i'll be doing my anti-left-right-spectrum thing this friday at the european and american philosophy conference at the fordham law school up near lincoln center. noon in room 3-01. it may well irritate people, but you never know.
i'm having trouble resonating to the tizzy about shutting down the department of homeland security, any more than i was upset when ferdinand marcos died. but anyway, it's the meaninglessness of today's politics: nothing but yapyap. let me ask you this: how did you survive the last couple of government shutdowns? make it through ok or are you still huddled under the table in your whining room? there was a time, a time last week, when there was no department of homeland security. but anyway, if you think those fuckers are going to actually shut it down and stop the surveillance or internments or whatever, you're out of your mind. if they actually shut that shit down, i will blow jeh johnson on the bill o'reilly show. really, if necessary the department of homeland security could just live off the land, be self-supporting through domestic raiding.
the idea that governments are going to deprogram isis recruits or 're-integrate' extremists seems unlikely to me. and the notion that they're going to be able to effectively 'counter the propaganda' in social media etc is just sad. remember our media blitz to reach hearts and minds in iraq, or our propaganda efforts in vietnam? i don't think we got a damn thing out of radio free europe similar undertakings. people don't understand how transparent their fiendishly clever messaging actually is, and it gets worse every year: more people with communications degrees.
sorry for no blogging. i'm on a writing project in lisbon, believe it or not, doing an essay for a book on the very wonderful joana vasconcelos.
those giant heels are made from pots and potlids, and are installed here in versailles.
but i am back to blog briefly about the attack on the free speech conference in copenhagen. i fucking hate a totalitarian: anyone who thinks that they should be telling people how to talk or draw or write, or for that matter live. i do not care if you are an islamist, a fascist, a communist: you are all the same. as explicitly as possible you advocate obvious evil. i feel the same though more mildly for more mild versions, like say mainstream left or right politics. try perhaps applying the golden rule or something, or having some kind of rudimentary moral insight, because you are failing in that continually even as you pose as some sort of moralist.
i don't quite tell my mother this - she comes from straight party members - but baby, this is an easy mistake not to make. i don't care if the communist party is the basic alternative to fascism, or for that matter vice versa: you are just making an obvious howler in the most flamboyant possible fashion. your heart, whatever you may think, is not in the right place. give up the desire to subordinate and the desire to be subordinated and we might become a species that deserves to survive. if not, not. (fifty shades of grey might be a shitty novel and film, but it is a good allegory of human political history: a basic explanation of our situation.) also, while you're at it, stop pretending that the realization of your desire to subordinate or to be subordinated is the alternative to us being isolated individuals and so lonely and stuff, that you subordinating me or vice versa is the creation of a shared group identity. or putting it another way, what about the collective? because this argument is gross. it's ill. it couldn't be more obviously disingenuous. we'll come together because we are together and want to be together.
but joana vasconcelos's work is anti-totalitarian; i'll be writing about that.
so long don covay. what a very great songwriter. perhaps he was not one of the very best soul singers (not a devastating indictment: the top thirty soul singers are among the top 60 singers in the history of popular music), but he was nevertheless a fine recording artist. a big influence on jagger, of course, but also on my man peter wolf, lead singer of my 70s obsession the j. geils band and later an intermittently excellent solo artist.
people are really in a tizzy about vaccines; it's an anti-anti-vaxxer panic, baby. the anti-vaxxers, clustered around whole foods locations, are laying low, in case the round-up begins, which is not entirely inconceivable. but...how bad is the crisis, really? chill out and yelp about some actually acute problem. also it's one of these cases where people are using science as a sledgehammer: you must accept what science says! tell me the science might not flow this way and that later on: haven't you been listening to science at all, you who believe only what science says? folks like that are remarkably good at forgetting what science said last week, treating what it says this week as the booming voice of an omniscient deity. on the other hand, i had my kids vaccinated.
there is nothing sadder than american progressivism. first of all, it was never coherent: the only plan was to help people by subordinating them. all day every day for what's coming up on centuries now, the left gets a bunch of experts together to tell us how to fix...black people. it has not changed in decades; there are no ideas, no imagination, just autistic repetition. de blasio is going back to the high-rise housing project. the first time around, it was a straight-up reservation system, and the indian reservation was also a progressive program for the uplifting of a backward race riddled with pathologies. the basic model of the 'great' 'society' was the internment camp, built by demolishing actual streets, houses and communities. in this case it was the imposition of a completely state-dominated concrete environment designed by evil cretins, i.e. experts: just the sort of people who rise in our meritocracy. then you wondered why the residents tore the place up. let's see...it must be their pathologies! we need professors to tell us how to fix them again. and again. and...
or how about some forced residential integration? in both these cases, allow me to point out that community cannot be imposed on people through sheer prescription, backed by force or even incentive. perhaps there is a bit of energy on the left just now. i am just begging y'all not to use this energy to run backwards to the same old disasters. also i am saying this to you straight up: you don't know how people do live, and you don't know how people ought to live, and the only decent situation is one in which people decide that for themselves, not where harvard professors decide it for them. the first datum for any actual movement toward social justice has just got to be this: people's autonomy must be respected. it's their account to themselves of themselves that matters; to think anything else is just to perpetuate the privilege to which you purport to be opposed: your own privilege, bill de blasio; your own, rahm emanuel.
daniel patrick moynihan, let's say, was what we might term an internal colonialist, bwana in a pith helmet on safari to uplift the dark continent within and bring to it the blessings of civilization.
