a better world
is probable
  1. Bankrupting Detroit’s culture

    May 15, 2014

    Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 8.03.57 AM

    There’s an excellent article that was recently published in the Guardian on the business campaign to turn Detroit’s history of hardship into profit.

    “To an advertiser’s eye, Detroit is cool. Gritty. Tough. Resilient. Authentic in its struggle. True in its American spirit of hard, honest work, ruins and all.

    “That’s where it gets uncomfortable for Detroit, The Brand. Detroit, the American phoenix rising from the economic ashes, is sitting on a valuable natural resource: street cred. This has not escaped the notice of profit-driven companies see the city’s rebirth as a chance to brand themselves and sell authenticity.”

    The article is excellent at laying out this phenomena, but misses some potent opportunities to tie this phenomenon into Detroit’s broader crisis. Greg Sharzer (who wrote an excellent book that called No Local: Why Small Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World) pointed out in a Facebook post that this campaign to reframe and commodify Detroit’s history and culture is intimately tied into development and real estate, insofar as making “grit” and “authenticity” adds to the cultural and symbolic capital of a particular rental and/or property market.

    This is significant for a few reasons, not only because it helps to paint a fuller parasitic processes being forced upon Detroit, but because it also reflects the inescapability of market forces, even on “the margins of capitalism.”

    I’ll be writing more on this in the future both on my blog and elsewhere. But I’ll leave it here for now.

  2. Einstein: “Why socialism?”

    April 19, 2014

    Einstein talks with students

    This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellow men in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. – Albert Einstein, “Why Socialism?” (1949)

    I’ve read this a few times now. I probably go back over it every few years. I’m always astonished by Einstein’s sharp grasp on social issues, in addition to being one of the most influential physicists in the history of the subject.

    This time around, however, I was struck by some of the topics to which Einstein paid particular attention. His focus on the individual, for instance, and the individual’s attitude toward humanity (e.g., Einstein’s anecdote about the man who asked him why he was opposed to the disappearance of the human race) and their kind of selfish attitude, I think is often posed as a particularity of contemporary, neoliberal capitalism. Capitalism, however, has always attempted to pit the individual against the whole of society, such that, even in the midst of the post-war boom and the height of New Deal reforms, Einstein still felt compelled to confront the claim that the individual and society were mutually exclusive entities.

    You can read the entire essay here.

  3. Seizing the next link in the chain

    April 18, 2014

    “Every question “runs in a vicious circle” because political life as a whole is an endless chain consisting of an infinite number of links. The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees its possessor the possession of the whole chain.” – Lenin, What Is To Be Done?

    In a world where that can so often feel defined by suffering, misery, oppression, and violence, those of us who want to win a better world can often feel a moral pressure to do everything at once. This is almost especially true when our movement is particularly weak, or when it feels like things are progressing too slowly. There is so much to be done!

    I find this quote from Lenin to be such a powerful, sober reminder to maintain a long term perspective on the kind of movement we want to build, i.e. it is ineffective to try to respond to all the various needs of our movement at once, regardless of our limited resources and capacities, e.g., members, time, money, skills, etc. Instead we have to ask: what can be done right now to put us in a better position to accomplish our goals tomorrow?

    This patient, long-term perspective shouldn’t replace a sense of urgency in our work. On the contrary, it should inform us in how we constructively go about preparing ourselves and our organizations to meet the urgent tasks we face. Without that kind of patient perspective, we can often waste our limited resources, e.g., burn out our membership, exhaust limited funds, etc., as if we were rubbing together two dry sticks into nubs as we try to spark a fire.