I got some interesting interviews in the past week or so, which I figured I’d stick here for those who care.
First, Truthout made me their “progressive pick” for a week, and Mark Karlin ran this interview about the general arguments of my book.
I was invited to this roundtable for BBC radio, in which we discussed automation and its implications for the future of work. I’ll just say that when you’ve gotten used to hearing Owen Bennett-Jones’ plummy voice in the background on your radio, it’s very odd to find yourself actually on the line with him. It was a well constructed panel, including both a professor from Ghana and a self-professed Luddite from Maine. Things got interesting at the very end, when one of the other guests tried to argue that technological progress automatically leads to shorter working hours–when it’s almost axiomatic to me at this point that the causality runs in the opposite direction.
Finally, I went straight from one Manhattan studio to another (in the middle of a blizzard) so that I could shift from the BBC to the CBC. Jim Brown and I had a nice little talk about my perpetual insistence that automation can liberate us from work–but only if our side wins the class struggle.
Finally, I got written up at Rolling Stone Italy. But I don’t speak Italian, so anyone who does is welcome to tell me if I’ve been horribly misrepresented.
Every second Facebook post I see today is seemingly about Philando Castile, and rightly so. It hits me all the more that he was shot down in my homeland, the Twin Cities. Between this and Jamar Clark, a lot of white people are being rudely awakened to the nasty racist underbelly of Minnesota “nice”. And not a moment too soon.
But sometimes it’s good to get out of your social and political bubble. And as a Minnesota sports fan, I sometimes tune in to internet streams of the local sports radio. Today, Paul Allen of KFAN decided to dedicate a segment of his show to talking about the shooting. For this I can only commend him–he resisted the usual flamers who insisted he just “stick to first downs”, because he recognized that this was the most important thing going on in the cities right now, and his show was as good a place as any to talk about it. As he said on Twitter, “I control an environment for people to react, and few are thinking about ‘first downs ….’ right now.”
But the call-in segment I listened to was remarkable for how callous and out of touch it was, in discussing the murder of a man who, by all accounts, was killed for doing nothing more than putting his hand in his pocket to reach for his wallet.
An enormous amount of time was taken up debating various details of Castile’s behavior, particularly related to the–legal–gun he was carrying, and which he attempted to inform his killer about. Did he reveal his armed status at the right time? Should he have had his hands outside his vehicle sooner? Various callers insisted that they would have done this, or that, or been more compliant, or done something to prevent the officer from shooting. On and on it went.
Towards the end of the segment, one guy calls in to object to this line of reasoning, and offers that he sees no more reason to trust a police officer than any other random person who might approach his vehicle.
At which point Allen reacts in immediate disagreement, saying that one of his best friends is a police officer in the Twin Cities suburbs, he knows many officers, greatly respects them, and so on.
This was where I was really pulled up short by the cognitive dissonance running through the whole discussion. Allen and his callers’ obsessive focus on minute details of Castile’s reactions seems to imply that police officers are, in fact, wildly undisciplined and violent animals, who go into every situation prepared to commit murder at the slightest provocation. And yet the same people who talk this way, will turn around and talk about these same police as brave professionals deserving of our infinite respect.
The question to be posed to people like this is, which way do you want it? Are the police responsible professionals who have earned our deference? Or are they lawless killers who will shoot at the first wrong move? To want it both ways suggests either deep denial or an intensely fascistic mindset.
I had to stop using this as my Facebook profile pic so I could promote my book. But this post seemed like an appropriate place to pay tribute to ‘Wario Tronti’.
Bernie Sanders will probably lose the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, after his impressive but inadequate showing on March 15th. But the left still won that night.
The Sanders campaign has energized and galvanized a big chunk of people, especially young people. And it has made it routine to talk about “socialism” in polite company. So as someone who has been out in the wilderness talking about Marxism and socialism for 20 years, I can’t but love it for those reasons.
But inevitably, there’s a layer of inexperienced activists who have such an affective investment in the campaign that they lose sight of the bigger picture. They make out this one politician to be more significant than he is, while at the same time misunderstanding his real value. Not just because Sanders’ “socialism” is no more than what would, in many other contexts, be considered a tepid kind of European welfare capitalism. To really appreciate the significance of Sanders, you have to see his candidacy as something other than just an electoral campaign, something that’s about more than just the ability of one guy from Vermont to win a certain number of delegates and prevail at a convention.
