Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pop Culture

Hey , it's been a while since we took a poke at pop culture but I just saw Lady Ga Ga. WTF? A black guy starts out by dragging a blonde around on stage. She joins other blondes who have no faces. Post-modern transference agony? What else. Oh yea Larry the Cable Guy and all the comedic (?) spin-offs in the crass sex talk genre. We've already talked about cage fighting and NASCAR, pro wrestling, Rudy Guliani and Rod Blogoyavich but just consider this an open thread about the weirdest Weimar shit you have seen lately.

Somewhat in the same vein, I saw that movie by the Borat guy where he is the gay celebrity seeker. whoa. Paula Abdul sitting on Mexican chairs? ( live Mexicans)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Property Is Theft?

Che Bob alerted me to a study guide being used by a local high school teacher around a film based on Hernando De Soto's Road to Prosperity; A Property Rights Revolution. As a capitalist polemic this is top rated. Sample question asked of young minds: ( fill in the blank)

"In the U.S.,the first great engine of_____ was property rights for the common man." If you answered exploitation you may be sent to an unidentified detention site. Here's another:

"History shows us that when ordinary people gain access to property rights and the rule of law, they begin the road to _________? " Hint: starts with a "p".

This one certainly invites discussion: "What is the connection between property rights and power?"

Building on the Roman concept of res nulius, meaning 'empty thing' (and therefore common property), the philosopher Grotius concluded "we can only have a proprietary right to things we can consume or transform".In other words take what is unused because "If usable things were left unused there was no property in them." John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Government chapt.5 devises a labour theory of property around the concept that the value of a thing is measured by the labour embedded in it and title is derived by creating value where there was none:

"The cultivation of an obligation imposed upon man by nature. Every nation is therefore bound by natural law to cultivate the land which has FALLEN to it's share...the establishment of various colonies upon the continent of North America might, if done within just limits, be entirely lawful."

Sir John Davies contributed to this convenient bit of "law" at whose altar Mr. De Soto worships.In less polite circles this process is known as expropriation or dispossession or perhaps primitive accumulation. Theft also works. Nothing just "falls to it's share" of course. Once Empire has a convenient labour theory of property it can justify all manner of eviction, taxation and enclosure and soon the map makers get to work and a piece of paper giving title is secured and Presto! you have Goldman Sachs... Is that the "connection between property rights and power Mr/ Mrs.Teacher?

You don't have to look much farther than high school classrooms to see how capitalist ideology reproduces itself. Although as Beak said in the last post, there are "choices".Question for the whole class: Name two.

Dedicated to Howard Zinn RIP. Go see Marx in Soho.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union: Confused

If I were the President I would start drinking early tonight. I would dress in a clown suit and have my Nobel Peace prize taped to my nose but I imagine Barack will attempt a more serious, nuanced approach. Though the balance between somber and upbeat is going to be delicate to say the least.Now that there is broad consensus that the country is ungovernable, the Markets are totally irrational and We the People are illiterate it will be hard to find a theme that doesn't illicit roars of laughter from every constituency. Can he keep that chin lifted? What must black people the world over be feeling?

A couple different strands taking root are the "corporate plutocracy/corporatism" meme and the "democracy is incompatible with capitalism" meme which only differ really in the form of action they each prescribe. The NY Times' Bob Herbert wants us to "help take the government,including the Supreme Court, back from the Big Banks, the giant corporations and the myriad other predatory interests.."

Michael Moore straddles these two strands, at first saying "capitalism and democracy are the opposite of each other" but then saying "it was a tough week for democracy" and that "corporate interests are manipulating the public". He is unable to settle on "enforced ignorance" and "40 million functional illiterates" and "manipulate an uneducated public" OR "base will rally if Obama apologizes"and "I hope the people get active" and "we are going to have to get it together..".

Paul Street over at Znet writes about "fake democracy" and the "corporate state" but understands there is no legislative fix. Greg Palast at znet writes about Control of Our Democracy. In other words, some understand U.S. democracy as actually existing but in need of protection, others see it as theatre and some remain confused, bouncing back and forth.

Chris Hedges keeps a pretty steady heading in his analysis, speaking of the "myth of a functioning democracy" and a "democratic facade" hiding a "corporate state". (corporate state, capitalist state, whatever, I guess I can accept that) He recalls the theory of "inverted corrupt and which can manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible". He makes the point that "Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force."

