Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Ellsberg vs. Greenwald Versions

Public Education in Civics and Econ

A liberal who loves markets: ‘The West Wing’s’ Lawrence O’Donnell

Interview by Bill Steigerwald

Viewers of “The West Wing’s” presidential debate episode on Nov. 6 must have thought the left side of Alan Alda's brain had been taken over by Milton Friedman. One minute Alda was advocating school choice and saying people of underdeveloped countries would benefit from being exploited by Nike factories. The next he was mocking global warming hysterics and arguing in favor of drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

On live TV, in front of nearly 10 million Americans, Alan Alda -- the card-carrying Hollywood liberal-humanist -- was saying wildly un-Democrat stuff like “I believe in the free market” and “The government didn’t make the Prius the hottest car in Hollywood, the market did.”

It was not Alda’s inner conservative/libertarian finally breaking free. He was playing Sen. Arnold Vinick, the fictional Republican presidential candidate on “The West Wing,” the NBC White House poli-drama whose ratings and left-wing bias are no longer as solid as they used to be.

Alda had those good words for free enterprise put into his liberal mouth by Lawrence O’Donnell, “West Wing’s” executive producer and highly partisan MSNBC political analyst. O’Donnell, who used to work for Sen. Patrick Moynihan and proudly calls himself a "practical European socialist,” wrote the script for the debate episode. I recently (Nov. 8) talked to O’Donnell, who was working on “The West Wing” somewhere deep in Hollywood.

Q: How do you define Alan Alda’s character’s politics?

A: It’s very simple. He’s a “California Republican.” He’s a statewide-elected senator in California. You cannot get elected statewide in California and be pro-life. That is not possible. So he is a moderate on abortion. He’s pro-choice but he’s against partial birth abortion. And that’s the only thing in his politics, as we’ve constructed it, that separates him from what is now considered the winning side of the Republican Party nationally.

Q: What about all that Milton Friedman free-market stuff?

A: The country doesn’t like it. The country basically likes the simplicity of “Those damn oil companies are charging too much for gasoline, let’s do something about that.” The country has not been educated that you create a bigger problem by trying to do something about high gas prices. So the country is very susceptible to rhetoric that it doesn’t even think of as liberal ….

Q: It’s populist economics.

A: Right. They don’t think of it as liberal if you say “Those oil companies are charging way too much money and we should do something about it.” They think that makes sense. So American liberal rhetoric, in general, has much more appeal than certainly the free market does. The free-market position actually doesn’t have a lot of rhetoric that goes along with it. It has a lot of logic and it has a lot of rational analysis that you need a fair amount of education to do. Unfortunately, I suspect it takes almost at least a college level of education in economics to fully embrace the market’s power or to fully go that way.

Q: So you weren’t faking it when you were writing that dialogue. You actually believe this stuff -- or just understand it?

A: Yes. I believe (the late supply-side economist) Jude Winniski’s arguments about how high tax rates damage the economies of poor African countries. But what I would not want to suggest about it is, if we fixed the tax rates, everything is going to be OK. The other huge problem that Africa has is American agriculture subsidies, which are a disastrous policy, I believe, on every level, in terms of what it does to poverty internationally, in terms of what it does to our misallocation of resources here. I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t majored in economics in college. I just wouldn’t.

I was in discussion with one of our cast members about the African tax rates, for example. In the Vinick speech where it said “the Nike plant” – I specifically wrote “Nike.” The cast member said, “Are you saying that poor African countries would be better off if they had a Nike plant?” I said, “Let me be very clear what I am saying: What I’m saying is that those countries would be lucky if they could get some really exploitive sweat shops in there.”

Q: I think there’s a libertarian in you trying to get out.

