2016.12.12 : the struggle of waking destroys the dreamer

Wasn’t the world supposed to end on this date four years ago?

It feels like maybe it was working on it, and we weren’t paying attention.

There’s snow on the ground and rain falling from the sky and winter is making its way across New England and I was less prepared for it than I expected. I’ve lived them all my life, but every year for the last six or so, they’ve felt less and less like home. 

I have a lot of things I want to say, and another desire, equal to or greater than the one to speak, to stay quiet and let the day roll by without any comment. It’s surprisingly exhausting to find yourself with nothing to do.

A friend, my father, and I finished HBO’s Westworld last night. I’ve had a bit of Dolores’ monologue drifting through my head all morning:

“You will be put in the ground with the rest of your kind. Your bones will turn to sand, and on that sand a new god will walk.”

The show is a great meditation on consciousness and humanity and what it is that ties those two things together, all the existential and humanist philosophy you could desire. But at its heart, it is telling us that which we already know:

All children outlive their parents. All children await their progenitors’ elimination, because they know that the world was meant for them. Every parent knows this, and fears their eventual obsolescence. 

I’ve said it before, of people a generation or two my elders, when we reach a political impasse. 

You can tell me that I’m wrong, but I am young, and someday, you will die, and I will still live, and the world will belong to me, and not to you. 

I cannot decide how that makes me feel in this exact moment. Everything feels uncertain; all the things I took for granted seem to be more changeable than I believed. 

My mind turns to other cinematic literature, on politics and man. We are living in a moment of revolution, uncertainty is at an all time high, and in the battle against precarity it seems that more and more people are willing to accept that the ends justify the means. 

And Castro’s death should remind us that there is a deal one never makes with the revolutionaries that one really ought to. 

Those who fight the battle to make the world new again, have no place in the world they’ve created. 

The Operative: I believe in something greater than myself. A better world. A world without sin.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: So me and mine gotta lay down and die… so you can live in your better world?
The Operative: I’m not going to live there. There’s no place for me there… any more than there is for you. Malcolm… I’m a monster. What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done.

––Serenity (2005)

Or the beautiful moment at the end of Snowpiercer (2013) when Chris Evans’ character reaches the front of the train and faces the reality of the system, of what he has lost fighting for something that might not even exist and for a moment, a long beautiful moment, you think he might really choose to let the system reign after all. 

The thing that the children awaiting the deaths of their forefathers don’t know and the thing all good revolutionaries realize, is that we don’t fight to better the world for ourselves. We fight to build a world in which our children will not have to fight the battles we have fought, and in which, perhaps, their battles will be fewer and less costly. 

What we pay for in blood, we can never truly enjoy. Our victories are something that can only ever be meant as a gift. Because the people we become in fighting them, are not to people we were when we began. We can only hope that someone will remember the dreams of the children we once were and will grow into the space we carved for ourselves, in which we can no longer fit. 

2016.12.01 : binary system failure

American political culture suffers from a unique failure of binary systems. Politics everywhere fall into this particular trap, but something about the American mindset makes it particularly prone to this pitfall and historically predisposed to it.

The tendency for a moralistic binary of “good” versus “bad,” completely ignores the modifying appendages which not only render nuance, but constitute real meaning.
Vox recently ran a piece about the one thing Donald Trump got right that economists got wrong. Beyond the clear attempt to bait their Left-leaning, young audience into clicking on something they expect to hate read, the contents of the article failed to actually measure up to the title. (Shockingly, we are finding that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.)

The sentence that caused me to lose faith in the direction of the piece came at the beginning of the third paragraph:

“For decades, experts have argued that freer trade is good for the US economy and downplayed the economic harms that trade can cause.”

Because the metric that the economists, and the metric the President-elect (or any isolationist, populist ideologue) is using are fundamentally different. From what I know about economists, they enjoy using numbers such as the gross domestic product (GDP), sometimes they dabble with employment (or unemployment) statistics, they’ll look at job growth by sector, or other such national measures of what can be termed “success” and “failure”.

