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November 18, 2013
Cuba Behind the wallAmericans are voracious for Cuba. Tour operators are standing in line to work through the complex paperwork required by the U.S. Department of Commerce to get licenses to take Americans to Cuba. Virtually any Cuba trip they put up on the market sells out within days. Americans are eager to lay eyes on the enigmatic island that has been denied to them by their own government for half a century.
Cuba, the central pillar of the Caribbean archipelago, the sea's largest island, only 90 miles from Florida, is still barricaded behind an iron curtain maintained by the U.S. government, a residue of the political conflicts of the early '60s. Nixon opened the door to communist China in the early '70s. The Soviet bloc collapsed in Eastern Europe. But in the Caribbean, the Cold War continues.
Since it is illegal for American companies to do business in Cuba, the island is off the grid in ways that few places today are. There is no American Express, no Mastercard and no McDonald's in Cuba. Cuba is outside the sphere of Corporate America. Under Cuban socialism, there are no advertising billboards. For Americans, who are exposed to thousands of advertising messages every day, the absence of corporate branding and ads is jarring. Even in China signs are in English. Not in Cuba.
Many say that Cuba is "stuck in time," and when you are in Old Havana, surrounded by old colonial architecture and well-preserved American cars from the 1950s, it is hard to escape the impression that you have passed through some kind of time warp and at any moment the camera will pan to Rod Serling, explaining that it's just another day, in the Twilight Zone.
Beyond the most obvious differences, other differences impress themselves on you gradually. Cuba is a poor country, but Cuba does not have the standard third world social structure with a small number of rich barricaded behind walls surrounded by masses of abject poverty.
The country's economic struggle is obvious. The infrastructure is crumbling. Public transportation has collapsed, replaced by an informal system of independent taxis that will give you a ride in their vintage, patched-together vehicles almost anywhere in town for one dollar in CUC (Cuban convertible currency). People in the tourist areas hustle hungrily for ways to get your money, by singing you a song, selling you something, letting you take their picture, or taking you home for a romp.
But though the country is obviously poor, there is no homelessness, almost no violent crime. The streets are safe. Healthcare is free for everyone, as is education through the college level. It is a society built on an alternative set of values. As close as it is to the U.S. geographically, culturally it is remote. A 45-minute plane ride from Miami and you may as well be in Kathmandu. And in the age when immersion in foreign cultures is near the top of the list of interests of American travelers, that makes Cuba a premium value.
And yet, though Cuba has been blocked out of American view, a black hole in the Caribbean, for 50 years, the histories of the two neighboring countries are tightly interwoven. With the Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuban Missile Crisis and all that followed, Cuba has been tightly wound up on the political affairs of the U.S. And before Castro, Cuba was a satellite of the U.S. Most of its productive lands were held by U.S. corporations. Havana was the world headquarters of the Mafia.
The U.S. and Cuba: so close and yet so at odds, like feuding Siamese twins. But the feuds are strictly on the political level. There is no animosity between the American and Cuban people. Americans are consumed with curiosity about Cuba and are driven to visit by any means available. American businesses, especially tourism businesses, can't wait for the doors to open. Cubans love Americans, are hung up on American culture, and many are trying to come to America to live.
What politician will find, as Nixon did with China, that the opening of Cuba can be his or her historical landmark? The embargo will end. The barriers will eventually come down. Everyone knows they will, but as with the Berlin Wall, no one knows exactly when. Many say the time will come when the Castros die or give up power and the Cuban exile community of the 1960s in the U.S. passes on. But why should the whole world wait for these eventualities to tear down an outmoded embargo? The U.S. trades has open doors with China, Russia and many countries that are socialist, monarchist or fascist, many that have virtually no human rights. Why single out the Cuban people for such punishment?
For now, there are openings in the wall through the people-to-people travel that allows cultural exchange in spite of the economic embargo. It was started by President Clinton in the 1990s, virtually curtailed under Bush, and then opened up again under Obama. For now, there is a crack in the wall and Americans are rushing to make it before it closes again.
April 16, 2013
Rationality in the Face of FearAfter this horrible bombing incident in Boston, there is, predictably, a move to further clamp down on people, a further incursion by the state into what used to be the territory of the individual. Our government has already gone to the extreme of practicing torture and Dick Cheney crowing about it, justifying it, falsely claiming that it produced important intelligence information. These types of American style sort of Stalinist hardliners are always there, always ready to exploit any tragedy to proclaim that now the state can reach further into your private life.
Typically at times like this, when tragedy has struck and fear and sadness and anger are all justified, those guys will try to tighten the clamps. But in Boston those bombs were in garbage cans at the finish line of a major event. How could that be permitted? It is security 101. This was not a surprising, tricky sort of attack. This was old school. Removing garbage cans or somehow securing them is just basic security practice. Therefore there is no justification to use this as a pretext for expanding the powers of the state. This is essentially a conservative position, but in this topsy turvy world, it seems conservatives are on the other side in this case. Conservatives have abandoned not only conservative principles, but rationality itself. There is no rational justification for more elaborate spying tools when these guys didn't even check the garbage cans at the finish line.
