as you may know, i reject the left/right spectrum as a way to describe anything, though sometimes i slip and use the locutions because everyone else is working with it. so the nyt or guardian, say, while in every sentence using 'crazy', also in every sentence go 'far right.' is cruz to the right of john mccain? in virtue of what? what does that mean? think of the set of positions you yourself associate with 'the american right': cheney's poisitions, say, and also rand paul's. really we need a taxonomy and not this bullshit anymore.
also i want to say this to the american left: you are outraged that someone would try to stop obamacare or whatever it may be; you want government running smoothly (and you regard protest movements as insane). now, i want you to understand what you are supporting when you support the democratic party, obama, and so on: among other things wall street in a huge way, and a total surveillance state. you are supporting the most intensely bourgeois vision of america ever articulated: government by lawyers, professors, bankers, google, and standardized-testing experts. are you comfortable with that? are you aware of that in yourself? i have this funny feeling that by your own ideals you are endorsing something terribly wrong. and you and many others are being pushed into taking a set of randomly grouped or flatly incoherent positions, or positions poised exquisitely opposite your professed principles, because you are flummoxed by this left-right bullshit.
an obvious entailment of the nsa situation is that, in fact, we have no idea who is running our government and hence, more or less, our lives. indeed, we have no idea what our actual form of government is or who holds the real power, like egyptians who were under the delusion that they'd elected their president. this should please liberals, for example, who regard the constitution as a ridiculous anachronism that keeps us from helping everyone through universal coercion. well, the constitution and the form of government it prescribes has been a joke for a long time, as anyone can now see thanks to snowden; certainly it has no resemblance whatever to the Thing currently running our lives: they leave some little institutions and phrases in place as a kind of show or historical re-enactment: that capitol, white house, supreme court in dc: it might as well be colonial williamsburg.
anyone who in fact controls a system of universal surveillance - i mean who has day-by-day management of the thing - can control anyone they please and make them do what they like. if keith anderson is in the mood, he's riding obama as in a performance of dressage. he controls who is in or out in the joint chiefs, the state department, justice, congress. he's in control of what limitations other branches of government impose on him. whoever or whatever the fisa rubber-stamp system is, it will end up doing precisely what he tells it to do. i'd recommend violent insurrection if it didn't seem entirely hopeless. so what i'd say is: just go limp, cultivate radical passivity: give up. this america thing was never going to work out anyway. people don't want to be free. and even if they do, they definitely don't want anyone else to be.
if you ever considered yourself a journalist, and your position is that the sheer fact that everyone is under surveillance all the time is a legitimate state secret in the american system of government and that revealing it to the people against whom it is conducted is an act of treason or espionage, you should tie an extension cord to a beam and dangle yourself by the neck. do it right now. any official who believes that that is constitutional or compatible with even a vague commitment to government by the people has no business anywhere in this country and has no place in our tradition. we'll re-admit you to citizenship, though not to office, if you crawl from the capital to the jefferson memorial on your hands and knees and beg forgiveness, stopping at the archives to read the constitution and the declaration and sob uncontrollably.
this has been extremely clarifying as to who's who.
it's hard to evaluate the claim that the nsa surveillance program has prevented attacks, and it's the sort of case where people have such obvious and powerful motivations to lie, distort, etc. that you'd be silly believe them without evidence. now on the other hand, the complete assurance of greenwald, snowden and others that the program isn't effective against terorism at all is at least equally hard to assess. but here's my view: i think we're at that choice point. i would take somewhat more terrorism in preference to universal oppression of the sort created by the nsa.
it's often said that the first duty of an american president is to keep americans safe. no, you sweet little kindergartner, that's the first duty of your mommy. the first duty of the american president is to keep americans free.
