Oct 11 2015
I set out here to write about capitalism and how it shapes our relationships to everything. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while. I had planned to write about how competition, individualism, and the insecurity of having to “earn a living” or be denied survival, defines how we approach one another and the way in which we interact with people in our lives. I started by examining the definition of capitalism. I turned to Wikipedia first and got this:
capitalism is “an economic system in which trade, industry, and the means of production are privately owned and operated via profit and loss calculation (price signals) through the price system.”
Most of my prior thinking had been focused on the profit and loss aspect and how the only valuation system capitalism uses is money. I had originally thought that I would want to discuss the lack of any ethics or social values in the definition and how that void gets filled by the profit imperative.
However, what I found myself focusing on first was the phrase “privately owned”. I was immediately writing about the concept of ownership. In the wake of three mass shootings in the US, this week, I found myself reaching the conclusion that any society which embraces the idea of private property is, at it’s core, violent. Violence is the very foundation that society. I found myself unable to focus on anything else. I realized that any system which includes any kind of ownership claim has to be violent. So, this isn’t a strictly anti-capitalist exploration. It’s an ownership exploration.
So, can we talk about how we are a fundamentally violent culture? How that’s a feature and not a bug? Can we talk about whether we want to be that? Whether we can change that?
I’ll walk you through my thoughts which led to “ownership = violence” and my not-yet-fully-formed ideas of alternatives and a vague sense of how to get there. My hope is that we spark the beginning of a growing dialogue.
Aug 24 2015
There can be no doubt that the behavior of international capital is a major driver of immigration. Looking outward from the US alone, capital has long been at play in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, extracting resources and supporting dictatorial elites with little interest in economic development, forcing many of those deliberately impoverished masses to look north. Capital builds and destroys economies and rends people’s lives to the point of desperation, forcing the poor to pick up and move wherever they can to survive.
Ironically, there is great controversy over immigration in the developed world whose system did so much to create the prospective immigrant’s desperation. In the United States and Europe the right is obsessed with immigration as a threat to cultural identity; but immigration is also controversial in the center and even on the left, or what passes for the left, allegedly because it depresses working class wages and diminishes the prospects of native-born working people.
Yet if we look at the history of the United States, we see that mass immigration can co-exist with broad prosperity or even drive it. The US absorbed millions of immigrants from the 1880’s to the 1920’s and they helped to build the wealthiest, most powerful nation that ever existed. The US continues to to absorb large numbers of immigrants, documented and undocumented, and still the nation’s wealth expands, if mostly for the elite.
As anti-capitalists, we are naturally suspicious of the nativist, chauvinist notion that immigration is a threat to our security or prosperity individually or collectively, yet few of us would say that immigration without conditions or limits would produce a good result for immigrants or the native-born working class.
How do our various leftist perspectives on immigration address objective conditions in developed economies? Does the working class of one nation owe a welcome to all others who want to come? What is in the long term interest of workers at home and around the world?
Apr 19 2015
In Memory of Eduardo Galeano, 1940-2015.
At the 2009 Summit of the Americas, Hugo Chavez gave Barack Obama a copy of Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America which details the United State’s military aggression, economic exploitation and political coups or “regime changes” in Latin America.
In the 2012 Summit of the Americas, Obama’s reception by Latin American nations was noticeably cool – primarily because the United States refused to end its 50 year boycott of Cuba.
So at the 2015 Summit of the Americas, Obama walked in with a smile on his face and a proposal for a rapprochement with Cuba in one hand, and, in the other, his newly minted Executive Order 2015 which placed sanctions for human rights abuses on several Venezuelan military leaders and government officials. Under his emergency powers, Obama declared Venezuela a “threat to the United State’s national security.”
What was Obama thinking? Did he think people wouldn’t notice the bait and switch as he tried to appease Cuba and the Latin American nations while at the same time he applied the same old cold war tactics to isolate Venezuela as the more recent example of a Latin American country standing up to US imperialism? (To make matters worse, these particular military officers and judicial officials are those that many Bolivarians see as the most active in preventing a highly publicized attempt to destabilize the Venezuela government in February 2014 to set it up for another coup.)
