Posts Tagged ‘revolution’

Movie Review: 7 Pounds

May 1, 2009

I’ve been at a bit of an impasse lately here on this blog. It’s not that over the years I haven’t gone a week, or a month, without a single update, but this is different. Those spaces of inactivity were just that, inactivity. I wasn’t writing anything, or thinking about writing anything, but the past week, I’ve had many ideas for posts, and it’s not like I’ve done thing about it. I’ve got pages and pages of notes, but nothing has been finished. I’m considering posting the fragments, the starts, misstarts, notes, whatever it is I’ve got. I’ve been thinking about it. I could do a massive dump of unfinished material, not that anything is ever really finished here, and maybe this is my issue. Something. I am trying to do something here. There is an attempt at an articulation, an articulation that is impossible if I keep trying to hold it together. And here I am trying write freely, while trying to hold it together. Not that I’m holding much together, not that at this point letting go is a very far fall. I’m on the lower branches of this here tree.

A critic of mine recently said that blogging was like breathing, it’s nothing, it’s what you do in your normal everyday existence, a completely unimportant thing; not something you should take time out of your day to do. We’ve all got these critics, some are people we hardly even know. The subtle criticism, a form of humiliation, a gentle chiding to get with the program. Here I am trying to write the revolution, my revolution, here I am trying to live my revolution, I want to deprogram myself, this is the experiment. I have you in me, I can actually hear you as I think, thinking over and through me, calling my writing a form of self-justification, justifying what it is that I want to do, but what of standing in line when you don’t want to as the ‘system’ reproduces itself? What of actions that need no justification, this is the way things are… What? Didn’t you say you want change? Can change come from comfortably redoing what is? I am troubled by my need to justify. Reconstituting yourself in a new social, it’s got to be uncomfortable. The look on Will Smiths face in Seven Pounds, regardless of what you think of his acting, or in this case, overacting, really would suicide come so often as a shock if real-life suicidal people looked at you with a screwed up face of tortured anguish, like at any moment their face is going to implode in a puddle of tears? That look is an actor’s artistic expression of this discomfort. Otherwise, like in real life, you wouldn’t see it. “He looked fine, was talking about the future, seemed happy…”

Seven Pounds, ok, movies are timely, constitutive, and heavily financed, even if the makers are considered ‘Hollywood Left‘, that designation carries a very different set of values than say, working-class left. So here we have a long slow meditation on extremely deliberate suicide. Why? All movies are made for a reason. All movies are doing something for someone. Money is always making something happen for someone. So the questions are always, who is this for? who is this from? and why? But also what can we do with it? Can we treat it allegorically?

Will Smith plays a wheeler dealer, with his eye on business, only business, not on the road, he loses everything worth living for. At some point he decides to altruistically give his body away. He investigates people in need of physical parts to see if they are good people. I note with interest the violence (he slams the head of a ‘bad man’ into and shattering a glass pane) he inflicts on bad people. He slowly gives away his body parts, and finally his heart and eyes are donated in a suicidal bathtub scene oddly reminiscent of a Britney Spears video, The last scene is a reuniting of his eyes and heart. The world is a better place for his reconstituting of his self into a new and better social body.

The anguish of becoming something other than what we are is shown graphically. He gives bone marrow without anaesthetic, and finally lowers himself into a tub of ice, and is stung by a jellyfish. This is deliberate and painful. Restitution hurts? Who is this movie taking to? What is being said?

Sunday in the Downtown Eastside

April 20, 2009

Recently I’ve been thinking about starting a church. For those of you still reading, I’ll explain. First let me say that our current social institutions are very complex in their creative and sustaining powers. What I mean is, and I’ll use the church as an example, the institution makes us who we are in that it creates, at least part of, our consciousness, and then sustains, through the maintenance of a social environment, that consciousness. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this is a good thing. I am an admirer of the church. That’s why I want to start one. But as somebody who desires social change, I recognize the need to change our social institutions. The church I have in mind will create a different consciousness.