Recently, Corey Robin wrote about the campaign and encouraged Sanders supporters to keep up the fight. Rather than “get too caught up in the question of delegate counts,” he advised, we should “educate, agitate, and organize the body politic.” And we should specifically do that through the Sanders campaign because while “the Left loves social movements,” such movements are “not immune to the mood and medium of electoral politics,” which he portrays as a way of concentrating and focusing the Left’s energy.
I’d put it a bit differently. The Sanders campaign is a “social movement,” and it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on the fact that this particular movement is occurring through the medium of electoral politics. Certainly at the level of infrastructure and personnel, Sanders draws on the remains of prior organizing around politicians like Howard Dean and Barack Obama. But Bernie as an unexpected social phenomenon and dank meme inspiration is just as much a successor to recent non-electoral movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter.
It’s in the ebbing and flowing of these interconnected movements that we can see the evolving components of a resurgent left, a nascent challenge to capitalism that takes multiple forms, some electoral and some not. Partisans of political candidates, especially presidential candidates, have a tendency to hype up every election as the key turning point upon which all politics depends. But it’s probably better to see things like the Sanders campaign as part of what the Italian “workerist” Marxist tradition called the process of “class composition.”
Class composition, as the historian of workerism Steve Wright puts it, deals with “the relationship between the material structure of the working class, and its behaviour as a subject autonomous from the dictates of both the labour movement and capital.” The activists who developed the concept, like Raniero Panzieri and Mario Tronti, where struggling with an old Marxist problem: transforming a working class “in itself” into one “for itself.” That is, how can atomized individuals, exploited in capitalism, become part of a self-conscious collective, with a shared identity linked to social transformation?
For the original workerists, class composition was closely tied to the experiences of industrial workers in the factory. But later users of the concept, including Antonio Negri, began to expand the concept more broadly. They insisted that the experience of class reached out into the city, and into the family, so that the process of class composition had to take into account the fullness of a worker’s life rather than just his or her experience in wage labor itself. Which means that the forces of class composition can include not just the minimum wage you make at McDonalds, but the police officer who harrasses you on the way home from your shift.
To take this all back to the concrete, and to the voting on March 15th, it’s most illuminating to look not at the presidential primary, but to something else that happened in Illinois and Ohio. In Illinois, state’s attorney Anita Alvarez lost her primary by a huge margin, while at the same time Tim McGinty was losing his race in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, which includes Cleveland. Like the Sanders phenomenon, neither of these were expected results until very recently.
What linked Alvarez and McGinty was their connections to notorious recent police murders: Alvarez waited 400 days to file charges against the officer who killed 17 year old Lacquan McDonald, and McGinty failed to indict the officers involved in the death of 12 year old Tamir Rice. Both of their losses are being seen, correctly, as wins for Black Lives Matter and related movements that have agitated and organized against state violence against people of color.
Chicago, in particular, is instructive, and really needs a detailed case study far beyond what I can offer here. To use the workerist terms, the class composition in Chicago is far more advanced than what’s found almost anywhere else in the country. From afar, it’s difficult to even untangle all the various strands. But they range from black feminist formations like Assata’s Daughters (who were central to the anti-Alvarez campaign) to the Chicago Teachers Union, whose successful strike in 2012 made them a powerful institutional force for the broader Chicago left.
Even in Chicago, the left hasn’t yet won its big prize, the removal of mayor Rahm Emanuel. But that may be yet to come, as the working class there gains power and coherence. And that should be a source of reassurance for Sanders supporters as well, giving confidence that his campaign isn’t the end, but only one step in a much longer process.
Further to my last post. Some years ago I went to a gallery in Queens, and as a byproduct ended up on a mailing list that periodically advertises at me with various art objects. As it turns out, you can literally shove the enlightenment up your ass!
