neither one are saying that you or anyone else should throw progressive policies out the window. What they are saying is that there needs to be an increased sense of real tolerance, in the original liberal sense of the term, instead of a renewal of the same things that Progressives criticized during the Bush administration. 

I would hazard to say that, in part, these articles, in particular Michelle Goldberg's article, captures in miniature much of what I've been trying to say with regards to the whole Decolonize Seattle/Occupy Seattle debacle. 


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Hegel's conception of the Absolute Ideal

Hegel's notion of the Absolute Ideal: three phases, the world of Theory, the world of Dialectic, the world of Mind or Spirit. What that means is that in the first place there's abstract logic taken in itself alone, with no reference to anything in real life. This leads to "Dialectic", which in Hegel is the analysis of how the world works from a scientific and sociological perspective. It's dialectical in the Socratic sense because it's a realm of give and take rather than something where absolute logic applies.

Hegel was very, very, big on the notion that world of nature doesn't embody things like perfect mathematical truth, for example that you never see a perfect circle in nature itself. Because of this, a different type of logic, separate from the absolute abstract logic, has to be developed that takes Nature and natural concepts as they are. This is connected also with the notion that nature doesn't deal purely with Aristotelian either/or logic but with many shades of gray, so to speak, and that's another place where the term 'Dialectic' comes in, because the Socratic method was about challenging absolute conceptions of truth and instead approaching ideas of truth through the process of a kind of back and forth of discussion and inquiry.  This process of trying to get at truth is more 'many shades of gray' than either or, more organic, almost, than absolute. Possibly, you could generalize from this to be a more naturalistic way of approaching things.

The realm of 'Mind' or 'Spirit' was formed by combining the previous two together, by applying the rules of pure formal logic to those of naturalistic logic. A way of thinking about this, and an example of it, is Newton's method of mathematical physics, which took observation from life and applied calculus to it in order to understand it. There are a lot of critiques out there, particular that of Alfred North Whitehead, that emphasize that drawing conclusions about the world often involves both observation of nature in itself combined with rational thinking, and this is what Hegel was getting at.

He described the results that could be gotten from combining formal logic with the more organic exploration of nature as describing the absolute ideal, the true form of the universe.

Supreme Court: no more spending limits on contributions. Yay for the Consitution!

So far, strict constructionism has sanctioned unlimited corporate contributions to elections and has certified that corporations are people. Now they've lifted all rules about personal contributions to political campaigns. Perhaps the Constitution is the problem.

Quite frankly, Constitutions are created by people, by legislation, and they can be abrogated as well. When it comes to the most heard objection, that if you just determine a Constitution by legislation there will be no standard of justice whatsoever but just arbitrariness--that's where political philosophy comes in. I'd much rather have people make reference to discussions about justice and rightness in a pure form, and justify or object to a Constitutional issue based on that, than have them blindly venerate a document as if it's a holy script, reading passages in the manner that fundamentalist Christians read the Bible.

*on edit: if there was a section about fucking dogs in the Constitution, I'm sure that Scalia and folks would be keen on interpreting it to mean that the Founders, in all their wisdom, were talking about business rights.

*on edit 2: which is another way of saying that the Constitution is tradition being revered for tradition's sake, blindly, and used for whatever purpose people want to put it.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Materialism and the philosophy of life part 1

Of a series of blog entries.

If there's one thing that my experience on the West Coast has taught me, it's not to take anything for granted. For instance, the notion that people on the Left would necessarily be concerned with learning as a whole, or with culture in the sense of literature, music, art. All of these things, that make a person culturally literate in our society, don't necessarily follow from being concerned with a particular political position. At its worst here, and I'm speaking about a few people I personally knew, are folks who have no interests whatsoever or understanding of life beyond a kind of economic materialism that makes ignorance of anything abstract a virtue...because it's not 'real enough'. More common, and equally surprising, was the discovery that there were folks out here for whose interest in progressive and leftist politics was about the only interesting feature of their lives. Otherwise, they had little interest in the world...books they've read or were interested in, fairly normal, music the same, art, not much of an interest, really....thinking about the meaning of life, where we're all headed, living intentionally, well that was a little bit more nuanced since that's still what everyone who is younger and interested in progressive or left politics is implicitly supposed to be doing. However, even though people may have thought about these issues, there was certainly a lack of ability to articulate a position about them.

I think that while the residual concern for living intentionally that comes from the hippy movement and the '60s is still present today, to some degree, in reality there's no reason why this should naturally come as a package with left politics. Neither should a concern for learning, cultural literacy, or intellectual curiosity, for that matter.