Since 9/11 we've been battered around through this repeating scenario over and over and it is time to react to these kinds of events rationally, not out of hysterical fear. And we need to stop letting politicians browbeat us into accepting whatever they are forcing down our throats claiming it will make us safer. Yeah, right! Like when? What century might we start to see some positive results from this approach? I am not sure what the answers are to all these problems. I would say there are some good places to start. Besides removing garbage cans from places like that that are obvious targets of bombers who want to get lots of people, we might want to give some thought to stopping bombing other countries. Who knows? It might help? There's never been much evidence of any of these attacks originating overseas. But Whatever is causing all the violence in this country, it might be good to consider changing the state policies of violence. If we are bombing other countries, we shouldn't be surprised if someone does want to bomb us back.
But that is beside the point. We likely will never know the truth about this incident, as we don't about so many others. I haven't heard who the media is assigning guilt to at this moment. Someone is probably doing focus groups to see what will have the best effect. But in any case, it is time for some rationality. We should not allow ourselves to be manipulated through fear. Enough already.
March 17, 2013
Back to BlastingFor years I have not been writing on this site. I started it right after the Supreme Court stopped the voting in Florida and selected George W. Bush to be president. I was so infuriated by that, and by the media's response, or lack of response, that I decided to have my own media through which I could speak out, even if I only had a few listening.
I wanted it to be blunt and irreverent as the underground papers I had seen in the late '60s. As the attack on Iraq approached in 2003, the site got up to almost 30,000 hits a day. The Guardian listed it as one of four "anti-war weblogs" in its special report on the anti-war movement. It was among the sites blocked in China. The Memory Hole had this to say about Headblast: "Host David Cogswell provides head-jarring anti-media media coverage and commentary on passing events in the temporal world. It's like a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, the effect of which 'is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick.'"
The Sideshow said, "There's a maddening lack of permalinks on Headblast's broadsheet-style front page, but it's fun to read and a bit too quotable. Wow, I can remember when I had that kind of energy - and coffee can compensate for only so much. Much is quotable, so here's just one:
Nixon Rises From Hell
Democratic Senator Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, speaking out against Bush administration attempts to seize autocratic power and conduct a war with no consent, said, "For all of their blustering about how al-Qaida is determined to strike at our freedoms, this administration shows little appreciation for the constitutional doctrines and processes that have preserved those freedoms for more than two centuries ... I have not seen such executive arrogance and secrecy since the Nixon administration, and we all know what happened to that group." Interesting choice of words. What indeed did happen to that group? Some of them -- Cheney and Rumsfeld for example -- have resurfaced and are in control of the government right now. "
Around the time Obama was elected I changed my ways and stopped posting every day. For one thing, I had said pretty much everything I had to say about politics. Obama was still doing most of the most despicable things Bush did, extending the Bush overreaches as if the power had not changed at all and the overriding agenda just kept rolling. I got tired of repeating the same warnings when everything I feared most came to pass anyway and there seemed to be little anyone could do to affect it. I used the time instead to publish a few books, Existentialism For Beginners, Zinn For Beginners and Unions For Beginners.
Now it is a whole new period and I'm going to start posting blogs again on this page, but in a different way than before, with a slightly altered set of concerns and focus. So here we go.
March 22, 2013
Shifting SandsThe world is changing so fast now on such fundamental levels that no one really knows what is happening. It's a good time for snake oil salesmen and anyone a little bit shady who proclaims to have answers and to be able to predict where things are going. The forces in motion now are leading inevitably to tumultuous outcomes, but no human mind has the capacity to assimilate it, to see it on a macro level, say, from the viewpoint of the gods. To the extent that we can get a glimpse of where we are headed, it's so scary no one wants to look at it head on. And the suppression of one's own apprehensions just heightens the tension.
Many predictions have actually come true. The social conditions portrayed by Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Philip K. Dick have become real in many ways. The predictions of Marshall McLuhan about the effects of media were remarkably on target. But we've evolved so far now that even his projections are reaching their limit. It is a deeply troubled time. The social and political structures, the financial systems of the past cannot accommodate the realities of the present. They are obsolete, dysfunctional. The economic system has become so perverted that it no longer functions as a viable system of exchange to underlie a civilization. It has become a manipulated tool that undermines the social fabric and is producing an increasingly diseased social organism. Things are vastly out of whack.
In the tumult of social upheaval, two forces stand astride vying for dominance. One is corporatism, what is effectively the ruling order of the world today, though we like to talk a lot about democracy. As the transnational corporate state tightens its lethal grip on world civilization, the democratic forces, the grassroots resistance of freedom loving people against tyranny are coalescing and still very tentatively challenging the corporate world order.
In this confrontation we will discover if indeed Alexis de Tocqueville was right when he said that once the world had crossed from the aristocratic period to the democratic period it could never go back. If he is right, we have reason to be heartened. And we do have some mathematical reasoning on our side -- the side of democracy -- as well. The .01 percent who own and command virtually everything are greatly outnumbered.
The present tendencies do not present a very hopeful picture, however. And the stakes are high. There is a great deal of scientific information (I know, America is anti-science -- ! How did that happen?) that indicates that if the democratic forces do not wrench control from the predatory capitalist forces that are now wreaking havoc on the earth with a virutally free hand, the survival of the species itself is gravely threatened. I know it is almost impossible for human beings to imagine their own death, let alone that of the human species. But Mother Nature is likely to offer a few demonstrations that will remind us of our place in the overall scheme of things.