The first, strongest, and pretty much only objection to change, or even criticism of the way things are done, is always the collapse of all that is good. Examples: Gay marriage – “What next people marrying their dog?” – “This will be the end of family!” Evolution(Godless creation) – “What will stop people from killing whoever they want?” There’s the idea that good and morality are so completely linked with God or the institutions He gave us that without the God-founded institution a sort of totally psychopathic existence would be unleashed.

What?

So today I didn’t go to church, but what I did do was very similar. I went to Pivot’s Reel Justice Film Festival and snuck out for a bit to see the People vs. The City of Vancouver. Oddly enough what separated these Sunday events from church services was a social quality. Anyway, chances are I’m not going to start a church anytime soon, but there’s something here, there’s a thread.

I caught the noon showing of The Way Home. It started with a section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The first speaker was Native and talked about our ability to connect to the world through a house as a spiritual connection, a kind of gift from the Thunderbird (Just as an aside, I was at Judy Rebick’s book launch on Thursday (see sidebar for a short video clip) and she spoke of her new found understanding of indigenous peoples’ spirituality.) The documentary was crushing. One social worker breaks down talking about the causes of homelessness, and then at the end one homeless man answers the question, “What’s the hardest part?” and he says, “Tomorrow,” and starts to break down, “You never know what will happen tomorrow.” and he turns away, trying not to cry on camera. It was heartbreaking.

promostill

Carts of Darkness was a lot more light-hearted, at least on the surface. There was a lot of humour, joking around, friendship and good times. But when one man was joking about hanging himself, his friend says, that’s not really funny. The film is a celebration and a meditation of what it means to be alive on the margins. The cruelty of life on the margins comes through not long after the laughter stops.

The last film I saw was We Are All Key. Here’s the writeup from Pivot’s site:

We believe there are two sides to the homeless story. On one side of the homeless issue is the story of people and common decency. This side of the story focuses on the human right of people to have access to safe and decent housing in a civil society. The other side of the story is about common sense. It is about numbers. Studies from various cities show that taxpayers pay anywhere from $55,000 to $135,000 a year for someone who is experiencing homelessness. No matter how it’s measured, it cost less to provide these people with decent and safe housing. This short film is produced by Streetohome, a community-based foundation working to ensure that all Vancouver citizens have access to safe, decent and affordable housing by 2015.

This film made me want to vomit.

The People vs. The City of Vancouver

The following is from The People vs. The City of Vancouver’s Facebook page:

Synopsis: Since the Olympic Bid of 2003 the City of Vancouver has waged a violent war on the community of the DTES. While it boasts ‘revitalization’ and it’s ‘Civil City’ campaigns as progressive, such activities in fact terrorize and displace those most marginalized in our city. Community members have been literally forced onto the streets as homelessness has more than tripled in the neighbourhood. Once evicted from their homes residents are further brutalized with ticketing for sitting or lying on the street & asking for spare change among other by-law ‘offenses’. The City of Vancouver has literally criminalized the poverty it has created. The Community is fighting back!

On Urgency

April 3, 2009

It’s part of our Heritage, some guy, an extra on a movie set, wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “The End Is Nigh!” Am I wrong to imagine I’ve seen him in a lot of movies? That guy, or at least the message he carries is all over the internet. This is our final moment, we’ve got to act now!!

It’s never a good idea to argue, I was going to write, with these maniacs, but unless you enjoy the sport, I mean you get a kick out of the hilarity of a fixed mental position, most argument is pointless. If someone thinks it is ‘over’, you are not going to convince them otherwise. And to complicate things, this sense of urgency, this need to act now, this feeling that the time is now or never is part of our heritage, it’s a social condition.

It’s not just the lunatics who suffer the delusion of now. In Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now, Gary Hall on the issues of new media and open access argues that “this is a chance that very much has to be taken now.” He goes on to say that if corporations figure out a profit model “then the opportunity to set the policy agenda for open-access archiving will very likely be lost.” (I’m currently working on a review of this book. I mention this because the point I’m criticizing here is a very small point in a pretty good attempt at thinking a situation through.) Can you hear Eminem “You only got one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, ’cause opportunity comes once in a lifetime…”? I’m not talking shit, whistling Dixie, this sense of urgency is well documented, but not in a way that makes us aware, these documents are all telling us to “do it” to “just do it” and do it now.

