Three Cheers For Utopias And Dreamers

Appel_08_oakland

Occupy Wall Street.

For many, even those here in the very city that gave birth to it, it is now but a distant memory. Even those ‘hangers on’ I met celebrating it in fashionable bars and events in Williamsburg and DUMBO, have moved onto other fashionable causes. I remember distinctly that none of those who were actually living out in the tents and on the pavements, the ones who were risking their bodies and their futures facing the brutality of the New York police, seemed to be at these events. It was mostly Prada-wearing editors from fancy ‘editorial’ publications and publishers of books trying to make a living off the movement that was made up mostly of idealists, dreamers, and desperate people from all walks of America’s life. Today people talk about OWS and wash down their cynical words with a smirk if not a laugh. It is spoken about as if it was, for a brief moment, a game some misguided people played, and then simply walked away – something nothing more than a summer festival where a few young kids had a great time, pretended to stand against ‘the system’ and then had to return to their homes and to their day jobs.

Details »

What We’ve Lost Since 9/11 And What They Lost On 9/11

A surprising erasure.

What we’ve lost since 9/11 – Le Monde diplomatique – English edition.

Peter Van Burin is an intelligent man, a loud dissident, and a consist critic of post-9/11 American and its pathologies and failures. Yet, it was a bit disappointing and surprising to read a piece about the decline of the idea of civil liberties and the BIl of Rights that never once touches on the criminalisation of the political speech of American Muslims, the mass, pre-emptive and clearly ethnically focused surveillance of their communities, the hundreds of cases of FBI entrapment of Muslims in fake ‘terrorism’ cases, the bribing and black-mailing of Muslims to eavesdrop and ‘snitch’ on their friends, the tens of thousands of Muslims ensnared in immigration and deportation sweeps and more.

Not a word is mentioned about these injustices and about that fact that Bill of Rights was immediately curtailed for any and all Muslims, and that the Constitution itself had been reduced to a meaningless piece of paper for Muslims in America within seconds of the towers coming down. And it was all done on the fundamentally racist premise that the attacker were of Muslim background, and hence were a reflection of the evil pathology of all Muslims. Van Buren’s piece reads as if the danger has yet to arrive. But is here, and has been experienced by thousands in American for over 14 years. Its just that those Americans happen to be the ‘unseen’ immigrants and minorities, the ones we once called ‘model minorities’ because they quietly and gratefully fitted themselves into our capitalist hunger for cheap and affordable foreign labor.

Our collective American consciousness seems to as yet still not have room to account for the other. We still imagine, and speak, as if what matters, and what will define our priorities, are the gated-communities of the middle / upper class American, particularly if they are White. It is as if we speak about a world that television and movies show us. It is as if we can see past the complexity and diversity that exists on our very streets and in our daily interactions, but then simply ignore them into non-existence once we begin to write to our imagined audience which seems to be largely a privileged one.

But perhaps if the Americans remain oblivious to the destruction of their rights, it is because most of the privileged class fundamentally believes that these curtailments of rights are not for them, or their kind. That just like drone attacks, the surveillance, the infiltration, the entrapment, the abuse, the detentions, the tortures, are reserved for a darker breed of American. Perhaps they understand the reality of the separate judicial system, and feel unconcerned.

I suspect so.

We Need To Save Africans From Their Saviours Or Send The Western Moral Brigades Home

My memory of Kenya when I was young…it was a beautiful time, Kenya was growing, things were happening well…And suddenly there is new culture of humanitarianism…[and]…it was saying that the project of independence is over…for us, it was a very painful thing to witness ourselves on We Are The World…as if we need to be taken care of….and now, we have a new [set] of missionaries [here]…

I have written quite a bit (see here, here, here and here to begin!) on the degrading, dismissive, denigrating and dehumanising way in which photojournalism has pillaged the communities, histories, polities and individuals in the vast, diverse, complex, and ever-changing continent of Africa. Now comes a documentary that peels apart the social, cultural, and intellectual frameworks that allow us to be so indifferent to the history, humanity and agency of a few hundred million people.

