“As a first step in the new direction, the government had negotiated with the bicycle industry an immediate 30 per cent increase in production, but with at least half of all the bicycles and motorcycles being provided as kits to be put together by the users themselves. Detailed instruction sheets had been printed, and assembly shops with all the necessary tools would be installed without delay in town halls, schools, police stations, army barracks, and in parks and car parks.”—Andre Gorz, ‘Utopia for a Possible Dual Society’
Flann O’Brien as revolutionary socialist?
“Nowadays I teach about punk in universities, to sophisticated New York students. Many of them regard LGBT rights as the last remaining major social issue of their generation (and that’s not to diminish their importance). Getting the correlation between, say, the Clash’s White Riot and the group’s own experience of conflict, and seeing how it describes the street fighting Britain of the time, sometimes comes as a surprise. The immediacy of pop reacting in protest is not dead, but it is no longer necessarily expected, and the life support is beeping.”—
"Unless one is employed in high-level research or in sectors that still have a craft base, the inability to improve one’s tools or to invent new ways of doing things virtually rules out any individual advance in the ‘trade’. Instead of growing cumulatively richer, as in the old trades, social skills generally remain determined by the overall development of stocks of socialised knowledge throughout one’s ‘professional life’. Development of this kind - usually termed ‘innovation’ - is only rarely the work of individual subjects, or of a creative insight produced by someone ‘in the trade’ seeking to improve existing tools. Instead„ it usually emanates from research departments in which almost everyone is doing fragmented work."
André Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class: An Essay on Post-Industrial Socialism
Watched the Max Hastings documentary on the First World War and found it very interesting, thought-provoking if not actually polemical. My main issue with it was, firstly, the persistent notion that the threat to British independence as a world power, as posed by a victorious Germany on the continent forced, or justified, their involvement (a more subtle point, made by Hew Strachey, was the importance of upholding the ‘rule of law’, in relation to Belgian neutrality, to the economic interests of Britain’s empire). Yet how does this compare to Germany’s position in seeking to expand its own power - beyond the economic - and at what point does British hegemony cease to justify as a cause the bloody slaughter across the continent? Likewise, when dealing with the outcome of the war - the necessary peace, as it were - it is posed that there was no other possible accommodation of a belligerent Germany in the European order before World War II. This, of course, poses the question of how the post-WWII settlement established a lasting peace between Germany and the rest of Europe, essentially it would seem by establishing a more closely integrated economic and later political order - that, nevertheless, the UK notably remains on the periphery of. Which brings me to my third idea, relating to my current reading in Foucault of the German origins of ordo- and neo-liberalism in the post-war conception of an economically-founded political order - “History had said no to the German state, but now the economy will allow it to assert itself” - and its influence on the EU. Without wishing to indulge in the anti-German rhetoric which features among Irish reactionaries, left and right, I wonder if the financial crisis has indeed revealed a third phase of German struggle for hegemony, this time economic rather than military, and politically motivated by a constrained ideal of law rather than the authoritarian or totalitarian usurping of it.
“Liberalism, neoliberalism, conservatism, libertarianism … at least in America, they are all just a blur. People who live elsewhere in the world have little feeling for the American cultural drumbeat that keeps insisting politics has no theoretical grounding - it is only something dubbed “human nature” that can be theorized. America, that fabled Land of Neoliberalism in European parlance, soldiers on, blissfully unaware that it is neoliberal.”—Philip Mirowski, Never Let A Serious Crisis Go To Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived The Financial Meltdown (Verso, 2013), p. 29
The joke fails because it’s based on what’s odd being that adults express their feelings, rather than that they have to pay someone to be able (and feel comfortable) to do so. The article makes the infantilisation even more explicit: “the feeble approximation of a mature self-respecting grownup”; and both of the subject and the therapeutic relationship - “felt much better after the kindly listening man, a so-called doctor, told him that it was okay to cry”.
No I’m pretty sure the joke is actually ‘pretending to confirm the irrational self-doubt of the reader’. They do articles like this all the time, their ‘Figure Out What It Is You Love, And Then Do It On Evenings And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life’ was a particularly successful example. The joke is ‘Yes, the world sucks as much as you think it does’. It’s supposed to make you squirm a bit, but at the same time, it’s on The Onion - so ultimately, in theory, you know it’s obviously not true and in a roundabout way they’re confirming that you’re wrong to think that about yourself.
