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Via facebook my friend and yours JDRyan posted a link to the UK Guardian piece “Haiti and the Rules of Generosity: Why do people give generously to earthquake victims, but not to prevent the much larger number of deaths caused by poverty?“. As JD said in his facebook posting, a good question (not to mention a long-winded article title, something which I support).
The answer, something I’ve eluded to and spoken to quite often here, is liberalism. Specifically, in a society in which even those who do not benefit at all by the dominate economic systems and relations have internalized the logic of said system, an authentic and meaningful challenge to the status quo is exceedingly difficult. At its most glaring, liberals feel compelled more by a desire to maintain a system in which their basic needs are met (never mind whether or not they’re met in an efficient or healthy manner) than any genuine desire for social justice, equality, or fairness and thus syphon resources to aid the spectacle rather than towards any serious effort to combat the socio-economic conditions which contributed to said spectacle, let alone towards meaningful systemic changes which could elevate real suffering.
The piece rightfully notes the role the mass media plays, and above I intentionally used the word “spectacle” for just this reason. As the Guardian piece points out,
Media saturation obviously makes a critical difference. Scenes from Hurricane Katrina, the Asian tsunami, and now the Haitian earthquake were shown over and over again on all television news broadcasts…. The daily deaths of children in poor countries from diarrhoea, measles, and malaria are part of the background of the world we live in, and so are not news at all.
Which, of course is insane. To say (and frighteningly enough, to say rightfully) that the daily deaths of children due to easily curable diseases and conditions is “not news at all” is to point out that in modern society our experience is not one of authentic human relationships to each other, but rather of relationships through images and representations of life itself.
Which brings us to Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle. In that incredibly important work, Debord points out a modern society in which authentic social life is increasingly replaced by its mere representation. Through a confluence of the State, advanced capitalism, and the mass media of each our lives cease to be authentic human experiences, our relationships cease to be between each other, but instead all is replaced by images and the mere representation of actual experiences and relationships. From the surprisingly articulate wikipedia post on it:
In his analysis of the spectacular society, Debord notes that quality of life is impoverished, with such lack of authenticity, human perceptions are affected, and there’s also a degradation of knowledge, with the hindering of critical thought. Debord analyzes the use of knowledge to assuage reality: the spectacle obfuscates the past, imploding it with the future into an undifferentiated mass, a type of never ending present; in this way the spectacle prevents individuals from realizing that the society of spectacle is only a moment in history (time), one that can be overturned through revolution.
Indeed. Because in general we lack the knowledge to understand the causes (global capitalism, class divisions, colonialism) of poverty we lack an awareness of the means to alleviate such problems and human suffering; with no clear solution to systemic problems we gravitate towards the momentary tragedy instead- the spectacular images of which we are bombarded with by the mass media, furthering our own anxiety’s over the suffering of others in what we might call the last remnants of our instinctual drive for authentic, meaningful human relations.
As I work on some more thoughtful, long, opinionated as hell pieces (like the posts I used to do and love) I’m trying to at least throw at you some smatterings of stuff I’ve been finding, reading, and thinking about. But before I get into that, I’ll just note that the people who give out awards for most creative blog post titles can reach me through the “contact” button at the top of the site, I’ll give you my address to send me out that award.
For starters, the word out Tuesday is that Democratic VT Senate Prez Peter “I really wanna be governor and I give a great speech but boy am I a big shallow phoney” Shumlin will force a vote this week in the Senate Finance committee and then next week by the full Senate on whether or not the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant should be allowed to operate another 20 years after it’s scheduled decommissioning in 2012. For readers not from here and not in the know: VT Yankee is a very dangerous disaster waiting to happen, currently leaking radioactive Tritium into surrounding ground water (and into the CT River- you’re welcome Springfield, Hartford, and New Haven) from underground pipes that company execs testified to the VT Legislature didn’t even exist. To say nothing of cooling towers collapsing and the like; it’s been a bad couple years for the owners of VY. Oddly, VT has no authority whatsoever over the plant, the Federal NRC does- except the legislature can act on behalf of VT electric rate payers, i.e., if the savings to Vermonters in their electric bills don’t justify keeping VY in operation 20 years longer than the plant was designed to last (at increased power output from what it was originally designed to generate). Of note, the plant’s corporate ownership says VY is losing money, or at least not making enough to justify all the headache, and they’re proposing a fairly dramatic rate increase for a new contract, a rate increase above market value.
