Sunday, February 02, 2014

God and the meaning of life

I haven't narrowed it down to one possibility yet.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The best defense


The predawn philosophers’ club only met once, but I really wanted to tell those guys what I meant when I said the thing about making your own truth. You don’t always say things the way you want when you’re anxious about being garroted.

I bought a high-powered LED flashlight to carry with me after that. It’s designed to be blindingly bright, and you can even stab someone with it if you need to -- an innovation that brings flashlights into the 21st century, or so its marketers claim. What value this is to me in an urban environment is unclear. I think it could be very useful for women, so frequently are they molested by men. I’ve taken it camping, and I like the idea of being able to beat off a rabid raccoon with it.

The light has two power settings: low at 5 lumens, high at 200 lumens. A lumen is a unit of measurement relating to LEDs, like watts are to conventional bulbs. The low setting is very nice. I often use it in the middle of the night, when the contents of my bladder are purged. The high setting is like opening a porthole to the surface of the sun. You can see the colors and details of whatever you are inspecting from a block or more away.

Recently I was at a state park several hours outside the city. I was camping with three women, one of whom asked me if I knew how to operate a firearm. I told her I had very high scores for weapons proficiencies in GoldenEye on the Wii. Nobody had a real gun, but I said with my flashlight I felt more than a match for any animal under 12-15 pounds.

We couldn’t get our fire started; none of us had been camping in ages. Ask me and I will explain to you at length that I know very well how to make a fire in a controlled setting, namely a fireplace, but all we had was damp kindling and the wood this shirtless guy sold us on the way in. No Duraflame or fatwood -- or properly seasoned wood, evidently, of any kind. I meant to bring my long-necked butane lighter, the kind they have for starting grills. Surely that would have made an impression. As it was, we had a single box of wooden matches and multiple iPhones.

We were quite hungry after a leisurely afternoon spent lost in the woods (long story short: we knew our location via satellite but no one else’s). While none of our food really needed to be cooked, have you ever eaten veggie dogs straight out of the plastic? Around this time it occurred to us we had neither beer nor hard alcohol, of which I am never too finicky to make a meal.

Eventually one of my party went looking for someone from another campsite to help get our fire started. As the only dude in our group, I thought this was a terrible idea. I could see a whole line of inquiry into what we thought we were doing in the wild without the skills necessary to survive, the crooked finger of patriarchy pointed squarely at me. I’m vaguely aware that people prepare their whole lives for this moment, when they can assume a posture of overblown authority, just as I have dedicated myself to denying them that chance at every turn. Broadsided by my campmate’s decision, I resigned myself to the worst.

A girl scout started our fire, it should be known, with the aid of an enormous flaming log she had retrieved from her own. As feared, the rest of her party gradually materialized in our camp, a large family of all ages from southern Illinois. My group says they were very nice, while I maintain they were genuine weirdos. This earned me no sympathy from my peers, who can’t possibly appreciate what it feels like to be vulnerable and have a penis, with some balls.

True to form, there was the requisite monologue on the elementary principles of fire building: you have to start small and build up; heat rises; fire is hot -- and so on and so forth from every corner of the camp, until each age group felt itself to have made a proper contribution. In vain did I wait for mention of the “large flaming log” approach to incendiary excellence. “Don’t thank us -- it’s just what we do,” a thirteen-year-old chirped at the end of the tutorial.

We thanked them anyway. It was nice to have a fire, and in my view they weren’t bad people, just deeply flawed. As they departed, the matriarch called to us through the night: “Just make sure you do the same for others when they ask for help.” Because the natural human temptation is to...what? Kick them in the teeth? And so it was that a morality lesson was tacked on to a 35-minute lecture about how fire works.

Admittedly, it could have been worse -- like a trio of inebriated douchebags getting randy with the ladies. In that case I would have been called upon to blind and bludgeon each with my flashlight, when in truth I was only prepared to challenge small game. I contemplated this at length while eating s’mores.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Going places

There are people screaming on my bus at 6am. Are they in pain? They read the free transit newspaper, after all. I will be offered one if I don’t already have a book in hand -- the thought grips me at each departure.

You would be impressed by the ambient volume within our shared sarcophagus. Some of us have the ability to speak with the same velocity of sound as when one shrieks. I, on the other hand, have the opposite problem. It takes extra effort to maintain a normal speaking volume, because my voice is very deep.

I’m usually the only white person on the bus. Sometimes it’s me and the bus driver. The route goes to all the hotels around the airport, to a bank, and finally to the cargo end of the tarmac. At alternate times it will take you to the Tastykake factory by the river. Most of the people I encounter work in the hotels. My stop is the end of the line, and by then there are four or five of us left: me with two of my coworkers and one or two security guards.

I can get a lot of reading done if I’m in a familiar environment. The trip is about 25 minutes, which can seem too short, really. It’s pleasant to read on a bus if it is part of your routine. I have a harder time with it when I’m traveling somewhere that isn’t routine. And I can’t sleep in most modes of transportation, certainly not well.

People come to public transit with different preconceptions. Working people are split between those who appreciate what it has to offer and those who stridently reject it, because of its association with the poor. I’ve known quite a few people who regard cars as status symbols for this reason. There is a certain unimaginative type who is forever asking when you are going to get a car, each time they see you waiting for the bus -- like, for years. I once knew an immigrant student who even saw in obtaining wheels his best chance at landing a girlfriend.

You have to ascend pretty high up into professional culture before you encounter anyone for whom public transit is a status symbol greater than the automobile. Whenever someone tells me how cool it is that I take the bus, I agree, if warily. I’m skeptical of how much I have in common with someone just because we have something in common. Particularly so at the level of ideas.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Predawn philosophers' club


Before sunrise, I have walked 2 miles through the city of Philadelphia on most working days. An excitable fellow looks for me when I pass CVS, announcing to everyone, “This guy! Every day at quarter to six!” Unfortunate, I tell myself, and wave.
There are as many cats as people, this time of day. No one wants to cuddle. Actually, that is interesting. Yesterday I saw a dark skinned man escorting an anorexic blonde woman; we crossed paths. You see it occasionally. They don’t say anything to me. 
Today a guy spotted me. He made such a to-do in asking for a light that it was only afterwards that I noticed the adrenaline in my thighs. But I told him I didn’t smoke and he muttered even though I apologized: I was very sorry for not smoking.
A lady tried to sell me prescription drugs off her front porch. She asked if I like percocets. She asked if I liked jewelry. She asked me what I liked and I said I like to read a book. That satisfied her interest -- but for the next few days I worried she would be waiting for me on that unlit porch. 
People ask you for money, and most of the time I try to accommodate them. This can be complicated by the fact that I don’t usually carry cash. Ideally, I have some handy for this purpose, somewhere that is easily accessible. But when I don’t, I just tell them that I’m sorry and that I don’t have any change. Most people accept that, but it’s good to look them in the eye. I can’t imagine ignoring someone altogether. Some people say that mendicants are either drug addicts or millionaires, but the fact is you don’t know their situation and everybody has to eat sometime.