the quality of the arguments shows something about the intelligence of our leaders in various walks of life. but i do particularly like the portrayal of snowden as 'solitary' by brooks and others. this has a variety of rhetorical functions, even though it has no logical force. it's a typical bit of 'mere' rhetoric: the idea is a kind of ersatz peer pressure. even if it were real peer pressure, of course, it wouldn't be a reason. so, first off, if snowden were standing as a solitary sentinel against injustice - all alone at tremendous cost - that would be even more admirable, because even more courageous. but he's not alone. even these polls that people are trumpeting show 40% support or something. there are plenty of people who accept every word of the argument he made and who would have made it themselves. for all you know, he had a little group of libertarian friends.
he's 'solitary' only insofar as the state is the social in its entirety: the same old saw about the state being all of us all together. anyone who doesn't agree with that is a howling savage, beyond the pale, an isolate. no, actually, such a person might have plenty of real community. there are many ways to make connections, and many ways that dissent or revelation contributes to the social fabric. the unity you're recommending is false because coerced, but you're identifying it with the possibility of human community per se. the actual means that you're using to form all of us up into one community is a secret program to watch everyone all the time. really, time to face up to it: you are a person who could make an argument like that for a conclusion like that. but even the mainstream community depends on its defectors and subversives and truth-tellers for whatever decency and truth it possesses.
i do think that being in an elite and in particular exercising authority has an epistemically distorting effect. it's really like these people have lost their reason. what you do instead of giving easons when you have authority is just keep repeating yourself more loudly, or start to rant and screech at individual victims in your proximity.
more notes: of course, anarchists are not the biggest fans of 'the rule of law' and the question of who's a criminal is not what interests me. but just for the hell of it, the constitution including the 4th amendment is the supreme law of the land, and hence snowden has exposed a vast criminal conspiracy.
so one of the people the administration is standing up there to threaten snowden and present a completely incoherent defense of this massive volation of our sacred way of life is james clapper, the director of national intelligence.
Over the last decade, much of the company’s growth has come from selling expertise, technology and manpower to the National Security Agency and other federal intelligence agencies. Booz Allen earned $1.3 billion, 23 percent of the company’s total revenue, from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year.
The government has sharply increased spending on high-tech intelligence gathering since 2001, and both the Bush and Obama administrations have chosen to rely on private contractors like Booz Allen for much of the resulting work.
Thousands of people formerly employed by the government, and still approved to deal with classified information, now do essentially the same work for private companies. Mr. Snowden, who revealed on Sunday that he provided the recent leak of national security documents, is among them.
As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.
from wikipedia, summarizing clapper's resume omitting booz hamilton.
James Robert Clapper, Jr. (born March 14, 1941) is a retired lieutenant general in the United States Air Force and is currently the Director of National Intelligence. He was previously dual-hatted as the first Director of Defense Intelligence within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence alongside the position of Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. Clapper has held several key positions within the United States Intelligence Community. He served as the director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency(NGA) from September 2001 until June 2006. Previously, he served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) from 1992 until 1995.
the state/corporate interface is the very center of this total info regime: google, apple, verizon, booz hamilton and entire defense-contracting infrastructure, intelligence agencies with facilties all over the country and all over the world, integrated with drone targeting and a thousand other aspects. they are developing databases for all global locations and all individuals at all times.
The gargantuan $1.2 billion complex at a National Guard base 26 miles south of Salt Lake City features 1.5 million square feet of top secret space. High-performance NSA computers alone will fill up 100,000 square feet.
The Utah Data Center is a data farm that will begin harvesting emails, phone records, text messages and other electronic data in September.
talking to a leftish friend last week, he was doing a common theme: i don't pay enough taxes. i want us to help each other... we're paying for the power that subordinates us. some of us are happy about it!
also thank god for glenn greenwald. this is a test of basic decency or where you decided whether or not to support slavery. anyone who spends any time considering whether it might be alright to keep these programs secret, for example by focusing outrage on ed snowden, is a mere lover of tyranny. don't let anyone obscure even the trivial question of legality; read the 4th amendment.
i myself went at first with 'oh we figured that.' but it's one thing to vaguely understand that you might be under surveillance, and another to show in detail that and how this is possible. one thing is that a world in which some of the things they are describing are happening, they might get to the point of info control at which edward snowdens become impossible. but right now, they are still possible. practical measures of all sorts, legal and illegal, to keep them possible, are essential.