If VY is closed down on time in 2012 it will be one of the biggest political victories I can think of having seen up-close in my life. I’ve already contacted all my Senators to urge them to vote ‘no’- have you?
Commondreams.org (a site with it’s own liberal B.S. on occasion, but a really good, progressive site overall) is all over the last “socialist” bank in the U.S., the Bank of North Dakota. I will say, it’s a good little story, and in fact the idea of a State Bank, which uses moneys earned towards paying for social programs is a decent one. I personally prefer the credit union model, when we’re talking about banking choices. But it’s nice to see non-corporate banking getting some positive attention.
On March 1st I’m quitting cigarettes. I imagine the tobacco company’s have custom search-engines that detect that sentence where ever it appears on the internet and then sends cartons of free cigarettes to ensure you can’t quit. But I’m gonna do it, my first real earnest attempt at quitting in the 16 years since I first smoked a butt. Of course I’m motivated now because I have a family and a kid and of course I wanna take care of my own health, but you know one of my biggest motivators: all you assholes who insist on giving smokers a hard time, all you non-smokers who somehow feel it your duty or privilege to point out to us in one way or another that it’s bad for us. You know what: “no fucking shit it’s bad for me- you’re not proving you’re particularly bright by pointing out the obvious”. Except maybe with our own children, people don’t generally go around giving un-solicited advise of this manner (“Mike, buddy, it’s cold, zip up your jacket or you’ll get sick”). Ya know, each and every one of us has our own pathologies, our own traumas and challenges and “shit” to work through; smoking just happens to be a particularly noticeable symptom of certain unhealthy associations and reactions that have been un-necessarily (uselessly?) programmed in to us smokers. Given how our entire culture is constructed in a manner that leaves us all in a game of “hide your pathology”, and given the number of taboos associated with addressing frankly our own and each other’s shit (“Hi Jimmy, good to see you…. yeah, I know, you don’t get out much ’cause you have mild agoraphobia due to the panic you’re consumed with when unable to feel a sense of control over your environment because of the trauma from seeing your best friend get hit by a car when you were five”) it seems at the very least a bit odd to me that with just this one issue people feel it their place to speech up. So from where doth you non-smokers derive your divine insight to preach to me about my neurosis? I’d agree that, obviously, if you’re a non-smoker and you’re stuck breathing someone’s second-hand smoke it’s negatively impacting your health and your ability to be happy, but incidental second-hand smoke like you standing next to me on a sidewalk is no public health problem. If second-hand smoke really were such a danger, shouldn’t we be seeing dramatic decreases in certain kinds of cancer over the past few years as indoor smoking has more or less been outlawed over the past few years? I’m just old enough to have been raised and to remember a world in which people smoked on airplanes, in gas stations (as of a few years ago when I was last out that way, they still do this in the South and Midwest); growing-up I remember many friend’s who, like me, one parent smoked and one didn’t, and yes, that smoking parent smoked in the house. Yet none of these none-smoking spouses (my mother included) nor any of us kids have cancer or asthma. I’m not advocating for indoor smoking- I’m just merely wondering about all your non-smoker righteousness in the face of a dearth of facts to justify your holiness.
So yeah, I’m quitting, but not because you non-smokers are ‘right’ about anything- because as a non-smoker I can’t wait to do to you what you’ve been doing to us smokers- “Good to see you Fran, and hey- don’t forget that even though you’re convinced your mom never loved you, you can still lead a happy and productive life!”.
