Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, May 31, 2014

#BookTitleConfessions Twitterrant

Friday, May 30, 2014

Adjunct Action Bay Area Press Release on SFAI Union Victory

It's here, and I'm even quoted in it. Gosh, proud!

SFAI Adjuncts Vote Overwhelmingly to Unionize With SEIU!

The vote count took place this morning at the National Labor Relations Board offices in San Francisco. Of the votes cast it seems that one hundred twenty-four adjuncts voted YES to unionize with SEIU, and thirty five voted no. That means we won by something like a 78% margin! What a complete pleasure and accomplishment and relief! Victory is sweet, especially when it supports greater equity, diversity, and democracy in the world. I can only hope the SFAI administration that resisted our organizing so ferociously will change their minds quite quickly about the threat of this development when they discover the benefits of collaborating as equitable colleagues with the actual people doing the overwhelming majority of the actual teaching which is the actual reason SFAI actually exists.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

More Scorn for the Gunfail Heap

kos is on it. Hell, you know I'm for it. Gunfailures with their open carry prosthetic penises are killer clowns at best, wannabe serial killers at worst. The point is not that one should just ridicule people one disagrees with rather than trying to argue with them and argue against them, but that it is actually also part of being judicious and reasonable to grasp that some positions with which one disagrees are not just wrong but ridiculous, and that it is not only appropriate to ridicule the ridiculous but more proper than not. Pro-choice people and pro sane gun safety regulation people absolutely should stop apologizing both to the forced pregnancy zealots and to the gun-nuts, conceding ground and muddling the clarity of sane righteous stances in order to try to appeal to or seem civil to patently ridiculous nonsense. There is nothing to be gained for sense or civility in pretending the gun-nut brand of crazy or the forced pregnancy brand of zealotry can be reasoned with. Who wants to meet a killer clown halfway? Look how much sense and decency you are walking away from in even making the attempt, quite apart from recognizing how futile the gesture is in any case. Gun nuts and forced pregnancy zealots are stupid and they are evil and anything but utterly marginalizing them as stupid and evil is only enabling stupidity and evil. They are patriarchal pricks, they are ridiculous idiots, and they must be laughed out of town and back into their holes before they hurt themselves or anybody else. And given the always threatening always threatened bearings of assertively insertively masculine selfhood these vile and absurd positions express, they are uniquely vulnerable to ridicule just as they are bolstered by being taken seriously (even if only seriously enough to be disagreed with). Sometimes ridicule really is the only proper rhetorical strategy.

Both Are Wrong

Anarchists on the right want a nation of guns, not laws. Anarchists on the left see a nation of guns, not laws. Both are wrong.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blogging Summer Teaching -- Patriarchy

The subtitle of my version of the course refers to "Patriarchal Convention and Conviction." Beyond the wordplay on the relations between our contingent conventions and the ways in which we are convinced by them or find ourselves made convict by them, it should be clear that the historical specificity I demand we bring to bear on the terms "ancient" "modern" and even "rhetoric" we use so glibly in these enormously definitively prescriptive initial framings of the course must also apply as we take sex gender sexuality and their interimplications into account in any accounting of "patriarchy" in the course.

One might define patriarchy generally as the systematic exploitation of women by men, or the systematic denigration of all who are and all that is constructed as "feminine" as against all who are and all that is constructed instead as "masculine." Structural definitions abound, including the proposal that patriarchal societies are those in which property is controlled by men and/or transmitted from fathers to sons, and in which women must themselves be controlled as property so that their reproductive capacity is controlled by men and hence that generational transmission of property secured. Patriarchy on such construals will also denote sexist, heterosexist, cissexist gender-sex-sexuality norms and forms that facilitate this control, or reflect this control, or are vestiges of the historical fact of such control even after its terms have somehwat changed or ameliorated.

It is easy to find endless exemplifications of these formulations in the texts we will be reading in the course, but this ease is as much a cause for alarm as anything. It is wrong to assume too glibly that Homeric or Sapphic or Periclean Greeks did patriarchy the same way, or Republican, Imperial, Eastern, or early Christian Romans did, let alone Spartan Greeks or Provincial Romans under the "Good" Emperors. Even if the sexed-gendered political body of "democratic" Athens -- the radical democracy of plutocratic militaristic slave-holding foreigner-denigrating elite males, of course -- was reprosexual and phallogocentric, its sex, its gender, its sexuality was not our own, even as we say the same of our own, if we do. Not only is it clear that these texts were written in and for worlds that corralled different norms, expectations, practices in the field of their sexuality than our own, it is not even clear that the use of our own word "sexuality" to describe the operation of such a field in relation to the sociocultural constitution of legible subjects in the world is not one that obscures much more than it illuminates. These ideas have been scholarly commonplaces for well over a generation by now, but that doesn't mean the gravity well of their normative discursive assumptions and aspirations have become easier for us to resist, especially tackling texts like these for the first time as many of my students will be.

Quite beyond that, I will admit that I identify as a feminist and that I have organized this course at least in part as a reflection of that feminism -- and so there is a non-negligible sense in which what matters to me about teaching and reading these texts are the ways they speak to this present and its politics (however differently from the ways they may have spoken to the politics of their presents). What matters to me finally is that these texts provocatively complicate my application of sexed gendered norms and forms to their interpretation in a way that is salutary to a present feminism attentive to the unexpected and urgent stratifications of the experiences of sexism heterosexism cissexism in the world, and so the contrary methodological impulses of my grasp of Greek of Roman patriarchies find a loose untrustworthy truce at the level of practice.

Blogging Summer Teaching -- Ancients and Moderns

The general catalog descriptions of this course (103A) emphasize the reading of texts from Greek, Latin, and early Christian antiquity, and the course is paired with another (103B) that promises to tackle, among other themes that preoccupy contemporary theory, the question of modernity. Although these terms do not determine the pairing, there is an almost unavoidable danger that students come to this course fancying it the Ancient Rhetoric course coupled to another Modern Rhetoric one. I mean it when I describe this as a "danger" and I will take some time to disabuse students of the prejudices that inhere in such a preliminary mapping. For one thing, if students come into this scene with the comfortable -- or more usually disgruntled -- assumption that this is the (probably one) class in which undergraduates in the Rhetoric Department are forced to tackle "The Ancients," they will be at a disastrous disadvantage to grasp the extent to which and the force of the sense in which for many of the Romans we will be reading in the course the Greeks we will have read in the course are the Ancients Roman Moderns are reviving, adapting, or reviling in their own variations of the quarrel des anciens et modernes, not to mention the ways in which the differences between Homeric rhetorical agency and Thucydides rhetorical agency tend to get smudged away when one fancies a continuity or monolithic Ancientness conjoins Homer with Augustine.