On the positive side, I was very encouraged by the way people behaved in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. On our present course, further catastrophes will keep coming at least to the point at which people wake up and realize that the world they've been hypnotized to believe in is not real. The real one will come crashing down. And we'll realize that burning up the surface of the earth is too big a price to pay for the enhancement of the corporate balance sheet. That realization will come, hopefully in time for us as a species to save ourselves.
After so many years of not blogging, I feel like Rip Van Winkle coming back to a world I left behind, a vastly transformed world. How much has Facebook changed the world in the last five years? No one really knows. No one yet knows the scope of the change or where it is leading. We can feel the change. We can observe many features of the change, but no one really can see the whole, size it up on a global scale. It's happening too fast, it's too new.
In the wake of Sandy I saw people help each other, care for each other, remember that we are a community and we are connected to all other members of the human community. The value system that bombards us constantly from the corporate media, urging consumption, materialism and dog-eat-dog selfishness, just dropped away. As effectively discredited as social connectedness has been by the corporate state's propaganda machines, it just pops right out again when misfortune strikes on a broad scale. We are socially in denial of the catastrophes we are brewing. Intelligent discussion of climate change is practically verboten in order to protect the oil world order. We have therefore made practically no preparation for dealing with the disasters we are creating. We will, however, change very quickly as those disasters manifest with increasing frequency. It's a mixed blessing, a yin-yang slap in the face, a colossal zen koan. But it's a kernel of hope amid a storm of chaos.
So if you'll permit me to ramble on...
Confronting Corporatism -- In many of the discussions I have with people about the problems Americans are facing now, I find myself coming back to a single, central problem: the expansion of corporate power to the point where it dominates our society and much of the world. I believe that the expansion of corporate power is the central political issue of our time. It is not a partisan issue because one: it is written in the founding documents that power resides in the people, not in an aristocracy corporate or otherwise. And two, because the corporatocracy has coopted both parties. There is no non-corporate party in the two-party system. Both Bush Sr. and Clinton were for NAFTA. There was virtually no opposition. But NAFTA has not lived up to its promise for the people of either Mexico or the US. It has only worked out for Corporate America.
In "Unions For Beginners" I outlined how the biggest corporations in America banded together in the early 1970s and set an agenda to take power over political processes in America. We can easily see how successful their effort has been. But few people are probably aware that the takeover of America by the corporations was not just a natural evolution. It was a planned agenda that succeeded spectacularly.
The problem is that the corporate state operates on the principles of a corporation, to maximize profits only. And corporations are focused on quarterly profits, often at the expense of long-term considerations. It does not work as the guiding ethos of a society. A corporate entity cannot moderate itself. It cannot act on human concerns. A society cannot be run that way.
The rampant abuse of the earth cannot continue forever. Sooner or later humanity is going to confront the devastating effects of predatory industrial capitalism. The sooner we do, the better chance we have of saving ourselves and the quality of life we got used to before we fouled the environment to the verge of inhabitability.
For the past dozen years I've been working on a book called "Confronting Corporatism: Existential Politics in the 21st Century." It deals with the tendency for capitalism to evolve into corporatism, which is a name Mussolini used to describe fascism, "the merger of state and corporate power."
That evolution has been taking place in the US for a long time and at this point it's no longer a "what-if" proposition. It's more a matter of coming to a reckoning of the fact that the corporate-state merger is essentially a fait accompli, and then look at the ramifications of that. This is our world. This is our time. What do we do now?
When I started working on "Confronting Corporatism," the idea was a little more obscure than it is now. At this point the takeover of the country by a relatively small number of banks and corporations is pretty much common knowledge. The outrage is widespread, whether it's channeled into the Tea Party side or the Occupy side. But few people know what to do about it.
The Tea Party folks just let the situation turn into a boondoggle in which they ended up putting their passion behind the Republican forces who represent the most lethal part of the corporate elite that is robbing them. The Occupy side, on the other hand, has waged an interesting psychological campaign that has produced some creative activism, actions that really touch people's lives, like buying bad debt and canceling it. That kind of thing shows a creative way to confront the power that is so overwhelming and oppressive.
Even as I have left "Confronting Corporatism" idle for periods, the subject becomes increasingly relevant. So I've gotten it out again to work on it one more time. Maybe its time has come, if it's not too late. A dozen years is not a long time to work on a book. "Existentialism For Beginners" took 30 years from the first time I made a note of the idea of the book until its completion.
In all this time of stewing over "Confronting Corporatism" while I watched the increasing momentum and aggressiveness of the corporate juggernaut I did manage to come up with a list of suggestions for actual reforms that need to be enacted to take back for the people the power that has been coopted by corporations employing their lobbyists in Washington.
It's not "10 Easy Steps." It's more like 10 ridiculously fantastic improbabilities in the current climate. But if millions of people changed their minds just a little bit, a different world would be possible in spite of all the biggest guns and bombs in the world. This is the power of an idea.
If people can shake off the fog induced by the tsunami blast of propaganda and misinformation in their faces constantly and begin to understand what has happened, how the power has been shifted through a series of sleight of hand tricks, how they have been robbed and their democracy taken away, the war is won conceptually. The goal is a more democratic and humane government, as opposed to a corporate aristocracy. That's all. It's a matter of re-engaging the democratic process.
So to end the night on a positive note let me pass on to you my favorite quote of the day from one of a handful of people who really give me some hope for the future. Elizabeth Warren: "How many billions have to be laundered for drug lords before we consider shutting down a bank?"
