Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Late Night Thoughts On Economics

The strangest thing about being liberal in the South is that people who disagree with you in terms of taxes and government spending do not actually gain anything fiscally from their disagreement.

So why do people who, say, work for the state or are lower middle-class to working poor, but religious in a usually evangelical way dislike liberal economic policies?

There have been numerous books and studies and I guess it'd be more effective to just say read "What's the Matter with Kansas," or my personal favorite "Deer Hunting with Jesus," but I know most people who disagree with my position wouldn't do that.  Which to be fair, I'm probably not going to read a 70 page monologue by Ayn Rand.  (Though I did read Anthem and a bunch of pages from one of her Objectivist books)

Okay so here goes: what sustains us as a people - not just us, any people - is narrative.  And the conservative narrative is much more pleasant.  That narrative suggests that freeloaders get in the way, unskilled, lazy people are the problem with wages, and if you can't get a job, it's because either 1) you don't want a job or 2) you've fucked up so bad in the past that you can't be surprised that nobody wants to hire you.

The beauty of that narrative is that it eliminates any systemic criticism.  That is to say, if you're screwed, it's because you screwed yourself.  We will call this the "Masterbation theory."

Okay and why do these people hate liberal ideas of, say, systemic racism?  Well to their mindset not only does it excuse personal failure (and let's be honest, sometimes it's used that way) it suggests that the very concept of "America" as they understand it is flawed.

And but so... What exactly is the liberal argument?

This is the problem.  It really hasn't been well articulated. The Left needs a better narrative.  Usually it's reactionary - "Well I mean he would have gotten a promotion but the system is racist, or she should have gotten promoted by the system is sexist." And so forth.  And while I personally agree that both of these happen very, very often, it's a negative critique, i.e., it suggests what's wrong with the system in place; it doesn't suggest an alternative.  (I'm being unfair to liberals here, but it's for a larger point)

So.... Liberals, and by liberal I personally mean people who believe that Capitalism should attempt to grant opportunities across the board in hopes of producing a better citizenry; people who believe that we have to have certain regulations in place to make sure that people are given similar opportunities to access the "American Dream" as dreamy as it probably is; people who believe that Corporations are not excluded from the same ethical framework we would apply to people; people who believe that difference is not simply a "Political Correct" notion, but a notion that allows a democracy to be fucking awesome and so forth, must give a positive idea of why their values are valuable.  We have to embrace statements like "Of course I'm liberal, why wouldn't anybody be?" As opposed to "Well I mean I'm liberal, but I'm not like a crazy person or anything."

Essentially, what I see is that poles are suggesting the population is moving left of both parties while the parties are moving right because of an obvious income imbalance between the rich and the poor, i.e., people have no money these days compared to the wealthy who run the planet.  And politicians and policy makers obviously want their jobs to continue. So, the wealthy control legislation.  This, of course, is the pickle.

I would personally be for using the word "sycophant" more often.  Often I see people who just want to be rich - it's a sort of wet-dream-republicanism.  Let's call them out on that.  I'd also suggest pointing out that the exact dichotomy I'm painting is too simple.  I always claim the term "Left" but never "Democrat."  As far as I can tell Democrats are basically just Republican Light who talk nicer in terms of Social Issues but rarely do much to better social standings. 

And but so, I don't know how to end this.  I'm frustrated and often left feeling helpless.  But I think most people I know, as evidenced by strong support for Gay Marriage, which I know via Facebook, are far more open than the television suggests.  I just hope the Left can make a narrative that's both honest and non-reactionary.  More to come.

Monday, January 28, 2013

On Moods

I have realized many days that I have completely stopped (obviously until now) keeping this whole blog thing going.  It's weird - all of a sudden, I just didn't have much to say.  Or, rather, I had stuff to say but nothing felt important/interesting/funny enough to write down.  So today that is what I'm thinking about: that weird phenomenon that happens when all of a sudden we just stop doing something we had previously done religiously - sometimes religion is one of those things. 

For example, there were summers when I was about 16 where my friend Lee and I went fishing everyday - and I mean that damn-near literally.  We were on a first-name basis with local bait and tackle shop owners, we had complex and sometimes misguided theories of how to catch what.  (We were particularly bad at catching catfish and also getting catfish back in the water when we were actually successful)  Then one day - I don't remember when - I just lost interest in it.  There's a whole slew of current friends that would be surprised that I ever cared so much about fishing. 