To this I will add the fact that we will not be reading the Egyptian Ptahhotep's Instructions, a practical manual about discourse predating Plato. We will not be tackling Vedic discourse, nor closely reading the vicissitudes of debate in the Upanishads. We will not spend a week reading Confucian theory and the later legalisms arising from those foundations. Why these Greek and Roman ancients and not others, and what are the modernities implied by these choices? As I will point out, this is not a matter of confining rhetoric within arbitrary constraints -- inasmuch as the choice to call the discipline "rhetoric" in the first place, the name this Department the "Rhetoric Department" already imposes many of those constraints. "Rhetoric" is probably a Platonic coinage, rhetorike, derived from the very historically specific and quite idiosyncratic institutionalized figure of the rhetor. Our use of the term defies the more common usages logos and techne logon with which even most Greek contemporaries of Plato would have denoted the discipline and its objects. The use of the word "rhetoric" is far from a neutral point of departure, but puts us already and always deep in a skirmish over a terribly narrow construal of thought as a terribly narrow construal of theory as a terribly narrow construal of philosophy. The power of this intervention is not only to draw attention to the exclusions on which this course is premised as a way to draw attention to the costs of these exclusions to which we might otherwise remain altogether oblivious, but to draw attention to the actual stakes at hand by recognizing the stakeholders in their specificity.

Blogging Summer Teaching -- What Is Rhetoric Then?

This course is one of four Core courses in the Rhetoric curriculum at Berkeley -- and so I will begin as I do in teaching any of these reminding students what rhetoric is about in a general sort of way. It is strange, but the common apprehension of rhetoric is profoundly paradoxical. At once, you will find both formal and practical definitions of rhetoric as the skill to communicate intentions clearly and change minds and conduct effectively. And yet, at the same time, rhetoric is treated as vacuous -- let's get past the rhetoric, to the substance -- or even suspicious -- mere rhetoric, bullshit, spin, hype, deception. How can rhetoric be at once something and nothing, at once useful and injurious? Of course, it is only when the know-how and knowledge with which rhetoric concerns itself is compared to another, presumably higher, more virtuous, more powerful standard that its substance is evacuated, its virtues are denigrated: It is mostly when it is measured against a certain philosophical conception of truth, deliberation, decision, virtue that rhetoric is found wanting. I personally think philosophy is just a literary genre -- empirically, philosophy is that genre defined by the problems and conceits and stylistic quirks of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Hegel and those people who care about them in defiance of sense -- and it is crucial to remind people that theory is much bigger than philosophy is, just as thinking is much bigger than theory is. But philosophy in that reductive generic sense is not only preoccupied with the distinction between itself and rhetoric (or sophistry), philosophy constituted and reconstitutes itself in its ongoing distinction with rhetoric -- an operation that is actually co-constitutive of both. As it happens, the story of that philosophical repudiation of rhetoric will be at the heart of the course at hand.

Rhetoric, in my definition of it, is at once the facilitation of efficacious discourse as well as the critique of the terms under which discourse comes to be and fails to be efficacious. More specifically, rhetoric is an engagement in and with discourse which emphasizes three qualities: its occasionality, its interestedness, and its figurality. As we will discover in reading the classic formulations of rhetoric in Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian in our course, rhetoric has always paid attention to material specificities of the eulogy, the commencement address, the public debate, the newspaper editorial, the ad spread across the side of a bus, the ceremonial occasions of discourse, the possibilities inhering in its conditions, and the demands of meeting its situated expectations. This yields a model of discourse that arises out of material and historical situations and the significance of which is enacted collaboratively with the audiences into the hearing of which it is offered, in their material and historical situations. Rhetoric does not deny the extent to which arguments are adapted to audiences and shaped by the ends in the service of which they are made. Classical rhetoric is full of practical advice about ways to calculate effects and manipulate audiences and accomplish particular ends -- but again this advice is more than a scattered archive of pragmatic tips, but yields a model of discourse in which interest mobilizes attention, in which "disinterest" is revealed to be another strategy in the service of interests, in which knowledge is never neutral, never final, never secure however useful. And finally rhetoric pays attention to the materiality of the marks, noises, gestures, performances through which signification plays out in the world, even when rhetoricians seem to want to dismiss metaphor, arrangement, euphony, and style in argument as mere ornamental display they are obsesses with its effects and catalog its forms in exhaustive detail. Rhetoricians have always taken figurative language seriously. While some rhetoricians seem to panic about the threat of the figurative to the literal (as we shall see, this panic tends to have an insistently gendered formulation), others seem to embrace the force of the figurative as an ongoing invigoration of the literal: I would propose that this yields a model of discourse that attends to problems and possibilities arising from an ongoing traffic between the literal and the figurative work of language.

Blogging Summer Teaching -- Policies and Preliminaries

The first intensive this summer is "Are We Not Men? Patriarchal Convention and Conviction in Classical Antiquity." The course devotes three weeks each to Greek and then to Latin texts in English translation.

Today's first lecture should be a short affair, the shortest of the course. I doubt I'll hold them in the room the whole few hours. Given the avalanche of reading they encounter for tomorrow and Thursday, they can thank me for liberating them early only to chain them to their texts till late night. We'll go over the syllabus together. I will try to convey to them the significance of missing a session in an intensive in which every class covers a week of time in the regular term, the time it takes to recover in bed from a slight cold or to be young in the summer on a beach somewhere that could be taken in stride can swallow up what would be nearly a month of course material, a catastrophe that cannot easily be made up if at all.

Even more difficult to convey to Berkeley students will be my grading policies, especially when I try to explain to that an "A" is a mark of excellence and that excellence denotes an excelling beyond rather than a meeting of expectations and that it is an earned thing and not some sort of birthright. The students will be thrilled to discover that all the texts in the class are available for free online, but then profoundly perplexed when I demand they go out and purchase notebooks with real pages in them in which I expect them to keep a journal while they read, scribbling down their favorite quotes and questions and scouting for thesis-statement candidates, metaphors doing undo heavy lifting, gaps, and contradictions. Explaining the demand for a day by day handwritten reading notebook that cannot be electronified is not easy -- what is this "writ-ing" while "read-ing" you speak of...? With each passing year the assignment of this notebook has seemed to me more and more indispensable, as I find screen scrolling and the cutting and pasting of text can be antithetical to a sustained criticial temper. (They need not, certainly, indeed they can facilitate criticality for some -- but the notebook remains a crucial intervention, and writing implements and bound pages are technologies, so don't give me any nonsense about pedagogical luddism when this is a matter of proliferating techniques and appropriate technologies in fact.)

Blogging Summer Teaching

I return to Berkeley today to begin the first of two six-week intensives in the Rhetoric Department. For the next twelve weeks I'll be lecturing three hours in a row for three days in a row. Teaching these intensives is always, well, intense, and usually preoccupies my attention throughout the summer, and so rather than allowing the blog to languish utterly during the week I am thinking it might be nice to gather my thoughts here before lecture, to give readers more of a sense of what I do when I do what I really do. No promises that I'll stick to this exercise, but well begun is well done.

I received my PhD from the Rhetoric Department, a decade ago now, and I also got my start start teaching undergraduates there, two decades ago! Returning always feels like a homecoming. Despite all that, as always, facing the forty or so students enrolled for the course I will be jolted with stage fright like a lightning bolt -- it doesn't matter if I've conversing with four graduate students in comfy chairs around a seminar table or addressing three hundred undergraduate spotlit in an auditorium, the stage fright is always there and always the same, compelling my preparations and then propelling my voice from my head into my mouth.