"This World's For People (Not Corporations)", an anti-corporatism anthem
Throughout history, the really fundamental changes in societies have come about not from dictates of governments and the results of battles but through vast numbers of people changing their minds -- sometimes only a little bit.
Some of the changes have amounted to profound transformations -- for instance the transition fomr the Roman Empire to Medieval Europe, or from the Middle Ages to modern times. Others have been more specific, such as the constitution of democratic governments in England and America, or the termination of slavery as an accepted institution. In the latter cases, it is largely a matter of people recalling that no matter how powerful the economic or political or even military institution it persists because it has legitimacy, and that legitimacy comes from the perceptions of people. People give legitimacy and they can take it away. A challenge to legitimacy is probably the most powerful force for change to be found in history.
To the empowering principle that the people can withhold legitimacy, and thus change the world, we now add another: By deliberately chagning the internal image of reality, people can change the world. Perhaps the only limits to the human mind are those we believe in.
Willis Harman Global Mind Change
December 1, 2013
Facing Facebook -- The New Intersubjectivity
Recently commenting on the headspinning rate of change in the world today I mentioned Facebook and said that no one really knows how much it is changing the world. Facebook in particular, and a multitude of other rapidly evolving technologies, are changing the world and the possibilities faster than the human mind is equipped to process it. It will take a very long time to ascertain what changes are taking place in human life and the human species. By then the whole frame of reference may be so different that this question will be turned upside down. What on earth were we? the people of the future will ask.
Facebook has been with us a number of years already. Many changes have taken place already, and we will evolve along a different trajectory now. And few of us even pretend or attempt to understand what the differences are in life pre-Facebook and now, in the times of Facebook, now and forever more! But we feel big changes. We just don't quite know what they are.
There's been quite a bit written about how to use social media for marketing, or to grow your business. And some of the people who have been working on that for years are beginning to distill some principles about effective marketing using social media. This is all very worthwhile, but in the midst of the collective mad scramble to earn a living, who has time to give a lot of thought into how Facebook is changing us, not as consumers but just as human beings. We know it is changing us. But we don't know how and we assume we are stuck with it, whatever it is, so why worry about it?
I recently started noticing how often now in conversation I refer to something I saw on Facebook. I was hearing these words come out of my mouth, referring to something I saw on Facebook so often I became concerned. Am I becoming a halfwit? Has the media system finally succeeded in capturing me and neutralizing my brain? Has it turned me into the willing slave/citizen of Huxley's Brave New World? TV could never capture me and turn me into a couch potato watching repetitious sitcoms and game shows. But with Facebook have I finally met my Waterloo? I'm I at long last vanquished by the foe? A subservient serf, hypnotized into an inert state.
I pondered this. While I pondered it, I did not reduce my consumption of Facebook. I thought about it. Most of the most interesting news stories I see these days come to me through Facebook friends. So if someone says, "He doesn't read newspapers anymore, he gets his news from Facebook," it sounds like it very well might refer to someone who has been reduced to the level of an imbecile. But Facebook is not the source of the news. It's only a referral system. Previously I would go to Google News and see an aggregate of newslinks that would take me to various news organizations around the world. Or I might go to a news gathering site like Buzzflash.com to get news via a source that shares my general point of view on the news. Occasionally I would go directly to the newspaper's site itself, like the New York Times. But I would see the Times' stories on the other sites anyway.
Now I find that I do that much less. Much of my news comes to me by personal referral via Facebook. That often starts a ball rolling that I may follow up by doing some browsing around. But the original tip comes from Facebook. Actually not from, but through Facebook, from someone more or less known to me. Marketing people tell me that personal referral is the strongest influence on people making the decision to buy. I realize now that I am applying that to my news, somewhat. I see a lot of cool things on Facebook. It's coming through a network that I have personally fashioned, not just a random sampling of the masses.
I heard that Zuckerberg conceived Facebook as a utility, not as entertainment. And actually I have found it to be a very effective utility. So whatever other evils it may bring with it, it is not the equivalent of zoning in front of a sitcom on TV.
But forget about privacy. You can still have a measure of privacy in some ways if you want. But in general your life is now open to be examined by almost anyone who wants to. That could be a little scary. We really are living out many of the Philip K. Dick sci fi fantasies. Yes, one must adapt to that.
Facebook is the perfect, total surveillance instrument. And as in "Brave New World" the subjects not only do not resist, they flock eagerly to it. People say, "Well, the only people who are complaining must be criminals." Perhaps there are those who are so squeaky clean and built to prescription that they would not mind at all having their entire lives splashed across TV screens around the world. There are few who have no secrets, no areas of personal discretion. When everything is in the open, there can hardly be such areas. No one yet knows the implications of all these things. We've never experienced these conditions before.
Intersubjectivity That great word "intersubjectivity" has a newly enhanced meaning in the age of Facebook. Dictionary.com defines "intersubjective" as "comprehensible to, relating to, or used by a number of persons, as a concept or language." In essence intersubjectivity is a subjective experience shared by more than one person. Subjective refers to something existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought
In "The Electric Koolaid Acid Test" Tom Wolfe used the word "intersubjectivity" to refer to what happens to groups when they took LSD together. Groups who took acid together developed an intensified insight into one another that resulted in more immediate and nonverbal thought transfer among the group. The inner world of the individual is brought into the group. Some might call it an intensified level of mental telepathy, but those who don't believe in the existence of any such thing would still surely acknowledge that there are nonverbal forms of communication, facial expressions, gestures, a slap in the face.
