Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dude, sweet


The Corn Refiners Assn. has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow makers of high fructose corn syrup to call their product "corn sugar." In a statement, the trade group -- which represents Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, among others -- said "independent research" shows current labeling confuses U.S. consumers.

The confusion no doubt arises from the fact that the label "high fructose corn syrup" refers to an ingredient that US consumers have only recently gained some clarity about.

Men in crisis

reposted from femenins

For the men of my generation, it's nearly impossible to be a "company man" even if you want to be: the company won't commit! Many of us long for the kind of relationships our fathers and grandfathers had with their employers, which, through unionization, was often long-standing and remunerative.

Within the schema of US patriarchy, however, such ties were also bound to a prescribed manhood. Although the US economic picture has changed dramatically since the 1970s, this "prescription for manhood" still weighs on younger men today; after all, we learned it from our elders!

The fact that many men can no longer simply be "an engineer," "a truck driver," or "a scientist" and look forward to a future full of promotions, raises, and a pension means that our assigned role as "provider" is in jeopardy.

This is significant because the model of manhood that we know basically tells us that as long as the "provider" role is fulfilled, the rest of our lives will fall into place. As long as we can announce our significance by identifying who we work for, and plausibly argue that we benefit by it, then the rest of our lives can be "boys will be boys." We don't need to be interrupted during the big game, we can retreat to our "man cave," and we can expect that women will more or less take care of everything else.

What I observe among many of my peers is an aching desire to plug into any external authority that will let them sustain this pretense about who they are supposed to be. But Wall Street is not having any of it; the men it wants come from the global South. Jobs follow the money and men follow the jobs. But US men can't become associated with desperate immigrants and ever believe themselves worthy of the rewards of patriarchy. This informs a growing conflict between them.

Men increasingly view themselves as failures, or as oscillating between successive modes of failure. This is an extremely dangerous scenario, which plays itself out in all kinds of ways, though usually as violence towards those with whom men are most intimate.

If young men are a mess, acting out in self-destructive ways, we should think about the promises of patriarchy that are made in exchange for subservience in the workplace, and how US men are being frustrated along these lines in both their opportunities and rewards.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Diminished returns

See For Yourself:

It occurs to me now that years and years of taking orders from authority figures really fucked up my ability to manage my time, and to direct my efforts towards goals of my own choosing. Whenever I had time to myself, I just wanted to do nothing, perhaps because I was accustomed to goal-directed activity being unpleasant. And it was unpleasant partially because I wasn't the one setting the goals. I suppose these repeated periods where I squandered my time were when I rejected being an agent for someone else's goals, but was incompetent at setting my own and executing on them.

Self-development and career development both require work, but only one secures us income. To the degree that the former diverges from the latter, it is income that people require before self-discovery. We can live without knowing ourselves, but we cannot live without a material basis for doing so.

As the hurdles for "making a living" grow greater in size, the scope for self-development narrows, insofar as these categories fail to overlap. Work that is directed by others will never produce any guarantee that its goals or methods are also your own.

Politically speaking, we need to live but we also need to live as ourselves, in which case we take on double-work: the work of contributing toward that which earns us income, and the work of contributing toward ourselves.

Consumerism tells us to relax when we aren't working as required by its needs. Our work is done as producers; now we must consume! But as our friend suggests, that investment leaves nothing extra for ourselves.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The law of rulers

Bärbel Bohley, Financial Times:

Society [in Communist East Germany] was never speechless or dumb. That was only in public. Problems were discussed round every kitchen table -- much more than they are today. People knew what was happening in the country.

East Germans didn't have much stuff, which meant they could either talk politics or about each other.

Talking about each other did its usual disservice to shared social goals; that this was rewarded by the regime is well known.

But talking politics, by which we mean those "problems discussed round every kitchen table" -- this contributed to the end of the entire lie.

How easily one lie is displaced by another!

"We wanted justice and we gained the rule of law," Bohely told us. "Chic clothes but empty faces.”