well, you sort of figured they were scooping everything. really, obviously, most of us only depend for the non-detection of our crimes on the fact that there's too much information to actually read, though i'm sure the algorithims get better here as in china. but however: understand that anyone is arrestable at any time, in virtue of their tax posture, drug consumption, possessions of one sort or another, associations. that is really the squishy totalitarian sine qua non or some shit. yo y'all want this. you need to be safe! neo-cons and safetynetters agree. you have already been searched.
remember last week, when you were arguing that the government is all of us, working together, our agent of collective identity, our collective justice? funny what it takes to make that shit happen.
one thing you see immediately: the government regulates these communications companies, and these communications companies maintain an oligopoly, and they and it are all one big sprawling machine when it comes to processing your information. also health-care, benefits, taxes are all worked in; you are never not embroiled. but you just just try to chill and there's no real reason you should particularly come to anyone's attention. can't intern everybody! but we could intern anybody.
where is russ feingold? paging russ feingold!
squishy totalitarianism: the political/economic/aesthetic/psychological system or syndrome shared in common, for instance, by contemporary China, the European Union, Iran, and the United States. It is characterized by a complex so-called 'technocratic' merger of state and capital; large-scale mechanisms of subject-formation such as compulsory state education and regulation/monopoly ownership of the media; welfare-state or 'safety-net' programs that enhance consumption and give large parts of the population a sense of dependency and security; a relative tolerance for some forms of diffuse dissent and scope for individual choice, particularly in consumption, combined with pervasive state and corporate surveillance; overwhelming police and military force and sprawling systems of incarceration; entrenched extreme hierarchies of wealth and expertise; regulation of the economy by monetary policy and central banks in cooperation with banking concerns; an international regime of national sovereignty combined with international state/corporate mechanisms for the circulation of wealth.
Ayn Rand and Vlad Lenin, Kim Il Sung and Barry Goldwater, Barack Obama and Rand Paul, Francois Mitterand and Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro, Friedich von Hayek and Leo Trotsky, Alain Badiou and Augusto Pinochet, for all I know, disagreed on several matters. But they agreed on this, or said they did, or have been represented as saying they did, even if they acted entriely incompatibly with it: the state was a force that was historically pitted against private capital. To reduce one was to increase the other and to increase one was to reduce the other. They vary inversely and the balance between them that you recommend constitutes the fundamental way of characterizing your political position. From an anti-authoritarian, anti-statist, or anarchist point of view, this spectrum stretches from authoritarianism on the one end to authoritarianism on the other, with authoritarianism in between. It makes anything that is not that incomprehensible. It narrows all alternatives to variations on hierarchy, structures of inequality, or profoundly unjust distributions of power/wealth. And also as a single ideology, it is merely false. Massively, quite obviously false; throughout the last five centuries, economic and political hierarchies have been massively mutually reinforcing. This is not to say that in some local moment the balance could really shift according to some left or right political progam; it is meant to point out that the choice is extremely constructed and incoherent.
as anselm argued, that is a vocal performance than which no greater can be conceived in soul music, proof of the existence of god. it's dynamic, baby.
that's - yes! - little beaver and willie clarke doing everything from b.b. to shaft.