I mean maybe it’s a bit too far given the subject matter, and maybe I’m not explaining this well, but I think you’re misinterpreting what’s supposed to be funny about it.
But your explanation in the end applies just as well, if not better, to my interpretation anyway: the suckiness of the world does not consist in making adults into children, but forcing them to pay for the privilege of genuinely expressing themselves as adults. The Onion is taking (even if only ostensibly) the first line, as I’ve clearly shown with the quotes, and by doing so in many ways negating the second - it’s an odd way to satirise the failings of the modern world by restigmatising people’s genuine reactions to it. And no, I don’t think it’s just an issue of proportion. I mean, I do see what you’re saying about it conforming to the Onion’s normal line of satire, but at best here they’re blurring two distinct criticisms (infantilisation and commodification) together which, as I see it at least, have two very different imports and validities, whether reflected ‘ironically’ or not.
Really, my concern writing the above post was trying to restrain my own scepticism/criticism of therapy (it doesn’t help that one particularly abiding memory of my own brief experience of it was placing a fifty euro note into a clammy palm for an essentially cash-under-the-table private session), since it’s hard to separate - and psychotherapy, I think, deliberately makes it so - personal bad experience from broader critique, and I’m well aware that many others have a greater need of it (or at least the solace and care which it provides) than I had or will hopefully ever have.
During the six-year study of 2,000 people aged 50 and over, which was presented last weekend by University of Chicago neuroscientist Prof John Cacioppo, the loneliest participants were more than twice as likely to die as the least lonely. Previous studies have linked social isolation to a range of health problems, from high blood pressure to heart attacks. The converse is also true: a sense of being part of a community is a key factor in longevity. So the research is fairly unequivocal – loneliness is a major health issue.
Yet when was the last time you heard a politician prioritise something as nebulous as building a sense of community or creating opportunities for social engagement? (And how likely would you be just to tune out if you did?)
Well, there was Bertie Ahern and his interest in Robert Putnam’s ‘Bowling Alone’ as part of a crusade for voluntarism - or as we now see it, especially as in reflected in the post-crisis UK ‘Big Society’ rhetoric, as part of the abdication of the state in the area of social services - but politicians will give lip service to anything as long as it doesn’t involve directly threatening the economic order from which these problems inevitably flow. You can see this in the discourse surrounding the more acute effects of loneliness in terms of mental health and suicide; and it ties in with what I’m reading in Gorz about the weaknesses of the world outside of, or free from, work. Who is lonelier, the forcibly unemployed, or the person in the dead-end or bullshit job?
“It represents a sphere of sovereignty wrested (or to be wrested) from a world governed by the principles of productivity, aggression, competition, hierarchical discipline, etc. Capitalism owes its political stability to the fact that, in return for the dispossession and growing constraints experienced at work, individuals enjoy the possibility of building an apparently growing sphere of individual autonomy outside of work.”—
André Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class: An Essay on Post-Industrial Socialism
"Essentially, the ‘freedom’ which the majority of the population of the overdeveloped nations seeks to protect from ‘collectivism’ and the ‘totalitarian’ threat, is the freedom to create a private niche protecting one’s personal life against all pressures and external social obligations. This niche may be represented by family life, a home of one’s own, a back garden, a do-it-yourself workshop, a boat, a country cottage, a collection of antiques, music, gastronomy, sport, love, etc. Its importance varies inversely with the degree of job satisfaction and in direct proportion with the intensity of social pressures […]
The industrialisation, through home computers, of physical and psychical care and hygiene, children’s education, cooking or sexual technique is precisely designed to generate capitalist profits from activities still left to individual fantasy.”
One of the many unsolved puzzles is the absence of a coherent left wing narrative, writes Chris Johns
Not even sure where to start with this. Probably shouldn’t start. Fuck sake.
I think what’s so weird about this is the assumption that politics, especially on the level of society-wide change that the Left almost by definition aspires to, is equivalent to some kind of business opportunity. The very language of “exploit” gives it away, of course, but phrases like “The near-death experience of the world economy was an open goal for lefties” assumes the obstacle to left progress was actually a prosperous economy and not entrenched networks of power and ideology.
The bulk of the article is a rehash of dinner-party talking points about ‘socialism’: the economic crisis is caused by public debt, no-one likes socialist policies, the US and the UK are already on the rebound (“full employment is now in sight in both countries”), and of course the old chestnut of it not being like college in the 1970s anymore, combined with the Stalinist bogeyman: “Even when markets have let us down so badly, we prefer them to the even ghastlier alternatives” - that’s assuming we’re given a genuine choice.
