Friday, May 21, 2010

Liberty or Death

The private property-free market branch of libertarianism had a real chance to assert itself and explain it's theoretical underpinnings yesterday but succumbed to Wolf Blitzer and the American Spectacle. I would have welcomed this exposition and thought Rand Paul would be the one to pursue it but alas, he caved under intense liberal scrutiny and power politics.

By questioning (temporarily) the title 2 part of the Civil Rights Act, the Prodigal Son opened the closet door wherein Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan, William Buckley and the whole Chicago Gang lurk, but instead the conversation turned predictably to "couched racism" and lunch counters, that place where Martin Luther King Jr. was stuck before he gained a deeper understanding of how capitalism works.

When law was used to force culture and social convention to "change", liberal America cheered and congratulated itself. But the States rights issues never went away and the private property issues never went away. Today the Black community is ravaged by incarceration, poverty,decimated inner cities and violence despite the right to shop at Wal Mart or vote for some representative like Charley Wrangle. The private property basis of tyranny and racism were both conveniently ignored and Americans settled for a kinder, gentler slave owner.

Tonight there is a meeting of a new group formed to counter the local Tea Party whose mission is "promoting democracy through civil discourse". They will focus on the racist, xenophobic and seditious aspects of the extreme wing but ignore the discussion on Libertarianism and private property rights which animates the majority because as liberals, they promote these same capitalist principles, only regulated by government oversight. I might ask them, to paraphrase Sarah Palin, Hows That Workin Out For Ya?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Serious Irony

I stumbled into what I feel is an important and relevant book called The Art of Being Free by Mark Reinhardt. In a unique process of "ironic" reading of three classical theorists, de Toqueville, Marx and Hannah Arendt, the author freely interrogates each against the other in a non-scholarly but very political, democratic and "artful" method, teasing out the important contributions as well as inconsistencies of each of these important and at times frustrating figures. I found this form of criticism compelling and Reinhardt's ability to build an argument using bits and pieces much like my own theoretical wanderings. As he puts it, unless we synthesize and utilize these bits and pieces "a usable past will otherwise go to waste, or will get reified, fetishized, made the basis of nostalgic and ultimately doomed attempts to recover worlds gone by." In other words, the conservative project!

I posted on some of the musings around de Toqueville and am finding them pertinent in this moment of Rand Paul and Tea Parties. I am thrilled we ( the fragile polity?) finally get to talk about property and freedom straight up. Maybe it will even get to some serious treatment of Ayn Rand.In any case the book highlights the difficulty de Toqueville had in employing the art himself, grounding his humanism "ironically" in Christian moral tradition and struggling to balance the aristocratic fear of the masses with Enlightenment emancipation.

Marx gets similar treatment. The author points out the contradictions around transcendence and historical determinism that The Old Man struggled with. The reading humanizes Marx, something like what Howard Zinns play does, and brought out new insights about his thought on politics, freedom and action.

The reading of Arendt started clear but then veered into "Arendtian political space" and it's relation to the anti AIDS movement ACT UP. I didn't really get it. I have always been drawn to and conflicted by her approach to anti-totalitarianism and oddly de-politicized text The Human Condition. Still valuable and again, extremely relevant at this crazy juncture and Rienhardt helped pinpoint some of the troubling aspects of her approach to the "art".

I have been randomly picking out these titles in my study of democracy and politics, Rethinking Liberal Equality, Democracy's Children, Sublime Object of Ideology, David Harveys latest, and find them all referring back to Mouffe and LaClaus Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Debord is also getting some renewed attention. Instincts and fate?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Red Shirts and Tea Parties

warning: I don't know much about Thailand so this may be rot.

But it doesn't stop me from opining that the Thai upheaval and the Tea Party Patriots (along with several other "anti-establishment" movements) have some things in common, foremost a sentimental, nostalgic longing for a mythical past and strong authority figures. Just as much of the Red Shirt position boils down to a reverence for the billionaire strongman Thaskin, I think the Tea Party would rally behind Sam Walton, a God-like symbol of Down Home Goodness and unbridled capitalism. They mythologize (mysticize?) the Constitution and Founding Fathers and play down what was really going down in Boston Harbor. The Red Shirts also dream of an illusionary imperial greatness that ain't gonna happen. Corruption rules the day.

Like Imelda Marcos, Berlasconi, Ronald Reagan, or any number of absurd, charismatic clowns, people will gravitate to a savior like moths to a flame. On the other side of the spectrum but no less absurd are the so-called "Anarchist" punks who rampage in a place like Santa Cruz California breaking boutique windows and upsetting espresso carts as a revolutionary uprising. Debord was right.

