Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Power and Power

In a very important sense, the power rests with me.

I type up your symptoms and behaviors and appearance and I form a narrative that suits the purpose of more powerful people than both you or me. In the end, in a very important sense, I hold power as most servants of the system do. I can call you this or that. I can diagnose, using the latest social attempt to define you as you think and operate and conduct yourself and interact with the world.

I have the weaknesses of all of power's servants. Greater power, close or far above me, can decide to take away the power of definition I wield at any time. I can be replaced if I don't do what they want. But I also find that in the sheer size of this structure that I have discretionary power. I can disagree with former diagnosticians. I can make new recommendations. They can be ignored. If I phrase them right, they can effect change. I don't fool myself. There are so many agents of power that I can be very, very easily disregarded, overruled, and a master narrative applied. Your history can return to earlier tellings. It can be as much out of my hands as it is out of yours.

But I can use my time with you to ask you to tell me your story. And others can ignore it and retell it and make you, in a very important, structural sense, into a different person in their eyes.

But in your own, and in mine, you can start to tell your story anew. And that is a very important sense as well.

I don't fool myself that I give you power. I say the whole time that it's your story. And it is. But you're right if you say that I still hold the keys that can unlock shackles, and that I hold keys that let me go at the end of the night. You have no such keys, and the leftist in me continues to loathe this distinction. What is it that I say to my colleagues? "There're the crazies on this side of the door and the crazies on that side." "There're the crazies that leave at the end of the night and the crazies that don't." I bring this up and the students and the interns might balk at my use of the word "crazy," as a noun and as an adjective. I use it to reduce all the fancy talk. I use it to include myself. See, I'm functional enough, or good enough at lying--same thing, basically--to not be categorized as "ill." But I'm crazy, alright. I'm fucking nuts.

But I do my best to remind you, whether you're crying, or whether you're being held down, shot up, and restrained, that you're your own author. I wonder all the time if I'm deluding myself. Sometimes I am. And sometimes a woman who stared at the floor when she met me starts to look me in the eyes. I like that. I didn't do that. I didn't "empower" in the sense that I can't give you what you already had. But I can remind you of what I see, and what others might see someday, and what you've forgotten, what all that "natural law" and "God-given rights" crap tries to say but fails by positing some overlord who gives us what we're supposed to have.

The fact is that you're born with it all. Dignity, strength, power. The fact is that you're made to forget it, made to believe that it can come with a pill or a bottle or a grant of money or access or title from a lord or a boss or an owner. You're made to believe that what you've got you've got to get from somebody else. Fuck that. You're born with it. Fuck the toil, fuck the earning. You deserve safety and respect and acknowledgment of what nobody can give you, what you should have had the moment you drew breath: not a safe and placid and pleasured life of a Last Man, but a life without abuse and violation and invasion and ownership and definition by others and expectations you've got to meet because we say so.

I don't give you that, but I play a role sometimes, the role of a man who respects you as someone who's sitting where, but for chance and brain chemistry and socialization and luck, I could very well sit. And where I could well sit one day, depending on how things go. And sometimes you play a long. And you act like a human when, if we treat you like an animal, you may well act like one, desperate and dangerous and damn impressive to those who ride out the fear and see you striving like people ought to strive when they're oppressed.

And in the end, I hold a very important sense of power, and no amount of pretty intention will cover that up. But you hold a very important sense of power, and I hope a more important sense of power, because in the end that's all I've really got, too: the ability to define yourself, to tell your story, to play along in a part written by none but you and those you claim as collaborators and muses and teachers. I didn't give you that, but I tried to act as if you remembered, and sometimes you do. And sometimes it's not enough and I remember that I'm serving your dominators, and while we always strive to find the way that our mastery serves your well-being, I know that mastery is incapable of doing so. It can prevent the most severe acts of self-destruction, and maybe we can protect you while you're clawing your eyes out and banging your head against the wall. The parent in me comes out when you do that, and it is the only time I have felt comfort with force. But I know that parental mastery is my measure for all force: it must end.

Maybe I've stunted you. Maybe I've held you back. Maybe you belong under the tires of a car or in a pool full of blood. Maybe we're not doing any good. This haunts me, but I do my best when another you comes in and I speak to you without taser or gun or physical prowess. I try my best to treat you like a human being, and that's all I can do at the moment. It's far above the way you're often treated, but I know it's not enough. Some time, I want to know what is.

Inspired, of course, by Jack Crow.

Monday, October 24, 2011

There When We Need Them

The men standing outside Home Depot seem to not be suffering too greatly. They clump under sparse shade trees. Some smoke. Some talk. Some cast slight looks toward passing cars.

