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


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


"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."


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

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


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"


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


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 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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The spectre of communism still haunts me, after all these years

Sometimes I feel like I've been waiting forever for the new communism to come out. That's going to be the one where everyone gets free medical care and an education, but you can still buy the things you want. I don't know a lot about it, frankly. Humanity hasn't set a release date.

The old communism had some problems. I once wrote a post called "What's bad about a good idea" that gets into the whole difficulty. The basic theme was that you get a very good idea -- like, people shouldn't starve, or something -- and then you pummel the crap out of everybody that gets in the way, er, your way. Of course, making sure everyone can eat is a very nice thing to do, and capitalism doesn't make it easy. But somehow niceness doesn't always hold up in the single-minded pursuit of niceness. More often than not, we're dicks to the people around us, while striking a generous pose toward things that carry no cost.

I've always thought Christianity and communism were kindred spirits in this regard. The Christian ethic, for example, is one of the most powerful ideas in human history. It's extremely popular, as an idea. Christianity as an institution -- yeah, not so much. The two are related in an important way, with the lasting relevance of one providing the moral cover for the other. But the Christian ethic survives either way, just like the need to address needless human suffering. Neither go away, ever -- at least not until they become a more normal part of who we are.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The destination of a dick

For some, this will be a repost of something Blogger ate two weeks ago. -- JRB

The guys from the Jersey Shore bring back memories of junior high school, when watching Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and lifting weights inevitably led to homosexual conversations with your buddies about heterosexual sex. Straight guys can get very gay with you, in fact, if you let them tell you all about the plans they have for their dicks; the epic adventures and classic confrontations that their dicks will take up -- the whole detailed dick itinerary. It can be quite exhaustive, taking into account many contingent factors that most dicks are unlikely to run into in the daily life of a dick.

I'm not going to pretend that a lot of the intellectual heft wielded by the boys of the Jersey Shore isn't devoted to charting the surest path to victory for their dicks. But I also won't pretend that this is unusual for many of the men I know, even at grandfather age. The Jersey Shore just happens to document this very well, and I suppose it can't come as much of a surprise that audiences are simultaneously horrified and enthralled by that truth.

Of course, it doesn't help that this is being attributed to a socioeconomic conception of class -- that this is how "guidos" behave, rather than "straight men" of all income levels, when the only meaningful difference is that salaried professionals wouldn't announce it on national TV. I can admire the honesty of a Pauly D or Situation far more than the supposed respectability of an Eliot Spitzer, who, whatever he wants to do with whomever, nevertheless betrayed the ones closest to him. I have yet to observe anything of that sort from our self-proclaimed sexual conquistadors, who for their honesty are condemned at the same time that the respectability of a Spitzer is restored.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Things bring us together

Because there's really nothing entertaining about me, on a given day, after any o'clock AM, the whole PM side of things can look pretty grim if you just, like, experience it and shit. That is why I prefer "a measure of something fermented," to quote from BusinessWeek's editorial on the fundamental human needs which a bin Laden-style Islamic caliphate could never supply. True that, my resource-extracting betters! If the planet must submit the scope of its biodiversity to a single organizing idea, might it at least be one in which alcohol is free to fulfill its exalted role? Even the communists had that much figured out: for them, banning God was more realistic.

In my household this only resolves half the problem, however, owing to an aversion shown by my partner to my choice of fine, high-quality, excellent and affordable boxed wine. And since Socratic dialogue over dinner only excels when both parties are trashed, perhaps it was only a matter of time before one or another mode of televised entertainment was regarded as a plausible means to "laugh at the same time" -- as someone once explained humor to me -- well into the evening hours.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering your life

Lately I've been thinking about the general, so-called "dominant" culture as something of a disaster for interpersonal relations. It reflects many different kinds of inequality; many different kinds of "dominance." Whatever isn't dominant is less valued. For example, a lot of the self-expression we see in forums like Facebook are links to corporate material, because that gets far more social promotion than personal self-expression. Personal self-expression is less valued in and of itself; and this in turn leaves fewer opportunities within daily life in which to pursue it, to develop it as a craft. While there is certainly a value placed on personal self-expression once it reaches certain degree of sophistication, the problem for most of us has to do with getting to that point.