Details »

The Courage of Hopelessness

A fantastic interview with a writer on my ‘close my intellectual gap month’ list – Giorgio Agamben is provocative and subtle

Giorgio Agamben VersoBooks.com.

Repeatedly he argues points that resonate so strongly…A recent discussion with some young photographers led to my arguing that if a project feels like work, then it is not a project for you. My argument was that too often we are desperately chasing works that don’t come from a place that matters to us or is central to our most passionate concerns. Too often we confuse the work we do because we must earn money, and the work we are called to do because we must define our place in our society. The need to keep the two apart, and the need to approach them from vastly different states of mind is critical.

In a world of photography where more and more people can produce fine images, what will differentiate yet another project filled with nice images from all the others that already exist out there, are meanings and ideas that have a powerful personal core to them. So powerful that when producing the works it does not feel like work, but simply expression.

The insistence on work and production is a malign one. The Left went down the wrong path when it adopted these categories, which are at the centre of capitalism. But we should specify that inoperativeness, as I conceive it, is neither inertia nor idling. We must free ourselves from work, in an active sense – I very much like this French word désoeuvrer. This is an activity that makes all the social tasks of the economy, law and religion inoperative, thus freeing them up for other possible usages. For precisely this is proper to mankind: writing a poem that escapes the communicative function of language; or speaking or giving a kiss, thus changing the function of the mouth, which first and foremost serves for eating. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle asked himself whether mankind has a task. The work of the flute player is to play the flute, and the cobbler’s job is to make shoes, but is there a work of man as such? He then advanced his hypothesis according to which man is perhaps born without any task; but he soon abandoned it. However, this hypothesis takes us to the heart of what it is to be human. The human is the animal that has no job: it has no given biological task, no clearly prescribed function. Only a powerful being has the capacity not to be powerful. Man can do everything but does not have to do anything.”

And of course, the wonderful liberty of simply declaring a work abandoned rather than ‘finished’. I have not quite figured out how to ‘finish’ a project, since they seem to want to go on for as long as i remain curious about the issues I am exploring, and scream to be left alone, once I have moved onto something else. In a world defined by deliverables, milestones, achievements, products, outcomes, and measurable conclusions, my arguments for the right to create projects that ‘just are’ or ‘works in progress’ seem to create great confusion. Added to this, the refusal to use conventional ‘closure’ products like books, exhibitions or even a post in The New York Times Lens Blog to loudly announce the conquest of the human spirit that is an end, a full stop, a conclusion or a final word, I have just been excited to know that explorations I began continue as do I. There is no rush to ‘end’ it, or ‘conclude’ it – stages that also often leave one at the mercy of the machinery of production, publication, distribution, printing, marketing and sales. A machinery in which, as I learned from experience, the author simply becomes the least interesting thing, and his/her views, the most discardable and fungible of material. And so Agamben:

Giacometti said something that I really liked: you never finish a painting, you abandon it. His paintings are not finished; their potential is never exhausted. I would like the same to be true of Homo sacer, for it to be abandoned but never finished. I think, moreover, that philosophy should not consist too much of theoretical statements – theory must sometimes display its insufficiency.

Here is to never finishing anything and celebrating that state of existence. And if you do finish, it is never to signal a completion, but merely a phase.

 

 

The Bombing of Waziristan | A History And A Bigoted Continuity

Though this piece gives us a valuable sense of the continuities of aerial control and political machinations in the tribal frontiers of Pakistan, I found it most interesting for the continuities of arrogance, bigotry and Eurocentricism that it also exhibits.

The Bombing of Waziristan | Military Aviation | Air.

Throughout this piece – one that discusses and describes a hailstorm of death and destruction of human life, acts of war, wanton killing, colonial oppression and quoted racist bigotry, we are never allowed to wander too far away from the ‘romance’ of the air, the ‘gentlemanly’ style of the RAF pilots, the feel-good, bar-talk nature of their experiences and the ‘jolly good fun’ mood that used to infuse works such as the Biggles stories that I read as a teenager. There are the descriptions of the British barracks, with their collection of amenities: squash courts, tennis courts, polo, picnics, and dances. Lovely. Really moves the spirit.

