Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's resolution

My sister asks whether, in all my written endeavors, I have decided to write something everyone can understand. This year I promise I will try.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

First the working class, then "the Left"

Robert Parry, via AZspot:

The hard truth is that until the Left gets onto the field in a much more serious way and starts engaging the Right in its “war of ideas” -- including making major investments in media, think tanks and other means of getting information to the public -- politicians will continue to disappoint and embitter the Left. So will mainstream journalists.

This is the Arianna Huffington approach to engaging the Right: the Left must make major investments in media, think tanks and other means of getting information to the public. That part of "the Left" which is ruling class, in other words: neither you, me, or anyone we know is in a position to start their own think tank!

I'd much rather that people like us, anyone whose daily vitality is absorbed by employers, extend ourselves sympathetically to anyone else in the same situation; and commit ourselves to dialogue, whether the individual identifies "left," "right," "Christian" or "racist."

If what is called "the Left" is going to amount to anything worthwhile, it can only come through the self-organization of the working class. That means insofar as you are compelled by economic necessity to seek employment from anybody else, you have a necessary role to play, from whatever vantage point you occupy within the economic hierarchy.

Thanks to Montag

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

An open letter to everyone

Dear The World,

More exhaust fumes, please!

Respiringly yours,

Still conscious in Philadelphia

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The white man's burden

A coworker is very concerned about the "brothers and sisters" who are running City Hall here in Philadelphia. He is convinced they are all thieves. On this point you cannot argue with him: he is philosophically opposed to stealing!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Introducing a feminism for men

reposted from femenins

Industrial Worker

When we think about feminism amongst the working class, the people we usually think about are women. Feminism, after all, is understood as the struggle for the liberation of women in much the same way that industrial unionism is conceived in terms of the struggle for the liberation of the working class.

All too often, however, the role that working class men might play as feminists is not adequately defined. As Wobbly men, we might hold feminist values, but we may not know what to do with them in concrete terms. This is a frustrating experience for those of us who would like to establish real ties of solidarity to women's struggles, much like the ones we extend to other workers -- even when they are struggling under circumstances very different than our own.

Identifying our role as feminists can be less intuitive than knowing our role as unionists: as unionists, we experience class subjugation directly; but as men, our relationship to the subjugation of women is ambiguous. After all, there always exists the possibility that we are contributing to the problem, somehow, even in spite of ourselves.

Working class men should be reassured that this problem is not insurmountable. There is a necessary role for us within feminism; and what’s more, men have something to offer feminism that even women can’t provide. This is the perspective of someone who directly experiences patriarchy as a man, but who utilizes this awareness as a feminist.

Patriarchy is a big word and complicated affair. However, to afford us a familiar starting point from which to proceed, let us think about patriarchy as being not unlike the kind of hierarchy we know so well at work. At work, there is a boss that tells us what to do, enjoys privileges we don't, and who is free of responsibilities that we bear alone. Patriarchy, in other words, is a form of authority which assigns the role of “boss” to men.

Like bosses in the workplace, when a person occupies a formal position of authority over others, this doesn’t tell us everything about what kind of person they are, or what their first preferences might be. But like bosses who were promoted from the ranks of the working class by their employers, the role that patriarchy assigns to men isn’t something they choose. It is how their responsibilities are dictated by that system. But men don’t even “apply” for the job of patriarch; it is thrust upon them, and they often enjoy its benefits before they know what is going on, by the simple virtue of being “men.” Furthermore, most men don’t have the option to “quit” being men, strictly speaking -- as a manager might quit being a manager once he grasps the moral implications of class struggle.

If we think about men under patriarchy as being like managers who are forever condemned to be bosses until that system is destroyed, then the responsibilities appropriate for feminist men are easier to discern. Namely, it is incumbent upon us to actively resist our assigned role as “boss.” We can’t be neutral on this moving train -- and identifying as “feminist” is only the first step. Active resistance means anticipating what patriarchy is trying to accomplish and directing our actions accordingly -- namely, in solidarity with its intended victims. If patriarchy wants us to actively or passively endorse our boss-like authority or privileges, we need to identify what these are and reject them.

Much of the practical work of feminism for working class men begins at the individual level; it means examining our relationships with women in order to identify the ways in which our behavior might impact them like the behavior of a boss. For example, do we tell them what to do, enjoy privileges they don’t, or escape responsibilities that they bear alone? Once we start asking ourselves these questions in our relationships with women, we create the practical possibilities for modifying our behavior: we can reject the role patriarchy has assigned us as “men,” and create our own as individuals. But this takes quite a bit of work and introspection, as well as a readiness to hear the critical concerns of women as they are addressed to us.

In future installments, this column will address the relationship between feminism and the class struggle for men from a variety of perspectives; underscoring how this can contribute to the work of women feminists, and ultimately inform the feminist and class struggles at large. Specific strategies, including workplace organizing as a feminist activity, will receive special attention.