With intersubjectivity, in inner world is brought outward into the shared space. What used to happen to tribes of acid heads is now happening to all of us who are on the Web. Our private lives are virtually gone now. Our private spaces and refuges are diminishing. Our way of life is increasingly resembling the technology-enabled totalitarian dystopias of Orwell and Huxley.
Now there are all these media beckoning for engagement, pulling me into them, creating the motivation to produce messages for Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc., leading to putting what used to be private thoughts out into the common space. "I'm feeding my dog now…" And everything else.
So what if I turn some of the time I usually spend writing in a notebook over to blogging, or posting on social media? What has changed? If I introduce my most personal, subjective ideas into the public, objective space, what is the change that has taken place?
I can speculate, but I do not know the answer to that question. These are questions whose answers may well manifest before we've had time to think about them and understand what is happening. Marshall McLuhan where are you now that we need you? McLuhan himself, a very Shakespearean-minded person himself, was driven frantic by the technological changes that were taking place. He just wished it would stop, he said. He wished people would just stop creating all these new technological realities. But given that that was not an option, he observed, it was a good idea to pay attention and see if you can get an idea what is happening before it is too late to matter.
We are still in the throes of the kind of social upheaval that McLuhan spoke about. McLuhan amazingly predicted much of the technological and social changes that would take place. He predicted this world, but now we are rapidly evolving beyond it.
Dear McLuhan did offer this hope, which I understand so much better now than when I first saw it. "There is absolutely no inevitability, as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening."
It was a sentence that struck me hard when I first read it in the ‘60s. Now I realize what it means in a way I couldn't grapple with then. I was so thrilled with all the fun countercultural developments that I had no sense of the horror McLuhan himself thought he was evoking. People thought he was celebrating the changes he referred to. But he said at the time that he was issuing warnings, not celebrating pop culture. He predicted the implosion of world culture and the danger of the resulting cultural collisions might bring.
The New Intersubjectivity
Intersubjectivity. If you are letting your personal space blend with the public space you are also letting the public space into your private life. It is becoming a question whether such a thing of privacy will have any meaning in the future.
Every time I get moved by a song, do I need to tweet it or Facebook it? Should I photograph all my meals? Are there any moments left when I would just want to be in my own space?
Facebook and the New Intersubjectivity
When I used to post every night – literally every night, compulsively – I was just in that flow of posting every night, letting it rip and not worrying too much about whether people thought my ideas were far out, because I knew they were. I knew I was far out of the mainstream of popular culture and it didn't seem like your views should be something you should hide and suppress. I did try to be persuasive. I tried to appeal to people with reason and compassion, though often I was enraged and I made it my business to express that. I was not particularly concerned about people being upset about my views.
Now in the age of Facebook, all the separate compartments of our lives merge. Our work life and our personal life are no longer separate, not nearly as much as a few years ago. It is a stark contrast to the way it was before Facebook in a very fundamental sense of what we do as human beings socially.
Now one must accommodate all those separate realities. Mark Zuckerburg, the prophet of Facebook, has decreed that privacy is no longer a relevant issue, it's obsolete -- I forget his precise verbiage.
But I disagree with him and believe that some privacy is an important part of a healthy society, and it is relative. It may only be that people go to the bathroom alone sometimes. Maybe it's only a private thought. Or maybe that is obliterated too. But what is a matter of concern now is how little privacy one does seem to have in contemporary America.
The possibility of having any privacy to speak of is greatly diminished in the Facebook era, but the essential principle of privacy is relative and cannot possibly cease to exist entirely. We know that the prince and the princess had sex because they have produced a child. We did not see them in the act. Not yet. That may well come to pass. But the fact that it has not yet been seen in full color on TV is the measure of their privacy.
We all have private thoughts, though we do sometimes seem to have fewer thoughts that are truly our own than ever before. And our private lives are now public, not just the celebrities. Increasingly it applies to all of us now. We are all stripped bare – by Facebook. Our living room is brought to our office mates in living color. It's hard to know how far anyone has really thought this out and understands where it is going, what the effect of all this is going to be on people.
Certainly many people have spoken about it, speculated about it, and it's good that they do because we are hurtling in a trajectory to God knows where and it may be good to try to get some idea where we are headed, what we are becoming. Many speculate wisely on it, but it's hard to believe anyone is very sure where this all heads and how the current fundamental changes in human behavior will affect the ultimate destiny of humankind and the greater web of life.
But I digress… The point I am trying to make is that with Facebook and myriad other developments in this direction in our society we have pushed our insides outside. Our subjective worlds have been pushed into the public arena. In a practically literal sense, we now share subjective states through social networking.
We have turned ourselves inside out. We share large psychological territories that used to be private, and we share them with more people than ever before. What does this mean? What effect will it have on us as a species? A species that has more effect than any other on the survival of life on planet Earth.
So whatever happens, wherever we are headed with this meteoric social evolution, it ain't stopping. We are all on board for the ride.