When personal self-expression takes a back seat to deciding whether "you" are a PC or a Mac, and relationships are formed around this basis, the end result is that we don't learn very much about each other, because we aren't referencing anything significant about ourselves. In my experience, this is just a fundamental problem of being in today's world: you can have a conversation with a total stranger yet already know the broad outlines of what they are going to say, because we're all saying the same things all of the time, whether induced by the news cycle or the rote repetition of the working day -- or by our responses to them. One reason why I've always appreciated funerals, and the "interruption" of death itself, is that it clarifies what is fundamentally important to people like a thunderbolt. No bullshit stands in the face of death -- how many things can be credited with that? The interposition of mortality into a dead routine becomes a reminder of life itself.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Social authority

At one level, you can watch how the cast of the Jersey Shore interact with each other. In what ways do they try to tell each other what to do? That's interesting to observe in any group of people. Anarchists always want to anticipate that, because within human relations it is pretty much inevitable. But what you want to evaluate is the claim to authority. Someone might tell someone else to clean the kitchen because it's their turn and a dirty kitchen affects everyone. Or someone might tell someone else to clean the kitchen because they are "the boss" and they decide what goes. Different people in the apartment might be "cool" with either or both scenarios. It can get complicated, but the point is that you want to think these things through in terms of who is primarily impacted and what their feelings are about it, while at the same time endorsing less hierarchical alternatives wherever "boss" roles are popularly entrenched -- as is often the case for sake of "efficiency."

Telling other people what to do takes a lot of different forms; it can easily spill over into telling people how to feel or what to think. One of the customary slights between women in the show is to call each other "fat," for example. "Fat" is something that takes on special vehemence in a patriarchal society when it is directed at women, so my partner and I were disappointed to see how readily women used it against each other. It's a very bad strategy, because society tries to tell every woman how she should feel about herself according to society's standards. In other words, when women try to use this as a weapon, there is nothing to stop anyone else from attacking them by the same means. It would be better to reject it as a weapon altogether -- to reject the legitimacy of any social authority that would try to tell women how to measure their self-worth, except on their own terms.

The conflicts between women on the show, like so much of the individual behavior we observe, can't be judged meaningfully until we place it in the larger context of social authority. These women didn't individually come up with the notion that calling each other fat could be strategically useful in a given context; they took the reference from what society is telling them all the time. So if you want to lament how immature Angelina or Snooki can be, you have to lament how immature mainstream society already is, since that's where they're getting it from. The same goes for all the awful things the boys get into, which we will discuss shortly. Their behavior may be their own, but the responsibility for this type of behavior is something that everybody shares insofar as we participate in the general culture.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Thug life

Even where professionalization filters some anti-social tendencies out, it's only doing so for the purpose of capital accumulation. There is a utility in having people behave decently toward one another, at least while they are at work, because it minimizes disruption. Maybe your job is not all about profit in a direct way, but our overall economy is, and that impacts everything -- including how you get your funding, no matter what you do.

The other point we have made is that we as individuals may endorse professional norms for our own reasons, if only because we believe people should behave decently toward one another in any context. Within the social life of the United States, that doesn't happen with as much organized consistency anywhere as it does within professional structures, where there is a cost associated with non-compliance. The problem in most confrontations outside of work is that people don't perceive any comparable cost -- for example, to the social whole -- and so look to maximize personal advantage in every encounter: we race other drivers, ignore the homeless, harass service-sector workers, anonymously bully others online, and so on. Even as a boss, our capacity to act any way we like is restricted at work; whatever abuse we dole out must be codified in a way that puts our employer's interests first.

