Archive for September, 2012

Who Will Pay Your Debt?

September 27, 2012

Ai Weiwei returned to the news today. He lost his “tax evasion appeal”. His latest act of resistance is to refuse to pay the extra $1 mil plus over which he had appealed. Everyone will be watching to see how much voice he will have now that the issue has been transformed into a dispute over debt. Yesterday also saw an article on MoneyWatch by David Weidner entitled How Obama failed to rein in Wall Street (AP 9/26/12). Suffice to say it insightfully details how any response to the criminality which led to the near catastrophe of 08-09 is a non-event. The Obama administration not only is loaded with Wall Street insiders, but legislation like Dodd Frank or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are designed to fail. Walls Street owes no debt to any nationality (truly non-partisan!). And then today, the presidential candidate with the largest campaign coffer has released a 2 minute ad touting “economic patriotism” (for a drowning populace already inundated by back to back 30 second political ads). I guess the outcome of Citizens United is becoming increasingly transparent. Not wanting to be the number 2 economy means we will just have to outdo the Chinese in our economic fervor. Either way, political governance has become capitalized.  What you pay will determine your political engagement. Economic sanctions will be used to suppress. Economic largesse will determine outcome. Being in or out of debt produces the contemporary “sense” of Ranciere’s dissensus politic. Demanding to be included essentially means going in debt. Who Will Pay Your Debt?

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Who Will Buy Our Debt?

September 22, 2012

This week found me caught in a conversation that hasn’t left me. Normally this blog concerns itself with the interface of theory and current events (the everyday), citing sources and rationale from both. But the conversation lingered. Its topic essentially grounds our today, the contemporary condition of American culture in the throes of its biennial change of government. This time it involves the presidency as well as congress. The conversation’s topic lies at the heart of the lack of difference.

The other in my conversation was a former elected office holder, a CFO for various local enterprises, and someone who could be considered part of the area’s 1%. We’ve known each other for a long time. What motivates us, brings satisfaction to our lives as well as meaning differs. We’ve always respected that difference and so we could talk. Realizing that I found little difference in what the outcome of the presidential contest would bring (Goldman Sachs would continue to run things) he tried to persuade me as to why the outcome makes a difference. Eventually the line “when they stop buying our debt” (resulting in dire consequence for the US) was blurted out. This was a leverage point in his dialectic. As a CFO, accounting numbers are primo real. Borrowing, its costs and payment are basic and integral to the running of any business enterprise. Small wonder he found it critical, almost unthinkable (even absurd), not to consider this in the outcome of our government transition. I asked him who the “they” is. A pause, a gap followed by a quick and earnest recovery. First the “they” was local, then national “lenders”, then acquiescence that it was likewise international, global. Finally, he had to agree that well, there was nothing outside the global mobility of capital. There is no “other”, no untainted third world countries, no great adversarial alternative “Other”. Global capitalism subsumes everything. So who are the “they”? We parted agreeing almost unanimously on the problem, but both completely unable to imagine any kind of solution. I pointed out that the market is totally inadequate in addressing the diminishing amount of honey bees and beekeepers in the northern hemisphere. Any such investment is completely insecure in that, to function as what they are, the bees must fly free (and therefore can abscond) and any success relies on total integration with the environment which is totally out of the investors’ control (and right now detrimental to the honey bees’ health). Apple doesn’t need to worry about the market investing in honey bees, no matter how great the demand, how urgent the need. Any solution to our mutual, communal problem would have to be unique, creative, and not tied to a historic template. Fair enough we agreed.

But the conversation stuck with me, the echo of his emphasis on debt. Debt is fundamental to capitalism itself (money makes money, the value of surplus creating more surplus). In the Lacanian sense of there being no outside,  no transferential “someone who is supposed to know”, no intervention from some “Other” that would effectively deal with our everyday problem (and our problem is every day), my acquaintance was primarily and simply concerned with capitalism (intimately aware of its everyday operation and functioning). In this case I believe the discomfort came from the unspoken realization that the functioning of capitalism is inexorable. And this go round, we are on the wrong side of it. Knowing that debt was an essential part of capitalism swam like a shark under our mutual assessment that whatever the solution was, it would require something new, not bound to historic precedent. As with the solution to the demise of bees, the capitalist template may not necessarily be the one that solves the problem. This left my friend uneasy for his primary concern has always been with “who will buy our debt”, something that requires electing a good salesman.

Freedom And Technocracy

September 16, 2012

“Alexei Navalny, a charismatic anti-corruption crusader and a popular blogger, remains the rock star among the protest leaders. When he took the stage, young people in the crowd held up their phones to record the moment.” (Anti-Putin Protests Draw Tens of Thousands, Lynn Berry and Vladimir Isachenkov AP 9-16-12)

The moment was recorded, then what? For posterity? Tens of thousands of images, each from a minimally different perspective, all of the same thing. Then they shared their individual perspective with another “individual perspective” of the same event. Maybe took it home to share with those without access to digital media. Who are they (those without access to digital media)?

According to Berry and Isachenkov, when Navalny got up to speak the unwitting response, the unconscious response, the spontaneous response was “to record the moment” on their cell phones (new larger screens, sharper image).