The unanimous demand from the Latin American nations to repeal the sanctions against Venezuela show how disconnected Obama and the United States government are from changes in the balance of power in the Americas in the last decade. This includes the failure of the United States to maintain its neoliberal hegemony and the rise of a left liberal block of nations (i.e., Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil among others).
Admittedly, much of the loss of US hegemony in Latin America is due to the United States over-extending itself in brutal and unsuccessful oil wars in the Middle East and Asia, but much of the impetus of this new left leaning block is due to the influence of the Bolivarian “21st century socialist revolution” of Venezuela. Beginning with the election of Hugo Chavez in the late 1990s and the drafting of a “socialist” constitution, Venezuela has been instrumental in establishing several inter-regional support groups such as ALBA, UNISUR and CELAC which exclude the United States. The new left liberal block of nations has also benefited by Venezuela’s generous sharing of its oil wealth with its neighbors.
So even though most will scoff at the idea that Venezuela is a real military threat to the United States (given the size and nuclear capability and the fact that Venezuela recently reduced its military by an unheard of 34%), the spread of an ideology that challenges the United States’ right to exploit and impoverish its southern neighbors could be sufficient reason to consider Venezuela a “threat” to United States’ ideology of imperialism; thus causing the US to resort to its age old practice of “regime change.”
Seems Like We’ve Heard This Tune Before
For the past 150 years, the United States has treated Latin American as its own personal backyard to exploit. Most of the exploitation has been accomplished through economic dominance and the support of right-wing dictatorships. However, if we look at those countries that experienced actual “regime changes” involving military coups, we can count, just since World War II, a minimum of 11 countries (and I’m sure I’ve missed some) where the United States was either directly or indirectly involved with military regime changes in the Americas– either to protect specific multinational corporate interests or change regimes that promoted an ideology that was more generally in conflict with Capitalist interests (communism/socialism, nationalism, liberation theology): Guatemala
1954, Cuba1959, The Dominican Republic – 1961, Brazil – 1964, Chile – 1970-73, Argentina – 1976, Nicaragua – 1981-90, Panama 1989, Venezuela 2002, Haiti – 2004, and Honduras – 2009.
To learn some more about a recently published secret report that documents the United States plans for achieving regime change in Venezuela follow the discussion below …
Apr 12 2015
Marxist theory holds that there are no heroic individuals in the art world. Even the most solitary practitioner depends on the people who manufacture their supplies, the understanding of the people for whom the art is intended, and in the best cases, the critics who write about it. I suppose an artist could, in theory, draw on the beach with a sharp stick, let the tide erase it without anyone else seeing it, and be satisfied, but for the overwhelming majority of us, art is a form of collaboration. This piece is about the difficulty in negotiating that path in conceptual art, of trying to have a work carry a message that is understandable to its intended viewer without becoming either so simplistic that it becomes polemic, or so difficult that the audience refuses to engage with it. The works of this kind I find most interesting incorporate collaboration, either on purpose, or by fortunate accident. Recently a particular piece in Brooklyn, ironically starting out as a statement about a heroic individual, Edward Snowden, has ended up showing how collaboration provides layers of meaning, and so gives greater insight into both the original subject and to our own role as the viewer and ultimate collaborator.
Apr 06 2015
Freestyle dance with me if you will on what is for many the close of a sacred day. Let us let our hair down, if the shoe fits, so to speak, and embrace what Rosa Luxemburg called “a positive and creative spirit.”
Wherein I Channel My Best (Socialist) Carl Sandburg For the Oddly Lincolnesque Weird Al
Alfred Matthew “Weird Al” Yankovic was born in 1959 two days before yours truly (by my calculation, we were both spawned, albeit separately, the month the victorious Fidel cruised into Havana). Since many of us first heard his goofy music we have felt validated in our own awkward creativity sometimes called weirdness.
