All the Time in the World

Here’s an essay on the modern manipulation of time and its affects on regular people. It’s a bit grandiose sounding, but it was written for a literary magazine, so cut me some slack.

Yesterday I committed a great modern day sin; I forgot my watch. Not just any watch, this was my Casio “waveceptor”, a digital and analog wristwatch complete with a daily radio update from the atomic clock in Colorado. It’s not an especially expensive watch but it is imperative that I remember to carry it with me at all times. Why? Because without the ability to reliably tell time, I can’t function in this society and neither can you. Modern industrial society dictates that we all must be wary of the time at all times. We as a civilization have become time obsessed. We’ve subdivided our days and nights into progressively smaller chunks of regulated and restricted time. Without a direct connection to this time matrix we’re left adrift in a complex dance we don’t know or understand the moves to.

The measurement and regulation of time is the driving force in any modern industrial society. So much so that modern societies break down most all-natural elements of time and in their dust create new and far more intricate groupings of minutes, seconds and nanoseconds. In earlier epochs life was measured and largely regulated by the seasons, day and night, the shape of the moon etc. You sew the fields in spring, ate salted fish during the winter and harvested the crops in the fall. When it was day you were awake and when it was night you would go to sleep. All very simple things.

Yet with the continuous evolution of civilization, time became more and more artificial. Soon religious holidays and days of religious observance were introduced by the priest or shaman caste. You had to worship in this way on this date at this time. That is if you didn’t want the gods to smite you. Then the state got involved and started dictating that citizens perform this duty (normally forced labor of some sort) for a certain period of time and that x group of people must attend schooling for y number of years. Finally with the introduction of commerce, the rule of the market dictated that people show up to work at this time, eat lunch at another time and leave for home at a later time.

All of these changes are quite minor in comparison to the current state of things. Our status quo is the complete management of time and the definitive meaning of that time. That is to say that in our modern society all time is an artificial vacuum, in which each second is measured and counted so that every waking moment of our lives is spent in some of predetermined activity at some predetermined hour. It’s a not a hard thing to observe if you look out for it. First examine how our means of production have smashed all natural signs of time. What ever happened to the night? In all other ages of human development, day and night held near hegemonic sway. Now the night is a mere annoyance, a nuisance to be fought off with headlights and batteries. We could live in a underground bunker and feel little different if that was what was required of us. It might be a bit psychologically offsetting, but we could deal. For those of us in “modern society”, the concept of seasons is on the way out too. Remember how people used to get cold during the winter? Even in their homes? And how during the summer people actually wore pants and heavy woolen clothing? Nowadays you pop the thermostat up or down and all is right with the realm. Oh sure you wear coat or a T-shirt when you’re out “braving the elements”, but so long as you stay within the artificial confines of the human “habitat” and keep on playing halo, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Without the normal barriers and guideposts the natural world provides us, society has unceasingly drove towards a time that is ever more complex and ever more controlled. Think about any portion of your typical day. You wake up at a prearranged time regardless of the weather or the absence of sunlight. You do so, not because you want to wake up, but because it has been declared that you must wake up this time each day in order to arrived at school at your correct prearranged “start time”. If this time clashes with your “life” you’re most probably scolded and eventually punished by those who set the “start time”. Meanwhile in school you spend your hours situated in a series of uniform blocks of time in specified and predetermined subjects. English 8th period, government 9th period math 10th period etc.etc.etc. Once more, if you do not follow this appropriate time frame, you are singled out and targeted by those in authority.

After school you go to work, and begin your “shift”. You may or may not spend specified periods of time within this “shift’ doing various assigned tasks. You might even get some “break time” which is exactly 15 minutes long, no more, no less. After ours of drudgery you finally reach quitting time at which it is acceptable to “clock out”. Of course if you violate any of these time regulations you face stiff sanctions. Nobody wants anyone to come in late or take off early.

Most telling is the concept of “free time”. Free time is possibly the most deceptive of lures that our controlling forces have thrown in our face. “Don’t worry!” we’re told. ”You’ll have plenty of free time once work is over,” This is unadulterated bull. In a modern industrial society there is no free time. All chunks of time already have predetermined lengths and predetermined social meanings. Free time is that time you think is ‘free’, but actually is more akin to indirect control by same societal forces that already directly control all other aspects of your life. Examine any portion of your “free” time and notice how much of that free time was spent either consuming commercial products, or consuming commercial entertainment. Most people would say that the vast majority of their free time is spent in this manner.

