"What does not change / is the will to change"
--Charles Olson, "The Kingfishers"

Monday, July 21, 2014

Jersey rocks -- a top 10 list at NJ Spotlight

Today's list on NJ Spotlight offers the 10 best places to see indie rock, or play indie rock. I'm no expert to be sure, but in my efforts writing about bands these are the places the come up most frequently. I got help from music writers Jim Testa and Gary Wein, along with members of some of the state's indie bands (and my friend Nick D'Amore). It is far from definitive and probably shortchanges South Jersey, so add to it.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Anarchist/socialist: Notes on a personal ideology

I generally refer to myself as both an anarchist and a socialist, but explaining this to people can sometimes be difficult. To many, anarchism and socialism are political opposites -- anarchism too often being confused in our present-day discourse with libertarianism and socialism too often being a simple short hand for Soviet-style government.

But anarchism and socialism can co-exist, if we define them properly. For me, anarchism is a system of thought that distrusts large concentrations of power. This is what separates it from libertarianism, which is purely anti-government and seems to trust last corporate entities to do the right thing. Power matters little in the libertarian equation.

This is how Noam Chomsky describes anarchism -- someone posted this to Facebook the other day, which is why I am writing this. Anarchism, he says,

is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy. It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified. It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them. Their authority is not self-justifying. They have to give a reason for it, a justification. And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.
Distrust and skepticism are he the keys, which. Is what separates the anarchist from the libertarian. The libertarian's skepticism is incomplete. He distrusts government, but asks no questions of those outside of government who would accumulate and concentrate power. A tyranny of money, therefore, is acceptable to the libertarian -- the rich earned it so they can do what they want in the name of liberty -- but not to the anarchist.

Or the socialist. Socialism, as I under stand it, is about creating the optimal conditions under which man can thrive -- see Oscar Wilde's essay on socialism. The goal is to find says to lessen the economic burdens on individuals so that they can be the best they can -- as thinkers, as humanitarians, etc. How we get there is debatable -- Marx offers one route (in The Communist Manifesto), but there are others that are far more democratic and that can be built without the excesses that are central to Marxism and that should be compatible with an anarchistic worldview (not all anarchists will agree, of course, but this is my sense of things).

I start from this point: The anarchist and the socialist are both concerned with the individual, with expanding his or her happiness and freedom, his or her ability to live healthy and whole lives. The regulatory regime is a necessary -- Chomsky makes this point elsewhere, though I don't have a link -- bulwark against concentrated corporate and business power. It levels the playing field and protects the individual's "inalienable rights."

Chomsky, in the 2013 interview cited above, makes the same point. The use of the state, he says, "to the extent that it is democratically controlled" serves a function -- even if the ultimate goal, unrealistic (and likely counterproductive) as I think it is, is to eliminate the state. The state, he says,
exists, alongside of private power, and the state is, at least to a certain extent, under public influence and control — could be much more so. And it provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power. Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example. Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say. Many other things like that. They’re not going to come about through private power. Quite the contrary. But they can come about through the use of the state system under limited democratic control … to carry forward reformist measures. I think those are fine things to do. they should be looking forward to something much more, much beyond, — namely actual, much larger-scale democratization.
What Chomsky describes, I think, is a variant of socialism, and one that Wilde might endorse.

Socialism, of course, can lead to concentrations of power, but only if we define the state as being somehow separate from the people being governed and not as an extension of the people. In a democratic or republican government, the state derives its power from the governed, meaning the state is the people and not something separate. The limited powers we grant the state are supposed to enhance our welfare and broaden the individual's freedoms -- even if it means using the state to counterbalance other concentrations of power.

This is why I view financial and environmental regulations as acceptable -- the corporate world has proven it will run amok without someone reining it in -- and the surveillance state and the drug war as unacceptable -- the use of state power in these realms far exceeds what might have been (arguably) necessary to address safety and security concerns.

Somehow we have lost sight of this -- we grant the state nearly unlimited powers of surveillance, assuming it will keep us safe, but at the same time decry any efforts to rein in big money. This is the use of power to support power, which has created a system in which money rules and the individual has been relegated to bystander or spectator status. Structurally, this is the opposite of Wildean socialism. And it benefits money and continues to erode our ability to check money's power. It also turns all debate into entertainment -- see Neil Postman -- further debasing our public political language and discourse, which enforces this erosion.

I would like to be optimistic, but the climate makes it difficult. My hope would be that we can move back to Chomsky's notion that a clear justification must be present before the individual cedes power, but the reality is that power creates its own corrosive momentum.

Friday, July 4, 2014

A dissenter's Fourth of July playlist

The Fourth of July usually means a playlist of marshal tunes and the standard patriotic fare. It's a mixed bag -- some of it, like Johnny Cash's "Ragged Old Song" or Irving Berlin's catalogue, is quite amazing, some a bit maudlin.

But what of the other side of the coin? Hence, a playlist for dissenters. It is just a brief list. What else might we add?

  • "Born in the USA," Bruce Springsteen

  • "This Land is Your Land," Woodie Guthrie

  • "America," Simon & Garfunkle

  • "Ashes of American Flags," Wilco

  • "Star-Spangled Banner," Jimi Hendrix

  • "Power and the Glory," Pete Seeger or Phil Ochs

  • "Democracy," Leonard Cohen

  • "Pithecanthropus Erectus," Charles Mingus

  • "Freedom Day," Abbey Lincoln & Max Roach

  • "Mississippi Goddamn," Nina Simone

Add your choice in the comments.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Not in his backyard

Back when I was about 20, I can remember sitting in Annie's living room watching the No Nukes concert on cable. Her dad was watching it with us. Bob was a conservative sort, politically, a staunch Republican, a Reagan man -- my polar opposite on nearly every issue. (He also was one of the smartest and most humane men I have ever met.)

As we were watching, however, he made a comment that stuck with me.

He opposed nuclear power, he said, because he wouldn't want it in his back yard, and if he didn't want it in his yard, then he didn't think anyone should have to have it in their's.

Simple. To the point. It cut through so much of the noise. If you don't want a nuke plant -- or a power plant or a 2 million-square-foot warehouse -- in your backyard or near your house, you shouldn't be so eager to advocate its construction in someone else's yard or on their street. Enter Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobile:
Tillerson has joined a lawsuit that cites fracking’s consequences in order to block the construction of a 160-foot water tower next to his and his wife’s Texas home.

The Wall Street Journal reports the tower would supply water to a nearby fracking site, and the plaintiffs argue the project would cause too much noise and traffic from hauling the water from the tower to the drilling site. The water tower, owned by Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation, “will sell water to oil and gas explorers for fracing [sic] shale formations leading to traffic with heavy trucks on FM 407, creating a noise nuisance and traffic hazards,” the suit says.

Though Tillerson’s name is on the lawsuit, a lawyer representing him said his concern is about the devaluation of his property, not fracking specifically.
Tillerson is less concerned for others who might live in areas where gas companies are drilling and has "lashed out at fracking critics and proponents of regulation," adding that "the risks are very manageable.”

I think my late-father-in-law would have something to say to Mr. Tillerson

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New piece at NJ Spotlight and a radio appearance

I am expected to be on WHYY radio tonight to discuss today's NJ Spotlight story, by yours truly, on the issues facing undocumented immigrant children in New Jersey. We'll be taping this afternoon. Wish me luck -- I'm surprisingly nervous.

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