The main historical point I want to make is this: the rise of capitalism is not explicable without state power, which has increased throughout the capitalist period. The modern state and capitalism have the same origins, or arose together, or really - simplifying slightly - are one thing. In many economic histories, the rise of capitalism is atributed fundamentally to colonialism, and state/corporate hybrids such as East India companies have appeared continuously in myriad variations. They are appearing still. The idea that free markets are historically distinguished from - or even are the very opposite of - large, powerful government is a completely ahistorical ideology, shared by the capitalist right and the communist left. In this regard and in a number of others, we might think of the left-right spectrum as a single ideology rather than as a taxonomy of opposites. Thus, the left-right or Democrat/Republican splits, which define American politics as a hyper-repetitive, mechanical set of partisan bromides about free markets and positive government programs with egalitarian results, depend on a historical mistake. It is one so obvious that it is actually hard to see how anyone, much less everyone, made it. Indeed, the entire history of capitalism is utterly bound up with the configuration of the state, and I do not believe that capital accumulations on the vast scales it has achieved are possible in the absence, for example, of pervasive domestic policing and the ability to project military power. The idea that you get to something like the British colonial economy - one capitalist apogee - without a state, is obviously absurd. The American robber-baron period is often held to have been to have led to hyper-concentration of wealth in a few private hands and to have been constrained ultimately by the state. I think that if you looked at the actual procedures employed by a Vanderbilt, a Rockefeller, a Carnegie, you would see that they depended fundamentally on state sponsorship and state violence, which such men were in a position to command in virtue of their wealth. That this underwent various adjustments for various reasons in the so-called Progressive era does not indicate that at that point state and capital went their separate ways, putting it mildly. And if this oscillation toward state over corporate power (sort of perhaps her and there) increased equality, I would like to see the evidence.
Many leftists hold that we live in an era of 'late' or 'global' capitalism. As they gear up to equip the state with ever more power to regulate economies (their proposed solution), redistribute wealth, and so on, they are simultaneously aware that all of these developments depend fundamentally on state power, sometimes in multi-state configurations: on central banks and currencies, for example; on the projection of military force to secure resources. This is central to the left critique of our situation, but to conclude from it that we need to funnel more resources and powers to the state and create programs that make many more people much more dependent on it is bizarre. If one thought a bit more carefully, for example, about the way that government energy policies and private energy concerns are interlocked, one would get less and less sense of any distinction. American democracy, or American politicians, depend on corporate cash, and any president who really tried to move decisively in other direction would be vitiating the economy and dooming his presidency. Just to say the obvious: regulators and corporate lobbyists and Congressional staffers are all the same people. You could go Soviet, but the most you do is sort of get rid of some of the lobbyists: you just hand your banking system and energy sector to state bureaucrats, who three minutes after that are the wealthiest people in the country, with the power to break you by raising their eyebrow.
Little Crispy's Big Law (LCBL): hierarchies tend to coincide.
Corollary: resources flow toward political power, and political power flows toward resources.
Economic power coincides with political power. This is not because economic power constitutes political power, any more than the other way round. So say you were looking for a political solution to your economic inequalities. Well, constituting the state as controller of the economy, or beefing up its mechanisms to redistribute wealth on a fairer basis is - apparent appearances to the contrary - liable in the long run to have the opposite efect. The more state control of the economy you have, other things being equal, the more entrenched and extreme the economic hierarchy. Putting it mildly, the left is confused about this. And also it is not subject to information: it does not matter what actually happens anywhere: the left will still demand intensified political hierarchy in order to pursue economic equality.
In fact, whatever hierarchies there are will tend in the long run to coincide. As a practical matter, if you recommend any hierarchy, whether of experts, races, capitalists, the Party, etc etc, you are in reality recommending hierarchy in every dimension. So, if a hierarchy of education or expertise is important in your society, then resources and political power will flow toward experts. Same with a hierarchy of beauty or athletic prowess or race or gender, or whatever it may be. But the fundamental dimensions are economic and political. I'd say it's obvious that LCBL is roughly true, and everyone knows it to be true. A white-suprematist polity in which black people were wealthier than white people, for example, would be extremely surprising. It would be no less surprising if there were no regulatory capture, for example. You could keep trying to institute reforms to pull economic and political power apart: I wonder what it would take empirically to show you that this was counter-productive. It's counter-productive because when you beef up the state to control capital, you only succesed in making capital more monolithic, more concentrated, and more able to exercise a wide variety of powers.