A: No, no, no. I’m a European socialist, believe me – I’m far to the left. But I understand. I’m a kind of practical socialist. I know we failed. A lot of our ideas have failed, so I’m not with them anymore. I’m willing to take from a grab-bag of stuff that works. I said, “I very specifically said ‘Nike,’ because I want you to think about it as a sweatshop. I don’t happen to think it is, but I want you to think of it that way. I want you to think they’re an evil employer and that that country would be lucky to have an evil employer – that would be a huge step up for them.”

So she’s trying to process this. And I try to make it simple for her. I say, “Here’s my position: My position is slavery is better than death. Employment is better than slavery. That exploitative wages are better than nothing. And that a fair wage and justice is the ideal.”

She can’t accept any sentence that isn’t about the fair wage and the ideal. Literally and truly. She’s a very, very smart woman. She couldn’t process what I was talking about. She couldn’t process that one penny is better than zero. There are children in the world who would be lucky – lucky – to be employed 12 hours a day in exploitive child labor situations where they are making 10 cents a day.

Unfortunately, I think respect for the market seems to be something that I have not seen anyone derive outside education. I haven’t seen people gravitate toward a natural respect for the market. And it doesn’t have rhetoric to go with it. I think the rhetoric Vinick used about it was about the best I’ve heard – especially the Prius argument, by the way, which was designed specifically for Hollywood liberals, but no one told them to.

Where Vinick was talking about the market most clearly was in the energy discussion, when they talk about government support for alternative forms of energy. And Vinick starts with, “I don’t think politicians are going to be very good at picking energy sources. And then he says “The government didn’t shift us from using shale oil to using the oil discovered under the ground.”

That to me is the ultimate example in today’s discussion about where are we on energy. The market’s the only thing that’s ever going to take us from oil to something else.

Q: Will the Alda character do a better job of carrying through on his rhetoric and principles than Bush II has done?

A: Yes. I think Vinick would be a libertarian’s favorite president. Not that libertarians will ever come close to being satisfied with a president. (laughs) He’s not going to abolish Social Security, but I think he would be the most responsible deliverer of what Republicans say they are about.

Q: Many people watching are probably being introduced to these free-market arguments for the first time – they have never heard them stated so clearly and so well. Are you at all worried that you are subverting the Democratic Party in the real world?

A: No. I don’t think the Democratic Party needs to be an opponent of pharmaceutical companies. I mean, look, I worked on the Democratic side of the Senate. I believe everything in the debate that the Republican candidate said about the pharmaceutical companies. I don’t think that is a necessary component of liberalism, attacking pharmaceutical companies. It seems to me one of the most juvenile components of it. We have a lot of great and responsible American corporations who are delivering great things to the world and American liberalism has to get in synch with that and not sound so anti-business.

Q: So you’re teaching Hollywood something?

A: Yeah. Listen, I’ll tell you this: Plenty of people working right here at “The West Wing” in the heart of Hollywood liberalism have changed their minds about drilling in ANWAR after hearing Sen. Arnold Vinick talk about it.

This Vinick character has changed a lot of the thinking of people around the show and showing them ways about thinking about issues. And there is an increasing list of agreements that liberal friends of mine are having with Republican free-marketer Arnold Vinick, the fictional character.

I guess it is because he has found a way of saying these things that politicians have not found.

That line that Vinick had in the debate, where he said the market has the power to change the way we think and the government can never do that. You need to dwell on that a while, which of course all libertarians have done. But most people haven’t. They don’t really get it. There have been totalitarian regimes all over the planet for the last century desperately trying to change the way people think – and failing. Every government that has tried to impose thought has failed. The market effortlessly – effortlessly – is manipulating our thought all the time.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at ©Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The New Jim Crow

Michelle Alexander:

Quite belatedly, I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States has come to function as a stunningly comprehensive and well disguised system of social control analogous to Jim Crow....In the era of colourblindness it is no longer permissible to use race as a justification for discrimination, exclusion and social contempt. So we don't. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of colour criminals, and then engage in all the practises we supposedly left behind....Once you are labelled a felon, all the old forms of discrimination - housing discrimination, employment discrimination, denial of the right to vote, exclusion from jury service - are suddenly legal....We have not ended racial caste in America. We have merely redesigned it.