There's a danger, if people start taking the classical Marxist interpretation of society to heart, whether the people who have it consider themselves Marxists or not, that we could see a reductionism in the concerns about life to pure economics. This would be a shame, and I think that there should be two parallel tracks going at the same time: the economic and the cultural, so that neither get ignored.

 Folks on the left tend to see arguments about reductionism as cover for excusing class privilege. Okay, well, then let's keep the criticism of class and also add more existential concerns to them, making the whole deal less of a push and pull between false dichotomies.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Capitalism and values

I think the legacy and effect of capitalism is two fold, first involving rising economic inequality and the creation of a class system, second the destruction of values and the replacement of a cohesive understanding of life with a vacuous one based on greed and materialism. The two are interrelated.

Looking out at the world today, the meaning of life as a whole is not paid much attention to. The big concerns that used to motivate people, the idealism of the past, both moral, ethical, and personal, is consigned to the history books. Instead, we have a vacuum that's filled by self interest and the pursuit of money, where all that exists is a dead world where individualistic atoms bump up against each other.

We don't even have a proper meritocracy, one of the great improvements over the feudal system that preceded all this. Instead, you're rewarded most especially if you decided to go into business yourself.

Along with the rise of class society has come the destruction of any sense of personal purpose in the world.

What's needed is both a socialist economic solution to what's going on, where there won't be massive classes of people, but a commonwealth where a true meritocracy can exist within, and a revival of meaning and idealism in the cultural sphere, where the vacuum of apathy is replaced by a richer understanding of the personal and social world. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

More thoughts on Occupy and race in America

Because the Decolonize post was so popular, people might be interested in another update.

Race is a social construct, and the history of racism in America is a tragedy, from the slave trade through segregation to the present day, among others. The focus of the "Occupy Seattle" post, in case people weren't clear about it, wasn't about making generalizations about people who are African American as a whole, or about any other minority group in the United States. It was about a very small subset of people within that group, who I judged as individuals making their own choices, that they should be held accountable for.

On a broader scale in the United States, what I was referring to is indicative of a minority tendency within a minority tendency, with possibly one more layer of recursion added, one that can be applied to the small number of people who try to explain away their participation in crime or their own moral failings, and objections to them, by either reference to racial oppression or to accusations of racism against those who have a problem with it.

 Most people who are racial minorities are law abiding people. A small number either commit crimes or otherwise act dishonorably. A smaller number, more present on the West Coast than elsewhere, resort to explanations that trade on liberal guilt to shift the blame from themselves.

However, even though the amount overall is small, it's highly significant because, first of all, it pokes holes in the liberal notion that all people who come from oppressed backgrounds are inherently noble, as opposed to being a mixed bag of people who are good, those who are bad, and those who are indifferent, somewhere in the middle.

Secondly, the fact that a significant number of folks who are liberal believe these people, and I'm using that phrase, points out some of the weakness in ultra-liberal and progressive culture, namely that they don't realize the moral complexity of the real world but instead live in a dream world where the lines between who is a virtuous individual and who is a villain are bluntly drawn. And can't tell the difference between people who are manipulating them and trading on their guilt and compassion for their own purposes and those who aren't.

As a minority within a minority, the reality of the situation does not in any way resemble the stereotypes on Fox News, for instance, or the types of thinking that are behind laws requiring all welfare recipients to submit to drug tests before getting benefits. Both of those overstate the situation by quite a bit, and go into their own fantasy land of stereotyping.

But just because that over the top rhetoric isn't accurate doesn't mean that the reverse is.

I can think of no better example of people being taken in by stories of struggle used to justify criminal values than the gangster rap genre. You have people glorifying committing crimes, shooting people, disrespecting women, being concerned about making money only, on and on, and then justifying it by making reference to the struggle that they've experienced. It doesn't work that way. Either you sell drugs in your community, destroying it, and commit other crimes against others, mostly in your own community, hurting others, or your a virtuous person who's trying to transcend their circumstance. You can't be both at the same time.

Tupac, whose music I liked growing up, is a great example of this. There are great songs about struggle, and even about the challenges that black women face in our society....and yet on the same record there are the songs about bitches and ho's, songs that demean women as nothing but objects to be used for sexual pleasure, as well as songs glorifying murder and being in gangs.

At first, the more conscious people in the genre presented songs dealing with gang life as documents of the life they once lived, before getting out of it and pursuing something better. Then, that got lost, and it just became about praising the lifestyle itself, who cares about the greater social aspects.  

You can't support your community while you tear it down, and you can't tell me that the behavior that you're promoting that is against what not only the majority of people in American society believe in, as well as the majority of people in any society tolerate in their lives,  is somehow acceptable because of the history of oppression of yourself and of your community.