In truth, personal objective conditions are never completely the same, including or especially those of celebrities with whom we emotionally bond. In any event, according to the 1994 Al in the Box liner notes, the high school Weird Al was an accordion aficionado, class valedictorian, and had parents who apparently were stable and embraced his need to be happy and himself:
Al’s father, Nick Yankovic, is from Kansas City, Kansas. He came to California after World War II, and worked in a steel factory, a pipe factory, a bedspring factory, and as a forklift operator, security guard and gas station attendant. He’s been semi-retired since 1977. “My dad is responsible for a lot of my attitude toward life,” says Al. “He always stressed when I was a kid that I should do whatever made me happy, because that’s the key to success, doing for a living whatever makes you happy.”
In 1949, Nick married Mary Vivalda, who had come to California from Kentucky. Mary had gone to business college, worked as a switchboard operator for a bank, and eventually became a secretary and stenographer for Firestone.
Ten years later along came Al, Nick and Mary’s only child. Nothing terribly dramatic or traumatic occurred during Al’s early childhood. In retrospect, though, one event does stand out. “A door-to-door salesman came through our neighborhood,” says Al, “trying to solicit business for a local music school. Kids were offered a choice between guitar lessons and accordion lessons. Since Frankie Yankovic (no relation) was America’s Polka King, my parents opted for accordion lessons, perhaps because they figured there should be at least one more accordion-playing Yankovic in the world.”
His elderly parents died in a home accident in 2004, but Weird Al went on with the show in their honor, donning his poodle hat on the tour of the same name. Al seems to carry with him some of his parent’s simplicity:
“Nick just loved being outdoors enjoying nature and his little fruit garden.”
Mary Yankovic liked to garden and work with plants, but had not been able to do much in the last few months, he said. …
“He would always tell me when and where his son was performing,” Buehman said about Nick Yankovic. “Very proud of his son. He was always joking around. That’s probably where Alfred got his sense of humor.” …
“I know he was very proud of his duty in World War II,” Buehman said. “Their son was a caring son, too. He would have a limousine come pick them up for film shoots.”
He said Nick Yankovic was “so tickled” when his son married in 2001 “and he was going to have grandchildren.” Granddaughter Nina Yankovic was born in February 2003.
“Nick said he’d waited a long time (for grandchildren),” said Buehman. “Nick was someone that everybody in the neighborhood knew and liked. When you met him, you just fell in love with him.”
“He’d say, ‘What a beautiful day. It’s so nice to be alive.’ I’d say, ‘Nick, you’re going to live a long time.'”
From the very first, Weird Al’s music exuded the equality necessary for a creative democracy through the implicit notion that anyone could do some version of what he was doing. Indeed, particularly his early music was so rough, unprofessional, and downright lousy in a magical way that for many of us it seemed that uh … a monkey could have produced it by throwing darts at a … help me here … late 70’s voice-synthesizer.
Even today, as perfectly stated by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker, “Do people enjoy ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic because he’s funny or because he’s not that funny?”
Back in 1976, my life at best felt like a polyester parody of those who had come before me in U.S. society and my high school, who had accomplished great things like stopping the Vietnam War or at least having a winning football team or going on a cool chorus trip to Rome. On the other hand, “Al and I,” and countless other post-everything interesting buddies, merely had acne, insider knowledge of the absurd, and eclectic musical legacies, the latter of which were under threat by disco, which involved moves we could never hope to make. The Saturday Night Live fake Ford-Carter debates captured the zeitgeist as good or better than the real ones.
Whenever we were around our friends we acted silly because that seemed like the best and truest thing we could be doing. Parody was our creative aim, and it was good.
Over the years, our objective conditions have changed. And in varying ways we have moved on from a quest for laughs, in and of itself potentially valuable if it encourages folks to enjoy life, to a quest to make a positive material contribution to humanity in some way.
For billions of humans, of course, their gyro wheels allow them bare survival or slightly less miserable poverty, with no opposing ends of parody and satire but only harshness and frightening uncertainty. Yet, together, could those who are more “fortunate” and others who are far less so not democratically remake the unnatural “world” of human institutions using both indirect means, such as electioneering, judicial appointment, and constitutional revision, and peaceful but nonetheless direct means?
