October 8th, 2012 / 8:01 am
Behind the Scenes

The Internet Political Magazine Blog of the Future

David Fishkind recently asked “Are You Afraid of Politics?“, and a lot of people, myself included, chimed in. Since then I’ve realized I have much more to say on the subject.

I normally don’t think of politics in Democrat/Republican/presidential election terms. I’m registered as an independent, and I prefer to live my politics on a daily basis—which is why I don’t drive, buy organic food when I can, and support local businesses run by people I know, etc. But it would be damn foolish of me to not recognize that “the political is personal” (to invert a phrase), and that the gentle people elected to the state and federal levels regularly impact both my daily life and my career as a writer. Specifically:

  1. I’ve studied creative writing at three state universities: Penn State (Bachelor’s), Illinois State University (Master’s), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (presently).
  2. Those state universities have employed the following writers and literary critics: David Foster Wallace, Curtis White, Gabriel Gudding, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Walter Benn Michaels, Jennifer Ashton, Cris Mazza, Christopher Grimes, Roger Reeves, and many others.
  3. ISU also once housed Dalkey Archive Press, FC2, and American Book Review
  4. …all of which received funding from the NEA.
  5. What’s more, I’m sure that many of the journals I’ve published in have also received funding, as have many of the artists whose work I’ve enjoyed. (To name but one obvious albeit old example, my all-time favorite filmmaker, Orson Welles, got some of his first directing jobs through federal assistance.)
  6. I’ve been on food stamps (during my Master’s degree), and received grants and student loans. (This is in addition to the scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships I’ve received from the schools I’ve attended). And unlike morons like Craig T. Nelson, I know whence those benefits came.
  7. Not to mention, I learned to read partly thanks to Big Bird & his pals. (By way of thank you, I included a Big Bird story in my first collection.)
  8. For most of my life, I’ve been part of the 47% moocher class: child, then professional student. (I’d gladly pay federal income taxes, if I made more money. Though I’d rather that money go to things other than bombing Third World countries.)
  9. And, except for the years when I’ve been in school, I’ve lacked health insurance! (The one time I had a “real job,” working as a technical writer for Lucent Technologies, I was considered a contractor, and not given any benefits. Thanks, wealthy industrial sector! Note that this was during the late ’90s, before the tech bubble burst.)
  10. I make regular use of roads and bridges and the internet, as well as state parks, and I like my air and water to be (relatively) clean.
  11. A more personal anecdote: I’m originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, a city you probably know mainly from The Office. And as you may have gathered from that show, Northeast Pennsylvania is not the most happening place in this country, either economically or culturally. And while I happen to love the region—bury my heart there, and all that—I left it mainly because it’s an economically depressed backwater. And why is that? Well, for one thing, most of the manufacturing jobs located there were moved overseas in the 1970s and ’80s. That happened for many reasons, but a primary one was the fact that, during that time, manufacturing stopped being a driving force in our economy, losing ground to the financial industry—Wall Street, and firms like Bain Capital, run by folks like Mitt Romney. And Romney can pretend not to know that there are incentives for moving jobs overseas, but there are, and a lot of people I know lost their jobs because of that. (The company my godfather worked for was acquired by Bain Capital; he managed to retire, but most of his coworkers “were let go of.”) So I have some firsthand experience with what guys like Romney mean when they champion the private sector for being “more efficient.” (They mean that the people who own the companies make more money.)

I dunno. It seems pretty clear to me that my decadent writerly life has been greatly enabled by government assistance … and that libertarian fanatics like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are determined to make such lifestyles impossible. (I guess, in their view, I could either be born rich, or go work at Wal-Mart … or just shuffle off to a ditch, and die.) I can’t fathom how I—or many of the writers I know (not to mention anyone who’s gay &/or female, obvi)—would benefit from their being elected.

P.S. The image that I stole for the top of this post is amusing, but I can’t figure out what kind of line Big Bird is standing in. If Romney’s so eager to cancel federal funding to PBS—even though it accounts for a miniscule fraction of the federal budget—without even considering cutting a dime in funding to the military or handouts to private corporations—then I doubt he’d be willing to provide bread and cheese to the indigent. Again: ditch, go, die.