probably folks like those think that they have devoted their careers to remediating the hierarchy they are themselves perched atop, and they propose to remove it specifically by its ever-more thorough exercise. they are enjoying it, claiming it, and imposing it. and simultaneously they are identifying it as the problem they're trying to fix. spend the next few generations in withering self-examination instead of other-examination, alright?
black people and poor people or trailer trash or whomever you're thinking of: they are far more qualified than robert reich to decide how they should live, and unlike robert reich they have a right to. i'm serious: there is no ph.d. that will help you know how people should live; there are no ethical qualifications, no certifications, no expertise except living your life with other people in your place. for example, cass sunstein prescribes the nudge, but the whole thing just effortlessly assumes that people like cass sunstein understand what each of us should be nudged toward. there are no experts on that but each of us. and you should contemplate the extreme arrogance of people who simply take it as a given that they know how everyone should live. that's an ethical failure, a golden rule violation. but it also just shows the breathtaking incomprehension, self-regard, and unconscious evil of the privileged, and helps reproduce the structure of that privilege generation after generation. and the program is supposed to be egalitarian. no doubt they're off rocking davos on behalf of the oppressed.
people like reich and sunstein exemplify the ways class and race are articulated or actually made now: they move back and forth from academia to think-tank to state, through the archipelago of social-science expertise, epistemic prestige, and real power. (and i am telling you that even rahm and bill are future distinguished professors at the kennedy school of government or whatever as they wait to cycle into the cabinet.) but reich and sunstein, for example, take on the neutral voice of the social scientist and they are chock full of statistics. this voice is an extremely central example of the 'unmarked' position of privilege: they do not implicate themselves in their advocacy. but the social sciences - overlapping with a medical model of pathologies and also a criminal-justice discourse - have been the nexus of racial and class construction since the early twentieth century. (before that they measured your skull and tried to fit your people into the sequence of evolution: somewhere between slug slime and nature's crowning achievement rutherford b. hayes.)
all the state-implemented racial transformations, each layer of new welfare and housing programs, each new war on poverty and discrimination, has been justified by the social sciences. many have been unalloyed disasters, but expertise always gets it right this time, by its own account.
the thing about expertise, especially the (pseudo-)scientific variety: you ought to be silent before it: you have to bow to the facts; the claim is to a special power to declare what is real. and yet the categories of the statistical tables just recirculate and reinforce the wretchedly problematic race and class taxonomies, and the whole thing presupposes that we have a right to gather information on them so we can address their problems: their problems as named by us. the power dynamics are completely inbuilt, the numbers a kind of spectral emanation of the a priori stance and categories. and a long century of this has left us fundamentally untransformed. these hierarchies are more extreme and intransigent than when y'all started. how have democratic administrations done at ameliorating income inequalities, for example? i will say again: that's because the solutions and their rhetorics are imposed by direct exercises of domination by the very people who are the problem, from the very top of the power hierarchy. that just is not going to have liberating effects: not last time or the time before that and not next time.
[note to post-marxists: guess what? political hierarchies and hierarchies of knowledge are as real as economic hierarchies, and in general they coincide. it is not necessary for robert reich to be the richest man in the bay area for him to be a person of tremendous privilege in more or less every dimension.]
how are we going to get better on race and class and so on? start by giving up. you have no status that entitles you to re-locate people or re-educate them, to watch or cure or name them. until it's their own voices, not the experts and political authorities speaking on their behalf, it's all sheer cultural domination or even annihilation. let go. let people make their own lives.
here's how i think dylan got to be a god. his whole persona, all the scraggly clothes and the roughened-up voice and stuff, was a critique of bourgeois white culture by a bourgeois white person (conveying that is one reason for replacing 'zimmerman' with 'dylan'). it was an attack on the smooth, processed, false suburban white northern 50s or whatever. hence it was extremely compelling to northern white bourgeois kids at that moment: it was an expression of their own discontent with their world. that is sort of important. that's the experience people had when they heard it as so super-authentic, even though it was a self-conscious pose: it was authentic as a critique of the inauthenticity of the lives of the parents of its audience. that's why, despite the fact that dylan never delivered any sort of coherent political message (unlike woody guthrie, pete seeger, or to take actually great artists, john prine or bob marley), he was immediately heard as politically transformative.
but it took the excruciatingly problematic form of romanticizing the primitive, and romanticizing blues and country music as naive folk arts, and hence completely misunderstood and falsified the music it venerated. indeed, i say folk music of this variety is actually racist and classist, like orientalism or...colonialism: it just romanticizes these cultures on the very same grounds that the white power structures condemned them or regarded them as pathological and tried disastrously to remediate them (oh, housing projects, e.g.). it displays a complete incomprehension of its sources, which were actually the work of professional musicians and virtuosi. so, in its incomprehension, it tried to simulate what it took to be their direct, immediate, primitive, authentic expressions: it is simulated primitivism and incompetence as authenticity.
it's not surprising that as those kids grew up and assumed their racial destiny of power, the rhetoric of race and class changed completely, while the realities changed very little. also, it's not surprising in the midst of all that confusion that the music sucks: it's only being used as some sort of badge or device: bob dylan is an actor playing hank williams or blind willie mctell or something. but he sure as hell can't write a song like hank williams or blind willie mctell, can he? or sing one. guess what? you could be listening to the real shit.
the genius of dylan had nothing to do with dylan's abilities, if any. it had to do with this big swirl of cultural critique and abject confusion.