Anal Scroll is a limited edition series of 5 custom crafted butt plugs made of pH neutral cast silicone, dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 2.3 inches (14.5 x 3 x 5.8cm). Inside each plug is a scrollable text printed on 7/8 x 144 inch (2.5 cm x 360 cm) fabric ribbon of, “Of Space” from Critique of Pure Reason by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Anal Scroll was infamously performed in the eponymously titled work by the artist’s alter-ego Renny Kodgers at Newcastle University, Australia in 2014 as part of The Grotto Project presents: Art and the Expanded Cover Version — curated by Sean Lowry PhD. Accompanying each Anal Scroll is: Instructions for Use as well as Disclaimer: “Entry At Your Own Risk”. Price $300 with one artist proof $400 for Plato’s Cave performance; The Groker, Exhibition: January 24, 2015 – February 21, 2015.
I didn’t really stop to think about it until the last few weeks, but this has really been a hell of a year, for me personally and for the world in general. A lot of things were really different on January 1, 2011, and a lot of things didn’t go at all as I expected. So pardon me if I get a little verklempt. A year ago…
Mubarak and Ben Ali and Gaddafi were in power, and nobody believed that the protests then underway in Tunisia were going to lead anywhere.
The Wisconsin anti-Walker protests and Occupy Wall Street were unimaginable, nobody was talking about inequality, and political debate revolved around congressional obstructionism and deficit fearmongering.
I didn’t know what the rest of my graduate education was going to look like or whether I was going to have funding; now I’m just back from 3 months in Luxembourg thanks to the support of the Fondation National de la Recherche Luxembourg.
Jacobin was just a quixotic little magazine project that my friend Bhaskar started and that I agreed to write for; now I’m a co-editor, we’ve seen faster growth than I could possibly imagine, and the latest issue has better content, better design, and better attention from people I respect than I ever hoped for.
And this blog was just a place for me to vent my thoughts and practice my writing, with no particular expectation that anybody would read it (except John, of course). Thanks to everyone who’s read and commented here—I get more from you than from most anonymous academic peer reviewers.
In keeping with what appears to be a new Internet tradition, these were the five most-read posts on this site (this doesn’t include traffic to my cross-posts at the Jacobin blog, which would probably change the rankings):
The Partisan and the Political. One link from Talking Points Memo was all it took to get 11,000 people reading this one in a day. It was an argument I’d been meaning to write down for years, but I guess I’m glad I waited.
Anti-Star Trek. The gift that keeps on giving. This post wasn’t even written in 2011, but nobody read it until it got launched into the blogosphere in July. My vision of a rentier dystopia led to countless posts on artificial scarcity, as well as what I think is my most complex and original contribution to Jacobin thus far.
Cheap Labor and the Great Stagnation. This is the great thing about the Internet. I raise a critique of blog-star Tyler Cowen’s book, and the next thing you know Cowen himself is linking to it. This was one of those that I thought almost too obvious to bother writing down, but I guess it really needed to be said.
Capitalism Without Capitalists One of the first posts of mine that ever got attention from a noteworthy blogger, laying out a sort of tricky argument that I still go back to now and then.
The Basic Income and the Helicopter Drop. In this one I got to bang the drum for the Basic Income and pretend I understand the finer points of Federal Reserve monetary policy. And I don’t think I even made too much of an ass of myself!
This year, my ideas and arguments have spread to a wider audience than I ever expected, and I’ve encountered lots of interesting people along the way. If you had told me that Charles Stross would tweet a link to my essay, and that one of my faulty arguments would get corrected by Cosma Shalizi, dayenu. But in addition:
Mike Konczal gave me way more exposure than I deserve, and he’s that rare liberal who takes Marxists seriously. And I even got to make friends with him IRL!
Aaron Bady is another guy who gave me undue props, and he impresses me by thinking way harder about the role and responsibility of small, non-institutional bloggers than I ever did.
Henry Farrell has been a thoughtful interlocutor and a consistent promoter of Peter Frase/Jacobin content.
Rob Horning is always fun to argue with, even if he’ll never be able to abide my relentlessly optimistic techno-futurism.
Matt Yglesias, whatever my disagreements with him, deserves credit for being the first person to link to both “Capitalism Without Capitalists” and “Anti-Star Trek”, starting me on the path to whatever small amount of Internet attention I now enjoy.
On a similar note, I’m grateful to Reihan Salam if only because now I can say that my ideas were denounced by the website of the National Review. It’s kind of like in college when all I wanted was to be personally denounced by the right-wing campus paper.
