Friday, February 25, 2011

Why this blog just isn't sufficient.

Hello, few readers of mine. I'd like to have a heart-to-heart with you.

I've been tracking this scent in the air of society for about four years now. It smells foreign, unknown, synthetic, man made, maybe plastic. I caught wiffs of it when people would talk about their classes when they had nothing else better to talk about, or insisting that the future was going to be better than the present and then not make the present all it could have been. At first I thought it was people being brainwashed by society into being overly consumptive and not being nearly as reflective as they needed to be. The fast life vs the slow life. Learning how to have fun not with products but with people. Creating experiences instead of consuming them. Stop treating yourself like an object or a sack of flesh. That's what this blog was for. America, the Strange. It was such a strange land that it didn't even cohere to its own standards, yet it was the one we called home. The blog had a solid approach to this challenge, perhaps one I neglected too much: develop the individual as a healthy, whole person who's fully aware of the implications of their actions and use egalitarianism as the meter stick to judge politics and economics. I still like that approach. But I have a new one now. I really didn't want this new approach at first. It made the world a lot scarier of a place. But then when I got used to it, the world made sense. It makes me more suspicious of people, but now instead of wondering what crazy spell mankind is under I now see the ways that people bewitch each other.

I'm talking about political economy: the study of businesses, money, rule and power. The first guy to ever put the two words together was Karl Marx, the same man who said "If you teach a man to fish you ruin a wonderful business opportunity". But this isn't a blog about what Marx thinks, this is a blog about what I think, so I'll return back to the subject of me, because this is the internet and egotism makes the fiber optic cables blip all around the world. So political economy is the study of economic and political power; studying what politicians and corporations need to stay relevant enough to influence the democratic process and therefore get what they want. It's essentially a study of the networks of power on all levels; internationally, nationally, on a city level, and even on the thought level, how corporations have these massive networks of suppliers and manufacturers all powered by advertising and the frailty of the human mind. It's called "following the money", because there's no way that the world makes sense without considering the money. If I didn't pay attention to the fact that the news was a business who before anything else must make a profit, then I would be devastated by what I see on TV. But now I know the media is just trying to rile me up to raise ad money.

Let me explain. Here's the pattern businesses follow: you start up with some money, buy raw materials, hire workers, pay the workers to transform the raw materials into a product, which you sell to a consumer for the costs plus a profit. This is what I call the capitalist mode of production. Now, after you've taken a slice of the profit to feed yourself with, you then can reinvest the profit back into the business to buy more raw materials for more workers to turn into more products for more money. As long as there is demand it returns money in ever greater quantities and through a couple of underhanded tricks you can even ensure there's always demand. It also can adopt services in society and turn them into businesses. We didn't use to have a society where people had to be paid to take care of kids; we made sure mothers spent time with their kids and then built figured out the rest of what we wanted to do with our time. The ground underneath our feet keeps shifting with ever increasing profit and even this tiny reason presents a reason why we should think critically about capitalism; because does living in such a society make you uneasy? Is that were you would like to live? Where every generation of parents struggle to relate to their kids amidst new ways of relating to each other?

But getting back down to Earth, all of the wasteful consumer culture I've been writing about...that's just the tail end of the capitalist mode of production and doesn't count in the motivations of either the worker or the business owner, or capitalist if you prefer. (He's the guy who brings the start up money, or the capital). And it's not that this should surprise me. Oh, look at that. People manipulate each other for personal gain.

Regardless, if you'd like to stick with me I still talk about the good life and how to be anti-consumer, but now I also write about how to be anti-capital.

I'll be at

See ya there!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Difference Between Orwell and Huxley

Hopefully this'll bide you over before I drop a mindbomb on you pretty soon. And by the fucking way, why the hell aren't you telling your friends about this blog? What could be more important than talking about than finding out the meaning of life when our world has failed us?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Honey Dear, Maybe We Shouldn't Trust the Politicians

For starters, happy Election Day. Now let's see just what the hell that means.

About three weeks ago, Senator Joe Sestak visited my college. Chris Matthews was hosting Hardball there. We were all in a crowd behind a movable steel fence watching Chris Matthews interview Sestak. Sestak was wearing his jacket from the Marines and is answering Matthews' questions. Well actually, he doesn't actually answer any of Matthews' questions as much as he continues to drop these soundbite codewords into the conversation. Green jobs. Corporate power. All of these are designed to maximize impact on specific audiences, just like that Marines jacket is supposed to make veterans feel he's "one of them". And all this time he's talking, he's wearing the most plastic smile I have ever seen. And he's talking for some 8 minutes straight. Go ahead and try to smile and talk simultaneously for 8 minutes in front of a mirror. That smile is guaranteed to look strained.

After he gets off the air, he shakes everyone's hand in the crowd without ever looking anybody in the eye or even give anyone a firm handshake. It's like we all just took turns holding his hand for a fraction of a second. A few minutes later he walks past the steel fence into the crowd. People are surrounding him for photo ops with the Senator, and I'm there too.

"Senator Sestak, pleased to meet you." I say. I have the full attention of a United States Senator. He puts the smile mask on and shakes my hand. His face is a peach colored smear from all of the make up he's globbed on. It's ridden with deep wrinkles as his skin of his face stretches and contorts to smile he's wearing and has been wearing for years on end. He honestly looks like the troll face. "I hope you can deliver on everything you say, because young people have finely tuned bullshit detectors and they don't like being lied to," I say.

