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September 26, 2005


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I can sympathize with James Wolcott and his friend Steve Gilliard. When I've watched the coverage of political events on television, I've gotten pissed off too. The homogeneity and sense of futility projected through the box are infuriating. The media personalities who appear on it try to outdo each with incrementally vapid commentary. The distorted picture of events I've actually attended made me wonder if all that wasn't deliberate.

The moral cowardice of people who assume privilege as part of the the representative contract is also enraging and demotivating. That, too, appears to be deliberate. As does the insane gibbering of the mediagenic 1 to 2% of the protesters who show up for a self-aggrandizement fix. The only coverage of the other 98% comes from shots that make them look like a herd.

In times like these, these troubled times, I find that expressing a renewed commitment to take back the party is helpful. A futile gesture, perhaps, and a way to pour money down the drain, but demotivational idiocy really boosts my defeatism. There are, after all, no alternatives.

Isn't all of this just the symptoms of an empire in the early/middle stages of decline? Just starting on the downslope so everything still seems marginally ok.

"Late imperial decline," John Berryman circa 1975.

I recall similar anxiety and symptoms from the mid seventies. Things were on an economic downslope, military adventurism looked sour and commercial interests were gobbling up culture. The cretin, Huntington, popularized the theory that excess democracy was a problem. All the radicals were told to grow up, damnit, and make change from within. A lot of people dropped out in disgust. When Zombie Reagan shambled into office, the dog and pony show version of Dems vs Reps went fully into gear. The majority of them agreed with Huntington. That was the new baseline. The only debate was on how fast and how cruelly the people of the country should be incentivized. Superficially, this is like deja vu all over again.

What pissed me off then, when I was bright eyed and significantly bushy tailed, and pisses me off now, when the bush is thinning and I wear glasses, is the way the rage of the betrayed gets snapped up for commercial and "establishment" political party purposes. Useful idiot intellectuals and cynical manipulators drove drove a lot of people into the fold of granting legitimacy, even though the lid had been blown off a number of scams. I didn't think anyone could watch television again, for example, after seeing Network . But people did and peer pressure dragged others who knew better into it too.

This time around, the US will happily cede a great deal of economic sovereignty to transnational looters, who have become the useful idiots of foreign central banks, while the rest of the ruling elite become increasingly jingoist and xenophobic. Therapeutic mini-wars will restore the wingnuts' and cruise missile liberals' faith in Manifest Destiny. Another Fukuyama will write another book during a temporary uptick driven by clever financial manipulation.

Punch and Judy are still the show. As you say, incentivization is the norm. "Fit in or fuck off," "my way or the highway," "with us or against us," "consequences," "reality island," "owernship society" and the poor on the rooftops. I am reading a wonderful book by Charles Taylor, an Oxford style philospher, called, "Social Imaginaries," a kind of analytic version of Foucault. By social imaginaries he means the mind set, or mential repetoire, of a time and place. We are losing the social imaginaries of love, ethics, compassion, of ourselves a people living on a land that we hold as national resource or treasure. Instead the social imaginary is built around market and church, and both telll the same story, of contract, covenant, salvation by works, and damnation by failure. Yet, Taylor points wonderfully to the 18th century in England and France where a new social philosophy arose from small group conversations knitting themselves together into the then new concept of a "public," leading to the American and French Revolutions and the democritizaton of monarchy in England. They say there were 100,000 bloggers in 2001 and what? 15 million today? Maybe that is a promising sign. You would not think that drinking coffee with pals would lead to revolution, but that is how it happened, it seems. From coffee to conversation to journals emerging from coffee houses, to pamphlets, to a new social identity, to the creation of a public, to the assertion of the rights of man and citizenship, as opposed to subjection beneath a sovereign. Candidia may yet find that Fortune's Wheel turns.

That pesky emergence thing again, aided and abetted by invisible thoughts, wiring and keyboards.

Eventually, if it can be legislated out of existence, it will be (interconnected online free speech, that is) ... if not, then maybe Fortune's Wheel will turn until the price is right. But .. will it take a special kind of sword to cut wealth bindage's knots, or are the ropes too thick ?

Those who say WB is fiction, or does not exist, will have to first acknowlede the reality.

I do think we are past the point where just having a more open forum to talk about it will fix things. We need to be able to work towards new solutions, but the language and tools we are allowed to work with are constrained.

