Saturday, June 9, 2012

enjoy your summer

fine, here

Well, clearly, I've lost the thread around here lately, considering that the only thing that gets me more hate mail than my posts are my apologies. Time to retool, I guess. Given that lack of direction, I'm just going to post this picture of Snoop Dogg dressed up as one of those Avatar dudes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

It must be said

... that it appears that the young lefties are more likely to become like the DC neoliberal policy wonks than the other way around. To be honest, as shitty of a display as this is, I'll take it over the absolutely endless shows of regard and influence peddling that's been going on in the new new hotness lefty precints.  I mean, one day, you're complaining about Ezra Klein; the next, you're flexing like Big Media Matt wouldn't have dreamed at his worst. Sunkara has been making friends. I'm only saying: the slide from being the Marxist circus animal on Up with Chris to attending cocktail parties at Bob Kuttner's house is so much shorter than you'd imagine.

Harris is a pretty classic case; he imagines that he's sui generis but he's actually just a consequence of the buffet line of young adulthood. A little black hoodie exclusionary political rhetoric, a Paris Review jokey intellectual vibe, a shiteating sense of importance, a fashion sense inspired (I'm guessing) by what Artie Ziff wore to the prom. Now, I've been dealing with affluent radicals my whole life, and the arc is about as well-worn as you can imagine. I mean, sure, I've known several anarchists who went the full Republican, but more likely you get the political evolution of necessity; theory becomes a vehicle through which you justify your own relationship to it. Given Harris's stated goal of generational warfare, there's three outcomes ahead as he drifts towards the sweaty soft years: he smashes capitalism by way of a children's crusade; he dies trying; or he "evolves," in precise proportion and perfect timing with his aging. You'd be amazed at what getting older can do for your perceptions of the politics of age. You can get past generational warfare at a time just as convenient as, well, as deciding your rallying cry is #nodads after your father has given you a life of privilege, affluence, and comfort.

I'm just saying, it takes a special kind of asshole to profess egalitarian politics and then pull the "I'm a big deal on the Internet" card. That's got to be a historic level of not getting laid going on to inspire someone to try and play that one.

In the world of free advice, I would just recommend two things to the young leftists of the world: first, when you go around dropping showy admiration for people, being sure to name them by their Twitter handle so as to appropriately commodify your regard, you might wonder how that comports with your politics. (My guess: very poorly!)

More, though, I think you should probably abandon all of your watertight theory. You know what I mean? There's so many people out there, lots of them getting love from the people they said they'd never want to get love from, whose politics have been developed in the Cave of Self-Defensive Constructs. They toil away, with the WD-40 and the forceps, and they put together a ballistic missile shield of an ideology. They make themselves into LeftyBot4000: totally impregnable, nearly useless. Nothing to me is less politically valuable than a political theory where all the pieces fit together just so. Nothing is more selfish than a critical theory that has as its principle aim rendering the person who crafted it immune to criticism. There's nowhere for insults to sneak in, which means there's no room for light or heat or just for realizing how fucking wrong you can be. I'm not talking about showy falls at the alter of whatever outgroup you want to ritually prostrate yourself before (again probably because you think you'll get laid). I mean being willing to not just be wrong but to look like an idiot, to lose at the social climbing circle jerk that is not incidental to your politics but rather their cause. Christ, it's provincial.

What if your critical duty requires you to look like a stereotype or an asshole? That's what's actually at risk here, after all: aesthetics, which is a far dearer currency than currency. You might have to look like a naif, a Democrat, even a grad student. The model for me-- the person with the best, most productive, most truly radical sensibility that I've met-- was someone who hit every urban farmer, crunchy lefty stereotype beat. Against the forces of leftwing fashion, she was defenseless. Nobody who reads this would recognize her name. She was only for her cause, not for being known as someone only for her cause.