"Well I can't promise anything. I can send the troops in but I can't tell you they're gonna win. But I'm going to fight for you." He shakes my hand again and says "Thank you! Vote for me November 2nd!" The smile again. It meant Go Away. I was being told by my Senator to go away. He takes a couple steps away from me and other people started to surround him now. A laborer from another town who he met on the campaign trail asks Joe Sestak if he remembers him. He doesn't but pretends like he does.

"But that's just another soundbite!" I shout. "You're just a walking cliche machine! The lights are on but there's nobody home!" He's looking at me now, shocked. "Oh, and by the way. You look like a clown with all that make-up on". And then I strutted away from the most epic moment I've had in my life.

What do I take away from this? Politicians are not your friends. When they make speeches they don't make it off the top of their heads. They don't kick it. Every word in a speech is crafted for maximum impact, and they never tell you anything you don't need to know

Now to some this may seem old and you may say "But that's what politicians do! It's their job to lie to you! That's why we hire them! To do a such a manipulative job!" But if that's the case then why do we pretend that these people care about you? Somehow, somewhere there is the expectation that these people don't lie to you. Politics is very personal to us. People relate to politicians. Bill Clinton is a "down to Earth guy". So for some reason it shocks us to find out that our politicians are actually skeezy slimeballs. Hell, it's prestigious in this country to be a skeezy slimeball! 

Call me naive, but was there ever a point in time where politicians didn't have such massive disrespect for the people that they represent? Is this what democracy should look like? Some history-knowers should get their butts in here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Why the Agency Argument is Flawed

Sorry it's been so long since I last updated. I've been busy with classes but the results have been worth it. Check it out. 

The agency argument is one of the most popular opinions in American politics. It’s smeared on nearly every conversation regarding why people act the way they do; from crime to employment to being duped by credit card agencies. And once I begin to tell you how it goes, I’m sure you can fill in the rest. 
The Agency argument goes something like this; people’s lives are their own personal responsibility. Any misfortune they fall under is a result of poor management of their lives and they should have done things differently. In discussions about the mortgage crisis, this argument takes the form of “Why did those people agree to purchase houses they couldn’t afford?”. In discussions about being laid off, the argument takes the form of “They weren’t working hard enough. If they were working hard enough they wouldn’t be in their situation. God, they need to get their shit together.” And when people fall into credit card debt, it rears its ugly head again. “Maybe if they weren’t impulsively shopping they wouldn’t be stuck paying off their debts at 28% interest”.

Usually when people use this claim they don’t even look into the story before coming to their conclusion. Debt, for instance. Most people who fall into debt aren’t greedy people. Most people, assuming a steady income, made a large purchase like a car or a refrigerator and then lost their job in a down economy and couldn’t find employment. They then used credit cards to fund schemes that would hope to bring in enough money to get them out of debt, like a cheap computer and internet service to help with the job hunt, which of course only puts them into more debt. And that's not even considering student loans. How are you going to tell someone that they shouldn't have gone to college if they couldn't have afforded it?

But don’t tell that to the guy swinging the Agency argument like a barbarian swinging a warhammer in a china store (Remember, it's the twelve sided die). He’ll probably call you Un-American. The great thing about the agency argument is that it doesn’t require an understanding of the players and the situation for you to criticize them. Any person in plight anywhere? Their fault! Now let’s come up with a reason why. This argument halts debate on real issues because victims now have to prove that they aren’t someone “looking for a handout” before any action can take place.

But it’s flawed. You wanna know why? Because it has no limits. Where does it end? Where does an appeal to “personal responsibility” end? From Bill O’Reilly to Rush Limbaugh, I have yet to hear a single claim that beyond a certain point citizens alone are not responsible for what happens to them. There is no acknowledgment of anything that exists outside the individual. It's crazy, and anyone who believes it is crazy. So next time you hear the Agency argument used to unjustly stall debate, call it out for what it is: a rash, uninformed criticism designed to prevent change and blame victims.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Public Spaces

Someone asked me what we can do about living in such a backwards world. It's with pride that I present such a delicious opportunity to turn the tide in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Let's get real. Lines suck. When you find yourself standing in line, it's typical behavior to wait and mind your own business. We're all standing there being silent. Why? We're just waiting there anyway. It's not like we can really start to tackle those essays we've got to do, or be productive in any measure. Usually, I tell myself not to talk to people in line because they might be busy inside their own heads and I should respect that. But is that really the case? Could it be that they're just as bored as me? Could it be that they they're tired of thinking and rethinking the same to-do list over and over? Not only do I think it's a possibility, I think it's likely.

I mean, hell, sometimes the lines are short and it doesn't make sense to start up a conversation. But I spent 15 minutes yesterday on my feet in line next to the same two people for 15 minutes, silent as the grave. Tell me how the hell that makes sense. The day before that I rode the subway for 30 minutes sitting next to the same guy. Hell, if you live in a city you'll almost never see the same person twice so if you're afraid you'll put your foot in your mouth it's not like your reputation everywhere will be tarnished.

Ultimately, what we're talking about is public spaces. There are places in society where you just go up to people and start talking to them. Bars and coffee shops are examples, even though they're privately owned. Where interaction happens, ideas and organizations form. The renaissance was actually fueled by the coffee shops, where intellectual giants bounced ideas off each other until they came up with the philosophies we live by today. And put the other way, cults and dictatorships discourage interactions between citizens for fear that they might cooperate and work together to overthrow the leader. So don't be afraid to talk to strangers. The worst possible thing that could happen is you offend them and never see them again. Fortune favors the bold.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Tuesday, September 28, 2010