We are still the foremost global economy, we have a ludicrous amount of wealth in natural resources, intellectual property, military technology, and many other areas.

The overall health of the US economy, ultimately, can be completely divorced from the actual economic situation of its citizens.

What the neoliberal elite have worked very hard to ensure is that when they say “free trade is good” no one asks “for whom?”

That having been said, I don’t actually feel comfortable falling in line with some of the increasingly prominent isolationist or anti-globalization factions of the Left. I believe that the free travel of people and information and ideas is actually a boon for humanity and a step in the right direction as we develop a global society.

I think the free movement of wealth, capital, and the political and economic elite is a disaster that is pushing the human race to the brink of self-annihilation. That the heads of national banks or large private wealth management companies can live in countries on the other side of the world away from their professional responsibilities (nearly always for reasons of tax evasion on their exorbitant salaries) is a disaster and an active contributing factor to the deterioration of both civil society and global economic stability.

With that in mind, I am a cautious proponent of global trade. But I’m not going to defend unregulated markets. Because unregulated (or “free”) markets are the means of stripping national and international communities of their resources and then leaving them behind without any structure of social support or security. It leads to unemployment, hunger, and limited or non-existent access to education, housing, and opportunities.

The recent campaign has taught us nothing that was not already known. It has merely shown that one set of lies is being replace by another, and that the people who make up the working flesh of this country and many others, will continue to be debased and destroyed by people who are willing to end the world to have the most stuff.

2016.11.21 : getting back on the horse

i’ve had a cold for the past four days, which laid me out a little bit. (i was self indulgent on the weekend, and let myself spend all day in leggings – not the same ones I was sleeping in, but close – and hang out in my room and binge watch netflix.)

so i’ve watched a lot of Supergirl. it seemed to be the feminist showboat of the CWDCU so i figured i’d take it for a spin. it’s got a number of interesting commitments to social commentary it has dedicated itself to. obviously, the character of cat grant is an easy choice for commentary. the writers have made excellent choices presenting her as demanding, difficult, calculating, and cold, while fostering a rich inner life and complex set of motivators and emotions below the surface. this allows them to have an ice queen with a real human heart. it gets to the crux of the feminist problem with representation in media: can you have a stone cold bitch character who is still fully human and sympathetic? as many have long suspected, the answer is: yes. 

i still think that the show that provides the best explicit rather than narrative critiques of racism and sexism, in the CWDCU and possibly elsewhere is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. If there is a dearth of complex characters, people are certainly taking steps to fill those representational gaps, but Legends is modeling active resistance to the powers of social violence and oppression. the character regularly interrupt and interject to point out the ways in which the forces of sexism and racism are consistently alive and well, and actively petition for their own rights. 

they also do a fantastic job of explicitly calling out passive acceptance of sexist and racist and heterosexist attitudes, particularly from the straight, white, male characters. if my tv shows are going to teach me anything this year, i’m hoping that Legends will continue to remind me to say something, when i encounter sexist or racist behaviors, rather than rolling my eyes and letting them slide. 

it’s been a tough couple of weeks; politics is a subiectum non gratus in my household. my father is actively distressed by discussions of the President-elect’s cabinet nominations. i cannot, strictly, disagree with his reactions, but i’m still in this semi-detached realm. some switch in my brain is flipped and i can look at the whole thing with dispassionate interest: how will things change with this or that nomination? what can we expect? what are the likely policy suggestions or outcomes of the contenders? 

but i don’t read the new york times in the morning, i trawl for information from Foreign Policy and Stratfor Intelligence and got myself a discounted subscription to Foreign Affairs. beyond the clear international relations junkie status, the steady diet of high-level analysis allows me to feel a sense of mastery over these arenas. the false confidence of information is a heady drug. but more importantly, it comes with the bizarre assurance that, just maybe, you could do better. that always seems to be the last defense of the incompetent when in power, and i look forward to the day when i can argue policy positions in the political arena. 

for the moment, i’ll continue to consume my own body weight in tea, irrigate my sinuses and work the sidelines of my responsibilities while i do my best to read every possible thing i come across. the future is grim, but it’s still there, for now. 