"The sharing economy... is based on evading regulations and breaking the law... and facilitating a bunch of rip-offs"

Well, obviously. But it is nice to see that arguments puncturing the hype of the deregulatory fraud and feudalism of the "sharing economy" have become so tidy and commonsensical. Critics and curmudgeons rolled their eyes at this nonsense from the beginning, of course, but the can-do libertechbrotarians never have time for negative nellies like us while the pop-tech advertorial gizmo-fandom press is so hungry for their preening peen. Neoliberal and futurological enthusiasms like the digital sharecropping economy of crowdsourcing and Big Data targeting ride tides of hype and terror, facilitated by loose talk tapping into irrational passions like greed and panic and fandom, but are hard to sustain when people talk sense, appealing to concerns about sustainability, safety, fairness, susceptibility to abuse. Once that tide turns, I'm happy to say, it turns. "Fashion," wrote Oscar Wilde, "is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." In this time of acceleration of accelerating change and disruptive disruption of disruption the vicissitudes of libertopian and techno-utopian fashion usually take much longer than six months to get their tired asses off the runway and never, poor dears, arrive at The Future. Still, as Heidi Klum puts the point: "In fashion, you are either in or you are out." It looks like it's time for the meme hustlers to pull the next con from their grab bag of neologisms, to market the next landfill-destined crap gizmo that Will Change Everything or the next plutocratic policy that Make The World A Better Place.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Universal BIG + Zero IP = Free As In Democracy

More Futurological Brickbats here.

ThinkProgress Infographic: A Culture of Violence Towards Women

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Emasculating Gun-Nuttery: Or, What Atrios Said

I couldn't agree more:
Obviously they're a scary crowd to mock, because they, you know, have guns. Which is part of the point. But it is time to up the mockery of the giant external penis of death crowd. They're ridiculous cowards at best, and sociopathic wannabee serial killers, or occasionally actual serial killers, at worst. Losers.
Well, I couldn't agree more, but I'll try anyway. I have argued that an underappreciated dimension of the extraordinarily successful assimilationist model of gay politics was not just the mass coming out of my post-Stonewall generation, but the derisive interpretative gesture of treating acts of aggressive homophobia as exhibitions of a closeted gayness themselves and then making that interpretation stick. The special power of Atrios' mockery above is that it is emasculating.

Indeed, Atrios' formula is multiply and incessantly emasculating: it first insinuates that the gun-toting gun-nut possesses a small penis (more to the point, the public gun as figure of fun robs even a mighty penile oak the symbolic heft of the patriarchal phallus), then it accuses the gun-toting gun-nut of a conspicuous cowardice, it goes on to accuse the gun-toting gun-nut of a deranged and hence incontinent selfhood, a paranoid selfhood precluded from the rationalization of a protective role, and then it equates the gun-toting gun-nut with being a "loser," illegible as leader, breadwinner, trustworthy comrade or civic-minded citizen. It goes without saying (I hope) that the set of connections implied and demands made by such a construction of masculinity could only ever be a kind of catastrophe, that a masculinity so construed even at its best would always be an immensely costly and palpably threatened bearing of selfhood given that men are vulnerable, error-prone, historically-situated, socially entangled beings prone to humiliation and hungry for connection as much as anybody else.

What Atrios' formula recognizes is that it is not strength but the fragility of masculine selfhood in this construal that is symptomized in the figure of the gun-toting gun-nut. Of course, it is because this construction of masculinity is ever more threatened that it seeks to be ever more threatening: it is only when heteronormative masculinity is no longer immediately or inevitably or naturally and hence pre-politically legible that it seeks to back itself in an anti-political hale of bullets, it is only when heteronormative authority is no longer ubiquitous that the figure of the gun-toting gun-nut dreams of proliferating to re-occupy public space. Like the conspicuous homophobe, the gun-toting gun-nut is compensating. It is true, as Atrios said, that there is danger in this moment when a loss of legibility is lived as an experience of being cornered, and especially when there are weapons involved: But to react to the figure with fear is to collaborate in the success of his compensatory gesture, while to react to the figure with mockery is to refuse him success in the most catastrophic imaginable way. Mockery renders the gun-toting gun-nut illegible in his masculinity in precisely the moment of his public assertion of it. Just so, mockery of the aggressive homophone no longer vouchsafes but threatens his once confident ritual assertion of heterosexuality.

There are, by the way, a host of no less emasculating compassionate or apparently compassionate interpretive strategies available to aid in the emasculating mockery of the gun-toting gun-nut: the gun as the cry for help, the gun as the infantile play for attention, the gun as sign of the traumatized victim incapable of the love he so desperately needs, and so on. More to the point, I believe our popular press should be larded with impressionistic anecdotes and true confessions illustrating this emasculating connection, Comedy Central and SNL should make endless hay flogging it for laughs, hapless exemplars should appear as stock characters in commercials selling insurance and cars and candy bars.

Emasculating readings of the gun-toting gun-nut, should they come to represent the prevailing commensensical reading of the figure will not only render the strategy less available to him in the first place -- becoming sites threatening exposure of failure rather than promising successful incarnations of agency -- but in becoming prevalent will have done no small amount of the work of demolishing this particular ritual materialization of the threatened and threatening bearing of would-be ruggedly individualistic heterosexual masculinity to the good of us all.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tax and Spend

When "tax and spend" is reduced to a punchline, it is always plutocrats who have the last laugh.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

"People Die From Exposure"

It turns out that Rebecca Solnit was never asked permission for her commencement address to be recorded, let alone promoted as I have done, and she wanted to let it be known that such permission should always be requested.

While I suppose I can see why this might seem a worthy courtesy in the context of academic ceremonials like graduation events and conferences, which are premised on public registrations of respect for the authority of situated/trained intellectual voices, I personally do not agree that this is true. Or more to the point, I think that most of the contexts rendering this intuition plausible are enormously problematic for the academy.

The expectation of privacy understood as authorial control over the terms in which a rhetorical performance circulates seems to me as wrongheaded as daydreaming that one could demand control over the terms on which one's rhetorical performance was apprehended and remembered by all the members of a live audience. To speak in public is to be exposed to interpretation, misapprehension (including creative and subversive misapprehensions that contribute their own indispensable measure to ongoing creation), memorialization (including selective note-taking, creative recounting, and vantaged recording), and more.

Although Solnit expressed frustration that she wasn't asked permission to be recorded that doesn't necessarily mean that she would have refused her permission were she asked, of course, nor does it mean a frustration directed at an institution would likewise be directed at a blogger like me who took advantage of the existing recording to express public enthusiasm for her and engage in a public conversation with her talk. Nevertheless, I have taken down both my post of her talk and my tweet promoting the post, to respect her wishes.

