…the best backstory yet.  I’ve always been partial to the theory that Robin Hood was an everyman, a metaphor for the multitude’s resistance to King John.  It always struck me as odd that few of the Robin Hood stories ever mentioned that this is the very King John finally forced to sign the Magna Carta.  Finally, we have a movie that attempts to bridge the gap.  But then do we need an actual embodied Robin Hood?  Does that not then seem to run counter to the “cannot long suppress liberty” theme of the movie?

My initial thoughts are similar to how I thought of Artificial Intelligence: A.I. Notice I did not do the usual attributions I give to movies.  That is because IMDB credits Spielberg as the director, when really most of the movie was directed by Kubrik.  Then Kubrik died and Spielberg finished it.  If by finished, I mean ruined.  AI is two movies.  The first part rocks, I will watch it anytime it comes on.  The last 40 minutes are awful, I turn the movie off.

The same with this version of Robin Hood (Ridley Scott: Blade Runner).  The last 40 minutes are horrible.  Leading up to those minutes though and I was really rolling with it.  What’s most disappointing is that most of the awful portion is a big battle, which is where Scott normally excels.  It’s forced though.  Scott loves his large archer actions – mass arrows arcing through the air causing havoc down below.  But in this case it makes zero sense why the archers would fire this way.  Why also would the cavalry move in for the engagement when the enemy is defenseless against the archers.  There are others of such a simple nature in the writing that the movie easily dips from a “go see it” into the “rental” realm.

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - DECEMBER 10:  French write...
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With the recent Nobel announcements I decided to check out last year’s lecture from the winner of the literature prize.  Here are some notes as I proceed and I might later compile them into something larger and more formal.

The opening of the essay is about why writers write.  Obviously there is reduction as Le Clezio attributes the same impulses to writers.  Writers see injustice in the world and decide to take a different approach to resistance, a form that is “another way to react, another way to communicate, a certain distance, a time for reflection.”  It almost sounds like cowardice Le Clezio is describing, but I will hold off on that since Le Clezio will surely attempt to rehabilitate the role of the writer.  I will spare us from the usual refutation that has been put to rest since Of Grammatology, however one thing needs to be noted.  I have never before seen the spoken resisatcne that is neither meditated nor mediated.  Le Clezio’s initial premsise seems overly Socratic.

Le Clezio then takes us to the next reason writers are not resistant: their works are consumed almost exclusively by the wealthy.  The hungry woman does not purchase books when instead she is worried about feeding her children.  Again I am not sure this is true.  So much so that it smells like a set up.  Le Clezio is constructing the straw man so he can later pummel it.  I am cynical of his motivations (the straw man construction makes me suspect he wants to appear radical is more improtant than being radical) even if I may agree with his ultimate conclusion.  This is Le Clezio’s founding paradox: the writer is a radical dressed in chic clothing.

The remainder of the lecture is a series of rembrances, which are interesting, that do nothing for what I guessed to be his argument.  In the end Le Clezio’s argument is less ambitious than it should be.  He argues that hunger and illiteracy are the same problem and need to combated together.  The once hungry is not much improved if she remains illiterate and the once illiterate is still a captive if hungry.  I am not sure this is at all controversial.  This conclusion is so brief and unexplored that it seems pithy.  I wonder if this speech was extemporaneous even though he had had months to prepare.

The blandness of the conclusion also makes me think Le Clezio’s writer is a bourgeoisie dressed in radical clothing.  Expanding literacy as a goal to combat hunger is insufficient in our politics.  If the goal is to sell more books then it is a great message.  Feeding people does little to combat hunger as the problem is more about distribution mechanisms than it is about the desire to resist.

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In competitive policy debate we have an argument called E-Prime, that we ought not use “to be” and its conjugations because the verb implies a solid static meaning when such rigidity is rarely accurate.  The famous example is, “The runner is a woman,” when discussing some of the former Olympic champions that were revealed to be cheating and/or hermaphroditic.

This argument is not particularly persuasive and is used mainly when there is not a sophisticated negative strategy available.  However, as I age I am come more and more to believe in a variant of the argument.  I tend to dismiss declarative statements as statements of fact and instead see them more as wish-fulfillment.  This is easily seen when people talk among themselves.  I cannot help but cringe a little when someone says, “I have a high threshold for pain” or the classic “Homey don’t play that.”  Homey does play it and wishes he didn’t, hence his enthusiasm for the distancing move.

