Category Archives: Personal Life

And I dreamt of Yes!: Pessimism of the will and Pessimism of the strong.

 “Is pessimism necessarily a sign of decline, decay, malformation, of tired and debilitated instincts [. . .]? Is there a pessimism of strength? An intellectual preference for the hard, gruesome, malevolent and problematic aspects of existence which comes from a feeling of well-being, from overflowing health, from an abundance of existence? Is there perhaps such a thing as suffering from overabundance itself? Is there a tempting bravery in the sharpest eye which demands the terrifying as its foe, as a worthy foe against which it can test its strength and from which it intends to learn the meaning of fear?”. – Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Trans. Ronald Speirs. Ed. Raymond Geuss and Ronald Speirs. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. — G. W. F. Hegel, “Preface” to Phenomenology of Spirit

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” ― Antonio Gramsci, Gramsci’s Prison Letters

“Other dogs bite only their enemies, whereas I bite also my friends in order to save them” – Attributed to Diogenes of Sinope by Stobaeus

I am an admitted pessimist, but my gloomy mood is actually rooted in something different from the caustic cynicism that has dominated the past two decades of popular entertainment.    This is frustrating because this gloom and ironic gloom is a pessimism that trains be to identity as positively what they should probably reject in themselves.   The writers at the rather enigmatic blogger at Spass ohne Grenzen cut to what I like to call “pessimism” of the will, which masks itself as an ideology of the gleeful ,ironic every-man:

I’m so intensely tired of cynicism, and particularly with the ways new entertainment encourages emotional atrophy by proliferating the archetype of the apathetic pseudo-anti-hero to normalize feelings of isolation so people can go, “hey I feel like shit too!” Here’s lookin at you Louis C.K. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy, but maybe if we didn’t have a communal comfort-fest culture making light of isolation, people would feel more motivated to get out of it. It’s as if almost every sitcom in both the United States and the UK are working to relieve people of a guilt that should not be relieved, by giving them something to identify with when they should not be allowed to identify; “Lol that guy has trouble with empathy! It must not be a big deal because I’m laughing about it!” I started watching a Houellebecq film adaptation today and had to turn it off because it’s such a dead end. Maybe the ending would have redeemed it, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. (Don’t get me wrong, I still love the guy.) I try to avoid any itch of negativity like the plague now, and I’d rather be vain than depressed. By this I mean that I’d rather this paragraph contain weak reasoning to get the point across; yes, shows about emotional detachment are “working through” something in our society. I’m indifferent to this argument regardless of its validity because it’s all been going on for so long. It’s the equivalent of Jezebel articles which amount to little more than an effort to make lonely people feel happy and comfortable with themselves just as they are. Go ahead and have that extra cookie, and turn on some Louis while you’re at it.

Pessimism of the intellect is how an intelligent person colors their glasses: they see the world as it is.  As studies that depressives are more likely to think critically and be self-honest, optimists live longer. False hopes keeps many people alive, literally.  Yet the turn of the gleeful pessimism who makes these faults not seem like faults seems like the most perverse dialectical move: Indeed, it brings the hope to the strange place.   Your negative traits aren’t negative and you are fool for seeing them as such is the the implicit ideological impulse in the gap.   This move is the inverted Diogenes:  the man who bites himself so his friends can ignore their wounds.

So I want to dream Yes to the Nietzsche’s question and ignore this the excuse function that we see in the 1990s irony and the aughts lovable failures.   We need to look at things as they with respect that what we should reject.  To put Nietzsche into the dialectical mode of Hegel:  Amor Fati most be opposed by self-overcoming and sublated into something not yet seen.  

But the yes must be larger than this: we can not help but battle the dehumanizing pessimist in our heads but we must not step their.  We cannot want to see the world in the a certain way, but must see the world as it is to change it.   We should not be merely identifying with social faults and shrugging our shoulders and accepting our fate.    Yet that is the tenor of our media these days.

Thought is not enough to overcome anything where it be a cracked means of production or over-eating or the idea of the state.  One sees this pessimism of the will from even the likes of Eric Hobshawm.   An ethic settling. Of lesser evil. Of gradual reform. Of lessened expectations.

To say the Yes to a better a world, one must see things as they are.  One must learn to say no.

Exhaustion sets in over time: Or how I learned to quit arguing about “the left” and started see politics for what was (meta-relationships).