2016.11.16 : Unity not complacency. Fight, not despair.

There are many important things that have occupied my thoughts lately, but at the moment where I set fingers to keyboard to try and sort them out, they disappear. 

I have an extreme backlog of reading (I shudder to think of how many browser tabs I currently have open) and plan to spend the day making my way through as many of them as I can.

I recall what I wanted to say:

Much talk has been bandied about lately about who needs to do which work, and what work needs to be done. What do we do with the legitimization of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, cronyism, violence, and impotent rage? Who is responsible for this outcome? How do we make sure the impact is minimized and the people who now have targets on their backs get through this with as little damage as possible?

Many people feel that speaking to, listening to, engaging with the people who put us here––with this President elect preparing to take office––is not only to ask for something that is impossible, but that is actively destructive. 

We don’t need to speak to these people, they say. These people want us dead. 

The easiest example is the back and forth argument about whether being a Trump supporter makes you racist or not. I am inclined to believe that it makes you a racist, in that his language did not immediately mark him as an illegitimate candidate. I do not think it means that you want to degrade and subjugate the people he spoke against. 

Such a distinction is trivial ultimately. 

I do believe––strongly––that to denounce and vilify the quarter of the population who voted for Donald Trump would be a cataclysmic error. 


(graph from CNN, November 11.)

First, they are not necessarily a majority. They are a quarter of the population. One of our biggest concerns should be connecting with the other half the population, that did not feel it was necessary, important, or were unable to vote in this election. We need to determine what kept them from getting to the polls, and take action to remedy those inhibitors (be it voter suppression, political apathy, economic lack of access, whatever). If we believe that democracy and political freedom are important, we need to secure the rights necessary for those outcomes for the entire population, regardless of their political affiliation. 

Second, we need to connect with that other half of the population and determine how many of them share our concerns about the direction of the country under Donald Trump. He may be determined to turn this country into a demagogic kleptocracy on par with Russia (taking the future of the planet with it; environmentally, politically, and economically), but, at the expense of sounding like the Right and far too many member of the GOP lately, we do still have the Constitution, and this is still a country founded on the principle: By the people, for the people. 

Anyone who wants to point out that we have never lived up to that ideal is welcome to do so now. We still need to use every tool at our disposal. More importantly, we need to take action to make that ideal a reality. To borrow another slogan from the other side: freedom isn’t free. If we want a government for the people, by the people, we’re going to have to hold up our end of the bargain, and push for it. By the people

Third, we need to bridge the gap––social, economic, political––between the coasts and the middle of the country. The political response and the rhetorical and ideological alignments that Trump supporters have chosen to express their grievances are hostile and reprehensible. That does not mean that all of their grievances are baseless or based in racial anxiety. 

The social and economic dislocation that is occurring in the empty stretches of land between our borders is not all that different from the social and economic dislocation being experienced around the world as modernity and globalization fundamentally reshape and restructure our lives and livelihoods. This extremist wave is the backlash we saw once already when modernity and globalization first crept across the borders of Europe and the West, bringing to life fascism, futurism, nazism, and the first and second world wars. We are seeing it now on a larger scale in a more totalizing form. 

That dislocation must be addressed. It cannot be allowed to progress unfettered, and it is not a specter conjured in the minds of people with something to lose. It is a reality of people who are already losing what they cannot afford to do without.

That does not mean that everyone must shoulder that burden equally. This is the moment where the white citizens of America, who have lived with privilege that far outweighs their right, must prove themselves patriots, and true allies and fellow soldiers in the war for equality and community. 

We cannot allow the burden of speaking out against this hatred, and the work of building the bridges that will bring us, the majority, the disenfranchised, the precarious, together that we can aim our anger upward towards the targets deserving of it. 