So when I encounter Che’s famous statement about the revolutionary being “guided by great feelings of love” I have to snort-laugh a little.  Che wants the revolutionary to be guided by love.  Revolutionaries want to be guided by love.  In my experience though, they are not.  Meeting many of the activists that partook in the Battle for St. Paul I believed that many of them were rather disaffected artsy kids that were angry for whatever reason.  This is not to say that those kids are impartial to the sufferings they rallied in support of, but to attribute that concern as the guiding principle is wish fulfillment.  Che’s declaration also serves the classic us/them trope of rhetoric.  If ‘we’ are the ones guided by love then ‘they’ are by definition not guided by love.  Regardless of accuracy this move is moralizing and hence more affective.

Elbaum (89) gives another example of this happening.  When discussing why 1960s radicals were drawn to the communist regimes despite the human rights abuses Elbaum says the evidence of abuses were not considered credible because the sources dismissing the abuses were also the strongest critics of US imperialism.  Much scholarly research is still concerned with the power/failures of persuasion (and evidence) and why people continue to believe something in the face of clear evidence (I contend this is the question central to Marx’ opus).  To me the answer seems obvious: persuasion only works on the choir, affect is what matters most.  The continued neglect of this is an act of wish fulfillment: scholars wish it weren’t so, they wish people could be persuaded.

The failure of debate is probably best treated by popular pundits than by academics.  Arianna Huffington’s most recent book (Right is Wrong) is about this very breakdown in society.  The August recess and the town halls aptly demonstrate this lack as people were vocal about Obama being the next Hitler.  Barney Frank dismissed one of his constituents aptly and appropriately when he said arguing with her would be like debating a kitchen table.  Sadly Frank was only partly correct: debating with anyone and not just her.  I suspect most of us in this community are either atheists or not moved by religious appeals, but there is a certain genius to the “What Would Jesus Do?” slogan.  If Obama had couched reform as the right thing to do instead of being about containing costs (a proposition open for debate, obfuscation and fear tactics) then we would be seeing a very different public dialogue right now.  Obama has a good story.  He defeated Hillary and McCain on the back of that story.  But that story has since disappeared and now he is President Wonk.  Even The Shrub understood this.

With this approach to persuasion one then has to ask, one being fond of theory and nuance, “what then of theory and nuance?”  After all, why do distinctions matter if the crowd merely follows the cool kid?  This question also comes into the easy criticism of my theory: what constitutes “cool” and how does it exist beyond the grid of intelligibility?  Clearly, coolness is not exogenous and independent of rhetoric.  Being able to talk about theory, after all, is cool to come people.  I will own this blindspot as this balancing act I am not yet able to account for.  Ultimately though, my question is about how to organize and recruit.

Theory and those discussions are important, but only after someone has been recruited into the choir.  Until then we, as organizers, ought to be concerned with being model  people (not necessarily the same thing as role models).  We need to be people our targets want to be, want to be around, and accepted by.  Once that level of affection is achieved then the theory is important.  So, trying to explain why capitalism is predatory and it is not just a problem of predatory lenders is important but only affection is achieved.  This model leaves many ambiguities and does not help close many of the difficulties of the organizers, after all, when has affection been achieved?  Is this person more receptive and hence more affected by an ability to cite authors?  In short, what motivates this person? The traditional persuasion model is still applicable, but how applicable?  My answer is to listen, not to what she says she wants but how she describes others.  The magic is in the audience’s observations not the audience’s pronouncements.

Elbaum, Max.  (2002).  Revolution in the air: Sixties radicals turn to Lenin, Mao and Che. London: Verso Books.

The other night I saw Moon (Duncan Jones) and was thoroughly impressed.  Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) is one of the only actors in this movie and he can pull it off unlike Will Smith’s doomed attempt in I am Legend.  Moon was a nice break, a nice return to actual sci-fi.  No big explosions.  The threat in the movie was the environment and yet it was the extraction of resources from said environment that drove the story along.  The beauty of the movie was that it represented a return to a lost genre and it remained relevant enough to us.  The story is that humans have created mining outfits on the moon to extract Helium-3, which is then sent to Earth as an energy supply.  People can relate because after last summer we all appreciate the importance of energy in our lives and we have all at some time experienced a job that was really awful.  Moon is about such a job and how the worker/s deal with it.  The genius, though, is that the story is a parable for labor and its relationship with corporations.