Something surprised me once; it changed the way I look at my commute. This was in winter -- not when you expect to have problems. Nobody is hanging out on the corner, for example.
These two weren’t hanging out but moving through my neighborhood, the very beginning of my walk, with a lot of commotion. Later I would think that they were probably laborers in the Italian Market based on how they were dressed, the direction they were traveling, and the hour of the day. 
They were ahead of me, going in the same direction, carrying on what I would call an angry exchange with the world. Naturally, it occurred to me to avoid them; subconsciously, I must have thought that by going toward them, I could. They cut across the street, to my side, proceeding down a small perpendicular alley.
The second one saw me, half a block away, just as he reached the mouth of the alley. He motioned for his buddy, who reappeared. For the first time they were perfectly quiet, watching. City lighting must have revealed a tall, thin person without much detail; for my part, I could see two dark shapes, the first stocky, the second tall and thin, in hoodies.
The first started what I interpreted to be a kind of routine.
“Yo, whatzup?” he said with pointed hostility.
“What’s going on?”
“You tell me.” 
“Just going to work.”
The conservation dropped out as we came into view of one another. 
“Hey! Aslaam Alaikum, my brother,” said the first, seeing that I had a large beard. “Are you Muslim?”
This was not a new question for me in my comings and goings around Philadelphia. People always asked me if I was Muslim, Amish, orthodox Jewish, and so on; and my friends and family needled me about the fact they did. I had different versions of the same basic answer, which in this case I stated simply as, “I believe in the truth.”
Unfortunately, this was taken to mean that “the truth” is I something I hold to be in opposition, or superior, to Islam. 
“Oh yeah, what’s the truth?”
“Make your own truth,” I said. 
A pause, then, “Man, you don’t believe in the truth!”
But the truth was that I was past them. The second guy urged the first to drop it. “Come on, man.”

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What's a Socialist?

The New York Times asks, “What’s a Socialist?” and considers it in terms of Western political parties.1 Socialism isn’t what it once was, says the Times; it has “largely done its job” as “the industrialized working class gets smaller and smaller.” We are all middle class now, or would like to think so, from our vantage point as the globe’s foremost consumers. 
Yet it might be instructive to ask who makes the many items we consume. Presumably somebody does. IKEA and Target must have “workers” somewhere in their supply chain, even if their floor staff and customer service representatives are happily “middle class.” Is it really true that the people who make your stuff are becoming fewer and fewer? You have to assume a pretty narrow perspective to argue that just because none of your FaceBook friends work on an assembly line, there must not be very many of them left. 
The New York Times can ask what it means to be a socialist in a system that produces less and less, consumes more and more; and it can honestly arrive at the answer, “not a whole hell of a lot.” Socialism, if it has ever meant anything, meant that the people making things have control of the processes which make them -- i.e., that workers control production. Of course, this presupposes that there is production, and this creates the whole difficulty for observers in the West, who no longer see it by looking out their windows. We are all middle class now, they tell themselves.
The fact that socialism has less political meaning in societies that no longer produce much of what they consume is not surprising: conflicts around production have been relocated -- to more repressive locales. A Socialist in France is like a Democrat in the US: both had greater relevance, vis-a-vis their stated ideals, in decades past, not because we have transcended the social concerns which informed them, but because a domestic working class could interfere with production, and in doing so shape politics. As the industrial working class gets smaller and smaller in our communities, the influence of owners, managers, and investors becomes the norm. This unchecked power, in turn, precipitates the kinds of crises we have come to know so well in recent years.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ties that bind

Alexandra Popoff, Sophia Tolstoy:
The Tolstoyan agricultural colonies were notorious for various incidents, which led to their breakup. Such colonies had sprung up in the 1880s, but none lasted longer than a year: people who fled convention were a disagreeable lot. Their attempts to live and work together were doomed -- quarrels were common, and since they rejected the law, there was no way of solving their disputes. They believed in the superiority of their moral principles but could not survive as a community. Commenting on what he perceived as a failure of their movement, Aylmer Maude would remark: "Again and again attempts have been made to cure social ills by persuading people to stand aside from the main stream of human life, and to save their souls by following an isolated course; but all paths of social improvement except the common highway trodden by the common man have proved to be blind alleys." Like Maude, Sophia [Tolstoy] met many idle and inefficient "wanderers" among the Tolstoyans. She was appalled by the scandals in the Tolstoy Colonies, which were widely known. In 1891, Nikolai Karonin, a populist writer, published "The Borskaya Colony," a story about intellectuals who founded a commune with the idea of helping peasants. Instead, they brought ruin: a peasant girl was raped and later committed suicide. The fact-based account appeared in the journal Russian Thought and produced a sensation, hurtful to Tolstoy's cause.
One needn't accept every assumption here to see that there is something to holding oneself in opposition to the "main stream of human life" which does not lend itself to anything better, and frequently contributes to some things that are worse.

I often give the example of abuses I have witnessed between people with the finest political pedigrees -- far worse in the damage they do than anything I have experienced coming from a boss.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The noise made by people

Anton Chekhov, Peasants:
During the summer and winter months there were hours and days when these people appeared to live worse than cattle, and life with them was really terrible. They were coarse, dishonest, filthy, drunk, always quarreling and arguing amongst themselves, with no respect for one another and living in mutual fear and suspicion. Who maintains the pubs and makes the peasant drunk? The peasant. Who embezzles the village, school and parish funds and spends it all on drink? The peasant. Who robs his neighbor, sets fire to his house and perjures himself in court for a bottle of vodka? Who is the first to revile the peasant at district council and similar meetings? The peasant. Yes, it was terrible living with these people; nevertheless they were still human beings, suffering and weeping like other people and there was nothing in their lives which did not provide some excuse: killing work which made bodies ache all over at night, harsh winters, poor harvests, overcrowding, without any help and nowhere to find it. The richer and stronger cannot help, since they themselves are coarse, dishonest and drunk, using the same foul language. The most insignificant little clerk or official treats peasants like tramps, even talking down to elders and churchwardens, as though this is their right. And after all, could one expect help or a good example from the mercenary, greedy, dissolute, lazy people who come to the village now and then just to insult, fleece and intimidate the peasants?
While greater in absolute terms, the treachery of having someone direct your productive activity through the course of a day's employment nevertheless becomes routine. Hey, something is expected of you, something is expected of them; this is how we all get through the day. It's a betrayal, but nothing personal. This is the good business model; it preempts disruption very well, in my view.

But the betrayals that come from others subordinated by the same set of circumstances; really, these are a marvel to behold! Perhaps the bosses, by virtue of their position, enjoy the luxury; or else they observe the advantage which derives from not making things too personal. Only the idiots risk their salaries for their subordinates. But what the contemporary serf wouldn't do to brandish his rank to the rank-and-file. Yes, it is terrible working with these people; nevertheless you know what they contend with on a daily basis, and there is little in their lives which does not provide some excuse ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Yeah, buddies

Bloomberg Businessweek:
A businesswoman who can maintain her poise in a strip club will prove to be a team player. Try not to appear shocked by your surroundings, even if it's your first time. If you don't mind getting a lap dance, it will endear you to your male colleagues, though the endearment may not be reciprocal.

