Ecosocialism (Lexicon Entry)

310310978Howdy,

Check out my contribution to a lexicon of human-animal [sic!] relations, still waiting to be published in and around Germany. Meanwhile, it’s been published here, on the website of Capitalism Nature Socialism, a journal of radical ecology, courtesy of Linda Quiquivix and Saed.

Kind or Clever: Rorty’s Synthesis, Itsuki’s Eyes and Voice

RortyRichard Rorty, the noted American philosopher, took part in a Dutch television series titled “Of Beauty and Consolation.”  In an hour-long interview he revealed various autobiographical details and went far beyond the technical matters which so engulf academics these days.  This–the personal, the intimate in philosophical thought–has always meant much more to me than the most convincing theoretical edifice.  You listen to Rorty’s take on William James’ pragmatism, for instance, and it’s all extremely contrived, even in its incessant attempts to straighten his thought out and give it credit where it is due or withhold it where is not.  In a conference room, beauty and consolation are scarcely able to secure a place.

Apart from his general, contagious humility, one thing in particular stood out for me in the interview with Rorty.  Having reflected on the reasons why he’d taken up philosophy as a young man–a sense of empowerment and control in an alienated boy played a large part–he says:

I can still remember things I’ve done to other people thirty or fourty years ago… the emotions of shame and guilt are so intense that, you know, I just instantly try to distract my attention.  It isn’t that I remember inflicting deliberate pain on anybody.  It’s just acts of omission, of ‘it would have been so easy to have done something for her’ or ‘it would have been so easy to be kind, and I wasn’t.’  Something like that…

Soon after, the interviewer asks Rorty what he means by “the synthesis of ecstasy and kindness you’re looking for.”  Rorty remarks that

I have no idea what that would be like but, you know, a way of being simultaneously kind and clever… a way of not having to choose between cleverness and kindness.…  I just desperately hope to avoid the problem.  Can’t imagine what the solution is like…

I wonder if this is a problem.  If so, it seems to me certainly not one possible to solve in thought.  And I realize you might say we’re surrounded by people who combine the two.  But I’d say they don’t combine, but oscillate between the poles of kindness and cleverness, that is to say, of kindness and a certain kind of power of scheming, the rationale of which is to maniupulate and control, and precisely to withhold kindness from another.  So maybe there’s indeed something to think about here.

Hiroyuki20ItsukiIn his autobiography, Tariki, Japanese novelist Hiroyuki Itsuki titles one of the section headings “The Good Die Young.” Mentioning “disgust” with politics, business, the medical establishment, and education, and saying that “even writing this much depresses me terribly,” he continues:

Yet, I have never raised my voice to protest any of those things, and I have almost never written strong social criticism.…  I am no longer young.  I know that I am one of the bad guys, who has in his life up to now pushed aside many other people in my own rush to survive and to get ahead.

This is by no means false humility.  I have deep in my heart a feeling like a heavy stone, which makes me see myself as a worthless person, beyond all salvation.

He goes on to describe scenes from his youth, when his family and he himself were being forcibly relocated from Korea, following the defeat of the Japanese in World War 2.  The description concludes with Itsuki saying that, with their home and all possessions confiscated by the Soviet army, he fled with his siblings and mother–soon to die and before that rolled on a cart by the the young boy–to the south, over the 38th parallel, into a US-run refugee camp, and from there was shipped home to Japan.  Itsuki reflects on this without illusions:

I managed to survive that period of indescribable chaos, and to live to this day.  Whenever I remember the time, I instinctively lower my eyes and drop my voice.…  What made the difference between those who survived and those who never returned, but fell by the wayside?  Did those with strong faith survive?  Or those with physical strength or intelligence?  Was it those who didn’t lose hope, who retained a positive attitude?

I have something buried deep in my heart, a voice I can always hear coming from somewhere inside me saying, ‘No, that’s not it.  The bad people survived, and the good people all died.

You haven’t forgotten, have you?’ asks the voice.

It was those with the stronger egos, the ones willing to push others aside, the ones who possessed a powerful, self-centered will to live, who survived under those extreme conditions.  It was those who were twice as selfish as others, steeped in bad karma, who made it through.

