Posts Tagged ‘criticism’

The Short Version / Reviews

October 31, 2014

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Tony Hoagland / Poet

 

 

Every time I come across an article or poem by Tony Hoagland, I either turn to it immediately, or savor the thought as I thumb my way through.   He is smart, witty, enjoyable… and in his bio photo looks as I would imagine a leprechaun would as it had just cast a spell and/or achieved a little mischief with words.  The truth, for Mr. Hoagland, is mischievous.  I have no higher praise.

The fun begins, right off the bat, with his titles:  “What Narcissism Means to Me” and “Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty”, among  others.  His criticism has the bite and crunch appeal of granola and milk sprinkled with fresh raspberries.  As he says himself:  “This collection of essays about poetry, (from the book “Real Sofistikashun”), neither academic nor exactly for the reader off the street, is in fact a mostly homemade set of geographies, jerry-rigged descriptions, and taxonomies. They are intended for the reader who loves poems and likes to think about them.”

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Well, so are the poems.  I opened my most recent issue of “The Sun”, to happen upon three of them.  In “Ship”, he complains:

 

At dawn I get up from my bed and draw the blinds;

            the light through the bedroom window is too strong.

            I don’t want the sun entering my house so early,

            when the dreams inside my head are still wet paint.

 

In “Upward” he laments the loss of a friendship:

 

With the help of Zen,

            my old friend Jack

            dissolved his disagreements

            with the world,

            purified his quarrels,

 

            sushed his ego,

            stopped biting back

            when bitten,

            and gradually had

            no opinions

            other than wise ones.

 

            …

 

            Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, I say

            quietly to myself

            like a character

            in some science-fiction novel

            as I watch the

 

            smooth spaceships of Zen

            slip the heavy harness

            of the earth

            and rise into the weightlessness

            of space,

 

            …

 

Reads almost like some monologue in a movie full of warmth and oddities – doesn’t it.   Tony makes me wonder if they haven’t a stable of poets somewhere on the movie backlot, who drift from light comedy to light comedy sprinkling bits of fairy enchantment.

His stuff just feels like it’s been around; never borrowed, but wise.

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Photos from Google Images / quotations by Tony Hoagland

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From the Editor’s Perch…

September 2, 2014

Teenager3

Question Rebellion

 

It has been found that when blind-from-birth persons have had their sight restored by operative means, they don’t automatically ‘see’ like you or I.  These newly sighted people have to learn what the various colors and shades of light coming in through their eyes mean.  They must walk around and explore the world in order to recognize what a ‘chair’ is, for example.  Then, they can understand what a chair ‘looks like’.  It seems experience of the world is necessary before we can understand what the perceptions we have mean.

 

It has been widely recognized that as people age, they generally become more conservative.  It has also been noted, in this recent article “Why Won’t They Listen?” by William Saletan in the New York Times, (which is a review of the book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt), that “Conservatism thrives because it fits how people think, and that’s what validates it.”  Minds are like eyes.  They must ‘learn’ to ‘think’.  They must learn to ‘see’ what is there.

 

Saletan goes on to note that whereas Conservatives tend to base their convictions on 6 moral foundations (including faith, patriotism, valor, chastity, law and order), Liberals “focus almost entirely on care and fighting oppression” (my italics).  Because of this, he goes on to note, Conservatives most often can understand what Liberals are arguing (because of their wider moral stance), but Liberals often cannot make sense of Conservatives (because of their narrower moral stance).

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In my own world I’ve often heard liberals scorn the ‘hypocrisy of Conservatives’.   They would do better to scorn the hypocrisy of thought – or of reality in toto.  A true evaluation usually contains a dark side.  Nearly any effort suffers ‘unintended consequences’.  Liberals seem especially poor at discerning this.  They are like actors who cannot grasp the subtext.  They seem to prefer living in a world where if there is a problem hole, filling the hole will solve the problem.   In the real world something caused the hole, and will cause there to be a hole again.  This is what Conservatives would like to discuss with them.  But a Liberal will say, “You say you hate holes, but here you are, refusing to fill them.”  To which a Conservative might answer, “Filling the hole will not make it go away.”  This dumbfounds the Liberal.  ‘How can filling a hole NOT make it go away?  A child could understand this!’
Teenager2

Exactly.

