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Hunting The Scapegoat

I am sick and tired of hearing about Russia. Yes, it’s probable that Russia tried to influence US voters in 2016; but it isn’t like the United States has no history in similar misdeeds. Yes, Trump and his cronies probably made tons of deals with various businessmen and politicians in and around the Kremlin. Imagine that: capitalists are corrupt.

What disturbs me is how obsessive the media—outside of Fox News—is about the whole thing. Even The New Yorker, usually not one to embrace the hype, is fully on-board with this horseshit.1

The thing is, Russia provides an out for these institutions. If Russia is somehow to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss, the narrative will support that as history. Without Russia as a scapegoat, all of these institutions might have to look elsewhere—say, the global capitalism that Clinton’s neoliberal agenda perpetuates and massive media conglomorates both believe in and need—to see why so many felt disenfranchised with the empty promises of the Democratic Party.

      Notes
  • Granted, The New Yorker isn’t as obsessive, and their output is generally more on-point with what really matters. But it kills me to think Fox News is being in any sort responsible by not going all-in on this charade.

11:00 / 15 January 2019
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Tragic Spectacle

I find myself reading and re-reading texts that foresaw the age of the internet but were still published in the pre-digital era—McLuhan, Debord, Baudrillard—and can’t help but wonder what they would write in 2019 were any still alive to see how prophetic their texts truly were;

The alienation of the spectator, which reinforces the contemplated objects that result from his own unconscious activity, works like this: The more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more he identifies with the dominant images of need, the less he understands his own life and his own desires. The spectacle’s estrangement from the acting subject is expressed by the fact that the individual’s gestures are no longer his own; they are the gestures of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator does not feel at home anywhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.

—Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle

Each day offers new opportunity to observe how unable America is to comprehend the shift we are experiencing. Yesterday’s Oval Office address was met with liberal demands for fact-checking, as if proving Donald Trump a liar would somehow this time make a difference.

Obscene is an accurate definition for what Americans seem ready to give up in exchange for ‘normalcy’—seemingly unwilling or unable to realize that what we experience now is the new normal. There is no going back in time, there will be no re-setting of the rules of politics come the next election cycle. Late capitalism and its effects on the body politic is an exercise in existential natural selection: adapt or die.

They tell us, “everyone must do their part,” if we want to save our beautiful model of civilization. We have to consume a little less to be able to keep consuming. We have to produce organically to keep producing. We have to control ourselves to go on controlling. This is the logic of a world straining to maintain itself while giving itself an air of historical rupture. This is how they would like to convince us to participate in the great industrial challenges of this century. And in our bewilderment we’re ready to leap into the arms of the very same ones who presided over the devastation, in the hope that they will get us out of it.

—The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection

The warnings that these philosophers voiced before the internet era regarding the overwhelming power of the information economy fell on the deaf ears of a generation that largely—and ignorantly—enjoyed its profits; one to which that very economy has since allowed for any individual to completely disassociate reason from society.1 From here on out we will endure the whims of those who control the tightening noose of capital, and until that issue is reconciled there will be no avoiding its representatives.2

      Notes
  • Not to mention the fuckers are profiting wildly from it all.
  • With the flaunted riches of unearned wealth and a strict belief in nothing but the market, Donald Trump is the ultimate capitalist; Hillary Clinton would be something like second place there, too. Delusion is the belief that these people will go away—or even remotely represent the true needs of people at large.

18:00 / 9 January 2019
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The Other Half

The Saturday morning cartoons that began the weekends for kids in the early 90s may have aged only to create modern memes, but I distinctly remember the source of this was all well-intended: an affirmation that knowledge is power. Knowing, as GI Joe put it, was half the battle.

Nowadays I wonder exactly what the other half is. Though I doubt anyone writing up these cartoons imagined the ascent and implications of the internet, but these days knowing something isn’t too difficult.1 In fact, the juxtaposition of a wealth of information with such ineffectual leaders necessitates the question Why bother with any of it?

For the children

If the republic system was run to an ideal, an informed public would be able to vote representatives in to office who would then facilitate a state of governance as near as possible to the demands of the people. But in this day and age that sentence is so far-fetched that it almost makes one wonder what the definition of our modern state truly is.2 The influence of money cannot be understated: between American children being slaughtered and immigrant children left for dead, the cruelty of capitalism has shown neither of the major American parties will cater to overwhelming populist demand.

It’s no wonder why people get outraged at the news; the world keeps spinning—seemingly out of control—and all that grows among the people is a sense of powerlessness in averting disaster. The political systems seem to operate in a one-step-forward, eight-steps-back loop. And the more you know, the more hopeless the situation seems.

I guess John Prine was right all along.

      Notes
  • Not that it ever really was; it was simply less convenient to go to a library and find a specific page in a book or load up a microfiche than use Google.
  • Kudos to some of the new leftists in the House looking to fuck with the standard liberal agenda, though. (That being said, nobody seems to think a second term by Trump is possible, but if the moderate left doesn’t adopt some of the demands of the activist left and the party splits, there could be a free-for-all in 2020.)

