Shit-Covered Cave Teeth: At War With Reality, Sunnyvale, 30/04/2016

Four episodes into the tenth season and five weeks into the Sunnyvale Psychochronography. Let’s take stock of where we are. Because today, we’re going to talk about Ricky. And Ricky is kind of fucked.

I don't just mean this in the usual sense that Ricky is fucked. As in cognitively impaired. Which he is.

See, this project is pretty complicated and complex. For one thing, it’s called a psychochronography. If Ricky tried to say that word, it would come out more like “psychopathoronniegraph-or-whatever-the-fuck-big-smart-word. . . . Fuck!”

Ever since I first got into Trailer Park Boys in its first season, I thought it was a seriously smart show. And when it came back on Netflix, it was even smarter. When I encourage people to get into the new episodes, I tell people that season eight’s storyline is basically a King Lear or a Macbeth for Jim Lahey. And I fucking mean it. 

But I’ll also tell you about a conversation I had with one of my co-workers, who’s a really kind, happy, and fun person. I talked about one thing I loved about this particular episode of Trailer Park Boys, the internal contradictions of Ricky tearing him apart. And he loved the way Ricky would fall over onto his own face. 

It made me wonder what other fans of Trailer Park Boys are thinking when they watch the show, and whether the Sunnyvale Psychochronography even has an audience. Am I going to sound like Bubbles on a desperate, manic riff when Orangie died desperately trying to describe the afterlife to a Ricky who couldn’t possibly understand the concepts of time’s spatial nature according to the mathematics of relativity theory, and the resultant philosophical block theory of time as a secular vision of a true afterlife? Is this not going to make sense to anyone?

No. Because Ricky as a character might be a ridiculously juvenile, clumsy, pratfalling goofball, but he’s also an impeccably choreographed physical comedian. There’s a lot behind those epic trips and falls. People loved Chaplin or Keaton for a lot of different reasons, and nothing has kept them from talking to each other about what they loved about them. And Rob Wells is the overweight, chain-smoking Little Tramp of Canadian television.

It’s not like I’m writing about William Blake or anything here. 

Ricky is the biggest walking paradox on this show. He seems simple, and the character’s basic conception is very simple. He’s the idiot of the group. Humour and laughter come from Ricky’s stupidity. His frustrations at dealing with the complicated plans and long-term thinking of the more devious Julian. He says stupid things. He falls over a lot.

But Ricky also speaks with a very profound wisdom. His insights are remarkably perceptive, and even though his philosophical arguments are peppered with non sequiturs, insane inferences, and comically mispronounced words, they express profound truths. 
“I’m lucky Lucy has stayed with me this long. I can’t risk losing my family again. Right now, I’m not doing anything illegal, just waiting for my pizzas to come. It’s not a lie if you believe it’s not happening. And I do. What makes a lie? Somebody has to find out it’s a lie for it to be a lie. So if they don’t? It’s not really a lie.”
Ricky is waiting in the car while Julian, Bubbles, JRoc, and T break into Sam Losco’s dentistry. He knows that’s why they’re there, but he’s capable of shutting that fact out of his mind. His main purpose is to wait for pizzas, which he’s ordered for his family. He’s simply given a ride to his friends for a purpose he knows nothing about – or rather, a purpose that he’s shut out of his awareness. It isn’t a lie if you believe that what’s happening isn’t actually happening. And he does. 

Who wouldn't be envious of Ricky’s ability to defy reality in such a brute, literal sense? There are plenty of things in my own life that I’d love to believe never happened, and I can make a pretty reasonable guess that you have plenty of those things too. But we have to follow what reality tells us. 

This is how transgressive Ricky really is. He’s the ultimate rule-breaker. Even reality can’t control what he’s able to do and think. Ricky acts without any reference to rules, expectations, and reality. He’s pure desire. He wants what he wants, and rages against the physical material of existence when he can’t get his way. It’s no wonder Lahey – that creature of pure, vindictive law and order – has always had such an unforgiving hatred of him. Ricky is desire.

This would ordinarily be a recipe for happiness. The truth isn’t what reality tells you, but what you believe to be true. But that’s not entirely the case. Ricky can’t just sit in the car, pick up his pizzas, drive his friends back home after their robbery, and go home to a happy evening with his family, play with his grandson, make fun of his son-in-law, bang Lucy, and do some late-night work at the dispensary while getting high as hell. He can transgress reality, running against it with no friction when it comes to his beliefs. But reality itself can still mess with him.

It’s only a lie when someone else believes it to be a lie. If only you know it’s a lie, you still have the power to make it a truth with your belief. That’s Ricky’s power. He can’t control reality, but he has the deepest ignorance of reality. The only reason he gets into trouble with Lucy in this episode over the robbery is because she doesn’t believe that his only purpose in the whole incident was getting the family their pizzas.

And wrecking her car. That was pretty serious too. That’s stupid reality messing with Rick again, making it so that he can’t believe that everything is fine. 

That's how Ricky is more than just the most natural criminal in the world. Yeah, the only thing he can really do well is illegal stuff. The only way for him to live legitimately is for the government to legalize marijuana, one of the only places where he’s a literal genius. That and convincing cops that there really is nothing to see here, getting them to go along with his beliefs that he isn’t actually doing anything wrong. 

But that transgression goes so much deeper. Ricky is defined by the fundamental idea that you can bend reality to your will. If you believe it, then it can be true. There’s nothing more rebellious than that. It’s the belief that we can build a paradise.