I guess my point is that moods come over us, we get swept up, and then sometimes we move on.  Sometimes it comes full circle - sometimes you're just finished with whatever you had gotten caught up with in the first place.  I'm thinking of Chris Cooper's character in Adaptation explaining that he loves the ocean but no longer sets foot in the ocean and explaining: "That's how much fuck fish."

So hopefully today will begin a new period of strange musings.  Even as I'm typing now, I can feel the loss of rhythm I had accumulated over about a year of pretty solid postings.  Well, all that being said.  Cheers to everyone who has stuck around reading this thing. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Joy and Pleasure

Reading Facebook posts tonight and I'm struck, again, by the wave of posters with captions.  Who started this shit and can we make it stop?  Probably not.

Well, okay.  Here's what I'm noticing.  At least from my Facebook friends, most of the posts are bitter, mean, sarcastic, devoid of joy and boring.  Most of them suggest that our current political situation sucks.  Now, to be fair, the one's that say that opposite are equally annoying.

Now, what annoys me - the cause for this post - isn't that I agree or disagree with any of them in particular.  It's the utter lack of joy in so many of the posts.  They seem to want to paint the world as one big pain in the ass - one evil place to live where only politicians get their way.

Okay - so they're kind of right.  The rich do win.  Politicians are bought and constantly lie.  All this is true, but yet I'm left with a sorrow that goes beyond the political situation.  Are people not experiencing joy anymore?  I mean even when we were in huge - literally - World Wars - there was joy in the literature.  I mean read the existentialists carefully.  Kafka is hilarious - Camus is always affirmative.  Beckett - well, okay - I don't know, but fuck it I love the guy.

But when I look at these posts tonight - I don't care about the political side - what I'm sad about is an utter lack of joy.  The world IS.  We need Nietzsche in these times.  Whatever it is - say YES.  Hate politicians - fine - hate the president - fine - but please find some moment for joy and pleasure.  The world gives.  The world is illuminated.  The world is also a totally fucked-up place - but let's not forget the former because of the latter.  (And this is not some statement about "balance."  I mean something far simpler.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jerry McGuire and Truth

So the wonderfully cute kid in Jerry McGuire utters three truths: the human head weighs 8 lbs, bees and dogs smell fear, and my neighbor has three rabbits.

What's interesting about this, to me anyways, is that they are all true but true in really different ways.  The first statement is true by way of average.  Maybe nobody's head has ever weighed 8lbs, but the average of all  human heads is 8 lbs.  And then there's other interesting questions about who's head counts as human.  I would guess that figure does not count infants' heads as heads.  But we get what is meant - the statement works.

The next claim is basically universal.  We assume ALL dogs and bees smell fear.  Of course there are always outliers, but ostensibly they are so small as to be explained - like people who can't see colors.  Though, there's a huge and really interesting assumption about fear being something you can smell.  What a bizarre and extremely cool idea.  I can smell your fear, literally.

Finally, my neighbor has three rabbits.  This is by far my favorite of the three.  Not just because it's the funniest.  Well here's the thing: it's the funniest because it's local.  So the idea, what makes it humorous, is that we think Truth should not be local.  However, this proves the opposite point - Truth is more exact exactly when it's local.  So while my neighbor might not have three rabbits - in fact they don't - they have a litter of loud, hellspawn kids who embrace life in a way that is beautiful despite my dislike for their kind.

So Truth is complicated.

The little kids declarations are the most interesting part of this movie, which has one of my least favorite ideas of love: you complete me.  Disgusting.  I want to date people who are already whole.  It's sweet; it's sentimental.  But I don't agree with it.  However, I love that kid explaining Truth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ideology

Ideology is the death of thinking. One of the great ironies is that one of the most ideological philosophies is Marxism - which, of course, is based on materialism. In fact, more often than not, I find most of the ideological critiques to be based on a sort of crank-turning nihilism that is always moving-towards-death.

This is basically in response to Coffeen's post about the manner in which someone should critique. Being in academia is an existence that fluctuates between utter boredom and sublime enthrallment. I love when I hear critiques that make something old look new - something familiar look weird. What I hate, despise is critiques that squash difference. "Hey look how this is about my theory too." Now, to be fair, I've done this too. For quite a number of years, everything I saw was proof that Heidegger was correct. But I think, I hope, I've grown out of that.

Perhaps the problem is that academia thinks it's job is about changing something - fixing the evil capitalist, racist, sexist ideologies that exist. Now - to be fair - we have helped that, a little, maybe, I think. But what we should be about is making texts exciting - making people want to read these texts that make us think and rethink. There's no reason to tell a person what a text must mean - but there is nothing more beautiful than showing someone how a text can mean - how it can go and hopefully how it can go in many different ways simultaneously.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bikers and Irony

The standard sort of conversation that was discussed following the death of David Foster Wallace was that his project was an attempt to combat irony. In fact he often mentioned that post-modernism had ran its course and in a wonderful essay on television and US Fiction, he argues that irony is simply not good for the soul.

