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October 2012

Elsewhere (75)

Zombie roams the mental rubble of Occupy LA, where a kind of Slacker Marxism threatens to shake the world. Or it would do, I’m sure, if anyone could be arsed:

Yesterday the motley remnants of Occupy Los Angeles finally got around to celebrating Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary (more than two weeks after all the other OWS groups did so.) In fact, this lackadaisical attitude about their own rally perfectly reflected the newly emergent operational philosophy of Occupy LA, which one might deem Anarcho-Laziness: the right to avoid employmentA major theme of the day seemed to be an active antipathy to the notion of work. “Capitalism,” you see, “has robbed us all of our free time.” If it wasn’t for that mean ol’ capitalism we could just slack off all day. But not everybody is clear on the concept. Quoting Karl Marx directly conflicts with the principles of Anarcho-Laziness: the whole point of communism is to ensure that everybody has a job. Just try telling Che that you just don’t feel like working in a socialist utopia. 

Ace ponders bra-straps and fretful feminism:

There’s a woman I admire for her smarts. I won’t say who. I find her to be a lively and interesting thinker, and funny. But I frequently hear this woman ask, “What do my very minor, trivial fashion choices say about me As A Woman (capitalisation implicit)?” and, “Are my occasional attempts to appear attractive a capitulation to the Male Gaze?” and other such absurdities. In this particular woman’s case, she asks these questions archly, with a bit of ironic distance, so that she is parodying herself at the same time she asks these questions. Nevertheless, these questions occur with such frequency I am reasonably confident that, while she is sort of goofing on herself for thinking about such things, she does think about such things, and not just occasionally, but rather a lot. 

It does strike me that a bright, insightful woman is inflicting something akin to intellectual lobotomisation on herself, filling her head with constant trivialities… A not-inconsequential portion of her mind is constantly being used to chew over absurdities of a quasi-religious nature. Is the fact that I have chosen to leave my bra-strap visible beneath my t-shirt a betrayal of the feminist ideal? What does my exposed bra-strap say about me as a person? What messages am I sending to the world? What philosophical implications flow from this casually exposed bra-strap? …When I see a woman I rather like and respect filling her head with such nonsense - thinking about Gender Issues, as it were, once every seven seconds - I feel bad that she’s been conned, and that her brain is simply not firing on all cylinders, clogged, as it is, with bubble-gum and silly-string.

And there’s this, mentioned in passing by Dan at Monday Books

I did read law, haltingly, at university. I can’t remember much of it, apart from… how obvious it was that none of the Criminology module lecturers had ever been burgled or mugged.

Feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.

Brown Plastic Bowls

In 1989 Theodore Dalrymple paid a visit to North Korea’s Pyongyang Department Store Number 1: 

It didn’t take long to discover that this was no ordinary department store. It was filled with thousands of people, going up and down the escalators, standing at the corners, going in and out of the front entrance in a constant stream both ways - yet nothing was being bought or sold. I checked this by standing at the entrance for half an hour. The people coming out were carrying no more than the people entering. Their shopping bags contained as much, or as little, when they left as when they entered. In some cases, I recognised people coming out as those who had gone in a few minutes before, only to see them re-entering the store almost immediately. And I watched a hardware counter for fifteen minutes. There were perhaps twenty people standing at it; there were two assistants behind the counter, but they paid no attention to the ‘customers’. The latter and the assistants stared past each other in a straight line, neither moving nor speaking. 

Eventually, they grew uncomfortably aware that they were under my observation. They began to shuffle their feet and wriggle, as if my regard pinned them like live insects to a board. The assistants too became restless and began to wonder what to do in these unforeseen circumstances. They decided that there was nothing for it but to distribute something under the eyes of this inquisitive foreigner. And so, all of a sudden, they started to hand out plastic wash bowls to the twenty ‘customers’, who took them (without any pretence of payment). Was it their good luck, then? Had they received something for nothing? No, their problems had just begun. What were they to do with their plastic wash bowls? (All of them were brown incidentally, for the assistants did not have sufficient initiative to distribute a variety of goods to give verisimilitude to the performance, not even to the extent of giving out differently coloured bowls.) 

They milled around the counter in a bewildered fashion, clutching their bowls in one hand as if they were hats they had just doffed in the presence of a master. Some took them to the counter opposite to hand them in; some just waited until I had gone away. I would have taken a photograph, but I remembered just in time that these people were not participating in this charade from choice, that they were victims, and that - despite their expressionless faces and lack of animation - they were men with chajusong, that is to say creativity and consciousness, and to have photographed them would only have added to their degradation. I left the hardware counter, but returned briefly a little later: the same people were standing at it, sans brown plastic bowls, which were neatly re-piled on the shelf. 

