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September 30, 2009

100 Greatest Movies

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 2:56 am
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The boys over at Battleship Pretension have posted the listener-generated list of the top 100 movies of all time (well, minus the top ten, which they’ll be announcing next week on the show I think). I like the list, except for two inexcusable exclusions. The first is The Maltese Falcon. If Memento is on the list, then this should be. Okay, the story is not deep, the style is not revolutionary, the themes (if there are any) do not tap into some zeitgeist. But the characters are archetypal for the genre of film noir, the cast, acting, and dialogue are superb, the story is tight, not a moment of it is boring, and when I thing of tough-guy private detectives I inevitably think of Bogey as Sam Spade. Come on, people! The kicker is that I voted for this list, and I left it out, too. You could only pick 10 films, and I was trying to be objective, and so I picked Casablanca (which much of the same cast). Big mistake, apparently. I wonder how many other voters had it at number eleven.

The second exclusion is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I did in fact vote for. It’s cold, it has no human characters, really, and the ending is still pretty bewildering. But this movie revolutionized what movies could be about, what they could say and how they could say them. The thing is, no other film has really gone down the trail blazed by Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke, least of all any science fiction film.

On the show they also lament the presence of any documentaries. I forgot to include any in my voting, but let me now suggest Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, and almost anything by Errol Morris, but especially The Fog of War.

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September 28, 2009

5 Podcast Recommendations

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 11:52 pm

Podcasts are taking over my life. This is what I have instead of t.v. Here are the most interesting cultural and philosophical podcasts I’ve been into lately

1. Barely Literate– A book club hosted by Colin Marshall. Tends toward sci-fi (Snow Crash, The Man in the High Castle) and the fantastical (American Gods, the Master and Margarita).

2. The Marketplace of Ideas– Excellent cultural show, with guests from across the political spectrum (neocon critic Roger Kimball and former SDS member Cathy Wilkerson), also by Colin Marshall.

3. Entitled Opinions– Literary explorations with a Stanford professor. Great 3-part series on Dante’s Divine Comedy.

4. Philosophy Bites– Short (around 15 minutes) episodes dealing with classic and contemporary issues in philosophy.

5. History of Jazz– That’s its iTunes name, but the show is broadcast on the radio as “Jazz Insights”. I point this out because the former is a misnomer. You don’t get a chronological perspective, but rather series which profile certain Jazz figures, instruments, scenes, and styles. By a music professor and trumpeter. Wonderful.

And a bonus one for College Football fans: College Football Guys. Audio quality is not so good, but this is the most entertaining college football podcast around (why in the world did ESPN thing Ivan Maisel and Beano Cook had good podcast voices?). Also a blog.

September 27, 2009

A Song for Sunday #27

Filed under: A Song for Sunday — rmangum @ 11:19 pm

540px-Paradiso_Canto_31There is a happy land, far far, away. Somewhere beyond the moon, sun, and stars lies the Empyrean Heaven, where souls come to rest, all pain and strife ceases, our feelings of separateness are revealed to be an illusion and all things rejoice in an eternal, harmonious chorus.

This is a lie, of course, one of the oldest and most tempting. We are not immortal, and outside of the universe is nothing. Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here as individual beings with the consciousness of our own death? We do not and cannot know these things. As William James wrote in “The Problem of Being”, “from nothing to being there is no logical bridge.” Therefore, our existence is absurd.

But I don’t begrudge the faithful their Heaven. Indeed, I want it as badly as they do. But I think that the idea of it now, the beautiful dream that inspires so much art, is the best we may have of it.

Today’s song is God’s Promise by the Blind Boys of Alabama.

September 25, 2009

Zerzan on Anarcho-Syndicalism and Liberalism

Filed under: Anarchy,Philosophy — rmangum @ 6:05 pm

goya_sleep_of_reasonSometimes I get my best insights from people I don’t agree with. For instance, I’ve always found the anarcho-primitivist writer John Zerzan fascinating, even though I disagree with nearly 100% of what he writes. For those in the dark about primitivism, it rejects not only modern industrial capitalism, but all technology and division of labor in even the most basic form, in an attempt to recover a primal wildness and harmony with nature without such mediating systems as language and culture.