This initiative wants you to write for it so that the benefit of your direct experiences can be shared with others as they relate to the interwoven struggles of all of us within the working class.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

To build a fire

Some things in life we can't help. Circumstances are already in motion, and we are caught up, whether we like it or not. In these places we yield, because there is no other choice.

Other things in life we can influence, some things more than others. Wherever we exert the greatest influence, in the smallest things, we always face a choice. Depending on what we choose, small areas of great influence will contribute toward one or another medium realm of moderate influence; and so on and so forth.

In some places we yield, in other places we advance, rather in spite of ourselves! And yet we always face a choice about what we are advancing toward.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Attention deficit disorder


The problem, says Nintendo President Satoru Iwata, is that the company is competing "with anything that demands people's attention and energy."

The Nintendo chief has named the modern dilemma -- that everything is put into competition with anything that demands people's attention and energy. This includes, for our purposes here, the very viability of societies.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Organizing amongst the working class

Theory is important because it organizes the world around our concerns. For example, most people who are very concerned about poverty don't naturally turn to mainstream economic theory, because the problem of poverty is subordinated to other priorities, like the need for economic growth. Insofar as poverty is identified as a problem, its solution must be found in economic growth, because that is the priority. How economic growth contributes to resource inequality, by concentrating wealth into fewer and fewer hands, is a problem relegated to governments; though how governments can pursue the problem when their mandate is always and everywhere to pursue economic growth is a question that mainstream economists are compensated very well to leave unanswered.

It follows from this that if poverty counts among your priorities, you will likely find yourself courting extra-capitalist or anti-capitalist explanations for why it persists in an industrial context where production is routinely jeopardized by its very ability to produce in excess. The theories that we use to explain our world, then, are in large part a reflection of our own priorities.

One of the most compelling insights to come out of socialist theory since the 19th century is the idea that a category of humanity identified as "the working class" has objective material interests; speaking broadly, its constituents share the same elementary priorities. This remains true even when the ruling class priorities of economic growth, war, and furthering their own domestic power are promoted to such extremes that the vocabulary of the working class appears to reference nothing else. No amount of ruling class propaganda can erase the objective relations of dominance and subjugation that exist between those that work and those that rule.

The practical project of organizing amongst the working class for people like you and me begins by wondering aloud at the remarkably consistent, objective reality that is always concealed behind the theoretical veil drawn by the ruling class: Isn't it funny how we are always obligated to them, but they are never obligated to us? Ha ha! Wait -- what?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Understanding propaganda

Pursuing the relationship between theory and practice is often daunting for activists. Communicating something to an audience bound by a spectrum of concerns that are narrowly defined is the easy part. If your audience is against war, it is easy enough to say, "I am against war." Additionally, it is never too hard to accuse someone else of not being sufficiently against war, in order to highlight one's own level of commitment. This is almost always a waste of practical energy; but again, easy enough to do as long as we know the bounds of debate in advance.

Once we exit the predictable confines of our own group or club, the bounds of debate can only be discovered by testing them -- by talking to people and hearing their concerns. Insofar as we wish to be persuasive, the concerns of others must form the starting point, for the simple fact that nobody is bound by ours. This includes concepts and vocabulary used during the conversation; again, to the degree that we want to communicate anything at all to others, we first yield to their terms. And this is because no amount of self-satisfaction on our part ever obliges them to listen -- or to care.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ways of the world

The surest way of dispersing power at the individual level is to listen to what others are telling you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Discerning anarchism

If we start from the premise that what people choose for themselves, while respecting the right of others to do the same, best qualifies as a choice made "without rule"; whether such choices serve to advance the principle itself might allow us to identify the anarchists within the bunch.

Anarchism begins by asserting the freedom to choose; and it concludes by beginning again, whatever the outcome.

For your consideration

Montag's Humble Theory of Human Nature.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Save yourselves

Richard Rohr, OFM:

As I fight my own demons of cynicism and loss of hope at the human situation, the earth situation, the national situation, and the church situation, I have come to believe that the response strong enough to overcome these many demons is to be in a state of constant gratitude for all that is given so freely, quietly, and undeservedly.

Tolstoy tells us: Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.

All the same, I'd just as soon not add to my list of "outward things" until at least January.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Nine ladies lurking

By now you've had ample time to observe how men behave toward each other on blogs, and as authors of blogs. So let's be frank, ladies, what are among the most annoying tendencies of men in an online setting?

Personally, I don't see any progress being made until we can talk to each other, no matter how esoteric or long-winded we can be on our own. Everytime a 30+ comment thread appears that's all dudes, I think: fuck.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

The money fetish

One of the most woeful predilections to befall the modern working man is his eagerness to embrace the terms by which "you could make a lot of money." Rarely is the point raised, in his defense, that a life spent chasing money is a life spent chasing the priorities of the people who have the money; and that these priorities have never included him.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

I know what you're thinking

Yes, the world is a mess and it's probably getting worse. But all the more reason to distinguish yourself in contrast.