It's not white against black, it's the type of behavior necessary for a stable, good society, versus that which is incompatible with it.

The popularity of the music with white people from privileged backgrounds who themselves are sexist, fratboy, pigs, speaks wonders about what exactly it promotes.

Non gangster rap as well...."99 problems but a bitch ain't one"....would you honestly say that to someone who's female that you care about?

These artists glorify the worst tendencies in human society, and they expect the history of oppression in their community to legitimate it and excuse it. And, though they make constant reference to their community, they speak for themselves, as individuals, who have made their own choices, and they should be judged based on that. They shouldn't be given the opportunity to use the greater community that they're a part of, that for the most part does not break the law or engage in the kind of things they sing about, as a shield against what are their own problems.




Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Why we're addicted to outrage" from "The Week"

Here. I can't say that I agree with the reason given, but the article is a good general overview of the topic of the sort of instant outrage that's out there, and the linked article Outrage Porn: How the Need for Perpetual Indignation Manufactures Phony Offense, is good as well, if less philosophical and somewhat shrill itself. 

Instant outrage, I would argue, dulls critical thinking by encouraging snap judgements taken without actually looking at what's being talked about. You just point someone to something and say go. A culture of constant accusation also tends to intimidate people into not saying anything, in that if they buckle into the concept, or buy into it, they're afraid that they might incidentally call down the wrath of someone.

I remember at Evergreen there was a twice weekly seminar in a large, integrated, class on politics, where there were two self appointed guardians of correctness, who no matter what was being discussed would first of all lay into anyone who they perceived was making a comment that might have had some implication that might have slighted in some way some group....and how once when they were both absent one of the other participants remarked at the end of the discussion how we got so much more productively done without them there.

Free discussion needs the potential for the participants to say something that might either be misunderstood easily or go against the grain, otherwise stagnation happens. In Japanese corporate culture, where obedience and deference to authority is highly entrenched, when they have brain storming sessions between members that are more senior and less senior they preface it with everyone having a drink of sake. That way they can criticize the ideas of a senior person, breaking the tradition of always being deferent and speaking correctly, because they're theoretically 'drunk' or intoxicated.

Anyways, both outrage porn and easy and often stupid offense miss the forest for the trees.

More good old anarchist stuff...

The canonization of the anarchists in the Spanish Civil War is an interesting event...not because of the aspirations of those involved but because the reality itself was somewhat different. First of all, in terms of organization, despite being against Leninism, you had the leadership of the movement by the CNT-FAI, with the CNT being the labor union and the FAI, or Federation of Iberian Anarchists, organized to keep the CNT anarchist....despite what the CNT might actually have wanted. The FAI in this case played the same role as the Bolshevik party in Russia with regards to the unions. More radical factions in the FAI, such as the Friends of Durruti, went further by wanting a 'Revolutionary Junta' to organize a dictatorship over Spain at the higher levels while having democracy on the lower ones. Of course, the Friends of Durruti portrayed themselves as the ultra-anarchists, who were seeking to do that to preserve the anarchist content of the movement.

Putting aside for a second the question of why if a group is in favor of the working class they need to appoint themselves the ideological police of that group to ensure that they follow the right line, there's also the anti-Clerical actions of the Spanish anarchists, which were the scandal of Europe after they happened.

They took the idea of hanging the last capitalist from the light pole with the guts of the last priest seriously, and thereby came into towns and committed summary executions of Priests, raped nuns, forced Priests to rape nuns, organized Coliseum like events to put them on trial.

Now, try to put yourself in the feet of a regular guy in Spain, who's a worker but not quite committed to the cause of the anarchists. You have these people come in and take your village priest, who was a decent enough guy, even though you weren't particularly religious, put him up against a wall in a public square and shoot him without trial. What's your response going to be?

Not everyone opposed the anarchists because they were hot on the idea of the oligarchy that had been running the country getting more power, part of it, I would gather, was because they opposed the actions that the anarchists, in implementing their ideology, committed.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

More on the portrayal of Italians in American culture---'Twins', the movie

Because looking through the stats I saw that a previous post mentioning the movie was getting some traffic, but I hadn't really made this connection then. In 'Twins' with Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a group of Nobel winning scientists come together to create the perfect man, donating their sperm. But there's a problem, instead of one they get two, with all of the goodness going into one and 'All the shit', as the movie calls it, going into the other.

