Thursday, May 21, 2009

Our Feral Selves

My blog has benefited from the recent comments of kulturcritic, aka the Critical Anarchist, who has brought a new, anthropological/spiritual perspective to the discussion of revolutionary development. He was kind enough to send me a copy of his latest work, The Recovery of Ecstacy - Notebook from Siberia which chronicles his personal journey and the realizations which are the fruit of his meditations and travels. It is a passionate, thoughtful and well researched argument concerning our species inability to live in harmony with each other, ourselves or our environment, and it is done in a very accessible, not overly scholastic style.

Let me start with the many things I found agreement with, and I will move to some criticisms, to which I hope he will respond. I remain an idealistic believer in discursive possibilities and that ideas do still matter. ( completely different from Obama-hope!)
The book begins by examining the authors first experience of "otherness" or duality/ alienation, brought upon by childhood congenital illness and how this awakening opens certain doors of perception and frees him to begin viewing his own cultural and psychological/mythical baggage critically. This experiential development particularly resonated with me, a child of the sixties, a "stranger in a strange land" who did the whole counter-cultural "tune in,drop out" thing and emerged with his own passion for philosophy and spiritual connectedness. This brings him to the concept of atomization, seeing a society of "isolated individuals estranged from, and in conflict with, a fragmented, alienated world."
Marx found it in early industrialization, Debord and I found it in the deadening soul-lessness of suburban life, but it is a common enough thread running through much of the critique of modernity, consumer society, and technological "progress" and this is where the authors thesis leads directly.

Much valid criticism of Marxism in general springs from the fact it has little to say about the soul, that it is economistic and overly dependent on a scientific rationalism, and Krolick eloquently explores a determining breach which he posits occurred several thousand years ago as our species abandoned hunter/ gatherer in favour of agriculture. He sees an over-dependence on the visual and too little emphasis on hearing and touch, the "tactile", on how we moderns experience the world, resulting in a lack of "rootedness in the land" and alienation from our authentic, "ecstatic, feral" selves. In other words, we have lost our inner barbarian and compensate with dysfunctional, destructive and unhealthy behaviors. He uses this anthropological exploration to develop a theory of modern man's enslavement by our notion of linear/historical time and "progress" which leads to a sort of civilizational psychosis related to "fear of death". This is a superficial run-down of the main themes but much of it is a study in the contrasts between modern American culture (such as it is one) and the culture he discovers in Siberia, where he has lived and travelled extensively, and which actually reminded me of Montana to a certain degree.

The first question that came to mind on finishing the slender work (140 pages) was : Has he read Murray Bookchin? There is much here reminiscent of Social Ecology, with it's critique of the "pathological" nature of growth and it's ( in my mind)similar but dubious reliance on a "rational, scientific" anthropological analysis. As with Marx, ( or D.H.Lawrence's The Etruscans) I find this leap from the Particular to the Universal based on pop anthropolgy a bit fascile and really unneccessary for producing a viable theory. Along with Bookchin, who proposed libertarian municipalism,Krolick sees a tribal ethic and return to small, self-managed groupings as necessary for human flourishment.

Even accepting the anthropological premise, a statement such as " with the birth of cities on the heels of agriculture, it was necessary to develop stable and uniform systems of social and political control.." exposes what I feel is the political shortcoming of this analysis, namely, the lack of identifieable agency or materialistic power relations. In other words, necessary for WHO to develop such systems? How is the division of labor labor or authority or hierarchy explained? Aren't we talking about economic control bleeding into the cultural sphere?

While I agree there is something primal or "feral" in my experience of gardening ( feel and smell of rich earth, etc) or hunting ( ecstatic tension of the kill, gutting, butchering), I again hesitate on putting too much evolutionary weight on such "instinctual memory" as a deterministic principle. I know far to many hunters and farmers who lack in empathy, understanding and "soul" to think civilization and it's participants can be so neatly categorized.

Another area where I took exception was the discussion on the role of language, in particular where Sandy states "Language has become trivialized in our modern world, stripped of it's depth and power" due to it's being based on "a strictly logistical principle...reducing the word to a mere symbol, a simple placeholder in a syllogism...having a single, unambiguously identifieable referent." I would argue that language still has incredible power but that it has been colonized and put in the service of capitalist ideology. The word "civilization" is a perfect example. Where the author argues for an organic multiplicity or sublime comprehension, he fails to see this as the site of real political struggle, the contested territory where the battle for meaning determines hegemony. Again, I believe, with objective economic rather than psychological or evolutionary roots. Think of "The War on Terror, Drugs, Poverty" etc or the contest over the meaning of "democracy, equality, liberty, justice". I still believe these meanings are bound up with class struggle and that logic is necessary to understanding leading to classlessness. This may sound overly economistic but it is a question of dialectics, the antagonism needs that most basic of principles.