Now it is all out front. Whatever you are to anyone, you are to everyone. Not quite in an absolute sense, but in a stronger sense perhaps than ever before. Certainly our lives are more out front today than ever before. Trying to look at it and understand it is not only a reaction of fear of the powerful change wrought by social media and Internet connectivity. It can have beneficial effects. To the extent that everyone's private lives and beliefs are in front of everyone else, it could force us to be consistent, to stand up for what we believe in.
Social networking puts pressure on us to be the same person to our boss as to our brother in law, for the most part. One hopes you are not the same person to your boss as to your spouse, but the fact that it can even be suggested is indicative of how far we have progressed toward this new kind of intersubjectivity. Will human beings become like a human hive animating the earth as bees animate a beehive. Will we be linked together as a single consciousness as the bees are? Will we become like pod people: We do not think or feel, we survive, we endure.
Or will it unlock the greatest potentials of human history? Who knows? It's not impossible. The massive structural changes the Internet has brought to the world economy are wreaking havoc on all of the institutions of the pre-Internet age. Print media is struggling. Print journalism is another relative value. To paraphrase Jim Marrs, we don't have journalism anymore, we don't have journals, we have corporate messaging media.
A media environment where a vast majority of major media are owned by a small handful of corporations creates the necessity for an underground balance and the Internet has provided a medium for that alternative media, and a great deal of it has risen. Much of the online media launched in recent years has taken over territory once monopolized by a small group of media. As the ownership of major media consolidated and diversity of ownership and point of view dwindled into practically nothing, it created the necessity for some kind of alternative. And that has emerged on the Internet with a proliferation of alternative voices.
The corporate powers are forever trying to strangle that medium too as they have practically every other new medium that has emerged historically. But alternative media at this moment continues to thrive. Now with Facebook, ad infinitum, it seems more than ever that no one is entirely in control of what is happening.
Each of us must figure out individually how to navigate the new environment. Each of us must manage our public and private profiles, figure out what they want to do and how to do it. As society becomes more interwoven and the individuals become more interlocked, each of us must reconcile each part of ourselves with the other parts at the same time that we reconcile ourselves with each other in our social networking universe.
Now that we are all in public on Facebook, prospective employers can peruse whatever part of your personal life you have posted for them. Anyone else who wants to research you for good or ill has many resources through which they can dig into your life. It may well force us all to be honest. But then, as George Carlin pointed out, that is not really possible. Society is built on layers of bullshit, and cannot stand without its adhesive qualities.
If I'm a birther or a Truther or a Ku Klux Klanner or a Liberal Commie Scum, I'm not going to be able to keep that much of a secret. That is, unless I am willing to totally suppress my individuality. And that prospect, of masses of people suppressing their own individual impulses to think their own thoughts, is too close for comfort.
Facebook and the New Intersubjectivity is a subject we have only begun to explore here. There is much to be said in follow up to these propositions. But now a word from our sponsor.
To be continued…
March 22, 2013
Why I Wrote Unions for Beginners
This is adapted from a presentation I made at a book launch party at the Hoboken Public Library
This book became necessary because America had evolved into a sort of post union period where the influence of unions had faded. The awareness of them had been wiped out of the national consciousness to the point where it seems that most Americans had very little idea of what unions are or were and the role they played in our history. Americans took for granted weekends and the eight-hour day and 40-hour week and healthcare benefits. As these benefits slip away, many people have no idea that those benefits only came about through a great deal of struggle over many decades in which many people were brutalized and many killed. It was a struggle that must really be characterized as a long war, a class war.
At the same time that union membership declined to a very small portion of the population, the standard of living of the majority of Americans was slipping year by year and the resources of the country were being controlled by an ever smaller minority. Unions came to center stage of the political arena in recent years when Republican governors such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin, doing the bidding of rich patrons like the Koch brothers, tried to make it illegal for state employees to bargain collectively, to join forces to defend themselves and negotiate for better pay and working conditions. Unions had pretty much been eradicated from the private sector, but still had a foothold in the public sector and the big corporate forces behind Republicans like Scott Walker wanted to wipe out what was left.
As I looked into the rapidly declining standard of living in America and tried to figure out what had happened to create such a precipitous decline in my country during my lifetime, I kept coming back to the growth of corporate power, the increasing control that major corporations exercise over all aspects of American life. Increasingly big corporations have come to control the political system, the legislative system, the regulatory agencies and the media. They leveraged their financial power to decide who could win elections and when they got their candidates into office they were able to use their financial power to influence politicians through huge donations, which earn them in return much larger payoffs, usually at the taxpayers expense. We were the ones left out. And lately the .01 percent seems to be going in for the kill. Winner take all.
It is a vicious cycle and for middle class and working Americans it is increasingly a losing battle and a downward spiral. Everywhere I looked as I studied these trends I saw that these patterns have repeated themselves through history and that the rights of working people have never been given through the generosity of the owners and bosses, but have had to be won through bitter struggle. One person opposing the mighty powers that control society doesn't have a chance. But many people joining together can exert a powerful force.
This has proven itself over and over throughout history and in many realms of life. When we think of unions we tend to think of factories and mines and so forth, but this basic principle of people banding together to fight for their rights applies in many spheres. We saw it in action very dramatically in America's civil rights struggles in the '60s and in the struggle to end the Vietnam War. The historical record now makes it clear that the Vietnam War was ended because of the activism against it, which finally became so tumultuous that the war was no longer a profitable venture for the military industrial complex that perpetrated it. The history of the struggle for civil rights is also clear. If African Americans had waited for their rulers to grant them their Constitutional rights they would still be waiting.
