Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ask Ayn

I picked up the Centennial Edition of Ayn Rand Answers; The best of her Q & A. The new libertarian book store in town (Liber Books) has a whole shelf of her works and her "philosophy" is experiencing quite a revival nationwide. Her deluded,illogical,poorly analyzed and articulated "answers" speak volumes about the state of popular Thinking.

Question: Are individual freedoms in this country eroding?

Answer: "Freedom" in a political context means the absence of coercion exercised by the government (which has a legal monopoly on the use of force).We are moving rapidly towards the loss of all freedom."

A few points, first: what is with the questioners qualifier "individual"? second: why would Ayn think we are discussing anything other than the "political"? Main point: Why is it only the government that is capable of coercion? Is she unconcerned with all other forms? Certainly the coercion of capital is more subtle but is it any less forceful? Does the government really have that "legal monopoly"?

Rand either purposefully or erroneously assumes capitalists have no power of coercion or that such power is acceptable and not a threat to freedom. And that one is free though under the control of market forces. She neglects the "soft" force embedded in cultural narratives,hegemonic ideologies, and economic power relations (especially production).And then there is this focus on "legal" monopoly, ignoring the far more prevalent and perfectly legal force used by capital: intimidation,indoctrination, exhaustion through labyrinthine bureaucratic spinning. Of course capital can use extra-legal force and just say sue me! Either way,freedom is restricted objectively yet it escapes her notice.

Question #2: Do severely retarded individuals have rights?

Ayn answers: "Not actual rights-not the same rights possessed by normal individuals."

This is where the fascistic side begins to emerge. And what is with "actual"? Actualized by all citizens at all times? As opposed to formal rights?

"Like children, they (retarded people) are entitled to protections because,as humans, they may improve and become partly able to stand on their own."

We can assume Ayn would be on both the Committee to Assess Normalcy as well as the Improvement Committee. One wonders what happens to the un-improvable, both child and retard.

"But you could not extend the actual exercise of individual rights to a retarded person because he is unable to function rationally. Since all rights rest on human nature, a being that cannot exercise his rights cannot have full human rights."

Wow. Rights rest on "human nature". She must know what that is. And the Jews in the concentration camps had no rights because they could not "exercise" them. "Function rationally" is another standard to which it would be helpful to have some coordinates but alas, none are provided. Certainly a retarded person could exercise her rights; what she could not do is defend them. This is what society would do, were it actually free. Her so called epistemology is actually simplistic, off-the-cuff sloganeering. Broad, inconsistent and at heart, reactionary. No wonder Atlas shrugged.

Friday, September 24, 2010

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

So we are back to the "peace process" once again. I think I may have written this post before but hey!... I'm just joining in the circular, groundhog day-like Spectacle, around and around we go! What the hell, why invent new "issues" when you can just endlessly and ineffectually re-hash old ones? Let's see..."settlement freeze" and "refugee status" and "East Jerusalem" and "final status, 67 borders", blah blah...
Even King Abdullah 2 of Jordan got into the act ( I much prefer looking at the Queens Noor and Rania) telling John Stewart that all the issues are "basically" settled. He agreed with me that this is the essential conflict around which all others (war on terror, Irans nukes, Afghanistan, etc) orbit to one degree or the other. Too bad Hillary and Holbrook aren't prepared to do what is necessary, too bad the "international community" isn't willing to put it's money where it's mouth is, too bad facts on the ground preclude a viable Palestinian economy, hence state. Too bad that now both Israel and Palestine are pathologically dysfunctional and will avoid reason like scorpions avoid flame.

Which takes us back to the question of impossible that I raised in the last post. Is peace in the region possible? What of all the things once deemed impossible that we now take as everyday occurrences, flight, bio-engineering, happy marriages? Today's ruling ideology endeavours to make us accept the impossibility of radical change ,of abolishing capitalism, of a domocracy not reduced to a corrupt parliamentary game.
Acting changes the possible by changing the very coordinates of what is possible, thus retroactively creating it's own conditions of possibility. Agape.

I have located the source of a great many of our biggest problems: fucking Ben Franklin! A selection of his quotes show what a demented freak he was: "Time is money" "credit is money" "He that idly loses five shillings' worth of time loses five shillings,..and not only loses that sum, but all the advantages that might be made by turning it in dealing, which by the time a young man becomes old, will amount to a considerable amount of money."
I wouldn't be surprised if he invented the time-clock and punch cards.

"It would be interesting to verify the existence of reality with surveys, as has just been done for the existence of God.:'Do you believe in reality?' The results would be posted everywhere, providing a constant display of the rate of global reality as measured by public opinion."
Jean Baudrillard

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Counter - Rally

"..secular Marxism has gone, leaving us with two completely gutless alternatives: liberal rationalism (a la Dawkins,Sam Harris, Bill Maher, etc) and culturalist post-modernism (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert). This spells good news for global capitalism, which rapaciously both promotes and devours such un-troubling sensibilities."

Gregor McLennan examples in parenthesis are mine.

The two ironic celebrities are throwing counter-Glen Beck rallies to demonstrate a rational center is still the dominant ideology. They are less angry, less militant, more liberal and secular. Anyone watching Colbert's recent Celebrating the Returning Troops Specials will understand how totally confused (and subversively subservient) this ideology is. Is it Real or Symbolic? Mc Lennans article checks out Terry Eagletons attempts to fuse left radicalism and spirituality in Reason, Faith and Revolution:Reflections on the God Debate.

As Slajov Zizek reminds us in his New Left Review article Storm Over Eurozone : "We are witnessing an over-load of critiques of capitalisms horrors;..there is however a catch to all this criticism,ruthless as it may appear; what is as a rule not questioned is the liberal-democratic framework within which the excesses should be fought."