I was also struck by the almost universal dismissal and negation of technology. This anarchistic strain is derived from a broad critique of consumer culture, such as when the author states "In their way, technologies are valuable social tools, distracting our attention and diminishing the likelihood of these potentially jarring experiences of alienation that underlie our comfortable ,civilized existence." Again, who is They ( that control these "tools") and who is We ( that are distracted)? Is it more likely the worker producing such technology would be "jarred" out of comfort by realizing his own exploitation ( revolutionary consciousness through estrangement) or that the consumer of such technology would be "jarred" through some sort of post-modern "alienation"? Leading to what action?

Finally, just a comment on certain references to the Russian soul, such as when the author reflects "I was beginning to understand why these people were so susceptible to the promise of Lenin..". I have read a little Gorky and Dosteyevsky as well as a little Lenin and Trotsky , enough to shy away from broad generalizations. From celebrating music, sex, dancing and revolt to the cruelty of war-time rape and murder or gulags it is a complex stew full of ambiguity and dysfunctional, creative genius. But aren't all people? Aren't we all "susceptible" to the Utopian imaginary and potential of the human spirit? Much of America (and the West) is lost in a dark maze of alienated, estranged, atomized pathology, no doubt, but some part of the self, whether "feral" or "kairotic" is irresistable in it's determination to find a way through. I encourage everyone to visit kulturcritics site at www.kulturcritic.com and hear this unique voice.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Real Time

We occasionally tune into Bill Mahers HBO show, a rather confused jumble of populist monologue and panel discussion. Like Andy Rooney (60 Minutes), Maher is a surly curmudgeon-comedian with a provocative dislike of religion but otherwise confused politics. The other night he had Naomi Klien on and all he could talk about was the indiscretion of John Edwards, boring both her and me to tears. Because he likes pot and hates Bush he is considered "progressive"but there is a disturbing mysogynist deep inside him and a Bill O Riley-esque meanness which seems to play well here in MeanLand.

Speaking of chat shows, one interesting fellow making the circuit is David Simon, creator of , among other things, the hit HBO show The Wire. I never got in on it but it has been recommended by several aquaintances. He has a very developed structural critique of capitalism and it's culture but, then stops just short of calling for it's dismantling. He totally gets the relationship between systems, institutions, culture and oppression but simply mourns our loss.It is a disturbing trend to hear these thoughtful, creative people totally recognize the brutal nature and unresolvable contradictions of our economic system yet then go on to express resignation that "there is no alternative" when faced with any sort of political question. What a sadly limited, circumscribed reality ! Resignation is just a luxury, another privilege of the cultural elite.

Meanwhile, the snow is melting and grass greening and that means it is time for Troutsky to shed his skin once again and head over the hill to make MONEY. Rich people need me to show them how to catch the wily trout, and will in fact pay exorbitant rates for the service. Don't ask me why; it is, like so many things, an inscrutable mystery. I will still try to post regularly and will check out my blog-mates as TIME permits. REAL TIME? I am finishing kulturcritics latest book, much ado about time,space, culture, etc.. and will work on a review. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Alchemy

In a lot of cities people packed away their berets and banners after the May Day parade and slunk back to work, or back to their TVs or Nation magazines, and the little spark of rebellion, so briefly rekindled, slowly fizzled to ash. Here in Missoula the energy has been harnessed into a new form of organization, a community union, with brand new allies, new ideas and enthusiasm and most important, a "harmoniously" articulated and unapologetic anti-capitalist critique shared by all.

I used the word alchemy because a certain aspect of the "coming together" is magically spontaneous, an unpredictable alignment if you will, but the other aspect of this coalition is that it is the product and reward of years of hard work and dedicated organizing. The fruit of our labour, don't ya know. By nurturing often tenuous relationships and gently, yet persistently, working to gain trust (all the while educating ourselves), a wonderfully tense coalition formed last night dedicated to real community action!

Much can go wrong , of course, and much more needs to be articulated in terms of critique and analysis, but despite the dogs (long story) no one bolted and plans are in the works to get our message out loud and clear. These young environmentalists who understand that Markets created the mess and cannot be relied upon to fix it present a direct, courageous challenge which our local enviro groups will no longer be able to avoid. Same with the labour critique, same with the war and imperialism critique, healthcare, employment ,pensions, you name it. Wherever "progressives" meet they will now find themselves confronting a Community Union willing to expose the contradictions inherent in all their milktoat "solutions". Wherever Tea Baggers gather we will joyfully expose their incoherence and dogmatic reactionary subservience.