The most asinine part of the piece is however the conclusions, offered to “thoughtful left-wingers” as “opportunities […] to make a difference, mostly, but not exclusively, of an economic nature” (again, with the language of business and innovation). First, how to “reduce inequality without harming overall economic growth?” Well, one argument is to reduce inequality, as it in itself harms growth; another, more fundamental one, is to question the nature of economic growth in itself and its implication for global sustainability. Which he gets to later on, of course. Second, “how can we take the money out of politics?” Could the issue perhaps be the politics in money to start with? And third, the clincher, is the assertion that “climate change ought not to be political” - because what better advice to give ‘the Left’ than suggest that the biggest failure of our current economic and social model is somehow not an issue that involves politics?
The weird thing is I would agree that the left has been a failure, politically at least if not also intellectually, but the answer to that is to understand the ‘success’ (or the institutions that create and maintain the effective illusion thereof) of capitalism, conservatism and neoliberalism in directing society down the current road that left ideas find so hard to divert. To merely assume it’s a flaw in the leftist model (not that I doubt there are many, both practical and theoretical) is to also assume that politics works on the basis of a level playing field, of a free and open market(place), which is itself the problem.
“It is no longer possible for workers to identify with ‘their’ work or ‘their’ function in the productive process. Everything now appears to take place outside themselves. ‘Work’ itself has become a quantum of reified activity awaiting and subjugating the ‘worker’.”—
André Gorz, Farewell to the Working Class, 6. A New Historical Subject: The Non-Class of Post-Industrial Proletarians
This chapter is great - it’s everything that’s I’ve seen about precarity or millenial disillusionment, but written in 1980. To be honest, nothing he says in it is therefore new, and I still have niggling doubts about his premise that work was ever meaningful (or perhaps rather that the Marxist conception of work imbued it with a meaning that was historically contingent and quickly obsolete, but I’m not sure that’s ultimately any more convincing), but I really need to read to the end of the book and digest some of the implications, particularly on autonomy, to make a judgement on that. Still, that last line can be applied to almost any aspect of neoliberal discourse surrounding employment currently (and also cf. Orwell’s tirade against the ‘good job’ in Keep the Aspidistra Flying which I just re-read in full for the first time since my teens, and it hits a lot harder now).
When I was eighteen, my dad finally took me back to Russia. I had been begging to go since I was nine because I had been having dreams in where my grandmother and my a…
"Unfortunately, in a mass public media event, being stupid and sensationalist is the only thing that will get you noticed, which is why the symbol of Sochi is now the toilet, instead of the people actually still going to the bathroom outside, instead of the hundreds of state officials paid to take bribes, instead of the underpaid laborers of the Olympic village, instead of the fact that the president of Russia owns a $200,000 watch while parts of Siberia have intermittent heating in the winter."
This is really good. I honestly haven’t seen ‘the toilet’ yet, nor do I particularly care to.
"The predication of ‘neoliberal’ is important. By this we mean not a fanatical devotion to laissez-faire (as is not uncommonly believed) but the evangelical pursuit of marketisation, even if this means heavy regulation and wielding of arbitrary powers. Markets must be constituted everywhere (by force as necessary), and they must be made to work (through absolutist intervention). For, so they believe, the market ist der Gang Gottes in der Welt. If markets fail because of lack of belief, send in the tripartite Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.[aka the Troika] If national overseers refuse to prevent destructive activities such as short selling, the general needs of the market as such override ‘particular interests’ to the extent that the constitutional order may be broken — the definition of miraculous or absolute power. Accordingly we should not mistake the UK’s protectionism of Mayfair-based hedge funds as the acts of the pro-capital party against what the Daily Mail would term ‘Eurocratic socialism’. Rather, the UK can be seen as acting in the interests of hegemonic capitalists, but the EU could be seen as acting in the interests of hegemonic capital qua capital. Historically, the UK’s discourse remains stuck c.1928 in which capital remains embedded in private individuals (entrepreneurs and magnates) who are constantly fighting state intervention, whereas the EU sees capital not simply as a public issue — an object of public concern — but as public — a subject which is publicly concerned about private backsliding.”
