Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United’

Dewey And Da Bees

May 18, 2013

Pragmatism and Diversity: Dewey in the Context of Late Twentieth Century Debates is a collection of 8 essays, an introduction and a concluding conversation amongst the various authors edited by Judith M. Green, Stefan Neubert, and Kersten Reich (2011). The writings and philosophy of American John Dewey are pretty much de rigueur for undergraduates of private liberal arts colleges. Indeed, the entire philosophy of pragmatism is pretty much embodied within many of these institutions. My bookshelf finds no “Dewey” between “Deleuze” and Freire”. This book did much to help me understand the myth-conception I’ve had about graduates of small, private liberal arts colleges being celebrated for landing their first job with the American Lung Association or R.J. Reynolds. It doesn’t matter which, they would be equally competent, committed and enthusiastic at either. But I guess I was wrong. Interesting insights about cosmopolitanism, pragmatism, and how they are viewed through the perspective of democracy (and education) accompany this reading.

But it ain’t all a bed of roses. Dewey seems to leave that small private liberal arts college enthusiasm slathered all over the place, even second hand, on those reading about him though not directly. Two essays addressed this: William J. Gavin’s The Context of Diversity versus the Problem of Diversity and Jim Garrison’s Dewey and Levinas on Pluralism, the Other, and Democracy. Gavin’s essay substantiates the existence of tragedy and Kafkaesque type scenario’s (a variation of which would be Heller’s Catch 22 scenarios). No amount of “problem solving” or reductionism to help address a problem eliminates these because, quite frankly, they just are, and won’t disappear from life as we know it or be lessened no matter how earnestly we apply pragmatic organization (hence the disjunct of the student gushing over their new job representing the American Lung Association, or R.J. Reynolds. It doesn’t matter which, pragmatism prevails). Garrison’s essay was the more vexing. Admirably, he does take the time to associate Levinas with Dewey primarily on their interest and commitment to diversity and pluralism. Though Levinas is presented accurately enough (good enough is an adequate standard in the comparison of ideas, authors and applications for this writer), Garrison fails to reconstruct his outlook as earnestly and conscientiously as he does Dewey’s. Reconstruction is a cornerstone of Dewey’s pragmatism but applying it with such bias undermines any benefits to be had from this aspect of pragmatism and democracy. It has been said that art is impossible after the Holocaust, or poetry for that matter (or God for some), but what about Dewey’s pragmatism? Reconstructing Levinas within the context of the post-holocaust civilized world (the latter part of the “later” Dewey), would have created a better understanding of inadequacies. Which brings us to – the bees.

Levinas centers on the Other which Garrison translates (or expands) to implicate the Same. One description of Dewey’s pragmatism has it stressing democracy as a way of life made operational through continuing education all founded on the fundamentals of nature, possibility, experience and community. These last four are pretty descriptive of the bees and could be considered almost as a template. An important part of contemporary existence is the place and importance of programming, software, in today’s world. These methodologies (outlooks, dispositions, organizations, whatever) function much as templates in that, like our student with her first job, it doesn’t matter what the application (or “context”). Dewey’s pragmatism can also be considered as a template. But the bees find themselves having to fly, be free and “work” the environment of, sometimes, up to three miles from their hive. Unlike livestock, totally managed and determined, for the bees no freedom means no production. Here Levinas’ Other can be reconstructed much more effectively and informatively than Dewey’s problem solving pragmatism. What the bees encounter in their necessity to be bees, is more like the Other of Levinas than some “problem” able to be solved if we just employ reductionist applications. It is planting time hereabouts , and not wishing to dispel wonderful myths of plowing and seeding most of it is done with a giant tanker truck coming in and spraying herbicide (akin to agent orange) on the field. After everything has died (including the dandelions the bees got drenched working while the spray was being applied), another huge, complicated piece of machinery (with attached tanks for liquid application) comes to inject seed and pesticide into the brown dead field. A couple of weeks from now, perfect rows of corn or beans will appear in this by design wasteland. For the bees, this certainly is the Face. This Monsanto-type methodology is a program, a template for how farming is done/to be done today (with all the protections of intellectual property). But what of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and now, within our democracy, having to sit down at the table with Lloyd Blankfein? Will he be just an individual or is he, like our student, there as a representative of Goldman Sachs? Dewey is said to be promoting that there are three at the table. Me, Lloyd and our work. But the Supreme Court says there are really now four (or five, depends how you count). There is me, Lloyd, Goldman Sachs and our work. The corporate structure, much as software, functions as a template, insisting on a specific disposition, outlook and precedence. Stressing education of individuals for the sake of a full and healthy democracy begins to unravel when one notices that the little me is outnumbered two (or three) to one: the corporation, its representative (and its representative as an individual standing to gain enormously if he doesn’t vary from the template). Like the bees who must fly out into an environment that is committed to a specific modus operandi (trespassing insects must be eliminated), our individual at the table finds themselves in a situation better addressed by Levinas than Dewey.

