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One of the ways I attempt to prove to the world that I’m a responsible individual is by successfully keeping alive a small cat called Banchi. Born literally in a flophouse, Banchi was purchased from junkies living on St. Laurent for the price of $40. I am happy to support the heroin industry however I can.
In my own way, I try to give Banchi a superior life to the one she had on St. Laurent. But she will never be a cat of “superior breeding” – this is for certain. In her kittenhood, she enjoyed climbing up the curtain and then divebombing my head or that of my girlfriend. Even now as an adult, at three in the morning she will leap four feet into the air at some invisible enemy on my bedroom wall. She does this repeatedly in the hope of inciting my fury. I’m eventually obliged to lock her up in the living room. Kitty prison. There she resigns herself to her sentence and stays quiet until later in the morning, when she starts miaowing for her breakfast.
Banchi is too small to be a serious hunter. However, she did once catch a huge cicada in her mouth and jumped through my window into the kitchen and released it. Have you ever heard a cicada’s hoarse rasp from a distance of only two feet? Thanks to Banchi, I have. And the other day, she jumped through the window with another of her insect friends half-eaten between her furry mandibles. This time it was a giant moth – a good four inches in wingspan. She buried it under my bed where I failed to find it even after half an hour of searching.
There are other dangers to cat ownership. When female cats go in heat, their behavior is even more berserk than usual. Banchi was on my balcony back in her pre-operation days, and so desperate was she for a shag that she dived the 20 feet to the ground. Fortunately, I was able to retrieve her before she could run away to consort with even worse company than herself. Just last weekend, she had another misadventure on this same balcony. It was a hot afternoon when I exited the house, accidentally leaving the door to my balcony open, and Banchi went out there to take in some sun. But then the door slammed shut afterwards and she was locked out with no shade. This time she didn’t jump. She stayed there and succumbed to heat stroke. When I arrived home and finally liberated her, she crawled into the shade of indoors, gave a pitiful miaow, flopped onto her side, and started panting as if she’d just run a marathon.
Fortunately, she’s better now.
Next weekend, Banchi will be going to the vet to get her booster shots. This is important because she spends most of her days outside. I don’t want her to get feline AIDS or rabies. All this will likely cost another cool $100.
As she approaches her second birthday, Banchi shows every sign of continuing to be a costly pain in the ass for many years to come. But for all the times she rolls over and lets me tickle her tummy, or curls up besides Monika and I on the couch while we watch a movie, or pokes me in the head with her fluffy paw to say “wake up” when it looks like I’m going to sleep in and miss work – for all that and more, I still love her.
There are, surely, few articles about the Web better than this one in the magazine N+1. It’s an article that takes the digital revolution seriously but also skeptically.
…even before former Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow penned his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” (“Governments of the industrial world,” it began, “you weary giants of flesh and steel”), the internet was no mere fax machine.1 From the first, and in no small part because of its fervent supporters, it has felt less like a technology and more like a social movement—like communism, like feminism, like rock and roll. An ideology we could call webism … In its purest form, webism comes from a specific place: California.
The article discusses how Web gurus mix technophilia with a countercultural ethos that likes to “stick it to the man” (i.e. get shit for free.) When these people see newspaper profits plummeting, they are enthused, because they see part of the old guard crumbling. What will replace it will be vastly more democratic and equitable.
There is oodles in this article that is fascinating, eloquent, and insightful, but it really packs its greatest intellectual punch at the end. After adroitly tracing the Web’s perilous relationship with various industries — travel, music, books, news journalism — it neatly arrives somewhere that I haven’t been before in any previous discussion of the Web. A cursory nod to free culture is de rigeur, of course, as well as a shout-out to the Long Tail, but it’s when discussing the Web’s relationship to Art that something revelatory emerges. This happens, in part, during a discussion of computer games, which is by no means a sidenote to the discussion of the Web. Computer games seem to be the logical endpoint of new media that demand a highly participatory (some call it democratic) element. Not content to just read the news, we want to comment on it, chop it up into morsels to feed and entertain our friends with. And advertisers (i.e. Google) find it useful to match content to the specific demographic that might find a related advertisement useful.
Apparently, the public now demands that art be a participatory sport. And so it raises the question: are computer games art, since they appear to satisfy better than almost any other medium, that need to become part of the scene?
N+1′s answer will doubtless confound gamers!
