July 12, 2008
Let me take a minute to deconstruct deconstruction. I've heard the term post-industrial thrown around. This is where our problem lies in our postmodern society. There is no such thing as post industry because to say a society is "postindustrial" is to say that a society no longer relies on manufacturing, building, and other industrial pursuits. Engineers are still among the most employable and stable occupations. Public sector industrial work never goes out of style (particularly in PA with the way the weather works the infrastructure. Service industry requires a stable base of industrial development. If I want to open a restaurant, I have to have people come and build a place to host it. Then I need tables, chairs, ovens, kitchen tools, and of course, uniforms, tableware. And after that is done, I will need food products, wines, coffees, etc. Service directly depends on industry. It's just like the transition from agrarian life to mass industry. Believe it or not, there are still farmers in this world. Trees, plants and animals that aren't cats, dogs or ferrets exist. In order to make those crystal glasses, you need a carbon source. Raw materials are still being harvested. What is oil? Post industrial would suggest that we no longer rely on raw materials which would be a complete lie being as our recycling system is, I would argue, inadequate.
What marks the post-industrial age is not the reality, but the focus of society's gaze on reality. Cyber studies, media studies, media ecology, sensation and perception being psychology's next fad. We've merely directed the attention of the culture at large to a growing facet of our society. Industry has not shrunken, but with global capital is indeed, growing. So what seems like a diminishing demand of manufacturing jobs in America is actually a shift in the sectors where the jobs are placed (the outsourcing crisis ring a bell?). So, we should make clear that service depends on industry (every industry needs tools), that demand for industrial jobs has not diminished and that economic growth really does start with industry. What happens is a series of shifts in demand. Specialists are always hired because of the principles of competition that capitalism employs. We want the best candlestick maker, right? But let's say next year, there is an incident with fire that makes buying candles unfavorable and people see a new electric candle that the competitor is selling. Candlestick makers are now out of business and all the time invested in perfecting that trade is thrown out. What if a blight hits the beehives in that area and wax can no longer be collected for that plant? Those are all factors that affect people employed at that plant. Deregulation cannot address those crises and in fact, makes it easier for companies to shift around. The argument that taxes has so much to do with the state of the economy is such a fallacious argument. Yet many people buy this notion and I nearly vomit when I see how many NeoReaganists are out there. The economy is not driven by profits. It is driven by labor, and in particular, industrial labor. The goal of the economy is profit, but profit cannot be achieved without something to generate it.
So take the whole "greed is good" idea for example and let's be completely agnostic to moral, political, and philosophical convictions and ideology. If we loosen the grip on the stock market, banks, and corporate organizations, this creates a surge of money in the upper sectors of money holders and allows for these groups to invest in industry in order to generate more wealth for themselves. The trickle-down effect would be the kind and benevolent rich people bending down to the working class Americans and handing... or more accurately, that letting powerful capitalists off the leash for a while would resurrect industry and open a mass industrial job market to generate more wealth for the rich and rekindle the vague promise of the "American dream." It, even in my very cynical interpretation, sounds very glittering. Here's the catch: you only get half of the story: the macroeconomic perspective. What you get is glittering generalizations to which our culture has, in recent history, been built on. It sounds good. But more jobs does not mean better situation for working class families, does not mean more wealth for the ambiguous benefits of economic growth across the board.
This relies on the assumption that capital drives economic improvement. But, as any economist would know, bigger is not necessarily better. May we say "broken window fallacy?" The problem with these thoughts are they don't change anything really. Raising the standard of living across the board does not eliminate poverty. Poverty is a social condition marked by a disparity between one class of people and another. Being poor is not lacking the things necessary to live, but being of a social status so low one could not be lower. The trouble is the poverty line is very ambiguous and extremely subjective. Where do you draw the line of poverty? People were sent to labor camps in 18th century Europe for stealing food and stealing is socializing in the base classes. What stopped the people in the 18th century from going into the woods and killing animals with their bare hands and eating them? It was more possible then than now. Humans are social creatures and the presence of people is enough to keep people in a unfair situation. So food was not a need, but a desire in 18th century Europe. And a loaf of bread is no different than stealing a television set. Where did this come from? Greed. And from the lower classes to the upper, we are socialized to believe this wad of horse shit. And the greed trickles down. Poverty is the social frustration of desire. Poor people want to be able to have access to the things of rich people because the rich have it easy. And being part of society and all it's assumptions of wants and needs runs deep into the soul of every human being. We want to flaunt our talents and uniqueness and we want to feel special. Willy Loman was certainly special once. But when folks came back from the war and the GI bill put more college grads out there, a salesman became just a salesman. Bernards started replacing Willies and by Christ, look at what something as simple as an image does. Post industry is what happened to Willy Loman. How often do you see a show like Rosanne on TV? Working class people have been eliminated from our social awareness. They exist. It's funny how media, pop culture hype and marketing all play a role in shifting what we believe is reality. Postindustry, cyberculture, social networking are all glittery terms like greed is good, that call us to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It's sad. And we all want to be the man, too. Which is more sad.
I have to repeat the words of my Mexican buddy who comes to America and is taken aback by how little we really stop and look at classism. "How much is enough? Is there ever a time when these people [wealthy Americans] say 'I'm satisfied'?" Luxury is disappointing. Just ask kids in the 1950s. Home life may be more tranquil in the suburbs, but building so-called solutions doesn't really solve the fundamental problem that has driven contemporary culture: the problem of society. We should learn from our Latino and Native brothers: how we mingle with others is a part of achieving happiness. And as business continues to grow and deregulation allows business to shift work around to suit the creation of profit and people are constantly competing and searching aimlessly for that "American Dream," we will still feel anxiety and unfulfillment. Free markets can't bring that fulfillment. We learned that in the 1950s as Jack Kerouac watched people wander around at night in their cars. Until we can start building small, stable, localized economies that only function to fill needs and not create them, until we can build actual communities where people help each other through real problems that are now reserved for disinterested professionals, until we can all view each other as a friend, we will all be lost travelers on these long and winding roads, whether in a car or on the roadside hitching for a ride. Please buy local produce, chat a while with people in your neighborhood deli, volunteer at a community arts festival or nursing home, take a look at all the hidden gems your community has to offer. You cannot change the world, or stop large corporations, or completely restructure the economy. But with 4 dollar gas, it might be wise to start the movement. Think locally, act locally. You might be surprised at just how many of the answers are hiding under your nose.
March 15, 2008
Bigger Ain't Better - A Manifesto for American Liberals
So how can any good liberal person sit there and support globalization? The new wave of non-profit industry that appears to be sweeping the nation, encompassing anything from global water quality to poverty-stricken villages in Africa and Haiti to international ethnic conflicts, is doing a disservice to the world and to Americans in particular. George Orwell made clear his position about socialism: that bureaucratic socialism further alienated the worker from a sense of purpose and dignity and contributed even more to class antagonisms ("all pigs are created equal, but some pigs are created more equal than others"). This is a point in the venture of our culture where a huge divergence is met and liberals as a group, again can be thrown to the blame. It is the social and economic liberals who must face the harsh indictment of responsibility for times like these. The free market ideology of contemporary Western liberalism allowed for corruption due to the over-inflation of industry. Somewhere along the way, someone had the brilliant idea that larger, more centalized industry could drive down the cost of goods and allow for more employment opportunities (iow: inflation from and out-of-balance and unmanagable supply and demand and lower wages for workers with increased remedial factory work). Did it work? Yes and no. It did what it was designed to do and that is, increase the wealth of nations and elevate the GDP of each nation that adopts such a model. What it didn't do was alter the rates of unemployment. Conservatives who stand against increases in minimum wage are correct in their assumption that wage inceases cut jobs. However, this is a catch-22. Wages are increased based on the cost of living. Minimum wage, in theory, was put in place so that a worker could have the security of a job that allowed that person the base pay for supporting their life. The problem is not with the wage increase, the problem is with the system that will not yield to low-end worker's rights and cut profits to support its employees. Being that there is a lockbox on the profits set aside for investors, who gets shafted? The people that have the money? Or the people that need the money?
So with this heavily-guarded interest, the "risk-taking" investors (hardly a risk when the profits are made, whether legally and ethically or not) are the ones who have the first dibs on the booty 'cause they just put so much on the line for it. This is the context for the next transition in American culture circa 1980 when regionalism started to really die and globalization started kicking in. As Americans became displeased with the disproportion of remedial jobs to skilled labor jobs, large national corporations started making deals with other "developing nations" (note the use of language suggesting that if you don't have capitalism in your area, you are lacking something. areas of the world aren't bad because of war, genocide, pollution and diseases arising from death, decay, and pollution, these areas are bad because they don't have capitalism (you cannot refute that this is not cultural hegemony, because it is). Compare surveys of the state of pre-colonial Africa with similar types of documents highlighting post-colonial Africa and tell me what the great benefit of giving a western structure to Africa was. Jobs that had involved little to no skill were given off to people in other nations with less restrictions on human rights violations. Did this open up jobs here? No. It took away jobs and created a huge push to make a lucrative business out of the technologies that were developed originally for war and corporate communication. Now you have the machines that drove industry through the 70s and 80s sitting on your desk.