Now, Danny DeVito plays a short corrupt alcoholic Italian private detective with his trademark Brooklyn accent, while Schwarzenegger plays the ideal man with his Austrian accent. I would submit that if instead of a curly haired, dark, short, Italian the character DeVito plays had been cast as a curly haired, dark, short, hook nosed, person of Jewish descent there would have been protests in the streets. The film would have been labeled as a second coming of "Der Stumer", with all the vile anti-semitic stereotypes that that embodied. But because it featured an Italian, ah, well, it's just humor, come on, why are you so sensitive?

We have interesting blind spots for sensitivity in this country. On the one hand, having too much of an interest in things German such as German philosophy or music, without there being any reference whatsoever to people who are Jewish, Judaism in general, Nazism, or racism, can get one suspected of being a Nazi and an anti-Semite, particularly if you like Nietzsche and talk about him a lot. On the other, actually portraying people who are Italian as being corrupt, vulgar, alcoholics is something that people shouldn't be so sensitive about.   Besides, those Italians, they're all emotional, it's just the way they are, they don't really think things through rationally, they always complain about these things.

I could go on, but, yeah, with all of our political correctness and hyper tolerance for anyone, anywhere, making any objection whatsoever about something being offensive, nevertheless, people who raise the flag of derogatory stereotypes in the media about Italians are routinely dismissed.


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Partially, the rhetoric that the Maidan movement in the Ukraine is 'neo-nazi' is a Russian propaganda device from the Soviet era

Which people are falling for. Although the Svoboda party is in fact far right, it looks to be a small part of the movement as a whole. Instead, the rhetoric goes back to days when the Berlin Wall was described as an Anti-Fascist device to protect East Germany from the West. Soviet rhetoric talked about 'social fascism', but it looks like most people ignored that because of,you know, Stalin.  Now Stalin's gone but the righteous fight against capitalist fascism remains, and people are ready to buy it because they don't know that it's a piece of rhetoric that was consistently used in the past.

* on edit: here's a link to Wikipedia's page on the Berlin Wall, where it was described as the "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" Here

The Ukraine: do material features shape history or do ideas as well?

That's a question to ask. The response of many people on the Left to the crisis in the Ukraine is to look at it purely through the lens of covert economic motivations, which must, must be the cause of the conflict. It has to be a secret gas pipeline deal, or NATO expansion that no doubt will lead to an extension of European influence in the Ukraine. While I'm no fan of NATO, what these explanations don't take into account is the possibility that ideas, particularly the idea of self determination, believed in by the people at large, could be a motivating factor in the protests.

The tendency to reflexively always look for a material cause for whatever conflict is going on is not borne out by history, and the complexity of the interrelationship between material causes and ideal ones poses a big threat to the orthodox historical materialist worldview that implicitly motivates much of the thought of those on the left and progressive side of things. A great example of it not being borne out in reality is the American Civil War.

A sizable number of people on the Left firmly believe that the Civil War was fought not about slavery, but about the north maintaining supplies of cotton that it needed for its textile mills. The idea is that the north was completely industrial, the south was completely agrarian, and the north had no other option in powering its textile mills than to keep control of the South...which would increase the price of cotton if it seceded.

Slavery and moral objections to slavery, the entire abolitionist movement, Abraham Lincoln's opposition to slavery and the triggering of secession largely by his election as President, doesn't enter into this history at all. It's like the decade or so of pro and anti-slavery argument, as well as any moral factor that might have motivated people, simply doesn't exist.

 No doubt it's much easier to live in a world like that, because it doesn't require as much critical thought as taking on the real complexities of history. Whatever's going on, just look for a potential economic explanation and voila--you don't have to trouble yourself over looking into the issue any further. Interestingly enough, the argument of the Civil War being fought over economic causes is enthusiastically embraced by Neo-Confederates in the South itself.

One of the sources for this idea is Charles Beard, a historian who published several influential volumes in the first decades of the 20th century. His "Economic Origins of the Constitution" is cited repeatedly by progressive historians, however if you actually read it and look at the evidence he presents that the writers of the Constitution were motivated by having bonds they'd bought not default, the evidence is really flimsy. This is not to deny that there were economic interests at work---they're right there in the Federalist Papers, where the authors specifically cite the potential for the rich to be threatened as one of the reasons why a central government over the states is necessary. But obviously that is not enough.

All of this relates back to the Ukraine in that if reflexively appealing to material motivations no longer works, the position that many progressives have carefully cultivated falls like a house of cards. They've put so much faith in this that they haven't really done the work to create a counter-argument.

Yeah, watching the head of NATO condemning the invasion of the Crimea was almost like seeing someone gloating about what a great opportunity was being handed to them, but what sort of person trusts their ideology and ignores the actual people on the ground? Isn't that, in itself, a much more Ideal position, not really material at all, while the opposite is in fact more in touch with concrete reality?

