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Ayn Rand ‘objectively’ explains to ‘Cat Fancy’ that cats are awesome, 1966
06.16.2014
05:47 am

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Animals
Books
Thinkers

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Ayn Rand
 
It’s difficult to think of something—anything—that could endear Ayn Rand to me, but the news that she was a cat person certainly would be in that unlikely ballpark.

That said, I’d peg this curious missive she sent to Cat Fancy magazine on March 20, 1966, as an obvious hoax if it wasn’t right there in the volume dedicated to her correspondence.
 

Dear Miss Smith,

You ask whether I own cats or simply enjoy them, or both. The answer is: both. I love cats in general and own two in particular.

You ask: “We are assuming that you have an interest in cats, or was your subscription strictly objective?” My subscription was strictly objective because I have an interest in cats. I can demonstrate objectively that cats are of a great value, and the carter issue of Cat Fancy magazine can serve as part of the evidence. (“Objective” does not mean “disinterested” or indifferent; it means corresponding to the facts of reality and applies both to knowledge and to values.)

I subscribed to Cat Fancy primarily for the sake of the picture, and found the charter issue very interesting and enjoyable.

 
It’s especially great that even when writing Cat Fancy about her fondness for cats, she still can’t help getting into a nitpicky semantic debate over the word “objective”! Cat Fancy apparently set out the bait, and she went for it, like, well, a cat goes after a sardine…...
 
Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand swooning over the heroic properties of the American industrialist with an especially adorable Objectivist pal
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Anarchism in America
06.11.2014
07:20 am

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Activism
Class War
Politics
Thinkers

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As the title promises, Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher’s Anarchism in America is a documentary survey of anarchism in the United States. The film presents an overview of the movement’s history, such as the Spanish Civil War, the 1917 Revolution, Emma Goldman, and the deaths of Sacco and Vanzetti, and takes these as the points of departure for what were then (1983) contemporary observations from the outside looking in on Ronald Reagan’s America. Whether viewed as a time capsule or as an able introduction to the various forms of anarchism, the film makes for fascinating viewing and has held up well after 31 years.

What’s perfectly obvious is how much of a libertarian or individualistic route the American strain of anarchism takes—let’s call it “free market anarchism”—in stark contrast to European-style communal living experiments (such as squatters’ groups or farm co-ops). They’re just not quite the same school of thought, although if you were to draw a Venn diagram of what they do have in common, it would be significant but also… probably equally incompatible for the things which they lack in simpatico. Does anyone in Anarchism in America have any hopes for a revolution? Seemingly not in their lifetimes. (Many of them were right, of course. I’ve read that the filmmakers are planning a sequel, so I’d suspect that post-Occupy, post-Piketty, there would be more positive prognostications to be found along those lines today.)
 

Emma Goldman will not attend your revolution if she can’t dance….

The film also offers anarchist or anarchist-leaning thinkers uninterrupted camera time to make their points. Like Murray Bookchin, who says this:
 

I had entered the communist children’s movement, an organization called the Young Pioneers of America, in 1930 in New York City; I was only nine years of age. And I’d gone through the entire ’30s as a—Stalinist—initially, and then increasingly as someone who was more and more sympathetic to Trotskyism. And by 1939, after having seen Hitler rise to power, the Austrian workers’ revolt of 1934 (an almost completely forgotten episode in labor history), the Spanish revolution, by which I mean the so-called Spanish civil war—I finally became utterly disillusioned with Stalinism, and drifted increasingly toward Trotskyism. And by 1945, I, finally, also became disillusioned with Trotskyism; and I would say, now, increasingly with Marxism and Leninism.

And I began to try to explore what were movements and ideologies, if you like, that really were liberatory, that really freed people of this hierarchical mentality, of this authoritarian outlook, of this complete assimilation by the work ethic. And I now began to turn, very consciously, toward anarchist views, because anarchism posed a question, not simply of a struggle between classes based upon economic exploitation—anarchism really was posing a much broader historical question that even goes beyond our industrial civilization—not just classes, but hierarchy—hierarchy as it exists in the family, hierarchy as it exists in the school, hierarchy as it exists in sexual relationships, hierarchy as it exists between ethnic groups. Not only class divisions, based upon economic exploitation. And it was concerned not only with economic exploitation, it was concerned with domination, domination which may not even have any economic meaning at all: the domination of women by men in which women are not economically exploited; the domination of ordinary people by bureaucrats, in which you may even have welfare, so-called socialist type of state; domination as it exists today in China, even when you’re supposed to have a classless society; domination even as it exists in Russia, where you are supposed to have a classless society, you see.