I basically like Taylor's refraiming in terms of imaginaries, and Tutor is right on by suggesting we have or are losing some critical imaginaries. All this begs the question as to how these things actually shift in the social realm. Vested interests have been hammering home their rational models that have no room for Hearth and Home, but only property and value measured in currency.

And yet something still survives that can be revived and strengthened. Most people see suffering in New Orleans or Asia and want to reach out and help. The desire is there but the energy gets coopted by failing institutions. I want to claim that the imaginaries of our time and place are deeply disfunctional, and unless they are jettisoned and replaced we will have a difficult time avoiding the ride on that downslope right to the bottom.

Those who say WB is fiction, or does not exist, will have to first acknowledge the reality.

I think that is the point of calling it a "social imaginary", and identifying it with our time and place. Money and the institutions built on it are real in the same way that language is. Neither comes into existence by pure act of will, they need to be adopted by a community and then will necessarily evolve in response to that contact. On the flip side, a handful of people with powerful imaginations can seed a larger vision as happened with the Internet.

As Harry and others have pointed out on numerous occasions, all communitarian impulses are discredited with a single mindless sweep of muddled thinking, and discredited either as violent anarchy or authoritative socialism. Just who are the violent authoritarians anyway?

The only reality that must be ackowledged is the power of its hold on the imagination. There is a conspicuous lack of any real virtues to recommend WB a a good way to organize societies.

GNP, Gerry. GNP is up and job growth is predicted once taxes are reduced and EPA and other regulatory restrictions are lifted. You have a steady job, with a 401k, right. A rising market will be to your benefit. What will you do if the economy tanks, your savings disappear and you can't get a job? Grow your own food? We are all in the same boat, just some have better seats. (Titanic.)


(make sure you look before you moderate ;-)

Just go and stand on an overpass of one of the busy highwaysin an urban area near you (if you don't live in or near a city).

Then ... let you rmind imagine, for just two minutes (that's all I think we need) thatthe same scene you see below you is taking place in Miami, Galveston, Atlanta. Raleigh, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, New York, New Haven, Hartford, Boston, Albany, Portland, Rochester, Buffalo, Cincinatti, Cleveland, Detriot, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Bloomington, Des Moines, St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City, Wichita, Santa Fe, Denver, Boise, Spokane, Seattle .. well, you get my drift by now, I'm sure.

Lots and lots of cars zip by inside of ten minutes ... then just imagine how many more such cars zip by in just one hour .. and hey, just for the heck of it, just cast you mind back to all those similar freeways in all the cities and large towns in America .. and hey, don't even thionk, for one minute .. about sao paulo, or mexico City or beijing or Shanghai ... I told u=you, don't do it.

Back to America ... now, just imagine sitting down and talking with each of the one or two adults in those cars about Wealth Bondage, about the insidious effects of easy credit card debt, about why it might not be smart to re-finance your house once again while rates are SO LOW, so that there's enough room on the credit card for that new 2 1/2 inch thick 42 inch screen flat tv, or for that trip you've always wanted to take (present company excluded ;-) ... try, just try talking to them about alternative currencies or reading "Social Imaginaries" or a real third party with an agenda that will keep their home heated in the winter and send their kids to a liberal arts college instead of recruting them for Iraq in a parking lot.

Don't forget, there are ten or twenty cars zipping under that bridge that's under your feet every second or so .. and don't forget, there lots of highways in lots of American cities with the same rate of zip. Remember, don't think of those other cities like Shanghai or Tehran or Tokyo or Kampala.

Titanic, or shiny Jerusalem on the hill, a land of opportunity the likes of which we have never seem before ?

Which story do YOU want to tell them, and which do YOU think they want to believe ? Lots of work, either way.

JJ, agreed. That is what a social imaginary is, the repetoire of easy beliefs, of what we all know to be true or true enough or communicatable up and down the whole society, around the country, and even the world. What is the key number one behavioral social act? Purchasing, shopping, earning and owning: getting and giving cash, or credit card, in exchange for goods and services. That is what the Ownership Society plays upon. It says, "OK, you need money, more money; that means lower taxes. You need a better job. That means capital formation, which means deregulation and capital gains tax relief. Some day you will be rich, so that means we need to repeal the death tax so you can give your money to your kids without double taxation." The arguments are sophistries but within the limited language of the social imaginary. To defeat them you need a larger range of reference, and public schools do not provide it. The answer of course is vouchers.

Here in Istanbul (as I think elsewhere I have been in the Mediterranean) the men are everywhere all day on the streets, dressed in cheap but clean suits (younger guys more American-looking) .. they meet, shake hands and then kiss on each cheek (imagine that goin' down on the streets of dallas ... haha ! ;-), prior to walking around arm in arm.