Monday, September 27, 2010

Language and responsibility

Victor Burgin, Eurozine:

My own sense of what is now fundamentally critical to the western societies in which I live and work is the progressive colonization of the terrain of languages, beliefs and values by mainstream media contents and forms – imposing an industrial uniformity upon what may be imagined and said, and engendering compliant synchronized subjects of a "democratic" political process in which the vote changes nothing. The art world is no exception to this process. Artists making "documentaries" usually encounter their subject matter not at first hand but from the media. The audience for the subsequent artworks will instantly recognize the issues addressed, and easily understand them in terms already established by the media. What is "documented" in such works therefore is not their ostensible contents but rather the mutating world view of the media, and they remain irrelevant as art if they succeed in doing no more than recycle facts, forms and opinions already familiar from these prior sources.

In interpreting the world we often encounter our subject matter not at first hand but from the media. We are good at examining what this means when the media contradict our worldview: We can say, "The media represent particular interests."

We aren't so good at remembering this when the media appeal to our worldview: We just think, "Yes, that's true," and leave aside any consideration of why the particular interests advanced by the media have taken this position.

If the media are making fun of conservatives, for example, that's because making fun of conservatives is justified. We tell ourselves, "Finally, the media has got it right!", as if the media were ever striving to "get things right," rather than advance particular interests. Rarely will we ask ourselves what the media gain by portraying conservatives in a particular way, if our own preference is to see conservatives in the same way.

Thanks to Beth for the interview.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Notes on anarchism

Last night I attended a talk at Philly's own Wooden Shoe given by Cindy Milstein, author of the recent AK Press title, "Anarchism and Its Aspirations." If you want a short, readable introduction to contemporary anarchist trends, this is your book.

I never feel totally comfortable in a room full of people who self-identify with something as if self-identification alone has great importance. This is especially true of marginal groups which naturally tend to interpret their marginal status as proof that the rest of the world is wrong.

So it was with some reluctance that I raised my hand when Milstein asked for a show of self-identified anarchists in the room: it's true -- I use anarchism to understand relationships -- but what this reveals about myself or anyone else is difficult to predict.

For example, do anarchists have a sense of humor about themselves? Milstein described her experience in the Bay Area working with people who adorned themselves with every high-minded philosophical attribute they could -- yet she had to dedicate an entire hour to putting a single question before her group, ensuring that people answered one at a time, and insisting they do so without falling into lengthy tangents, angry disputes, total non-sequiturs, and the like.

One hour for one question -- this amongst the San Francisco vanguard for social progress; Milstein did this repeatedly until people learned how to listen, to think, and to respond. I tell you: if there had been room I would have thrown myself to floor in hilarity -- so great is the gap between how we regard ourselves and how we behave. As it was, I only embarrassed myself by laughing out loud, because it was crickets all around.

Self-identification can have great significance for you, but that doesn't mean anyone else cares. If we want our beliefs or practices to gain saliency outside our own opinions of ourselves, we have to demonstrate why they are relevant to other people. That doesn't come from merely attaching a label to oneself -- though many of us do this only to retreat into cliques -- or into ourselves -- when nobody else gives a damn.

There was a good amount of discussion and humor relating to other topics, including the Tea Partiers; how we still read Marx, or Marxists (e.g. Situationists), for theory; and the fact that while anarchists do things well at a micro-level, they regularly fail to scale up into anything more. I also appreciated Milstein's observation that if European anarchists do something, North American anarchists will copy it for better or for worse -- in other words, without really considering the context which makes it relevant in Europe. This then gets replicated in every major North American city whether it makes sense or not.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Feminist men in solidarity with women

There is a new blog for me, connected to my work with the IWW. Become a Wobbly and you can contribute to it, too! I don't want to be alone there for too long.

Chicken Soup for the Stomach: Inspiration for Materialists*


I enjoy feeling inspired every once in a while. But while there are some inspiring quotes that I feel really apply to the whole world no matter what, there are others that I find to be a bit self-congratulatory. Some of them are what I call “Inspiration for the Privileged.” Take the one I came across today ...