Update 1:

Though who knows what the hell Romney will do? (Me, I’m willing to bet that the True Romney’s the one who wants to cut taxes for the rich, matched by cuts in social services.)

Update 2:

Speaking of breadlines

Update 3:

If politics aren’t your thing, go read this: “A Fat, Mustachioed Orphan Finds a Home.”

Update 4:

Here’s a New York Times article about a firm Bain Capital recently acquired:

Nine years ago, the company [Asimco Technologies] bought two camshaft factories that employed about 500 people in Michigan. By 2007 both were shut down. Now Asimco manufactures the same components in China on government-donated land in a coastal region that China has designated an export base, where companies are eligible for the sort of subsidies Mr. Romney says create an unfair trade imbalance.

But there is a twist to the Asimco story that would not fit neatly into a Romney stump speech: Since 2010, it has been owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mr. Romney, who has as much as $2.25 million invested in three Bain funds with large stakes in Asimco and at least seven other Chinese businesses, according to his 2012 candidate financial disclosure and other documents.

That’s the kind of economic reform Mitt Romney represents:

Mr. Romney’s campaign insists he has no control over his investments since they are held in a blind trust. That said, a confidential prospectus for one of the Bain funds, obtained by The New York Times, promotes China as a good investment for some of the same reasons that Mr. Romney has said concern him: “Strong fundamentals” like manufacturing wages 85 percent lower than what Americans earn, vast foreign exchange reserves and the likelihood that China will surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy.

The man is a scoundrel.

Update 5:

The inimitable Ruben Bolling weighs in.

Update 6:

Fact-checking Romney’s debate performance:


Update 7:

I’m watching the VP debate now, and Ryan is totally lying through his teeth when he talks about Medicare. He’s just so brazen! The Republicans really have nothing to run on in regards to this. The Republican position is to privatize medicine, privatize Social Security.

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  1. what

      Well, you’ve made it to the first step: awareness. What’s next?

  2. Mahmoud

      Likely nothing. For liberals, “raising awareness” and “asking questions” is supposedly sufficient political action.

  3. Adam D Jameson

      Wow, such debilitating snark. But I’ll engage you guys, anyway, because I prefer engagement to dis-. (You might even call that a political belief, and therefore p. activity.)

      I don’t think there’s any single or easy answer regarding “what’s next.” The easiest I could manage would be to live one’s political convictions at every opportunity. This is why I think it’s less important to focus on single events like presidential elections, and more important to look for opportunities to live one’s politics every day.

      But the point of this post was to admit that presidential politics are important, to some extent, and that I don’t want to see Romney/Ryan win for various reasons. I live in Chicago, so it really doesn’t matter who I vote for, because Obama will win Illinois. But who knows, maybe this post will make someone in a red or swing state reflect on how important social services are to writers and other artists, and motivate them to vote for Obama.

      But even if that doesn’t happen, I think it’s important for people to speak out for, and to defend, those aspects of government and community they find important. And I’m tired of that conversation being dominated by “limited government” folks. That phrase is a euphemism for cutting social assistance to poor and middle-class people, while maintaining subsidies for corporations and a bloated military (which is largely its own form of subsidies, to weapons companies). I believe that a large and important role of government is to provide for the common good, and to resist the private sector, which is primarily concerned with securing profits for few individuals. (It does other things as well, but that’s its primary goal; just ask any CEO or shareholder).

      Again, though, what one does about all of this is complicated. And, again, I don’t think there’s ever any single answer or conclusion. Politics is about contingent responses—activities renegotiated daily as one’s environment changes. One does the best one can, according to certain core principles, in an environment that’s always in flux.

      As such, I do believe that a “lived politics” approach is a sensible and effective one. So, for instance, I do my best to support local businesses that I think behave ethically. I ride a bike, and donate money to pedestrian advocacy groups. I communicate with my representatives in Congress and elsewhere. I write about matters that concern me. I recycle. I compost. I try to stay informed. I try to reduce my carbon footprint. I live the way I want to live, and think it will be possible to live 30 years from now, if not 50.

      I’ve been doing this stuff for years. Civics has been important to me since I was a wee lad in the Scouts, studying for my citizenship merit badges…


  4. Adam D Jameson

      I also find the liberal/conservative distinction rather insipid—akin to thinking that the only two drinks out there are Coke and Pepsi. I may appear liberal, but I actually don’t identify with either group, or even with that division.

