No time for dancing, or lovey dovey

10 01 2017

I’ve never been accused of optimism.

Well, okay, I was a happy happy kid, likely to believe that the Good will out, but nothing like a bout of life to kick the stuffing out of such positivity.

That said, I do think part of our political resistance ought to have nothing to do with politics at all, that it is not enough just to resist: we must celebrate the Good in the world. There should be dancing, and lovey-dovey: We want bread and roses, too.

~~~

In my piece on Modernity’s Ideologies I divided the response to the historical moment, Modernity, into particular worldviews (Liberalism, Totalitarianism, and Reaction), and extend the various ideologies out from those worldviews.

This can lead to a bit of confusion, insofar as I identify both Liberalism as a worldview, and liberalism as one of its ideologies. I’ve considered changing Liberalism to, say, Pluralism (which would then contrast nicely to Totalitarianism), but I think the term as I mean to use it is so entrenched in political theory that switching it up might simply lead to greater confusion. (I still might be convinced otherwise, but at this point, I’ve stuck myself with Liberalism and liberalism.)

What does this have to do with anything? Well, Liberalism can itself contain and tolerate a variety of illiberal elements, but its ideologies (liberalism, conservatism, and reform socialism) will generally seek to uphold and even further a Liberal worldview, even as they may, at times, be used to further what its opponents might argue are illiberal goals.

See, for example, disputes over whether business must serve all customers or if they may choose to turn some away. Those in favor of serve-all refer to principles of equality and justice, while those against might call on individual liberty and, yes, justice as well. These partisans are using Liberal values to advance/defend their particular ideology.

Now, various disputes about campus activists, safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc., often bounce back and forth between worldview and ideology, and often in ways which obscure the level at which the dispute is taking place. So, for example, someone like Jonathan Chait or Mark Lilla might chastise those campus activists as behaving illiberally, when it seems their real beef is that they appear to be acting against pluralism and tolerance, i.e., against Liberalism.

I’m not convinced of this, not least because I think Liberalism can also contain fierce partisanship and passionate, intemperate, even intolerant argument. I think, for example, that instead of smacking the activists as bad Liberals (which they probably could give a shit about, anyway), the tut-tutters should engage the argument at the level of ideology—by which I mean, actually engage the fucking argument instead of dismissing it as impolitic.

In other words, while I do think it’s necessary for liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) to defend Liberalism, I also think that liberals (and conservatives and reform socialists) and anyone else gets to fight for what their version of the Good, and to do so without apology. If you disagree, fight back.

That, I would argue, is a great way to defend Liberalism.

~~~

But let’s get back to the fighting-for: we need to do more of this, without apology. I don’t mean nastily or triumphantly, but sincerely (jesus, did I just write that?) and profoundly and yes, even giddily.

As a bread-and-roses socialist, I want more dancing, more music, more art, more celebration of all we could possibly be. These are good, and part of the Good of human life.

This celebration needs a political grounding and goes beyond it—and in so doing, helps to justify the grounding itself. Liberal politics are often criticized—I’ve often criticized it—as deracinated, worn-out, and in its pure-procedural form, it is; but Liberalism is not just proceduralism, it’s also about possibility, an openness to what we can’t yet see. It’s about something more.

So let’s claim that, that openness and art and possibility, without apology.

I don’t want to reduce all of life to politics—too totalizing—nor demand that all celebrations celebrate all things—again, too totalizing. But when we have the chance to say, This is good, this song, this movie, this dance, is good, let’s take it.

When we have the chance to dance, let’s take it.

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Better stop sobbing now

11 02 2015

I have no sympathy for Christians who whine that President was unfair to Christianity at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Not just because I am not a Christian, nor because I disagree more generally with these folks’ politics.

No, the reason for my “get over it” response is their unwillingness to grapple with the violence woven into the history of the belief they hold dear. It’s as if they can only hold to Christianity if Christianity without [recent] flaws.

Oh, wait, that’s pretty much exactly what they mean, even if they didn’t mean to mean it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a couple of posts on the response to Obama’s remarks, as does Jamelle Bouie, and they do a fine job of tag-teaming the No-True-Christian phalanx: here is this example and this example and this example and, oh look, another example of how Christianity was used to justify violence and oppression.

Reference to the historical record is crucial (even if the tres or quinque solas types want to claim history’s got nothin’ on them) if want wants to make or rebut historical claims—that’s kinda the whole point of historical claim-making.

