Category Archives: ANARCHISM

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

Soylent Green and corporations have less in common than you think.

Well, I’m breaking my self-imposed blog embargo for this missive. It’s been rattling in my head for a while and I just need to get it out.

It started with something a friend of mine said recently. A group of us were ragging on corporations, and someone commented about something vile a corporation recently did, and the friend quipped, “It’s almost like corporations were made up of people.” The subtext to his sarcasm was to imply that it’s silly to discuss corporations as if they’re some separate entity from humanity because, after all, corporations are made up of people and, evidently, will only do the same good and ill that humans do.

Unfortunately, despite what the conservative-leaning Supreme Court thinks (vis-à-vis “Citizens United v FEC”), corporations aren’t people. They are a collection of people, that, like any collection of people, make a gestalt that is very different than the sum of its parts. To claim to not be able to analyze and critique (and judge ethically) corporations as a separate thing because they’re made of people, is utterly meaningless. By that rationale, nothing could be said about anything within the realm of human culture and creation because, after all, it’s all made by, or made up of, people. Like all forms of human culture and its production, corporations can — and should — be analyzed and critiqued as a concept that acts separate and apart from humanity in general. Why?

Think of it this way: Would you walk into a library and find a literary book club in progress and expect it to behave and have the save motives and agenda as, say, the group of Ultimate Wrestling fans that show up regularly at the local sports bar? Or how about the local Baptist Bible study group versus the local Society for Creative Anachronism group? They’re all made of people, yes? But any group of people with a shared goal, or interest, is going to A. be very similar to other groups that have the same goals and interests; and B. be very different from groups with different goals and interests. Similar groups will be similar enough that you can usually talk about that kind of group using generalities, and different groups can be different enough to be able to critique them as altogether different entities. This sounds silly and obvious when stated like that, but it’s the ridiculously obvious reason corporations lend themselves to separate and justified deconstruction and critique apart from the motivations and behaviors of people in general.

One of the reasons should be obvious: self-selection. Particular type of people with particular types of demeanors, attitudes, outlooks, ideologies, will choose to associate themselves with others of similar types, under the banner of a shared goal or interest. You will find particular types of people at a book club and different particular types at the sports bar. Oh, sure, there will be cross-over. The occasional mixed-martial-art fan may also be a Jane Eyre fan, and the occasional Nicholas Sparks fan will be seen at the sports bar. But the exceptions point up the rule.

And so too with corporations. Particular types of people seek and earn MBAs and become stock traders and managers and accountants and whatnot who gravitate toward the corporate culture. And the larger, the more multi-national the corporation, the more the individual dissolves and melds into the background of the homogeneous culture of the corporation. Those who don’t fit in or are different than the corporate culture demands, either self-select to leave the culture, or get pushed out for not fitting in — not being a “team player.” And so the corporate culture self-reinforces and insulates itself even more in order to achieve its goals and realize its agenda.

And what is the corporation’s goals and agenda? All groups, organizations, have goals and agendas. The book club, the Bible study, the sports cub, the football team, the knitting circle, the SCA group, the anti-vaccination group, the local skeptics’ club, the Young Democrats, the Future Business Leaders of America… all groups that have come together for a shared interest have an overarching goal. And what is the corporation’s? Profit, pure and simple. Profit by means of selling a product or service to as close to 100% of the market share as possible, and by any means it can get away with. In fact, legally, a corporation can’t make operating decisions that would knowingly deprive the shareholders from making money. As observed by Robert Hinkley in “Redesigning Corporate Law,”

Distilled to its essence, [the law] says that the people who run corporations have a legal duty to shareholders, and that duty is to make money. Failing this duty can leave directors and officers open to being sued by shareholders. This explains why corporations find social issues such as humanrights irrelevant – because they fall outside the corporation’s legal mandate. Secondly, these provisions explain why executives behave differently than they might as individual citizens, because the law says their only obligation in business is to make money.

Well, you can’t make it more plain than that. Corporations exist to make money; and civil liberties, human rights, decency, laws, are all obstacles that must be worked around and, wherever possible, ignored and broken, in order to reach its goal.

A corporation, because of its self-selection and its over-aching goal that all members of the corporation buy into, makes the corporation act as something individualized and apart from humanity. In a way, a corporation is like a person — a sociopath. An amoral being without empathy or remorse, single-minded and manipulative, and dangerous. Capable and willing to do any harm necessary if it means getting what it wants.