I had been reading up on anarcho-syndicalism when I came across this short essay by Zerzan on “The Bourgeois Roots of Anarcho-Syndicalism“. He writes:

The values upheld by anarcho-syndicalists do not significantly differ from those of the more radical of the bourgeois liberal theorists, and their project, upon examination, proves to be merely the extension of the liberal project.

Like the bourgeoisie – and maybe even more than the bourgeoisie – the anarcho-syndicalists embrace the values essential to capitalism.

What are these values. First of all, technological and economic progress, obviously a no-no for primitivists as it constitutes man’s continuing “mastery” and “domination” over nature. And the values which support this end include the work ethic, conformity, “social peace”, and “a rational, ethical society”.

Both bourgeois liberal theorists and anarcho-syndicalists want a rational, ethical society based on freedom, equality and justice, guaranteeing human rights. Both want a smoothly running economy with high levels of production guaranteeing scientific and technological progress. Both require social peace and conformity to realize their projects. It is difficult not to think that their projects are the same. I see only two significant differences. The bourgeoisie sees the economy as an apolitical force that can progress efficiently and ethically in the form of private enterprise. The anarcho-syndicalists recognize the economy as a political force which must, therefor, be run democratically. The bourgeois liberals believe that representational democracy can create their ideal. Anarcho-syndicalists believe that democracy must be direct – though they never seem to ask us if we want to spend time directly voting on every social issue that comes up. The project of the anarcho-syndicalists is really just an extension of the project of the project of bourgeois liberalism – an attempt to push that project toward its logical conclusion.

On the values Zerzan lists, I find that some (peace and rationality) are entirely good while others (conformity and work) rather mixed blessings. None can have any value for the primitivist. Zerzan’s critique leads me to two conclusions. The first is that the disparate economic ideas of anarchists aren’t entirely incommensurable. As Mises wrote in Human Action:

What divides those parties one calls today world view parties, i.e., parties committed to basic philosophical decisions about ultimate ends, is only seeming disagreement with regard to ultimate ends. Their antagonisms refer either to religious creeds or to problems of international relations or to the problem of the ownership of the means of production or to problems of political organization. It can be shown that all these controversies concern means and not ultimate ends.

. . . for all parties committed to pursuit of the people’s earthly welfare and thus approving social cooperation, questions of social organization and the conduct of social action are not problems of ultimate principles and of world views, but are ideological issues. They are technical problems with regard to which some arrangement is always possible.

Note that Mises distinguishes between “world views”, which interpret all phenomena, including physics, metaphysics, ethics, and so on, and narrower “ideologies”, which “have in view only human action and social cooperation”. Anarcho-syndicalism and liberalism, according to Zerzan, share a bourgeois world view while differing in ideology. Primitivism, on the other hand, is another world view entirely (actually, according to Mises’ full definition, it might even fail at that). The world view shared by liberalism and anarchism, as well as most schools of socialism, has a name never mentioned by Zerzan: Enlightenment.

This is my second conclusion: If syndicalism as Zerzan describes it is the logical conclusion of bourgeois liberalism, i.e. the Enlightenment, then primitivism is the logical conclusion of the reaction against the Enlightenment, i.e. Romanticism or Counter-Enlightenment. This is a strain of thought which is an undercurrent in socialism as well as many varieties of conservative and right-wing thought. It’s most famous figure is Rousseau, but also includes such tempestuous reactionaries as Johann Georg Hamann, Johann Gottfried Herder, William Blake, the writers associated with the Frankfurt School, and postmodernists too numerous to mention.

I am not completely opposed to Romanticism. Indeed, I love romantic art and find many Romantic critiques of reason and modernity to have some validity. But reading the primitivists such as Zerzan (and even more ridiculous figures like Hakim Bey) as they reject culture and scoff at the notions of “social peace” and “ethical society” even as they praise such people as Ted Kaczynski, is enough to give one pause, to say the least.