There were pros and cons to this. Pros: business machines are cheaper, more opportunity to create local and regional business. Cons: the dot-com boom and bust and the revision of computer marketing strategies. Perhaps regionalism would have had an uprising and grassroots community development would have succeeded if it weren't for Wal-Mart and the rise of shopping malls. If you had the choice of going one place for everything with lower prices or several places for things with the prices of yesterday when a dollar meant something what would you pick? Don't even lie to me, you stupid, rebellious, Lasn-reading hipsters. Your dollar suddenly means less because there is more of it (see the context I established above), you will go and you will be drawn in to the sights, the smells and the sounds and you will have grown up only knowing shopping malls, image, competition, taste, cool, trendy. You will have become the consumer culture. People are cruel with this shit. It may look like a series of arbitrary images, but like money, it becomes a passionate and competitive game to outcool, out-trend and out-spend your opponent. And as companies like Apple computers started making graphical desktop options, the market shifted for computers and consumers want the computers for games and fun and novelty mostly. Again, we have a computer at our house and you don't. And even more, we have an Apple and you don't. Image + competition = brand loyalty.
And about the new wave of regionalism? Down town city spaces became ghost towns because of the dubbed "Wal-Mart effect." Small business is something virtually impossible to keep and would not last long without the intervention of town and state government grants. The very thing conservatives protest (socialism) is the very thing that supports "conservative" values (ie; home, family, community, etc). So as large business ventures go out of hand and the older generation, who had been under the foolish impression that capitalism is virtue because it creates opportunities, moves to make non-profit ventures (or repentent sinners such as Bill Gates move to prove that their wave of capitalism isn't all bad and there are good things it has... is... will do). This is our current crisis. Our culture is caught in the age of ideas, the age of solutions. Businesses start of the premise that they offer "solutions for... [insert clever-sounding piece of bullshit]." Corporations tout in the advertisements "we've created solutions for... [another clever-sounding piece of bullshit]." Global climate change has been an irrefutable problem... ask any PA resident about the weather. And now non-profit ventures see themselves as virtuous and valliant crusaders, giving [insert class, gender, race or nationality of people] [insert virtuous-sounding sollution]." Notice how all these ventures are pure abstractions. There is no specific pitch as to what exactly these entreprises do to what specific, measurable phenomenon of the world.
We are moving from an age of disciplinarianism to an age of interdisciplinarianism and innovation. We just now see how much the inflated economic entreprise affects us and we are trying to find something to work for to fix the problems that were caused by this vehicle which we are using to fix the problems. It's a chaotic viscious cycle. The world is pure abstraction. Poor people don't exist save the ones we see in print, on TV or on the internet. I have seen yuppies all but run over bums begging for a job in Shadyside, the same ones who feel like they are doing a service to society. What is society? Society is chaos. It is mass society. Mass society is people swarming around arbitrarily without the coherance of a movement looking for opportunity. Is there opportunity? Why is there the largest disparity between rich and poor with a quickly-vanishing middle class? Why? Because regionlism is dead. Because we have all lost a sense of place. Community does not exist in a geographical sense. Community is now ideological and ideologies clash. Call me anti-intellectual, I don't care. Intellect is dead. The American culture war is a product of this ideological grouping. More and more people have been forced into unemployment offices, on the phone, on job hunt web pages, onto online social networks. This has altered the social consious of people. Who does this hurt? The poor who are stuck in run-down communities, in the boondocks, in the ghettos. If the jobs go wherever they want, governed only by the arbitrary whims of a mass global society and the demands of the mass global economy, people are forced to constantly move. I will argue that always we are only responsible for what we see. That doesn't mean that we can help the people of Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, but what it does mean is that if we want to help them, we should move there and help them without mediation. Funneling money is counterproductive. Non-profit business is not virtuous. It is still business and must be met with every grain of distrust. Teach the people how to build homes, how to live from the land. How to defend the land that is rightfully theirs and form trade unions to secure just trading with buyers.
And for Godsakes, lets also work on America and her problems because the brooding, heartless conservative ideologies that are rising into dominance now are speaking to an oppressed people in America and promising many good things for lower-class Americans. LIBERALS: we know what we base our beliefs on and that is the liberation of humanity. We were opposed to slavery, we were there in the factories with the workers demanding fair treatment, we spoke up about the lynchings in Birmingham, the hate crimes against gays, lesbians and transgendered people, we demanded assylum inmates be treated with dignity and we saw that the death of the regimes of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini would be a reality. A liberal is always with the oppressed even in a physical sense, and the liberal must always guard the underdog from the teeth of his/her oppressor. America must not allow the shallow words of conservative power elites enter the possiblity of popularity.
While there are still communities standing, support your community. Volunteer. Clean up the place. Take pride in your town. Get to know the youth and the elderly and build up regional and community activity. Globalization is not a word in the liberal vocabulary. The chaos can only stop with you - stand firm, be active in local politics. Speak up at church about the real words of Christ and not some decontextualized interpretation. Help solve the problems at home, not with empty, glorious-sounding words but with real action. Bigger ain't better. It is only the small, base and wretched that can save the world.
January 30, 2008
Disinterest, intervention, and "democratic liberation"
Foucalt had taken a very radical and critical look at the history of interventionist institutions of Europe, in Discipline and Punish. Think about the very negative argument that he makes in this book. Modern prisons were not produced by a structural change of the aristocratic system of jails. Prisons were built on the pretext of "reform" and "discipline." The penal courts of Europe were another arbitrary institution, merely carrying out the laws created and defined by the values of the new ruling bourgeois class, without regard to an objective, central definition of civility and just behavior. Within the foundations of the prison system, Foucault points out, there was a strikingly large assumption that the codes of behavior instituted by "common laws" were based on just and ordered behavior. This rings true of the emergence of the American bourgeoisie in the post Reconstruction era with national prohibition declared in the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, supported by the Women's Temperance movement, ironically before women's suffrage. "Civilized" America passed a law to restrict the freedoms of the populace. What does prohibition have to do with temperance? Moderation? Justice? With such narrow, concrete and specific definitions of law, we can see the fundamental alienation of truth from arbitrary law. No. Alcohol consumption has nothing to do with any of those. A national amendment could be seen as the red flag of the nonobjective opinions of the ruling class (consumed with fear, apparently, from the undeveloped and "uncivilized" state of America) being instituted within the administrative structures.
This is widely applicable to much of American law: abortion is a separate term from murder, even though the pretext of making abortion illegal is defining this term with the established definition of murder (trouble is, it is also established as a medical practice, making culpability almost impossible in a courtroom, or at bare minimum, a greater waste of public funds than prosecuting a murder case with the intent of capital punishment); marijuana is a plant that produces high levels of the chemical THC, illegal by the statutes of the US Code, a plant which is part of an existing ecosystem cannot be considered illegal (it would be like saying your dog's fur is illegal for citizens to touch and that Fido can exist, but you cannot touch your doggy) but making a part of the plant with no pretense other than the profound effects on the body (which include the alluring ability to synthesize treatments for Alzheimer's, Dementia, etc, etc); a contrary example would be the household cleaning supplies used to manufacture methamphetamines are legal despite the high concentration of poisonous chemicals and questionable value of their usage, but in synthesis, rather than analysis, they are illegal.
If we wanted to stop drug usage or sexual activity, we would need to change the culture (the age-old evil socialism). Instead, to stop the drug culture from exchanging chemicals, we brand certain specific substances as dangerous (even with the questionable content of cigarettes, colas, and fast food) and declare their usage, possession (which this legal term is justified with preemptive rhetoric of "with intent to ___"), and exchange. Is this disinterest? I would argue it is class indoctrination. Laws of substances have circumstantial connection with justice and order. It's not the profundity of the chemical effects on the body, society, etc, it is the culture that is looked down upon with fear and ignorance, so the due process of law and order is circumvented and preemptive interventionism is carried out. Drug usage has nothing to do with order. People use conscious-altering drugs everyday. If drugs had a causal promotion of crime, chocoholics would all be in prison. Faulty assumptions, again. The leaders of the ruling class call it an "intervention," claiming it is based in disinterest. But how can drugs be defined as a crime if they are a promotion of crime? Money is exchanged so freely that IBM has concretely been linked to economic support of the South African Apartheid regime. But it's more than money here in America. It's fear and ignorance. That is why I can sit here and deconstruct American Law. If a teenage pothead can be held accountable for a little escape from the harsh oppressive world in his/her freetime, then all parties tied to the large corporate exchange of resources to oppressive dictatorships should be held accountable without any extenuating pretense or exception. How is the Law able to permit illegal actions like Enron, yet crack down on a group of reckless teenagers that have indisputably less impact on society? Why target the small, decentralized actions of certain people. That is your answer. Certain people. Antidepressants are distributed like candy. Psychiatry does not know enough nor do the "professionals" invest the time for clearly and accurately diagnosing such problems. You come in feeling the blues, they give you pills you feel happy.
