Posts Tagged ‘Democracy’

SpongeBob And The Angels

October 23, 2013

The reports out of AP and others is that Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati has evicted a monument of SpongeBob SquarePants after originally admitting it, claiming it to be inappropriate. The legal argument (of course) pivots on a cemetery being like a condominium, though anyone who has visited one will attest that no one is living there – the cemetery, that is. Now the grieving are really aggrieved. Monuments are forever. No peace to be found in Spring Grove until this enduring dilemma is resolved.

In a 6-16-13 post entitled Punctum, All Of The Noose That Is Knot considered Eric S. Jenkins’ insights on a Barthesian Punctum within animation. Setting aside Barthes’ obvious corollary of mortality applicable to Spring Grove, what Jenkins had to say on a different matter creates some genuinely eternal concerns. “The punctum of animation, although likewise a punctum of “Time,” is about life rather than death… Jones [famed Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones] might depict the character moving and expressing, but Bugs lives beyond the drawings. This child expresses animation’s punctum, sensing as alive that which exists only as image.” (Critical Inquiry Vol. 39 No. 3 pg. 585) This last line likewise could be used to describe an angel, of which there are probably a considerable number adorning monuments throughout most cemeteries. The Walkers, whose daughter Kimberly the monument is meant to commemorate, now may have recourse on aesthetic and cultural grounds. “Animation, animated subjects do not exist, have never been, share our world and experience only through the image, nothing more.” (this blog’s 6-16-13 post, Punctum). As much could be said for angels, though many, like the child recounted by Chuck Jones, actually see and believe in their actuality. This brings up an even gnarlier quagmire than the often related joke about Catholics in heaven (will anyone of another faith be there?). If our cemeteries are “populated” by what comprises our democracy (though strictly prohibited from being able to cast a vote by our boards of election), who determines the aesthetic, cultural appropriateness of commemorations to be found there?

Spring Grove's Eternal SpongeBob

Spring Grove’s Eternal SpongeBob

The Good

August 9, 2013

Recollection returns the admiration Dr. Tew expressed for the single, solitary bee during some long ago assembly of Ohio beekeepers. He was awestruck that this individual would exit the colony where there is the support of her fellows, and the safety of numbers, to fly off into the great unknown. I guess it stuck with me by the way he presented it, rather analytically from a scientist’s perspective – someone who has spent his life studying bees. We tend to knee jerk anthropomorphize anything not “like us”. Forgotten is that butterflies, bees and other insects don’t “know” what is out there. Off they go into the very, and always, immediate unknown.
My neighbor is not right. No, not in an argumentative sense, rather he has been unlike his fellows in thought, behavior, and socialization since birth. Today I guess he would be described as challenged, or severely disabled though he gets around and lives alone. Many of us who live around him would describe him as a pain since it is almost impossible to communicate with him. He demands, and if the demand is not met, he curses loudly and vehemently (disabilities are not always as portrayed by Hollywood). Of late he has deemed himself to be our self-appointed evangelist. Have you gone to church? No matter what the response, he condemns you to hell (perhaps he’s lonely?). The latest is asking what is written on a piece of paper in his hand (which the committed do-gooder is more than willing to read for what he believes to be an illiterate. Not!). The scrawl spells “dread”, and of course, a sermon on going to hell with a veritable Whitman’s Sampler of assorted gospel invectives follows.
In The Gleam Of Light: Moral Perfectionism and Education in Dewey and Emerson (2005) Naoko Saito tries to show the close connection between Dewey and Emerson, through some of the writing on this matter by Stanley Cavell (who considers the opposite). Emerson’s influence appears in Dewey’s early work and then in his later writings according to Saito. She addresses a major criticism of Dewey in a chapter entitled The Gleam of Light Lost: Transcending the Tragic with Dewy after Emerson, something both Emerson and Cavell address and wrestle with but Dewey is considered to have elided (all problems can be solved through a sound pragmatic approach). Curious insights that speak to our time arise out of the considerations of these various thinkers that Naoko brings together. Emerson (and then later Dewey) mourns/bemoans the “lost individual”, asleep to the life within/without ( Shades of the unexamined life is not worth living!). The emphasis with Emerson, and later through Saito’s interpretation of Dewey, is on setting forth, struggling to create/achieve meaning, to learn, to grow. Of course, no apparent end is given for all this setting forth, learning and growing. In contemporary times, this has been perverted as “process” – i.e. process art, or “the learning process”, etc. (but not processed food). The “process” has become the end (something Saito points out is NOT the case by referencing the role and place of imagination with morality in both the writings of Emerson and Dewey). Saito works hard to stress the difference between the valorization of today’s “process” and the role or place of struggle, setting forth, growth, etc. with Emerson, et al. She writes: “[T]he good is anything but guaranteed in advance; it is to be created ahead, as “consequences” in the future, or as Cavell says, proven only on the way. Potentiality is not “a category of existence” that is being unfolded. Instead, “potentialities cannot be known till after the interactions have occurred” in terms of “consequences”” (pg. 116).
And so the bee returns to the hive loaded down with pollen and a gut full of nectar after her adventure in the great unknown. Its fellows will be nourished by this contribution achieved with such great effort and peril. The future of the colony will be determined by this struggle with what it knows not. I think this is what Saito is pointing at. The scrawl of today, held up with any considerations of democracy, education or growth (taken in whatever sense), spells out “dread”. Forgotten is that a known outcome, a machine determined inevitability is not exactly how things happen. “The good is anything but guaranteed in advance; it is to be created ahead, as “consequences” in the future, or as Cavell says, proven only on the way.”

