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.
“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.
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.
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”.
From Chris Hann and Keith Hart’s “Economic Anthropology: history, ethnography, critique”.
Really liked this passage (pages 35-36) out of Ben Morgan’s “On Becoming God: late medieval mysticism and the modern western self.”
The assumptions that inform the texts of Lacan, Irigaray, and [Amy] Hollywood as well as those Lyotard, Zizek, Derrida, and Adorno suggest a world in which changes is not possible because individuals are too marked by the structures they wish to escape. This is a habit of thought that in some circumstances may be useful. It encourages a form of humility, since it suggests that the individual is shaped by powers he or she does not fully control. It consoles too, since it absolves the individual of responsibility, saying that if changes does not happen this is because the structure does not permit it. But the same assumptions could also be an excuse for cynicism, or for a resignation that justifies its inactivity by appealing to powers the individual cannot possibly master, when it is conceivable that contingent, less-dramatic factors, such as the inability of a man in a particular generation to cry or to talk about disappointment, create the conviction that the whole world is out of joint and the subject is necessarily and permanently exiled from fulfillment. The assumptions shared by Lacan, Irigaray, Hollywood, Lyotard, Zizek, Derrida, and Adorno help to reconcile the individual with a particular sort of loneliness and emptiness.
My alternative approach, drawing on the phenomenological tradition, does not attempt to reconcile the individual with a necessary isolation but instead offers an account of the ways in which the human potential for communication and fulfillment has been lived to a greater or lesser degree in different historical contexts.
This is pretty rad.
There have been two trends in the response to recent gun-massacres that deserve more scrutiny than they’re receiving. One is the triumphant assertion by gun-enthusiasts that ‘an armed society is a polite/civil/safe society’, which reasons that either people will be deterred from violence by the fear of citizen retaliation or we don’t have to worry that any violence will ‘get out of hand’ because dutiful citizens will use their guns to stop it. This is often enough pitched as a response to an imaginary demand to ban all guns, even though there’s more concern with just getting stronger and more consistently enforced controls on gun-access. Then there are those who see the shooters as disturbed individuals that really needed mental healthcare. As far as I can tell they are in good faith trying to counter the individualizing effects of the gun-enthusiasts’ appeal, while also diffusing the anxiety around “more gub’mint regulations”. We wouldn’t need more controls, or at least wouldn’t need to realize the gun-enthusiasts’ worst fear of banning guns, if there was a place these people could go with ‘their problems’. That said, I think most of the time the mental health appeal is coupled with some increased or better enforced controls. What’s the matter with these responses?
Well, I’d like to turn to a penetrating passage from Sunday’s New York Times on ‘the freedom of an armed society.’
Gun rights advocates also argue that guns provide the ultimate insurance of our freedom, in so far as they are the final deterrent against encroaching centralized government, and an executive branch run amok with power. Any suggestion of limiting guns rights is greeted by ominous warnings that this is a move of expansive, would-be despotic government. It has been the means by which gun rights advocates withstand even the most seemingly rational gun control measures. An assault weapons ban, smaller ammunition clips for guns, longer background checks on gun purchases — these are all measures centralized government wants, they claim, in order to exert control over us, and ultimately impose its arbitrary will. I have often suspected, however, that contrary to holding centralized authority in check, broad individual gun ownership gives the powers-that-be exactly what they want.
After all, a population of privately armed citizens is one that is increasingly fragmented, and vulnerable as a result. Private gun ownership invites retreat into extreme individualism — I heard numerous calls for homeschooling in the wake of the Newtown shootings — and nourishes the illusion that I can be my own police, or military, as the case may be. The N.R.A. would have each of us steeled for impending government aggression, but it goes without saying that individually armed citizens are no match for government force. The N.R.A. argues against that interpretation of the Second Amendment that privileges armed militias over individuals, and yet it seems clear that armed militias, at least in theory, would provide a superior check on autocratic government.
As Michel Foucault pointed out in his detailed study of the mechanisms of power, nothing suits power so well as extreme individualism. In fact, he explains, political and corporate interests aim at nothing less than “individualization,” since it is far easier to manipulate a collection of discrete and increasingly independent individuals than a community. Guns undermine just that — community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.
What’s interesting and important about the article is not anything about regulating guns (a form of control of and power over individuals). Instead, it’s an indictment of the kind of individualism that underpins ‘an armed society is a polite/civil society’ claims, which is a tunnel-vision that fragments collective power with the spectacular promise of personal firearms. It’s a disempowering story gun enthusiasts are spreading and the flip-side of the ‘ban all guns’ rhetoric that they think they’re opposing. In other word, an armed society isn’t a more polite, civil or necessarily safer society. It’s a police-state.
However, there’re reasons to think that the ‘access to mental healthcare’ is a similarly misleading appeal. As my partner put it (on Facebook) responding to this livejournal posting about recent gun massacres:
This is a really great post and it tails nicely with problems I’ve been having with the discourse. I think gun control is the least useful angle to look at the event from, and I think a lot of people realize that, but the mental-illness angle has been striking me as off the mark as well. Mostly because these shooters don’t usually have an obvious psychological problem before the event, and even if they were suffering under ‘common’ stress & alienation, it’s not clear that they lacked access to support or would have availed themselves of it. It IS a mental health issue, but it goes deeper than ‘spotting’ and ‘helping’ troubled folks, it has to do with the ways our ‘normal’ forms of sociability feed into problems, while simultaneously making it appear that nothing unusual is going on. Because if you’re just pissed cuz you’re RIGHT, then why would you seek help?
Some might contend these were mentally I’ll people though! The issue isn’t whether there’s a ‘mental health’ crisis though, but the etiology of that crisis. There is certainly a need to improve access to ALL kinds of healthcare (I’m an unrepentant socialist here), but my partner and that blog-writer’s point is that calling these shootings ‘a mental health issue’ and framing that in terms of access /takes for granted/ the sick individual. This is not far off from the gun-nut’s reasoning that these types of events, these individuals, are to be expected. Stated so simply as it often had been, it just individualizes the solution in a different way. There are individual factors to be sure, and access to mental healthcare probably would correlate with reduced violence, but that’s a band-aid perspective when the gushing wound is a culture of toxic masculinity and toxic individualism. Lack of access to mental healthcare didn’t produce these shooters, didn’t produce their willingness to act as they did, even if it may have stopped some of them.