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inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #101 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 20 May 11 16:43
    
Let's check with our friends on the other side of the International
Dateline and see if we are safe....

Hey, no one answers!
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #102 of 131: Peter Meuleners (pjm) Fri 20 May 11 16:52
    
You shouldn't have started with the NE coast of Japan.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #103 of 131: . (wickett) Sat 21 May 11 07:29
    

Re #86:

Having lived in Sweden, I would say that the Henning Mankell books reflect 
Swedish anxiety about the solidity of their system far more than the
extremes of Stieg Larsson!  

Swedes are far more invested in their communal and individual rights *and*
responsibilities; in the US, I'd say the investment is far more in 
benefits.  Sweden is thirty to  forty years behind the US in the adoption 
of our destructive economic and political patterns, which gives them a 
huge opportunity not to repeat the same mistakes.  

Returning to outsourcing of personal responsibility, which I see 
underlying fragmented political action on the left:  I recently heard a San 
Francisco policeman speaking about the 2010 Bay-to-Breakers (estimated 
60,000 runners) and the thirty tons of garbage (one pound per runner) that 
was cleared away afterwards.  I contrasted that with a 2005 concert at an 
inn in Sweden enjoyed by about three hundred people, including me.  In 
Rättvik at the inn, a stage was setup, that was all.  People came with 
chairs, picnics, blankets, tables, whatever they needed, set them up, 
reveled in the music, packed up, and took everything away with them.  
There were no bins for recycling or garbage, not a speck of detritus left 
on the grass.  People cleaning up after themselves took less than half an 
hour.

That level of care for the commons is usual in Sweden and is also  
reflected in strong Swedish unions and the proprietary pride individual 
Swedes take in their health care and education systems.  That personal 
investment, butressed by their quotitian shouldering their political 
responsibilities while asserting their rights, strongly affirms the 
Swedish commitment to the commons.

Is a firm and universal commitment to the commons less possible in a huge, 
wildly diverse country like the US?
 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #104 of 131: Peter Richardson (richardsonpete) Sat 21 May 11 07:56
    
That's the question I had when I returned from Sweden.  It's not
obvious that their customs, institutions, etc. will map onto ours in
any straightforward way.  And I like Sasha's point about what elites
will or won't tolerate--and where that leaves the rest of us when it
comes to political strategy. 

But the main point for me is we know this arrangement CAN work.  Like
a lot of things in life, you have to keep at it, but a mixed economy of
that kind isn't a utopian dream full of unforeseen and perhaps grave
risks. 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #105 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 21 May 11 08:21
    
Gigantic question for the U.S.! Even the issue of a laissez
faire(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laissez-faire)capitalist system is
tacitly approved here in the U.S. Not sure how many people could
accurately define, much less defend it.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #106 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 21 May 11 08:24
    
"Mixed Economy" is a great phrase. It doesn't immediately turn people
off, nor does it threaten the established order. Most people realize
something has to change here....the system isn't working and it is only
going to get worse. The phrase works for me, and could be beneficial
in removing the "Socialism" stamp from the health care and economic
reforms that are necessary for the U.S. to keep up and survive in a
globally networked economy.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #107 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sat 21 May 11 15:41
    
Thanks, Ted and Wickett, for the kind words about the book.  I'm so
glad you've gotten something out of it (including my introduction) --
that's really gratifying to hear.

You bring up an interesting point, Wickett, about how commodification
makes it harder for us to do things that we once used to know how to
do.  I think that's very true.  Perhaps that's most apparent with how
we eat.  Many people no longer know how to cook well and are dependent
on packaged food or eating out for most of their meals, often to the
detriment of their health.  Then add to this the fact that Americans
work more hours than any other industrialized country -- we work 137
more hours per year than Japanese workers and 499 more hours per year
than French workers -- and you can see why people find themselves
relying on things like packaged foods or other ostensibly time-saving
commodities.  (And, of course, lots of fast food is in effect
subsidized, with cheap corn syrup providing calories at low cost.)

I don't think that means we should resist commodification by all
spinning our own wool and weaving our own clothes, since it would be
difficult for us to have the time for any other activities that we
value if we were all involved in such subsistence tasks.  But replacing
private wealth with public wealth would involve asking how might we
live our lives differently.  As Ursula Huws argues, do we really all
need our own lawnmower?  Can't we share some of these things between
us, for example between neighbors, or through institutions like the
wonderful Berkeley Tool Lending Library (where I borrowed a soil tamper
-- something I only needed once)? 

