Noosphere Blues

[ Thursday, August 28, 2003 ]

Odd, seeing a usually grizzled skeptic like democratic socialist Robert Kuttner go gaga over Wesley Clark and the prospect of an enlightented paternalistic progressive general as the Democratic Ike.
Phil [2:57 PM]

[ Monday, August 25, 2003 ]

Kathy Boudin's parole has unsurprisingly proven an occasion for the right to get a collective hard-on of self-righteous radical bashing. Energizing right-wing reaction always was something WUO was, unfortunately, expert at. Nonetheless, sifting through the recent effervesence of Weather history (and other histories of the febrile political moments of 1968-1971) including Ron Jacobs' The Way the Wind Blew, the surprise indy film phemom WUO, and the historical novel THe Company You Keep, one can find increasingly useful assimilations (including a good one here from Mark Rudd) of the whole weird experience, and how it might yet serve as a kind of useful anti-template of many of the pitfalls a transformative radical movement would want to avoid. Which won't be a bad thing to have, if, as seems all too likely, the 2000s make the 60s look like a sunday school picnic.
Phil [1:37 PM]

[ Thursday, August 21, 2003 ]

Neat photo-diary by Sue Fiedler (aki Sami) of Ghost of the Robots (Spike's group) world tour, shows the band from within the vortex of its far-flung international community of supporters. Some Favorites- The Cavern in Liverpool, and Pickwick Theatre.
Phil [11:28 AM]

[ Tuesday, August 19, 2003 ]

The well-wrought Rove-ian retro-narrative of American politics as rendered from 2002 through the May Day fighter plane rock video appears to be fragmenting into a more confusing, and more interesting hyper-text, suggests Michael Wolff.
Phil [3:18 PM]

[ Monday, August 11, 2003 ]

Though many think liberal bashing a specialty art-form of right-wing polemicists and agit-propsters, many if not most every good right-wing/or neo-con anti-liberal riff got its start in critiques coming from the left. The “new left” specifically, which aimed its best shots not at the reactionary right (those dinosaurs whom they wrongly assumed were becoming extinct), but at “managerial” or “corporate” liberalism, and its intellectual and political timidity, hypocrisy and cowardice.

As in this vintage, eloquent though relatively tame stuff from Jack Newfield circa 1970 (you can read SDS by Kirk Sale, The Way The Wind Blew, or Years of Hope, Days of Rage to name a few sources to get more of the vitriolic quotes):

“Basically what happened in the 1950s was that some liberals who once called themselves socialists became conservatives, partly out of guilt for having once been Marxists .”

“During the 1950s liberalism lost its will to fight and accepted the basic economic and foreign policy assumptions of the right”.

“Something else happened to liberalism during the 50s was that the Democratic Party began to move away from the working masses and have become snobbish and elitist”.

Substitute the 1980s and 90s for the 1950s. Subtract and add a few nouns and adjectives you might have fun fooling around with. E.g. “Basically what happened in the 1980s and 90s is that some who once called themselves counter-culture radicals became politically moderate, NPR listening bobos, partly out of guilt for having once been acid-heads”), and Danny Goldberg’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit falls squarely in this lineage. Except that his is not the missive of an outsider. Nor an attempt at demolition, but a freak flag waving baby boomer revivalist’s exhortation (from a near inner circle Democratic insider) to resurrect the “McGovernick” spirit of 72’ as winners this time, in something like the same way Ronald Reagan vindicated Goldwaterism a generation later.

For Goldberg the crux of the problem with the “left” (which he often identifies rather too broadly and vaguely with every Democratic more liberal than, say, Joe Lieberman) is not a dearth of ideas. Unlike many Democratic party analysts, he does not believe the party is in need of much theoretical/ideological vacuum cleaning, more policy detail or more mainstream (read middle of the road) packaging. Indeed, when it comes to economic issues (more equalitarian tax policy, expanded government safety net), social issues (pro-civil liberties, pro-choice) and the environment a popular majoritarian base is far more liberal, he argues, with plenty of evidence to back him up, than the Democratic party leadership.

Yet when it comes to electoral politics this inchoate left-populist majority is left with a vacuum. Its natural venue, the Democratic Party remains in the hands of stuffed shirts who, though ostensibly of the “60s” generation, have made official liberalism as ennervated
as National Public Radio. Rather than speak from, for and to their base in the language and symbols of the most vital strands of pop culture, they remain insulated in the language of Beltway wonk-speak and realpolitick as defined by an equally insular class of pundits.

These are good points and no one (at least among the Democratic insider-hood) has made them as well. Yet, no matter how enthusiastically he articulates it, Goldberg’s analysis doesn’t go nearly deeply enough into the ambiguous, often paradoxical relationships between culture and politics.

Specifically Goldberg seems to expect that seamless consistency between social-cultural tastes and political identity is a norm. Just as likely a kind of willed schizophrenia better describes mainstream American politics. When it comes to technology and pop culture innovation, experiment and (when not stymied by entrenched monopolies) are expected and often welcomed by the public. In terms of politics what “wins” (again according to conventional wisdom, but it’s been a self-fulfilling prophecy) is comfort food.

If it’s true as Goldberg suggests (and I believe too) that Americans, however much they dig comfort food, would be receptive to a politics as creative and liberal as their pop culture and technology. In order to do so, however, in the interests of real reform, more than a more pop savvy elite will be require. What’s entailed is a fundamentally different, radically renegotiated relationship between the political base and its supposed leadership.

Phil [11:52 AM]

[ Wednesday, August 06, 2003 ]

Cheers to Jason for getting out issue 2 of New World Disorder, a very unique mix of funny, spacy, paranoid, bizarre, subtle and, yes, at more than a few points, you can pick your own, brilliant.
Phil [3:56 PM]

Stew Albert, one of the last living original organizers of Yippie!, prophesies that next summer's Republican convention in NYC will be the weirdest and most contentious (in the streets that is) since Chicago-1968. I suspect he might be right, though (also knowing something similar is Karl Rove's fondest wet dream) as much with foreboding as enthusiasm. Actually, Albert (a romantic, but no irrationalist) concedes as much too:

"Do they know that there will be enormous demonstrations against the Naked Emperor? Sure they do. They want them. And they want to crush them. The protesters will become substitutes for authentic uncaptured terrible terrorists. And the Republicans will show by their immense and limitless cruelty, that they not only take care of business on Wall Street.

They want us to come. And we must oblige. But in the time we have before the Republican Convention we must develop tactics that will leave them in the dust of their own mediocre confusion. We must resuscitate the great laughing spirit of Yippie."

Intense harsh but shockingly clever and hilarious protest against the Emperor Bush that will make America laugh at him and see him in an unprogrammed state of his actual evil. Attack us then, you humorless Elephants of the GOP. And America will see you and him, in the unforgiving light of harsh truth. New York needs a cosmic joke. So does America. So let's start asking just what trick the Yippies have up their sleeves."
In an only slightly different context Howard Rheingold discusses just such a neo-yippie technology, one I have no doubt Abbie Hoffman would have appreciated
(and rocked with).

Oh yeah, and if you always liked the idea of what Calvin Trillin was trying to do with his political doggerel in The Nation, but thought it never had quite enough bite, I recommend what Albert does with his topical poems more than once a week.

Phil [3:16 PM]