Friday, March 07, 2014

Also, there's quite a difference between Marx and Engels

In that most of what's known as vulgar Marxism or associated with the more Stalinist trends in Marxism arguably owes more to Engels than to Marx himself. He survived Marx by a number of years and served as his interpreter. Unfortunately, Engels wasn't that smart, and also didn't really have a deep understanding of his friend's work, and so hashed out a bunch of lower level writings that put much of what Marx was trying to eliminate, unscientific Hegelian speculation, back into it.

It's Engels, more so than Marx, who really put in the kind of 19th century teleological and progressive view of history inevitably leading to socialism into it. Marx believed that too, but not in the caricatured way that later Marxists would cast it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Marx...

I've said basically the same thing before, but here it goes again in a new context. First of all, although I respect Marx a great deal, I view him as a philosopher, a social scientist, and an economist, not as the founder of an 'ism'. Others might view him that way, and I once did, but at this point describing someone as an adherent of Marx-ism is sort of like saying that a fan of Max Weber is an adherent of Weber-ism. Marx had many great analyses, but like anyone else wasn't perfect in his ideas, nor should he have been.

I believe that the economy structures society to a great extent, but that the cultural sphere, although influenced by the economic structure of society, retains some autonomy, and has its own timeline and ways of doing things. Everything is contextualized within the society in which we live, but this doesn't mean that there's any sort of a one to one correlation between economics and culture in the sense of a base-superstructure relationship. The truth is more complex, and in any case naked economics itself is rarely directly translated into culture, the indirect route being much more common.

Because of the relative autonomy of the cultural sphere, different ideas and explanations apply there, and culture comes to include some of the more abstract aspects of life, as opposed to the concrete, things which are psychologically important to people, that even influence ideas of alienation or social integration, but that aren't directly tie-able to any particular economic feature.

A while ago, actually almost ten years ago....sometime in the summer of  2004, I summed this up by saying that economic prosperity deals with the material while the cultural integration or disintegration deals with the psychological, with the more personal sense of alienation or functioning, that complements whether or not someone has physical needs, or is being fairly compensated in a monetary fashion for their work. Both spheres need to function properly for a person to really be healthy.

Without healthy functioning on the more abstract cultural level, a person has enough to eat but experiences profound personal distress, and the opposite is just a joke....having plenty of social integration while in reality starving.

*on edit: it's interesting to note that the very things that Marx, at least in his later writings, ignored, have become staples of sociology, with alienation being treated by Durkheim extensively, as well as by Weber and others. 

It's important to note that this Left-Right fusion didn't come out of nowhere

It's been a long time coming. It's ebbed and flowed, but always in response to particular disillusionments with left with activism in practice, as opposed to theory. The first time this happened was in late 2002, in response to a particularly bad experience regarding a protest in Chicago. Being a philosophically minded person, trying to make sense out of it, I eventually looked to Hume's critique of authority, and of leaders in general, as being fallible beings in whom power shouldn't be vested as an explanation. I somewhat dropped out of the activism scene in Florida for a while after that, and instead pursued studying the strain of conservative thought associated with Wendell Berry and the Southern Agrarians, who were anti-capitalist from a somewhat aristocratic perspective, and anti-modern as well.

Although I lived in the South, and was reading these folks, I took it on face value that they weren't defending segregation, and so straight out Neo-Confederate thought was never part of the deal, and neither was a defense of slavery, or racism. To understand how that would be possible, you really have to have lived in one of the more liberal areas of the South, which includes north Florida, where the difference in philosophy of life isn't simply conservative vs. liberal...and where there are still people of the old guard who, while being socially progressive regarding race and potentially other things, still like the idea of decentralized government and the preservation of a pre-industrial way of life.

But, I went back to left politics, keeping much of this to myself, and gave things another chance. When I went to Evergreen to finish up my degree I pretty much forgot about it altogether. It was only bad experiences there that resurrected interest in these things. The first full year at Evergreen, that was spent in a 16 credit interdisciplinary program that studied activism, local politics, and local history, was horrid. Every bad stereotype of the left that you can think of manifested itself there, and at the end I was almost ready to give the whole thing up, but the next year proved to be much better.

However, at the end of that year, again, some things happened that caused disillusionment, but this was much more situational than necessarily the result of particular people's actions. In response, I became mostly a-political, and although still writing about politics, pretty much withdrew from active involvement for several years.

I won't go into the drama or details, but the experience with Occupy, in which I was an observer and by no means a core participant, was really the final nail in the coffin.

