Memento Satori

Conspiracy and the Occult, Culture, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, The Life of the Mind, Uncategorized, War and Politics

“Donald Trump is alive and well,” I tweet:
his consciousness ensouled, his self intact;
his electric embodied being able to act
through his body’s marvelous machine: to eat,
to see, to breath, to speak. His heart? To beat.
His appetites are those a dead man lacks:
McDonald’s lunch, a lower income tax:
Hereby commend to you, O Lord, through the fleet
swing of the autumn sun across the sky,
quadrennial November’s bare-branched swoon,
this declaration: we have claimed a state
of still existing, having not had to die,
nor disappear, nor leave, nor settle soon
for this early ending coming yet too late.

An Open Letter

Culture, Education, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Religion, Science, The Life of the Mind, War and Politics

Our cultural institutions now must face
a trial unlike any faced before:
@litboner69 called me a bore;
a sophomore undergrad said that my race
informed my sense of self, and worth, and place;
they didn’t put my book in the front of the store;
they added diaspora studies to the core
curriculum; now my promotion case
is held up with the provost just because
I hold a few unorthodox views:
that Blacks are more athletic by design;
true women lack men’s moral flaws;
Arabs just aren’t quite as smart as Jews.
For this you’re telling me I should resign?

Adjudicating Claims of Truth Using Math, and Not Convenience

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I don’t believe it just because it’s true.
An interim beyond a certain length
of time attenuates the tensile strength
of a claim; our years on earth, though brief and few
against history’s vast, impersonal view,
reduce the truth each rainy spring by a tenth:
T-zero times (one minus point one) to the Nth.
It’s simple math. There’s nothing you can do.
Had you told me right away, or yet
mentioned it in 1999,
or even yesterday, I would achieve
true belief, quite against any threat
to my politics’ necessary bottom line.
Your deadline’s passed, alas. I disbelieve.

What Is Left?

Culture, Economy, Media, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Uncategorized, War and Politics

NOTE: This piece was originally published without my consent by a now-dissolving publication in March of this year. With the permission of my friend and former editor from that publication, who was fired along with his striking editorial colleagues during that labor dispute, I am posting it publicly here.

*

Bernie Sanders presumptive loss of the Democratic Party nomination for president demonstrates the limits of electoral politics for the left. I have already seen some pre-postmortems speculating that Sanders simply arrived to soon, that his staggering margins among young voters presage a socialist wave of the future, perhaps a decade or two from now, when the rising left-leaning generations become a majority of the electorate.

This is bad analysis on two fronts. First because it under-credits Sanders’s catalytic impact on the consolidation of a collective political identity for the socialist left. The two decades leading up to Sanders’s 2016 run were marked by a number of powerful and public anti-establishment protests, from the street-fighting of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, through the Occupy movement in 2011, both ultimately put down by paramilitary police brutality. But these popular movements never coalesced around an explicit left-socialist program, and there was always the risk that their fringes would spin out into vulgar anarchism or libertarianism, and the rest subsumed into milquetoast Obama-style consensus liberalism.

Sanders, then, was a figure around which some fairly diverse left tendencies could coalesce to form a coherent popular bloc and legitimate mass movement at a time when the inextricably linked phenomena of neoliberal economic austerity and dire social atomization seemed as impregnable as they have ever been. There’s no need to indulge in crass great-man speculation in order to note that Sanders served as a necessary agent in the consolidation of socialist tendencies into an actual socialist movement. If he were not here, now, then it becomes spurious to imagine some future incarnation could capitalize on a political project that no one had organized in the first place. Whatever else it may be, history is contingent.

But the second reason this analysis fails is that it indulges in the same fantasy that has dogged Democratic politics for the last forty years at least, which is a crude demographic determinism that assumes that if we wait long enough, just until today’s youth are a majority, or until the country is “majority-minority,” or until women vote as a single bloc, then historical inevitability will kick in. Yeah, well, remember what I just said about history.

A more dispassionate analysis says that there is no reason to believe that demography is destiny, no reason to believe that a popular movement that reflects—what, a quarter of the country?—will either this year or twenty years hence have the power to wrest control of the state from all of the interests and resources that will continue to be aligned against it.

