Archives for the month of: June, 2013
Vonnegut Wooden Nickel

Vonnegut Wooden Nickel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Excellent Guardian interview with Rebecca Solnit

She is so interested in, and engaged with, the world in which she lives. In the interview, the interviewer applies the term “psychogeographer” to her, and I can’t disagree with her. Psychogeography is such an antiseptic, academic sounding term. What it is, to me, is a way of being in the world in which you are aware and receptive to what is going on around you, and ideally to the effects of these impressions on you. Plus ca change, ya know – everything old is new again. I have aspirations to be a Taoist sage – have sometimes said that if someone held a gun to my head and demanded I name a religion, I would name Taoism. The ancient Taoist sages were just nodes in the network, to use present day terminology. They realized that one of the curious things about being human, perhaps the MOST curious thing, is that we are simultaneously, constantly, both connected to all that is around us, and utterly separate. Both islands in the stream, and the stream itself. What most separates us from our animal companions, from all the other beings that inhabit this world, is that, for better or worse, we are completely AWARE of this separation. One of my gurus, Kurt Vonnegut, talks a bit, a lot even, of we humans with our big brains and the trouble we can cause with them. It’s a constant, running theme in all of his work, in fact. Wittingly or unwittingly, the powers of our big brains often provoke us to run harum scarum through the world, often creating havoc wherever we go. Our responsibility, to revert to a cliche, is to use these powers for good, to realize that for whatever reason this happened – God, a random evolutionary accident, whatever – we have an obligation, a duty, to use this gift to become more aware of the wondrous universe in which we live and, when given the opportunity, to make it a better place for ALL concerned.

You Are Now Entering the Nevada National Secur...

You Are Now Entering the Nevada National Security Site (No Trespassing), Near Mercury, Nevada (Photo credit: Ken Lund)

Excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s upcoming book.

I love her writing and she is one writer who I’d love to meet. Savage Dreams inspired me to go to the Nevada Test Site for my vacation ten years or so ago.

The (not so new) F word

May be a little overwrought, but in general I agree with the thoughts expressed here. I reserve the use of the word “fascism” until I believe a certain line has been crossed. I don’t believe we have crossed that line yet, I don’t even know where it IS, but I do believe we are dancing perilously close to it. Civilizations and cultures in decline resort to extreme measures to preserve themselves, and their power, only to finally find that the lengths to which they went result, in time, not in their continuance, but their destruction. Examples through history are numerous, and I believe that the so-called American Century ended in 1989, with the collapse of Communism. It didn’t last long, not even a full 100 years, but what I see now is pretty convincing evidence of a culture in decline and spasmically lashing out, most especially at the weak and relatively defenseless, in a vain effort to preserve itself.

The Magician King

The Magician King (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Magician King and some other thoughts

As I say in the review, there’s more meat here than appears, and I want to address it later. Nevertheless, here are some preliminary observations.

Walter Benjamin on writing

Once again, he nails it. i have found this to be true for myself, that if I let an idea for an essay stay in its cocoon for a while longer, it will metamorphose into something stronger, more fully formed, able to support itself on its wings.

Français : Walter Benjamin en 1928

Français : Walter Benjamin en 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Angelus Novus by Paul Klee

Walter Benjamin‘s concept of the angel of history has particular resonance for me, in looking at how things go in the world. I quote, “A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

— Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

Benjamin saw what was happening in and to Europe in the 30’s, and particularly what was happening to Jews. He chose to take his own life, in 1940, rather than deal with the horror or take the chance of being corralled by the Nazis.

Benjamin’s observation, or insight, is from a completely different time from our own. Its relevance to human history in general, however, is timeless. I quote here from an essay on by Henry Giroux, linked below:
“we are pulled forward by future happiness – [when] in fact, [as Benjamin noted], we are pushed from behind by the horror of destruction we keep perpetrating on the way.”

The promise of a brighter future is constantly held before us, but we, at least most of us will never get there, neither in this life or whatever may come after. Most of us will experience the stick, in one way or the other, much more often than we will taste the sweetness of the carrot. It doesn’t HAVE to be this way, but as the system currently is constructed, and works, this is how it is. It is up to us to change it if we can muster the desire, pull away from the distractions constantly dangled in front of us, and bond together with like-minded individuals to enact change.
Beneath the paving stones, the beach

Are we ready to hoist the black flag?