In the rush of cars outside in cool evening air calms me. I have written about a page on my short story today, gotten more house work done around my fiancee’s apartment, and went back to a politics and philosophy group I started almost a year ago.  I must admit: I am tired of the concept of the generic, non-liberal left.  I am tired of even the generic Marxian left as a concept and as a practice.  I would rather listen to the cars outside because it is about of the same usefulness.

I have already spelled out that I doubt that the teleological view of history, even the contingent or “dialectical,” teleological view of history avoids the fact that we speak as if we know what is good or possible, and we do not. We only know the probable. We can only have probable knowledge through a variety of processes.  We may call them “truth” processes.  Meta-theories about these processes, the content of philosophy and non-philosophy (to use term by Laruelle), are necessary just like science is justified in a variety of epistemological frameworks, but they cannot in any strict sense be known to be true.  Our evidence for them is in the effects.  Hence, my point about Hegel’s, History is the judge of human ideas.  These things can only be seen in hindsight, and the conservative caution about them is not unwarranted.

The problem with the conservative position is that historical contingencies do change: material conditions change, cultures interaction, events happen.  The rupture of an event changes everything, and just like the you who is a person tomorrow is not the same as a person today nor totally distinct from it, the needs of a culture do change over time.  The needs of an ecological system changes. The needs of an individual changes.  The individual is a complex system and the ecology is a complex system: neither a unitary nor a plurality.  Yet we can’t assume the needs of either scale up.  This is why the personal is political is a too reductive and simplistic to be useful.

One of the things I have noticed, sitting here thinking about it, is that I have been forced to try to defend or condemn the subject impulses of anarchists or Leninists, the pluralism of Lenin whose next moves after said pluralism were to ban all political parties opposed to him?  Or to defend Bakunin who endorsed “invisible dictatorship” and whose associations with barrack’s anarchist Sergey Gennadiyevich Nyechayev blacked his name when Nyechayev killed many of his own comrades. Nor I can defend Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, hero of so many left anarchists, who tried to ethnically purge the German Mnennonites from his city. It is not that I don’t understand that politics contains violence. Violence is a fact of human relationships. It is that I cannot make excuses for it.

To say that history has judged this harshly is to say that events have emerged that show the problems of these positions. The subjectivities or fidelities to the intention of these ideas is irrelevant, ultimately.

Don’t worry, I am not going to hand in my cards, and become a Democrat, and retire as a head of a non-profit. Nor will I take the false pretense of being a moderate: I do think violence is sometimes necessary, but these aims have historically been against real people. Marxism dominates among scholars, I think, because we can disconnect events from theories. After all, Marx only gave us critique: critique of the socialist movement (Blanquists, Saint-Simonians, LaSalleians), critique of political economy (against Proudhon, against Bentham, moderating and expanding Ricardo and Smith), and critique of Hegel and the Young Hegelians. The dialectics in Marx and Frankfurt School have only ever been negative, and in most Leninism and Maoism have only ever been justifications. That’s a huge generalization, but the incoherence of the practice indicate that theory lacked, not led, the discussion. In all “communism” states, positive political economy was given by another theory beyond Marxism. Take the Soviet example: for NEP-period and for Stalin, Taylorism. For the 1950s and early 1960s, US cybernetic theory. For late 1960 and 1970s, limited forms of social democracy. In China, you have similar issues: Mao borrowed much of his positive proscriptions from Chinese Legalism and from Stalin’s forced collectivization, and after Mao, we saw Mercentilism and development along state-capitalist lines like an accelerated form of policies from 17th century Europe. One of my friends says this because of the managerial class infecting Marxism, I go much further them him: it is from from lacking a positive vision of social organization that could actually work.

In a different way anarchists too have been primarily about opposition: to various forms of rulership, to the state, etc. Syndicalism was the only form of anarchism that I know actually developed a long-range coherent political economy, although Murray Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism did attempt to do this as well. Mostly, however, this is been active critique. Anarchist victories have been, well, small. Confederations have never been able to counter well-heeled states, nor have autonomous zones really been able to resist. Most anarchists I deal with instead of offering real fixes this, justify loses as virtues. Yet there is much to admire in the anarchist vitality and the Marxist historical rigor: much to admire and I used to think bring these groups together would lead to a way through this impasse. A lot of people believe this as it was the zeitgeist of Occupy. To be honest, I don’t think this works now.

I could go on about Social Democrats being unable to resist market forces, and left-liberals almost always letting conservatives define the debate for them.