      I like strong communities with lots of local businesses, with clean water and air, and safe streets where people can walk and ride bikes and take public transit to events. Does that make me a liberal or a conservative? A Democrat or a Republican? I don’t think in those terms; I’m more interested in working toward accomplishing that kind of environment. And I’m happy to work with people from any political walk of life to do that.

      When I was a president of a chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, I was always happy to sit down with folks from the College Republicans to discuss actions with them. Some of them became friends, and if we couldn’t find common ground on labor rights issues, we found there were other areas in which our interests overlapped, and we could work together.

      It’s strange to me that “environmentalism” or “labor rights” or “civil rights” would belong only to “the left” or to “the right.” Part of being politically engaged includes not letting politics get so dumbed down.

  5. Wallace Barker

      I think the problem isn’t politics per se, it’s just that the way politics are packaged and marketed is grossly unappealing. All of the rhetoric, graphics, soundbites, talking heads, misinformation, advertisements, etc. etc.

      Sports are also this way. I love sports in an idealized sense but I absolutely hate all of the punditry and marketing that surround sports. And if you want to watch televised sports, you will be subjected to all kinds of offensive, idiotic, lowest-common-denominator marketing and rhetoric.

      So, it reaches a point where thoughtful people are so disgusted by the whole propaganda bomb surrounding [sports/politics] it becomes distasteful to discuss or even mention them. Which is sort of a shame and possibly the exact intended consequence of the people creating the propaganda.

  6. deadgod

      Well-made argument in the blogicle, and that the privilege to make this argument is a responsibility is well-articulated here.

      I’d only challenge this everyday term: “assistance”, the ‘safety net’–charity for losers.

      Food stamps do ‘assist’: they assist grocery stores to sell their produce. Unemployment ‘assists’ landlords to make their mortgage and overhead and vacation expenses. Schools ‘assist’ employers and investors in getting workers – and consumers – who are literate, numerate, and at least modestly critically practiced. Public health expenditure ‘assists’ employers and investors to have healthy workers – and consumers – work – and consume – healthily for longer than they would on the ditch plan. Whether you watch Sesame Street or go to the opera or work in neighborhood theater or not, the NEA ‘assists’ every person to live in a community where such culture is chosen for or against and not forcibly availed (or criminalized).

      My guess is that we agree; terms like “assistance” conceal–are often used to conceal–the basic fact of democratic socialism: wealth redistribution in the forms of road-building and of food stamps is earned, systemically salutary, and is factually to be called investment. The same is much harder to argue for corporate, military-industrial charity.

      As far as the solve-everything-all-at-once-or-shut-up crowd? the glad-I-can-Scroll-Right-Past-these-obnoxiously-whatev-comments belongers? Those’re shitty Merit Badges they’re proud of.

  7. deadgod

      Let me push back a bit (?) against the ‘Left and Right–that’s all an arbitrary division’ idea.

      Sure, every single functioning person is reasonable about most everyday things, and most people are friendly enough to help you if a pump at the gas station confuses you. And everybody wants everybody else to stop at red and go at green; there a swathe of ‘issues’ on which we can all get along.

      But Broun, the Georgia Rep, believes that, as a doctor, he’s seen the ‘science’ that demonstrates the 9000-year antiquity of the Earth. Akin is convinced by the ‘science’ that women being raped responded spermicidally. These are not fringe views among conservatives–the same conservatives who blame black people (and Mexicans and white trash) for poverty, who believe in supply-side prosperity, who think national security is won through ‘shock-n-awe’ belligerence.

      Consider reproductive autonomy. There are Democrat compulsory-incubationists–most of whom accept the rape/incest/health-of-mother provisos against blanket compulsory incubation. Compulsory-incubationists who want to strengthen the EPA, so fetuses and babies and pregnant women don’t drink benzene in their tap water? –not so many. Are there conservatives ‘libertarian’ enough to let women govern the contents of their wombs? in Congress? Definitely not on any national ticket.

      Nicholson Baker is right: executive-order kidnapping and murder are bullshit. If he thinks being a Nader-voter against Obama is going to, what, prevent a bombardment of Iran, he’s a fucking moron.