If you're unable to tolerate the teeming male sexuality, chat up the strippers. They may well appreciate the female companionship. To thank them for their time, either purchase them a drink or buy a man in your party a lap dance.
The businesswoman who can maintain her poise in a strip club may very well prove herself a team player, but one wonders about the goals.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Free time: Marx and individualism

"The free development of individualities, and hence not the reduction of necessary labor time so as to posit surplus labor, but rather the general reduction of the necessary labor of society to a minimum, which then corresponds to the artistic, scientific etc. development of the individuals in the time set free, and with the means created, for all of them."1

"[Capital] is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labor time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone's time for their own development." 708

"[R]eal wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labor time, but rather disposable time." 708

"Free time -- which is both idle time and time for higher activity -- has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject." 712

Grundrisse

Note: Capital, through technical development (automation, etc.), reduces to a minimum that portion of the day which we work for ourselves, in order to maximize that portion in which we work, uncompensated, for others (the for-profit employer). That portion in which we work for ourselves -- for our own subsistence or "reproduction," so that we may from our employer's perspective return to work the next day, week, and so on; or, from our own view, in order to live -- Marx calls "necessary labor time." The idea here is that if capitalism's development drives down, by means of technological advance, that portion of the day that people need to work in order to meet their own needs, then it is simultaneously creating the possibility that people would stop working, uncompensated, for others, for the "surplus" portion of their working time. This time, in turn, would become their own: "Free time -- which is both idle time and time for higher activity … transform[s] its possessor into a different subject … [who] then enters into the direct production process as this different subject."

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Dialectics

"The dialectical mode of thinking, at least as I construe it, precludes closure of the argument at any particular point. The intriguing configurations of internal and external contradiction … force the argument to spin onwards and outwards to all manner of new terrain. The opening of new questions to be answered, new paths for enquiry to take, provokes simultaneously the re-evaluation of basic concepts -- such as value -- and the perpetual re-casting of the conceptual apparatus used to describe the world. Perhaps the most extraordinary insight to be gained from a careful study of Marx is the intricate fluidity of thought, the perpetual creation of new openings within the corpus of his writings. Strange, then, that bourgeois philosophers frequently depict Marxist science as a closed system, not amenable to the verification procedures with which they seek to close out their own hypotheses into universal and unchallengeable truths. Strange, also, that many Marxists convert deeply held and passionately felt commitments into doctrinaire dogmatism, as closed to new openings as traditional bourgeois modes of thought, when Marx's own work totally belies such closure."

David Harvey, The Limits to Capital

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Malthus and overpopulation

"[Malthus] … relates a specific quantity of people to a specific quantity of necessaries. Ricardo immediately and correctly confronted him with the fact that the quantity of grain available is completely irrelevant to the worker if he has no employment; that it is therefore the means of employment and not subsistence which put him into the category of surplus population.

The invention of surplus laborers, i.e. of propertyless people who work, belongs to the period of capital. The beggars who fastened themselves to the monasteries and helped them eat up their surplus product are in the same class as the feudal retainers, and this shows that the surplus produce could not be eaten up by the small number of its owners. It is only another form of the retainers of old, or of the menial servants of today. The overpopulation e.g. among hunting peoples, which shows itself in the warfare between the tribes, proves not that the earth could not support their small numbers, but rather that the condition of their reproduction required a great amount of territory for few people."

Grundrisse

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Most Americans support Occupy Wall Street

"Last week a poll by the National Journal found that 59 per cent [of Americans] either fully or strongly agreed with the “aims” of [Occupy Wall Street]. An even larger share backed a 5 per cent tax surcharge on millionaires – something proposed by Mr Obama. It has become common to hear that the richest 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150m. It is also true."

Edward Luce, Financial Times

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A brief guide to contemporary economics


"Market capitalism creates inherent difficulties. The two most obvious are macroeconomic instability and extremes of inequality. The tendency of a market-oriented financial system to run away with itself has, again, been demonstrated on a large scale. On the free market right people argue that if only we went back to the gold standard or ended fractional reserve banking, all would be well. I question such claims. Instability is inherent in the game of betting on the future. Humans seem prone to self-fulfilling waves of optimism and pessimism. Ways of mitigating the extent and the consequences of such instability always need to be found.

It is impossible to define an acceptable level of inequality. Any inequality is corrosive if those with wealth are believed to have rigged the game rather than won in honest competition. As inequality rises, the sense that we are equal as citizens weakens. In the end, democracy is sold to the highest bidder. That has happened often before in the history of republics. Peaceful protest is the right of free people. More important, it is a way to bring issues to our attention. The left does not know how to replace the market. But pro-marketeers still need to take the protests seriously. All is not well."

Martin Wolf, Financial Times

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"The future of work"


"What about the people who do not command any kind of premium in the marketplace? One strategy could be to find a high-flyer and stick close. Even if joining their posse is out of reach, there are still horses to be fed and watered. The time-poor new rich are generating demand for household staff, and this sort of work can be very well paid. A private secretary and general factotum can earn up to $150,000 a year nowadays. Salaries for standard butlers range from $60,000 to $125,000 and a head butler can make as much as $250,000, according to the website of the Butler Bureau."

The Economist

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Spending within your means


"Hence still today the demand for industriousness and also for saving, self-denial, is made not upon the capitalists but on the workers, and namely by the capitalists. Society today makes the paradoxical demand that he for whom the object of exchange is subsistence should deny himself, not he for whom it is wealth."

Karl Marx, Grundrisse
Winter, 1857

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

PSA from my mom

Going away for a while. When I come back I hope you will be fully prepared to discuss Season 1 of the Jersey Shore.

Also: My mom really wants me to tell you not to hold your cell phone directly against your skull or gonads. It's microwave radiation, after all. See the related book, Disconnect -- but beware the verb which fashionably becomes a noun.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Marx and communism

Samuel Brittan, Financial Times:

Marx has suffered not only from sycophants, but from critics who identify him with the Stalin dictatorship or even the regime of Mao Zedong. It is, of course, absurd to blame Marx, who lived from 1818 to 1883, for the crimes committed decades after his death. Indeed, the great man himself once said: “Whatever else I am, I am not a Marxist.” Many serious analysts have written on what Marx meant or should have meant. I am not one of their number and my main excuse for giving my own highly selective take is that I have neither demonised nor worshipped the man.

The aspect of Marx that originally intrigued me was his division of history after the end of the Dark Ages -- feudalism, capitalism, socialism and communism. By socialism Marx meant something like an extreme version of the British Labour party’s former clause four, which envisaged public ownership of all the means of production, distribution and exchange. But communism did not have anything like its later meaning. It was a utopia in which a short working day would provide all society’s needs and people would be free to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon and discuss philosophy in the evening”. The vision of such a society kept in the Marxist fold some idealists who might otherwise have bolted.

The basic idea here is that industrialization lets you produce a lot. If production were oriented toward meeting people's needs rather than turning out ever-increasing amounts of disposable junk for profit, people could work relatively little while living in abundance. That's theoretical communism, as Marx envisioned it.

To his credit, Brittan gets a lot of this right. He mixes up the issue of "return on capital" with Marx's concern that the employer/employee relation is based on dependency: the employer extracts profit through an unequal power relation. For Marx, profit isn't wrong because you charge more than the cost of production; it is wrong when you appropriate for yourself (the employer) a value that has been created by others (the employees).

Anyway, see what you think.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya and the left

US citizens have a relationship to their government which obligates them to oppose its crimes against themselves and others. Because this is an uncontroversial principle amongst the radical left, it is usually assumed to be part of a shared outlook.

