Democracy’s Death Without Open Communication

F.C.C. Comments Submitted by Jim Hickey in Regard to Docket Number 14-28—Protecting & Promoting the Open Internet

A popular Government, without popular information, or the means

of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.

Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their

own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

So wrote James Madison as he fought for the United States Constitution.

Without doubt, our fourth President’s thinking applies to today’s issue—what should be the nature of the Internet going forward from this moment? The bottom line is simple to state: if we are to survive as a democracy, then more citizen control of media must become the norm, precisely the opposite of what the Federal Communications Commission proposes, with its ‘Fast-Lane’ and ‘Paid Prioritization’ processes more or less sacrosanct.

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe rationale for rejecting the F.C.C. approach consist of three elements. The first is historical. The second relates to achieving social and economic justice. The third concerns the political possibilities for democracy versus the increasing likelihood of plutocracy. These represent just a few among many reasons why people should reject the present paradigm and its extension in adopting Internet protocols that guarantee that wealthy corporations own, and dictate access to, what must become more, not less, of a stronghold of people’s control and empowerment, what James Madison termed a sine qua non of popular governance.

Summarizing the historical basis for rejecting ‘Fast Lanes’ and their ilk might include dozens of facts, but the following are definitely critical.

• First, folks should learn about the Radio Act of 1927 and the way that it destroyed community radio in favor of advertiser outlets, meaning that union radio, community radio, people’s radio fell by the wayside, laying the basis for the better part of a century of what journalist Edward Murrow termed “a vast wasteland” in commercial radio and television.

• Second, the establishment of the Federal Radio Commission, which both lay the basis for a ‘revolving door’ between government and media oligopoly and established the bureaucratic underpinnings of what continues to characterize the FCC, is noteworthy.

• Third, the delay in television’s coming to the fore shows how established media empires—in this case in radio—manipulate the media landscape in their favor, technological possibility and social need be damned.

• Fourth, the manner in which the cable television industry evolved, like radio and television, from publicly supported efforts to become completely a realm of finance capital and oligopoly following the Cable Policy Communications Act of 1984 clearly relates to what we are now facing.

• Fifth, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the dispersal to media monopolies of the architecture and governance of the Internet itself serves in many ways as the proximate cause of what we are confronting in the push to institute a ‘pay-to-play’ philosophy in relation to the web.

One might go on, at great length. However, even this briefing ought to give pause to anyone considering support for an end to ‘Net Neutrality.’

Examining the socioeconomic factors that call for opposing all of the coddling of the corporate elite tantamount in ‘Paid Prioritization’ ought to contain such evidence as

• First, folks might note the profound ignorance that characterizes students and young people in the United States, where the ability to articulate a reasonable understanding of history, culture, and politics is worse than in any other ‘industrialized’ nation.

• Second, observers have no choice but to see the causative relations between poverty, powerlessness, and such social ills as unemployment and a lack of access to media, which would inevitably grow worse in a commercialized, bottom-line orientation to everything on the Internet.

• Third, as literally thousands of other commentators have noted, the impetus to innovate and create would suffer enormously in an environment that made access and development largely dependent on the ability to lay out cash for the right to prioritize efforts.

• Fourth, encouraging monopolistic predominance will ultimately destroy the most substantial engine—some would say the only bright spot outside of prisons and the military—for economic progress that has been apparent over the past twenty-five years or more.

• Fifth, not only will increasing inequality unavoidably attach to the skewed rights and access of ‘paid prioritization’ and the like, but also such patterns will guarantee the enlarging of the pool of the poor and benighted.

Once again, such analysis could easily continue. Once more as well, even this short contextualization provides plenty of basis for insisting that ‘Net Neutrality’ expand instead of end.

Considering just a portion of the political reasoning in favor of greater democratic web-governance rather than less, an observer might list various component points.

• First, citizens ought to take account of the fashion in which monopoly and privatization inherently censor grassroots, unfunded, or underfunded efforts to reach out to others, a censorship-in-fact that guarantees that political conversation is outside the capacity of most individuals and many community networks.

• Second, a consequence of ‘Fast Lanes’ and such will be that, even more so than is already the case, only ‘establishment’ narratives and reportage will reach the surface of the web that almost all its users skim for data and news.

• Third, not only will the resources of information and knowledge be vastly more difficult to obtain, but also the capacity to generate funds for local initiatives and collective efforts to improve community welfare will fall catastrophically.

• Fourth, the ability of ‘whistleblowers’ and ‘watchdogs’ to catch and publicize government and corporate corruption and malfeasance will practically disappear.

• Fifth, in the vein of Madison’s reasoning, those who want to participate cannot help but notice that a slower, less robust, more attenuated access to data and analysis and networking will crush citizen and local initiative to heal and expand democratic governance and the hope of equity that, despite all evidence to the contrary, remain dear to the hearts of many Americans.

As before, citizen analysts could continue, but these simple notions not only give plenty of ammunition for eliminating every attack on Net Neutrality but also offer compelling ideas in favor of making such a policy both stronger and more certain.

Unfortunately for those who might find this reasoning compelling, the political ‘facts on the ground’ remain daunting. Oligopolistic financial and industrial interests dominate both the leadership and the grounds for discussion at the FCC and throughout the halls of government. What really is at stake here is whether citizens of the United States, in the words of James Madison, “intend to be their own governors.”

If they truly want and plan to have such a democratic future, then they will have to start doing a lot more than commenting in forums where the deck is already heavily stacked against them. They are going to have to take steps to return the public’s dominion to what has always begun as, and in all but the theory of monopolist enterprise, must forever stay part of the public domain—whether comprised of print media outlets, broadcasting networks, cable franchises, or Internet governance regulations.

Ways to submit:

1. This link provides instructions, etc

2. This is the direct link to the comments submitting area

If Copying Is Wrong, What’s a Copyright?

An Initial Brief

None other than William Blackstone, storied British jurist and intellectual progenitor of much of the contemporary nexus of ownership and production, had a very astute insight.

“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.”

book sq5In few places in the contemporary arena is ‘Sir William’s’ notion so resonant as in matters of ‘intellectual property’ and copyright.  Unfortunately, this ‘exercise of despotic dominion’ has for some time been having the opposite effect as the proponents of authorial ownership propound—creators are making less, or less than nothing; information monopolies in such areas as textbooks and science preclude public access and the ‘flowering of the arts’ that copyright exists to induce; only very well-heeled ‘owners’ end up availing themselves of either registration or remedies.  These anomalous, or perfectly routine, results effect serious economic, social, and political detriments, which ought to cause a union of writers to discuss matters of so-called intellectual property with open minds and not assume that established practices and protocols are beneficial to working writers.

book sq1The economic nightmare associated with contemporary copyright is also a windfall of course.  I.P. has for some time been the prime source of exports for the oligopolistic media-and-technology establishments.  However, for law students and other such strivers; for high school pupils in less-than-prosperous neighborhoods; for writers and creators who don’t have sixty-five bucks—now only $35 through the new eco portal–to invest every time they write something and thus will never be able to ‘remedy’ infringement; for communities here and elsewhere who desperately need access to information that they can only obtain in a legally ‘monopolized market’ of often exorbitant prices; and for many others, both scribes and citizens, the operation of the current copyright regime is, at best, suboptimal and at worst a disaster. Of course, these policies do encourage the rich to get even richer, but why should a labor union back rules that help big business and harm a substantial proportion, perhaps the vast majority, of everyday wordsmiths?  Inquiring minds might want to consider such queries, even as I and every other union member absolutely commit to fight like fiends for writer-members’ legitimate copyright claims.  The point is, that commitment is not nearly enough.

book sq5The social impact of today’s copyright morass represents a complex and multifaceted mess that largely elicits negative consequences.  One need only consider that a substantial majority of the planet’s teenaged-and-older inhabitants, were a strict enforcement regime in place, would at least technically and potentially be felons under today’s copyright rubric.  Moreover, rather than fostering creative congruence and generosity, copyright now operates to cause everyone to hide ingenuity away, to treat the potential for cooperation and sharing with disdain or suspicion.  In a networked world that absolutely requires joint, multidisciplinary, cross-border, intergenerational, multicultural ventures to solve a host of hideous problems, fostering a psychology of “it’s-mine-and-you-can’t-have-it” is likely suicidal.

The political outcome of the legal thicket in place today is equally insidious.  An invasive police apparatus has to be legitimate if ‘sacred property-rights’ are at stake.  The further polarization between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ means that electoral democracy becomes a charade and participatory democracy becomes either a crime or an impossibility.  At the very least, the plutocrats’ lobbyists write the legal caveats that further ratchet up the rapine of the present process; ordinary citizens become cynical, ripe for the latest divide-and-conquer scheme or, perish the thought, ready to find some ‘strong man’ who will always end up being a straw-man and a puppet for the forces that originated and gained from the system as it is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat should be the National Writers Union stance in such a pass?  One answer would be to foster a lot more dialog, call for the equivalent of a ‘Writers Constitutional Convention on Copyright,’ and generally to dig deep into the archives of government and the annals of history to facilitate a nuanced and rich comprehension of these matters.  Amelia Andersdotter, a member of Sweden’s Piratpartiet and member of the European Parliament, summed up simply when she said, “Copyleft and Copymore Instead of Copyright and Copyless.”  Her analysis is at least persuasive, deserving a lot more attention at all levels of the union than it is currently receiving.

The current legislation is adapted for, and even wants to promote, scarcity of information.  You won’t find users of information services or indeed any citizens at all who have a relationship with information corresponding to a scarcity model.  When thinking carefully about it, you will probably find that having such users and citizens isn’t even desirable. So our information management laws need to change.  Essentially, legislators and lobbyists all over the world will have to abandon the idea that restricting access to individual pieces of, or copies of pieces of, information is good.  It’s not.  We need laws that encourage abundance of each piece of information, and make use of the wealth derived from the fast spread of those pieces.

MORE TO FOLLOW

[metaslider id=”446″]

A Bibliographic Promenade

I am a public intellectual.  One thing I might do at this point would entail fleshing out and deepening the simple, and inevitably oversimplified, thesis in the first five paragraphs.  However, I’m going to follow another approach.

What follows in a sense does imply argumentation.  But it will show up in the form of a tiny slice—a small fraction of a small fraction—of the data and analysis that others have been providing.  It will be akin to a literature review or a bibliographic essay, two types of writing that I’ve done in one way or another for lo these forty-odd years.

ResearchFolks may well trust that I am all too capable of seeking to be exhaustive in such efforts as this.  In these posts, on the other hand, I will point out again and again how initial and partial and exploratory are the links and information that I proffer.  One critical piece of taking action is to make a start from which more powerful subsequent work can flow.

What will consciously not be here, at least for the most part, are mainstream views, corporate propaganda passing itself off as ‘expertise,’ and other defenses of or attempts to extend further the present-day standard operating procedure.  Working people, unions, and grassroots communicators need such repetition of the fatuous ‘received wisdom’ about as much as we need tiny little holes drilled into our skulls.

What would I like readers to do?  Ideally, they’d find the reasoning, data, and linkages that show up here useful.  More importantly, they’d jump in and proffer correction, disagreement, amplification, or any “special knowledge” that they have about this topic area.  Anyone who e-mails me useful, pertinent links and ideas will generally see their input appear in edits of these main threads.  Most importantly, though, visitors here would also willingly help to facilitate and participate in ongoing dialog that leads to powerful grassroots action about these matters.

solidarity handInstead of complaining and waiting vainly for others to rescue the world from extremely troubled times, we have to take part in learning and struggle among ourselves to figure out as clearly as possible what has happened to cause the present pass.  Then, should survival and a decent existence and the prospect of grandchildren-or-something-similar appeal to us, we have no choice but to put what we’ve learned into action, somehow or other insisting that we, the people, are in fact the ones who are in charge.

TIMELINES

educationNeither the future nor the present can cause the past.  A first step in orienting ourselves, therefore, has to be a general awareness of the order in which things have taken place.  Here are some gateways to timelines on the web, followed by very rudimentary benchmarks for readers to note in any circumstance that involves a copyright discussion.

VARIOUS HISTORICAL ASSESSMENTS

book sq6Plenty of legal analysis is in the marketplace that nods in the direction of history.  Recently, however, an upsurge of critical examination has happened.  A teeny bit of this shows up here.

  • from digital-rights.net — a very scholarly but also very thought-provoking and outside-the-box monograph, freely downloadable, from Open Book Publishers
  • from commlawreview.org — a law review article that considers disconnects in current practice from a historical and constitutionalist perspective
  • from utexas.edu — the historical chapter from R.V. Bettig’s classic on the political economy of copyright
  • from archive.org — a 1904 book from the American Publisher’s Copyright League of legal cases
  • from amazon.com — a classic in the young field of copyright history
  • from openedition.org — chapter fifteen of Privilege & Property, by William St. Claire and important enough to list in its own right
  • from princeton.edu — a Princeton professor’s factual and richly detailed examination of media, politics, and social relations, a volume essential to include in any such discussion as this

EXPLORATIONS IN THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF COPYRIGHT

no trespassing signAll too often, those to whom the present occurs like a load of bricks falling from the sky fail to consider issues such as this.  Here’s some help, in that regard.  At some point, of course, we should all be talking about what we mean by, and what we know about, the parameters of political economy, without which the discipline of economics is arguably fatuous fantasy.

