Tag Archive: capitalism

Vik Muniz & his waste pickers

Here are my introductory comments to the 2010 documentary Waste Land, delivered yesterday at the Fleming Museum in Burlington and shown in connection with the exhibition High Trash, which runs until May 19.

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Take-home message

… from Bill McKibben and 350.org’s new roadshow, “Do The Math,” previewed tonight here at the University of Vermont:

If climate scientists (and climate change modelers) are correct that the burning of more than a small fraction of the world’s available fossil fuel reserves will trigger changes that will induce paroxysms of preventable suffering, then prudence, honor, and justice dictate that we should act to prevent that from happening.


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It riles me up when intelligent people whose work I respect a lot say ill-considered, if not outright indefensible, things. Jodi Dean’s post arguing that communism “worked” strikes me as such a thing. I’ve provided a lengthy counter-argument on her blog, the gist of which is that the political projects that were actually carried out (rather than merely dreamed) under the flag of “communism” were colossal failures, for a whole host of reasons. This is thoroughly documented, and anyone who has spent much time in the former Soviet Union, or I imagine in China, has encountered the many levels of failure: social, economic, ecological, and, perhaps most disturbingly, a kind of deep spiritual failure.

Gilles Deleuze argues that what we need are artistic and philosophical experiments that would revive our belief in this world. (That’s what this blog has argued since its inception.) While the Soviet experiment did produce such a belief in its earliest stages — and these are worth learning from — it lost it rapidly and decisively. Whether we date that loss to the long slow decline after Khrushchev, or to Stalin’s ascent and totalitarian takeover in the 1920s (and the killing fields that followed), or to the suppression of leftist dissent (such as the Kronstadt Rebellion of 1921, or others even earlier), is all a matter for debate. View full article »

It’s probably inappropriate to review a book about four films when one has only seen one, and by far the shortest (it’s a music video), of the four. So this isn’t a review so much as an appreciation of Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect, along with some half-digested notes I made while reading it, but which I haven’t been able to synthesize into what would constitute a proper review. Due to time constraints (which will continue for a while), I’ll share them as is. (I would also recommend Chris Vitale’s response to the book.)

I’ve been a fan of Shaviro’s work since a web search for “Dhalgren” led me directly to Shaviro, who it turned out was a fan of the book by Samuel Delany that was formative in my early intellectual development. I was 13 at the time I read Dhalgren, and I hadn’t read anything quite like it until then (or much like it since). I had come across Shaviro’s writings earlier, but I’ve followed them more diligently — and been inspired by his writing on science fiction, films, music, politics and culture over the years (his Stranded in the Jungle provides a great snapshot of how widely his tastes range) — since chancing onto his site. His turn to Alfred North Whitehead in the book Without Criteria accompanied a move in my own thinking toward Whitehead’s process-relational understanding of the universe. Since then, Shaviro and I have found ourselves on the same side of the process-objects debates that have been staged here and on other blogs.

Post-Cinematic Affect is a short work. Much of it appeared as an extra-length article in Film-Philosophy, and most of the rest is readable here and there online, but I would urge you to buy the book to support Zero Books’ laudable effort to make philosophy affordable. Its shortness, however, and the small sampling of films it discusses, belies a depth of argumentation that generates rich insights on media, capitalism, affect, allure, celebrity culture, and much more. View full article »


Quick thought after listening to Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” today about the estate tax:

Any system, as a coordinated set of actants and relations, will disproportionately favor those of its members who know how to work it for their own benefit. A pragmatic egalitarianism will attempt to minimize the opportunities for such disproportionate favoritism, without creating worse problems in the process.

As a system oriented toward the monetization (commodification) of things, i.e.,the conversion of things into capital, and the accumulation of such capital through the means made available for that, capitalism disproportionately favors those who know how to squeeze money out of things. Progressive taxation, estate taxes, and other such means of regulatory management work to reduce such systemic favoritism so as to better support socially valued goals (such as social cohesion, equal opportunity, fairness, etc.).

The question is whether we want to live in a capitalist society characterized by vast discrepancies in wealth and power, or a democracy in which capitalist and/or market relations have a place but do not dominate all relations. In 1900, 1% of Americans controlled 50% of the wealth in the country. By 1970, as a result of progressive social and economic policies brought in by the presidential administrations of Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and others, that percentage had declined to 20% and a large middle-class had emerged. Today the percentage controlled by the wealthiest 1% is back up to 33%, and climbing.

As told by John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Hoodwinked. Thanks to Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters for the tip.


“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”

– Through the Looking Glass

Lawrence Lessig has written a lengthy retort to Kevin Kelly’s article, which I just wrote about, describing the open-source movement as a form of socialism. Lessig, leading theorist of the open-source movement and a respectable legal scholar (whom I’ve blogged about here), says no way, but his argument, which he admits is a “rant,” is as sloppy as he accuses Kelly of being.

Lessig’s argument is essentially that one cannot redefine a word at will:

“Words have meaning. We don’t get to choose their meaning. If you call something “X” people will hear the equation. They won’t read the fine-print which says (“By X, I mean really not-X).”

and that the word “socialism” has a clear meaning and Kelly’s redefinition of it plays into the wrong hands. Kelly’s “sloppiness” here, as he calls it,

“has serious political consequences. When a founder of the movement which we all now celebrate calls this movement ‘socialist,’ that plays right in the hand of those would attack everything this movement has built. [...] I do think that now is not the time to engage in a playful redefinition of a term that has such a distinctive and clear sense. Whatever ‘socialism’ could have become, had it not been hijacked by revolutions in the east, what it is in the minds of 95% of America is not what Wikipedia is.”

The irony here is that Lessig writes as if he hasn’t a clue of the historical meaning of the word “socialism” beyond its use as an epithet by American conservatives. He is, in effect, choosing the meaning of a word even as he diallows others from doing that. “At the core of socialism,” he writes, “is coercion”:

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