“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, March 10, 2007

ersatz outrage, real outrage, and the boy that go a-lynchin'

LI will, perhaps, shock all true hearts by admitting that we weren’t at all shocked by Ann Coulter’s use of faggot last week. It wasn’t as good a joke as it could have been, but fuck it – it isn’t that we are especially worried that the Conservative Congress of Dimwits is going to hear something that will corrupt them, or their endorsement of various politicians who will do all within their power to give us a nice, toasty, lifeending atmosphere and lead up to it with one bloody and pointless war after the other.

We thought, at most, that this was a sign of the separation of conservative politics from the conservative constituency. It may surprise liberals, but the conservative constituency is not that interested in politics. Fundamentally, it needs to be prodded into paying concerted attention to who rules the country (although I should say, the attention is directed to a counterfeit network of who runs the country – nobody wants the fundamentalist yahoos looking at the life styles of the rich and the famous, they might begin to get all biblical about that wealth). LI would hazard that the fundamentalists are getting more and more fed up with their so called leaders – for the leaders are political creatures. The reason for going to church, asking forgiveness for sin, being reborn, has everything to do with the emotional and existential satisfactions of accepting Jesus in your heart, and little to do with the epiphenomena of laws, wars, tax cuts, abortion, homosexuality and all the rest of it. And when the people of Muskegee look up and see their so called leaders listening to a blonde pottymouth who seems to have more cultural connection to Lenny Bruce than to Billy Graham, I think they are overcome with a deep and justified apathy. I may be wrong, but the faggot remark is much worse for Red Staters than for liberal sensibilities. It shouldn’t be necessary to say this, but: taboos don’t exist in society in terms of straight binaries. There is a whole middle ground of decorum, and it is on that middle ground of decorum that your good Southern Baptist takes his or her stand.

But LI can be moved to loathing by small, spontaneous outrages. The recent story about AutoAdmit, an online community that seems to exist to combine the sensibility of the titty bar customer with the maddening attitude of spoiled rich male law student, did move me to go here and sign the petition to stop their obnoxious condoning of sexual harassment. For details about this crewe of the misbegotten, go to this Feministe post. There is a distressing thread, to me, equating the sum of the wrong done by the people at AutoAdmit who take women’s pictures from their homepages, submit them for various bogus contests, make a lot of comments re tits, ass, desire to hatefuck, etc. to a bump in the upward trajectory of a career. I understand why this is quantified in money terms, and in fact I think AutoAdmit should be hit in money terms – I think that if liberal and feminist organizations issued advisories against law schools that apparently contain members of AutoAdmit, the company would change its policy in a heartbeat.

However, I do think it is interesting that in the same week that Girls Gone Wild is blamed on feminism, Boys Gone a-Lynching is given a free pass. Mind, I believe the 20 something generation in this country is much less sexist and racist than my generation was – I have a mild faith in the incremental progress of the human spirit in this department. But the lyncher mentality of rich or upper class males is a huge cultural festuche.

There is a sub-outrage to the AutoAdmit stupidity: Ann Althouse's attack on Jill at Feministe for... well, for something. It isn't clear what. Althouse is a conservative, and her kneejerk reaction is determined by three variables, in descending order: class, race, and sex. If you fill those things in wealthy, white and male, you get the Althouse prize of sympathy, if you want it. Temperaments are important in politics: fill those things in poor, black and female, and you'd get LI's kneejerk sympathy. I have no problem with conservative kneejerk reaction per se - I simply am on the other side of that class war. But disguising it in a fake populism does tend to piss me off. When Russell Kirk was replaced by Rush Limbaugh, it was a deal with the devil.

LI apologizes for the poor quality of the programming this week, surfers

It is nice to see that, according to the NYT, the author of “Party Til You Puke” – Andrew W.K. now wants to discuss the merits of Martin Buber with his fans.

Mr. W. K. — the initials stand for his real last name, Wilkes-Krier — is a connoisseur of excitement, as anyone who has seen his hair-flinging performances or videos can attest. Lately he’s been exuberant about ideas, like the nature of coincidences and paradoxes and solipsism. Also pancakes. Over lunch near his apartment in Midtown, he ordered a stack of blueberry-banana-chocolate-chip-walnut, a blend of every flavor the restaurant offered — and slowly made a mash of them as he talked about his new passion: thinking.