Our anarchist friend names the central conceit of the self-help industry -- that you are the only obstacle to achieving your goals!

Let us remember Marx, at the opening of The Eighteenth Brumaire:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.

We make our own history, but we do not make it as we please. This is something that, for instance, if you read Wobblies & Zapatistas, explores one of the more interesting tensions between the traditional idealism of anarchism -- like, starting a collective because your goal is less capitalism -- and the heavy analysis traditional to Marxism, which can just as easily view "doing whatever you prefer" as worthwhile or a waste of time depending on the circumstances.

What's interesting is how Marx himself appears to hold the middle ground between festival anarchists and determinist Marxists: We make our own history, but we do not make it as we please.

I'm sorry to say that I once "tweeted" on the very idea myself: "To accept something imposed is a choice to go on living, but to only know ourselves within its bounds is to forget the act of being alive." I make my own 140 character-or-less statements, but I do not make them as I please.

*Post title courtesy of Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Poverty and abundance

Large-scale commodity production gives us a sense of material abundance. So much stuff! We call ourselves "developed" because we have advanced so much further than the "developing" or "underdeveloped" world in terms of the things we can buy. In other parts of the world, and at other times in history, consumer options have been much more limited. Nevertheless, individuals in any society are vulnerable anytime things like food, shelter and medicine are treated as commodities, not rights.

Poverty in an advanced consumer society can look a lot different than poverty in an early- or semi-capitalist one. For one thing, as we have already observed, people have a lot more stuff. If we are only accustomed to thinking about poverty as it appeared in the United States during the Great Depression, or as it appears in El Salvador right now, then we are ill-prepared to recognize poverty as it exists in our own communities today. We might even lead ourselves to believe that poverty is less of a problem now than it was in the past because Taco Bell sells chicken wraps for $1, the average American has so much stuff, etc.

Interestingly, the same rationale has entered into today's debates regarding the role of unions in the US economy. Anytime there is a strike in Philly, you are guaranteed a deluge of angry letters to the editor claiming that "unions had their place" in ancient history, but today they are obviated by the niceties of advanced consumerism: an abundance of cheap commodities. Invariably you get these comparisons between how hard-working (white) folk had nothing during the Great Depression, while today you've got "these people" with two cars and cable TV and PlayStation 2 masquerading as though they have "real problems" because they're lazy and want a handout.

There's nothing incompatible about producing lots of stuff for production's sake, pushing it on everyone, and still leaving people vulnerable to basic needs -- like health care or nutritious food -- that don't lend themselves to a low-cost, for-profit production model. Subsequently, these demands are met by much more expensive commodities. It should also be said that the retail price of consumer goods often conceals other costs that are simply transferred by the manufacturer to other parts of society. It's "cheaper" to produce food through an industrial system, so the rest of us pay with our health -- that sort of thing!

It's very difficult to live in a society like the United States and not accumulate a lot of stuff, because capitalism is production for production's sake. Money is made through the process of production, by paying employees a fixed rate while generating a surplus value. Subsequently, you're going to produce 'till you can't produce no more!

But surplus value can only be captured through exchange. That means if you wedge some debeaked, declawed, dechickened chicken parts fresh from the factory floor between two slices of bread, you've got to sell it for at least $1 to rake in the profits! And this goes for every other kind commodity -- you've got to sell this thing a value greater than what you invested in it. So you do whatever you can to get people to buy more, and you get the government to do whatever it can to get people to buy more -- and before you know it everybody has a lot of stuff.

In any a society that produces an abundance of stuff as a rule, you can't look at someone and judge their situation based on the fact that they own a flat screen TV and people somewhere else don't have running water. Americans have flat screen TVs because there was practically a cultural mandate that everyone throw out their perfectly good CRTs and buy a whole new setup based on new technologies pimped by the home entertainment industry. Of course, no one forced me to by a flat screen, or HD, but that's because I don't really watch TV. If you watch TV, you simply aren't getting "the best value" without all this stuff.