"Ravelston murmured agreement, with a curious air of guilt. And now they were off on their favourite subject - Gordon’s favourite subject, anyway; the futility, the bloodiness, the deathliness of modern life.They never met without talking for at least half an hour in this vein. But it always made Ravelston feel rather uncomfortable. In a way, of course, he knew - it was precisely this that Antichrist existed to point out - that life under a decaying capitalism is deathly and meaningless. But this knowledge was only theoretical. You can’t really feel that kind of thing when your income is eight hundred a year. Most of the time, when he wasn’t thinking of coal-miners, Chinese junk-coolies, and the unemployed in Middlesborough, he felt that life was pretty good fun, Moreover, he had the naive belief that in a little while Socialism is going to put things right. Gordon always seemed to him to exaggerate. So there was this subtle disagreement between them, which Ravelston was too good-mannered to press home.
But with Gordon it was different. Gordon’s income was two pounds a week. Therefore the hatred of modern life, the desire to see our money-civilization blown to hell by bombs, was a thing he genuinely felt. They were walking southward, down a darkish, meanly decent residential street with a few shuttered shops. From a hoarding on the blank end of a house the yard-wide face of Corner Table simpered, pallid in the limelight. Gordon caught a glimpse of a withering aspidistra in a lower window. London! Mile after mile of mean lonely houses, let off in flats and single rooms; not homes, not communities, just clusters of meaningless lives drifting in a sort of drowsy chaos to the grave! He saw men as corpses walking. The thought that he was merely objectifying his own inner misery hardly troubled him. His mind went back to Wednesday afternoon, when he had desired to hear the enemy aeroplanes zooming over London.”
"Pussy Riot were preceded on set by right wing economist Constantin Gurdgiev, who -as the only famous Russian in Ireland- was supposed to have appeared on set translating for the two women, presumably in some crackpot attempt on the part of the producers to provide ‘balance’, that is, to prevent anything too controversial from being said. It says a lot about Irish society that economists are household name celebrities. Once upon a time in Ireland bishops and archbishops were also household name celebrities. Both groups can be reliably called upon to speak on behalf of women.
God knows what the hell went on beforehand but what is clear is that Pussy Riot objected to Gurdgiev presence on set with them, and we had the bizarre scenario of Gurgdiev making an oblique and indirect reference to the imprisonment of Margaretta D’Arcy, which seemed to have arisen in the pre-show discussions.
The reasonable thing for RTÉ to do would have been to hire a professional interpreter of Russian. Instead, we had O’Connor declaring that Gurdgiev was contacted because he was the only Russian they knew. This -obviously the truth- was supposed to be a joke.
O’Connor referred persistently to the “girls” for the duration of the interview and repeatedly addressed the interpreter instead of the women themselves. He was visibly uninterested in either the inane questions he was posing or the answers he was getting. Rarely if ever have I seen a more jaw-dropping example of a provincial Paddy routine; at ease when sucking up to superficial Americans or Australians (though he is awful at even that), but utterly at a loss when presented with interview subjects of complexity and seriousness from unfamiliar places.”
Any book recommendations for a starting-out music writer?
Here are six:
1) Out of the Vinyl Deeps by Ellen Willis. For figuring out how to analyze and integrate your own reactions with broader socio-political context into criticism that is personal to the writer and accessible to the reader while being packed with ideas and insight.
2) The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made by Dave Marsh. Broadly speaking, I’ve never been a fan of Dave Marsh. But if you are going to write about music, you’re going to find yourself writing lists and blurbs from time to time (if you are lucky, it’s only from time to time). And I think this is a fantastic primer for the art of blurb writing. Every approach to the blurb is represented here somewhere and done well.
3) Energy Flash: A Journey through Rave Music and Dance Culture by Simon Reynolds. The best book I know for figuring out how to explore and articulate emotional meaning of sound. Most music criticism is heavily weighted toward lyrics, and this shows you another way.
4) Mystery Train by Greil Marcus. Shows you how to burrow deeper into a song or artist to turn up something new. Obviously a cornerstone of U.S. pop criticism also.
5) The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture from Aristotle to Zappa by Evan Eisenberg. The best book I’ve ever read about music and technology and how the interface between the two has changed our hearing. Probably had the strongest reaction to this of any book on music I’ve read, really rewired my brain.
6) Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties by Ian MacDonald. If you write about music for any length of time, you’ll eventually have to grapple with the shifting meaning and quality of a band’s catalogue over time, and this is the best single example I know of to show how it’s done.