For Weird Al, over the decades his music has cautiously extended to humane satire, while never straying too far from his base in simple parody. For me to enjoy Weird Al’s music today is to get into his gyro wheel with him and for a little while pleasantly travel up and down the objective conditions of his decent and, for an international singing sensation, relatively humble life. And I think I know which side he’s on.
And he does some really kind things with the gifts that he has, as in this sweet, fun, and empowering performance just last month with and for autistic persons.
But I am not satisfied–with him or with me. This is not a dress rehearsal, or an 80’s MTV set, we are living in. The man is not threatened by either one of us.
The man is a self-serving veritable force of anti-nature. He makes profits and accumulates capital in ever-expanding circles of global influence through any means necessary, including divide-and-rule, and thereby directly or indirectly decides the rhythm and flow of most of the lives of the masses to the extent these are not governed by nature. He tolerates if not enjoys our movement back and forth on our gyro wheels with a semblance of freedom between our decent silliness and our varied idiosyncratic efforts to effect change.
For Yankovic the latter is principally humane satire:
One of the major differences that can be noted between a parody and satire is in regard to their goals. Though both parody and satire convey humour, they impart different roles in society. Satire is stands for a social or political change. It depicts an anger or frustration trying to make the subject palatable. Satire can be termed as humour and anger combined together. Parody is really meant for mocking and it may or may not incite the society. Parody is just pure entertainment and nothing else. It does not have a direct influence on the society.
Humane satire is repeatedly evident on Weird Al’s recent Grammy award-winning album, Mandatory Fun, which, while through the cover mocking the propaganda styling of the totalitarian Soviet Union and Maoist China, is to a significant extent musically aimed at the contemporary selfishness and vacuity of actually-existing capitalism. (I won’t review the album, but you can read a good review here in this Salon article by Lynn Stuart Parramore.)
Humane satire is a form of creative democracy in action and can plant good seeds of agitation and hope. Similarly, idiosyncratic charity can be a small form of justice in action, and at a given stage of life, it may be all the kindness that a good human can do on her or his gyro wheel. But it is still on the gyro wheel. Charity on our gyro wheels may not help to bring about justice in the service of love. Hope in the gyro wheels the man allows for us is not transformational and is delusional. Love in the form of justice writ large is true charity and the greatest of the things that humanity can do for itself. But the man knows how to rig democracy to ensure only faux justice.
As Thomas Merton and now Pope Francis have recognized, we need disturbances of a peace that would deny justice. Maintenance of an unjust status quo is not loving.
Not only mass cooperative indirect action but also mass cooperative direct action is needed where our lives jump off the tracks imposed upon us by the man, enforce a social compact of liberty and justice for all, and regain the natural rhythms and flows of life on earth. We must become the active creative subjects of a destiny of loving kindness as fully-endowed and equal species-beings, rather than remain the playthings of the man.
But, as I said a year ago, for me, and I suspect you, direct action, at least in its confrontational forms, is an obligation purposely made difficult. The needed direct means to justice in the service of love include not only potentially simple and less confrontational measures like workers’ gardens and cooperatives but also mass confrontational efforts. These mass confrontational efforts include the stuff that global solidarity is made of, “sordid” things like large scale labor organizing, peaceful transnational opposition to neoliberal globalization, race-to-the-bottom trade deals, land grabs, privatization, and denial of public control of the commons, and substitution of a global social compact.
And, if we are really serious, there ultimately may even need to be, gulp, civil disobedience and general strikes. The horror. Of course, then we could lose our jobs or go to jail–and long before then conservatives would have stopped buying our silly songs and coming to our parody rock concerts.
In 2012 Weird Al said:
I try to stay away from political humor only because it really divides my audience. I don’t want half my audience to suddenly feel like I don’t speak for them. As a satirist I’ve been taken to task by people who think I should go for the jugular, but it’s been a challenge for me to do that.
So, maybe he’s not on our side after all. I know I have not really risen this Easter Sunday. Perhaps neither has my man Weird Al, although by 2014 much of his music was Socratic in its questioning of capitalism. He was suggesting there’s a party in the CIA even before then, as well as supporting LGBT rights.