“I was thirteen,” Itsuki writes.  “Carrying my little sister on my back and pulling my little brother along by the hand, I ran  to the 38th parallel.  If my brother was too weak to keep up with me, I was fully prepared to leave him where he fell and keep on running.”

I don’t think, insofar as I can imagine what he and his family went through, that his survival owed to “unthinking life force” and mere “instinct for self-preservation.”  There was cleverness in it, a certain calculation and scheming, a clever readiness to leave the weak and hopeless behind, and this is where guilt comes in.

This is what made Itsuki lower his eyes and drop his voice.  That’s what made Rorty’s own reminiscences painful, leaving him looking for distractrion.  Kind and clever? Like Rorty, I have no idea how a synthesis between them might look, feel, and be like.

Under extreme, life-threatening circumstances, showing kindness clearly may be suicidal.  Under normal circumstances, if you express kindness, there is a possibility you will be hustled and duped.  Cleverness reigns even when there’s nothing big to be lost, because there always already is deceit.  We learn this quickly.  Kindness, then, requires at least some naivete; it requires a suspension of at least some questions and suspicion which might otherwise be posed and employed in being clever.  We may then rationalize, and not entirely without sense, that if we ourselves are disempowered of our cleverness, and if that really weakens us, how will we be able to muster the power to be kind?

I doubt, however, that with those who use this argument to justify themselves, are in any really hurry to be kind at all.  It seems to me that they use the power of language to the end to which, as George Carlin pointed out, it is mostly used: to lie.  Secretly, they feed their fantasies of their self–unique because its theirs–extending ever further into the future, on and on and on.

We learn from Tariki that Itsuki’s brother, saved after the war, “died of cancer in his mid-forties.”  “I remember almost painfully his favorite phrase,” Itsuki writes: “Ii ja nai?”  Loosely translated into English, this means, according to the author, “What’s the use in getting so worked up?”  Listening to Itsuki’s outbursts about what was wrong with things, his brother would “half-whisper it, in his Kyushu accent… almost as if he were speaking to himself.”

And so, through all this, the world goes on, as we–some of us–desperately hope not to have to choose to be clever or kind, already clever in thinking we can choose. Maybe we can. But all of us will soon enough be consumed by the flood. In the end, perhaps Itsuki’s brother was right. It is easier to be kind

The Alien³ Rottweiler

I was house-sitting for my neighbors and couldn’t help myself when I saw an Alien³ DVD sitting on their shelf.  I put it on and chose to play a theatrical version with cast and crew commentary.  The Xenomorph, a great idea with the prisoner-monks, and interesting background regarding the eclipse of analogue visual effects by the flat digital tech that soon overrun the place make this a good movie.

spikeBut then there’s the dog.  If you haven’t seen the movie, there’s a scene in it where a Rottweiler accompanying the monks in the prison is found with wounds across his face and bleeding by one of the other characters.  He would soon be ripped apart by an alien host already developing in his gut.  I get how well this thing fits into the story.  But, as usual, there’s a story behind the story.

The commentary features a revealing bit as to the Rottweiler’s forced participation in the scene (I don’t know who says what here, exactly):

…and this stuff with the dog replaced the ox scene, where originally the creature was supposed to come out of the body of an ox. We had to go to the vet and shave this Rottweiler. Shave those grooves into his face. Stuck a tube down his throat and yanked his tongue out and shaved it.

-In a very humane way… (facetious tone)

-Shaved his tongue? That’s what it sounds like you said… sounds like it.

-That was a hairy-tongued Rottweiler.

-You’d never get away with that in this country.

-Nooo…

“This country” probably denotes Britain, known in animal rights to have higher welfare standards than the US for the animals used and abused for human purposes. It’s pathetic at best, though, to speak of welfare when slaughterhouses and labs and zoos, the mainstay of unfreedom and consequent suffering, are still in operation.

In the movie, of course, we see the dog die first–a buildup for the “more important” deaths to come.  Remember how black people usually die first as well?  Well, this is an example of interspecies racism of the same sort.  Dog people are first in line to go.  Does one still go to the vet to yank the dog’s tongue out and shave it?