But what exactly is the coffin?

At every stage of the way, there was good and bad, having a disillusioning experience with the Left and then going back and having a positive experience....which is why my politics are a synthesis instead of a rejection.

I couldn't, and wouldn't, in good faith pretend that all of the people that I knew who were doing positive things to make the world better were somehow evil or corrupt, or that the core ideas of the Left, which I whole heartedly believe in, were wrong. That's not what this is about.

I'm not disowning my past but instead pointing out ways to fix the many problems that in my opinion exist along with the positive work that people do. To do that I've over the years gone back to the foundations of political philosophy, looking not just at Marx and folks but at the philosophical origins of socialism, as well as those of conservatism and liberalism of various sorts, from what's looked at as welfare state liberalism to classical liberalism, and created something based on a reinterpretation of first principles regarding ideas of what the good society is like.

The solution, however, may not be appetizing to everyone, but personally speaking the more nuanced view that's come out of it, that doesn't exist in a vacuum, has proven good for making sense out of what's happening in Syria, and now the Ukraine, while not abandoning core principles of social justice. I have no problem supporting the folks in the Ukraine, or calling for intervention in Syria, while also supporting the nationalization of corporations, universal healthcare, and unions. It's other folks who can't seem to reconcile doing what the rest of the international community mostly feels is right with left wing values.

The absurdities of supporting Putin's Russia while ignoring a popular revolt in the Ukraine over hypothetical gas lines and NATO expansion......while criticizing Russia just a few weeks ago in relation to the Olympics and their anti-gay policies, are a prime example to me of how the traditional Left paradigm is inadequate to really grapple with and understand, and put forward proposals about, the political reality that we face today.

What you're seeing isn't a bitter, disillusioned 'ex-communist'. Instead, what I'd like to do is to create an alternative space for a more realistic politics based on Left-Right fusion....one that doesn't sanction atrocities, racism, or any other things that commonly clash with core liberal values....which I still also believe are fundamentally correct, even though their application in practice has often been somewhat wanting.  

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Thoughts on Israel and on colonialism in the Middle East

People who expect some sort of Neo-Nazism from this site in the wake of recent political posts will be sorely disappointed. Where to start? Perhaps with colonialism, then Christianity.

Israel was formed during the twilight of colonialism in the Middle East. During the period it was formed, Britain and France controlled all of the Middle East, and outside of Turkey there was no self determination for the people who actually lived there themselves. Because of the horrors that happened to people who were Jewish during the Holocaust, the governments of England and France, allowed Israel to be formed as part of compensation. But the land wasn't theirs to give. They stood by while Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes in Israel and made refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

Sometimes people claim that a vote that took place in mandate Palestine, controlled by the British, that is hotly contested, gave support to the formation of Israel, but look at it: this was a vote orchestrated by the colonial rulers of the area, who were graciously letting their subjects have a say about whether or not they would like to have another country formed out of their land.

Israel was supported then, and continues to be supported now, because although people who are Jewish were at the bottom of the hierarchy in Europe, they were still closer culturally and religiously to Europeans than Arab Muslims. It should be remembered that at the same time that Israel was formed, segregation still existed in the United States. Racism was alive and well, and people in the Middle East certainly did not escape from it.

The idea that there either was no people in Palestine, that because they didn't have a European style nationalist movement there was no country, or that they were recent immigrants doesn't hold water. Palestine, sometimes denigrated as a name because of its Latin origin, is based on the word "Philistine", that referred to the non-Jewish inhabitants of the region. On that count, the Palestinians are descended from people of the Biblical era. And why exactly should they have needed a movement parallel to that of Zionism to be entitled to continue to possess their land?

In any case, after each of the countries in the Middle East got their independence they made their opinions about Israel perfectly clear: they didn't want it. Overwhelmingly. If Britain and France hadn't been there, Israel would not have been able to have formed.

Israel benefited from being on the edge of the European empires, from being in an area still controlled by them, by people who wanted to make amends for what they had done to them internally in Europe during World War II. But although other compensation is great, it's not possible to just give someone a country, where people are already living on it, unless you already own and possess it. That seriously goes over the line.

Israel has benefited from the relative xenophobia of Europe and the United States, but it's also benefited from the Christian heritage of both. Most of the time the focus on the relationship between Christianity and Judaism in Europe is on the negative aspects due to the idea that people who are Jewish killed Jesus, but this ignores another current that, although at times small, has nevertheless been there. Namely, that the entire Old Testament deals with Judaism and people who are Jewish, and takes place in Israel, and that because of this people who are Jewish have a special holy status within the Christian world, even if their non-recognition of Jesus is regretful.