He has been reading the works of the philosopher Martin Buber, among others, and contemplating consciousness. “I have been very into the idea that the only way the external world exists is by you observing it, and that the only way you can interact with that external world through that observation is to intend it to be,” he said, his eyes closed in concentration. He opened them to eat observably a strip of bacon.”

This is Martin Buber’s theory of reality as a tv to which you hold a channel changer – which has pretty much satisfied us for the last fifty years. The problem with that interaction is that the internal world might come out of you into the external world in big spontaneous doses if you party til you puke, but such are the chances of life.

Well, LI has been closing our eyes, too, trying to think our way through various intractable problems this week. We have been – okay? – a piss poor blogger this week. Sorry. Not only that, but we’ve been making little money doing the stuff that Melena Ryzik – the reporter who interviewed Mr. W-K – is doing in this article: smirkily affirming the prejudices of the reader. We have not queried a newspaper or magazine regarding a thousand words to fill up a couple of columns since – since early February. Although we did just get some nice feedback from a professor whose article on Russian cinema we edited, who advised us to radically raise our prices. So there you go. We are going to have to plea for work a little bit in the next week, probably on this site. Sorry.

While Mr. W-K wrestles with couch potato idealism, we’ve been thinking about a line that popped into our head whilst running around the lake yesterday: we turn everything we touch into mythology.

This wasn’t exactly a thought, and it wasn’t exactly a line of poetry – it was a freefloating externality, a stray, something overheard as the language talks to the language via my brain, a singleton – which is, of course, why I run around the lake. Loosen your thoughts until they are no longer your thoughts. Unlike W-K or Baudelaire (Flairant dans tous les coins les hasards de la rime/ Trébuchant sur les mots comme sur les paves/ Heurtant parfois des vers depuis longtemps rêvés), I try to turn potential ‘verse’ into propositions – I chop its head off, I pluck it, I gut it, I cut it into pieces. I couldn’t say that this line came out of nowhere – lately, as my suffering readers know, I’ve been thinking about the destiny of figures that are unloosed in literature and life, especially the buffoon and the sage, and how that destiny impinges on the social like the way a particular style will impinge on a text – a nuance that isn’t caught by discourse or the truth table.

Could it really be true that everything we touch turns into mythology? Are human beings machines for making myths?

Well: here’s a dialogue in the Upanishads that gives us two sides on this issue, which ends on a note of pure Beckett. I hope Mr. W-K finishes his Martin Buber soon, so he can move on to the Upanishads. Maybe I should write him a letter.

There was a man of the Garga family called Proud Balaki, who was a speaker. He said to Ajatasatru, the king of Benares, ‘I will tell you about Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, ‘For this proposal I give you a thousand (cows). People indeed rush saying "Janaka, Janaka". (I too have some of his qualities.)’
II-i-2: Gargya said, ‘That being who is in the sun, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, ‘Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as all-surpassing, as the head of all beings and as resplendent. He who meditates upon him as such becomes all-surpassing, the head of all beings and resplendent.
II-i-3: Gargya said, ‘that being who is in the moon, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as the great, white-robed, radiant Soma.’ He who meditates upon him as such has abundant Soma pressed in his principal and auxiliary sacrifices every day, and his food never gets short.
II-i-4: Gargya said, ‘That being who is in lightning, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as powerful’. He who meditates upon him as such becomes powerful, and his progeny too becomes powerful.
II-i-5: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in the ether, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as full and unmoving’. He who meditates upon him as such is filled with progeny and cattle, and his progeny is never extinct from this world.
II-i-6: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in air, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as the Lord, as irresistible, and as the unvanquished army.’ He who meditates upon him as such ever becomes victorious and invincible, and conquers his enemies.
II-i-7: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in fire, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as forbearing’. He who meditates upon him as such becomes forbearing, and his progeny too becomes forbearing.
II-i-8: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in water, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as agreeable’. He who meditates upon him as such has only agreeable things coming to him, and not contrary ones; also from him are born children who are agreeable.
II-i-9: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in a looking-glass, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as shining’. He who meditates upon him as such becomes shining, and his progeny too becomes shining. He also outshines all those with whom he comes in contact.
II-i-10: Gargya said, ‘This sound that issues behind a man as he walks, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as life’. He who meditates upon him as such attains his full term of life in this world, and life does not depart from him before the completion of that term.
II-i-11: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in the quarters, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as second and as non-separating’. He who meditates upon him as such gets companions, and his followers never depart from him.
II-i-12: Gargya said, ‘This being who identifies himself with the shadow, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as death’. He who meditates upon him as such attains his full term of life in this world, and death does not overtake him before the completion of that term.
II-i-13: Gargya said, ‘This being who is in the self, I meditate upon as Brahman’. Ajatasatru said, "Please don’t talk about him. I meditate upon him as self-possessed.’ He who meditates upon him as such becomes self-possessed, and his progeny too becomes self-possessed. Gargya remained silent.
II-i-14: Ajatasatru said, ‘is this all ?’ ‘This is all’. ‘By knowing this much one cannot know (Brahman)’. Gargya said, ‘I approach you as a student’.