A Digression: One Grand Narrative

October 14, 2012

No, this will not be about the latest opening of your shiny, new neighborhood casino. But that may well be part of it. Grand narratives are these ego inspired attempts at suturing the disparities of history, theory, and the contemporary to try to make sense out of what someday will be meaningful only to a machine. I mean, it is sort of getting to that point already today where even the umps and refs at sports events are undermined by what the “official” replay machine “sees”. Someday, maybe the athletes will only compete before the “official” view of automated, calibrated machines, with the rest of us designated as pure spectators, for entertainment value only. But I digress. To a certain extent grand narratives are going that way also. No one is much interested in Homer’s tale of the Trojan conflict. Show us the real Troy and have LiLo or Angelina as Helen, to enhance the info/entertainment value. It takes imagination to read the Odyssey. Grand narratives require active readership. Distraction addicts need not apply. Speaking of which yours truly was distracted while listening to an interview with the author of a neuroscience study on the difference in brain activity between reading while distracted and reading as an exclusive activity. The study concerned reading Jane Austin while having earbuds plugged in, or texting/checking the phone, or having video/video games in the environment. Reading Pride and Prejudice without any other (distracting) stimulation found the various parts of the brain much more active and involved, even the parts that discern body placement in space. According to the authors, it is almost as though the reader were “living” the experience, at least from the perspective of brain activity whereas the distracted readers were primarily utilizing the parts of the brain that specifically process information. Junk in, junk out. But I digress again. A grand narrative sometimes can jog a different imagining as to what has been assumed to be, present a different perspective, an opening to what a more sophisticated thinker like Alain Badiou would describe as an event, a catalyst of change (not as a direct experience of course but probably more as the Austin study in lighting up parts of the brain that otherwise would not get engaged). So a grand narrative may have some self-worth, but as that Poppins woman insinuated: it wouldn’t hurt to have some sugar with it.

This blog’s recent postings have been following a thread that reveals a narrative’s toe from beneath the drapery. Zizek’s use of fitness indicators to invert the assumed primary/secondary hierarchy of utilitarian/aesthetic combined with the contemporary politics exposed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling reveals what lurks behind that curtain. Many have adumbrated parts of this narrative, and stressed its ongoing nature (so no uniqueness here). Many have also pointed out, on the basis of Hardt and Negri’s work (as well as others), the “police” function of governments (to ensure market access and functioning). It is only a skip and a jump from there to realize the utter inconvenience of maintaining the sham of populist democracy when corporate leadership could also be actual functioning government leadership; the redundancy required of machines now can be applied to institutional management (doubly guaranteeing market access and function). Evidence of this is not only within the current US election but also the recent one in Georgia, as well as various other democratic leadership positions worldwide.  Suffice to say, corporate leadership morphs into democratic leadership.  The transition appears to be seamless (no violent upheavals as in the 60’s). Considered historically, fitness indicators may also present more than a sociological/psychological understanding of human sexuality. They contribute to an equally inverted narrative with regard revolution/change. All of which could benefit an imaginative student of current events. The American, French, and other revolutions may have been more about establishing Capital as a “fitness indicator” than about populist democratic aspirations. Marx may have been a distracting digression. Indeed, some speculate this revolution of the priority and supremacy of utilitarian economy (Capitalism) as a “fitness indicator” over the primordial one of potlatch and waste actually began with the religious Reformation in Europe (others make an even stronger link between Capitalism and religion citing the Catholic Church’s theology of “The Mystical Body” as the basis of corporate organization, yet again, I digress). The current Romney/Ryan ticket, along with the boss hog politics of Karl Rove is only the latest struggle in this revolution begun in the 1700’s, or 1500’s depending on your willingness to take on complexity (If you want to do business with our political party, you must support our agenda exclusively. David Siegel, owner of Westgate Resorts, threatening to fire his 7,000 employees and shut down his company if Obama retains his presidency would lie in that same logic, still again I digress). The “real” revolution may be that of establishing Capital as the exclusive and singular “fitness indicator”, bar none. These other “leftist” or “progressive” ideologies are merely resistance holdovers of an archaic (and primordial) valuation.

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?

Corporate Declaration Of Independence

July 4, 2012

            It is customary on the Fourth of July to read anew the full text of the Declaration of Independence. While listening to tradition, imagine corporations as people. Here are the substitutions for wherever the word “people” appears:


“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for [one] corporations to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.” 

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Corporations to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

“He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of corporations, unless those corporations would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.”

“He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the corporations.”

“He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the Corporations at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.”

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our corporations, and eat out their substance.”

 “He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our corporations.”                                                                                                          

“A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of [a] free corporations.”