Geez, I’m this agro about this smoking thing and I haven’t even started trying to quit yet. This could get ugly.
As I give it at least my dozenth try at getting the ol’ blogger legs back going, lets take a look at some highlights of life here in America, February of 2010 (grab a beer or a joint or a big mug of coffee, this is a long one):
Seems it was a very good year to be a Washington lobbyist- the best year ever, actually. The Center for Responsive Politics has looked into tens of thousands of disclosure findings and found that in 2009 special interests of every kind spent $3.47 billion lobbying the Federal government. “Even when companies are scaling back other operations, many view lobbying as a critical tool in protecting their future interests, particularly when Congress is preparing to take action on issues that could seriously affect their bottom lines.” said CRP director Sheila Krumholz. Among those numbers, the dollars from your and my health care premiums (if you’re lucky enough to even have health insurance) spent ensuring Congress could not pass a meaningful overall of the health care system was $266.8 million (that amount spent by the pharmaceutical and health products industries represents a record for one sector). The report also notes- oddly- that this year saw a decline in the number of actual registered lobbyists, prompting speculation that in the face of tighter controls on lobbying from the Obama Administration some aspects of lobbying have moved under-ground; now there’s a welcome development: the seedy back-room world of those with power manipulating politicians for their personal gain moving into a closet in the back-room. “Democracy”? is that what you folks call this?
I’m decidedly excited about organized labor threatening to “stay out” of this year’s elections in protest over the way the Obama Administration and Democratic leadership in both the House and Senate have failed to deliver much of anything for working people. Lets face it, the Republican Party is not even an option- in terms of political choice- for working class people (I know what you’re thinking about Tea Party-ers and rednecks and religious fundamentalists and the like, and I’ll get to them, but I’m referring here only to those who are at least partially aware of their class-standing, the existence of class society, and who reject in general the inherent good of wealth concentrated among the wealthy (even if some of these things happen far from even their own waking consciousness)). For years organized labor have leaned towards the Democratic Party knowing they’d at least get thrown some bread crust, and that that would always be better than the mere crumbs the Republicans may throw. But in the face of being so hopeful, so full of excitement and promise (and after spending serious money and donating serious volunteer time) to get Obama in and with majorities and everything, labor has gotten jack shit. Read the rest of this entry »
Sick of paying the increasingly staggering price of firewood, I figured now would be the time to do some selective logging on our little 10 acres of heaven. For the same price as about half of a year’s worth of wood I could stock-pile about two year’s worth, or more- a no-brainer. Sure, more work for me splitting it all up, but I could use the physical work and, actually, love the chore (though a chore it is). I mean, who doesn’t love their time playing with a chainsaw?
So the question, of course, becomes who to get to hike into the woods behind the house, chop down some trees, and haul them 500-1000 yards down the hill to the house. I soon realized the answer was obvious:
- “….brought a bit of theater to the evening. He startled the audience by starting his chainsaw, filling the auditorium with the stink of petroleum as he made his point.”
- Colby said that he told the arresting officer that, “I come in peace.” Colby said then the officer punched him in the stomach. Wardinski said his arresting officer called him a, “punk asshole.”
- …demonstrators were arrested on trespass charges Wednesday night inside the Burlington offices of Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., while protesting what they said was Welch’s unwillingness to firmly oppose the Iraq war.
- Wardinski rattled off a list of political stands that included the immediate shutdown of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, universal health care coverage for all Vermonters in a publicly-funded system, a halt to public employee layoffs, and an immediate withdrawal of all Vermont service members currently fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and “who the hell knows where else.”
- “For Vermonters who have seen Howard Dean up close and personal for the last eleven years as our governor, there’s something darkly comical about watching the national media refer to him as the “liberal” in the race for the Democratic nomination for president. With few exceptions in the 11-plus years he held the state’s top job, Dean was a conservative Democrat at best. And many in Vermont, particularly environmentalists, see Dean as just another Republican in Democrat’s clothing.”
