Thoughts, Occasional to the Day, and Unsolicited

Indulge me, dear reader, some of my out-loud thinking, taken from my common-place book, where I jot down, in a sort of haze of free-form association and reckless philosophizing, unbound by genre or affiliation, and often indirectly occasioned by the dreary roll of the day’s headlines, my scattered ideas and attempts to corral my thoughts and emotions into something coherent-ish, and, perhaps, of interest to others…

1. One knows not to indulge in O tempora tropes, knowing that one’s own age is ultimately not really all that different from any other. At every age there are madnesses at the center, and the madnesses of the periphery, the strange and terrible machinations of the human heart spilling out of the prevailing discourses and modes of behavior, at once shocking, at once emerging from what is normative and central.

2. It is best not to begrudge people their fantasies, their naivety, their willful, unreasonable optimism. If people were in the habit of dealing with reality, and not their delusions, it would be utterly crippling for most. Perhaps it is better to imagine a world in which things work out they way you imagine they will—by the time the time comes and they don’t turn out that way, the infinite flexibility of human thought and perception will not be perturbed, but will merely adapt its future-looking vision, untroubled by prophets proved wrong, cheery—or apocalyptic, cheery in their own way to our odd little minds—prognostication unfulfilled, and forgotten, new ones replacing. Human memory is akin to the cellular structure of our bodies: seemingly stable and self-reproducing, but constantly in flux, dying and being reborn to meet the passage of time, the perils and presses of biology, heading towards a biological end but a spiritual and historical afterlife and extension elsewhere and in others, transformed. Memory—particularly our memory of the future—is largely unstable and flexible, at once incongruent with the world as it is and yet malleable to what the world turns out to be, or what we come to remember the world having been. The material traces, the psychic echoes…

3. I suppose it makes me a conservative in the technical, and not the ideological sense, in that I no longer suppose—and in the back of my mind, I have never supposed—that history moves on some progressive, teleological line, without terrible (or wonderful—who knows) and fundamentally unforeseen feedback loops built into that movement, which can, in time or suddenly or both, send history into new and unexpected directions, directions that belie any talk of ‘progress’ or unidirectional (or bidirectional) movement. History, time, is a welter, and there is no telling how things will move, what will become.

Proceeding from this conviction—or, I would say, observation—is the congruent conviction that for many ‘problems’ there is in fact no ‘solution.’ If time, human societies, ecology, history, so on, are infinitely complex, malleable, their ontology at once visible and invisible to us, driven by logics and processes known only to God, as it were, then why should we expect our lives capable of division into neat moral binaries, or liable to neat solutions and resolutions? That is not to deny the possibility of moral certainty, in propositional terms, or even in a deep sense of the self before the world and God: but when we attempt to arrive at a ‘social’ morality, at a morality that is dispersed, woven into our human and natural ecologies in ways that preclude personal reckoning and analysis: then we enter territory for which ‘ambiguity’ is too mild a term.

Value judgments need not collapse utterly, but we are more in the realm of tragedy and comedy wherein the sheerness of the world, its apart-from-us-ness, is the primary operative reality. In the face of everything, then, what is best…? Prayer, sorrow, the momentary discoveries of good and gladness, small comforts perhaps, unless joined to a conviction, in the movement of prayer, liturgy, and the pin-points of sanctity, human and natural, that beyond our immediate, history-bound ken, there is God, there is an eternal stability in eternal movement, as unpredictable as that of this world, but in a movement of fundamental goodness and wholeness, moving Itself and us and all towards a fulfillment beyond, behind, our temporal knowledge, into an unending, ever expanding Completion.

Friday Roundup

Land-Grabbing and Climate Change in Uganda: Nothing new here, unfortunately: statism and capitalism have a long relationship, indeed inter-penetration, that has often been most exemplified in the ‘developing world.’ The creation of a particular sort of market, and a particular sort of polity, with rules, regulations, and institutions that favor the lop-sided concentration of both wealth and power: these are not ‘natural’ or inevitable processes. They must be created and enforced, at the cost of human life and livelihood. In this case, land-grabbing- designed for the profit of a multi-national and for the benefit of Ugandan state-creation both- has as part of its ideological supporting structure the ideology and practices associated with the politics and economy of global climate change. This is hardly new, either, though of more recent origin than other ideologies of state and capital.

Companies Using Immigration Crack-Downs to Turn a Profit: Not really new, either. ‘Privatization’ schemes in which states farm out their coercive activities to others, who then turn a profit, are very old. The most recent batch of ‘privatization’ efforts have seen a heavy focus on incarceration; this is merely another, even more insidious example- as the ‘criminals’ in this instance are almost all ‘guilty’ of transgressing imaginary lines on the map, and nothing else.

The Assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki: It’s not really surprising, I guess, that the drone warriors are killing Americans. The brilliance- from the point of the American state, of course- of drone warfare is the distance it places between the executing force and the state itself, not to mention domestic opinion. Warfare carried out at a great distance with minimal American personnel on the ground requires relatively little grooming of public opinion. Even if the targets are American citizens…

Grey Markets in Mexico: Oh no! What will state and capital do if people start ignoring them and creating their own markets and social spaces? Horror!

Empire of the Son: Despite the insane conspiracy theories of the right (Obama as secret liberation theology follower, Obama as secret Muslim, Obama as secret communist), the current American President is very much a product of the massive extension of American power and influence that took place during the Cold War, and continues apace today under different names and forms.

Friday Roundup

Occupation of Wall Street: ‘Only time will tell which of the above two tendencies can capture popular imagination and become dominant in the near future. Also, at this point it is a matter of speculation if the protesters manage to get large numbers of people angry enough to, say, storm Wall Street, or just degenerate into a tourist curio (much like our parliament square campers) who have the feel-good factor of ‘protest’ but offer no means of self-empowerment or solutions to changing the present state of things.’

One of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong Here: ‘People like Maddow and Schultz can make all the noises they want about “green jobs” and “walking softly on the earth.”  But it’s simply incompatible — as incompatible as matter with anti-matter — with the mid-twentieth century economic model of the Hoover Dam, the Interstate and the Detroit auto industry celebrated by people like her and Schultz.’

Venezuela From Below: This is in reality the old idea that somehow the liberation of the oppressed and exploited can be brought about from above by enlightened leaders controlling the state. What we see in the case of the Bolivarian Movement, on the other hand, is how these “revolutionary cadres” in control of the state work to coopt and control social movements. A self-managed socialist society is not likely if it isn’t a conquest won by self-managed mass organizations of the oppressed and exploited. Thus self-management has a dual character: self-management of struggles for change, and self-management of the gains won through struggle.

International Statement of Solidarity with Cuban Anti-Authoritarians: ‘Our Cuban comrades’ only sin is that they have the effrontery to contemplate (and change) their reality without waiting for promises from the Nanny State or Capital’s siren songs. They believe in a fuller life, in a community where the unhindered growth of each is the precondition and measure of the unhindered growth of all.’

More Secret US Drone Bases: ‘Instead, researchers are working on a number of software packages to take the “remote control” out of the picture and let the robots decide on their own who to lob missiles at. Researchers say this would be an important development because the robots would decide who to murder much faster than CIA targeters are liable to.

The Postville Immigration Raid: Not recent news, but worth watching. The war on migrants is one of the more disgusting aspects of state thuggery in the modern world.

The War Works Hard

I posted this poem here in 2007- at the height of the US surge in Iraq, actually. It is still all too relevant four years later. I tried to write something to post today summing up my own very small and insignificant experience of the last ten years of war and everything that has gone with it; I wasn’t able to do it, at least not today, not in one sweep. Maybe I will try again soon, in smaller installments.

Dunya Mikhail says it better than I ever could, anyway.

*

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning,
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places,
slings corpses through the air,
rolls stretchers to the wounded,
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers,
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins…
Some are lifeless and glistening,
others are pale and still throbbing…
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children,
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missles
into the sky,
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters,
urges families to emigrate,
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)…
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches,
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets.
It contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs,
provides food for flies,
adds pages to the history books,
achieves equality
between killer and killed,
teaches lovers to write letters,
accustoms young women to waiting,
fills the newpapers
with articles and pictures,
builds new houses
for the orphans,
invigorates the coffin makers,
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader’s face.
The war works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

Dunya Mikhail, from The War Works Hard (2004)

Friday Roundup

Distributism and the Health Care System: I’m no expert on the American health-care system; what I know is a matter of first-hand experience, anecdotal matters from those within the system, and some reading on the subject. That said, Médaille’s ideas here seem quite sound: the current system is deeply flawed, with profits and power flowing towards the top- whether state or corporate or both- with costs heavily distributed along the bottom. It is also a system in which both workers and consumers are marginalized despite their immense importance. Médaille hits on two of the biggest problems in sustaining this system: monopolization and lack of genuine workers’ control, both of which are propped up by the State and the powerful (and vocal) interests that wish for the continuation of the system. Of course, the central problem with Médaille’s analysis is one common to many radical critiques: the system is deeply entrenched, as are the mentalities that support it, both among those at the top and those spread out along the bottom.

White House Admits Some Medical Value to Marijuana: But of course, said medical value would be doled out by a State-approved company, employing a monopoly privilege that would industrialize medical marijuana and drive small-holders under.