“A narrow focus on technology is also inadequate, as it fails to explain some of the big shifts of the last decade like the explosion in rewards at the very top – 60% of the enormous increase in the slice of income flowing upwards to the richest 1% over the last decade went to those working in finance. To lay this at the door of the anonymous force called “technology” is to excuse way too much. Sure, developments in ICT were relevant, but they don’t explain political choices over deregulation or account for rapacious rent-seeking by the financial elite. Wage inequality has many authors, from the demise of collective bargaining to the rise of globalisation. As the influential Washington-based EPI thinktank has argued: don’t make robots the fall guy.”—
Or as André Gorz happened to put it (in 1980 - bolding mine):
"Automation and computerisation have eliminated most skills and possibilities for initiative and are in the process of replacing what remains of the skilled labour force (whether blue or white collar) by a new type of unskilled worker. The age of the skilled workers, with their power in the factory and their anarcho-syndicalist projects, has now to be seen as but an interlude which taylorism, ‘scientific work organisation’, and, finally, computers and robots will have brought to a close.
More than anyone anticipated, capital has succeeded in reducing workers’ power in the productive process. It has been able to combine a gigantic increase in productive power with a destruction in workers’ autonomy. It has been able to entrust ever more complex and powerful mechanised processes to the care of workers with ever more limited capacities. It has succeeded to the extent that those who were once called upon to take command of the giant machinery of modern industry have been dominated by - and in - the work of domination which they were to accomplish. It has simultaneously increased the technical power and capacities of the proletariat as a whole and the impotence of proletarians themselves, whether as individuals, in teams or work groups.”
The Guardian/Observer piece is rather good, in that it touches on a lot of points in what is going to become (or rather, already is) a very important issue - including the concept I recently came across of ‘jobs polarization’ between the highly-skilled minority creating and controlling the money-making technology versus the low-skilled workforce used for necessary labour that can’t (or won’t) be automated. Initially I thought Groz was thus being too pessimistic or hyperbolic in talking about the replacement of all skilled labour - but maybe not in the long run, if you look at the part I’ve highlighted. I don’t really see why the creative/analytical powers of the human mind will forever be immune to automation (or more specifically, replacement by iterative, data-analytic processes that churn out quantifiably ‘optimal’ solutions) in which case the same dynamic will have been applied to the supposed ‘elite’ of the current information economy.
Given that the problem can be seen as essentially (a Marxist) one of control of the means of production, the supremacy of private capital, and so on, the ultimate solution has to be some kind of transformative change. But since - aside from the very transformation we are already concerned about - such transformation is blocked for a variety of (chiefly political) reasons the response turns more towards a reformist or ameliorative agenda - a sort of techno-Keynesianism. In reading Gorz however I’m more interested in what radical potential their might be for autonomy in the use of the internet which - despite the myriad influences of corporate power and neoliberal subjectivity - is perhaps still the best bet for a decentralised, individualised means of production. Either that, or a blinking cursor in front of a human face forever…
I dropped my car off at the mechanic yesterday (cross your fingers, gang, my lil baby’s been having a very hard time) and made a little small talk with the receptionist, which of course meant weather, and then she said I feel like you just waste so much life, living here, with it so cold all the time. It’s too miserable to go anywhere, too miserable to be anywhere but on your couch watching television and it’s just so much life wasted. We’re only here so long, she said, and weather like this robs you, thereby transforming small talk into big talk but truly if I don’t get out for a hike soon I’m going to lose my god damned mind.
Real talk. I used to get annoyed by how much Irish people complain about the weather when a) it’s literally the one thing you can’t change and b) it’s never (usually) that bad, but then I read the Wikipedia page on phatic communication and suddenly that aspect of life made a lot more sense. I don’t mind it so much in Galway either, cos the rain is pretty awful and it’s useful with housemates.
On the issue of (to me) unimaginable cold - which is also I guess technically one of climate more than weather - it seems like large swathes of North America are uninhabitable for urban living, were it not for technological advances in both heating and cooling (and motor transportation). Like I remember reading how without air-conditioning the use of Houston (or for that matter, even New York) for modern office work would be impossible. Mind you that’s probably the case for a lot, if not most, of the world outside temperate Europe.
I suppose as well there’s a certain grim poetry between the banality of weather-conversation expressing the alienation of individual life and the terror of climate change representing the dysfunctionality of our collective existence…