Friday, October 28, 2005

Is this what we're reduced to?

Some days I regret the internet. You have all this wonderful access to all these wonderful things: In the same online errand, you can find an entire book about the Students for a Democratic Society and a page sourcing every math reference in the simpsons. Not only that, but it can be pretty democratizing too: for less than the cost of my roommate's on-again-off-again cigarette habit, I can post audio explaining the prison industrial complex and other stuff that I feel needs to get out there. But there is something frustrating about the whole thing as well: it reduces everything to Ones and Zeroes.

Case-in-point: Recently on a webpage that I go to daily, there is a link to a "tribute" to Rosa Parks. The Rosa Parks who served as the catalyst of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, worked for the NAACP and had been taught at the Highlander school, participated in the Civil Rights movement, and who recently passed away. What is her tribute? She is placed in a mock iPOD ad that grants her the tagline iSitWhereIWantTo. This is totally stupid. And it feels just like something that would get sent around on the internet because it looks so cool. It makes sense on the internet. Huge corporation that sells computers to people and brands itself a "rebel" and Rosa Parks. It is one thing if the huge corporation wants to brand itself as having a face, being an individual, being just like us. They put icons in their ads and then say "Think Different." Why do they do this? Not to spit Advertising History 101, but because people are moved more by emotional resonance with a product than by factual descriptions. Especially since we all know that advertisers lie. It is easy to recall that the last brandname razor with three blades you bought wasn't that much better than the one with two; it is easier to recall that your significant other complimented you on the clean shave before giving you a quick kiss. The razor blade corporation cares nothing for our relationships, it just wants to sell razor blades. So instead of selling us a product, they brand our memories with it.

They have their product in the background of hit sitcoms to make their soda hip and young. They have athletes wear prominent logos and make prominent statements to make a tire seem active. They have commercials showing people, young and attractive, going the extra mile and then they flash their office supply logo at the last instant. These corporations care nothing for supporting the sitcom arts or sports or those young people. They just want to brand the association. Apple wants you to associate their computers with great thinkers and courageous heroes so they show those icons next to the apple logo and the instruction to "Think Different." Just don't think that different. Think different, but still go and buy an Apple computer. It'll make you like the courageous smart people. They need to make their profit and they have studied how to do it. Stuart Ewen wrote a great history of this in "Captains of Consciousness."

Knowing all of this, why aren't I simply desensitized to the stupidity of this fake tribute to Rosa Parks? First, because it is insulting to the Civil Rights movement, a movement that wasn't about individual gain, but rather forcing white society to begin to treat people of color in this country like human beings. Rosa Parks wasn't simply expressing herself. She was a part of a movement, a long movement for justice and freedom involving lots of people, that is constantly being repackaged and sold back to us in the past tense. The movement happened, we'll sell it back to you, buy our junk. Mcdonalds hails Martin Luther King Jr., wiping clean his explicit critiques against war and work against a system that requires black poverty like McDonald's business plan requires black poverty, and reduces him to a happy-go-lucky dreamer. Puts him on the side of a plastic disposable cup. This isn't a tribute. It is just pimping.

Second, it is insulting enough when any of these corporations do it, but it is ridiculous when this branding gets to the point where everything and everyone has been reduced to simple icons, be it a music device or an activist, with no meaning beyond the branding, and we, not just corporations, can just mix and match them and everything is on the level. Just ones and zeroes. Ipods represent courageous individuals, so we, regular people, can honor the passing of true courageous individuals with fake ads showing them with Ipods. And call it a tribute. It is insulting. It is troubling. I don't mean to hawk the internet, but sometimes I get really worried. Like we're all so busy being media consumers, that we've forgotten how to be actors. And when we are just media consumers, they can try to spoonfeed us anything. Want to join a movement? Join the Ipod movement. It is bad enough that I have to stomach that, I don't need other non-corporation people spoonfeeding me the same old shit.

The list goes and goes.

There'll be more updating in the next week: Walter Rodney rarities and Howard Zinn classics. The five thousand bubble has been popped. Should we make a Link to Us button or should we just encourage people to link to us?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Updates and such

Updated the FAQ. Added three new Zinn pieces with more coming. Also, this month beat the record for most hits and we still have a week to go. Still seeking Readiris Pro 9 for Mac...

Saturday, October 15, 2005

To do.

Despite these efforts, and in part because of them, the Bronx began to burn in about 1970. Some of the fires were accidents, the inevitable result of decaying electrical systems. Many were set by landlords who would then collect the insurance money. Often they would sell the building--whether it was still inhabited or not--to "finishers" who would strip out the electrical wiring, plumbing fixtures, and anything else that could be sold for a profit before torching it. "Sometimes there'd be a note delivered telling you the place would burn that night," one man who lived through the period told me. "Sometimes not." People got used to sleeping with their shoes on, so that they could escape if the building began to burn.