And yet where is the freedom in that? Buying consumer products feeds the engine of commerce, the same engine that already controls your workday and work schedule. How is this time ‘free’ if we spend it feeding the forces of oppression? Watching entertainment is not much better. Where’s the freedom and originally in using all your time and scheduling your whole night, around the public relations spewing of commercial entities? Are you really free when you spend every Monday at 10 PM watching “Medium”? What’s so bad about all of this is that of all these favored pastime activities, few can be enjoyed for free? Last I noticed Loews Cinema costs 20 dollars for a ticket with some popcorn and soda, how much does it cost to feel a truly enriching experience? 2,000? 20,000? Unless you’re someone that sets the meaning of time (Corporate executives, the pope, the president, etc.) you don’t have much of a chance to earn that kind of money.

Now please don’t take this as a wholesale assault on the idea of time. Time is the 5th dimension of space. It’s a universal concept; you can’t just throw it away. However the complete hegemony of artificial time and artificially defined time is something that we as a society must address. Time is all that we have and to mismanage it for the benefit of a religious/state/corporate elite is the greatest crime against the human spirit. A truly free and prosperous society must acknowledge the need for extensive free time. Not a free time that merely mimics freedom but in reality bolsters the forces of control. But a freedom of the most exalted sort, where you can feel enthused and enriched every minute and every second. You may call it utopian, but what have you got to loose? More “free” time?

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When Nobody Turns Up at the Ballot Box

Via radgeek, I discovered that the little town of Pillsbury, North Dakota recorded 0 votes this June. That’s right; the municipal elections garnered a hefty 0 percent turnout. This brought a nice smile to my face. Mind you, it’s a town of 24 residents, and the candidates were unopposed, but zero votes? The candidates were so lazy that they didn’t even vote for themselves!

What’s interesting is that the article doesn’t seem to care that the turnout was a goose egg. Its best summed up by the Pillsbury mayor:

“I presume things will stay the same,” Brudevold said. “We’re just a little village, and when you’re elected to one of those jobs, well, once you get it, you got it.”

Yeah, who cares? Cuase well, you know, there’s nothing wrong when the government is so pointless that even the candidates won’t vote. Either the citizenry has so little faith that they want nothing to do with the state, or the town charter is so pointless that no one can be bothered. I think we’ve got a bit of both.

Kasama This! or Boy the RCP is Wierd!

Over the past couple of days I’ve been reading Mike Ely’s “9 letters to our comrades.” It’s a long polemical response to Mike’s former comrades at the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). It’s real interesting stuff, not because it offers any new and amazing insights into the task of revolution and building a new society, but because its good entertainment. Before I get into it, let me give ya a short history lesson so you know the background, because without the background, it’s just no fun.

In 1969 Students for a Democratic Society, the group that personified 60s student radicalism, split at their national convention. The conventional history is that you had a split between the national office faction headed by the future Weathermen, and the cadre of the Progressive Labor Party. A whole lot of people were disgusted with both and walked off anyway. But we forget that the Weathermen faction wasn’t one faction, it was two different groups, united to defeat the PLP. The third faction was another Maoist group headed by student activist Bob Avakian. Bob’s group was all about the black panthers, Ho Chi Minh and National Liberation armies, but he didn’t want to start a terrorist campaign. So each group went their separate ways. Avakian’s people eventually turned into what we know as the RCP.

The RCP is absolutely devoted to Bob Avakian. Bob Avakian is their lord, savior, messiah and prophet. He is bringing communism “to new heights” in the world and the “cardinal question” for all serious revolutionaries is whether you’re behind him or in his path. I quote

Revolution in the U.S. is needed… and it can happen. The path, the road, to this has been pointed to, and it is being forged in practice, under Bob Avakian’s leadership…Extraordinary leaders like Bob Avakian are rare; they are precious to the advance of humanity; they must be cherished and defended.

Even if Bobby Boy was a competent revolutionary who had built a mass movement, this sort of personality worship is just fucking stupid. You can’t build a movement to liberate humanity from their rulers if you already deified your fearless leader. But Avakian is no god, he’s not competent, he’s not even half competent. He’s a dingbat. The man is the offspring of an Eisenhower appointee federal judge, and has lived in self imposed “exile” in France for almost 30 years. Why? Well he faced heavy jail time back in 81, he fled. All charges were dropped a year later, but Bob still thinks the bogeymen are all out to get him!