But you do raise an interesting political question: what sort of
effect might this process of commodification have on our ability to act
and to act together?  It's worth thinking about.  As I mentioned early
in our discussion, Ursula Huws argues that the process of creating
evermore commodities has made us increasingly isolated from each other,
as cars replace trains and buses, or even DVDs replace going to the
movies, where we might encounter each other and talk about our problems
and perhaps decide to act together. 

I should add that it's also the case that tasks that others used to do
for a wage are now being done by us for free -- and to the benefit of
businesses, who now don't have to pay for those employees.  Huws makes
the point that early in the 20th century, one would go to the store,
give the clerk a list of what you wanted, and then that would be
packaged and delivered to your house.  Now you go and pick out the
products, put them in bags, and transport them yourself.  It's now
standard to buy your plane ticket online, rather than from an agent, 
check in yourself, print out your own boarding pass, and so on (even
bring your own food!).  Some of those changes may be welcome, but other
aspects can be really frustrating, and of course quite profitable for
others. 
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #108 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sat 21 May 11 16:38
    
Commodification, case in point:
I'm designing a website for the village I live in with a separate page
for every apartment/condo complex so that they can ride share, barter,
baby sitting, etc.   Not only does it aid in commondifcation, but they
also meet face to face, perhaps for the first time. It's too easy, but
no one thinks to do it.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #109 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Sun 22 May 11 06:07
    
The Value of Global History for Modern Political Economy:

http://delong.typepad.com/berkeley_friday_political/2011/03/friday-march-4-201
1-the-value-of-global-history-for-modern-political-economy.html

Interesting site for current state of economics....kind of gives a
read on where we really are; and in spite of his own statistics he is
still optimistic, which only points out how much our economy is
influenced by psychological attitudes....

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/05/the-economic-outlook-as-of-may-2011-yes-
this-is-called-the-dismal-science-why-do-you-ask.html?utm_source=feedburner&ut
m_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+BradDelongsSemi-dailyJournal+%28Brad+DeLong
 %27s+Semi-Daily+Journal%29
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #110 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sun 22 May 11 17:07
    
There's a brilliant short novel by the writer Terry Bisson called "The
Left Left Behind," which is a send up of the evangelical "Left Behind"
novels.  In it, all the rightwing people are raptured and the world is
left a socialist utopia.  I had my hopes yesterday, but alas.  
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #111 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Sun 22 May 11 17:53
    
I'm probably not the best person to answer questions about the role of
the spiritual, David, as I'm a very non-spiritual sort.  But I do
recognize that many other people feel differently.  

I think that people can go through momentous shifts in how they see
the world -- what you perhaps might call "spiritual" change -- when
they witness collective action taking place -- and even more when
they're part of it.  I think that tends to be more likely than
individual change in isolation from others.  (Of course, that then
raises the question, what leads to collective action?  As we saw with
Wisconsin, is hard to know what ingredients will set off a response in
one case and not in countless others.) 

I can't say I have the answer to the very difficult question you pose
about how to attain "a critical mass of decency to end this race to
extinction."  But I do think there are lots of decent people out there,
some who are more entangled in ideology of capitalism than others, and
some who have more of a grasp on the nature of the system around them
than others.  I'm not sure if individual decency is the problem, but
rather how to help people get beyond despair and cynicism to imagining,
and acting upon, the notion that we could structure our lives
differently.  Which circles back to the remark by Sam Gindin that Angie
flagged early in our conversation, where he says: "I don't think you
have to convince people that capitalism isn't wonderful. You just have
to convince them that there is something they can do about it."

There are reasons to have hope.  Polls show that the current age
cohort of 18-24 is the most progressive on record.  And despite the
conventional wisdom, people do not tend to become more conservative as
they get older.  However, they do become more conservative the
wealthier they get -- which for the young, who have among the highest
rates of unemployment (at 17.6%), isn't very likely to happen any time
soon.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #112 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 23 May 11 11:57
    <scribbled by tcn Mon 23 May 11 11:57>
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #113 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 23 May 11 11:58
    
Francis Fukuyamas's new book, The Origins of Political Order:

Now, with The Origins of Political Order, he attempts to understand
how countries, as he puts it, "get to Denmark". "Fukuyama is
attempting
to work out how states developed and why some became liberal
democracies and others, notably China, opted for an authoritarian
model. He argues that getting to Denmark relies on three things that
have to be in harmony—a functioning state, the rule of law and
accountable government."

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00457X7VI/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=4865
3
9851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0374227349&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX
0
DER&pf_rd_r=1AP8ZGR9CHHYMN09JD6B

Haven't read it yet, but looks potentially helpful in hows and whys of
'blended' political systems.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #114 of 131: Angie (coiro) Mon 23 May 11 14:55
    
And here's a clickable version of that link:

<http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00457X7VI>

Sasha, I find this to be the elephant in the corner in so many
strategic and/or philosophical discussions: what about the decline in
American education? How will that impact any effort to organize and
mobilize political will?