 

In lieu of gathered wisdom, Liberals often dismiss Conservatism as representing a particularly nasty side of humanity.  Rarely a day goes by that I do not hear the grumbling of some Liberal that they are just giving up on talking to any more idiotic, brutal, blind, closed-minded, and greedy, Neanderthal Conservatives.   And if I am lucky enough, within the same day, to meet with a fellow Conservative, I’m mostly likely to see a shake of the head, whenever they speak of Liberals with chagrin, and a response somewhat of the retort, “They are like children!”.

 

Living as a ‘declared’ Conservative can be lonely, isolating and quite trying experience, rather like a beleaguered parent.   You feel like a piece of hanging meat being pestered by flies.

 

 

And trying to get on in a world where there are people, who would fashion themselves as Progressives  – shopping for their politics at the only the best stores – this is the Conservatives burden.  ‘Progressive’  is a name brand which declares its own infallibility.  Progressives walk around in designer thoughts, bemoaning all of the unwashed; while swearing at the odd Conservative as if stubbing their toe on a chair they cannot comprehend and spilling their Kool Aid.  They don’t care that you don’t agree with what they think – or drink.  What offends them is that you can’t recognize extremely fine fashion when you see it.

 

But we Conservatives DO recognize fashion.  We just feel that life requires practical, tested measures.

 

A Conservative might hope Liberals would take advice from their own ecological laments and realize culture is a profoundly complex thing best left to grow organically; that culture is an accretion of collected individual wisdom best tended within a wisely structured environment of what lawyers call ‘natural law’, and is not something to be corrected and rearranged at intellectual whim.  That you can kill things this way; completely destroy a habitat.  (As Ronald Reagan noted, civilization is fragile as an eggshell.)  But they don’t.  They keep importing their intellectual kudzu and disseminating it as far as able.  As Saletan points out in his article, they destroy ‘moral capital’.

 

After a day of trying to get through to these modern day knuckleheads, a Conservative can be sorely tempted to wander off by themselves for awhile, sit on a rock and pray.

Pictures taken from Google Images

 

 

 

 

 

From the Editor’s Perch

August 16, 2014
Native Ad in The Atlantic

Native Ad in The Atlantic

“Newsvertising”

 Is Native Advertising a New Way of Gaining Balanced News?

A friend’s blog recently posted this humorous commentary by John Oliver on “Native Advertising”:  http://www.scotbastian.com/do-ya-think-blog/newsvertising-er-i-mean-native-advertising-in-the-news#comments

“Native Advertising” are pieces of advertising commentary placed with the body of a newspaper or magazine and graphically sculpted to resemble the normal stories surrounding it (with a small disclaimer).  

This piece made me wonder if perhaps a new way of gaining ‘balanced’ coverage isn’t evolving.  As I noted in my comment: “I think this tendency has a benefit especially in a climate of polarized media where the published news is slanted and selected so as to please their subscribers. How else could Chevron get its views across clearly in a publication such as the New York Times? It solves a multitude of problems at once: The NYTimes does not alienate it’s audience. Chevron gets its views made. The business model supports continuing news, as always.”

Native Advertising in the Slate

Native Advertising in the Slate

Groups with opposing views could pay to have these views published in their opponents’ news organs.  Is this a win, win with more balanced news for everyone?

Images from Google

From the Editor’s Perch…

July 31, 2014
Seattle and Environs

Seattle and Environs

In the Big Cities There’s Really Only One Game in Town, and It’s Out of Town

 

A criticism lobbed by the inhabitants of our large cities of our country’s rural areas and small towns is that they are ‘provincial’.  And ‘provincials’ are seen as uneducated and unsophisticated people who have the speech and narrow, limited attitudes of rustics and small town Babbitts.  This is seen as a bad thing.  And in some respects I’d suppose it is.