      It’s not an arbitrarily imposed caricature that the Ronnie Right insists, again and again and again, on being the party of science denial, the Infrastructure Fairy, and helot militarism.

      Anyhoo. Want some lemon in your iced tea? or gin?

  8. what

      The question, “What next?”, was sincere.

      Žižek (I don’t know if here is considered a bogey-man here on htmlgiant or not), has long been an advocate for ‘revolution’. Isn’t it time to end the “moralizing criticism” (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n02/slavoj-zizek/the-revolt-of-the-salaried-bourgeoisie). I understand the that in the United States direct political action can be tediously unproductive, as well as damaging to potential career prospects (it is hard to get a job while detained at a ‘black site’, no?). Also, reactionary politics and policing are pretty much the norm–this is where the distinction between American Liberals and Conservatives is truly dissolved–which leaves the average citizen the question of “What next?”. Or rather, “Whither politics?”.As you’ve well pointed out, what passes for politics State-side is really just jockeying by different corporate interests.

      So whether it’s “Whither?” or “What?”, the answer I think is the same: get informed, get organized. It worked for the ‘Tea Party’ set: they have hundreds of Tea Party Caucus members in elected office, and a host of sympathetic (if not card-carrying) allies in elected office as well. Yes, they had immense support from the Koch machine, but they also tapped into a very real and disquieting anger present in the voters of America. Traditionally ‘liberals’, or ‘the Left’ has been the party of the angry and down-trodden.

      “Whiter?” “What?”: recognize our failures to incorporate political bodies (in the sense of individuals) into generative action. Move to correct this. See the resurgence of true politics. It’s not utopianism, its a necessary move to reclaim politics.

  9. Richard Grayson

      I am on the ballot as the Americans Elect candidate for Congress in Arizona’s very rural and Republican Fourth Congressional District this year: http://americans-elect-grayson.blogspot.com/ I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve run for office since the late 1970s, often as a joke or performance art (my run 196for President against Reagan in 1984: http://iranagainstreagan.blogspot.com/; running for the Town Council in Davie, FL in 1982 on a platform of giving horses the right to vote [I got 26% of the vote!]); or using it as something to write out (the McSweeney’s online diary of my 2004 run in Florida’s Fourth Congressional District), but always with serious intent.

      As a kid, I had two loves: politics and literature. They’ve been pretty constant my whole life. At 13, I handed out leaflets that said “Get on the Johnson, Humphrey, Kennedy Team” (Lyndon Johnson for Pres/Hubert Humphrey for VP/Robert Kennedy for Senate from NY); at 14, I worked seriously in the campaign of Republican John Lindsay, who was elected mayor of NYC back when Republicans could be more liberal than some Democrats. I worked in campaigns every year, from the first peace candidate in a special election for Congress in Brooklyn in 1966; for Eugene McCarthy (a decent poet as well as a Senator) in 1968; Paul O’Dwyer for Senator (later, I’d find a box with Dorothy Parker’s ashes in O’Dwyer’s law office, given to his firm by her spiteful executor Lillian Hellman); and so many more every two years or so.

      Maybe it was growing up when I did. At 18 I worked in the NY office of the October 15, 1969 Vietnam War Moratorium, a nationwide general strike; the next spring I was at the first Earth Day celebration at Prospect Park in Brooklyn; very active in the May 1970 student strike over Kent State and Cambodia; went to the historic women’s liberation rally and march that August on the 50th anniversary of women getting the vote; during the two-week election recess that year (part of what we’d won at colleges during the spring strike) worked for peace and environmental candidates.

      Over the years I’ve worked in so many political campaigns in different states, for candidates, for ballot issues and against ballot issues (very active in fighting an anti-gay referendum in Alachua County, FL, in 1994), marched so many times, from last fall’s Occupy Wall Street demonstrations in NYC to marching last January at the AZ state capitol with Planned Parenthood to End the War on Women. To marches and meetings against way too many wars.

      I have a hard time understanding why people AREN’T political, so when I read stuff like your column, I’m sympathetic but kind of shocked at your naivete and — please excuse me, because I know you’re very, very smart about some things — your simple-mindedness and ignorance about political issues. Intellectually, I get that some people are like you. Emotionally, I don’t, and if I let it, it would make me angry.