The Right and the Republicans are immensely skilled at not only
capitalizing on American political ignorance, but at demonizing
education and knowledge. The most educated are "liberal elites"; public
schooling is an "entitlement", while its teachers are "union thugs". 

Couple that with rampant, mindless consumerism, which in my opinion
largely derives from citizens swallowing the tale that happiness
derives from owning stuff. 

And combine those two elements with the pervasiveness of non-stop,
lowest-common-denominator entertainment: the rise of reality TV, the
ever-more-abnormal imagery of women, the conflation of news with
entertainment and (in the case of Fox) deliberate manipulation of
content to political ends.

Stir it all together, and we have a populace that, for the most part,
would never pick up your book, or take interest in the critical issues
it raises. An alarming percentage of them have no idea what socialism,
communism, and fascism really are, but use the terms interchangeably
and frequently. I find myself wondering how many could accurately
define capitalism.

Most don't know who their elected representatives are. Many have
thrown up their hands at civic involvement, citing the belief that they
have no power and/or all politicians are alike, and have it all
rigged. And we've seen how many never bother to vote.

Even for those interested in more education and understanding of the
world they inhabit, educational opportunities are diminishing, and
expectations dropping.

***

All of the above is context for this: sometimes I feel we on the left
overestimate how much our fellow citizens know or care what's happening
to our country. We're keenly aware of those we disagree with. We can
fall into forgetting or dismissing, though, the great populace that,
with education and guidance, could constitute a firehose of power for
good. 

How do we reach them? What's being done now, and what needs to be
done? Do you believe the Left is focusing enough on outreach and
teaching? Or do you feel I'm painting the portrait more dismal than it
really is?
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #115 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Tue 24 May 11 00:59
    
Your question is a thorny one, Angie.  There's no doubt that the state
of the educational system in the US is abysmal.  By some estimates, a
fifth of the population is functionally illiterate (not able to read a
lease or do simple arithmetic).  I certainly believe that reading and
thinking critically are important for the growth of the left (and I
could go on about how the decline of publishing and much of the media
bodes badly as well).  Yet there were stronger social movements in the
US at the turn of the 19th century when literacy was even lower, so
education isn't enough of an answer.  (And of course there are all the
other things that you point to in our times.  I don't think it's
insignificant that the average American watches almost 40 hours of
television a week -- about as much as a full time job!)

I think you're correct about who we on the left focus on -- mainly the
right, whose size we may overestimate.  There's obviously a much
larger group of people who are largely detached from politics as we
conceive it, as you point out.  Noam Chomsky argues that those folks
tend to have more progressive views than are reflected in US politics. 
If that's true, there is still the question, which we keep circling
back to, about how to help convince people that change is possible and
action is worth taking.

The left does not always do the best job in reaching beyond the choir
(something that I think about a lot with the alternative media).  But I
also believe that the left has not spent enough time focusing on
issues that affect people materially.  That may seem simplistic, but I
think it's basically true.  Class and class issues seemed to go by the
wayside for much of the left over the past several decades -- often
based on the assumption that poor and working class people were
reactionary.  So, yes, I do think the left hasn't done enough to reach
those depoliticized and demobilized folks whom you point to.  And since
the left has often written these people off, it's even easier for the
right to use the trope that the left is comprised a bunch of
privileged, latte-sipping snobs.

If I can reference Chomsky yet again: I asked him about why parts of
the radical left dropped their traditional focus on class.  He
responded by saying, [That view has] "gotten some traction because of
the class struggle which exists has become one-sided. I mean, there is
one group of people who are basically vulgar Marxists and who are
dedicated to class struggle, constantly: that’s the business class.
It’s a highly class-conscious business class. They are fighting a
bitter class struggle all the time. If everyone else had said, 'Hey,
we’re going to worry about something else,' they win. And it’s become
an attractive position, for one thing, because it allows you to focus
your attention on things that are quite important, but aren’t going
change the class struggle."

This seems to be changing now, though, and that's heartening. 

And lest we forget, change can bubble up even in countries where
leftwing movements have long been squelched.  Just look at what's going
on in Spain over the last week and a half, where a disaffected
population of young people, a great many of whom have no future job
prospects, have taken to the country's squares to protest against the
neoliberal policies of their government.  (My favorite placard,
channeling Monty Python: Nobody expects the Spanish Revolution!)   The
question now posed is whether the Arab Spring will become a European
Summer.  One can only hope the contagion will spread.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #116 of 131: . (wickett) Tue 24 May 11 09:48
    

To return to the mundane, when we returned from Sweden to the US and I set
about making a home, I was horrified by the quantities of stuff needed.  In
Sweden we shared a tool room, gardening equipment and furnishings, and 
laundry facilities with the other residents.  Transport was great; waiting 
for the bus for more than four minutes made us antsy!  We--dressed in white 
tie--rode the bus to the Nobel Prize festivities.  No one blinked.