When we talk about poor and working class cultures, on one hand we observe relative independence from what is coercive about professional culture. If we begin from the anarchist idea that "all authority is wrong unless it can prove that it isn't wrong" -- i.e. that it isn't, in fact, authority but one or another mode of responsibility -- this is something we should support. We should want to support people who reject capitalist professionalism for the specific reason that it tries to tell people what to do, or how to think about themselves, for a purpose that excludes their own welfare.

At the same time, autonomous social culture must be constituted to transcend what is decent about capitalist professionalism; which is to say, it will include some of the same elements: specifically, those which people regard as worthwhile irrespective of whether these also prove useful to power at a given moment. Every social instinct inherited from our more communal past has atrophied under the assault of contemporary industrial culture, conditioned as we have become to a war of each against all. But we find in working class non-compliance an autonomy without the organized consistency which could sustain the kind of values that go well beyond the forced decency of indecent relations.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Thugs in the club

Funny you should mention it, US foreign policy is a lot like the boys who go clubbing on the Jersey Shore. Both begin with the premise that everyone wants their magic wand all up in their business, because that's the only way that magic can happen. They court anybody and everybody who is "DTF" -- down to feel the magic -- and talk up anyone who might be. When things backfire, it's the person, not the premise, that has been wrong all along. For example, the CIA thought Osama bin Laden was totally DTF and, so long as this pretense was maintained, "really hot." It was only after the Cold War that he was rebuffed for being a grenade grundle chode. To which bin Laden was observed to retort: "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Go! for the throat

Given the choice between Navy Seal intrigues and my more customary preoccupations, I choose red wine.

"USA" is what I chant when I get out of bed every morning.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Dual-use technologies

There's a lot of anti-social stuff in mainstream US culture that gets perpetuated because US society isn't organized for the benefit, but rather at the expense, of people. All the ways that people are encouraged to look up or down at each other on the basis of every conceivable criteria are truly a hot mess to behold.

The point I was getting at last week is that professionalization, by elevating individuals to important positions of influence and authority, has to filter some of this junk out if the overarching purpose of capital accumulation is going to be fulfilled. Capital accumulation is too important to have every board meeting conclude with someone screaming, "Fuck you, asshole," as would be customary when the same person negotiates over a parking spot.

Professionalism as an ethos is appealed to constantly in a business-run society, and some of us internalize what is decent about it without any external incentives. When I go to work, there is a point of pride about doing something well, not being a lazy bastard, and not ripping off my employer that can have meaning for me even if I see in employment itself a monumental fraud. As colleagues have expressed it, this is something that is important in how we regard ourselves, and how our work ethic impacts other people who are stuck in the same situation. I've known many lazy bastards whose laziness hurt their co-workers far more than it did the owning classes; they are not inspiring examples of resistance, in my view.

In this sense, professionalism can be seen to have different meanings and applications, including those which arise out of contradictory positions. The worker and the employer can have competing reasons to endorse different parts of the same phenomenon: for the employer, hierarchy and control; for the worker, integrity and cooperation. I think this is probably coming close to the logic of a dialectic; which is to say, we want to understand the meaning of something from the vantage point of what are often opposing perspectives, not fall into the trap of regarding it only from one side, or one side at a time.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

We've got a utopian situation here

The Jersey Shore has a sort of communal set-up, so let's think of it as a utopian communist experiment. Like any utopian political project, all material considerations are provided for, and conflict resolution usually amounts to one or another participant bellowing, "Bring it on, bitch!," in the way that only the most committed idealist can supply. There are communal living spaces, a communal copulation corner, and, as US custom would have it, the communal Cadillac Escalade. Marx called the earliest human societies "primitive communism," but even they were sophisticated enough not to endorse petroleum-powered entertainment systems, preferring what we would today call "running." Don't plume where you eat is an important lesson for contemporary utopians.

