Sunday, October 31, 2010

Are We Saner Now?

Stewart and Colbert's rally was, at best, painful to watch.I only made it about 50 minutes. Apart from the issue of double equivalence, covered well by Helmut over at Phronesisaical, there is the larger issue of running to the middle, which means to the right, for liberals and progressives looking for "sanity".This 'happy middle" is a utopian illusion in any society but especially in a capitalist one. And it is an illusion which plays right into the hands of the status quo and those who have power.

Taking another step back, we have to ask if comedy and political philosophy can really co-exist in any coherent fashion? If Colbert never steps out of character, if Stewart throws his trademark ironic asides in, how can it be satirically funny and serious? I mean Yusef (Cat Stevens)? John Legend singing about god? Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow sang "I know I can't change the world..." WTF?

This is post-post modern Spectacle at it's worst but if it was intended to boost Democrats or voting or participating in the "democratic process" you would have to ask yourself; what is the definition of someone who does the same thing over and over and over and expects different results? I would rather go to a Glen Beck rally. Peace Train?, really? it was a great example of what happens to comedians without their usual writers or shtick.

Anyone seen the crazy ad by Citizens Against Government Waste that shows a lecturer at a Chinese University ( huge picture of Mao in the background) explaining to the hall full of students why empires fall? He gets to America and the debt and starts laughing, saying "and now they work for us! Ha Ha ha ha! and all the students chuckle along. Amazing stuff. Where did they find enough Chinese Americans willing to be in a commercial designed to whip up xenophobic fear and hate? against Chinese? clue: any city in America.

With the French unions waving the white flag, it looks like this is not The Coming Insurrection. Oh well. I bet some people, especially students, learned some things that will be helpful next time.Unions are like Jon Stewart, they don't want to see anything that might upset the order.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Truth Will Out

The new Wiki leaks have once again provided a test for determining how craven an organization can be and the Washington Post is rising to the occasion. You expect the State Dept. and Pentagon to lie and obfuscate, that's why they get the big bucks, but you wonder why the Post even bothers. Surely they understand that the Public is more interested in Juan Williams, that Iraq is the "old war" and that in a week ( or 10 days) the leaks will have evaporated. They needn't defend their bloodbath any more. It's yesterday.

The mid-term elections are now broadly being referred to as "the silly season" prompting mainstream pundits to begin the requisite hand wringing about "our democracy". In The Scandal of 2010, E.J.Dione worries over our "poorly developed sense of democracy" and the "inadequacy of the political system". Bob Herbert writes The Corrosion of America and Frank Rich chimes in about the money and spectacle. Robert Reich is concerned about inequality; "I'm talking about the dangers facing our democracy." These are the Big Guns in the world of dominant narrative. the usual lefties also add their two cents, for instance Rebecca Solnit writes When Corporations Ruled the Earth.

All this digital ink being spilled is designed to preclude us from asking; Do We Live In a Democracy? Are These Really Politics We Practice? That is crossing the line.

Good old Chris Hedges is willing to cross it , calling the democracy a formal and mostly illusory construction and politics a sideshow. Unfortunately, his analysis is sloppy ( I think he sometimes cranks these things out after a long night of Johnny Walker) A perfect example is when he writes that "The liberal class...failed to defend traditional liberal values."

The first problem is; what is "the liberal class"? Talking about a middle class is muddled enough but to use philosophy to delineate class boundaries opens up all sorts of nasty pits. I suggest we just stay with our relations within the system of production, although if you want to extend it to consumption or levers of political power, give it a go. But not doctrine.

Then there is the problem of "traditional liberal values" which must include value placed on the freedom of markets as an expression of human liberty.That's classic, Enlightenment liberalism extending from Locke to Rawls and in this sense liberals have actually been superb at "defending liberal values." What Hedges needs to understand is that there was always a fatal contradiction within liberalism and that what we are seeing is just this natural (though long delayed),dialectical process in motion.Democracy and capitalism are antithetical.

The entertainment lies in all the liberals- who are convinced they are the good guys- commenting on this attack on their sacred creed. Check it out.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Share the Pain?

These massive deficit reduction programs being implemented around the globe point to two different trends, the way I see it. The first is the failure of liberalism, the very notion that market logic can be blunted by politically determined social measures. The welfare state appeared to be a Third Way but this illusion could only be maintained during the years of post-war growth.The fatal contradiction, that pensions could be invested in capital markets and support the ageing population, has finally imploded. Workers abandoned their "class war" generations ago, believing this accommodation was a victory, but capital is having the last laugh, forcing higher production out of fewer workers and leaving the rest to fight for the scraps.

On a more immediate level, that of cultural production, I think we are seeing an attack on the notion of leisure ( for workers). One myth of modernity, used effectively to sell workers on the benefits of machines) was that there would be more leisure time. Time to stroll, time to learn, time to love. Right.

Of course there was always a Puritan under-current, predominant in the U.S. but part of Christian culture everywhere, that "idle time was the devils workshop". Witness the average American workers reaction to the French strikes: "Lazy spoiled frogs! How dare they take such long lunches!" The Germans continue to skip lunch and ( over)produce, produce, produce for the Fatherland.

American WASPs know that only through working hard till the day you die can Salvation be found. They beg the boss for over-time and wear their exhaustion like a badge of honour. Also, ( assuming they dodged the devil) what would they do with leisure time? ( after having caught up on the last few seasons of Survivor?) They get bored quickly strolling, learning and loving.I'm getting as cynical as Adorno!

The ruling class has no problem with leisure, their piety was always an inside joke. They come to our lodge, they flit around the globe, they go to France!