I think an excellent book could be written on this subject, interpreting modern political history not in terms of Left vs. Right, or Capitalism vs. Socialism, but Enlightenment vs. Romanticism, and tracing the threads of counter-enlightenment though on the left and right.

For a critique of primitivism and related subcultural movements from a perspective that is anarchist, anti-capitalist, and environmentalist, see Murray Bookchin’s classic essay Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm. His essay means to implicate liberal individualism along with what he calls “lifestyle anarchism”, but I think fails, for the main reason that the first is an Enlightenment individualism stressing social harmony, and the latter a Romantic individualism stressing rebellion for its own sake. But that’s a subject for another time.

September 21, 2009

A Song for Sunday #26

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Music — rmangum @ 4:21 am

This week’s tune is The Honeydripper by Joe Liggins, an R&B chart-topper in 1945. The secret of its success is its astounding, almost moronic simplicity (that two-note piano line), a template which it bequeaths to such immortal tunes as “Louie Louie”. Liggins was one of the many now-obscure musicians profiled in Nick Tosches Unsung Heroes of Rock N’ Roll: the Birth of Rock in the Wild Years Before Elvis, a book which puts forth the unusual thesis that Rock and Roll’s golden era came before the King hit the charts, and the the genre did not, in fact, spontaneously and suddenly emerge from Alan Freed’s ass. To wit:

Rock ‘n’ Roll was not created solely by blacks or by whites; and it certainly did not come into being all of a sudden. It evolved slowly, wrought by blacks and by whites, some of them old and some of them young, in the South and in the West, in the North and in the East.

Well, that certainly destroys about 90 percent of conventional wisdom about Rock and Roll’s genesis!

September 14, 2009

Where have all the B-Movies gone?

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 6:05 pm
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The wonderful opening scene from Satan’s Sadists. These days movies like this come from postmodern geek savants like Quentin Tarantino and Rob Zombie (both of whom, I’d be willing to wager have a VHS copy of this film).

Also check out this interview with Frank Conniff of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Battleship Pretension, as he talks about good bad movies, bad bad movies, and movies too weird to be categorized.

Quote of the Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — rmangum @ 2:57 am

In order to create it is necessary to destroy; and the agent of destruction in society is the poet. I believe that the poet is necessarily an anarchist, and that he must oppose all organized conceptions of the State, not only those which we inherit from the past, but equally those which are imposed on people in the name of the future.
-Herbert Read, Poetry and Anarchism

A Song for Sunday #25

Filed under: A Song for Sunday,Football — rmangum @ 1:04 am

B0002VERQA.01.LZZZZZZZI wanted to post this song last week to coincide with the first week of the NFL regular season, but my internet connection has been unreliable of late, and was down last Sunday. Oh well. Here’s A Golden Boy Again, the iconic composition for NFL Films by Sam Spence. Spence’s music is usually jazzy, madcap fun, but this one is epic, perfectly capturing the power and pathos of a football game. Spence was a soundtrack composer in the tradition of Henry Mancini, Elmer Bernstein, and Raymond Scott. Not much of an innovator, his scores borrowed from everywhere, and some songs were just straight ripoffs. With this piece though, he really does something special, turning the tune “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor” into the sound of hard-won victory.

September 9, 2009

Chartier on Left Libertarianism and Socialism

Filed under: Anarchy,Philosophy — rmangum @ 9:59 pm
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Law professor Gary Chartier, who writes the LiberaLaw blog, recently had a pamphlet posted on Center for a Stateless Society entitled “Socialist Ends, Market Means”. Written for Left Libertarians, it addresses the issue of how to frame an ideology that is seen as combining a radical left-wing social agenda with a radical right-wing economic program, as well as a concise statement of what Chartier sees as the particular values that justify the “Left” in Left Libertarianism. He attacks the suspicion of LL as “an exercise in spin” by showing how it is authentically libertarian and left-wing.

