And Now For Something Completely Different

If I's a book in a library, then I'd finally be free

Late Library Poem

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Reflecting on the library
and the work we put into it.

I think about divisions of l    ab    o   r

Different job classifications cross paths and converge in our common purpose to serve the public.

There is a will to a system in this thinking, but it is immersive too. I am paying
attention
to
my coworkers’ emotions and how it feels to “work together”. I read practically everything but the books.

Unlike most any other job I’ve ever had, no day is a defeat! Except maybe the day longer that a book takes to get back on the shelf, because our budget allows for late-night security guards not late-night pages.

Written by Joe

December 14, 2013 at 1:32 am

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Postcolonial China

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From this funny little book on “good governance” by a guy who is the president and chairman of his own thinktank and one of his senior advisers. “Confucian scholars” put a curious spin on indigeneity.

For America, democracy is an end in itself. In the post-ideological pragmatism proposed by Chinese thinkers such as Eric X. Li or Zhang Weiwei, democracy is only a means to the end of good governance. ‘If it helps deliver results, great. If not, who needs it?’ is their view.

Counterintuitive as it may appear to the Western mindset, China in many ways is more open to fundamental political reform than the US. Since the US system is based upon the notion that the state itself is constrained by a body of pre-existing law that is sovereign, any thought of rewriting the Constitution is nearly anathema.

In China, however, some intellectuals point out that the remnants of Communist Party theory posit that the current system is the ‘primary stage of socialism’, meaning that it is a transitional phase to a higher and more superior form of socialism. The economic foundation will change with broader prosperity, and thus the legal and political superstructure must also change.

That has led some contemporary Confucian scholars in China to argue that Marxism cannot be the philosophy of the higher stage of development not least since it’s a foreign ideology, and that any new form of government must be based on indigenous sources of legitimacy from within the Chinese experience – meritocratic knowledge of the governing class, the ethical obligation of ruler to the ruled, and tradition.

Written by Joe

July 25, 2013 at 11:02 am

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Put It On The Ground, Spread It All Around, Dig It With A Hoe, It Will Make Your Flowers Grow

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On March 26th in Augusta Georgia, county sheriffs saw to the disposal of food and other durable goods at the behest of Laney Supermarket or maybe a bank. The owners, referred enigmatically by local news as “the Chois”, say they were kicked out by a bank over debt. Whether they were owners independently of the debt to the bank (i.e. they weren’t in debt on the original business loan to buy the property) is unclear. They claim to have offered the food to a church, whose members never came to pick it up. Apparently either local reporters failed to ask what church so they could investigate or the Chois declined to answer.

Lan’sakes! How could this happen in America? Well, it’s not the first time, I’ll tell you what.

I worked at Fred Meyer in Portland some years ago, when they renovated the Hawthorne location to be all LEED certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a private sustainability credentialing business whose purpose is in part to advance the notion that the market can be used to drive progress.

I worked in the deli, which was right next to the bakery and produce section. I complained about the egregious amount of food-waste coming out of the deli alone to my fellow workers. Of course, it’s corporate policy not to allow workers to have, say, a meal from thrown-away food, even if it’s only thrown away for superficial aesthetic reasons (i.e. they think it won’t sell). Kroger’s all-too-capitalist rationale is that it would encourage workers to throw away more or at least choice food in the hope of ripping off the company. Needless to say, we already threw away more food than we could possibly re-appropriate without, in addition to say a free lunch, taking some home every day. Most of it was perfectly fine to eat when it was pulled and only really became questionable once put in a garbage can.

I complained to co-workers and eventually learned on my own about the plethora of gleaners in the Portland area. So, I talked with the store manager about it (big mistake) and he performed the sympathy farce, saying he’d send the message to his regional manager. I didn’t buy it then, but I didn’t really know what to do. It was my first “real” job, which meant a lack of attunement to the power of the workplace. I encouraged people to talk about it with customers by talking about how I did it myself, though I may have been the only one who did it.

Within a month, we got orders to start putting food in a compost-bin, which was supposed to be part of the LEED stuff. The idea being, I guess, that its more sustainable to throw food in the ground than in the garbage. Why does that remind me of a song? We also had to take these out to the special dumpster for them. The bins we kept in the store easily weighed 200lbs once full. It was a two-person job to actually hoist the thing off its rollers. Sometimes that made it easier and sometimes made it harder to give away food off the top to people who wanted it. At first the dumpster was just like the regular one, except it was green instead of blue. Within a couple weeks, we were told we had to use a key to unlock a chain put on it because people were getting into it during the day. That’s still how it works as far as I know.

So, that just goes to show you how long things have been this way, but also that big bad bankers or reckless capitalists (who are exposed by their lack of “success”) aren’t the only or even most important perpetrators of this kind of bullshit.

Written by Joe

March 29, 2013 at 11:25 am

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Ben Morgan goes after the unconscious

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“It is perhaps unfair to brand either Freud or the practice he helped to create as emotionally cold. Burno Bettelheim has written in spirited defense of the humanity and direct emotional appeal of Freud’s texts, and from the reading of a case history such as [well-regarded child psychoanalyst, Donald] Winnicot’s ‘The Piggle’ it is clear that a commitment to a psychoanalytic vocabulary does not necessarily preclude openness and warmth. Nevertheless there are aspects of both the theory and practice of psychoanalysis as elaborated by Freud that obstruct rather than facilitate the human encounter, fostering distance rather than nurturing development. Indeed the next section will show how the problematic aspects of Freud’s approach distort the very concepts that he developed to understand the experiences with which he was daily confronted, particularly in his conceptualization of the unconscious 
… 

