Showing posts with label Capitalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Capitalism. Show all posts

22 February, 2019

Reading the Grounds


Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
Embrace the break in weather where you can. True, there are months when the last time you saw the sun feels like a dream; but when the rain break and there is a clear path, take advantage of it the best you can. [from Field Notes]

Even though I'm not bound to foot travel -- there is the bus, of course, and most recently, Mule -- I still like to walk. True, I could start up Mule and drive to a park and walk around a pre-designated track. I see merit in it, certainly for other people, because it's difficult enough to get exercise in a society that depends on us sitting in front of a computer, or staring at our phones, buying things. True, if you look long enough, nearly every aspect of the constructed reality we experience every day depends on commerce of some kind: whether it's the cappuccino I bought at the coffee shop today or the smiles my wife and I exchanged this morning before she left for work. But when I am not in motion in the world, there are fewer opportunities to see the world as it truly is instead of the filtered commodity that trickles in through my phone or my computer. When I am not in motion in the world, I'm not even certain the world exists.

Living as I do along the Ohio River, a once major artery of commerce of all kinds from coal, to slaves, to settlers, in a city whose very existence depended on commerce and The Falls that created a natural choke point for people to have to slow down and walk their boats through (Once Upon a Time), the metaphor and myth of commerce are a foundation upon which many myths have been  built.

But it's easy to let that take over... which is to say, it's easy to let that constructed reality dictate our
Mick Parsons #rubbertramp
Mule
our entire lives. And if the materialists are correct -- both the Capitalists and the Communists -- and we are simply matter in motion, then really, this constructed reality is nothing more than an increasingly complex maze we spend our days and nights in until one day, we stop moving and the maze moves on without us.

Unless there's something more. And when I walk around my neighborhood, or anywhere, and take in the sounds, the feel of broken cement underfoot, the vibrations of the coolish February air here in the grand divot that is the Ohio River Valley, I end up thinking of commerce as something more than buying and selling, more than money for sweat and blood, more than blood and bone in the name of man's most majestic and dangerous machination -- Contemporary American Society. 

This is why, I think, I am bound to travel whether I think I want it or not. A warm wind kicks up, the currents shift, and nothing is set right until I feel this world moving under foot. Because it's only in motion that this constructed reality shakes loose and the world opens itself wide for eyes willing to see, for ears willing to listen, and for hands willing to embrace it on its own terms. 


As old mystics read tea leaves
I flip my empty cup
open the heart, examining
the dark grounds and find
one more map towards
the river mouth and the sea.

Mick Parsons, #wellwornboots
The past is gone, the future is full.



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11 February, 2019

From Field Notes: I don't like Mondays (Tell me why)

Tim Wetherell's Clockwork Universe 
The Telex machine is kept so clean /As it types to a waiting world - Bob Geldof

There isn't an American alive who doesn't contend with clocks. They organize our lives: tell us when to wake up, when to eat lunch, what time we need to start our workouts, what time we have to make that meeting that would suffice as a well written email. My wife sets no fewer than 3 alarms to wake up in the morning. In addition to giving her  a sense of very much needed control over what is essentially beyond our control --she has to wake up, get moving, and be out the door to her place of work by 6:30 -- it also imbues the whole thing with a sense of ceremony. When she is on vacation and is  able to shut all three of them off, we do so with revelry and relief. When it's time to turn them back on, we do so solemnly and with as much stoicism as we can dig out of our unwilling amygdalas. 

I have a wind up alarm clock by my side of the bed that  I keep mainly for the sound. There's something in the tick tock of a clock that makes me feel like I'm closer to the mystical machinations of the universe -- a notion born out of the thoroughly Newtonian core of my brain that sometimes allows me to see the connections and tendrils and crystalline cogs that keep everything going. 

One of the blessings of my life is that I've been able to excise myself from the gravitational center of the time clock. I work project to project, which has deadlines. But those are more or less self-prescribed, or at least agreed upon. I'm bound to a clock when I travel, but that's really only dipping in to a world that is far more interested in schedules than I am. I tend to think of my life more in terms of rhythm than time. Time moves in whatever fashion it does and there's very little I can do about that, other than acknowledge it, imbue it with a certain amount of ceremony, and keep onward. But rhythm... that's something different all together. 