In that earlier post, I noted that Solnit expressed support for the adjunct organizing -- of which I am a part -- taking place at SFAI, and that her expression of support was followed by an enthusiastic expression of support from graduating students who cheered for her when she declared it, and that her support was all the more powerful because it was expressed in the company of SFAI administrators who have resisted our organizing quite conspicuously. SFAI President Charles Desmarais sat just behind Rebecca Solnit and was quite as visible in the recording of her talk as she was, lit by the same spotlight, and Dean Rachel Schreiber actually introduced Solnit's talk. As I have written elsewhere, these two administrators have been the public face of resistance to adjunct organizing -- which is not to say that they will not partner with us as congenial and productive partners once we secure the union representation they presently fear.

But I ended up spending more of my time in that blog post engaging with the ideas in Solnit's talk that formed the context for her support of our organizing. Solnit recalled that during the Clinton administration Al Gore famously declared the internet "a highway to the twenty-first century," but she argued that the internet has instead been a highway back to the plutocratic predation of the nineteenth century. She exposed the vaunted libertechbrotarian "sharing economy" of SillyCon Valley as a digital sharecropping economy, in which visual artists, writers, thinkers, and critics are reduced to "content providers" presumably so thrilled by the "exposure" of our work that we are willing to provide it for free or mostly for free while a vanishingly small minority of owners and managers of the momentarily successful platforms on which the content is provided rake in millions and billions of dollars. Far from being thrilled or even settling for the free "exposure" of our work, Solnit recounted the aphoristic observation of a friend from a conversation on the topic: "People die from exposure." It was one of best lines and biggest laughs of her talk. I wonder if she asked her friend's permission for using it, or should have done on her terms, or refrained from naming the friend out of consideration for the friend's ownership of the insight communicated by that string of noises or out of consideration instead for the flow of the talk itself?

I guess I should have expected a bit of prickliness about permissions to promote Solnit's talk given this critique of the digital sharecropping economy and especially that bit about artists and intellectuals dying from exposure. But I didn't. The fact is, I found that I was unexpectedly even more excited to hear her critique of the expropriative fraud of Bay Area crowdsharing enthusiasms and the vacuity of the various digital democratic spontaneisms (which amount to getting targeted for incessant marketing harassment, being framed in advance by surveillance and Big Data profiling, and being drafted into social networking for zero comments and empty likes) than I was to hear her endorse our union organizing. While I still forcefully agree with her diagnosis of the injustice and idiocy of the essentially feudal "sharing economy," I suspect that I may not finally agree with her recommendations in the face of that injustice and idiocy. This happens quite often with me, of course, and my disagreements look on first blush to be more or less the ones I have with Jaron Lanier on these questions while remaining a fan.

I personally think that intellectual property regimes for what remain the ineradicably citational and collaborative practices of creative expressivity is profoundly wrongheaded. I do not agree that the erection of artificial rivalrousness through copyright continues to function "to promote the progress," in Constitutional parlance. I've long regarded the securing of the freedom of assembly guaranteed in the First Amendment neglected in the foregrounding of the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment in discussions of the politics of privacy/publicity/property. In my view the solution to the dilemmas Solnit rightly criticized in her talk is not (even as a short term measure) to rewrite artists and intellectuals even more catastrophically into alienated producers of alienated commodities and to rewrite all creativity and criticality in the fraudulent image of entrepreneurial skimming and scamming to the ruin of the openness on which beauty and thought depend.

Instead, I would recommend steeply progressive income (all the way up to a 96% bracket) and property and inheritance and transaction taxes to combat wealth concentration that always abets minority control of creativity and in the absence of which the pursuit of obscene profit is a continual siren song mobilizing sociopathy to its worst effort to try and then always fail to fill with treasure the hole where a soul should be.

Although the more equitable distribution of benefits (and hence of costs and risks) of everyday commerce by steeply progressive taxation is a democratizing end in itself, it also happens to provide the funding through which one can fund the building and maintenance of public goods and the equitable support of common goods and invest in sustainable social infrastructure, and fund the lifelong healthcare, education, and a basic income guarantee (BIG) which would ensure that consent (a value foundational to market ideologues but only so long as it is vacuous) to the terms of everyday commerce is legibly informed and nonduressed by precarity once and for all. That is to say, the politics of progressive taxation are democratizing both in what they prevent (anti-democratizing wealth and authority concentration) and in what they provide (a scene of informed nonduressed consent to the terms of everyday life).

As it happens, a sufficiently rich bundle of social democratic welfare entitlements, from lifelong universal healthcare and education, counseling, and training opportunities, to paid family leave, long-term unemployment, life-long injury and disability insurance, and absolute retirement security (up to an outright universal non-means-tested basic income guarantee or negative income tax at best) could support a life devoted to nothing but creative expressivity, critical engagement, civic participation, and social support for those who wanted to live a humane existence on their own terms. On such terms, the exposure of work offered freely to the world would not demand the exposure of the worker to the lethally icy forces of isolated neglect as they do now. (Not to mention the fact that genuine general welfare/BIG would also function as a nifty permanently available strike find for workers seeking to improve their labor conditions -- and as an alternative to those who are presently drafted by the precarity of their circumstances into cannon fodder for unethical unpopular wars of conquest.)

To those who might contend that this is an idealism that amounts to an advocacy of the status quo, I must say that there are highly organized partisan, scholarly, activist, and general constituencies that support raising taxes -- while not as high as I would like, certainly higher, and in many contexts that taken together add up to more than you might think. If you want to talk about naivete, I propose you take a real, critical look at the copyright dead-enders and micropayment schemers and distributed-IP reformers who would leave plutocrats in place and all of whose gimmicks would be gamed by predators as night follows day and hence will solve nothing while wasting time the exploited don't have to waste. Again, in my opinion the solution to the present problem of digital sharecropping in particular and the plutocracy more generally of which it is a part is not the next techno-whizbang algorithm but the tried-and-true technique of taxation spent in the provision of sustainable consensualizing equity-in-diversity in the context of democracy. That's right, my answer is tax and spend.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Adore Can't Lose for Winning

Mostly vapid "hoodrat raunch" (her description, of course), but there are glimpses of possible greatness to come, especially since Thing Can Sing, though you wouldn't know it from this. I was Team Bianca, but adored Adore. The AllStars2 crown will be hers to lose. Party.

Angela Davis: "I still believe that capitalism is the most dangerous kind of future we can imagine."

Always great. But whenever I read anti-capitalist writing I do find myself thinking it really is a shame the more descriptively and historically apt phrase "extractive-industrial white-racist patriarchal corporate-militarism" is unwieldy for sloganeering purposes.