Below – some sort of mass of barbaric non-humans who despite acts of tremendous chivalry, generosity, sensibility and rational calculation, yet again never rise above their caricature of ‘tribes’, ‘lawless’ or ‘castrating prisoner’ type nonsense. The entire piece remains high up in the air of inexperience, textual reading, anthropological myopia, cultural incomprehension, human indifference, racist dismissal and derivative colonial bonhomie. They are nothing more than targets to kill, and a problem to solve. Even now, after decades since the departure of the British, the Waziris are seen as nothing more than the blip in the cross-hairs.

Nothing is questioned: not the least of which is the politics of colonial presence, and false ‘great game’ narratives that people like Kipling did throw out there e.g. that there was an imminent threat of an invasion of India. This lie, used more to justify British geographical ambitions and greed than any real threat to any imaginary frontier, is repeated here without thought, and without the benefits of nearly 70 years of new research and new perspectives.

We are given details of aeroplanes – ah, that technical obsession much like the one we have today with ‘precision’ bombs or the specifics of the flying time of a Reaper drone – we are given ‘gentlemanly’ details, we are told that the RAF killed in a very civilised way, we are told that there was a brotherhood, we are told that techniques of flying and bombing and what not. All these decades later, this guy still writes as if he is a colonial sargeant in India reporting about the wogs who happen to have the bad luck of coming in the way of the RAF humanitarian bombs. All the quotes are from pilots of British speakers – there are no Waziris who speak, or explain. All the material is from British sources. There is no reason to look elsewhere. Throughout the Waziris is written to have no political context, no military though, no rational reasons for resistance, no cultural values of worth. He is a raider, a militant, an attacker, a marauder, a barbarian, a statistic, a killed.

Prison labor’s new frontier: Artisanal foods

Ah…Whole Foods. Fortune Magazine, as usual, puts a nice spin on exploitative labor practices:

Prison labor’s new frontier: Artisanal foods.

I think the issues are as follows: trapped labor, no labor rights, prisoner abuse is now given a twist of worker abuse, severe under pay, massive corporate profits to say the least. furthermore, if we connect this to the mass incarceration profit industry, what we see is the rather unsettling fact that prisons may seek prisoners in order to meet corporate supply chain demands i.e prison labor work force, if it becomes a principal source of a company’s work force, can then be held hostage to market and profit forces, and we can see a backlash where courts and judges become complicit in providing ‘penal labor’ to a prison that has profit margins to achieve. it can even lead to longer sentences, refusal to review cases, rejection of paroles, and the creation of ‘fake’ prisoners by issuing harsh statement on petty charges just to get bodies into the prison and onwards onto the assembly line. in fact, we saw this sort of feedback in the ‘kids for cash’ scandal some years ago (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kids_for_cash_scandal), and these relationships between courts, prisons and corporations have raised many concerns, for example see here:http://americanhumanist.org/hnn/details/2012-08-the-greed-of-private-prisons to name one set of discussions. This is labor exploitation.

The fortune article suggests that this work is good for prisoners because they are ‘citizens’. But they are crippled citizens – they have lost their most cherished right to the vote, and frankly, are already paying their debt to society by being locked up. to now make them available for corporate labor use is a bit rich.they cannot protest their conditions, they cannot demand any rights, they cannot argued their hours, they cannot really do anything meaningful with their lives based on these kinds of jobs. they are beholden to interests that prefer to see more incarcerated, given longer sentences, refused parole i.e. a trapped labor force for the benefit of private profit. Your shrink-wrapped Kale can also be gotten from other sources, though I suspect it will be equally expensive. The profits from the staggering 60c / day pay all go to the company, via a few kickbacks to the prisons I suspect

An American Passion for Tyrants by David Rieff | The New York Review of Books

An American Passion for Tyrants by David Rieff | The New York Review of Books.

The legacy of colonialism, and the explicit uses of its discourse, presumptions, prejudices and intellectual hierarchies, remains a subject too difficult for most West writers to cope with. The New York Review of Book’s David Rieff demonstrates this discomfort in this otherwise decent review of William Easterly’s new work The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. 

