Letters -- PW #33
No, thank you. PW has some interesting articles, but I’m tired of its overall tone -- the reconstituted Marxism, which even in its more orthodox form has been tried on a vast scale and found wanting; and the feeling of Gen-X entitlement that permeates the voices of all reporters, editors and correspondents -- as my father would say, that the world owes you a living. Life may not have to be a sweatshop-and-tenement existence, but you got to put a little something into it if you want a little something out of it. That’s Law #1 of Thermodynamics. (and the hypocrisy of articles like “Get a Bike -- Get a Life!” galls me. You all own or want cars, and you know it.)
I am grateful to PW for getting me through my Job from Hell (1991-92, R.I.P.) and helping me see humor in other unpleasant, if less excruciating, work experiences, and I think the stories from the electronic sweatshop have their place alongside those from the mines, the factories and the cotton fields. But until you guys accept that work, like love, is a basic human need, and that capitalism is at least no worse than any other social-economic system, you’re going to just be pissing energy away, instead of using it to invent healthier, more rewarding, and more challenging worlds of work for our and future generations.
R.B.S. Belmont, CA
This is your “old” acquaintance Mark Henkes, who wrote the short story, “The Swineherd” from Pennsylvania and which you published in the summer of 1992, issue #29. Thank you for sending the latest issues of your publication. It is innovative.
I write because I want to let you know that I have been fired from my position with the PA House of Representatives, partially because I published “The Swineherd.” ...Anyway, I have been told by a Philadelphia reporter that the Speaker of the House’s staff telephoned a literary magazine in Pennsylvania and told the editor/publisher not to publish “The Swineherd.” An investigation is pending. It would be fun to nail their asses. In the meantime, I am unemployed and on welfare because I want to be, because I am writing a screenplay for a movie dealing with the character of “The Swineherd.”
Thank you again for publishing my piece. It went a long way to getting me fired and to help me do what I really want to do in life --write fiction.
Please keep sending a copy of PW. I will contribute more cash one of these days like I said I would. Right now it’s snowing more than a foot of snow here and I’m California Dreamin’.
When I get hold of a WATS line I’ll call you.
Finished Adam's piece in PW 32 last night. Haven't I seen these utopian projections somewhere before? Why yes, of course and they certainly mirror my own aspirations for a better, freer world. But enough of that. Thought he might be interested in an article in the June, 1993 issue of "Current Anthropology", Vol 34 #3, by Christopher Boehm entitled, "Egalitarian Behavior and Reverse Dominance Hierarchy". It's all about how power has been flattened in former classless societies.Con amisted,MB
I was happy to see Processed World no. 32 try to tackle the question of a new society and how to get there again, something you haven’t really done since the first issue, thirteen (!) years ago. But the actual content of “Death of a Nation” left me quite upset in several ways.
Completely left out of the repression angle was the war on drugs, which is actually being used, in real time, to impose police state-like measures. In fact, there were few references to this question anywhere in this number, a fairly major departure from the past. What few references did exist in “Death...” were along the lines of “drug addiction” in the new society as a problem inherited from the old one. Seems like a rather staid leftist take on the question of altered forms of consciousness.
While i’m unalterably opposed to homophobia in any form, I thought the piece went all out to portray homosexuals in nothing but favorable light, in contrast to the deserved criticism leveled at ethnic nationalists. Even a soap opera was lauded because it portrayed a lesbian situation (complete with gay-oriented ads?). Kwazy Wabbit showed far more perceptiveness in his piece, “Boudoir and Bidet,” with its portrayal of gay bosses who differ little from their straight counterparts. Berkeley now has a gay mayor, who’s also head of the Chamber of Commerce and an anti-homeless advocate, and San Francisco has the lesbian businesswoman Susan Leal on its Board of Supervisors. The fact that Pete Williams, the Pentagon’s spokesman during the Gulf War, was gay was acclaimed by some papers as a sign of progress.