  • from tandfonline.com — one link to Ronald Bettig’s central study, Critical Perspectives on the History & Philosophy of Copyright
  • from law.ed.ac.uk – Christopher May’s brief overview, bracing and radical
  • from history.upenn.edu — another brief by William St. Claire, which provided key contextualization of many issues of knowledge, power, and law
  • from papers.ssrn.com — an exploration of “Copyright’s Hidden Assumption,” that a lengthy inheritable property interest makes sense instead of being an absurdity, except for its profitability
  • from publicknowledge.org — a “withdrawn” GOP White Paper attacking the party’s corporate masters
  • from arifyildirim.com — a Media, Culture, & Society article with this many interesting points to make.

COPYRIGHT & SOCIAL RELATIONS

typewriter3Here, where the terrain is especially complicated and difficult to tease out without immersing ourselves, just a couple of links should suffice.  This matter—concerning all manner of culture, class, color, and conflict pointers, would be well worth a colloquium and more, however.

PiratePublCRITICAL FAILINGS OF THE STANDARD REGIME

Even the most hallowed experts are often enough decrying the SOP and bemoaning ‘unintended consequences’ that quite logically are part of the purpose of the system.  In any event, a few such old hands’ critiques emerge below.

solidarity of labour‘COPYLEFT,’ A RESURGENCE OF THE COMMONS, AND OTHER ALLIES

Plenty of help is available to our union to assist in fomenting positive change, to foster creative and empowering alliances, to develop strategic programming and action.  But we will probably never reach most of these potential ‘fellow travelers’ unless we’re willing to climb out of the copyright hole that we’re presently occupying.

  • journals.uic.edu — an incisive critique of present practice, radical and Marxist to boot
  • cscc.scu.edu — movement overview and analysis of its likely benefits to the likes of union writers
  • from gnu.org — technical writers’ and programmers’ solidarity with copyleft perspectives
  • from ssrn.com – a neutral, thorough overview of the processes in these arenas

media 24CRITICAL LEGAL STUDIES, MARXISM, SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

A variety of ideological methods contain useful ways of thinking as we writers struggle to make sense of things and find ways to reformulate and transform this morass of pain that is the way things happen now

  • from law.unh.edu — an overview and analysis of Critical Legal Studies as a ‘game-changer’ in helping to create democratic information and distribution systems and networks
  • from cardozo.yu.edu — a forum on politicization, information law, and CLS
  • from digitalcommons.law.byu.edu — subtitled “Copyright, Consecration, & Control,” this article seeks to deconstruct intellectual property regimes in a reconstitutive way
  • from wwwords.co.uk — a Marxist assessment of often negative impacts on the possibilities for education under the current rubric
  • from lexisnexis.com — a philosophical and legal Marxist assessment of the ubiquity of self-dealing among standard legal-economics assessments
  • from marxists.org — a plethora of possibly useful and indubitably thought-provoking assessments of various aspects of culture and cultural production

donkey labourPHILOSOPHY, DEEP-ANALYSIS, & EXPERTS WHO ARE HONEST BROKERS

Useful materials are present that grapple with our problems in innovative and unanticipated ways.  We just have to do some downloading, find ways to lay our hands on e-readers that make engagement palatable, and start reading

    • from virginia.edu — a precis of a McLuhan work that is widely accessible elsewhere
    • from sciencepolicy.colorado.edu – an excerpt from Lewis Mumford’s Technics & Civilization, which readers can also find in its entirety in various spots
    • from kropfpolisci.com – a recent Richard McChesney analysis; his Rich Media, Poor Democracy remains a must-read
    • from cnqzu.com – a potent explication of media and political hegemony, in which the author makes this chilling point:

“Together, these points suggest a scenario in which elites are simultaneously the main sources, main targets and some of the most influenced recipients of news. If this is so, it could be concluded that a major function of the news media is not merely to reflect political differences but to act as a communication channel for the regular conflicts, negotiations and decision-making that take place between different elite groups. This is also to the exclusion of the mass of consumer-citizens. Decisions, which involve such things as the development of institutional policies, corporate strategies, legislation, budgets, investment decisions, regulatory regimes and power structures, take place in communication networks in which the mass of consumer-citizens can be no more than ill-informed spectators.”

  • from naima.staff.ub.ac.id — one of Doug Kellner’s many piercing investigations of media and society, in which the reader sees clearly how basic assumptions are so often wrong and pathways to liberation are opposite from the standard prescription

ESTABLISHED INSTITUTIONAL BROKERS NOT ENTIRELY DISINGENUOUS

Wall-StreetBy there nature, established institutions—major foundations, universities, international or national organizations—cannot help but make deep bows to the ‘gatekeepers’ whom we want, openly and forthrightly, to displace from their places opening and closing ingress and egress to the common citizens whom they view as ignorant fools.  Nevertheless, a wealth of information—some of it useful, a small bit of it truly profound—emanates from such locations.

  • from cardozoaelj.com — a place to start were one to hope to defend supposed free-markets, precisely because of the incisive and open critiques that so often show up here
  • from www.amazon.com — Christopher May’s monograph on the current international regime, with plenty of critique built in, available for free from WIPO as an e-book
  • from www.wipo.int – one of the plus-or-minus ten WIPO Journals that is freely available, all full of data and analysis from many points of view

A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS

wnacting worker repression guy

The best that a person can hope for, in some senses anyway, is that he or she has interesting problems to solve.  A final note to ponder is how we all too often merely shrug and give in to whatever is prevailing in the current regime.  Johan Soderberg makes this point well, in a way that might provide both closure and encouragement to continue digging and fighting.

“Mainstream writings and official commissions treat intellectual property as exclusively a financial and legal technicality; they operate within the consensus that intellectual property is an indisputable entity.  Those writers that do recognize intellectual property as a contested terrain also write to campaign against it.  Approaches in the latter camp originate either from the experiences of hackers or from academic Marxist analysis, and the two branches are equally detached from each other.”

Before we move forward, in other words, we’ve got to talk about these things more thoroughly.

Media, Mergers, Capitalism, and Popular Democracy:

Or, Why AOL Is, Apparently, Perfect for Huff-Po and, Decidedly, Horrible for Majority Rule

UNIT TWO: What in the World Is AOL Anyway?

Chapter One–The Scientific, Technical, and Social Roots of Online America

Herein, readers will continue the mediated journey through modern media that began with a historical and contextual background a couple of weeks ago. From the general overview that initiated the series, folks will today start examining the ‘Origins of the Internet’ from the carnage of WWII and its evolution, from the dawn of the Cold War to the 1980’s.

INTRODUCTORY MATERIAL

Today’s text introduces Unit Two of this five Unit series. This initial chapter of Unit Two leads on to three sibling sections that will, in as thorough and incisive a fashion as this humble correspondent can manage in a relatively short space, explicate what constitutes the corporate entity that has ‘branded’ itself AOL and considers itself the epitome of America in its online guise.
Where we left off, big-business media was mushrooming up from the cow paddies of routine politics. How exactly did America Online, as of now not yet done with its third decade, emanate from the historical and political economic background of modern times? The purpose of this quite lengthy section is to manage a tale-of-the-tape that offers an intelligible, and relatively complete, response to this inquiry.
Like so much of what citizens now consider this virtual age, the roots of AOL lie in the way that the conflagrations of the 1940’s responded to the deflationary death spiral of the 1930’s. In 1945, at the dawn of a new epoch that shined with a nuclear glow, as the Cold War heated up, and nearly everyone still breathing wondered where to bury a hundred million or so corpses and how to avoid the next tally from being higher still, the captains of capital looked forward to an unstoppable ‘thousand-year-reich’ of commodities and markets that only lasted a “glorious thirty” years, with everything antithetical hidden behind ‘iron curtains’ of one sort or another.
These leading lights of the ruling class foresaw an age of ubiquitous convergence. Communication and computation and observation would yield, in every sector of the economy, times when markets would work as their proponents had always promised, even as they continued to seek the institutional succor of government instead. This new age would not eschew governance so much as it would make the public sphere subservient to corporate, which is to say commercial and imperial, mastery.

 

 

ANTEDILUVIAN BEGINNINGS ON THE ‘ENDLESS FRONTIER’

The observer might not easily see the connection between AOL and a project named the ‘Manhattan Engineering District,’ but Vannevar Bush joins the two like a rivet connects discrete plates on an aircraft carrier. Not only did this MIT wizard unite the industrial and financial powers-that-be behind publicly-funded science, but he also insisted on the durability of this formula after the war. In the event, he also succeeded in promulgating institutionalized funding and management models that followed corporate guidelines and priorities.

In essence, Bush is the technical and intellectual father of the Military Industrial Complex. His Science: the Endless Frontier links markets and profits and prosperity and power-politics and empire and innovation as a set of relationships that nations sunder at their peril.
What is more, he both, on the one hand, very precisely conceived of the world wide web and many of its technical attributes as an aspect of this industrial militarization of politics and, on the other hand, proffered a guidebook–almost a recipe–for their initiation and growth. In “As We May Think,” also written just after WWII ended, Bush envisions personal computing, Wikipedia, hands-free 24/7 virtual connectivity, and a swirling constant interchange that many feel is still a possibility if the World Wide Web survives a corporate takeover.

Moreover, this meme still resonates powerfully. The term, ‘meme,’ is itself something like Bush’s name for his concept.

“Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ‘memex’ will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.” No wonder entire symposia keep flowering that orbit around Bush’s now long-ago article in Atlantic Magazine.
Equally applicable as connective tissue between such trendy(or declasse, as the case may be) eventualities as today’s AOL and the inception of the war machine is the fashion in which Bush’s ideas have become almost biblical in their expression of the current canon. The American empire, American well-being, the very essence of the American way, in such thinking, are inseparable from the uninterrupted perpetuation of an ever expanding plethora of the hot new way, an endless frontier of endless frontiers.
Needless to say, whether one appreciates the artfulness with which its principals have undertaken the task, America Online–with former Secretary of Defense and general corporate booster Alexander Haig leading the charge to invest–has depicted itself as the quick-and-easy path to such innovativeness. When that way of conceiving things began to seem positively fuddy-duddy, AOL, driven by the relentless necessity of monetizing something, cast around for ways of reinventing itself as ‘trendier-than-thou.’
That such an evolution, in a society under the sway of finance and industrial monopoly, inherently revolves around opportunistic cash-outs and market wedges, not to mention a tendency to sweep up the competition and the newest confabulation simultaneously, should come as no surprise. Indeed, all manner of analysis recognizes such ineluctable expressions of capital’s conceptualization of virtuality.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington very recently confirmed this contemporary relevance of dear Uncle Vannevar. In a brief essay entitled, “An Endless Frontier Postponed,” the author warns that a lack of consciousness about the union of academia, capital, and government makes possible an ideological commitment to sundering this troika, which in this SOP POV threatens any hope of continuing political-economic predominance by the United States.
And indeed, this is now one popular trope. A much less common thread is that the collective financing and support for the internet means that it should actually operate according to common goals, and under democratic guidance. This is what Michael Zweig means when he suggests that “being charitable to the poor” means far less that “arranging that they have power, one obvious element of which is media potency. Whatever the unfolding of this dialectic, that the taxes of working people funded the creation and evolution of the World-Wide-Web is incontrovertible fact.

MA-&-PA KETTLE FINANCE THE INFRASTRUCTURE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE AND PROTOCOLS OF THE WORLD-WIDE-WEB

Multiple intersecting timelines play key parts in the manifestation of virtual life that so characterizes the present pass that many people can no longer conceive an ‘unwired’ existence. Computers, military and academic laboratories, telecommunications, printing and publishing all have an arc of expansion that, as one, has yielded the montage of interfaces and devices and distracted human beings who meander over the earth today, both actually and electronically, both as flesh-and-blood and as avatars.
The recognition of this interrelated interdependence is critical to any rational understanding of a phenomenon such as AOL, or its swallowing of Arianna Huffington’s self-styled bastion of progressivism. Neither could have been more than a foggy, opiated pipe-dream but for the work performed on the public dime, as it were. NASA, the nuclear-weapons-lab complexes, major research universities, and the corporate vanguard, without exception either were direct chain-of-command elements of the State, or, in any event, they would have withered and blown-away without government dollars.
Thus, MIT researchers came up with the first video game while doing missile and other military research; Bell labs invented push-button telecommunication techniques in part as a result of decades of walkie-talkie military deals; the Advanced Research Project Agency(ARPA) was a Department of Defense response to Sputnik–soon yielding the first generation WWW through ARPANet; under the purview of government contracts, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange(ASCII) grew out of Bell labs and American National Standards Institute efforts–and still underlies the basic coding on which AOL, et al. depend to this day.
Almost without exception, the nodes and methods of the web, of being an American online, as it were, only happened because tax-dollars financed them. Even in such ‘venture-capital’-worshipping materials as Piero Scaruffi’s A History of Silicon Valley, again and and again and again, over and over, “almost without exception,” the hand of the government appears as central to this amazing transformation toward virtuality that typifies life today.