 

However, there is at least one respect in which small town life is refreshing.  I’ve lived in Seattle for many years, and now I live in rural Belpre Ohio, a small town across the river from Parkersburg, West Virginia.  Most people here are as they pretend to be.  Your waitress is a waitress.  Your bank teller is a bank teller.  The electrician, garbage collector, lock repairman, heating and air conditioning fellow, the insurance salesman, the nurse, and on and on are who they pretend to be.  And so far I’ve found them to be quite competent, solid and hard working.

 

I was talking over our policies with my insurance salesman who has his office a couple blocks away just the other day.  He’s a younger fellow, smart, good looking, and working out of a small cottage converted to business use which is on the main thoroughfare.  He had always lived in a small town and was wondering if he shouldn’t try living in a big city for a while, and asked me what I thought the differences were.  Off the top of my head I said, “Well, they’re probably more ambitious.”  But I was ruminating more on this after leaving his office, when it occurred to me, that a most interesting difference was that the people in large cities see themselves as acting on a world stage.  They see their concerns as world concerns.  They see themselves as arbitrating the path of civilization, the future of our planet.  Their concerns are big and important… usual crucial.  So they can get pretty hot about them.  In this small town I’ve moved to, the concerns are much more human-sized.  (Though they can still get hot about them.)

 

A problem I’d had in the big city was that probably all of the people I knew were not on a world stage.  They discussed things as if we were.  But actually the world stage for whatever issue we were discussing was usually New York or Washington D. C.  or some other world capital where the actual Mandarins of opinion worked and thrived.  My personal experience was not a credible currency for argument.  What was credible and powerful in conversation was information, opinion – and especially attitude – as disseminated by these Mandarins… all of the talking heads out there in the media.  So, though important conversations on the face of them seemed to be between the people you were speaking with, they were actually discussions over the digressions of various mandarins.  This is tedious once you begin to recognize the mandarins.  You’ve heard all the moves and countermoves.  It is also suffocatingly pedantic.  In this respect, the blogosphere is a recent help.   You send me your link.  I’ll send you my link.  We save each other the waste of a lot of hot air – the inaccuracies of interpretation.  And neither of us read it.

 

In the big city the waiter is not a waiter, (they’re actors, artists!), the salesman is not a salesman (he’s a promoter), the tech fellow is not a tech fellow (he’s an entrepreneur), your teacher is writing a book…  Not many Americans in big cities.  They are World Citizens.  In the big cities married people are not really married (in the traditional sense), nor are they really religious, nor are they really the sex they appear to be (either through clothing or desire)…

 

Everybody is a big potato in the big city!  No small potatoes there.  I used to complain to my wife that, “I wish many of my artist friends would just admit that we are small potatoes.  Maybe we will become big potatoes some day.  But if we could just admit that right now we are small potatoes – maybe we could have a satisfying conversation.”  But up and onwards the whole system goes in its ambitious, progressive frenzy.

 

In the big cities there is really only one game in town, and it’s out of town.  In the provinces there’s really only one game in town, and it’s right here.  There’s the big difference.

Belpre Ohio1

Photos by Google Images

 

From the Editor’s Perch…

July 21, 2014

Jennifer Woodworth How I Kiss Her Turning Head

Maternal Horror

 

Jennifer Woodworth’s newest book, How I Kiss Her Turning Head, which is just out by Monkey Puzzle Press, is a most gentle jaunt into the genre of Maternal Horror.  ‘Maternal Horror’ is a term I have had to coin myself.  But this is not Rosemary’s Baby.  This is the Brahms Lullaby of Xtreme Mothering.  The baby and child in these stories and sketches comprise a wonderful blessing – so wonderful, that we follow our first person hero as if pushing off down the pipe of some Xtreme Sport …  Right down the rabbit hole of maternal instinct, without time to say, “Hello!  Goodbye!” into a sort of mental ward where the ordinary and quotidian prerogatives of life conflict to our first person narrator’s charming wonderment.  And off we go, as the book paints a gentle rebellion for two.

