Archive for the Dispatches Category

Spectacular Dispatches #2

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on March 30, 2017 by Magadh

“The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world has culminated in a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the non-living.”

trumpism1The individualistic ideology of liberal capitalism functions as a superstructure for the fragmentation and isolation of human beings. But this fragmentary individualism operates dialectically with the world of collective images. No feature is so definitive of politics in postmodern mass societies as the centrality of images that create the illusion of integrated life. These images surpass and eventually replace the true.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las VegasThe politics of Donald Trump (one hesitates to lend it coherence by designating it Trumpism) are predicated on the construction of a complex of stimuli coalescing into apparent coherenceThe utterances of Mr. Trump and his amanuenses weave together truth, rumor, and outright lies into a web the target of which is more affect than intellect.

trumpism2The creating of this spectacle is facilitated by the prevalence of infotainment, in process for at least half a century. The twenty-four hour news cycle created a need for the creation of ever greater volumes of content (although not substance), with sports punditry increasingly used as the structural model for political and social commentary. The sporting industrial complex has retrogenetically colonized the culture out of which it grew.

trumpism4Sporting events have cultural traction to the extent that they involve individuals in the narrative worlds of imagined communities. The insistence on referring to the fanbase of particular teams as “nations” seems ridiculous at first blush. But this is merely a function of the absurdity of nations as such, which does not practically diminish the capacity of such narratives to motivate mass human action, often with lethal consequences.

(Text from Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle drawn from Ken Knabb’s website)


Spectacular Dispatches

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , , on March 25, 2017 by Magadh

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.”

Spectacles are the purest product of zero marginal cost capitalism. Whereas in earlier times, capital was primarily engaged in the reproduction of itself through the production of material commodities, now it is spectacles that accumulate rather than (primarily) things. Spectacles constitute the reproduction of domination through the production of fascination and apathy. They can be reproduced and distributed in practically infinite quantities through the medium of networked societies. Spectacles have become the lifeblood of modern capitalism.

coffeeThe circuits of production of modern capitalism are maintained by a politics centered on the production of compliance. This is not to say that there was in the past some sort of golden age in which the sphere of the political was one of free and rational consideration of substantive matters relative to the organization of society and its resources. But Habermas was probably correct to note that there was a period from the late 17th century in which there were spaces wherein such rational considerations were given greater scope that at other times, at least for those positioned in social and gender terms to have access to them. This era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies.

rallyThis era of the rationally structured public sphere was fleeting in the long history of human societies. It was also functional to the maintenance of the political and economic order, at least in the respect that it provided a means for the rising bourgeoisie to exert intellectual influence on the post-absolutist orders of politics and production that they were creating. Beginning in the 1920s this mode of ideological organization came increasingly to be seen as insufficient to the increasingly turbulent political conditions of imperialistically segmented industrial and finance capital. It was in this era that the production of spectacles began to replace the production of ideas as the medium for preserving the domination of capital.

A Statement of Resistance

Posted in Dispatches with tags , on November 16, 2016 by Magadh

The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

Damn Donald Trump, the most loathsome combination of bullying and mendacity to afflict American politics for generations. Damn his circle of toadies and yes-men. Damn the Republican Party, whose toxic mix of cynicism and zealotry are making this happen. Damn the Democrats, who suck up to bankers and hedge fund managers and yet try to argue that they have the answers for the men and women left behind by neoliberalism. Damn the misogyny of the American electorate that determined that an obviously better qualified woman was less appealing that a preening, self-important buffoon with the right kind of junk.


I’ve talked to a number of people who are seriously considering leaving the country. I can’t really blame them. I’m sufficiently conversant with the history of fascist regimes (especially National Socialism) to recognize that it’s too much that people breast the tide of violence and hatred with no way of knowing when it will end or how bad it might get. I, for one, am staying. I recognize that part of my willingness to do so is based on the fact that, as a heterosexual white male (and a property owner to boot) I am not in the line of fire in the way that women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and others are. Given all that, it’s still tempting for me (and for many others like me) to go into what used to be called in the era of Nazism “inner emigration.” Forget that. This stupid regime will not get my compliance, my silence, or any sort of concession that the klepto-fascist order that they seem intent on building is in any way normal or acceptable.

My family has been in this country since the revolution. Does that make me more American than anyone else? No, it does not. Quite the contrary. We have benefitted in so very many ways from the freedom ensured its democratic institutions. And if that freedom has not been open to all, as the stated ideals of the Constitution declare that it should be, then the burden weighs on us all the more. It is the responsibility of those of us in communities under less immediate threat to show solidarity with those for which the danger is greater. We can’t stand up for them, but we can stand with them and let them know that we refuse to acquiesce in their debasement.

Once, as a child, I asked my father why it was that he would always talk about the virtues of American democracy given that it so often failed to live up to them. “Because,” he told me, “those are ideals that we are aiming for. We’ll always fall short of them, But we have to remember that the ideals themselves are important because they give us a way to know if we’re headed in the right direction.” America has fallen so gravely short of her ideals in the past: in the era of slavery, of colonialism, and in its continuing marginalization of people of color, of women, and of sexualities that don’t “fit in”. Now, in the moment that those ideals are challenged, it is time to reaffirm them and to make the goal of building a just, non-exploitive society, that recognizes and practically affirms the dignity of all human beings regardless of race, gender, or sexuality a reality in the world.

