September 29th, 2011 / 9:48 am
Craft Notes

The Powerlessness of Bad Writing

At The Indypendent, in a fairly comprehensive overview of the very amazing and exciting protests happening on Wall Street and the issues behind the protests, there is this crucial paragraph:

Our system is broken at every level. More than 25 million Americans are unemployed. More than 50 million live without health insurance. And perhaps 100 million Americans are mired in poverty, using realistic measures. Yet the fat cats continue to get tax breaks and reap billions while politicians compete to turn the austerity screws on all of us.

This is the beef, right? I agree with it with all my heart and pump my fist a little, even though it is striving to say nothing. I’m disappointed that it is ruined by ghetto-ized rhetoric like “fat cats” and meaningless statements like “Our system is broken at every level.” Even the statistics shared are paltry (and made more so by “perhaps”). Granted, this is The Indypendent, so the preaching here is directed to the choir — I grant that, but actually it’s my point. Why? Why does every group have their own vernacular that they use to deafen their opponents?

The comment box is open for non-shitty articles about #WallStreet?

And it’s worth 15 minutes to watch this timeless discussion. Foucault is a tool. I’m in love with Chomsky, who at around 5:00, does a much better job characterizing our demise.

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  1. Adam Robinson

      The question mark there (“…about #WallStreet?”) is a mistake, but I like how it makes it a challenge. Like, is there such a thing as a non-shitty article? Anyway, there is this poetry reading going to happen there tomorrow.

  2. Anonymous

      how often are programs like this misrailed by shoutings of ‘bro trader’ [sorry, mike young] vs. ‘dirty hippies’ [sorry, hypothetical bro trader]?  always we are carving up the world.

  3. Iain Paton

      What? 25million out of a population of 300million+?? That’s 8% of the entire population. Try 14million, or 9% of the payroll population. The 50million “uninsured” include non-US citizens. Bad numbers, but need to be accurate.

  4. deadgod

      Ineffective rhetoric can be worse than “powerless”–it can be destructive to its own ends.  For example, a clumsy or cliche-hobbled argument can, without penetrating the bias it opposes, end up reasonably confirming that bias.

  5. John Minichillo

      Watch Democracy Now! every day like homework. They were on it from the start. Always in-depth, Amy Goodman walks the walk. Lots of ways to watch it: cable, satellite, iPhone app, podcast, Roku.

  6. jesusangelgarcia

      Unemployment is a lot higher than 9% when you factor in those who’ve abandoned the job search or are stuck working part-time for pitiful wages.

      In any discussion of numbers related to unemployment, health insurance and poverty, I think it’s important to keep in mind the corollary with education. In 2005 in Oakland, the high school dropout rate was more than 50%. In a city with a population of 50,000 teenagers, that’s a lot of young people abandoned to the street — every year — with limited critical-thinking and creative problem-solving skills, beatdown self-esteem, and a lot of indignation (and access to guns, it goes without saying). Poverty among those 50,000 clocked in at 68%. Think these numbers are better or worse now? Think this is just happening in Oakland? Think these kids are counted among the unemployed?

      Chomsky is the big-picture voice of the Left. He’s not going to live forever. Neither is the American Dream. I hate to say it, but powerlessness in this country goes way beyond bad writing.

  7. Tim Jones-Yelvington
  8. Brendan

      I like the expression “fat cats”. Since when is “ghetto-ized rhetoric” a bad thing? Certainly somewhat more appetizing than MFA rhetoric.

  9. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      _the wire_ did it best.
      but i want to witness the current protest. perhaps bring some people some stuff, some dry clothes. and when i say _the wire_ did it best, i guess i’m saying it’s all so messed. to articulate a single demand would be to bring with it every other unspoken demand. as in _the wire_: why are people being killed? drugs? lack of education? lack of employment? what about parents? media? politicians? trust?
      it does appear, from the internet at least, the protest lacks direction. but i’ve found this should not be mocked. while my fist isn’t raised in defiance and my knuckles aren’t aimed at the bankers’ skulls or my fingers in their pockets, i do stand in solidarity. and i do feel that is important. 
      i will go to occupy wall street sunday. if only to give a friend a massage.
      be easy

  10. Hyruledungeon

      Hasn’t Obama’s term proven that even the most well authored and even conciliatory rhetoric wont sway a deafened opponent? Or an opponent with their thumb in their ears?

      I also dont understand the posing of Chomsky against Foucault, when even Chomsky admits in that video that Foucault’s objections comprise half of the intellectual task.

  11. Adam Robinson

      It’s interesting that the article says the banks are squatting on the foreclosed property. I like that.

  12. deadgod

      A scout master takes his troop by plane to a campsite.  He brings along two of his friends, a lawyer and a priest.

      On the way, the plane flies into turbulence over the mountains.  The pilot runs out of the cabin, parachute strapped to his back, and says, “Men, we’re gonna crash.  There’s three more parachutes in the cabin.”  –and out the door he jumps.

      The scout master says, “We–we’ve got to do something for the kids!”