And that goes across the board. You can tell people you're a monk and they will still get you something molded out of plastic for birthdays and holidays because it's perceived as a good value. Sometimes these are useful items. But it's very difficult to avoid this "materialistic" side of American culture even if you want to, thanks to its economic roots.

The fact that people own lots of things in a society that produces lots of things is not surprising. But the fact that a person can own all this stuff and still lack the necessaries of life should be.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Same as it ever was

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:

All classes and parties joined hands in the June days in a "Party of Order" against the class of the proletariat, which was designated as the "Party of Anarchy," of Socialism, of Communism. They claimed to have "saved" society against the "enemies of society." They gave out the slogans of the old social order -- "Property, Family, Religion, Order" -- as the passwords for their army ...

Every demand for the most simple bourgeois financial reform, for the most ordinary liberalism, for the most commonplace republicanism, for the flattest democracy, is forthwith punished as an "assault upon society," and is branded as "Socialism."

Marx wrote this in 1852. Every demand for the most elementary social reform is branded as Socialism. Today it is Obamunism, Obamacare. You're asking that people can go to the doctor if they get sick. That's an assault upon society -- "Socialism." You're desecrating the Constitution, you hate God, you want to substitute Big Government for parental authority, etc. Property, Family, Religion, Order.

You can read the news every day of your life but miss the fact that the same story has been told for 160 years, if not longer. Exactly the same arguments, no change. Just make sure nobody reads The Eighteenth Brumaire in school! I'm kidding: Even if they do read it, it won't get them a job. For what it costs to go to college, you learn not to retain anything that won't advance your material prospects ASAP. A career often means doing this forever.

Marx says, "All classes and parties joined hands in the June days in a 'Party of Order' against the class of the proletariat, which was designated as the 'Party of Anarchy,' of Socialism, of Communism." As I say, today we have the same thing, but it is organized a little differently. In the United States, we have a one-party system which is formally expressed as two: an incumbency and its opposition, occupied in either case by the concerns of that class which rules economically. Everyone else is either aligned vertically with one or the other of these interest coalitions, or they aren't "politically active" -- they "waste their vote," or don't vote at all.

Business conservatives make all the arguments Marx identified in 1852. I offer for your consideration anything written in the Wall Street Journal ever. Business liberals, however, take a different tack, also traditionally used against working people, which is a derogatory application of the concept of "populism."

Populism is the idea that ordinary people can govern, and around the turn of the 20th century, it had a close association with socialism. But today we see how far the liberal establishment has pushed this specter toward painting the conservative working class as an unruly mob of superstitious extremists, because they, like, petition the government for redress of grievances, or something.

The Democrats are playing this up to their base and to independents so they can be reelected on this basis, not so much anything that they've done in office; in other words, the standard device of "lesser evil." And the Republicans are actually very worried that there is an element of independence within these movements that will get out of hand, so there's some consensus around the problem of populism.

A "populist" tendency means ordinary people, their communities, and so on, are acting outside their assigned role as consumers, or employees, or however they might best contribute to the first law of profit-making; "socialism" usually means that the government is acting outside of its assigned role as profit-enabler.

It's the same class warfare as 1852 expressed a little differently, because the US system is not the same as the parliamentary model of mid-19th century France, and neither are the circumstances. The initiatives of working communities can be pilloried in a variety of ways, but it is instructive to consider how they scarcely change over time.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Jersey Shore

Our lives are filled with stuff. As we have discussed before, this is what you get out of production for production's sake: a lot of stuff. It doesn't matter what you are producing. It could be Silly Bandz, or political commentary. It doesn't matter whether it's any good. Have you seen how many television channels there are? It's not because people want more of a good thing; it's because you're producing a commodity: you're putting less value into production than you're getting back in, say, advertising revenue. Do you see? Very little investment goes into reality TV, but the advertisers are there; so we end up with a lot of reality TV, in the same way that we end up with lots of other stuff.