Immediately prior to the assumption of an institutional form more or less recognizable as the direct predecessor of America Online, additional important developments took place on the nascent internet, as of 1972 controlled by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The first e-mail, for instance, sallied forth in 1971 as a result of one investigator’s efforts that sought to make military research communication more efficient. Though it did not modulate in chipper tones, “You’ve got mail!,” that cheery quip emanated from State-funded efforts.
Shortly thereafter, big improvements in FORTRAN, the machine language developed for military and scientific purposes, happened, followed shortly by Bell Lab’s first issuing of the much more intuitive C-programming language. Soon afterward, Xerox’s DOD-funded Palo Alto Research Center, on its way to inventing “the office of the future,” created the Ethernet, many standards of which continue in force to the present moment.
Throughout the mid 1970’s, with the formation of Apple Computer and Microsoft and more, many of AOL’s predecessors availed themselves of the possibilities for private gain from public investment, even as the general economy reeled from one stagflationary whipping post to another. In 1978, the first Bulletin Board System came into being; the BBS model was important in various early attempts to cash-in on what social support for computing and networks had created, not to mention underpinning AOL’s ultimate success.
As with the rest, these BBS outgrowths trace their roots back to public inputs. File serving, downloading, the very protocols that allow a network to engage and remain operational, are the result of socialized inputs and relationships.

“Due to its prominent role, the history of TCP is impossible to describe without going back to the early days of the protocol suite as a whole. In the early 1970s, what we know of today as the global Internet was a small research internetwork called the ARPAnet, named for the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA or ARPA). This network used a technology called the Network Control Protocol (NCP) to allow hosts to connect to each other. …Due to limitations in the NCP, development began on a new protocol that would be better suited to a growing internetwork. … called the Internet Transmission Control Program (TCP). Like its predecessor NCP, TCP was responsible for basically everything that was needed to allow applications to run on an internetwork.”

William Gibson

Thirty-odd years of conceptual, practical, and often secret trial-and-error research, uniformly either conducted by or financed through U.S. dollars, laid the foundations for our ‘virtual’ world. In the years that witnessed the emergence of a company that would soon become America Online, this “information age” was just beginning. ‘Cyberspace’ and ‘virtual reality’ were merely phrases not yet on the lips of novelist William Gibson.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were just launching their inaugural efforts. They had both availed themselves of these decades of effort ‘on the government dime,’ so to speak. William Von Meister was interested in music and video games and had a way with words and money; he needed a bigger playing field, however, if his little operations were to become behemonth.

A CONCLUDING TRANSITION

In other words, America Online did not emerge randomly. Nor did it occur as a result of individuals, rugged or colorful or otherwise, working separately and ‘individually.’ Nor was it in any way a primary result of ‘natural’ bourgeois inventiveness.
On the contrary, the growth stemmed from fields prepared by social stewards, using common treasure. The concrete components uniformly resulted from or depended on government-financed research. Every single stop on the ultimate information highway was only possible because of collective efforts that invoked federal financing.
John Hopkins’ Stuart Leslie, in his article, “The Biggest ‘Angel’ of Them All: the Military in the Making of Silicon Valley,” makes this argument dispositively. The ‘marketplace’ is no freer than a Soviet Five Year Plan, or, at the least, it is ‘freer’ in a different way; moreover, we might imagine other ways to ‘free’ things up.
This can lead to some interesting conclusions. They are factual, no more a ‘matter of opinion’ than the determination that United States Treasury dollars are necessary to run the Department of Defense.
Here’s one such deduction. Not only would the astounding wealth ‘created’ by the ‘free-market’-touting boosters at AOL have been inconceivable without social backing of the most extensive sort, but also, the smaller but still substantial sums that now line Arianna Huffington’s purses are only available for her accountants to count because of the taxes of everyday Americans, such as the bloggers on the site who will never make a dime from the deal.

What We Need Now

WHAT HUMANKIND NEEDS NOW IS MUCH MORE THAN ‘LOVE, SWEET LOVE’

Anyone who has paid much attention to the world of late realizes that dire deeds are abundant, and precipitous disasters loom. More so than at any time since the 1930’s and ’40’s, the basic viability of human existence is in question. And, as crisis engenders emergency, and catastrophe leads to carnage, what we are to do about all of this ubiquitous calamity is, to say the least, far from obvious.

Part of the problem attendant on figuring what action to take lies in characterizing the central issues before us. A plethora of topics might serve as candidates. General concerns, like jobs and energy and environment, are, minimally, apt problems to consider; specific eventualities: such as the Fukushima meltdowns, the overlapping conflicts in Southwest Asia, murderous outrage in the vein of what happened to both Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis also rank high on many people’s tallies of key difficulties to ponder. Obviously, these sorts of lists could keep going, if not ad infinitum, then into the scores or hundreds of entries.

However, this humble correspondent conceives of the heart of the matter differently. Both pragmatism–in the sense of what will make a difference–and duty–in the sense of what we owe to ourselves and each other–guide this estimate. A question, complicated as are all the interlinked items to think about, serves to introduce this core conjunction. To wit:

How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet?

Now, this humble correspondent can almost hear the likely initial response to this interrogatory. “Do what?!?”

Before proceeding to explicate and justify the query, though, let’s just state an underlying assertion clearly. This question is more important than any other item on folks’ agendas.

  • It’s more important than who wins this or any other election.
  • It’s more important than ‘Peak Oil.’
  • It’s more important than stopping any of the many wars now afflicting us.
  • It’s more important than any court decision or legal or policy matter.
  • It’s more important than ending brutality against women or any other group.
  • It’s more important than the economy.
  • It’s more important than the incarceration of tens of millions of people.
  • Whatever the issue, it’s more important.

Again, before dealing with what the above question implies, this premise of preeminence requires a brief defense.

The basic rationale is simple to state. Only an organized and empowered citizenry can have even the slightest hope of addressing successfully any of the above points, let alone trying to tackle all of them, every one of which is in fact critically important. Thus, before we worry about any seemingly most crucial group of predicaments: discrimination or bigotry; nuclear or conventional weapons proliferation; the ‘War-on-Drugs’ or the Prison-Industrial-Complex and its deleterious impacts on people; the Citizens United ruling or other forms of electoral fraud or theft or overreaching; anything–we must first address the dilemma of a disempowered, disorganized, inchoate populace.

Of course, this reasoning in turn presupposes that democracy is a valid goal in its own right, either thinking along the lines of Churchill that “everything else is so much worse” or along the lines of Jefferson that majority-rule is the necessary state of civilized human existence. However, most readers would be willing to stipulate this assumption. Even those who in their hearts despise turning over rule to the ‘unwashed masses’ presently find politic a nod in the direction of democracy.

Therefore, we can now turn to the original inquiry, the elucidation of which is the primary purpose of this essay. The conclusion to which this discussion leads is substantial in its scope and thrust. Basically, the situation comes down to this: without grassroots organization and empowerment, homo sapiens are either ‘toast’ or facing a future of concentration camps and mass slaughter. Such stakes ought to make anyone want to achieve an understanding of the ‘rules of the game,’ as it were. Here goes.

AN EASY DELINEATION OF “WHAT”

The basic meaning of the complex interrogative sentence that is at the heart of this essay is straightforward. That’s merely a matter of breaking down phrases and clauses that currently conjoin into their own more simple sentences. Shifting from the interrogative to the declarative mode brings the overall implications to light.

Here’s a take on such a ‘translation.’ ‘The world’s average working people need to unite, not remain isolated and divided. Certain sorts of knowledge–about political economy, history, and social relations particularly–is currently missing, and yet essential to this consciousness that supports unity. Similarly, certain capacities–often technical, scientific, or logistical in nature–are also absent but critical. An organizational combination of this consciousness and ability must occur, permitting networks of wage-earners to form. Insodoing, these networks need to contend for the power to transform the world and take control of the political and economic spheres. This transformation must happen for the benefit of workers: “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The numerical preponderance of modern proletarians ought to make this whole process plausible.’

And voila, the importance of the inquiry should be clear. The rationale for propounding such meanings is less simple. However, equally clear goals and objectives, part of a ‘strategy for human survival,’ do underpin the thinking contained in the question.

WHY “THE COMMON CITIZENS OF THE WORLD”?

The original inquiry starts out by stressing one sector, albeit far and away the largest, portion of humanity. Often enough, politicos and marketers hypocritically underscore their schemes in like fashion; and just as frequently, romantic and idealistic folks allude to ‘salt-of-the-earth’ needs and involvement.

Here, however, the basis for this emphasis is purely pragmatic. Since money and its numerous mandates cannot continue in charge if the bullet-point list above moves along a ‘progressive’ or socially democratic route, the present ruling class will never voluntarily incline itself in such a direction.

Similarly, the powers-that-be cannot maintain their sway if democracy prevails in action. The point fits in with a popular idiom of ‘protest’ for the past half century of so. “The people, united, will never be defeated,” or “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido.” Just as these notions resonate with vitality, so too the obverse ought to make sense. “Divided, the people must fail,” or “dividido, el pueblo fallará.”

WHY FOCUS NEXT ON “KNOWLEDGE & CAPACITY”?

Action seems so essential that taking the time to learn may appear to embrace a ‘paralysis of analysis.’ However, without key knowledge sets and skills, all action will, as if by some kind of black magic, end up with things just as they were before we acted.

In relation especially to history, political economy, and social relations, this situation of ignorance is so patently ludicrous as to be truly hilarious, as if we were to get a call in the middle of night from a friend: “How do I get to Portland?” comes crackling over the airwaves.

Just awakened, we puzzle at this. Perhaps we clear our throats and scratch our heads. Perhaps we check to see where the call is coming from; and then we ask the obvious. “Well where are you?”

“I don’t know,” comes the jovially ignorant retort, “but I’d like you to give me good directions anyway.” Golly, but if we don’t know where we are, how in hell are we going to get where we want to go? And in life, ‘knowing where one is’ means knowing the past that has produced the present. It means knowing about the fraud of ‘free markets’ and the lie of ‘laissez faire.’ It means understanding the class nature of society. This consciousness, or ‘knowledge and capacity,’ thus lie close to the core of finding ways to accomplish social, political or economic shifts.

WHY HIGHLIGHT “ORGANIZATIONAL POTENCY”?

Modern human culture is awash in ‘groups’ of different sorts. So why we must concern ourselves with yet another manifestation of such collective reasoning and activity?

Two points are apt here. The first concerns the vaunted ‘individualism‘ that is perhaps the most forceful trope of modern American indoctrination. Simply put, none of us are ‘individuals’ in the self-made, self-sufficient sense that such propaganda propagates. Starting with what Ma and Pa do to get us launched, and continuing through caregivers and collaborators from cradle to grave, each of us is a cooperative enterprise. This humble correspondent will soon write more about this, so for now, this much will just have to do.

The second feature to ponder at this juncture is how decisive the overall orientation is, to a conscious grassroots empowerment undertaking. Given that such an interpretation has any persuasive resonance whatsoever, then joining forces, absolutely impossible without some systematic cohesiveness, has to appear not only sensible but also imperative.

WHY MUST PEOPLE THEMSELVES TAKE “RESPONSIBILITY & COMMAND”?

Almost the entire planet depends on representation of some sort. Why this has become less and less sufficient has at least a pair of aspects, one resulting from a push, the other from a pull.

The root of what pushes us toward direct involvement is both that our representatives have so consistently failed us and that mechanisms of accountability are at best cumbersome. This humble correspondent will write next about the origins and purposes of the ‘American-as-apple-pie’ two party system to develop this contention more fully.

What pulls us, on the other hand, is that the techniques and technologies that permit participation have reached such a high point of development. The World Wide Web and the pervasive ‘self-improvement’ industry are just two clear examples of this material basis for people to take charge and act in their own behalf.

WHY SAY “TRANSFORM THE CURRENT CRISIS”?

“Change we can believe in” hasn’t worked out too well so far. The notion of change itself is slippery, and this humble correspondent would join those who doubt the potential that any fundamental ‘change’ in anything can ever take place.

Again, this is a deep subject, and we haven’t time or desire or necessity, as it were, of digging a well just now. However, thinking in both evolutionary and revolutionary developments–in other words in terms of both reformist and radical approaches to political practice, the noun ‘transformation’ perfects what people must engage in if they are to accomplish their own and their progeny’s salvation, so to speak.

WHY “FOR THE BENEFIT OF THEMSELVES” & THEIR KIN?

In the hideous pass that presently prevails, nepotism and self-centeredness seem such an integral part of things that all thoughts of ‘self-interest’ or selfishness may seem suspect. A single argument is enough, for present aims, to justify this element of the original question.

That simple point is that all working people face substantially similar–very often exactly the same–sinister sets of traps and tricks and machinations of the moneyed set that any effort to support ‘themselves and their kin’ inevitably redounds to the benefits of their cousins similarly situated. Only such idiocies as nationalism, or other forms of chauvinism, stand in the way of this cognizance.

WHY EMPHASIZE A “BENIGHTED…VAST MAJORITY”?

