Inkwell: Authors and Artists
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!
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Fri 20 May 11 16:52
You shouldn't have started with the NE coast of Japan.
. (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 RÃ¤ttvik 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 23 May 11 11:57
<scribbled by tcn Mon 23 May 11 11:57>
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 harmonya 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.
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?
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: thats the business class. Its a highly class-conscious business class. They are fighting a bitter class struggle all the time. If everyone else had said, 'Hey, were going to worry about something else,' they win. And its become an attractive position, for one thing, because it allows you to focus your attention on things that are quite important, but arent 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.
. (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.
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 25 May 11 07:54
Julie, Sasha, Angie -- this has been very thought provoking. Thank you.
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.
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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