Expect to be hearing pop-country hits like The Ballad of Sheriff Joe. New heroes will be created and book deals signed. Look out for Strange Alliances like Torie- Liberal Democrat and wild swings in stock prices, oil sludge covering the beaches of Haiti and strings of volcanic eruptions. Take me down little Susie take me down.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Age of Fear

Any real War on Terror would require each modern citizen to look into his/her heart of hearts and confront the fear which now underlies each action or thought of each waking ( and dreaming) moment.

"Are we but recently afraid, or were we always afraid but too slow or blustery or full of hormones to know it? We have always been afraid. We are only now sufficiently feeble to visibly shake."

from "Manifesto" by Padgett Powell published in the inaugural issue of Little Star. It is a sort of Yeats' Second Coming for our Time.

Afraid of God ( there are now 81 churches in this small rural valley, five new ones being constructed) ( by comparison, there are 7 pharmacies)
Afraid of the Other ( each Opinion Page contains one or more letters warning of socialists, illegals, infidels,tyrants, despots, bureaucrats, democracy and the contagion which emanates from each of these.)
Afraid of Human Nature ( see churches above)
Afraid of Complexity ( scientists/ science, educators, "mainstream media", law, economics, all theory)
Afraid of Each Other ( the boss, the soldier, the cop, the politician, the tycoon, the snitch, the neighbor,your fellow worker,your child)
Afraid of Change ( this isn't great, but it could be worse! Look at how content we USED to be, let's stick with what we know)

If we have nothing to fear but fear itself that is a lot to be afraid of. Afraid of losing my job, my status, comfort, my spouse, my mind. Afraid of appearing weak, of being weak.

Again,from "Manifesto" : "We are afraid to be men, to engage the world bravely, to be upright in our behavior, to have moral height, to display ditto fiber, to shoot ourselves, to have another dog- ...
You are incoherent, almost.
The edge of incoherence is a strong position, militarily speaking."

Dedicated to Che Bob: Show up, pay attention, don't worry about the outcome.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Search No Further

Looking for the perfect allegory? That mile deep wound in the earth gushing toxic venom ( the same venom we inject for our daily high) is pretty damn good. Think of all the metaphorical variations! "You want oil?" "Drill Baby Drill". Seeing the technologists scramble for a "fix" to the leak, the corporatists and crony politicians putting on their show trial, the media surveying the price of shrimp on Bourbon Street and Americans trying to carry on with whatever banal activity they had planned for the month, I personally keep going back to the Sorcerers Apprentice and the curious little mouse messing around with Big Magic.

As an undistinguished blogger living in the hinterlands, let me try to put my finger on the national mood at a time when much that seemed solid turns out to be ( as Joe Bageant put it in the article Kultur linked us to) a hologram. The much vaunted Market Economy turns out to be a tawdry casino and the Masters of the Universe just street fighters with degrees. Europe gets a transfusion but the patient is on life support and everyone knows it. ( stages of grief; start with denial) The Wars on Terror and Irrationality drag on endlessly at a thousand million dollars a day while my pension gets slashed and my health care premiums sky rocket.They try to put a huge box over the leak like some Apollo 13 science thriller but there is a sense that, like the multiplying buckets of water, the "leaks" in the dominant narrative will keep springing and no Dutch Boy's thumb will prove adequate to staunching the flow.

Ah well, at least I have my heroic identity as a "conscious pariah", an un-repentant Leftist in a land sliding off the Right Wing cliff. It is more than a little ironic that the mantle of the Jewish Left, for whom Hannah Arendt coined that term, has been passed to a knot of white, ex-suburban exiles from good middle class homes. We call for equality and self-determination in a land of God and Guns and hope our stigmatized identity might be a rallying point for all who really care about freedom.

I am about to re-enter yet another identity, my yearly migration from agitator to fishing guide to the elite. I still need their money and they still have plenty of it. I will of course keep agitating among my young colleagues, organizing and re-analyzing, which is something Joe Bageant never mentions in his morose, laconic, "Deer Hunting with Jesus " malaise. Joe hopes against hope for a kind of Buddhist spiritual awakening, peace of mind and life in the moment kind of transcendence. He wonders why no one ( me in my boat?) "strangles the sleazy fucks" then calls out for compassion for all sentient beings. I would rather he recommended we grab a Verso catalogue and apply ourselves.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Book Review: Reality Hunger by David Shields

While picking through the Purple Room at Powells Books in Portland recently I heard that an author I had never heard of would be talking about a book I hadn't read so I thought "why not?" It turned out he was a passionate and articulate explorer, tired of the old country ( the novel form ), setting out into the unknown for what he dreamed would be a better place. He right away mentioned his new preference for the memoir and essay and all the complicated struggles over "fact" and "non-fiction" and "truth" that genre is going through. This resonated because, though I have not yet tried anything autobiographical, my daughter is working on a memoir and we had talked a great deal about memory and it's hazards and how the same story ( like all history) has many versions and points of views.

I still think fiction has possibilities but I agree the novel has stagnated into a romantic, commercial, psychosocial gimmick.Few interest me past the first couple of pages.

