Time for reading, thinking, and writing

I just quit Facebook, perhaps for a little while, perhaps for good. I learned an awful lot there from some very smart people, but I’ve reached the point where the reactive nature of the medium has taken too precious a toll. I’m far behind even the most forgiving schedule on a couple of writing projects, largely because I’ve been regularly pouring energy and time into responding and reacting to current events and other issues that were popping up on my page. It’s time to apply discipline and focus to that energy and pour it into my own projects for a while, if only to pursue something resembling personal excellence or competence as our species puts the pedal to the metal as it nears the end of the Anthropocene. If some event or issue piques my interest enough to warrant a bit of written contemplation, I’ll most likely write it on this blog.

Below I give you an example of the stuff to which I strive and aspire. It’s an excerpt from the novel “The Farthest Shore,” written by Ursula K. LeGuin and first published in 1972.

“Do you think we will find what we seek in Hort Town?”

Sparrowhawk shook his head, perhaps meaning no, perhaps meaning that he did not know.

“Can it be a kind of pestilence, a plague, that drifts from land to land, blighting the crops and the flocks and men’s spirits?”

“A pestilence is a motion of the great Balance, of the Equilibrium itself; this is different. There is the stink of evil in it. We may suffer for it when the balance of things rights itself, but we do not lose hope and forego art and forget the words of the Making. Nature is not unnatural. This is not a righting of the Balance, but an upsetting of it. There is only one creature who can do that.”

“A man?” Arren said, tentative.

“We men.”


“By an unmeasured desire for life.”

“For life? But it isn’t wrong to want to live?”

“No. But when we crave power over life– endless wealth, unassailable safety, immortality– then desire becomes greed. And if knowledge allies itself to that greed, then comes evil. Then the balance of the world is swayed, and ruin weighs heavy in the scale.”

Just a thought.

“Most heterosexual men who attack lesbians and gay men do so not because of moral or religious conviction but because they feel threatened and uneasy over the mere existence of people whose sexual orientation and relation to women raise questions about their own.”
— Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference, p. 62

It’s well past the time we all got comfortable with the questions.

“I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

This morning I was reading further into a biography of Frances Perkins*.  For those who’ve never heard of her (like me before someone recommended the biography), Perkins was FDR’s Secretary of Labor.  She was the heart, soul, and brains behind most of what came to be called the New Deal.  For all her uncredited accomplishments, and for all the obstacles she had to overcome and sacrifices she chose to make, I was struck by two things.  First, that the New Deal wasn’t some attempt at creating a left-wing, working-class utopia.  It was a very sober campaign of creating institutionalized safety nets and long overdue regulatory regimes, and it was only made possible by the catastrophic global failures of the capitalist systems that had been allowed to run more or less rampant through the first quarter of the 20th Century.  In other words, Frances Perkins wasn’t some wild-eyed progressive visionary; she was a pious, very conventional middle-class Protestant with an almost apolitical sense of fairness and justice.  In a sense, only she had the intellect, and the appropriately liberal sensibilities and somewhat conservative social orientation, to gather in the compromises necessary to make the reforms of the New Deal possible; this was why FDR leaned so heavily on her and gave her so much authority.

The second thing that struck me was the part I got to this morning, wherein Frances Perkins became instrumental in setting up some of the bureaucratic mechanisms that eventually blossomed into the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts.  Kirsten Downey makes clear that Perkins found the whole process distasteful and ripe for abuse (even before McCarthy and his ilk got deeply involved), but her own anti-communist sensibilities possibly outranked her sense of fairness.

I’m left thinking about Chris Hedges’s indictment of what he labels “the liberal class.”  The McCarthy witch hunts were neither the first nor the last campaigns of organized political purges of leftist activism in the U.S.  According to Hedges, over time the liberal class– academics, theologians, and even some politicians– sold out the communists, socialists, anarchists, and other political and philosophical radicals who’d been the most energetic and creative opponents of the capitalist excesses that had kept the majority of U.S. citizens struggling to stay out of poverty and degradation.

If even one of the most effective liberal policy makers in our country’s history– Frances Perkins– couldn’t leave off or take a solid stand against the commie-bashing that was a flimsy cover for gutting the left of its heart, soul, and spine, then perhaps the liberal class’s fate was inevitable.  Perhaps this was never really a progressive liberal nation, at least not in the way ostensibly envisioned by the sort of liberals who have supported the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.  Perhaps all the liberal hand-wringing over ‘Republican obstructionism’ and ‘holding Obama’s/the Democrats’ feet to the fire’ is irrelevant.  This not a progressive country; it’s a reactionary liberal one, at best.  The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can strategize how to move beyond it, if such a move is possible.


*(I suggest you find a copy of Downey’s book and read it.  Her apparently centrist liberal viewpoint was a little annoying to me at first, but the information she very capably lays down is invaluable.)