I'd rather live communally with Jenni "Jwoww" than someone like myself. It's not the fake breasts. It's that there's less pretense about other things that I actually care about. It's like if you put two people in a room who both had a lot of pretense about their breasts, there would be this competitive pressure to be all about the breasts. So when it comes to someone like myself, who operates with too much pretense along the lines of what he is about, don't put me in a room with another person like that, because we will see through each other and bicker about foolish things nobody else cares about. The easiest way to identify two pretentious people is when they bicker at length about things nobody else cares about.

It's also good from a dialectical perspective to experience life not as sameness but as difference and contrast. Personally, I don't like to use the word "dialectical" because I'm not sure I understand what it means. But I get the point about having different tendencies come together as a synthesis. In other words, you can listen to someone like Noam Chomsky talk, and that's interesting. On the other hand, if you put Noam Chomsky in the communal hot tub with Ronnie and The Situation, you'd get a lot more information than you ever could by just letting one dude talk. Now that I think of it, this is why the Q&A portion of any Chomsky-type lecture is always the most interesting, at least for me. There are more Situations in the audience than there are in Chomsky's brain.

I guess the whole point of this is to say that if you are one way, don't try to surround yourself with a bunch of people who are the same way, as if more meaningful differences won't surface naturally. It is tempting to believe that how we identify, our pretenses about ourselves, provide us with the information we need to distinguish between allies and adversaries at first glance, just because we look for a "match" in others. No wonder this formula so often fails, when all we are doing is comparing pretenses! What we believe about ourselves and what other people believe about themselves will never reveal anything like that which is discovered through the work of real relationships.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Just sayin'

The prospect of paying $15 for catering at the retirement party of a much-celebrated colleague has inspired an upswell of resistance amongst the rank-and-file in my department. $15 -- and no drinks? Could this be Pennsylvania's Egypt?

It's worth noting that the, ahem, woman who thought to organize the whole thing and pay the up-front costs has since had her motives called into question by the very co-workers she won't go to lunch or dinner with -- no matter how many times they ask! What is she getting out of these so-called catering expenses that couldn't, in point of fact, be put toward an open bar? What volume of slander can be sustained about her in the meantime?

This is why guys have to be on point about feminism, if they want to be on point about anything.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Status update

Pretty good extended holiday weekend. Believed myself to have great revolutionary potential in nearly every encounter, but was thwarted by a familial preference for sporting events and the sensation of not feeling awkward. The good news is that Petite Sirah is like a revolution in the mouth -- at one point I think I experienced communism in the corner. Also: Saw first episode ever of Dancing with the Stars. Jimminy Christmas, man. The revolution needs a whole new party planner. This concludes my weekend report from the front lines of hearts and minds.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The professional

Professionalization, we have noted, is a kind of socialization in which powers and privileges are received in exchange for meeting a given profession's standards and norms. How we judge this process depends on how we feel about the ultimate ends that such professions serve. Lawyers, for example, make their own contribution toward what is both "good" and "bad" about society; in evaluating the legal profession as a whole, one can draw certain conclusions about its social impact. But the standards by which any profession comports itself evolve out of the goals it pursues under particular circumstances. Every profession wants to succeed, and this implies an economic motive. Under conditions of advanced inequality, we can expect a profession's goals, and the underlying socialization it promotes, to be oriented accordingly.

The goals of the professions, in other words, are informed by the broadest goals of the society. The broad economic goal of capitalism is economic growth, or what Marx calls capital accumulation. The professions are shaped by this -- and any of you who are professionals can speak to this more eloquently than I. Whatever the nominal, socially-accepted goal of your profession might be, it competes with money considerations all the time. This happens so regularly that well-meaning professionals are disheartened to think that their career is more obligated to profit than to people.

