November 19, 2019

Fanny Trollope

Some time ago someone asked if the US was always as bad as it is today, or whether the contemporary condition is something new. An answer comes from Fanny (Frances) Trollope, mother of great English novelist, Anthony Trollope, who visited the US during 1927-31. Her book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, was publ. 1832. She basically regarded the nation as a collection of hustlers and boors, profoundly nasty, and self-deluded. A sample:

"every bee in the hive is actively employed in search of...money; neither art, science, learning, nor pleasure can seduce them from its pursuit."

"there is no charm, no grace in their conversation."

"however meritorious the American character may be, it is not amiable."

"I never saw a population so totally divested of gaiety; there is no trace of this feeling from one end of the Union to the other."

"rude indifference...is so remarkably prevalent in the manners of American children."

"they never have the air of leisure or repose."

"they never amuse themselves--no; and their hearts are not warm...and they have no ease, no forgetfulness of business and of care--no, not for a moment."

"The want of warmth, of interest, of feeling, upon all subjects which do not immediately touch their own concerns, is universal, and has a most paralyzing effect upon conversation."

"The poor of great Britain, whom distress, or a spirit of enterprise tempt to try another land, ought, for many reasons, to repair to Canada; there they would meet co-operation and sympathy, instead of malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness."

[On the American obsession with money:] "This sordid object, for ever before their eyes, must inevitably produce a sordid tone of mind, and worse still, it produces a seared and blunted conscience on all questions of probity."

"[Americans] believe themselves in all sincerity to have surpassed, to be surpassing, and to be about to surpass, the whole earth in the intellectual race. I am aware that not a single word can be said, hinting a different opinion, which will not bring down a transatlantic anathema on my head."

"...what I consider as one of the most remarkable traits in the national character of Americans: namely, their exquisite sensitiveness and soreness respecting everything said or written concerning them....these feelings, if carried to excess, produce a weakness which amounts to imbecility....they wince if a breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation....The extraordinary features of [this is] the excess of rage into which they lash themselves [if criticized]."

-mb

November 09, 2019

The Chicken Lady Revisited

Well, we never did find out the name of the Chicken Lady, who recently smashed up her car at a Popeye's Restaurant in LA, in an attempt to force her way into the line of more-or-less nutso Americans who have gone into a frenzy over a chicken sandwich across the land. Here's the article, and the video, which might be titled "Douche Bag in Action":

https://la.eater.com/2019/11/7/20953728/woman-destroys-car-drive-thru-popeyes-chicken-sandwich-los-angeles

On one level, this is hustling taken to an extreme; but on another level, it's about a very sad country with very sad, empty people in it, who were betrayed by the American Dream. Chicken Lady really is the US in microcosm. She's just a little crazier. After all, the chicken sandwich frenzy is a national phenomenon, similar to Wal-Mart sales where customers trample each other to death. What I am most aware of is how very different is the America of today from the one of my youth, or even, really, the one of, say, 20 years ago. As the empire collapses, so do the minds of its citizens. In so many of these crazy cases that we have reported on this blog--people calling 911 because of a cheeseburger error at McDonald's or whatever--I would love to interview these folks, along the lines of "What were you thinking?" But I imagine that the reply would be just to stare at me. If there is one country on the planet suffering from an epidemic of brain death, you know which one it is. In the Twilightbook, written nearly 20 years ago, I identified "spiritual death" and severe dumbing down as two factors that were taking the US down the drain. But I never imagined anything like the Chicken Lady, or the kind of demented behavior that has been extensively documented on this blog since it began in 2006. It's like we've entered an alternate reality that has become some sort of norm.

With that in mind, what can it matter if Trumpi is impeached, or even thrown out of office? Or if Biden (Schmiden) or Bernie (Schmernie) get elected? The Chicken Lady is rock-bottom America, and no political administration can possibly fix that. I would suggest that Chicken Lady's smashed up car replace Washington on the $1 bill, so the entire country can see what we're up against; but I don't think that's going to happen.

Poor Chicken Lady.

-mb

October 31, 2019

Cortinas de humo

"When a society is collapsing, all it can really do is beat off"--Horace J. Hardmember IV

It means smokescreens, which is what politics in the US and UK now boil down to. America beat off for 2 years with the Mueller Report--which came to nothing--and is now jerking off with impeachment, which will give us another year of meaningless distraction. It's little more than theater: party lines are so hard these days, that there is abs. no chance Trumpi will be convicted by the Senate (which requires a 2/3 vote). In addition, the impeachment--which probably will happen--can only serve to energize Trumpo's base, and win him the election for a second term. From the viewpoint of a declinist, what could be better? Trumpaloni has done a huge amount of damage since January 2017, and I believe we can look forward to even greater damage during his 2nd term. And then, god willing, he'll cancel the 2024 election and declare himself president for life. OK by me, amigos. So there's nothing to worry about, and only one thing to remember: Brexit, Schmexit. Also: Opa!