But I want to focus here on the bad faith of those who seek to wash Christianity of its sins: they cannot abide criticism of their faith, not because God will punish them if they don’t savage the critics—I’d think such a position bonkers at best and murderous (see: killers acting to uphold the honor of the Prophet Mohammaed) at worst, but it has its own kind of insane integrity—but because it is “offensive” to and displays “contempt” for Christians.

And, yes, I get why these folks don’t like having the unsavory bits of Christianity against the unsavory bits of Islam—We’re good and they’re bad so how dare you!—but honest to pete, is their faith so thin that it is bruised by mere mention of imperfection?

I’m a pinko, and there has been all sorts of nasty shit—war, oppression, mass murder—done in the name of pinkoism. I can say Oh, but I’m not a Bolshevik/Leninist/Stalinist/Maoist, that’s got nothing to do with me, and nothing to do with Real Socialism, but that would properly be understood as a bullshit response.

I am an adherent to a tradition which has all too often failed miserably, murderously, to uphold its promises of liberation and the creation of a truly human society, and it would not be in any way unreasonable for you say, Uhhh, so why do you hold to ideas which have been used to justify those miserable, murderous failures?

And whether or not your motives were bad in asking this, I’d still respond, with both acknowledgement of the flaws in various incarnations of the socialist politics and a defense of the socialism itself—because I am fucking serious about my belief in socialism. As long as I think it possible to avoid or overcome the problems of previous socialist regimes, I will continue to think socialism is a program worth pursuing.

In other words, even though socialism has been flawed six ways to Sunday, I still think there’s something there worth hanging on to. I take socialism as it is, and as it has been, and what I think it could be. It ain’t perfect, but it’s all right.

Now, I understand that it’s easier to hold to imperfection in political than in religious programs, and my general sense that, well, to quote Leonard Cohen, there is a crack in everything, means that I can still see that’s how the light gets in. I don’t require perfection because I don’t think it’s necessary (which is also handy, given that I don’t think it’s possible).

Still, even you do believe that Christ were perfect, and that Christianity is the only path to salvation, it’s not clear why you can’t accept the bountiful historical evidence that that belief in something perfect has nonetheless been used to justify war, oppression, and mass murder. It’s a hard acceptance, sure, but if you want to argue on behalf of the Christian movement within history, then you have to engage that history, not wave it away or scourge those who dare to refer to it.

Again, radical sola types may not bother with history one way or another—all that matters is God, and we can’t really expect much of humans, etc.—but those who are incensed at the mere suggestion that Christian history might fairly be compared to Islam’s history clearly do believe that this history—the actions of Christians in the world—matters.

So to those who think history matters but are unwilling to look closely at it, I can only ask, Why not?

Because if you cannot accept the imperfections of Christianity in this world and still have faith in it, then I question whether you can have any faith at all.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 1

20 07 2014

Yeah, a new series! On the rationale and ravages of capitalism! Whoo-hoo!

Okay, most of the time it will just be quick hits, highlighting (mostly) where the pointy head of the stick pokes through the socio-economic skin and (sometimes) efforts to break that stick. And every one in a while I’ll try to stitch these bits together in an attempt to make my own sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Yep, there are others out there manifestly more qualified than I am, who’ve made long and deep study of political economy (and who I’ll crib from—with credit!—when I remember to look as needed), but I want to try to puzzle my way through this by thinking politically, not economically.

That’s some artificial line-drawin’ I’m doing there, I know, but I’m drawing in pencil, so it’s okay.

So: onward!

~~~

These two are pretty self-explanatory:

*Paul Carr: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they’ll be replaced by iPads if they demand a living wage

(h/t karoli, Crooks & Liars)

*David Ludwig, Obama Unveils New Initiative to Encourage Private Funding of Public Infrastructure

(h/t Paul Constant, The Stranger)

~~~

A bit of comment:

*Joe Pinsker, The ‘Facebook Cop’ and the Implications of Privatized Policing

Pinsker is apparently an optimist, because he concludes In all likelihood, the cop Facebook is funding will likely exert a positive force on the area, checking in on wayward kids and improving emergency evacuation procedures.

Which is an odd conclusion, given that immediately following this he notes private entities whose objectives diverge from the public’s can apply the law as they see fit. Who does Facebook’s security team pay attention to? Who do they ignore?

And I would add: What of our rights against their actions?

*Brendan Kiley, In Addition to Those 14,000 Layoffs, Microsoft is Tightening the Screws on Its Vendors and A Note from the Trenches of Microsoft Vendors and Permatemps

Temporary nation! Whoo-hoo! As a worker-mercenary myself, I can only confirm the delights of livin’ the free labor life—tho’ I must admit that I’m not completely free, union-bound as I am.