This is a problem because the same antidepressants can increase thoughts of suicide and not just ideations, but plans as well. Here is clear culpability because of the lack of scientific rigor in large-market drugs. But drugs that impair or enhance certain processes of the endocrine and nervous systems to produce the "high" are all lumped into the same category: detrimental to social order. However, if such drugs are against such order, why must there be a "war on drugs" which relies on leads and arrests of recreational users to catch distributors? If drugs promote social disarray, it should be easy to end "the drug problem." But the assumption that certain drugs promote crime in all people is a faulty assumption. Dosage, interaction with other substances, and individual differences in the way each person processes chemicals all come into play with the effects of a drug on behavior. Go back to physiology or neuropsychology. And the issue is social disorder and the promotion of crime, which is a choice. Right-winged political movements can say they promote individual integrity and personal responsibility, but the rhetoric of the drug laws out of the heyday of American conservatism prove otherwise. You will not be held accountable to cause social disorder because we won't even give you the chance is the message. The assumptions lead one to see the oligarchical class interests present in the policies of our institutions. Guns have also been scientifically verified to promote violent thoughts and behaviors instinctively, that is, across cultures, genders, and age groups. If you want to stop social disarray, the best place to start would be the total prohibition of the production of weaponry. Just a thought.
I think people brand Foucault as a skeptic unfairly. Yes, this is skepticism, but also a call to re-evaluate the way we approach topics of justice, to be aware of the difference between justice and rationalization.
Now, what does this all have to do with Chomsky? Simple. Here, with two very contrasting philosophies (Chomsky is a very traditional, "old-skool" rationalist who places a large emphasis on free and objective inquiry), you can see an overlap. Chomsky addresses the same issues as Foucault with careful examination of the policies and going directly to the contradictions, not the gaps. There are both in the oligarchical, indoctrinational policies of American Law and also foreign policy. Prescription drugs are often released before real stability is achieved, and side effects that promote violent, antisocial actions can be observed. What a contradiction! You would think in a world of "free entreprise" that someone could create a meth lab and make a tightly-controlled factory of narcotics. You just have to scratch your head at such "disinterest." Can there be order? If there can be contradiction, I whole-heartedly believe there can be order. Laws, taxes, and other elements of American government privilege the privileged. America, the public institution does not support economic democracy. In fact, the favor is not on the person with a new idea or a better way to organize society. The favor is on the people with money and power to gain more money and power. Our "economic democracy" slipped away like the free citizens of Athens to a state of oligarchy. The top 10% of the economic class spectrum increased salaries by twice as much as the bottom 20% in the last decade. This is not real freedom. This is arbitrary "every man for himself" with hardly any accountability for actions. The social contract has expired. Bigger is the new better. And Reaganomics and deregulation has expanded into corporate welfare. As we can note in the application of social order and substance, it is easy to catch someone down below. Expand police deployment in an area and the amount of criminals caught and persecuted increases, that is the most certain statistic. People can be caught in a regional placement. Can a person with a private jet be caught? Do we deploy police to hospitals rampant with faulty medical practices? To pharmaceutical companies that release drugs before the recommended date by the scientists that make the drugs? Do we listen to the factory worker about whether an increase in production is feasible?
Regional economies work much more effectively because they rely on the presumption that people are capable of doing bad things. In fact, social psychology holds that people are more likely to engage in antisocial behavior if they know they are not being watched. The destructive effects of selfishness and antisocial views of people are easier to address in a smaller, decentralized, and organized grouping of people. The bystander effect increases in magnitude with an increase in bystanders and after a certain point, where there is a mass of people, a crowd, there becomes no noticeable change in this effect and a crowd simply becomes an impersonal crowd. We all don't like much of the Bush administration's actions, left and right alike, but what can we do? The President is so far removed from the people that direct arrest of this person is impossible. And conversely, the president is so far removed, the effects of the agenda set by his network of power elite leaders cannot be seen and comprehended. A CEO cannot ask his workers directly about the conditions, nor does he care. The social structures we cling to objectify the people who work who are the foundation of order and create all the stuff. You are just a number in the grid. War is a video game and soldiers no longer have to carry the burden of a bayonet and kill the enemy directly. Lower class society is placed in a depersonalized machine to produce for the people with the drive and agenda to do whatever they want. Criticize the ruling class and the only thing they can produce is insults, interruptions and rationalizations, as seen in the video where this "American" talks with a pompous, unnecessary, and fake British accent to assert some intelligence that he lacks, while interrupting Chomsky, who remains composed, rational and attentive to each question. Chomsky responds with careful, nuanced analysis to irrelevant metaphor, historical revisionism, and just outright snobbery.
Who can watch the watchmen when they are held in the safety of their penthouse and mansions? If the people below can be held accountable in the eyes of the law, so can the ruling class.
Freedom is the ability to make choices. Liberty is the freedom from being forced to make choices. In America, there are few who have both freedom and liberty. The social contract is not a computer algorithm, it cannot be expanded into infinity. I agree with Chomsky. The American fixation of imposing "democracy" upon the world goes against America's roots in Libertarianism (Classic libertarian. Emphasis is always on liberty and absence of coercion, not right to property. "pursuit of happiness" not "pursuit of financial gain." Conservatism is revisionism). Indoctrination, and policies that border on cultural hegemony are what we are dealing with. I salute Richard Rodriguez for rejecting the myths of both "melting pot" ideology and "multiculturalism." I am incredulous of such metanarratives of American culture. And yes, I am a skeptic. There is no term or image to replace these with. Such issues are frivolous and waste intellectual energy defining a culture that formed out of the Founding Fathers project to end the bullshit of Europe and allow pure liberation to evolve. We have a common history, that is the most important part of American identity. Any indoctrination about who we are, the food(s) we eat, the language(s) we speak are all detractions from the real issues: the promise of liberty and the institutions that corrupted that promise.
January 21, 2008
The Making of America
Read the news - the stock market is wobbling and of course, investors are crying to Uncle Sam for intervention. And being that the government is filled by the same power elites with the similar investments, the government will comply to the requests whole-heartedly. Anticipate tax breaks for large corporations and upper-middle class consumers that buy most of the useless status goods that make our economy go. Do small businesses ever get tax relief in times of economic crisis? Why is this? The majority of jobs (jobs, not occupations or careers) are filled by large corporations. Numbers speak without context in capitalism. Relief happens at the highest level because our paradigm is set to globalization. Regional economies will be extinct after this epoch.
Here's an assignment: research a way to build a co-op or local organic farm with your knowledge and a recent-college-grad budget.
Development happens with a large-scale privilege. Anyone can call paradigms like regionalism, syndicalism and anarchy idealistic. But is it? What is the great benefit of large-scale economic expansionism? Europe exceeded the US economic strength with high productivity and innovative technologies. And Europe is built on regionalized, socialist economies. If there are people that want the laissez-faire capitalism that Rand envisioned, here it is. Consumerism is the most permissive form of laissez-faire possible without chaos and collapse into dictatorship, oligarchy, and fascism.
There is no one in the ruling class that has the intelligence and drive to create a function that can govern international trade. And if such a person existed anywhere, that person would not put forth the effort to create such a system because reason would tell anyone that has even read news articles about scientific research into global climate, global society and global mass development, that globalization is something that cannot happen and should not be attempted. We can play God, but there is no human above another. Charity is not relief, relief is going to the oppressed and exploited people of the world and fixing the collapsing houses, cleaning the water, teaching the people culturally non-invasive practices of farming, house building, cooking, medicine, etc. And while fixing the structural problems of deteriorating areas, lock up the real criminals of the world, the ones that pretend to be the solutions to all the "problems" of the natural order.
The people that rule are not gods. They are not even more intelligent. They are simply powerful. In Greek mythology, gods were not divine and omnibenevolent beings. Gods were simply humans with exaggerated human abilities. What does competition produce? Refined skills. Period. You can produce a large set of great items and become adept at selling them (or simply the latter, in most cases). We got good at creating chemicals from the Earth. Good at building and refining chemicals that can kill with a drop. But wait... we suck at contextualizing. We look at things in a fragmented, blinder-eyed way. Sure, we can perfect killing someone, but...
We should spend more time in fixing our society - a society jaded with over-crowded cities, which are the only place to find a good job anymore. We see problems everywhere but here. Children are starving in Africa, of course. But you cannot help Africa without relocating. I suggest if you feel bad for African children, pay a visit to your local charity organization and demand to create programs for helping the children in Wilkinsburg or East Liberty. Me, I would love to be nostalgic and subscribe to the way it was in the 50s. You go to work and get paid enough to live. But you can't go back. People call me idealistic? We're all scrambling to "advance," to "climb the ladder." Where? Where are you all going? Y'all look like your going insane, to me. We all are. We look at this social organization and don't so much as bat an eyelash. It is more reminiscent of a bunch of people thrown into a tank and scrambling to get above the other one to prevent themselves from drowning.
This is not order with random acts of chaos (a society envisioned by Rousseau). This is chaos with random acts of order (what simply allowing people to do whatever they desire without governance by greater principle). The social contract is not something that cannot be achieved. If you can put all you energies in supporting a global economy, you certainly can make a change in "the way things are" (tm). Thomas Paine held the idea that America could exist without the governance of English nobility and that every generation would be a new opportunity to push for liberty and equality. After the failed Articles of Confederation, do you think the founders of our country were expecting a document that would last this long without extensive revision? (Whatever happened to the idea of reviewing the Constitution every decade?) Democracy cannot statically exist. Ask the ancient Greeks. Paine was right that it is something that should get deeper and richer. Did it?