So these are the things I noted in anarchism, and increasingly I came to the conclusion that if we were to avoid—or if we are to avoid—the mistakes in over one hundred years of proletarian socialism, if we are to really achieve a liberatory movement, not simply in terms of economic questions but in terms of every aspect of life, we would have to turn to anarchism because it alone posed the problem, not merely of class domination but hierarchical domination, and it alone posed the question, not simply of economic exploitation, but exploitation in every sphere of life. And it was that growing awareness, that we had to go beyond classism into hierarchy, and beyond exploitation into domination, that led me into anarchism, and to a commitment to an anarchist outlook.

 
Worth noting that Bookchin left anarchism behind, too, due to what he saw as the antisocial element to American style anarchist thought.

There’s one particularly amazing piece of footage (among several included in the film) that I wanted to call to your attention. It’s the demonstration of how a policeman’s truncheon fares against various food items such as an egg, squash, and an eggplant before moving on to a Yippie’s head. That clip comes from an “answer” film made by the Yippies in the aftermath of the Chicago riots that was played on television there due to the “equal-time” rule specifies that U.S. radio and television broadcast stations must provide an equivalent opportunity to any opposing political parties who request it. When Mayor Richard Daley got to tell the city’s side of the story in something called “What Trees Did They Plant?” the Yippies got to tell their side in an extremely whacked-out short film scripted by Paul Krassner. That starts at 30:50 but if you want to see the entire thing, click over to archive.org, they’ve got it. (The guy with the truncheon is Chicago-based lefty humorist and radio broadcaster Marshall Efron, who played one of the prisoners in George Lucas’ THX 1138. He was also the voice of “Smelly Smurf” and works as a voice actor in animated films to this day.)

Toward the end of Anarchism in America, Jello Biafra and Dead Kennedys are seen onstage performing “We’ve Got a Bigger Problem Now,” while in the interview segment a level-headed young Biafra suggests that anarchy, or some sort of revolution in the USA, is probably a long, long way off. If they do make the sequel, he’s one of the first people they ought to interview for it. I’d be curious if he still feels that way. I would suspect that he’s much more optimistic these days.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
God save the teens: the insane YouTube channel of mall goths Raven and Tara
06.09.2014
09:22 am

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Amusing
Stupid or Evil?
Thinkers

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fighiw
 
Raven, Your Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness and her pal Tara are on a goth-lite freakout!
 
Meet the new store-bought modern angst. The truth found herein is something even Marilyn Manson probably couldn’t have predicted. Amazingly, these girls were lucky enough to find each other, their short-lived cohort Azer, and YouTube. And now we can look into their black fishbowl and see what goes on in the deepest recesses of the mall goth’s bedroom. Watching them strangle themselves, bitch each other out and desperately try to lip-sync while losing themselves, busting out with grunts & out of tune screaming is a revelation! Not from The Satanic Bible though, but more from a redecorated-in-black Barbie comic book. Having been in Danzig for a bunch of years, I had met tons of demented teens with good & bad ideas, but this is a whole new thing. I would put money on the fact that Raven, Your Acid Bath Princess of the Darkness and her pal Tara have never heard of The Church of Satan. Anton LaVey’s photo would surely bring a collective “ewwwwwww.” Their taste in music (and their terrible Harry Potter fan fiction) is appalling and their motivation is quite skewed (to me). It’s new! It’s now! It makes no sense! Gotta love it.
 
In this early video that they made with their friend Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding (whose father wouldn’t let him be on YouTube, but then didn’t care, so they posted it), we have a perfect introduction to our new “serious as death” friends:
 

 
If they weren’t so young & so real it could be a Saturday Night Live sketch, but as much as I don’t get their motivation, I love how happy and in-the-moment “the darkness” makes them. When they really let go and forget they’re lip-syncing and the grunts of joy burst forth it’s like a cute exorcism.
 
tyrhftd5er
 
“We like” (together) “BEING GOTH! It’s not a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.” Their relatives think Hot Topic is a devil store. “AFI & My Chemical Romance saved my life!” they scream desperately.

Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding got caught going into the “prep mall” while they were being goth across the street at Hot Topic, causing his ousting, explained here:
 

 
Death to false goth! Easy come, easy go. See ya Azer, Mime of Satan’s Bidding! These girls are so insane & so funny I just hope that there’s a lot of them out there! Haha! Tara’s mom comes in at one point and tells them to be quiet just before they sing “Hate will kill us all!” Then Raven accuses Tara of stealing her moves. I could watch this all day. Oh, I have! This was all uploaded five, six years ago, so I wonder—what are these two doing now?
 
rugjvers
 
And finally this last message, probably the best video I’ve seen in years, the poignant “A Message To The Haters.”
 

 
Hail Satan.

Posted by Howie Pyro | Leave a comment
‘Regarding Susan Sontag’: America’s last great intellectual rock star
06.08.2014
01:45 pm

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Books
Movies
Pop Culture
Thinkers

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From Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” (1964):
 

56. Camp taste is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character.” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “a camp,” they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.

 
I won’t beat around the bush about Nancy Kates’ new documentary Regarding Susan Sontag because I loved every minute of it. For one, I’ve always been fascinated by Sontag herself, but beyond that, this is a very fine film, made with great flair, economy, and emotion. There’s not a single wasted frame. It’s the Susan Sontag movie that needed to be made.

Susan Sontag was a “social critic,” filmmaker, novelist, and political activist, although she is mostly referred to as an “intellectual,” a sort of rock star writer who emerged in the early ‘60s pontificating on a dizzying variety of subjects that no one had ever really thought of taking seriously before her. Sontag offered the readers of her essays opinions on “camp,” the hidden cultural meanings behind low-budget sci-fi films, photography as an unlikely impediment to understanding history, Pop art, warfare, the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard and much, much more. There was seemingly nothing that didn’t fascinate her, and this unceasing, insatiable search for novelty and new experiences is what fueled Sontag’s life on practically every level, including her personal relationships, which often didn’t run very smoothly.
 

What other 20th century intellectual giant was photographed as much as Susan Sontag was?
 
Although she often came across in her interviews as brash, even imperious, Sontag was someone who privately felt that she was a bit of an underachiever, always writing about artists and culture, but not taken as seriously as an artist herself for her own films and novels. Gore Vidal famously trashed her talent at writing fiction, which apparently wounded Sontag deeply.

Obviously it was Sontag’s right to have held this rather morose opinion of her life’s work, but it seems so cosmically unfair considering the literary gifts she left behind her. “Susan Sontag’s brilliance”—in a nice turn of phrase I’m pulling straight out of the press release—“gave form to the intangible.” No minor achievement, it is for this that she will be best remembered.

Filmmaker Nancy Kates is best known for her film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, about the gay African-American civil rights leader. If you ever get the chance to see this film, do take it. Kates will be screening Regarding Susan Sontag at the Sheffield Doc Fest on June 10 with a Q&A session afterwards. HBO will will airing the film in the fall of 2014.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
DM interviews Alex van Warmerdam, director of the surreal thriller ‘Borgman’
06.05.2014
01:03 pm

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Movies
Thinkers

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namgrob11pos.jpg
 
With his latest movie Borgman, award-winning Dutch filmmaker Alex van Warmerdam has created a dark, comic, incredibly thrilling, and haunting tale that holds the attention long after the final frame.

The film opens with a caption that reads like a quote from the Old Testament:

“And they descended upon the earth to strengthen their ranks.”

Van Warmerdam has described this as a “perfect summation” of what is to come. But his explanation may quickly be forgotten as the audience is drawn into a tale that is by turns fable, comedy, drama, and horror, leading up to its chilling and inevitable denouement.

Once the caption has gone, we are thrown into a sequence where we witness a priest and two hunters seeking out the mysterious central character Borgman and his two accomplices, who lie sleeping in a giant underground burrow. It is like a dream, a nightmare, where the trio hunt out their quarry by plunging long metal rods into the ground. Nothing is explained (who are these strange men? what have they done?), and we are quickly and cleverly brought straight into the story, pulled along by this thrilling opening.