Philosophy and Suffering

Writing is always more than an intellectual affair.  If it were only that, it would have an even harder time standing up to charges of superfluity.  To be more than superfluous, it must somehow, through its abstract and in a sense always already alienated means, reconnect with the vital life concerns of those to whom it is addressed and/or those of whom it speaks.  This necessitates a faithful relation of writing to suffering, understood here in a broad sense as both outright misery and the unquenched—and incessantly fed—thirst for reaping ever more out of life’s fragile texture.

Suffering, the fate of bodily beings born from a world into which they fail neatly to fit, and at times barely fit at all, is the central theme of all philosophy which still manages to hold its own privileged, if illusory, distance to worldly dirge in perspective.  Reading a book of theory, even the most abstract and obtuse, I want to know what it has to say to the suffering of those whom it concerns—and I ask who it is that it concerns!  Overwhelmed, and in as much honesty as I myself can take, I assume a place in line of those who have been disappointed with countless evasions, silences, justifications, abstractions, excuses, and false consolations which always leave out those most miserable, those deprived of agency, of influence, of value.

Philosophy, perhaps by its very structure of abstraction and representation, obfuscates its own origins in the carnal agony of generation upon generation of senseless misery, potential for the lucky and actual for the ill-fated, and hardly ever delivers on its always implicit but all too easily forgotten promise of confronting and relieving suffering.

Suffering

Hit and Run

DSC00003In my own neck of the woods some development has been under way for years, turning a once fairly serene place into what feels like a cage.

See, I’ve been glancing at this fancy ad all around here–on billboards, walls, shop windows. It shows a new residential area, enticing as only an ad can make one seem.

This particular ad shows a hip dude walking his mountain bike, wearing shades and all, though it’s already getting dark. You know the what I mean. Then we have some folks discussing heaven knows what near the entrance to their building. Another star–this time a dude in a black suit, what else–is reigning over the neigborhood from his balcony above and in the back.

But all of these people are just an insignificant afterthought–mere add-ons to the splendor of a development scheme.

So what really stands out is not the people. But it’s not even the buildings themselves, either. Instead, what really makes itself seen is a certain absence–the absence of fences, gates, security booths, or cameras. There ain’t none of that in there. DSC00001

Reality check. Some of that development wonder has already been put into place here over the past fifteen years. Only it looks nothing like the ad.

Instead, it looks, as my friend put it once, like a fucking ghetto. Fence on a fence on a fence. Folks wheezing in their cars right by all this and into the underground garage. And then right from there into their apartment, without ever showing their face outside. Hardly ever does anyone hang out around here.

There’s no community here–not in these parts of the area. There’s only people with “stay the fuck away” attitudes, hiding out in their respective fortresses of solitude.

These folks are nice and cultured. Well, “mass-cultured.” They won’t rob or stab you. In fact, they won’t even talk to you. They don’t know each other. They don’t want to. That’s how this space has been organized. Into a fortress. Built for profit, it brings just that. You know what it looks like even more than a fortress, though?

A jailhouse. DSC00002

There’s even a court in the middle of it, though you can’t access it unless you pass through one of the closed gates.

Jailhouse.

Or go around. The court is almost always empty, no matter the weather. Now, If I ever catch anyone there–not passing through, actually being there–I swear I’ll take a pic of that and put it up here as acknowledgement of the developer’s not-so-utter failure.

Meanwhile, my comment is this: What a damn good recipe for isolation! What a great tactic to keep the community dead!

Jailhouse!

But the developers do not care, right? In fact, this plays right into their cunning hands. Once the fence is done and polished, they’re out forever.

If you look into the far background in the third picture, you’ll see what? That’s right, more of the same shit being built. Another hit-and-run.

I get that people need homes. I’m writing this from the cosy interior of a real home. So I get it.

But not like this, not like this. Folks–maybe good people, I don’t know–are left with mortgages to pay for years on end. Putting in work, getting tired of it all, trapped in cycles where they really could not care about how they were sucked in.

They just want out. Too bad. They only got locked in.

Waitin’ on those midlife crises? Oh, they’re comin’!