Anytime socialization becomes subordinated to a specific goal, the "right" and "wrong" that people learn is an ethics only as it relates to achieving that particular goal. If you are a doctor, it's "wrong" to spend an hour with a patient, even if you want to advise them better, because it's "right" by institutional requirements to do seven more evaluations in the same amount of time. Being a doctor, in this case, means withholding patient care in order to maximize economic efficiency -- the broad goal of the for-profit health industry.

The purpose of professionalization within the context of US society, then, is to produce a culture within the professions which serves their broad goals as informed by that society. This culture may have components that we would endorse in any context, and that might be lacking in the general socialization of the population at large. Let's consider here the relationship between feminism and US professional culture.

There is a very good reason why major US corporations have come to implement certain feminist initiatives as policy within their ranks. That this has anything to do with a consistent advocacy for the interests of women is laid bare by their refusal to consider other important requests all the time. But in the face of legal action or needless disruption within the workplace, many firms have come to embrace "zero tolerance" sexual harassment policies which women broadly endorse. And this in turn informs the professional culture of corporations.

But lawsuits and workplace disruption which arise in response to hostile behavior are placed by for-profit institutions in the same category as other feminist goals, like equal pay or paid maternity leave: they are expenses to be avoided. In the case of sexual harassment, the interests of women and the interest of corporations coincide insofar as women have made it too costly for employers to ignore their demands. A corporation may institute sexual harassment and cultural sensitivity trainings as a result, but this is because it speaks the language of profits, not feminism.

Nevertheless, this "feminism by decree" contributes to the liberal contours of professional culture in the US in a way that the general population, not similarly socialized, frequently lacks. Even if a don't-gape-at-your-coworker's-breasts-because-you-might-lose-your-job approach has its limits, US professionalism is credited as having accomplished something within its domain that US culture in general has yet to achieve. The point to remember here is why it has done this -- not merely that it has -- so that we might anticipate the boundaries of its benevolence.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

I am Pauly D

When it comes to "just being themselves," the cast of the Jersey Shore appeal to this above all. Part of this relates to the show's overall concept, which amounts to the merchandising of "lower class" ethnic personalities; specifically, those whose self-regard is "out of line" with their social standing. But the cast are plausibly genuine in many ways, and I think any good reality television producer would want it this way. Edited spontaneity from their stars is just an easier prospect than elaborate coaching or other forms of micromanagement. Naturally, we have already taken into account the unnatural environment in which the cast are expected to live, and considerable, if unseen, interference run by the crew in order to achieve broad outcomes.

The individual personalities within the cast are no different than many people I know; in an important sense they are no different than me. Of course, I am also different in many ways -- but not in any sense that I consider important. I don't care if people want to spend their time working out or getting tan; is that better or worse than how I spend my time? If the argument is that these people are petty and self-absorbed and spiteful -- I am all of these things, too! As hard as I try, it's very difficult to find an angle where the "notorious" cast of the Jersey Shore are intrinsically more awful than me or anyone else I know, especially when we accord differences in behavior to divergent experiences, opportunities, and privileges -- i.e. to advantages which US society hardly supplies in an even-handed way!

The cultural attributes of the cast are of course meant to be signifiers of a "lower class" that we should regard as important. We're supposed to be able to sum up the worth of an individual just by looking at how they dress or hearing how they talk. This is deeply ingrained in us, and, from the vantage point of power, its utility stems from the disincentive it provides anytime we feel tempted to meaningfully relate to another human being.

Whatever conflicts transpire between the cast members themselves or between themselves and others, the first thing I take from the whole experience is an awareness that the Jersey Shore is trying very hard to tell me what to think about individuals on the basis that they fall into established social categories that I never found compelling in the first place.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


N.W.A., "Kamurshol":

You have witnessed, you have heard
So we're gonna take time out for a commercial break

Last week commenter biggayslut asked: Is it fair to say you also like Jersey Shore for some of the reasons that its intended audience likes it?

I don't know that I'm not part of the Jersey Shore's intended audience; I'm probably close to whatever age range marketers hope to reach through that show. Do I like it for the same reasons other people do? Why, isn't it just like someone who goes by the handle "biggayslut" to be awake to the possibilities!