Austerity is "in", Markets are up, and soup lines are long. Could the IWW see a comeback? Halleluejah I'm a Bum! Halleluejah Bum Again! Halleluejah give us a hand-out to revive us again!

The final insult is listening to the politicians solemnly declare that "it is only fair that we all share the pain." And seeing the workers nod in pious agreement. We? Really? The Tea Party brilliantly wedged so-called "progressives" by framing stimulus and bail-outs as socialism, something they could never defend, yet these Dems know how insane they sound defending "free markets". Checkmate.

Monday, October 18, 2010

City on a Hill

I have watched the first two parts of the PBS series Religion in America and man is that depressing! No wonder WASP's are such patsies, it's practically in their DNA. Admittedly it is a narrow lens through which to view two hundred and fifty years of history and the program could certainly use some contextualization, a few other reference points, something. Watching, one could believe the Civil War was just a conflict over theology and forget about the cash altogether.

It makes it clear however that the first requirement for any position of leadership should be a total lack of religious "faith".Nothing has caused more harm.I am still grinding through Weber's The protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which comes at some of the same history from a slightly different tack.

I'm also working my way into Writings on Psychoanalysis: Freud and Lacan by Louis Althusser. Coincidentally, I was listening to a fascinating radio show about language and how language-less people ( neither sign nor vocal) could only grasp concepts as they were given the words to describe them. Taught how to communicate, these people describe having lived in a world of totally different, unexplainable thought processes.Some described it as bliss!

So I found this interesting: Lacan would not dispute that without the emergence of a new science, linguistics, his own attempt at theorization would not be possible...Freud had already said that everything was dependent on language. Lacan specifies, "The discourse of the unconscious is structured like a language." In his great first work,The Interpretation of Dreams,which is not anecdotal or superficial ,as is often believed,but fundamental, Freud studied dream's "mechanisms" or "laws", reducing their variants to two: displacement and condensation.Lacan recognized in these variants two essential figures designated by linguistics: metonymy and metaphor. Hence slips of the tongue, botched gestures ,jokes and symptoms became like elements of the dream itself: signifiers inscribed in the chain of an unconscious discourse, silently (that is deafeningly) duplicating, in the misprision of "repression", the human subjects chain of verbal discourse."

If this is true, what does the unconscious of the language-less person consist of? What of their dreams? This is my first foray into language and I sense a whole universe waiting to be explored.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You're Playing Us Too Close

A young American acquaintance, currently residing and going to school in Paris, complained on her Facebook page today about all the inconvenience the demonstrations are to her busy schedule. She thinks the French need to "get over it". She is a typical, intelligent young woman with zero class consciousness, zero politics (aside from some liberal posturing) and zero sense of history or the crisis of our times. In other words, All Right! She was a young American!

Here in the Homeland, 159,000 public sector jobs were lost in September as local, state, and Federal workers (the last unionized workers) become "products" of budget cuts. 64,000 private sector jobs were created (half of what is required just to keep up with population growth) but 34,000 of these are low paying, weak or no benefit service sector jobs. Who will attend Jon Stewarts Return To Sanity Rally on the Washington Mall? I expect a Volvo-driving, latte-drinking crowd willing to listen to the same platitudes about moderation and consensus in the middle. Their portfolios are looking much better and their children ensconsed in good schools.

The truly audacious thing about Obama is the way he has implemented a turbo-charged Clinton-Blair-like attack on Labor, (especially teachers), the very Democrat-faithfuls who worked so hard to get him elected. His mistake was thinking this would appease the Right when in fact it has only emboldened them, given them Hope.It seems not to matter how much he embraces the War on Terror or ignores climate change, the Right still dreams of that government -drowning bathtub. The stock market soars and the houses foreclose and the American working-class takes out it's anger on gays and mosques and fruit pickers.And the French!

Meanwhile, my ballot shows up in the mail and I face the dilemna; fill in the little boxes and legitimize the whole ridiculous farce or throw it in the garbage and have Tea Partiers run the county for a few years. I could write-in Ann Coulters tits, one for Senate and one for the House!
I proposed earlier that voting for the stupidest, gun-toting Libertarian would be the most expedient route to utter chaos and then,perhaps, positive change. The question is, how long would people sit isolated on their private property,chewing on roots and berries, holding their guns, finally "free"?

Monday, October 04, 2010

More Ayn

As Pagan points out, I am selecting these for demonstration purposes but hey, either the body of your work holds up or it doesn't. There is a tremendous resurgence in the popularity of Rands writing and I think it needs to be examined.

Question: "...why shouldn't we give up a measure of freedom to enable the government to protect us against pollution?"

Ayn Rand answers: "To give up some freedom because of allegations about pollution is to give up your freedom of judgement,your freedom of production,your freedom to control your life...Even if the ecologists had some knowledge- which is singularly, eloquently absent- it is still up to them to convince you..."

This was written in 1970 and is a "singular, eloquent" example of how Objectivism is less a system of thought than a program for corporate dominance. It is easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to criticize her error about the threat of pollution. What is much more disturbing is the totalitarian impulse which leads her to create an antagonistic order called "ecologists" who demand to "control your life".She and Himmler discovered the same potent techniques.

More Ayn on pollution: "Industries should not avoid pollution or save endangered species, however, at the price of massive unemployment and the destruction of an industry."

"If it were proved that nuclear testing is a danger, then such testing would be prohibited ,or more likely ,moved."

"..I do not believe those stories about nuclear fallout, because they all come from leftist sympathizers of Soviet Russia."

A real prophet old Ayn, no wonder they still seek her wisdom.