...If someone were to visit the US from another country or another planet and say you know ‘is the criminal justice system some kind of tool of racial control?’ most Americans would just swiftly deny it, they’d say ‘Nooooo, bad schools, black culture, poverty is to blame, you know; the system isn’t run by a bunch of racists, it’s run by people who are trying to fight crime.’

...[I]t's important to understand the history of where the drug war came from. Most people assume that the war on drugs was launched in response to the emergence of crack cocaine in inner city communities. That's just false. Actually the drug war was launched a couple years before crack hit the streets and captured public attention in the media. The drug war was motivated by racial politics, not drug crime. It was part of a broader project that the Republican party was engaged in then, the so-called Southern Strategy, to try to appeal to poor and working class whites who were resentful of and threatened by de-segregation, bussing and affirmative action, poor and working class whites who were once solidly part of the Democratic New Deal coalition, but who the Reagan administration realised could be won over to the Republican Party through not so subtle racial appeals on issues around crime and welfare. So the drug war was launched as a way of trying to appeal to poor and working class white voters with the promise that "we’re going to get tough on them”, “put them back in their place”, and them was not so subtly defined as African Americans. When crack emerged a few years later, the Reagan administration responded with glee. They seized on the emergence of crack cocaine in inner city communities as an opportunity to build public support for the war [on drugs]. They actually hired staff to run a media campaign to publicize crack babies and crack dealers, crack mothers in inner city communities, and almost overnight, images of black crack dealers and users saturated the media and forever changed our conception of who drug users and dealers are.

Angela Davis:

Alexander's research and argument also follow in the wake of Loic Wacquant's work over the last few decades:

Not one but several ‘peculiar institutions’ have successively operated to define, confine, and control African-Americans in the history of the United States. The first is chattel slavery as the pivot of the plantation economy and inceptive matrix of racial division from the colonial era to the Civil War. The second is the Jim Crow system of legally enforced discrimination and segregation from cradle to grave that anchored the predominantly agrarian society of the South from the close of Reconstruction to the Civil Rights revolution which toppled it a full century after abolition. America’s third special device for containing the descendants of slaves in the Northern industrial metropolis is the ghetto, corresponding to the conjoint urbanization and proletarianization of African-Americans from the Great Migration of 1914–30 to the 1960s, when it was rendered partially obsolete by the concurrent transformation of economy and state and by the mounting protest of blacks against continued caste exclusion, climaxing with the explosive urban riots chronicled in the Kerner Commission Report. [1]

The fourth, I contend here, is the novel institutional complex formed by the remnants of the dark ghetto and the carceral apparatus with which it has become joined by a linked relationship of structural symbiosis and functional surrogacy. This suggests that slavery and mass imprisonment are genealogically linked and that one cannot understand the latter—its timing, composition, and smooth onset as well as the quiet ignorance or acceptance of its deleterious effects on those it affects—without returning to the former as historic starting point and functional analogue.

[1] See, respectively: Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, New York [1956] 1989; Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, Cambridge, MA 1998; C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Oxford [1957] 1989; Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow, New York 1998; Allan Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro Ghetto, 1890–1920, Chicago 1968; Kerner Commission, 1968 Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, New York [1968] 1988.

A discussion board exchange reveals how mass entertainment commodities, in this case The Wire, function propagandistically, to conceal, deny and offer a substitute for this history equipped with pseudo-critique, despite the purported postmodern cynicism and savvy of audiences. But really to understand the total effects and how the mass media assist in a) the reproduction of race/caste, b) the disguising of political purpose behind the image of institutional folly and c) the naturalisation of ruling class point of view, one needs to consider The Wire and Sex and the City together, along with all other versions of the imagined urban America simultaneously available. The spectacular context mustn't be amputated from the whole historical context in which mass culture commodities are embedded. Against any totalising comprehension, the array of commodities militates, each individually flaunting its charisma in competition, seeking to prohibit a divided worship in devotees. The problem is perhaps less the programmes - most of which are undisguisedly entertainment and fiction - than the uncritical fanaticism inculcated in certain viewers:

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #25 of 162: David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 21 May 10 21:20


Before we get to get to the steak, potatoes, and peas, I think it would be good to warm up a little. The problem that you have described and analyzed is so daunting that it is hard to think of strategies and solutions right away. Could we work up to the substantive issues by exploring some anecdotal material first?

