Saturday, October 18, 2008

We're not going to discuss what this says about me

xkcd on revolution

Yes, I know. There's a reason this is under the category "dreams." But, to paraphrase a friend, what can be gained by asking if xkcd is “ours or theirs?” The better question is, “How can one use xkcd for some liberatory project?”

and so we see xkcd--

Exulting the joys and efficiencies of life under capital

celebrating the fruits of a high-functioning democracy

considering violence? (the roll over text)

Don't even get me started on cultural revolution.

* just fixed the link for number 81, which is funnier than 84 over again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

freely cho$en

Markets are called "free"
because actors in them are permitted certain choices--about whether and how to form contracts, what to do with "their" goods, and so forth.

This description of how some of those freedoms tend to actually work themselves out under capitalism is much truncated for the demands of bloggery; hopefully any unclarity can be worked out through discussion. The ideas, even the analogy, are not mine; I'm told they've been liberated mostly from Hegel and Zizek, and they've come to me through the much appreciated vicarious scholarship of my friend Greg.

Let's say I want to become a world class violinist. Given that I have the talent and basic physical abilities:

If I'm a member of the lower class, there are objective material restrictions on my ability to accomplish this. If I live in tar paper shack, sell rubbish for a living, and haul water an hour every day, I think we can all agree that no matter how much I'm willing to sacrifice it is practically impossible for me to succeed.

If I'm a member of the middle class, my success is significantly contingent on my ability to manipulate relationships to my material gain. I can maintain good relationships with family members in hopes that they will pay for lessons; if my boss likes the work I put in at my day job, he's more likely to be understanding of my need for flexibility in hours and travel to competitions. Even my access to the teachers I need may be a matter of presenting myself amicably.

If I'm a member of the upper class, the limits on my ability to accomplish are largely the limits of myself; for the most part, I just have to want it enough.

So, when the upper class says, "you just have to want it enough,"
it is true. . . for them. And they have to believe at some level that it's true for everyone else too.

That's part of why the middle class believes them. . . but the statement transfers well enough into a middle class paradigm anyway; you just have to want it enough to develop the skills, the relationships, the networking. If you want it enough to do those things, you have a very decent shot. Arguably this is why the middle class has such a neurotically selfish mentality; lurking in the background, there's always the possibility that their relationships will fail, and the material reality is that their success is contingent on all those relationships.

This is also why, in the realm of charity, they will speak of doing all they can--of giving all they can--while their house is not filled with the homeless and they spend their tax returns on expensive hobbies. To be middle class is to build a wall around me and mine and allow every relationship to become a commodity; morality is only efficient it in so far as it is less fun than a new boat, or appropriate Christmas presents for your family. . . with whom, of course, you must maintain certain relationships.

It's at the lower class level that reality intervenes; there is a material world, and without material wealth it intervenes in everything, no matter how much you want it. On top of this, the material manifestations of racism, of class culture, and of literal inability to transition to a middle class approach, are omnipresent in day to day life.

To some of us, this does not seem like a system to optimize freedom.

That was all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Escapism, thy name is French news radio. *

Once upon a time I kept a sabbath. It was a way not to stress, and it was a dictate of my faith; though I had to work Sundays, I focused on personal development, gave all that I earned away, and released myself from all expectation of doing homework. I would do other people's side work and generally be of good cheer and not worry about how much I got tipped, unless I was particularly excited about whatever I was giving it to. In short, I relaxed. It was my day off--not from showing up, but from worrying about it.

It was an important distinction, in some ways; waiting tables is intense work if you do it well (at least till you've been doing it well for awhile), and though being of good cheer is half the battle, the other half involves heavy physical and mental labor. Efficiency is a big deal; details can be a big deal; timing can be a big deal. These things did not come naturally to me.

I'm not a Mormon anymore, and though I maintain a certain code of ethics and still keep a sabbath in an economic sense, somewhere along the way I've lost that ability to make it a day off--a day when it's time not to worry about it. The things I worry about now are different, but also strangely the same.

I used to worry whether I had the capacity to competently preform and keep my job; now I worry whether I have the capacity to competently fulfill my duty to the children I protect. I used to worry that I would always be useless, as evidenced by my chronic failure in school; now (despite the same chronic failure), having chosen to study what is most hard for me, I wonder much more confidently how I'm going to pull it off--knowing that when I have done this, I will be able to do anything. I used to really worry whether I could ever figure out how to get along with people; now I only wonder how to do it without selling my soul.

As any of you who've been in contact know, I've been dealing with some stress; it's a challenge to sleep, a challenge to focus, a challenge eat or not eat as a matter of fuel rather than emotion, and a major challenge to study. Every moment is precious, and somehow that makes it that much harder to know what to do with them; there are always things to study, people to talk to, questions to ask, problems to solve, and often significant conflicts to negotiate. With a strict 6-8 hour sleep schedule, an above average diet, and five workouts a week, I still find myself strung out like a caffeine monkey on finals week. It takes me an hour after going to bed to relax enough to go to sleep.

It is from this background that I again approached sabbath--today--when I strangely awoke to realize I had a full six hours ahead of me before I had any sort of commitment to show up to. I wrote in my journal and cleaned my house and then sat on my bed feeling unoccupied yet overwhelmed, wishing I had a movie to watch or a pizza to eat or Something. Finally I googled "French radio" and thence discovered a new form of zen. Momentarily I was ensconced in quilts and pillows, listening to the crisee financial et something about l'ittalie -- a young woman had been killed, and someone was being extradited? Hard to say. I lapsed into a delicious nap, and after I awoke the radio stayed on for the rest of the evening.

*anyone able to explain what this post has to do with an elephant wearing a tiger mask gets peanuts.