In Praise of Conflict

15 06 2011


Don’t reach across the aisle. Don’t partner with management. Don’t release a joint statement. Fight it out. That isn’t just an unfortunate way to make progress, in fact is the only way. Adversarial processes can be painful, stressful, and even destructive; but they are the only actual way to make change. It isn’t that one side is wholly wrong, that one side is wholly right. But there are conflicting, even mutually exclusive, goals between classes in society. Since individuals and their institutions will act in self-interest to impede the others’ goals, only actual conflict can achieve their goals.

Conflict is an actual engagement between parties in opposition. Two parties making opposing statements on a street corner aren’t in conflict in the way that two people making arguments in court are in conflict, because there is not going to be material change in position that results. Similarly, the individual act of voting, particularly in large-scale elections, is not an act of conflict because for the vast majority of voters the material change is de minimis. The degree of disagreement is a factor, too; the closer together the two sides, the less conflict involved.

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Get Rich or Die Tryin’

5 06 2011

Some day, there are going to be documentaries made about the 2000s, and then that documentary will provide the stylistic template for some award-winning movies.

One of those documentaries will be called “Get Rich or Die Tryin'”. How do I know this?

Because the 2000s represented the culmination of thirty years of a new American civic religion that treated the working class lifestyle as something objectionable and maybe immoral, and wealth, or its apparent trappings, as the sole measure of a person’s success; it is when we all became consumers rather than citizens. It is when appearance rather than substance became the way of valuing something.

50 Cent’s debut record, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ sold nearly a million records in its first week, and finalized the gradual transformation of hip hop music, the dominant musical style of the decade, from stories about poor and working class life in America’s crumbling big cities to pure bragadoccio about individual success and ferocity. Gangsterism took over one of America’s most precious cultural products at about the same time it took over the U.S. economy in the form of high finance bubbles and credit schemes that sold off the manufacturing base and then redistributed billions of dollars upward.

Working class life and dignity was erased from the popular culture, our stories and music became populated by elite cosmopolitans, professionals, and the rich and famous; at the same time, the economy stratified more rigidly, between the super wealthy and the insecure, and the stability and peace of working class life evaporated.

50 Cent

I hate 50 Cent’s music. I’ve been a hip hop fan since I heard Eric B. and Rakim’s “Follow the Leader” in a movie; but I was never a backpacker type. Nas, Mobb Deep, Biggie, Wu-Tang, and Ras Kass were my favorite groups and MCs as a teenager; so crime stories, battle rhymes and stories about sex and partying don’t offend me. But when Nas talked about the criminal lifestyle, even in his Nas Escobar persona, he was storytelling, creating a character. Even Mobb Deep, who pioneered the East Coast gangster style, don’t “glamorize” violence: listen to their classic The Infamous, and you get lost in a terrifying, high-stakes world of violence and poverty. Who would listen to the life Prodigy describes in “Shook Ones Pt. II” or “Drink Away the Pain” and think that life would be preferable to the cushy existence of the record executive who produced the record?

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The End of Elections in the Neoliberal Era

17 03 2011

The time for elections as the focal point of activism has expired. Activist participation in elections, and elections as the organizing focus for economic justice movements is finished, and activism inside the Democratic Party is not distinct for the result it produces from activism inside the Republican Party. There are differences between Democrats and Republicans, but is gauged only by degrees of resistance to corporate power, which is not a strategy that can ever make progress. Therefore, the “electoral strategy” of trying to achieve justice through political elections has proven ineffectual, and electoral activism circumscribed in its value.

Neutered Elections

In the city of Deadwood, South Dakota, an intensely rich gold find carved society into wilderness. Men poured into a small gulch in the Black Hills to make their fortune. Miners panned and chiseled for enough of “the color” to drink, gamble, visit brothels, and put a little by for family they’d left back home.

Until that is, the introduction of amalgamation by capital. The gold could not be produced “efficiently” without that process. Wealthy and powerful interests (in the HBO show Deadwood, represented by an unquestionably cariactured George Hearst), moved in to buy up land from panicked homesteaders. What had been a community of small businessmen and free miners slowly transformed into a community or wage earners. Quality of life dipped, and to serve these wage earners, cheaper labor had to be brought in, from China and Europe, to produce what local goods were produced and to work at laundry, food preparation, etc. The labor market got worse–one major employer creates a virtual monopsony. The homesteaders left to go west, and were replaced at the mine by cheap immigrant labor. Deadwood turned into just another American town.

Poor Charlie Utter, who knows what’s coming but can’t quite understand it.

The need for one owner to control so many workers of course created a social strata of managers, foremen, and security, who could enforce Hearsts’ will.

This brings me closer to my point. In David Milch’s Deadwood, Hearst, played maniacally and brilliantly by Gerald McRaney, has a certain cavalier attitude towards coming elections that is instructive to us at this point in American history:

I’m an optimist, so I see a bright future for the American republic; though I see that future coming after some pretty nasty times in the immediate offing. The neoliberal consensus (in its broadest meaning, distinct from the “Washington Consensus”) has won the day. Even supposedly “liberal” political leadership subscribes to the neoliberal consensus.

Corporate power neuters the results of elections by stovepiping elected officials, narrowing their range of movement to within the confines of neoliberalism’s policy consensus. Once we accept this forlorn fact, much follows.

Neoliberal Consensus

Before I use the expression again and test your patience, I can define it for you, first formally and then substantively: Read the rest of this entry »

Will International Competitions Become Anachronisms?

22 06 2010

Following up on the previous post about sports and nationalism, I decided to take a look at some of the rosters for the best teams in the World Cup, looking at the two best teams in each group, with a focus on the “developing” nations.

Not surprisingly, these rosters are heavy with players who live and play in different countries–often different continents. Not only this, but you could show a direct correlation between the best players and the wealth of the nation in which they’re playing. Association football in its day-to-day form is organized around the capital in the game, not nation-states.

Nearly half of Mexico’s team plays in Europe, and two-thirds of Uruguay’s. None of Slovenia’s players play in Slovenia (contrast with Germany, where every single player plays in Germany). Only two of Serbia’s players play in Serbia (and they’re both back benchers). Half of Paraguay’s team plays in Europe, 20 of Brazil’s 23 the same, and just over half of Chile’s team the same. Many of these players (and more and more in recent years) left their home country in their teens and became a part of the popular culture (not to mention the upper class) of another country within a handful of years. To what degree these individual players are really “representing” the nation is questionable, isn’t it?