Especially in the United States, this other current is highly significant. From personal experience, and also because of the different history of English Protestant denominations from those on the continent, and Catholicism in general, the Christian Protestant denominations that are largest in the United States have very little anti-semitism built into them. Unlike Germany or other places on the continent where the Lutheran church formed, England had a relatively small Jewish population. Because of this, in the present, the positive recognition of people who are Jewish as being historically important  in relation to Christianity, and Israel itself being similarly holy, predominates in American society. This causes a great deal of support for the state of Israel by devout Christians here in the U.S., who also press for the defense of Israel against Arab Muslims.

Some have associated support of Israel by Evangelical Christians with Christian Zionism, based on a notion that the world is going to end and everyone who is Jewish has to be returned to Israel, but the argument misses the basic point. There's no need for something like Christian Zionism to cause devout Christians to support Israel, because there's the Old Testament, and all of the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses, the Patriarchs, David, and the Prophets, that Evangelical Christians have been growing up on for generations.

I firmly believe that it's a combination of Christianity, western myopia, and the continued prominence of the United States and Europe on the world scene that allows Israel to continue to commit crimes that would be condemned anywhere else with impunity.

If we believe in the right of people's for self determination, and country after country in the Middle East, made up of people self determining themselves, have rejected the presence of Israel, including the people who lived on the land from which it was formed, why are their voices not listened to, and instead dismissed as not important?


Monday, March 03, 2014

The West Coast represents the future of the Left...and some problems

Namely, the problem of what happens after we win.

When I moved here from Florida, where I lived for about four years, I wasn't prepared for the fact that on the west coast people had been organizing, and had been successful at organizing, for quite a long time, and that the game had been in motion since before I was born. One of the reasons I moved out here was because I felt that the activist scene where I was in Florida paid too little attention to class struggle, and recycled rhetoric that was liberal instead of socialist as radical thought. I found that, yes, people out here were more cognizant of class struggle, but that on top of recognizing it, and a socialist society, as a good thing there were many people who used the slogans and the sympathy as excuses for their own failings. Not only that, but actively used them to try to get you to give them a break for their own fuckups, while casting doubt on you and where you were coming from. It was a game, one that played on liberal insecurities.

I somehow thought that people would  be above doing that. Wishful thinking, it turns out. A minority of people are willing to use any feature of themselves that the greater society has sympathy for to their own advantage.

 However, while some would use this as evidence that the Left as a whole, or leftist thought in general, is wrong or ill founded, I took and take a different approach, one that I feel is not only warranted but represents what the future will look like--if we want to maintain socialism and not let it slip into a degenerate state.

I feel that socialism, the idea of class struggle, victory of the working class, socialization of corporations, is right, but that as a secondary issue we have to deal with the venality of the hangers on who would use the rhetoric for their own purposes. How exactly they do this, and what it looks like, has been adequately cataloged and examined by people on the Right, who have also suggested, in a more philosophical sense, some ways to fix this. While there are a diversity of views there, I think I can say that in general those on the Right who criticize Communism and other socialist currents on the basis of the selfishness and self interest of those pursuing this throw the baby out with the bath water, and focus almost exclusively on the negative without looking at the genuine issues that are involved...and don't recognize that there are people who are genuinely pursuing these things without falling into those traps. Their critiques are one of the reasons that I advocate a Left-Right fusion politics.

The conservative critique, and the correlative focus on character and values as a corrective to some of the potential problems,  can be incorporated into the traditional leftwing doctrine without destroying its foundations. I think this should happen and that it's necessary to make a sustainable socialist society---and movement, while we're at it.

With this, and the disillusion that I've felt multiple times out here on the west coast, racial issues have actually been a small part of the focus. Despite commenting on, and critiquing, the failings of Occupy Seattle and the way it went, I see whatever hold overs of liberal racial politics their are as very secondary to the issue of the working class as a whole.  The fact that a small number of people are willing to abuse the good nature of others based on their skin color doesn't invalidate the realities of racial oppression anymore than similar abuses on the part of working class folks invalidates the real concerns about inequality and power in our society. I view race as an illusory concept, something that's a social construction, and I don't think that there's any particular profound insight that can be gotten from contemplating racial issues in any other sense than that.