So in comes Mike Ely, one of the founders of the party, and he writes a nice clear critique of the deranged house of mirrors that resides within the RCP. And yet his polemic doesn’t make any real kind of break with Maoism, its just rehashed authoritarian nonsense. He states his support for Lenin claiming that “If Lenin had died in 1914, a communist revolution would not have taken place in 1917 Russia.” He has no trouble with revolutionary hero worship, just the kind of hero choosen. Mao figures prominently throughout all of the letters, posited as the legitimate communist compared to Avakian’s “deformed” Maoism. And that’s rather sad. People like Mike have been through the ringer, the RCP demands its cadre to avoid all forms of fun (drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual promiscuity etc. He comes out so battered and yet all he can do is grasp at Maoist straws. Its almost as sad as a telenovella.

Welcome to the Wall Street Casino and Resort

I think it’s funny how everyone pays so much attention to the stock market and yet we know so little about it. The stock market is not an indicator of the health of the economy, not for real people at least. The stock market is an indicator of the speculative investments of a very wealthy few and the mutual funds of the poor schmoes trying to save for retirement. The stock market doesn’t really mean anything, its gambling with an MBA. Now some will argue that the stock market keeps companies honest, that it reflects their value and performance, while providing the necessary capital to keep them going. To some degree, yes this is true, but not really.

The stock market only represents the perceived value of a company. The perception of a company’s profitability is never its actual value. A company’s stock will go up and down according to the whims of stock traders. If they feel like a stock is worth more, they’ll buy/sell high and visa versa. Why they feel this way, doesn’t matter. Often it doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s why we have things like market crashes. Folk buy up stock on the assumption that they’ll keep going up. Not because the company is actually worth anything, but because investors think they can sell to the next guy for a higher price. That is until the bubble bursts and there’s no one else to buy the stock. A stock market bubble is essentially a pyramid scheme; the new guys fund the profits of the old guys till the whole thing falls apart.

What’s worse is that the stock market doesn’t really apply to you or me. Its health is never our health. Corporate stocks go up when profits go up, and raising profits is often accomplished through unsavory means. When GE lays off a thousand workers, it’s stock shoots up 2-3 dollars at least. New labor saving technology cuts costs, boosts stock and undercuts labor’s bargaining power. If a logging company chops down a national forest, then the money rolls on in. We all suffer from increased environmental destruction, but hey, DuPont’s up 3 points!

The media’s fascination with the stock market demonstrates its upper class bias. They don’t really care about the little people. If they did, more journalists would talk about unemployment, gentrification, and all the not so fun symptoms of a healthy stock. But they don’t, because the news media, especially the business media, is owned and controlled by 5 large corporations, staffed largely by relatively well off reporters and driven solely by profit motive. It’s a bit different at the local newspaper where reporters make pretty modest salaries, but those newspapers aren’t in the business of investigative reporting, corporate HQ wants to make money, and stories like that could only upset advertisers.

It’s all part of a growing and willful ignorance amongst most of the population on all matters of economics. Few people, let alone the reporters themselves, notice that capitalism today isn’t about making things anymore. That’s not where the big money is. Most investment today is in speculation. Now that may involve speculation on productive assets like companies and land, but its still speculation. The problem with speculation is that it doesn’t add any value. At least industrial capitalists build stuff and develop technologies. But speculation is just blackjack with much higher bets, an exclusive casino for the ultra wealthy.

The danger is that over speculation isn’t only unproductive, it’s also incredibly risky. Imagine the economy as a line on a graph, going up and down in a cyclical stable line. Well, the more speculation you add, the deeper and longer those bumps and troughs get. Speculation doesn’t create value, but it is very good at creating volatility. The reason is pretty simple, if you have 50 people trading a stock, its range isn’t going to differ that much over a day or a week, there’s only so many people and so much money. But if you had 50,000 people, you could generate wild fluctuations. Those are the fluctuations that cause a Black Tuesday or an East Asia crisis. If you don’t know about the East Asia crisis, basically around 1997 a bunch of currency speculators drained most of the capital out of the region in a matter of weeks. Factories were sold off piecemeal, bank after bank collapsed, there was hyper unemployment. It wasn’t very fun. Especially when it cascaded into Russia, causing the ruble to crash and eviscerating any gains those poor folk had managed to claw out of the capitalist “shock therapy” of 1992.

Obviously we’ve got a bit of a problem here. We have an economy built on speculation and it’s ready to blow. The cracks have already appeared; in fact they’re fissures at this point. The housing bubble was built on speculation and that has come back to destroy several large mortgage companies (Countrywide is a good example). Fuel prices continue to skyrocket. Why? In the long term its lower supplies and increased demand from India and China. But that’s not the case right now, actually right now its oil speculators bidding up the price and hoarding oil futures because they’re anticipating that increased demand. Food? Yeah that too, in 2004 there was 15 billion sloshing around the food commodities markets, now it’s 150 billion. Of course there are many other problems, but speculation is one of the root causes for about every economic calamity we’ve got right now.