I like to think I live my life in Common Time. For those of you out there who don't catch the musical reference, Common Time is 4/4 or four beats per measure of music. (A measure is a marking of musical phrasing... but let's not get bound up here.) Most music you hear is in 4/4. It's the easiest and most commonly used... hence why it is called Common Time. You can play it fast (allegro). You can play it slow (andante).  All that matters is that the music goes on. 

Mondays are like time clocks. They tend to monopolize our lives because we've allowed them to. We obsess over Mondays ( and Fridays) like alcoholics obsess over booze and we've decided it normal because that's the song we were handed to play. We obsess over time to the point that our entire civilization has become a tug-of-war between trying to turn back time and trying to figure out how to spend it meaningfully -- or at least, giving ourselves plenty of time to binge Netflix. We're never really alone thanks to social media, but somehow people still manage to feel more lonely. We obsess. We mark time. We dread Monday. We pray for Friday... or maybe more specifically payday. We live for the weekends. Instead of rapture as the untenable and impossible to gauge end, we have retirement, which is just as untenable. But then Monday. And then Friday. And again. Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

Maybe it's time to smash the clock and get a new one. Maybe it's time to find rhythm and put away our Mondays and Fridays and all our somedays and retirement fantasies. 

But like anyone in the program will tell you, the first step is admitting you have a problem.



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08 September, 2016

Betrayed Testament: et schola vitae

Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of great distress. - Milan Kundera

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that worth knowing can be taught. - Oscar Wilde 

Life is a perpetual process of erasure.

This is the first fall semester since I moved to River City that I haven't had a single class to teach. When I went back to higher education I knew it was a safety move. Amanda and I talked about it more than once -- usually after the semester started to wear on me.  There was a point when I even thought that I could make myself happier as an academic worker by organizing with like-minded colleagues to address the problems I saw in the system: primarily, the exploitation of adjunct instructors as part of the corporatization of the last institution I could ever claim to love and respect.  

Well, that didn't work out, for a variety of reasons that I have already written about (Check the archive from last year for the  rundown on all that.) Kentucky labor flirts with Right-to-Work legislation like a $20 hooker who gets her price haggled down to $5, and because the Kentucky legislature interprets the NLRA as including higher education academic workers as exempt from basic labor protections, I had no real recourse when the legal department at the Kentucky Community Technical College System ordered my firing and banishment from every single KCTCS campus in the state of Kentucky.

This time last year I was teaching at the University of Louisville, where, in spite of the fact that only 17% of the total budget comes from state education appropriations, everyone was worried about the inevitable impact of Matty Bevin's budget hack-n-slash.  I had a schedule, but I was increasingly isolated from semi-like-minded colleagues. The semester wore on me. The lack of action, or reaction, and attempts to push forward any labor actions to improve the plight of my fellow academic workers. The internal politics of "the movement" were a grind, too; and so I came face to face with the number one reason why organized labor takes it in the back more often than not:

the radical left eats its own in the name of pointless ideological disagreements.    

Trying to manage a conversation or a planning session is, most of the time, like sitting through your basic department meeting.  Utter drudgery.

When the left is successful, they are because they set aside what can be considered deeply held convictions in order to focus on common goals and take on common enemies. Here in Kentucky, organized capital (READ: coal operators especially, but also corporate giants like General Electric and Yum!), with the help of now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has done such an effective job of convincing the working class it doesn't need unions that there isn't a single union coal mine in the state and both GE and YUM! have been complicit in driving down wages and maintaining an anti-labor culture.

Academic labor here in the Commonwealth, of course, has an even deeper issue in that most academic workers -- adjuncts -- refuse to acknowledge that they are a labor force and demand the same rights that trade unionists have fought for and kept for generations.

My permanent separation from The University of Louisville, and from higher education, was inevitable. When I wrote about it, I pointed out I was not given the bum's rush like I was from KCTCS. One adjunct with a (justified) paranoid streak was not a budget priority. Then again, students really aren't the priority there, either, so it was not surprising. 