Roger Ebert raises some other interesting (non-political) questions about the film.  While watching the film we are obviously supposed to think of 2001.  I do not, however, think this is mere allusion or homage.  I think the universe of Moon is the same universe of 2001 with the stories exsting along side each other.  I really have no reason to think this as all my proof are satisfied by the allusion theory.  A second viewing is in order for this test.  I suspect, however, that Ebert pays no heed to the labor side of the movie because the movie is pure cynicism.  There is not an advocated politics or solution to the problem.  It would have been easy to make one, even a flippant comment at some moment would satisfy it.  Instead though the movie is purely educational about the lack of trust one can put in corporations, or at least technologically advanced energy ones.  Frankly, I am surprised I cannot find this criticism in the press.  Maybe Rorty is correct, that we have become the cynical society uncaring about political solutions and instead merely fixated on defining the problem.

Such people find pride in American citizenship impossible, and vigorous participation in electoral politics pointless.  They associate American aptriotism with an endorsement of atrocities: the importation of African slaves, the slaughter of Native Americans, the rape of ancient forests, and the Vietnam War….They begin to think of themselves as a saving remnant – as the happy few who have the insight to see through the nationalist rhetoric to the ghastly reality of contemporary America.  But this insight does not move them to formulate a legilative program, to join a political movement, or to share a national hope….In the early decades of this century, when an intellectual stepped back from his or her country’s history and looked at it through skeptical eyes, the chances were that he or she was about to propose a new political initiative. (7-9)

Despite his conservatism I have to hand it to Rorty’s clarity and mastery of language.  His romanticism for the past,however…  This quotation smacks of the old man playing the “Back in My Day” fiddle: change is bad because it is change.  Rorty would probably respond that he identifies the normative basis for this conservation: the dissolution of a national hope.  However, we must keep in mind that losing a national hope is not the same as losing hope.  Cynicism may not directly attach itself to a hope, but it is the other side of the coin.  The basis for such a criticism also contains a sense of utopia for which we should strive.  I have no problem placing my hopes in a dream that crosses national borders.

I also contend that Rorty is looking at an incomplete transcript.  His quotation is part of a larger discussion about Henry Adams and other cynical authors.  Because Adams, and likewise Moon, did not explicitly state a politics does not mean there is not one.  Because the reader/viewer is not explicitly told what the solution is does not mean she is unable to figure one out.  Or unable to incorporate the piece’s criticism into her already formed ideal world.  Arguably, the criticism works best by allowing others to identify a problem they may have never before encountered and alter their already formed ideal solution.  Offering a political solution only increases the opportunities for dismissal of the problem.

Rorty wants to call the cynics naive?  I can return the favor.  Here is Dwight Conquergood:

Oppressed people are doubly displaced and degraded: first, by the political and economic structures of violence and exclusion, then by armchair academics-cum-liberators … [S]laves, serfs, peasants, and untouchables are not fools, although at times they may act the part in the presence of power when it is in their own best interests to do so…. Moreover, resistance is not limited to insurrections and uprisings.  Foot-dragging, pilfering, grumbling, conning, and gossiping about one’s overlords are the strategic infrapolitics of the powerless that prepare for and underpin rebellion when it does break out. (89-90)

The answer will be that Rorty and Conquergood are talking about two different groups of people as they both try and target the same group: the Heidegger reading bohemian.  Despite their conservative agreement, Rorty makes the same error Conquergood describes: having too myopic a view of politics.   Even if Rorty’s world is preferable (I would also prefer a reemergence of grand political battles) I will return to an above observation: there are not criticisms of Moon for being apolitical.  Rorty may lament the loss of a less cynical world, but this is where we are and those harpings will not elevate politics over infrapolitics.

Conquergood, Dwight.  (1992).  Ethnogrophy, rhetoric and performance.  Quarterly Journal of Speech, 78, 80-97.

Rorty, Richard.  (1998).  Achieving our country: Leftist thought in twentieth-century America. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard UP.