The Racism of "Enhancing for Competitiveness"

Upgraded from an exchange in the Moot with "Esebian," who wrote:
Wherever I see "enhancement" I see just the same old ways of self-centered, rich racist patriarchal heteronormative white males to impose their views on the rest of the world, smiting any divergent culture under their boot. Ol' Gernsback, inventor of the SF fandom and possibly Nerd(TM) subculture in general, already fantasized about fixing humanity before the transhumanuts were a twinkle in their parents' eyes. That his idea to "solve" racism by... building a skin-bleaching gadget/process to make blacks white materialized in the real world a Nazi doktors blinding KZ inmates by injecting blue dye into their eyes should say you something about the foundation and goals of the entire "enhancement" woo complex.
To which I replied:
You are not wrong to say so. The "competitiveness" in the service of which "optimization" is always imagined and argued for (whatever the "neutral" utilitarian, consequentialist, cost-benefit, scenarist stress-test vocabularies in which it is couched) rationalizes plutocracy as (if) meritocracy "at home" and imperial/colonial exploitation as (if) progressive development "abroad": "Competition" always naturalizes corporate-militarist norms and forms. And white racism (not to mention patriarchy) is always there at the heartless heart of corporate militarism, not only as a foundational history reverberating into those norms and forms but as an ongoing set of structural forces and unconscious biases enabling their maintenance. Of course the techno-transcendentalists will deny this -- but there would be no techno-fixation or techno-utopianism without a whole hell of a lot of bad faith and fetishisms roiling beneath the surface fueling its mania and denial.
If this blog has proved nothing else over the decade of its existence, it has shown that there is rich fun to be had poking fun at the flabbergasting foolishness of the Robot Cultists. But it is crucial to recall that their chief interest is as a kind of reductio ad absurdum exposing the pathologies and contradictions of more prevailing assumptions and aspirations driving extractive-industrial consumer culture and developmental globalism, in all their cruelty and denial, of which transhumanoid eugenicism and digi-denialism is just a revealingly extreme expression. (Which is not to deny that Robot Cultic rhetoric can do plenty of damage on its own terms when a bunch of libertechbrotarian skim and scam artists with god complexes and billions of unearned dollars on their hands start organizing politically to rewrite the world in the image of their deadly delusions.)

A Week for Reading

I'm making preparations for next week's teaching in Berkeley -- my yearly summer's turn back to the Greeks and Romans is always like an ecstatic leap into an overheated pool -- but this is mostly a week off for rest and recovery from the near madness of the end of term scrum behind me. I've been reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, starting with her latest novel Americanah and then polishing off her most famous Half of a Yellow Sun in just a day's distress, both of which were spellbinding in their different ways. Now I'm wondering if I should turn next to her short story collection or her debut novel, both of which are now waiting on my desk, tapping their little book feet impatiently for my attention. I am a compulsive completist in my reading, and have been since I was about ten, mostly swallowing science fiction canons whole. Responding to a book has always lead me to vacuum up everything the author has written, and forcing myself through even texts that are failed early experiments or which don't work for me for other reasons just to try to get at more fully whatever it was that moved me initially, or even just once, has lead me by the hand to find new possibilities in myself available for the places the author has been that I'm more ready to change into than I could ever know in advance. I have always known it was a flaw in my mind that I rarely have the resources of attention for neighbors that I have for books on shelves. On the few occasions I have read people as I do books, it was usually because I had fallen in love first, or in the reading found myself falling. There are things I haven't had time to write about lately that have been on my mind, but I don't know if I'll be blogging a lot this week or if all that will have to wait for the weird rhythms of summer teaching.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Callooh! Callay!

Although SFAI adjuncts began voting early last week on the question whether we wanted to be represented by SEIU, my own ballot didn't arrive day after day after day. I called the National Labor Relations Board Thursday about it and it turns out that they were provided an old address. Odd, that, since SFAI has been delivering paychecks, W-2s, and other materials to my present address for over a year now -- but I suppose bureaucratic befuddlements offer a plentifully plausible explanation without calling shenanigans. Let me just say, if you don't receive a ballot in such a situation you simply must be quite attentive and proactive about all the many steps in the process in which things can go wrong. My fresh ballot arrived at long last with the regular mail late this morning and already I have voted yes, Yes, YES! I can't say what will happen next, but I am feeling quite exhilarated about it for now.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

More Awful Amy Kushnir

Act surprised.

Prosthetic Self-Determination and Polyculture In the Real World

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot. A rather interesting exchange took place in the Moot with regular reader "Jay" who begins by quoting from a recent post of mine here.
To treat as "settled" or as "neutral" value questions that are and should remain under contestation about what human ends are worth optimizing for and what human lifeways are actually wanted is to circumscribe the terms of what is humanly possible and important in a profound violence that tends to precede and indeed function as the precondition for certain techno-fixated and techno-transcendental eugenic discourses on "enhancement" that like to promote themselves as celebrations of choice. [I have quoted the whole sentence, which "Jay" actually snipped a bit to focus on just the first part, with what seems to me a possible loss of sense for those who haven't actually read the post that prompted the intervention. Also, the unexpurgated quote better sets the stage for how I will come to respond to the intervention in my view. --d]
then goes on to comment:

"That's a pretty good definition of freedom of religion. The simple facts are that people seriously disagree about what gives life value, if anything, and that attempting to settle the question has resulted in far more carnage than clarity, a dozen Boko Harams for every Gandhi. Leaving the matter perpetually peacefully contested is the best compromise we've worked out so far."

To this I replied, perhaps a bit glibly:
Quite so, which is why I'm a cheerfully nonjudgmental atheistic aesthete, so long as people don't try to pretend their faithful/tasteful oughts are pragmatic/scientific ises.
That exchange set the stage then for this more substantial subsequent one, beginning with "Jay":

"Jay again. That doesn't leave you much room to judge anyone who wants to enhance themselves (whatever they decide that enhancement is). You can, on an aesthetic basis, say that they're icky. That shouldn't carry any more weight than the opinion of tens of millions that your lifestyle is icky. If some harebrained "enhancement" scheme is what they choose to give their life meaning, on what basis could you challenge that?"

I replied:
In the piece into which these paragraphs have been inserted and in the companion piece on prosthetic self-determination/morphological freedom to which they refer, I make something like that very claim.

Of course, when "enhancement" is discussed in a futurological context this may come to seem rather fraught and thrilling, but only because futurologists tend to discuss "enhancement" in comic book terms that ill connect to reality. (Sooper powers, godlike amplifications, sooper-villains, clone armies -- all hyperbolizing deliberation-deranging rot.)

An informed, consenting adult getting a graduate education, getting a tattoo or their ears pierced, enjoying a recreational substance in the privacy of their own home, or choosing to get an abortion provide more relevant contexts for the contemplation of the stakes of "enhancement" in my view.

Should anything like the more fanciful non-normativizing "techno"-medical interventions transhumanoids and their ilk pine over ever arrive on the scene, one can be sure that they would be rightly regulated for safety considerations, to ensure the practitioners providing them were competent, that subjects choosing these procedures were well informed about their objective costs and risks and not under duress and not subject to fraud and so on. And so they should be on my view, else the intervention could not be undertaken in a legibly consensual way.

So long as "harebrained enhancement schemes" by my lights are not unduly unsafe or peddled with false claims or undertaken by unlicensed practitioners, then I think it is a good thing that those actually informed, actually competent, actually consenting adults who actually want to undergo them are not unduly constrained by my aesthetic taste or moralism from doing so.