I am libertarian-socialist in outlook, but I wish more people would stop relying on the large structures to create America. America is not up there, out there, over yonder... America is here. And we still don't have a unified society or a coherent culture. The oligarchies of Europe at least had a sense of collective identity. Now, I shall slip into an acid-dropping Lewis Carrol state and ask:
"WHO ARE YOU???"
I'm not out to rationalize a particular view of American identity. I disagree with both the idea of the "Melting Pot" and "Multiculturalism." "Brown" is a better idea and Richard Rodriguez should be crowned with sprigs of olive branches for that book. But we seriously need to consider what is America because we now have not only transgressed the natural order with pollution and genocide of Native peoples (yes, full genocide. There are only a handful of surviving Native tongues. Native Americans are a culture, not a race. That is the way Native people identify themselves and we killed them more when we forbid their language.), we have transgressed the foundation of American government (right, Mr. Bush?).
The question is not a trick question. We all know what America is, but we can't put it into words. But you don't have to. In fact, it cannot be put into words. It cannot be put into symbols. "These are the times..." right? Keep your eyes open for propaganda. It worked in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, 9/11. I think everyone that's lived in America for most of their life knows what it means to be American. The issue is not identity, the issue is organization and right now, I think we should pay more attention to our social order.
Just a thought...
November 7, 2007
Anarchy for the USA
If it looks as if I have been pissed off lately, I have. I am restless. I saw the Rodriguez lecture and that put at least a glimmer of hope in my conscious-laden mind. You see, the very immoral Oklahoma bill HB 1804 has been in effect for exactly one week now. The
fascist conservative power elite politicians and companies that run the shithole economy and government now have started to make a move to bring the "privitized charity" that supposedly should replace welfare under the control of the state. If you give an undocumented immigrant so much as a mouthful of bread and a blanket, you are a national criminal. Now, doing the work of Jesus fucking Christ is illegal. The government is going to crucify you. The corporations that are not required to produce documents and become incriminated by them are getting praised like Caesar fucking Augustus.
There is no crime greater than denying another human being the God-given dignity that that person is born with. Your nation, your economy, your society are all depraved, you sick, selfish, bourgeois leaders of everything. This is fucking America. The Constitution issued all of us a check to the funds of liberty, but those funds are dry. The check bounced and it's time to rip it to shreds and start over. This government is so out of touch with the human beings that occupy this part of planet Earth, that we should just smash it. To pieces. A child is not a fucking criminal. A family that is starving and crosses a fucking arbitrary line drawn in this shamed soil is not a traitor. The Monroe Doctrine was set up to keep South America from being under siege by colonizers, but now we are colonizing South America. The FTA, Augusto Pinochet, all the popular uprisings against right-wing dictatorships that were stopped. In the name of Democracy? What a joke. Just like the new Attorney General that has to pause to think about whether he supports the use of torture... "Well, my department will execute extensive investigations to see if these actions violated American law or the Constit..."
What?! Are you serious? It doesn't matter if torture is wrong or inhuman? The Constitution only applies to people that support this fascist regime?! You can throw "unalienable rights" out the window and do some thing in contradiction with it, but don't do it in the name of America. No one is innocent. If you don't so much as throw a brick at an oppressor you are an oppressor. Personal responsibility is only for a stateless, class-free society. If, in protecting your own liberty, you suppress the liberties of others, you are not supporting Libertarianism. Libertarianism is not arbitrary freedom for the few. This new movement of Log-Cabin Conservatism, while a breath of fresh air from the nutjobs in office now, is still conservatism. Sorry, the harsh reality is the Constitution is dead, even more than social security (seventy years as opposed to 250 years to deteriorate?). Get over it. You can't bring a document that has been revised 27 times. You can't keep patching up a document every time something new comes along that no one could account for in the context of history.
I guess my point is... the spirit of the constitution is not dead. Punk is dead, but DIY, anarchy, freedom, youthful rebellion, love without borders, and the future... those are things that you can't destroy. Communism may not have worked in practice... yet, but the past doesn't matter. You have another good fifty years on you... all of you graduating seniors. A future that is yours. Not the government's, not the "American workforce," not society's or tradition's... yours. I keep watching things go to the shithole because of all the panic-mongering, all the fear and loathing, all the trust in corrupt people. Capitalism takes more trust than anything else. I'd sooner put my faith in people who were motivated by the good of humanity and the survival of the species than someone motivated by selfishness. If there is anything I hope everyone believes, it's that their voice matters. Don't hide it in your stuffy little bedroom, while guarding the door with a shotgun. That is where all the problems in America began. Fuck complacency. It's neither my fault nor my problem that stuffy old bastards lose their idealism because of their weak, unmotivated conservative reversions. The future is not for the people who look longingly on the past. Want to go back? Go back. But stay out of the way of the people who want to go forward.
October 24, 2007
My position on the whole "gay rights" thing
After having been approached by a couple of Seton Hill professors and discussing the issue of "gay rights" and being rebuked at having "too conservative" viewpoints on queer issues, I feel like taking five minutes of my free time to explain my very leftist, libertarian and radical position on these issues. I will be specific and list one-by-one:
- Gays in the military: in the words of Bill Hicks, "anyone dumb enough to want to be in the military should be allowed in... End of fucking story. That should be the only requirement. I don't care how many push-ups you can do - put on a helmet, go wait in that fox hole. We'll tell you when we need you to kill somebody."
- Gay adoption: I think adoption is great. Why don't we cut taxes on that and compensate by raising taxes on unnecessary drugs (like Viagra). Oh wait, silly me. This is America and we support family values, that's right. Even better, why don't we start encouraging people to adopt gay kids. Who cares about a gay couple that has cash to blow on a baby. What about the kids kicked out of their house for telling their parents a dirty three-letter word?
- Homophobia: Why don't all you gay people who happen to be "oh so afraid to go out at night" do yourselves a favor (ask some of my friends that grew up in the ghetto) go to your county courthouse, get a form called the Application for Permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon. It only takes five minutes. Then you can set aside some money you would normally buy on clothes (what a loss! Cause I know you are all just so poor, right?) and buy a 9mm, maybe a Glock. They fit nicely in a purse. Do this before they stop awarding those permits.
- Gay marriage: Why would you want to get married anyway? Really. C'mon! Marriage is a failing institution and we've already fucked up the US budget and given 83% of all the revenues to fight a useless war to stimulate economic growth so that we wouldn't need Social Security and retirement funds could be privatized. It's the most disgusting thing to see people promoting gay rights lionize such a disgusting and oppressive institution. In a perfect world, life partnership would be about love and not economics. But in this world, America would do well to follow suit with France and make all government marriages civil unions and keep the marriage vows and sentimental crap in the churches where it belongs.
- Gay pride/coming out/the LBGT "community": Look... Quit separating and fracturing sexual orientation. If you want to let the world know there are gay people in the world, tell your friends. Tell your co-workers. Tell your high school crush you think he/she is hot as hell. Waving a rainbow flag, purposefully talking with a lisp, perpetuating the drama, acting psychotic/depressed all have nothing at all to do with being attracted to someone of the same sex. Putting the moves on someone really fine, however...
I'm sick of the yuppies, the white-skinned, middle class, suburban kids, the socialites, the sociopathic gay rights "activists," and all the other insecure gays that complain about "how bad they have it." Someone always has it worse than you. Quit being selfish and asserting your situation as "the worst." It's not. Most of these people are in college, are huge business leaders, are famous, and are oppressing other people. Class oppression is the only kind of social oppression that is very clear. Class doesn't discriminate. The luck of the draw gives your fortunes. Quit the useless bickering about only the surface issues of queer oppression. Homonormativity is just as oppressive as heteronormativity. Yet even with this type of oppression, the socialite well-to-dos who never talk to the gay people who really are oppressed and really are silenced, get to make all the changes, dictate all the dogma for everyone.
October 16, 2007
Western PA is officially the Asscrack of America
So, I went home a little for break and I was expecting the town to be dead and fully of yuppies, miserable wretches, and a whole bunch of complacent, defeatist, pessimistic thinking... It wasn't. In fact, my little one horse town, with half the population of Greensburg and a college that just turned into a University, was more alive than ever. And as much as people poke fun at Morgantown for being a "sin city party school," the arts and culture scene was more alive than Pittsburgh. People were doing really innovative things, there was more breathing room for creativity. Pittsburgh's the "cultural hub" of the region? Hardly. It's all image. All bottom-line business bullshit. Most of these "great artists" in Pittsburgh aren't even from Pittsburgh, don't even live there.
And the way people drive here... Sorry for the rant, but unless you are very, very gay, get off of my asshole!!! I swear, every car on my way back rode my bumper for ten miles then suddenly decided to pass me. Maybe this region is just stuck in the old money, Horatio Alger, earn-a-living myth and I've forgotten what people coming together with liberal ideas and not connecting it with elitism means. God, West Virginia is not redneck country. It's here. The Greater Pittsburgh region is a dying region. And I think it's because all the big business sucked the life out of it.
Time for an enema, Pittsburgh!