“I have never wanted anything more than I want babies.”  The narrator tells us at the beginning of the first and best story, “Mother of One”.  And shortly she adds:

“I want another baby,” I say to my husband.”

“I know you do,” he says.  He means he does not want another child, not now, not ever.”

 

How charged and compact that exchange is!

Our author knows a subtext, and next to that, a rebellious flight of words.  All of this makes for a good read.  Her stories churn in the updraft of a contained conflagration.  Her words and flights of fancy are cloaked like actors to carry more romantic weight.  But all of the ducks here are rubber ducks.  Her first person narrator “contains multitudes” of insight, but all from an idea fixee.  Her first person narrator is entirely rational aside from being mostly fixated.  Imagine an Asperger of mothering, with the soft voice, and gentle nudging of the genuinely aware – and you’ll be getting close to the voice of this narrator.

The interest of the first story, “Mother of One” – which is a lovely jolt of maternal compulsion – is deciding partly where the horror lies.  Is the Surrogate Mother, or is the Outsourcing Birth Mother the monster of this tale.  Is it the narrator’s world which is a bit off kilter – or is it the narrator?  The ending tale finds our heroine legally confined but still rebellious.   Though it wouldn’t surprise me to hear our narrator reply from her ward – in an attractive way and with an appealing tone, (or perhaps she would just ‘suggest’), if asked, ‘how it could be “rebelling” when the world is backaswards?’.

Jennifer Woodworth has a playful dramatic sense, writes a fine narrative, composes a lovely tune with her words, and is smart enough to say things worth reading.  This is a small book to purchase and enjoy, and possibly to start your collection with.

From the Editor’s Perch…

May 12, 2014

Identical  Businessmen11

“You’re the Devil”

 

My son asked me if I planned to continue participating in live theater after we moved to Ohio.  And I said that I wasn’t sure.  But that I’d probably “continue writing my serial fiction, because I enjoy making up stuff.”

And he said, “What’s the point of writing stuff, if people don’t read it?”

This gave me pause.  “You’re the Devil,” I replied.

 

What is the role of failure?  Success seems all important.  People kill themselves for lack of success.  It’s the all too common reason for suicide.  Why is success so important!  Why does it badger us so?  Failure seems a particularly human affliction.  It is hard to imagine a squirrel hanging itself, because it feels like a ‘loser’ – or a bird, or an ant, or a worm for that matter doing themselves in.  Lemmings run off of cliff sides.  But does an actual feeling of despair initially sweep across their community beforehand, so that they lose all bearings?

And if success is so important, where does that leave mediocrity?

Very few of us are successful.  Fewer still are wildly successful.  And even the wildly successful often remain ambitious – or even moreso.  And history has shown us (in quite lurid detail) that ambition is insatiable, and probably makes us – even more suicidal!

Yet statistically, the vast majority of us must be mediocre.  There is no logical way around this conundrum.  So what is the role of failure?

 

More than anything, we tend to react to failure as if it were the Devil’s pronged fork.  We distance ourselves from the pointy end as much as possible!  “I’m not a failure.  I’m successfully earning a living.”  “I’m on my way to success.”  “I am learning the ropes.”  “I am supporting my family of five, all of whom are way above normal.”  “I am helping the less fortunate.”  “I’m in an internship! J” “I could be more successful, if that’s what I really wanted.”  “No one is a failure who has friends.” “I feel I’m already a success.”  Or, perhaps the most desperate, “I’m a good person!”

Sorry.  You are nearly all ‘losers’.  You are not ‘dying with all the toys’.  And you are not  ‘the winner’.  The good news is that this is only sounds harsh if you think it does.  Otherwise, it’s a source of wry humor… which, (to my way of thinking), is God smiling.

 

But where does this leave the artistically inclined?  Most artists will become, like most others, mediocre.  Even most successful artists earn a living with difficulty.  Artists must push an enormous burden to raise a family.  And, their activities are more often than not, self-centered.  It is very hard for an artist to distance him/herself from the prongs of failure.