There will be struggle in the months and years ahead. We are likely to be under heavy manners for quite some time, and much of the progress that was bought as such great cost of lives and effort in the 20th century will be lost. So be it. We are the fighters, the rebels, the ones who don’t fit. I address this particularly to those of us who came of age in the hardcore punk scene of the 1980s. In the years before the rise of bands like Green Day made punk domestic, acceptable, and profitable, we experienced things of which “normal” people never dreamed. We know what it is like to be out of step with society. But we also have amongst ourselves a wealth of knowledge and experience of building a culture outside the mainstream and of operating in adverse conditions. Let’s use it to take the fight to the enemies of civilization and to let them know that we have the strength to resist over the long haul.

Everyone is going to have to do their bit, and every little bit helps. Not everyone is comfortable marching in demos. Don’t worry. There’s a lot that you can do. Network, post on social media, contribute money to worthy causes, let people who are afraid know that you are looking out for them and that they are not alone. Authoritarianism works, to an important degree, by isolating its victims. Don’t be isolated. Don’t let others be. Know in your heart that generations before you resisted and carried on the struggle without knowing what the end would be. Have courage and be strong. The era of resistance starts today.


A Note to My Seventeen Year Old Self

Posted in Dispatches on October 20, 2016 by Magadh

I am cruising down I90 east of Cleveland in a 1984 Mercedes with Martyrdöd’s Paranoia cranked up so loud the windows are vibrating. And I’m thinking of you, the earlier version of myself. In truth, you’re always with me. I wear (mostly) the same clothes, listen to (mostly) the same music, have (mostly) the same politics. But things have changed too. I’ve learned one or two things and I dearly wish that I could go back in time and tell you.

Of course I can’t. And even if I could, I don’t know that you would have the wisdom to listen, even if you knew the message was coming from your own self (better or perhaps merely older)? I like to think that I don’t have many illusions about the capacities of boys of 17 to learn things in the abstract. But since you are still with me perhaps there is some use to the exercise, a sort of settling of accounts.

You’re never going to straighten out. The you that is here now is the you that you are. Revel in it.

Punk rock is the right choice. You’ve already met lots of interesting people and seen things your peers could hardly imagine. You’ve met anarchists and squatters and hunt saboteurs, and all kinds of other crazy people. You’ll see so many more bizarre and worthwhile things, I hardly know where to start (so I won’t bother). Some will be exhilarating, others really frightening, but all of them will be interesting and worth seeing. You’ll meet a lot of jerks, but you’ll meet so many more of the right sort of people, the kind who have the courage to look at the dark side of the world and to work to make it a better place. You’re not alone.

Shut your mouth. It’s really difficult to learn with your mouth open. But do ask lots of questions. Learning about other people is probably the most important thing you can do as a human being. You don’t understand what’s behind other people’s eyes. Let them tell you. Maybe then they’ll be interested in what’s behind yours.

Don’t assume that just because people are wrong they’re stupid. Also, don’t assume that just because people are right that it’s for the right reasons. Stay calm. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don’t worry about convincing people. Try to learn from them.

Listen to the women in your life. There are a lot of powerful souls among them. They’re different than you, not in that idiotically essentialist way that popular culture tries to present them, but because they have different life experiences than you’ve had. They have important things to tell you. You need to hear them. Some of it will not be pleasant. Suck it up. Remember that you can share their struggle in the sense of being an ally, but they don’t need you to it for them. You’ll need to step out of the way and let them do their thing. Do it, and share their joy in the things that they create.

Drink less. Not that you’re an out of control drinker or have the fundamentally pernicious relationship to alcohol of so many of your friends, but it does take a toll. Also, you’re angry. Maybe you’ve got a right to be, all things considered. Alcohol creates a pathway for that anger to manifest. The less that happens the better.

Don’t waste your time with drugs. A little weed is alright now and then, but anything else is just a waste of time and money. You have less time than you think, and money is hard to come by.

You’re a melancholy person, and that will always be a part of you, hardwired into you, alcohol or no. Melancholia will be as much a friend as an enemy. It will feed on your darkest moods if you let it, blotting out the sun and pushing away from you exactly the sort of people you need. But it will also impel you to be creative. It will gnaw at your self-satisfaction, prompting you to do things and make things, if only to chase away the darkness.

Be mindful of the world around you. Often it’s grim, but in places it’s beautiful too. Later on you’ll read these words by Herman Melville and understand: “Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man!  Never dream with thy hand on the helm!  Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly.  Tomorrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp – all others but liars!”