      The lawyer says, “?!  –FUCK ‘the kids’!”

      The priest says, “. . . do we have time for that?”

  13. ryder collins

      thank you. i have been wondering when the writers would start writing about the protests…

      btw, adam, the rumpus has an occupy wall street roundup on their front page. you might find some good articles linked there.

  14. Adam Robinson

      I’ve been thinking recently that Baltimore as a whole is Hamsterdam — the country has said, “Here, we’ll take all the shit and just let it fester in this one area — Baltimore.” But maybe we all are, everyone who makes less than $250k — except we don’t get to sell drugs.

  15. Guest

      Literary prizes don’t necessarily mean anything, but ProPublica’s 2011 Pulitzer for The Wall Street Money Machine was the right thing at the right time.

      And also, the writing does not suck.

  16. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      but there’s too much money to be made in the hamsterdam ant farm for the money to totally leave it alone.

  17. Tim Jones-Yelvington

      In terms of “direction,” I think massive movement moments like this one will always have multiple messages, that is part of the deal. The challenge then is for the organizers who carry on the work between these kinds of moments to leverage the momentum toward concrete goals. I think a greater concern is the complete lack of mainstream media attention to this and similar actions that have been happening all over the world. It sort of calls into question the value of mass mobilizations, if they can’t shift the needle on the mainstream’s conversation.

  18. Ben Mirov
  19. Mike Young
  20. ryder collins

      19 comments? Really? & Tao Lin Tweets a non-Meta Tweet or whatever gets 130? Is it the way the terms of this discussion have been couched? Is it because it’s easier to observe and critique, rather than observe and support?  Or is it that hardly any of the independent literary community gives a good goddamn? 

      I asked on my blog a day before why the Giant hadn’t run anything on the protests when many of the writers here seem to lament the state of art/literature in the US, as writers almost everywhere in the US (including myself) do at some point. Presses collapse and litmags collapse and no one reads anything but the big presses’ books and where can our art be valued or at least read/seen and our art is not marketable because it is not commodifiable and art shouldn’t be commerce or at least not all art… Here is your chance to do something about this, perhaps. To change the corporatization of our society that looks at things and even people in terms of $$. (Mama was gonna use the benjamins but didn’t want to be all ghetto-ized, and if some of this comes across as too rhetorical or polemical, forgive me, I guess.)

      & as writers, I think some of us should be excited by the imaginative potential of these protests, of reclaiming urban space and enacting dissent. Even if that’s not hip or cool or whateves.

  21. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      i’ve started asking strangers what they think of the protests in nyc. and always: ‘what protests?’ the lack of media attention is puzzling, deplorable. and when i do read about it: ‘what do these kids want?’ and usually, the united pilots union protest is juxtaposed, as an example of a protest with concrete demands. the lack of cohesive leadership is used (by what little media is paying attention) to brush off the protesters as little more than bored children. their efforts are mocked. 

  22. Craig Ronald Marchinkoski

      yes. this is what hooked me to this show. i first started watching/listening to simon talk. i was floored. i had to watch his show after hearing him. 

  23. Cvan

      How/why is Foucault “a tool”?  Because of he speaks of the seemingly neutral organizations such as universities which are actually classist? 

  24. deadgod

      CHOMSKY:  […]  I would not hold that it is under all imaginable circumstances wrong to use violence, even though use of violence is in some sense unjust.  I believe that one has to estimate relative justices.  But the  use of violence and the creation of some degree of injustice can only be justified on the basis of the claim and the assessment–which always ought to be undertaken very, very seriously and with a good deal of skepticism–that this violence is being exercised because a more just result is going to be achieved.  If it does not have such a grounding, it is really totally immoral, in my opinion.

      FOUCAULT:  I don’t think that as far as the aim which to proletariat proposes for itself in leading a class struggle is concerned it would be sufficient to say that it is in itself a greater justice.  What the proletariat will achieve by expelling the class which is at present in power and by taking over power itself, is precisely the suppression of the power of class in general.

      CHOMSKY:  Okay, but that’s the further justification.

      FOUCAULT:  That is the justification, but one doesn’t speak in terms of justice but in terms of power.

      CHOMSKY:  But it is in terms of justice; it’s because the end that will be achieved is claimed as a just one.  [. . .]

      FOUCAULT:  [… I]t seems to me that the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power.  But it seems to me that, in any case, the notion of justice itself functions within a society of classes as a claim made by the oppressed class and as justification for it.

      CHOMSKY:  I don’t agree with that.

      FOUCAULT:  And in a classless society, I am not sure that we would still use this notion of justice.

      CHOMSKY:  Well, here I really disagree.  I think there is some sort of an absolute basis–if you press me too hard I’l be in trouble, because I can’t sketch it out–ultimately reside in fundamental human qualities, in terms of which a “real” notion of justice is grounded.

      Perhaps they were riding their rival positions hard on account of the context – fight! fight! – , but this to-me tool-free opposition usefully illumines a philosophical perennial.