During the last two decades, research in a number of areas of psychology and cognitive science has drawn attention to so-called subpersonal processes—that is, neurochemical or neurological processes that will necessarily stay below the threshold of our perceptual awareness because they contribute to the construction of our very sense of awareness or because they occur independently of our sense of awareness. The research draws attention, on the one hand, to a level of behavior on which our normal habits of acknowledging or denying responsibility don’t function, and, on the other hand, to areas for which there are everyday habits of negotiation and acknowledgement that are comparable to, and indeed useful substitutes for, the psychoanalytic tools of free association and the talking cure. A brief and selective consideration of recent findings can clarify the limits of the Freudian model of the unconscious and so prepare the way for an exploration, in the concluding chapter, of ways in which, dis-burdened of Freud’s model of the unconscious mind, we can return to the work of Freud and his contemporaries around 1900 to develop and everyday language for acknowledging what we unwittingly or inattentively do to and with other people.” – Ben Morgan, “On Becoming God”, 187-188.

Written by Joe

February 7, 2013 at 10:38 am

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Anthropological Fairytales and Mindful Thinking

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Another gem from Ben Morgan’s “On Becoming God: late medieval mysticism and the modern western self”.

In their anthropologically colored account of the rise of modern rationality, [Max] Horkheimer and [Theodor] Adorno suggest that a combination of awe and anxiety generated social practices that eventually became modern rationality. Debates about the apostolic life in the thirteenth century illustrate in a more concrete form the process that the authors of Dialectic of Enlightenment [warning PDF] imagined as an anthropological fairytale. In the thirteenth century, we find both the sense of connectedness (what Horkheimer and Adorno termed ‘mimesis’) and the anxious need for order and control.

When he refers to debates about the apostolic life, he’s referring to Meister Eckhart’s polemic with the ascetic milieu of his day. Ascetic practices paralleled mercentile “best practices” that also pertained to successful commerce: self-monitoring, reporting, privation, and cultivation of an inner-life. Adorno and Horkheimer locate the onset of these habits in the ancient past, which unhelpfully dehistoricizes its critical content. It shows how bourgeois fairy tales are constructed, but misses how their reading of Ancient Greek myth is how it is for the bourgeois consciousness. In otherwords, they are verging on the contemplation that Marx denounces and deconstructs in Theses on Feuerbach. Morgan’s inspection of spiritual habits aims to encourage mindfulness in scholarly practice that breaks down some elitist barriers it poses to non-scholarly thinkers.

Written by Joe

January 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

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Django Unchained and Hegel’s servant

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When I saw Django Unchained a couple days ago, I kept thinking of Hegel’s short essay “Who Thinks Abstractly” and the brief remarks he makes toward the end about how good it is to be the servant of a French nobleman.

…no servant is worse off than one who works for a man of low class and low income; and he is better off the nobler his master is. The common man again thinks more abstractly, he gives himself noble airs vis-à-vis the servant and relates himself to the other man merely as to a servant; he clings to this one predicate. The servant is best off among the French. The nobleman is familiar with his servant, the Frenchman is his friend. When they are alone, the servant does the talking: see Diderot’s Jacques et son maître; the master does nothing but take snuff and see what time it is and lets the servant take care of everything else. The nobleman knows that the servant is not merely a servant, but also knows the latest city news, the girls, and harbors good suggestions; he asks him about these matters, and the servant may say what he knows about these questions. With a French master, the servant may not only do this; he may also broach a subject, have his own opinions and insist on them; and when the master wants something, it is not done with an order but he has to argue and convince the servant of his opinion and add a good word to make sure that this opinion retains the upper hand.

The main characters of the film are English-speaking. Four of them appear as black-white dyads: Django (Jamie Foxx) and Herr Shultz (Christop Waltz), Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson). Shultz is a German immigrant and his relationship with Django is entirely amicable. Candie is an American, and he likes to call himself Monsieur despite not knowing how to speak French. His hair-style and aesthetic are influenced by the French presence in the Mississippi region. His apparent head house-slave and him have a cantakerous relationship, but Stephen is extremely assertive with his master. Sometimes Candie demands a show of respect that subdues Stephen, but even then he hesitates to “assume the position”. He is described by one reviewer as “imperious” and I found this apt.

Shultz doesn’t really own Django, but he’s “his man” for the duration he needs him. Their relationship is contractual. Django is assertive, but not belligerent. He is Shultz’s equal de facto, as a “natural” marksman and clever, and de jure (kind of) through his purchased freedom. Shultz doesn’t really tell Django what to do, but he does kind of still run the show.

What’s going on between these competing visions of a the master and slave? It seems that the good-guys are those approximating a libertarian contractual relationship. It’s not “really” slavery, except when it is. Many are probably going to look at the Shulz-Django relationship as more enlightened somehow, but the idea is that if you’re a slave, your best hope is to work with a good boss and mind your own business. Django eventually goes free with his wife, but there is nothing infectious about this freedom, even if Django’s badassery evokes a desire to “be like him”.

Written by Joe

January 19, 2013 at 8:47 pm

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Sometimes the w…

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Sometimes the word ‘exchange’ is substituted for ‘distribution’, but we insist on a distinction. Exchange is a universal principle of economic life but it takes many forms and not all flows of resources should be categorized as exchanges. The payment of tribute to a ruler may be said to bring you his protection in exchange, but this is a misleading representation of an unequal relationship, while welfare payments by a modern state are better seen as transfers financed by taxation—a new form of sharing.

From Chris Hann and Keith Hart’s “Economic Anthropology: history, ethnography, critique”.

Written by Joe

January 15, 2013 at 12:29 pm

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