This reactionary thinking, (I just mentioned something similar to this to my four year old daughter today, “You’re not really thinking, you’re just wanting.”), this thinking in, about and for the moment, is socially conditioned. It’s the way of thinking within a capitalist society. We are always capitalizing on moments, trends, the way things are. For revolutionaries, this thinking is a problem. The Communist Manifesto, suffered from this problem. Propaganda tries to quickly, and sloganeeringly, drive the masses to action. Many of the radical ideas Marx and Engels tried to get down before and after the Manifesto was written, were simplified, and dodged to produce a pamphlet for consumption by the masses. And where did this get us! The revolution will be a slow burn, the deep restructuring of a new consciousness. The revolution will not happen overnight. (there you go, I’m a sucker for slogans) A long process of developing a revolutionary consciousness, which is the revolutionary process itself, is not something one can do to an other, and I don’t think it’s something that can be done alone.

In Workers of the World Relax, Conrad Schmidt answers the democratic revolutionary’s question.

How do we lose an election proudly?
Don’t try to win at all. Discuss issues you believe in.

Did she say “revolution”?

March 28, 2009

Naomi Klein speaks at the National Conference on Media Reform:

Now I want to return to another moment of profound crisis, after the market crash of 1929, that was the moment that created the new deal. Now it didn’t happen because FDR was a great guy. It happen because people in this country were so radicalized, so determined, so organized that he was able to sell the New Deal to the elites as a compromise because the alternative was Revolution.

Matt Taibbi writes about the 2009 financial crisis:

And all this happened at the end of eight straight years devoted to frantically chasing the shadow of a terrorist threat, eight years spent stopping every citizen at every airport to search every purse, bag, crotch and briefcase for juice boxes and explosive tubes of toothpaste. Yet in the end, our government had no mechanism for searching the balance sheets of companies that held life-or-death power over our society.

Then he says something interesting about democracy, education, and revolution as a two way street:

By creating an urgent crisis that can only be solved by those fluent in a language too complex for ordinary people to understand, the Wall Street crowd has turned the vast majority of Americans into non-participants in their own political future. There is a reason it used to be a crime in the Confederate states to teach a slave to read: Literacy is power. In the age of the CDS and CDO, most of us are financial illiterates. By making an already too-complex economy even more complex, Wall Street has used the crisis to effect a historic, revolutionary change in our political system — transforming a democracy into a two-tiered state, one with plugged-in financial bureaucrats above and clueless customers below.

…to win the battle of democracy

March 17, 2009

Back when it seemed a possibility that a coalition government would take over parliament, my dad and I started a short conversation about the meaning of our vote. He was angry that the party he’d helped vote into a minority government was about to be reduced to the opposition. “What about my vote?” he asked. I asked him the same question. I was joking. I’d voted for the communist party, so my ‘voice’ was useless. Really, voting has little more use to me than backing a hockey team. But my father asked, “no one wanted your party, why is that?” Yes. Why is it people are not voting communist? I know it wasn’t a real question, I mean, I know he wasn’t looking for a real exploration of the possible reasons why. But I saw it as a baited hook, and bit. I started writing an essay, but it’s way too long, meandering and not really much of a conversation starter.

Before this conversation started, just before the last election, I had written an open letter to my father explaining the reasons why I was voting communist. It wasn’t very persuasive. I sent the letter to every member of my family on facebook, and I am pretty sure it had no effect whatsoever on the votes my family cast. One of my cousins accused me of just fooling around. There’s something to this. Communication needs a hook. Talking about communism is talking about old news, an already decided subject, there’s nothing to connect the talk to. There’s no reason to talk about it. Bringing it up now has a bit of lunacy to it. My cousin knows I’m not crazy, so if I’m talking about communism, I must just be fooling around. Today there is a hook. The news of 1200 jobs lost in Windsor (again this year), gives us a reason to talk about capitalism (masters of industry and wage slaves), the violence of profits before people, and the socialist idea of worker control.