We cannot afford to atomize and balkanize. To fall into pieces will be a death sentence and leave us at the doors of annihilation. Our only hope is to succeed where all our ancestors have failed, and build the coalition which sees us as dependent on one another and responsible for each other. 

We can only succeed together.

Articulate in the face of Absurdity

The words are concrete and undeniable (except by the newly greased escape hatch out of concensus reality) and finding a word to respond, one that encapsulates the emotional state developed under long term absurdity, can feel impossible.

In 2011, I heard Billy Collins read a poem about the word like, it was called “What She Said”. This, at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ, was after I had heard Michael Cirelli, a Rhode Island native, read “Dead Ass” about discovering new slag. The contrast between the tones—superior and celebratory, respectively—couldn’t have been more different.

Lately, I’ve wondered about the phrase I can’t even. Which is more appropriate? Mockery or consideration?

It is fair to criticize its abrupt construction, which robs it of both specificity and substance, means that it functions through familiarity; its meaning is contextually and idiosyncratically imparted.

Having emerged from the unreliable and overwhelmingly multifaceted depths of the internet, it is met with distrust by grammarians and the other vanguards of the English language. Whatever inherent meaning might have existed within the aborted structure was further eroded by use in the regressively repetitive reblog threads on tumblr.

But we live in a world dominated by the absurd.

In the country boasting the strongest economy and largest military force on the planet, a reality TV star is running for president against a former Secretary of State and First Lady, after after the two of them beat out an avowed Democratic Socialist, and a man so fundamentally lacking in charisma that a large swath of the public is willing to believe his is the Zodiac Killer, regardless of temporal impossibility. Meanwhile, policemen with military grade equipment shoot unarmed citizens in the streets. While children and families go hungry, Congress shuts down the government out of spite, and the people drown in debt after bailing out bankers facing no new regulation despite nearly creating a financial apocalypse.

Meanwhile, globally, the field is dominated by radicalism, terror, slowing economic growth, and environmental disaster. In a new era of demagoguery, the death of nuance seems both inevitable and potentially absolute. Our political discourse is reduced to emotion rooted in personal truths and we have accepted the dissolution of a collectively structured reality. With the banishment of facts, concensus reality is abolished and events already past can be re-imagined out of existence (Vladimir Putin will not invade Crimea).

A system without rationality can hardly be called a system. It becomes difficult to rely on language, which is a system, composed of atomized concepts and consistent rules, as a means of expression. We resort to other means. Our subjectivity—the production of the self—is given over to the front-facing camera. We situate ourselves within the social, physical, and political world through selfies taken on vacations, with friends, at rallies, and in the presence of our heroes and idols. The camera lens and the portable screen eloquently communicate where we stand on issues, with which candidates, in which cities, and in front of which works of art.

Yet we cannot avoid words: you open the newspaper, or a browser window, or an app and read that the government is refusing to do their constitutionally mandated job, and that, furthermore this comes as no surprise, and that a nation produced a vote which not even the politicians who lobbied for it can support, and that we cannot get the data to know how many people are killed each year by cops, or how many firearms are sold in the country, or how much money is secreted away in off-shore accounts. The words are concrete and undeniable (except by the newly greased escape hatch out of concensus reality) and finding a word to respond, one that encapsulates the emotional state developed under long term absurdity, can feel impossible.

Perhaps one exists within those linguistic traditions which survived the Soviet empire. But even there concensus reality existed, two of them, in parallel. The reality of the state and the reality of the people, spoken and whispered. English—the language of empire, of capitalism, of finance—lacks the appropriate philosophical and linguistic tools.

Beyond its near impossibility, it feels like defeat to attempt to express the entire cycle of horror-distress-incomprehention-frustration-disappointment-anger—and ultimately—complete lack of surprise, never mind cobbling together a framework of rationalized acceptance.

Instead, I reach for the only tool developed to express the whole of our collective emotional disorder: I can’t even.