-mb

October 17, 2019

Hind Swaraj

Wafers-

For some time now, I have been thinking about doing a book as a follow-up to my "Dual Process" essay (the last one in AWTY), exploring non-socialist alternatives to capitalism, which I see as coming to an end by 2100. My specific interest is in the models proposed by John Ruskin, William Morris, and Mahatma Gandhi--a rather daunting task, in view of the literature available on these three individuals, not to mention the accumulated works on post-industrial society. In addition, I may have been partly scooped by a recent work by John Blewitt:

https://www.amazon.com/William-Morris-John-Ruskin-Should/dp/1905816340/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=john+blewitt&qid=1571338997&s=books&sr=1-1

So who knows? Perhaps I'll do a biography of Tulsi Gabbard instead (source material in her case is a lot more manageable, for some reason). In the meantime, I wanted to share some thoughts on the subject (i.e. Ruskin et al., not Tulsi) as discussed as far back as 1996 by Patrick Brantlinger (Prof. Emeritus at Indiana University). The title of his article is "A Postindustrial Prelude to Postcolonialism." (I hope you all can access it; my own route was via JSTOR, which is available via academic institutions.) His focus, oddly enough, is on Ruskin, Morris, and Gandhi. After working his way through their critiques of industrial society as a horror show, and the alternative models they proposed, he asks whether these models were ever realistic alternatives to more and bigger industrialization, "with its attendant scourges of economic exploitation and environmental degradation." Gandhism, for example, still survives in India, but it was clearly Nehru who carried the day (after Gandhi's death in 1948), with centralization and big technology. Ruskin, Morris, and Gandhi are typically dismissed as utopian thinkers (cf. Morris' novel, News from Nowhere), although this accusation always reminds me of C. Wright Mills' famous characterization of our current economic system as "crackpot realism." In any case, Brantlinger has this to say about the subject:

"No doubt the Utopian imagination has limitations; perhaps it is always romantic, nostalgic, backward-looking. But, as Andre Gorz contends, 'those who propose a fundamentally different society can no longer be condemned in the name of realism. On the contrary, realism now consists of acknowledging that "industrialism" has reached a stage where it can go no further, blocked by obstacles of its own making.' Another perspective on Gandhian anti-industrialism...might ask whether a renewal of pre- or postindustrial village culture may not be a viable economic alternative, and not just for India--an alternative that modernizing nation-states around the globe have buried in the ruins of their relentless pursuit of 'the mirage of modernization.' The idea of such an alternative path--the nonindustrial, nonviolent, decentralized, democratic, communitarian, and economically and ecologically sustainable path that Morris imagined and that Gandhi wanted to follow--may turn out to be the only rational blueprint for survival." {Refs: Andre Gorz, Paths to Paradise, 1985; Boris Kagarlitsky, The Mirage of Modernization, 1995}

We still need Gandhi, Brantlinger goes on to say; we still need Morris and Ruskin. All of them understood "that the most important product of industrialism isn't progress, but the destruction of civilization--that is, the destruction of the very possibility of a social formation in which both justice and beauty prevail."

As one student of sustainability recently put it, "The choice is a sustainable society or no society at all."

-mb

September 28, 2019

Dance of the Turkeys

Or maybe I should have titled this post "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What do we have these days? The Gretification of our egos via T-shirts, coffee mugs, and handkerchiefs; a ton of impeachment crap that will ultimately result in nothing (you know it); some scandal stuff around Biden-Schmiden; more presidential debates, featuring Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie-Schmernie, that will amount to fuck all; and the usual round of massacres, McDonald's shootings, opioid data, and god knows what else; and underneath all of the apparent frenzy a huge sense of ennui, that this is nothing more than theater--a dance of turkeys. All this frenetic activity hides a terrible Void, and it is deeper and deeper into that abyss that we are sliding, slowly but surely, on a daily basis.

But who knows this? Current US population = 329.5 million, and it's not likely that more than 0.5 million understand that the whole show is meaningless; that we are like a ship without a rudder, drifting away into oblivion. For appearance is not reality, as Plato told us millennia ago, and yet 329 million Americans or more take the shadows on the walls of the cave to be real. Should Wafers go door to door, informing the citizenry that what they are witnessing is a crock? Will Mr. John Q. Public rub his chin and say, "Gee, I never thought of that. I'm going to have to rethink my whole life"? Would that be a prudent use of our time? Will Mr. Public make a revolution, or leave the country, or even throw his TV out? Clearly, mass enlightenment is right around the corner.

To arms, Wafers! To arms!

-mb

September 19, 2019

Interview with Pacifica Radio, KPFT, Houston

Wafers-

Here's the link. When you get to it, click on Sept. 19 under the list of Past Shows:

https://kpft.org/programming/newstalk/living-art/

Enjoy!

-mb