Friday, March 09, 2007

some more errant scribbles

I have noticed that no matter how many cups of coffee I drink in the morning, I am still sleepy. Hmm, I wonder if this has something to do with my overuse of sleeping pills? I guess eventually they get you if you don’t watch out – look what happened to Evelyn Waugh.

But to return to … the preface. Yesterday I figured out how to tightly describe Silja’s argument. Today I have to assess her argument, first about the continuity of mainstream economics – is it true that equilibrium models are at the center of economic theory, and is it plausible that the elevation of equilibrium models is an expression of the underlying ontological bias towards substantivism in economics? I’m going to point out that the exceptions prove the rule. The great exception is Keynes, of course. Keynesian economics begins with a grand gesture – the kicking over of Say’s law. In a sense, that is what you have to know about Keynes. Say’s law is the notion that production equals demand, or as the neoclassicals like to put it, demand grows out of production. Keynes discovered, or claimed he discovered, that even the classical economists had doubts about this – notably, Malthus. It is because economists adhere to Say’s law – Robert Lucas, who is a much more important economist to economists, by the way, than Milton Friedman, even made the claim that Say’s Law is an intelligibility requirement for economics – that economists make various bizarre claims. For instance, the claim that the unemployed chose unemployment. With Say’s law in hand, the classical economists and the neo-classicals that follow them had a principle that disallowed, or at least obscured, the business cycle. The way this is put in the gobbledygook of theory is: aggregate demand intersects the aggregate supply curve at full employment and aggregate demand will, a priori, not fluctuate save for disturbance by some endogenous factor.

Now, in truth, nobody actually believes Say’s law anymore. That is, no government will operate on the principle that the market is self-regulating. Instead, the state has operated, since the great depression, on the assumption that it is the state’s business how much the citizens of the state save. Reaganism, while founded in appearance on neo-classical economics, operates as a robust Keynesian engine for destroying savings, and creating ever higher levels of demand. This is an easy proposition to prove, actually. Whenever the IMF and investors go into a country that has a strong public sector – like the Latin American countries of the 1970s – the first thing that happens is that the spending of the public sector goes down, but savings also go down – in other words, there is a rush to consume and borrow. Reaganism is simply a sort of half and half Keynesianism – it seeks to restrict government economic policy to the purely fiscal, while at the same time encouraging massive borrowing. That borrowing, even by the private sector, is considered by lenders to be guaranteed by the state. The avatar of Reaganism in Latin America, Chile under Pinochet, experienced this in the early eighties, when foreign lenders forced the state to take on the debts of private corporations. I guess you could call Reaganism a form of moral hazard Keynesianism.

But I am digressing, damn it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

practice exercises

The death of Jean Baudrillard was marked by an obituary in the NYT that reminded its viewers how important the man was – why, he was quoted in a popular movie, the Matrix. That settles that. Surprisingly, though, the Guardian had two posts about him in their Commentisfree section, stirring my competitive and patriotic juices. What the fuck is happening? England, the land where the phlegmatic philistine was born and suckled, is now more intellectual than our Purple Mountain’s Majesty in these here states, where the masses go to classes? How low have we fallen in this age of Cheney?