Because of objective limitations, you, Al, and I cannot be fully new persons this day or any other. Usually our personal growth will be incremental. Meanwhile, our personal creativity, while idiosyncratically beneficial, is also potentially farce and possibly even self-mocking and amusing to the man, who does not, as Jesus supposedly did, believe in the servant leadership of washing the feet of, breaking bread with, and giving justice to the outcast, the weak, and the poor.
One thing potentially revolutionary in its implications we can consciously try to do. We can reach out, both hands affectionately extended, to our loving comrades in ever-expanding circles of creative democratic solidarity in support of humanity’s critical, meaningful, and sufficient love.
Please go below for a brief further discussion of objective and subjective conditions.
Mar 30 2015
It wasn’t that hard when I was a grunt. As long as my job was constructive, something that made the world suck less, a regular job was OK. I was a working class guy, the Man was the Man, and never the twain would meet.
Now, I’m the boss. Sure, it’s a non-profit, but I’m still in a position to hire, fire, and order people around. It’s also important to note that “non-profit” doesn’t mean nobody is taking home too much money. It doesn’t mean the work really helps anyone. Non-profits are, if anything, more worried about their reputation than for-profit businesses, who don’t need to appeal to the goodwill of the bourgeoisie for sustenance. I have confidence in the decency and mission of the outfit I work for, but as anyone who has spent time in the non-profit/NGO world understands, organizations change and non-profits can be quite ruthless. They are every bit as flawed as the human beings who run them.
For better or worse, I help run this one.
Now, instead of separating myself from the Man, I find I am the Man. I manage several dozen employees who depend on me to be competent and fair in my decisions, which critically effect not just their working life, but their homes and families, and even their long-term employability anywhere.
What’s a good socialist to do?
Mar 15 2015
Today is Mother’s Day in Britain (aka “Mothering Sunday”) and this topic is extremely appropriate. The idea of accessing 24 hour childcare is an old one … the questions that arise are why this is an important issue and why we should we be advocating for it? The next obvious question is how can we actually obtain it, in other words, what policies can ensure that this is viable and offers a positive transformation (that offers fulfilment to women and children where their needs and wants are covered) rather than a negative one?
How do we understand the oppression of women? Is it something that can be easily solved with reforms within the system (e.g., unequal pay, equality under the law, access to education and work)? Or does our oppression derive from the nature of class societies, property ownership, and our role in social reproduction? For me, it is the latter and that is why I do not think that reforms are sufficient, but they certainly can be done and must be done, if only to address inequality. These reforms may not affect our oppression much (which will require the overthrow of class societies based upon property), but they will make our lives easier and they will also get allies to understand the nature of our oppression. I do not know about you, but I simply refuse to wait until the revolution for women’s oppression to be understood and inequality to be addressed. We are raised in the context of our societies and if we do not address this before we transform society, then, I am certain that those raised in these societies will never understand the need for change (or it will always be put off as there are other more immediate things that need to be addressed, as usual).
Mar 01 2015
Why do we do this? I can only speak for me, but I do it not only to foment revolution–a worldwide peaceful one of justice in the service of love brought about by direct and indirect action–but also for the camaraderie. NancyWH reminded me of that in a comment she made last Sunday night in a chain under annieli’s latest diary for this group (an amazing educational piece, read by very few at the time, I am sad to say):
Every journey starts with one step (4+ / 0-)
I hear. Now I have two! I will end up having so many tabs open, I’ll get confused. So I have a word document where I stash links, so I can find them again later.
And I am apt to come back early tomorrow, and find people came along and added other suggestions after I went to sleep. It was that comradery that drew me here in the first place.
And that comment got me thinking about “camaraderie.” I volunteered to do this diary a day later because we needed a writer for this week, thinking that I could come up with something, but as usual not knowing what it would be. I do love this unpredictable journey of socialist sharing with comrades, some of whom are now living across one big pond or another from the U.S., and none, to my knowledge, within hundreds of miles of me, a lonely watermelon in a highly un-“red” part of the Deep Red South. To me, it does not really matter what specific anti-capitalist theme I write about or one of my comrades writes about, but it does matter that we are together, sharing our bad ass love for humanity, including for each other.