Education And Democracy

July 16, 2013

July 15, 2013 found a short essay by Timothy Wilson entitled The Psychology of Success: Helping Students Achieve appearing online. ran it as an OpEd. Mr. Wilson is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia (did you really think they would run an OpEd by just any Timothy Wilson?). It is interesting to note the use of the word “success” in the title in light of this blog’s previous posting interrogating Jeb Bush’s imagined meaning of “success”. Mr. Bush obviously eschews “helping” in connection with “succeeding”, since success should be coupled with self-reliance, i.e. the individual providing for their own old age retirement, feeding themselves, and providing themselves with housing, health care, and the means of accomplishing all this (presumably through a self-provided education). Of course, that’s where the social comes in, education, as education is extensively (but not completely) a social interaction. Like it or not we all want our big rig drivers who hurtle down the highway at 75 mph to be educated in the handling of these behemoths. We share the road that none of us built individually. Mr. Wilson’s essay is a celebration of the efficacy of social psychology in “helping” folks achieve an education. Within the context of this OpEd, the underlying (unquestioned) assumption is that education is a task (like tying one’s shoes) that needs to be accomplished, that can be accomplished, that is accomplished. Education is taken as a behavior (the stuff of psychology) which therefore can be modified since, as Mr. Wilson says, that is “how the mind works”. Mr. Wilson celebrates turning students on to science and math study, overcoming math anxiety, etc. By working through certain scientifically informed methodologies determined and administered by social psychologists, behavior can be modified to achieve desired outcomes – more scientists, mathematicians, engineers to meet the demands of these technologically driven times.

In a book entitled The Gleam Of Light (2005), Naoko Saito brings together three loosely connected thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Dewey and Stanley Cavell, to consider education and democracy. Emerson is remembered as a poet and philosopher, Dewey as only the latter and Cavell is contemporary so you can preface him with whatever works for you – where he may have taught, as philosopher, movie/culture critic, etc. (contemporary framing never does come across quite the same as historical framing. At what point does it change?). As Saito points out, for these folks, philosophy is considered as the “education of grown-ups”. Humanities and poetry are rather disparaged today in terms of making a contribution to education within our technological wonderland. After all, they post an abysmal track record of landing a job when emphasized as a strength on a job resume’. For Emerson et al. education dovetails with morality. “it puts weight on the question, “How do we live?”” (pg. 51). Philosophy and poetry, the humanities and arts, frequently address this very question, and often attempt to proffer an answer. Unseen, or rather, going unmentioned in Mr. Wilson’s OpEd essay is the abdication of democracy in what he celebrates. The social psychologist functions essentially as a handler or facilitator to satisfy some ultimate need or demand. This role of intermediary differs greatly from that of what previously fell within the field of teaching, the teacher. Need a chemical engineer, or systems analyst? We can do that. We can accomplish the task of modifying behavior/performance to accommodate any need or demand. It all begs the question “who has the need, who is making the demand?” which in turn establishes a hierarchy – the one with the need, the broker who will accommodate the need and satisfy the demand, and the one utilized to satisfy that demand, whose behavior is influenced to become the accomplishment, the success. (Kind of sounds like what makes for success in today’s political economy – jobs creator, temporary agency, job temps – doesn’t it?) This differs greatly from the initiative of education as essential to living within a democracy, to an outlook, a way of living that is centered on democracy originally promoted by Emerson, considered by Dewey, and revisited by Cavell (and brought together by Saito!). “Oh, it’s only a tool, to be used as needed.” is the reply of technology driven learning whenever its value/validity is questioned. The same justification could be given by those celebrating social psychology’s role in today’s education process. But can the same methodology produce a democratic populace? A knowledgeable, critical, informed electorate that is self-reliant in its self-governing?