Illegal Gardening in Detroit: One that’s been making the rounds of the internet. A reminder that even small acts of resistance- like planting your yard with vegetables instead of monoculture grass- can bring the fist of the state down…

The Great Generational Threat: To say the American public has been sold- is being continually sold- a bill of goods does not go far enough.

How Taft-Hartley Restricts Labor Rights: A nice run-down of some of the ways in which the American state’s appropriation of the labor struggle robbed it of much of its fire and potency. ‘In the 1930s organized labor, largely led by the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations), fought back through sit down and wildcat strikes. A wildcat strike is an unofficial strike, usually called in response to mistreatment of a co-worker. In essence, workers refuse to return until management agrees to their demands. Because slowdowns and wildcat and sit down strikes are illegal under the Taft Hartley Act, American unions face steep fines for engaging in them.  In 2011, if a worker is bullied, harassed or illegally fired by an employer, his only option is to file a grievance through the National Labor Relations Board, a process that can drag out for months or years. Because there are no real sanctions against employers, workplace bullying and harassment are incredibly common in the US.’

Libertarianism: Left or Right?: ‘Libertarians also showed their Left colors by opposing imperialism, war, and the accompanying violations of civil liberties, such as conscription and arbitrary detention. (See, for example, the writings of Bastiat, Cobden, and Bright.) Indeed, they didn’t simply condemn war as misguided; they also identified it as a key method by which the ruling class exploits the domestic industrious classes (not to mention the foreign victims) for its own wealth and glorification. Libertarianism and the anti-war movement went hand in hand from the start.’

Friday Roundup

To Live With Dignity is to Build a New World: Two parts to this story: first, the rapacious alliance of State and Capital on clear display, and their distortion of both society and markets. However, also on display is ground-level mutualism/anarcho-distributism, though I doubt those involved are too busy thinking up adjectives for themselves.  ‘The movement is ten years old. It was born in December 2002, in the midst of demonstrations in front of the Lavalle municipal government. The demonstrations were called by collective organizations in the area to demand that farms abandoned in the wake of bankruptcy caused by the economic crisis be given to the unemployed for their subsistence. Instead, municipal officials gave the information they had received from the campesinos to big business, to facilitate new businesses in the area. “That’s when we learned that we couldn’t expect anything from the state,” said a member of the UST.’

Haitian Farmers and Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movements Work Together: Some more mutualism in action, this time between Haitian and Brazilian farmers and agrarian allies. ‘What we are doing doesn’t consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.’

Meet the Movement for a New Economy: Still more voluntarism (mostly- there is some flirting with the State, unfortunately, and a few whiffs of elitism, but overall encouraging stuff) and mutualism in action. ‘At the cutting edge of experimentation are the growing number of egalitarian, and often green, worker owned cooperatives. Hundreds of “social enterprises” that use profits for environmental, social or community-serving goals are also expanding rapidly. In many communities urban agricultural efforts have made common cause with groups concerned about healthy nonprocessed food. And all this is to say nothing of 1.6 million nonprofit corporations that often cross over into economic activity. For-profits have developed alternatives as well. There are, for example, more than 11,000 companies owned entirely or in significant part by some 13.6 million employees.’

Cooperative Sector Has Grown by More than 25% Since Credit Crunch: Similar news from the United Kingdom.

Come Home America: A very encouraging alliance of paleocons, progressives, and anarchists/libertarians of all stripes: ‘The people signing this letter come from all segments of the political spectrum. We are conservatives and progressives, liberals and libertarians, from the right, left and center. We are Democrats, Republicans and independents. We represent a healthy and still vital American tradition, indicated by the fact that the majority of Americans want the United States to bring the soldiers home from these counterproductive and avoidable wars.’

Cory Maye Freed After Ten Years in Prison: the Back Story: Sometimes justice does get done, even in the American judicial system. Here’s hoping Mr Maye- who was nearly executed for the crime of defending his home and family from a midnight intruder- will be able to go on and live a normal, and safe, life.

Friday Roundup

George Orwell and Ideology: ‘George Orwell is paradoxical in the best sense: he is beyond doxa, outside the camps and categories of conventional political discourse. Admiring critics snip and squeeze, but Orwell will not be tailored into an ideology. An anticommunist nonpareil who never doubted that it was necessary to support the United States against the USSR, Orwell in 1948 expressed a preference for Henry Wallace, that scandal to Cold Warriors. In fact, although Orwell called himself a socialist, he scorned both socialism and capitalism as those terms are ordinarily understood, because he rejected the modern political doctrine which is the foundation of both.’

Our Corporate Military: An excellent rebuttal to Nicholas Kristoff’s horrid article in the NYT a couple weeks back. ‘Aside from that, I think Kristoff has it exactly backward: The military is almost a parody of American corporate culture. It’s riddled with hierarchy, with Taylorist/Weberian bureaucratic work rules and standard operating procedures, and all the irrationality that goes with them. The only difference is, the pointy-haired bosses wear a different kind of uniform. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Brazil,” or read Dilbert on a regular basis, you get the idea.’