But what kind of paradise does Ricky want to build? It's pretty simple, really. He just wants a happy life with his family, and he wants his family to be happy too. Yet he's also a career petty criminal whose only talent is in petty crime, lies, and transgression. He wants to live in a very socially conservative world, as the patriarch of an extended nuclear family – his wife Lucy, his daughter Trinity and her husband Jacob, their son his grandson Mo – running his business in the small community where they all grew up. 

His desire is for the same kind of conservative life that his wealthy neighbours at that subdivision live. That's the subdivision creeping closer to Sunnyvale's borders, the one from which Barb Lahey could land a massive financial windfall if she's able to control the trailer park's land. If anything could really tear Ricky apart, it's this. It's a contradiction that lies at the heart of his character. His paradise is the same vision as the people he has to steal from or exploit as his only means of subsistence that he can actually do properly.

Can Ricky's desire for the white-picket-fences happy family life sit easily with his essence as transgression itself?
• • •
You can support Sunnyvale Psychochronography through my Patreon page. Sponsorship will help me create extra material, and you'll be able to join the project itself as a collaborator. Take part in a unique creative work!

If you're new to the project, check out what it's all about here. And you can read my walks through the earlier episodes of Season 10: Freedom 45, You Want the Lot Fees Suck Them Out of the Tip of My Cock!, and Three-Tired Shit-Dyke.

A Basic Failure of Imagination, A History Boy, 29/04/2016

I finished the film script for You Were My Friend yesterday, I still have a lot of work to do for a bunch of creative projects. Building the profile of Sunnyvale Psychochronography, preparing my presentation material for the book panel on Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity in Calgary in a month’s time and some related articles for the Reply Collective, and building a more robust Patreon page.

On the day I wrote this post (yesterday), I also had an interview for a job that could actually end my last four years of underemployment and low income. It could finally be the start of my second career. So I was a little nervous about that.

But, if I’m going to say one event really hit me this week as part of the narrative of my life, it was when the Newfoundland and Labrador budget came down, and the resulting protest movement kicked into gear.

Newfoundland doesn't have a strong history of effective
protest, like these organizers in Britain, aside from some
oppressed union organizing in the 1950s. But I think
the current generation is finally, at long last, different.
Atlantic Austerity

You might find this weird, because I haven’t lived in Newfoundland since 2008. But I think of the Ball budget as the culmination of the whole reason why I’m glad that I left Newfoundland when I did.

Their provincial Liberal government has produced an austerity budget that essentially turns Newfoundland and Labrador into Canada’s equivalent of Greece. It’s set to become an economic basket case with no real public services of any kind, offloading the fiscal mistakes of Danny Williams’ leadership entirely to its population, who will suffer in widespread poverty for generations. 

The province’s new tax burden is disproportionately hitting the poor and working class. Services are being cut to such levels that they will not exist – including health care and education. The government is making no attempt to generate demand to stimulate economic activity. They are simply cutting people off from what they need to live decently and saying that it’s all in the need of keeping a good fiscal house in order.

The economic crisis has a cause. The provincial government did not have enough cash reserve or investment holdings to see the province through any tough times that might be caused by any drop in the price of oil. 

I could tell from his first political victories that Danny
Williams substituted superficial patriotic imagery and
rabble-rousing for real political engagement with the
people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It had all the
hallmarks of demagoguery to distract from autocracy
and corruption.
And no one listened to me when I'd say so.
The Most Foolish Hero Worship

In the late 2000s, no one believed the price of oil would ever drop. The universal love of Danny Williams prevented any criticism of his governments’ actions from being taken seriously. He had sincere approval ratings across the province at a level that some dictators feel insecure about faking

Williams’ problem was not his high levels of government spending. They were his insistence on also cutting taxes and corporate levies for the resource sector at the same time, and his creation of a state-run energy monopoly in Nalcor. 

He built a government and inspired a culture across the province that revelled in the prosperity of the moment without a single thought to contingency planning or a shred of criticism or accountability. I could tell, as Williams gained a reputation more like a Messiah than a man, that this would not end well. So I left.

And everyone in the old country thought this was wonderful because they were all getting rich from oil money. No one ever thought that spending without saving or economic diversification was a good idea. No one ever thought that a leader whose popularity put him beyond critique could be dangerous in the long run. 

The truth about Newfoundland is that it’s a culture where very few people actually ever think. I hope that will finally change soon. But I cannot be part of any attempt to try.

The politics of empty demagoguery, populism, and Little
Big Man autocracy go back to the beginnings of
Newfoundland and Labrador's story in the Canadian
federal state.
The World’s Only Example of Dependency Theory

Newfoundland is one of the oldest settler cultures of North America. They’re proud of their self-reliance. But that self-reliance has never been political, only a brazen toughness against physical adversity. Newfoundland’s population has never bothered to take control of their own political existence. 

Now, I’m not talking about political independence as a nation-state, which is a centuries-out-of-date romanticism in Newfoundland culture that had a popular revival in the Williams era. I mean that Newfoundland’s political culture has never been capable of finding the resources for prosperity and progress among its own people. 

From the moment of settling, Newfoundland’s population has been entirely dependent on oligarchies for anything beyond basic subsistence. For centuries, the colonizing fishers (after exterminating the indigenous population) let themselves be dependent on whatever food and cash aid they could receive from British fish merchant associations.

As an independent country, the bulk of the population was still economically dependent on trades and handouts from a business class based in St. John’s and Britain. The mythologized 1947-8 referendums never had true independence on the table: only a choice between a return to the pre-Depression status quo of a nation-state economically dependent on a British-linked oligarchy or becoming an autonomous province of what was, at the time, a Canada still dominated by Anglo-Ontarian social conservatives.

When the cod fishery collapsed in the 1990s,
Newfoundlanders never tried to find new ways to make a
living. They just moved away, went on government
assistance, or eventually joined the Nova Scotia
crab fishery. It's a wonderful soil for hardy vegetable
agriculture, but no one has ever thought to grow food
on an industrial scale except for an ill-conceived
government-supported cucumber greenhouse.
As a province, Newfoundland’s political culture shifted from open oligarchy to a kind of hair-brained populism. Smallwood: “Confederation will bring us riches!” Peckford: “Oil revenue and a poorly-organized greenhouse business will bring us riches!” Williams: “Oil revenue actually is bringing us riches!” All this peppered with a little empty nationalism to distract from the emptiness of their claims.

Postcolonial theory developed a concept called dependency. It said, in very short form, that a colonized country remained shackled after nominal independence because its economy and culture would be forever linked to the dictatorship of their colonizing powers. 

This hasn’t quite been true for colonized people in Africa and Asia because they still have strong cultural memories of self-sufficiency. When they’re able to overcome local dictators who use nationalist rhetoric to justify taking over the old oppression machinery of the colonial state, they do just fine.

Newfoundland’s white culture has never not been dependent. They have no real tradition of self-governance. They have never not been controlled by an elite. Newfoundland has never had the cultural cognitive resources for actual democracy: people banding together to build and direct their own lives and communities.

With Bernie Sanders winding down his Presidential
campaign, some moronic pundits will say that his
movement is over. But this was never his movement.
Like Jeremy Corbyn, the movement chose him as an
electoral standard bearer, an established politician with
compatible ideals. But they're both relics from the times
in the 20th century when social democracy was a
reasonable proposition.
Until Now, Maybe

One generational shift that’s been taking place lately is a revival of ideas in the West that were once – and are often today – dismissed and abused as communist: social democracy where local communities work together across the world to build a just and fair society throughout Earth.

Most communist governments around the world didn’t actually do that, of course. The Bolsheviks, Mao Zedong, and the Castro Brothers – the 20th century’s leading communist revolutions – did what I just described those tinpot postcolonial dictators as doing. 

They took over an oppressive state apparatus and exponentially amped up that oppression. They ran their governments on principles of totalitarian collectivization, which eventually scaled back their intensity from mass suicide to state-controlled bureaucratic socialism.

But the communist movement is more complicated than this, despite what the descendants of Friedrich Hayek would have you believe. For example, the first communist activists in the 19th century organized in the popular movement to end the slave trade. And America’s first organized resistance to communism was a society of conservative slave-holders, outraged at this movement that would force them to relinquish their ownership of black people.

We see around the world today social movements that have seen through the lies of new liberal politics and philosophy. We now, popularly, understand that regressive tax systems, deregulation of finance and environmental protections, and the expansion of a global labour pool without expanding workers’ rights results in total economic disaster.

The demonstrations against austerity in Newfoundland
have begun, led by a globally plugged-in generation.
They've learned in solidarity with activists in the US and
Europe. I have hopes that real democracy can finally take
root in Newfoundland, when people realize that they
can control their own lives. Democracy is the politics
of the human desire for freedom. #WeWillWin
In North America, the social movement that began with Occupy is the driving force of this changing popular attitude. We aren’t yet sure what balance we’ll eventually have to strike between the legitimacy of absurdly extreme wealth, progressive tax enforcement, ecologically harmonious infrastructure, poverty alleviation, and demand-driven economic policies. 

It won't be anything like the socialism of the 20th century, with its over-reliance on government bureaucracy and authority. It should be driven by the same network politics that create the social movement in the first place, with a focus not on the state, but on people.

And if the people of my birth province join this movement and fully understand it, they might finally end up ready for real freedom.

Beyond the Soundbite But With Necessary Soundbites, Jamming, 28/04/2016

One of the core issues that came out of this month’s national convention of the New Democratic Party was the embrace of the LEAP Manifesto. Well, it was a qualified embrace. 

Actually, let me qualify that one more time. To my colleagues in the party more accustomed to talking about specific policies, action plans, and legislation, the NDP’s embrace of the LEAP Manifesto was a significant compromise. 

My own book is a little tripper and
complex than LEAP, but that's the idea.
LEAP was intended for the most popular
audience imaginable. I'm writing for a
more niche market of intelligent,
environmentally-minded people whose
pot-smoking habits open them to
conceptual trips.
None of its content was adopted as official policy. The party only agreed to discuss it at the local level – our riding associations and local membership organizations – and use those discussions to inform specific environmental and green economy development policies shaped to our local situations.

But as someone who has a fair bit of experience dealing with political philosophy, this was exactly the point of the LEAP Manifesto. This is a work of philosophy, an essay of a few hundred words. It’s a discussion of ideas, produced by committee. 

Granted, it’s a committee with a noteworthy, intellectually powerful figure. Not a leader, as its communal composition must not be the vision of any one person. But the single most powerful force among its creators as a group.

And no, I’m not talking about Avi Lewis. Frankly, I’m a little peeved that the discussion of LEAP in internal NDP circles has talked so much about the leadership of Avi Lewis in this regard. Chatter has even included the idea that Lewis (with the help of his still-living legend father Stephen) is promoting the LEAP Manifesto as a sneaky route to the NDP leadership.

It strikes me as a little sexist, to be honest, as if so many members of my own party are dazzled enough by the Lewis family legacy that they forget that Naomi Klein is the real philosophical innovator in this relationship. 