We have one car now instead of none; the bus on our street was cancelled 
as a budgetary necessity.  Yet, when I walk down the hill to take a 
different bus, I am regarded askance and pan-handled quite vigorously.

I have been gratified to become involved in neighborhood activities, such 
as picking up garbage, cleaning up graffiti, doing park maintenance, 
mutually preparing for emergencies, etc.  It's a small start toward 
increasing the value of the commons and shifting slightly towards public 
wealth.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #117 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Tue 24 May 11 23:03
    
As I believe this is the last day for this conversation, I think these
are some very good thoughts to end on, Wickett.  We know that there
are other -- richer -- ways of organizing our lives, based on sharing
and equality, and even small actions in our neighborhoods or workplaces
can remind us of this.  The system we live under may seem permanent
and immutable, but it's not.  That's easy to forget, but we shouldn't.

Going back to a question Ted and you posed earlier, I don't think that
the size and diversity of the US are the reasons that the commons are
so eroded here and that individuals often treat poorly what remains.  I
believe it has to do with the very different trajectories of the left
and right in a country like Sweden compared to the US, and the ways
that neoliberalism reverberates and is enlaced with the values and
contours of our everyday lives.  I'd wager that you'd probably find a
greater commitment to the commons in India, an incredibly large and
diverse country, where neoliberalism is more recently established. 

(On a slightly different note, I recently finished reading Henning
Mankell's "The Man from Beijing".  Is there any particular book that
you would recommend by him that you think captures Swedish anxieties?
I'm now on to Ian Rankin, who writes about social issues -- in the case
of my current choice, the speculative property boom and bust in
Edinburgh -- through the medium of crime fiction.  I'm well aware that
there are lots of rightwing crime fiction writers, but it's heartening
to realize that some of the bestselling authors in the world these days
are lefties.)
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #118 of 131: Sasha Lilley (sashalilley) Tue 24 May 11 23:10
    
I want to thank all of you for participating in this conversation with
me over the past two weeks.  It's been a great pleasure and privilege
to engage with you.  I especially want to thank Angie, Julie, and David
for setting it up and leading the charge.  

Although some of my conclusions may appear a bit bleak, I'm actually
hopeful -- perhaps by temperament -- about the potential for social
change.  Moments of rupture can materialize from protracted dark times
and I think there is a great deal of promise, as well as peril, in
these years ahead.  
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #119 of 131: Angie (coiro) Tue 24 May 11 23:44
    
Sasha, you've been marvelous. I'm so glad the Inkwell team set this
up. It's a real treat to see your depth of thought and benefit from
your knowledge.

I'm especially encouraged at your answer to my last question.
Historical proof that conditions like these have been overcome lends
some relief to the bleakness you refer to, and that I'm sure affects us
all from time to time.

I wish you the best of luck at KPFA, with your show and with the
situation overall there. Thanks again!
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #120 of 131: Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 25 May 11 04:39
    
Thank you very much - I haven't been able to participate much, but
this has been a very interesting read.  And we share tastes in crime
fiction.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #121 of 131: David Wilson (dlwilson) Wed 25 May 11 04:59
    
Sasha you should stick around the Well a little.  Check out the crime
fiction conference <noir>.  I'm sure people there would like some
injection of political content into the discussions of crime fiction.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #122 of 131: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Wed 25 May 11 06:54
    
As Sasha noted, this is the last day for this conversation, and I
thank Sasha and Angie and everyone who contributed, for a lively and
interesting discourse over the past two weeks. While the attention of
Inkwell will move to a new discussion, this topic will remain open
indefinitely for anyone who wants to continue the conversation.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #123 of 131: Gail Williams (gail) Wed 25 May 11 07:54
    
Julie, Sasha, Angie -- this has been very thought provoking. Thank
you.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #124 of 131: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 25 May 11 08:27
    
No way can this be over already! We're just getting started. Sasha,
thanks for such a great book and discussion with us....You've made me
think, go to the bookstore and read up, and broken some of my boxe.s.
All good and very refreshing for me....thanks so much and blessings on
all you do.
  
inkwell.vue.407 : Sasha Lilley, "Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult"
permalink #125 of 131: David Gans (tnf) Wed 25 May 11 09:42
    
No reaso the conversation has to end.  There's a new one in the spotlight,
but you are encoursged to stick around!
  

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