I say that to say this: Bikers are not ironic. There can be no hipster biker. I recently played two gigs for a set of bikers and we played, well, Biker Music. So I'm playing some tunes that I don't really care too much for - songs by people like Kid Rock, for example. However, while I was playing them - to quote a line from a piece of ironic fiction - I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity: the people listening to these songs, really like these songs. They are meaningful to them and they see nothing wrong with enjoying music that reflects and reinforces a world they understand.

I don't mean this to sound condescending - in fact I mean the finger to basically point back at me - "my people," liberal academics or whatever group I am also in. Basically, what struck me as both sad and illuminating is that none of my friends - myself included - can listen to a lot of music without a stance of irony - a subtle sneer. I have friends that love to point out that the song by Alanis Morissette misuses the word "ironic."

Where this gets complicated is that I have to admit I get a certain amount of joy out of sneering at a few things - Irony is almost a default position and I don't think it's always a bad thing. In fact, a lot of times I think it's a great thing, but I do ultimately agree with DFW that if everything becomes irony - if everything is always-already a parody, something is lost and that loss is hard to articulate but easy to feel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Choice

And so my students, in general think of themselves as radically free-willed individuals. They make choices. They do shit. And they are right, up to a point. The problem is an extension of my last post - our American ideology and even down to the grammatical structure of our language suggest a subject spewing his will all over the object world.

But the world fights back. Reality has its own structure - now you're part of reality, obviously, but you don't control the structure of the world; however, you do contribute, alter, play with, and do all kinds of other things to help that structure be a structure.

So what tends to happen, as I see it, is that things that appear as choices have pull, have a sort of ontologic and even theologic magnetism. For example, I could choose to not use the internet tomorrow, but I would constantly feel it working on me, trying to seduce me. And like most people, I actually don't have the choice, unless I don't want to be capitalistically viable, to not get online. I teach - I check email. I fucking hate email, but I must check it and respond to it, no matter how poorly written it is. On the plus side, student emails are often a good source of interpretative practice in making meaning - or making mean, which is what I seem to be doing now.

Point being - you aren't in control. You are always-already responding. However, you have some control. You can usually choose a more or less meaningful response. I mean sometimes you're just sort of screwed - if the cop asks me why I was speeding - I don't have much room for meaningful response. I think the correct answer is something like "I'm sorry - I'm dying - I'm on my period (which I doubt would work for me, though in a transgendered, hyper-politically correct world, who knows), I am in need of evacuation and so forth. But usually, one has choices, in fact, usually one has too many choices.

But this in itself is still part of the system. If I'm hungry I have lots of choices; however, I don't have choices that aren't there. If I want fastfood I'm in luck in my town; if I want Thai food I'm not. So the choices are always-already limited by the environment.

The point is pretty simple - you aren't in control and neither is the "world." What you are involved in is a constantly evolving negotiation of possibilities.

Okay why does this really matter? Well I am thinking of this in terms of the larger framework of Global Capitalism and something occurred to me in the reading and thinking about Don Delillo's amazingly smart novel Cosmopolis: sometimes the very notion of free-will turns back on itself in weird and violent ways.

In America we are constantly taught an ideology of autonomy. You are you - I am me - and we are not connected unless we choose to be. (Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme) So if this is the ideology that's being manifested it means that outliers - Occupy (Wall Street and so forth) people (who I always pulled for) and extremists like the Unibomber (who I didn't pull for, but will say he's more interesting than most terrorists - not sure that's worthy of an award though) actually contribute to the ideology of choice, which creates the idea that we have a functioning democratic system. "How can you say people don't have power - look at all those protesters?" But those protesters, since they don't have the resources to radically change the global, end up reinforcing the system they are so very mad it. And to be clear - I want them to keep it up, but strategy is more important than ever.

Finally, just to be appropriately recursive: did I have a choice to write this? Yes. Sure. I could have not written it. However, did I feel compelled? Yes. Am I responding to the world? Yes. Perhaps the most appropriate term is neither free-will or determinism, but rather the old, wonderful religious term: vocation. Vocation means that the world calls and you choose to respond. But it's not one choice among many - the choice is to "become who you are" or nihilism. Perhaps not that drastic - but perhaps THAT drastic.

Oh - and nothing is behind anything - that one is still coming in full, and partially implied here.