In The Parallax View (pg. 86) Slavoj Zizek references an essay by Patricia Huntington (“Heidegger’s Reading of Kierkegaard: From Ontological Abstraction to Ethical Concretion”). He writes: “On the one hand Kierkegaard’s insistence on authentic personal engagement emphasizes the need for concrete ethical responsibility, for me to behave as if I am responsible for what I am, but leave intact the traditional ontological frame of reference which sustains the unauthentic mode of existence.” Zizek focuses on the reliance of this self-same frame of reference by both Heidegger and Kierkegaard, though outcomes differ in the end. He asks “What, however, if this lack of an a priori universal frame – of a frame exempted from the contingencies of the political struggle – is precisely what opens up the space for the struggle (for “freedom,” “democracy,” and so on)?” (pg. 87) And what if this universal frame was much more concrete, material (and housed within a rather petite object at that), like the one established for an image by the cell phone maker?

Earlier (pg. 82), Zizek quotes from an essay by Dominick Hoens and Ed Pluth (“The sinthome: A New Way of Writing an Old Problem”): “to refuse the symbolic order within the symbolic order”. Berry and Isachenkov’s report makes it sound like this is exactly what happened in Moscow (“The Moscow organizers had spent days in tense talks with the city government over the protest route for Saturday, typical of the bargaining that has preceded each of the opposition marches.”). Writing: “Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.” they insinuate that this particular occurrence evidenced the duration of the struggle (“for “freedom,” “democracy,” and so on”). Given the spontaneous, unconscious response by the crowd to what appeared to be substantive communication (“”We must come to rallies to win freedom for ourselves and our children, to defend our human dignity,” he said to cheers of support. “We will come here as to our workplace. No one else will free us but ourselves.””), the fact that some of the largest and wealthiest global corporate interests are around the production and service of communication technology, and Zizek’s insights, it becomes curious to imagine what the trajectory, the future of such a struggle just might look like. It is very difficult to imagine the powers that be giving up the emphasis, enforcement and efficacy of continuous and omnipresent mediation (the frame). Maybe the achievement will be freedom and technocracy.

The Empty Chair

September 8, 2012

Re-reading Lacan in order to re-read Zizek. Cod only know why. I couldn’t help but be struck by the cover art for The Parallax View.  Of course, being the cover art for a parallax view, the front side articulates with the back (though it is not “the fold”). Together they make up the painting of a furnished room. On the front is an arm chair covered by a sheet (either the home owner owns pets as I do or this is a museum room) and the back has ditto but with Lenin seated on a likewise covered armchair taking notes, much as one would imagine Freud to have done (Zizek’s short circuiting).  But wait, there’s more! On the back inside book jacket cover is a photo of an installation by Rudjer Kunaver and Miran Mohar entitled Slavoj Zizek Does Not Exist. It shows, again, an empty chair positioned before a mirror and within the mirror is Zizek seated within the reflected chair. And so the empty chair, again, brings us to the recent clichéd popular empty chair of Dirty Harry and the RNC. And why did Mr. Eastwood do that? What could he be thinking?

The man with no name gives improv reasons for doing improv. But could that be all? Perhaps the folks from Occupy have told us more than the man looking for a few dollars more. What have they told us? That there’s not a rat’s ass difference between the candidacies for president proffered by the two major parties (“”Romney and Obama,” he added: “They’re two peas in a pod.”” Occupy Movement older, wiser By Karen Aho, MSN Money 9-5-2012). That, in a sense, they are two sides of a coin, two backs of a book cover (“Adam said he has never been under the illusion that Obama would be able to remake Washington, because of the corporate influence on politics. “It’s not his fault that to be elected president that you have to live within the existing paradigm. The existing paradigm is the problem.”” ibid.). Which brings us back to The Parallax View, and Zizek’s gap revealing more about “What could he be thinking?” than a hundred speculative commentaries. This election, with all its emphasis on what makes little difference, turns on the “objet petit a” (Were the survivors of the Titanic better off four years after its sinking? Are all the numbers and statistics factual? Are wealthy people, to reference F. Scott Fitzgerald, really different from you and I?). Each side is proselytizing what is “in you more than yourself.” Talking to what is “in you more than yourself” makes Clint Eastwood’s day!

Royalty

September 2, 2012

A crown presentation (and installation) followed recent close encounters with my dental clinic. It is a small office consisting of the hygienist, assistant, receptionist and dentist. Previously it was a father/son operation but dad retired some years ago. This is one of the few establishments I patronize that plays the blues as background music, and we’re not talking B.B. “It feels so good to feel so bad.”

Midwest growers have been likewise experiencing the blues. Because of the drought, it has been a lousy year for honey. Given the crisis, it makes more sense to share what there is than to try to recoup the loss of an entire year with some kind of convoluted marketing strategy. So I left 4 one pound jars of this spring’s exceptional offering with the officiators of my coronation. How do you think they divided the prize?

Later I thought of all the statistics and economic data from the late 90’s and early 2000 that spawned the 1%, 99% consciousness of the Occupy movement. These are easy figures and ratios until one thinks of them in terms of 64 ounces of honey. Corporate CEO’s today are taking home 100 times what their average employee has to live on. If my dentist considered himself on a par with these CEO’s (as a private investment “small business” entrepreneur), he would be taking home 62 ounces of the honey I left while each of his three employees would have only two thirds of an ounce to sample (not much to share with one’s family). Those who deal in numbers, statistics and ratios claim that during the Eisenhower presidency, it would have been more like 5 ounces per employee with 49 ounces to the boss. Of course, CEO’s didn’t wear the mantle of “job creator” then. Why are they considered such royalty now?