And then things started to get strange.  

From The Wilder Shores of Marx, 1991. 

Elsewhere (74)

The Heresiarch on abortion and assumptions

The Guardian’s feminist-in-chief Suzanne Moore tweeted that… “the Tories will not win their war on women.” Two incredibly lazy but widespread assumptions combine in the notion of a “Tory war on women.” Firstly, that the divide on abortion is primarily political (and left-right) rather than moral, and that the pro-choice position is progressive, and the pro-life one reactionary. Secondly, that the pro-choice case is the pro-women, feminist one, and its opponents are motivated by hatred of women, or at the very least by an inherently misogynistic desire to control women’s lives... 

There is indeed a gender divide on the abortion debate in Britain, and it is especially stark in relation to the question of term limits. A YouGov poll in January found that of the 37% of Britons who favoured a lowering of the 24 week limit (34% supported the status quo) the majority were women. In total, twice as many women as men (49% as opposed to 24%) wanted to see a lower limit. There was also an interesting age difference: among the younger age group (18-24) support for a lower limit stood at 43%, whereas in the two older age groups it was 35%. Strikingly, support for a reduction to 20 weeks or below was highest among people who expressed a preference for Labour rather than the two other main parties - which again fits ill with the concept of a “Tory war on women.” 

For a snapshot of some more, rather instructive, feminist thinking on the subject, see also this

And Theodore Dalrymple on the late historian and Stalinist Eric Hobsbawm

A writer of my acquaintance once turned down an invitation to dinner with Hobsbawm (who rarely refused any honour or privilege that the unjust capitalist state could offer him) on the grounds that if Hobsbawm’s political wishes had come to fruition, he would have had his proposed guest shot in short order. A man who could think until late in his life, as Hobsbawn did, that the murder of 20 million people would be justified if it brought about a socialist utopia, would hardly balk at the death of a single bourgeois guest.

In my experience, Marxists prefer to be judged, if judged at all, by their theories and rather fanciful abstractions, and by their pretensions of moral elevation - all conveniently bleached of realism and messy human detail. And so, when not simply lying, their conversation turns to the potential of communism - communism in theory - never actual communism, i.e., communism in power. But the practical and psychological implications of egalitarian utopias aren’t exactly hard to fathom. Unless, that is, one takes care not to notice certain things or think in certain ways, and then goes on not noticing with growing sophistication. And I suspect that sophisticationa practiced unrealism - is driven by something very nasty indeed.

There are of course those who read Marx and Engels while somehow ignoring the salacious references to “revolutionary terror,” the “murderous death agonies of the old society” and the “complete extirpation” of “reactionary peoples” – i.e., thee and me - as if the horrors that followed had nothing at all to do with the urges to which they give intellectual license. An abstracted, sanitised belief in Marxism – detached from its consequences - isn’t just an oversight. It requires colossal bad faith, especially among the intelligent.

To read Marx and Engels - to say nothing of Trotsky and his enthusiasm for guillotines and the prospect of beheading people who didn’t wish to be communists – to read such material and somehow not grasp where that thinking goes isn’t just a failure of critical wherewithal. It’s a contrivance. Just as some contrive an indifference when faced with Engels’ eagerness to see “the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples.” A global class genocide that would be, in his words, “a step forward.” Hobsbawm, like many others, traded his probity for vanity. He chose to be seduced. And if people still want to play at Angry Marxist™ - and it seems some youngsters do - they might at least be honest about it.

Related, this and this

As usual, feel free to add your own links and snippets in the comments.

Friday Ephemera

The self-explanatory Food On My Dog. // Underwater firearm not hugely effective. // Photographic hoaxes. // Giant robot battle fists. // Jill Greenberg’s Horses. // Hating Breitbart. // “This home-made Marmite admittedly tastes different.” (h/t, MeFi) // The politics of peanut butter sandwiches. // Ice cream cakes. // Don’t kiss kitty’s paw. // Transparent soil. // These things are wrong. // Fire devils. // How many famous robots can you name? // Know your mushrooms. // Teaching while high. // Giant slugs attack French towns. // How to illuminate the Moon with an awful lot of lasers (and then go too far with terrible consequences).