While the US radical left inherits this relationship to its own government, it also has the potential to develop relationships with other popular or principled groups beyond what is implied through domestic resistance alone. We show support and solidarity for others fighting different fights, or the same fight in different places.

Regarding Libya, most of us are fine on the first point, rhetorically anyway, since that's what we are already doing, most of the time. We point out what's criminal about US foreign policy, for example, a lot. Good!

It's worth bearing in mind that what is criminal about US foreign policy is our responsibility, primarily. Libya is an example where a popular rebellion seeking to remove a dictator solicited international assistance to down the dictator's air force and other heavy military infrastructure. In the current geopolitical context, "international assistance" effectively means NATO, and NATO means the US. US interests are not Libyan interests. But none of this is the Libyans' fault, anymore than it was necessarily their fault that they needed assistance in the first place.

It's remarkable to me that portions of the US left get this backwards -- that because the rebellion required assistance, the rebels are compromised for having received the only available kind. Why weren't other kinds available? Why does the only kind available look so grim? We might look at ourselves -- at our relationship with our own government -- and not the people facing the tanks.

So on my second point, when it comes to showing solidarity toward people who not only don't control the global order but are sacrificing a lot more than most of us to change it, it's worth putting our responsibilities in perspective when compared to theirs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Radicalism and reform

Anarchism has always made the point, correctly, that states exist to defend a minority of wealth and privilege against the majority of the community. They don't exist to provide necessary services to the majority: they only do this when the majority compels them, or when failure to do so imposes a cost that is unacceptably high. If you just tune out and let a government do its thing, like most of us do when we are preoccupied with trying to survive, you see lots more government for the rich and much "less government" for everybody else. That's happening right now, in fact.

When people understand this -- that government "represents" them only when it has no choice -- they are in a better position to influence their government -- and in the past they have. The achievements, like Social Security, unemployment benefits, and any other number of rights and freedoms, are at the same time 1) very important to people and 2) not bound to the point about the nature of government in any particular way. You might support them for the simple reason that no non-state substitutions yet exist to address those problems.

There are radical reasons for supporting moderate reforms when the proposed alternative is not yet plausible, as is the case when vulnerable populations, encompassing both majority and minority groups, retain more confidence in government solutions than non-government proposals. That most Americans associate "no government" with free-market capitalism or gang rule, instead of highly-organized societies liberated from coercive rule, is an indication that we have a lot more work to do before the point that governments defend the rich can be of greater immediacy than what is daily required to survive.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The grapes of laughs

The New York Times wants to know how much an apple would cost if farm workers had rights like other Americans. Might it unduly discourage US consumers from eating their fruits and veggies? Could the industry even survive? And doesn't it insult hardworking immigrant workers to suggest that their rights aren't good enough already -- that they need to live up to our lofty standards? Join the informed debate -- only at nytimes.com.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Capital concerns

Gautam Malkani, Financial Times:

Another much-discussed difference was the role of consumerism. In place of the traditionally anti-capitalist stance of previous youth counter-cultures came reports of rioters in low-end fashion retailers, engaged in the new practice of “trying before you loot”. This form of extreme consumerism meant that, by the end of the week, the biggest bogeyman was our culture of rampant materialism and instant gratification. In a consumer society, identities are constructed from owning things. But the widespread sense of self-entitlement revealed by the riots also betrays a broader fetishism of objects. Some of Britain’s urban centres are so atomised that it is now easier to connect with things than with people. Likewise, digitally reduced attention spans have also contributed to a culture of superficial “bling”.

You see, rampant materialism and instant gratification don't normally betray a broader fetishism of objects. If you spend your money on electronics products instead of nutritious foods, that's healthy. If you have new rims but no roof -- no problem! Only you know what is best for you. Treat yourself. You've earned it.

But how to explain the behavior of those whose self-entitlement has eclipsed the most pressing needs of others: the need for profit amongst the profiteers? Capital has its own line of cultural criticism, and it has delivered a verdict: There is something very wrong with society, indeed!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Indignities of labor

Economist:

The movement [Joe] Hill lived and died for has proved less durable. As Mr Adler recalls, the Wobblies flourished for a brief, electrifying moment at the dawn of the 20th century, when industrial capital was new, raw and brutal. At the time the IWW’s vision of a new worker-controlled order seemed “if not on the verge of becoming reality, not preposterous either”.

And yet the fundamental relationships have not changed. Americans, for example, have yet to achieve the same "rights and freedoms" in the workplace that they revere everywhere else -- freedom of speech, freedom of association, the right to privacy, elected representation, etc. -- and this in the very space where they spend the bulk of their lives! To step into the private workplace is to surrender one's rights on a daily basis; surrendering them all the more, the more hours one works. The paradox must be regarded as natural in the context of capitalist "government by the people": the governors are not the people, and the people spend precious little of their time governing; rather, they are working, and with no access to the rights by which they regard themselves American.

Concomitant to questions of rights and freedoms, however, there are perceptions of dignity, and it is only by obscuring the relationship between classes that US culture has arrived at a place where dignity becomes more a question of fitting in than acting human. Not bearing the stamp of social exclusion is significant: to be a "team member" is qualitatively different than being "illegal," even if neither means being free. To be singled-out for a special abuse within its broader application is what most people notice and respond to best, as opposed to general lack of freedom in "the way things are."

In the early industrial period, the working classes understood themselves as occupying this role of social inferiority. They weren't yet consumers or title-inflated quasi-professionals. Because household wealth was not contrived through debt, they had fewer illusions about how far their actual wealth could take them. Wherever they lacked the means, they went without. They understood their "place" as assigned by class.

Today there are many more avenues for American poor and working people to "keep up appearances" via consumer credit than in the earlier periods attended by labor radicalism. You can own an Escalade, and nobody has to know your social standing based on the clothes you wear. Orwell writes about being shamed for not having money to buy a loaf of bread: the whole neighborhood might know he was a pauper, and treat him that way.1 But in the US today, even if you dress like a bum you might be a wealthy person; the implications under consumerism just aren't as obvious.

When communities detect they are being singled-out, they often flare up, and this comes back to questions of dignity, though not always freedom. Dignity relates to how one is seen, and whether one's place warrants respect. One's place needn't be a place of equality of power with others -- what freedom means -- it could be an "honorable" position of servitude: being seen as a "human being," even if human beings aren't free.

It's much easier to organize into accepted standards than to organize beyond them. When workers of the 1910s saw their rich neighbors enjoying "the good things in life" they saw things they wanted for themselves that they couldn't obtain by any other means than fighting. When workers today see things they want for themselves, they become indebted to rich people to have them. They don't have to go without in the eyes of others, but the price they pay is their freedom, and there is nothing dignified about that.

1. Orwell, writing in the same general period, but from Europe; Down and Out in Paris and London.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A socialist case against "small government"

Economist:

Once upon a time the American right led the world when it came to rethinking government; now it is an intellectual pygmy. The House Republicans could not even get their budget sums right, so the vote had to be delayed. A desire to curb Leviathan is admirable, but the tea-partiers live in a fantasy world in which the deficit can be reduced without any tax increases: even Mr Obama’s attempts to remove loopholes in the tax code drive the zealots into paroxysms of outrage.