There are probably a lot of other things I could tell you. But it’s for the best that you figure most of it out on your own. I made it to where I am without knowing most of this stuff, or at least not having thought it through very clearly at the times that it mattered. But if you just try to be civilized to other people you won’t go too far wrong

The Reading Life

Posted in Dispatches on October 18, 2016 by Magadh

gaimanI’ve been reading the first couple of essays in the new collection of Neil Gaiman’s
nonfiction writing, The View from the Cheap Seats. There will certainly be more to be said about this when I’ve had a chance to really tuck into it, but the first essay, “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries” is on a topic close to my heart.

The first thing that I should probably mention about this is that I’m pretty sure that I’m the only librarian in the English-speaking world who didn’t read this essay when it was first published in 2013. I don’t have anything that would qualify as an excuse. I wasn’t really familiar with Gaiman’s work at that time (although I read a lot of comics I was never a big fan of The Sandman), but I was a librarian and I now remember lots of people talking about it. Anyway, I am a librarian and so I’m pretty sympathetic to what he has to say on the topic from the off.

I am also about as voracious and obsessive a reader as you will ever meet. I read in bed and on the can and in the shower (in addition to all the other normal places to read). Back when I lived in Portland and used to walk places more than I do now, I perfected the skill of reading while walking. I’m impelled to read constantly by my fear that sooner or later people will pick up on the fact that I’m not nearly as bright as I might seem at first glance. Maybe if I can just squeeze a few more books in I can maintain the facade a little longer.

I mostly read nonfiction, partly for reasons related to my fear of being caught out, and partly because I’m convinced that the world is about to collapse into utter anarchy (or worse) and I’d like to get a leg up on the signs of impending doom. But I also read comics and graphic novels, even the occasional science fiction novel. It’s hard for me to stay concentrated on fiction though, once again because I can’t shake the feeling that we are on the verge of a new dark age.

Having said all that, reading Gaiman’s essay on librarianship was really quite pleasant, even life affirming. He puts his finger on a number of the things that I think make the job eminently worth doing. One thing one discovers as a reference librarian is that one is the helper of last resort. For no money at all people can come in (or call you up) and as you every sort of question that people with more power, or money, or with better things to do generally aren’t interested in helping them with. That’s the kind of thing that makes you feel pretty good about your life choices, at least from time to time.

At one point in his talk, Gaiman mentions that for-profit prison companies use rates of illiteracy as a back of the envelope way of estimating their future needs for capacity. Ok, one should probably not make too much of this. Crime is a complex sociological issue, and it’s at least arguable that illiteracy is a much a symptom of other conditions as criminality is. By the same token we shouldn’t make too much of the salutary effects of literacy. One group that was statistically over-represented among the leaders of Nazi mobile killing squad was holders of doctorates, so there’s that.

Still, I feel like there are a lot of society’s ills that would be ameliorated (if perhaps not cured) if people would simply more and with more variety. Gaiman’s talk makes a passionate case for reading fiction, and I can’t really argue with me. But I also feel like the world would really be improved if people would read more nonfiction books. And not just nonfiction generally, but books by people with whom one disagrees. Reading something that one disagrees with is a lot more healthy than reading things with which one knows fro the outset that one agrees. People should do rather more of this, even if reading things by people with whom one agrees also has virtue.

I don’t bother arguing with people very much. This will certainly come as a shock to people who knew me in the days of my youth. When I was in my teens and twenties I would argue with people about the color of the sky, often in the most bloodthirsty style. I’m kind of surprised I have any friends left at all from those days. But since then I’ve really given it up. When people offer to argue with me (particularly about politics) I’m reminded of an old W.C. Fields short I saw as a boy in which an insurance salesman is trying to entice him to buy a policy by listing the various benefits he’ll get if he dies. At one point, Fields says, “What do I get if I live, a velocipede?” This sums up my feelings on the matter. I could argue with with, but what do I get for taking the energy to convince you?

Nowadays I really won’t talk politics with anyone who I haven’t assured myself isn’t crazy or stupid, and that’s a process that (for me) often takes years. I don’t mind writing about things, and if people want to offer up reasoned commentary I’m willing to argue on that basis, but it’s because this is a medium that lends itself to the provision of references and other background material, rather than relying on bare assertion. In any case, this too sums up what I like about being a librarian: I can find you the information that you’re looking for. To the extent that I can offer that service to people I can make what’s left of American democracy just a little bit better.



Posted in Dispatches, News and Notes on October 16, 2016 by Magadh

I’m working on a large piece for centering on the work of Wolfgang Streeck and Paul Mason. I’m going to be posting the extra bits of my research here (along with the normally expected quantities of reviews, interviews, blag, etc.). This should start happening in the next few days.

For starters, here’s a link to James Boyle’s, “The Second Enclosure Movement and the Construction of the Public Domain” (2003). That will do to be going on with.

The End of Capitalism

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on August 13, 2016 by Magadh

The video below is kind of boring, so those people who come to this site to find information about music and more interesting things might be a bit disappointed. I’m posting this because it pretty much expresses my view about things, in case anyone is interested. Streeck’s book, Buying Time is, so far as I am concerned, the most important analysis of modern conditions available today. You’ll have to judge for yourselves.