The HBO television series "The Wire" portrays the War on Drugs and shows the impacts on institutions, communities, and individuals. What they have done is taken the issues that you have identified as mass incarceration/drug war and dramatized it so that viewers can follow the impacts on people and their communities. Baltimore becomes a metaphor for America. Each season the producers take an institution and show how the bureaucracy forces its foot soldiers to "juke the numbers."

The first season the focus was on the cop bureaucacy and the drug gangs. The second season introduced the impact of globalization by focusing on the longshoremen's union in addition to the ongoing story arc of the drug business. The third season focused on city hall and the city elections and continued the drug narrative arcs. The fourth
season depicted the schools and showed how they were recruiting grounds for the drug trade. In the fifth season they focused on the media in the person of the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Like an opera it told a compelling story and built to a crescendo. It showed that the individual bureaucracies were interrelated, linked, and complicit in the problem.

That brings us to what you wrote about in your book. What is your take on "The Wire" and what should we takeaway from that viewing experience?

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #27 of 162: Michelle Alexander (m-alexander) Sat 22 May 10 15:48

I must confess that I have not watched most of the Wire! I don't watch much television and don't even subscribe to HBO. Because I kept hearing how great the Wire is, I rented the back episodes. I've only watched season one so far. I like much of what I've seen, but I worry that the depiction may end up reinforcing people's basic assumptions and stereotypes. I may be asking too much, but I wish the series could draw attention to the reason why so many young men in ghetto communities are chronically jobless. If the broader economic and political context were layered into the depiction - if viewers were given some understanding about how deindustrialization and globalization turned these inner city areas (which were once stable economically) into isolated, jobless wastelands - then perhaps viewers
might have a better understanding of why these kids are selling dope. And if the series depicted the vast amount of illegal drug dealing in suburban white communities, and contrasted the treatment of white youth using and dealing dope to the treatment of black youth, I would have more hope for the series as a tool for raising awareness. But again, I've only watched the first season, and I'm probably hoping for too much from mainstream media treatment of the issue. Despite my moderate disappointment, I am impressed by the effort to show how compromised all the players in the bureaucracy are, and how complicated (and often disturbing) their motives can be. So I'm not dismissing the show, I'm just saying there's an even bigger story to be told and I would love for a talented filmmaker to tell it.
. . . .

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #28 of 162: those Andropovian bongs (rik) Sat 22 May 10 16:36

Michelle, here's the URL to a two-part interview the Bill Moyers did with David Simon, creater and writer of "The Wire". He cuts right to the heart of the matter, and I think you'll find yourself in firm agreement with most of it. It opened my eyes, and it's really worth an hour of your time.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #32 of 162: jelly fish challenged (reet) Sun 23 May 10 09:44

Wait'll you get to Season 4, the schools one.


inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #63 of 162: David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 13:01

(say goodnight Gracie! SLIP!)

The way this discussion is going you will have to view "The Wire." At least the David Simon interviews by Bill Moyers. I sense a reluctance on your part Michelle to give it its due. You wrote a great book (for a lawyer) and your arguments will be used as the basis for any future discussion of the impact of the mix of mass incarceration, racism, and black experience in America going forward.

What "The Wire" does is take believable characters, allows the audience to follow them over time, and shows how people experience the many themes that you raise in your book. Hell, I learned how to read social science and can even enjoy it. But the name of the game always is *can you tell a good story."