      If you look at the stories I’ve published in books and magazines, I don’t think you’d call them political. I never wrote a story to make a political point. I did publish a lot of newspaper op-ed pieces, and of course I run for office — usually against a right-wing Republican when there is no one else on the left doing so.

      I’d tell you to try being involved in politics once, more than just thinking about it, whether it’s for a local issue, a local or national candidate you like, or some cause for which you need to lobby a legislator or other elected official.

      In Europe, Latin America, China, and other countries, sometimes the greatest writers have been heavily involved in politics, even serving in elective and appointive office or running for their nation’s presidency as did the great Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa in Peru.

      Writing and politics definitely go together.

  10. deadgod

      Do you think universal compulsory national service after high school would be an effective direct-participation engine in American politics? –I mean something like: 18 months military service, or, alternatively, three years work in school or hospital or five years in construction or environmental reclamation.

  11. deadgod

      Well, your question ‘what next?’ is fair, though curt! I’d also suggest that the care and density of Adam’s blogicle is more than a “first step”–he’s explaining how his “awareness” of how shot-through his everyday life his political-economic status is leads to everyday action.

      It’s my hope to clarify the distinction between Left and Right policies despite our near-universal corporate substrate in American political economy. There are concrete differences – in 1001 ways – between Democrat and Republican executive, legislative,and judicial branches.

      Real proletarian revolution–that transforms (or discloses transformed) relations between people from exploitative to cooperative of labor–might be a luxury that can’t be afforded even as it’s also a need that won’t be lived without.

      I can’t tell from your comments, but you might be too cynical about the kinds of things that Adam talks about doing–everyday things as well as voting pragmatically to the left in every election–and not cynical enough about the astroturfed Tea Klan (who were and continue to be wholly marshaled by the Choch bros, Armey’s insurance syndicate, Rove’s megacorps, and so on).

      Adam begins and ends his blogicle with concern for the current Presidential campaign. That is a place to begin going ‘whither’ without the far-too-cynical demand that no action be taken without explicit and definitive teleological commitment.

  12. what

      Oh have no fear about my ‘left’ voting record, “pragmatic”, though it may be.

      Cynical? Yes. But, as you said, my comments perhaps don’t disclose how I’m also very earnest in addressing the very things that drive my political cynicism. товарищ, I actually work to enable the down-trodden and forgotten to reach that privileged state of ‘political awareness’. I think you are falling into a sort of reactionary leftist pose by totally dismissing the very real anger and outrage that is (though artificially enabled) the root of your “Tea Klan”. A good doctor would not ignore a symptom; an empathetic critical thinker should not dismiss and ridicule a very real felt anger.

      I’m not sure what you mean by this paragraph:
      “Real proletarian revolution–that transforms (or discloses transformed) relations between people from exploitative to cooperative of labor–might be a luxury that can’t be afforded even as it’s also a need that won’t be lived without.”
      Particularly, where, or what, is the luxury? It’s a pretty turn of phrase, but perhaps lacking substantiation in the remainder of the post.

      I’m also interested to read what 1000 and 1 distinctions there are between the, “Democrat and Republican executive, legislative,and judicial branches”; please, if you don’t mind, and are willing.

  13. Mahmoud

      My comment, though arguably rude, was sincere as well. The line of thinking that politics is essentially personal choice boils down to very little, I think. Simply choosing to buy one thing over another is not only an invalid method of political action (since it limits the political realm to an illusion of economic choice, exactly the frame Capital wants for the debate), it is a method that is only possible for the relatively privileged. Claiming “everyone should have the same choice” does nothing to make it so, and again, reduces politics to consumerism rather than power.

      With the relativist framing of politics as lifestyle, you are de facto granting others the same right. So you may engage in your politics by composting, meanwhile, people with actual political power may engage in theirs by releasing toxic chemicals into the water or fleecing the poor. If their actions are in line with their political beliefs, (i.e. the environment and the poor are not important), well, it’s OK if their lifestyle reflects that–so this line goes.

      Yes, we must live in the system into which we were born, and yes, personal action toward a more sustainable world are commendable. But even if all liberals turned themselves into their “responsible consumer” ideal, it would do nothing to change the structures of power that have an actual effect on the world. Politics begin when we challenge or replace those structures.