Life expectancy is higher; more children survive infancy; primary education is accessible to 80-90% of humanity; most other indexes of quality-of-life suggest that conceptions of any actual ‘good old days’ are a fraud. Yet, at the same time, one may very rationally speak of the overwhelming majority of people–certainly more than three quarters and quite possibly upwards of nine out of ten–as oppressively deprived.

The deprivation is a matter of comparative quality rather than absolute quantity. When one examines most of the same indexes of quality-of-life, which establish the quantitative superiority of present-day expectations, vis-a-vis any period in the past, one discovers qualitative differences that range from a breach to a gulf. Such differences separate from almost any working person those whose wealth and income place them in the top one percent of property owners and earners.

Health, education, stability of social relationships, political participation, satisfaction with self and society, and more are arguably as far apart, and occasionally much further apart, than the same sorts of differences during the Roman, medieval, or Renaissance periods, for instance. Furthermore, one may cogently posit that only through disempowering those who rule and empowering those who follow them can any sizeable alteration happen to make the distribution of ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ more equable, equitable, and balanced.

SUMMATIVE STATEMENTS & JUST A BIT MORE

Quite probably, this introductory set of ideas barely advances us more than a single step. However, that step, however modest it is as a solitary stride, may be an essential one. In similar vein, a bit of salt added to a stew is only one ingredient, and yet the final product may taste markedly different lacking that addition. Or, as in a case when experimenters might choose to leave out important initial components of a complex mechanism, the entire process of the mechanism’s operation could fail as a result.

No doubt, a mere possibility in theory cannot prove any specific case. On the other hand, one may readily imagine intuitive, conceptual, and empirical assessments which would throw a favorable light on the idea that enabling the presently less-than-fully enfranchised is a key prerequisite of political reform, social progress, or even human survival.

If a viewpoint like that which shows up here has even a small degree of plausibility, it must be worthwhile to investigate it, at least so long as humanity’s potential to thrive makes any difference. For certain, a century or more of ‘reform’ has yielded little fundamental shifting of core relations and dynamics among life’s actors. For certain, ‘common folk’ have had little or no chance to play leading roles as one set of failed ‘improvements’ has replaced another. For certain, huge dilemmas confront our kind on our home planet.

Under circumstances such as these, capacitating the ‘beneficiaries’ of these seemingly never-ending reformist tendencies–activating the passive so that they become participants in shaping and implementing policy–could easily be a key component in successfully negotiating transformation. An approach of this sort would be a ‘no-brainer’ but for the powerful constituencies arrayed against it. At absolute minimum, a playful attitude of exploring the possible would dictate the operationalization of grassroots facilitation and participation.

In any case, such is the proposition that this humble correspondent promulgates. Its primary expression in this narrative is in the form of a rambling question. To repeat, then: How are the common citizens of the world to gain, first, the knowledge and capacity, and, then, the organizational potency, to assume responsibility and command in transforming the current crisis for the benefit of themselves and their immediate and extended families, the vast majority of benighted human cousins who occupy the planet? Inquiring minds would like to know.

A Democratic, Grassroots Media Requires Media Analysis: Mediated Communication, Media Literacy, Missing Links:

PREFACE

This humble correspondent has just had the opportunity to make a Power-Point presentation to a hundred or so ‘progressive’ senior citizens.  The topic, Understanding the Origins of the Internet, and the questions that it engendered, led to a recognition that folks generally might benefit from some orientation in thinking about the problems and prospects of creating a democratic media from the ground up.

“How can we ferret out what is true and accurate?” 

“How can we overrule such powerful institutions as the Supreme Court?” 

“If both parties offer nothing but doom and gloom for us, what are we supposed to do?”

These were a few of the questions posed by audience members.

The words of Thomas Jefferson resonate two hundred years later in response to these inquiries.

”I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Even old James Madison, whose Federalist Paper Number Ten envisioned the two-party system as a way of keeping majority-rule at bay, proffers inspiring thoughts in this regard.  ”A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

The deduction to which these ideas logically lead is that we have no choice but to educate ourselves nor any choice but to follow up our learning with action that is ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people.’  Paulo Freire sums up, generally, the tasks at hand.  “Human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but only by true words, with which men transform the world.”

He goes on:

“To exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it.  Once named, the world, in its turn, reappears to the namers as a different problem that requires of them a new naming.  Men are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

The ‘words and work and action-reflection’ that common citizens need is not happening.  One reason for this is that even the most ‘progressive’ mediated communication is failing to engage people in such a way as to impart actual knowledge, which is only possible to obtain through historical, political-economic, and social assessments that begin at the beginning, deal with paradox-and-complexity, and follow the money.

The natural result of such real, ‘popular education’ can only be radical, meaningful critiques that in turn facilitate something like a ‘revolt of the commons.’  This essay begins a process of examining the failings of so-called ‘liberal media.’  A year-and-a-half ago, a purported champion of people’s reporting joined forces with one of the largest and most reactionary media powerhouses.  A correct comprehension of this merger has yet to emerge, even after more than eighteen months.  As this humble correspondent’s grandmother was wont to say, “It’s never too late: where there’s life there’s hope.”

INTRODUCTION

In this first of a multi-part series—today’s intro, a final component many weeks hence, plus at least four or five segments in between that examine the ‘meat-and-potatoes’ of the Huff-Po/AOL conjunction–giving credit where credit is due is a good way to start.  Arianna Huffington‘s How to Overthrow the Government  performs a valuable service for anybody who both believes in popular empowerment and has an inkling that the rule-of-the-rich has gone too far.  The book offers at least a modicum of clear and apt guidance to those who would foment or fuel an uprising from below.

The likes of this humble correspondent would vociferously suggest that ‘the book doesn’t go nearly far enough.’  Less charitable, and equally historically and socio-economically aware, critics have argued that, analytically and conceptually, the volume is at best irritatingly cautious and generally vapid.  Nevertheless, the work offers some useful advice to those who want to return socially democratic political action to the grassroots.  At least it conceives of public engagement as a necessary predecessor of political change.

That said, last year’s merger of Huffington Post and America Online is an entirely different kettle of fish.  Many honestly and erstwhile ‘progressive’ and ‘leftist’ commentators celebrated this joining, or at least, gave it a ‘wait-and-see’ nod.

The only certain thing is that the writers and participants who built Huffington Post won’t see a slender cent from among the thirty billion pennies, or billion and a half pennies in stock, that changed hands in that bargain.  Several already wealthy people, whose political and ‘strategic’ leadership had, for better or worse, guided the site, have, on the other hand made out like proverbial bandits.

The idea that this $315 million wedding, much to the benefit of Ms. Huffington’s coffers, might also represent ‘progress’ or be in the best interest of the ‘left’ arguably has much more to say about the deficiencies that attend the language of political description in the United States than it does with any rationally defensible consideration about promoting the needs of common people.  The notion that this is in the popular interest also speaks volumes about the lack of class leadership among working people, who prove willing all too often to rely on the likes of a rich globe-trotting fashion moll with the opportunistic instincts of a coyote.

‘Liberals’ also cozy up to hyper-imperialists such as Hilary Clinton, or so some would say; ‘progressives‘ commonly make common cause with Barack-the-Magnificent, whose wars will soon eclipse those of his predecessor; the ‘left’ is a hodgepodge collection of folks who a lot of times are trying to avoid the label that is at least honestly descriptive, that of socialist, or social-democrat.

This humble correspondent considers himself ‘progressive,’ and he’ll only squirm and grit his teeth at the nearly meaningless moniker of ‘leftist.’  However, he is avowedly and unabashedly socialistic in his approach and his analytical proclivities.  He has no problem noticing an obvious fact: without some sort of struggle for social and economic democracy, the worlds working people face further devastation and possible annihilation.

And in this vein, the marriage of the modern defense and imperial establishment, in the form of America Online, with a fetishized, paltry, petty-bourgeois liberalism, in the form of Huffington Post, accomplishes a perfect union from the perspective of ‘free-market’, ‘free-enterprise’ fraud-mongers.  As such, the following prediction makes sense: it will continue to turn out as it already has—at best a lukewarm hodgepodge.  Thus, for working people, for those who care about more than political labels and actually worry about substance, it will be at best a disastrous misallocation of allegiance and resources.

One way or another, the lack of class leadership, and the explicit embrace of both imperial ideation and bourgeois marketing and markets, will mean at best ‘friendly’ misleadership for the average people of the planet, who are suffering one body-blow after another to any hope that a ‘middle-class’ life will be even a credible fantasy.  One would have to acknowledge, at least as a possibility, that the time for a media of the people, by the people, and for the people is long overdue.

Such an admission ought then to portend a serious effort in such a direction.  Whether folks are, even now, ready to admit the obvious–‘But mommy, the king has nothing on!!’–and whether, even now, such an acknowledgment will yield the radical, populist upsurge that recognition ought to call forth, remains to be seen.

For this humble correspondent, the remainder of the present introduction merely contextualizes, all too quickly, the historical and conceptual undergirding of the media marriage that transpired at the start of 2011.  A four-piece unit on AOL’s background follows over the next few weeks, more or less.  Then, a three-chapter unit appears about Arianna Huffington and her love-child at Huff-Po.  A long single take on the merger itself will appear at that juncture, to complete the substantive units of this series.  Finally, a conclusion will then show up that, in the light of the insights and ideation of the intervening reporting and analysis, returns to some of the issues raised in today’s introductory paragraphs

BACKGROUND SYNOPSIS: the News-Media-Context From Which this ‘New-Media’-Deal Devolved

People who fancy themselves media-literate, or even who believe that following the news is important, have a duty to understand how in the world the media that we take for granted has transmogrified to become the apparent digital phantasmagoria that it is today.  This is neither the time nor the place to go into copious detail.  On the other hand, readers may rest assured that more detail will be forthcoming.

For now, this humble correspondent proposes that people consider one simple fact: media springs from the rich dirt of politics like magic mushrooms pop up from cow dung.  Ever since the creation of the secret, and sacred, codes that underlay the first written forms, publication has been a battlefield; the priestly and royal control–extended imperiously–always met a challenge from below, in the form of vernacular articulations of one sort or another.

Need one consider such arcane interpretations of such facts as Derrida’s “The Mystical Foundations of Authority?”  Or perhaps a more straightforward recollection, that law–the legitimation of force in favor of some stated ‘State,’ heretofore unheard of without social class divisions–is nothing without the capacity to record and annotate it, would serve as a ‘wake-up call’ about media’s social reality.  No matter what, from the ‘dawn of history,’ or text, as it were, the connection between writing and rule is unbreakable.

In any event, much more recently, since Gutenberg, for instance, every communication medium’s technological development and social deployment has entailed this combative dialectic.  The Bible may have been Johann’s first big project, but not too long afterward, the press itself helped Martin Luther affix his challenge to various posting places.

 

‘Martyrs-of-the-book’ died at fiery stakes, fueled in part by the materials that they created.  The English crown disallowed all but ‘licensed’ printers in similar fashion as the F.C.C. only permits safely-establishment and oligopolistic voices to have their portion of the broadcast spectrum today.  And even though the eviscerated First Amendment still exists, as a text, the quip is more apt than ever: “freedom of the press only applies if you own one.”

In essence, this all describes a pattern that has, quite plausibly, come to stand for a central trait of capitalist evolution.  Put most simply, “ruling classes today ‘manage’ people through a combination of ‘public-relations,’ propaganda, distraction, and repression.”

A more nuanced statement of this point is possible.  It might look something like this: “Key struggles over meaning, knowledge, and power all intersect with and emanate from controlling, first, the technologies and labor that compile recorded speech, and, second, the media for presenting those now extremely varied recordings; advantages in this contest, almost universally in the form of successful–or replicable–networks and paradigms that reach expanding ‘publics,’ serve to influence, and often to determine, social, political, and economic outcomes.

For all of its frequent flaws of glaring bourgeois bias, Paul Starr’s The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications offers pupils of these matters a relatively elegant empirical bedrock for supporting the above conclusion.  From the concomitant downfall of strict censorship and the censorious Stuarts; to the simultaneous libertine upsurge of colonial textuality—newsy, pugilistic, and both globally and locally aware; to the persistent rebellion that pamphleteering and ‘correspondence societies’ helped to launch and sustain; to the dialectically intertwined manifestation of knowledge, distribution, and publication forms that have seesawed their way through American history, this characterization of mediation seems, at least, reasonable.

The nearly universal initiation, co-optation, or capture of news-and-publishing outlets by the rising bourgeoisie took many forms.  However, this humble correspondent would insist that folks apprehend the undeniable veracity of the proposition that we have not come to today’s seemingly unstoppable effusion of hyper-monopoly in any other fashion than step-by-step, following original inclinations to their logical and predictable ends.

This is corroborated whether one adopts a biographical approach–from Horace Greely’s faux-Horatio-Alger-garnering of capitalist backing, to Hearst’s gold-mining, and gold-digging, parentage, and beyond, to the Luces, the Paleys and so forth and so on–to ascertaining information networks, or whether one prefers to examine the way that business and regulatory structures favor particular organization forms over others, or whether one chooses different, more intellectual and ideational formulations.  The history of media in America is, practically speaking–‘Citizen-Kane’ gossipy details notwithstanding, indistinguishable from the history of capitalism in America.