needless to say, i am extremely opposed to universal pre-school. really i think they can get a standardized testing regime that extends from cradle to the grave: we can fully form every citizen's consciousness all day every day; that way we can compete with the chinese. you know, another way to represent universal pre-school would be this. tell me this is false: we are compelling you to surrender your toddlers to these government institutions for a certain portion of the day. it is precisely the sort of policy, for example, that religious schools practiced on indian reservations right through the 1950s; we have come to seize/retrain your children, or make them part of our culture. it was entirely a charitable project. however, unlike the indians, i believe, we will smile about it for the most part. for one thing, then parents can work longer hours. you will not even know that you are being compelled (though i think the toddler will be aware of it). and yet, read the law.
indian tribes eventually won the right to opt out of certain things; i guess they'll have to decide how 'universal pre-school' applies on reservations/nations. but few other sub-cultures (well, the amish, perhaps) could conceivably opt out. that is why each neighborhood ought to incorporate immediately as an independent nation in at least the indian/amish sense. then you could opt in if you like, and do your part to out-compete the finns.
remember what you thought about the characters in beasts of the southern wild? ok think about how they'd react to the fact that for their own good, we've come for your toddlers. one thing it is the death of: local knowledge, local centers of wisdom: it wants to make everyone the same, or we all have to have the same culture. that could be inspiring, i guess, but it is actually devoted to destroying all local cultures. and it rests on what i have to say is an arbitrary, artificial, historical contrivance: the basic cultural unit just has to be the nation state, because we are all americans. it is also almost the only culture that has to be, or that can be, actually enforced.
really obama is a pretty quintessential product of the 'meritocracy,' and one thing i'll say for such products: by and large they come out with the same opinions, expressed in the very same sentences. i don't think that this is because people with merit converge on the truth; i think they converge or coalesce into representatives of the institutions that produced them. there is less than no suspicion of power per se; something like that cannot even really be thematized by the time you've negotiated your way through harvard, with the jd/mba or whatever. one form of this is the cult of expertise that harvard just is: you keep deferring to the experts who have been created in these institutions, such as your profs, until you become one. that sounds good except it leaves you completely incapable of probing the assumptions of the discourse and institutions you're embedded in. you cannot rise unless you share these, and we inculcate them in you with every sentence for many years.
they cease to be aware of the power they are themselves exercising; they exercise it on behalf of the sheer facts uncovered by their expertise. it's the most basic things they are deploying that they can't defend because they can't be aware of them and be what or where they are. that is how they could just so effortlessly extend their sort of power - which is really them, disempowering you in quite concrete ways - right across the most intimate lives of people of every age: constantly building new, or building up existing structures of surveillance and information-control and consciousness-formation: it all flows perfectly through the rhetoric with no suspicion or even awareness of the fundamental character of their activities. it's all helping people or achieving prosperity. sometimes it might have these effects. but it is building and building the beast that will consume us, or might, at any rate, or is, bit by bit. it digests us slowly, until you don't even know you're ceasing to exist. the underside, where the power is applied, each person's or each family's or each hamlet's autonomy compromised more fully every day is just completely occluded. if foucault was around these days, he'd check out again.
see what i'm going to like about rand paul is that he will dip into this. he's not pushing everyone's interest in the sense that he's out here to preserve your benefits. he's pushing everyone's interest in the sense that he is still actually concerned with each person's liberty. that is what is worth holding onto in our tradition, but it is not even in the same universe as obama's rhetoric. (he might feel he has to wave around a disclaimer when he gets to guns, i guess.)
i have to say i kind of hate every bit of the state of the union. the pomp, the jockeying for handshakes, the laundry list: it's way too long to be some sort of meaningful single message, and it's way to short to do anything but wave vaguely at policies: 'i have a plan that will achieve as much medicare savings by the beginning of the next decade as the simpson-bowles plan.' you know, he delivered that with great passion. now it's back to 'we should do this right now, etc. i have to figure that reporters hate it; you have to cover it for days even though it is a completely staged non-event that never - never - makes actual news. and yet you have to say it's 'historic' etc. it has a certain power as a ritual or a tradition, however. i think they should read the constitution loud instead.
now on the other hand, here i am watching again. really it's a kinda twisted political life i lead: actively hostile and yet hypnotized or even obsessed. sad, really.