But as you see, as with most topics that have been futurologically flummoxed, my position is not utopian but pragmatic, not anarchic but civil libertarian, not market libertopian but articulated by well-regulated sustainable social democratic equity-in-diversity. Futurists tend to skew the topic -- as most topics -- from a technical, pragmatic, legal, moral, ethical, aesthetic, and political vantage. How unfortunate, then, that theirs are the terms through which non-normativizing "enhancement" medicine fetishized as "technological" (no medicine isn't, of course, which is why I say "fetishized") tends to be imagined when it is imagined.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Harvey on Piketty

Afterthoughts on Piketty's Capital by David Harvey:
What Piketty does show statistically (and we should be indebted to him and his colleagues for this) is that capital has tended throughout its history to produce ever-greater levels of inequality. This is, for many of us, hardly news. It was, moreover, exactly Marx’s theoretical conclusion in Volume One of his version of Capital. Piketty fails to note this, which is not surprising since he has since claimed, in the face of accusations in the right wing press that he is a Marxist in disguise, not to have read Marx’s Capital... From his data (spiced up with some neat literary allusions to Jane Austen and Balzac) he derives a mathematical law to explain what happens: the ever-increasing accumulation of wealth on the part of the famous one percent (a term popularized thanks of course to the “Occupy” movement) is due to the simple fact that the rate of return on capital (r) always exceeds the rate of growth of income (g)... But a statistical regularity of this sort hardly constitutes an adequate explanation let alone a law... Marx would obviously have attributed the existence of such a law to the imbalance of power between capital and labor. And that explanation still holds water... [I]n Volume 2 of Marx’s Capital (which Piketty also has not read even as he cheerfully dismisses it) Marx pointed out that capital’s penchant for driving wages down would at some point restrict the capacity of the market to absorb capital’s product. Henry Ford recognized this dilemma long ago when he mandated the $5 eight-hour day for his workers in order, he said, to boost consumer demand. Many thought that lack of effective demand underpinned the Great Depression of the 1930s. This inspired Keynesian expansionary policies after World War Two and resulted in some reductions in inequalities of incomes (though not so much of wealth) in the midst of strong demand led growth. But this solution rested on the relative empowerment of labor and the construction of the “social state” (Piketty’s term) funded by progressive taxation... Piketty’s formulation of the mathematical law disguises more than it reveals about the class politics involved... [A] central difficulty with Piketty’s argument [is that i]t rests on a mistaken definition of capital. Capital is a process not a thing. It is a process of circulation in which money is used to make more money often, but not exclusively through the exploitation of labor power. Piketty defines capital as the stock of all assets held by private individuals, corporations and governments that can be traded in the market no matter whether these assets are being used or not... The whole of neo-classical economic thought (which is the basis of Piketty’s thinking) is founded on a tautology. The rate of return on capital depends crucially on the rate of growth because capital is valued by way of that which it produces and not by what went into its production. Its value is heavily influenced by speculative conditions and can be seriously warped by the famous “irrational exuberance” that Greenspan spotted as characteristic of stock and housing markets. If we subtract housing and real estate –- to say nothing of the value of the art collections of the hedge funders –- from the definition of capital (and the rationale for their inclusion is rather weak) then Piketty’s explanation for increasing disparities in wealth and income would fall flat on its face, though his descriptions of the state of past and present inequalities would still stand. Money, land, real estate and plant and equipment that are not being used productively are not capital. If the rate of return on the capital that is being used is high then this is because a part of capital is withdrawn from circulation and in effect goes on strike. Restricting the supply of capital to new investment (a phenomena we are now witnessing) ensures a high rate of return on that capital which is in circulation. The creation of such artificial scarcity is not only what the oil companies do to ensure their high rate of return: it is what all capital does when given the chance. This is what underpins the tendency for the rate of return on capital (no matter how it is defined and measured) to always exceed the rate of growth of income... [T]his is how the capitalist class lives. There is much that is valuable in Piketty’s data sets. But his explanation as to why... oligarchic tendencies arise is seriously flawed... [H]e has certainly not produced a working model for capital of the twenty-first century. For that we still need Marx...
A concise critique, to say the least. I cut out Harvey's jab at the end about the naivete of Piketty's remedies, since earlier in his review he offered a qualified endorsement of them that seems to me more fitting: "[H]e gives a thoughtful defense of inheritance taxes, progressive taxation and a global wealth tax as possible (though almost certainly not politically viable) antidotes to the further concentration of wealth and power." If the "global wealth tax" takes the form of global financial transaction fees and re-internalization of global environmental costs, say, I think the proposal becomes very hard but neither "naive [nor] utopian," for example. Given the brevity of his afterthoughts, there may seem to be a troubling under-specificity suggesting an even more troubling subjectivity about the criteria rendering true capital "productive," but all the pieces are available (if you squint) to recognize an essentially democratic characterization of productivity as the support of the equity-in-diversity of labor (that is to say support for the free development and consensual self-determination of the overwhelming majority of people who have to work for a living) as against the artificial scarcities on which the "capitalist class" of rentiers -- to which we now presumably, perhaps somewhat uneasily, assimilate the unaccoutable hyperinflated perques and incomes of the financial management sector -- depend for their luxury. I recommend this earlier post on Piketty in which recourse to Polanyi and not Marx provides the ground for concerns over the book's insubstantial accounting of the actual phenomenon of capital which makes its title something of a false promise. In that earlier piece I elaborate further some of the environmental dimensions of Piketty's account that seem to me terribly wrong to overlook.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Obligatory Xanadu Clip Upon Completion of Grading

I repost it every time, I know, but I'm telling you, this is what it feels like every time I post that last grade of the term. Nothing else captures the feeling quite so well. Time to pop the cork on the cheapest sweetest pink champagne I can find!

The Freedom to Enhance

To treat as "settled" or as "neutral" value questions that are and should remain under contestation about what human ends are worth optimizing for and what human lifeways are actually wanted is to circumscribe the terms of what is humanly possible and important in a profound violence that tends to precede and indeed function as the precondition for certain techno-fixated and techno-transcendental eugenic discourses on "enhancement" that like to promote themselves as celebrations of choice. Theirs is a choice impoverished from the outset, offering always only choices to enhance competitive performance or to enhance the consumption of available entertainments, always in the paradoxical service of incumbency figured as "the future." Freedom reduced to the "freedom to enhance" risks the foreclosure of freedoms in the name of freedom and, worse, looks so to misconstrue freedom as an engineering matter rather than a political experience that it threatens to undermine freedom altogether.

It is no surprise that advocates of "optimality" that declare themselves committed to the usual libertarian conceptions of impoverished voluntarism and vacuous consent will nonetheless propose policies in which the individual choice to maintain or craft a "suboptimal" morphology or capacity (on competitive productivist or consumerist terms that are neither settled nor neutral) is to be treated as generating an externality imposing social costs that must be re-internalized: This amounts to the proposal of a punitive legal and incentivizing regulatory framework naturalizing a permanent arms race of force-amplification in the service of eternal accumulation as an unexamined end-in-itself.

The democratic value of equity-in-diversity (and the interminable democratic contestation over its terms and forms) is neither equality-as-homogeneity nor aspiration-toward-optimization.