Of course, Daily Kos writ large has an agenda which should bring some solidarity, and any group blog at Daily Kos has some camaraderie around a profile, and some profiles are more or less expressly aimed at camaraderie. Because of responsibilities, I don’t often get to participate in Saturday night’s WYFP?, but when I do, I am always uplifted by the fact that people bring their problems to each other there and receive encouragement from others. It is quite beautifully real and sometimes brings me to tears.
Stuck in my atrophying mental space, based on NancyWH’s comment, was this subject of camaraderie. I have never spent much time thinking about socialist camaraderie per se, but I have known some camaraderie in my day, most of it decidedly un-socialist and un-progressive–a “wide gamut,” everything from little league competition and bench-warming of the “worst” “teammates”; to high school locker room glory days, where one fits in by not only performing on the field or court but also by committing or ignoring bullying of the smallest “teammates”; to goldfish-swallowing beer-guzzling fraternity “good times,” where one fits in by committing or receiving bullying given the more grandiose name of hazing; to beer-guzzling adult softball team after-game carousing and what not–then again, it dawns, maybe I don’t know shit about camaraderie, sure haven’t had much of it that wasn’t involved with competition, cruelty, or both.
After all, as we all know down heuh, when it comes to “heaven and hell,” it is everyone for “himself,” standing condemned from the instant of birth by the sinful act of copulation, so loved by the great tortoise in the sky that he would send us into a burning eternal barbecue pit for daring to enter this perfect world. I was raised in, and in the acceptable capitalist ways rebelled from, the most conservative of fundie religious subcultures in the Cold War U.S., where “comrade” was used as a term of hostile disparagement of “the enemy.” Come to think of it, the closest I received in comradery growing up was probably involved with sharing bong hits and playing hearts while ditching some class in minimester I can’t remember now.
I do remember distinctly when I first read the word “comrade” in reference to real people that I know–the members of this group, which I’d just joined, a little over a year ago. Ironically, it was used by one of my now heroes, NY brit expat, in asking for writers! I am sorry to say that I at first assumed it was humorously used. “Comrade” died with the Soviet Union, right? I replied back somewhat tongue in cheek but even then felt scared to acknowledge the request because, as in joining this group to begin with, it means to voluntarily wear a badge that could invite repression, and where I live, repression can get ugly.
I have learned in this group that camaraderie involves honest and sometimes difficult exchanges, solidarity with not only each other but all of the workers and less fortunate of the world, gentle expressions of friendship, and tons of edjurecation, and even a little re-edjurecation.
which leads to reading,
While we have many scholars who write for this group, I am not one of them. Each week, when I read the diary and the comments, I add to my reading list. My special top secret personal revolutionary bookcase is full of pink, red, and green things to do that involve me learning, which is good, but time-consuming. Perhaps you too carry around on your smart phone links to works of Luxemburg, Gramsci, and Bookchin, things you need to read or re-read and can feel guilty over.
When I started thinking about “comradery,” I decided to start with the French “liberty, equality, fraternity,” which led to the limited spare time of three days being spent with some dead dude named Pierre Leroux, whom I have really come to like. I was going to riff this diary on him, when serendity happened …
which leads me back to a dear friend from long ago, “a queer socialist poet.”
At 2:14 pm Central Time this past Thursday, when I was at work, my real-me personal in-box received a visit from my independent socialist comrades at Monthly Review. And, maybe my life will never be the same, I am serious. Into my life came a new book by some literary lefty at Penn State named John Marsh, In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself (Monthly Review Press, 2015).
By Friday night I had read the UTNE Reader excerpt from the book and was completely stoked. I took the full plunge, and it now mysteriously “sits” in my dinosaur first generation pawn shop iPad half-read but already well-loved. I would be reading the rest of it now, except that I have to write this darn diary and go chop down some wild stuff before spring gets here.
I will, tortoise willing, come back to you one day with a full review of the book. It is friggin’ terrific. Like my other new buddy Leroux, it implies that the liberal and the socialist have much to learn from each other. For instance, while the liberal conception of “justice” as defined by capitalist laws is woefully inadequate, the artistic and intellectual freedom of humanity should not be pinned down by what came to be known as “socialist realism” or convenient to a hierarchy, respectively.