while we're on china, let me hit you with a bit of my amazing new take on political/economic taxonomy. i think we might say that the current chinese state combines the best features of maoism and corporate capitalism: it's all devoted to generating maximum cash and putting it on a barge. destination: the very top of the hierarchy. and yet it also attempts to bestride the earth, stomping that ass with the iron boot of collectivist totalitarianism. now, your basic taxonomy of political and economic systems or ideologies would regard this as an incoherent merger. your conventional political scientist is just going associate capitalism with john locke and adam smith and democracy: 'liberalism,' i suppose. (the political scientists on the far left do right at least to be seeing through this as partly a falsification.) on the other hand, if we socialists or whatever reject free enterprise and engage in grand redistribitivist schemes, then of course we're going to need a big, extremely powerful state. (then once you're done with the redistribution, the state either withers away, or deposits your entire country in theiir leaders' swiss accounts and absconds; i forget which.) so for a long time people (it even trickled down to bush etc) thought of the chinese system as combining opposed or contradictory elements. at a minimum, i'd say no one is so sure anymore.
we should think instead of the chinese state as a provisional culmination of both state socialism and corporate capitalism. in ideology, they are opposites. but we don't live in the textbook for your course on political ideologies. we live in a world where, from the outset, corporate capitalism completely depended on state power, and the basic practical thrust of left statism was annexation of the economy. the soviet union was a variety of monopoly capitalism. and the modern american state is a variety of state socialism. (but leftists are still trying to pit the state against the corporation, while rightists are still trying to pit the corporation against the state. this is all occurring only in their imaginations: pitting chase against the treasury department is a very odd concept and no you're not going to be pulling them apart later on, because resources always flow toward political power, and political power always flows toward resources (little crispy's big law).)
we're all headed in this direction together. it is the culmination/nadir of history! which isn't over, btw. but still i am its hegel, marx, and fukuyama. what gives me pause is how terribly mistaken they all were. and how laboriously they all wrote.
anyway, what went wrong in our thinking is that we believed the account these ideologies gave of themselves. but the scrim of philosophy, theory, ideology, the rhetorical flourishes that they laid on the reality were always thin on the ground. they were designed to rationalize or moralize what is really a single indefensible system, or to enhance the self-esteem of ideologues while pursuing the hard work of gathering up all the resources. the cold war disguised the fact that the systems were, in playing out their real essences, converging toward a situation in which state and economy are fully integrated and held in very few hands: a truly permanent, systemic, chronic, sclerotic hierarchy with the world's worst rhetoric. and then one of the meanings of 'globalization' and the various 'international mechanisms' that go with it, may be that it is a premonition of a world system of this variety, which is already emerging. (one name is 'technocracy.' i like to call it 'jurgen habermas'.) but there would be many barriers to overcome, from nationalism and tribalism to religious chauvinism and individualism/tribalism of the 'i/we dissent/withdraw/slack off/sabotage/hack' variety. (honestly i think history is, from our point of view, wildly contingent, and no one can know how such a thing comes out.)
this is also one of the reasons that the left/right spectrum is just not helping anyone toward understanding the phenomena, much less in deciding what positions to take. we should dissolve the left/right spectrum the way carnap dissolved metaphysics: it never meant anything; it was a kind of nonsense verse.
i don't know that squishy totalitarianism is really catching on as the name for the great synthesis at the end of history, or, as i like to think of it, the prelude to our richly-deserved extinction. but whatever you call it, i call it fun!
squishy totalitarianism: the political/economic/aesthetic/psychological system or syndrome shared in common, for instance, by contemporary china, the european union, and the united states. it is characterized by a complex so-called 'technocratic' merger of state and capital; large-scale mechanisms of subject-formation such as compulsory state education and regulation/monopoly ownership of the media; a relative tolerance for some forms of diffuse dissent and scope for individual choice, particularly in consumption, combined with pervasive state and corporate surveillance; overwhelming police and military force and sprawling systems of incarceration; entrenched extreme hierarchies of wealth and expertise (plausibly declared by such authorities as spode to be the purpose of squishy totalitarianism); regulation of the economy by monetary policy in cooperation with banking concerns; an international regime of national sovereignty combined with international state/corporate mechanisms for the circulation of wealth.
hopeful note: st is no more difficult to resist than any other 'system'; every expansion opens up new interstices.
seems like someone out there started to figure out squishy totalitarianism, starting from a marxist angle.