By all means, come with the comebacks; I'll just be playing with my kitten, and there appears to be ample time to spend on being clever. I just applied to work at Jimmy John's; we can go without pretense here. But at least consider the possibility that your theoretical ArmorAll is the reason you fail. You can, actually, throw yourself on the machinery, and since we all don't, we're all parlor radicals, you, me, and everybody, and never fucking forget it. The odds that you won't someday find your period of toting Bourdieu around Brookyln totally annoying are close to zero, so you should maybe just give up on aesthetics in advance. Preempt that shit. Forget about your peers and get free.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

minding my own business

There's a kid (probably late teens) who plays basketball incessantly across the street from our house. He's tall and seems athletic and obviously has a good work ethic, considering that he's out there shooting jumpers and rebound for hours day after day. Sounds great, except that his form on his shot is beyond ugly. It's got this big hitch in it and he essentially actually shoots one handed, because right as he's extending he drops one of his arms. For awhile I used to think that it was some sort of drill but then I saw him shooting like that in games. Needless to say, it rarely goes in.

It might seem weird that I've watched his shot so much, but the park is directly across from our house, I walk the dog or sit on the porch a lot, and again he's there all the time. The sad part for me is that he's endlessly practicing a broken jumper. I don't think he's in a formal baseball league, in part because he is at this court all the time and in part because I would hope that any coach would prevent him, by force if necessary, from shooting like that. The shot just never gets any better and he doesn't ever seem to shoot for a higher percentage.

It kind of makes me wish I was some old grizzled man, so that I could go up and say, "hey kid, watch some videos of Wesley Person." But you can't do that if you're just some dude. Actually I kind of can't wait till I have white hair in general so that I can just go around dropping pearls of wisdom in a grizzly voice. I don't know, maybe there's a secret selfish motivation here. That shot, boy.

Not that I can really say anything. Back when I used to play sometimes with my friends my shot was so wrong they called it "the Back Scratcher."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

so fucking free

Let's look at this.

Professional neckbeard Dan Foster also weighed in.

Now: Michael Moynihan and I have nothing to do with each other, politically, morally, philosophically.   So it follows he should think little of me personally. When we argue politics, we are arguing about the most basic disagreements of values that humans have. I promise you: every political question is a moral question. Every "policy debate" is at heart the question of who suffers and who doesn't. Every one. There is no such thing as friendly political enemies. There's only the differences you allow yourself to ignore. What he calls defamation is only human honesty. When he calls me an asshole, it's the closest his Twitter feed will come to such honesty this year. The problem is the notion that his thinking I'm an asshole is worth remarking on. That should be the default.

The funny thing about DC libertarians is that they-- haters of government, haters of "Washington"-- are the purest creatures of Washington there is. No group is more purely of that culture. No organizations are ultimately more comfortable within an environment of government largess. If you want to understand the basic hypocrisy of American politics, look no further than DC libertarians, out for drinks with their political rivals, as the architecture of big government orbits around them. There's no Cato without the culture of government, no think tanks without the soft corruption of the social infrastructure of state power. That the welfare state can shrink and shrink while government spending increases is a consequence of that coziness. What did you think? That libertarians actually want to win? What would Michael Moynihan do for a job?

Now, let me be plain: very few people do take me seriously. Very few indeed. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Why would I ever want the Michael Moynihans of the world to take me seriously? Nothing could be further from my desires. Why on earth would I want a conservative's respect? A libertarian's respect? This is a very basic notion that so many people can't wrap their minds around: I don't want to be cool with you. I don't want your blessing. And it speaks to a diseased culture, a broken, ugly society of influence peddling and networking, that he thinks I should feel otherwise.

If professional bloggers and pundits were able to say what they feel, trust me, they'd make me blush.