Summer Social

June 27, 2013

With the solstice come the summer reunions, fish fries, get togethers. Days are long, weather is warm, and there’s no end to reasons for communing with one’s fellows. After readings of democracy by Dewey and Ranciere, Ding Politik with LaTour and Irigaray’s “we are at least three, each of which is irreducible to any of the others: you, me, and our work” one experiences a totally new appreciation of this ritualized carnival. Ritualized in that a certain degree of decorum and appropriateness is forever maintained. Carnival in that it comes across literally like something by Bukowski or visually by Reginald Marsh. Nothing like communicative democracy, you say. But context is everything and democracy seems to be the last consideration found at these events. There seems to be more of the primitive power structure embraced so hardily by ancient texts of social anthropology or psychology. Potlatch. One abides. Abides by one’s station, the spouse, or an unwavering allegiance to one’s children, no matter what the history (known or unknown). The groupings of individuals likewise follow what colloquially was once referred to as “the peck order.” Conversations never “communicate” (as in “communicative democracy”), but rather establish positions, areas of influence, boundaries or horizons. Who cares about the “real” world or what “really” might be out there. What one does, where one belongs, how one fits trumps any talk of what could be, or what is possible. It is a material world with a preordained material social order. Celebration is only from within the place of that structure. And, we are here to celebrate summer, aren’t we?
One wonders what all the reading, thinking and imagining with regard to democracy is all about. When it comes to the summer outdoor social, all that seems to evaporate. Where does it go? Was it ever there to begin with? Decisions are already made a priori. The chef’s apron says it all, “Take it or leave it.” Continuity of tradition, of hierarchy and jockeying within that hierarchy (of both immediate social interaction and communally re-created history, tradition) are all that matter. People “wear” themselves – in their clothes, what is written on their clothes, on their bodies with ink, what they arrived in, the beer, wine, liquor, water or pop they are drinking, smoking or not smoking, paper or plastic. Now’s the time to tell the world who you are! But please, don’t speak of “we.” This is home, this is family. Adorno’s “it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home.” certainly is not at home here. “After all, if you can’t abuse your own family, who can you make fun of?” spoken in absolute earnest and candor by a regular participant, an actor, a player. No, democracy seems to be what takes place when we are all strangers, don’t know each other at all, have no reasons but problems to get together over. What takes place amongst friends, intimates and acquaintances is older, more primitive, primordial. Democracy it ain’t.

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.

Humpty Dumpty

March 15, 2013

Overnight Ohio’s other senator came out. Either senator could be “Ohio’s other senator” since both intentionally position themselves on opposite ends of our political polarity, asserting the wonderfulness of “our” policies in opposition to the “other’s”. Rob Portman, who voted for the defense of marriage act, is now in favor of extending those rights and privileges to same sex commitments. Rob’s reasons for doing so are spelled out by him. In the past, I would have considered this just a variation of “Little League” parenting. When your kid is in Little League, by gosh it is the greatest thing in the world. Years later, when your kids are grown, etc. “Little League? Oh yeah, my kids were in that.” A remote variant of this could also be what are called “Sunday Christians”, during the week they are unrecognizable from the infidels, but come Sunday, at church, they are the model of propriety. But I’m wrong. I think this touches more on what could only be described as “the order of things’ (not to be confused with Foucault). Recently, I received an email from someone close. Within it the person said “I don’t know if I’ve told you this but…” What came after the “but” was something we had many times discussed in person as well as emails. Old age? Absent mindedness? Onset of dementia? No, I don’t think so. This is a very adept person, a professional within public administration and dealing with others. The “I don’t know if I told you this but” revealed something about the hold that occupation maintains. Like Rob Portman, when it comes to the job, the “dealing with others”, a long time professional begins to fly on auto pilot. Correct and appropriate forms of speech and writing, appropriate decisions made at the correct time and correct way, the defense of marriage act approved, all because that is the way to “deal with others”. Then there are those we are close with, “our” friends and intimates. The professional divide, like the Berlin Wall, separates out these folks from the “dealing with others” ones, for these are “our” people. How many times have we heard someone exiting a high profile, dealing-with-the-public position claim it is so they can “spend more time with their family”? The Wall crashes down when we can’t help but confront the actual, the Real; that “our” people merge with the “other” people and are one and the same. Hierarchical culture produces hierarchical outlooks. When the interconnectedness, the necessity and integrity of all is experienced, it is very difficult to put things back together again and restore the order of things.