I could go on like this forever, so apologies to all those I’ve omitted.
Back when I didn’t have readers, I didn’t worry too much about letting the blog lapse for weeks or months when I didn’t feel the urge to write. Now I feel a little more pressure to produce, but the discipline of posting regularly is good for me…so I’ll be back for more in 2012. Resolutions include: more statistical graphics, more engagement with female writers, and more veiled references to unspeakably nerdy topics.
It’s the end of a fucked up year, there’s another one coming:
Voting for the 3 Quarks Daily semifinalists ends tomorrow. I’m quite pleased that among the top vote-getters are me, Corey Robin, Aaron Bady, and Lili Loofbourow, whose excellent essay on Occupy Oakland I neglected to highlight earlier.
The renewed attention to my “Anti-Star Trek” post comes at a good time, because that post was sort of a preparatory sketch for my essay in the forthcoming Jacobin, in which I extend the argument and embed it in a larger theoretical framework.
In Anti-Star Trek Watch-related news, the Supreme Court is threatening to legalize some truly insane patents on medical knowledge. Elena Kagan, in particular, is revealing herself to be a really awful appointment.
Is it finally time for Euro-doom? I’m concerned, if only because I’m about to return to the US. I missed the Occupy explosion while I was in Luxembourg, so surely I’ll miss all the Euro-insanity when I’m back in America.
This was a wild week for Occupy protests around the country—more than ever, I hate being so far away from everything that’s happening. Congrats to everyone in New York, Oakland, and everywhere else. If you’re around New York City and you’re trying to figure out where Occupy Wall Street goes from here, you’ll want to check out the next Jacobin magazine event, which is happening at Columbia University on Monday, November 28th. Frances Fox Piven, Dorian Warren, Nikhil Saval, Mike Hirsch and Liza Featherstone will be there, and I’m sure it will be a great discussion. And I’m cautiously optimistic that none of our panelists will get fired for participating this time.
What else is new:
I really wish this new pro-OWS single wasn’t by Third Eye Blind. Now my non-sectarian, solidaristic leftist side is at war with my snotty, elitist music hipster side. And no, I couldn’t bring myself to actually listen to it.
The nationwide drop in crime is linked to falling cocaine prices. I grew up during the “Murderapolis” era of violence and high crack prices in Minneapolis, so this rings true to me. And it’s a truly damning indictment of the War on Drugs, which was meant to raise drug prices: not only has the War been a failure, but if it had succeeded it would have been an even bigger disaster.
This article about the network security vulnerabilities of airplanes, power plants, and transportation systems is terrifying.
If you’re a leftist and a nerd (and if you’re not at least one of those things, why would you be reading this?), then this is the one link you must clink: science fiction author David Brin demolishes the mendacious, fascist politics of graphic novelist Frank Miller. And if that doesn’t sate your appetite for Miller-bashing, move on to Gary Brecher’s contribution on the topic. In addition to enjoying the polemic, I learned a lot about ancient Greek history from these posts.
This Chinese alternative to the Nobel prize is just trolling the real Nobel committee’s Obama pick by giving it to Putin, right? Also: “The first award went to the former Taiwanese vice-president, Lien Chan, though Mr Lien did not show up to claim it at a somewhat surreal ceremony. The award and a prize of 100,000 yuan (£9,500) were instead given to a young girl, whom organisers refused to identify.”
This episode of Matt Taibbi’s Supreme Court of Assholedom isn’t as funny as some of the earlier installments, but it turns out to be the most serious reckoning I’ve seen with the issue of Steve Jobs idolatry.
Bloods and Crips come together at Occupy Atlanta. That’s basically an irrelevant bit of human interest trivia, but it gives me an excuse to post this memento of peace treaty-era LA gangsta rap.
I’ve been a bit ambivalent about a lot of the Evgeny Morozov stuff I’ve read, but this is exactly right. He comes out strongly in favor of the right to be anonymous online, which I’ve also written about.