I decided to walk away rather than let them leave me hanging in the perma-gray area of  "contingent labor." I haven't regretted that decision, though it does make for interesting conversational gaps with my father-in-law, who, to his credit, has not badgered me about my continued unemployed status. 

I cast a lot of nets these days. I work on my writing. I am putting together episodes for my new podcast Alidade: an audio map, that will start dropping around the middle of next month. I apply for jobs at least daily, none of which will probably call me back because even though I'm qualified they see a decade plus of a career in academics and disregard the fact that the first thing a neophyte scholar learns is how to learn. I'm exploring the limits of my incompetence in regards to general home repair, plumbing, and small engine repair.  The garden has been producing a lot of peppers and okra this year, and we're making plans to expand and alter our garden plans next year. We managed to go camping once this summer and I'm hoping to get out again before it gets too chilly. I've honed my backyard grill master abilities, and I'm on a regular workout routine. I build my life around embracing beauty and truth and creating a deeper and more meaningful connection to the larger and smaller world.

I miss teaching sometimes. But mostly, I like what I'm doing. When I say I feel like the institution of higher education betrayed me, I'm not talking about KCTCS or my decision not to allow the University of Louisville dictate my life to me. There was a time when a college campus was a safe space for me. I thrived there in many respects. I gained more than the education I went to get, and I learned more than I probably taught when I was teaching. 

The institution broke faith, but not just with me. They've broken faith with everyone -- with students, with full and adjunct faculty, and with staff.  And I don't really believe there's anyway to fix it from the inside, especially when the largest part of their work force keeps its collective head down and accepts being exploited as the price for being a "professional" instead of a "worker."







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02 November, 2011

Truck Day Blues


Yesterday morning, I was waiting for my wife to get ready so she could drop me off at the newspaper office, one town over. Tuesday is Truck Day. That means I drive the company panel truck to Sterling, where they're printed, load most of the bundles in the box and deliver them to the post offices and news stands. It's not a bad gig 80% of the time. One day a week, I get $10 an hour to drive around and haul newspapers. And for some reason, as annoying as being up early is, one of the moments I enjoy in the day is walking into the warehouse and getting that first whiff of newsprint.

I have no idea why.

But while I was waiting, I decided to turn on the TV. Most of the time, I watch ESPN. Just because. A lot of times I regret having cable... mostly when the bill comes due … but I do like ESPN. There's something about it that just makes me feel … I don't know... connected to the universe in some ball scratching, Al Bundy sort of way. This particular morning, though, they were talking about the World Series, and I could seriously give a shit less since I wasn't invested in either team. I'm against Texas on principle, but I have no geographic love or hate for St. Louis, though I do vaguely remember their bus station. (Please see The Greyhound Quarto for further explanation.) Flipping around trying to find something else, I ran across MSNBC and Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough.

Keep in mind that not only do I not watch Morning Joe, I tend not to watch or listen to news first thing in the morning. And no, it's not because I don't care about what goes on in the world – I do. I find my news from a variety of sources and a variety of perspectives. But I have learned – maybe because I'm in the news business – that watching, listening, or reading news first thing in the morning does nothing but sour my day and my mood. Early morning news is a combination of current event memes for the memory impaired that is often mistaken for hard news (Kim Kardashian's divorce, for example... not only is it fluff, but it shouldn't count as news. After all, does Good Morning America report every time the sun rises?) When I tuned in, though, I found former NBC Nightly News Anchor Tom Brokaw on talking about his new book, and spouting, as Brokaw often does, his thoughts on how things are going in America.

One of the things I like about Brokaw is that he's one of the few left from his business who understands the importance of context. For some reason, the American people have gotten in their heads that the news ought to be objective, without context. And naturally, which ever news outlet most reflects their views (this is true all philosophical and ideological bents) is the one given the prestigious label of “objective.” One of the things about Brokaw is that he spent so much time in the corporate media machine that the context for all of his criticism is a Post World War II 20th Century America. Rather than looking at the whole, trying to wrap his brain around history as more than Manifest Destiny, he ignores the fact that most of what we're dealing with in the Post American Century is the bullshit byproduct that's been left behind to fester since the original 13 signed off on the U.S. Constitution.