Chastising the left alone, though, is a form of posturing. An exhausting one which hollows out one’s tactical political goals, and leaves one a husk of a person. Critique should always have an axiomatic aim: a dialectical process must be able to handle the sublation and know what it is not acceptable as an answer. Dialectics isn’t politics though, its a form of logic.

The “revolution”–which has become an over-full signifier–will not be televised. It will not be an “inner” revolution. In fact, I don’t know what it will be, but I am pretty sure it won’t be televized. I also have a feeling that most of the existing ideologically-driven left will not recognize until it hits them square in the head. Until then, we have to do the hard work: this is issue work, and its outside of electoral spectacles. Of course, we must make concessions to the societies we actually live in, but let’s not be false about it.

IF I go searching for pathology, I will find disease or possible disease, particularly if my guide isn’t anything objective. There is a point where this is a waste of time. I have issues I care about, I have axioms for what I find unacceptable: I don’t think electoral reform will fix these issues, but trying to battle this as a totality seems, well, like a recipe for failure.

History is the judge of ideas. This not mean there is some meta-historical or trans-historical meta-logic to which we will be able to have a theory of the correct idea, it can, however, show us with ideas where botched, maladjusted, and counter-adaptive. This is the way history shows us things. Anything thing else reifies the concept.

I am going to go back to listening to cars.

Korean Elections, Skepticism, New books, Science fiction, and The Enlightenment

It is election day in South Korea, so the dancing girls and old woman handing fliers with numbers on them (as candidates are assigned a number here) with the booming trucks trying through small city streets and crowding the corners.  There is not much in American style attack ads and the spectacle is limited for a month or so. In Mohyeon-meon on the outskirts of Yong-in, where my university is nestled in the side of a mountain, I see little of this, but in visiting my beloved in Daejeon and travelling through Seoul, which I do weekly, I see the carnival of democracy.

Of all forms of democracy, I value representative democracy the least: in either its American or Parliamentary form.   The tendency for “rational irrationality” to creep into deliberation and the human inability to intuitively understand probabilities make this almost a given.  There is one maxim that Badiou gives from his various sets that I take more seriously as I get older: Politics is what cannot be represented.  However, I am not taking the purist stance of many anarchists who wish that there are no concessions to spectacles as people’s lives are made and broken in public policy.

At least, in Korea, election day is a national holiday, so people do not work in the mildly warm spring air, one sees children playing in the knocks of the side walk and the edges of the street while street vendors , I stopped by my local fruit vendor and bought some naval oranges.   I don’t drive here in South Korea and “New Urbanism” is just, you know, the way cities organically function here for all their problems. So I stop by and interact more with people, even as just as respite from the carnival.

I keep mulling some of my new story in my head: It’s refreshing to be writing something other than critical theory or political blogging for once.  Not that there isn’t politics in my short story, even in the long arm of the Hegelian geist:  I deal in science fiction because I can critique what is and what could be.

Yesterday I completed most of my spring book buying: I tend to seasonally allot myself reading.  In Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanhamoon in Seoul, there is little fiction so no new Paolo Bacigalupi that I wanted, although I have quite enjoyed re-reading his “Pump Six” collection of stories, which rank up their with Philip K. Dick and early J.G. Ballard, as well as China Mieville for writing that truly deals with issues substantively without reading like it is a fictionalized version of a Berkeley culture studies class.    So I got a few more shorter Badiou works after looking fruitlessly for anything else by Francois Laruelle.

I noticed a few more “skeptical” titles on religion that I considered:  I have become re-engaged with Skeptical Thinkers in both the classical tradition and in the so-called “Skeptic’s Movement.” I am still highly critical of the positivistic inclination in many of the Skeptic’s movement, and the want of consensus of scientists to decide norms from descriptions.    In many ways, I find it philosophically undeveloped, and politically naive.   The rampant soft-libertarianism, un-reflective left-liberalism, and the acceptance of bad economic thought as well bothers me.   Furthermore, I doubt I could get a one of them to put Bertrand Russell, quit whining about relativism and post-modernism without understanding them (or even knowing what isn’t Post-modern or Post-structural.), and realize that criticizing scientific practices in both practical and scientific grounds is often not done out a fear of science, but a love of it within its demarcation.