We will fight for a just world for all and not accept no for an answer. But our blades will primarily be leaves of grass. Our practice must account for time and place, and we all need true friends:
Nor did I always believe that Whitman would save America from what ailed it. More often than not I thought he was-or represented-exactly what it suffered from. His naive optimism, his boosterish patriotism, his fuzzy spiritualism, his celebration of the body and sex-though these may have once seemed, in the nineteenth century perhaps, like the solution to a problem, they now seemed like the problem itself. Americans did not need to be told to look on the bright side, to love America, to trust God, or, my Lord, to worship sex. They needed to be told not to.
But I know now that I was wrong. At some point, and for me it came in my early thirties, you realize that socialism will be a long time coming in the United States, especially when one of our two political parties fervently believes that the United States is already on the road to socialist serfdom. When you wake up to this reality, you care a lot less about whether a poet was socialist enough or not, and a lot more about how he can help you live in the world you have.
[W]hitman had nothing to do with building up the empire of illusions that currently enfold and enthrall Americans, not just because few people actually read him, then or now, and therefore you cannot lay much blame at his door. But also because-read carefully-he says no such things. Indeed, I am now convinced that reading Whitman would go far toward striking back against that empire of illusion.
When I read Leaves of Grass the first time, I was beginning a new life, becoming must closer to who I am today than who I was raised to be. Something told me to take Walt Whitman with me on that long back-packing trip. I sat and read him on rainy days in the tent and on a clear day by a roaring ice-filled river read him too. He, long dead as Leroux, planted wonderful seeds in me, like not only a love of compost but also the assumption that composting can be a political act.
He was fearless. What kind of bravery it would have taken in 1855 to self-publish such thoughts: “Welcome is every organ and attribute of me, and of any man hearty and clean. / Not an inch nor a particle of an inch is vile, and none shall be less familiar than the rest.”
Well I am off to chop those vines, which will go in This Compost, where I will hopefully one day join them:
Behold this compost! behold it well!
Perhaps every mite has once form’d part of a sick person-Yet behold!
The grass of spring covers the prairies,
The bean bursts noislessly through the mould in the garden,
The delicate spear of the onion pierces upward,
The apple-buds cluster together on the apple-branches,
The resurrection of the wheat appears with pale visage out of its graves,
The tinge awakes over the willow-tree and the mulberry-tree,
The he-birds carol mornings and evenings, while the she-birds sit on their nests,
The young of poultry break through the hatch’d eggs,
The new-born of animals appear-the calf is dropt from the cow, the colt from the mare,
Out of its little hill faithfully rise the potato’s dark green leaves,
Out of its hill rises the yellow maize-stalk-the lilacs bloom in the door-yards;
The summer growth is innocent and disdainful above all those strata of sour dead.
That the winds are really not infectious,
That this is no cheat, this transparent green-wash of the sea, which is so amorous after me,
That it is safe to allow it to lick my naked body all over with its tongues,
That it will not endanger me with the fevers that have deposited themselves in it,
That all is clean forever and forever.
That the cool drink from the well tastes so good,
That blackberries are so flavorous and juicy,
That the fruits of the apple-orchard, and of the orange-orchard-that melons, grapes, peaches, plums, will none of them poison me,
That when I recline on the grass I do not catch any disease,
Though probably every spear of grass rises out of what was once a catching disease.
Now I am terrified at the Earth! it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions,
It turns harmless and stainless on its axis, with such endless successions of diseas’d corpses,
It distils such exquisite winds out of such infused fetor,
It renews with such unwitting looks, its prodigal, annual, sumptuous crops,
It gives such divine materials to men, and accepts such leavings from them at last.
See you next week, same lefty batting channel. Meanwhile, let’s go hit the books comrades–when, that is, we are not working, dancing, frolicking naked across the prairie, etc.
Feb 01 2015
The Greeks have said enough! Hope has defeated fear and SYRIZA has won the election and have beaten New Democracy and the fear-mongers, as expected. This is a major victory for anti-austerity forces which could change the economic and political landscapes.