Writing in the London Review of Books, the critic and game aficionado John Lanchester complained that “from the broader cultural point of view, video games barely exist.” He was referring to the arts pages of dead-tree newspapers and journals, which, true, don’t cover computer games in proportion to either the hours or the dollars we spend on them. …
But do these games, in fact—as Lanchester and many others claim—amount to art? What Lanchester doesn’t seem to notice is that the two traits he names, of beauty and goal-oriented participation, work against one another. Or so, once upon a time, most philosophers of art would have claimed. For Kant, disinterestedness was the hallmark of aesthetic experience, which temporarily suspended the private desires and wishes of the viewer, reader, or listener. And the experience of playing games is nothing if not interested, the desire to win being almost the definition of an “interest.”
Video games encourage you to identify rather than sympathize—That’s me! you say, not I feel for him …So from the standpoint of Kant’s “purposiveness without a purpose,” the answer to the question Are video games art? appears to be an emphatic no. Kant’s was a theory of spectatorship, not participation.
The post-’60s culture consumer no longer wants to be a passive spectator or a mere appreciator, neither of the free beauties of nature nor of autonomous human endeavor. Perversely, the more Nietzschean we’ve become in our attitude to the arts, the more a certain telltale ressentiment shows itself. Like an insulted gentleman, the public now demands satisfaction from its art. We want to be the ones doing it—whatever it is. We don’t want to be left out! Let us play too!
As the article mentions, there appears to be moral component missing to video games. The authors write, “a tragic video game would require that you never cheat, turn off the computer when you’ve screwed up, or save the game at a point when things are going well.” The fact that in a video game we enjoy a myriad of choices without seemingly any real consequences encapsulates nicely the ethos of our consumer age: that our lifestyle should not be bound by any higher concern than consumption itself. Hell, even An Inconvenient Truth makes it sound like the answer to global warming is simply a matter of collectively making more responsible consumer choices — individually.
N+1 is skeptical…
…it’s pretty suspicious how closely the logic of game worlds resembles that of our world-system. With only the difference—a big one—that in games alone can you identify with yourself and your world at one and the same time. Your interest can be your world’s; its interests, yours.
Suspicious indeed, since in real life, the interests of individuals are increasingly not the interests of their world (certainly not from an environmental perspective). Suspicious also since it’s pretty impossible to reconcile in reality the notion of everyone successfully pursuing their own self-interest. I mean, that has never worked out. Selves bump into each other; not to mention that, in reality, there are winners and losers, winning and losing groups, tribes, nations, social classes.
These are the complex dynamics that, perhaps, a detached medium such as the novel, is supposed to raise awareness of. But novels are boring because you can’t be the hero. And everyone wants to be a hero, or at least, a Guitar Hero.
The N+1 is worth reading in full here.
There is a great article over here at alternet about the Tea Party in America, arguing that we dismiss at our peril this tax-hating, immigrant-resenting, Obama-resisting movement composed mostly of white, older, prosperous curmudgeons. It echoes some of the things Chris Hedges has said for a while: namely, that America is home to a growing body of neo-fascist sympathizers, people who are basically scared of any kind of future that might see their privileges in any way compromised for the benefit of other classes and/or minorities.
What is most disturbing about the Tea Party is its growing tendency to valorize direct resistance to the government. There is an important nuance here — resistance to governments one disapproves of has a long and very proud history, of course, and I wholeheartedly support the idea. But the Tea Party does not appear to see resisting and transforming the existing government as its major form of political involvement. Instead, much of its rhetoric implies that, just as American colonists threw off the yoke of British Empire, so too should the contemporary “oppressed” violently overthrow the yoke of Obama’s encroaching “socialism.”
With its predilection for authoritarianism, the Right has generally ceded to the Left the defiant tactics of street protests and rallies. But over time, a narrative promoted by such right-wing leaders as Patrick J. Buchanan and Howard Phillips has taken hold, one that demands acts of defiance as proof of one’s patriotism: right-wing populism imagined as the story of the American Revolution. “Dismiss the Tea Parties at Your Peril”
Can anyone imagine what kind of “revolution” might take place in America with Tea Party fanatics in the vanguard? I suppose that what this right-wing revolution might look like is determined, to some extent, by its membership and their values. While the French Revolution trumpeted the Enlightenment ideas of a growing class of bourgeoisie who believed to varying degrees in equality, human rights, the rule of law, freedom, rationality, democracy, the progressive tendency in the development of mankind, and property ownership (ugh!), the Tea Party movement seems to espouse values of a class that has less than universal ambitions:
Tea Party activists rarely speak of race when recounting their grievances; they talk of “culture” — American culture, of course, which they define by the cultural attributes of a particular type of white heterosexual man, one described as the provider for and defender of his family. He speaks English, may own a gun, and perceives himself as asking nothing from his government but the defense of the nation from invaders.