I consider this a sign of the times, though.  The radical Enlightenment never completely one and the few truths of those in the Counter-Enlightenment never really took hold.  It is, however, cowardly not to engage with skeptics. After all, I started blogging in order to combat bad science in education and misreadings of science in the humanities,  then started combating naivete realism in “Skeptical blogs”–structural frameworks have to be engaged in.   As I am not a believer in anything that could be called supernatural, and I detest ignorance as much as arrogance, I should engage with as a person who has come to similar conclusions from radically different means to illustrate the point.

So instead of science fiction, I picked up Jonathan Israel’s massive, “Enlightenment Contested?,” because at the core isn’t this what it is all about?   The skeptic’s movement is sort of a popular form of the French Newtonians which pretty much influenced all analytic philosophy.  But this book not only goes into thinkers like those considered Counter-Enlightenment, but also Asian influences on the Enlightenment, and how three different variants of the mood of the Enlightenment set the stage for most of political theory in the modern period.   As I think we are living in a time when these ideas and the political arrangements, even the aesthetic trends in this, have begun to hit a limit and we can see how they transform.

The spring air calls through the window.  One can forget it is an election sense or that even the environment is beginning to show severe signs of wear-and-tear.


On the things we like to call “sexuality”

Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment.  Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s.  Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.

I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage.  With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce.  My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons:  it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.”   I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.

Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion.   I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage.   Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth.  The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.

That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic.   Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense.  In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation.  It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.

I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then  the female orgasm would not be so elusive.  Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one:  it’s an ad hoc universe  in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).

This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it.  But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.

Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract:  people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in  a variety of different contexts.   Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.

What is it Lacan says?  Lack is created by language.  Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?

So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right.  The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated:   while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I  do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop.  I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped.   The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.

Technology changes who you are.  How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?

This leads to all sorts of issues:  I am gay or straight or bisexual?  How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence?   Does it make sense to get married?

In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways:  I am getting married to a woman because I love her.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness.  The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range.  Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity  then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits?    I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.

In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.

Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions.  Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance  and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.

Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them.  Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.

But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.

Fragmentation, anti philosophy and more spring

On the bus from Seoul to Yong-in, I am listening to Clark’s World podcast with a few english translations, still with the new pulp paper smell, of Francois Laruelle and Alain Badiou as point and counter-point, as Kate Baker read Tom Crosshill’s “Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes.”. My lungs still burn, and the flowers of Asia still make my nose run.

In the last year, I have been thinking about how the subject is a construction. Admittedly a lot of Heraclitus and a background in Theravada Buddhism will make you see this: the you that is biological construct in a narrative context. In a way you have more in common with anyone sitting next to you in a bus than you do with your future self. Crosshill’s story get to this contradiction, the modern technological milieu creates an ability to reinforce through social media, through even augmentation and self storage, and yet this also accelerates the change within a person.

This bus is too hot: spring and temperature setting in public transit is a profound contradiction here in Korea.

So I am carrying Badiou’s The Century, Groys’s Introduction to anti philosophy , and Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference: An Introduction to Non-philosophy, I suppose since I started looking at Hegel, in a completely different way from post-structuralism, got me to consider how philosophy in the universal sense enables one to actually see how contextually situated most conceptions of truth are.

I hope to read more of this, particularly given Laruelle’s antipathy towards Badiou, and both of these philosophers rooting in reactions to Hegel. To further the issue, spring time will be rooted in engagement photos, science fiction, and philosophy. Even in these regressive and pandering times, there is still much to love.

I suppose fragmentation is a way to have a pessimism without resentment or valorization of weakness. But again, this could just be the context of sping.

I am on a podcast again: The left, the occult community, and Platypus

I was interviewed by fellow Symptomatic Redness blogger and partner in crime Douglas Lain at his diet soap podcast on the occultism and left, demographic shifts, and the problems of the contemporary left.

I am on podcasts!

Douglas Lain, who is a fellow contributor to Symptomatic Redness and a member of Aesthetics, Philosophy, and Politics: Red and/or Black, has interviewed me on Ontology and the formation of the Aesthetics, Philosophy, and Politics: Red and/or Black: Plus Zizek.  It’s a bit abstract, but fun.