So, to get back to the issue raised by my son, ““What’s the point of writing stuff, if people don’t read it?”

Well, you know, (my son), the cup is always half full.  Very few of the solutions, and most of the problems of my artistic life have come from the people who have ‘read it’.  An audience can be a burden – even a hex.  If you don’t believe this, just attend any artistic ‘talk back’.  There is usually a moderator present to protect the creative type – both from the ‘haters’ and the ‘lovers’.  Once you have raised an audience, there are packs of hungry egos out there to both want it / and to demean it.

As for money…  Once people pay for something, there is this feeling that they own it.  And people pay an artist, because they want more of the same thing.  But, if you’re not paid a cent, no one owns you.  And no one tells you what to do.

 

But, even acknowledging all of this, if you’re mediocre, people might ask, what is the point of producing more work?  That is, if your art accomplishes nothing, what’s the point in making it?

In responding to this, I think back on a Sunday morning brunch my wife and I enjoyed years ago in a Portland Café.  It was upscale and sunny.  And we were visiting with my wife’s Uncle, a retired architect.  And somehow the conversation turned to religion and he suggested that wasn’t going to church a waste of time?  He pointed out that couldn’t the time be much better spent in doing some social work that would actually help someone?  His eyes showed concern.

‘And that’s what we’re doing now?’  I laughed to myself, as I enjoyed the fresh coffee.

 

“What do the people who aren’t attending Church do with their Sunday mornings?”  I might have asked, sharing his concern.  “Do they consume a big breakfast?  Do they sleep in?  Do they visit friends?  Do they go duck hunting and blast a couple birds?  Or maybe snag a fish and smack them on the head?  Do they watch the pregame festivities on TV?  Maybe work in the yard, or catch up on some home repairs?  Or maybe they read the New York Times?  Or maybe they are still up drinking beers?”

 

But the larger – more serious – point my wife’s Uncle was dancing around was “what in the world does going to Church on Sunday morning actually accomplish?  How does this make us more successful?  How does this make other people’s lives more rich and meaningful?  Does God listen?  Will it change anything even if He does?  Isn’t it possible that this whole ‘God’ thing is just one big shame and that they are all just wasting their Sunday mornings over there blowing smoke?

 

People without faith can’t understand that the foundation of faith is doubt.  Attacking the faithful only makes them stronger.  People like my wife’s Uncle are actually the shoulders that the religious stand on.  (Look at me.  Here I am!)

 

Because doing things to no purpose is actually a spiritual activity.  And the Devil just hates this sort of thing.

Photo by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch…

April 11, 2014

Arabs Angel on John's Shoulder1 AntChrist

Blog Encounters

            Time passes in a library, at home as we read, even on the internet – though it might seem as if we’ve slipped into timelessness.

And the people we meet on the internet grow older, their lives change, or they wander away, or lose interest, or can die and are lost to us like a closed book.

Recently I was brought up short by a death notice on a blog I have visited from time to time: The Baggage Handler.   His blog was an account of his life as an informant for the DEA; how he’d become involved; how he’d been flipped; plus the back story of his life.  Abandoning Miami and his family in an effort to free himself from the habits of his past, he apparently died at a fairly young age of pneumonia in Minnesota.

Some bloggers, I think, are swallowed up by the despair of their situation – such as those ensnared in their own chronic pain or mental illness – and disappear.  Or others, I think, eventually despair for their subject.  For example, The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America, I found compelling reading, until it seemed the author stopped publishing.  His interviews of failed artists living alone, in their dingy basement/studio/living quarters, failed marriages, or in deteriorating lofts stuffed with years of artistic toil and inventions, dust devils and mounds of old dried tubes of paint, and living left to suppurate in their health problems, in debt and/or swirling down the drain of their ingrown mental constructions: crotchety, suspicious, bewildered or embittered by a vanished audience.  It was like reading Of Human Bondage over and over again – and just the good parts.