Advertising and marketing and propaganda together confirm thisPower-politics and the specifics of character assassination and the sway of secrecy demonstrate this.  The opportunistic inclusion or exclusion of access to ‘legitimate’ or ‘unacceptable’ publics combine with criminal and civil media law again and again to prove this.

Forthcoming investigation will delve more deeply into the political-economic and historical background that underpins the current media conundrums that afflict citizens.  The point of both this explication and what is to come is simple: in the realm of AOL’s conjunction with Huff-Po, such a conceptual, historical, and political-economic framework is critical to any understanding that is richer and deeper than either a ‘follow-the-yellow-brick-road’ optimism or a ‘lions-and-tigers-and-bears’ sense of panic.

 

SOME FINAL WORDS: The Only Media-Coup That Can Promote Democracy

The Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie” could easily serve as an anthem for the present pass.  It’s threatening lilt and gutsy force match the sensibilities of the current moment as well as anything outside the realm of rap.

“Please don’t dominate the rap, Jack, if you’ve got nothing new to say.

If you’ll please stomp back up the track, this train’s got to run today. …

I don’t know but I been told,

It’s hard to run with the weight of gold.

On the other hand, I done heard it said,

It’s just as hard with the weight of lead.

Who can deny, who can deny, it’s not just a change in style.

One step’s done, and another’s begun.

And I wonder how many miles. …

You can’t overlook the lack, Jack, of any other highway to ride.

It’s got no signs or dividing lines, and very few rules to guide

Now I don’t know but I’ve been told,

If the horse don’t pull, you got to carry that load.

Now, I don’t know whose back’s that strong.

Maybe find out before too long.

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another

This darkness got to give.

One way or another, one way or another, one way or another,

This darkness got to give”

            One way of responding to such energy is to flee in terror.  Another approach, however, is to recognize that, in times of “one way or another,” “Which Side Are You On?” and so forth, coalition is a necessary response to the inevitability of schism and polarization.

But before anything akin to coalition can even become a faint possibility, people need to wake up.  They need to turn off the TV’s that poison them with fear and loathing and fill their minds with misinformation or nonsense and their hearts with envy or despondency.  Like the denizens of ‘Dead Prez,’ they need to admit that we’ve been “telling lies to our children” and begin to correct them and atone for them.

One way or another, the only salvation for a popular democracy is a media that actually remains under popular control.  And that will never happen at Huffington Post, at Nation of Change, at Op-Ed News, or at most other ‘left-media’ outlets as currently constituted.

This humble correspondent has long promulgated the idea that People’s Information Networks might serve as a conceptual model for actual progress in relation to gaining grassroots power in the information sphere.  While future articles will further explore this idea, a few pointers now are apt to mention.

In this vein, this humble correspondent ends with some simple suggestions.  Let’s get together and call for a People’s Media Congress.  A People Power Congress shouldn’t be far behind.  People Power Seminars need to begin as soon as readers finish this sentence.

What are all of these things, exactly?  Well, let’s start talking about it. A grassroots, participatory, community-based uprising has to be better than what’s happening now.

As a Congressional candidate and acquaintance of this humble correspondent has stated the matter, “The time has come to take a stand.”  Oblivion beckons otherwise.

Readers might want to stay tuned and remember the words of Bette Davis.  “Fasten your seat-belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

 

Hunger & Games & Spectacle as Precursors of Revolutionary Consciousness

‘The world is so full of a number of things; I’m sure that we ought all to be happy as kings.’ Leaving aside the begged query of, on average, just how happy kings are, the poet’s point certainly is well-taken. The phenomena of everyday life, not to mention the mediated daily news spectacle, must all, at the least, astound and fascinate.

A particular recent case of this plenitude of amazement is the book series by Suzanne Collins that has resulted in the release of the film, the “Hunger Games.” After taking precious funds to bring my hyper-skeptical lens to the movie, I found that I had no choice but to find my way to Malaprops, the independent literary establishment in Asheville, in order to page through Hunger Games and glance at Catching Fire and Mockingjay. Rather than being able easily to rip into the falsity and distortion that I anticipated finding in the works, a whole host of questions and ideas competed for attention.

For example, what do mass murder in Norway, ‘anti-terrorist’ soldiers’ posing with body parts in Afghanistan, a boom in brothel-tourism in Spanish villages, a cusp-of-viral ‘wild-girls’ video entitled “Huge Group of Girls”, and half a million other recent news items involving women, power, violence, and ‘spectacular’ culture all have in common? In fundamental and important, albeit diverse and widely varying, ways, they all reflect the themes of degradation, resistance, and revolutionary potentiation that characterize both the film and text versions of Hunger Games, the literary and motion-picture hit that has caught fire in the current context.

In identifiably real ways, these developments reflect the differing watchwords that different founding fathers of the United States purveyed about power and revolution. For example, resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” And, “The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

While such ubiquitous tripe as Fifty Shades of Grey flexes promotional muscle to move a few hundred thousand copies of its ‘let’s celebrate our enslavement’ theme –after all, ‘it’s so romantic!’–the Hunger Games(HG) extravaganza, admittedly also with plenty of PR assistance, has reached millions of readers and viewers. In fact, as of April 30th, nearly 30,000,000 tickets had sold for the film alone. The paper and electronic versions of the three volumes of Suzanne Collin’s HG trilogy, meanwhile, also recently approached the thirty-million-distributed-copies mark.

In parsing what is transpiring with these almost earthshaking numbers, let’s start with the obvious. The world teeters on the verge of meltdown. Environmental catastrophe, mass murder in multiple guises, and varied manifestations of totalitarian imprisonment of body and soul seem to lurk at every juncture. And the truth of the matter is that socioeconomic prospects are so grim and loathsome that a fair number–perhaps a majority–of folks are ready to say ‘to hell with the environment,’ ‘praise the Lord and pass the ammunition’ for whatever genocide is ready to hand, or ‘sign me up for whichever prison detail feeds me best.’

Instead of palpable analysis about or tangible solutions to such noisome conundrums, today’s leading institutions and the functionaries who head them offer nothing but a combination of pablum, lies, distortions, and fetishistic horse manure in relation to conceptualizing or dealing with these real and unrelenting problems that face all humanity. Every day brings further travail and trouble. Every hour offers nonsensical and insulting bullshit as the supposed answer to people’s oft-spoken prayers for assistance and relief. Again, E.L. James’ virginal subjugation fantasy exemplifies this assessment. And its spiritual emulators are legion.

But this humble correspondent needs to add a qualification: “almost nothing” is more accurate in the accusation above. Suzanne Collins, for instance, whatever her motives and intentions in writing her amazing trilogy, whatever glorious profits that she has reaped, has also in fact proffered all of us a sobering and yet hopeful narrative–in the form of a simple yarn replete with allusions to mythic and psychic structures–that posits that the Earth’s human cousins may find ways to work together to survive rather than expire in a gushing rush of mass collective suicide.

The three volumes of the set clearly and harshly depict ‘the obvious’ points noted above. Just as disaster is the current motif of human existence, at the same time that metropolitan centers dally on the cusp of conflagration as if the favored minority resident there could command the apparent omnipotence of the HG arena itself, so too in Collins’ accounts–and, amazingly, in the first film of the series as well–oppressed and divided ‘districts‘ of the working poor slave and starve to feed ‘Capitol’ habits that tend to stylized self-aggrandizement based on technical mastery.

Viewers such as this humble correspondent, who have come to expect sickening fetish or superficial distortion or reactionary breast-beating or some combination of such from those in charge of mediating culture, cannot help but gawk in wonder and hope at Hunger Games, both the book and the movie. The premises of the work are sound. Social reality predominates, rather than fake little ploys that evince and elevate only the coy and the greedy, the supercilious and the selfish.

Perhaps most critically, from the start, unrelentingly, Katniss Eberdeen recognizes and insists on expressing that only authentic resistance–her volunteering as tribute, her letting fly an arrow among the coddled and arrogant, her covering the victim of the Anders-Breivik-lookalike-fascist’s spear with flowers after Katniss cuts him down, and on and on and on–can have any chance to overturn a system bankrupt and rotten to the core. She may dissemble; she may smile when she had rather slash; but her heart and soul are clear in their orientation to her own people against the leadership that assaults and oppresses her and hers.

To some extent, then, both Suzanne Collins and Gary Ross, the film’s director, must also be promulgating such a consciousness, capable of supporting revolutionary ideas and ideals. A critical insight near the end of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed intelligently and intelligibly articulates this notion.

“Cultural action is always a systematic and deliberate form of action which operates upon the social structure, either with the objective of preserving that structure or of transforming it. …Cultural action either serves domination (consciously or unconsciously) or it serves the liberation of men. As these dialectically opposed types of cultural action operate in and upon the social structure, they create dialectical relations of permanence and change.”

Nor is this self-reflective component utterly absent from the ‘singularity’ that Collins’ work has engendered. Actually, the search string, “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness” OR uprising, leads to 1.69 million links. Leaving off the popular term, ‘uprising,’ to wit “hunger games” “revolutionary consciousness” OR “class consciousness,” still brings forth over 25,000 hits. Even paring this down, by absenting Barnes and Noble and Amazon linkages, yields nearly 20,000 connections. Many of these at least want to walk the revolutionary mile, so to say.

On the other hand, typical reification and putridity has its say first on the list of presented citations. Fetish and individualistic nonsense, in this case in the form of ‘following Jesus’ to salvation, thus, in some sense, take the first swipe, so to say.

Other reviewers turn up their noses at the hardness that Collins depicts in her characters. They seem to find an easier kinship with the soft and coddled denizens of Panem’s ‘Capitol’ environs.

And ultimately, cooptation remains omnipresent. A ‘Patch’ piece, from one of AOL’s much celebrated little prep-school enclaves, exemplifies this taming and defanging of Collins’ message .

However, the film’s songs include “Girl on Fire.” Its lyrics reject both cooptation and diminution of the inevitable suffering attendant on all essential acts of insurrection. Nevertheless, the singers intone, we have no choice but to arise to the struggle against oppression.

As well, Ms. Collins’ story itself is unequivocal in its rejection of kowtowing. It insists on resistance. It understands the inevitability of rebellion and uprising. Such iterations of revolt’s pendency pepper the book like cayenne in a spicy stock.

At the ‘Reaping Day’ events: “So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong. Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don’t expect it because I don’t think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim’s place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love.”

When Katniss views and comments on the summary-video that her vicious and venal captors have prepared about her exploits: “But I do notice they omit the part where I covered (Rue) in flowers. Right. Because even that smacks of (the) rebellion” that the leadership arrogantly eschews the merest mention of.

Perhaps of irresistible significance in this entire process of storytelling, production, and enculturation, the life story of Suzanne Collins peeks out from between the lines of her books. When imperial war put Suzanne’s career-soldier dad in the guise of stormtrooper and peacekeeper, Collins’ vain and self-centered mother in many ways left her brood of chicks to fend for themselves–a la Katniss and Prim with their mother in the film, after dad died in a coal-mining explosion.

Like Katniss’ soul-friend Dale, whom the intrepid young woman left behind when she took her sister’s place as the sacrificial ‘tribute,’ Suzanne Collins’ father may have taught of resisting the military juggernaut passively. Maybe, he would have sought to transform it by ignoring it.

That such matters–of history and empire and the militarization of ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’–are arguably central to this exercise in yarn spinning and mythos emerges from multiple sources. Maybe the most unsettling and critical to note is the U.S. military itself, from the womb of which–so to speak– Ms. Collins herself has come to the world with her tales and cautions, her truths and premonitions. The Department of Defense is like a Panem avatar.

The United States Army Field Manual, Internment and Resettlement Operations, might have resulted from the Capitol’s mandates in Suzanne Collins’ all-too-plausible future. One need only substitute Collins’ dystopic appellation for ‘U.S.’

“An adaptive enemy will manipulate populations that are hostile to U.S. intent by instigating mass civil disobedience, directing criminal activity, masking their operations in urban and other complex terrain, maintaining an indistinguishable presence through cultural anonymity, and actively seeking the traditional sanctuary of protected areas as defined by the rules of land warfare. Such actions will facilitate the dispersal of threat forces, negate technological overmatches, and degrade targeting opportunities. Commanders will use technology and conduct police intelligence operations to influence and control populations, evacuate detainees
and, conclusively, transition rehabilitative and reconciliation operations to other functional agencies. The combat identification of friend, foe, or neutral is used to differentiate combatants from noncombatants and friendly forces from threat forces.”

These words apply to us. Loosely translated, here is what our savior soldiers’ orders entail, at least on those occasions when active fighting ensues. ‘Protest or any other form of resistance to authority equals war against order. The public relations difficulties of annihilating those who resist is such that the Army must incarcerate them instead. After appropriate shock therapy and attitude adjustment, selected rebels will have opportunities to return to their conditions of servitude, so long as they agree to shut up and do as they are told.’