This is dangerous, because speculation is not the cause of people’s problems. Capitalism, oppression, exploitation are the problems. But during these depressions and panics certain sections of the ruling class, the industrialists and the small time owners, start to wax about the power of the “evil bankers.” They start saying that all of you disaffected industrial workers are loosing your jobs and your way of life to that evil transnational banking elite. And we gotta ally together to fight those dastardly bankers, and secure the health of the nation, which only grows more powerful through the strength of industry and the hard working values of traditional heartland folk. If you haven’t realized, this is what we call fascism, add some comments about “jewish bankers” and you get Nazism. During times of capitalist crisis the industrialists and other capitalists co opt parts of the working class, usually the more disaffected, conservative sections, and then brutally assault leftist/revolutionary working people. There’s a reason why Hitler called it “National Socialism,” he actually brought some workers along with him. However Hitler did wipe out the more “socialist” elements during the Night of Long Knives. But hey, I’ll take a dead Nazi however I can get em.

Anyway, before this gets too meandering and silly, let me sum it up. Speculative capital is bad, and it is going to cause another recession, if not another depression sometime soon. The problem is we cannot allow conservative reactionary types to derail working folk into some sort of right wing, neo fascist movement. When the shit hits the fan, we need to articulate a vision that is revolutionary and makes it clear that speculation isn’t the problem, but a problem, a symptom of the larger disaster known as capitalism and hierarchy. Getting rid of speculation won’t end layoffs, wage cuts, racial hatred, etc. It just strengthens one section of the rulers against another.

On the Poverty of Suburban Unemployment: Why it sucks

Getting stuck at home for long periods of time is pretty enlightening. I guess having no money does that. Makes everything real clear. For awhile now I’ve fancied myself something of an absurdist. I savor in the idea that if the universe is absurd, that there is no real meaning, then we are radically free to choose and create the meaning for our self. The world becomes ours in a way that you don’t get with typical Christianity or any organized religion. I’ve always dovetailed this absurdism with a bit of Marx. Marx always pointed out that humans have an almost innate need to create and to do. It was our “species being” to sit there amongst the world and take action to change shit in some way

When you combine the two, I believe that you find something approaching a “human nature” or at least a general tendency. Humans find their meaning in whatever they wish. But in order to find that meaning they have to take action. They have to create that meaning, not just plot it out. Getting stuck here at home has brought this bit into relief. After a couple weeks of fruitless job searching I had already lost a lot of drive. I was stuck at home with very little to do, especially since most of my old friends were out of town. I live in an area that’s designed to keep out fun. People come here to raise kids and to grow old, but nothing in between. Young adults have very little in the way entertainment around here. The political message behind this is all very clear. Don’t think, don’t do, just stay isolated in your consumption. I’m gonna post more that a bit later.

Anyway, I wasn’t able to take action. I couldn’t really do anything. Sure I could write and read but I could not put my ideas into practice. I was brainstorming my meaning, but not living it. I was denying my species being. I was party to a general malaise, I just felt like blah. I didn’t feel strongly about anything. Of course it wasn’t some silly emo “zomg I’m depressed” moment it was just generalized anxiety. I couldn’t emotionally care, I was the same intellectually, but the wind had been taken out of my sails. Only after starting this blog, and working on some other projects have I suddenly felt a return to form. This is pretty obvious proof that absurdist/marxist POV. While I can chart whatever course of meaning I like, that course has no substance, no action behind it. It becomes another sterile intellectual pursuit, which explains a lot about most intellectuals. No wonder they’re so much like cold fish.

Meaning is intrinsically tied to emotion and action in life. We forget that cold logic gets us nowhere without emotion. It tells us what we want, and that’s the basis for most of our decisions. Anything we strive for in life, all the momentum comes from feeling. That’s why organizer is so important to any radical. Yes struggle is logical and clearly a necessity. But there’s an emotional component that’s also required. There are plenty of armchair Marxists and even a few armchair anarchists and by large, they don’t have the passion or the fervor for real revolutionary change. That requires hard, messy organizing because that hard messy organizing makes our ideas relevant. It creates the meaning behind them. Without experience in the trenches all our ideals will fall apart. We have to keep ourselves sharp and that means building what we want to see. For if we just sit around talking about it and writing missives, we’re doomed to disillusionment.