Hilaire Belloc on Property: Old but still quite good critique of industrial capitalism and a presentation of an alternative and better world. As I’ve written before, the basic tenets, and many of the techniques and and strategies, of distributivist thought and praxis are more or less the same as market anarchism and mutualism. Our primary differences lie in the role of the state: Belloc and Chesterton were, I think it is fair to say, ‘minarchists’ of sorts, envisioning a highly constricted, highly democratic state, but still a state, with a role in securing the new economic order, and a lesser role in maintaining it. Otherwise, distributivism and market anarchism are very much in agreement about what a better world would look like: an economy and society made up of small-holders, small firms with distributed production (on this note, see Kevin Carson’s A Low Overhead Manifesto), widespread worker-control and cooperative firms in situations where large industry is still required, and deep networks of mutual aid and support.

Mao Inc. China’s Terribly Successful Communist Party Turns 90: ‘China’s communists have not been shy. Little is sacred, while almost everything can be bought, even the Great Hall of the People. When the party is not in session in the magnificent building, with its more than 300 rooms and enormous paintings, companies like Ford and Kentucky Fried Chicken can rent space at astronomical prices.’

Why Does the War Go On? ‘Tens of thousands of American troops will remain for at least three more years, some of them will be maimed or killed, and Obama offered no good reason why.’

Friday Roundup

On Anagorism: ‘As a free market socialist and a free market anarchist, I simply seek the kind of society Kropotkin described, in which the state is replaced by voluntary associations and federations of such associations.  Whether people associate through the cash nexus, the informal economy, or the gift economy, is entirely up to them.’

African Village Uses Tech to Fight Off Rape Cult: This is mutualism in action: in the absence of even the semblance of ‘official’ State security, the enterprising people of Obo are working out ways to resist the ‘primitive accumulation State’ of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Planting Seeds of Hope: How Sustainable Activism Transformed Detroit: ‘And they lament that small dialogues—between youth and elders, between neighbors, between people of different backgrounds, and between activists from various cultural and political traditions—cannot match the force of large demonstrations involving tens of thousands. What they don’t understand is that our goal in creating Detroit Summer was to create a new kind of organization. We never intended for it to be a traditional left-wing organization agitating masses of youth to protest and demonstrate. Nor did we intend that it become a large nonprofit corporation of the sort that raises millions of dollars from government, corporations, and foundations to provide employment and services to large populations.’

Government Attempt to Get Dirt on Prominent Anti-War Blogger: Slow-creep repression of dissent. Not really surprising, though.

Consumer Group Asks Congress to Fight Catch Shares: Another instance of ‘privatization’ that is in fact a socialization of costs and a privatization of profits, favoring already powerful and wealthy entities.

Friday Roundup

Yes, It is a Police State: ‘Since 9/11 the biggest threat to the American people is not radical Muslim terrorists, nor deranged domestic terrorists, but the terrorists with the blue uniforms, badges, and body armor. Their weapons of mass destruction are not bombs, but state-approved guns, latex-gloved hands, and a profound disregard for our rights. Until we stand up and say, “Enough!”these terrorists will keep winning and our rights will continue to be lost.’

A Trojan Horse in ‘Higher Education’: Nothing terribly new here, but still good analysis with considerable justified heat: ‘higher ed’ as we know it has long been a racket, the dual streams of state and big capital flowing in and out of the academy, leaving it in ruins.

Prison Break: ‘Certainly the incarceration of people who have violated no rights is an important part of America’s prison problem. But I don’t think that covers all of it. There are also moral problems, I think, with the incarceration of rights-violators — which means that high incarceration rates are going to be something worth complaining about even when the prisoners are guilty as hell.’

‘Public Service?’ I’m Taking my Business Elsewhere: It’s not the sort of service anyone needs; it’s certainly not indispensable as our progressive friends seem to think.

U.S. Special Ops Troops Deployed in Mexico, Leaked Briefing Confirms: Not really all that surprising.

When Only the ‘Crazies’ See the Bank Bailout for What it Is: A good leftist review of one of the American State’s most spectacular interventions on behalf of financial ‘capital’ (one hesitates to call it capital, which implies something substantial…): ‘From the outset in 2009, the Obama Plan has been to re-inflate the Bubble Economy by providing yet more credit (that is, debt) to bid housing and commercial real estate prices back up to pre-crash levels, not to bring debts down to the economy’s ability to pay. The result is debt deflation for the economy at large and rising unemployment – but enrichment of the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population as economies have become even more financialized.’