There's money to be made as long as we're putting less into the finished product than we get back in exchange. Last week I saw an ad for some kind of chicken wrap from Taco Bell for $1. My friends, if Taco Bell thinks it can turn a profit off a $1 sandwich, we really need ask why Taco Bell thinks this is so. What does Taco Bell know that gives it the confidence to say that what it is selling you for $1 is actually worth less?

The first obstacle we confront when we are producing things just to produce them is the commodity. This is why Marx puts it up front in Capital. We have to understand the commodity, because we can't avoid it in this system.

As long as there's money to be made by putting less into something than what you get back, there are going to be a lot of commodities. We understand this when we see trash in the street, or when we walk into Kmart, but we need to understand this when it comes to how we relate to one another. We have to remember that capital is a social relation that is mediated by things.

Jersey Shore is a good case in point. It probably receives more advertising revenue than any other show on TV. What can you say about it? I think the people are very interesting. But it's difficult to make a judgment about what is happening because the real production is behind the scenes. You only see what some editor has made of these people, in order that the ad revenue keeps coming in. You've picked up a half-dozen kids from Staten Island, or wherever, but the real story is that they're linked into capital's circuit: there's a whole production team creating the commodity. You put less into the kids -- way less -- than you get back via the spectacle you've created.

The news is a commodity not unlike reality TV. In the same way that I find it difficult to discuss Pauly D or Jenni "JWoww" on the basis of what I am shown, it's very hard to make judgments about people or communities that assume a spectacular form in the news. "The news" itself is a commodity. It's not the truth. The most important thing to remember about "the news" as a commodity is the pretense it sustains toward being some kind of objective truth, whether it is "truth from the left" or "truth from the right." You have to think of it as information that has entered the capital circuit -- money put into circulation to produce something of greater value than the sum of its parts -- in order to become something analogous to "The Situation" himself. It should be regarded as an object of inquiry, not a firm basis for making judgments.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010


I'll be away from my station until the middle of September. Starting in on Volume 2 of Capital and a case of Trappist ale -- so I will wish you luck!

Periscope depths

Jeff Conant, A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency:

In Myth and the Origin of Religion, Vine Deloria surveys an impressive array of Western social scientists, including Émile Durkheim, Franz Boas, R.G. Collingwood, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Alan Watts, and Mircea Eliade, and demonstrates that, for virtually all of them, "the definition of myth, or at least religious myth, excludes the possibility of extracting from myth any historical reality. It finds myth to possess verbal existence only, confining it to the realms of ancient intellectualism or psychological phenomena that occur 'in here' rather than 'out there' in the world of physical existence."

Deloria asserts, by contrast, that myth is likely always constructed from lived historical reality: "The point that seems to escape all of these men is that the ancient sources and accounts that we have in hand today may simply be the way people wrote about the events that affected their lives."

Belief systems are simply the way people make sense of their own lives. Like every living thing, they are comprised of different trends, and these trends exist in different proportions depending on the circumstances.

Because people find themselves in a variety of situations, a diversity of orientations toward existence is only natural within human cultures. At the same time, this impulse to explain has been shaped by the struggle to achieve material security. Explanations commonly refer back to the material requirements of existence, as with the "gospel of prosperity" or the offering of paper currency to the Buddha, on one hand; and the "good news for the poor" or "spiritual enrichment," on the other. Two trends with very different implications, contained within a whole.

The considerations of power never announce themselves outright, but are concealed as trends behind some unifying concept, a belief system, such as patriotism or God. The facade is not as important as understanding what is happening underneath -- so don't get worked up about first appearances!