In society, when an individual sociopathic human does harm, we punish them. We take them out of society. When a corporation does harm, what happens? The corporation may get fined, it may get sued. But as the link above explains, that’s just a cost of doing business. The corporation will likely continue on without a hitch, especially if it’s a multi-national where its finances are in the Cayman Islands, its management is in Dubai, and its production is in China. Some CEO or manager may become the face of “the problem,” get slapped on the wrist, leave the company — but the company persists as juggernaut. (And the CEO likely will be just fine as well, don’t you worry. Most corporate CEOs and managers sit on the board of directors of other corporations in an incestual game of musical chairs. Boards that hire on a new CEO from another corporation who leads the company for a while, makes several million, gets a few million more as a severance package even if he does a poor job, where he’ll move on to oversee the hiring of a CEO in another company he helps run.)

Oh, and by the way, most of the people on top, the CEOs and managers and directors of the board, aren’t generally people who started out at a community college and worked full time and took classes until they Made It. No, that group at the top, who shuffle around the companies and hand each other favors, are the type of people satirized in this “Note of Appreciation from the Rich.” So when the top of the corporate structure is led by these hereditary, dynastic, feudal lords, and the bottom 95% is constructed of those who strive to be like those at the top — you get a very particular type of culture.

Corporations are, in general, evil in the same way a psychopath is evil. (In fact, it’s estimated that an inordinate amount of corporate leaders are, in fact, sociopaths and psychopaths. Why? Again: self-selected culture.) So, like all and any construct of human creation, the corporation is something that has its own agenda, goals, motivations, effects, and sub-culture, which is perfectly open to deconstruction and ethical judgement.

For more, excellent analysis of why we should analyze and deconstruct any element of human culture, see Roland Barthes Mythologies. It’s actually very short, and a fascinating read.

 

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

Remember…er, the 5th of… oh! November!

In honor of the upcoming simulacra of a holiday, Guy Fawkes Day, I’m reposting the blog post I did last year for it. Enjoy!

——–

In honor of Guy Fawkes Day this Nov. 5th (Wiki link)* are a couple of links for light reading:

A recent musing of mine on anarchy and democracy: link

An excellent (and scary-sad) collection from Classically Liberal of examples of police stateabuse and misconduct.

* Like most things in postmodern culture, this topic is well filled with contradictions. Guy Fawkes, for example, was not truly an anarchist (as far as I can tell). He, along with his cohorts, were simply p.o.ed that Catholics were being descriminated by the Protestant British government and decided to get rid of it, hoping to establish a Catholic-friendly one. (*sigh* what, religious violence again!?)

Guy Fawkes ironically became a symbol of later anrchistic movements despite his basically being just a religious terrorist.

Guy Fawkes was also appropriated by the British cultural hegemony as a symbol of celebrating the God-protected and ordained rule of proper British royalty. (Much like how Hitler propagandized his surviving the Valkyrie assassination attempt as a sign that God protected his divinely ordained Third Reich. [I may have just Godwined myself, but it just goes to show that anyone and everyone can and does invoke God’s favor when things go well for them.])

And now there’s this Anonymous group appropriating Guy Fawkes to protest Scientology. Interestingly, as this is a quasi-religious fight, this may actually be a more “appropriate” use of Guy’s image… if not for the fact that what they’re really doing is using the image created by the film “V for Vendetta”. They’ve taken an image crafted for entertainment consumption, based on a hyperreality of an appropriated image, of a man whose purpose has been fictionalized by one group and celebrated for it’s failure by another group for ideological justification…

Ow. Jean Baudrillard is probably laughing in his grave over this a-historical postmodern pastiche! (I think I see a scholarly paper in this!)

On voting.

Once again, it’s the season where I’m absolutely inundated with requests — no, demands — that I vote. I’m told it’s my civic duty. I’m told in haughty, self-righteous, proud acrimony that if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain, as if my freedom of speech is revoked should choose to not select a career politician who I despise less than the other guy to “represent” me — when none of these people I’m told to select from actually represent me.

So, am I going to vote next week? Actually, yes. But, with caveats, and I’m more than happy to explain why.

First, a little parable:

Three wolves and six goats are discussing what to have for dinner. One courageous goat makes an impassioned case: “We should put it to a vote!” The other goats fear for his life, but surprisingly, the wolves acquiesce.

But when everyone is preparing to vote, the wolves take three of the goats aside. “Vote with us to make the other three goats dinner,” they threaten. “Otherwise, vote or no vote, we’ll eat you.”

The other three goats are shocked by the outcome of the election: a majority, including their comrades, has voted for them to be killed and eaten. They protest in outrage and terror, but the goat who first suggested the vote rebukes them: “Be thankful you live in a democracy! At least we got to have a say in this!”

Voting is a right. People fought and some literally died for he right to be able to vote in fair elections for such things as fair taxes, appropriate laws that are meant to help society function, and people who would represent them in a government by, of, and for the people.