- “We go after the folks who have the power, directly, tenaciously, and in a way that empowers people.”
Michael Colby and Boots Wardinski, aka “Horse Loggers for Peace”. Yeah, these guys will do just fine. They’re polerizing, divisive, loud, and un-forgiving for it all. They rub a lot of people- including many friends and aquiantances of mine- the very, very wrong way. But of all the things we need and don’t need in this world, true iconoclasts will always be necessary. So while I sit here “working”, Michael, Boots, and Michael’s trusty (and absolutely beatiful) horse are playing hard at work in the woods behind my house. Thanks guys!
Take this, sweetshop labor:
From the time Russell (Athletic) shut the factory (which fired 1200 workers in Honduras after they formed a union) last January, the anti-sweatshop coalition orchestrated a nationwide campaign against the company. Most important, the coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops, persuaded the administrations of Boston College, Columbia, Harvard, New York University, Stanford, Michigan, North Carolina and 89 other colleges and universities to sever or suspend their licensing agreements with Russell. The agreements – some yielding more than $1 million in sales – allowed Russell to put university logos on T-shirts, sweatshirts and fleeces.
Going beyond their campuses, student activists picketed the N.B.A. finals in Orlando and Los Angeles this year to protest the league’s licensing agreement with Russell. They distributed fliers inside Sports Authority sporting goods stores and sent Twitter messages to customers of Dick’s Sporting Goods to urge them to boycott Russell products.
The students even sent activists to knock on Warren Buffett’s door in Omaha because his company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns Fruit of the Loom, Russell’s parent company.
And climate change? pleeeeze. World-wide, people are mother-fucking ready for it; time to get on board, ruling class.
Speaking of the environment, I don’t frequent Z Magazine often enough:
A green energy expert once tried to convince me that even though rooftop micro wind turbines are useless or worse than useless in most situations, they’re still worth promoting because they encourage people to think about their emissions. It’s a bit like the argument used by anti-drugs campaigners: the soft stuff leads to the hard stuff.
I’ve never been convinced by this argument. In my experience, people use the soft stuff to justify their failure to engage with the hard stuff. Challenge someone about taking holiday flights six times a year and there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll say something along these lines:
I recycle everything and I re-use my plastic bags, so I’m really quite green.
Being a cynical old git, I have always been deeply suspicious of the grand claims made for consumer democracy: that we can change the world by changing our buying habits. There are several problems with this approach:
• In a consumer democracy, some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to change a system that has served them so well.
• A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle – and fair play to you – but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you’ve vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens – demanding political change – not acting as consumers.
• We are very good at deceiving ourselves about our impacts. We remember the good things we do and forget the bad ones.
Anyways, there’s always a belligerent Israel to look to for activist failure.
Speaking of activism, wasn’t Obama supposed to be ‘our’ (your) man? WTF?
Anyway, this post is suposed to be about the success of activism, so Put The Fun Between Your Legs:
Ah yes, now I remember writing, and thinking, and pondering (and throwing my various opinions out at the world)… sorry ’bout that 8-month or so interruption. Life tends to get in the way of one’s best laid plans, I guess.
And when I left off, I was thinking a lot about- in fact, even working in my spare time on a book- the importance of integral theory to the political providence. Conversely, I was also thinking a lot about the many ways in which integral thinkers get politics all wrong. For instance, I just came across a new (to me) site by integral heavy-weight Corey W. deVos, a guy who I generally like (OK, I’ve never met him). This despite the fact that I have some serious disagreements with his take on “integral politics”. But it’s nothing personal against him, since the mistakes he makes are rampant throughout the integral community.