Some of the remaining tenants burned their own buildings, thanks to yet another bad city policy. Welfare recipients living in decaying city-owned buildings naturally wanted to find a better alternative, but regulations forbade payment of moving expenses to anyone who had not lived in same place for at least two years. There was one exception to this rule, and it was posted in large type in neighborhood welfare offices. Any tenant burned out of his or her building automatically became eligible for a grant--usually about $1,000 but sometimes as much as $3,500--to cover the cost of new clothing, furniture, and moving. Also, burned-out families went to the top of the waiting list for public housing projects.

During the mid-'70s, the South Bronx averaged 12,000 fires a year. The area lost some 40 percent of its housing stock, and 300,000 people fled. In the burned-out zone that remained, police fought a losing battle against junkies and murderous teenage gangs. In 1977, Jimmy Carter paid a fleeting visit to the rubble-strewn Charlotte Street, promising to revitalize the area. The New York Times commented that the South Bronx was "as crucial to an understanding of American urban life as Auschwitz is crucial to an understanding of Nazism." But nothing came of Carter's high-sounding words. The city was in the throes of a fiscal crisis, and the feds were sick of watching their money fall into a burial ground of failed urban policies. By 1981 the Los Angeles Times could declare that the South Bronx was "both a place and a scare-word."
From Guess Who Saved the
South Bronx?
The silent partner in community development
by Robert Worth
Learned of Planned Shrinkage today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A personal note

Rarely do I put anything unrelated to history up, but for once I'll make an exception. For the last two months or so, I've been promoting the site around. And I want to do more. But it has been pretty successful. Despite the counter on the main page, a lot of the items are linked to directly. So if someone clicks on a link from another webpage to get to A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies by Bartoleme de Las Casas and they just read that without going into the main webpage, their visit won't show up on the counter. With Columbus day just past, over a hundred people have done just that. And despite the two-month-old counter reading just under 350, I know that since the first of the year, we've gotten several thousand. Every time someone links to the webpage from their blog, I can see a handful or more of people jump in because of it. What is strange is that though it is clear that people are reading the site, I get virtually no contact from it - besides the occasional thanks from an underfunded progressive high school social studies teacher in the middle of nowhere. I don't really want to do a survey, but I want to get more feedback. What people want to see more of. I'm also curious as about how I should go and promote it more.

I think I'm going to start up a new project soon. Not to replace this, but in addition. Something with a little more fire and secrecy. History Is A Weapon is intended to serve as a specific type of resource. I'm beginning to think about constructing something forward-looking. Something to scare the enemy. Something to organize with.

Monday, October 10, 2005

An update of sorts

Just finished Living For Change by Grace Lee Boggs, which will become my book to recommend for any activists going through burnout. She goes from philosophy student to hardcore Trot to being at the frontlines of the Black liberation struggle. She organized events for Malcolm to speak at in Detroit, authored books by C.L.R. James, was asked for marriage by Kwame Nkrumah, and married and worked with James Boggs for decades. Her book rocks socks and is inspiring. I'm not a reviewer and I can't do it justice. You can find the book and some of her more recent work at the Boggs Center.
In other inspiring news, read some of Tony Bogues' "Black Heretics, Black Prophets: Radical Political Intellectuals," namely the beginning of his stuff on Walter Rodney. Added some new stuff (including different front pictures!) such as June Jordan's speech on the 1991 gulf war, The League of Revolutionary Black Workers: A Historical Study by Max Stanford/Muhammad Ahmad, a letter from Ellen Willis, the lyrics to Strange Fruit, King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and Huey Newton's statement on the women's liberation movement and the gay liberation movement. Also, some Mary Lease.
Future updates are going to include some of Rodney's "Marxism in Africa" essay/talk and selected oral histories from "Even the Women fight" from vietnamese women.
What I'm looking for includes:
1) Walter Rodney's Sign Of The Times speech (his last one) as well as his "Some thoughts on the political economy of the caribbean" talk.
2) mp3 or wav. audio of Fred Hampton or James Boggs.
3) A much more extended audio section.
4) I'd be surprised if Malcolm's message to the grassroots isn't up here within a week.
5) more Max Stanford/ Muhammad Ahmad work. If you're wondering why I'm so interested in him all of a sudden, type his name into google. He pivoted in an interesting place at a time I'm very interested by.
6)an OCR program for Macs. Does this even exist.
7) a significant chunk of Walter Rodney speaks.
Here's the Beginning of Marxism in Africa, to whet the appetite (I'm typing the whole thing in):

First of all we must understand the background of this kind of debate. When is asked to speak on the relevance of Marxism to Africa at this particular point in time, one is being asked to involve oneself in a historical debate, an ongoing debate in this country, particularly among the Black population. It is a debate which has heightened over the last year and, from my own personal observations, is being waged in a large number of places across this country. Sometimes it appears in the guise of the so-called nationalist versus the marxist; sometimes it appears in the guise of those who claim to espouse a class position as opposed to those who claim to espouse a race position. Thus it would not be possible for us in a single session to enter into all the ramifications of that debate but it does form the background for our discussions.
It is an important debate, it is an important fact that such issues are being debated in this country today, just as they're being debated in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America and in many parts of the metropolitan world, in western Europe and in Japan, because the widespread nature of the debate and its intensity at this time is a reflection of the crisis in the capitalist-imperialist mode of production. Ideas and discussions do not just drop from the sky. It is not simply a plot on the part of certain individuals to engage others in a meaningless-debate. Whatever the outcome of the debate, whatever the posture the different participants adopt, the very fact of the debate is representative of the crisis in capitalism and imperialism today and, as the crisis deepens, people find it more and more difficult to accept the old modes of thought which rationalize the system which is collapsing; hence the need to search for new directions and, quite clearly, Marxism and Scientific Socialism pose themselves as one of the most obvious available options.