The comment threads in the Guardian piece here and here are pretty good, although they eventually peter out in that futile and bizarre controversy that pits the unscientific and wild French against the scientific and rational Anglo-Americans. The many levels of ignorance involved in this controversy continue to astonish me. While the Anglo-Americans do read as though they were scientific and rational, i.e. the level of dullness of articles in analytic philosophy seems to be a quirk that the creators of that dullness are actually proud of, anybody who reads them soon gets that all over weird feeling, since it is like the Mad Hatter doing accounting. The A-A’s are always going on about things like possible worlds, coming up with completely stupid thought experiments, and spending decades formalizing supervenience relations – supervenience coming neither from science nor common sense, but being the overheated product of the cramped scientistic imagination. Actually, the best part of A-A philosophy is its wildness, which has its charms if one can only dust off the language in which it is chained. Meanwhile, for all Baudrillard’s rhetoric of hyperreality, his stuff is firmly anchored in tv, war, money, sex, fashion – watercooler and newspaper realities. Not for him the question: is H2O on our planet the equivalent of XYZ on Counter-Earth 1? On which tottering foundations careers have been built.

Well, as my favorite epileptic St. Paul said, we see now as in a glass, darkly.

But this is all an excuse for me to scribble a few notes in this post re a section of the preface I am writing for Silja’s book. Maybe this will straighten out my God damn argument, and I can just transfer it, minus the fucks, shits, damns, cunts and dicks with which I like to sprinkle my musings. Oops, did I forget pussy and cock? I do want to make the current rightwing blog craze for collecting naughty words easier.

A section of this preface is devoted to defending the conceptual reconstruction of the longue durée of economics that would permit citing economists across a pretty wide chronological spread. The argument that Silja makes is an immanent one: mainstream economics is astonishingly consistent with itself from its roots in the 18th century right up to, say, the attempt by Lucas in the 1980s to define the business cycle in terms of a sequence of equilibrium states – an attempt that even preserves Says law. Thus, the ruptures within economics – most notably, the recasting of the classical notion of value by the marginal utilitarians – do not have the profundity characteristic of ruptures found in other sciences, where real questions of reduction can be raised – interfield reduction is the useful phrase of Darden and Maull. Okay?

So: what does this mean? Well, here’s one way of looking at the story that Silja is telling. Take two moments in economics. One is a famous survey conducted by Leontief in 1982. Let’s quote Mark Blaug: “In a letter to Science, Wassily Leontief (1982) surveyed articles published in the American Economic Review in the last decade and found that more than 50 percent consisted of mathematical models without any empirical data, while some 15 percent consisted of nonmathematical theoretical analysis, likewise without empirical data, leaving 35 percent of the articles using empirical analysis.

Morgan (1988) has updated Leontief’s findings, showing oce again that half the articles published in the American Economic Review and the Economic Journal do not use data of any kind…”

One of the proudest claims of economics is that it is the physics of the social sciences – in fact, the only truly scientific social science. Economics imperialism sometimes goes so far as to claim that economics is the foundation of physics itself – a claim Schumpeter pushed in a rather bizarre passage in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Morgan both compared the economists to articles published in physics and chemistry journals, finding 12 percent of the articles in physics contained no empirical data and 0 percent in chemistry. Economists know this, of course. Alan Blinder has made a typical economist’s joke about it: an economist is "someone who sees that something works in practice and wonders if it also works in theory." The punchline wasn’t supplied by Blinder, but it is: if it doesn’t work in theory, then it simply can’t work in practice, and must be ignored until economists have successfully pressed for policies to destroy it. That is the story of the minimum wage law, for instance.