Besides such bourgois characters, there are also the “nationalists,” those who see all heterosexuals as sexless, conservative bigots, or claim that all hetero-sex is essentially rape, a perspective which has poisoned relations between the sexes. In fact, the only mention of heterosexuals in “death...” was in connection with conservative family types. (Even Wabbit alluded to all heterosexual men having wives? Really? Many of my friends have not even had a casual relationship in quite a while.) Is Adam afraid to challenge the latest Bay Area P.C. line, which seems to be that bisexual or gay is good, heterosexual is bad? (As if sexual orientation is a choice, instead of basically an inborn trait.) Criticizing the bad elements of gay politics is no more homophobic than criticizing muddle-headed black and latino nationalists is racist. So why criticize one and not the other?
But what disturbed me the most was the social democratic tone throughout. “The U.S. Constitution was generally retained...” Like the parts which give Congress the power to raise an army and a navy (to force the young to do their “duty” tour of social service?), or regulate interstate commerce and levy taxes? Or the federal judiciary, up to the Supreme Court? The Constitution is a blueprint for a centralized capitalist state, which is why so many opposed it in the 1780s. It can be used by a truly new society as much as a machine gun can be used for plowing the earth.
In contrast to Mickey D.’s “trading Futures,” the society envisioned in “Death...” retains market relations, albeit with the window dressing of “cooperatives.” The idea that in a new society the associated cooperatives would exchange their products was rejected even back in 1876 by Marx (“Critique of the Gotha Program”). Public acclaim is unlikely to supplant financial competitiveness when social production is still split up among separate enterprises whose workers still relate to them as property (read capital). This is nothing more than self-managed capital, which Adam correctly pointed out years ago (back in his radical days) is actually capital-managed self. These days, Adam seems to listen more to folks like Louis Michaelson, who in no. 30 asserted that the roots of capitalism lie in Third World slavery, rather than European enclosures and wage slavery. Once again, politically correct but historically inept.
To top it all off, the “utopia” envisioned in the story shows little awareness of the connection between industrialism and capitalism. The vast technological structure is not merely a collection of value-neutral machines, circuits, means of transit, etc. It is the embodiment of alienated social relations in material form. Computers cannot be produced en masse without the deadening, dangerous work required to mine silicon produce printed circuits. And their mass usage requires zoned-out operators pacified (and “fried”) by low -level radiation.
All this seems like a half-baked, hazily thought-out co-optation of Bolo-Bolo, a genuinely radical vision of social transformation in which both the state and the market are done away with as primary social institutions. Now we have the proposition that not only the state, but the market and the Frankenstein-like global machine will slowly wither away. If Pacifica is a model transition society (run by psychics? Gimme a break!), i say no thanks.
The very premises of the historical trajectory which underlies the story are thoroughly wrong. The U.S. (Oceania?) ruling class is in no way headed for a compradour [sic] bourgeoisie role. It is engaged in a three-way fight with its counterparts in Japan (Eastasia?) and Western Europe (Eurasia?), but it’s a pretty even fight at this point. “Death...” seems to be based on trends that may have had some validity a decade ago. But thanks to wage-cutting, “down-sizing” and globalization, American industry is again competitive (e.g. in cars, electronics). Other glaring errors pepper the story, such as the assertion that military production involves low wages, quite the reverse of the actual situation. In fact, it seems like the whole thing was written inside some remote academic ivory tower; the piece shows little awareness of 1994 realities, and displays a sense of detachment from the goings-on it describes.
My sad conclusions is that these days, the politics of many of the Processed World contributors do not even come up to the level of social democracy. This is quite a change from the project’s early promising days.
J.S. Berkeley, CA
To: Processed World <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Issue #32
Another great issue, folks. As befits your main topic, I'm writing to you in the medium of the (immediate) future, E-Mail, to comment on your contents this time.
Letters were interesting as usual (hiya Ace!), and the layout was real nice. I kept trying to figure out if the shapes meant anything, though. Perhaps it was a bit distracting in that respect.
"Mickey D." had a nice sense of the sarcastic and a good grip on social anthropology and such. I really learned a lot from his research on gift-giving societies. I wonder if it's coincidence that many of these societies are either matriarchal or treat each gender with equal respect. Gift-giving as its viewed in the West does seem to be more the domain of women...
Chris' dystopias showed us three very sad figures, and I hope I don't project the same image when I'm, in essence, writing letters to friends (and PW!) using my modem instead of the way I used to do it, on my computer at work, printing it out, mailing it, hoping it arrives...