The future on the west coast is showing itself in its first stirrings, manifested in movements as well as in life in general, and it's a future that the rest of the country will eventually have to catch up with. They could save themselves a lot of trouble by anticipating the potential problems that success in their ventures will bring, as opposed to pretending that the righteousness of the cause will conquer all, without the more depressing aspects human nature intervening and raining on the parade. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The "Stop Snitching" posters in Capitol Hill in Seattle, a fine example of activist ethics up here

The posters are about solidarity with people indicted by grand juries for political reasons. That isn't the problem. The problem is that they've taken the slogan from a movement in Baltimore whose purpose was to intimidate people out of informing on drug dealers and gang members who were ruining their neighborhoods. These people were, literally, according to the dictionary definition of the word, 'Thugs', and the campaign, that featured "Stop Snitching" T-Shirts was about threatening those who wanted to have their neighborhoods not flooded with drugs and crime. That's what they're building on.

Solidarity accompanied by the ethics of crack dealers, in other words, or at least of those who would defend them.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

The answer to the question of what a black republican in Ocala elected to the school board looks like has come...





I used to live in Ocala, and it was an unfortunate experience. The town is a racist, white bread, southern pot of ultra-Christian conservatism.....and this is an example of someone from there who, though black, is not only a Republican but an elected official. For comparison's sake, the black community of Ocala has its own newspaper, that's not widely distributed outside of it, that's more in line with the Black Panthers, a very rational response to the situation they likely find themselves in.

*on edit: if you translated out the collective IQ of Ocala into people, it would be about enough to fill a shopping mall in Seattle half way.

Capitalism and a misreading of Marx

Here in the U.S. we have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of society. Somehow, we think that the capitalist system is natural, that it is society itself, and that there's nothing prior to it whatsoever. But the truth is that people, and their relations with each other, come before any economic system, and they form society, out of which the economic system comes. While Marx's philosophy of historical materialism has sometimes been taken to mean that historical periods and economic systems are the same thing, this is a mistake. Instead, Marx's viewpoint, expressed in the Grundrisse among others, was that the economic sphere structured human society itself, but humanity's core, what he called its species-being, was what that economic sphere was ultimately made of.

Economic systems, then, are different modalities for solving common problems that come out of the physical needs and wants of people who are living together in a society, namely how to provide for them. This, however, is ultimately a secondary thing, the primary thing being both ones own self determination and ones non-economic relations with other people.

Capitalism, then, as well as socialism, or feudalism, is ultimately just one means to that end, and can be replaced. In fact, what Marx was advocating was for people as a whole, together as a society, to take back control of how the economic factors of life structure their society, and instead of having people work for the greed of others, have the economy work for the people as a whole, in society.

The rights of society come first, and are not invalidated by the economic system that that society molds itself into. Universal health care, social programs, subsidies for the arts, all of these could come under the heading of society as a whole taking care of itself. The economic niceties of this are either secondary or not important, because the human case is more compelling.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Protesting the Microsoft Bus, missing the point, just like Decolonize

The story about it is Here at Capitol Hill Seattle.  It's missing the point because it's based on similar protests against the Google Bus in San Francisco, but unlike the Google Bus, which uses actual public bus stops and has become a nuisance to regular people, the Microsoft Bus goes directly to and from individual people's houses. It doesn't inconvenience anyone, except possibly adding to traffic. The protesters are most likely just imitating what's going on in San Francisco, because about as long as I've lived in Seattle, which is six and a half years at this point, there have been Microsoft Buses, and folks haven't really cared about them. Then, the Google Bus protests happen in San Francisco and a few weeks later guess what starts happening in Seattle?

But the San Francisco protests are about both gentrification and the use of public facilities, which the people up here don't seem to get, much like they misunderstood the reasoning behind Decolonize. The Decolonize movement in Occupy was started in the Southwest, in Arizona, where the issue of the state being colonized by the United States and by Anglo culture is a very real issue. As folks have said, a state called "New Mexico", for instance, has quite a connection to, you know, Mexico. That reasoning behind Decolonize works in the Southwest, it works in Texas, and it works in California, but the Northwest was never part of Mexico. It was always either part of Britain or unclaimed, meaning that the Decolonize part had to trade on just the basic colonization of the Americas, which is a slightly different issue.

People should come up with their own, local specific, protests instead of stealing them, somewhat uncreatively, from other places.

*on edit: and, yeah, sure, gentrification is a huge issue in Capitol Hill, which is being turned into a condo-land that will soon resemble Santa Monica in LA: a hip part of town that is now out of reach of most of the original hip inhabitants, but, like I said....if you can't at least make up your own forms of protest, where are you coming from?

*on edit again: what I mean by "where are you coming from?" is that I question the honesty and sincerity, and intelligence, of people who just rip off other people's protests without really understanding all of what they're doing.

*on edit again: I use "on edit" to add something to the post without changing the base content, so that you can see what was originally posted.