They remind me of prostitutes. There is something simultaneously frail about them--for their sorely desired services are officially forbidden--and stronger, too, than I am--for hazard and chaos toughen when they do not destroy.

I am sure that the men are viewed with scorn or disgust. I fight back pity--I fucking hate pity--and go about my errand elsewhere. I save my revulsion for johns, and maybe that's low of me, too. Whatever gets you through the night. I probably shouldn't judge. But we live in a country of johns who hate those who feed their fixes--for cheap labor, or purchased sex.

I wonder if all of us aren't standing on street corners of our own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Fit for a King

Over at The Angry Arab News Service, there's a link to Gaddafi footage. Go get it if you like. As'ad AbuKhalil writes:

I was thinking: if he was a Gulf potentate being tortured to death, I could have seen Arab liberals and Western governments decrying the brutality of the protesters and calling for humane treatment of long-standing American friends. But these are NATO rebels and we have to pretend that they are, like the Mujahideen of Afghanistan, peaceful freedom fighters.

Very well put, and completely true. I'm not expecting revolutionary upheaval to be a tea party, and maybe I'm naive to be sickened by any celebratory brutality, but I don't see this as a triumph of liberty. Not when I know what horror we continue to fund. Gaddafi happens to have been a bastard whose elimination became convenient for us. Bigger bastards remain, bigger torturers remain, and greater tyranny and arbitrary dealing of death remain, all propped up by those of us too callow, lazy, and uncaring to do anything to stop it.

America's Legality

From the BBC:

The event, presented by the Temple American Inn of Court in conjunction with Gray's Inn, London, pitted British barristers against American lawyers to determine whether or not the American colonists had legal grounds to declare secession.

For American lawyers, the answer is simple: "The English had used their own Declaration of Rights to depose James II and these acts were deemed completely lawful and justified," they say in their summary.

To the British, however, secession isn't the legal or proper tool by which to settle internal disputes. "What if Texas decided today it wanted to secede from the Union? Lincoln made the case against secession and he was right," they argue in their brief.

A vote at the end of the debate reaffirmed the legality of Jefferson and company's insurrection, and the American experiment survived to see another day.

All law has to be backed by force. With sufficient force, it becomes true in fact. Without force, it is a joke. With enough force but no will to enforce it--such as in the case of the Soviet Constitution (or, many would say, the American)--it is the darkest sort of humor.

So, honestly, the fact is that the American secession is legal by fiat, just as the UK's criticism of secession is only based on the hypothetical ability to stop it. Law, I think, follows force. It certainly doesn't precede it. Incidentally, your brother's graduation from law school is a really bad time to start harping on post-hoc legal rationalization from Henry VIII to Barack Obama. Just sayin'.

But where America frustrates me is in its inconsistency (the UK's hypocrisies might upset me more were I to live there, or were it at the height of its power). We support secession when we are seceding, but killed hundreds of thousands to prevent Americans seceding from other Americans. We refuse to be subject to the same market fluctuations and price undercutting as everyone else, but cudgel smaller countries into the "global market." We are against imperial expansion yet squat on our formerly-Mexican lebensraum all the same. Our revolutionaries were thugs from the very beginning. They cleansed the Ohio River valley in order to distract from their unwillingness to revise or cancel debts. Washington was the first American leader to raise troops to fire on their own people. The revolution was powered by the people and the men with the statues led the counterrevolution. Even Jefferson expanded the power of the centralized state which, from opposition, he rightly sought to limit.

Have a great fucking weekend. Tear down some idols.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rights of the Individual: Right Action

Previously I found myself at a fork in my thoughts on human rights.

So it's either a Nietzschean, Stirnerian free-for-all, the war of all against all, or we'd better start working on that Heaven on Earth. Somehow I imagine that each would lead to a little of the other, whatever path we take.

I continue to believe that the war of all against all is probably a good part of how the world can and does work. Additionally, I believe that it is a philosophically earnest way to see things. Shit happens, and either there is no right at all, or all that is is as it should be. You do what you can when you can, and I will too, and if I get mine or you get yours, the winner is the fitter, or the luckier, or the more meritorious, or simply the one who wins. I can say nothing to defeat reductionist materialism, or fatalism, or whatever philosophical label one may apply.

But... Say there are rights. Say that, as I argued before, there is no way to argue stratification because there is no standard of merit that we can apply to all time and situations. Then, roughly, we have equal rights. I don't have the right to initiate violence on you and you don't have the right to do the same to me. We agree on violence because it's obvious.