The all-encompassing embrace of world capitalism at the beginning of the twenty-first century was generally attributed to the superiority of competitive markets. Globalization had appeared to be the natural outcome of this unstoppable process. But today, with global markets roiling and increasingly reliant on state intervention to stay afloat, it has become clear that markets and states aren’t straightforwardly opposing forces.
In this groundbreaking work, Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin demonstrate the intimate relationship between modern capitalism and the American state, including its role as an “informal empire” promoting free trade and capital movements.
ok then, let's talk about steven spielberg. i want to say, it really is amazing all the things you're not supposed to say, and all the people who are more or less above criticism. but anyway, here's my idea: steven spielberg may be this and that, but he is not an artist. i'd say the very budget of these films precludes them being particularly expressive or embodying anything like a personal vision: the films are elephantine, inert, manipulative rather than meaningful, and really quite banal, though of course impressive as spectacles. they lurch between sentimentality and didacticism: spielberg is always teaching you another lesson, and all the acting and emotion and stuff is like a crocheted cozy on a bludgeon. the lessons are very much at the level of sesame street: they're just cliches: precisely because of the gigantic commercial emphasis and investment, the messages must be uncontroversial, and boy are they. nothing strange or subversive or original or idiosyncratic has ever appeared in any steven spielberg movie. and have you ever tried to watch indiana jones and the crystal skull? he's just the chap to do a hagiography of lincoln: there could be no more redundant or predictable gesture by an american filmmaker.
spielberg will be remembered as the second-rate riefenstahl of squishy totalitarianism, the vanilla pseudo-auteur of the era of copyright protection. the stuff emits the scent of bureaucracy, or centralized planning of the arts. when it becomes impossible to spend that much money on a movie, movies will be better. with the deranged level of promotion, in which all media outlets conspire, it's almost like you're required to watch it and like it: it's socially compulsory, baby. i wouldn't necessarily trust the sincerity of any particular person's ecstatic response in a situation like that, especially critics. and i'll tell you this, the pentagon-style media organization - in publishing and recording and visual arts as well as film - has been an aesthetic wasteland, divided between big sortof highbrow art things and shimmering meaningless corporate pop. it's been the era of the blockbuster: way too much unanimous concentration on and promotion of way too few big bloated items: way too few novels; way too few songs; way too few paintings. you have to manufacture a critical consensus and give the bookers and stuff just to fend off facing your own conventionality and mediocrity. we must have the dullest and safest arbiters of taste since the romans. there's a difference between taste and authority, david remnick, and you are failing in your duty to be interesting. every sign that the culture is multiplying or disintegrating - and of course there are many - is good for the arts. insofar as we have universal cultural touchstones they will be way too huge and puerile. gigantic art should be resisted.
i live in two political worlds. the place where i work, my family: all very much supporting obama. where i live, or at the gym or barbershop or diner out here: close to 100% romney. the way each of these groups thinks about the other is very disconcerting. each group is entirely incomprehensible to the other. in the gym this morning people were just rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at each other at the very idea that any rational or decent person could possiby vote for obama. it's obvious that obama is basically a welfare-state socialist whose whole schtick betrays basic american values. how can people be so deluded by these institutional elites and the leftist media? and the liberal group just regards romney as an extremist who loves greed and wants to destroy the social contract by which we help each other lead better lives. (well of course each is completely right about the other, even if massively deceived about themselves.)
so insulated is each group from the other that the members of the opposite group sink to something like an inhuman or monstrous status. and within each group, the sources of information and opinion are shared, while almost no one, i believe, really goes and looks for something from the other side, which is strange to me. but i guess if it's already obvious that they're monsters or dolts, why would you? the funny thing is that if you subtract the politics and just work out in east berlin, pa or have lunch with a colleague, most all these people seem like ok people, so each one's idea that the other is evil or merely manipulated doesn't seem plausible.