And start slitting metaphorical throats yet? If this story is true, and if it gets any traction, we should be. What is it going to take for we complacent, complicit children of privilege to take to the streets? Our brothers and sisters in Taksim Square and Tahrir Square have shown us how to do it. Are we ready to stop admiring and applauding them from a distance, and follow them into the streets? I’m ready if you are. If you aren’t outraged, at least a little bit, you simply aren’t paying attention.

Mr. Simon et al –

I have been reading the posts here over the past week, the comments (at least a lot of them – enough to be aware of the general lines of argument), and consider the debate you have been facilitating here to be valuable. I appreciate the fact that you have been thoughtfully considering the various points of view expressed here and being dismissive, though respectfully, when necessary, and engaging and informative when warranted.

However, I am in fundamental disagreement with some of your lines of defense. James Bamford was just on the Charlie Rose show, and something he said resonated with me and hopefully helped to coalesce some of my thoughts on the subject. We’ll see. Bamford mentioned that the NSA uses a lot of contractors to do some of the footwork, if you will, to analyze the data they collect, including listening to the calls which are recorded. What came to mind for me when I heard this was Eisenhower’s old chestnut warning us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex. Today, though, that phrase needs to be amended to be the military-industrial-technological complex. Back in the ancient days of UNIVAC, the capabilities we have today were simply unimaginable. Moore hadn’t even come up with his law yet, and the fact that the room-sized computers of those days could be compressed to something which fits in your hand couldn’t even be conceived of, even by the most prescient. In sci-fi maybe, but not in reality. I’m going to try not to veer too far into the paranoid here, but the dangers of which Eisenhower attempted to warn us have only increased as the collusion between government, military and industry has deepened over the ensuing years. I guess you would have to add the media in there too. Along with the other three, their reach and capabilities have dramatically increased over the decades. It is such an obvious point to make, but I’ll make it anyway, that as the availability of methods of media delivery that encourage more thoughtful consideration (i.e. newspapers) has decreased, the proliferation of methods which more insidiously play to our emotions (i.e. today’s teevee and the internet) have increased, and continue to increase seemingly ad infinitum. This collusion and cooperation has led us into a situation, these days, where individual liberty and freedom are more threatened than ever before.

So, on to my main points of contention. We are all complicit in our own co-optation. We have gradually sacrificed our privacy on the altar of convenience. Convinced by the powers that be that they have our best interests at heart, and seduced by the enticements they offer, we have collectively said “ehhhhhh, OK” as our rights have gradually been eroded. We do not live in a democracy in any sense of the word – Jeffersonian, Grecian or otherwise. We live in some weird, oppressive combination of a plutocracy, an oligarchy, and the kind of corporate capitalist state of which Marx tried to warn us. I am not a Marxist, or any other kind of -ist really (though I do believe at times that we are in the late stages of capitalism as foretold by Marx, and elucidated on by Frédéric Jameson among others). At least, I don’t see myself that way. A few years ago, I explored the back alleys and thoroughfares of anarchism, never completely buying into that point of view but learning along the way. One of the main things I brought away from those explorations is to trust no institution, regardless of how convincing they are that they have my best interests at heart. The bigger the organization or institution, the less they can be trusted. This, to me, is axiomatic.

In the time since I started this piece this morning, the news has broken that yes, all along, the NSA has been not just collecting that supposedly innocuous metadata, but the actual calls themselves. The whole facade of legitimacy is crumbling, and the justifications that it is for our own good, necessary in these troubled times, ring hollow. I never believed them anyway, Is THIS revelation, if true, the piece of information that will provoke Ma & Pa America to get genuinely, justifiably fucking OUTRAGED? We’ll see. I have my doubts. But in a way I consider myself fortunate to live in such interesting times.

Necessary links:

Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens

gives me shivers every time I read it.  Knew nothing of paganism and its ancient rites when I first read it, hadn’t yet been exposed to The White Goddess. On first reading, the questioning I had been doing of Christianity coalesced and took a new turn. Phenomenal, powerful poem. Will change your life if you let it.