A science teacher living in Peking, who wrote lovely scientific and mathematical  examinations of emerging notions – spawned a lot of the ‘emerging notions’ in my own serial fiction,  The Cognitive Web.  However, the Chinese government and the smog – (he remained indoors, kept his doors and windows closed, and still his thinking was getting ‘hazy’) – finally got too much to bear.  The last of that blog had him hop scotching to Germany to get some air, and his life back.

Bloggers pass by my blog, and when they leave a ‘like’ or a note, I visit them.  Kind of like a hobo scratching an ‘X’ on the gatepost where a sandwich will be offered.

I regularly  visit a fashion column, I Love Green Inspiration,  by an Italian woman just to oogle beauty: the clothes, fantastic settings and women.  It’s a quick lick of a lollipop.

A Brazilian blogger, The Talking Violin, with a deep sonorous voice, regularly posts a minute sound bite, along with an interesting photo, of what’s making the news in this former portion of the Portuguese Empire.

And a fellow from Bangkok (Thailand Footprint), regularly follows the local culture and expat ‘crime noir’.   I’d read a little too much of that, I think, as I anticipated our upcoming re-visit there with our adopted Thai son.

A current favorite of mine is The Culture Monk.  The blogger, Kenneth Justice, is on a “One Hundred Coffee Shops” stop of America.  He flies, drives, takes a train, or walks, I suppose, to major cities around our country and blogs – of wherever he can herd his jittery fingers.   It’s a morning’s cup of philosophy, religion, and culture via chance encounters.  He takes the American pulse, with vague stabs at the Great Questions.  But he’s liberal, like most of the people’s blogs I visit; like everybody, it would seem, out there.  So we argue.

Then, of course, we all have to visit our friend’s blogs, to see what they’ve written.  Scot Bastian’s  “Do Ya Think?” is devoted to skepticism.  (Those damned people have to be so sure of everything.  We argue all of the time.)  And Dan Green’s “Dangblog” is a very well written perusal of current Ballard /Seattle existence.  But as he recently voted for a Socialist, (which I think is like voting for a Tapeworm – why would you do that?), here again we argue.

And now I’ve just thought of another blogger I follow who is currently dying of pancreatic cancer!   He writes a very good blog about art called, Robert Genn’s Twice Weekly Letter – and currently from bed, so that his daughter is partly carrying on the letter in his stead.

But we don’t argue!  (Yet.)   J

 

Photos by Carl Nelson and Google

From the Editor’s Perch…

March 7, 2014

anarchism2

Anarchists:  You Probably Are One

           

            Rush Limbaugh, (to start right out on a polarizing note), used to gleefully point out that even the most successful liberals were more than likely 95% conservative in the matter of their own affairs.  They were conservative in their business dealings, in their financial matters, in how they raised their families, and in matters of education, where they lived, how they worshipped, how they comported themselves, and generally in how they managed their day to day affairs 24/7.  And this was because conservatism ‘worked’.  Conservatism worked because it bore the collected wisdom of countless generations of human beings when dealing with much the same matters we deal with today in different guises.  In his combative way, this was actually Rush Limbaugh ‘reaching out’.  He was saying, “Conservative thought is not your enemy.  And if you consider your own lives for a moment, you’ll agree.”

Now think of all the moments of your day when you are not being coerced, nor coercing someone else.  This includes all those periods when you are exhibiting self-discipline; when you are meeting an obligation; when you are conducting yourself as you would prefer.  This can include family time, work time, recreational time, …just about any time.  These times of the day, are those times when you are living as an anarchist.  They are not without structure.  They are not without pleasure.  They are not without effort.  But they are rewarding, and comprise those moments which give meaning to a life.  And these are the periods and moments of your day when you are living as an anarchist.  So I would say to you, “Anarchism is not your enemy.  And if you consider the wealth of your own life, you’ll agree.”

 

Oftentimes, a main objection to anarchism is the question: “Well, how would it work?”

My answer would be: “Well, how does your day work?”

Anarchism is already successful.  Anarchism is already popular.