March 25, 2007
God Bless Reeves Library
For as much criticism as I give to our university's highly limited library, I am now very excited at the new crop of books to enter the collection. Among these, is one of the latest works of my favorite scholarly authors, Fredric Jameson. I am biased, but I believe absolutely no collection in this current academic climate is complete without at least one publication of Fredric Jameson. While the academic culture war is continuing to polarize thought (postmodern vs. modern), Jameson addresses the paradoxes (and sometimes, contradictions) that are driving this current movement. While staying true to his school of thought, Marxism (particularly the Frankfort School), Jameson does thoughtful Marxist critiques of the rise of Postmodernism.
I absolutely devoured the last book of his I read, Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. I am so excited that I don't have to make a trip to Barnes and Noble or to log on to Amazon.com to give this one a read. Thank you, Reeves Library and Humanities Division! The new crop of books are great...
January 20, 2007
I've been exploring different media and issues of identity and I've come across a very pressing issue facing queer America and queer media. And it's called: queer politics.
Before anyone gets their undies in a bundle, whether you are for or against gay rights, let's examine this phenomenon, shall we?
First, let's define queer politics: queer politics quite possibly arose as a reactionary movement to state-legislated homophobia of Reagan and Bush during the AIDS scare. Queer politics is an almost libertarian ideology that holds all people should be free to explore their sexuality and express their love to any sex or gender provided that the expression is consensual. Queer politics would hold that the suppression of genuine sexual expression is contrary to the laws of nature and the spirit of the Constitution and that such suppression is detrimental to the full development of the individual identity.
The problem comes because queer politics gets sucked into the vaccum of the American culture war and the cultural logic of late capitalism. Like most other ideologies in America today, people are arguing politics with the language of values. For example, queer politics often makes this assertion: "I am gay because of my biology; therefore, the government should support the expression of my sexuality and give me the same rights as other people." Woah! What a jump there! If we applied that same logic of values to, oh I don't know, pick any biological pathology... pedophillia, perhaps... then, a pedophile could ask the government to support his/her sexuality because pedophillia is linked to genetics and, according to queer politics, biology makes everything okay.
No. What queer politics is really asking is "the government should not only value GLBT sexuality, but should also throw the blessings of civil marriage and social benefits upon it." That kind of argument wouldn't fly with people who are so stringent upon their own concpet of values, namely "family values." You know, the Republicans are right in a sense! If you grant the rights that queer politics demands (and here's the qualification that Republican's fail to mention) on the grounds of which they demand, then you must grant the same rights to other sexualities that are -radically- unacceptable (namely, incest and pedophillia). The gay community cannot seem to make that connection because they share the same methodologies as Republicans (namely, a values-based argument) and hold radically different values.
Gays complain on the lack of progress. Well, duh! Your entire political approach is grossly flawed and is a good way of sending the message that you seek to rationalize your actions and expect everyone to buy into it. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for gay rights, but only because reason... not values has led me to that conclusion. Of course gays and friends of gays will value gay rights! Since that seems to be the bulk of the people that speak out in rallies and parades, arguing with values will get you nowhere and has gotten you nowhere.
The reason there is no progress is because the gay community has only addressed what it feels... not why it feels that way, and especially not why everyone else should feel that way. If you want to get your point across, you have to reason and you have to prove the fallacy of the opposing side. Values stand no chance for reason.
The gay community has lost sight of the opposing argument (which is largely based on values) and lost sight of why gay rights is so important. First, it doesn't matter if you were born gay. Get over it. No one cares about how hard it is to fit into a society that thinks your a sodomite. If you believe that you have done nothing wrong, perhaps you haven't. That's why the fight for gay rights must meet this issue head-on and completely contradict all of the anti-gay assertions. For example, if someone points to the passage of Sodom and Gomorrah, saying that God destroyed the cities because of homosexual acts, DO NOT dismiss that the Bible has any relevance to ethics or politics because Queer politics is also based on values. Instead, we must tear down such unreasonable, destructive and innaccurate ideologies. First, Sodom and Gomorrah has never been, since the Talmud and especially the Mishnah, about homosexuality. Rather, the burning of the cities was the result of greed, lack of wantonness and PROPERTY.
Yes. The very thing that Republicans base their ideology on was condemned by the same Biblical verse they use to point the finger on homosexuality. It's often assered by neocons that family values is deteriorating because of the acceptance of gays and lesbians. When in fact, the perceived "deterioration of the family and family values" may be caused by the rampant development of capitalism and consumer ideology. Families don't sit down together as much in more laissez-faire countries (ie: US and Japan) than they do in more socialized countries (ie: France and Venezuela).
But this is all wishful thinking, as the mainstream queer culture seems to value consumerism, fashion, competition and profit more than the things that should really matter to gays (ie: marriage, equal protection, healthcare, acceptance into society). The hypocrisy of the gay community is staggering and, even though we all suffer the effects of homophobia, I do not pity the culture, one that allows its mortal enemy to exploit it. The corporate culture is not going to be the saving grace of gays and lesbians... Radical discourse is the only thing that can save such a pathetic "out and proud, fight for my rights," selfish ideology. Advocates of gay rights must evaluate their methods and must start to work on fronts that may not be popular with the mainstream queer crowd. Unless we do that, history will be doomed to repeat itself.
January 18, 2007
Anarchy Does Equal Chaos!
There are a lot of misguided people... I would even say that anarchy is starting to become rank with hypocrisy.
Let's clarify, shall we?
1. Communism is not fascism, but rather the polar opposite. If you are an anarchist who believes everything a state tells you, you have no right to label yourself as such. Clearly, people have called themselves many things to get into power. A. Hitler claimed he was a "Christian." Does that make him a Christian? Does that make the churches "followers of Christ?" Does that mean any person or group of people calling themselves "communist" is telling the truth?
2. Anarchy is not order. Human interests, when governed arbitrarily, lead to destruction... and chaos. There is no convincing evidence that anarchy can create peace. It only decentralizes war to the individual level and allows for no progress at all, positive or negative.
3. Anarchy is just as guilty of atrocity. (Remember Ted Kaczynski? Tim McVeigh? Oh, wait... Anarchy is order! I remember!)
4. Anarchy = nihilism. Nihilism = the creation of truth and justice by humans who have exploited truth and justice before and will do it again.
5. Humans are social creatures, but consensus cannot be reached without a unifying ideal. Anarchy has no ideal. Anarchy is the absence of ideals. It is a cop-out for addressing the human condition. Anarchy is laissez-faire like capitalism, and does nothing to prevent economic and social exploitation.
6. Communism is not Marxism. Nor is it Trotskyism. Nor is it Stalinism or Maoism. Anarchy is not easy to define, either. What flavor of Anarchy do you prefer? Anarcho-syndicalism (which is socialist anarchy, but I guess that isn't possible if "anarchy is an alternative to socialism")? Anarcho-capitalism (which is capitalist anarchy)? I think the people on that forum have a very skewed concept of what anarchy is. Anarchy is not opposed to exploitation. Anarchy is opposed to structure... to authority of any kind. Anarchists don't answer to anyone. No God exists to a real anarchist. Nor truth. Nor justice. As soon as you introduce those concepts, you are talking about socialism and communism.
7. Communism is not atheistic. Faith in humanity is not opposed to faith in God.
8. Communism is not stateless. However, the communist state does not possess the hierarchical characteristics of modern states. What is the difference, then, between communism and anarchy? Simple. The Internationale. The ideal. Anarchy, as I have said before is absent of ideal. Anarchists cannot claim ownership to something that is not theirs. It is everyone's. Claiming ownership to the Internationale is exploitative like capitalism.
9. Anarchy is not fascism, but it can lead to fascism. People are drawn to something greater. Anarchy will never exist for longer than two minutes because people need a template. People need principle. Anarchy can only be initiated by the collapse of a state or the collapse of hope. People will build a new state because there is nothing that will morally or physically prevent them from doing so... Only many motivations to make them do so.
10. Communism (that is, true communism) was never established by force. It was always established by consciousness and principle. And the result has always been the same: people of property send in troops and militiamen to crush the development of a communist community by force. (For example, Gerard Winstanley and the "true levelers" in 1649 England. And the Apostles in the first century faced persecution on all fronts, possibly due to their communistic characteristics.)
Before any hypocritical anarchist dare open his/her mouth to criticize something that anarchists will never grasp, he/she would do well to think about what comes out. The Internationale is not anarchy. Anarchy is the antithesis of the Internationale. The Internationale is Communism. Destroying authority is not the solution. Changing it is.
September 9, 2006
Fascist Actions of the Religious Right
"Is it too much to ask that judges and legislatures acknowledge the difficulty of this debate by leaving it to normal democratic processes? In fact, the more passionate an issue, the less justification there often is for constitutionalizing it. Constitutions tempt those who are way too sure they are right. Certainty is, to be sure, a constant feature of our politics -- some certainties endure; others are fated to be supplanted by the certainties of a succeeding age. Neither we nor the Framers can be sure which is which, but the Framers were sure that we should debate our differences in this day's time and arena. It is sad that the state of James Madison and John Marshall will in all likelihood forsake their example of limited constitutionalism this fall. Their message is as clear today as it was at the founding: Leave constitutions alone."