I have added these passages to clarify and elaborate an earlier piece of mine, Eugenics and the Denigration of Consent, posted years ago but which receives ongoing attention.

Doing Your Job As A Reporter Whether You Approve the Facts You Are Reporting Or Not Is Also A Traditional Value

Strictly speaking, of course, the heterosexist patriarchal values that would abhor the broadcast of a samesex kiss would abhor no less a woman working as a reporter at all rather than being her husband's chattel slave and broodmare -- but Amy Kushnir is no doubt quite happy to benefit from the feminist resistance to such heterosexist patriarchal values and practices so long as she doesn't ever have to actually work to maintain them or even think about them in any sustained way.

Grading, Grading, Grading

Blogging low to no, I'm afraid.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

SFAI's Adjunct Union Voting Commences -- As Does the Latest and Last Union-Busting Gambit

This post was written and circulated first last night among my fellow adjuncts, and has been edited to reflect new information that arose in the conversation of which it was a part.

Yesterday the ballots for the upcoming election to determine whether or not adjuncts at SFAI will join SEIU began to be mailed to us all. The time for voting will arrive for each of us any day now. There are hundreds of us, but as usually happens, a few folks have emerged in this fraught process of meeting and messaging who have taken on the brunt of organizing effort or whose voices seem to have been more conspicuous than others. I think it is important to recognize at this crucial moment that adjunct faculty at SFAI do have different needs and desires, and that we are not organizing to impose a one size fits all contract to replace the one size misfits all "at will" non-contract the present administration presently prefers. We want multiple options that reflect the multiple realities under which we are teaching here. Solidarity gives us the standing to make our shared needs and problems known, but solidarity is also supporting the needs and problems of our colleagues even when we don't always share them precisely ourselves.

There may be many adjuncts who have hopes or concerns that have not found voice yet in this process of education and organization, despite our best efforts to include everybody, because adjuncts are always busy, especially at the end of term and because the precarity of our circumstances makes us all the more hesitant to speak out -- and I can only imagine that some of these colleagues are all the more anxious about how well they will be represented in the midst of this change. Needless to say, the only way finally to address such silence is to add your voice and make those hopes and concerns known. All voices have been welcome in our process, and our conversations have been frank and sometimes disputatious, but indeed new perspectives are necessary to us all to testify to those aspects and problems in our situation that may have been overlooked so far. Above all, I trust we will all vote "yes" so that this process of voicing such hopes and concerns together is ongoing and can have a life beyond grievance and anxiety and a real chance of improving our conditions in the world. Whatever our disagreements -- and, again, intelligent people with real different situations always have disagreements, this is to be expected and welcomed -- we have worked to establish trust between ourselves, and public places where we can say where we are coming from and say so with our names proudly before us.

And yet now, today, as the ballots begin to arrive in our mailboxes, we have been confronted with what seems to me the latest and last union-busting tactic of SFAI, an unsigned letter purporting to represent visiting faculty and promising us a place in an altogether different union than the one we are voting on. After years spent ignoring adjunct concerns and then responding at all only when we began organizing so conspicuously with SEIU -- and responding even now with little but misinformation and veiled threats and boilerplate union-busting tactics -- I honestly didn't think anybody would take the least bit seriously this latest blatant effort at dividing and conquering us by claiming somehow automagically to unionize us all by attaching us to the faculty union and claiming to have secured, at least for now, legal representation on our behalf paid for by anonymous donors and without consulting us on the very day ballots start to arrive for the vote we've been learning about and debating together all this time.

As I say, this newfangled group claims to speak in the name of visiting faculty -- but its membership refrains from naming itself and we discover that none of the diverse adjuncts we know are among that membership -- and then this group declares it will negotiate with administration, supported by hitherto invisible legal teams and generous financial supporters, and in terms suspiciously like the very ones we had begun to come up with together ourselves. [UPDATE: The following day the author of the letter did disclose her identity and also listed a number of supporters among faculty and adjuncts of its contents. Incredibly, within minutes and then continuing on for days, people published as supporters began to protest in public about their inclusion in the list, saying that they did not support the letter and often complaining as well that they were not even consulted about being listed as such supporters. Very reassuring, I must say.] Dr. Robin Balliger, a professor at SFAI and President of that Faculty Union has notified us that
the leadership of the Faculty Union at the SFAI was never contacted by the 'group' claiming to represent visiting faculty, nor have we ever heard of them. We are shocked by language in that email that strongly implies that a conversation with our union has already taken place, because this is untrue. As a labor union ourselves (AAUP), of course we support your right to unionize, but this particular email is highly misleading. We may raise this matter with the California Bar Association.
One minute this mysterious group serenades us with easy promises of an administration transformed beyond recognition, offering to make all our dreams come true -- but only if we don't actually organize to obtain the standing from which to obligate the administration to respond to our concerns. And then the next minute we find the group has a clawed hand to fling mud with, especially if the target is SEIU, the union that has actually been organizing us, facilitating our communication together, and responding to our objections.

SEIU is a union at the front lines of organizing against neoliberal precarization of healthcare workers, food service employees, and teachers across the country at this moment of unprecedented wealth concentration and corporate-military distress, mind you. However fraught our present distress, it is exhilarating to participate in this rebirth of labor organizing after a generation of neoliberal looting and privatization and plutocratic exploitation. Meanwhile, our new would-be adjunct advocates hide their charges behind an anonymity presumably justified by declared fears that they will be targeted by an army of union thugs, conjuring hackneyed images from the age-old union-busting playbook of corrupt union cronyism and mobs throwing eggs.

I'm not going to lie to you -- I have no words for anybody taken in by such a transparent and, frankly, panic-stricken eleventh-hour gambit, the latest oafish episode in union-busting in what is becoming a relentlessly embarrassing saga of union-busting.

Does anybody seriously think the loose talk in this mysterious missive of longer-term contracts and new benefits and better representation would have been the terms of the public discussion had we not been organized in the context of an actual union with actual stature and actual resources at its disposal organizing as we have done? Does anybody seriously think we would be receiving any response at all if it weren't for the prospect that we will acquire a standing through the union that SFAI cannot legally ignore? Does anybody seriously think that SFAI will take our concerns seriously when they are no longer legally obligated to do so -- as they never have been before? Does anybody seriously think that the "union alternative" being dangled before our eyes at the last possible moment is a good-faith effort -- when we know nothing about what part adjuncts would actually play in it? when we know nothing of its powers on our behalf? when we know nothing about its costs? when we know nothing about the costs of ongoing legal representation in connection with it? when we know nothing of its allegiances in an institutional context stratified by different stakeholder -- tenured and adjunct faculty; studio and academic faculty; administrators and teachers? when we know nothing about our real place within it? Indeed, all we know is that the leadership of the actual faculty knows nothing about the promises being made on its behalf at this moment and warns us of the letter's mischaracterizations!