Because the Republican Party’s electoral strategy amounts to identifying the US government as “large” on one hand, while positioning themselves as “opposed” on the other, there is something irresistible about watching when they succeed at big government.

“Big government” is actually redundant. To the extent that we have government in the world today, it is going to be big -- and grow bigger. We can debate what kind of big government it will be -- what it does and where it does more of it -- but it’s not going to become smaller. No government limits its size or tempers its ambitions, insofar as a potential remains. Republican administrations are proof enough of this in and of themselves.

To advocate smaller government is in fact to pursue a course identical to every politician: to reduce or eliminate the programs you don’t like while expanding the ones you do. It is in this way that governments grow larger over time, not smaller, irrespective of ideology.

One of the advantages of a socialist perspective is that it presumes this to be the case: it does not pretend that big government becomes smaller by putting individuals philosophically opposed to big government on its payroll. Consequently, it assumes that how the government expands, who it helps and who it hurts, is the meaningful question, insofar as governments in their current form exist.

Since long before the time of Karl Marx, socialists have thought seriously about the possibilities for getting rid of government altogether, since the whole business about making it smaller is truly utopian. Even Marx conceived the evolution of socialism as culminating in communism, which he defined as a stateless society. That is certainly ideal, since it implies some kind of "self-government" which encompasses social and economic pursuits. But presently we are a long way from it -- and in the meantime government continues to expand.

The wrangling over a debt deal in Washington this week revolved not around questions of big or small government, but which parts of an ever-expanding government deserve to be curbed. In fact, it is the same debate that has gone on ever since the US government got into the business of fielding concerns incidental to business -- like public health, for example. Cuts invariably fall on those least able to influence their government: people who are either too poor, too busy working, or too few in number to make an impact politically. Since most of us fall into one or more of these categories, the cuts fall on people like you and me.

The Tea Partiers are an interesting case of ordinary people organized by much wealthier people around this idea that government is too big; it is too “socialist.” Again, socialism as a tradition was never meant to describe “big government.” Socialists presumed modern governments were big; they distinguished themselves by insisting that government work more actively on behalf of working people and the poor, since every government already works actively on behalf of the rich. (The last point is universally true, and forms the animating inspiration behind “government” in the first place.)

A good question to ask when government becomes smaller is “Have my burdens become larger?” This might include a rise in the retirement age, a hike in public transit fares, or the now prevalent expectation amongst young people that Social Security will someday cease to exist. These are all examples of areas where the US government, which is indeed big, has in the past made life easier for ordinary people rather than making it more onerous.

Tea Party claims notwithstanding, we can rest assured that big government will carry on unabated; and by one means or another it will always assist the rich. The only question is whether you can honestly count yourself in that category.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kissing the joy as it flies

When you experience something beautiful there is often a kind of high that accompanies it; and like any high it is hard to sustain intensely. Consider Blake:

He who bends himself to a joy
Does the winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise

To “kiss the joy as it flies” is an important idea. Joy is always flying; you don’t know where it will show up. To anticipate where you will encounter joy -- being in the same place at the same time where you experienced it before -- guarantees nothing. The impulse is to control the relationship, because we want to contain the high. We bend ourselves to our own idea of what we must do to remain joyful, only to end up miserable instead.

If you pursue the things that are most meaningful to you in life, I think you can live with a kind of joy. But how you are has to become a bigger part of who you are. You see, many of us come to our ideas about identity as though it is a received space that we occupy. To some extent this is true: we exist in the world in a particular way, and the world acts on us accordingly. There are always injustices attendant to this. We develop an awareness of them, and get very preoccupied with how others are toward us. Often we’re correct in our judgment that things aren’t fair.

But if we depart from identity at the point where we meet ourselves, we never begin to ask, “OK, how am I in response?” It’s a totally different question. How others are toward us is not the same question as how we are toward them; we have a totally different measure of control over each, respectively. We don’t control how other people are toward us; what we control is how we are within the relationship. The latter can influence the former, that’s all. Strategically, it’s very important to know where you exert control.

If you imagine yourself and another person in a prison cell, of course it’s meaningful to acknowledge, “We’re in a prison cell.” But that doesn’t mean you’re the same person. How you are will demonstrate who you are in that context. Surely there are people who won’t get past the fact that they are in a prison cell, because they believe there can be no joy or beauty there. Before these can be fulfilled, conditions have to change. We all have our prison cells, of one sort or another, and you see this reaction all the time. Recognizing the obvious wrong -- what is happening to us -- is usually as far as we get.

But now we recall Tolstoy:

Happiness does not depend on outward things
but on the way we see them

The whole scenario changes if prison is part of our objective. As with many imprisoned people, this might stem from the choice to live a principled life. In other words, if we aspire to live a principled life, we may accept that "prisons" of one sort or another -- "roads less traveled" -- will be part of it, and to a degree greater than someone who “bends” in order to avoid imprisonment. If we are already at peace with this reality, our energy isn’t used up by it. Our energy is available for other uses, like creating the conditions necessary to walk out of our cell. There can be great meaning in that pursuit, if only we begin.

"Kissing the joy as it flies" means embracing the things you don't control without forgetting your capacity, after all, to kiss. There is joy in developing our own capacities, even if this isn't easy; there is beauty in developing as a person, even though this comes with age. These things are available to us, regardless of what is not. We don't control all outcomes, but we can push toward the ones we desire; and it is through the mastery of our own abilities in different contexts that invites the highest grounds for joy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dividing lines

From every corner you hear the refrain, "I am this way, they are that way -- and they're wrong." It's very common amongst working people, who have a terrific view of the stupidity of institutions, but who can also miss the relationship between personal and class advantage.

It's important to underline the ways "they're wrong" -- for example, having work organized like dictatorship. But if that's wrong, you want to empathize with the victims. These organizations create lots of victims, directly or indirectly. This month I have been hanging out with a model employee who is recovering from triple bypass. His efforts were always praised at the staff meetings he hated to attend.

It's important to see what's wrong with the bigger picture, but there's also a built-in temptation as humans to say "they're wrong" for no other reason than that it feels good. It has an addictive quality to it, and I think you see it online -- for example, in blogs -- in full force. You fill up every space where you might otherwise ask, “What is right?”

Perhaps it is useful to think about the kinds of people you like to relate with in real life, and decide whether they are the type who never tire in explaining what is wrong about everybody and everything else; who, in fact, take their energy from it. I can think of several off the top of my head, and they are among the least compelling people I know.

This is significant if our goal is to persuade, not the "staunch, diminishing minority," but working people at the point of their concerns. Working people have a range of concerns, and if reaffirming those which attend a "politics of the working class" can succeed, I find you have to get past the many fleeting preoccupations generated by a technologically-advanced consumer culture. You have to be fluent in these things in order to get beyond them -- which is why I always hit a wall when it comes to sports, for example; but why it has been to my advantage to know video games and the other “trifling” elements of urban consumption.

