photo by SG

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Failure of Idealism, or Ron Paul and Barack Obama are Evil

Okay, time to get a little self-righteous: Barack Obama is not going to save humanity. And Ron Paul is the Antichrist.

I'll explain.

Most of the liberals in this country, from spokespeople-for-oppressed-minority liberals to white-bourgeois-"radical" liberals, have jumped onto the Obama bandwagon, next stop Presidentville. Let's stop and consider for a moment. Even IF Obama gets elected, is he really gonna do anything? Aren't his hands tied by the financial interests that get him elected? Because, let's not mince words, everyone knows how dirty a game politics is. You simply can't get elected President of the United States unless you sell your soul to the Devil.

But why speculate? Let's review Obama's fantastic track record: 1. He's down with economic globalization, that horror of the global South. The Economist has him wanting to work to "deal with globalization," not "slow it down." Well, fuck that! Anyone who has ever heard or seen a damn thing about what globalized capitalism has done to our brothers and sisters in the "Third World" knows that it's sick shit. Globalization is only inevitable? Hah, tell that to the Zapatistas in Mexico!

2. He wants to invade the Sudan. In the Washington Post, he and Sam Brownback (yes, good ol' Creationism Sammy) wrote a piece where they say: "It has become clear that a U.N. or NATO-led force is required." Awesome! Just what I wanted for Christmas! Another invasion, another occupation, another bombing campaign. We'll call it Bosnia Part II: The Revenge of the Imperialists. Lemme say what you don't want to hear: The West invading Sudan to solve the Darfur genocide is EXACTLY THE SAME THING as the U.S. invading Iraq to solve the Saddam horror show. Sorry hippies, no difference at all. There's gotta be a better solution than blowing people up.

3. He voted to build a fucking wall on the Mexican border. I don't think we really need to say anything more about that. (True story: I've never been to Mexico, my folks don't have the money to travel much. But I've heard stories from people who've flown over the border and not a single one of them has seen a giant red line in the desert, demarcating "us" from "them." Fuck the border, says I.)

Now, let's move on the that patron saint of angry white men, Ron Paul. Ah yes, Senator Paul. He opposed the war right from the start, his rabid fanboys pronounce. Too true, but let's think a wee bit about what else he's said and done: 1. He was one of the first Republican senators to endorse Ronald "The Butcher" Reagan over Gerald "The Baker" Ford in '76. (In case you're wondering, Nixon is the Candlestick Maker.) Not that this is really such a big deal, since they were both evil. But whereas Ford was slimy-plotting-henchman evil, Reagan was full-blown straight-from-hell
brimstone-smelling bat-head-eating evil. I mean, fuck, he was Ronald fucking Reagan!

2. He introduced and supports legislation (the tragi-comically titled "Sanctity of Life Bill") which would effectively overturn Roe vs. Wade (describing himself as "unshakably opposed to abortion." Yikes! The only thing I'm unshakably opposed to is Everybody Loves Raymond.) Now, this is already terrible, but it's part of his larger campaign to return things from federal control to state control. Ah, state's rights. The ever-so-common distraction of libertarians. Lemme say this loud and clear: Just because the boss/master/leader has the same accent as you, or the same skin color as you, or knows your neighborhood, doesn't make them not your boss/master/leader! "Same shit, different name," as the enlightened say. State's rights are not progressive, but a distraction from the real problem with goern'ment: government. "My" politicians in state congress are just as incurably bourgeois as "my" politicians in national congress.

3. He hearts capitalism. No, but seriously. At least Obama is a bureaucrat-lovin' AFL-CIO-ass-lickin' social democrat. Under all of Paul's rhetoric railing against the corporations, he thinks that capitalism is a fundamentally good thing. Bootstraps, rising to the top, poor getting what they deserve, the whole shebang! He's a libertarian insofar as he doesn't recognize that capitalism inherently oppresses workers and minorities, no further. He likes free trade, school prayer, hates amnesty for illegals and placing environmental concerns over business property rights. He's a Republican, fer chrissakes!

Idealism sucks. Idealism is the alienated line of thought which says that the world will magically work out if we believe hard enough: boom! Kim Jong Il becomes a Buddhist monk, poof! George Bush comes out, zap! white guilt goes away! Idealism is for hippies and rich kids. The sad truth is that society has rules which are not voted upon and cannot be changed no matter how hard you believe or how many verses of "We Shall Overcome" you sing. Now, we may not like that, but I think that the way to overcome these problems is not to wait for some superhero to save us from the clutches of peril.