Actually, we do know a little more: and I am sure many who have been with SFAI for any extended amount of time know well already that the faculty union has been unable to give heft to serious faculty concerns over the administration's elimination of department heads and demolition of chains of communication and accountability (with predictable and predicted disastrous results), and that on two occasions in the recent past the faculty union was unable to secure the agreed contract terms for tenured faculty members at SFAI -- who eventually settled out of court lest they be dragged into years of fruitless litigation with patient corporate lawyers... And how do you think adjuncts would fare in any actual dispute? And how have adjuncts fared in actual disputes thus far?

Use your heads! Ask yourselves: Who benefits from all this sudden turmoil and confusion at the last and vital moment of organizing as our ballots arrive, do you think? Already precarious anxious adjuncts? Or suave union-busters with nothing to lose but their profit piles and unaccountable control?

Look, I am far from thinking SEIU is the Mouseketeer Roll Call. I expect large organizations to pose problems even as they are deployed as instruments to address other problems. The Bay Area local with which we have been consulting is not exactly the same thing as the International Union. My understanding is that the present local 1021 was elected on a reformist slate with a broader social agenda and conspicuously committed to democratic decision-making emerging in part in response to the bad behavior and bad feelings arising from a local healthcare workers dispute some years back that has generated some lingering bad associations in the minds of good people. And, needless to say, we are working with the local we know and with union folks we have come to trust, and this is a different matter than seeking to judge or justify all of the good and all of the bad things all the people associated with SEIU in all of its formations have ever done in every context throughout its history. Can there be anybody who ever seriously thought otherwise? Politics is not the nursery, as Hannah Arendt once declared. We know what our problems are and we know what our shared concerns are and we know what our hopes are and we have had our outstanding questions answered. We have responded to a lot of outrageous misinformation from the SFAI administration about the costs and risks of joining SEIU and those few who are not convinced -- as I have been -- are likely not open to convincing as far as I know. But this last desperate effort to divide and confuse at the very hour we vote to embark on the terms to determine our collective prospects is really a new low.

The management and administration of companies, of hospitals, and, yes, of schools bargain with organized employees all the time. SFAI's President Charles Desmarais and other key administration figures in the present fight against our unionizing effort like Deal Rachel Schreiber will bargain with us on terms more equitable and congenial to us when we have been empowered by our collective recourse to SEIU. And of course this is true. This is obviously true. Again, people do this sort of thing all the time. Nonsense from administration about how the unionization represents a personal attack or represents a larger threat to the institution is all perfectly ridiculous. If we vote yes to SEIU and begin to determine our collective needs on the basis of the discussion we have already begun and then address these terms to SFAI, of course the administration will be professional about all this... as will we.

As we have all said over and over again we are devoted to SFAI and our concerns reflect more than our individual needs but also our awareness of the needs of our institution -- including the need students have for longstanding relationships of mentorship, including the use we all have for reliable and effective academic standards, including the desire for the facilitative culture of a cohort joined by a professional ethos and sustained by real support for the objective needs of teachers, researchers, and artists working together.

We want an end to a climate of fear that resonates even where we gather online. We want the security to do the work on which SFAI depends whether it admits it or not. We want the standing to communicate our knowledge of the needs and problems of the institution to which we are devoted without fear of reprisal.

SFAI will benefit from an organized and empowered cohort of adjunct teachers. Charles and Rachel and other fearful administration and faculty members will benefit as well from what we are doing, even if they still fear for now the hassle or loss of control that brings us all to the table.

Perhaps President Desmarais and Dean Schreiber will remember the principled respect for a democratic workplace to which they both have been devoted in the past at their best.

You can be sure that I am the last to hold a grudge. I will welcome their gratitude as a colleague when they finally find their way to it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Practice, Practice, Practice

Will be spending most of the day in the City, dress rehearsing the MA symposium. And grading on my feet each way on the commute. Busy, busy, busy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Our Futurity Is Not Your Future

Progress is a struggle, not a confidence game.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Fresh Fabulous from Janelle Monae: Heroes

For more substantial Amor Mundi on Janelle Monae (who is a hero even when she is not singing about heroes), check out:
Janelle Monae Appreciation Week
Millennials On the Tightrope
To Get Lost In Your Thoughts Is A Very Very Complex Thought
Dance or Die

Come See My MA Thesis Students Present Talks from Their Work

This Thursday, from ten am to five pm, the MA Thesis Symposium will take place in the Auditorium at the beautiful San Francisco Art Institute campus. Refreshments will be served and provocative conversations will be had.

9:45 Welcome and opening remarks from SFAI President Charles Desmarais and MA Program Chair, Claire Daigle

Hesse McGraw, Vice President for Exhibitions and Public Programs, SFAI
10-11 Presentations
Ling Meng, Walls Have Been Built Today, Then What Is Happening Inside at Present? An investigation into Today Art Museum, China's Number One Private Contemporary Art Museum
Elana Bernnard, [  Insert Text Here  ] Pedagogical Intentions of the Museum/ Pedagogical Production of Producing Subjects
Jennifer Moreno, Queering the Dream: Immigrant Activism and Defending the Right to Dream Differently
Rhonda Pagnozzi, Experimental Utopias: An Investigation into Tactical Urbanism Through the Work of The Better Block Project
11-11:30 Q&A

Andrea Dooley, Ph.D. in Cultural Studies, University of California at Davis
11:30-12:30 Presentations
Rachel Ralph, Skull Fucked: Power and Masculinity in Skateboard Graphic Design
Jessica Montgomery, Dirty Pretty Things: Confronting the Pleasures and Pitfalls of Excess in Fashion and Environmental Sustainability
Emily Reynolds, Freight and Fraught: Architecture and Influence in Mike Kelley and Chris Burden's 2013 Retrospectives
Monica Vazquez, In or Out, but Always Chilango. An analysis of Mexico’s city contemporary art scene, through the life and work of Dr. Lakra and Gabriel Orozco
12:30-1:00 Q&A

1:00-2:00 Lunch

Rachel Schreiber, Dean of Academic Affairs, SFAI
2-3 Presentations
Geoffrey Traxler, Paris Petrified and the Kiss of Displaced Things; or, The Lamp and The Mirror
Louis Vargas, A Pageant of Photography: Modern Photography through the Eyes of Ansel Adams
Soyi Kim, Facing the Effaced Photographs: Indelible Ignorance on Illicit Subjects of History
Sharrissa Iqbal, Forms of Reality: Perceptual and Spiritual Dimensions of John McCracken’s Sculpture
3-3:30 Q&A

Sampeda Aranke, Ph.D. in Performance Studies, University of California at Davis
3:30-4:30 Presentations
April Marie Dean, Honey Under the Tongue: Performing Intimacy in the Relationship Between Artists and Audiences
Ouater Sand, Sweetness Is a Simple Citizen, Lê Huy Hoàng’s Installation Works as Examples of Vietnamese Hybrid Art
Noemi Szyller, The Survivor’s Word Displayed and Displaced: The Memoir, Representation and Mediated Experience in Holocaust Museums
Clea Laurent Massiani, Ipso Factish: Exploration of the Museum of Jurassic Technology
4:30-5 Q&A

Reception in Café Courtyard to follow.