Do you want to see Bill Gates in a 1995 promo where he goes inside the video game Doom and kills demons with a shotgun? Of course you do:
This Rock Paper Shotgun review of Modern Warfare 3 is what video game criticism should be like. In something I linked last week, Adorno said that “Because people have to work so hard, there is a sense in which they spend their spare time obsessively repeating the rituals of the efforts that have been demanded of them.” And now John Walker at RPS says:
It fascinates me that this is the successful formula, the secret behind being the biggest FPS series of all time. It turns out people don’t want to be that hero at the forefront, making glorious decisions and bravely leading the way. They want to be the nobody who can only ever do what he’s told, and that’s on the rare occasions when he’s actually able to control himself. This game has the word “follow” on screen almost as often as it doesn’t. It floats above the head of whomever it is you’re with, ensuring you know your place, which is never to be in front, never to pick the direction, never to make a tactical decision. You follow. It says so.
The National Review gives us an interview with a liberal who informs us that “Conservatives have big appetites for ideology; liberals don’t. There are, of course, taxonomies of conservative schools of thought. People on the right classify themselves as libertarians, neoconservatives, social conservatives, traditional conservatives, and the like, and spill oceans of ink defining, debating, and further subdividing these schools of thought. There is no parallel taxonomy on the left.” Dude, what? I don’t think you actually know what “the left” is.
In light of what went down at the University of California, this couldn’t be more appropriate:
This is what I like to see: about time my Minnesota brothers and sisters got down with moving Occupy in the direction of foreclosure defense.
This, friends, is how you deal with police provocateurs. This is our line!
I’m kind of thin skinned, so I have a tendency to let it get to me when people say nasty things about me online. But the negative reactions I get are pretty mild, and I don’t have to put up with the kind of insane, violently abusive trolls that female writers endure on a daily basis. If I did have to experience that, this blog probably wouldn’t exist, which tells you all you really need to know about how male privilege works on the Internet.
I’m on board with the idea that “complex programs with egalitarian aims should be replaced with direct cash transfers wherever feasible.” This can be our theme song:
This post will be funnier if you know something about the culture of video game journalism, but its portrait of our dystopian future is pretty great on its own.
In light of this research, I suppose I should start re-branding my advocacy of a guaranteed minimum income as the “guaranteed minimum tax rebate”.
Alabama passed a crazy anti-immigrant law, and so their immigrant population fled. And guess what, now businesses are complaining that they can’t find enough workers. There are a bunch of interesting things going on in this article. Unsurprisingly for an article in Business Week, the reporting skirts around the possibility that maybe the reason it’s hard to fill these jobs is because they suck. Dean Baker would no doubt observe that if you take these whining business owners at their word, they’re terrible at business: if you can’t find enough workers to fill the positions you have, basic economics would suggest you need to either raise wages or make the jobs more pleasant. Of course, this is complicated for some of the industries in the article, like agriculture and fish processing, since they have to compete with low-cost overseas producers. But apparently there are also labor shortages in construction and janitorial services, which can’t really be outsourced, so clearly some of this is just an unwillingness of bosses to accept that sometimes wages have to go up. My favorite anecdote is at the very end of the article, when one of the immigrants who stuck around notes that he’s going to take advantage of the labor shortage by demanding his employer give him a raise. Full employment FTW.
Doug Henwood did what I was hoping he’d do, and rewrote an old article to address the current craze for moving money to credit unions.
I’m in Brussels for the rest of the weekend, so I’m putting these up a little early before I descend into a haze of moules frites and trappist beer.
I know I said the media was failing extra hard last week, but this week might have been even worse. The Oakland march/strike/shutdown of the port was one of the most remarkably huge, dynamic, unexpected mass protests I’ve ever seen, at least as best I can tell from here in Europe. But if you watched TV or read the major papers, you’d think the whole thing was nothing put window-breaking, arson, and fighting with the cops. I’m grateful to all the folks who have been on the ground covering Occupy Oakland on the web an Twitter–some of whom ended up in jail for their trouble.
Speaking of throwing journalists in jail, Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah has been imprisoned by the military once again. Read his letter from a Cairo jail.
This post (via Steve Randy Waldman) is long and fairly dense, but the core argument is simple, and it explains how technological unemployment and “great stagnation” theories of the economy can both be true at the same time. In a nutshell, we’re seeing lots innovation in making the same stuff with fewer workers, but not much innovation in coming up with new stuff to make. See the post for an explanation, and make sure to read all the way to the end: the concluding recommendations make me think once again that if you’re thinking seriously about economic policy that addresses fundamental problems, all roads lead to a guaranteed income.