there are a few things that i find unbelievably frustrating about this situation. first of all, on both sides, people just buy their politics off the rack as a complete outfit. i don't see how you possibly just nod along with every single thing paul krugman or sean hannity says, and then go to the barbershop or the coffee shop and repeat it verbatim. ain't you got no pride? no one appears to me to be thinking for themselves, and in a way, that makes it almost silly to argue with them: argue with one, you've argued with them all. it sort of doesn't seem like them talking at all, and folks are incredibly uncritical in this condition of any argument that appears to support their position, perfectly indiscriminate, so that let's say the quality of the arguments sags ever more alarmingly. people don't really want a reason; they want a stick.
second, from where i am, the huge rhetorical distinctions of liberty against mutual aid, or small against big government etc can't but appear to be absurdly out of proportion to the actual distinction between the policies, which appear to me to be slight adjustments to the basic squishy totalitarian model of merger of state and capital, surveillance and dependency (wait i like this formulation). seriously, folks are arguing about 5% in the marginal tax rate as though it were hobbes against locke or smith against marx or rawls against nozick; no, those are principled positions!
anyway: you can do better than that. i have faith. if you are a dem i assign you to watch fox news's election coverage, if a rep, msnbc. that'd be a start anyway. think of yourself as an anthropologist; you want to try to figure out how these people think. or start with this question: how did these folks, who are indeed folks, i.e. things more or less like myself, come to this orientation?
Highjacking Crispin's site again with JJ Cale and Chuck Prophet, Thomas More and Thomas Hobbes, the Navajo, the Army, Paul Ryan and Tora Bora...it just doesn't get better than this. I think at times there's a better class of reader here than at the other places I babble...certainly the comments I get over at Veteran's Today give me a lot of pause. Anyway, this has been a complex piece to get my teeth into...for a variety of reasons. So, here we go...
The number of broken promises and bad judgments made over the last 30 years is incredible. Each bad judgment ends up causing more broken promises. However, the majority of the problems I see – crumbling infrastructure, lousy schools, increased long-term unemployment, mounting debt, lagging modernization, lack of a coherent energy plan and so on and on and on as well as what has happened to Native Americans, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsman, Civil Servants, Labor Unions, and on and on comes from the idea that we don’t have the wherewithal to pay for what we need to do. That is bullshit.
To be educated, a person doesn't have to know much or be informed, but he or she does have to have been exposed vulnerably to the transformative events of an engaged human life.
Can you say AN/PDR-27R? ALPHA-NOVEMBER-PAPA-DELTA-ROMEO-TWO-SEVEN-ROMEO?
american politics, and even world politics, really is caught in a scylla-or-charybdis dilemma: state or capital? every word out of the republicans is antigov, pro-biz. and the dems are fighting a rearguard action on behalf of the state: 'i will not accept a solution without revenue increases.' both of these modes of organization are profoundly hierarchical and oppressive. the problem with the discourse is that it never quite cognizes their identity or at any rate symbiosis: beefing up either beefs up both, more or less. really, you're pissed at wall street. who you gonna call? tim geithner and larry summers? that's who citicorp called when they were in trouble. i think one of the strategies of squishy totalitarianism is to keep pretending that there are two forces, each of which could be used against the other. that way, no one turns against the whole thing, or against hierarchical modes of power distribution. that's why occupy shouldn't develop a program of regulatory change or something; they should - as they are, i think - trying to develop non-hierarchical forms of power and self-organization.
all that bail-out action simply consolidated the banking industry in even fewer hands, and one should look clearly at how 'regulation' is used to construct and consolidate monopolies (in media, for example). the unification of capital and state is breathtakingly evident all over u.s. history. and yet there's nothing to liberalism but more state, nothing to conservatism but more capital. it could not be more obvious that the conflict is basically only apparent, and that oscillating from one to the other just makes the oppressive forces we confront ever-more inexorable.