Friday, September 03, 2010

I'm afraid of Americans

C.L.R. James, Every Cook Can Govern:

It was not that the Greeks had such simple problems that they could work out simple solutions or types of solutions which are impossible in our more complicated civilizations. That is the great argument which comes very glibly to the lips of modern enemies of direct democracy and even of some learned Greek scholars. It is false to the core. And the proof is that the greatest intellectuals of the day, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others (men of genius such as the world has rarely seen), were all bitterly opposed to the democracy. To them, this government by the common people was wrong in principle and they criticized it constantly. More than that, Plato spent the greater part of his long life discussing and devising and publishing ways and means of creating forms of society, government and lay which would be superior to the Greek Democracy. And yet, Plato owed everything to the democracy.
... Plato’s best known book, The Republic, is his description of an ideal society to replace the democracy, and it is a perfect example of a totalitarian state, governed by an elite. And what is worse, Plato started and brilliantly expounded a practice which has lasted to this day among intellectuals -- a constant speculation about different and possible methods of government, all based on a refusal to accept the fact that the common man can actually govern. It must be said for Plato that, in the end, he came to the conclusion that the radical democracy was the best type of government for Athens. Many intellectuals today do not do as well. They not only support but they join bureaucratic and even sometimes totalitarian forms of government.

We should remember that anytime the working class, the average person, becomes an object of scrutiny in the press, we get a particular kind of picture owing to the fact that the press is a corporate press, not a working class press.

Intellectuals, in their turn, derive much better salaries from corporate payrolls than from giving their time to social concerns. So intellectuals, experts, professionals, and so on, particularly within the political sphere -- well, let us just say that when a career is comprised of chasing money, it will inevitably chase the aims of people with money, not the aims of the average person. This has been a tradition amongst intellectuals throughout history; here we see that democratic Greece was no exception.

Take any portion of the working class you like and submit it for the professional journalist's consideration. Here is the editor's rule: If the activities of average people can be deemed compatible with the aims of investors and advertisers, they are sanctioned, even celebrated; if the activities of average people run counter to, or are otherwise independent of corporate preferences, then you have a problem. Whether you are talking about unions or Tea Partiers or G-20 demonstrators, you have a real problem, because these social groups aren't necessarily amenable to quarterly earnings concerns. So you have to start talking about the pampered autoworkers who are bankrupting their communities, the racist crackpot Palinites, and the violence-prone anarchists who must be peaceably contained by riot police.

This is a pretty consistent process if you watch for it. Because US politics are constructed around competing elite groups which the rest of us must endorse, one way or the other, lest we "waste our vote," most of us are conscious of this phenomenon when it is applied to our "side." So, I've always known that unions are bashed mercilessly in the press, and I can plainly see that many people have a negative impression of unions as a result. But I have to admit that for a long time I fell into the left-right temptation when media portrayals played to my prejudices about other parts of the working class that I didn't know or for whatever reason didn't think highly of. This is why it may be good to observe the above formula anytime we want to evaluate these trends.

In general, we have much more to fear from centralized institutions of power than we do from our own neighbors. Institutions of power will always say the opposite. For example, when I turn my radio to local news each morning, invariably I hear about the robberies and murders and other crazy shit that random individuals are up to in my city; if I read our "blue-collar" newspaper, it's filled with the monstrous crimes of poor people: the stuff is written from the perspective of law enforcement, the state, doing its damnedest to protect us from our own bloodthirsty tendencies.

This is "the news", 24/7. So you see, it takes a constant effort to keep us more afraid of each other than we are of the people writing the very laws which are subsequently "enforced."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Prescription for straight white dudes

Today I want to be perfectly honest with you by underscoring the fact that I am a straight white dude. You see, this is the point in our conversation where a woman usually interjects and says, "Well, what the hell does a 19th-century, Euro-pee-on, bearded misogynist have to do with me?" I depend on women to do this, in fact, because it's easy to get carried off into some argument that concerns dudes doing dudely deeds -- and the next thing you know, you are alone with a bunch of dudes.

So I want to acknowledge the fact that my prescriptions are really written for myself, a straight white dude -- for example, when I speak of engaging rural white communities. This is a problem that needs to be resolved within the white community. It's not a problem that people of color need to take on, or anybody else. It's not appropriate to ask someone who is likely to court significant harm to do something that someone of conscience within that community could accomplish at less risk. There are tasks that are appropriate for different folks, so I write from one perspective in the hope of coordinating with others.