Begging For More

February 18, 2013

The Licking County Concerned Citizens for Public Health and Environment held a meeting on February 17, 2013. The 2-18-13 Newark Advocate reported on the meeting and quoted committee member Carol Apacki as saying “We want to raise public awareness on this issue, and people can take that information and do what they want with it.”
How many times have we heard that? Is it doing any good? If not, why not? What alternative approach could there possibly be? Why can’t we imagine it?
We all know (ala knee jerk reaction) that taking “that information and do[ing] what they want with it” can span the spectrum of responses—from creationist fundamentalist religious ones, to economic conservative or liberal ones, from I’m-aware-of-a-lot-of-things-let’s-not-rock-the-boat to radical activism. Providing information for the recipient to “do what they want with it” doesn’t work. It fails because it does not produce the intended response– folks actively engaging in the “cause” to produce the demanded change. Sounds reasonable and liberal enough. I give people a plethora of information. They can’t help but conclude with the hoped for response. And yet repeatedly THAT is not occurring. Why not?
Upton Sinclair writes The Jungle. Readers are outraged that this is what is involved with the food they eat. Because it is not good for the public health and environment there is a demand for change. Change occurs. This is the historic narrative approach. The narration, as all narrations do, follows a this, then this, then this time line model. Repeating the narration repeats the time line model. The historic approach (implicated by a time line) leads through the present into the inevitability of the future. Being inevitable creates some urgency—resist (facilitate change) or be overcome by the anticipated march of history. This was the approach with regard to most matters leading up to the end of the twentieth century. A simple but effective logic that contributes to the formation of what Ranciere regards as “sense”.
Previous posts of this blog have been investigating video in contemporary culture, especially the aspect whereby video performs memory, producing time and difference. Here’s a time lapse video of a glacier disappearing. Want to see it again? Here’s a Michael Moore film on the easy accessibility of guns in our society. It is filled with a lot of information. Let’s replay the Michael Moore film. Video performing memory, as opposed to narrative (re)constructing memory along a “first this, then that” basis (narrative always begins and inevitably ends, even when repeated), dispenses with the inevitable and its implication of urgency. Want to see that glacier disappear again? There is no connection between this performed memory of the glacier disappearing (which we can repeat ad nauseum) and any inevitable outcome of this memory, with any urgency to act on some (nonexistent) inevitability. “We want to raise public awareness on this issue, and people can take that information and do what they want with it.” And many things are done with this information, as many things are done with videos.
So what works given that the obsolete narrative approach and the contemporary assumption that creating awareness will produce an inevitable intended response don’t? Video as communication of ongoing event seems to be especially effective in generating the desired inevitable response and its needed urgency. Whether natural disaster, victim account, covert filming of illegal activity, etc. video presentation becomes akin to Sinclair’s presentation in terms of ultimate outcome. But this brings us to privacy concerns, Occupy and eventually, the current ongoing discourse on “the right to look.” Occupy seizes on the “public”-ness of public space. An analogous scenario could be made for the various “public” rights of expression, freedom of the press and dissemination of information, universal internet access, etc. Privacy rights and laws are becoming ever more a priority for the 1% determining our governance. The right to look is not found anywhere in the document drafted by the eligible 5% who governed the land, serfs, indentured servants, and slaves in late 18th century America. Please, oh rulers of our great land, we beg of you, let us look (and see), and communicate (via digital media) what is going on around us right now– not “to raise public awareness” but to communicate and act immediately, which is what we already do when we drive our cars and perform at work.
Hmmm… Somehow that last line doesn’t look just right. Wonder why that is?