It's just a suggestion, but if you captivate your audience in the right way, you stand a better chance of getting your message across.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #64 of 162: Ari Davidow (ari) Tue 25 May 10 13:23

That is a great interview. Makes me want to get the Wire via Netflix.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #65 of 162: Gail (gail) Tue 25 May 10 13:27

Fiction can also send a powerful message, that's for sure.

(I finally rented all of the DVDs for The Wire series after a friend told me that it is the best illustration of how naked capitalism (in the form of the drug trade) and bureaucracies, from the gangs to the cops to the unions to the schools to city hall, really function. It was worthwhile, and it could indeed help lay some groundwork for
appreciation for more scholarly works among some of the population.)

Cultural change comes from many fronts, hopefully.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #66 of 162: Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 25 May 10 15:20

It made me put them at the top of my Netflix queue! Disc One should
arrive by Wednesday.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #67 of 162: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Tue 25 May 10 15:43

A great book *for a lawyer*! Ooh, way to insult the guest! ;-)

I will say that reading the careful and logical arguments in Michelle's book *almost* made me wish I'd gone to law school. She really put a case together.

But I think 's post and several others point towards a good question - where do we go next, and how do we get more people interested in this issue?

As good as The Wire is, and it's great, I don't think it's going to result in a mass movement to end the drug war. Yes, the futility of the drug war is there for anyone who wants to see it, but we inhabit a country where the last 3 Presidents (we're pretty sure) all at least dabbled with drugs and still it's the great third rail of American politics.

And while not criticizing The Wire, which really manages to turn this tragedy into art, lurid images of black criminals in popular entertainment are more part of the problem than part of the solution.

Maybe we need affirmative action in arrests. For every black kid swept up on ghetto streets, they have to go arrest some pot-smoking 50-year-old white lawyer in Chevy Chase.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #68 of 162: Gail (gail) Tue 25 May 10 16:14

Right now there is some progress towards legalizing marijuana. If that comes to pass, will that help?

I was thinking about the underground economy. If marijuana was legalized, regulated and taxed, that would no longer be part of what could pay the bills for street kids.

Without some economic reform and some other jobs, the problems are not fixed simply by legalizing controlled substances.

inkwell.vue.384 : Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow
permalink #69 of 162: David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 25 May 10 16:23

I should have added that you weave 3 takeaway points from "The Wire" into any presentation on mass incarceration.

The war on drugs is senseless, destroys lives, and costs society way too much.

What gets rolled out onto the street by the various bureaucracies is done merely to "juke the stats."

Capitalism and globalization are driving this train. People *know* when they are dished dirt and no amount of bullshit can cover that up.


Consciousness is increasingly the consciousness of commodities.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Some readers will recall the Umbrellology theme of the Alphonse van Worden blog. There were collected images and bits of text to trace the umbrella as a trope of idealised property and proprietor, the prop(erty) and image of bourgeois individual owner-subjectivity, and to uncover the premises, argument, justification and romance of I and Mine condensed into the figure as motif in literature and art. The umbrella would be succeeded in this role of dominant trope of the proprietor subject, primary prop and figure of I and Mine, by the camera. Sadly (for me) those posts have all been lost to nicotine withdrawal.

But here's a kind of ghostly apparition as epilogue, something I came across today which not only illustrates powerfully the core of the case attempted at Alphonse van Worden but seemed to connect to topics lately touched on here and in the surrounding regions:

Tout Versailles est en fête. Elle se tait sanglante.
Le passant rit, l'essaim des enfants la poursuit
De tous les cris que peut jeter l'aube à la nuit.
L'amer silence écume aux deux coins de sa bouche ;
Rien ne fait tressaillir sa surdité farouche ;
Elle a l'air de trouver le soleil ennuyeux ;
Une sorte d'effroi féroce est dans ses yeux.
Des femmes cependant, hors des vertes allées,
Douces têtes, des fleurs du printemps étoilées,
Charmantes, laissant pendre au bras de quelque amant
Leur main exquise et blanche où brille un diamant,
Accourent. Oh ! l'infâme ! on la tient ! quelle joie !
Et du manche sculpté d'une ombrelle de soie,
Frais et riants bourreaux du noir monstre inclément,
Elles fouillent sa plaie avec rage et gaiement.
Je plains la misérable ; elles, je les réprouve.
Les chiennes font horreur venant mordre la louve.