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good Corporations of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”


            Aptly enough, the text appears refreshingly different. When the entirety is read with this change in mind, the text becomes even more startling, its interpretation more revealing and contemporary.

Fracking Is Not The Issue

June 15, 2012

            A recent Newark Advocate article (Ohio’s Top Geologist Demoted Following Shale Map Concerns by Russ Zimmer June 13, 2012) flies neatly under the radar like the latest stealth aircraft. Ostensibly, its connection with the controversies surrounding the shale energy gold rush in eastern Ohio is what made it newsworthy. Careful reading indicates it quietly tells the tale of a public employee within shouting distance of 30 years of public service being chastised for not getting it right when it comes to serving the public (even though his job “appraisals mostly were unblemished”). What did he not get right? After nearly 30 years of service (with good performance appraisals), it couldn’t have been the “serving” part. It must have been the “public” part. “Public” must have changed since Reagan’s first term, when this fellow’s employment began, and what is the worldview today.

            Re-reading the article within light of the state’s (and county’s and city’s) current management emphasis on public private joint ventures and the hurried introjections of private business “consultants” on boards of public regulation and policy, it is no wonder the poor fellow didn’t get it right. Just the minor side reporting on the state’s joint venture with Cargill and Morton resulting in a law suit over price collusion on the sale of salt back to the state from whence it originated in the first place is as confusing as the Nixon years (just think of the possibilities with the energy produced by Ohio shale!). Who is the “public” identified by public service? The recent Supreme Court Citizens United ruling joins a new voice to any karaoke selection of Woody Guthrie’s great sing-along, “This land is your land. This land is my land.” And that voice comes from “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law.” (Chief Justice Marshall’s identifying definition of a corporation, Dartmouth vs Woodward 1819). How could it not sound hip, with it, so totally today?

            And what is private, private enterprise or business? The fracking brouhaha that placed this “private” human interest story in the news originally (making it “public” news) is all about water, public water, and whether private entities “existing only in contemplation of the law” are entitled to the same public access as, well, the public. How many public employees are demoted, promoted, placed on leave, laid off or fired every week without the notice that even newly acquired Realtor membership receives? The Advocate of late has been all full of reporting regarding the new gold rush, jobs to be created, the energy independence, the wealth lying deep below the ground, the disgruntled tree huggers, canoeists, bird watchers, and whether or not the MWCD and cities along rivers are within their jurisdiction to deal in water with “artificial being[s], invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law.” A curious insight is that there has been no reporting on the various private sand and gravel mining operations located throughout the Muskingum watershed. There are a lot, both active and defunct. Both contain enormous quantities of “privately” owned water which they are free to sell (and do). Then again, with the state’s (and county’s and city’s) emphasis on public private joint ventures, if the eastern part of Ohio were blessed with a sandy coastline, these quarries wouldn’t benefit from the sale of sand to private energy companies either.

            The Citizens United ruling redefines all of the previous identifying definitions of public, such as public hunting areas, public fishing areas, public recreation, public health, public transportation, public airwaves, public roads, public waterways, etc. It gives access to and entitles “artificial being[s], invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of the law” all the rights previously reserved for flesh and blood, mortal entities. The esteemed authors of “We, the people” would have embarrassed themselves if they had bothered with an identifying definition since it would have involved flesh and blood entities, of gender, color, origin and background- tangible, visible, real beings existing in time at the time (and, in too many cases, owned as private property). No, fracking is definitely not the issue. 


Citizens United

June 4, 2012

            Here in the US, when the Citizens United ruling first came out, there was a huge brouhaha over the enormous influence that money would play in upcoming elections. The Occupy movement seized on this Supreme Court decision to further emphasize the imbalance and inequality of American governance. It seemed that the only thing the news and information media could concern its self with was speculation on what impact all of this would have on life in these United States. Tsk. Tsk. And like last week’s long term weather forecast, all this has had no bearing on, gives no account of how today is experienced. Today the news is different. Occupy is where? Citizens United, like the gay movement, was simply big money coming out of the closet. It had always been present in American politics and governance. Now it is not considered impolite or shocking to encounter it or discuss it.

            Occupy has been closeted. Citizens United has had much more far reaching and undermining effects than simply how elections are run and paid for. Big money not only determines candidacy and issues, but discourse. Occupy has disappeared not because people are no longer involved, but because the big bucks plied into purchasing votes is spent somewhere. And that somewhere we all witnessed with the Rupert Murdock Sky News extravaganza in Britain. Media is out to profit from its corporate control of information (and that includes you newly wed Mark Zuckerberg, gatekeeper extraordinaire of the internet). If the ever shrinking sources of media stand to benefit so significantly (and so continuously) from the political Wimbledon pairings of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Romney and Obama, it only stands to reason that what doesn’t pay, doesn’t play. And so Occupy has vanished.