Within the concept of the working class, you don’t have me over here, you over there, and this heavy distinction between the two. You have “us” -- and “we” are behaving a certain way. There is a responsibility for “our” behavior. Either we are consolidating an awareness of ourselves as totally dependent on somebody else to live well; or we aren’t doing this, for reasons that include drawing too fine a distinction between each other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sex muskets

I am called out for not "knowing" who Johnny Rotten is. I say, "I don't know lots of things." It's an appeal to knowledge: you want them to know who you are by considering the borders of what you're not. And I will tell you one thing. When I am playing music, I am not thinking about Johnnys Rotten, Shelf-stable, or otherwise.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Surround sounds 2

I am very moved by the Lady Gaga song dedicated to her father, Razzi.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Open letter to a dude

Dear dude,

If you must expectorate all over the sidewalk, you will leave me no choice but to characterize you as the type of person who expectorates all over the sidewalk.

Consider yourself warned,

He Who Swallows Much Mucus

Friday, July 01, 2011

Independence Day

I heartily endorse this event and/or product.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Scowl

I've seen the best memes of my generation destroyed by gladness.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Save yourselves

If management suspects you of arriving to the job sober, for God's sake don't let on that you're also dependable.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Surround sounds

I'm left to conclude that when people come into the city asking, "How do you stand all the noise and excitement?" it just means they'd rather experience it via home theater system in the suburbs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Week in review

Correspondence with the proprietor at It's Just A Ride helped me arrive at my new summer's resolution: Less time on the internet, more time playing music; more time listening to others, less time listening to myself. This week I took a decent stab in that direction. In keeping with a discussion at Back Towards The Locus, the first single will be entitled "My own private John Carpenter soundtrack."

What the Tee Vee taught still teaches.

MikeB shared this with me and asked if I might share it with you.

I couldn't be happier to see Ethan and the Baronette back in action at 6th or 7th -- but shouldn't it be 7th or 8th?

The good news: I spotted another person wearing Crocs in Philadelphia. The bad news: She was between 12th and 13th on Sansom, sleeping on the sidewalk. Crocs have street cred.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

We're talking about practice

Even if the political project is not easily resolved, it should be easily understood: to live the way you want without denying anyone else the same.

The first part, living how you want, is something you can start thinking about and working towards right now. For example, you can try to do more of the things you enjoy, and fewer of the things you hate. It's helpful to understand that society penalizes people for doing what they enjoy, at least insofar as this fails to make other people money. With most of us already scraping by, greater penalties can add up to a decision to accept more of what you hate. You have to develop a strategy to get around this problem, one way or the other -- and preferably before you are dead.

The second part of the political project ultimately comes down to hearing what other people want, encouraging them to take the first steps for themselves, and then figuring out how best to play a supporting role. Most of us have a good idea of what we are up against, how hard it is to break out of assigned routine. If you really understand it, you will see why others need your support, first and foremost, and your "politics" as an aside, if at all. If your politics manifest themselves as support and encouragement for those who suffer unjustly at the hands of the many or the few, then the odds are you don't spend a lot of time talking "politics" in the first place, and are well placed to reach a broader working class audience.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Song ideas

The most interesting thing about playing the guitar is when certain things change while others remain the same. For me, that is a more natural movement than playing a note-by-note scale or slamming out power chords. Of course, either of these can be integrated into a song and accomplish the same thing; but I don't understand when musicians take an instrument out of its case and play something that is more physical than musical. I guess I understand if they are warming up. But why not warm up to an idea? A song is ultimately more idea than physical act.

I think of human relationships in a similar way: as solos or power chords, they are just caricatures. But if you look at the whole thing, there is repetition, harmony, tension, change; even within great movement there are elements that don't change at all, or very little. To have the instrument in your hands, there is too much attention paid to what must change as compared to what will remain the same. For my part, I've never wanted to play without those elements, or without appreciating how they work, because it's not what I want to listen to.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Building socialism

In order to "draw the line between the monopolists and the people," in the words of E.P. Thompson, it's never enough to merely hate the monopolists. You also have to love the people. You love the people, not because they think like you, but because they hurt like you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Behind the iron hurtin'

Did the fall of the IOZian Union contribute to the proliferation of weapons of ass destruction?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Good news for me and you and everyone we know

While there are many epic conflicts happening in the world today, odds are they aren't between you and that anonymous driver/customer service rep/internet forum poster.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Between us

The more social an event becomes, typically the more commercial. You can go to a party and expect certain patterns of conversation which may be traced back to purchases or modes of purchasing power. Even politics in the way it is discussed can have more to do with how we receive information as a product -- whether it is delivered by Twitter or The New York Times -- than any initiative we might undertake in response.

Given the choice I am less concerned by what is frivolous about normal social intercourse than what is earth-shakingly important. Things that are deeply important to me are actually very difficult to articulate in social settings, because there is little in the way of a shared language for it. We have language for power, and language for commerce; but not because we established them ourselves. We just receive them from the same, shared source -- making me wary of the "urgency" that always attends things nobody knows nearly enough about.

It follows from this that in large groups of people you can sometimes feel the most alone. Conversely, it is in quieter settings that you may have the best opportunity to consolidate some sense of who you are. This for me has always been the paradox of being in relationships with other people, since it is something I can't do without orienting myself away from them at the same time.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

When success all looks the same

American individualism begins with the idea that either you are "somebody" or you are "nobody"; and it ends with whatever kind of conformity ensures the best outcome.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

OMFG! Best friend at work just totally clock-blocked me

WTF! So to summarize it's a gorgeous afternoon and all I'm thinking since I started my shift is when will hell recede enough to start my 30-minute hands-washing/trash-disposing/ grounds-meandering countdown to electronically verifying that I worked today when this dude I totally thought was my wingman starts having a stroke about some assignment that implicates us only in the most liberal interpretation of work responsibilities -- like, if you take everything the boss says literally.

Come on, man. I'm not trying to hear that, I told him. Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; I'm trying to get the hell out of here.

What followed was one of the most singularly stunning feats of clock-blocking I have ever seen. From what depths of depravity my colleague was seized by the compulsion to work as instructed I am helpless to say. But sure as shit just as soon as the boss reappeared, poking his nose into our business and asking whether "everything" was done, this South Philly fluffernutter tells him NO, there are still some things WE have to do. Global warming might be open to interpretation in this dude's view, even some Bible verses -- but do you think we might interpret my humble contributions here completed before I-95 turns into Circle-jerk de Soiree? Apparently not, since it's obvious SOMEONE doesn't know how to take one for the team.

Of course, this raises a bigger question about just who we have become as Americans, when our best work friends reveal themselves to be inveterate clock-blockers anytime they find themselves handling a live grenade. I mean, whatever happened to the ethic of our ancestors, who knew well enough to ask, "Who gives a fuck?" long before the work whistle blew -- granting them that much more "me" time before the mine caved-in, or tree collapsed? Proper work-life balance begins at home, in front of the television, with the painkiller of your choice. But we will never fully enjoy the fruits of what we haven't earned until we start failing to finish what we never hoped to begin.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Virasana (Hero's pose)

Your life is the terrifying space between purchases.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Girls wear less clothing in summer, colleague reports

In what really could have developed into a conversation about anything else, a co-worker today argued that girls wear fewer articles of clothing in warm weather, and felt confident enough in this claim to prosecute an open-ended commentary on the phenomenon and its implications.

"It's cos they can't stand the heat!" he said.

