Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My Sojourn Among the Wobblies

Before I electronically entered the land of the Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) tribe I had been told by previous sojourners and observers who knew of my interest in the social and cultural construction of culture and ideology that the Wobblies had a very interesting ideological topography. According to these researchers the Wobblies, like most other humans before them and likely most other humans after them, divide up the world into two spheres: the sacred and the profane. In the category of the sacred is, for members of the contemporary Wobbly tribe, the man Wobblies seem to think of as kind of a prophet, Karl Marx, and the works of "the prophet", which the Wobblies regard as infallible sacred scripture. In the category of the profane is anyone who criticises, validly or not, the prophet, the sacred works of the prophet, and that key symbol of contemporary Wobbly culture, the utopian belief that "the working class"--ironically most contemporary Wobblies are middle class intellectuals--is the essence of all that is good and pure in a profane world dominated and run by capitalist pigs and their running dog lackeys, a belief symbolised succinctly and pithily by the graphic art poster above with its radiant future brought to you by the Wobblies motif. Critics of Wobbly sacred culture are, researchers report, regarded by the Wobbly tribe as heretics and disbelievers and treated as such by the Wobblies.

Recently, a number of researchers have reported that a new category of profane has begun to emerge among current members of the Wobbly tribe, namely the belief that anyone who writes more than a few paragraphs and who uses words like fetishisation or social and cultural construction in their electronic posts is profaning the sacred culture of the Wobblies, a culture, of course, which Wobblies, have fetishised. What is fascinating about this conception of the profane among contemporary Wobblies is that it has become apparent among members of the tribe despite the fact that the works of their prophet run to several thousand pages and are littered with words like fetishisation, the labour theory of value and other technical philosophical and economic "jargon". Most researchers chalk the rise of this novel conception of the profane among recent Wobblies up to the rise of the new digital media and its negative impact on the attention spans of those who use electronic media, something that shows, contrary to Wobbly ideology, that culture is sometimes base.

What I can report at this point in my research is that my research thus far confirms the reports of previous observers. The Wobblies I encountered do have very definite notions of what is sacred and what is profane, do treat as heretics those who violate Wobbly sacred taboos, do inquisit those who violate Wobbly sacred taboos, and do react negatively to electronic posts they regard as too long and too full of multi-syllabic words. I can also report that I learned a few other things during my ethnographic sojourn among the Wobbly faithful. The posts they criticise for being too long and too verbose, in my experience, are only those posts they regard as profaning their holy of holies, their sacred prophet and his sacred works. This intellectual anti-intellectualism of the Wobblies I encountered may, in part, be a product of the comprehension, patience, and concentration problems wrought by the rise of new digital media with their cult of pithiness. It is also, if not more, the product of an ideological correctness grounded in the sense that they, the Wobblies, have a monopoly on truth. That's fetishisation. I learned that the official Wobby commitment to direct democracy is only skin deep. When the Board at the "coop" at which the Wobblies work and shop appointed someone to the Board who finished sixth in a direct membership election--three were elected--the Wobblies supported the Board action justifying the means by reference to the ends, the lawyer appointed was more union friendly and, as a result, more friendly to the Wobbly union they are trying to expand at the Coop. Ironically, a Board member who is opposed to unionisation in putatively cooperative settings also justified the means--appointing a lawyer who finished behind two others--by the end--it was expedient. Those Wobblies sure do wobble. All of this, by the way, makes the Wobblies I met online rather typical examples of the human species, particularly the bourgeois human species..

Author's note: There is a bit of the Nacirema tongue in cheek in this blog post. There are several serious points being made in it as well.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mucking About in the Recesses of Theoretical Memory...

One of the most treasured moments in my life were those days when I frequented one of downtown Athens, Ohio's 20 plus pubs with my Socialist Worker Party friend Jake and a group of political science and sociology students from Ohio University in the 1980s to explore, discuss, and debate social theory, marxist and beyond, to try to figure out the world we lived in. Another was the years I spent hiking the American and Canadian West with another one time friend but that is another story.