I had started this book once before, or so I guess from the marginalia in the first few pages.  I have no recollection.  I can tell from the first few pages that it is a heady tome and probably untenable as a piece to juggle during the school year when I am busy with serious research.  But it is the summertime, after all, and this comes close to Beach Fare for me.

I have never been shy about my man-crush on William T Vollmann.  It won the National Book Award, one of the few awards that has yet to let me down.  And.  And it is about the eastern front during WWII.  Not that that is intrinsically attractive to me, but given Vollmann I bet it is a fascinating look at violence and political theory and heavy yet captivating characterizations.

One thing that has caught my attention already is how Vollmann refers to Nazi Germany: sleepwalker.  Not capitalized.  Not unique or a proper name.  But as an adjective, a predicate noun to be more precise.  How interesting.  What is it about somnambulation that makes the Third Reich worthy?  My guess is that Vollmann is getting at a type of zombie-like state.  The person is just a body.  Unthinking.  Unfeeling.  There are libidinal desires but without the mind the body thrashes about and tries to satisfy the desires without finesse, which is simply violence.  Violence is the easy way to strike out at what is wanted.  No persuasion.  No trickery.  No sophistry.

Ursa was the first to connect this to zombies for me.  What if the zombie is best like somnambulation and less like the un-dead?  Then the cure is to wake up the body.  This metaphor makes a lot more sense in a political context, as it caters to the great Western liberal myth of consciousness raising as the answer to problems.  I suspect, however, that Vollmann will not fall for this.  Sure you can wake up most people but the zombie is different, it does respond to wants whereas the sleeping person does not.  In the end Ursa may be right for the state of the person-as-zombie but it makes the cure even more problematic.

Was the answer to tell the German population about the horrors of Auschwitz?  There is debate but I will say no.  They knew what was going on.  The response is that they did not know the degree and I call bullshit.  Maybe the degree exceeded what they thought was going on, but what was known would have been/should have been enough to shock them into resistance if there was a threshold to such barbarity.  This argument is also too forgiving, not only to them but to us.  It too easily allows us to assimilate the horrors as some unique act allowing us to look the other way.

Even though the status quo horrors may pale in comparison, a claim I am willing to interrogate, they are still horrible enough to compel action.  People know it.  It is not a matter of consciousness raising.  The resistor needs to en-courage, not educate.  The resistor needs to show that it is possible to look straight on and not away.  The resistor needs to risk.  Even in, especially in, the face of futility.  None of this is new or even erudite, which is exactly the point.  We need to stop looking for creative solutions and instead choose bold actions.

This is what I keep coming back to as the health care debate is beginning to dominate the news.  The tinkerings only make me more upset.  Remove health care from employment status.  It’s a rigged game and time for us to make a stand that helath care ought to be a positive right.  Is a public run system less efficient?  Probably.  I am willing to concede that.  But I will then challenge vociferously the validity of efficiency as the mark of success.  Of course there will be lines as more people seek preventive care.  That is not necessarily the mark of inefficiency, rather that is the mark of privilege protecting their privilege.  Waiting in qeues cuts into time they could be on the phone or sitting in a Dairy Queen drive through ordering a Blizzard.

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One of the eternal follies of old age is the delusion that you have a duty to record your insights into the nature of humanity before you perish, overlooking the fact that they are already common currency in every bar or taxicab in the world.

Thanks to Alfred Armstrong over at Odd Books for this flash in the pan brilliance.  The problem though is that old people know their wisdoms are common currency, they just want affirmation, to shock the youngins and/or want attention.  Spouting this craziness is just more fun.  When with a certain close group of friends we tend to become verbally rowdy and say things we would never actually say becasue we either do not believe them, are not creative enough when sober and/or do not care enough to fight our way past the knee-jerk reacting liberals up here in the tundra.

In any case, I think I may start writing about conspiracy theories.  These people seem to have a ton of fun and I want to join in.  Being the kook in the corner at a party might be a neat place for once.  9/11?  Inside job.  Autism?  Vaccines.  Vatican? Mouth piece for gloabl elites controlling all the money.  It is already more fun.