In a similar vein, commenter Todd S. hints at a newfound "temptation" to watch the show, which he resists valiantly. Let me just reassure everyone who is concerned about the corrupting tendencies of the Jersey Shore by offering my own foolproof method of inoculating oneself against its dangers.

First, fill an oversized brandy snifter to the brim with your favorite boxed red wine. A snifter is the kind of thing you procure from the "stemware" division of Crate & Barrel. As for boxed wine, Bota Box Shiraz is how I roll at present. Don't worry about the fucking bouquet -- you can smell that later. Just fill'er up.

It goes without saying that anytime my brandy snifter is engaged we are having a bonafide occasion. And do you know what that means in my household? Looking your best! Because, let's face it, looking your best means feeling your best. If you spend a lot of time in capitalistic society, this is important, because capitalism can get you down.

Inside the domicile, a dude of my sensibilities has two options for footwear, depending on the season. One are the L.L. Bean slippers that my mom gives me every year for Christmas. I don't know what animal they are made out of, or what quantity of congealed, dead human labor resides within. Sometimes you're just too busy writing a kick-ass anticapitalism blog to take the time to find out, you dig?

The other option are what I regard as my finest dress shoes: Mexican-made Crocs with the leather sown right into the plastic. If you've ever lived in my urban area and regularly worn Crocs around you quickly find that few other souls do -- which I believe is proof of something.

The last necessary item of apparel I should mention are the Grinch-themed pajama bottoms that my mother-in-law got me too many years ago; she really needs to think about getting me a replacement pair, because now when the cats claw my gonads there just isn't enough material to make it worthwhile. Anyway, the Grinch-theme is what I like to call "ironic," because I'm not actually anything like the Grinch, even if he is kind of lanky. Not that I've ever really sorted out what "ironic" means, though.

Finally, if you're going to watch something like the Jersey Shore, I find I require somebody else to be present in the room. Luckily, I have a partner who will often perform this role, even if she thinks the show is "horrible" and insists I stop writing about it. This is where looking your best comes into play, because if it weren't for that, one's powers of persuasion might be critically impaired. All the more so when your companion will not be taken in by boxed red wine.

As an anarchist, I can't in good conscience tell you what to watch or what to think any more than I should tell you what to wear or what to drink. What's important in your case is what you watch and think and wear and drink for your own reasons. I can't possibly know what those are -- you have to tell me. As I like to say, you really have to start fucking shit up in your own way.

Nevertheless, I have shared with you my own patented method of not being corrupted by any individual object of mass consumption. Follow this method precisely and you are sure to remain emancipated from the worst excesses of modern living!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The seductive threat of just being yourself

Much excitement is derived from the Jersey Shore's ghetto-style assault on professional culture in the US. For starters, professionalism is a mandatory form of socialization insofar as anyone hopes to meaningfully "succeed" in US society; it affords the only kind of social status and power made available to the working classes: a respectably elevated position within the social hierarchy; or, power over others.

Many people resent this whether they are professionals or not. From a very young age we are taught what we need to do if we want to have any kind of respectable life, and by and large this entails conforming not to our own standards of right and wrong but to somebody else's. Somebody else, after all, has in their possession what we need to live respectably, and we have to get this through them. We do not learn that we can be respectable by "just being ourselves" in a comprehensive way.

The appeal of the Jersey Shore comes precisely from the notion that the cast members are "just being themselves" in spite of the fact that this often exceeds the scope set by the idealized norms of professionalization. No one in their right mind is supposed to "just be themselves" if this is likely to antagonize a potential employer. US audiences understand this implicitly, owing to the experience of class in their lives: if they behaved like someone on the Jersey Shore, or merely like "themselves," they could lose their social standing altogether. Any population so dependent on external sources of legitimation is subsequently enthralled by apparent examples of individuals who don't give a damn.

