Saturday, August 19, 2017

Don't Bother, Their Here

It is difficult not to begin any attempt at rational thought nowadays without the words "that idiot Trump" however, it was a well known facet of growing up in New York City that Donald Trump suffered from an Edifice Complex which the urban dictionary defines as "as serious budget-busting illness that typically manifests itself on modern college and university campuses." While Trump is obviously lacking in any marks of higher education, he did exhibit this same predilection for constructing buildings on a grand scale seemingly solely for the purpose of splashing someone's (in his case, his own), name across them, so it seems that his affinity for commemoration, (and in his case, self commemoration) should have become a focal point early on (or late) in presidency (depending on how you look at it) with regard to the issue of Confederate statues is particularly ironic.
The hauling down of statues has a certain resonance for people of my generation who not only recall the lassooing of Saddam Hussein but the defacement of Buddhist carvings by Islamic extremists as well as the consignment of the stentorian images of Lenin and Marx to Moscow suburban junkyards as well has the obliteration of Chinese imagery (that was not of Chairman Mao) during the cultural revolution of the late sixties and seventies. In a sense the Vietnam memorial, which I found personally very poignantly and unexpectedly moving when I went to see it, was also an expression of this tendency of de-iconfication and healthy disillusionment so in my mind at least there are both positive and negative aspects to it.

While the tendency to purge awkward memories is a strong one in both our public and personal lives, it is worth examining where it is a healthy scourging of outmoded imagery or where the wholesale obliteration of meaning. I think it important, first of all, to distinguish purely political from artistic statements. In my view at least, the wanton destruction of the giant Buddhas of Barniyan by the Taliban was simply an act of vandalism, while the hauling down of Saddam Hussein was basically just an example of good taste. One was art and the other politics.

Honestly, I do not believe that statues of Robert E. Lee belong in the public square. They are symbols of an abhorrent and discredited ideology and a reminder of a dark chapter in the history of the nation. To glorify that seems perverse. On the other hand, the call now to remove Lee and Stonewall Jackson's names from the barracks of West Point seems to me both unnecessary and punitive-- the manifestation of a rabid tendency to obliterate any uncomfortable symbols of past guilt from American discourse. Lee was a graduate of West Point and Superintendent there from 1852 to 1855. He is part of the history of that institution. Not only that, he was undeniably a brilliant tactician and military strategist, two skills which the institution purports to teach and of which we, as a nation, if we are to remain one, are in need. The concept of 'the state' in American has changed over time.To seek to obliterate his name simply because he chose loyalty to his state over that of his country from the institution he served and attended is in my mind more akin to an attempt at collective self absolution than a mark of sensitivity to modern cultural norms or true justice and does nothing for the stature of the nation. While it may be simply making hay in the current political climate, I think the calls to do this are misguided.

And while I may be accused on nit-picking, I do think it is important to maintain the distinction between glorification and commemoration and in this case, of West Point, I believe it is commemoration and thus should be left to stand. And while, racists and haters may also seek to make hay on the other side of the road if the names are left to stand, I believe they will be on much shakier ground in doing so. So, while I find myself in an uncomfortable position in saying so, and I have spent a lot of time talking about commemoration and monuments of which neither subject do I have any great fondness or affinity, and while I do not share Trump's great affection for embodying memory in stone or glass, I do believe that simple eradication without accompanying self reflection of either memory or the places of honor in it. is a destructive process and should be undertaken with great care.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Send in the Clowns

People criticize other people for playing games. Of course when sincerity is required, then playing games is a bad thing and those people can become annoying and tedious because they seem incapable of being serious- they do not know when or how to stop playing and certainly game-playing then can take on a rather malicious and neurotic aspect-- but playing games can also be good fun and provide a needed distraction from pain and suffering so it is not always clear really when game-playing is good or bad. Computers that are programmed to play games can often be good company when you need a distraction from pain even tho they are not human--sometimes better because you know what to expect from them.
Wikipedia defines game theory as "the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers." I was watching a movie about Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies last night and the part about the trial of the Chicago Seven (originally the Chicago Eight until Bobby Seale the Black Panther severed his trial from that of the other defendants). At the time, I remember this rather odd and antic trial and when it dominated the news. In the movie Vincent D'onofrio plays Hoffman and he gives him this pretentious self-involved quality with some fake non-localizable accent that I found annoying but anyway, Hoffman was essentially a hyper-rational game-player--they got that part right. That was also why I didn't take him seriously at the time--he was an antic clown tweaking the nose of the stuffed shirt, irrational establishment. The country was in pain at the time and needed a distraction and he provided it. So, what is the point I am trying to make here? There was this bizarre phenomenon last year when clowns started spontaneously appearing. They were rather strange clowns because it seemed they did not know how to play. They just stood there. They were clowns who forgot how to be clowns. We are a country that has forgotten how to be in pain. The stuffed shirts are still running the country,--maybe we have all forgotten how to play--maybe it is time to send in the clowns. The real ones.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Freedom and Bar-B-Cue