If he should happen to read this-- hi, Michael-- it will be the most beautifully honest political moment of his month, maybe his year. Here we have communication that is realer than anything he's going to encounter, online or in real life. He's going to go into Reason on a typical day and pretend to respect people he doesn't respect. He's going to have friendly interactions online with people who he detests. He's going to go to parties and bars and hold his nose because his culture is a culture built on the fear that someone in the next room is talking about you. He's going to compromise himself, every moment of every day. But not here. The only rule here is "go hard." He can tell me exactly what he thinks, and I can return the favor. If Moynihan were a more thoughtful person, if he weren't so captured by his social culture, he might even appreciate it.

I get emails and comments, sometimes, lamenting my lack of influence or my poor reputation. But honest to god, guys-- the freedom. These professional bloggers have no idea. I apologized for the post that the tweet was referencing. Why? For no other reason than I felt I should. I have no social need, no professional obligation. There was nothing to be lost by posting it in the first place and there was nothing to be gained by apologizing for it. I did both, for the same reason: in that moment I felt it was right to do. You don't know how free that feels. The clarity when you give up on what the horde thinks of you, it's almost indescribable. That's liberty.

By the time I was 15, I had watched my family disintegrate and learned that there's nothing besides cruel randomness and received privilege. I knew then that real politics was elbows and chins. To me, politics is life and death. To Michael Moynihan it's a cocktail party. I want only to express what I think is true at every random moment, without consideration or self-censorship, and when I observe the compromise and corruption of his kind, I know true north.

Update: Moynihan should update his Twitter! I guess he's a Brooklynite and edits Vice now. 

taking my medicine department

So, after a somewhat heated email exchange with a third party, I'm retracting my previous post. I apologize to Wilkinson, Suderman, and Salam. I said some stupid things, I shouldn't have said them, and I'm sorry.

push comes to shove

On Twitter, last night, Will Wilkinson gleefully celebrated the ascendancy of the Republican party, retweeting your typical reactionaries like Tim Carney as they whooped it up for the old GOP. I read Wilkinson, and I think he means it when he says that he hates movement conservatism, but he clearly works hard to live in their world. He'll advocate a cosmopolitan political philosophy, but his effect is to support movement conservatism. When you spend 90% of your time attacking middle class government workers and their ability to improve their lives, and occasionally drop in a bon mot about how immigrants are people too, your net effect is to support the revanchist Republican party.

To me, Wilkinson has always seemed like a type: a smart person made stupid by his petty resentment. He's got a fine political mind, but he is so resentful towards his perception of liberals that he ends up celebrating men like Scott Walker.

I expect this sort of thing from, say, Peter Suderman, whose descent into pure movement conservatism hackery comes from a very obvious place: he lost his job, when Culture11 folded, and smartly recognized that he could stay employed forever if he simply embraced straightforward Republican politics. Nor am I surprised by Reihan Salam, who should be taken as any young politico as a symbol for how one develops a reputation in Washington; he's actually an extremist, which a streak of real cruelty within him and an incredible disdain for people who disagree with him. He just expresses that disdain with a smile, and he's friends with the right people, so he has a reputation for equanimity. Look beyond the PR and you'll find someone who looks at his opponents with profound unfairness.

I have one political goal which underwrites all the others: to improve the moral imagination. That means that you expand the sphere of your empathy. You see more and more of yourself in other humans and then can't help but insist on the best for them as you do for yourself. We kill teenagers in Yemen because our country is a failed moral state; Americans have written Muslims (among many others) out of the sphere of our empathy. We ignore the horrible conditions of our homeless and mentally ill because we don't consider them human. And those celebrating the results in Wisconsin do so because they aren't public sector workers, so they don't care about the decline in public sector welfare. Same as it ever was.

I never figured Wilkinson for one who wants to shrink the moral imagination. But every day, he takes it to liberals harder than he takes it to conservatives. Every day, he grinds his personal resentment, his palpable and obvious sense that he's been wronged, by somebody, at some point, and he uses it to support a party that now stands for the most noxious bigotry. When he writes in ways that could be construed as liberal, it's airy, inconsequential, typically relegated to his personal blog. When he attacks liberalism, he does so concretely, and at The Economist. He may not want to live in a Republican world. But his effect on the world is as just another Republican operative.