Superstitions of the bourgeoisie: how the meritocratic elite mentally cripple their own children.
I hate to pick on somebody who’s just an intern at the American Prospect, but this post is an absolutely perfect example of the kind of confused un-ideological partisanship I recently wrote about. This guy claims that Obama is a “pragmatist” who believes that “realism, data, and debate—not ideology —make for effective long-term policy”, whereas Mitt Romney is only out to “get more votes, even if bad policy is the price.” But if Obama has no ideology, what criterion does he use to determine what counts as “good” policy? Pragmatism has to be in the service of some ideologically driven goal, otherwise it’s just…opportunistic flip-flopping in the pursuit of votes. Relatedly, I agree that there is no such thing as a disinterested technocrat, merely “different, competing interest groups with different, competing preferences”.
Cops are the worst. One reason I’m thankful to my parents for sending me to urban public schools with lots of non-white kids and punks and skaters and graffiti writers: despite being an upper middle-class straight white guy, I learned early on that police are dangerous and scary, and you should do whatever you can to avoid getting anywhere near them. If I ever have kids, that’s what I’ll teach them as well.
At last, the Orwell take-down we all needed. The bonus Perry Anderson quote is great as well.
The Occupy movement has mostly chosen good targets and strategies, but “Bank Transfer Day” is kind of a dumb idea. Doug Henwood covered this back when it was called “Move Your Money” and was being promoted by Arianna Huffington.
Here’s a call for “another anarchism”, which will “fight for and win reforms short of revolution in way that both improve people’s conditions and options now, and that also create opportunities for further victories in the future.” Uh, that’s what Gorz called the strategy of “non-reformist reform”, and us Marxists and social democrats at Democratic Socialists of America have been advocating it for years. But hey, call it anarchism if you like–welcome aboard!
At times I am reminded that I do indeed live in a strange foreign land:
But from over here, it seems like life in America got substantially weirder in the past week. A lot of things are happening that I couldn’t have imagined a year ago.
Reading assignment of the week: Jo Freeman’s “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”, a timeless classic that’s once again been on my mind in light of recent Occupy Wall Street related craziness.
You should be reading Aaron Bady for all your news on this week’s police violence against Occupy Oakland. See this post to find out how you can help some of the folks documenting the occupation.
Besides being appalling, the decision of Oakland authorities to call in the riot squad is initially a bit puzzling: like the skits on a rap album, it’s hard to understand how anyone convinced themselves that this was a good idea. But Mayor Jean Quan probably just failed to grasp the new dynamic in which protesters actually win standoffs with the police. At any point in the recent past, Quan could have reasonably assumed that massive police repression of peaceful demonstrations would result in a few days of bad press, followed by the whole problem going away. But now she’s finding that times have changed, and she has only managed to escalate the situation and give the movement its first martyr; as an additional bonus, Mayor Quan has temporarily sidelined the “what are our demands” argument by providing Occupy Oakland with the demand that’s worked so well in other places: ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam.
Mainstream media is failing harder than usual this past week or so. NPR conducted a purge in response to the threat of biased opera coverage, and we discovered that they also fired the holder of a famous protest sign. Then the New York Times ditched a reporter after my own Jacobin magazine’s recent event got sucked into the meat grinder of Limbaugh and Beck. Meanwhile, it is of course no problem at all that the Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief is promoting a war against Iran in his spare time, alongside noted lunatics John Bolton and Richard Perle. And to top it all off, ABC and CBS politely turned off their cameras so the cops could gas peaceful protesters, and the Washington Post illustrated a story about the police riot with a picture of a cop petting a kitten.
Hooray, I get to be part of my very own micro-generation! Take that, Reagan babies.
I have a visceral disgust for superstitious “alternative” medical quackery, but this is why people don’t trust mainstream capitalist medicine.
Cool interview with Vint Cerf, who co-designed the TCP/IP protocol that makes the Internet go. “I wish I had realized we’d need more than 32 bits of address space! At the time, I thought this was still an experiment and that, if successful, we would develop a production version. I guess IPv6 is the production version!”
Cosma Shalizi, quantitative Marxian economics, and stochastic models of society? Yes, please.