However, they did not win an outright majority (they were short 2 seats) and were forced into coalition with a right-wing, nationalist (pro-Greek Orthodox) anti-austerity party, the Independent Greeks (referred to as ANEL from now on).
Irrespective of this, we do have quite a lot to celebrate! The election of SYRIZA is a shot directly across the bow of neoliberalism and its flagship of ideas, aka as the austerity project. The European ruling class (which includes mainstream political leaders) are a wee bit shaken especially Germany. Whether or not the Troika is forced to negotiate the debt successfully, this is a victory and it is forcing the ruling class in Europe to take stock over whether austerity (and destroying the working class) is more important than the EU project. The stakes are literally that high!
Jan 25 2015
Finally saw the movie Selma last week, right after the MLK Day march. Found it to be an exhilarating fictionalized rendition of one of the more important moments in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It is, above all else, a reminder that this struggle is primarily of, by and for black folks. And yet, most of the press, even prior to the movie opening, was about how it was historically inaccurate and, more importantly to these critics, misrepresented and denigrated (I chose my words carefully here) the role of Lyndon Baines Johnson who was president at the time of the struggle.
In Politico’s “What Selma Gets Wrong,” (12/22/14), LBJ Presidential Library director Mark Updegrove charged that the fictional film’s depiction of the epic voting-rights battle in the Alabama town portrayed the relationship between [Martin Luther] King and President Lyndon Baines Johnson as “contentious.” This served, Updegrove scolded, to “bastardize one of the most hallowed chapters in the civil rights movement by suggesting that the president himself stood in the way of progress.” Johnson adviser Joseph Califano struck next in the Washington Post (12/26/14)suggesting that in fact, Selma was LBJ’s idea.” Califano asks of the filmmakers: Did “they” [quotes are mine] feel no obligation to check the facts? You even had Post columnist Richard Cohen (1/5/15) lamenting that Selma is a lie that tarnishes Johnson’s legacy to exalt King’s.
Without getting too much into the details of the controversy and who gets to determine “facts”, the accusation here is that the black female director Ava Devernay (and by implication the black community)was willing to distort the history of the white role in the civil rights movement to promote black biases of black importance in the struggle. In other words, the black community doesn’t care about accuracy, about truth and “justice,” but only about “just us” (i.e.the black community promoting its own importance in history).
There is, in fact, evidence to support DeVernay’s representation of LBJ and I would submit that it is the white supremist myth of white people bringing justice to the poor downtrodden blacks that is the bias that DuVernay is challenging and has caused all the criticism of the film. That the “us” in “just us” is really white folks angered that it is the myth of white moral superiority that is being challenged and that DeVarnay’s film provides a healthy corrective.
It is important to note why the fight about Selma The Movie is so important now. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlight the increase in police violence in low income nonwhite communities or perhaps it has just increased the exposure of police brutality due to the new technologies of cell phones and social media. Either way, it has increased racial tensions. At the same time, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 combined with efforts to roll back voting rights with new voter suppression laws in many states, has also contributed to increased awareness of racial inequality. In volatile times, society and the dominant culture are especially interested in how they can control the “story” to maintain the status quo.
While there are many documentaries which present an excellent and accurate record of the civil rights struggle (notably in my mind, “Eyes on the Prize”) this is more about how popular cultural representations shape a society’s perspective. I would venture to say that most Americans’ deepest emotional beliefs about their identity and place in history and the world are formed at least in part, if not wholly, through the cultural representations around them rather than through academic research and factual reasoning. In this context it appears that most white Americans still believe that white people are innately superior to black people by virtue of our role in helping black people escape their oppression and poverty (the cause of which is conveniently vague –oh yeah, there was slavery, but I wasn’t alive then so its not my fault, besides we were the good guys in WW!! saving the Jews from the Nazis–which gets two weeks in most American high school curricula while slavery gets one day).
Of course these days popular and social media far outweigh what you learn in school as the social arbiters so I would like to take a moment here to put Selma in the context of the factual history vs. the other fictionalized media accounts of racial struggle and racial advancement in the last few years.