On a final note, today we honour the fallen students of Kent State and remember that behind all the rhetoric about democracy and freedom lies the spectre of brutal State power ready to enforce discipline at every moment. Today I honour Brazilian director and playwright Augusto Boal, creator of the theatre of the oppressed and lifelong champion for justice who died Monday. I want to say belated Happy Birthday Pete Seeger, sorry you have to see the new President asking recruits to put on their boots and grab their guns yet again. Finally I want to honor the Afghan civilians murdered by my governments bombs. Defend your country from us as the Vietnamese and Iraqis have done.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Libertarian Critique

On my blogroll are a couple of free market conservative-libertarians, Wiser over at Thoughts and Ideas and Craig at Economic Swim. Wiser has always been more conscientiously sceptical of dogma and true to libertarian values, Craig thinks Fox is real news and listens to Rush and Hannity. Where they have converged lately is on the belief that the "Government" or State or certain politicians either liberal or not true conservatives, have conspired to use this "crisis" to expand the role of government in a massive, a-historical fashion. In this scenario, the government manufactured the crisis or has so exagerated it's severity to force though its intervention using fear. Terms such as fascism are used to describe this covert agenda.Check out their latest posts.

A couple critical points then put the whole bizarre historical moment into relief. Like the "Tea Bag" protests, this whole argument rests on the notion that doing nothing, in terms of Stimulus and capital infusion to credit markets and banks, was a rational option. In other words, was there or was there not a real crisis? By "real crisis" I mean the real threat those weeks in December that the entire global economic system could totally collapse, all banks, all private equity firms, all pension funds and government treasuries wiped out in a couple of days. I believe it was that close to destruction, that behind the stammered pronouncements of Paulson was terrifying panic, that capitalism was about to implode into chaos. If this is true, then all the spending has in fact saved capitalism and these critics are spouting nonsense. If it was a set-up , like Bush's Weapons of Mass Destruction, just to get tax payer money, then I will admit these libertarian-conservatives have a right to be upset.

Remember, I want capitalism to implode.I'm no big friend of the State. I'm the one who should be upset! Yes there will be inflation and yes the next few generations will be paying higher taxes (unless we anti-capitalists are successful) and yes the government "expanded". BECAUSE CAPITALISM DOESN'T WORK! Why doesn't the media report how close to disaster we really were? Why is there no account of how precarious that moment truly was? Because everyone, liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive, etc.. would just as soon not have it broadcast to Americans how fragile the system truly is. Who can prove me wrong?

By getting past the false, strawman arguments : to spend or not to spend?, to tax or not to tax? these libertarian-conservatives and the rest of the American people would be forced to face the REAL question: Do we really want to reform a system that heinous AND that fragile? Or should it be scrapped altogether?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Whose Streets? May Day Missoula

I have been processing the May Day 09 March before commenting because it was a complex conversion of various factions, tendencies, and politics and my initial reaction was conflicted. From the beginning we said we wanted to be loud, angry and radical, and those sentiments certainly came across. On the other hand, the IWW did not control the message and it was not really as much a celebration of Workers struggle as a somewhat vague protest of car traffic ( and their police protectors) in Missoula.

My perspective is skewed by the fact that I ended up as the "Police Liaison", a humorous term for the person with no authority who gets to deal with all the hassle. A group that had not participated at all in the months long planning showed up waving the Black Flag. ( lets generously call them Anarchists ) I have written critically before of this so-called Black Bloc that shows up at every event now to "defy authority" but what was interesting was their slogan "Whose Streets? Our Streets!" which establishes not only a vague Unity but a defined Authority. There is a need for dialogue here (which they will not participate in) but I think it is classic infantile leftism and it remains unclear how their presence will affect our general organizing. Another faction, which did participate in (and even lead) the organizing, stands even less determinate ( politically) between the Wobblies and the Black Bloc and it is their reaction I am most interested in. You might call them " lifestyle anarchists" but because they are creative and evolving I don't mean that in a pejorative way, they are younger and still exploring identities.

Noticeable in their absence were the social justice " progressives" I try to work with around Colombia, Fair Trade, Indigenous movements etc. Also missing were mainstream union folk who we have worked with over EFCA and healthcare. The tension with the police guarantees they won't be showing up next year.

We attracted a much larger crowd than ever before, lots of literature was distributed, we got pretty good media coverage and made the "Tea Baggers" look pathetic. We were certainly more coherant in our presentation but could have done better, as always. One old socialist in his late seventies expressed his joy and appreciation for our efforts and it is that tone in his voice, that all is not lost, that possibilities still exist, which perhaps was the most meaninful of the day for me. Still, the Left- Left still needs to figure out this Red and Black thing before we can move forward.


Here is a link to a video clip with yours truly stammering for a reporter.
http://videos.missoulian.com/p/video?id=3971065