The question is not new to Africa or to the black people as a whole - that is perhaps essential to understand. Many of us have before raised the question of the relevance of Marxism to this or that. Its relevance to Europe; many European intellectuals debated its relevance to their own society. Its relevance to Asia was debated by Asians; and, to look at it geographically, its relevance to Latin America was debated by Latin Americans. Individuals have debated the relevance of Marxism to their own time. Was it relevant to the 19th century? If so, was it still relevant to the 20th century. One can debate its relevance to a given facet of the culture of a society, or to its law or culture as a whole. These are all issues that have been debated before and we should have some sense of history when we approach this question today, because with that sense of history we can ask, why it is that the question of the relevance of Marxism always crops up? And, a very brief answer. I would suggest that what is common to the abdication of the question is, first of all, a condition of crisis, a condition of struggle, a condition in which people are dissatisfied with the dominant mode of perceiving reality. At that point they ask about the relevance of Marxism.

More than that, the second condition is people do ask the question because of their own bourgeois framework. Because one starts out located within the dominant mode of reasoning, which is the mode of reasoning that supports capitalism and which we will call a bourgeois framework of perception, because one starts out that way, it becomes necessary to raise the question of Marxism. After one is advanced, it is probably more accurate to raise the question of the relevance of bourgeois thought because the shoe would be on the other foot! But initially it is true that however much the bourgeoisie disagree, there is one common uniting strand to all bourgeois thought: they make common cause in questioning the relevance, the logic, and so on, of Marxist thought. And therefore, in a sense, unfortunately, when we ask that question, we are also fitting into that framework and pattern. We are also, in some way, still embedded to a greater or lesser extent in the framework of bourgeois thought, and from that framework we ask with a great degree of hesitancy and uncertainty, what is the relevance of Marxism.

It is particularly true in our parts of the world, that is, the English-speaking parts of the world, because the Anglo-American tradition is one of intense hostility philosophically speaking, towards Marxism, a hostility that manifests itself by trying to dissociate itself even from the study of Marxism. If you were to check on the continental tradition of Europe, you would find it is not the same. French, German and Belgian intellectuals whatever their perspective, understand the importance of Marxism. They study it, they relate to it, they understand the body of thought which is called Marxism and they take a position vis-a-vis that body of thought. In the english tradition, which was also handed down to this part of the world, to the Caribbean, to many parts of Africa it is fashionable to disavow any knowledge of Marxism. It is fashionable to glory in one's ignorance, to say that we are against Marxism. When pressed about it one says but why bother to read it? It is obviously absurd. So one knows it is absurd without reading it and one doesn't read it because one knows it is absurd, and therefore one, as I said, glories in one's ignorance of the position. It is rather difficult to seriously address the question about the relevance of Marxism unless one does the basic minimum of accepting that one should attempt to enter into the full body of thought, because it is a tremendous body of literature and analysis, and from the outside as it were, it is extremely difficult, indeed, I would say it is pointless, strictly from the outside, without ever having moved towards trying to grapple with what it is, to ask what is its relevance is almost an unaswerable question, and I think in all modesty, those of us who come from a certain background, and we all come from that background, one of the first things we have to do is establish a basis of familiarity with the different intellectual traditions, and as we become familiar with them we can then be in a better position to evaluate Marxism's relevance or irrelevance as the case might be.

Now I will proceed on the assumption that what we are trying to discern in this discussion is whether the variants of time and place are relevant or, let me put it another way, whether the variants of time and place, make a difference to whether Marxism is relevant or not. In a sense we would almost have to assume its validity for the place in which it originated, western Europe. We don't have the time to deal with that in detail. But we can then ask, assuming that Marxism has a relevance, has a meaning, has an applicability to western Europe, or had in the 19th century, to what extent does its validity extend geographically? To what extent does it validity extend across time? These are two variable, time and place, and those can be translated to mean historical circumstances, time - and culture, which means place, and what social and cultural conditions exist in each particular place. For us, to make it more precise, black people, no doubt, well-meaning Black people, will ask the question whether an ideology which was historically generated within the culture of western Europe in the 19th century is, today, still valid for another part of the world, namely Africa, or the Caribbean or Black people in this country; whether is is valid to other societies at other times? And this is the kind of formulation which I wish to present (for discussion).