Some of us split off when I say that there is no right to trickery, or that deceit is wrong. After all, those of us say, we do not make anyone believe a thing. We simply allow others to be ignorant or foolish or wrong. Caveat emptor. And some of us in turn stick to an anti-deceit stance, but neither can necessarily prove the other wrong unless we enter a psychometaphysical argument about the nature of human will, choice, and responsibility, and even then I won't bet on its ending.

And we can go on down the chain through influence, which some people do not believe in, and intelligence and propaganda and advertising, which only work on weak-willed or stupid people and never, ever, on us free-thinking superior types.

So we can have all those debates on where aggression ends and begins. In some of these interactions, competition is present, fairly or unfairly. The thief contends with the possessor, the target with her attacker, the business rivals with their fellow dealers.

What about competition free of context? What morality is there to be found in pure competition? Certainly, we can find almost no pure situations in nature, but what can this ideal situation tell us about our respective worldviews?

What if two individuals find themselves desirous of the same resource? What if this resource is finite, like a lover's time or an unrenewing mineral deposit?

What is just then? Is it a fair feud? Does the winner become the aggressor and the loser the victim? Are they equals until the contest is over and then become dominant and defeated? Are they obligated to share?

All of these options and many, many others are things that I am interested in deciding for myself and others. Perhaps they are all simultaneously true, in that way that siblings can be confidants, rivals, traitors, conspirators, and mentors all at once. Perhaps we are both threats and allies. Perhaps what anarchism says is that whatever their choices are, they ought to be free to make them. But then, I wonder, may we simply end up on the other path of the free-for-all? Would that be a failure of our liberation, or a necessary risk?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

At Least It's Different

I heard the following on NPR today, which is generally shitty, but still one of the more useful ones. It's Kim Bostrum, an "Occupy Wall Street" protestor in Missoula, Montana.

On "quiet consensus" leadership:

Pretty much all decisions are made according to that model, and I think people are really finding that it's amazing to feel like when you say something, it matters, as painful as it can be at times.

On their reasons:

As many people as you ask here, you're gonna find different reasons. I think the reason everybody's here is because we’re angry. The reason I’m angry because I feel like a wealthy minority is controlling our so-called democracy. They control our food, our water, they’re outsourcing our jobs, and this wealthy minority is kinda taking over the country and we kinda want to take it back.

On Bostrum's conflicts of interest:

Well, I'm on my lunch hour, so I'm not representing my employer right now.

On being pawns to party politics:

We're fighting it tooth and nail. We don't want to be co-opted. This is not a move to support Obama or the Democrats. I don't want anything to do with re-electing Democrats in general but Obama specifically. I don't feel like he's represented the change that I had hoped for.

On Mitt Romney:

He means nothing to me. He can come join us, but I think that he's one of the one percent.

On one thing that could make a change:

Well, there's, um.... I hate that we're being set up as kind of capitalism and democracy or something else, which, you know, people like to term it communism, socialism, we're all being, you know, called all those names that people consider bad without really considering what they mean, and there are other things that haven't been created yet. We're smarter than that. We don't need to settle into this system or that system. We can create a new system, I think, and one that I'm interested in is the idea of nested councils, where people are assigned to a representative group, similar to a jury duty. You don't get to go out and campaign for it. You're assigned to it. And when it's your time to go and serve, you have to go and serve. It gives the community real true say in something that really affects them.

Any errors in transcription are mine. Listen to the whole thing here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Politics of the Personal

Apparently "the personal is political" is some catchphrase among some feminists. This is where my ignorance of the undergraduate college polit-pop scene shines through. It was a black goth ex-boyfriend of my now-wife who first mentioned the phrase. Can't remember the context. Only remember my skepticism.

My personal shit had been about power, sure, but politics, in my young(er) life, was something higher and systematic and structural. Personal seemed like a god-damned mess. I still know what he meant, and I know what is generally meant by the phrase. Politics, which is to say "shit that involves power," is of course present in our personal lives. But try to systematize it without being a dickless doctrinaire son of a bitch. Try to come up with a personal philosophy. It is simple to draw straight lines through war and peace and money and property--at least for me. And yet when I deal with a single life I cannot help but leave philosophy behind and enter some flailing, miserable, confused, nihilist state of mind.


She looks at me, eyes brimming, and calls me a son of a bitch. Some word that I remember as "gutless," but she uses something else. We share the same vocabulary, but we have different preferences in anger. She tells me that she would never do this to her worst enemy so she can only imagine how much I hate her.