In the last few weeks, one of the very high-minded organizations I belong to sustained an injury from the neglect it has shown toward women's concerns for some time. Like so many high-minded, socially-conscious associations, it is an unmitigated straight white dude disaster. I hope I am anticipating Mel's upcoming post about women and anarchism by saying this, but feminism is something that any of you who are anything like me really need to defer to if we want to move past dysfunction, towards strength in our organizations.

Feminism is a doorway to many perspectives. No matter what group of people we are talking about, women somehow manage to occupy this "perspective from the bottom" -- whether or not they even enjoy a "view of the top." It is as true within ethnic categories as it is within the working class, so -- and here I am speaking as a man -- I believe there is an absolute necessity to go there.

Men have a special role to play within feminism by, firstly, supporting the idea!; and, secondly, revealing the strategies by which patriarchy -- men's authority over women -- appeals to them. For men, everyday is a choice between aligning themselves with women and going with the flow. Going against what is constantly perpetuated as "normal" requires strategies of its own, and men do well to devise some!

Only when men and women are free to sustain an honest conversation about what they want can many of these other struggles take meaningful shape. I don't see very much of this happening anywhere, whether online or in person. You will understand if I mourn this point until it changes!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Towards a populism of the working class

constructive deconstruction:

If we're going to move out of this morass of misdirection, it's going to happen because partisan people put down their boxing gloves and start to see what they have in common. Polly-Anne Progressive is going to have to try to understand why Sarah Palin is attractive to Ethyl Sixpack. It won't help Polly-Anne to keep complaining that Ethyl is a stupid, poor white trash, ignoramus redneck bigot. All that sort of commentary reinforces is Polly-Anne's feeling of superiority for not being Ethyl Sixpack.

Now, this constitutes an actual strategy. Do you see that? The author is saying, if we want to do something about this -- if rightward populism is as serious as we think it is -- then you have to do something about it. If we're going to move out of this morass, it will happen because of what people like you and me do about it.

Complaining about what you don't like in life is not a strategy for dealing with it. Whatever you want to say about social trends that you dislike, the only meaningful question, if you are a serious person, is what you intend to do about it. There are plenty of unserious people who complain their lives away. If you aspire to anything more than that, you think about how you can advance your concerns in any situation.

Needless to say, appealing to the state is not the first strategy we want to jump to when our problem resides with the working class. This is what the author means when he says the partisans have to knock it off. Partisanship is an appeal to the state: it means you want state force to advance your preferences, not theirs -- but in US politics this implies one part of the working class versus another. Is that clear? Democrats and Republicans means one part of the working class set against the other. It is a vertical alignment -- working people identifying with competing elite groups. And the whole point is that we don't want this if we can help it.

Now, maybe there are justifications for state force under certain circumstances. If vigilante groups in the Southwest US are beating or harassing Mexican immigrants, and there's no social organization to stop this, then you might need federal agents. Or if there's some genuine threat of fascism, and nobody's taken any of the above-mentioned steps to stop it, then there may be a justification for some cross-class alliance, between elements of the working class and whatever parts of corporate America aren't owned by Rupert Murdoch.

But the point is, you don't start at this solution. The solution to Tea Partying isn't to ensure that Democrats stay in power. Democrats aren't going to heal the wounds of the post-manufacturing communities when their political power flows from Wall Street. You can try to keep these people out of power, but unless you address their concerns, their numbers will grow. I hope this is clear. Unless you devise a way to address their concerns, all you are saying is, "don't let them run the country."

Last but not least, we should be building a class-based populism. Populism -- the idea that ordinary people can run their lives -- is a trend we should be supporting wherever it is. It's hard enough to get a group of poli-sci sophisticates together to accomplish anything; here you have ordinary Americans enthusiastic about participating in their own affairs, employing a language critical of "elites" -- this is stuff you don't often get in a saturated commercial environment. If you read Dick Armey's Tea Party Manifesto, it reads like an anarchist tract. It's obvious that Republicans of his stripe are jumping through some substantial hoops to hold the attention of disgruntled middle-Americans. What genuine anarchist organizers could do with this is something worth thinking about.