The basic argument went as follows: If you think of clothing as something that covers the skin; and skin, or at least its "underneath part," clocks in around 98.6 degrees; then as the ambient temperature of Philadelphia rises, so too does the willingness of "females" to discard needless accoutrements, like "bras" and "drawers," because they are "already so hot on the inside."

This in turn informed the speaker's preference for warm-to-hot weather because -- unlike some of his Muslim neighbors -- he'd rather observe for himself what clothing might otherwise conceal.

"I don't care what they say about global warming. Give me the heat!" he editorialized.

Whether or not the conversation, an elaborate restatement of something I had clearly taken for granted, can be counted as a constructive use of time is a question best weighed against the total amount of time wasted at work while considering it.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Remembering IOZ

I wanted to say something about the retirement of IOZ. I don't remember how I first came across this blog, but it was enormously influential for me, probably around the time I was considering coming back from my own blogging break. It would ultimately become influential in two different ways: first, as something to emulate; second, as something to try not to emulate. IOZ exemplified whatever it was he was doing, almost all the time, which made it easy to admire what he did, but a tough act to follow.

I was never part of the IOZ comment community, which was fascinating in itself. I felt it was both smarter and meaner -- not an uncommon combination -- than anything I could swing, so the few times I did post, I tried being as sincere as possible just to test the limits. Once I finally got around to watching The Big Lebowski, many things made sense to me for the very first time.

IOZ was always a major benefactor of this blog, and the fact that there is an audience here today is really thanks to him. OK, so maybe it's a bunch of extra-intellectual gay dudes, but I love them and I am very lucky that they have liked me in return. It has meant an enormous amount for me personally to be embraced by the wider IOZ community, and I've tried to support unlinked-to bloggers ever since I overcame that hurdle myself.

In spite of the many wonderful and humorous things IOZ produced on a regular basis, what I find myself thinking about most is what he wrote for his brother at the time of his sudden and unexpected death, entitled "Powerlessness," which I hope the author will not mind me referencing here. The ability to write smartly does not equal the ability to write honestly or with vulnerability, and my personal preference is to remember IOZ, whatever else you thought of him, as someone who possessed the capacity to do both.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I like girls

Ever since I first became a heterosexual, I have always liked girls. I don't mean in the normal American way, where you pretty much hate them. How did "liking girls" turn into this pitched hostility toward them? If you don't "like girls" -- if you don't like them by virtue of your sexuality -- then you are free to actually like them. Which makes me gay, in a way, except for the sex part.

Somehow or another the sexual ideas I got about women led me to liking them comprehensively, not just in the restricted sense -- although when you are in different phases of your life this latter sense can take on a kind of primacy. Once your testosterone drops off a cliff, you can wisely observe that there is more to life than sex.

I'm very interested in parlaying the natural tendency of most boys to "like girls" into actually liking them. A lot of the reason I feel I can "get away" with being feminist comes down to the idea that, yes, I like girls. If you like girls, you care about them on some level. Well, that's true -- maybe it shouldn't be a big deal, but it's true. The "feminism" simply comes in as an acknowledgment of social injustice that women face.

There are many mornings I get up before dawn and hear radio broadcasts about missing women in Philadelphia and Camden, or unidentified bodies discovered in parks and parking lots which once belonged to women. I think it was only last summer or fall that there was somebody called the Kensington strangler; before that, of course, the Center City rapist. I know these were men who "liked girls" in the only sense that makes sense for most of us; now I hope we can agree on the inadequacy of its meaning.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Revolutionary roads

Che Guevara once said that the revolutionary must be guided by a deep and abiding love for humanity, though after three days in Bolivia he confessed that is nothing compared to a half-decent map. To be sure, the revolutionary life is hard, and all the more so without a portion of the proceeds. Far too often, one counts their deep and abiding love for humanity as their greatest asset, and only on one hand.

This raises an important question. Is the status quo really so bad? The answer will depend on who you ask and whether they brush their teeth with dedication. If your morning commute smells of hastily digested Indian food, that is another thing altogether. Once soda gets into the keyboard, there is no turning back.

A great anarchist propagandist once explained that all it takes for good people to act is the realization that their back is against the wall. This is especially true if the good people requested outdoor seating. What motivates each of us to be our brother's keeper will vary by individual, but it is sometimes best to keep him outside during football season.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scary person wants to know how my day is going

In an alarming departure from my usual revolutionary routine, another person approached me this morning in what appeared to be a sincere attempt to discover how my day was going.

"Hey, buddy," he said at first.

Like so many interpersonal close-calls, it all began by making eye contact. My defensive strategy, nodding in robust agreement, proved inadequate even when combined with enthusiastic wheezing.

How this individual knew I was concealing something, when 99% of the population takes a grimace at face value, suggests a degree of tenacity amongst people who want to know how your day is going that I failed to account for previously.

The development could have far-reaching implications for my daily commute, including in this case my morning constitutional, when revolutionary spirit is best cultivated by thinking up clever ripostes for use in online forums.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nocturnal revisions

Not sleeping well. Dreamt I was an entrepreneur with a line of hydrant-shaped greeting cards for dogs called RSVPee-Pees that wasn't feminist enough for all the bitches. When it comes to going to the bathroom, you can forget that gender is a canine construct. But I should have known that lady dogs aren't going to buy good stationery just to turn around and pee on it, since the trait holds good in humans as well. I finally enjoyed modest success in partnership with Spencer Gifts, marketing to the lowest common dog denominator, which as it turned out included several members of the local Chamber of Commerce -- though this did little to curtail poops on my stoop.

Monday, May 23, 2011

There is still hope the world will end while we are still alive

I'll be the first to say I was pissed when the world neglected to end last Saturday night. Even though the sky got dark and the wind picked up, in retrospect it was a bad idea to keep ordering drinks just to postpone the check. This speaks to the bigger question of gas prices, and how as a society we expect me to be able to afford a bill like that -- I mean, seriously, people.

There's something to be said for a well-timed end of the world, but why a guy like Harold Camping should get bent out of shape about it is what I don't understand. The man sounds as though he already has one foot in the grave, and to look at him, the rest of his body, too. I wish old people could be more patient about letting their world come to an end, rather than insisting everyone else's must as well.

The actual end of the world is likely to be of primary interest to history buffs like myself, who will finally be able to conclude, "Yep, that sucked," in a definitive way, while transitioning into more positive activities, like not existing. It's the best chance we have of seeing meaningful change in our political system -- or a Phillies-Mets game without a riot. No doubt many things will be changed when the world comes to an end, including my shorts.

While we needn't lose hope that the world will end while we are still alive, we mustn't be so self-centered about it. Humankind has practically guaranteed its own destruction -- and if not for ourselves, then for our children, and our children's children. Let us think of the end of the world, if not as a gift to ourselves, then as the legacy we bestow upon our progeny, the fruit of all our toils!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Other people pose biggest obstacle to the dissemination of my views

For too long have I labored before this 17-inch screen with its "cathode rays" so that the world might bear witness to the sagacity of my long-held views and deepest convictions. No matter what the hardship, no matter what the odds, I have steadfastly maintained my beliefs in the face of all evidence to the contrary. As if this weren't proof enough of their veracity, I have also broadcast them at every available opportunity, so that all might reap the benefits of my unique and unsolicited perspective. But no matter how hard I persist, I simply cannot shake the feeling that other people pose the single biggest obstacle to the dissemination and wide-spread acceptance of my views.