The gist of the conversation as I tuned in – as described by the caption at the bottom of the screen – was that Americans need to “re-enlist as citizens.” He went on to explain that real leaders – the people he writes about in his new tome, I guess – are people who led through action, who came up from among the people. He bemoaned the absence of “larger than life” leaders who could capture the minds and imaginations of his fellow Americans.

And I had a few thoughts, which I'll list here:

  1. “Re-enlist”... a militaristic term. Maybe we ought to consider the possibility that being in some army or another is the problem.
  2. People DO need to be directly engaged in and with their community and their country... as individuals coming together for the common good. (This, kids, is the root of all civilization.)
  3. Brokaw's critique regarding the absence or need of “larger than life” leaders is incorrect. The issue is that corporate media empires like NBC and MSNBC (wholly owned subsidiaries of General Electric) ignore them in favor of spouting non-controversial public relations reports they claim are true news reports.
  4. Underlying every argument Brokaw has made since he wrote about World War II is “These kids today... what pussies!” Maybe if he were talking to them instead of a table of talking bobble heads, he might get more of the reaction he's looking for. Or if he was paying any attention at all to current events.

That was before the coffee kicked in... which it did somewhere on Benson Road between Lanark and IL-40 headed towards Milledgeville.

19 October, 2011

“What a world you must live in.”


Here's the thing: people are like cats. I suspect that's why people hate them so much. People that tend not to like cats say it's because they're dog people (I always imagine McGruff The Crime Dog and some Planet of the Apes scenario.) Some people think cats are just too sneaky. Some think cats are to feminine and flighty – including some newly minted feminists who haven't read or thought about what feminism actually is. But As critters go, human beings are incredibly predictable in at least one way: we tend to like things that mirror the attitudes and attributes we'd rather have, instead of those we actually have. And because there is no yin without a yang, no Starsky without a Hutch, no Cagney without a Lacy, it is also true that if we like the people and places and things that represent what we aspire to, then we hate the people and places and things that remind of who (and what) we really are.






Which is why most people don't like cats. They're too much like we are.

Now, don't get me wrong. We should always aspire to be more, to be better. Of course, we're short of heroic icons in these modern times. Two of my heroes, Utah Phillips and J.L. “Red” Rountree – are both dead and have been for some time. I was introduced to the stories and songs of Utah Phillips in my early 20's, and it was through him that I began to learn about the long memory he sang and talked about – the memory of workers, organizers, unions, anarchists, pacifists, agents of change... and those those who believed in and harnessed the positive power of chaos... such as Albert Parsons, Big Bill Heywood, Joe Hill, and Ammon Hennacy. I chose as my heroes those who embody those ideals I believe are important and that I hope to better exemplify and live by in my own life. Red Rountree was maybe the last of the philosophical bank robbers. He didn't hurt people, and believed in having fun. He also had a deep grudge against banks.


But it's difficult to get around that fact that most people are like cats. Cats are moody, territorial, and dislike having their routine interrupted. I have two cats, and if their daily ritual is maligned in anyway, they simply don't know what to do. And people are the same way. We like our rituals, our patterns, our hegemonic convergence that defines each and every day of our lives. We like it so much that even if we become unhappy, we live with it.

And if we're forced to face the idea that something has to change, we look for a way to change as little as possible, lest we upset our all so sacred routine.

Which is, of course, the problem people have with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. At it's core, it represents the idea that something has be done to change the inequities that most of us life under. This means not just adding new rules. It may mean throwing the old rules out and starting from scratch. Because the problem isn't just that the rules aren't fair. The problem is that in America, the Golden Rule – “He who has the Gold makes the Rules” is the only rule that matters. It is upon that rule that Capitalism is built, and it is for that very reason that Capitalism is a wholesale failure as a social, political, and economic model. We have lived under it so long that people have forgotten that Democracy – the idea that all people are equal and deserve and equal voice – has been consumed by Plutarchy and Capitalism.

Keep in mind, not all #occupywallst folks are anti-capitalists. But they do recognize that something's fucked up. And they're willing to do something about it. It's not a revolution, that's true. But maybe... just maybe... it is a kind of evolution.