Watching it, I couldn’t help but think of childhood tales of trolls, or Stoker’s vampires buried with their earth, or even Satan being cast out by the Archangel Michael. These associations may seem intentional and it is easy to connect van Warmerdam’s film with a variety of religious and literary themes, but as he explained to me via email:

“No, that was not my intention. But if you start with [what sounds like] a Bible quote and you immediately show at the beginning a priest who hunts a man under the ground then you should not be surprised if people have these kind of associations.”

Adding by way of explanation:

“I was raised a Catholic, was an altar boy, that is an attractive source to draw from.”

Religious parables can offer inspiration, but there is also another influence at work here, as Van Warmerdam, who writes, directs and stars in his own films, is also an artist—he has been painting since he was a child—and it is this painterly quality (as can be seen most obviously in the reference to Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare”) that adds to the quality of van Warmerdam’s cinematic vision.
 
namgrob2.jpg
 
From his first movie, the tragicomedy Abel (1986), which examined the strange relationship between a father and son, to his next, The Northerners (1992), a wonderfully surreal black comedy set on one street, up to Waiter (2006), van Warmerdam has developed a delightfully dark, often brutally funny, and absurd vision of the world.

When I asked him, who or what had influenced his directing style, van Warmerdam replied, “Jean Pierre Melville, Buñuel, Hitchcock, Laurel and Hardy.” This could be an almost perfect definition of what to expect from an Alex van Warmerdam movie.

All those elements are present in his latest film Borgman. Van Warmerdam has created an utterly fantastic, brilliant, unsettling thriller that examines the insidious nature of evil. It revolves around the eponymous Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) who inveigles his way into one middle class family’s life (Hadewych Minis and Jeroen Perceval) with horrifying results. The film suggests that every action, every ill-considered desire, has an inevitable cost—which here is often fatal. On the one hand, the film is like a modern parable, a mix of demonic, domestic satire and violent thriller, as seen through the prism of van Warmerdam’s imagination.

The casting and acting throughout are superb, in particular Bijvoet’s chilling performance, as well as those from Minis and Perceval, and Tom Dewispelaere and van Warmerdam as the accomplices.
 
gorbnam.jpg
 
How would you descibe the character Borgman?

Alex van Warmerdam: He is an evil version of myself. He does what I would do If I were him.

What was your inspiration for writing the film Borgman’?

AvW: I read an interview with Buñuel in which he tells about one of his great inspirations, the Marquis de Sade. Buñuel: “de Sade commited his crimes only in his imagination as a way to free himself from his criminal tendencies. The imagination can afford all the liberties. It’s something different if you committed these crimes in real life. The imagination is free, man is not.”

In a way this opened my eyes. So I start writing with a bigger feeling of freedom then ever before. I really felt the need to descend into parts of my brain I had never been.

If you see my movie it’s not all that bad. I guess I have nevertheless limits of taste and morality. I have read de Sade, sometimes it’s really disgusting. Compared to him, I am a toddler.

Anyway, the understanding that the imagination can afford all the liberties was a great help during the writing.

What do you hope an audience will take away from your movie?

AvW: I’m not a messenger. It is sufficient for me if they have a good time. Even better is if they are still working on it afterwards.
 
grog11.jpg
 
What are you working on next?

AvW: I start shooting a new film coming in July. It’s called Schneider vs. Bax. It’s a story about a contract killer who has to kill a writer in a little house on a lake. It seems like a simple job, but it appears to be a misconception.

Nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival ‘Borgman’ is an incredible film, which goes on release from Drafthouse Films in America from June 6th.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Norman Mailer struts his stuff on Merv Griffin
05.29.2014
08:14 am

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Literature
Television
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mornreliam22.jpg
 
Norman Mailer walked like a boxer, strutting out of his corner and into the ring. It was probably done for affect, and sometimes it worked, though it often made him look like Benny the Ball from Top Cat.

Mailer did a lot of things for affect. His intonation and accent could change depending on situation, location, and who he was talking to. It probably all started when he was in the army during the Second World War, where Mailer learned to be tough after mixing with big guys who said “fuggin’’” a lot. It was a front he kept up most of his life.

I noticed Mailer’s ability to adapt when I was a kid living living in Scotland, and saw him interviewed on the BBC’s Parkinson chat show. New Jersey-born Mailer opened his mouth and spoke with an English-lilt that suggested possibly Boston, received pronunciation and what he had picked-up during his brief marriage to Lady Jeanne Campbell, daughter of the British press baron Lord Beaverbrook. Accent aside, he was still impressive.