Update: Emailers really aren't having this one. There's probably wisdom, there.

Update II: See here.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Ferris Bueller theory is totally bullshit, redux

So Jeff Roda of the Atlantic Wire has nothing good to write about, but is apparently in need of some of that sweet, sweet Atlantic cash, so he's dredged up the lame, pointless, nonsensical (and old!) theory" that Ferris Bueller is a figment of Cameron Frye's imagination. I dealt with this before. Tweet the link. The world needs to know.

the myth of white fingerprints

This is the kind of shit that just drives me crazy. In the AV Club, Noel Murray reviews the new 25th anniversary boxed set of Graceland. Which is a good album, and a controversial one, considering that Simon has been repeatedly accused of stealing the music of the South African artists (among others), and because he violated the anti-apartheid cultural boycott in order to make and promote the album.

Now, I'm willing to have a discussion about the value of the boycott and the meaning of artistic and intellectual freedom. I certainly think Simon had the right to violate the boycott for artistic reasons, but those reasons are inherently selfish. I think it's fair to like the album and still be unhappy about its genesis, and to praise Simon for what he produced while questioning its production.

But several of the commenters on the review don't do that. Instead, they defend Simon by suggesting that the cultural boycott was an example of sanctimonious white liberals imposing an unhelpful tactic on South Africa. Asks one commenter, "honestly who do you think did more for South African culture and the Anti-apartheid movement: Paul Simon or Stevie Van Zandt?" Which would be cutting! If the cultural boycott was the product of Stevie Van Zandt. Actually, it was the African National Congress-- an internal resistance movement of black South Africans and certainly the single most important group in the anti-apartheid struggle-- that had called for the academic boycott (which became a broader cultural boycott) in 1958. It wasn't a matter of guilt-ridden Westerners being preachy. It was a matter of principled people following the explicit request of an internal resistance movement that opposed a hideously racist regime.

These commenters think that they're cutting against western liberal pretensions by arguing against the boycott and acting as if it was foisted from the outside by white musicians. They're actually revealing both an ignorance of history and the assumption that all activism and resistance ultimately descends from white sources.

This assumption, of political liberal cluelessness, is rampant in our culture, but particularly within the environs of vague cultural liberalism and attendant status competitions. I do wonder when the people of the world will wake up and realize that the knee-jerk, uneducated liberalism of popular culture is a caricature, and that to whatever extent such a phenomenon exists, it's about 1/1,000,000th of our problems right now.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I'm not an expert on the arrow of causation, but...

a few lame nostrums

Here are some insights that, I've found, can actually make life easier. For me, anyway. Probably not for everyone.