What I enjoyed most about these experiences, apart from the intellectual stimulation, was that they were not dogmatic. While Jake was a SWPer he was not a fundamentalist marxist. Jake did not, or at least this was my impression, need to believe that every jot and tittle that Marx wrote was infallible and true. In these gatherings we were able to talk about and critique a variety of social theories civilly and respectfully and, of course, enjoy a beer or three at the same time.

I have been studying social theory, including marxism, history, religion, and the social sciences for forty years. I have taken much from Marx particularly his emphasis on economics and his discussion of the fetishisation of the commodities if in its broadened social constructionist form. I have also borrowed from Weber, who I still find the most compelling of the great social theorists though I do not regard him as infallible. I have taken much from Lukacs (a student of Weber), Gramsci, the Frankfurt School (who were responding to Weber), Keith Thomas, Raymond Williams, Christopher Hill, EP Thompson, Foucault (who expanded on Weber), Baudrillard, Geertz, Victor Turner and a multitude of others. I have long sought to understand the world we live in and all of these theorists have helped me do just that. I have had the opportunity to learn not only from friends and theorists but from a handful of wonderful teachers.

Because of all this I think that I, because I recognise that social theory like life itself, is dynamic and must attempt to come to grips with a world in flux, have a better understanding of a world that has changed dramatically since the mid-19th century, the world Marx was writing about. Some of what Marx said, of course, is still instructive and helpful. Some of what he wrote has been proven wrong, the labour theory of value which he took from Ricardo, for instance. All of what I have taken from these host of theorists has helped me understand that we now live in a world, a postmodern and postindustrial world, where consumer capitalism and service sector capitalism, are dominant. They have helped me understand that we now live in a world where digital media bread and circuses anaesthetise much of the population and the old media anaesthetise most of the rest.

Historical changes require, in my opinion, a broader social theory, which, while it recognises the centrality of economics, requires and demands a more subtle and nuanced notion of base and superstructure. Marx. of course, hinted at a more subtle and nuanced view of base and superstructure on several occasions, something many of his more fundamentalist dogmatic disciples could learn from. Weber, who like Marx argues for the centrality of economics, offers a more nuanced view of culture, politics, and geography that have been very helpful to me in comprehending both the modern and postmodern worlds I have and continue to live in. I am so glad that social theory in the service of understanding has been a significant part of my intellectual life. I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Don't You Know That You Can Count Me Out: I Ain't With Her

I voted for a female for president in 2012. I was not about to vote for the moderately conservative corporatist Barack Obama. Hell, I hadn't voted for that self proclaimed New Democrat (read corporation friendly) Bill Clinton, the president who helped eliminate Glass-Steagall putting American taxpayers on the hook for the casino capitalism of investment banks, the president who, along with Newt Gingrich, helped transform welfare making it more difficult for those who really need it to get, in 1992 or 1998. If Bernie Sanders is not the Democratic (Socialist) nominee in 2016 and if he doesn't run as a Green or a Socialist for president I will be voting for a woman again, Jill Stein, the likely Green candidate for president, the person who I voted for in 2012. Unlike the moderately conservative corporatist Clinton, Stein, at least in my opinion, cares more about the men and women of the 99% than for those few who work for Wall Street in its broadest sense, the same Wall Street Clinton has received significant amounts of money from for her presidential campaigns, the same person who spoke to Wall Street reportedly receiving thousands of dollars for doing so. While I will not vote for Clinton, I would vote for another woman who really cares about the 99%, Elizabeth Warren, if she ran for president. Hey wouldn't a Sanders-Warren ticket be awesome in 2016? Anyway, though many of my friends disagree with me about my voting logic pointing out that in a two party systems sometimes you have to hold your nose and vote strategically sometimes, I urge all of you out there in cyberland, particularly those who supported Bernie Sanders, who was undone in large part by a Democratic Party primary process rigged in favour of the establishment candidate--Clinton, of course--and the front loading of Southern states with their populations who seem to care more about symbolic politics and name recognition rather than real political change that would benefit all of the 99%, to vote for Stein. If we really want real political change we need to start just saying no to establishment corporate friendly 1% candidates like Hillary Clinton.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A Technological Kiada: The Kiss My Face Technological Malfunction Incident