She’s the one who wrote the central books of North America’s anti-globalization movement No Logo, one of the most concise analyses of how the security and surveillance justifies and legitimates itself, The Shock Doctrine

And she wrote the philosophical underpinning of the LEAP Manifesto itself, This Changes Everything, which traces the interdependence of new liberal economics and politics with mass-destructive industry. 

You know, it kind of pisses me off that Klein’s own profile kind of disappeared from a lot of the public discourse surrounding the LEAP and the NDP convention. Because she is manifestly the one in charge here. 

The end product of all this is my own personal endorsement of all the philosophies in LEAP. It’s basically the set of moral principles that an ecologically-defined subjectivity would naturally find intuitive and ordinary. 

Communities need to have control and reap any benefits that come from the natural resources of their territory. Indigenous people especially, because their longer cultural relationship with the territory gives them, on average, a deeper knowledge. And as a kind of reparation for colonial mistreatment and cultural genocide.

Naomi Klein's style blends journalistic accessibility
with conceptual analysis more clear than many
professional academic philosophers. She's a
forerunner of the kind of popular outreach where
I think the future of the tradition lies.
Economic structures, principles, and trade deals that curtail this local control or encourage doubling down on destructive industry need to end. States should organize the building of new energy and transit infrastructure housing, but only acting as servants of people, not their masters giving orders from a bureaucratic power centre. 

Just the sort of principles that I avoid describing in my own book, Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity because I concentrate my argument on a different place. I’m more concerned with the back end of things, because people who think of themselves in a new liberal (or traditionally liberal) framework will never be real environmentalists.

Their individualism makes them think of themselves as absolutely separate from the rest of the world, where an ecological person understands their intimate and intricate connections and interdependence with everything else. That kind of person finds political principles like the LEAP Manifesto much more intuitive and sensible.

So I’ll be spending my summer (if all goes smoothly) leading workshops with our membership and the wider communities of Toronto about ecological politics. Ostensibly, we’ll be debating the ideas being LEAP, but what’s really going on is conversations to change people’s minds, make them think more ecologically about the world and themselves. 

That’s how progress happens.

It's Not Finished – It's Finished, Composing, 27/04/2016

Today was a day with a lot of writing. I finished the script for the promotional video to go on my Patreon page this morning, though I think tomorrow or Thursday morning will be a better time to film it. Most notably, I finished the script of You Were My Friend

I feel a combination of relief and excitement. Relief because I’d been falling behind on this project – at least I felt like I was, which in a way is even worse than actually being behind on a project that’s important to you. Excitement because I know that this is just the first phase in a very exciting production process. 

It's interesting to have finished the script for You Were My Friend after having written the script for You Were My Friend two years ago and produced it at the Pearl Company Theatre. It was actually my most successful creative project yet, simply because it actually got produced and we made a little bit of money.

One reason I wanted to do this film project is that I thought that a lot of circumstances conspired against us in the original theatrical run. For the sake of logistics, we were producing the play in Hamilton, when it took place in Toronto, and was very much a Toronto story. But I lived in Hamilton at the time, and my director Mel already know the owner of a theatre there. 

Also, I think there were a lot of ways in which the theatre script couldn’t tell the story as well as film ultimately could. I only fully realized this in the course of writing the script. The theatrical version only had my two lead actresses on the stage and a single set. The story was told only through their words. 

That resulted in some very intense emotional scenes and displays, and some moments that cut to the essence of the ideas I wanted the story to explore about the desperation that underemployment and poverty pressure creates.

But it also resulted in a lot of ambiguity over where the story ultimately ended, and ambiguity over the meaning of some of the film’s events. For a lot of their backstory, we could only tell it through the conflicting, and sometimes self-contradictory accounts that the leads told each other in their long, twisting scenes of conversation.

This is a realistic dramatic play. Most of the sequences consisted of the leads talking to each other. The two of them talking to each other established the drama of the story. It had to. All I had was two actresses, one set, and a director and crew who knew how to make the most of a cheap lighting grid.

While we may not be able to achieve the most ambitious shots I wrote in this script (not sure if we can fly a second unit crew to get establishing shots of the Rocky Mountains for the first 20 seconds of the story’s one scene in Alberta), this is going to be a story with more characters, more locations, and more of the story on the actual screen than the theatre version could ever manage.

I mean, there are still long sequences of Vicki and Madison just talking to each other. But they work differently than in the theatre. In the theatrical version, all I had to suggest the existence of a world outside their apartment was for them to talk about it. 

In the film, the dynamic is very different, simply because we can film stuff outside the apartment. So we’ll see the characters out in the world doing things, sometimes together, sometimes on their own. Then they’ll come back to the apartment and talk about it with each other. 

And the drama in their friendship comes not only from what they themselves do together and in their own lives. It’s also a matter of contrasting what we see happening to them with what they tell each other happened. Depending on how well which order works for a given event, the script shows the event, then the conversation about it, or intercuts them both.

Now, the drama comes not only from what happens to them, or only from what they say happens to them. It comes from how much of the truth the audience can see them hiding from each other.

The Limits of Resistance, Research Time, 26/04/2016

Antonio Negri is a man of deep and abiding faith. I’m not talking about any particular religion like Christianity or Judaism. I’m talking about his faith in people to resist authoritarian power and build a better world. 

This is a major theme in Commonwealth, and I admit that I haven’t worked through its argument to the end yet. But he returns again and again to different aspects of this power: that we all have the power to resist authority, and that the resistance of the most abject is the most powerful.

In the early chapters of the book at least, Negri has talked about slavery. This is part of Commonwealth's historical argument. The book is, in part, an argument that another world than the capitalist modernity we’re all accustomed to is possible. 

Paul Robeson as Toussaint L'Ouverture.
So he looks into the history of the West and its economic processes to find contradictions, paradoxes, and contingencies. Ways that our whole globe’s economic system schizzed out in its development. Or particular decision moments where things could have gone differently.

And the most important factor in those early stages of modernity’s global solidification, which Negri keeps coming back to again and again, is slavery.

Slavery was the great contradiction of modern capitalism’s development. The profits of the global agriculture trades in Earth’s imperialist years built the great financial and economic centres of the modern era. Those profits depended on mass imported slave labour in the United States, Brazil, and around the Caribbean.

And it kind of got swept under the rug. This is why Negri always harps on the Haitian Revolution as the only one of all the revolutions in that era which really went all the way with the true spirit of revolution against authority and authoritarianism. The Haitian Revolution was the only one that freed slaves.

All the other revolutions in France, America, and later Germany and Italy, were primarily about protecting property and property holders from authoritarianism. Not people. They were bourgeois revolutions, or landowners’ revolutions. 

They spoke the values of freedom, and believed in them too. But those other revolutions passed over the most horrible aspect of authoritarianism in their societies in silence. They never liquidated people’s human property. They never freed the slaves.

The possibility that even slaves have the freedom to revolt is the central concept of what Negri wants to teach us about human nature. It’s the centrepiece of the proof of freedom as the essence of humanity. The desire to live without oppression, without limitation – freedom from authority and from poverty. 

It’s humanity’s universal desire to be free. The spark of any tiny possibility of resistance. Slavery is the most abject and defamed position a human can be in, because being a slave denies all your humanity and the singularity of your personality, to reduce your entire value to a price. 

The greatest folk heroes of Western cultures have always
been rebels and resistance leaders, freedom fighters
against tyranny and oppression.
If even that most abject state of humanity can contain a seed of resistance, then human freedom can never truly be crushed, can it? Authority can never be absolute. 

Thinkers like Giorgio Agamben are lurking on the margins of Negri’s argument. He refers to their ideas periodically, but only and always as something to reject. But they – and more explicitly freedom-minded writers like Hannah Arendt – address a human reality and situation even more abject than slavery.

The death camp. The situation where authority is so absolute, it would appear no resistance is possible. This is a place where humanity isn’t just reduced to the absurd simplicity of a market price and a productivity index. Death camps reduce their victims to garbage, waste to be disposed of.

If authority can never be absolute, then there have to be seeds of resistance and rebellion even here. Not just in our memories or reconstructions. That’s why a movie like Roberto Begnini’s Life Is Beautiful is so insulting – it makes a death camp into a place where the resistance of clowning, humour, and subversion is possible. 

For Negri’s argument to succeed, there has to be a spark of resistance even here. I’ll get back to you on that. 

Terrified of Change and Its Terror, Composing, 25/04/2016

My old friend The Yalie, who I’ve known since we were in university together back in Newfoundland, used to comment pretty regularly in the early, clunkier days of the blog. I remember in those early days, he’d compare my own thinking and perspective to Max Weber, one of the innovators of sociology.

I didn’t know Weber’s work well at the time, so I didn’t really know what The Yalie saw of Weber in me. I’ve read a little of his work since then, mostly the Vocation lectures and a few critical essays about Weber’s theories and character. 

I'd like to get his opinion on this again, now that it’s been nearly three years since I started this bloody project. Because I’m not sure that my ideas and Weber’s are really all that close.* Maybe it’s because I’m reading him with a particular intent of my own, that I focus on some ideas but not others. So here’s what I see and why I see it.

Max Weber and his piercing eyes.
* I have a lot in common with his ideas about bureaucracy and the culture of state organizations. But that’s not really what I’m thinking about when I read Weber.

Weber seems to have a lot of pessimism because he could see Europe’s growing popular collapse of belief in religious authority about moral and spiritual truths. And he thought this was a bad thing, because it undercut people’s beliefs about whether there were universal moral truths. 

It’s based on his reading of Nietzsche, which understood him mostly as a nihilist. In this sense, Weber was among the first generation of postmodernists. Here’s another oversimplified story about how this idea works. 

The liberal ideas of secularism and cultural pluralism had worn away the ability for reasonably educated people to think that their religion was better or more true than anyone else’s. Pluralism about the nature of God is incompatible with religious belief in a simple, popular sense, because religious belief is authoritative and exclusive.

And loss of faith in a religion corrodes people’s moral sense – again, according to this really simple but very popular view about what God is for. God’s purpose is to underwrite our moral beliefs so that they’ll be valid. God is the transcendent authority whose stamp of approval makes a moral principle universal.

This is a popular view. It’s Oprah’s view. The idea that atheists can’t be moral people, because they don’t have a transcendent authority underwriting moral principles. Far be it from me to say that a moral principle can be justified immanently, through their pragmatic effects and the constants of human nature. I might contradict Oprah.

But Weber was in a less condescending form of the same trap in thinking. Without a society’s unity and faith in a godly authority underwriting their morals, social harmony would be under serious threat. He was still trying to wrap his head around what atheism was. Thinking of Nietzsche as a pure nihilist is a sign that Weber couldn’t even catch up to the moustachioed one in his own lifetime.

I’m looking into Weber because he was one of the major creative figures in philosophy of this clique of thinkers who were trying to figure out the end of modernity in the shadow of the First World War. They could see that the dream of modernity was coming to an end, that it was going to be disastrous, and that nothing modernity promised us was going to work out, or work out well for people.

Some embraced it and some were afraid. Some who embraced it were the reactionaries of this generation – Martin Heidegger, Carl Schmitt. The scared ones – Weber, Walter Benjamin, Edmund Husserl – were afraid of more terror if industrial technology was used with a nihilist attitude. 

When I sit down to write Utopias, it can’t be a typical academic-style book of philosophy. Not only am I not in academia anymore, but I don’t even have access to the same resources. I can’t use a lot of the paywalled journals as resources. So I’m going to try to write some valuable philosophy using only primary sources.

The idea isn’t to make the book’s goal about providing commentary on specific thinkers. Instead, I’ll discuss some broader social and political concept by – in part – thinking along with different primary, creative thinkers from the whole tradition. 

So the ideas of that first postmodern generation will supply my framework for understanding a world without the moorings and foundations of an authority to give you your laws. Facing the prospect of such a world, you can react with fear, reaction and restoration, enthusiasm, or a kind of redemption. 

A Three-Tiered Shit-Dyke: Joy Needs Love Needs Sex, Sunnyvale, 23/04/2016

One of the benefits of being on Netflix, as opposed to even a post-watershed cable TV channel, is how explicit you can be with sex. Sex is an essential part of the human condition, rooted in our physicalities. No matter what kind of sexuality you may have – and your sexuality is as singular as you are – you will have some kind of sexuality. Even asexuality as a human is a relation to sex. Humanity can’t escape from sex, and we shouldn’t want to in the first place.

Western morality has separated sex from love for so long that a lot of us are still digging our way out from that situation. But we have to understand that the truest, deepest loves express themselves in the greasiest, nastiest, most freakily creative sex. The greatest fucks aren't just genital fucks, but mind-fucks. There should be no difference between body-fucks and mind-fucks – there are only fucks. Body, thought, and spirit intermingling into a dense and complex integration that produces more than either body could become on its own. This is sexuality at the molecular and spiritual level. This is love.

Prince died two days ago. What else could he have taught us but this?

The deepest, most affecting, and frankly most beautiful love story in the entire world of Trailer Park Boys and Sunnyvale Trailer Park is that of Jim Lahey and Randy. Their sexual tension is still thick, solidifying every time they’re on screen together this season. It’s all the more tense because they never act on it. Jim is yearning for Randy, with increasing desperation. But Randy reacts to Jim differently here than he ever has before. He’s loved Jim, he’s been angry, jealous, frustrated, certainly. But now he seems scared. 

Just look at the way Jim rubs cream on Randy’s tortured, wounded nipples after Barb, Donna, and Candy’s latest attack. They’re horribly wounded, the flesh bruised deeply. And Jim rubs tenderly, with the soft brushes of fingertips that penetrate past skin to the heart, to the soul. He’s crying, sorrowful, shredded and quivering. There’s been a crime here, an assault. And Jim's response isn’t like a lawman. He doesn't go out for revenge, like it was some retro Dirty Harry plot. His response is to heal. The answer of love.

Yet Randy’s afraid. He stops Jim. Stops his love. What could have happened to provoke this attitude in Randy toward the only one who’s ever really loved him? When you watch “A Three-Tiered Shit-Dyke,” you wonder about this question. This new season will be incomplete if it doesn’t offer some kind of explanation – and it’ll have to be an answer with the magnitude to match how radical a permanent cleave between Lahey and Randy is.

This season has already seen radical transformations to the landscape and characters of Sunnyvale, and it looks like more are coming. We’ve seen Barb transform into a destructive force and Jim abandon his role as Sunnyvale’s voice of authority. We’ve now seen what looks like an end to the love story between Jim and Randy that's been an important element of Sunnyvale from its earliest days in Canada’s self-consciousness. Now there’s another radical change: Ricky is being pressured to stay out of a criminal lifestyle, and is doing his best to make an actually legitimate living. How successful he’ll be is another issue entirely.

In fact, let’s have a closer look at Ricky here. Of the three Trailer Park Boys of the title, Ricky is the least intelligent. He mangles common sayings, he fails to understand very basic things about ordinary life, like how to dispose of large-scale garbage and how to plan for an actually sustainable retirement. Ricky knows he's pretty fucking stupid, but despite that, he’s still pretty fucking stupid.

Yet there’s one area of life where Ricky is one of the most intelligent people in the whole community of Sunnyvale. Maybe even in the whole city of greater Halifax and the whole province of Nova Scotia. Maybe even one of the smartest people in Canada. That’s crime. Specifically, petty crime like ripping off bicycles from racks to sell at shady bike shops, breaking into houses, and selling fake lottery tickets. He’s also a master horticulturalist and manufacturer, but only when it comes to growing marijuana and refining weed into other products like hash, concentrated hash oils, currency made from hash, and the strongest dab you can’t handle.

Ricky is a verbal and intellectual moron, except for when it comes to calculating a crime. When he’s over-emotional, he gets impulsive and reckless – I still have fond memories of laughing my ass off as Ricky ripped a massive ATM from the walls of a bank. But look at how he plans and improvises his way through the gang’s petty crime spree in “A Three-Tiered Shit-Dyke.”

First, there’s the bike theft at the college. He knows what the bikes are worth and exactly what you have to do to steal them as fast as possible. And when those two hapless student security staff cycle over themselves, Ricky knows exactly how to talk his way out of the situation. He talks with perfect confidence as if he and the crew are some casually dressed contractors, slips them some hash, shit-talks their boss with them, and gives them just enough of an excuse for plausible deniability that they can walk away. 

When they go to that affluent neighbourhood nearby to case for easy robberies, Ricky is the expert reconnaissance man. He knows exactly what to say to appear like an innocent passerby to residents who are still at home, and can break into a house with ease. It doesn’t matter than he can’t pick the lock – he can still get in there and start robbing. 

The problem Ricky encounters in that rich neighbourhood doesn’t have anything to do with any mistakes he makes. It’s that the police have become too attentive. Law and authority are more present in that community, faster, more efficient than seemingly anywhere. The boys are surprised that the police showed up this quickly. They aren’t supposed to be this competent. Ricky talks his way out of the situation with the same ease as he handled the campus security patrol, because he’s only intelligent as a criminal. But he shouldn’t have had to deal with them. The cops arrived whole minutes sooner than they should have. 

Something has changed. Many things have changed in and around Sunnyvale. This isn't the only thing. But the attentiveness and professionalism of the police is the most obvious. The most remarkable. We aren’t dealing with George fucking Green here anymore. What could have caused this new generation of actually professional police officers to appear?

These kinds of cops aren’t typically around Sunnyvale itself. The standard police patrols can easily be kept away with a few well-placed sexual acts of Randy just outside the gate. These kinds of cops come to Sunnyvale after a break-in at an affluent suburban neighbourhood. These are forces of law and order who could actually be a threat to Sunnyvale. Robbing from the types of people these cops protect may actually have consequences – piss these cops off, and you might not get out of jail in time for next season. There’s a new order in town.

Remember some of those conversations a few episodes ago about a new subdivision going up near Sunnyvale? It was just a throwaway comment, but in the light of these new, competent cops in Ricky’s life, we have to take seriously the likelihood of radical change coming to Sunnyvale. Not from any open, violent invasion like Barb’s, even though that is pretty fucking dangerous. No, this is a more creeping, invisible danger.

Could suburbanites be coming to the borders of Sunnyvale? Threatening their joyful anarchy and chaos with actually competent police and law? 

Is this Barb’s actual plan for Sunnyvale? She’s never really been part of the Sunnyvale community before. She was always an authority figure, always at some distance from the real rhythms and styles of Sunnyvale life. Barb has been a creature of law – keeping Jim from drinking, trying to run the park according to explicit rules and regulations. At least that’s how I remember her.

So far this season, we haven’t really heard a justification for Barb wanting to take control of the trailer park. I mean, we’ve heard her justify it as revenge on Julian for weaselling his way into majority ownership while she was shipped off to jail with Donna and Sarah at the end of Season Nine. But that’s not her total motivation – it can’t be. Yeah, she could take Sunnyvale’s ownership back from Julian, but then we’re left with the question of what she’d actually do with it. 

But Barb has never really been part of Sunnyvale. Sunnyvale’s freedom and chaos has always irritated her, hasn’t it? If Barb Lahey has had a nemesis over the last 15 years, it’s been Sunnyvale itself, the trailer park that refuses to calm itself and conform to her wishes for a quiet, uneventful, straight life. Now Barb is unrestrained, a violent bully who has embraced an aggressive lesbian life. Sunnyvale, always Barb’s nemesis, has finally broken her. Yes, Julian was the person who screwed her out of a potentially fruitful real estate investment. But that’s just money. It was Sunnyvale itself that broke Barb’s soul.

With a new, high-end suburban development creeping closer and closer to Sunnyvale, that land is getting more and more valuable. Sunnyvale’s land is more valuable than the people who live on it. I mean, nobody who lives in Sunnyvale even bothers to pay their lot fees. It’s effectively a community without money. No real estate developer could ever make money from Sunnyvale as it is. 

But with the people gone, and only the land remaining, it’s a multi-million dollar investment property. Nothing would satisfy Barb – who’s become a primal drive for revenge and violence – more than destroying the entire society that slowly ground her down into the creature of hate that she is.

Hopeless Helpless II: To Mystify, Composing, 22/04/2016

Continued from last post . . . Here’s what my next big book of philosophy, Utopias, will be: a multidimensional exploration of the power of people to revolutionize our societies, developing whole new ways to be human. 

Here’s what it will also be: a refutation of some of the most remarkable arguments that such revolutionary change is impossible, that humanity has no power to change its nature. 

A message in popular culture that resonates with my
political thinking in Utopias: "Never give up; Never
give in."
Utopia is, in simple terms, an embrace of action – no matter whether it’s physical and social or purely imaginary and communicative – to drive and encourage social transformation. So the enemy of utopia – humanity’s idealistic striving – is not any other contrary vision of progress, but passivity. Will you continue to strive? Or will you give up?

One of the biggest challenges of political activity is actually getting people to wake up and care about the crises happening all around them. Getting people excited about the correct stuff is hard enough – there are plenty of times in history when people have mistaken their enslavement for freedom. And it’s a tough time convincing them otherwise.

And there are so many ways to keep someone from acting in their best interests. Hell, so many ways to keep a person from wanting to do anything to rock their own boats. 

One way to do that is to confuse people with profound language and ideas – meditations that end up breaking down all your own powers. All your abilities to act. Martin Heidegger and his philosophy is one of these vortexes of action.

I’ve always seen this weird tendency in a lot of Heidegger scholars I met back in my academy days. The ideas of Heidegger consumed them, and they related every philosophical discussion they could back to Heidegger. If they couldn’t find an angle to relate a conversation to Heidegger’s work, they walked away. It was a peculiarly awful self-absorption. 

The academic culture surrounding him had a similar gravity. I comment, during one of my brief discussions of his work in Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity that you can’t refer to Heidegger without the entire discussion starting to revolve around Heidegger. 

Expertise is a stern taskmaster.
It goes beyond the usual command of the commentary that academic culture demands you have before you’re allowed to say anything legitimately like a critique. It’s the ability to ward off any counter-argument that begins anything like, “Ah, but have you read Russon’s article on the concept of verfallenheit?”

So what’s going on when Negri brings up Heidegger? Negri’s critique is that Heidegger offers a moment of mystifying the real power of the poor to make real change in the world. As Vienna falls to Allied troops and the Soviets are about to march on Berlin, the enthusiastic Nazi Martin Heidegger delivers a lecture on poverty.

His goal is to deliver, in the face of his movement’s inevitable defeat, a lecture on poverty. Its outcome – the poor are powerless, and their apparent power in such political movements as communist states and political parties is a self-delusion. 

The poor, says Heidegger, already possess a wealth greater than the superficial riches that communist ideology promises them. In their poverty, they’re closer to the spiritual truth of being, less distracted by the stresses and worries of wealth. The suffering of poverty and destitution is not something to be cured. It’s a path to spiritual fulfillment. 

His conclusion comes from analyzing a line from Friedrich Hölderlin, the German poet at the centre of Heidegger’s own philosophical vision. 
“With us, everything is concentrated on the spiritual; we have become poor to become rich.”
Unpacking this single line for a whole lecture, he concludes that being poor means you have spiritual richness – you live in the proper essence of being itself. You don’t have anything but absolute necessities, and any of those non-necessary things would only distract you from what make you truly rich.

The roots that Hölderlin experiences today are mostly
plants. Ba-tum-tish!
And that is knowing your proper place in the world and living it. 

Heidegger’s analysis itself is composed of long, profound meditations on a few specifically selected words of classic poetry, and includes a discourse on the ancient meanings being his (dodgy) etymology of old German words – in this case, the roots of frei, freedom, in an idea of preservation, guarding its essence. 

Heidegger confuses you by leading you to believe that a stern piece of dogma – “Don’t you get any ideas above your station, young lady!” – has a profound philosophical essence. That it’s rooted in the fundamental essence of human thought when it’s closest to being, and in the ancient roots of the most philosophical languages. 

Don't let your desire for the profound and deeply meaningful deny you your natural power. 

Hopeless Helpless I: Power to Poor People, Research Time, 21/04/2016

It's been a pretty busy time for me lately, which is why I haven’t been able to go through Antonio Negri’s Commonwealth as thoroughly as I’d like to have done yet. The first of the book’s six chapters is about understanding the material powers of poor people. It’s something that actually needs a little work to get done.

Understanding that poor people have real, material power in the world is a tough proposition. We seem, as a society, accustomed to thinking of poor people as inherently passive and powerless. 

Does a boy like this, working in a Pakistani brick
foundry, deserve only our pity? Or can we learn from him?
They’re recipients of welfare benefits or charity, the passive role of waiting for handouts or aid. Their passivity could be used to encourage sympathy for them, like calls for charity or for poverty alleviation policies from government. Or their passivity could be a reason to despise them, like the (often racialized) accusations that the poor are lazy, contemptuous, or criminal. But they remain passive.

Negri discusses two of the most profound ways to dismiss and obscure the power of poor people. One of these was Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical God Is Charity. This was the Pope’s official dismissal of all calls for social justice as unrealistic for people to strive for in the modern world. All that we could achieve for the poor is to pity them and give them our charity.

When Negri and Michael Hardt wrote Commonwealth, Benedict XVI was still the Pope. Given Francis I’s election shortly after his predecessor retired for health reasons, it makes me wonder if there weren’t many in the College of Cardinals who thought true social justice needed restoration in the Catholic Church’s mission.

Benedict’s dismissal of poor people’s power and dignity rains with a common theme of contemporary life – hopelessness. It’s really only in the past few generations that the idea that humanity will likely drive itself to extinction has really become mainstream. To the point where it’s a casually accepted discussion point.

This is a radical idea compared to human history – the idea that the entire human race would be gone within a few generations. Not raptured or elevated, or any other religious apocalyptic visions. There have always been those as long as there’s been religions that imagined the end of the world at all. 

In many ways, Francis I is the Pope of hope.
I just mean sad, final, plodding extinction. The base indignity of cold, simple, stupid death. We will drown in our own shit. This is the endpoint of our global ecological crisis – we will either dig ourselves out of it or we won’t. 

This hopelessness began before the ecological crisis, if we’re talking about the general feeling of cultural dread that comes with the first shocks of the most thorough atheism. I mean this in the sense that we now realize that we live in a world that has no absolute meaning or transcendent justification beyond the brute fact of its existence.

That feeling of hopelessness about the aloneness of humanity and the indifference of the universe to us kicked into gear in the West in the late 19th century. But that was only for an elite of intellectuals and philosophers – the foundational existentialists and their fellow travellers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoyevsky,* or the young Max Weber.

* If you make sure you take his devout Orthodox Christianity not as a dogmatic religious experience, but as a mystical gesture of gratitude to the Czar who spared him from a firing squad.

The true popular shocker about the irredeemable, hopeless nature of humanity was the terror of the First World War. I keep returning to this epoch because I’m trying to find the best way to deal with the heritage of this influential period in human thought. 

It’s vital for Utopias because the hope of utopian thinking meets its opposite in the profound pessimism that dominated the last century of thought. This is the fight that hope needs to survive in politics and in human society. The book Utopias itself will be a dramatization of that fight in philosophical writing. 

Understanding the power of the poor could be a major element of hope’s victory in this battle. Because if the abjectly poor can generate this hope from their own horrid condition, then we can all dream of a better world for us all.

But I have to understand the most profound conception of that horror, dread, profane, abject, hopeless pessimism. There are many ways you could go. The immediately intuitive path to the profound would, I suppose be Martin Heidegger. Well, let’s have another look . . . To be continued.