The same kind of processes took place earlier in the historical progression of the unions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The right wing corporate powers who now control our media and even our educational system have effectively eradicated this history so people no longer realize where their rights and privileges came from and the struggles that took place to give middle class people the rights and relative prosperity of the late 20th Century.
The old maxim resonates very powerfully today that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it, and this is what has been happening in American life. The middle class is shrinking, people are falling into poverty and homelessness in alarming numbers. Our rights and protections are being taken away piece by piece and people see it happening but don't know what to do about it.
The politicians stripped away regulations on banks and speculation that had helped America maintain economic stability since the Roosevelt days, and when that led to the collapse of the world financial system, the politicians bailed out the criminal banks with our tax money and then turned around and started trying to balance the budget by taking away our Social Security and Medicare. They call them entitlements, but we paid for them. They are insurance policies we all pay into. They are contracts with the American people, and the politicians, under the bidding of their corporate sponsors, are now preparing to steal them from us, to break the contracts and take away the retirement funds and medical insurance we have all paid for all our lives. It's clear that something is very wrong, but as Americans watch helplessly as this process unfolds they do not know what to do.
So how do you fight a power that is so strong it controls markets, the government, the politicians, the media and practically every aspect of American life?
In my research for this book as well as for my previous books on Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, I kept coming back to the unions. Before the Civil Rights struggle, before the anti Vietnam War struggles there were the unions. The unions were the forces that laid the groundwork for the empowerment of the working people of America. That struggle created the middle class and the economic infrastructure for prosperity. And what were the unions? They were not some great force that appeared on the scene to rescue the people from oppression, they were the people themselves. They were people who had been empowered by an idea, a principle. It was an idea that was very dangerous to the big capitalist owners who were used to pushing people around any way they wanted and getting their way easily. Since it was such a dangerous idea to the established powers, it was suppressed with great brutality. And believe me that brutality is still there ready to be unleashed at any time that the establishment cannot get its way peacefully by hypnotizing and drugging its subjects into voluntary submission. Unfortunately humanity has not evolved beyond this kind of barbarism.
But unions, the idea of banding together, of collective bargaining, can form the necessary counterbalance to corporate power that can keep capitalism a healthy system. Unrestrained greed is a basic tendency of capitalism, but it is a self destructive force when there is no countervailing force to balance it, to moderate it. When too much is controlled by too few, the system collapses and then everyone loses, even the big capitalists. That's the situation we're in now: an economy that no longer works. People don't have the money to buy the things the big capitalists produce and everything is stuck. There are scores of empty homes foreclosed on by the banks, and similarly large numbers of homeless people living on the streets. Things are out of whack.
It's clear that the time for that great idea has come again. It is time for Americans to relearn their history, in particular this part of history that has been effectively suppressed by those who have profited most by the decline of unions. Therefore the For Beginners publishing company decided to bring out this book. And I was lucky to be the person they chose to do it.
The For Beginners series is designed to take ideas that are considered to be difficult to understand and to break them down, simplify them and discuss them in a way that is understandable and accessible to regular people. The challenge is not to cover a subject exhaustively down to every detail, but to distill the essence of an idea into a 150-page format that is approachable and accessible by people who are not experts or necessarily scholars, but are beginners to the subject.
You may have heard the quote, "I'm sorry to have written such a long letter, but I didn't have time to write a shorter one." That is the challenge of the Beginners series, to cover a subject effectively but briefly, to distill it to its essence.
So Unions for Beginners looks at the history of unions and tries to come to grips with the essential ideas that powered that movement as well as the epic story of the blood-and-guts struggle that it took to put that idea into action and make it an effective force for lifting a population out of oppression and poverty. Unions gave regular people the leverage to fight back against the power of big money. And that's why that idea is so important today.
March 20, 2013
Legacy of ShameThe 10-year anniversary of the Iraq War passed with minimal comment. Peter Baker, writing in the New York Times, said, "The president joked about wearing a green tie for a belated St. Patrick's Day celebration. Congress noisily focused on whether spending cuts would force the cancellation of the White House Easter egg roll. Cable news debated whether a show about young women has too much sex in it. But on one topic, there was a conspiracy of silence: Republicans and Democrats agreed that they did not really want to talk about the Iraq war."
Not surprising. The Democrats have plenty of blame to share. They went along with it. They gave Bush and Cheney a free hand to destroy a defenseless people. They might have stopped it. Few of them even tried. It was not hard to see that the drive to war on Iraq was a fraud, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. But Bush wanted to be a war president. Cheney wanted to carve up the Iraqi oil fields to distribute the goodies among his friends in the oil industry. It appeared that nothing would stop Bush and the neocons from attacking Iraq. The biggest anti-war demonstration in history took place on the eve of the attacks. People marched all over the world. But it made no apparent difference. The ones who may have had the power to stop it, people like Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, just rolled over and went along with it. Not many have much to be proud of.
The New York Times, in spite of the quality of reporting quoted above, has its share of blame for the catastrophe too, with its fraudulent reporting by Judith Miller, using information fed to her directly by the corrupt Ahmad Chalabi, who gave her false information to promote his own agenda. As the undisputed head of the newspaper world, The New York Times' reporting gave some of the strongest support to the false claim that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Later the paper had to admit its error of publishing false information fed to Miller by the criminal Chalabi and apologize.