This is the part where I exhort you to vote for someone else. Having listed all the qualities of these two gentlemen that I think you will find distasteful, I'm about to turn you on to someone who lacks these qualities. Well, tough luck there. But maybe, if you're feeling up to a challenge, you could try your hand at running your own life and solving your problems with the help your friends, family, coworkers and community, rather than waiting for some dude in a suit to do it for you. It's harder, I know, but it presents the only realistic way of getting rid of this messed up structure once and for all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A poem

Portrait of the author as a young anarchist

While things were going on in Europe,
Our most used term of scorn or abuse
Was “bushwa.” We employed it correctly,
But we thought it was French for “bullshit.”
I lived in Toledo, Ohio,
On Delaware Avenue, the line
Between the rich and poor neighborhoods.
We played in the jungles by Ten Mile Creek,
And along the golf course in Ottawa Park.
There were two classes of kids, and they
Had nothing in common: the rich kids
Who worked as caddies, and the poor kids
Who snitched golf balls. I belonged to the
Saving group of exceptionalists
Who, after dark, and on rainy days,
Stole out and shat in the golf holes.

-Kenneth Rexroth, 1956

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Utopian Dance

I just watched this music video by Feist, which reminded me about the point of art. Art pushes us to act out in fantasy what we cannot live out in our own lives. In her video, she was dancing on those little moving walkways at the airport. I thought, "Damn, that would be fun to do!"

Art inspires revolutions. This is old news. But I'd like to revise it. Normally, we think of a certain type of music as being revolutionary. Be it Dead Prez, Propagandhi, Woody Guthrie, Bikini Kill, or Rage Against the Machine, the implication behind these "revolutionary artists" is that their lyrics are explicitly anti-establishment and that they are therefore revolutionary. Which I won't dispute. But isn't Feist's video revolutionary?

Her desire to dance in a public place where that kind of thing is isn't allowed is a natural one. And a powerful statement. How many times have we considered doing similar things? Or imagined them? These desires speak to our desire for a new society with new rules. Artists act out our fantasies for us. So in some ways, they are stupefying. This is awfully clear, particularly in regards to the abuse of love songs in popular culture. So maybe art is reactionary?

I think it's neither. It is analogous to what Marx writes about religion. In his infamous passage on how religion is the opiate of the people, he follows with a sentence pointing out that religion is the natural response to the alienation we endure under capitalism. I'll expand his critique a little and suggest that it's more than just capitalist alienation which inspires religious fascination. Alienation exists at the heart of the human condition in hierarchial society.

Art in the capitalist (or hierarchial) epoch, then, is akin to religion. It allows us to act out our fantasies while remaining strapped with our metaphorical and literal chains. Religious ideology allows a spiritual escape from the horror of existence: being one with the Lord means a momentary lapse in alienation. Likewise, the intensity and imagination within art works to temporarily ease our lives. When you're in the circle pit, you are with your unknown comrades instantly. It's a feeling of safety and empowerment. When you listen to beautiful romantic tunes, love seems as though it can indeed conquer all. When you are held in the grasp of the powerful language of a master writer, you can pause and feel both unimportant and wiser.

And, when you watch a film about someone dancing where they shouldn't be, you smile and say to yourself, "I wanna do that." But of course, this is the limit of art. Art inspires, suspends, enlightens, but it doesn't actually make change.

The goal then, of any revolution, is to inspire a society of art. Not one defined or constrained by it. That is to say, the society we seek to build must be one where alienation does not exist: art must be our action, not our reaction. As it stands now, art is how we deal with the terror of not having an identity. Every revolutionary action should then be an aesthetic one. The ideology of the revolution must be Art, in its unalienated form. Isn't there something important to draw from the fact that music is such a part of the lives of traditional peoples, who are slightly less alienated than us, that in some indigenous languages, it's hard to distinguish what the word for "music" is? They live art.

So Feist's video must be deconstructed and reused as revolutionary propaganda: We will never be able to dance on moving walkways until we dismantle this capitalist machine and its minions. Only if we control our own lives will our dreams even begin to approach our realities. The everyday must be turned into art or else we will always remain slaves of our own minds.