Monday, April 18, 2011

That's so ghetto!

As a commodity, the Jersey Shore is controversial because it is seen as promoting a kind of ethnic "ghetto culture." Within US society, ghetto culture stands in contradistinction to professionalization. Professionalization is a form of socialization in which power and privilege are received in exchange for conforming to the established norms of a professional authority. Historically, such possibilities have been closed off to certain groups, like African-Americans, because of racism. The "ghetto" concept has since referred to any enforced alienation from mainstream society; it is now commonly embraced within popular culture as a rejection of society's official terms, ostensibly in response. Hence, ghetto culture.

Ghetto culture's popularity has predictably led, within a capitalist context, to the commercialization and industrial reproduction of its various forms, for the enrichment of the same professional trade groups it claims to oppose. A lot has been said about this, and I'm not going to pursue it further here, since we can expect nothing less from capitalism. The salient point is that ghetto culture, especially when reproduced on an industrial scale, regularly frustrates and undermines the hegemony of professional culture within US society, in important and not infrequently comical ways.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things come between us

First let's talk about category 3, which refers to the relationship between ourselves and commodities as they are produced under capitalism.

In the United States, capitalism has developed to the point where everyone is a "consumer": everyone is identified as a potential buyer of something which contributes to capital accumulation. Even if you can't afford health insurance, or a cell phone, the government will purchase these for you, so that no one is denied their right to contribute to capital accumulation in these spheres. As Marx writes, the purpose of capitalist production is not producing what people need, but rather the production of surplus-value, or profit, for the owners of productive wealth. Marx located the source of such profit within the industrial process itself, where people are compensated for one part of their working time, while uncompensated for the rest. Because this happens within production, capitalism has every incentive to produce lots of things -- and as many people as possible to buy them -- quite irrespective of the particular needs which are met: Those needs best met will be whichever best meet the need for profit.

Once this becomes the status quo, a big part of how we understand ourselves culturally stems from distinctions arising out of the different commodities we "consume."* We are implicated in consuming some things, like food and other necessities, if we want to live; and even more things the more we want to participate in mainstream social life, since few social experiences are left which don't also serve as a mode of commercial transaction. We are always buying something -- so how we understand each other comes in large part from the meanings attached to the things we buy.

As a commodity, the Jersey Shore imparts its own cultural stamp on the audiences who watch it. That this is so has been made clear to me in the high emotions everyone I know brings to any discussion of it. Even the people who like it are sort of embarrassed by the fact; and the people who don't like it really don't like it, seeing in it something sinister.

Within the predominantly professional circle of my friends and family, this all makes sense, since watching the Jersey Shore does not communicate what they would prefer to communicate about themselves via the things they consume. Watching the Jersey Shore might be the TV equivalent of shopping at Wal-Mart -- it's bad!

But the cultural baggage of universal commodification goes both ways. If you try to read a book like Marx's Capital as a route to understanding between yourself and other working people, inevitably you are pegged as the consumer of a particular kind of commodity. This tells other people everything they need to know about you: namely, that you are either extremely smart for "consuming" philosophy; or that you are a poseur who is working really hard to be seen this way!**

Consequently, people seeing me the way they do are doubly eager to declare their position on something like the Jersey Shore; for example, because their expectation of someone who reads a lot is that I wouldn't be interested in commodities that don't promote this, or which appear to go against it. So let me just reassure everyone that, much like my good friend Marx, I am indeed very interested in commodities of every sort, and much for the same reasons: because my relationships with other people are so profoundly shaped by them, and because for my purposes I have no choice but to engage.

* Network television shows aren't strictly something we buy, but for simplicity's sake I will treat them as though they are; people relate to something like the Jersey Shore as they do any other commodity, by "consuming" or not consuming it depending on their preferences.

** A friend once assured me that while she regarded me as the first type, anyone else she saw reading Capital in public must surely be the second.