In Memoriam, George Carlin

George Carlin died last night. The man was a true genius, and in my view, one of the greatest comedians of all time. Carlin wasn’t just a comedian though, he was one of our greatest commentators. I know that when I was a kid, listening to Carlin was my first real introduction to radical politics of Old timey Strikeany kind. He brought into relief my stewing opposition to religion. He pointed out how it was just an arbitrary bunch of nonsense. At the time I was pretty moderate on most issues. But religion was just beyond the pale. A little white man magically saving us? Huh? It made no sense!

My rebellion against god pretty much put me on the path to radicalism. It was the domino that started the chain, smacking down one system of hierarchy after another. Carlin had a sardonic air that kept you honest and kept you questioning. Its not that he was much of an anarchist. More of a nihilist sometimes. But despite his dark attitude Carlin had a deep love for his fellow human. He always thought himself not a cynic but a skeptic. He didn’t hate people, just the fucking idiots who tried to bully and control others. Carlin’s bits weren’t about revolution, but he always attacked arbitrary authority and the silly ways it manifested. Voting, religion, corporations, marketing etc. Calling bullshit kept him going.

He had a rare way of seeing the world. He could observe something and notice all the little bits that it funny. Finding the sexual innuendos of wartime rhetoric, discussing the minutiae of suicide and its proper procedure, it was his forte.

Eventually I had listened to every one of his specials at least 5-30 times. Carlin made me the person I am today. He gave countless kids caustic wit and sarcastic delivery. He had a cadence that just worked. It was like an internal iambic pentameter, which you just sorta picked up listening to the guy. While I’m no stand up, I’d like to think that most of humor is a direct influence of Carlin. He gave me the linguistic threads to weave some of the more deranged and perverse ideas that pop into my head at night when I can’t fall asleep.

He showed us that you don’t need to be mainstream or even well versed to rip down the most complex political systems in weird and original ways. The “bigger dick foreign policy theory” doesn’t need any Marx or Rousseau, just a bit everyday observation. I was no philosopher as a 13 year old kid, no deep thinker. I liked engineering and I was “smart” but not so much on the “heavy topics.” Carlin was a philosopher for the everyman. He reeled you into an abyss of scatological humor that somehow shook off the mental detritus. At a time of anti-intellectualism, falling reading comprehension, and general ignorance Carlin showed us a there was a time to be serious a time be silly and a fart joke fit both.

So raise a glass, and whip up a fart for a great man, comedian, philosopher and human being. George, wherever you are, I hope Joe Pesci keeps good watch over you.

Bloody Cynics: Why Struggle is a Logical Response

Well I just finished talking to a friend of mine and as usual he proclaimed his inherent rationality for knowing that “people are apathetic and stupid, and just follow whatever leader suits them.” Apparently I’m a naïve idealist for thinking that the revolution will ever happen and that collective struggle can change people’s lives. This got me thinking. How do we justify organizing for the long haul? Well I think there are a couple things to consider.

Old timey StrikeFirst people fail to understand that building a revolution isn’t some one off deal. Revolutions are built when small struggles blossoming into a bouquet of popular intransigence. We’re trained all our lives to hate and fight our fellow humans. Collective organizing is an act of unlearning that training, bit by bit inch by inch. With every small victory, we change the lives of those involved. They learn that desperation and survival aren’t the only options, and they too are people worthy of equality, freedom, happiness. In short they find a sense of dignity. Our struggle, even if it never sparks a revolution, at the very least makes lives worth living.

So many of us live lives devoid of purpose, or worse, delude ourselves into some collective pyramid scheme like the Catholic Church. Mass struggle gives us an answer that doesn’t involve buddy Christ or buddy Jack Daniels. When Camus asks us why man doesn’t commit suicide, revolutionaries have an answer. While others drown themselves in drugs, alcohol and sermons, those in struggle can live without anesthetizing themselves. Unlike my “rational” friend, I can go through life confident of what I’m supposed to do. There’s no existential angst, no “why are we here!” nonsense.

Now to get back down to less highfalutin language, let’s just look at the facts. Direct action gets the goods, simple as that. The Labor movement didn’t bring about a socialist utopia (yet), but it did stop children from working in mines, or loosing their limbs in industrial looms. The civil rights movement didn’t end the exploitation of black working class folk, but it did help end most of institutionalized racism. I’d say both of those things are worth fighting, even ding for on their own merits. What’s great is that these worthwhile everyday struggles are all part of the revolutionary project.

A revolutionary movement is really an evolutionary movement. It’s a slow, long slog through victory and defeats. Slowly but surely, we can change the world. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass at times like this, with forests of revolution cut down by raging fires of repression. But with all fires there lies a few seedlings, germinating in the ashes. Give it enough time and enough energy, and those seedlings of rebellion will overtake the world.