I select this survey in order to look back two hundred years to Dugald Stewart’s memoir of Adam Smith. In this memoir, Stewart introduced a brilliant phrase to describe the methodological justification that underlies Smith’s theories of language, ethics and political economic – in fact, all Smith’s theories about human institutions. Stewart called this “conjectural history”. “To this species of philosophical investigation, which has no appropriated name in our language, I shall take the liberty of giving the title of Theoretical or Conjectural History, an expression which coincides pretty nearly in its meaning with that of Natural History, as employed by Mr. Hume, and with what some French writers have called Histoire Raisonnee.” This history follows the contours of the “known principles of human nature” to understand “how all its various parts might have gradually arisen.” From theorizing about the origin of language, this method could be ‘applied to the modes of government, and to the municipal institutins which have obtained among different nations.” And in particular: “In his Wealth of Nations, various disquisitions are introduced which have a like object in view, particularly the theoretical delineation he has given of the natural progress of opulence in a country, and his investigation of the causes which have inverted this order in the different countries of modern Europe.” (Stewart, 34-36)

These two moments may seem as divided and different as the Wealth of Nations is, itself, from the mathematically sophisticated modeling of the standard essay in the contemporary mainstream economics journals. Yet a little analysis will reveal that conjectural history is at the very root of the modeling culture of modern economics.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

more leftovers!

More leftovers, I'm afraid. And where are those editing jobs that my readers were supposed to find me, eh? Poor LI, mired in poverty and an article about the philosophy of economics!

So, if you want more interesting fare, go to UFOB, where Mr. Scruggs is lamenting the decline of the yellow ribbon industry, or go to IT, for the post on Jean Baudrillard's death. Or go to the KinoFist essay on Brecht, which I would probably be writing about except that I'm not. It is long and well argued, yet it contains a couple of assumptions that I'd like to thrash out - but I can't! Gotta run.

And now, without further ado: a post from October of 2001!

Sometimes you come upon a fact that you know has an essayistic depth to it, if you only had the time, or the mental capacity, to write the essay. For instance: last night I read this anecdote about Hans Christian Andersen. Since he lived in fear of awakening in a coffin, "he always carried a card with him saying, "I am not really dead," which he put on the dressing table whenever he stayed at a hotel abroad, to prevent some careless doctor from wrongly declaring him dead." -- Buried Alive, by Jan Bondeson.
Now the Walter Benjamin in me takes that as an image applicable to every modernist artist -- didn't they all carry with them, at least metaphorically, some card saying 'I'm not really dead?' And what kind of sentence is that, anyway? Who, after all, is the speaker? What kind of truth claims can the dead make? There's a good reason that wills begin with a declaration of health -- we only trust the living.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Cheney: even sociopath's sometimes feel sad

I am trying to procrastinate, looking around the web, and I come across the NYT story about whether Cheney, in the tumor he calls a heart, felt pinpricks of sympathy for Scooter Libby - or whether it was a fuck him and fold him like a Dixie cup situation - the usual m.o. of our sociopathic VP. The article ended with this startling graf:

"With a career in politics that goes back to the Nixon White House, Mr. Cheney is no stranger to Washington scandal and how to weather it. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he went hunting with the vice president late last year and did not sense that the trial was bothering him."

No doubt. The reporter failed to ask Graham how much time he spent pondering the VP's mood, and how much time he spent thinking, if the son of a bitch plugs me, I'm going to shoot him back!

my humble prayer

Well, I am still stuck in this unremunerative task, writing this preface to Silja's book. God is punishing me for all those times I said the Lord's Prayer sideways. Come on, God, don't be like that, dude. Send me that angel of inspiration. I promise I'll, uh, be better. How about: no cocaine for a whole year? How about: I'll get back in contact with the old man?... No, don't think I'll do the latter. Probably I should - oh well.

In the meantime, I'm going to cheat and recycle a post from 2005 on La Salamandre.

Here it is...

My friend D. sent me a little CD the other day. It had the Rage against the Machine song on it, Killing in the Name of. D. is an old Metallica fan, from before they had an on-call psychoanalyst. Myself, I love noise, but I am not a metal person. I particularly hate the voices that a lot of metal music features, in which some singer has to assume the precise sound that would be made by the Cowardly Lion on meth – a fake monster voice, full of empty volume and scatchiness.

All of which gets me, by a detour, to today’s topic: La Salamandre and Nietzsche.