Victor Hugo, L'Année terrible

(Bourgeois women holding "the carved handle of a silk parasol" dig about in the wound of the defeated communarde.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Non Fiction

Some of the gunmen prowling Algiers Point were out to wage a race war, says one woman whose uncle and two cousins joined the cause. A former New Orleanian, this source spoke to me anonymously because she fears her relatives could be prosecuted for their crimes. "My uncle was very excited that it was a free-for-all--white against black--that he could participate in," says the woman. "For him, the opportunity to hunt black people was a joy."

"They didn't want any of the 'ghetto niggers' coming over" from the east side of the river, she says, adding that her relatives viewed African-Americans who wandered into Algiers Point as "fair game." One of her cousins, a young man in his 20s, sent an e-mail to her and several other family members describing his adventures with the militia. He had attached a photo in which he posed next to an African-American man who'd been fatally shot. The tone of the e-mail, she says, was "gleeful"--her cousin was happy that "they were shooting niggers."

An Algiers Point homeowner who wasn't involved in the shootings describes another attack. "All I can tell you is what I saw," says the white resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. He witnessed a barrage of gunfire--from a shotgun, an AK-47 and a handgun--directed by militiamen at two African-American men standing on Pelican Street, not too far from Janak's place. The gunfire hit one of them. "I saw blood squirting out of his back," he says. "I'm an EMT. My instinct should've been to rush to him. But I didn't. And if I had, those guys"--the militiamen--"might have opened up on me, too."

The witness shows me a home video he recorded shortly after the storm. On the tape, three white Algiers Point men discuss the incident. One says it might be a bad idea to talk candidly about the crime. Another dismisses the notion, claiming, "No jury would convict."

According to Pervel, one of the shootings occurred just a few feet from his house. "Three young black men were walking down this street and they started moving the barricade," he tells me. The men, he says, wanted to continue walking along the street, but Pervel's neighbor, who was armed, commanded them to keep the barricade in place and leave. A standoff ensued until the neighbor shot one of the men, who then, according to Pervel, "ran a block and died" at the intersection of Alix and Vallette Streets.

Even Pervel is surprised the shootings have generated so little scrutiny. "Aside from you, no one's come around asking questions about this," he says. "I'm surprised. If that was my son, I'd want to know who shot him."

Enhanced Techniques

On DemocracyNow

A second instance we document is the use of saline, as opposed to water, in waterboarding. We see a meticulous collection of data related to waterboarding. And that data is used, it appears, to inform basically how the CIA took the tactic from what we call the SERE technique—the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape military training program—and basically reversed-engineer then to what we call waterboarding 2.0. And in the attempt to, quote, "make the tactics safe, legal and effective," it appears that the inevitable outcome of using health professionals to attempt to take inevitably harmful tactics and, quote-unquote, to "sanitize" them or make them safe means applying medical knowledge in ways that would never have been clinically allowed. And one of those examples, which I mentioned a moment ago, the use of saline in waterboarding, was ostensibly to prevent hyponatremia, a sodium deficiency that can come from large volumes of fresh water being ingested. That is not only unethical and illegal, it makes a mockery of the core foundations of the healing arts, which are about doing no harm in the application of medical expertise, specifically in reference to the interests of the patient.


We’ve sanitized what we’ve done. We call it "waterboarding" rather than "mock drowning." We call it "enhanced interrogation techniques" rather than "brutal torture."