A new work schedule and multiple projects will likely find me saying less around here for the next few weeks. But I'd love it if that somehow amounted to communicating more.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Anarchism revisited

I wanted to say something about anarchism, since you are interested.

If somebody tries to tell you what to do, anarchism, as the political philosophy concerned with authority, places the burden on this person or institution to show why this must be. Sometimes a justification can be shown: the person has been democratically delegated responsibility for administering a social task, for example.

The important point is that the burden of proof is on whomever assumes a position of authority to demonstrate that is socially justified. All authority is illegitimate by assumption, unless this burden is met. This is because anarchism's preference is always to move power from greater to lesser states of concentration.

Sometimes, this can't be immediately accomplished, as with elements of the welfare state: in the absence of anything else, there is a social justification for having a hierarchical state administer programs which afford people some basis for life when they cannot procure them from employers.

In fact, there may be many aspects of modern life which are popularly supported, like the technological advances coming out of defense research (the internet, for example), which imply some kind of state or state-like structure; i.e. institutions which may be democratically delegated responsibility in a such a way that amount to de facto concentrations of power.

While some anarchists extrapolate from the preference for less concentrated power a vision of a world where concentrations would not exist, to set this as the standard by which every institution must be judged may in itself deny the democratic preferences of communities amongst which such judgments will naturally vary. These are not simple questions, and it is for this reason that evaluating the legitimacy of social arrangements is best undertaken on a case-by-case basis.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Corporate multiculturalism

Wall Street Journal:

Since February, IBM has sent 36 executives on three-week consulting assignments to four emerging-markets cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Chengdu, China. Next year, IBM plans to send 100 more executives to 11 different cities.

The idea, in part, is to get to know more decision-makers in those markets, which IBM views as increasingly important to its future. The program also gives executives more familiarity with developing economies and experience working with people from a wider range of backgrounds.

Corporate globalization is a celebration of diversity at a party without the poor.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Anarchism vs. feminism?


Cindy Milstein, at a recent event in Baltimore, described [feminism] in less negative terms. She said that the anarcho-adjectives symbolized not preference, but passion. That’s fine. If you are extra passionate about injustice related to gender oppression, more power to you. But I am not. I may identify more when I hear about the injustices and abuses faced by women, but I am not more passionate about doing something about those injustices than I am about injustices due to race or class or disability or anything else.

I would take it one step further than Cindy Milstein and suggest that "passions" are best informed by people's individual experiences; and, moreover, our circumstances are to a considerable extent not what we "choose."

People can be passionate about wanting to address every conceivable kind of oppression, and identify themselves in these terms; but in practice they will only have the kind of direct experience to speak, or act, in a leadership capacity on a few. As soon as we step out of what we experience on a daily basis and get drawn into circumstances which primarily affect others, we have to defer on some level to how they understand their own experiences.

We've certainly seen how the tendency to preference our own struggles can assume many illegitimate forms. But that doesn't mean it's inappropriate for middle-class white feminists, for example, to be committed to addressing the problems that they know best. It's inappropriate for them to be completely self-consumed; but it's also inappropriate for them to pretend to be something they're not.

In my view, the harmony between anarchism and feminism is implied insofar as anarchism concerns itself with authority, and feminism is aimed at authority in a particular form (that which subjugates women). People will use whatever terms or labels they like; particular women will distinguish their circumstances from others, etc.; but the principle remains the same.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Democrats shoot people from airplanes, cont.

Wall Street Journal:

Wild pigs, descendants of animals brought by the Spanish conquistadors, have foraged in Texas for centuries and have long been a pest on ranches. But as cities and suburbs swallow up more land, they are becoming an urban nuisance as well.

Eradication methods common in rural Texas, such as shooting feral pigs from helicopters, don't lend themselves to a more urban setting. So police departments and animal-control officers are trying new ways to stymie the wily wild swine, methodically tracking the marauders' hoofprints and setting up night-vision cameras to monitor their movements.

"If you had told me I would be doing this when I joined the police force, I would have said, 'yeah, right,'" says Cpl. Salas, who has been in law enforcement for 13 years.

Yeah, right! If only pigs were people and helicopters, drones.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The science of climate change


The best protection against global warming is global prosperity. Wealthier, healthier people are better able to deal with higher food prices, or invest in new farming techniques, or move to another city or country, than poor ones are. Richer economies rely less on agriculture, which is vulnerable to climatic change, and more on industry and services, which by and large are not. Richer people tend to work in air-conditioned buildings. Poor ones tend not to.

Richer people eat more ice cream. They drink more lemonade. Both strategies have been shown to be effective in countering the adverse effects of global warming.