Dennis Kucinich on the 10th anniversary of the war's beginning proposed that Americans demand a truth and reconciliation commission such as South Africa had after Apartheid fell. "We must demand that America, our nation, establish a fully empowered Commission of Truth and Reconciliation, so that those responsible for misleading us into annihilating innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere be brought forward to a public accountability in a formal process of fact-finding, of inquiry, of public testimony, of admission, of confession. There is no other way out of the moral cul-de-sac in which reside the monstrous crimes of mass murder, torture, kidnapping and rendition other than atonement."
I think he is right. But it's also very far fetched to think that such a thing could happen in America today. But hey, not long before the Berlin Wall came down, almost no one believed it would happen in their lifetime. So there is always hope. Americans now live in such a fog of fraudulence and lies it's hard to see straight.
Meanwhile, the same shadowy forces that seemed to stay in place as Bush handed power to Obama are trying to cook up another war, this time in Iran, and this one would no doubt be even more disastrous than the one in Iraq. The country spent three or four trillion dollars at least in Iraq, nearly bankrupted America's middle class, though the top .01 percent is doing better than ever.
Besides the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed by our "rescue," the depleted uranium US forces scattered throughout the country has left a horrible legacy of birth defects, a term that does not come near to evoking the horror it refers to.
Thomas Young, a veteran of Iraq who is now in hospice, wrote a Last Letter to Bush and Cheney "on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq, ... the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and ... those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives." It's probably the best statement we'll get of the outrage piled upon outrage represented by the Iraq War and all the other Bush disasters that we are now living with.
And I quote: "I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans -- my fellow veterans -- whose future you stole. Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage."
It will take a long time for us to be able to do a true reckoning of the damage of that senseless, horrible war.
In the 21st Century, being naive to the workings of corporate media can get you killed.
Chomsky For Beginners written by David Cogswell, illustrated by Paul Gordon, published by For Beginners LLC, is a documentary comicbook about Noam Chomsky the man, the linguist and the political voice, but more than anything, it is a guide to media propaganda, how the corporate-owned mass media are designed not to inform you but to manipulate you for the benefit of the owners.
Interviews with Noam Chomsky
Post Script, Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President by J.H. Hatfield, second paperback edition, published by Soft Skull Press, 2001 For more on the late J.H. Hatfield, who wrote the controversial Bush biography Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, see below The following piece was written for the French and Spanish translations of J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, published by Editions Timeli in Geneva, Switzerland. (See www.timeli.ch.) More Book Credits:
Post Script, Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President by J.H. Hatfield, second paperback edition, published by Soft Skull Press, 2001
For more on the late J.H. Hatfield, who wrote the controversial Bush biography Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, see below
The following piece was written for the French and Spanish translations of J.H. Hatfield's Fortunate Son: The Making of an American President, published by Editions Timeli in Geneva, Switzerland. (See www.timeli.ch.)
More Book Credits:
See review at Playstation.
March 20, 2013Oh my. When I get back to this space, I can't resist making the same kinds of comments that generated the most hatred and scorn of me in the past. I was trying to moderate myself this time around. Make myself more palatable to a wider range of people, the broad mainstream that I come into contact with in my day-to-day life. And to many of those good people my beliefs are shocking. If you are used to Fox News, most of what I believe about the world would probably offend you. And there are many areas I would not even attempt to discuss. And yet, if we talk about other things besides the kinds of things that might threaten the ideology and world view of mainstream corporate TV, then we can communicate fine and have a congenial conversation. I often recall a particular sentence from Chomsky, the one that comes back to me more than any other of the thousands of sentences I have read or heard from him. "Never underestimate the power of the propaganda system." People in America have been massaged and bombed with a constant attack of misinformation. It functions well to keep a population compliant while a crime syndicate robs it.
In any case, once I enter this space, this HeadBlast space, those same kinds of comments occur to me. So this page should probably be avoided by people who believe the news they get on mainstream media is anything like the real world.
So. On that note...
An Anti-Corporatist AnthemThe government has fallen under control
of a corporate criminal class
with the power to cause a rupture so big
it knocked the economic system on its ass
and when the smoke had cleared it was plain to see
the heist had been complete
The wealth had been taken from working people
to the hands of the corporate elite
This world's for people
Politicians feed at the trough
This world's for people
The greedy and powerful never learn
This world's for people
Pacifica Radio provides coverage of the ongoing wars and the anti-war movement from the people's point of view instead of the corporate media spin. You can get it on WBAI 99.5 FM in the New York area, or online at wbai.org. See pacifica.org for information about other Pacifica stations, KPKT, KPFA, KPFK and WPFW. Also check Democracy Now, the best news program around.. Make Noise! Be an Active Citizen! (c)Copyright Any copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use Act:
Pacifica Radio provides coverage of the ongoing wars and the anti-war movement from the people's point of view instead of the corporate media spin. You can get it on WBAI 99.5 FM in the New York area, or online at wbai.org. See pacifica.org for information about other Pacifica stations, KPKT, KPFA, KPFK and WPFW. Also check Democracy Now, the best news program around..
Make Noise! Be an Active Citizen!
(c)Copyright Any copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use Act:
Any copyrighted material is posted under the Fair Use Act: