U.S. Out of Vermont!
Christopher Ketcham, The American Prospect, March 19, 2013
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This captivating article/essay about the relatively thriving secession movement in Vermont features a cameo appearance from Teeming Brain favorite Morris Berman, who delivered the keynote address at a secession-oriented conference held in September 2012 in the chambers of the house of representatives in Montpelier. E. F. Schumacher (another favorite) also shows up, as do a host of fascinating additional thinkers and activists, not to mention a passel of worthwhile ideas and concerns.]
During the Obama years, secession has mostly been an antic folly of the political right, courtesy of Texas nationalists, Dixie nostalgists, white supremacists, “sovereign citizens,” and gun nuts. There was no small amount of hypocrisy, of course, in this conservative rebellion. When Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2009 spoke publicly about a possible Lone Star secession, he billed it as a constitutional right in the face of overreaching government — though Republicans mostly hadn’t complained when George W. Bush was demanding profligate budgets and stabbing the sacred document with pencil holes.
Yet here in granola-eating, hyper-lefty, Subaru-driving Vermont was a secession effort that had been loud during the Bush years, had not ceased its complaining under Barack Obama, did not care for party affiliation, and had welcomed into its midst gun nuts and lumberjacks and professors, socialists and libertarians and anarchists, ex–Republicans and ex-Democrats, truck drivers and schoolteachers and waitresses, students and artists and musicians and poets, farmers and hunters and wooly-haired woodsmen. The manifesto that elaborated their platform was read at the conference: a 1,400-word mouthful that echoed the Declaration of Independence in its petition of grievances. “[T]ransnational megacompanies and big government,” it proclaimed, “control us through money, markets, and media, sapping our political will, civil liberties, collective memory, traditional cultures.” The document was signed by, among others, its principal authors, a professor emeritus of economics at Duke University named Thomas Naylor and the decentralist philosopher Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale. “Citizens,” it concluded, “lend your name to this manifesto and join in the honorable task of rejecting the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire and seeking its rapid and peaceful dissolution before it takes us all down with it.”
. . . . When the proceedings broke for lunch, I asked Morris Berman, who had been invited from his home in Mexico, what he thought of the conferees and their intentions. “There’s no chance in hell that a secession is going to happen under current conditions,” he said. “I’m a historian. I look at what’s possible. If Vermont seceded, there would be troops in Burlington in two hours.” Yet Berman was also hopeful. The Vermonters were reinventing secession. It would not be a mere political revolt, not simply a regional separation, but also, and probably more important, a revolt against the economy of empire, a move toward economic independence. “These people here,” he told me, “are experimenting with a kind of monastic withdrawal that has political implications. Capitalism is eating itself alive, but as the system unravels you have all these little flowering buds appear.”
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Europe’s flesheaters now threaten to devour us all
Seuman Milne, The Guardian, March 26, 2013
Teaser: Cyprus risks deepening the eurozone crisis as austerity is failing across the continent. Resistance will have to get stronger.
Europe’s flesheaters are back. The claim that the worst of the eurozone crisis is behind us now looks foolish. The deal forced on Cyprus by the German-led Troika at the weekend isn’t a bailout: it will effectively destroy the island’s economy. Instead of getting a grip on its grossly inflated banks, it will impose a brutal credit contraction, combined with sweeping cuts and privatisations, wiping out perhaps a quarter of Cyprus’s national income. Ordinary Cypriots, not Russian oligarchs, will pay the price.
. . . The eurozone has now become a zombie zone. . . . Whatever the focus of the meltdown in each country — banking in Cyprus, property in Spain — all flow from the same crisis that erupted in 2007-8 out of a deregulated profit-hunting credit boom across the western world and has delivered a prolonged depression. . . . [A]cross Europe, people are being held to ransom by banks, bondholders and corporations determined to ensure that it’s not they who bear the costs of the crisis they created — and politicians who regard it as their job to oblige them.
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The Bacon-Wrapped Economy
Ellen Cushing, East Bay Express, March 20, 2013
Teaser: Tech has brought very young, very rich people to the Bay Area like never before. And the changes to our cultural and economic landscape aren’t necessarily for the better.