The Nation magazine gets into the act with a straightforward commentary by Galeano "Obama is the most powerful prisoner in the world" and a classic confusing one by Chris Hayes "Theres a word for a governing philosophy which fuses government and large corporations..:corporatism" "what the Obama campaign got right was it's faith in Americas history of continually and fruitfully tilling the soil of democracy..."

My plan is this: Consider working for the Tea Parties. See how far to the right the Republicans can be pushed and give the "winners" one year to try to govern. Call it the Nukular Option! If we believe our own rhetoric, that democracy or even the idea of politics has become a farce, then one way to expose the Spectacle is to ride it full steam into it's own contradiction.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Levels of Alienation

In a conversation last night my comrade and I began excavating different levels of alienation looking for the root of modern worker identity. ( it was that or watch re-runs of Threes Company) In the classical Marxist reading "alienation" takes on several meanings, some dealing with the "mystification" or abstraction of certain relations (money, property, ideology) which only had to be "unmasked", and others which describe a more physical renting of Man from his "natural", more harmonious, co-operative condition.The Very Short Version.

On the one hand, it is easy to see how the wage labourer, selling only her labour-power by the hour or day, finds herself "turned into" a commodity and therefore experiences a disconnection from the self.The artisan who sold his product experienced a much different "exchange". Taken a step further, a worker on a production line making a widjet would feel even MORE alienated than the wage worker who at least got to see a finished product and feel some sense of accomplishment.

Another less debilitating level of this "physical" alienation is the teacher whose "product" is students and who is rewarded with satisfaction and human connection or the modern worker who produces designs or ideas and remains intellectually connected to her work. The small business owner or farmer is also more "connected" to his labour and product but still affected by the alienation of class division or the abstraction which is money itself.

Another sphere of "alienation" arises at the consumption end of the economy and affects each of the other levels differently so that a sort of matrix is formed. Here I am talking about the ideology of power, of private property, of fetishization of possessions and products, or the atomization that these social relations create. At this psychological level there is the basic malaise, cynicism and loss of meaning that alienates people from all classes from their own existence.

It is because of this matrix that there are no simple solutions to organizing around work. Like exploitation, alienation assumes many forms and seems to be experienced at many different levels both conscious and unconscious, recognized and mis-recognized. Many people "feel better" just doing MORE work! Some just want to smash windows. Luckily, there's always Threes Company, Prozak, Jesus, meditation and Michael Moore films.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Citizen Trout

Renegade Eyes' comment about a "Labour Party" combined with all the liberal/progressive hand wringing going on nationally got me thinking about what the outlines of a radical political party might actually look like. I personally think, after these years of working within a labour union, that "worker" as such is too narrow a subject position to do mass organizing around. Besides, soon there will be no work! It occurs to me that what many people desire is Citizenship in the expanded sense of autonomous self-determination in both the political AND economic spheres. For that increasingly small body of true Conservatives, Liberals and Libertarians, there is actually some territory for discussion and to the degree they feel liberty is secured by property they will peel off, which is fine. Something like the Citizens Commonwealth Party? I just want to debate Ron Paul and Sarah Palin basically.

The whole Haiti thing, not to politicize tragedy,is just another layer to everything we have been discussing. I am reading Randall Robinson An Unbroken Agony and watching the news and watching the Telethon fundraiser last night thinking yea, race is something we need to confront but they haven't shown any crumpled mansions, any crumpled sweat shops, any crumpled foreign embassies. Instead of charity they need to say we are sending the very beginning of the reparations we owe and that France especially will be paying for a long time to come. The real question, of course, is how many other Port au Princes are out there in the "Undeveloped nations"? How many people living working going to school hospital, praying in death traps waiting for a flood, earthquake, fire? How many Telethons will it take to bring justice? I am going to a fundraiser tonight with wife and friends and I hope I don't hear about "charity" because each of us has benefited from Haiti's exploitation and owes big time but some more than others. "Give what you can afford"? What does that mean? WWJD?