I am a big fan of Norman Mailer, and think him one of the very few authors of the past fifty years who, even with his flaws and excesses, still demands to be read. There is always something to be learnt from Mailer, both good and bad, and that’s what makes him interesting. Here Mailer struts an entrance onto The Merv Griffin Show like he is a boxer, and goes on to talk about writing, presence, being middle-aged, America, communism and Russia.

This clip offers a critique as to what is wrong with most of today’s chat-shows, where there appears to be a dearth of great writers and thinkers sharing their knowledge and yes, plugging their wares. Instead we have the inarticulate pop stars, the reality show nobodies and the actors selling their latest movie, you just know you won’t bother to see. At least with Mailer, you could always pick up some original thought, or observation which might encourage further investigation.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Douglas Rushkoff: Media Theorist for the Age of Occupy
05.27.2014
12:47 pm

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Activism
Media
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Congratulations are in order for Dangerous Minds pal Douglas Rushkoff, make that Professor Douglas Rushkoff, as he’ll now be called in his new position at Queens College. From his website this morning:

It’s official. I’m a university professor - and at a public university where you can all come and study and work and devise the future of civilization for cheap. The official press release is below. The skinny? I’ve taken my first university post, as a professor of media studies at CUNY/Queens College, where I’ll be helping to build a first-of-its-kind media studies program. Instead of training people to become advertisers or to write the next useless phone app (and raise VC), I’m going to support people who want to see through the media, and use it to wage attacks on the status quo. This is media studies for Occupiers.

The undergraduate program is in full swing. The graduate program is accepting applications for Spring.

This is my answer to the emails I get every week from people asking where they can study media theory and activism. Come and get it.

Smart professors like Douglas Rushkoff attract smart students and smart students attract even more smart students. A few years back Doug had to be out of town and so I was the guest instructor for one of his NYU graduate studies classes. Smartest bunch of young people I’ve ever been in a room with and the reason they were all there was because of my old friend, that much was obvious.

If there was something like this when I was of college-going age, well I probably would have gone to college myself…

From the press release:

Rushkoff’s move to academia reflects his interest in social justice and the need to build media literacy in the rapidly evolving global media environment. “This is a rally for consciousness,” says Rushkoff. “The essential skill in a digital age is to understand the biases of the landscape – to be able to think critically and act purposefully with these tools – lest the tools and companies behind them use us instead.”

“I wish to foster a deeper awareness and more purposeful implementation of media, and this can be best accomplished at a mission-driven public institution such as Queens College,” says Rushkoff, a native of Queens who was inspired to join the school because of its rich legacy of social dialogue and engagement. “I want to teach a diverse range of students without putting them into lifelong debt. Besides, where better to work on media in the people’s interest than a public university?”

The school’s Media Studies Chair, Professor Richard Maxwell said “The college, with its unique community of students, creative artists, and scholars, has a tradition of cultivating a learning environment supportive of critical thinking and social consciousness. Rushkoff’s contributions to current thinking in technology, media, and society are at the forefront of the evolving study of media. He’s a great fit for our program and will complement our existing faculty in providing a transformative learning experience.”

Good move on the part of Queens College to hire Doug—I mean Professor Rushkoff—he’s a prestige name for the CUNY system in general. Starting in August, Rushkoff will be teaching courses in propaganda and media theory. The new Master of Arts in Media Studies program will be in full swing by Spring of 2015.

Below, a recent Rushkoff talk at the DLD conference earlier this month. I was going to post this anyway, and this announcement gave me the perfect excuse.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Einstein was a Socialist!
05.01.2014
12:51 pm

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Class War
Thinkers

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image
 
Another May Day related post, comrades!

Albert Einstein’s famous essay on socialism was originally published in the first issue of Monthly Review in May 1949. It’s as relevant in 2014 as it was then, perhaps—especially in light of Thomas Piketty’s bestseller Capital—even more so.

Is it advisable for one who is not an expert on economic and social issues to express views on the subject of socialism? I believe for a number of reasons that it is.

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately. In addition, the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has—as is well known—been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

But historic tradition is, so to speak, of yesterday; nowhere have we really overcome what Thorstein Veblen called “the predatory phase” of human development. The observable economic facts belong to that phase and even such laws as we can derive from them are not applicable to other phases. Since the real purpose of socialism is precisely to overcome and advance beyond the predatory phase of human development, economic science in its present state can throw little light on the socialist society of the future.