His troubles begin not when discussing the genocidal violence, post-Enlightenment racist bigotry and outright capitalist exploitation that underpinned what we now call European colonialism, but its transitional legacies and influences. Rieff is unable to see that colonial governments consistently used a discourse of ‘development’ and ‘humanitarianism’ in their last gasp efforts to hold on to their colonies. It is this discourse that was later adopted by humanitarian NGOs and even human rights workers who continued to operate in the ‘blighted’ world, and did so as hand-maidens of the new imperialism of the US and the desperate political machinations of the dying colonialists. Vijay Prashad’s work ‘The Darker Nations’ touches on this issue, and it has repeatedly been the focus on writings by Said, the Abu-Lughods, Fanon, Cesaire, and so many others that an entire bibliography would be required.

In fact, Rieff’s blind spots are on display when he has the temerity to use Ethiopia as an example of a development success story. This is the very nation that since becoming a ‘development’ poster child has collapsed into a violent, brutal, ethnicised dictatorship, a partner in America’s violent wars in Somalia (the American-backed / encouraged / coordinated Ethiopian invasion of Somalia is what led to the rise of al-Shabaab who were later labelled as ‘terrorists’ because of their resistance to this invasion). It is ridiculous, if not immoral, to quote Bill and Melinda Gates – two people who are the smiling face of a venal neoliberalism and deeply responsible for infecting so much of government policy that should be aimed at serving the communities but instead is aimed at profits, corporate investments in public services and nonsensical rate-of-return humanism programs.

The situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated to such a degree that it led Helen Epstein, to remind us that (see:http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2013/mar/14/why-are-we-funding-abuse-ethiopia/ and also :http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/may/13/cruel-ethiopia/)

…Ethiopia, an essentially one-party state of roughly 90 million people, in which virtually all human rights activity and independent media is banned.

Hardly a development success story we would want to shout out about. There has yet to be a powerful work on the complexities of the post-colonial era. Too little is said about the continuities and continuing legacies of an enterprise that lasted hundreds of years, developed sophisticated administrative and social institutions, oversaw the devastation of hundreds of millions of lives, and sapped the entire social, economic and human agency of 95% of the globe and its people. To imagine that somehow these effects and their aftermath simply disappeared the day European soldiers left the land – as if the only types of relationships colonialism was built on were military and governmental, and also not social, economic, psychological, cultural, political, and person, is to remain very naive and clueless indeed.

Debating Iraq in 2014: Wrong All Over Again

Debating Iraq in 2014: Wrong All Over Again.

Writers such as Glenn Greenwald and intellectuals such as Chomsky have been repeatedly pilloried by the ‘left, liberal’ media for suggesting that dissent in America remains difficult, if not near impossible to articulate particularly around questions of the national security. The argument has been that America allows dissenting voices in its press and public spaces, the evidence of which is that both Greenwald and Chiomsky can publish freely, and speak freely.

This argument is disingenuous at best. It ignores the incredibly overwhelming efforts made in the media to create a clear consensus around specific issues of war, violence, race, imperialism, capitalism and democracy. In this noise-chamber of the predictable, the few voices of dissent reflect not so much a space for free-speech, but a desperate effort to manufacture a facade of ‘debate’ without ever quite bringing into question, or without ever quite distancing ourselves from the consensus.

This was blatantly evident in the recent appearance of Snowden on NBC by Brian Williams – true, Snowden said his piece – but the voice of authority and editorial control – that of Williams, closed the interview by yet again undermining Snowden, and closing the discussion with the suggestion that indeed he had broken the law and that his actions were what needed to be prosecuted and challenged. The consensus was defined and underlined.And so here in all our discussions about Iraq – the consensus is clear: we cannot accept or acknowledge the devastation of Iraqi society that our war left, to say nothing about the 12 years of near-genocidal sanctions that broke the back of this nation.