  14. Mahmoud

      I’ll add that regarding the government’s funding priorities, AD and I are in total accord.

  15. deadgod

      Ha – I don’t read or know Russian, but I recognize a ‘comrade’ spelled out.

      Not totally dismissing anything, I hope. I don’t much respect the “anger and outrage” of the Tea-Klan base: a good doctor probably wouldn’t perform surgery for a psychological illness. Conservative voters who are or at least ‘feel’ stressed economically today are living in the world generated by 30+ years of the triumph of the very political-economic (and cultural) dogmas that they’d turn to to relieve those pressures. These are people who feel hemmed in by the erosion not of opportunity, which they still comparatively have in spades, but of advantage. They are also people blind to the irrationality of the political-economic world-view that, as effective policy, is slowly dissolving opportunity for everybody.

      Many conservatives are also people who – maddeningly – actually live Left: they use condoms and get divorced and have had or paid for an abortion, they have gay relatives whose lives they accept as a ‘kind of normal’, they’ve had interracial friendships and other collaborations in their lives, they’ve benefited economically directly from ‘big government’ in obvious ways, and on and on–and still: they’re “angry and outraged” at the mildly progressive direction we’ve gotten from both Roosevelts and much policy between ’45 and ’81.

      When I talk so of the Tea Klan, it’s not a matter of ridicule–though, clearly, I think their self-contradictory self-destructiveness is ridiculous. It’s a forensic matter. In what I’ve just said, what’s plainly untrue? –I mean, other than calling a name which hasn’t to my knowledge been self-appointed, but which certainly comports with the posters with tea bags hanging from them that depict Obama-faced monkeys eating bananas.

      The “luxury” to which I refer is that of reactionary-Left rejection of any policy but total systemic solutions. –the enmity of the perfect towards the good being scarcely qualified ‘reaction’.

      This “luxury” is present in the admirably well-phrased argument of Mahmoud on this thread:

      ‘Equally destructive ‘choices’–with no way on offer to choose to change the conditions for the possibility of choosing at all–means no choice at all. Composting which doesn’t dissolve or transform or at all challenge the capitalistic mode of production is a ‘choice’ that not only isn’t political-economically different from profitably releasing toxic effluent, it enables the latter by reinforcing the framework of action in which all practice is equally ordinated by self-interest.’

      This line of thought is, to me, unaffordably luxurious, because it asserts a superiority–logical, and I think also moral, though Mahmoud (and you) might disagree with that word here–of lotus-eating, of inaction rationalized by an all-or-nothing catalysis for doing anything at all.

      (I also think Mahmoud is incorrect in his comparison of composting and polluting, but that’s not what you ask about.)

      As far as real differences between Ds and Rs in the Federal executive and legislative branches, state governments, and the judiciary from circuit courts to the Supreme Court… well. I’ve mentioned above reproductive autonomy vs. compulsory incubation; marriage and sex-related law can be added. Environmental law, the use of science and technical knowledge in policy formation, and–a big issue in the current Presidential election–graduated taxation each contain many clear differences between most Ds and almost all Rs.

      I’d like to address “moralizing criticism” in the context of critique of political economy. I’ll do it below.

  16. what

      So. I think we’ve located the fundamental source of our disagreement.

      While I’ll not disagree that “composting” (and here let’s use “composting” to mean all actions within the current capitalist framework that, while maybe helping to alleviate some of the symptoms of capitalism, are etiologically impotent as long as they remain the actions of individuals, and not universal practice) is good and useful, it is not ‘better’ or ‘more useful’.

      So how can these superlatives be worked towards? Again: “composting”. Engage in composting yourself-> raise awareness of composting and enable your local community to compost on their own-> ***

      ***and here, for the sake of argument at this third stage, is where the foreset bed begins. Do we then lobby our government to create policy that mandates composting and creates punishment for those who do not? Or here do we provide ‘incentives’ for those who compost, and ‘disincentives’ for those who don’t (social or economic)? Or do we eliminate the source of non-compostable objects, thus eliminating the compost v. non-compost dualism? Or do we…?