Those of us who remain sentient must respond to such evidence of manifest tyranny and incipient fascism. Thomas Jefferson had plenty of issues, as well as plenty of money and land that his forebears stole from Native Americans. But he saw straight in many matters. He recognized the divine right and political necessity of revolution, even as he was aware that we will frequently resist the necessity of rising up till it is long past due.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience [has] shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable … But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

His advice would echo Katniss Eberdeen’s thinking. The following words are from the series Epilogue, at the conclusion of the third volume, Mockingjay. She is reflecting from the vantage point of victory, having assisted in ‘providing different guards for future security’ from those of Panem’s divide-and-conquer machinations.

“The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them at school … . How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death? …Peeta says it will be okay. We have each other. And the book. We can make them understand in a way that will make them braver. But one day I’ll have to explain about my nightmares. Why they came. Why they won’t ever really go away. I’ll tell them how I survive it. I’ll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I’m afraid it could be taken away. That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years. But there are much worse games to play.”

This also fits with what Suzanne Collins father discovered in Southeast Asia. Perhaps he sought to teach this to his cadets at the military academy where he taught military history. In any event, it is the takeaway of the Hunger Games. We ignore it at our peril.

Trayvon & Troy & Suicidal Systems That We Choose Not to Change

Introduction

Every homicide is a suicide. As Trayvon Martin’s mother stated“Trayvon was my son, but Trayvon was your son too.” What should be obvious is that a culture or a species that specializes in such ultimately suicidal outbursts as the wanton killing of Trayvon Martin is at risk of extinction. Trayvon’s dirge, in other words, plays for all of us.

Furthermore, that modern human polities, bristling with weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rulers who project their ‘terroristic’ tendencies onto faceless others-towelheads, sand-niggers, Islamofascists, and like ‘nonentities’-might be particularly prone to self-destruction is worth considering. Any such consideration, of course, requires that people give a good Goddamn about these matters.

More pertinent to this narrative-since in some sense, many tens of millions of people do ‘care’ about what went down in Sanford, Florida-such consideration also premises that people are willing to dig deeply enough into these persistent instances of immolation to figure out what causes and patterns are at work in them. Mere compassion and concern yield little that might avert such mayhem in the days and months and centuries to come-that is, if our thanatopic tendencies do not first manifest themselves so robustly as to wipe us all from the planet, like some sort of ‘pink slime’ that blights the natural order.

Similarly, mere knee-jerk reaction-in which mediated manipulation focuses attention on ‘all the usual suspects’-will never move us a millimeter in the direction of justice and democracy and popular personal and collective power. And if we fail to find a fashion to inch society toward social justice and democracy, then no force on earth will stop Trayvon’s face from appearing again, in slightly different guise, on the morning talk shows and the infinite plethora of portals on the World Wide Web that thrive on such reportage. In essence, we all risk facing Trayvon’s destiny.

Troy Davis’ recent murder by the state of Georgia chillingly illustrates this assertion; at least anyone willing to listen with his heart and ponder with her brain will see the irrefutable logic at play, easy enough to state in simple language . Young, swarthy men, whose wildness and toughness is an inevitable attribute of all youthful manhood’s manifesting itself, represent both a uniquely contemporary and a classically resplendent and grotesque instantiation of scapegoating.

Readers might think about the following additional cases, all of which have come to pass more or less in tandem with Trayvon’s soulless culling from our family.

   Staff Sgt. Robert Bale’s carnage against sixteen Afghans, mainlywomen and kids;
   The continued outcry against the ongoing Guantanamo incarceration of Omar Khadr, whose likely killing of a U.S. soldier apparently obviates all need for due process or openness in relation to the then-15 year old, who is now 24 and still has never faced trial or gotten independent legal counsel;
   The Mississippi conviction of and doling out a life sentence toDeryl Dedmon, a White teenager who hatefully drove down a Black man at random, as part of a ‘posse’ of young paragons of racial purity, none of whom-thus far-has had to stand before the bar of justice;
   Yesterday’s carnage in the Bay Area, in which a disaffected former student mowed down seven people and wounded three others at an Asian religious college.

A thorough expansion of such a list as this could easily run into the hundreds or thousands of cases-in Ohio’s schools, in various police jurisdictions, and in the innumerable murder-suicides that typify American life, all in the past few weeks or so. And in a sense, they are all Trayvon; their victims are all Trayvon; their legacies threaten all humanity with Trayvon’s end.

Whether these terrible, merciless matters of savagery and slaughter appear in the costume of the robed judges who ignore all the evidence of their senses in order to kill Troy, or in the confused glance of the pathetic worm who shot down Trayvon himself, or in some other way that random killshots come along, what is happening concerns a denial, projection, justification, expiation, and psychic management of political, economic, and historical crimes. The variations on the theme may be, practically speaking, endless. Nevertheless, Trayvon, blameless and wanting little more than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, appears in all of them.

Those who wish to shun this history of racketeering and brutality project its violence onto victims. This in turn justifies or explains the entire dynamic, albeit in a way that is objectively baseless and prospectively hopeless. The wild brouhaha that ensues in the aftermath of every such explosive manifestation then serves to expiate the sense of sinfulness of a modern culture always on the verge of meltdown. Thus, the complete cycle-from denial to pretenses of penance-manages life today-like some ancient cleansing ritual that avoids grappling with the real issues in play-without necessitating the transformation that has to occur if we’re to survive, if we’re all to avoid ending up as Trayvon did.

A Plausible Explanatory Nexus

Yet we do want to find out facts, even if the data we search out facilitates no change whatsoever. We long for everything to fit in some orderly, coherent way that forces no one really to assume responsibility. We seem to want a story that doubles as indictment and exculpation, as both a justification of forgetting and a basis for keeping a false consciousness intact.

This humble correspondent happened to be in the right place at the right time to uncover evidence that absolved Troy Davis. Herepeatedlymade this point, in writing and speech, to no avail. The honesty of this narrative and the accuracy of these allegations of innocence were immaterial. In fact, they violated the sacrosanct apprehension of institutional honor without which we’d be much more likely to riot in the streets and so forth. Hence, this humble correspondent watched with a sickening sense of horror as Georgia-and the majority of Georgians-made themselves into cold-blooded murderers.

He has no such inside knowledge in relation to George Zimmerman, who ‘stood his ground’ and blew Trayvon Martin away. Moreover, he hasn’t any resources to pursue a full recounting. This is true at the same time that the ubiquity of those who ask pointless questions and develop heated non-sequiturs as argument is ever more prevalent. In this context, nevertheless, this humble correspondent can construct a reasonable depiction of what happened-a ‘creative delineation’ that can serve as a first step toward a potent response to this entire typical expression of American social insanity and criminal duplicity.

Judgmental, officious, aggressive, and impotent people are everywhere apparent these days. Many of them exude the initial noisome qualities as a mask for the final characteristic. The result is always depressing, and often these sorts describe their maladies as one form or other of ‘Depression.’

We might contemplateMr. Zimmerman in such terms. Unemployed, unable to complete his criminal justice studies, or otherwise gain entrance to the fraternity of those who wear badges, despite his issuing from a father who wore judicial garb, he promulgated the mythos that he could address the issues of powerlessness and pointlessness in his existence by externalizing them, blaming shadowy intruders who were ready to invade his realm and upset the fake semblance of security and comity that supposedly prevailed there. His pugnacity and righteousness, which led him to show enough audacity to justify gunning down an unarmed youth on a harmless commercial mission-skittles and soda, appear as something akin to a cover for the worthlessness that his face showed him to feel.

Ah, but the booking photo is not the ‘real’ Mr. Z, folks might say. Another shot, quite popular among the fascists and reactionaries who dominate the web and the media, purported ‘liberal’ proclivities thereof notwithstanding, shows George with ahuge smile: “George and the Giant Grin,” the caption might read.

When this humble correspondent looked at that depiction, the reaction was, like, an instantaneous ‘gulp!…Killer!’ This was primordial, beyond any rational decision-making nexus.

But maybe one is not skilled at detecting fake and lethal smiles. Certainly, no one else seems to be writing about this.

Let’s hear a few kudos for the BBC. This still arguably authentic news organization provides a 20-person line-up to test the capacity to detect counterfeit affability. This humble correspondent got 16 out of twenty , and only called one ‘genuine’ smile fake.

Based on the easily available images of George Z’s facial expressions, including of the blurred video of his entry at the police station in Florida, and on multiple descriptions of his rage reactions in various situations, a rational participant might see Zimmerman as a prime candidate for medication for ‘depression.’ He looks that way, acts that way, and blows people away that way.

Blunted affects are a common side-effect of anti-depressantsImpotence inevitably accompanies the use of some of them, not likely to be the sweetest outcome for this son-of-a-judge who had to be grappling with the ‘loser’ label for most of the last decade or so. Whatever the state of his pharmacological profile, Mr. Zimmerman has not been a happy camper for some time. In the event, here is a plausible story: maybe ‘medicine’ has played a role; perhaps not, but whatever the case may be, this psychosocially pathetic exemplar was acting out his psychopathology in predictably homicidal fashion, given his place in the bigger picture of the ‘American way.’

He was tiring of the plus or minus ten 911 calls a year that did not climax appropriately, from the point of view of George’s infuriated nihilism, in ‘getting the bad guy.’ “These assholes always get away,” he says moments before putting a bullet through Trayvon’s heart. With or without detailed premeditation, he may very well have imposed a script something like the following on the timeline of the evening of February 26th, an imposition that guaranteed a fulfilling release of the tensions in his life.

GEORGE: There you are; you’re not getting away this time….
TRAYVON: I don’t know what you’re talking about, I…
GEORGE: (Whispering, though with a furious spit)Nigger.
TRAYVON: What the fuck?
GEORGE: (Still whispering forcefully)Coon!
TRAYVON: Fuck you, motherfucker!
GEORGE: (Screaming)Help!
TRAYVON: (Baffled)What the hell?
GEORGE: Help me! Please, help me! (He moves closer and closer to Trayvon, his pistol at his side.)
GEORGE: God, someone please help me!!!
(He is within a meter of Trayvon, who adopts a defensive stance as the stranger approaches, raising his shooting arm as he closes the distance between them.) Helllllllllllppppp!!! BOOM!!!!

What happens next, in this rendering, is akin to a dress rehearsal, except that it represents a costuming after the fact instead of before the performance. George lies on his back next to the dying Trayvon, the young man’s death throes the most gratifying experience for George in many, many years. He stalwartly bangs his head on the concrete, until he can feel abrasions and blood. He then turns over, as Trayvon’s last bubbling bleed-out comes about and slams his face, nose first, against the pavement, satisfied when he himself begins to bleed out his nostrils.

The police arrive to find a bloodied and disoriented Mr. Zimmerman, a dead Mr. Martin, and the rest is ‘stand-your-ground’ history. But another view is obviously possible. Maybe Trayvon went ballistic.

After all, the criminally fraudulent and intentionally delusional actions of Trayvon’s school, in the thrall of the so-called ‘War-on-Drugs’ that permits among its many heinous consequences the criminalization of education, had recently led to his ten-day suspension. A baggie in his possession had detectable ‘traces’ of THC. This had caused a ‘grounding’ at home, a state in which, over and over again, young adults languish angrily here in the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave.’

In such a context, the ‘angry young man’ might easily ‘snap’ to the fore, as it were. So here’s another conceivable script. The ethnic slurs in this iteration are optional, though they certainly would add to the impetus to violence.

TRAYVON: ‘Chu following me for?
GEORGE: (Surprised)Stay back there nigger; I got something for you.
TRAYVON: (Angry)Fat chump, I could kick your ass.
GEORGE: Fucking coon; I’ll kill your ass. (Trayvon is on him in a second, tackling him and pounding him in one fell swoop). Helllppp!
TRAYVON: Cracker pig. (He hits him again, pushing his head into the cement.)
GEORGE: (Yelling)Help me! (He pulls his pistol, still screaming.) Somebody, help!!
TRAYVON: (Unaware of the weapon, whipping the larger man)Pussy! BOOM!!!!

Clearly, the thirty to ninety seconds that ended in a discharged weapon and a mortally wounded Trayvon Martin might have included, literally, an infinite number of details. Without doubt, these facts occurred at least somewhat differently from what this humble correspondent has estimated. On the other hand, arguably, the two categories of scenario depicted here represent something like what probably transpired in the chilly dark of Trayvon’s last seconds of life.

No matter what, we can never assure ourselves that we have reconstructed the events of that night with total fealty to the facts as they unfolded. In fact, one way of viewing the entire affair is that we are not meant ever to figure it out entirely. Instead, the manifest intention of the entire outpouring of attention over the event is to cause people to bicker about details and miss the points that, truly, do matter. In any case, with hundreds of millions of web portalsnow leading to “Trayvon Martin,” the overwhelming majority of them do have this sort of diversionary effect.

Various Pointless or Insipid Responses

Absolutely one of the two most common perspectives that result from the constant litany of murder, of which Trayvon’s execution is one instance, is that we ought to make weapons illegal or at least diminish the presence of guns in America. Such perspectives in relation to Trayvon, ranging from New York Times cartoons to breast-beating editorials hither and yon, number in the hundreds of thousands or more. Unfortunately, examined in even the most open-minded fashion possible, attacking guns as the source of the carnage that has claimed Trayvon is weak and stupid.