New Year’s Reflections: Let’s Paint the Town (Red and Black)

My twenties begin with the end of Battle For Settle, 9-11, and marriage and ended with divorce, expatriation to East Asia, and occupy wall street.  At thirty-one, I feel like the new normal’s prolonged adolescence is finally over.  This year I have spent dating, traveling East Asia, and protesting.  Sounds glamorous, but in reality in is slog better left to de-romanticization instead of the travel writing of discovery that leads to such tripe as “Eat, Pray, Love.”  I have also been deeply studying Marxist and Anarchist theory as well as history of fascism and neo-paganism. There are interviews on Marxist Economics, Reconstructionist Paganism, Critical Theory, and Marxian Anarchism coming to the blog.  Oddly, the first part and the second part of this paragraph are related.

This year, for me, it is time to start building both the theory and the action: Times they are a-changing, and like the book-ends of my twenties, we’re going to change with them.

Qualified Success, Failure, and Occupy: a dialectic of my two minds with self-caricature

I have been pegged with two caricatures of my positions on Occupy. So I an instead of merely ranting in a vague and inchoate matter, I have decided to present my this systematically in a series of caricatures of myself and my positions.

“Skepoet as Ghost of Adorno”:  There can be no positive vision for Occupy, all it can do is point out the contradictions between the actionism of my liberal activists in the so-called progressive movement of the Democratic party and the manic actions of those effectively engaged in a Black Bloc, which is the bourgeois manifestation of their own privilege warping into Barrack’s Socialism. Indeed, the best occupy can do is show us dialectic between two negative positions.  In short it enables us see what not to do.

“Skepoet as Anarchist”:  Smash the system.

“Skepoet as Critic of Anarcho-liberalism”: Look, only an anarcho-liberal can advocate for Keynesianism and a “new” New Deal while using Black Bloc tactics. This is incoherent.

“Skepoet as High Academic Marxist”:  Don’t you see that the Occupy movement has not changed the base of society yet, and thus cannot change the superstructure by living in tents in a public park.

“Skepoet as Vulgar Marxist”:  The Oakland commune is a reincarnation of the 1917 Soviets.

Those are semi-legitimate caricatures of my positions. I, however, am not on the ground–I am facilitate  discussion  on social networking sites, report on it second hand, and criticize. In short, I don’t use Spanish anarchist hand-signals when I talk.  I would if I were in the U.S.  I am about to speak on Unions, but I am going to give a few caveats: 1) I have never been in a Union although I did try to start one in 2004 when I discovered that all public sector unions in my home state were illegal as they are in many Southern states, and 2) I now live in a country where non-nationals are also “discouraged” from unionizing.
So I am going to lay this out in a vulgar Hegelian dialectic of my own thoughts:

Thesis:  The Occupy the West Coast Ports is a qualified success in many terms showing the successes of  direct action.  This also shows the working rank-and-file that they do not need the blessings of Union Leadership.  The Unions in the US have not been responsive even though their leadership is far more democratic than the say the election of a U.S. senator.  The Unions stood in solidarity in Wisconsin and Ohio, but did not mention that they had not done much to counter-act this in the South East. The more cynical parts of me thinks this is because Ohio and Wisconsin are “battle ground” states in the upcoming election. Occupy is harder to co-opt in that regard.  So pointing out this failure is crucial, and the fact that the Union leadership couldn’t organize fast enough to deal with the situation with voices expressed by the rank and file is crucial. The repressive legal framework of the Taft-Hartley act functionally kill the ability of established unions to be successful.  In this sense we must move past them. Furthermore, Unions cannot  speak for or aid the unemployed.

Anti-thesis:  While the Longshoreman are respecting the picket line, this arguably hurts them as much if not more than it hurts the nominal 1%.  Furthermore, the idea of avant-garde or vanguard of students and the unemployed that animated quite a few in the Oakland Commune did not truly represent wishes.  Anarchists, in particular, are hypocrites when they claim to speak for an oppressed class that is not speaking for itself in its own direct actions.

 Approaching Synthesis:  I don’t have an answer, but I would say the illuminating contradictions is important. Take this article by Richard Myers in the DailyKos:

Suggesting that a union does, or does not support an action like shutting down the ports (on the basis of what we’ve seen so far) is a gross oversimplification. In the first place, the no-strike clause has legal implications, with the result that statements of position may exist primarily to satisfy legal obligations.

Second, as we have apparently seen with ILWU 10, there may be significant differences in position and perception between local leadership and national/international leadership.

Third, all of those stating in comments on other KOS articles that they’ve drawn conclusions based upon what has been published ought to hold their breath; we’ve never before seen a global movement like OWS interact with a mainstream labor movement before. It is very likely, in spite of pronouncements, that many union leaders at the local AND the national level hadn’t yet formed opinions on a one day demonstration port shutdown; many will have awaited the opportunity to assess the effectiveness of, and the public’s reactions to, the day’s actions.