A couple of days ago I saw Alain Tanner’s La Salamandre. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It was made in 1971, and Tanner had obviously seen his Godard, his Antonioni. It has the political language of Godard, and it has the dissipative structure (minus beautiful dresses and garden parties among statuary) of Antonioni. But the political language – exchanged by two down and out writers, one of whom makes his real money as a part time house painter – is all quoting the quotation. In fact, in the 80s, when I was a grad student, this had come to be the default style. Language inspired, distantly, by Marx, or Adorno, bantered about and at the same time made into an elaborate in joke. Being taught how to analyze, with the old male elegance, the oppressive structures that one hadn’t a chance of overturning or gaining the slightest bit of power over. And the dissipative structure wasn’t about the vanishing of purpose so much as the omnipresence of impromptu – each character making things up, including jobs and ends, as he or she went along. There was, of course, a firm sense in La Salamandre that after the trente annees glorieuses a form of capitalist paradise had been established. But all the characters were well aware that this was a predator’s paradise, and they were prey.

The plot of the film is simple. A young woman, maybe twenty, is accused of shooting her uncle in the shoulder with his army rifle. The scene is set in Switzerland. Two writers are paid to write a screenplay for tv about this fait divers. Both writers sleep with Rosamunde, the woman, played by Bulle Ogier. Rosamunde is the name of a sylph, and Ogier’s face alternates between lighting up, beautifully, to show the sylph, and plunging into sallow and slack darkness, the sylph turned tree, or at least like the trees in Dante’s infernos, the bark over the suicide. Rosamunde had a wild hair in high school, then got jobs like the first one we see her doing: working on the assembly line in a sausage factory, holding the skins that are filled with sausage meat shot from a tube.

Rosamunde is prey. While the two writers have a certain intellectual distance from predator’s paradise, or at least pride themselves on it, Rosamunde is pure prey. And… and this is what I like … and she responds to being prey by quitting frequently and listening to the 1971 equivalent of metal. Just noise, although recorded without the modern technology. She bobs her head, turns up the record player of the juke box, becomes vacant.

That’s the prey deal. We can do little to deny the predators. They have the power to occupy our desires, our hours, our minds. Their photos, films, demands, schedules, signatures on our paychecks, politics and wars go on whether we want them to or not. But Rosamunde can choose to be invaded by noise.

Which is where I thought about Nietzsche. Particularly that Nietzschoid saying that lept from the page right onto the walls of innumerable public toilet walls: that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. There is a certain fate to grafitti, because that saying is all about shitting in a public toilet. That which doesn’t kill me isn’t what is outside me. It is what invades me. The site for the mythical invasion is just that encounter of the asshole and the public toilet plastic seat. The myth about getting disease here is really about something aberrant in this glitch in the system, since Americans are generally so careful about their hygiene. But let down your pants once and the Alien crawls right into your gut. That is what the predators do. The mimicry of that act, and the momentary release from it, is to fill oneself, to let oneself be invaded by noise. Rosamunde, nodding her head with a totally vacant look to the wordless electric guitar sounds, wrung my heart. This is, in a sense, what we do at LI. Every post is, essentially, noise. Meaningless noise, boom boom boom. But it brings a small relief, it produces a gap between invasions of the predators, who rule and who will always rule, with maximum greed, lust, and callousness the little paradise they’ve trapped us in. Their pictures, their politics, their celebrities, their gossip, their cars, their restaurants, their money, their businesses, their porno, their church, their gods,. their bozo leaders and bozo adulations. It is a joke to think that the prey will have any effect on this, but somehow every invasion – if I can choose it, if I can turn the volume up -- makes me feel stronger.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Menger mania

I am going to be trying to write this preface to my translation of Silja Graupe’s Basho of Economics. So I might not be too on the mark this week. However, it is a good time to beg – I’m really looking for some editing jobs this month, which is lookin’ kind of Mother Hubbard bare. The dog wants a bone. LI wants a bone. The Landlady wants a bone. The phone company wants a bone. All God’s children want bones, want bones. So – if you want editing, research, proofreading, the whole deal, know somebody who wants same, know somebody who knows somebody, etc. – send them to me, please.