We want to forget that for the last 20 years the USA and its European allies have placed Iraq under social, political, economic and military pressure that should rightfully be considered a war crime, and genocidal. Our policies and practices may have resulted in over a million dead, and tens of millions displaced, a cultural heritage scattered and destroyed, raw resources siphoned and stolen, corruption, criminality, brutality, torture, disappearances, hunger, poverty, rising child mortality, sectarian violence, drugs, weapons, and a complete breakdown of any moral and ethical glue that the society may once have had, are completely and absolutely our fault. Saddam Hussein was an amateur in comparison to the horrors we unleashed and continue to do so.

So to then sit and listen to these vile, and sick men debate Iraq as if it was nothing more than a cultural pathology, an immature society, a bizarre national entity, and to have them suggest that the solution is more violence, more war, more bombs and more brutality, makes you realise that man possesses an near infinite capacity for evil and hideousness, and perhaps most so when he can dress in a bad 2-piece suit, and be given the respectability of a TV stage and an agreeable host.

Castaway

No other city can make me feel as alone as I do here. I can stand in the midst of a crowded street and feel the passing bodies of thousands who do not see me. I can sit in a cafe and never be noticed. I can walk into a room and have no one notice me: Conversations that are not interrupted, glances that do mot inquire, greetings that are not meant to be heard or answered. I can walk for hours and I may as well be in a desert. All around me full and busy lives, a commotion of schedules to keep, meeting to get to, friends to sit with, and places to be at. Surrounded in a sea of people all of whom seem to have too much to do.

I walk slower. I sit longer. I say less. I wait more. I bring books. Scribble in notepads. I feel the summer rains. I caress my thoughts. I long for a voice calling out my name. A coincidental meeting of a friend. A stranger who wants to strike a conversation. An encounter. Ideas. Thoughts. Readings. Concerns. All within me and none to speak to about them. Most simply walk away from boredom or exhaustion. These isolating concerns, these distancing protests, these off-putting arguments, these tiresome polemics – she described them as thus once and walked away. What do you do if you fear being seen because it may mean being unseen?

Friends send Facebook messages with suggestions that may help. All the suggestions however I actually work hard to avoid so that I can forever be alone, awash in this noise, but cocooned in the privacy it affords me.

How Much Should We Pay For Art? Or How Often Will We Ask The Wrong Question?

 

How Much Should We Pay For Art? – NYTimes.com.

There is no beauty. No morality. No value to passions. To place for imagination. No worth to creativity. Yes, There is no beauty.

Each time I take a train from New York to Washington D.C I stare out at the wasteland that exists outside the train window. I have often wondered at the mindset and values of a society that can so mindlessly produce such hideousness, and be so indifferent to any sensibility of the aesthetic, and of the beautiful. It is a classic utilitarian landscape – barren, shredded, violated, exploited, harsh, dark, inhuman, dying – an industrial, utilitarian reality produced by a man who has reduced everything; humans, land, forests, earth, water, air, place, to a commodity whose worth is only measured in its money and sale value. Nothing else matters. The industrial parks are utilitarian, the housing estates are merely utilitarian, the lives are culled to the absolutely most efficient utility. A vision of man reduced to machine, in the service of machine.

The landscape always fills me with dread. It makes me think of what life would be life if I had no value other than that of the work I produced, or the service I provided to a corporation. It reminds me of what life would be like if everything that made me frail, fragile, uncertain, doubtful, cautious, curious, expressive, questioning, and creative, would be set aside. A life lived simply to survive. A life measured by quantities and measures defined by others. By this false god called ‘the market’ i.e what will someone else pay for what I am and what work I can do. A slave life. A reduced life. A utilitarian life. A life where one does not assume leisure, or pursue needs beyond that to feed, reproduce, work and die. A work of machines. And in a society that has culled itself of anything and everything beautiful, unable ever to imagine the need to create something simply from the need to create, or to see that humans are not individuals, nor products, but part of a society, a community, and an ethos for which they actually live and create. To see that the meaning of human society is to create something that is beautiful, and worth working for, and not the other way around i.e a society that is created simply for work.

A barren life. A torn apart life. A shallow life. A utilitarian life. Details »