This, surely is the key to understanding Marxism’s renaissance in the west: for younger people, it is untainted by association with Stalinist gulags. For younger people too, Francis Fukuyama’s triumphalism in his 1992 book The End of History – in which capitalism seemed incontrovertible, its overthrow impossible to imagine – exercises less of a choke-hold on their imaginations than it does on those of their elders.
Blackwell-Pal will be speaking Thursday on Che Guevara and the Cuban revolution at the Marxism festival. “It’s going to be the first time I’ll have spoken on Marxism,” she says nervously. But what’s the point thinking about Guevara and Castro in this day and age? Surely violent socialist revolution is irrelevant to workers’ struggles today? “Not at all!” she replies. “What’s happening in Britain is quite interesting. We have a very, very weak government mired in in-fighting. I think if we can really organise we can oust them.” Could Britain have its Tahrir Square, its equivalent to Castro’s 26th of July Movement? Let a young woman dream. After last year’s riots and today with most of Britain alienated from the rich men in its government’s cabinet, only a fool would rule it out.
Category Archives: Culture
An interesting talk on genes and how they relate to free will and determinism, with asides on American Exceptionalism and so forth. Gleevec (the drug I used to be on) gets a mention as an exception to the general lack of medical advancement on the gene research front. Also a nice discussion on how the free market has failed in developing these types of drugs, and how the two exceptions she mentioned were in fact bankrolled with public and charitable money.
With healthcare in the headlines again, with a surprisingly semi-rational ruling by the Supreme Court, we can see how the bourgeois notion of rights (or liberty, etc) have been used to predictably obfuscate the issue. One can read some “Orthodox” reactionary takes here, here, here, here.
Really, I tend to think all the “Healthcare is a Human Right” stuff to be counterproductive. There is nothing inherent about “rights.” They are not “God given” or otherwise. Rights are pure social constructs. Where ever they occur, they are simply a societal delineation of what is (in theory) universally acceptable/unacceptable, marking where one person’s freedom begins and another’s ends. What place does property rights have in a hunter-gatherer society? Similarly, at what point does it become a human right to be guaranteed modern medical care? Really the notion of inherent rights is absurd.
Since a right is a delineating line, it is no surprise that reactionaries clothe their speech in lofty words of rights, liberty and personal freedom. The healthy person does have a greater degree of freedom without universal healthcare, at the expense of the freedom of the ill, of course. The real issue at hand is; what is the moral obligation of society? That is the crux of the argument which dissipates the fog. Given that we live in a society with the wealth and resources to provide for the sick and the suffering, we must weigh the moral obligations. Is there a greater moral obligation to ensuring the greatest possible care for the sick, or to the freedom of personal responsibility for the healthy (ie, to be able to choose not to plan for future sickness, which in itself impacts a society that deems its responsibility to not allow immediate death without treatment, regardless of one’s “choice” in this regard)? The Christian answer to this question is rather obvious.
Similarly and related, we have the same question relating to society, as embodied by the government, “taking from the rich and giving to the poor” (as though the rich are rich in a vacuum unrelated to exploitation of the very same poor). We often hear the reactionary “Christian” argument about allowing the rich the right and opportunity for moral good, by allowing them instead to be philanthropic. Again, what is society’s greater moral obligation to? The moral obligation to giving the wealthy a greater opportunity for philanthropy, or the moral obligation to ensure care and a reasonable standard of living for the poor? Again, the Christian answer, the moral answer, is obvious. Leading to the case of healthcare, wherein the choice of obtaining medical insurance is really only a real choice for relatively healthy, moderately well off people. So, again, the choice/right/ liberty of one person comes at the expense of another, that is, the sick and the poor. This leads us again to the Christian moral obligation to the poor, sick and suffering, and the general lack of special obligation to the healthy and wealthy.
We don’t live in a vacuum. Our “rights” directly impact another’s. One person’s freedom comes at the expense of another’s. One’s “right to personal responsibility” comes at the price of another’s life, and when a person shrieks in terror about their liberty and dollars being taken, the question of moral responsibility shows the type of human being they are, reveals their moral worth (or, lack thereof, in this case).