Myth Recognition

October 21, 2012

After the startling conclusion to my last post, watching Bill Moyers was noticeably different. Bill’s guests were Matt Taibbi and Chrystia Freeland. Most of what was covered has appeared before on the show, as well as the guests, and this blog has written on these subjects before (OK so Freeland uses “cognitive capture” whereas Jameson et al use “hegemony”). But the ending to the previous blog posting generated an unanticipated critique. Though well-versed in the disparities of income and wealth through her journalistic experience, Chrystia Freeland is a staunch advocate of capitalism and the market though she is no apologist. Her doxa was definitely the Judeo-Christian one of the weeds and grain growing up together, entwined, ultimately to be separated by the Big Other at harvest time. Her underlying assumption was that politics (democratic governance) and economy are separate, using the Canadian experience of the past 10 years as an example of how politics can check economics. Particularly unnerving was her associating plutocrats with community though the pervasive ethic is one of “winner take all.” This left ambiguity as the connotations of the word are so various, from the past experience as a “community organizer” of our current president to the “gated community” enjoyed by only the elect yet continuously serviced and maintained by the disavowed many (kinda sounds like our gov’t).  Taibbi’s take was more of the encroachment and dominance of the political by mega wealth, comparing what is happening here with what happened in the former Soviet Union. Neither wanted to go back to what happened in El Salvador, nor to revise their nostalgic take of the 1950’s by referencing the Rockefeller Plan (bringing to mind Zizeks quoted “happiness is “a commodity that was imported from America in the Fifties,”” The Parallax View pg. 297). What’s to blame? What’s to do? asks Moyers. The progressives need to start presenting alternatives was the astute reply. Instead of hoping to inherit the earth through their meekness, they need to actively voice alternate plans. October 14th’s blog posting shows that the revolution of Capitalism IS progress, or the progressive’s alternate plan. The progressive (alternative) remedy is a dollars and cents valuation seeping into every accessible nook and cranny of human life, social exchange.  The lack of alternative “solutions” generates the desire so necessary for the expansion of this progressive revolution, and its financial return. Are Taibbi and Freeland advocating more of what already is in play? As creative journalists, they feel completely justified in working hard for their paychecks by digging into what comprises and drives the current plutocratic state of the world. But does this certify them as professional voyeurs, exempt them from using their education, knowledge and expertise to present alternative possibilities? The ground they covered was considered extensively, through theory, by Hardt and Negri while Taibbi and Freeland were “discovering” the Soviet Union’s transformation. Hardt and Negri at least ventured forth with alternate scenarios for social interaction. Bill’s guests left that for other experts (progressive ones) to detail. I didn’t see them squirming around while seated on their hands discussing this. Lacanian transference became materially manifest through this deferral of solutions to “someone who should know.” So the myth of separate but equal, of church and state, of government and business, etc. reproduces and grows. The everyday manifestation reveals the “Randian” revolution with its “winner take all dynamic” producing “wealth creators and parasites”. Did Moyer’s guests succeed in dispelling this myth, revealing it, or simply perpetuating it?


Yet Again From Another Direction

I had a long conversation with someone easily (self) identified as a “progressive” and activist; someone agitating for change through their practice. This practice involves solar photovoltaic energy generation. Their original motivation came from undergrad involvement in a university sponsored and organized sustainable living “laboratory” (student housing space at that time one step removed from becoming Amish). In our talk I compared his involvement with that of the bees. Scientists in the UK are studying bee brains to synthesize robotic  pollinators, anticipating the eventual demise of honeybees. Energy, generated from a multitude of sources, is the future. Reliance on animals, whether horses for transportation or insects for pollination, is the past. When asked about his reengagement with his alma mater (the sustainable living unit) he furthered this insight, unwittingly reinforcing the perpetuated myth. The university’s liability underwriters insist the student sustainable living residency experience has got to go, too much risk. The sustainable living unit has to be brought into the 21st century (his words) if it is to remain and continue. So he was all excited about another outlet for his progressive activism. Little did he question the university’s motivation for such “revolutionary” change, nor did he critique the underlying “cognitive capture” (hegemony) that all must fall within the parameters of capitalist valuation (overall worth based on cost/risk analysis), or face extermination. The myth of inevitability, of naturalness, accompanies all revolution. The university had sown the seeds of this long before my friend was a student by exempting itself from community involvement (remember the “ivory tower” references?). This was continuously and actively reaffirmed and nourished through controlling and restricting on campus/off campus residencies and engagements, creating total on campus living experience (bars, entertainment, security, etc.), vigorous and extensive copyright and intellectual property enforcement, branding, etc. The university has been (re)valuing its good (and the benefit it offers society) through a Capitalist lens since before happiness was imported as a commodity. As Steve Kurtz pointed out: resistance is futile, if possible at all.

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?