12:15 / 6 January 2019
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Red Sky

(Almost. Just one more day would have done it. Instead, Elizabeth Warren had to announce her candidacy for President in 2020 on December 31, meaning we couldn’t even get to 2019 before starting the conversation about the 2020 election. Goddammit.)

I don’t dislike Warren; she hates Wall Street and Wall Street hates her, which automatically grants her some favor. But to me, getting behind her candidacy—as well as those unannounced but probable campaigns in O’Rourke, Harris and Biden—is a lot like listening to Thrice.

Allow me to explain.

Mac · Seattle 2007

In the spring of 2007, my buddy Mac and I hopped on a Greyhound for an impromptu trip to Seattle from Portland. We had only known each other about a year at that point, but had become fast friends over a mutual affinity for leftist politics and the punk rock shows that can sometimes come along with that scene. Like most who believed in socialist politics—or in punk—we’d each found our way to the left of the middle by a different path.

In Seattle, Mac and I met up with Megan and we did what people do in Seattle: get coffee, play pinball and go record shopping.

I was thumbing through some vinyl at Easy Street Records when it happened; all of us in our own spaces, Megan came up to me with a straight face and said, Hey I found your favorite record while sarcastically pulling out The Artist In The Ambulance—the major-label debut from the band Thrice. I, with a not-sarcastic-at-all straight face, replied, Yeah I already have that.

Megan’s jaw dropped in disbelief and she instantly turned to Mac across the aisle. You do realize your friend owns a Thrice album, right? Mac replied with a line that has impacted me to this day, saying, Yeah, but if I judged all my friends based on their music collection, I wouldn’t have any friends. Megan laughed and shelved the album.

Megan with sandals on her hands outside Easy Street · Seattle 2007

This is the first thing that came to mind when I read about Elizabeth Warren and her ambitions for the Oval Office. It’s what comes to my mind when I talk with most of the people I know about politics. I don’t necessarily dislike Warren—she’s certainly better than the last woman with liberal establishment support. But when it comes to who I would actually vote for, she doesn’t make the cut.

Like the Thrice record, Warren is a glossy, approved-for-the-mainstream rendering of idealism and vision rooted in a much more uncompromising place. The Artist In The Ambulance found its thesis from pages of DIY zines the way Warren’s fight against Wall Street may hold hints of Marx. But looking good on paper rarely appeals to a mainstream audience.

Now, looking out at all the crowds of liberals and mediocrity of their 2020 ambitions, the pro-capitalist nature of neoliberalism and its farcical claims of ‘consumer protection,’ I can’t help but think of those who support such a vision, You’re all just listening to Thrice.

10:30 / 1 January 2019
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Late Expectations

I don’t remember many of the conversations I had on election night of 2016; on one hand I was drinking pretty heavily and on the other I was resisting the urge to text everyone in my contact list and say I told you so. I do remember getting more than a few messages saying something along the lines of Well at least this will be good for your art. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

A 2018 anti-Trump protest in Portland

Since November 2016 it seems people have still not adjusted to—and perhaps still cannot comprehend—the new normal our society has been born in to. Children are dying in detention centers. Outside of a mildly successful summer blockade in Portland, ICE and the Trump administration have had little problem in executing this horrific agenda.

Throughout the 2016 election, Trump was constantly pushing the boundaries of how a candidate can run for office in America. While some might say the disgusting fashion to which he accomplished such a feat should be the focus, I disagree. With his campaign and subsequent victory, Trump didn’t just adjust the borders on the field of America’s institutions: he changed the game completely.

The fact that this ‘wasn’t supposed to happen‘ is now why the absurd and grotesque is met with ambivalence and inaction. American society for so long has been regulated by the standards of traditional power that it is now subscribing to the whims of an unregulated force. Protests against all administrations since Vietnam have been students parading in the street on police-approved routes: while this administration is different, the dissent remains the same.

A 2007 anti-war protest in Portland

As Trump disregarded the traditions of the institutions facing him down, so must those who would fight against his agenda. (Of course, he had the benefit of finance and power to provide a safety net with the prospect of failure while any subversive practices would surely be met with imprisonment.)

And so with the world of art, it is unsurprising that most news caters to multi-million dollar pranks and record prices at auction as opposed to anything significantly pushing back against the global spread of nationalism. Perhaps it is because Trump, Brexit and the like represent the same level of absurdity as Duchamp. Perhaps it is because even in the face of social justice-related work on a massive scale, all that results is jail time. Perhaps it is because our ‘good’ leaders still respond to nonviolent movements with the opposite.

Or maybe everyone just got too self-obsessed, sacrificing any notion of true social fabric for the facade of social networks.

Whatever the reason, whatever the response, the fact is that the norms of American society and its adjacent institutions are irrelevant. The psychic death of neo-modern marketing, the plague of individualism and disregard of corporate power all tie back to that which allowed for a man like Trump to be elected in the first place: a society unable to control the beast of capitalism it has unleashed into the world without any sign of art to save it.

16:30 / 30 December 2018
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