My host tells me that the average monthly income here is between $350 and $400 per month = Here in Istanbul (as I think elsewhere I have been in the Mediterranean) the men are everywhere all day on the streets, dressed in cheap but clean suits (younger guys more American-looking) .. they meet, shake hands and then kiss on each cheek (imagine that goin' down on the streets of dallas ... haha ! ;-), prior to walking around arm in arm.

My host tells me that the average monthly income here is between $350 and $400 per month = < $5,000 per year

There seems to be little or no shame in being a street vendor, or a waiter, and all the bad press about them being touts or taking advantage of tourists ... well, you have to consider the sources. and I am convinced that half the time the judgments come from fear and not knowing.

No homeless people or people asking for handouts, to speak of .. but lots coming up to you to offer the latest cheap knock-off of Poison by Dior

Warning .. vast generalization or two ahead .. The people are gracious, very gracious - they start talkin with visitors easily, are very quick to help, not suspicious (we North Americans are, and of course sometimes rightly and also because the guide books say to be), and it is very easy on the eyes to watch them being social .. everybody says that. this does not come from having money or owing things .. this comes from being in regular interaction with each other since childhood. I have taken many pictures of young boys and girls playing in the streets .. with each other, with animals, with a stick or water .. just playing and singing.

Is not the song disappearing from North America's heart ? here, they say "life is hard, so we might as well enjoy ourselves."

And I don't want to be naive, either. Turkey has grown progressively more Muslim over the past three decades, they are extremely irritable about the issues surrounding a Kurdish homeland, and there is a fairly strict authoritarianism to the government style .. all whilst trying to move past a certain learned helplessness or fatalism on the part of the common people and at the same time trying to gain entrance to the EU and become a modern more-or-less semi-democratic secular state.

Did you want some ordered liberty with that doner, sir ? Please, let me help you spend your money .. just step inside and I will show you the best kilims in all of Turkey, and almost free just for you, sir. Wealth Bondage .. what's that ? Some funny American tv show ?

Muslims in WB? No, not in Turkey, I suppose. Not yet.

In Glen or Glenda? the Bela Lugosi/God character intones: “People! All those cars, all going somewhere!” Very dark and prescient. What unites us most is not fealty to some idea of distributive justice, but rather the shared experience of gridlock. It seems we relate most easily to those who share our patterns of consumption.

Like communion, I guess.

Is it money, or consumption, that is our modern religion ?

An open question.

Market is God working through time. Money is grace. Consumption is communion with brands who are the holy brought to us in sacrements. The social imaginary of even the youngest child consists mostly of brands and brand stories. They know the meaning of prada before they have even heard of unbranded characters like Billygoat Gruff.

the car the car the car the carfuck the carthe car the car the car the carthere are morefuck the cari will buy themfuck the cari will drivefuck the cari will have themjammedupmyeyesearsnosemouthclassup my class up my classup my bleeding gaping classAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH !!!!!No.

At least there's plenty of free parking.

Oh by the way, you might want to think twice before you renew your AAA membership.

I joined the Better World auto club. If joining auto clubs makes sense to you, there's none better. They'll "tow" your bicycle, too.

Gas crunch, Southern California style... (from local paper)

Thanks, Mole, couldn't resist blogging her.

Nice one, mole.

It has occurred to me that peddle power has a number of advantages during a disaster. For one thing, you can't run out of gas.

I wonder if this green auto group will advocate systems that support high efficiency vehicles. One essential will be a network of roads for medium speed and weight limited vehicles. An ultralight peddle or hybrid powered car, bike or trike isn't safe in SUV and truck traffic, but on roads with no conventional cars or trucks, it would be different.

A father and his son went to town with a donkey. Dad sat on the donkey and the boy walked. People said, "What a terrible thing, a big strong man sitting on the donkey, and the poor boy has to walk."

So the father got off the donkey, and the boy got on. People said, "How terrible, this poor man walking and the boy sitting on the donkey."

So both the father and son got on the donkey's back, but people said, "The poor donkey! Two people sitting on his back -- that's terrible."

Then the father and son got off the donkey. People said, "How crazy, the donkey has nothing on his back, and two people are walking."

Finally, people in town were astonished at what they saw as the father and son approached. The father and son were both carrying the donkey!

Klaus, that is very good. Did you make that up? Aesop? Or you?

somebody made it up.

Somebody was talented.

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