Finally, I go back to the "hand wringing" over Obamas new "populism" ,his one year anniversary, the State of the Union and his poor disillusioned supporters vs his patient,loyal backers. Bernanke and the Wanker Bankers. Geithner vs Volker. Max Baucus vs Karl Marx and the Supremes. Foreclosures up, profits up, Taliban knocking on your door, baby can it get any worse?

Fuck yes.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

But For The Grace Of..

I've been doing some remodelling about a hundred and twenty miles from here at a lodge in the middle of nowhere. On Tuesday morning, heading over, I picked up a hitch-hiker who had started in Washington and was headed for the place of his birth, N Kentucky. This is Montana in the middle of winter and he had on tennis shoes and was avoiding the interstate because it is apparently illegal to hitch-hike. He was in rough shape; no money,fired from his short order cook job, alcoholic and out of options. We had occasion to chat so I tried to give him a class analysis of the current crisis but he was sure Jesus was going to help and I let him off in Wisdom Mt, snowbound and freezing, and hope he is safe somewhere out there on the American Highway. I did my time out on that Road, hitching across this country and beyond, and was myself dependent on the kindness of strangers, often listening gladly to their crazy theories and politics.

And while I was off in the snowy hinterlands things went awry for those goofy Democrats. Old Teddy must be squirming in his grave.( at least it's marked, unlike those in Haiti) All that Health Reform brouhaha is so much Glasnost/Perestroika and the Supreme Court just affirmed the self-evident Truth that Dollars are Speech in the Market Place of Ideas. It's about time they made it official and I for one applaud the boldness of their approach. Why fuck around? Next will be Roe vs Wade and then the Liberals will REALLY get upset and...and..and be UPSET! Obama threatens to regulate banks! Oooh,that could be popular! That could be the Change We Hope For! At least Bush had the good sense and grace to go to his ranch and cut brush when things got grim.

I followed the link Kultur provided to his article on the State. I'm not sure what "verdict" history-according -to- Beak would pass down on this dominant, enduring institution but we can all agree it's excesses in times of stress can be horrific. My question to Kultur is: How much motive do we ascribe to Power/ Control as an individual pathology versus how much motive is Power/ Wealth, a very objective social relation consistent with capitalism? Maybe this is the Anarcho-libertarian vs socialism debate in a nutshell?
As for possible solutions: When Kultur posts "Can we have dialogues? Of course! Will we reach agreement on the way forward? Of course not!" I think he hits on a profound point, the inescapable nature of antagonism. Slavoj Zizek, in his intro to The Sublime Object of Ideology,follows Laclau and Mouffe ( Hegemony and Socialist Strategy) in "acknowledgement of an original 'trauma',...of the global radical deadlock, impossibility, the acknowledgement of a fundamental antagonism." Here lies a solution, temporary and provisional, but a democratic solution.More to follow.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Civil Discourse

This quotes fairly well known by now:

"They were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince.' True story. And so the devil said, 'Ok it’s a deal.' And they kicked the French out. The Haitians revolted and got something themselves free. But ever since they have been cursed by one thing after another," Robertson said.

Check out this one from a "questionnaire" given to local law enforcement and County Commissioners here in my valley:

"It is the duty of the Sheriff to form and command a County Militia composed of all able-bodied Citizens 18 years or older. (Note: Women must serve,but not in a combat capacity unless the men are in danger of being over-run.)

Or this:

"...prohibit all Federal Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) employees as such entrance into-------County without permission from the Sheriff-no exceptions.Note: This strict provision is based on two indisputable facts: 1) The EPA is not a Constitutional arm of the Federal government nor are its functions Constitutional. 2)Much of the so-called support for environmental regulations is based upon the dubious assumption that there is such a phenomenon as global warming when, in fact, the majority of scientists globally agree that we are not experiencing global warming. Local governments have the duty to furnish valid and reliable data necessary to evaluate and provide safe water,waste disposal and clean air in the County."

So I guess the question is, given these starting points, these particular coordinates, how might a "civil discourse" proceed? Where might it progress and what might be accomplished? Should I write a letter to the editor questioning the local governments ability to collate such data? Ha!
In my mind, wresting meaningful dialogue out of these expressions of popular sentiment is not only impossible, but dangerous and destructive. Much more healthy would be a hearty "burst of laughter".Unfortunately for society and the very concept of governance, we've already started down the rabbit hole and so the Spectacular media is buzzing with "rational" response to Pats Tourrettes and I'm sure the local phone lines around the Bitterroot are lit up as well.