But a revolution of Tea Partiers would not simply be about the assertion of a formerly dominant white patriarchy. There is not only a “culture war” happening here. There is also economic conflict:
Look at it through the eyes of one of these men: Wages have been stagnant for more than 30 years. Over the course of those years, it’s become increasingly difficult to “get ahead” in a culture where doing better than your parents is the measure of success, a culture in which the acquisition of stuff is seen as a measure of one’s Americanism.
You look around you: some people are making gains relative to their previous position, be they black, Latino, female or gay. It doesn’t matter that their previous position was one of disempowerment…
The author goes on to talk about how a movement born of such resentment might achieve its greater aims in mainstream politics. The Tea Party, the author claims, will operate like a virus:
…injecting its DNA into the host body, so that the host body becomes overrun with right-wing cells. In our nation’s two-party system, the host body is the Republican Party. In a two-party system, the other side wins from time to time. The more infected one party is with the virus of fear and resentment, the more destructive our politics become.
The article never contemplates what might be the eventual result of such a virus successfully destroying the current system of democracy called the United States of America. Instead, the article examines how progressives might fight back. I suppose the job of imagining the triumph of the Tea Party, or something like it, could instead fall to fiction writers. It wouldn’t be a particularly happy task, but it might be an exciting one in its own chilling way.
While I really enjoyed the alternet article, and found it to be about the most thorough analysis of the Tea Party yet to appear online, I do wonder if the article is perhaps committing a few errors of ommission, and as a result, neutralizing some of the useful arguments that the Left could use to mobilize against the Right. On most issues, I suppose, the extremes of the Tea Party will never see eye-to-eye with the Left — or at least not what passes as the Left in America. But in some respects, the Tea Party has tapped a reservoir of underground rage that is in many respects justified, and the Left really should pay heed.
The Tea Party deplores the bail-out of the banks, the biggest transfer of taxpayer money to the wealthy elite in history. And so it should!
The Tea Party deplores the incursion of the government into so many aspects of people’s lives. And so it should!
The Tea Party bemoans the passing of the “Old America.” Hmmm.
Now, I am not entirely surely what that Old America is all about. I am neither old nor American, but such an America did apparently exist at one time, and, if you’ll excuse the apparent digression, you can read about it in this wonderful Garrison Keillor article, “The Old America is Fading,” (as an aside, Keillor is even better if you listen to him on the radio; I remember my parents doing so when we lived for a year in Illinois in 1982).
Children don’t wander free and mess around in vacant lots the way we used to — they’re in daycare now or enrolled in programs, and one worries about a certain loss of verve and nerve among the young who’ve been under constant supervision for too long.
And the old hometown is no longer a town but has morphed into suburban anonymity, and it hurts me. My grandmother taught school there, my grandfather came in 1880 and served on the town board that brought in telephone service and paved the roads, but their community of mutual assistance is gone, gone, gone. I have old friends in their 80s who’ve lived in that town for 50 years — good citizens, church people, passionate volunteers and solid Republicans — and in a crisis, when their health took a bad turn, nobody noticed. Neighbors don’t know each other; ambulances come and go and nobody comes by to ask what’s going on. The community they thought they were part of simply doesn’t exist anymore. If you fall by the wayside, you may as well be in the wilds of Alaska.
I believe Keillor puts his finger on something here that transcends Democrat/Republican and Right/Left. He’s evoked a feeling; a sense of a human scale of living. And that human scale has been swallowed up. It’s between swallowed up by suburban developers, Wal-Marts, and the growing tendency to try and organize every part of human activity according to some greater economic good.
That greater good is why kids of “helicopter parents” can’t loaf around in back alleys and get bored and have dreams.
And Obama has become about the biggest killjoy of dreams around.
America, under Obama, is run by exactly the kind of oligarchy that has little patience with that old small town spirit. America, under Obama, is scrambling to restore ever bigger banks to ever-greater heights of profitability, America is expanding the War on Terror (now to Pakistan), America is looking to inflate speculative markets into a giant, precarious bubble one more time.