*Megan Rose Dickey, How Much Uber Drivers Really Make

Surprise: not as much as promised.

The real reason, tho’, that I picked this one out, is that the phrase “sharing economy” makes my teeth itch.

When Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and TaskRabbit are all grouped into some kind of happy-clappy “sharing economy”—sharing! it’s good! didn’t your mother teach you to share?—what is oh-so-gracefully elided is that these are really examples of the fee-for-service brokerage economy.

Uber, et. al., are brokers: they broker the relationship between provider and client/customer and take a fee for that service.

One the one, capitalist, hand, this isn’t bad: people are getting paid; on the other, socialist, one, these kinds of services demonstrate how far capitalist relations have penetrated and commodified human relations.

~~~

Deserving much comment, which I may or may not eventually get around to providing:

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe and Sheila Bapat, What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Esther Kaplan, Losing Sparta

~~~

How to fight back: Together! Solidarity!

Ansel Herz, Anti-Foreclosure Protesters Block Sheriff’s Eviction of Disabled Veteran in West Seattle

He will probably end up losing his home, because the law favors the house.

Still, it’s good to fight back, if only to remind ourselves we can fight back.





Ball of confusion

27 10 2013

Imma going to steal from myself.

TNC put up a post late Friday on Tony Judt’s Postwar, during which he noted that

Judt is not wrong to focus on property. Theft is the essence of atrocity—if only the theft of dignity and life. Indeed, where I forced to to offer one word to sum up black people’s historical relationship to the American state, “theft” is the first that would come to mind. Theft of labor and theft of family in slavery. Theft of life through lynching and pogrom. Theft of franchise in half the country. . . .

To which I wrote the following (alas, too slowly: he closed the thread before I could post):

The importance of property has been a sticky issue for (some!) of us pinkos. On the one hand, an orthodox Marxist would recognize the necessity of the proletariat seizing control of the means of production during the (ever receding) revolution—which suggests that (productive) property is pretty goddamned important. Yet on the other hand, a concern for property ownership can be seen as “too bourgeois”.

The agrarian socialists have been better on this than those who focus on industrial workers, not least because in the countryside the productive property is land itself: arguing for land/squatter rights (against absentee/large landholders) can thus be seen as a kind of socialist demand for worker control.

Anyway, control of one’s property is tremendously important for those who don’t live in those gloriously liberated post-revolution societies (which is to say, all of us), and I know damned few leftists who say “Ooo, I want to live in a commune!” The puzzle for we skeptics of capitalism is to figure out how to make a place for the centrality of property in human life without having property itself decenter the human.

I went back and forth on this, writing and deleting, and then just deleting, before I ended up with this. There’s no great insight involved, but it is a useful reminder of the troubles of the late-capitalist anti-capitalist sometimes-thinker.

Of course, we anti-capitalists who like stuff are not the only ones fighting our demonic contradictions.

I refer, of course, to the Jesus Christ Capitalists, those who seek the glory of the Lord in the financialized marketplace.

To give credit to Rod Dreher (something I do rarely enough), he at least recognizes that there are tensions between those who hold both to tradition and to free trade: however creative is the destructiveness of capitalism, it does effectively pull the pins out from beneath traditional society.

If those of us on the anti-capitalist left have to figure out what to do with property, well, those on the traditional right have to figure out what to do with capitalism.

None of this to say that there aren’t people on both the right and the left who aren’t already thinking and doing something(s) about this.

I try not to mistake my lack of attention to for others’ lack of effort.





You said you’d try to look for the end of the road

22 11 2012

It’s wicked, I know. I should stop, but I can’t.

I so enjoy reading GOP sob stories.

The flailing of arms, the casting of blame, the faux-introspection and real outrage: it’s just too delectable to be denied!

And no, I won’t be commenting on what went wrong, for precisely the reasons I mentioned earlier: I’m not a conservative, concern-trolling is annoying, and we leftists have our own messes to figure out.

These messes might explain why I am pretty much unrepentant in my snarfing down rightist blog post after rightist blog post: after all, any honest leftist of the past, pffft, four? five? six? decades has had to come to terms with some pretty nasty shit on our side of the ledger, and we still haven’t got it sorted.

Thus, it’s not so much that I’m unsympathetic—although I kinda am—as I am impatient with the bluster and bullshit and the apparent dedication to that same bluster and bullshit. I think something a former vice presidential candidate said about “lipstick on a pig” might just be applicable here.