Read Myer’s article, while it’s a bit too soft on the AFL-CIO leadership, it’s interesting on the over all role of the rank-and-file of unions. We need to move through and start emerging with counter-institutions.

On coming crisis of the factory model of South Korean higher education and how it mirrors US future problems

One of the strange ironies I have working here in South Korea is listening to Americans talk about how amazing South Korean education is (and education in Asia in general) while South Koreans are studying the American models of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s for ways to expand the creativity in the system. Yet, there is one way in which South Korea is just like the US: it has turned to a neo-liberal model of education. A college education in South Korea runs a close second or third to US and the UK (the UK is current below either but that is changing). The testing and student evaluation system is much more explicit here. There is less tenure, particularly for non-ethnic Koreans. While I love my students here, and I love my research: there are many universities in Korea that require a publication a year in a Fordist style points system which, ironically, has led to much more sub-par publications in questionable journals as the incentive system generally does not recognize anything not in print within a one-year contract even if it has been formally accepted. This is no universal, but the factory model of education is dominant in Korea. Furthermore, 80% of Korea’s universities are private and rant with low endowments making them for profit affairs more akin to University of Phoenix than Harvard. Quite a few these universities are still decent: devoted students and good faculty. I don’t want to criticize it too strongly, but there are systemic issues there. Systemic issues that are about the come to massive head.

Why? Well, The Chronicle of Higher Education actually has written an excellent article on it:

It has become something of a joke here. At the same time President Obama is lavishly praising South Korea’s education system, South Koreans are heaping criticism on it.

In speeches about America’s relative decline, Mr. Obama has repeatedly singled out South Korea’s relentless educational drive, its high university enrollment, and its steady production of science and engineering graduates as worthy of emulation.

His South Korean counterpart, meanwhile, warns of a glut of university graduates and a work force hard-wired to outdated 20th-century manufacturing skills. “Reckless entrance into college is bringing huge losses to families and the country alike,” said President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea recently.

I am glad I am not the only one who finds this highly, highly ironic. Yet this is the more substantive point:

But with a demographic crisis looming, the government now admits that the expansion has gone too far. “We allowed too many universities to open,” says Sung Geun Bae, director general of South Korea’s education ministry. Mr. Sung points out that his country simultaneously has one of the world’s highest university enrollment rates—and one of the world’s lowest birthrates. “Fifteen years ago we needed all those universities, but times have changed.”

What that means for the nation’s 40 public universities and 400 private colleges is still being debated across the nation, but the writing is on the wall. Education Minister Lee Ju-Ho warns that student enrollment at Korean colleges will plummet by 40 percent in the next 12 years. By 2016 there will already be more university places than high-school graduates, and many institutions will be forced to shut their gates or merge in what is likely to be a very painful downsizing for a nation that reveres education.

“We estimate that by 2040 around 100 universities will have to close,” says Yu Hyunsook, director general of the Korean Educational Development Institute. Ms. Yu points out that the wheels of change have already started to turn; in January, a leading institution, the Seoul National University, will in effect be turned into a business—the first step in a government attempt to give public universities more autonomy and introduce market forces into higher education to make it more competitive.

That move faces resistance from the university’s faculty members, who are concerned that the quality of education will suffer and about their job security, since the change means they will no longer be civil servants employed by the government but employees of the university.

But ultimately it is the huge private sector, which caters to about 80 percent of Korean students, where the pain is likely to be felt most—and the private providers are already under scrutiny. Some are exaggerating their number of students, covering up financial problems, and hiking student fees to unacceptable levels, says Ms. Yu. “Some are paying professors lower salaries than for primary schoolteachers.”

To examine such claims, the South Korean government investigated a randomly chosen selection of 35 private and public universities. It found “habitual” accounting errors over the past five years worth a total of $580-million. Two private institutions, Myungshin University and Sunghwa College in South Korea’s deep south, were ordered shut last month. That is very likely the tip of the iceberg.

My friends who are hiding in the long march through the universities and trying to hide from the economy in the University system: this is beginning to fall apart. South Korea’s problems are quite similar to those coming to the US which has similar demographic problems looming but a bit more ahead in the future. Louis Menand has wrote on this and the distortions of the cold war in the system. Those days are over, my academic comrades. Those days are over.


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