Revolutionary Phil Africa Dies in Prison

PhilPhil Africa, a high-ranking member of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based revolutionary/activist organization started in 1972, died in a State Correctional Institution at Dallas, PA on January 10.

MOVE, a black liberation group founded by John Africa, with all members customarily adopting the surname Africa as well, had Phil serve as their first minister of defense. This, even though Phil, along with the others of the so-called MOVE 9, had been imprisoned since the aftermath of a 1978 shootout with the police—police officer James Ramp was fatally wounded in the event, his death animating sustained efforts to eliminate the organization for years.

Edwin S. Malmed, the judge ruling in the case, stated while passing the sentence in 1981 that “rehabilitation in this case would be absurd.” Phil was convicted of third-degree murder in a shootout that followed months of conflict and lasted 24 hours, writes Sam Roberts of The NY Times.

Phil, born William Philips, was already in prison when the police dropped explosives on the roof of MOVE’s headquarters on Osange Avenue in Philadelphia on May 13, 1985, killing 11 members. John Africa was one of those who died in the ensuing fire.

The surviving MOVE members, including Ramona Africa, had been fighting for years to free the MOVE 9 from incarceration. As the news of Phil’s death spread, she said members of the organization had not been allowed to visit him when they learned he was placed in the prison infirmary.

She also stated that when, after much insistence, Phil was allowed to call his wife of 44 years (36 of which they were separated by his incarceration), Janine Africa, “he was heavily drugged, incoherent, and couldn’t even hold the phone to talk to her.”

MoveBetween his stay in the infirmary and the later attempt at conversation with his wife, Phil was “secretly transported to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, where he was held in total isolation, incommunicado, for five days,” Ramona says.

The exact circumstances of Phil’s passing, then, are said to be suspicious. A prison spokeswoman, Robin Lucas, attributed the death to unspecified natural causes. Ramona, in turn, commented that Phil’s death “is another example of how the system hates MOVE and will do anything to stop MOVE,” adding that “Phil was a father figure to many. Phil took his commitment and work as a revolutionary very seriously, but was often smiling, laughing, and giving people hugs and encouragement.”

Fifty-nine at the time of his death on Saturday, Phil Africa was reportedly the second of the MOVE 9 to pass away behind bars. May he have also be the last.

For MOVE’s commentary on Phil’s passing, click here.

(repost from criticalanimalstudies.org)

Hot Dogs in a World on Fire

The following text is a reply to the rebuttal by Otwarte Klatki (“Open Cages”) of my original critique (“Hot Dogs of Dissent”) of this Polish organization’s recent campaign and solidifying ideological orientation. It responds directly to the particular sub-sections of their rebuttal. Photos used without permission, for non-commercial purposes. I’m not translating their rebuttal into English. It’s written in admirably simple language of which google translate can grasp the gist.

PDF download

 

Let’s Start Taking Animal Seriously. Yes, if Klatki started taking other animals seriously, they wouldn’t cling to superficial interpretations of social movements and organizations’ historical victories and defeats. However you want to estimate the “measure of changes of particular elements of the system,” their broader repercussions are not grasped in statistical tables. And the tables that fascinate governments, corporations, and the non-profit sector (wholly dependent on showing that it is no threat to the system) conceal more than they reveal.

3048In the 1960 there were attempts to cleanse history of the drudgery of interpretation altogether, and to give its study a “scientific” character. This was called “cliometrics” (or econometric history). Newly armed researchers in lab coats posed as the new priests. But serious historians quickly crushed its nonsensical results, pointing to the central role interpretation had in reading the masses of data arbitrarily lumped by researchers searching for objectivity in statistical tables. It suffices to look carefully at cliometry’s groundbreaking work, Economics of Slavery in the Antebellum South, and especially at the reviews that rightly hammered it.

Klatki are obsessed with tables, professional public opinion polls, and anything else that might help make the organization grow without stepping on the toes of potential donors. As I wrote in my preceding essay, this is typical of neoreformists collaborating with the system instead of criticizing and putting pressure on it.