The weakness stems from various factors. Disingenuous is a charitable label for such critiques. Here we are in the world’s primary instigator of armed mayhem, in the planet’s most fully-stocked arms bazaar, where as much as half the productive economy relates in one way or other to merchandising death through weapons, and ‘liberals’ and pacifists are wont to say that the problem is hand-guns and other firearms in the possession of common citizens. It is tantamount to saying that the primary problem in European Nazi territories in the 1930′s and ’40′s was the presence of occasional armed gangs who would attack and terrorize Jewish people.

In a milieu that celebrates and institutionalizes armed violence, focusing on ‘grassroots’ emanations of such cruelty and brutality is at best a dodge from the primary underlying machinations of mayhem. More pertinent, such feints are typical in their effect, inasmuch as they focus public attention with absolutely zero attendant risk of enforced alteration of established relationships of oppression and opprobrium. The hue and cry for gun-control, in other words, will never in a million years attack the problems of poverty, of class-and-color-based incarceration, of the emergence of police-state mentality as de rigueur politics, of the idiotic corruption and cupidity of the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ or any of the other real factors lurking beneath Trayvon’s murder.

In an entirely different vein, the importance of Second Amendment, whatever one’s personal attitude toward weapons and violence, is utterly missing in the blame placed on citizen-owned ordnance. Whatever the analytical and evidentiary failings of Libertarians and different stripes of ‘patriots,’ they understand implicitly that the government, as currently constituted, represents an enemy force, and an occupying force, in their communities. Whether one listens to Dead Prezor Hank Williams Junior, this message resonates from the masses. “As long as the army, navy, air-force, and marines got gatt, we’re gonna pack heat too.”

Nor is such a view wrong-headed or useless. One need look no further than the bulging prisons, the lengthening unemployment lines, and the growing army of bailed-out plutocrats for confirmation that governing bureaucracies and administrators operate according to protocols different from those which would assist the interests of common people. The ‘right to keep and bear arms’ enshrined in the Bill of Rights was a nod to this pattern of rulers’ imposition on the ruled, a check in the system of checks and balances that retains resonance even in this day of purported commitment to non-violent means of dispute resolution.

The stupidity of focusing on pistols and bullets flows from the fact that winning a political battle that puts the criminalization of weapons at its center will, inevitably, further divide working people and ruin their capacity to stick up for themselves in relation to the most heavily armed police and military forces on earth. This tactic-divide and conquer-shows up repeatedly in such matters as this, helping to insure that the learning and insight that are possible from such horrors never leads anywhere productive for the victims.

The most common response to this situation, however, even more prevalent than bemoaning the ubiquity of ‘Gatt’ on the streets and in the neighborhoods of our society, is twofold, either a furious denunciation of ‘racism’ in this case or a denial that ‘racial’ motives make much of a difference here. The search for a mechanism of blame, on the one hand, and the attempt to preclude any measure of accepting responsibility, on the other hand, are a false duality, again perfect for keeping people who need to unite separate and wrangling.

Explications that revolve around the presence or absence of race or racism are as hopeless as accounts that blame the victim, or his clothes. Anyone who doubts the presence of White-supremacist thinking in this country needs a mental-health exam, stat. Anyone who fails to recognize that social privilege accompanies White skin is similarly deficient in brain functioning.

Nonetheless, even though such factors are obvious rationale for understanding what went on here, they simply don’t go nearly far enough. Moreover, they obscure critical points that concern politics and economics instead of social relations. Most problematically, such perspectives guarantee that theentire nauseating roller-coaster ride will make its rounds again, in the next ‘bread-and-circuses’ interlude that fails to examine what Richard Wright made clear in Native Son, his classic novel of scapegoating young men of color.

Can we listen to Wright’s communist attorney for Bigger Thomas and hear parallels, from all directions, to what is happening today? This humble correspondent is dubious, but the parallels are omnipresent if one is but willing to think about it.

“Crimes of even greater brutality and horror have been committed in this (area). Gangsters have killed and have gone free to kill again. But none of that has brought forth an indignation equal to this.

…Wh(at), then, fanned this hate into fury? Whose interest is th(e) thoughtless and misguided mob(in Trayvon’s case both the defenders and assailants of George Zimmerman)serving?

The State’s Attorney, knows for he promised the Loop bankers that if he were reelected demonstrations for relief would be stopped! The Governor of the State knows, for he has pledged the Manufacturer’s Association that he would use troops against workers who went out on strike! The Mayor knows, for he told the merchants of the city that the budget would be cut down, that no new taxes would be imposed to satisfy the clamor of the masses of the needy. …

There is guilt in the rage that(overflows here). …All of them-the mob and the mob-masters; the wire-pullers and the frightened; the leaders and their pet vassals-know and feel that their lives are built on a historical deed of wrong against many people, people from whose lives they have bled their leisure and their luxury.”

In terms of the historical and political-economic attributes, Bigger Thomas and Trayvon Martin represent a merely slightly divergent manifestation of fate. The first takes place in an era of Klan justice, whereas the second happens in the presence of an extremely brilliant and sympathetic Black President. But both young men represent the culmination of historical and material forces that must be part of what we deal with if we want to make things better.

Why, in Political Terms, ‘What Really Happened’ Does Not Matter

Thus, for citizens capable of contemplating Wright’s challenge, the relative ‘guilt’ or ‘innocence’ of George Zimmerman is immaterial, just as the remote possibility that Trayvon ‘blew up’ matters not a whit. The central issues that emerge from Trayvon Martin’s killing concern the wasted lives-White, Black, and Hispanic-that flow from the present U.S. methodology as foreseeably as does the inevitability that some of these lives laid waste will in turn ‘waste’ the chances of others, with the pull of triggers, the plunging of needles, and otherwise.

Equally significant as the faultiness of popular consciousness are the motives and rule of those in charge. As Wright recognized, and as we ought to emphasize so emphatically that all misleading distraction is easy to throw away, those at the helm of society-mediators, interpreters, executives, pontificators, administrators, pundits, and more-gain leverage, political space, and key social objectives in continuing our confusion about what Trayvon’s death means. Once these patterns become clear, neither the sick victimization of Trayvon, nor the soulless wastage of George Zimmerman’s life, is germane to our improving things. Only transformation of revolutionary scope can lead anywhere useful. Those who would address error, poor management decisions, better laws, and the like are, at best, promulgating futility.

“It’s not a ‘mistake,’” is something we should shout out. An absolute principle in law and science is that if a process or dynamic or a reaction appears often enough, then its appearance is part of the plan, a component portion of the overall dynamic in play. To put the case most baldly, in avoiding a reality orientation to the past and present political economics of American society, Trayvon’s death was our choice, and until we shift our approach and relate to each other differently, worsening horror will also amount to our preference.

A nation of murderers and accomplices-of victims and bystanders who blame others in a way that locks in persistent sadism, spite, and inhumanity-is the ineluctable fruition that will blossom from Trayvon’s death unless we adjust the ways that we see and understand.

Can we undertake to accomplish such a transformation is vision and consciousness? Human viability likely depends on figuring out how to answer affirmatively.

The Surface Meaning of Trayvon Martin’s Death and the Popular Response to It

A depth-reporting investigation of the Trayvon phenomenon would reveal that it has many simulacra in recent memory. O.J. Simpson, Columbine, Nidal Hasan: the list of greater and lesser ‘madmen’ who have gone on killing sprees would run in to the hundreds in North America in the last decades or so alone. The most obvious upshot of such continued brutalization is fairly easy to state; it’s the ‘American way,’ in its most essential aspect.

“We can sell this:” the spectacularization and commodification of murder for the passive and powerless has subsumed every aspect of American culture, from YouTube to ‘Reality TV,’ from stand-up to talk-talk-talk-talk radio. As horrifying as this admission is, only one blind to what happens in the aftermath of an incident will deny the likelihood of this conclusion. A combination of ‘bread-and-circuses’ and scapegoating is at work here.

The benefits to those atop the heap, as it were, are many. They make money from nothing. They divert attention from the underlying problems that would strip them of power were we collectively to address them. They divide those who can only stand against entrenched wealth and privilege if they find a way to unite. The list goes on and on.

For those who want to ‘defend’ George Zimmerman, a Spanish aphorism is apt. “No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver.” The English translation is apropos for those who would demonize Mr. Martin. ‘Nothing is worse than a blind man who does not want to see.’

Nor is the innocence of Trayvon Martin central here. His sanctity as a human being was undermined by the standard operating procedures of everyday America. Only by rejecting that SOP can we honor Trayvon and gain anything that is not specious from his death.

The Deeper Meaning of Trayvon’s Murder and the Inauthenticity in Response

Would anyone dare suggest that slavery was just a mistake? That lynch-law was merely a series of unintended errors? That mass incarceration that targets Blacks and other ‘minorities’ is somehow ‘accidental?’ At the absolute best, interpretations of this ilk would elicit waves of revulsion.

Yet almost everything that appears near the top of the millions of citations that ponder this travesty is making just this sort of argument. If we get rid of the ‘mistake’ of ‘stand-your-ground,’ the moral error of ‘racism,’ then all will somehow heal. Or, alternatively, if we either recognize that George Zimmerman was only confused or overzealous, or-obviously worse-acknowledge that many or most Blacks are somehow ‘criminal,’ then we’ll stop blowing the entire incident out of proportion.

While the intellectual integrity of the former analyses are much more credible than the latter sorts of scrutiny, the point to take away from thinking about the matter is that neither is adequate to overturn further instances of havoc against future Trayvons. Most critically, this inadequacy is equivalent, in that neither type of assessment delves deeply enough into the matter to locate the lynchpin of the nearly infinite recurrence of such lynchings in this culture.

 

The Plight and Possibility of the Public Intellectual

 Public Intellectuals, while seldom rolling in riches, are often fabulously endowed with love. As such a one, this humble correspondent shouts, “Praise to All That Is for love!”

This humble correspondent’s wife and true love—bless her heart for casting in her lot with such a one—has embarked on a magnificent undertaking recently. This entry into the annals of the Southeast Review of Media, Culture, and Politics both invites readers to ponder this mission, as well as to consider supporting it, and provides a brief discourse on the nature of life in the realm of the ‘nerd-without-portfolio,’ the intellectual-without-institutional-backing, the Public Intellectual.

Public intellectuals(P.I.) are philosophers, researchers, investigators, scribes, or some combination of these and other occupations, whose only allegiance is to the need of their fellow cousins for information, ideas, analysis and so on. They do not necessarily receive funding from non-governmental organizations or foundations; they certainly are not on the payroll of any commercial enterprise; the availability of advertising dollars is rare or nonexistent.

They, like this humble correspondent(THC), follow the lead of Alduous Huxley’s character  in Point, Counterpoint, who, speaking to his disinherited lover—she, after all, had the temerity to adore a P.I.—says, “the likes of us have to live by our wits.” Making ends meet is a constant scramble.

The continuation of their work depends on this too. Thus, many P.I.’s have income unrelated to labor. They inherit funds; they marry money that avoids disinheritance; they win a lottery somewhere.

Alas, for some of the breed, as for THC and his sweet love, this cash from largesse is generally unavailable. So they cut wood, deliver pizzas, or sell their brains to clients and strangers who will on occasion pay for their wit. After all, P.I.’s today live, along with the rest of modern humankind, in the same market-economy that puts a price tag on just about everything.

Sometimes, a new mechanism appears that offers an opportunity to garner income for their work. This is the case with a website like KickStarter, which gives ‘creative’ sorts a chance to pitch their projects to all manner of family, friends, and barely-known others.

Neither THC nor his spouse had much optimism that the KickStarter project in question here would permit them to gather monies to move our work forward. Unexpectedly, a combination of long hours by Alicia and the generosity of some of her long standing friends and newer acquaintances, along with the assistance of quite a few random strangers, has brought us to within striking distance of our goal.

A patron of Alicia’s brilliance has promised to post the final thousand dollars of the $3,200 goal, if the program achieves the feat of getting pledges for $2,200. As of today, 2/1/2012, we are within about a thousand dollars of that goal, with two days remaining in which to prove our mettle and put together that additional funding.

Thus, this missive requests that readers consider what Public Intellectuals are worth. Alicia’s project—joining wood-canvases sculpted by weather and water with a reconfiguration of the work of J.M.W. Turner, one of the great rebels and visionaries of the artistic canon—is inherently worthy in its own right. It imagines artistic production as a statement about water and nature and people’s relationship to this web of life that has woven us in its skein.

In addition, the funding of this work proffers the best chance for the roots that we have begun to put down in Appalachia to maintain and deepen their grip. This enterprise of ours is bringing to the fore questions of social justice, community capacitation, and the development of Peoples Information Networks and Cultural Action Networks. Perhaps those who appreciate THC’s efforts in regard to Troy Davis, understanding Peak Oil, bringing to light the hidden spects of nuclear history, explicating the stories of true heroes like Smedley Butler, and more, will find in their hearts—not to mention in their consideration of their self-interest—a willingness to donate a small amount to this campaign, and to reach out to others to do the same.