My point is that all this blather about a "national discussion" or "civil debate" are fictions designed to help us believe a healthy democratic process exists ( or could with some minor tweaks). Donald Duck would make a fabulous President because we could finally put fowlism behind us and the Dreams of His Gander would assure a "progressive" approach to expansive rights for quail and partridge.And after all the "able-bodied" roosters went down the chickens could be set loose. I especially like all the implied and expressed "facts". Ha Ha.

Faith or Government

I saw where an old acquaintance was organizing a homeless shelter so went to the first meeting an hour ago. The place was packed with Christians, including some very right-wing types I have fought over gay rights legislation and Creationism so I was unsurprised to hear them object to the group getting official non-profit status because " You can't mix government and God." These same people don't want to collaborate with any government agencies such as welfare or human resources or even apply for any grants because they know it would limit their ability to proselytize. See, their "help" comes with a price. They are convinced that charitable work and saving souls go hand in hand because poor people are "fallen" or "failed", morally at fault for the condition they find themselves in and these Good People will be their salvation.

The IWW has a great old song about this issue called Long Haired Preacher, I think it was written by Joe Hill. The problem is this charity does nothing to address the structural causes of poverty nor does it organize people to become more empowered. I am sure all those well meaning people sincerely want to help but they don't get the dialectic.

Meanwhile, the growing Missoula radical community came together last night to discuss the possibility of creating a social centre and though we can't produce the kinds of numbers the Christians can, we have some dedicated groups and individuals. Will we proselytize the Communist Religion when we get unsuspecting victims in the door? Would we accept a government grant? The idea is to have a place where dancers, artists, musicians could gather as well as having an education/ discussion/ organizing space. Do you know of any places such as this in your town? Elsewhere? How I could contact them?

Forget Yemen. We are going to learn about an island named Haiti and the lessons from a black President may be especially enlightening. The PBS news tonight did not mention aid from Cuba or Venezuela because they are not allowed to. As Che Bob just pointed out, they will, however, have to explain why the transnational owned sweat shops are still standing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Reforma

I am somewhat coincidentally reading a chapter about a period in history ( Mexico's) that is relevant to the last thread. Many serious interlocutors on this blog and elsewhere sense a convergence of forces that will lead to accelerated change. Reform. rupture, revolt, just as in the late 80s in the Soviet Union, or Latin America more recently no one gets to know and few can predict accurately.

Triumphs and Tragedy by Ramon Eduardo Ruiz describes the Reform struggles of the 1850's beginning with ideology : "For Mexican Liberals, the capitalist blueprints ( witnessing the Industrial Revolution of Europe and U.S.) had the bewitchery of patristic articles of faith.One of the most conspicuous features of this bunch of copycats was the way it mesmerized itself, 'like a rabbit practicing self-hypnosis in the absence of a stoat.' That left just one option: to echo the Western model, to copy it's institutions and,above everything,embrace it's values...." basically,competitive enterprise; buying cheaply,paying labor poorly and selling dearly.

This middle-class revolt against the Catholic Church and it's Conservative supporters replicated bourgeois movements in Europe and elsewhere with roots in Bourbon reforms and the independence struggle with Spain.But by the 1850's "Mexico stagnated and wallowed in despair. With a mixture of resignation and fatalism,Mexicans had come to believe that in politics there were onlycrooks and knaves.They spoke harshly of their neighbors, accepting as truth whatever malicious tale was said of them.No one trusted anyone..." Sound familiar?

So what might then be the "verdict of history" on Mexico and its process of development? What should we look to in order to judge whether it is retarded, advanced, humane, brutal? What "verdict" might we deliver on Gorbachevs attempts at pluralist democratization or Chinas evolution toward State capitalism and liberal reforms? What "verdict" will come down from on high as to the Wests headlong rush into post-industrial late capitalism?