The organization browses the past to justify its actions. It speaks of suffragette victories. But the electoral vote, filtered through precise sociotechnical manipulation, and sprinkled with billions squandered on the campaigns accompanying elections, is made meaningless relative to the hopes the suffragetters seemed to have for it.

As soon as the vote became universalized, media theoreticians like Walter Lippmann set out to work systematically on bypassing the threat it seemed to pose. As Mark Twain used to say, “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” Voting changes the system’s surface appearance while concealing its deep roots sunk in and dependent on exploitation.

A simple example: The fact that the gender of the Polish prime minister recently changed with the replacement of Donald Tusk by Ewa Kopacz, will not significantly change either Platforma Obywatelska, their party, or the Polish regime. The neoliberal line of the party and one cabinet after another will be sustained. Without antisystemic dissent, popular economic safeguards going back to the welfare state (and actually existing socialism in case of Poland) will still be systematically dismantled.

Klatki refer also to working class successes. But here things don’t add up either, and their interpretation is superficial. Statistical tables can showcase an increase in the purchasing power of the working class and the improvements in workers’ quality of life.

But Ivan Illich was right to argue in Useful Unemployment and its Professional Enemies that centralized systems of work organization and social services have deepened worker dependence on bosses and top-down directives. They have made workers’ lives not more autonomous and free, but further dissected their ability to fend for themselves, making them dependent on mass structures into which capital had thrust them.

Another thing: since the 1950s and ‘60s this alleged improvement in worker’s quality of life has acted as a stabilizer for capitalism and a nullifier of anticapitalist dissent. It is in this light that the calls for overturning the system—calls once lively and popular—fade altogether. As Herbert Marcuse argued, workers no longer have only their chains to lose, but much, much more. They come to care above all about maintaining their own privilege, just like the wealthier women (so called “power women”) care about increasing their own numbers and improving own their position in the European Parliament and global corporate boards.

A narrow view of changes of this sort precludes a thorough analysis of subjection and exploitation in a system that, thanks to help from collaborationist elements within social movements, is able to maintain its existence. Some privileged sectors of workers get their living standards raised, and so they lose interest in fundamentally changing the system upon which their careers and welfare depend. Some women fare better than they used to and make careers in structures that should not exist in the first place. And misery is pushed further and further down, to the global South and to factories in which other animals die as they used to—by the billions.

60chairmanWhat’s important for this discussion, however, is that massive trade unions and other representatives of the workers would never have grown to their immense 1960s sizes, nor would they have gotten concessions from the political and economic powers that be, if it hadn’t been for the revolutionary background of the time.

It’s in the face of radical demands to bring down a system in which the boss reigns unabashedly that system representatives began to relent. They would give in only when put under threat by radical dissent.

Without Malcolm X, of whom the white-dominated US was afraid, Martin Luther King would not have gain his admirable influence. And when King himself became radicalized and included socialist demands in his speeches and platform, he was murdered. Public concessions combined with unceasing threat of violence from the system were supposed to effectively eliminate expectations of fundamental change by discrediting the radical elements within the opposition. Black deaths in American cities at the hands of the police are accompanied not by real justice but by the rise of a black bourgeoisie.

It’s a tried-and-true tactic. And now it is being revived in the actions of Otwarte Klatki open to co-optation by the system. Just as PETA has become part of the system in the US by saying everyone what they wanted to hear, Klatki want to become part of it here in Poland.

It does not lead to animal liberation, and instead extinguishes the potential of real, radical dissent. If there had been no reactionary, collaborationist elements within working class and feminist movements, perhaps today’s European neo-colonialism in Africa, patronized by the oh-so-democratic European Parliament, wouldn’t exist either. Is it good that women sit among the other parliamentarians? No difference! It is terrible this system is still in place! If it hadn’t been for easily tameable oppositional elements, perhaps many past revolutions could have actually seized the historical opportunities they had.

To take the other animals seriously is to look for ways of acting that do not cast doubt on the fundamental moral rejection of the existence of systems of exploitation. Not action for action’s sake—or calls like “then tell us what you would do”—but precisely this is the responsibility of anyone who considers herself an activist.