Dear Kiss My Face I am writing to tell you a little story about what happened to me today. Some backstory first: I work at a Food Coop and it was there that I purchased your Patchouli Shaving Cream which was on sale. Anyway, today I ran out of the shaving cream I had been using so I reached for your Kiss My Face shaving cream. I tried to open the pump and make it pop up as it is supposed to using the directions you provide on the top of it but guess what, the pump wouldn't open. I tried and tried but the pump wouldn't open. Finally I took the pump out, something made easier by the fact that in trying to open the pump I actually succeeded in unscrewed the entire device. I took the pump out, tried to open up, and after being unable to get the pump to pop up spent twenty minutes or so transferring the shaving cream from its original bottle to another pump bottle that actually does work. Needless to say, given the consistency of the product, this was a messy twenty minutes and I must say it was a joy to clean up the mess from the floor and the bottle I used as a replacement bottle.

Dear Kiss My Face, I don't want you to think that I have technological problems with things I buy far too often than I would like. I guess this is one of the joys of living in a world where vampire capitalism cuts and cuts corners in everything, including labour costs, to make more and more profit. You are simply the latest in a long line of technological malfunctions, a long line of technological malfunctions that have finally prompted me to write this blog. A word of advice, use a squeeze bottle. There is less that can go wrong with them. Oh, will I buy your product again? I have to be honest and say I don't know. At this point in time I seriously doubt whether I will use your product in the future given the technological problems I had with it and the mess taking care of this technological malfunction brought with it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Looney Life: Democratic Voters and American Political Culture

You really do have to love American Democrats. So many of them have a naiveté and a disney like innocence when it comes to the American federal executive branch. So let's get real for the moment.

Since the United States has a political system and a political culture of checks and balances there are real limitations on presidential power even when the legislative branch is made up of members of the same party as the president. Hell, Obama had problems getting a moderately conservative health care plan through a Congress controlled by his own party. Some Democrats apparently had some qualms about a health care plan that was a boon for the big hospital, big insurance, and big pharmacy industries for some reasons and Republicans, well Republicans simply played keep away. Obama had no chance of getting the most rational form of health care reform through Congress, single payer. Obama can't even do his constitutional duty and name a replacement for Scalia to the Supreme Court unless he gets permission from the Republicans who control Congress and have no reason to give him the permission to do so since they at least have a shot at winning the presidential election in November.

Let's add some other variables into this picture. First, the president has very limited impact on the economy and that mostly in times of economic crisis. It is Wall Street who controls the economy (and much else in the oligarchic US). They call the tune that most American politicians have to dance to. Hell, they even got Bill Clinton to help change the rules of the banking game so that investment banks could get taxpayer monies to bail them out of any jam they helped get themselves in. Finally it is worth remembering even Wall Street doesn't have full control over every aspect of the economy as the recession of 2008 shows.

Then there are the states. Should Clinton get elected in the fall can she get Planned Parenthoods refunded in Texas or more abortion clinics opened in the Lone Star State? The answer to both of these question is a resounding no at the moment. She can't do this unless the courts, who have taken these cases, decide them in favour of Planned Parenthood and the clinics. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, knows how the game political game in the US is really played. Control the governorship, control the legislature, and control the courts, however you need to do it, and you can pass ALEC inspired legislation (and remember some corporate Democrats are ALECilytes too...) roll back unions, roll back academia (both Democratic leaning), and you can pack the courts which are important in terms of local and state legislation. One would think that Democrats would eventually get the rather obvious message that if they control few state executive, legislative, and judicial branches their impact on the American political scene is going to be limited. The Democrats are a basket case in many states, however, and those who do play in red states are basically Republicans in Democratic clothing.

The reality is that the power of the executive branch is limited as was the intent of those who created American political culture. The reality is that the Democrats are corporatist and have been so for a long time. They know who butters the bread and they know that it is easier to get elected in the US if you have lots and lots of money particularly from those who do the bead buttering. The notion that this party will actually do something politically and economically radical, do something in the interests of the 99%, is a pipe dream and has been so for decades. That many people still have faith in a bunch of weak as water wimps is fascinating and sad. America is an oligarchy with two largely similar parties who economically, politically, and in terms of foreign policy share much the same ideological terrain. So if you really want change, vote for some one else.