The genius of the post-marxist, post-modern reaction in the humanities was to instill in a slice of the population which is typically informed and influential, the beneficiaries of civil liberties, some leisure, and managerial level employment in socially significant institutions, the impulse to critique this as spectacle, for example to discuss whether the term "brutal torture" has some more direct purchase on reality (or "reality") and greater emotive and motivating power than the new jargon of "enhanced interrogation techniques". It is not only that "enhanced interrogation techniques" is a euphemism, in contrast to "torture" - certainly to many of us now, enhanced interrogation techniques is even more chilling precisely because of the immense power, invulnerability and inhuman mercilessness of the implied perpetrator - but that the deployment of jargons and their availability for manufacture of ancillary discusive products in yet other jargons contributes to the recession of historical reality from the perceptual capacities of its producers that does not constitute the admirable achievement of de-sentimentalised, advanced modern(ist) egoist individuals who have overcome humanist and anthropocentric prejudices as preparation for some dissolution in an immortal abstraction but rather slashes a gulf between the individuals of our species so wide that even the element of calculating self-interest that can sustain empathy through antipathy of all sorts is extinguished, morality becomes so unintelligible the educated/indoctrinated elites with avant garde affiliation widely deride it as contemptible while their class rivals exploit its travesty, and those neither paying nor fully benefitting from the situation can demand some unattainable abstraction as the sole efficacious activator of their righteousness, justifying suspension of contest in perpetual "messianicity".

Meanwhile there is a gulag full of (mostly) Muslim (mostly) men being tortured and tortured to death, and used in lethal medical experiments. For two billion people (the figure of the total population of our species in 1929), as Jonathan Beller reminded his audience in the clip below, who live on less than $2 a day, the apocalypse has already happened. At least we have to face that our inaction or inefficacy in action to ameliorate this hell on earth has nothing to do with lack of thought or theory - it would be surely impossible even to get the numbers necessary to overthrow the current ruling class to agree on, or even be interested in, fanciful and trivial matters that occupy professional thinkers about "change" and "freedom" and "will" and "power". There are more obstacles than our individual spiritual inadequacies.

The instrument of control of the necessary courtier and comprador class is the culture industry. A mass withdrawal alone, a planetary general strike of the volunteer unwaged labour whose surplus is extracted through media and telecom technologies, a total refusal to participate in the production of looking/listening as commodity and its class of commodities (some old like fine art, some new like derivatives of fine art collections) and other commodities involved in its production, is the minimum for a beginning of a movement to dethrone the capitalist rulers of the world. It's the obvious beginning - global playbor strike, the strikers not risking essential income but only giving up the culture/entertainment goods bartered for, to minimise the hardship for labour while inflicting a serious blow on capital. This is what is to be done. The reason it is (or seems, for now) impossible is not because it isn't obvious that it's necessary and would answer.

"Fiesty Isn't She"

Monday, June 07, 2010

Chen on the Audience-Commodity As Fictitious

Most neo-Marxists worry about the narcotic effect of the cultural industry and the interpellation of the ideological state apparatuses. Reacting to the pessimistic imagination about how audiences watch television, some Leftist scholars of cultural studies attempt to encourage and reveal alternative and oppositional readings of television texts. However, Dallas W. Smythe’s (1977) materialist approach conceptualizing watching television as working and the audience as commodity has distinguished him from researchers who fail to recognize the mechanism of the commercial television economy. Trying to rescue communication studies from the “jungle of idealism,” Smythe insists that any audience’s reading of a television text occurs under a certain structure of commodity exchange, thus textual and ideological analyses are secondary to the political economic analysis of advertiser-supported communication systems. In this paper, I have conceptualised the audience commodity as fictitious, betting on the future exploitation of labour, and the commercial television economy as credit-sustain accumulation - its rise and future decline are related to structural contradictions and collective struggles in capitalist society from the very beginning of this century...

Beller: The Internet As Playground and Factory

The Internet as Playground and Factory - Jonathan Beller from Voices from The Internet as Play on Vimeo.

(Beller starts at around 0:28:00.)

Presentation cards here.