In my original critique I named some examples of organizations and informal actions from which this spirit, this ethos, has not yet vanished. And all I want from a reader who thinks critically and isn’t afraid of the radicalism of her own message is for her to look for that kind of examples, find more and more of them, draw on them, and foster them herself. But the truth is that many of us are frightened by what we ourselves have to say, and hide behind not so much pragmatism, but opportunism. That makes things easier, that way you make no enemies and you don’t risk your own neck.

Otwarte Klatki’s boss’ impressions are wrong. Without fundamentally gashing through the system of domination concealed in the state, capital, and other structures that reduce us to recipients of directives and orders while equipping us with an illusion of choice and influence, the world will burn. We know today that the Pentagon is already preparing contingency plans protecting the powerful from any conceivable case of expected disasters—economic, ecological, and political—that would destabilize the system worldwide.

In this context demands to have one’s soy hot dogs heated up in a separate oven untainted by animal fat are both ridiculous and pathetic. As I wrote in “Fragments of an Animalist Politics,” the struggle for animal liberation has little to do with wining about the luxuty on one’s plate. It is not on vegans that the struggle should be focused. Of course we all want to eat healthy—though the hot dog campaign makes me think twice about that, too. Whatever the case, I say no to making veganism a fetish.

Veganism should be “normal,” but this requires that the system of exploitation collapse. Today’s normalcy is pathological and nothing to be aspired to. This is known to anyone with enough strength to admit it to themselves.

We Are Not a Religious Movement. A careful reading of the “Hot Dogs of Dissent” will show that my use of the term “soul” there is a matter of shorthand. But atheists underestimating the power associated with ethos, whether secular or not, are ready to shoot themselves in the foot by discarding the valuable lessons their opponents offer up for learning.

Locked away in Mussolini’s fascist prison, Antonio Gramsci appreciated the culture-making and political might of the Catholic church. He pointed out in his Prison Notebooks that the overthrow of the system of capitalist hegemony (in which the other animals are equated not only with things but with commodities, reduced to their exchange value) is connected with the building of counter-hegemony—a global alternative based on a new ethos, new values, all of which build toward a new common sense to replace its capitalist counterpart.

zz-Reformation-03No facile atheist calls to have the power of reason fill the void vacated by God will change the basics of reality: as animals ourselves, we rely on habits for our comportment, and the vast majority of our actions we perform prereflectively and without thinking. That is who we are.

None of us are either a soul or a mind. Each and every one of us is a living, animal body. And we are struggling for a new ethos, in which to massacre the bodies and lives of other animals would be unthinkable.

In this broad and secular sense, religiosity—a new religiosity based on compassion, respect, ludic and frugal culture, vegan practice, and wide-ranging, bold abolitionist activity—is central. It has nothing to do with dogma or fossilized Catholic structures.

But it constitutes, as per Gramsci, a “new reformation.” And in this sense, as someone who steers clear of orthodox notions of spirituality and other catechetical categories, I think that struggle for “souls”—not consumer votes—is indispensible.

Who is it Good For? Who is Otwarte Klatki’s hot dog campaign good for? Good question. I reiterate—it certainly is good for an organization geared towards increases in its own popularity among vegans who do no more than exchange cooking recipes as part of their activism. It helps raise funds to sustain the organization for which its own survival, and not animal liberation, seems to be the priority.

There can be no doubt that someone who writes what I write has nothing to do with the fur industry. The Wójcik brothers (noted Polish “fur farmers”) criticize Klatki to protect their shitty business. I have no business and no personal interest to defend here.

I am not interested assuming leadership of any organization. I don’t want money in my account from other activists or any public. All I’m interested in is a broad view of animal liberation and the considerate members of the movement that strives for it. It is their attention and good sense I care about.

bankructwoIt is obvious enough that every organization and campaign relies on financing. I don’t need a marketing coursebook to tell me that people need to eat and buy the necessary equipment, pay office rent etc. Thing is where the money goes after that’s done. It should not be spent fighting for hot dogs. Hot dogs do not lead to real change, and certainly not in a world on fire.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was right to note that revolutions succeed as movements but fail as regimes. Otwarte Klatki are gradually turning into a mini-regime. We ought to see to it that they avoid that fate.

–kf (radically real), Jan 12, 2015