The Anarchist Referee

Reposted from my anarcho-pal Brian H:

I am a soccer referee. I ref little kids’ games where everyone crowds around the ball and more often than not end up just kicking each other, (more often) games between youth old enough to not understand why their parents won’t just shut up on the sideline, and occasionally adult games where the players are good enough not to crowd around the ball, but nonetheless more often than not end up kicking each other.

This last Saturday, I worked (notice the verb we referees have been trained to use, even though we mostly do it for love of the game) two matches in the first category – 3rd and 4th grade girls. These are not my favorite games to do – not because they are particularly challenging, of course, nor even because they don’t pay well, but because I also happen to be an anarchist[1].

This game was the first of the season for the teams involved. This also meant that for many of the players, it was their first experience playing with a referee on the field. In 2nd grade and before, they had only played at recess, with friends and family, or at most in a league with parent or volunteer monitors without whistles and funny uniforms.

It did not take me long to realize on Saturday, between teaching the players (not to mention the coaches) how to properly (“properly” being a word I use in referee mode, not anarchist mode) take a kickoff or where to place the ball for a goal kick, that these players really didn’t want or need me to be there. Many hadn’t been trained yet to stop on a dime at the sound of a whistle, and after I got over the annoyance, I was envious. And I realized my presence was really doing more harm than good. I, their first referee, was but one in a long line of figures meant to foster respect for all authority, chronologically somewhere between first schoolteacher and first boss.

So – would I be better off quitting this gig? I’ve pondered it a lot. I really don’t enjoy one bit higher-level games where it’s necessary to exert a level of authority I’m not comfortable with in order to fulfill the job description.

The obvious argument in favor of referees is: didn’t everyone agree to have this setup? The players – presuming they’re old enough, and not the 3rd graders of last weekend – all paid their dues and voluntarily associated themselves with this particular soccer association. Isn’t that consent?

I don’t think it’s any more real consent than entering the world of wage slavery is done by real consent. Who really wants to pay to play a game? Plus, the pickup games that take the field after my game (language check, again: no, even as a referee, I don’t own the game, much less the 22 players on the field) finishes seem so much more fun.

The argument I keep turning to against referees is this: when I played soccer in high school, the practices were almost always more fun than our (official) games. This may be partly because my team rarely won – but on those occasions, the joy was still delayed until after the game was over and we went to eat at McDonalds (the inextricable link between capitalist-organized sports and economic exploitation is an essay all its own). When I went to college, I immediately signed up for an intramural team, but quickly realized that it wasn’t as fun as it had been for me in high school. It wasn’t hard to realize why; now I wasn’t playing with the friends I had known for several years back home. A hard tackle was now an act of aggression, not a measure of respect, and it was assumed to come from hostility, not love.

The joy of the game comes only partly from the game itself. Like the rest of life, the best experiences come from living beings, not constructions. I prefer soccer to other sports largely because of the simplicity of the rules; the lawbook fits in my pocket whereas a pointy-football rulebook could easily squash a large rodent. But even though soccer has 17 “laws,” I can’t help but think that’s 17 too many. I think of the matches I used to play at recess – perhaps some of the most intense ever – and how none of us knew about the laws; we made our own on the fly and they changed frequently. I also think about how incredibly annoying it was when the two meanest, biggest third grade boys autonomously decided to play rubgy instead. But then I think about how the only real conflict resolution skills we had been taught involved violence and coercion, two ineffective strategies when facing rugby players with the power of the state, er, playground monitors behind them.

Why do I keep refereeing, then? I have many excuses. It’s pretty good money – not enough to live on, but more per hour than almost any other job I could get right now. And as long as not working isn’t a choice for me, this is a hell of a lot more fun than almost anything else I’d be doing to earn money. I do love soccer, after all, even if I hate what capitalists and other authority figures have turned it into. Also – and I know this from my playing experience – the character of a referee can be the difference between 90 minutes of fun and 90 minutes of frustration and anger. On the field, I try to let as much of my authority go as possible and make the players the focus; as long as my job has to exist, somebody doing it well will make a whole lot of difference. For the kid who is yelled at all day at school and yelled at all day at home, the last thing she needs is to be yelled at on the soccer pitch – if I can do my part to make the encounter more of a fun, friendly game and less of an exercise in dog-eat-dog capitalist-training, this might well be the part of a players’ day that enables her to stay sane, and enables her to retain a better vision of what this world could be. This is reformist, but potentially very important to the affected individuals; draw the appropriate analogies to a good teacher or prison activist.