We here in Western North Carolina are ‘in it for the long haul,’ as the saying goes. But the potential in this project, if it can come to pass, would certainly make the short-run seem a little more manageable. As well, of course, a tremendously beautiful and meaningful series of paintings would result.

What could be finer? A few dollars helps to advance people power and the manifestation of meaningful beauty.

Miley’s Brand & What It Means

            Who would have thought that spindoctorjimbo would ever write about Miley Cyrus?  While she served as something like a role model for my daughter—presumptions of privilege and wealth, libertine lifestyle, flashy au courant style—her imprimatur has remained ‘outside the contemplative box’ for the likes of this humble correspondent(THC).  Still, Cyrus’ recent work, “Liberty Walk,” and commentary on it, command a reply from the spindoctor’s pen, as it were.

            Certainly, this brouhaha contains interesting economic underpinnings and impacts.  Equally so, the political meaning of the piece and its interpretation are noteworthy.  Finally, the social implications of the situation are especially interesting.  Although these three categories are actually inseparable, a brief examination that uses this economic-political-social rubric gives THC a chance to say his piece.

from Miley Cyrus Liberty Walk

           The overarching economic fact of the last forty years, more or less, has been that capital’s leadership has failed to deliver on its promises for most inhabitants of the planet.  This is to say that more and more marginalization of working people has occurred, while the so-called middle-class section of the laboring masses has found its toehold on decent living conditions increasingly tenuous.

            This economic quagmire has manifested in a variety of fascinating and important ways.  A few of these follow here:

  • Only through the repeated expansion and monetization of credit have economic leaders averted total meltdown, and even this persistent reliance on a ‘bubble system’ appears now to be breaking down.
  • While every civilian productive sector has confronted glut after glut, each sector—agriculture, energy, textiles, metals, everything—has also created massive productivity gains that could readily serve community purposes instead of existing exclusively for profit.
  • This contradiction has necessitated, on the one hand, an ever-growing reliance on militarized spending, including the massive expansion of the ‘Prison-Industrial-Complex’ via the ‘War-on-Drugs,’ the ‘War-on-Sex,’ etc., and, on the other hand, a burgeoning focus on fetishized commodification, ranging from plastic surgery and Viagra to tanning beds and hyper-inbred pets, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum.
  • Objectively, Ms. Cyrus’ slickly produced and fetchingly packaged music extravaganza fits into this second category of the ‘functioning’ economy of capitalism now.

from Miley Cyrus Liberty Walk

This précis of the contemporary moment, though condensed and capable of plenty of amplification, allows an observer to ponder an aspect of Miley’s most recent effort to ‘build her brand.’

            Meanwhile, the central political fact of the present period—again, the last four decades or so—has been a dismantling of ‘liberalism’ as constituted in ‘safety nets’ and ‘New Deals’ and a concomitant surge in repressive, even fascistic, laws and approaches to politics.  Inevitably, in inchoate ways here in Central North America and in more organized fashion in parts of the world less ‘liberated’ by the constraints of being the imperial center and the misled ‘bastion’ of ‘freedom and patriotism,’ resistance to this amped-up oppression has risen among the working folks for whom capitalism isn’t working very well anymore anyhow.

from Miley Cyrus Liberty Walk

 This subjugation to plutocracy has, as in the economic sphere above, shown-up in myriad ways of note and import.  A few of these follow here:

  • Even as ‘information’ has proliferated and become one of the current, purported ‘freedoms,’ actual access to data and knowledge has suffered severe diminution, at the same time that various whistleblowers—and ‘Wiki-Blowers’ have sought to counteract this trend toward both secrecy and fee-based exclusion from facts.
  • Even as international political norms have become ubiquitous in all areas of politics, so that on the surface all and sundry are subject to the rule of law, in actuality, imperial crimes occur with increasing impunity—ranging from the mundane frauds of everyday life—three hundred dollar seat-belt tickets to make people ‘safer’—to the most murderous plunder—mass carnage in Fallujah that served both to open new territory for capital’s untrammeled sway and to cover up capital’s complicity in creating what it saw fit to destroy there.
  • Even as the celebration of ‘the blessings of liberty’ have advanced on every front, political participation and the forms of democracy have become ever more tenuous, especially in the ‘belly-of-the-imperial-beast’ here in the United States; what with mass disfranchisement, purposeful political paralysis, and decreasing legitimacy of dissent, even the façade of majority rule is at risk.
  • Even as any promise in the Bill of Rights takes center stage in all established mediation of power and justice, progressively more draconian suppression of real rights—from the negative capacity to avoid ‘unreasonable’ searches and seizures to the positive autonomy to speak and organize for a better world—continues to manifest itself; the Patriot Act is only an ongoing explication of this long standing and now seemingly intractable trend.
  • Even as capital has, in these varied ways, arrogated ever-greater legitimacy to its hegemony, protest to this arrogant disregard for human rights and social potential has increased, especially in recent years, as the economy has spiraled downward.
  • Non-assaultive political and economic responses of bourgeoisie rulers to such outbursts of discontent has operated in tandem: the packaging of radical-chic and the lionizing of ‘liberty’s guardians’—especially those in places like Cuba and China and Egypt—has always proceeded in both the marketplace and in every arena of power politics.
  • Objectively, Miley Cyrus’s work operates both as real dissension and as an easily-packaged deflection and cooptation of discord; to an extent, her own coming of age has made resistance to the machinations of domination unavoidable, simultaneously as her ‘brand’ had to seek to commoditize and neutralize this nevertheless honest disagreement with the powers-that-be.

Politics, like economics, proffers onlookers with a lens for examining “Liberty Walk” and those who would deconstruct it.

from Miley Cyrus Liberty Walk

 Just as what Marcuse called ‘one-dimensionality’ has taken over economics and politics, so too compression and limitation have come to characterize the social realm.  This process is all-the-more astounding in its delicious contradictions and luscious paradoxes.

  • Thus maximum ‘diversity,’ ‘identity,’ and pluralistic mores coexist with straitjacketed uniformity and lack of individual capacitation.
  • Entirely new, ‘revolutionary’ developments of community have led to diminished social contact and collectivity.
  • Maximization of conformity has accompanied the most profound ‘desublimation’ of inhibition in every area of existence.
  • At once, surreality passes for reality and alienation passes for compassion and empathy.
  • Aggressive attacks on ‘depression’ and unhappiness yield the highest degree of cynicism and fatalism ever.

Wherever one looks, the processes of emiseration call forth countervailing tendencies, toward human fulfillment and the realization of the potential that exists in the combination of social labor and technique.  Yet, still, those in charge seek ways to subvert and divert these outpourings of social desire for justice and democracy.

            Once again, Miley Cyrus straddles both of these tendencies.  Hers are liberating tropes at the very same instant that they represent marketing fetishes and misleading triviality.

One cannot watch “Liberty Walk” without seeing the deepest challenge to capital’s sway.  Nevertheless, by itself, the effort therein is completely inadequate, since lacking a combination of dialogic capacity-building and conscious action-against-oppression, the song and its performance represent primarily another Walmart ledger entry, a further rationale for an i-Pod existence that lacks any creative or liberating outlet in the realm of the real.

Barack-the-Magnificent Causes a Renewal of Vows

            I first coined the phrase ‘Barack-the-Magnificent,’ in Autumn ’08, out of a sense that combined respect and trepidation.  In regard to the former feeling, his magnificent campaign juggernaut inspired awe.  Perhaps not as favored-by-fortune as Bill Clinton, comparisons to Kennedy nevertheless seemed apt.  Clearly better-schooled than that tragic child of liquor barons, Obama gave very little away to Kennedy in terms of his capacity for cleverly conceived traps and joyous, baiting political brawls.  My wife and I scripted and executed a lively and lovely music video in support of Obama-for-President, not that too many people noticed.

The second feeling, on the other hand, concerned the Obama administration, which I wagered would follow the election, and about which I harbored profound skepticism.  I wrote somewhat extensively then about my concerns.  As prognostication goes, my worries now seem about as close to ‘batting a thousand’ as is possible:

  • He has backed nukes to the hilt
  • He has expanded, rather than contracted, the imperial mandate, even as he’s leaving Iraq a butchered mess
  • The war-on-drugs continues, practically unabated, in some ways amped-up

The list continues, so that, with only a few exceptions, Barack Obama might easily be a ‘centrist’ member of the disastrous Bush coterie, maybe similar to General Colin Powell, more or less.

In the event, 2008 was the first time since 1976 that I voted for a Democrat.  That choice stemmed from a vow that I made, never again to cast my ballot for a Democratic Presidential candidate.  Jimmy Carter, when he threw his arm around the foot-taller Anastasio Somoza and declared him ‘one of our finest friends in Central America,’ so alienated me from the ‘liberal’ line that I swore never again to soil my soul with these cretins at the pinnacle of the national level.

I broke that promise once, three years ago.  Obama has been even worse than I feared.  Thus, I’m now having a ‘coming-back-to-Jesus moment;’ I’m renewing my vows.   Never again will I vote, for any national office, for Demopublicans or Republocrats(two more terms that I claim some credit for creating). This rejuvenated commitment is worthy of note because yesterday I received an e-mail from Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry.  She implored that I donate to Barack-the-Magnificent’s reelection.  In fact, every link in the e-mail took me to the ‘bucks page.’

The e-mail itself contained assertions that ranged from the paltry to the prevaricating.  They centered around the idea that Barack-the-Magnificent shares

“our vision of America as a land of opportunity for everyone.  We need a leader willing to fight for  the needs of the 99 percent, and stand with hard working families to say that the world’s wealthiest corporations must pay their fair share.”

As persuasive speech this is weak enough.  Analytically, with immigrants under attack everywhere, 99 out of 100 Federal ‘Bailout’ dollars going to the wealthy and the entitled, while people like my wife and me lose our homes to the banking establishments that cashed in on crisis, the words are insulting in their lopsided deviation from reality.

The rest of the text is little better, alleging baselessly that Obama’s jobs act would be much more than a sop to construction companies and large corporate outfits—teachers and a handful of others excepted, of course, though those provisions would likely end ‘on the cutting room floor,’ as the saying goes.  Equally ludicrous contentions appear about the beneficence of the U.S. Government under Obama toward immigrants, who still fear La Migra far more than the idiocy of Alabama or the open fascism of Arizona.

And of course, even after Barack-the-magnificent acceded to cutting the guts out of any possibility of a ‘single-payer’ system that at least had a credible chance, however miniscule, of really serving ‘the 99 per cent,’ the obeisance toward ‘health care reform’ still appears.  In reality, this largest-ever giveaway to the most monopolistic insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms is unparalleled, so touting this legislation would also be sickening were it not so formulaically boring.

And, as suggested above, of course not a word shows up about the murderous barbarity of American empire, the hypocritical breast-beating about nuclear annihilation’s pendency, the disastrous whore-fest with the nuclear power industry, or the continuing monstrosity of the war on drugs.  Instead, the e-mail celebrates continued decline of common dreams in the so-called ‘administration-of-hope,’ and asks for money four or five times.

I’ve written volumes about most of this.  What I say is, at least arguably, credibly supported, and indisputably joins an argument about what is necessary now to salvage anything even vaguely resembling “the American dream.”  I can and will compose further volumes.  For now, as a faithful union member for most of the past thirty years—sometimes, I couldn’t beg, borrow, or steal the dues, I will convey my continued trenchant critique of what passes for working class leadership.

The merest sip of what a reasonable analysis would be of the Barack-the-Magnificent, imperialist avatar, follows.  Yesterday, he spoke before the Australian Parliament.  In this self-congratulatory outpouring, he managed simultaneously several swell rhetorical tricks.

  • He both nodded to and dismissed indigenous peoples and national minorities.
  • He celebrated working peoples’ wartime sacrifices and promised an expansion of America’s Pacific empire.
  • He bragged that Australia and the U.S. have ‘won the present round of wars,’ while promoting the need to continue the same fight that we haven’t even understood correctly in these actions.
  • He at once spoke of cooperation with China and threatened that increasingly powerful nation, full of smart and hard-working people, with destruction if it failed to meet American hegemonistic mandates.

Folks who say that Barack-the-Magnificent ought to be President again are therefore saying ‘yes’ to empire, ‘yes’ to endless war, ‘yes’ to brutal oppression and economic marginality, and ‘yes’ to the untrammeled rule of the rich plutocratic thugs who are presently in command.  I for one am clear: ‘No, thank you.’

At this point in the game, I sure as heck don’t expect much validation.  On the other hand, history, should anyone survive the coming carnage, will judge the texts that remain behind.   In that court, I am confident of recognition as a voice for the reasoned effort that has to be a part of people-power.  Any other form of democracy is, at absolute best bullshit.

Princeton’s philosophy professor, Harry Frankfurt, has also spoken to this overall tendency toward falsity in service of deflection or hidden agendas.  In 2005, he wrote a delightfully brief and artful capsulization of the intellectual swamp that continues to predominate contemporary dialog.

“One of the salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.  Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share.  But we tend to take the situation for granted.  Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and avoid being taken in by it.  So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern or attracted much sustained inquiry.”

Once more, I will close with a plea for engagement and a different path.  Miraculously, we still might achieve a decent world in which people can show their potency instead of spending their time whining about the bullies.