In particular, my attention was drawn to a post up on Mr. deVos’ site which is more or less a mini-manifesto on the wonders- the integral nature even- of green capitalism. As I’ve said before, I’ve found that in general the integral community is liberal (in the American popular sense, liberal to social democratic in the European political sense) and very, very defensive of capitalism. They like it. A lot. At the very best they’d like to see it look more like the capitalist-socialist hybrid that is popular through much of Europe. But the integral community is, from what I’ve seen, more or less 98% upper-middle class or better. Even those “without money” come from privilaged backgrounds (not surprisingly, there’s a high concentration of ‘whiteness’ too, since economic standing and racial make-up are so often related, though, again just from what I’ve seen, the racial mix of the integral community is a bit more diverse than the socio-economic mix).
And while I’m on this tangent (I will get to Mr DeVos’ post and my opinions of what’s wrong with it), a word about the integral community’s general economic background (and connected political leanings): it’s no coincidence at all that the integral community is by-and-large made up of individuals whose economic lot have enabled them to have a higher degree of education, and have afforded them the leisure time to ponder the sorts of bigger picture questions that might lead one to come to an integral vantage point of the world (Kosmos, whatever you’d like to call it). There are, in fact, little if any people (let alone currents) involved with integral theory (or practice or interests) from Harlem, East St Louis, or South Central LA. There are, however, hotbeds of integral activity in Boulder, Ashville, Burlington. Speaking in strictly political terms, people who benefit from a political (economic) system are going to be loath to embrace the destruction of that system, even if the destruction of that system were to bring about a net gain for the majority, or even the planet. Instinctually, we want security and safety, and if we have it, well, it becomes quite a thing to root for something else to take its place, no matter the pros or cons.
Following from that title, let me be clear: for every Dem I despise, there’s a Republican to match him (or her). Likewise, for every motion made by a Dem that I like, there’s an equal one done by some GOP operative. But lets take a quick look at what the Dems, on the national stage, are up to:
- Max Bacus (D-Montana): We ‘can’t afford the unmitigated effects of fighting climate change’. Yes, that’s right, it’s too expensive to have an energy/transportation/industrial system that doesn’t rape and pillage the planet. Score one for Nineteenth Century thinking.
- Patrick Leahy (D- Vermont): Talks a dam tough game, and quite honestly, has come through solid on a few things for us Vermonters… but when it comes to the USA PATRIOT ACT, or holding the Bush Administration accountable for any number of their crimes (domestic or international), well, let’s just say score one for Orwell’s 1984.
- Harry Reid (D-Nevada): While so many out in liberal la-la land are excited that Reid has decided to force through “a public option”, the fact of the matter is that, no matter what any polls show or what the public opinion is, nothing that’s going to hit the Senate floor will be good enough and health care (and the cost of health insurance) (hell, the very idea of having health “insurance”) will continue to cripple working people, be they lower or middle class. Listen, this is just the issue of the moment- health care ties into so many important things right now. It’s time to take a page from the Revolutionary playbook: it’s estimated that, at best, 25-33% of the public supported becoming independent from England at the time of the American Revolution; but those guys went forward with it anyway… and you know what? no one questions their wisdom now- no one, ever, anywhere, suggests it was a bad idea because it wasn’t supported by a majority of the people at the time. Once Americans have full-blown, never see a bill, maybe your taxes go up a little (if you make a decent living or better to begin with), health care, I’d give ’em 10 months at best to forget entirely what their original opinion on socialized medicine was. When it comes to health care in America, score one for Eighteenth Century England.
- Barack Obama (D- United States): October has been the deadliest month for American troops in Afghanistan- ever. Score one for electing a “socialist”.
I could go on of course- there are thousands of elected Democrats all over the country. But that would be exhausting, and I’m tired as it is. Plus, I may feel obligated to do the same for Republicans (just to be fair) which just well might take a lifetime. But my point is simple: don’t rely on politicians (liberal, conservative, “independent”, whatever) to make the world right. We’ve got to do it ourselves. It’s always been that way, for all of human history. My favorite bumper sticker is still an axiom that I adhere to every waking moment: “comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable”.