He is talking here about things like the Elizabeth Warren selection or Michael Moores critique of "Wall Street"and I agree, they are a banal response. But I disagree with his casual use of the word "democratic". The Slovenian "Elvis" is fast and loose with his definitions as he rails further against democracy:

"It is illusory to expect that one can effectively change things by "extending" democracy into this sphere (social relations of production) say, by organizing 'democratic' banks under peoples control...It is the acceptance of 'democratic mechanisms' as the ultimate frame that prevents a radical transformation of capitalist relations."

I understand that he is attempting to de-fetishize democracy as such but one must be careful with indiscriminate use of scare quotes. Is it the representation of formal democracy at which he scoffs or true sovereignty of the demos he finds unworkable? Is he confusing democracy with politics? Might not Peoples Control and Worker Management create a framework for radical transformation? (such as the Parecon model)

He does the same thing when he critiques a vague form of ecology:

In it's ideological version, ecology also adds it's own list of impossibilities ( to "capitalist economic realities") ,so called threshold values- no more than two degrees of warming-based on "expert opinion".

Ideological version? Would we really lump threshold values in with "impossibilities" such as "no large collective acts", "no clinging to the old welfare state" or "no isolating oneself from the global market"? And why put expert opinion in scare quotes? If he is saying those "limits" are a scary lack of freedom he is mimicking the local Tea Party!

I thoroughly enjoy Zizek and just finished In Defence of Lost Causes which totally stretched my brain. But being a contrarian (in and for itself) can lead to intellectual black holes. For instance he ended the piece saying "Today we do not know what to do, but we have to act now..."
Just last year he was turning Marx upside down saying "The task is to first interpret the world before changing it.."

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Beck Backs Down

One more comment on the Gathering For Honor or whatever the event at the Lincoln Memorial was called. It occurs to me that Glen Beck had a revelation that his political demagoguery was getting scary (to him) and that a turn to preaching was a less unsettling course.He admits he was confused about "the meaning of the gathering" and "heard a voice".

This is rare that a post-modern "celebrity" would become so self-aware of his new found power and back away and can be looked at two ways; a turn towards common sense(in a liberal,pluralistic connotation) or a cowardly backing down from a revolutionary potential.As if the Jakobins suddenly decided to spare the King and debate in Parliament. Either way, the platitudes about non-violence and Jesus totally confused what was an already incoherent analysis on social change and the Tea Party is de-railed as I predicted. John Birch and the NRA haven't gone anywhere, but that latent tendency has been around since Mc Carthy.

The problem is two fold. I was counting on the Wacky Right to lead the country over the cliff so we could get on with the radical project. I saw a Glen/ Sarah ticket as the perfect vehicle for total anarchic chaos but the Bankers must have finally put their foot down.The other problem is that, on the theoretical level, I think the Wacky Ones and their apocalyptic visions are actually closer to the truth (instinctively, not intellectually) that liberal-democratic-Third Way "true believers".
We are facing catastrophe. Something large has to happen.This is the spectre.

What is truly fascinating are all these attempts to parse meaning from the Angry Ones. Every columnist on the planet has put forth a theory to explain them. Every psychologist/sociologist, every hack propagandist for capital, every "public person" with a platform has offered an explanation and while capitalism gets mentioned, it's true role in our collective alienation is danced around in the most elaborate fashion.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

County Fair

The Ravalli County fair is always the first weekend of September and I spent all of yesterday there. Carnival rides, rodeo, 4H animal judging, prizes for the biggest pumpkin, your basic rural western traditional fall celebration right before kids have to go back to school. I spent four hours manning the booth for the county Democrats and I did it for a couple of reasons. It gives me a chance to mingle, probe, chat with local liberals and these kinds of experiences are valuable to me as a writer.
It was basically pretty boring but I had a couple of interesting conversations.Next to our booth was a Help The Veterans organization raffling off a rifle. I was told to encourage Democrats to buy tickets and show our "support for the troops". I wonder why the Corporations they fight for don't help the veterans?

Then I spent two hours in the Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance booth, which, in our local "political" scene, put me much,much further to the Left. Lots of local Celebrating Tea Party types with big cowboy hats and fancy boots circled our booth warily as if they were getting their first good look at Joseph Stalin in person. Few of them would actually meet my gaze but they squinted at our signs about Health Care and Immigration and shook their heads in that knowing-sort-of way only ignorant Fox News watchers can pull off. My wife is a long time board member but I don't really buy into the whole "human rights" thing. It just confuses the basic issues.Next to us was the Dish TV booth with a forty seven inch screen tv. They were raffling off a nice handgun and gave me some popcorn.

Then I went to the rodeo, a cultural phenomenon far too complex for me to try to analyze here. My dad was actually a trick roper as a kid and I did a little amateur bull dogging in my younger days. I have gone to county fair rodeos for the thirty plus years I have lived here and am now writing a story about the subtle politics of rodeo and western mythology (wild west western) so my thoughts here are unorganized but if you haven't been to one... you should go.

I also spent four days last week steelhead fishing on the Klickitat River in Washington.( first time there) Extremely beautiful canyon and great fish.( I landed four). I am reading two great books, The Red Corner - The Rise and Fall of Communism in Northeastern Montana by Verlain Stoner Mc Donald and Webers The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, an old classic and a key to understanding rodeos and Tea Parties.

I have two more weeks of guiding left and then I will be posting far more regularly and Getting That Book Finished by God! Here is a great quote from Robert Jensen of U of Texas Austin:

"Capitalism is the most wildly productive economic system in history, but the one thing it cannot produce is meaning."

I would add that it actively undermines the cultures ability to create meaning.