Lemme put it this way: I started identifying as a feminist when I was in the eighth grade, and out of that grew an affinity for liberalism, then leftism, then socialism. And then at some point I had to come to terms with the fact that saying “the Soviets aren’t really socialists” wasn’t an honest response to repression in the old USSR and the Eastern bloc. If human rights and liberation were important to me—and they were and are important to me—I had to recognize that socialism as it was actually practiced in the world was not compatible with a free human life.

And then I had to choose.

I chose to hang on to the principles which led me both to liberationist politics and to socialism, and that meant I had to look honestly at those who claimed to liberate people under the banner of socialism—and criticize the shit out of them. There was no red flag large enough to wave away the barbed wire.

This wasn’t traumatic for me as I had never been invested in the myths of Soviet freedom or a Cuban paradise—not because I was so wise but because I came of political age in the 1980s and not the 1930s. The crisis of conscience wasn’t really so much a crisis as a click: Wellllll, shit.

The critical work is ongoing, while the constructive work is. . . lagging. I still call myself a socialist because I am persuaded by the left-critique of capitalism, but I am not at all convinced we have any replacement for capitalism. I am a kind of negative-socialist, seeking a positive program.

The elements of that program are there—a commitment to equality, to pluralism, to human being, among others—but do is there anything beyond welfare-state capitalism which might allow us to approach a fully human life? I think there must be, but I don’t know what it is.

So I’m a little impatient with Republicans who are gobsmacked by the 2012 results: You lost a fucking election, not a whole world.

You can wander around bellowing about the blindness of the electorate or the unfairness of change or the perils of pluralism or moochers and looters and other assorted layabouts, or you can put down the hanky and open your eyes and your ears and pay some damned attention to who and how your fellow Americans actually are, and go from there.

Your choice.





In between all the cracks upon the wall

31 08 2011

Coupla’ thoughts:

1. I know I am not the first to take up the issue of the twilight of labor (or, to put it less poetically, of the replacement of the value of labor with that of productivity)—this gent Marx may have had a thing or two to say on this subject, or so I hear—but it seems to be crucially not simply an economic matter but a political one, that is, that the question of value is not simply an economic matter but a political one.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist has covered this issue ( start here, then click on the “class warfare” category at the bottom for more) and ThinkProgress does a pretty good job highlighting the contempt for working people among politicians and some pundits, so I don’t know that I need to repeat their efforts (or those of the Economic Policy Institute, The Nation, and other usual suspects) in documenting this contempt.

Still, because this seems to me to be a crucial political issue, I do feel the need to work through this issue myself. Is this contempt new? When did it begin? How did it manifest itself previously? What kind of pushback was there? Does the contempt arise mainly from the right, or are the politics of it more complicated? Is contempt even the best way to describe the attitude toward labor? What kind of variation is there across different forms of labor? And, perhaps most urgently, how to respond to the replacement of labor with productivity, that is, to the erasure of labor itself?

This might be a way for me to approach this subject without having to take an econometric approach. I’ve held back on getting into this both because I lack training in economics and because econometrics won’t necessarily get to what really matters about this issue. In other words, I want to consider this as a political matter, not an economic one.

And it is a political matter, a deeply political matter. We Americans have managed historically to suppress and mollify labor in turn, but in the last thirty years the grudging acceptance of labor has turned into a grudge, full stop, and labor consciousness itself  has been dissolved. Why this matters, politically, well, that’s what I’m going to have to figure out.

2. I snarked the other day at TNC’s joint that libertarianism is not a real political philosophy, but didn’t say much beyond that. Later, prior to reading Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concept of Liberty”, I wrote that as a

general matter, I dismiss libertarianism as a serious theory of governance, not least b/c it appears to have contempt even for the notion of government, that is, as a form of organization over and above civil society. Instead, I posit, its chief use is as a critique or as a leavening agent to various legitimate political theories. In short, I question its ability to provide any sort of overriding guidance to those charged w/governing, its applicability to any sort of society beyond a small, like-minded group (i.e., fails test of pluralism – this charge of anti-pluralism requires particular care), or its ability to last beyond a generation or two w/o dissolution or degenerating into authoritarianism.

All find and good; there’s something for me to work with, here, But then I realized:

Okay, but what of the critique of Marxism as lacking a serious theory of government? Could not the same charged [sic] be lodged against it – that it works as a critique or adjunct to Liberal theories, but that it, too, exhibits its own kind of contempt for govt? Gramsci might offer one kind of response, but even there. . . .

I then headed into a dead end, backed out, and wondered

Perhaps, then, the question of whether libertarianism or Marxism offers its own theory of democratic (understood broadly) governance? And it not, why do I take Marxism seriously in a way I don’t take libertarianism?