Very rarely do my politics come out explicitly on the field. (I’ve scribbled some slogans on my shoes, but so far either nobody’s noticed or nobody’s said anything.[2]) Implicitly, they come out all the time. I encourage players to call me by my first name. (The first time I was called “sir” was by a librarian in fourth grade, and it has freaked me out ever since.) I try to chat, joke around, and generally lighten the mood as best I can. If I fuck up a call, as every referee does, I will usually admit it. I will not be a jerk and stop the play if you lift your foot three inches when taking a throw-in, and I won’t even mind if you take it a few yards downfield from where the ball went out. I will not be a jerk and make you go off the field to take off your wristband, because although the rules do say no jewelry, it really isn’t going to hurt anybody, and we all know it. I will not be the hard-ass referee who acts as if you’ve insulted my mother when you ask me a question.

In short, I’ll do what I can to subvert my job while still keeping it as long as it’s useful for me – which is what I’d be doing with any job, anyway. And I’m open to being convinced to quitting altogether, burning my badge and keeping solely to pickup games instead. That decision is still up in the air.

[1] On the field I get to wear all black! (Probably more often than the rest of the time, actually.)

[2] Perhaps they’re afraid I’ll be quick with the red card? OK, no more color puns.

Monday, September 10, 2007

On the line

Okay, so here I am again. I long ago decided that blogs were too indulgent and were part of our culture of individualist consumerism (as opposed to individualist creativity). But I've reconciled my concerns with my need to a. write and develop my rhetorical skills and b. not use Facebook for this. So I hope to make sure I only tell stories and write analysis. I refuse to give up my personality to a machine. With that in mind, on to my experiences:

I was raised in a family that was sympathetic to labor. My folks are middle class workers. I should qualify that statement by suggesting that we're "middle class but if my dad got sick we'd be out on the street" as opposed to "middle class being a polite way of saying rich". There is a tremendous difference between those two positions, one which is not expressed in the term "middle class".

But they'd never felt that they wanted to improve their working conditions. Today I participated in my first picket and it was quite an experience. Standing on the line at the University of Minnesota, blocking trucks from delivering while AFSCME workers are out was pretty enlightening and empowering. I was at the lines with few deliveries so I didn't get into the real confrontational stuff that happened at other docks. But no deliveries passed our blockade. What's more is that the drivers who I talked to understood what we were doing and voluntarily turned around. The paper delivery guy who could have just walked by us decided he would rather turn around.

There's something powerful about meeting other people in a setting where you are not supposed to be doing something. Whether it is a protest against the war or a picket fighting the monster of global capitalism, there's a devious feeling that you're doing something sneaky and "bad" as the bourgeois call it, and the folks you are with are in it with you. A little conspiracy of regular folks.

So today on the line, I chatted with the most interesting people. When your average person thinks of "union workers" I suspect they think of an overweight white guy with a cap sitting on his ass. Which is unfortunate. On the line today we had quite a variety of characters. An old Teamster who told us horror stories of union bureaucracy and vote rigging and wished he wasn't retired or he'd join the IWW, a Ph.D. in geography who worked as a library tech because the accreditation system said he needed to have a Library Science degree to be a "real" librarian, a single mom, on strike, who rides Critical Mass and wore a shirt declaring "Cars R Coffins".

There's a lot of anti-worker rhetoric that flies around the anarchist movement these days. A lot of it comes from people who don't work because they don't want to, or don't work because they don't have to. And that ticks me off.

My buddy has a phrase: ABC. Anything But Class. Which seems to be a problem in our movement. We can recognize oppressions based on race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, ability, environmental destruction, etc. We even start talking about the inherent oppressiveness of language or speciesism and weirdo stuff like that. I feel like in overreaction to the terror of the Soviet Union, anarchists have forgotten the problem of class. Sure, some anarchists from working class backgrounds will recognize the fact that class is a problem, both in society and in our community, but they refuse to organize to DO anything about it. They just organize around empowering workers in the community. Well, sure, that's part of it. But we need a movement of workers at large to change society.

People like to shit on Marx these days, and sometimes with good reason. Nonetheless, his thinking on the nature of humanity as productive and creative continues to strike me as dangerously anarchistic (Bakunin: the urge to destroy is also a creative urge). And I've never been more pleased to call myself a human being than when I've been in places like today, doing what little I can to help improve the lives of my fellow humans. 5 am is pretty early to get up in the morning, but if the class war rages then, I guess I'll be there.