For a philosopher, ethnic roots, national identity, and so on, are simply not a category of truth-or, to put it in precise Kantian terms, when we reflect upon our ethnic roots, we engage in a private use of reason, constrained by contingent dogmatic presuppositions; that is to say, we act as “immature” individuals, not as free human beings who dwell in the dimension of the universality of reason. This, of course, does not in any way entail that we should be ashamed of our ethnic roots; we can love them, be proud of them; returning home may warm our hearts-but the fact remains that all this is ultimately irrelevant. We should act like Saint Paul who, while he was proud of his particular identity (a Jew and a Roman citizen), was nonetheless aware that, in the proper space of the Christian absolute Truth, “there is neither Jew nor Greek.” … The struggle which truly engages him is not simply “more universal” than that of one ethnic group against another; it is a struggle which obeys an entirely different logic: no longer the logic of self-identical substantial group fighting another group, but of an antagonism that cuts diagonally across all particular groups.
-Slavoj Zizek, The Parallax View
I’m not usually fond of Zizek’s musings as related to religion, but this one is quiet applicable to the American religious experience.
We long for a civil state that makes a complete distinction between temporal and religious authority, even as we hope when the ballot boxes show a majority with a religious-political character, for a discourse from this majority that is in keeping with the spirit of the age. The majority is responsible for reassuring the minority, not the other way around. For this reason, the majority must strive to innovate for the sake of a discourse that takes into account humanistic thought, especially with regard to human rights, especially freedom and equality in citizenship and human dignity. Without this, we will continue to await the true springtime.
–Read it all here
A few notes to clarify some questions about my previous post, made on another blog:
The Capitalist mode of production, and the bourgeois state, work to destroy “the old and the small,” (ie, homogenize cultures and languages, wiping out languages and ways of life, ect) in a number of ways. A fairly easy example is the manner in which accumulation by dispossession impacts communities. An example of this would be the impact of NAFTA upon Mexican farmers; wherein somewhere in the neighborhood of a million agricultural workers were uprooted, many finding themselves in low paying factory work, both here and in Mexico. Some of which, such as the US meat packing industry, had previously been well-paying jobs. Such mass uprooting have deep impacts in both the communities they left and the ones the left to. Perhaps a better example would be the housing crisis here, where the capital crisis is being solved by moving the debt burden off of investment capital, onto the general public, whilst allowing those same capitalists to dispossess large segments of the population, impacting the stability of communities.
Then we can look at the hypermobility of capital in the modern era, wherein capital is able to move quickly geographically, triggering mass population movements. (The NAFTA example might fall better in this category.) One can see this happening in large scale in India and China, as well as here in the US, where capital rapidly moves to find low taxes, regulations and wages. We can look to the movement of industry away from “the rust belt” to the South, as the most obvious example. Previously there was a mass movement from the South to the old traditional industrial cities. In Europe, smaller states (such as Ireland) compete to be relative tax/regulation havens, but have found that such strategies provide fleeting success, to say the least. Looking back at the housing crisis, one of the major economic impacts has been the manner in which “under water” mortgages inhibit migration, thusly inhibiting capital’s ability to extract surplus value via the benefits of mass migration (greater wage depression, lower labor organization, lower regulations, etc). Again, the obvious impacts of the constant mass migration particular to late Capitalism, both regionally and internationally, on both cultures and family life, have been well documented.
Now, it can be perfectly well argued that there are many benefits of having Mexican peasants working in the factory, over inefficiently growing corn on a few dozen acres. I am not an agrarian in the sense that I don’t think it is at all advisable to have a third or more of our population working the fields. The point is that these decisions are made for profit motive, in an exploitative manner, without thought or input from the communities impacted. Cultures change, some disappear, and sometimes new ones appear. There is no way of achieving a static state, nor would that even be advisable. I don’t even think that migration should be stopped, only that the system that allows the coercive laws of capital to necessitate such mass migration should come to an end. Modernization can, and should, be done in a more ethical manner, but capital does not recognize a place for, or a responsibility to, a community.
I think it is telling that the critique blows off the notion of the impact of kitsch upon low culture, yet laments the impact of the sexual revolution upon the same. (I don’t think the two are necessarily unconnected, but I don’t think I’ll go into that today.) There is too much of an association made between mass culture and kitsch. One does not necessarily have to be the other. Modern media make the possibility of a world without mass culture more or less impossible. I think my post about the Republican attack upon public television/radio touches upon this subject. It is not really too hard to see how the influence of capital turns one form of culture into kitsch, why Shakespeare is not kitsch but most television is. The easy comparison is why a kids’ show like Strawberry Shortcake is kitsch and Angelina Ballerina is not, can be picked out extremely quickly. One is selling something, one is not. For rather obvious reasons, this impacts the less educated classes more sharply and negatively.