Shields writes: There is more to be pondered in the grain and texture of life than traditional fiction allows. The work of essayists is vital precisely because it permits and encourages self-knowledge in a way that is less indirect than fiction, more open and direct.

As for all the strict encumbrances around "fact" in memoir, Shields recommends we just let it go.The goal is to nurture and grow a discerning audience that can extract it's own truth and will not feel somehow betrayed by a false recollection or stray misquote.

Another aspect to Shields' rebellion is his insistence on the right to appropriate and plagiarize at will in the name of artistic freedom. Since there is nothing new under the sun and all word-craft is built on a foundation in history, he demands the ultimate "open source" and this has proven controversial. I liken it to jazz music and expecting each improvisation to never repeat a phrase that has already been played.Pointless.

Reading the book, this thesis was not always clear and had I not heard the author speak I'm not sure what I would have walked away with. It is uneven, drifting off at times, but I appreciate his courage in rejecting the status quo and hopefully sparking a charged, much needed conversation.

I agree with this assertion and don't care who said it; #562 The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all your arrows are spent.

Now I can send it to my daughter and see if it messes up her world.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Populist Grandad

Bill Moyers produced his last show and it will be interesting to see how PBS fills the slot. I doubt we've heard the last of him so I won't use the word legacy but to date he has been a fervent voice for that old populist vision that drives me nuts in it's partial approach to political economy.

Always bravely battling the "Special Interests",populists cling with a religious faith to a notion that fair rules and regulations can keep Capital in check. Despite all the decades of evidence to the contrary. They worship at the mythical totem of FDR and John Maynard Keynes and so are as anachronistic as some Wobblies I know. Combined with that grandfatherly demeanor he was the perfectly congenial face of "opposition" for Corporate sponsored Public Television. Always teetering on the edge of a radical critique, he could be counted on to pull back at just the moment it was needed most.

I work at times with his frustrating followers here where I live, true believers that STILL think the right candidate or legislation will beat back the "special interests" who "undermine sensible regulation." In the same sentence they mock the right wingers for believing in "shadowy international cabals" they put the blame for the worlds ills on equally vague "special interests". I mean, under bureaucratic-"democratic" capitalism, isn't everyone or thing a "special interest"? They think democracy is threatened rather than understanding that it is a formal, hollowed out shell,a theatrical production to keep them enthralled.

Much to his credit, Moyers brought plenty of leftists, even a Marxist or two, onto his show to explain it to him, but Bill always shied away from the deepest structural analysis at the last minute. He could not be shaken from his conviction that capitalism could be reformed incrementally by The People, good farmers and workers standing up to the Bankers for Johnson-style social programs.

We have to ask ourselves, how many Followers-Of-Bill enabled capitalism through the decades of imperialist war, "Free Trade" and outright intervention and oppression? How different might our circumstances be if the charismatic,grandfatherly figure had found the courage to admit he was wrong about parliamentary reform and localized, friendly, small town capitalism, that it was a dangerous fantasy for the weak hearted?

I just scared a moose off my wifes flowerbed. Spring has sprung.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


Happy May Day! I hope it doesn't turn out like Earth Day did!

The memo had obviously circulated last night because a number of pundits used this same sickening line: "Every energy source has risks associated with it." Coming from the mouth of David Brooks it was particularly vile. Those who took the risks will profit, those who didn't will pay the heaviest costs.

And David,explain the risks of wind or solar or small scale hydro or geothermal or....Now compare those to coal and hydrocarbons. Just as in the financial sector of the economy (and to a lesser extent the main economy) risk aversion and risk acceptance is the real game, the way to real wealth, the way to leave the slathering wage slaves far behind and enter the rarefied world Players. But at the highest level the Masters trade other peoples (or animals, plants, whole ecosystems) risk while guaranteeing their own continued survival through hedging, shorts, derivatives, and risk management.

The "Public" News (underwritten by Exxon-Mobile) interviewed a charter boat captain who stammered incoherently about responsibility. A black guy said "shit happens". Every individual was neutered and neutralized, de-politicized, as the crud swept into the estuaries and bays. Politicians tried not to act like Bush or "Brownie".Coast Guard types talked like generals, Corporate Spokespeople lied and looked heavenward. "You have to understand how deep the well head is" they all kept saying.

Just Trust Us say the scientists, technocrats, engineers and their capitalist paymasters. We can build the Reactors and the Bombs, continue to drill deeper for oil or dig deeper for coal.We'll poison the atmosphere and water and dig out all the minerals and all the while "manage the risks". All we the people need to worry about is our portfolio and our politicians. All we need to do is recycle and vote.

Today is May Day and we are going to do what hornets do, bother and annoy and hopefully sting Capital a bit. The one thing we can't do is let May Day turn into another Earth Day.