      Here, of course, the delta analogy breaks down. Because not all of these options operate in the same ideological framework. Some are complicit with capitalism, some antagonistic, some complicit with state power, some antagonistic. It doesn’t have much to do with “lotus eating”, it has everything to do with whether you believe dissent within current power structures can be effective or not. For example: Occupy. What, exactly, was done? There’s been no significant progressive change in policy of any sort, in fact, just the opposite. Check out the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and be prepared to be chilled thoroughly.

      The fact is, capitalism has no loyalty to democracy. It not only has no loyalty, it is actively antagonistic to democratic process. How this antagonism manifests varies (European Fascism, East-Asian Authoritarianism, North American ‘Libertarianism’, etc.) but one common thread is the increase in opacity of decision making processes and reduced power of ‘citizens’ to effect change in governance. Capitalism is about consolidating power, not spreading or sharing it.

      This is where what you call my “cynicism” resides. I think instead of “cynicism”, I’d call it “realism”.


      As for the D&R divide in elected office, yes of course there are important party-line differences. I think I wasn’t specific enough in my question: what are the underlying differences in the way in which they are political actors, i.e. how do they differ in consolidating power among the socio-economic elites?

      “Tea Klan” anger? Yea, a lot of it is racist and bigoted Yes it is disgusting, but its a failure of political society that they’ve reached this point in their lives that they feel comfortable espousing violent dogmatic rhetoric. They weren’t born this way. As I’m sure AD can empathize (growing up in Scranton), its a product of society failing them. When you are left bewildered and without rationale for why your world is falling apart before you, blaming Others is a great comfort.

  17. Josh Friedlander

      Re: the story about Scranton:

      I was thinking about the transformation from a manufacturing economy to a “knowledge-based” or whatever one. It seems like an inevitable shift, as a byproduct of the implementation of new technology. Like today’s factory workers in China would have been farm labourers fifty years ago, and were replaced by machines doing their job. In remember reading a while ago about the “Luddite fallacy”, that factory workers would smash machines that were making them redundant. OK, Wikipedia redirects to “technological unemployment”, which seems to be a big dispute between economists.

      So what I understood you as saying was that America should have had some kind of protectionism, to keep inefficient manufacturing jobs in the country. But that would get onto the effect on the well-being of workers in other countries as well, plus things like trade balances that I don’t really know much about.

      TL;DR: does a free-market economy negatively impact the average person’s social welfare? Should we prevent unchecked technological advancement? Is the financial system responsible for the recession, and will it continue to make things worse?

      I’m asking these questions out of sincere curiosity and not cynically! I think that radical solutions might be needed to get our society back on track. I’m just wondering how radical they need to be.

  18. deadgod

      Yes, you’ve re-stated our difference fairly.

      One person composting means that that one person isn’t involved in the capitalistic mode of production only for the production of organic fertilizer; the rest of agricultural production is left, by that one practice, unmolestedly capitalistic, and, of course, all the rest of the political economy is unrevolutionized and even economically unchallenged by that one person’s practice of composting.

      As well, spreading the practice of composting–beyond simply recommending to, teaching, and collaborating with other composters–will involve some level of non-revolutionary engagement with capitalistic agricultural production, however ameliorative towards the destructiveness of that production. Indeed, to soften the consequences of exploitative agricultural production by, say, having a public utility buy private, non-exploitatively produced compost would be to fold that non-expoitative production back into the capitalistic political economy its non-exploitative producers had sought to counter.

      So the individual practice of composting does not revolutionize all of every political-economic relationship–it doesn’t even contest capitalistic agricultural production except in the tiniest fraction. At this point, capitalism has been changed in only the most nanoscopic way… and one person composting non-exploitatively isn’t more effectively anti-capitalistic than one person knowing about composting but not doing it. This interpretation, for you, is “realistic”.

      In my view, this all-or-why-bother logic is paralyzing–which is what I mean by “lotus”. “Better” and “more useful” are not “superlatives”; they are comparatives, and that is where we differ. I think comparatively “better” is really better, and the terminus of your argument is that only the superlative of ‘best’ is worth practicing.