Nor is it “realistic”—to use the frequently disingenuous bugbear of conservative Democrats—to imagine that this is a simple problem of communication and outreach. If polls are to believed, a majority of Democratic voters and likely voters strongly support Sanders’s policies, from Medicare for All to an at-least-slightly more modest and less militaristic foreign policy, but the evidence is pretty clear at this point: policy agreement did not drive voting choice, certainly not in the numbers necessary. There is at least anecdotal evidence that this was the result of media coverage that obscured and obfuscated the very distinct divergences between Sanders and the rest of the field, and there is polling to suggest that a substantial chunk of voters who ultimately broke for Biden believe that he supports Medicare for All, which he explicitly, aggressively does not. But again, there is no reason to believe that this media landscape will be better or fairer in the future. If present trends in media continue, it will be worse and less fair.

The left may continue to make up marginal ground in legislatures, where campaigns are still run on a smaller scale and the pavement-pounding democracy of knocking on doors in a single district really does have advantages over mass media manipulation. (You can see this in races like the one that brought Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to office, where the incumbent has effectively decamped permanently to D.C. and has only a kind of absentee-landlord connection to their ostensible home turf.) But if we are being—here is that word again—realistic, then we have got to admit to ourselves that on a national scale, in a country the size of this one, a country with two centuries of imperial inertia and a vast, entangled complex of corporate finance, media, and national security bureaucracy, the prospects of winning a free and fair election is very, very small. (Swings in exit poll data in a number of American states, including Massachusetts, during the current primary season, are already strongly indicative of direct vote manipulation, or would be taken as such if they were observed in any other country but our own.)

All of this leaves a conundrum for which I have no prescriptive answer. Labor organizing is the obvious suggestion, since it seems to present the only path to a locus of non-state power, but that will be a decades-long project at least, given the parlous state of American labor. I could of course, write, optimistically, that there is nothing inherently wrong with a decades-long project, that if the left is going to think in historical terms, it had better get used to the fact that history is rather long by definition. But, of course, the ice caps are melting; Siberia is thawing; the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached white.

But the feel of historical acceleration that we all feel, the sense that the long duration of time is compressing before our eyes, with whole relative eras passing in the cycle of a day’s news, may herald some kind of break, a tectonic juncture in which one plate slips and a few things rattle loose. I don’t hope for catastrophe, but I do think the present COVID-19 outbreak, a symptom of the same forces driving climate change itself, of a metastasizing human civilization bumping in ever closer, weirder ways against the natural world in an age of near-instantaneous travel, heralds . . . something. Maybe the best and only hope for the left is to tighten our grip on the rails and steer the prow into unpredictable times.

Corona

Culture, Economy, Plus ça change motherfuckers, Poetry, Sports, Things that Actually Happen, Uncategorized, War and Politics

for Matt Christman

The liberatory quality of not knowing
shit is quite honestly the strangest bit
of living indoors in hopes of avoiding it.
By it, I mean the damp and fungal growing
sense that the wheel of time, far from slowing
has slipped the axle. Calm is counterfeit
joy; real happiness is fear knit
together with the inevitability of going
anyway: the green ruined future
made beautiful by all the strange and new
life bursting from the cracked curbs and stairs,
effervescent blood from a torn suture
strikes the sidewalk where once weeds grew
and turns to flowers in the now-clear air.

Bloom

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bloom

Bring in the boss and sit him down. The head
of the table is perfectly appropriate.
It is the last head that we’ll ever let
him have. Yes, I’m saying we’ll kill him dead.
Lop off his noggin. Weigh his body with lead.
Throw it from the gunwale of a midnight motorboat.
See if all that money helps it float.
Go home and kiss the kids and put them to bed.
“How was your day today?” inquires your wife.
“It wasn’t bad at all,” you say, and then,
quietly, so as not to wake the children,
make the quick, familiar love of a long-shared life,
watch some TV, say a quick prayer, amen:
better to live than to hoard a hundred billion.

 

Ukraine

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I’d like to have a single, perfect call.
You on your side of the sea, and I on mine;
I with my morning coffee, you with wine;
the flights of fleeing geese, and chilly fall’s
first breath across the window pane. It galls
me: not to be very special, very nice;
not to be able to, friend to friend, entice
you not to be a criminal at all.
It isn’t fair. It isn’t true, nor good
when friends, such as we are, cannot aspire
through conversation’s friend, the telephone,
to be vague and yet completely understood:
what is it to talk, if not to conspire
against corruption’s favorite word: alone?