The other day, I observed an example of how kitsch impacts religion, while seeing an “American Christian” iron cross t-shirt at a gas station. It was kitsch imitating kitsch, imitating a less kitschy proletarian cultural form – the “Christian” brand, imitating the secular “American Chopper” brand, imitating the biker gang aesthetic. Machismo bought, sold and moralized. It is not too hard to see the relation between machismo branding and a religiosity that focuses so almost singularly upon sex issues. Nor is it hard to see the relation between kitsch and inch deep Christianity.
A last quick note on unemployment by efficiency: In Capitalism, increased worker efficiency does lead to unemployment. This is not necessary, natural or even obviously logical. There is no reason that if efficiency increases twenty percent that some percentage of the workforce should be fired. Just as easily, hours could be cut back, and/or labor intensity reduced. The reasons why are particular to Capitalism and the coercive laws of the market, which I will not get too detailed on here. In any case, increased efficiency leads to increased unemployment, which leads to downward pressure upon wages. This is why the unprecedented increases in productivity realized in the last thirty or so years have not been reflected in increased earnings for the proletariat. In fact, the opposite has happened, and wage rates for the bottom sixty percent, or so, have been in decline. The only benefit to living standards of the proletariat in the Capitalist system come under government imposition, labor organization, periods of rapid growth and near full employment, such as the post-war years, or due to efficiency driving down the price of goods faster than the decline of wages. (Additionally, there has been the tactic of using easy credit to make up for declining wages.)
I think I am coming to terms with the fact that I may be destined to be both naturally conservative, or traditional, or likely, a nostalgist, and yet a Socialist. I love the small things, the old songs, the old traditions, the family. Not the mere nuclear family, the Dobson family, or what have you, but the whole of a family, the family that extends into the past and is broad, deep and abiding, neck deep in vice and virtue. How ever rare such a family may be, both in our time and in ages past, it is beautiful when it happens.
I am a Socialist because I see Capital crushing and leveling the small, the old, the family. I am convinced that in the world to come, the socialist ideal is the closest we have imagined to how it will be. Some say that is utopia making, that we cannot achieve it in this world, in this time. To a certain extent I agree, but we need utopias and ideals. Can we achieve socialism? I think not. That does not mean we should not strive intensely to get there. To emulate that ideal and get as close as we can. Liberty, equality, brotherhood. Is that not half the Gospel? How we are to relate to each other?
I agree with Dostoevsky’s criticisms of utopias, when those utopias are the visions of men imposed on his fellow man. I despise both the slavemaster Capitalist and the bleeding heart Liberal who would tell us all how to live. Ayn Rand is as guilty as any Shigalyov. No, my dear Chesterbellocian, Socialism is not about the State owning the means of production, controlling the lives of it’s subjects. Socialism sees the State fading away. The land, the water, the air, all that is contained in it and the tools of production that are brought forth from it, are the creations of God and are His handwork, and are the common inheritance of all mankind.
So, yes, I believe in a “traditional” family, or rather, the Christian ideal of the family, which rarely exists. I believe in all of those surrounding tropes of heterosexuality and per-marital abstinence, and so forth. Yet, I believe those beliefs, the old moral teachings related to sex, are used by those who would destroy us. A liberal Christian might point out that Christ rarely spoke about sex, to make the point that perhaps it doesn’t matter. I don’t say that. It does matter, but that same argument does lend some perspective to how much it matters in the grand scheme of things, which is probably very little. Especially in relation to caring for the suffering. That is the true test of an ideology, and dare I say, a Church, a parish: how do they care for the suffering? I have been to parishes where they drive out the suffering, barring those rare types who can smile while their lives are torn asunder.
One of my best friends is a man who has a weakness for the ladies. He is open about his sin and will call it that, “my sin.” Which he rightly notes that we all have, in one form or another. Once another friend told me that the ladies’ man needs to decide who he is – the faithful Orthodox Christian or Lothario. I think not. My favorite definition of kitsch is “the absolute denial of shit.” And kitsch is from Satan himself, dear readers. Especially a life lived as kitsch. That is why our Monsieur Lothario is one of the few real and true Christians I have ever met. The shit is right there for you to see. Not reveling in it, just letting it be there and so. Being Christian isn’t hiding your vices from the eyes of the world. It isn’t policing other people’s bedrooms. It is to love both God and man, to try and be better, to care for the suffering, and God knows the world is filled with enough of them.
Some Anarchists like to say, “No kings, no gods.” I like, rather, “No kings but God.” However trite that might be, and even if I am a secularist.