I’ve been thinking and reading about and writing down some of the reasons people aren’t voting communist, but I’ve also been aware of the madness associated with talking such nonsense. There are differences between capitalist values and communist values that require a complex conversation, rethinking how we live on the level of the day-to-day. It requires becoming aware of our condition. I’ve asked my network of friends and family into this conversation, so I should start with something.

Let’s talk about the word ‘communism’…

From the response to my last open letter, it’s clear that ‘communism’ is understood as a dirty word. I just recently read an article about ‘socialism’ being used as a slur. After you accept the fact that corporations produce our culture and meaning, it makes perfect sense that these powers would try to poison the words that will launch a revolution; democratize production; replace capitalist controlled corporate power with worker controlled corporate power. Revolutionaries understand ‘communism’ and ‘socialism’ to mean ‘the creation of something which does not yet exist.’  The words signify new relationships to each other, where radical democratic associations of workers motivated by human development take control of production. The American and French Revolutions replaced monarchy with hierarchy. The coming revolution will replace hierarchy with anarchy. The coming revolution will be the end of profit-for-the-few and representation-by-the-few. The revolution will bring new values of human (species) development and radical democracy.

Freedom not power

January 26, 2009

[This was a facebook note]

Watching the Chicago 8 trial documentary I was struck by the forced conformity. There was a very large group of Americans who were expressing a different way of being. The point is that a social dialogue about social change was in play, and the state mobilized its armed forces to silence the peaceful movement for change. It became apparent that conformity is the only option. Sure we are free to live within the parameters of the system, and sure those parameters are quite broad and loose, but we are not free to change the system. We can try to change the system, but there is a power at work that will fight you all the way to your bedroom. (Ballistic evidence showed that most bullets during the raid were aimed at Hampton’s bedroom. ( http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAhamptonF.htm ))

A distinction needs to be made between freedom and power. That I have health and nutrition, social and manual skills, and access to credit means I can exercise most of my charter rights and freedoms, but this is a “power to exercise” granted by the system. I am bound to this system or powerless. Now, begrudging this dependence is seen as selfish and ungrateful. I should be grateful for the power given me. And if I were a selfish individuated person with no desire to be social, maybe I would revel in the power that is mine, but I do desire to be social, so like the Chicago 8, I speak out against the hierarchal systems that condition the social. I speak out against, to name a few, the family, the state, colonialism, the military, capitalism.

I’m not content to live under a capitalist state system that grants more personal power to the individuated agents of its middle class than it allows in the colonies. I’m not fascist, I want freedom not power. This system, where we work beyond the necessary for a profit while others starve, needs to be considered.

When we fear human nature, we fear freedom, because freedom is social self-determination, freedom is the opposite of external controls. Restrictions impede freedom. Restrictions impede human development. That a material necessity exists, that there are material limits to freedom, shouldn’t be reason enough to accept these social limits to freedom. We can do better than this.

John Barth Beresford at 1:04pm January 27

Every damn day we’re changing the system but it’s gonna take years decades to notice. I’m not interested in too much change in one noticeable gulp. It would be perceived as a mass hallucination that would terrorize the happy, undermine the progressive, and make all the powers that be even more powerful. So go about your good deeds quietly and keep up the good work! Thanks for your support and cooperation Rodger X.

Rodger Levesque at 6:39pm February 1

Was it your plan to enrage me? Was it some flippant move, like aiming for the chest in air hockey? Or maybe putting on a Nashville hockey jersey? Were you trying to antagonize me?

Rodger Levesque at 6:42pm February 1

Luckily I thought it through before responding like Dan Ackroyd on SNL “John, you ignorant slut.”