I’m fine going after libertarianism, not least because its noxious fumes are currently polluting the political air, but for my own sake, I gotta take up at some point that question of what would a socialist government look like.

3. Those candidates who insist that nothing good comes from government need to be forced to explain how they will govern. Cut cut cut ought not be accepted as a governing philosophy, and opponents to these anti-government politicians should hammer them on what they will do, besides less-than-nothing.

4. I really was not able to put together a coherent post tonight, but I thought if I didn’t get these thoughts out, I wouldn’t get these thoughts out.





They’re clouding up the images of my perfect day

27 07 2009

Two things.

One, I don’t much like how much morality infects politics. The rules, the norms, the players, the goals, are not the same.

Yes, I’ve read Foucault (oy, have I read Foucault), and I don’t think he’s in the main wrong about the creative repression of power in all spheres of life. That said, the  circulations of power are distinct, and even amidst such power moves, there are phenomenon which manage to corral meanings to themselves counter or even indifferent to dominant narrative. Thus, morality and politics each generates its own terms of existence.

Geek-speak out of the way, I am therefore bumfuzzled by my reaction to the question of whether a legal market in solid organs (kidneys, mainly, tho’ perhaps also partial livers) ought to be set up.

I have long opposed organ sales, oppose the sale of blood and plasma, and give the hairy eyeball to the sale of human eggs and sperm. (I’m also not crazy about the patenting of biological material, nor of whole creatures, as, for example, genetically engineered mice.)

But is this due to a general skepticism toward capitalism, a critique which begins in the sale of a person’s labor and which can, by logic, extend to the sale of a person’s parts? If so, the opposition is grounded in the ontological claims of socialism and would therefore be, politically speaking, acceptable.

(Never mind that the ontological claims of any political or economic theory are likely to be shot through with moralisms. That’s another post.)

No, my problem is that while I am generally skeptical of capitalism, I think my opposition to the sale in body parts can be—dammit!—traced to an unspecified moral unease.

Even this wouldn’t be problematic were I not also—or at least, until very recently—adamantly opposed to legislation to legalize organ sales.

You see the problem: impermissible moral/political comingling!

I have a wide anarchistic streak (which at various points runs parallel to various libertarian arguments), but I also don’t trust capitalist-markets to protect and promote the basic conditions of existence necessary to a human life.

But what of a regulated market? Or even a socialist market? Could such a regulated social market perhaps avoid the problems associated with the current system (organ shortages, black market sales, exploitation of organ sellers) without amplifying or otherwise legitimizing the horrors of those black market sales?

(There’s also the question of whether those (as a class) in need of an organ in any way deserve or have rights to organs—but, again, another post.)

I’d still be leery of even a well-run regulated social market (which could be configured in a variety of ways), but the leer would be merely moral; as a political matter, I don’t know that I could oppose it.

Dammit. My biases are clashing. I hate that.

Two. On the uselessness of most political and social commentary.

(I know, given what I just wrote, this is rich.)

I was laying in bed this morning listening to NPR and a promo aired about US policy and China and India and . . . *click*

Like it fucking matters, I thought. This group says jump UP and that one DOWN and then SIDEWAYS and DIAGONALLY and then someone suggests perhaps we should discuss this in terms of diving rather than jumping and everyone goes Oooh, how contrarian or revisionist or just plain crackers.

The Chinese & Indian leadership will do what it will do and the people will do what they will do and we’ll all occasionally look at one another and say So that’s what’s going on and be utterly and completely wrong—or maybe even utterly and completely right—and we’ll never know, one way or the other.

It’s not that I think political analysis or political action is useless—my heretical side has not yet overtaken its orthodox counterpart—but that for it to be of any use, it must be specific, oriented in a particular direction, and always always always aware of its own limits.

Natural scientists work off the null hypothesis, and statisticians build error into their calculations. Politics is a hell of a lot more complicated and unstable than physics (except, perhaps, in its quantum form, and even then. . . ), but pundits are a hell of a lot more arrogant than physicists in describing their reality.

Oh, christ, I’m about to go off on a digression on scientism and the misguided adoption of physical models of knowledge by the social sciences and the wretched belief that to understand is to control, but, y’know, it’s late and I’d really just wrap this all up.

So a shortcut: By all means, try to understand. By all means, share that understanding. But fer the love of pete, don’t think this means anything beyond the understanding itself.

But I don’t suppose one gets to be a pundit by regularly declaring, ‘But I could be missing something. . . .’