I am reposting this post from March 20 because I think it is important and worth saying. It had to do with a computer contract I was doing in Birmingham Alabama under what were very painful physical circumstances for me at the time. I had a pinched nerve in my neck that lasted for six months (and longer). I was in a lot of pain and could not stand up straight but I went to work every day for those six months. I had a family to support and some things are worth doing, just like some things are worth saying...or resaying.

A few years back I was doing a computer contract for Bell South in Birmingham Alabama. It was in a corporate park. It had snowed, which was unusual for Birmingham, and by 3:00pm nobody was left in the building except me and a couple of supervisors and the security guard. I looked out the window at the parking lot and there were two cars there; mine and the one I assumed belonged to the security guard. I went up to one woman who was still there at her desk and I asked if they were closing the building.
"Why are you still here?" she asked me.
"I'm a contractor. If I'm not here I don't get paid. They own my ass."
This was the mid-nineteen nineties you understand, supposedly the era of the "New South."
Anyway, she looked up at me and with a smile that would have melted butter on a cold day, said,
"It's nice to be owned. Isn't it?"
I knew exactly what she meant, right away.
Now, if ever in my life I wanted to call a woman a "c__t" it was at that moment. Instead, not wanting to get fired, I am ashamed to say, I just gritted my teeth and walked away.

In any case, I have always regretted that I let that racist bitch get the last word. Unfortunately no matter how much of a bitch she was, what she had said about human nature was true. People do most often like to be owned or at least are accepting of it--particularly in the workplace. It relieves them of the burden of thinking-- so long as they follow the rules they know they are OK. In Trumpian America we should be particularly mindful of this attitude as in its worst incarnation, it can become fascism. I am not trying to make a political point, I am just stating something I have observed about human nature.

So, what I learned from all this is that, no matter what my mother told me, sometimes, you can't observe the niceties and the office etiquette. Sometimes you can't just be polite-- you just have to dispense with that when other people think they own you or your reality and then, even if it is snowing in Birmingham Alabama, you just have to call a spade a spade, and a "c__t" a "c__t". So while, I can't say I am proud of everything in my life--I am at least trying to make some amends at this late date.

So that is the end of the previous post and this is what I have to say about it--it is clear why the woman in this story was a piece of shit. What is not as clear is why she was right about people being willing to subjugate themselves and that was really the point of this story--that it is human nature (and a lie that we tell ourselves) that we feel we only have to right to fully define ourselves only after we have been subjugated. In marriage, we willingly mutually subjugate ourselves out of love and hence define the family as what is more important to us than our individuality--what this woman in the story was talking about was NOT a willing subjugation, it was a brutal imposition of the will of one race on another. (And the same holds true for the brutal imposition of one individual's will over an other.) The simple fact of human nature about self definition that the woman got right was that once we are subjugated to something we can begin to define ourselves anew. In the case of what she was talking about it produced the miracle of black culture in this society--in bondage black people were made free to define themselves completely. The key point and the key difference is understanding what is a willing subjugation what is one that is imposed. We all feel the need to have power to define ourselves, but if we are willing or even eager to sacrifice the one thing that his truly important --in the case of this story--freedom--then that self-definition is worthless and we have lost the one thing that is truly important. Obviously this has political implications for our present situation and we should be wary that in submitting to an enslaving ideaology (whether it be of the right or the left) or to a religion, or to a person, we should remember that it is never worth sacrificing your freedom as that is really the only thing worth having and without it--and no matter what they tell you, without it there is no such thing as love.