Rodger Levesque at 7:00pm February 1

You know I’ve never been much of an activist. Have you seen “Into the Wild”? I recognize that rage and frustration. Activism drove me nuts, and then journalism wasn’t much better. Hey have you ever read my blog? (Don’t worry about it. No one reads it. Who could? It’s a ridiculous expression of complete confusion. But…) Something I’ve been writing about speaks to what you wrote. The blog is called “Not Left To Chance” and it gets its name from a line about education being socialization that isn’t left to chance. I liked that, not the cynicism of it, but the reality. When you write that “we’re changing the system” like by some sort of chance one day the system will be something other than it is. But the system is reproduced by command and control. Our socialization hasn’t been left to chance. We’re conditioned by the system to reproduce it. Have you ever seen A Clockwork Orange? After Alex has been reconditioned, the thought of violence incapacitates him.

Rodger Levesque at 7:01pm February 1

What thought incapacitates you? That’s the thought you need to put into action if you want to change the system.

John Barth Beresford at 10:33pm February 2

You express such optimism to began and then complete resignation to finish. If you can’t see a positve result, why pitch it happening at all? You’ve already decided you won’t make a difference. That’s alright, that way you won’t be disappointed by hope and perhaps might even be pleasantly surprised by a change you never expected to make.That’s some pretty serious resocialization you’re talking about and besides Alex at the end pulls off another fast one, it’s suggested with raised eyebrows. He’s all about ego-based will, anarchism. I’m saying the more anonymous your approach and the more random per-chance your focus, as opposed to your obessed ‘incapaciting thought,’ the more effective your result for a greater number of people in a freer self-empowering way.

Finally, yes, I was saying if you think more that way, if you observe and follow, ironically you’ll be defining yourself as an individual.

Chapter 6: Democratizing Technology

March 20, 2007

One of the interesting potentials of blogs lies in research. With a few key words you can compile a sampling of attitudes within a sector. Sure you can find any opinion you want to promote, but the potential for a public dialogue exists. You can replace “technology” in this book with any other public institution and it would more or less hold up. Is this because medicine, housing, education, transportation are technology? Here’s a blog post entitled rather descriptively People Who Know Nothing About Schools Telling Us How to Fix Them again, switch “schools” with “technologies,” “hospitals,” or “shelters” and it amounts to pretty much the same thing; professionals want to feel like they have some control over their work. This is the control Feenberg wants to see wrested from the professions. In chapter 2 Feenberg shows how these “white collar” labourers sided with the people against the ruling class.

Education gets knocked about often enough by public policy and it seems to be in constant crisis. I guess that’s why Feenberg might like to see locally elected technology boards. I’ll just put the pulled quotes here again:

Technology is power in modern societies, a greater power in many domains than the political system itself. (p.131)

But if technology is so powerful, why don’t we apply the same democratic standards to it we apply to other political institutions? By those standards the design process as it now exists is clearly illegitimate. (p.131)

Representation, even at its best, diminishes the citizens by confiscating their agency. (p.133)

Disarmed by its emphasis on representation and central role of majorities in electoral politics, conventional democratic theory tends to devalue or ignore actual public participation by smaller numbers and tacitly to accept the mass mediated shadow for the substance of public life. (p.133)

Only reinvigorated communities can arrest the slide of modern society into media-manipulated passivity. (p.134)

All too often, public interventions into technology are dismissed as nonpolitical or, worse yet, undemocratic because they mobilize only small minorities. (p.134)

Feenberg uses the sidewalk ramp as an example of public policy for the benefit of minority groups. (p.141)

Instead, the most important means of assuring more democratic technical representation remains transformation of the technical codes and the educational process through which they are inculcated. (p.143)

Such schemes [electronic town hall meetings] deligitimate by implication the forms of intervention open to us today which are not usually based on the principle of majority rule in a community setting. (p.145)


Feenberg proposes “a strategy combining the democratic rationalization of technical codes with electoral controls on technical institutions.” With this strategy, popular agency “would be normalized and incorporated into the standard procedures of technical design.” (p.147)

I’d like to have more time to write these up, maybe have something clear to say, hopefully this will be useful to me later. This has got to be better than writing nothing. Right now I can’t make any argument, and maybe it’s best to consider my words a little more carefully. I am reactionary. When I come up against even an attempted optimism (see pages 4 and 14 of chapter 1) my pessimism rises, and the reverse is true.