“LL is authentically libertarian because it is anti-statist . . . and because it affirms the values of markets and property rights. At the same time LL is authentically leftist because it seeks to challenge privilege, hierarchy, exclusion, deprivation, and domination– both ideologically and practically- and because it can exhibit a genuine commitment to inclusion, empowerment, and mutual respect.”

I do want to give one critique, however. Chartier offers up the possibility of libertarians claiming, or rather re-claiming, the word “socialism”. At a time when our slightly-to-the-left president is being denounced as a socialist, this would be decidedly audacious announcement of sympathy with the left over the right. Chartier argues that “there’s a meaningful opportunity for education- to highlight existence of a credible tradition advancing a different meaning of ‘socialism’.” There have been those in the past who have argued for a free market and yet embraced the label “socialist”. (In fact, I would argue that anyone who is consistently anarchist is de facto positing some form of free market.) Chartier wants to challenge those who wear the label today “to confront the reality that there is an inconsistency between the state-socialist’s goals and the authoritarian means she or he professes to prefer.” I would recommend a particularly useful essay on this point, Professor Long’s “Immanent Liberalism: the Politics of Mutual Consent”, where he borrows terminology from Marx to distinguish between “Vicarious Liberalism”, where relations of mutual consent is mediated through a state apparatus, and “Immanent Liberalism”, in which mutual consent is immediately realized in day-to-day life. Chartier wants LL to spur socialists to decide whether their socialism is of an immanent or vicarious variety. At the same time that LL makes socialists rethink their means, it ought to make libertarians rethink their ends*. What are the ends of socialism? For this I turn to another essay, “The Soviet Union vs. Socialism” by Noam Chomsky:

[T]he socialist ideal [is] to convert the means of production into the property of freely associated producers and thus the social property of people who have liberated themselves from exploitation by their master, as a fundamental step towards a broader realm of human freedom.

We shouldn’t think that the ends/means contradiction of state socialism was thought of by us first- it’s an old debate on the left. (Ironically, Chomsky in practice is something of a vicarious anarchist, or a sort of left-wing minarchist like Bertrand Russell.) But so far, so good. What’s my problem with his suggestion? It’s that insofar as we revision socialism as one branch of the libertarian tree we gain a better understanding of our own intellectual and cultural heritage, but insofar as we say to the world “we are socialists, of a sort” we make a confusion of the most unprofitable kind. The reason is that at this point in the modern history of ideas, the word “socialism”, as well as the word “capitalism”, carries too much baggage to be useful to an up-to-date analysis of our political economy, much less an unorthodox view as Left Libertarianism. Each term is tainted by its association with its “vicarious” as opposed to its “immanent” variety. I prefer terms which create confusion of a positive kind, which seem paradoxical enough to generate curiosity without preconceived attitudes, yet admit of concise definitions and do not deceive. I prefer “liberal anarchist” for myself. But, since at this point “libertarian” is somewhat tainted as well, “left libertarian” fits the bill quite well, and LLs have every reason to be content with it. (I don’t mean to indicate that Chartier wants to abandon that label, or even fully embrace the socialist one.) But perhaps, since even after being an ever-present view over the last 200 or so years, at least as and probably more coherent over time than liberalism or conservatism, it still generates shock and confusion, the simple term “anarchist” works best.

*This latter strikes me as the basic project pursued by Kevin Carson, as he attempts to drive a wedge between the free market and “actually existing capitalism”. He challenges libertarians to decide whether they are defending the former or the latter. His writings have led at least one anarcho-capitalist, myself, in a leftward direction. If I have the right-libertarian’s learned aversion to the word “socialism”, I have certainly also reevaluated my stance toward historical “capitalism”, and generally no longer prefer to self-apply the latter term.

September 5, 2009

The Secret Link Between Emma Goldman and Ayn Rand

Filed under: Anarchy — rmangum @ 8:02 pm
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In the documentary Anarchism in America The wonderful Karl Hess describes his transition from Barry Goldwater speechwriter to anarchist. I can only imagine how orthodox liberals and conservatives would blow their sprockets when they hear Hess compare Emma Goldman to Ayn Rand and explain that he found in anarchism what he had hoped for from the Republican party!

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