The first inkling I had of the great disservice other people might, no doubt in spite of themselves, be doing to the wider social promotion of my views was discovered in the course of an ordinary dialogue with my peers. Someone had raised the issue of gas prices in connection with the recent be-deading of Osama bin Laden. While I hastily summarized the last half-century of US foreign policy in response, our group changed direction as deftly as a school of fish toward the speculative bra-size of a passing colleague. Rather than endorsing the validity of my views, these people, who may be identified via physical and spacial demarcation as not me, scarcely bothered to listen. But because my views do not already comprise the very basis for their own, I fear that other people have yet to credit me appropriately nor proselytize anyone else on my behalf.

As already suggested, this pattern repeats itself online, where, in spite of my noblest efforts, people who routinely are not me do not do enough to make my private expectations of them a reality. By the same token, however, people who are me, like myself, find ourselves with no recourse but to shoulder this burden alone. Not only is this unfair, it doesn't work. No social movement based on collective action will ever succeed until everyone does the work that one person repeatedly insists everyone must do.

In order to ameliorate the harm caused by the failure of others to embrace my outlook and unerringly champion its appeal, the least that other people could do is stop being so damn effective at communicating their own. When a co-worker explained that the Tea Party acronym stood for "Taxed Enough Already," I thoroughly confused myself on a much better point about dialectical materialism in response.

"You talk like a professor," my companion said. "Do you like having a socialist for president?"

Now how the hell do you expect me to respond to a predictable conservative talking point like that? You see, it is futile -- and that is why everyone must begin with the same set of assumptions as mine if you people ever expect my views to be very persuasive, or celebrated in the manner that I speak for all of us in saying that they must.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Exhaust fumes are something that I breathe a lot of, and the shit is beginning to get on my nervous system

Exhaust fumes, whether administered at home or on the job, are something I am pretty sure I breathe a lot of. And while it's true that I have never been a finicky breather, I must nevertheless say that the shit is really beginning to get on my nervous system.

The main way that exhaust fumes really started getting on my nervous system was by a) the industrial revolution and b) being born into the same atmosphere 200 years later. Had I been born 200 years earlier, I would be telling you that syphilis is something that I've contracted a lot of. But that would make me even older than Nietzsche -- the original old school playa, yo.

If it weren't for the fact that exhaust fumes, and all the shit that is in them, are really beginning to get on my nervous system, I probably wouldn't care very much -- but the regrettable likelihood is that those fuckers most assuredly are. It doesn't help that the shit is totally toxic to 100% of aerobic organisms. I prefer to think of myself as a more sedentary-type of organism, but as luck would have it this is not the sense in which Yahoo! Answers defines their terms.

Of course, I can understand why the setting of fire to buried, dead organisms as a means of motive power might appeal to whatever jerkoff enjoys a monopoly on exhuming dead organisms. I understand the entrepreneurial spirit -- I really do. However, the last time I checked, modern innovation really hadn't done anything to address my principal concern, which has to do with exhaust fumes, how much I am breathing them, and how that shit is beginning to get on my goddamn nervous system.

Maybe I am biased by the knowledge that, whereas the Nazis called them "death trucks," the contemporary consumer sees in the same distribution model "a great time to put on The Little Mermaid." It could be that moving things from one end of the planet to the other, when they could instead be moved from one side of town to another -- all while riding the fleeting, viscous corpse of our ancestors -- makes heaps of good sense. But I just can't help but believe that I am breathing in a lot of the detritus, and that, moreover, the shit is beginning to get on my nervous system.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Good friend still prefers Cosmo to reading this blog, despite its revolutionary potential

A very good friend has confirmed that she still prefers Cosmopolitan magazine to reading this blog, even in spite of the likely role it will play in the event of a peasant- and/or proletarian-based revolution in the Northeastern United States.

"No, I like your blog -- I really do," my friend stated.

Earlier that day, a link to a feature article at cosmopolitan.com appeared as a wall post in my friend's profile on Facebook. "Cosmo is so bad it's good!" was the accompanying text.

Notably absent, however, was any like-minded enthusiasm for this blog, despite what in recent weeks can only be described as the mind-boggling obviousness of its revolutionary potential.

"I mean, how many fucking times does a guy have to quote Karl Marx to be taken seriously around here?" I asked myself not for the first time.

Just how the philosophical and political legacy bequeathed by bearded, 19th-century misogynists has failed to keep pace with the international magazine's "Guy Confessions" and "Cosmo Gyno" sections is a question which remains unresolved in my mind -- and minds much like mine.

"Last week I literally spent 14 hours debating with someone in a comment thread about anarcho-syndicalism, and I wrote this great post about it, and my sister didn't even share it with all her Facebook friends," says another revolutionary internet blogger.

"If the average person can't come home from work and appreciate the fruits of what I've been arguing about online all day, we're going to be stuck with the tyrannical reign of a much more popular commercial media forever."

Monday, May 16, 2011

My bus driver is not doing enough to affirm my faith in the common man

Needless to say, I've been using public transportation ever since I first got interested in the common man. And, rest assured, most bus drivers uphold every romantic preconception I have for the public transit operator. But let's face it. Ever since my last bus driver retired, his replacement hasn't done jack shit to uphold my philosophical faith in the common man.

If you're anything like me, you may not feel especially communistical at the ass-crack of dawn, when you're freezing your nuts off waiting for the bus to go to work. That's why I always appreciated the curb-side manner of bus operator Ignatius Sizemore, who on arrival would always ask, "Hey, buddy. How's it hanging?" By this I always assumed he meant the low-hanging fruit of the means of production, to which I would respond, "Ripe and juicy, my fellow wage slave," for a collective chuckle. But this new guy. I tell you it would kill him just to say hello.

Now I appreciate that not everyone of proletarian stock must necessarily be a people person, but deep-fried Jesus -- this guy just sucks. Not only does he not deign to chit-chat, Mario Andretti over here likes to accelerate from 0-60 just as soon as you're inside the passenger doors. I'm all like, "What the hell, comrade?" But do you think he cares? Granted, I am not some elderly person trying to manage a week's worth of groceries. I won't expire from the experience. But does that mean I want to touch those overhead rails where the common man deposits his upper-respiratory surplus? And how about trying to read Marx's Capital on the land-based equivalent of a fishing trawler in the middle of the open ocean? You would think for humanity's sake this joker would at least want to accommodate that.

One area where my bus driver consistently applies himself is in the thorough examination of each and every female posterior which crosses his path. He has even been known to shake his head and exclaim, "Damn," in his deepest contemplations. But wouldn't it be better if this exploited soul put all that thoughtfulness toward a worldwide worker's revolution? I can assure you that, if he did, it would help reaffirm my faith in the common man -- the same philosophical faith in the common man, we must recall, which I have come to hold so dear. But I have to tell you, as things stand now, I just don't know what to think when it comes to having faith in the common man.

Let me conclude by reiterating the point that there are times when I really wish I could be better reassured in my aforementioned faith in the common man. My previous bus driver, Ignatius Sizemore of the Walmart City/Old Industrial Highway line, did a bang-up job when it came to that. But this new guy is just an unmitigated have-faith-in-the-common-man disaster, from which I have yet to recover.