In the meantime, I’m going off to think about Carl Menger’s curious notions concerning the foundations of economics.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Goodbye 20th century, it was good to know you

Prospect Magazine did a survey for this month’s mag. This was the question they asked, and their sense of the response they got:

“We asked 100 writers and thinkers to answer the following question: Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next? The pessimism of their responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades, and many think it will get worse.”

Admittedly, the thinkers they asked seemed somewhat random. David Brooks gets his say, and Joe Boyd, a music producer, gets his, and apparently what qualifies one to have a view of the next one hundred years best is to work for a bank or business or write an opinion column. There were no H.G. Wells, that’s for sure, and few seemed to disagree with the premise of the question. LI, however, thinks the premise is wrong. Left and right did not define the twentieth century. The century was defined, in our view, by two things: first, the treadmill of production – that system which is falsely defined as capitalist because one of its surface characteristics is the market system – which emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, followed out its logic in all systems (communist, fascist, liberal capitalist) on a world wide basis, having laid the foundations in the 19th century (the development, for instance, of the terror famine in Ireland and India by the British was surely the model for Stalin's agricultural policy) and collapsed the agriculture-based culture that humans had lived under for the past 12,000 years. That was surely the most significant thing that happened in the 20th century, and no ideology led it, no ideology opposed it, and no ideology even envisioned it. The anxiety naturally attendant on the end of civilization created a macro feature, which I’d call the dialectic of vulnerability – basically, that process by which populations, feeling ever more vulnerable even as they became ever more affluent developed systems meant to render them invulnerable – that is, an ever more threatening war culture, with an ever greater destructive reach – which, of course, rendered them ever more vulnerable, an irony that was not rhetorical, but systematic. 9/11 was, in part, a moment in which the nakedness of the system was revealed – a system that could, theoretically, respond to ICBMs traveling over the poles, couldn’t respond to 19 half educated men with box cutters and homemade bombs. And… of course it couldn’t. Defense is a collective fiction, which is its function – being a fiction, there is never a limit on the amount of money one can spend on it. It is, theoretically, inifinitely expensive, while its payoff, as a defense system against all threats, is nearly zero – it will never defend against all threats. That’s ever, with a big fucking E.

The intersection between the treadmill of production and the war culture shaped the 20th century. The division between the right and the left were epiphenomena of that dynamic. It is, of course, impossible to predict the next five years … but in a sense it is probably easier to predict the next 100, since prediction here isn’t about particulars but long, long trends. H.G. Wells was so great because he had a novelist’s instinct for the life of those trends. LI doesn’t – in 1985, when we entered Grad school, we would never have predicted the cultural triumph of Reaganism, for instance. It would have seemed utterly implausible that the combination of endebtedness, meanness, and libertarian logic that flew in the face of reality would ever survive the end of the Gipper. From our inability to see what was in front of our nose, we took a lesson: never underestimate the Death Wish of a culture. It strikes us as, frankly, insane to frame the next hundred years in terms of terrorism or the “battle of civilizations” between Islam and the west. For one thing, among threatening issues, terrorism ranks way below, I don’t know, highway safety as a real issue. But given the need to feed the war culture, terrorism is an invention that has no enemies – it is a win win for all participants, giving an excuse to the war culture’s governors to continue doing what they want to continue doing anyway, and thus guaranteeing that a little place will always be set aside for terrorists – sort of like in Network, where the tv network discovers the audience pull of terrorism, and puts the unorganized groups of guerillas on a business basis. As for Islam, again, the use value of Islam is not in Islam per se, but the way it operates as a wonderful two-fer – dark skins that aren’t Christian! Is there a more perfect enemy? Really, Milosovic should be hailed as a prophet – his ideology has now become standard on the Right, and will no doubt be more and more embedded in the policy of the American state as we drift from disaster to disaster. There is nothing like having a vicious, dark skinned enemy to slaughter – Keynes’ “animal spirits” get all stirred up and shit. But LI will never get our brain around the fact that this might be the future. This is because we don’t want to commit suicide right away – we do want a reason to hang around a bit longer. So we will not believe what seems to be happening right before our eyes as a matter of spiritual health. Otherwise – somebody get me a rusty razor!