But what most people might say to this answer is, “Yes.  But how would an anarchist government work?”

And the answer would be:  “Only coercive entities can describe to you how something will be; how something WILL work.   Anarchists are against coercion.”

“Well then,” the response might be.  “I don’t see how an anarchist government could do the things a government has to do in order to sustain law and order.”

And I would point out to you that the anarchism we already practice in our daily lives sustains law and order – much more so, than there is in the power of our government to do so.   In fact, it is widely held that if just 10% of the populace refuses to obey a law, then the law is unenforceable.  10% is the effective power of coercion.  More than 90% is the effective power of natural (anarchistic) living practices.

 

About here, most people will lose patience and say, “This is ridiculous.  We just can’t do away with the government lock, stock and barrel, and expect anything but chaos to ensue.”

To which I would heartily agree.  The only thing which can be done overnight is daylight.  An anarchic society must be created brick by brick.  To kick away government safeguards overnight would be catastrophic.  But what the anarchist can say to the government ‘statists’ on a day to day basis is, “I would rather do that activity myself.”

Take the U S Postal Service for a prominent example.  Every time a citizen uses Fedex, or UPS, or e mail, or faxes something, or goes on Facebook, or the Web, or handles his financial matters or purchasing online – he is in effect saying to the government, “No thank you.  I would rather attend to this myself.”  RIP Postal Service.  The government shrinks.  Liberty expands.

And this is just one example.  There are hundreds of examples of anarchists (whether they know so or not) at work each and every day, telling the government in one form or another, “No thank you.  I would rather attend to this myself.”  This is how anarchism gradually replaces government.

 

Image from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

March 1, 2014

 

Sing along!

Sing along!

Anarchism: Give it a Look

 

            Most people, myself included, have glided right past the Anarchists when searching for a group of like-minded political minds.  Anarchists are represented in history and the media by bombings, assassinations, societal disruption and chaos.  Ironically, anarchists themselves – including founders such as the Frenchman, Proudhon – almost embrace this misperception, though it’s hard to imagine how the tenets of anarchism would support such behavior.  Anarchism itself is about establishing society through voluntary, personal arrangements, and flattened – as opposed to hierarchical – organizational structures.  Anarchism is not about chaos, but rather it is about organization through organic growth, personal connection, local rather than global activity, civic rather than state involvement, all with an accent on the adjective “voluntary”.  The roots of the word anarchism mean “against government”.  Governments are coercive.  Governments have definite structure.  Anarchistic arrangements are voluntary; they have mutable structure.  People change what they want.

Most strange of all, anarchic communities function well all around us.  In fact, we are probably part of several.  Anarchism has already been shown to work.  So, it is strange that we act as if the movement were something we couldn’t associate with.   Because we do.  Successfully.  Already.

There are already established threads of anarchism which are very strong, such as the free market, where a voluntary exchange of goods between individuals has created an incredible amount of wealth and efficient distribution of goods.   The family might also be considered a very successful anarchist structure which creates extremely tight bonds between members of what begins as a voluntary arrangement.  Neighborhood activities, bowling leagues, associations, clubs, theater and sports groups, etc… these are all voluntary activities which create a rich civic structure.  The moral basis of anarchism stems from the legal concept of natural law: that the best laws we can enact are outgrowths of what comes to be accepted behavior between two or more reasonable adults: ‘rules of order’ they might be called.  Anarchism is a wholly ‘grass-roots’ phenomena which creates its community as it grows.  It claims no territory, but can inhabit a vast area.

Probably the first question usually asked, once people have decided to consider the question is: How would an anarchist form of government work?  Well, unlike other governmental arrangements, an anarchist government cannot be described until it has evolved and matured to the state where we might refer to it as ‘something which could perform the tasks of a government’.  An anarchist government, because it is not coercive, cannot be initially conceived.  It must grow.  We might as well ask, “What can water do?”

Better to just pour it on the ground and see what happens.