            A more insidious infection disseminated by the Citizens United ruling is the unobserved, and (now) impossible to be publicly noted, perversion of language. All of the match ups in the upcoming political games will liberally (conservatively too) make use of such terms as citizens, individuals, people and their families. I don’t know of a single corporate structure (for profit or not for profit) that doesn’t pride itself on being family. And now with Citizens United they are people too, as well as citizens and individuals. Individual liberties, people free to pursue their interests and passion, families secure in their communities, and citizens taking back control of their country (and government) can now likewise be read, be heard as corporate liberties, corporations free to pursue their interests and passions, corporate enterprise being secure in its surroundings, and corporations controlling their country and its governance. In the final appeal (which in this country is the Supreme Court), corporations are people. Citizens United confirms this identity relationship. Unless some political aspirant specifically mentions mortals of a limited biological lifetime, or flesh and blood human beings, it is pretty safe to assume that she or he is talking about where the money comes from when speaking of people, families, individuals or citizens.

Observation, Fact And Opinion

March 20, 2012

Over the weekend there was a “Going Commercial” beekeeping class/workshop held in Medina Ohio, put on by the Medina Country Beekeepers. It wasn’t hands-on in the bee yard but lectures, slides and discussion. It featured Dr. Larry Connor covering spring management and expansion through various queen/split strategies, Dr. Dewey Caron on pathology and prevention, mostly varoa, and Kim Flottum on winter management and marketing. That same weekend I happened on one of those panel discussions moderated by Gwen Ifill featuring a NY Times reporter, corporate media attorneys, etc. It concerned itself with the Citizens United ruling, freedom of speech and the role of money in all this. Surprisingly, the two events spoke to each other, informed each other and were quite complimentary. They were even located in adjacent cities; Ifill’s having been televised in Cleveland, right next door to Medina.

One of the remarkable insights/conclusions coming out of the Medina event (well, remarkable from the point of view of someone trying to post a blog essay every week) was the “wholistic” approach to Varoa management, prevention and control. It was noted clearly that the immediate “scientific” remediation after the 1987 infestation bought time for study but solved nothing. It was even described as counter productive. The chemical, etc. miticide treatments are still employed today (25 years later) though statistically yearly losses keep increasing. This is recognized as not sustainable. The situation is mirrored in the present day quandary re: antibiotics, with antibiotic resistant diseases appearing, like TB. To stretch the reflection out even further, analogous scenarios could be had with regard to nuclear development since 1950. At its inception, atomic “power” was to be the end all be all solution for mankind’s ills, from supplying light and heat in cities, to powering ships, to curing every form of illness, to preserving foods indefinitely and sending man to the stars. As Steve Kurtz once pointed out in a lecture at Vermont College, the framework, the paradigm, the approach of science is shifting from the classical modernistic cause/effect model based on facts and experimentation to one of observation, imagination and the quirkiness of the entirety, the system, the whole. At the conference, Q&A usually ended up with statements of “don’t have the data to say anything about that”,  “that was an astute observation” or “in my opinion”.

Amazingly enough, the Citizens United panel discussion travelled down a parallel set of tracks. The pros and cons of money involvement in free speech came out through the person of the panelists, from the basic utilitarian need of requiring money to produce any kind of widely disseminated text, to the shrinking resources of journalistic outlets to “cover the news”. What previously had been the very marketable journalism of some facts and a reporter’s observations (which implicates opinion) has gravitated, for economic reasons, to fact finding/data mining and little observation, even less opinion. One reason given is the preponderance of opinion through the easy access and availability of blogs. The irony (not noted by the moderator or panel) is that the same economics that dictates the fact based journalism (news outlets need to market their products and generate revenue) likewise precludes the dissemination of any observations that may be politically or economically discomfiting. That is, speech can likewise be suppressed by the Citizens United ruling since fewer and fewer “media” of dissemination become available (prioritizing what’s good for business and not for journalism). The value of observation, once the mainstay of traditional journalism and so necessary in current science, is undermined and devalued for purely capitalistic determinations. These implications are much more far reaching than merely who can run for political office. It is more about how we see the world; full of the quick fixes that can be purchased over the counter, or sustainable and life enhancing over generations?

And then there is blogging. Is it merely opinion? Does being able to distinguish fact from opinion give market journalism its “professional” credibility? Lacking the resources to mine data, does that leave everything else to being “opinion”? If we were all fact checkers, then none of us could or would be philosophers. And philosophy, good philosophy, is definitely NOT opinion. Observations are made, whether re: societies of bees or people. Observations are worthwhile, not only for the reasons given by Bakhtin (each of us has something we are blind to requiring others to see for us) but because it is all we have to begin deciphering the mystery of our world and our lives.