But on most scales, that’s not what we have. We have a government where the higher up you go, the less you, as a person, are being represented so much as being governed in the interests of corporations. The congresspeople, the president, the massive support system that runs the federal government, are paid for by corporate profit — sanctified by the recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend as much money as they wish to make sure the politicians vote in their interests. In fact, the only politicians at all that get to that high of a level, that get their name on the ballot, are politicians that, regardless of the R or the D next to their name, will support corporate interests over those of the people.

These people do not represent me. I don’t not wish to associate a vote, by right and purchased by many people braver than I who gave their lives to give me the privilege and not the obligation to do so, to any of these people. A vote for a less vile, less corporate-owned, less dishonest, politician is not an exercise in freedom and liberty and civic duty — it is an insult and a mockery of freedom and liberty.

My right to vote quite certainly includes my right to choose to not vote, if that represents my opinion that the people who are my forced choices do not represent me. If I despise both options I have to vote for, I will complain about either one of them regardless of whichever one wins, and I should not have to be compelled to associate myself with either repugnancey in order to be granted the boon of being able to complain about them.

Especially when what I complain about is not just the puppets that I’m forced to choose between, but the entire corrupted and perverted system that puts only bought-and-paid-for corporate tools as my choices for representation.

Indeed, there are people who don’t vote, not because they are exercising their right not to, but because they’re too uninformed, detached, and unconcerned about the process, the system, civil rights and duties. You know what? They too have a right to complain! All people have an inalienable right to speak their mind (granted, so long as it does not directly incite harm to others), regardless of whether they participate in the farce.

I may pity and scowl at them in my own elitist, condescending way for not being involved and interested and engaged in the process, the events, the system that essentially controls their lives. But they still have a right to complain.

The parable above is often used to illustrate what’s called the tyranny of democracy. The idea that the minority must concede to will of the majority for no better reason than because they’re the majority. We all know this is on many levels wrong and unethical. It was seen during segregation, where the racist views of the majority violated the rights of a minority. We can see it today in such things as California’s Prop 8 in which the rights of a minority were eliminated by a majority vote.

If you ever found yourself in a vastly outnumbered minority, and the majority voted that you had to give up something as necessary to your life as water and air, would you comply? When it comes down to it, does anyone really believe it makes sense to accept the authority of a group simply on the grounds that they outnumber everyone else? We accept majority rule because we do not believe it will threaten us – and those it does threaten are already silenced before anyone can hear their misgivings.

–From THE PARTY’S OVER: BEYOND POLITICS, BEYOND DEMOCRACY
http://thecloud.crimethinc.com/pdfs/democracy_reading.pdf

I agree with the position. Majority rule; minority suffers. That’s all well and good so long as you’re part of the majority. But everyone belongs in someone else’s minority group. What happens when the majority on a given position, or condition, votes to remove a right of yours? How fair is democracy to you then?

As an anarchist, I believe ultimately in the removal of all coerced obeisance to the will of another group, whether that group has the force of greater numbers, or a monopoly on violence (the state). But, like Marx who understood that capitalism was a necessary step on the road to socialism, then communism, I understand we’re likely not going to have mass anarchism (nor communism) within my lifetime. The state is here, and it’s not going anywhere, any time soon. And the structure of representative government, as corrupt and flawed and manipulated as it is, should at least somewhat be made to work for the people and not for corporations, whenever possible….

So, I’m going to vote next Tuesday, despite the fact it will be a violation of my integrity. (I don’t believe in the very system itself, I shouldn’t support it with my participation.) But, living completely on the grid, within the culture, subject to the will of the hegemonic cultural logic, and millions of other people have no choice — so I’ll go ahead and cast votes where, and only where, I have a choice in which I think one option is ethically acceptable, and not because it’s the alternative to a worse option. If neither option represents my beliefs, it’s not getting my approval simply because of some non-existent obligation to have to choose one.

What gets my goat, is how so many of the people who wallow in self-righteousness and decree that you’re unAmerican and not worthy of the right to free speech if you don’t vote, are people whose entire civic consciousness, entire political activity, entire involvement in the world around them, begin and end with that 30 minute exercise once every couple of years — maybe only every four years. And of course, that just the way those in power like it. Convince people that they’re actually capable of changing things, get rid of bad and install good, improve the system, by making them think that all they need to do is vote for person A or nearly identical person B, whose differences are those that make people bicker while ignoring the fact the rot goes down to the roots. Make people think that voting equals change, and just shuffle the same agents of corruption and dominance through the offices while the very system itself that underlies the main problems gets blissfully ignored.

So, if you’re one of those who sticks your nose into the air with superiority because you go out of your way to vote for a new boss, same as the old boss, save your breath on me. I’m going to participate in the farce. But you better anticipate some write-in names on my part.