Here are some books which have begun to address what ‘water might do’:

“The Art of NOT Being Governed” by James C. Scott

“The Vountary City / Choice, Community, and Civil Society” a series of essays edited by Paul Johnson

Pictures from Google Images

From the Editor’s Perch…

February 5, 2014

Editor: This seems a timely moment for this thought.

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Popularity

 

“While popularity is a trait often ascribed to an individual, it is an inherently social phenomenon and thus can only be understood in the context of groups of people.”  – Wikipedia

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How much popularity is a single person due?  How much attention should one person presume to deserve: below which she/he can feel rightly aggrieved, and above which he/she should feel blessed?

Tough questions, whose answer comes in fits and drabs, “Yes”’s  and “No”’s throughout  – and for the rest of – one’s life.

According to Wikipedia some of the personal traits which are correlated with popularity are attractiveness, competence, and a high level of aggression.  Social status is seen as a gauge of popularity.  And “social influence plays a large role in determining what is popular and what is not through an information cascade. Independent of personal information, the information cascade acts as a strong influence, causing individuals to imitate the actions of others, whether or not they are in agreement. When downloading music, people don’t necessarily decide for themselves what exact song to buy. Instead, they look at the list of most downloaded songs and decide to get those same top songs.”

The reality is -as in the quote above – that popularity is much more a function of what the crowd desires than what the person is.  Walt Whitman probably said it best: “”To have great poets you must have great audiences, too.”  And books could, and have, been written about what inflames the crowd – with all sorts of caveats and contradictory information tossed in.

Truly, our desires are a lot like that girl with a make-up kit, and popularity is the beholder who fancies that girl’s wiles!  Without a lot of glandular-ridden men, a woman’s charms go for naught.  Beauty needs those construction workers on their lunch break in order to shine.   In fact, we might describe art as the thing which would cause a person to act… which would fashion that overwhelming desire from within the crowd.

Put this way, the popularity we are due, is due to the popularity we create in an audience we can’t know.  And as a personal counselor once noted, “most people listen autobiographically”.  So in a way, popularity is like a charmed circle, and one is either on the inside – or on the outs.  And that is the popularity you are due.

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This information is sometimes best taken with a drink.  And often is.  Ha!

So.  Perhaps a better question to ask might be, “How much audience does a person need?”

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Well, here again, it can depend.  Say you’re an entertainer.  A large amount of paying audience is required, or you can’t pay your bills.  Your career ends.  Say you’re a business person.  You need a certain amount of traffic in order to move your product, or you can’t meet your overhead.  Your career ends.  Say you’re in a marriage where you need a certain amount of attention, or your partner does.  Or the marriage ends.  So here it is.  We probably all need just as much attention as is required to survive in the social net in which we swing.  We need all of the attention we want.  Which is why we want it.  And when we can stop needing attention, we’re fulfilled, and can probably feel that we have – at least the necessary  minimum – of all of the attention that we are due.  ..Whew!

But, how do we get all of the attention we want?

A Buddhist might say that the answer is simple: we decrease the amount of attention we want, until the amount we have is sufficient.  That is, if nobody acknowledges you, treat this as a blessing! and a chance to live as unrestricted and freely as you would.  Enjoy “the sun in the morning, and the moon at night”.  Focus on the joys of pet ownership.  Buy a fish, or go over the top and swim with the dolphins, if you will.

On the other hand, a Christian might say, that we are urged by the Lord to go out and proselytize of His blessings; that this is our number one reason for being.  Or as Robert Jensen has put it, “Christians serve a chatty God”.  “…a God who creates by word, redeems by an incarnate Word, whose Spirit delivers long, complicated texts to a community whose assemblies are full of words,”as Peter J. Leithart in “First Things”, puts it.  And so, a Christian must go out the door each morning and find a way to generate audience – to ‘knock the scales’ from people’s eyes!  This latter can be the tougher road taken, as the Lord’s work is never done, and people can be especially hard to button-hole.

What to do?

A lot of people take the middle road – and enjoy talking to ever so many people about the delights of life – as they walk their dog.

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Photos from Google Images and Carl Nelson


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