Second, socialism is directed towards a social-ethical end. Science, however, cannot create ends and, even less, instill them in human beings; science, at most, can supply the means by which to attain certain ends. But the ends themselves are conceived by personalities with lofty ethical ideals and—if these ends are not stillborn, but vital and vigorous—are adopted and carried forward by those many human beings who, half unconsciously, determine the slow evolution of society.

For these reasons, we should be on our guard not to overestimate science and scientific methods when it is a question of human problems; and we should not assume that experts are the only ones who have a right to express themselves on questions affecting the organization of society.

Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile toward the group, small or large, to which they belong. In order to illustrate my meaning, let me record here a personal experience. I recently discussed with an intelligent and well-disposed man the threat of another war, which in my opinion would seriously endanger the existence of mankind, and I remarked that only a supra-national organization would offer protection from that danger. Thereupon my visitor, very calmly and coolly, said to me: “Why are you so deeply opposed to the disappearance of the human race?”

I am sure that as little as a century ago no one would have so lightly made a statement of this kind. It is the statement of a man who has striven in vain to attain an equilibrium within himself and has more or less lost hope of succeeding. It is the expression of a painful solitude and isolation from which so many people are suffering in these days. What is the cause? Is there a way out?

It is easy to raise such questions, but difficult to answer them with any degree of assurance. I must try, however, as best I can, although I am very conscious of the fact that our feelings and strivings are often contradictory and obscure and that they cannot be expressed in easy and simple formulas.

Man is, at one and the same time, a solitary being and a social being. As a solitary being, he attempts to protect his own existence and that of those who are closest to him, to satisfy his personal desires, and to develop his innate abilities. As a social being, he seeks to gain the recognition and affection of his fellow human beings, to share in their pleasures, to comfort them in their sorrows, and to improve their conditions of life. Only the existence of these varied, frequently conflicting, strivings accounts for the special character of a man, and their specific combination determines the extent to which an individual can achieve an inner equilibrium and can contribute to the well-being of society. It is quite possible that the relative strength of these two drives is, in the main, fixed by inheritance. But the personality that finally emerges is largely formed by the environment in which a man happens to find himself during his development, by the structure of the society in which he grows up, by the tradition of that society, and by its appraisal of particular types of behavior. The abstract concept “society” means to the individual human being the sum total of his direct and indirect relations to his contemporaries and to all the people of earlier generations. The individual is able to think, feel, strive, and work by himself; but he depends so much upon society—in his physical, intellectual, and emotional existence—that it is impossible to think of him, or to understand him, outside the framework of society. It is “society” which provides man with food, clothing, a home, the tools of work, language, the forms of thought, and most of the content of thought; his life is made possible through the labor and the accomplishments of the many millions past and present who are all hidden behind the small word “society.”

It is evident, therefore, that the dependence of the individual upon society is a fact of nature which cannot be abolished—just as in the case of ants and bees. However, while the whole life process of ants and bees is fixed down to the smallest detail by rigid, hereditary instincts, the social pattern and interrelationships of human beings are very variable and susceptible to change. Memory, the capacity to make new combinations, the gift of oral communication have made possible developments among human being which are not dictated by biological necessities. Such developments manifest themselves in traditions, institutions, and organizations; in literature; in scientific and engineering accomplishments; in works of art. This explains how it happens that, in a certain sense, man can influence his life through his own conduct, and that in this process conscious thinking and wanting can play a part.

Man acquires at birth, through heredity, a biological constitution which we must consider fixed and unalterable, including the natural urges which are characteristic of the human species. In addition, during his lifetime, he acquires a cultural constitution which he adopts from society through communication and through many other types of influences. It is this cultural constitution which, with the passage of time, is subject to change and which determines to a very large extent the relationship between the individual and society. Modern anthropology has taught us, through comparative investigation of so-called primitive cultures, that the social behavior of human beings may differ greatly, depending upon prevailing cultural patterns and the types of organization which predominate in society. It is on this that those who are striving to improve the lot of man may ground their hopes: human beings are not condemned, because of their biological constitution, to annihilate each other or to be at the mercy of a cruel, self-inflicted fate.