Plus, what better way to discount them when I decide that I’ve had enough fun?  For example, Scientologists.  Downtown a few days ago there was a protest across the street from the Scientology institute (institute?).  The people were in masks, they need to be anonymous because the Church of Scientology is known for being super letigious against protestors, handing out leaflets and carrying signs.  Meanwhile there was a guy acors the street rightin front of the place dressed in a coat and tie.  He would stop passerbys and talk to them.  He came off as a sincere Scientologist.  Too sincere.  He was very creepy and I think he was actually protesting by over-identifying and turning people off of Scientology: “if that guy is one of them, then I want no part in it.”  Zizek talks about this, somewhere (I am currently being lazy), in the context of resisting militarism.  He claims Platoon does a better job than M.A.S.H. because of this same over-identification strategy of resistance.

I like that logic, but I wonder how effective either can be as a stand-alone strategy.  The uberScientologist may push people away but do they actually think less about the group without knowing there is a criticism as well?  MLK needed Malcolm X.  Young people need old people if only for their reactionary sentimentality that drives progress and a disdain for traditions.

BTW, if Scientologists are not Christians why do they display a cross?  Does the cross make them appear to be less non-Christian than they are?

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The following was written for a different publication previous to Monday’s events at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Stay tuned for discussions about what happened Monday, what I saw and what it all means.

When discussing the upcoming RNC protests many ask why I am involved when protest will be ineffective. This essay will answer their question without either disputing their measure of effectiveness or of disputing the conditions on the street that may or may not result in a larger anti-capitalist constituency. This essay will elaborate two reasons why the very ‘efficacy question’ is a question of the conservative establishment.

The first argument is about our engagement with the world. Instead of futility as a reason for acquiescence I think futility is precisely why one should act. This ethic is seen elsewhere: the inability to stop murder does not mean a murderer should go unpunished; the inability to stop hunger does not mean bread should be hoarded by the rich; the inability to solve AIDS does not mean the cocktail should not be prescribed. There are successes to be achieved in the face of futility, one just needs to change the benchmark of success. To acquiesce is to slide into an atomistic world of darkness that I do not want to inhabit. My engagement is simple, I want to en-courage others to act against what they see as injustice.

The second reason why the ‘efficacy question’ is the wrong question is because it is shortsighted about the complexities of the world. The question is akin to the debates about who was most valuable to the civil rights gains: Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X. While there are nuanced counterfactual claims to be made this debate overlooks the necessity of one to the other. MLK needed Malcolm X to make his calls seem reasonable to those at risk of losing power. Malcolm X needed MLK to recruit constituents to the cause, allowing a debate over method to then occur.

The current social justice movements are involved in a similar plight. Radical action at the RNC may be the very public action needed to give Obama support not only for his election but also for a more progressive administration. Radical visibility can recruit people to Obama’s reformist camp by making his position seem more reasonable to those otherwise frightened of liberal causes. While Obama may not be the preferred option of the radicals planning to take to the streets, he represents to most a superior option to McCain. Radicals find Obama’s critical stance towards the current war and military engagement preferable to McCain’s rose-colored optimism about US military and moral superiority. A more progressive approach to health care also makes Obama a more preferable option for most of those considering protesting the RNC. Where MLK may have been a less scary option for white onlookers it was the radical appearance of Malcolm X that made MLK’s demands more palatable. Radicals taking to the street in St. Paul may also make an Obama administration more palatable to those that are scared by his politics and skin color.

RNC radical action may help build Obama’s base, but there is another function, similar to how unions train bosses of a shop, of how our action may help train future leaders. When a shop becomes unionized bosses are more likely to be reflexive about their actions. The presence of a structure to act may deter some actions and make the boss think twice before making some acts. This deterrence need not be limited to policy issues either. A recent issue faced by a shop in the Twin Cities is a boss that responds to employee comments with sarcasm and dismissal. If this shop is successful in unionizing one of the demands will be for the boss to not be flippant when a worker has an issue. Politics works the same way: our action may keep Obama from moving in a more rightward direction once he is inaugurated. Obama will face new challenges in his new job and the presence of a radicalized organized population will help shape his decisions and keep him more honest to a progressive agenda.

Questioning the ability of protests to create immediate measurable change is actually a move to keep people from protesting. This question places the goal so far away that the task seems daunting and too tiring, after all people have lives to live. The approach radicals need to take is to abandon that very landscape and recognize that there are other goals to be gained, goals that may actually be more important than the ones we are told (by those we oppose) to aim for.