I sleep that night at a friend's house. We stay up late and smoke cigarettes and talk about relationships. Things have been bad for him and his spouse. They've come close to calling it quits, he tells me. He has some idea of how hard things have been for her and me. He knows us well, knows the stress of working for their employer. Has an observant mind. He's smart and I like him. He makes a terrific advocate for sticking with it.

The next morning I have cried a half dozen times. I barely sleep. I linger and then return. I talk with her. We figure out some kind of peace. When do I have the right to leave? I suppose I have the right whenever. Or, as I've said before, maybe rights don't exist except as assertions. So do I want to? Part of me does and part of me doesn't. Neither part is rational.

In a couple days, I have chest pains. Feels like a panic attack. I'm gasping like Guevara. I try to calm myself, try to breathe deeply, fighting against the impulse to pant. It doesn't work. A big wave crests and I'm crying out.

She drives me to the ER. Almost to the hospital, a terrific calm settles over me, a ruthless, heartless side. I decide with grim determination that life's too short. If this is indeed psychological, then it's a sign that all is not well. Some people get right with their lord. I need to get right with me. I flash back to Peter Krause in Six Feet Under. Am I close to my own personal narm? I certainly feel melodramatic, reckless, and clumsy enough.

I feel guilt from being so selfish while my wife is driving me to the fucking ER, but pain has rendered my mind more intense. When I walk into the emergency room, I am ready to take control, playing every bit the part of a man having an emergency but clearly not letting his chest pain get the best of him. It is interesting, what gives me a sense of power. I'm odd.

When I am presented with the bill, I waltz back into Easy Politics. I am polite to the woman who tells me, and profoundly angry with the insurance company. My wife and I commiserate. I am happy that I have Dead Loved One Money in the bank, but I feel offended at spending it on something like chest pain rule-outs. We head home, nothing resolved but the diagnosis. Not pleurisy or a panic attack, but costochondritis, they think. Acute inflammation. It can be intensified by emotional stress, you know. I don't know what stresses me more, and I don't know what's healthier in the long run. The pain that comes from crossing the threshold, or the pain that comes from staying. She drives me home, and I am still contemplating a life where I have ended the only adult relationship I have ever had.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tar Me with that Brush

Charles Davis takes on the notion of Somalia as an anarchist/libert paradise:

I think it's worth pointing out that this critique is no different than a conservative or right-wing libertarian responding to a criticism of modern state capitalism by snorting, "oh yeah, and how did the Soviet Union turn out, ya Marxist?" It's intellectually dishonest. It's lame. It's -- perhaps most damningly -- just plain unoriginal, returning "About 210,000 results" on Google. And it's a damn weak attempt to hang around the necks of those who would dare imagine a world where people are free to organize and live in communities not subject to the coercive interference of an outside, centralized power, a failed state -- Somalia -- that has been torn apart by decades of Western state intervention...

Back in July I summed up thoughts about Somalia that I've posted in a dozen places previously. Somalia ain't anarchy; the phrase I used was "enforced chaos." It's Caesar in Gaul, it's France in Italy, it's America in Latin America or damn near anywhere else. Pick your precedent.

But... And this is where I'm crass and kneejerkily contrarian. Anarcho-friendlies may well ask themselves how they avert the gangs-and-thugs-and-Mad-Max scenario. It is plain as day that Somalia has suffered from foreign intervention. It is plain as day that it is not an anarchist paradise. It is not plain, however, that anarchy must turn its eyes away from Somalia, as we have nothing to do with that.

Nobody wants to be associated with failure, or atrocity, or bad things. Everybody wants to say that they would never support something that would lead to something bad. Rightists have nothing to do with Hitler. Liberals have nothing to do with Vietnam. Socialists have dodged the Soviet Union how many times, and yet the fact remains that a great many institutional socialists supported Stalin up until it was no longer popular. The fact is that libertarians must face the Chicago School's advice to men like Pinochet. Ayn Rand nuts should figure out where they stand on HUAC. And if that means that anarchists must learn from Somalia, so be it.

Because if you ever fucking impose "a world where people are free to organize and live in communities not subject to the coercive interference of an outside, centralized power," then you must articulate how you avoid local despotism (or acknowledge its possibility and dismiss it as acceptable) or articulate how big, bad, angry neighbors aren't going to come in and fuck your shit up. It's that simple.

Somalia had anarchy. It experienced devolution, secession, and popular institutions take the place of a centralized entity. And yes, it swiftly passed to enforced chaos. Nevertheless, it remains highly relevant for anyone who wants to see the leviathan fall.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Why They Win

You want to know why the distant undo you, break you down, tear us apart, get us at each other's throats?