If we ask ourselves how the structure of society and the cultural attitude of man should be changed in order to make human life as satisfying as possible, we should constantly be conscious of the fact that there are certain conditions which we are unable to modify. As mentioned before, the biological nature of man is, for all practical purposes, not subject to change. Furthermore, technological and demographic developments of the last few centuries have created conditions which are here to stay. In relatively densely settled populations with the goods which are indispensable to their continued existence, an extreme division of labor and a highly-centralized productive apparatus are absolutely necessary. The time—which, looking back, seems so idyllic—is gone forever when individuals or relatively small groups could be completely self-sufficient. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption.

I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis of our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple, and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.

The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of the evil. We see before us a huge community of producers the members of which are unceasingly striving to deprive each other of the fruits of their collective labor—not by force, but on the whole in faithful compliance with legally established rules. In this respect, it is important to realize that the means of production—that is to say, the entire productive capacity that is needed for producing consumer goods as well as additional capital goods—may legally be, and for the most part are, the private property of individuals.

For the sake of simplicity, in the discussion that follows I shall call “workers” all those who do not share in the ownership of the means of production—although this does not quite correspond to the customary use of the term. The owner of the means of production is in a position to purchase the labor power of the worker. By using the means of production, the worker produces new goods which become the property of the capitalist. The essential point about this process is the relation between what the worker produces and what he is paid, both measured in terms of real value. Insofar as the labor contract is “free,” what the worker receives is determined not by the real value of the goods he produces, but by his minimum needs and by the capitalists’ requirements for labor power in relation to the number of workers competing for jobs. It is important to understand that even in theory the payment of the worker is not determined by the value of his product.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job.

Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands, partly because of competition among the capitalists, and partly because technological development and the increasing division of labor encourage the formation of larger units of production at the expense of smaller ones. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights.

The situation prevailing in an economy based on the private ownership of capital is thus characterized by two main principles: first, means of production (capital) are privately owned and the owners dispose of them as they see fit; second, the labor contract is free. Of course, there is no such thing as a pure capitalist society in this sense. In particular, it should be noted that the workers, through long and bitter political struggles, have succeeded in securing a somewhat improved form of the “free labor contract” for certain categories of workers. But taken as a whole, the present day economy does not differ much from “pure” capitalism.

Production is carried on for profit, not for use. There is no provision that all those able and willing to work will always be in a position to find employment; an “army of unemployed” almost always exists. The worker is constantly in fear of losing his job. Since unemployed and poorly paid workers do not provide a profitable market, the production of consumers’ goods is restricted, and great hardship is the consequence. Technological progress frequently results in more unemployment rather than in an easing of the burden of work for all. The profit motive, in conjunction with competition among capitalists, is responsible for an instability in the accumulation and utilization of capital which leads to increasingly severe depressions. Unlimited competition leads to a huge waste of labor, and to that crippling of the social consciousness of individuals which I mentioned before.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.

I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

Clarity about the aims and problems of socialism is of greatest significance in our age of transition. Since, under present circumstances, free and unhindered discussion of these problems has come under a powerful taboo, I consider the foundation of this magazine to be an important public service.

—Albert Einstein

See also:
Why Socialism? This Guy Einstein is an Idiot (a rebuttal)

The Question of Socialism (and Beyond!) Is About to Open Up in These United States

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Slavoj Žižek: The Pervert’s Guide to Abercrombie & Fitch Catalogs
04.02.2014
07:07 am

Topics:
Advertising
Pop Culture
Thinkers

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From bed or from the tub, he will pontificate!
 
I’m not up to snuff on Žižek’s entire canon, but my favorite of his contributions (besides the time he told Occupy Wall Street not to fall in love with ourselves) is his insight into cultural capitalism—here’s an awesome little animated video where he lays it all out. I highly recommend it. The long and short of the talk is a sort of natural extension of Oscar Wilde’s socialist critique of charity. As Wilde points out that charity is used to atone for the fundamentally unjust system of capitalism, Žižek points out that we now try to atone for our consumerism by “voting with our dollar”—he uses Starbuck’s fair trade coffee and Tom’s shoes as two examples.