-J. Harvie Wilkinson III, The Washington Post
Looking back on the Pennsylvania ban of same-sex marriages, it's sad that people so shamelessly against gay marriage use such fascist methods which only demote the importance of dialogue. But I don't blame narrow-minded conservative ideologies so much as I blame the complacency and relativism of liberals. This is a supreme example of how fire must be fought with fire. The institutions that have oppressed must be overthrown. Bourgeois marriage is such an institution. It must be destroyed and from the ashes, the institution of socialist marriage must be built.
We must understand the distinction. Bourgeois marriage proposes that marriage be defined by market forces and the privitization and commoditization of love. Does this mean that socialist marriage is polygamy? No. Socialist marriage seeks to define marriage by the quality of relationship rather than the quality of marketability. Note that gays can be married in a bourgeois marriage system. However, the premise of marriage is not about love but about protecting individual interests. Two types of marriage can occur in the bourgeois understanding: inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive would assert that people can marry to whatever gender because we must protect the individual interests of each person as a function to private property.
Exclusive would assert that only one group can marry because if we allow the other group (for example, male homosexuals) to marry, it threatens the individual interests of the group of social power and their grip on the markets. Thus, the arguments are not really about human decency, love, respect, or the greater good, but about protecting the individual rights of either one group (socially and economically driven) or all groups (mostly economically-driven).
Socialist marriage is based on a more just model of marriage. Gender, to a socialist mind, is totally irrelevant. The determining factor of a legal or moral marriage is the relationship, not the individuals. If the relationship is bad, the marriage will be bad. If there is a power disparity, abuse, infidelity, or unconsented, unhealthy or otherwise dangerous relationship, marriage should not be permitted. Take for example Ricky's little appearance on the Daily Show of all places:
"Stewart: ...But wouldn't you say that society has an interest in understanding that the homosexual community also wants to form those same bonds and raise children and wouldn't a monogamous, good-hearted, virtuous homosexual couple be in society's best interest raising a child rather than a heterosexual couple with adultery, with alcohol issues, with other things, and by the way, I don't even need to make that sound as though a gay couple can only raise a child given failures in other couples.
Santorum: You're matching up best case vs worst case.
Stewart: I'm talking best case because...
Santorum: If it's best case best case, the best case everywhere is one man, one woman, their child, raising that child."
-transcript via http://towleroad.typepad.com/towleroad/2005/07/can_y9ou_confus.html
This is a sad, sick world in which we live. The most depraved statements about homosexuality (that is, mostly concerning parenting) are also the least supported by objective, scientific evidence.
God, I can't wait to vote this guy out of office!
September 6, 2006
I have a great idea. Since I am under the impression that we should accept the inevitable relativistic "dethronement" of all authority, why don't we tell our miserable leader that he has no authority! Let's tell all these CEOs and CTOs of corporations that they mean nothing and the economy is just a social construction! Let's tell God that, well sorry to say, but Nietzsche was right, you don't exist, never have and are only an excuse for not living our life to the fullest hedonistic ego-trip possible!
Perhaps we can do this while people starve in the streets, while politicians bastardize our already dastard democracy, while corporations monopolize an already corrupt classist system. Perhaps it's best to debate how to make an egocentrical medium more beautiful rather than more collaborative, just, ethical (??? pick one).
Authority is always bad and people not only have the God-given right to freely exploit knowledge, but also each other. Yes. The future is inevitable. We probably don't even have free will, after all, free will disintegrated when Lyotard, Derrida, and Fouccalt opened their mouths and barked. They aren't any kind of authority, but that's irrelevant because authority doesn't matter anyway. Woof. Woof. Bark.
PS: If you didn't understand any of that, suffice to say Postmodernism is not progression, it's pure destruction. It won't liberate anything. It can't. It doesn't go anywhere. It would be much more productive to bark than to propose any such rubbish.
July 22, 2006
The Economics of the Media
The Old World is Crumbling
In 1967, the prophetic words of Marshall McLuhan hit the bookstores like a stick of dynomite: "the medium is the massage." nearly forty years later, the words still linger in the air like a thick smoke over a pile of rubble. What McLuhan had not anticipated was the gravity of his words and the undefeated assertion that history does indeed repeat itself. We sit on the fringes of an age where CEOs and CTOs and chairmen of the boards of giant industries control our every function as human beings. The TV tells us to eat... we eat. The TV tells us to have sex... we virulently have sex. The TV tells us to kill and by God, without asking a question, we kill. We fall captive to the hands of politicians, businesspeople and other such demonic figures. While the few sit in luxury, we sit here below, exploited... without any armed guards to protect what little we have, let alone posessions to begin with.
The Currency of Meaning
The medium is the currency of meaning. As you sit here reading this, there is a process going on. Your mind is not reading a weblog, your mind is going to a bank... to a market. What is it doing there? It's exchanging currency. What is a dollar worth?
TRICK QUESTION! It ain't worth shit! We ascribe it meaning. Just like these words. But it you string up a couple million of those dollars (and likewise the words) the meaning we gave it is amplified. That's how economics is formed. If currency and in similar ways, language, had no meaning, we wouldn't need to study it through economics and scholarship. The problem comes whenever we simply study these phenomena and do nothing. The world is fragmenting with the onset of our creation of "progress" and postmodernism. We seek to destroy our world in an ideological suicide. We rely on the assumption that it is inevitable, but is it? If we know we have a chance at sustaining something, but we purposefully do not take it, the burden of responsibility falls directly on us for not sustaining that which we could have sustained.
Therefore, as you read this, your psyche is putting meaning into my string of words. Just like different currency carries different values, so do these words. But, that is a blatant oversimplification which eludes the true fecundity of media. What is a dollar worth to a person begging for money on the streets? It's worth a meal to that person! How about the President? A Hollywood actor? Bill Gates? Based on experience, faculties and especially resources, the dollar with a universal value means different things. Now apply that to this text. You are unique. You will "take out of this" something different than another person. Why do you think there are a million different versions of Christianity? It's the same text!
As McLuhan echoed nearly 40 years ago, the medium is the massage. Each medium has specific qualities that make it unique and likewise give it unique powers. Think of fantasy novels. There are always certain limitations and faculties that each mythic character has. For each power there is also an "Achille's heel." The winner of the game is usually one that can exploit the weaknesses and manipulate the abilities. Think of the Lord of the Rings, for example. If you control the Ring, you control all of Middle-Earth. Who controls the majority of the media? Certainly not objective truth!
Further, where do people get their news?
What?! You don't often watch the news?!
The problem with my generation is that we have become blinded by the media that target us (specifically, TV, radio and internet). I am growing up in a culture of escapism. Look at the movies. Look at the popular TV shows. You know, it's sad when the most popular movies are also the most escapist. When I try to discuss politics with some people, they simply get turned off. It's as if they think ignoring it will make it go away. Every time I walk by the lounge, MTV or USA or some other such rubbish is on. Entertainment is my generation's drug. And the corporations are handing it out like candy... Why? If you can hide the evils of the world and even more, propogate in people a different culprit, you have succeeded in not only saving your hide, but also directing the mob to your enemy.
What about all the academics who want to destroy the logos (that is, the postmodernists)? This quasi-liberal ideology creates, in itself, a dichotomy: the presence of an intact logos... the absence of an intact logos. You could argue that it is simply "fragmenting the old paradigm," but it's either fragmented or it's not. This, as I said earlier, I consider ideological suicide. We constantly develop new and increasingly destructive technologies. Mobile phones, for example. While this might not seem like a WMD, on the contrary... it is. Text messaging propogates a culture of instant gratification. Again, like a drug. Think of the time whenever you bought a new hi-tech toy. It was great, wasn't it? You got to fiddle around and learn it in and out. But then, what happened? The novelty wore off and you were left with a piece of plastic and transistors.
That is the effect. Like a drug, you are drawn in to buy more gadgets with increasingly intricate features. Consumerism uses such media to sustain this mode of production. Like the drug dealer, who gets your currency for substances, so does the sales rep. get your currency for new technologies. Like the example of the dealer, the value of the currency at length outlasts the value of the product. Both draw you "deeper in" and require increasing sums of expenditure. The tantilizing promise of peace and equality draw the mind into postmodernity. But, as technology exploits the resources of the earth, postmodernism exploits the resources of the logos. The drug drags you in until you overdose. Postmodernism and the cultures of escapism and consumerism are paving the road to our demise with the body of our mother.
Music for the Masses
Exploiting the power of the media against the weak and feeble consuming masses, corporations, perhaps even without realizing it, are sustaining the greed of late capitalism and the threat of super-globalization. The currency of money and written language have become so privatized that we don't even carry money in our pockets anymore! Money is a network of exchange locked up for us by banks. Likewise, this exclusivism transcends money. In order to be heard, you must be published. Even having a weblog like this one is not free. You must be a tuition-paying student to own a Seton Hill weblog. Print is a privatization of language. It's much easier for one person to read a text at a time and the message is arbitrary. Imagine going to a Folk concert or jam session and trying to be the only one to hear the music.