It is of course an absurd question because history is a fluid, continuous process of unfolding and any judgement rendered today can be made ridiculous at any moment tomorrow. Nothing is settled. A "verdict" would suggest Mexicans were just destined to provide labor and raw materials to various Empires or that Chinese hierarchical authority combined with private investment and loyal subjects creates a miraculous political-economy or liberalizing a State bureaucratic autocracy into democratic socialism can never succeed because people ( Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia) will demand all their freedom at once.None of these were inevitable nor do we know how it will end.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Moving On

What was that big issue everyone was talking about before the Underpants Bomber? Something about glaciers...oh I know, climate change! I assume it's been tabled for the time being so we can break out our trusty Atlas' and find Yemen...yes, here it is..not so far really from those other troublesome countries we have been learning about. Similar rates of extreme poverty, similar skin color, better WIKI it and see what we're up against. You almost get the idea al-Qaeda is giving geography lessons in a round about way. Where will we learn about next?

Beak mentioned the importance of learning "histories verdict". And of course we all know the Santyana quote about being "condemned to repeat" the bloody past so we see the crucial importance in being the one to write the history. I could write The History of Yemen next week and with a little luck end up on FOX and CNN and NPR and maybe Beaks informative blog. Why shouldn't I be an authority, a seasoned analyst, an expert on Yemen? I wrote the History of Texas ( Alamo patriots), the History of Palestine ( a land without a people) ,the history of Haiti and Packistan so why shouldn't I be advising Barack ( Peace Prize) Obama? What do you suppose histories "verdict" is on the Comanche way of life? The "verdict" on liberal democracy? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Beak?

It's probably a little to early for history to deliver a verdict on our global response to climate change ( what is the requisite waiting period?) but I think Democrat Evan Bayh of Indiana makes a good case for the defence: "We need to deal with the phenomena of global warming's very difficult in the kind of economic circumstances we have right now." This is a common sense, "don't get your panties in a bunch", economics/ politics approach that prefers to wait till we have a little "extra" bonus money that we can then spend on the luxury of emission cuts. I'm sure a "Green" politician will argue for some "Green" jobs and they will reach a liberal democratic compromise. Will it satisfy all those "Climate Change" activists that were in Copenhagen? Where did they all go? More Debord from 1988:

"What is new is the way the economy has now come to declare open war on humanity,attacking not only our possibilities for living, but our chances of survival."

Capital and their politicians tell us it is dangerous to base an industrial strategy on environmental considerations. This is the final denial of humanity.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Idaho Project

Taking a break between jazz bands ( a fabulous interpretation of Coltranes Lonnies Lament by some young players) on New Years Eve we wandered upstairs in the Missoula Art Museum. I found myself looking at an amazingly life-like bust of Eugene Debs made of archival cardboard, sheetrock screws, gesso and glue, part of an exhibit called Big Trouble: The Idaho Project where artist Scott Fife has recreated the cast of characters who became associated with the assassination of Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 and the subsequent trial. This was a time of intense labor strife around the fantastically productive silver mines not far from where I live and there is a bust of the bomber Harry Orchard and the union leaders he ratted on like "Big Bill" Haywood, George Pettibone and Charles Moyer. There are also great reproductions of Ethyl Barrymore the actress, Debs the leader of the Socialist Party (and perhaps at that time the IWW), President Theodore Roosevelt, and Clarence Darrow who defended Haywood and managed to get him acquitted.

From the artist: "The sculpture speaks of class struggle, political intrigue, and the countries economic and social landscape of capitalism and populism."
I'm glad to see an artist interested in historical memory who recognizes the way these events of not that long ago get swept into the dustbin. As Guy Debord put it "With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, unchecked statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning." Sound familiar?
"One result which has proved negative" , he adds "once the running of the state involves a permanent and massive shortage of historical knowledge,that state can no longer be run strategically."

In other words they'll do crazy shit like invade the Pashtun region or become hostages to an elite Zionist minority or allow financiers and speculators to hijack the economy or allow the infrastructure, both physical and human ( education) to crumble...

Another positive sign for the coming decade ( the art installation,not the crumbling) arrived in the form of a poem in our local paper called The Last Night of COP 15 :

"The conference was dressed from it's head to it's foot
As a positive outcome though tarnished by soot
A bundle of ploys on the backs of the poor
Some new carbon taxes by the capitalists of war
They hold the worlds wealth in the grip of their teeth
While for us it's the usual funeral wreath

The author also had something of hers read on Grit TV by Laura Flanders the other day. Another local Wobbly perhaps?