The Left is currently barking up the wrong tree in continuing to hope that Obama can revive America’s economic system and make it work again. Should Americans trust Obama and the Democrats to take down the Tea Party? Hell no! These are people who still believe the American system is rational, that it’s just suffering a bit of a setback, that if people could just abandon their gut-felt prejudices and hatred and accept each other and work together instead of fighting then the economy would rebound and prosperity would return and we’d be back to the apparent heyday of the Clinton 1990s or something like that.
This is wishful thinking. Moreover, it’s a narrative without a logical conclusion. You can’t revive a system that has failure built into its DNA. This kind of discourse and mindset is fatal, in my view, to the Left.
The Right is “winning the battle of hearts and minds.” It has been for quite a while. Obama’s election victory was only a short-term victory of marketing.
The Tea Party is growing in number because it has appealed to people’s hearts not their minds — and the Left must steal a page from that same book if it’s to achieve anything. I’ll admit, like many on the Left, the seeming triumph of gut-check style politics perturbs me, because I’d like to believe that if certain rational truths were better known then Tea Partiers and their ilk could be persuaded to abandon their misguided prejudices and grievances. If, for example, one could rationally make the case to the population that it’s the War on Terror that degrades the beloved Constitution and NOT the spectre of public healthcare then perhaps the rabid warmongers might second-guess their allegiance to the military.
But that’s just naive. A strong dose of education and informed debate will improve the lot of everyone? No, it’s a liberal fantasy and I don’t believe in it anymore.
I’m not going to say abandon the mind in politics, but let’s give equal attention to matters of the heart. Let’s start by stating that more than truth, consistent argumentation, or Enlightenment ideals, people crave a nice place to live. The kind of small town that Keillor describes sounds awfully appealing to a lot of people. And if my elders are to be believed (James Howard Kunstler also bemoans the loss of small town America and the ascendancy of what he calls the Geography of Nowhere) it appears that for many Americans, such a place used to exist. And it existed in Canada — and probably Britain — too.
Now any rational progressive knows it wasn’t immigration that diminished that happy, prosperous, civic-minded town, and it wasn’t feminism, and it wasn’t gays, and it wasn’t transgendered people or anarchists or Starbucks-sipping liberals either!
What did in the so-called small-town America of yore was greed on a globalized scale. I am sure one day this can be worked into a narrative that can appeal just as much to the heart as to the mind. Such a unifying narrative is sorely needed.
Rather than constructing such a narrative, the alternet article suggests organizing politics against the Tea Party in quite a different way. It suggests that
…to thwart the Tea Party movement from making further inroads, progressives have to re-coalesce not just around elections, but around issues. Immigration reform needs to become the issue of gay-rights activists and feminists. Women’s rights need to be advanced by environmentalists and labor unions. Racial equality, energy reform, Wall Street reform — these all have to become everybody’s issues at some level.
And this is where I jump off the author’s bandwagon. It’s a bit like being lectured that you gotta eat your broccoli when somebody says “these all have to become everybody’s issues at some level.”
These are all of course worthy issues. But the thing is, they don’t sound compelling to a critical mass. They lack the overarching power of the narrative that the Tea Party — no matter how silly and inconsistent it is — has harnessed to its nefarious aims. The Tea Partiers argue — truthfully — that America has changed and they don’t like it. Then they scream and shout about it rather petulantly. But a resurgent Left should start with exactly the same Chapter One.
America has changed and we don’t like it. And when I say we, I mean also those of us who live in other Western democracies who’ve seen many similar changes in our own backyards.
Then, in Chapter Two, instead of resorting to wishing we were back in the Old America — which never existed for everyone, and moreover, depended on a confluence of events that we’ll never see again (cheap oil, very few world economic competitors, a post-War reconstruction boom) — rather than try and revive a Myth, let’s imagine a better future. Recent history, at any rate, seems to show that trying to stitch a quilt out of a patchwork of issues — gay marriage, a woman’s right to choose, immigration — leaves the Left rather threadbare. To combat the growing power of the Right, we need our own over-arching narrative that tells us how we got here and where we should go next. We need as compelling a grand narrative as Marx told over a hundred years ago.
In fact, to overlook for a minute the rather unpopular “brand identity” of communism, you could start nowhere better than with “workers of the world unite.” Because if there is one thing that truly is universal, it’s that all of us work or live off the ails of productive work. Chapter Two could start,
“The worker has found himself under increasing assault for three decades. Gay, straight, black, white, Hispanic, he/she inherits a world that has been run for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many. Large corporations willfully plunder and pollute the world for the sake of short-term profit and unless their power is checked, ordinary people everywhere will inherit a world that can scarcely sustain them.
It’s time to take the power back.”