Let's take a journey a couple thousand years back... The Greeks were evolving their philosophies. Out of the poetics came a tradition of music. Poetry wasn't what it is now. It was collective wisdom. You didn't write down poetry, that would be absurd. Then, in Plato's Republic, Socrates envisions a collective society ruled by a philosopher/philosophers. Plato, with all good intentions, sought to destroy the despotism of the state and replace it with the despotism of the philosopher. Thus, he privatized reason. Rather than elevate all people to the true nature of good, he would create a disparity in reason and have the reasonable govern the fools. Listen to the music. Wisdom is a tree that no one individual can embrace.
Today, we are trapped in a quasi-Platonic vision. Everything is becoming privatized. You don't watch TV outside, do you? Your computer doesn't project everything you see to as many people as you know, does it? Music is different. It is a collective phenomenon. The music is spread to a variety of ears from one source. But even music is becoming privatized. Portable mp3 players and iPods are quickly replacing boom boxes and, God forbid, live music. Music, like most any art is becoming a private commodity. How did people communicate in the very beginning? They talked. Now, what should be the most lasting form of instant gratification without the destructive qualities, is slowly diminishing. People sitting side-by-side on computers no longer talk, but send IMs. People pull out their cells before they go to visit someone's house. This is how the bourgeoisie can sustain their power. By extending privacy to just about everywhere except social issues, they can exercise control, perhaps even sub-consciously.
Copyrights let people claim ownership to whatever it is they discover. But, how can one own truth or discovery? Even if you could hold it in your hands, that does not give you any kind of entitlement to it. The drug of consumerism, the self-destructive ideology of postmodernism, and the pervasive privatization of goods and property all create the despotic economic rule of the few over the many. Every aspect of our lives is being controlled, whether we care to admit it or not. Pro-war propoganda, anti-socialist attitudes, greed, all these rise from every country because of this globalization of consumer capitalist ideologies. From Israel to Lebanon, from the US to Iraq, from India to Pakistan, from Japan to North Korea. Every aspect of our life is informed by the media. But, somewhere in Africa, South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Asia, and yes, even in America, someone is playing some music as a prayer for peace and the restoration of community... They invite you to join them.
Freedom vs. Property
Here's a scenario: imagine you live in a world where "everything's been done before." Now imagine that there are ethical and legal restrictions on "taking someone else's idea." Imagine you could be and will be held up to these standards. Would you want to try to create? (Remember, if you screw up, there are many serious consequences).
Quess what? This is life as we know it today. The pervasive greed culture has stolen your right to freely explore your world and announce your discoveries. We have abandoned the greatest conversation so that the privileged few can own ideas. We are exploiting the logos and abandoning the richness of free thought so that people can take claim to being the masters of knowledge.
My assertion is simple: intellectual property stifles academic freedom.
Is this society democratic? We have established a type of democracy which is diluted. We are living in a time of bourgeoise democracy. Theoretically, only the "best" will rise to the surface to govern the masses below. This looks fine on the surface, but scratch away the gilding and you will see the underlying fallacies. Enthroning the few to govern the many does not always proportionally represent nor conform to the plethora of needs of all people. When enthroning the few, it is not the most genuine person that receives power, but the most deceptive. Ability and vision lose the battle to the best smile, the most enticing promises, and the motivation of greed. Thus, we have appointed not on the vision but on the ability to convince, to persuade. And thus, we have achieved the contrary of democracy: the despotic rule of the most deceiving voice and not the truth.
Now we can apply the broader analysis to academics. We as a class of living things fall subject to the empire of ownership. Our collective intellect as the most enlightened species on the planet is being hoarded by the few. We are deceived by the unchallenged assumption that people can own ideas--that truth is no more than the best argument and whomever first laid claim to that argument is the master of that idea and thus ruler of truth. We are exploiting truth with this paradigm. Truth now lies in shackles at the feet of ownership. Truly, the pervasiveness of bourgeoise rule can be seen even in the freedom (or lack thereof) of academics. Truth is liberating, but we have enslaved truth and therefore, cannot be liberated by truth.
Humans are merely stuards of truth and meaning. There exists a universal justice and cosmic reality. We continually try to advance to this realization as individuals and not together as human beings. It is time for a new paradigm. Rather than debate truth or engage in discourse, we should rather have an open conversation. I renounce debate and discourse because debate implies convincing and discourse implies that the discussion is not open to all. We must come to the conversation open-minded and without agenda. By carrying agendas, we suggest that we know the truth, without consideration of the possibility that we are wrong. We must be prepared to learn and grow by hearing what others have to say, no matter if we disagree nor agree. We must no longer rely on ad-hominem nor ipse dixit assumptions, for truth and reality are arbitrary: they are true and real only in and of themselves. If you fold up a dollar bill, how much is it worth? How about if you crumple it? Stomp on it? No other quality affects their value.
Now is the time where we must dissolve all bonds to the ego and release the restricting attachments to property. Now is the time to converse openly in every place we stand... To challenge, to question, to ponder. Learning is a dynamic that takes two or more to tango. Don't accept anything at verbatim, for it is then that you have locked yourself into someone else's ideology. Open your mind and let the conversation begin...
For more on this topic see:
July 8, 2006
Religion is a Verb
What is the point of religion? If it's just going to be a set of static dogmas that dictate one's life and restrict one's otherwise free thought, why bother?
Because politics and ethics have little or nothing to do with religion, and yet religion has everything to do with politics and ethics. Religion is not a noun, but a verb. Imagine going into mass sitting down, and then... Well, that's it. Just sit down and watch. The priest takes out the Holy Eucarist and sets it on the table and then... You watch.
If God was merely an aesthetic, this would be about all you could do. About as boring as going to an art museum, right?
Losing sight of the richness and fecundity of the transcendant is easy to do. I mean, we have it down to a science! It's the formula of religion: go to church, pray, seek repentance, etc, etc. I'm not saying those are bad things, but what I am saying is that when we lose sight of what they mean and what they are helping us to remember, they become fruitless objects. So, what are they helping us to remember? Religion is a verb.
Politics seeps into the religious infastructure and makes cracks in its rocky base. Politics was invented by man, but religion was merely discovered by man. Politics is a noun, but religion is a verb.
Faith is the largest part of what makes religion a verb. The concept that we have faith is, from my perspective, inaccurate. We can be faithful, put our faith in, or come to an understanding of faith. But can we have faith? How can one own faith? Faith is not some static object that we can wrap our arms around or contain within a Tupperware box. Faith is also a verb. But we use faith every day; how can it be a verb? We use our ability to walk everyday. Faith is not the ability to walk, but it is the walking itself. To be more specific, faith is the medium through which we come to know God. Buddha describes this phenomenon as a finger pointing to the moon. The real essence is not the finger, but the moon.
If we apply the principles of communication and media theory to religion, we find that there are some striking parallels. Just like people can "get something out of" a text that is different from other people's readings of a text; people look at the same transcendental experience and "take out of it" something different from other people. But really, if God is divine truth, then our religions are merely interpretations of that divine truth. Thus, how can one own divine truth? If God is perfection and we are imperfect when compared to God, then how can we say we "know God."
I have been asked on several occasions by different people who (how do I put it?) were "on fire for Jesus" whether I "knew God." My classic response is: "Well, I don't know God... but, I put faith in Jesus." (Note: if you ever want to confuse any extreme fundamentalists, this is a good way to do it! :P) In a classical Western sense, faith is like a horizon that we can get closer and closer to, but never touch (alluding to the example from LA150 in Cindy Boland's class). Keeping in mind that religion is a medium, religious experience is limited to what we are able to perceive and comprehend (after all, this body is a medium, too!). Since the divine reality or truth or whatever-you-want-to-call-it is--in theory--boundless and limitless, both our mediated selves and the mediated tools we use to bring an understanding of this truth give a limited picture of such truth.
We could weasel our way around this argument by denying that God is limitless and renouncing God's perfection. But, that puts us on the same plane as God. And if you were coming from an Eastern perspective (such as Buddhism or Hinduism) this thesis would be moot as well. But I am talking specifically in a Western understanding and even more specifically, a Christian understanding, with the fundamental premise that God is beyond us.
We seek God in many different ways. This is why there are so many different religions. Just like romance novel readers would think SF is nothing but dry and pointless information dumps and SF fans would find romance just icky, people find different religious expressions to be more fulfilling than others. Genres of religious expression, or religions, form. Just like litterature, they seek to fulfill different means, but in the end, they are really all made of the same 100% pre-consumer material as these paperbacks.
Just like the story of the Tower of Babel suggests, the world split into different factions. It happened to litterature, it happened to music, it happened to art. From one concept (media), you get get differing media. From one God, you get differing religions. How do we reconcile all these factions? How do we bring a sense of unity to all people without losing an identity? Religious synthesis seeks to answer these questions and more. The major concept of religious synthesis (I better get this right, or Dr. Leap is gonna shoot me! :D) is that there is one ultimate truth that all religions are aiming for and where the religions converge, there the truth lies.
If religion was simply us blindly seeking God, then there would be no need for revelation. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed would have sat back idly if that were true. But, since religion is a verb, there is a two-way communication. And thus, Moses spoke to his people the word of God and Judaism was formed, Jesus walked among us and showed us the way of God and Christianity was formed, and Mohammed revealed the word of God, and Islam was formed. So, the dynamic is that religion is like a transcendental communication system. God speaks to us through revelation and experience, and we speak to God through faith and commitment.