Do I simply need to develop more of a personal stance? Stance? Perhaps a straddling of the polemical divides, like some sort of conceptual millipede. That’s more the case. I’d like to see technology legislated. After watching Who Killed The Electric Car, it’s obvious how out of control the people who drive technology, the people who actually work for, make necessary and pay for that technology, have no say in how it is designed. When the Big Three are wiped off the map, it’ll have been for their own short-sightedness.

I’d like to see something done, but national governments are corporate ideology cushions, and local governments, as powerless in the sway of corporate dollars. Anyone who challenges these institutions will be beaten. And yet, many of the social services we take for granted were implemented to domesticate the enraged working class. Their unions were heavily legislated. Communists, their ideological foundation, weren’t allowed in leadership positions. Their actions were completely legislated, their potential controlled. The government’s moves to provide free education for everyone were condemned as a communistic idea, which it was. The working class was given everything its communist champions were calling for except control.

I don’t know how our democracy works. I’ve got a schoolboy’s idea of democracy, but this tired middle-aged hack doesn’t know all the forces at play. This idea Feenberg proposes feels good to the freedom and peace loving schoolboy who still lives around here somewhere, but for the cagey veteran in us the system isn’t rational.

There is no free and lively dialogue. It’s written in the history of Socrates, Jesus, unnumbered union leaders, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, John Lennon. Our power potential reduced to a monologue. Libel chill, Advertising boycott chill. To imagine there is some free and lively dialogue in North America is to be so intellectually limited that the stunted back and forth… no one buys it. Everybody know the reality. If you’re not dead, you haven’t said anything we need to hear. What a funny world we live in where an assassin’s bullet is our highest intellectual prize.

Technocracy and Rebellion: The May Events of 1968

February 21, 2007

This chapter… some notes. Feenberg “argues for subjecting technology to democratic debate and reconstruction.” That’s from one of the blurbs in the front of the book. I’m going to read through to the end of the book before I touch another chapter. There’s something happening here in the first part of this book that is completely disconnected from anything I understand.

This chapter is supposed to “open a window on the revolution in thinking about technology that continues to this day.” But again, not being much of a reader, and born after May ’68, I haven’t been much influenced by the thinking before this revolution. The essentialism and determinism explained in chapter 1, I don’t know, maybe being born after ’68 the thought of being creative in the world has just always existed.

And I don’t mean creative in the sense of free and easy artists. Maybe determinism comes from an inability to see our own selves. Perhaps it’s a belief in God, or a desire to believe in an authority, because the superficial message we get is not our people’s. The perfect example comes around every year. Each November 11 we’re reminded of the state’s role in securing our rights and freedoms. I grew up in a union home. The change in our standard of living didn’t come from the government. A dying generation created my situation. They literally had to fight the state(complex) to improve our lives.

Once you’ve seen it in your life, you recognize it in history. Civil rights, women’s right, Gay rights, no one in standard issue uniform went to war for their rights.

The ’68 student movement creates a new politics, “challenging capitalism in new ways.”(p.21)

Feenberg “reconsiders” the May events along four themes.

  1. logic of student revolt
  2. student/worker relations
  3. middle strata’s ideological crisis
  4. new libertarian image of socialism

“[the students] refuse to become professors serving a teaching system which selects the sons of the bourgeoisie and eliminates the others;”(p.25) They rejected their “role in the process of social reproduction.” While Feenberg alludes to a complex “c” conservatism in the university(p.23), the students’ writing claim the revolt was not about the situation in the university.

Society “pretends to be based on knowledge.” The students called for workers’ self management and for a transformation of daily life and culture.

The middle strata sided with the people.

“workers would set there factories back in motion on their own account.”(p.39)

Sartre wrote, the events of May ’68 “enlarged the field of the possible.”

“In the domain that interests us here, these movements were precursors that announced the limits of technocratic power”(p.43)