      I think it’s relevant that Karl Rove absolutely wants progressive people to agree with you. He sees even tiny democratic-socialistic practices as threatening to capitalistic accumulation–as you ably argue, capitalistic accumulation is opposed to democracy to the point that ‘capitalistic democracy’ is virtually an oxymoron. Rove wants progressive potential voters to see a Democrat president who continues kidnapping and murdering extra-‘judicially’ to be effectively equal to a Republican president. Rove wants Nader-voters. If Karl Rove gets what he wants from Obama, and from capitalistically-enveloped composting, why does he oppose them?? –because he thinks that even an individual “better” is the enemy of capitalistically accumulative totalization–his ‘best’, his “superlative”. I agree with him.

      In my view, calling the non-exploitative practice of individuals equal to “awareness” without coordinate action is “cynical”, in the sense of being ‘contemptuously distrustful of motives’ (Webster’s)–not that “better” isn’t better (which you accept), but rather, that “better” is futilely not ‘best’.

      Dogmatically one-sided totalization is one way of reading Marx, and of criticizing political economy. I don’t think it’s the only way, nor an especially effective one.

  19. Adam D Jameson

      Hi Josh,

      Those are all interesting points. On the one hand, yes, as capitalism has shifted to a global phenomenon, one should expect to see things like manufacturing jobs move to wherever production is cheapest. There’s a way in which those job losses are “inevitable.”

      But how do we respond to that, in terms of government? I think there are at least two choices (speaking very broadly). On the one hand, government can aid and abet that. On the other, it can resist it, perceive itself as a defense against it, try to regulate it.

      I don’t know if that latter strategy will work, but I do know that Mitt Romney is in no way in favor of that. He’s all for the private sector taking over, and pursuing global capitalism wherever it leads. Indeed, he’s made his fortune from precisely that!

      My post above is in many ways a response to the comments thread for David Fishkind’s post, and comments there that Mitt Romney “knows more” about money and the economy than Obama. My objection to that then and now is that, when you look at what Romney knows and represents, and has done career-wise, he’s a perfect representation of everything that’s been deleterious about the US economy over the past 30–40 years—everything that has resulted in the perilous financial situation so many Americans find themselves in. He represents a very specific financial ideology that has directly contributed to that.

      What I find most remarkable about this election is that one of the candidates is a Wall Street insider who’s broadly opposed to regulation of the finance sector. And this is after the 2008 financial crisis. You think more people would be upset about that.


  20. Adam D Jameson

      Thanks for sharing this, Richard! (Plus I still think it’s awesome that your name is Dick Grayson.)

  21. Adam D Jameson

      Hi deadgod,

      I do agree that there are substantial distinctions between the Left and the Right, and your examples illustrate them. There’s a reason I tend to vote Democrat, especially when it might be necessary to prevent Republicans like Romney and Ryan and Akin from gaining power.

      But at the same time, it distresses me when politics is reduced to things like being Republican or Democrat, and voting in presidential elections. Politics isn’t a brand; it’s much more contingent than that—it’s ultimately, for me, a practical matter. Not all Republicans are fundamentalist wackos. And, in the end, I’m willing to work with anyone who’s willing to work toward certain progressive political goals.

      > Want some lemon in your iced tea? or gin?


      It’s always good to meet with you online.


  22. what

      Look. I use ‘better’ as a superlative when discussing political ideas precisely because I don’t believe in a ‘best’ political idea, or a ‘solution’. This, as you are aware, is the first step towards totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is not something I’m advocating for (although you seem to be trying to read that into my comments).

      I advocate for critical education, critical thinking. If that leads to thinking critically about the exploitative political system we have the potential to be actors in, I’ll not turn my nose up at that.

      What you are advocating for, however, is still unstated. Keep voting Democrat and keep ‘composting’? Your preoccupation with Rove (and his ilk) is clouding your judgement. Remember that they are historical blips in the long struggle. Trying to imply that someone who should be your natural political ally is complicit with the capitalo-fascist Right is divisive, and is a trend that has plagued the Left since the Left was the Left. Don’t let’s get into a tiff because that’s what they want. Let’s have a feel-good cheer:
      The people
      Will never be defeated

      When we start thinking otherwise, things start to look like this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/oct/09/greek-antifascist-protesters-torture-police

      Keep composting in your way, and I’ll keep composting in mine. Just don’t forget that we’re both composting.

  23. Josh Friedlander

      Wow, i just saw this now…thanks for getting back to me. I see what you’re saying. Anyway, the point’s mostly moot at this point!