However, since we cannot forget our limitations as a medium, we cannot forget that our experience (that is, our perception of the experience) is limited. We see only a facet of the true fecundity of God. This is not to say that when God can only reveal His divine presence to us as a sliver of an almond in the tree of reality. Our perception (broadly defined) can only see so much. Thus, faith and experience take us the next leap forward, and the next, and the next...
Returning to the very first question (yeah, remember that one? hee, hee, hee!!!): why bother? I bother with religion because keeping on the journey you discover that, in the converse of the words of Pete Seeger: "Christianity is no more what the Churches make of it than Communism is what Russia made of it." The more you pursue God, the more blessed and cursed your life will be. Blessed in the sense that you find a joy beyond words... Cursed that you wish the whole world could be filled with the same joy. But this paradox is what moves you forward. It's what makes you act more and more justly. It makes you more aware of other's feelings because you want them to find joy whether it be with your religion or not.
There is a line from a song called "Sadeness" by Enigma which goes: "Si tu es contre Dieux, tu es contre l'homme!" (If you are against God, you are against man). I feel the converse is true as well. Perhaps if we look beyond the dogmas and cultuses, and really considered what they represent, we would find that there is a whole other world to explore that is beyond heaven/hell and good/evil. If we become motivated by the desire to share our joy, then we wouldn't need to be motivated by law and consequence, nor reward and incentive. This is not mere theocracy. This is not simply "being ruled by conscience." This is the movement of society as a whole and in solidarity toward the future. This is the premise of Christian Communism.
June 23, 2006
"A far-right website which publishes leftwingers' addresses has come under fire in the Commons in the wake of a knife attack on a union activist."
This article from the BBC raised some key issues in my mind. Free speech. What does that mean? Who deserves free speech? The quote that stuck out the most from the article was from Wallesey MP Ms Eagle: '"Hate websites do not deserve the protection of the principles of freedom of speech when they seek to prevent others from exercising their democratic rights," she said.'
Personally, I'm against hate. I think religious and social vigilantes (aka: religious right nutjobs) don't deserve free speech. But I'm also a romantic idealist. The answer lies not in forcefull legislation and punishment, the answer lies in addressing the cause of this pathology. I'm not against prisons, I'm against politics giving up on the social problems and using prisons as the solution to the larger social issue. Granted, some people are hopeless, but not everyone. This is why we need social programs. Just being laissez-faire about social issues, then resorting to forceful legislation and punishment when things get bad is not the answer. If we start early and educate our youth and raise a culture of toleration and liberty, not of fear and loathing, we have dissolved the problem right there.
People don't talk anymore, it seems. We don't talk about classism, we don't talk about family, we didn't question why we went into Iraq instead of Afghanistan, and we certainly don't care to talk about religious extremism in our own country. And if you don't talk, especially with people you expressly disagree with, you come up with these hair-brained ideas like the homosexual agenda. WTF? No, I'd rather talk about the exploitation of the poor, thanks. Hate is pervasive. Just because you think you know Jesus (yes, I did go there), doesn't mean that you are above this aspect of your humanity. I'll put some evangelists in a room full of gays and lesbians kissing and see how long the "God loves you" lasts.
Social programs are good, but communism is even better. If we moved together, progressively and in solidarity, how could hate exist? Perhaps that's asking a bit too much from the world's wealthiest and most greedy country. But, if you are an activist for whatever cause, remember: you don't have to be fascist about changing the world.
May 11, 2006
A Critical Reading of "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"
Roy Peter Clark wrote a fantastic essay on the epistemology and ontology of journalism. But he missed a huge chunk of the iceberg, in my opinion...
"The post-modernist might think this all irrelevant, arguing that there are no facts, only points of view, only "takes" on reality, influenced by our personal histories, our cultures, our race and gender, our social class. The best journalists can do in such a world is to offer multiple frames through which events and issues can be seen. Report the truth, they ask. Whose truth?"
-Roy Clark, "The Line Between Fact and Fiction"
I am in no way a postmodernist. There is one reality. There is one truth. I'll even toss in that there is one universal virtue. But, the question remains, what is it? Humans are mediated entities. We can see only what's in front of us. No one individual can possess the truth. (YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!) Why? Because of the limitations of our mediated selves. I would argue that it is not that there is no universals, but that everything we see is subjective, so we will never attain full knowledge of the truth. It's not that it doesn't exist, it's just that it cannot be quantified within one single frame of reference.
Imagine there are three blind men on differing sides of an elephant. One can only touch the tail, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Another can only touch the trunk, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Yet another can only touch the ear, but when he does, he instantly recognizes it as an elephant. Which one is correct? You see, truth is multi-faceted, like the elephant. There are many dimensions to truth. Because we carry a lens with a certain set of restrictions, we only see certain facets of the truth.
We are, as I said before, egocentric beings. We only see our side of the story. For example, is the person who treats you like total shit a bad person? If you say yes, I guarantee that you don't treat everyone so mighty fine yourself! Thus, if that statement is true, then we are all bad people. If it were only Adam and Eve and Eve bitchslaps Adam for leaving the toilet seat up, then, yes, maybe Eve was a bad person. We are nice to whom we delight in being nice to and we love to loathe our enemies (even though Jesus told us not to, damn hippie!).
Perhaps if we focused more on the ontology and epistemology of media studies and journalism the world would get closer to the truth. Instead, we focus on the unchallenged classical assumptions of journalistic values. I commend Roy Clark for writing such a thought-provoking piece. He raised some issues in my mind that have been silenced to acceptance by people who study the media. To answer the call that journalists should report the truth, YES! But the question still remains, "where do we begin?"
The Id, the Ego and the Photo
Journalism is egocentric. Hell, I'd be willing to bet that all of life is egocentric. We only see what we choose to see. What makes journalists so different? Are they any less human than other workers? No. If you want someone who is not very human, talk to a lawyer. All jokes aside, anything mediated has certain sets of limitations. These limitations, therefore, create a frame of reference. I like to call this frame of reference its ego, simply because I am also a psychology major... You can call it something else if you like. Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum lies the id. The id is the reader, the viewer. He or she is embedded with unconscious desires and biases -- perhaps more so than the reader cares to admit. The problem is the id and the ego don't get along. At all. Their quarrels of ideologies and agendas create a certain amount of alienation. The id and the ego of media are the macrocosm of what goes on inside each and everyone's brain daily. And that is a blatant oversimplification...
To avoid a strict dichotomy, Freud observed that there was a third construct of the brain called the superego. Just like Freud's construct, the superego mediates the desires and biases of the id (reader) with the agendas and biases of the ego (reporter). The superego is my personal hero. What is the superego in terms of media studies? Simple: a critical reading of the news.
Let's take the example of a photograph. Simple, right? How can a photo be biased? Well, remember from earlier, the medium is the message! The limitations of the photo allow the reporter to only take one static image. This limitation may seem irrelevant, but think about it... How can you capture every side or faction of a story with one photograph? You'd have to make a collage of images to capture every side.
Take a look at this simple search for news photos on the immigration issue (via yahoo, what is the immigration issue?). Okay, now you may think this a stretch, but I don't. What is wrong with the results?
Of all the photos of the first five tiers of results, how many Americans do you see advocating immigrant rights? How many Mexican officials to you see protesting the emmigrations from Mexico? You either see poor Mexican workers advocating their rights or a group of blue-collar Americans holding up American flags in protest. Is that unbiased? Is that fair? Is that proportional? Probably proportional, but as you see, the proportionality is lost in the masses upon masses of blatantly dichotomized images. Who looks at every article and every image just to find all the sides and perspectives involved? As the news agencies see it, the fairness is in the fact that they try to portray two sides of an issue in their most positive light. I guess adding complexity and ambiguity would turn off viewers to the news.
You see, from my frame of reference, the news is not about truth. It never was. It's usually about persuasion and money. We are, as said by Susan Sontag, still in Plato's Cave. Capital is America's frame of reference. Because money talks, right? Obviously, the medium is the massage. People don't need to be challenged; they just need to consume the facts and everything will fall into place, right?
News is very egocentric. In this Western world, we live in a bubble. News is never fair, never proportional, never objective. Why? Because of the sole fact that we view everything from a Eurocentric, capitalistic ideological lens. Does this mean I want to go into total anarchy? Perhaps. But, I feel the most quintessential element in journalism is transperancy. We cannot use words such as fair, proportional, objective, and balanced (yes, that goes for Fox news, too!).
How do we remedy this issue? Simple. Transperancy: we must admit the pervasive biases of the media. This doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for a fair, accurate, proportional, objective and yes, balanced news media, but we should be careful to place these labels on any reporting when they are not completely true. Critical reading: perhaps the most important element in this issue, a critical reading is how we process the biases of both the news reports and ourselves. We must strive to know the reporter's frame of reference, but also strive to know our's. Socrates posed the challenge to "know thyself." Within that short sentence, lies far-reaching implications for media studies. The more we know about our own frame of reference, and the more we know about where others are coming from, the closer we are to the truth.