Fetid, toxic grapes

I’ve had a little trouble articulating my post-election mood, such as it pertained to the election.  Perhaps I’ve had trouble because of the nature of the feeling.  It was in such an odd place, somewhere near the intersection of cynicism, apathy, disgust, and amusement.

The feeling was recently bathed in a defining light, however, by the recent Israeli onslaught on Gaza, or, more accurately, by the collective yawn from the liberal blogosphere (and the occasional liberal pro-Zionist apologias I’d been seeing on Facebook) about the same.

Chris Floyd articulates my feelings about that specific issue here.  Arthur Silber hits them even harder here.

After watching dedicated volunteers work hard to put a solid Green presidential candidate on the ballot Illinois, and after helping an excellent Green get on the ballot in my U.S. congressional district, and seeing both those candidates fail to make more than a tiny dent in the vote totals, and then seeing a huge swath of the country celebrate the reinstallation of a shameless mass murderer as president, I suppose I could best describe my feeling as similar to how Lot must have felt just before he fled Sodom and Gomorrah.

‘You know what, Lord?  I did the best I could to convince these assholes.  They’re incorrigible.  Burn away, Lord.’

Another thought about the alleged scourge of ‘third-party’ voting (vis-à-vis human nature)

I just read a fascinating quote at the blog of the charming and erudite Aunt B., and upon following the link to the source I found an excellent and thought-provoking blog post.  Therein I got stuck rereading the following passage, which I will present without further comment:

That was the story’s nastiest take-away, the buried contempt in Jackson’s refusal to make Tessie in any way admirable or special. There’s no-one that we’re allowed to identify with in order to reassure ourselves that we’re good people: No idealistic young townsperson pointing out that, gosh golly gee, these Lotteries are killing people, no Katniss, no virtuous Christ getting nailed to the cross. These Lotteries are our values, they’re what we do. Participating in the Lottery is being a good person, isn’t it? Anyway, the only person who ever objects is the one who’s getting their skull crushed at the moment, and we don’t listen to them; it’s just a bunch of screaming. It’s always fair and right, until it’s you, is the intensely obvious message here, and it’s harsher for the fact that we know Tessie’s killed plenty of people, and never saw a problem with it until the first rock hit her.

My thoughts on a proposed boycott of the 2012 election

The aforementioned thoughts take the form of analyzing a post from the Proletarian Center for Research, Education and Culture.

You need to let those around you, especially members of the establishment, know that you have made a conscious choice to abstain from voting because you know that the political system is entirely corrupt, rigged – even ridiculous.

“Members of the establishment,” unless they are suffering from a mental break, are fully aware that “the political system is entirely corrupt, rigged– even ridiculous.” How is electoral abstinence intended to affect them? Furthermore, if the purpose is to call attention to the system’s lack of viability, then what is the next step? Is there an alternative system being proposed? If not, then to what is the boycott supposed to lead?

You know that we live in a dictatorship – not even very cleverly disguised if you just open your eyes and pay attention.

If this is true, then isn’t an organized effort to call attention to this fact inherently redundant?

Let’s put out the word that we’re not going to be complicit in our own exploitation or the murderous schemes of imperialism!!

So this boycott will be accompanied by a tax boycott as well? Will it be accompanied by a call for nationwide mutiny by the armed forces and by law enforcement? The electoral abstinence of x number of citizens will have zero effect on domestic or foreign exploitation, at least while the revenue streams still exist and the exploitation has enough willing agents.

Whereas third parties have no possibility of winning the Presidential election due to corporate control over the electoral process and the media…

This is factually untrue, inasmuch as it confuses possibility with probability. Jill Stein, for example, is on the ballot in more than enough states to capture sufficient electoral votes. If she fails to win the White House, it will be because an insufficient number of voters selected her, not because she ‘didn’t have a chance.’ In effect, the problem here is not the system, or even the wealthy interests that have abused the system; the problem is the voters. (The same can be said at the congressional and local levels, where Green candidates who do the hard work of getting on ballots are almost completely ignored.)

I would be willing to accept as sound the assertion that the U.S.A. has become too large, too populated, and too unwieldy to govern under the system set forth in the Constitution. If the system itself lacks legitimacy, then it is largely because the system can’t function (to its professed intent) on such a scale, and can only be perpetuated as a thinly veiled sham. The Boycott Manifesto implies awareness of this perspective, but it falls short for lack of a key element: relevant action.

Can legitimacy be restored to the system? If not, then with what shall the system be replaced? A verbal disavowal of the system, accompanied by physical electoral abstinence, may offer ephemeral moral satisfaction, but then what? The system roars right along unchallenged, because, as the language of the manifesto clearly illustrates, the voices of the voters (participating or not) are irrelevant.

An electoral boycott, unless accompanied by some other concrete action, is by its very nature an exercise in irony. Attach to the manifesto advocacy for something constructive– dissolution of the union in favor of several smaller, more manageable republics, for example– and it gains meaning.