Because it's always easier to hit when you where to strike.

And you always know the weaknesses of those close to you better than you know those of others.

I've always talked about hanging kings before thieves and criticized society at its widest point, but--

I'm crawling up the leviathan's ass.

I've always talked about banding together, about relying more on local uses rather than distant, impersonal thems, but--

I think I gave her a good reason to strike me today.

And I think it's far easier to destroy a marriage than a social hierarchy.

And maybe I'm just becoming one more petty little man defining himself by pushing others away. I say I want freedom, I want to move in new directions, I want to stand on my own... But I'm a dog like any other, biting at those closest to me, chewing not on the bones of my real enemies but of wasted and vanished friends.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

To Do

I am racked by the question of what I owe others.

Maybe I can tie this together cleverly. Maybe I'll just do what I've done and forcefully extrude some awkward, ill-begotten thought from my skull.

I think that a lot of us have merit backwards. Merit is popularly defined as what you deserve to get, but that's secondary. What you offer is the primary issue, right?

I see the tail-end of a Thomas Friedman interview on "The Daily Show." He's talking some liberally-well-meaning rot about making sure people have something to offer. "Everybody's good at something." Well, that's sweet-sounding. But it's got the same order as I've always heard.

Give so you can get. Offer so you can take. If you want something, what are you willing to do for it?

Well, what if I say that in order to give, I've got to get, first? Maybe we should get so we can give. It's been as likely as anything in my life. When I have a lot, I'm quite magnanimous. When desperate, I can have a real sweet side. Especially when ill, I'm kind to nurses and polite strangers. But I also don't really have much to give, let alone produce in some way Friedman and other technocrats would recognize. For example, a keystone of economy is putting up with bullshit, and when I'm hungry, tired, sick, and poor, I'm no good at that. I give what I get when I'm low.

Little parts of my brain fume. Were I religious, then I would have been given some system of ethics. What to give, what to expect. But I'm a heathen and I'm selfish and I'm desirous of connection with others and I have to decide for myself what I'm willing to give up, what I'm willing to insist upon.

What do I owe others? What do I deserve? If the answer was nothing, my life would be simple. If my answer were that I deserved nothing and others everything, or the other way around, life would be painful but again, simple. But I do not deal with nihilism very well in a personal sense. I can believe in cosmic nothingness, believe that there is no God, no universal purpose, and so on, but in terms of petty personality I lack the courage (or the purists' zeal) to say that there is no morality but what I dictate, that I can do whatever the fuck I want. I melt and wobble like one more bourgeois moral performer and talk about family and responsibility and adjustment and time. Things take time.

It has become very hard to talk about freedom and responsibility and big choices in a social sense. It is hard because I have brought these issues directly to my life. And honestly, I can do little to comment about the wars and the mass murder and the killer sky robots and the economy when I am trying to figure out what I need, how I want to be free. How much I am willing to live at others' expense, make choices that can and will hurt them. Hurt me.

With all respect to Karl, the fact is that if I go all real and talk about concrete things, there's only so much blogging to do. Because the more real I get, the more I want to walk away from this shit and actually live. But life benefits from at least a little abstraction. The abstract, the arcane, the symbolic, the artistic, provides a place where we can see our thoughts in new context.

It is a momentary and vital act of intellectual or emotional independence. Call it a secession, call it a trial separation. It is vital.

So I am living and that drags me away. But living is muddled and improvised and intellectually strangling and confused and jury-rigged and pragmatic and corrupting. Sometimes I need some kind of reminder of my strategy. It is easy to grow distracted by an endless parade of tactics.

Owe and ought. Debeo. Same word. What I owe. What I ought to do. At the risk of sounding like the esteemed Crow (whose linguistic adherence is not my continental philosophical cup of tea), old Latin studies come back to me. What do I owe? What ought I do? What is to be done? Christ, the hardest part of living like you're free isn't the acceptance of responsibility. It's figuring out what freedom is for. And maybe owing and ought-tos are an attempt to answer that question. And now I'm rolling myself up into my thought. The arcane drags me away. Time to get back to life, before it drives me crazy again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In Lieu of a "Real Post"

If you're looking for a book about power in basic form, I imagine you could do far, far worse than King Rat, by James Clavell.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Of course, nobody likes to say they hate when they mean it.

When I fall in hate, I will make sure it's worth it.

Call me a lifestylist or a pampered pig, but I really do believe that some wars against others must wait until the wars in ourselves have been won.