  • Nobody ever promised you anything. You don't get what you want in life. Life isn't fair.
  • Seriously: spend however much time and effort it takes to convince yourself that you aren't going to get what you want. 
  • Failure is always an option.
  • You cannot achieve all that you believe. In fact you can likely achieve only a very small fraction of what you believe.
  • One more thing will not make your life perfect. I know, banality on top of banality. But: true.
  • When you have the job but need the apartment, sometimes you get it. When you have the apartment but need the car, sometimes you get the car. And then when you need the guy/girl sometimes you get that. And sometimes you get the better job. But then the apartment doesn't do it for you anymore. Again, I know, it's cliche. But: true.
  • Gadgets do less than 33% of what you expect them to do for your life. If you think your life is shitty, your life plus that iPad still leaves you with your shitty life.
  • Erasing the petty annoyances helps but the feeling doesn't last long.
  • Your dreams are important but reality is indifferent to them and so you must be willing to hold them at a remove, to look at them with a kind of caustic, patient, critical compassion. Learn to think of the life you want like historical fiction: find sympathetic distance.
  • You're not going to write that novel, sell that screenplay, win the lottery, beat the casino, or get discovered in a shopping mall, so it's best to figure out a plan that you can follow and live with.
  • OK, there's a chance you might do those things. But the odds are so long, and the perception of the chance can be so corrosive, that perhaps it's best to think as if you simply won't.
  • The rich are not like you.
  • Never avoid perceiving the obvious because it's a cliche. There really is such a thing as the system, and frequently it is out to get you. There really is such a thing as the man, and he really does try and keep you down. The other guy probably did get the job you wanted because he knew a guy or was somebody's cousin.
  • But you can endure, and you can enjoy it, if you let yourself. Fuck 'em.
  • Quitting is nothing to be ashamed of, when quitting is rational. The cruelest advice ever given is "never give up." Perseverance is not a guarantor of anything and many people who never quit slowly die, every day, from not quitting. True surrender is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Remember: they never give the mic to the people who never quit and had their lives ruined for it.
  • Few efforts involve more work for less payoff than the effort to not be pretentious. Belief in the self and the importance of art, ethics, aesthetics, ideology, and philosophy can save your life, or at least convince you to save your own life. Achieve not being pretentious and you're still just sitting in your room alone in the dark. It's got nothing to offer you.
  • Perhaps this is as good as it gets.
  • For those of us who have our most basic physical needs consistently met, self-injurious thinking tends to be so much harder on us than circumstance. 
  • So you've got to forgive yourself, a little bit more, every day.
  • Nobody ever promised you anything. You don't get what you want in life. Life isn't fair.
  • But it gets easier. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

shakeup at GOOD Magazine

GOOD, whether the print edition or website, has never been my cup of tea; I'm not a big fan of the liberalism of pep rallies. (I've often thought they should change the name to Groovy People, Feelin' Fine.) But I have respected the individuals there and what they've been trying to accomplish. So it comes as a major surprise to learn that the editorial leadership-- including Ann Friedman, Cord Jefferson, Megan Greenwell, Cord Jefferson, Amanda Hess, Tim Fernholz, and Nona Willis Aronowitz-- has been laid off. It's particularly strange since that regime was really only begun in the last year and a half or so.

Honestly, I wonder if this isn't prelude to a lot of this sort of thing. I'll be honest: I think that paid online political commentary has been living on borrowed time for a long while. Internet advertising rates are subject to relentless downward pressure thanks to an almost unlimited supply. The cool kid crew is, I'm sure, rallying for these people, and I'm glad for that, but I do wonder if a lot of that set are in for tough times. The American Prospect is in dire straits as well. I don't wish that kind of uncertainty on anybody, and I hope that the laid off GOOD staffers find new positions quickly. Particularly Ann Friedman, who's the business.

Because my readership is so vast and my influence so enormous, I'm sure they'll all see this post and hang on every word. For them, I offer this video of my new kitten, Suavecito, and the powerful reassurance that a broke, disliked part-time rageblogger and grad student thinks they're all talented people who will land on their feet.

Update: If I'm right, and a lot of paid online commentary starts to go away (in part because there's an army of people who will do it for free, and honestly some of the ones who do it for free are better than any who do it for pay), it'll be really interesting to see how the how social dynamic plays out. The essential condition for people in that world has been, for this first decade or so of blogging and Internet commentary as viable professional opportunity, that if enough people like you, you can get work. I'm not saying that's unique to this field, nor am I positing it as any less legitimate than other, subtler forms of networking and patronage. But if there are just less and less chairs to sit in as time goes on, what happens to an occupation where the fundamental mechanism for success has been popularity within the in-group? It'll be interesting.

Fernholz responded to the layoffs by Tweeting about creative destruction. Honey, you have no idea....

nota bene

I put up a post at Balloon Juice looking at the common claim that we are in an educational crisis. Check it out. The deliberately portentous title, combined with the URL, was supposed to be a bit of a self-mocking joke, but I don't think anybody got it.