Basically, I’ve never been much on trying to evade the horrors of capitalism with “ethical consumerism.” For one, there’s just a dearth of “ethical” products left in this world, and two, you can’t dismantle a system simply by avoiding it. I usually say that telling a socialist to fight capitalism by not buying things is like telling an environmentalist to fight pollution by not breathing smog—both impossible and impotent. And I’m sure Žižek would agree. So this 2003 Abercrombie & Fitch catalog, featuring copy written by the Slovenian Marxist philosopher himself, comes as no surprise.

The work is a snide little reflection on lust and desire, and it’s a fucking riot—totally befitting the “Karl Marx meets Groucho Marx” style they requested, and certainly an idiom in Žižek’s wheelhouse. If you’re considering the possibility that he’s not totally fucking with you, rest assured, Žižek is a fan of absurdist humor. And in case you don’t believe me, I’ve included a video where he makes the “Lynchian” case for tulips as vagina dentata. Remember folks, there are no clean hands in a dirty world, and there are no clean minds in Marxism!
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Via DIS Magazine

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Intellectual Equals: Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir, vintage 1967 interview
03.27.2014
07:50 am

Topics:
Literature
Politics
Thinkers

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ertrasriovuaeb.jpg
 
It is difficult to think of Jean-Paul Sartre without thinking of Simone de Beauvoir. They were lovers, comrades, friends whose lives were intrinsically entwined. Each morning they would work separately, then at four o’clock in the afternoon, they would meet and dine at La Palette, continuing their conversation, where it had left off. Then they would return to Sartre’s apartment, where they would work together until evening.

Sartre had moved to a tenth-floor, studio apartment on 222 Boulevardd Raspail in 1962, after the right-wing paramilitary group OAS had twice bombed his previous home on Rue Bonaparte.

It was a modern studio in one of the top floors of a modern building: one big wall full of books, a great leather armchair and a long worktable, thick and old—the kind of table used for meals in a convent—laden with manuscripts. From the table, one could see far into the distance, toward the Eiffel Tower. This new abode was Sartre’s farewell to Saint-Germain-des-Pres, to the postwar period, to the existential explosion—his return to Montparnasse, where, from then on, all those close to him would meet…

In the early 1960s, Sartre’s fame was at its height. He had been famously awarded and then rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964. He was seen internationally as man of intellect, politics and scandal, yet at the same time, Sartre’s strict adherence to his singular brand of politics and philosophy often made him seem outdated to younger radicals and thinkers.

Even though at the time France was excited over Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Lacan, Althusser, and Foucault, Sartre refused to confront their fertile methods of investigation in any way whatsoever, let alone with the open mind that would have been useful in such a confrontation.

In an interview with L’Arc, Sartre restated his central beliefs:

“Philosophy represents totalized man’s struggle to recapture the meaning of totalization. No science can replace it, for each science applies itself to a well-delineated aspect of man… Philosophy is the investigation of praxis, and as such an investigation of man… the important thing is not what one does with man, but what he does with what one has done with him. What one has done with man, these are the structures, the signifiers, that the social sciences study. That which he does is history itself… Philosophy is the hinge.”

To the likes of Foucault, Sartre’s emphasis on:

...consciousness, subjectivity, freedom, responsibility and the self, his commitment to Marxist categories and dialectical thinking… his quasi Enlightenment humanism, Sartre seemed to personify everything that structuralists and poststructuralists like Foucault opposed. In effect, the enfant terrible of mid century France had become the “traditionalist” of the following generation.

Sartre was probably aware of this, and his rejection of the Nobel Prize was in part over a fear of being seen as part of the French establishment. This at a time when Sartre was dedicating himself to a biography of Gustave Flaubert, which Sartre (erroneously) believed would eclipse all of his previous work. This only convinced Michel Foucault that Sartre was a man of the 19th century.

Whilst always seeming to be hidden by the shadow of Sartre, it was in fact Simone de Beauvoir who was becoming far more relevant and radical in the 1960s, as her 1949 epoch-changing book The Second Sex was inspiring a generation of feminist writers and thinkers. There is a slight irony that this interview with Sartre and de Beauvoir, recorded for the French television series Dossiers in 1967, should focus so much attention to Sartre, when it was de Beauvoir’s ideas and writings that were more influential at the time. The film does capture the couple’s unique dynamic and discusses Sartre’s rejection of the Nobel Prize, his biography on Flaubert; while de Beauvoir discusses The Second Sex.  In French with subtitles.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds
Simone de Beauvoir: Why I am a Feminist
Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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