The Princess and the Peon

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We need a Disney Princess who one night
awakes in a sweat in her vast, cold bed to find
a prickling guilt in the back of her lovely mind:
what she has inherited is neither just nor right;
out in the fields of wheat, the peasants’ plight
is that his labor and his wealth are unaligned;
the commons closed, his status thus declined—
the owners took the surplus. Where Princess might
once have called the maid for milk and gone
back to bejeweled dreams and tiny snores,
this time she rushes to the palace’s marble stairs,
cries to the dawn that there will be a dawn,
princes brought down to raise up beggars and whores,
collective ownership, and headless heirs.

The Poor Suit of Happiness

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maid

Buy more takeout and hire a maid. Reside
in a mansion and summer in the south of France.
Winter in Aspen. Take the foolish chance
of inheriting every single cent. Slide
giggling through life and take a towering pride
in benefitting from mere circumstance.
Never, ever let the poor advance.
Among your peers, deliberately elide
ability and wealth. Hog the best spots
at the most exclusive schools. Oppose at each
instance any opportunistic ploy
to materially improve the lives of world’s have-nots;
they should’ve been better born; instead they leach
from our locked reserves of unnecessary joy.

He said, sir, the water itself was a good healthy water; but, for the party that owed it, he might have more diseases than he knew for

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One of the most telling features of our time is the habit of hailing as geniuses men whose time merely has come. That’s obviously true of our president, but it’s also true of the man many now credit and blame for his rise, the recently departed Roger Ailes. Encomiums to Ailes’s person have been mercifully few. George H.W. Bush called him a friend; fellow serial abuser and loudmouth Bill O’Reilly seems to have viewed him as a sort of beloved uncle, the guy who takes you to the ballgame when your own old man is too hung over to haul himself out of bed; the eminently embarrassing Tina Brown remembered him as a raconteur, indulging the common upper-class error of identifying as Falstaffian that which is simply gross. But even among his sharpest detractors, there’s a current of admiration: that Ailes wasn’t only bad and disgusting; he was, almost cinematically, a villain.

Yes, yes, Fox News ruined grandma. She was so nice when you were little, puttering in the garden and slipping you Werther’s when your mom wasn’t looking; now, in your twenties, you’re appalled to find her locked into the fixed belief that Barack Obama is an agent of Allah, who may well be the devil. Well maybe grandma was always a little mean to folks who weren’t her beloved grandchildren, and you just didn’t know what “colored people” meant, exactly, when you were nine. We can be rightly skeptical of the hypothesis that all the depredations of modern media are the result of the news flowing, dumb as water, into the empty basin of consumer demand without completely letting our, um, our preexisting conditions off the hook. The first major outlets to serve the public appetite for Clinton scandals back in the nineties were venerable outlets like The New York Times; Fox followed them in and turned up the volume. The strains of racism and paranoia that were Ailes’s bread and butter since he cut his teeth in Nixonian politics were already here: the Southern Strategy did not, after all, create the South, and Ailes didn’t create the strategies; he just produced them for TV.

Fox News hasn’t bestowed our terrible politics on us; it’s in the follow car with the camera. What’s given us the current derangement is, ironically, the competent political imago imagined as its opposite, the drip-down technocracy of social stagnation prettily papered over by the pretty lights of new gadgets. It is the abandonment of minority communities to the hucksters of for-profit education; it is the signing over of public utilities to take-over scammers; it is the abandonment of the Midwest to unchecked deindustrialization; it’s the drug war; it’s the rising cost of insurance; it’s the use of the public’s money and property as insurance for the failed bets of the financial industry; it’s trillions of dollars spent on war when we can’t keep bridges out of the rivers; it’s student debt; it’s the economy, stupid.  The governing consensus destroyed democratic politics—it told you that the prospect of future cost made any present program and any future progress irresponsible and impossible. All that was left was gesture, a commedia dell’arte of symbolic typologies: an entertainment. So it wasn’t Clintonian scandals that created Fox News; it was Clintonian politics.

The reason this genealogy is important is because there remains, on what passes for the left in America, a habit of organizing against monsters rather than against the conditions that created them. Ailes can rot, but he isn’t and never was the rot. Fox News is actually dropping in ratings, and it remains to be seen whether it can retain its potency with its stable of stars reduced to its morning Bachelorette cast and the backwards-aging face of the eternally petulant Tucker Carlson, who forever threatens to turn back into a bawling infant before our very eyes. Even if it went off the air tomorrow, it wouldn’t matter one whit. Some other dirty trickster will step into the gap; several are already nipping at Fox’s swollen heels. They’ll never go away unless we wrench politics back to the real concerns of the actually human.