See, I think we can let computers (television/jobs/etc.) trap us or we can make 'em work for us. It's just a machine; WE'RE supposed to be the brains of the outfit. Since I signed on line, I've become a MUCH better and faster personal correspondent, AND I've made new friends. Significantly, many of these friends turn out to be quite social and in-person get-togethers have often resulted. I think this is an aspect which ought to be mentioned as well as the negative one Chris implies here and mentions in "The Shape of Truth" (isolation, staring at a screen, etc.).
Again, many arguments against computer technology also apply against television - the superhighway's not that dissimilar to a home shopping channel (got a kick out of the final tale, Chris!). You can let it suck you in, sell you to the advertisers (YOU Are The Product, as Adbusters Quarterly reminds us), or you can get your business (and entertainment) done and then flip the off switch. Many of us are capable of the latter.
No real comments to Kwazee Wabbit on his past occupations except, here again, a good connection is made between "thankless" work/services and traditionally "woman's" work. This can't be overstated.
Jon's "Drink of Water" was quite spooky, and would've fit nicely in After Hours (especially since I couldn't figure out the ending, as I can't with many of the stories in AH)... "The Scientific Sun," by the scientific son, was even spookier, being true.
I wouldn't mind living in Adam's near future, except I always have the feeling that, for whatever reason, I'm going to be one of the first up against the wall come the revolution. Just paranoid, I guess.
Always good to see bike stories. Makes me wish I could ride one better. Since I can't, I'm thankful for subways!
The absolute gem of issue #32, however, was Michael Botkin's "Welcome to Pacifica." I found myself wishing this were novel-sized; I'd acquire it in a heartbeat! Is he ever planning on expanding this world? The many technological changes/shifts weren't the only interesting thing here; Michael has a real flair for characterization as well. Bravo!
I may photocopy Richard Wool's "Eureka!" for my husband's family, half of whom are now gratefully employed (after long bouts of unemployment in recessive Connecticut) at the Foxwoods casino. Then again, I don't think so. Foxwoods may contain The Evils of Gambling, but it's also enabled the Pequot Indians to buy back most of the land that was originally stolen from them, and that's got to say something. Not to mention that it's probably made my nephew feel a bit prouder about being an Indian.
I just can't get as down on it as Richard does, and his comparison of gambling to toxic wastes and nuclear industries really offends me. If you need to compare what you consider The Tragedy of Gambling to anything, a more apt analogy might be the tragedy of alcoholism (or poor health in
general), or fishing rights disputes, or something else that affects the traditional ways of life - NOT something that's directly responsible for poisoning people in large numbers. It also cheapens the real horror of environmental racism, for which you needn't look farther than places like Harlem of Greenpoint/Williamsburg... [The author, Richard Wool, has claimed himself a compulsive gambling alcoholic who’s shoved a barbed hook through an earthworm. Ed.]
I also have no comment on "The Pyramid and the Tree" - too New Agey for the likes of me, I'm afraid.
Keep in touch - can't wait for my next fix of PW!
E.W. Brooklyn, NY
Lookin’ good ... hopefully theze werdz find allau in the very best uv health an’ determined spiritz...
Re. #32 n’ Futurology; while it may very well b that change frightenzz people the korncluzhun duz not necessarily mean that it iz a 4-gone etc. ... change only frightenz the domestic when they r victimz uv it as herd memberzz and surplus proletai ...
So what I iz wondering iz where r the success stories about that wily, independant, contumant who dares 2 think and act so az 2 bekum that agent/example uv change? You kno’, like: “I made an’ sold this buck-knife that Elena Bobbit used”... or “I grew the vegetables that were enjoyed by the BACAT corporation gathering.” Or other ideas which lead “inquiring mindzz” 2 thots uv alternate modes and sumthing more than rat-race exercizes in futility ... (i.e. one step4ward, two steps bak)...
Meanwhile, du take advantage uv this relative period uv grace and realize that the dispossessed will not quietly starve in the streets. Thus a military-industrial technocracy will think thotz which will be manifest by more taxes, social engineerz, ergonomic habit and work sites. But notice that it is not the quality uv yor lives that iz improving, rather it iz the quantity uv restrictions + illusion.
Nevertheless, thankx, take care,
Obiter Dicta, Folsom St. Prison, CA