If, after all, money has always been a means of effecting the world we want to bring about, when a region is flooded with uncommonly rich and uncommonly young people, that world begins to look very different. And we’re all living in it, whether we like it or not.
. . . . It’s become cliché at this point to describe the tech world as a bubble, but that word has an important double meaning: It’s not just that it could pop at any moment, it’s that it is in, but not quite of, the rest of the world — even as it’s changing it. The work is often abstract and piecemeal; the setting is a continent away from old financial centers. The culture is insular, specific, and self-affirming. As Catherine Bracy, director of international programs at Code for America, wrote in a December Tumblr post, tech’s power-players are “making widgets or iterating on things that already exist. Their goal is to … get bought out for a few hundred million dollars and then devote the rest of their lives to a) building Burning Man installations, b) investing in other people’s widgets, or c) both. They really don’t care that much about making the world a better place, mostly because they feel like they don’t have to live in it.”
But sooner or later, everyone has to live in the world they’ve created. Tech has made a world where certain skills are highly valued, and that has implications. “It used to be, the cleverest people in the world are being called to work at NASA,” Pleeth of IamRich@Google.com notoriety said toward the end of our interview. “But now I can make a billion dollars building a cool photo app or targeting ads to people more effectively. And that is a problem: More and more people in tech are making huge amounts of money, and people aren’t curing cancer because it’s not an attractive thing to do.” Pleeth was being intentionally hyperbolic — and to some degree, what the economy values and what society values have never been entirely in line with each other — but he raised a good point: Maybe this isn’t just unsustainable on the level that funding art via Kickstarter is untenable, or that taking Ubers instead of hiring a driver is shortsighted, or that living hand-to-mouth on a $2,000-a-week paycheck is imprudent. Instant gratification isn’t necessarily just something individuals indulge in — maybe societies can, too.
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How We’re Turning Digital Natives into Etiquette Sociopaths
Evan Selinger, Wired, March 26, 2013
Let’s face it: Technology and etiquette have been colliding for some time now, and things have finally boiled over if the recent spate of media criticisms is anything to go by. There’s the voicemail, not to be left unless you’re “dying.” There’s the e-mail signoff that we need to “kill.” And then there’s the observation that what was once normal — like asking someone for directions — is now considered “uncivilized.”
Cyber-savvy folks are arguing for such new etiquette rules because in an information-overloaded world, time-wasting communication is not just outdated — it’s rude. But while living according to the gospel of technological efficiency and frictionless sharing is fine as a Silicon Valley innovation ethos, it makes for a downright depressing social ethic.
People like Nick Bilton over at The New York Times Bits blog argue that norms like thank-you messages can cost more in time and efficiency than they are worth. However, such etiquette norms aren’t just about efficiency: They’re actually about building thoughtful and pro-social character.
. . . . The longstanding technological goal of enhancing efficiency serves us well in many cases. But we need to avoid prioritizing it over genuine connectivity.
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Best Tweets in the House
Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard, March 12, 2013
Teaser: In a desperate attempt to engage with younger audiences, arts organizations are scrambling to make their productions more interactive. But who really is more engaged: A live-tweeting audience member, or someone staring silently at the stage?
Although the trend has yet to hit the nation’s largest cities or most prominent companies, arts organizations from Minnesota’s Guthrie Theatre to Palm Beach Opera have begun allowing — nay, encouraging — audiences to break out their mobile devices and respond to performances in real time, even as the actors, singers, and players onstage are working hard to hold everyone’s gaze.
The rise of tweet seats is just one facet of a larger shift taking place in the performing arts — one that champions “audience engagement” and, in the minds of critics, subtly denigrates “passive spectating.” The new conventional wisdom is that it’s vital not just to put on the best show you can, but to give audiences the sort of intense, interactive, personal experience that makes them feel involved in the production. That means prepping your audience ahead of time, debriefing them afterwards, and giving them opportunities to comment or participate as well as observe. In some cases, audience engagement means inviting people to sing, play, or dance along with the performers; in others, to split their attention between the stage and (very small) screen.
. . . . The trouble is that modern 20-somethings seem to have little taste for full engagement. “There is evidence beginning to suggest truly deep attention is not valued among the young,” [Stanford University sociologist Clifford] Nass reports. “The question is, where do you get your pleasure? Do you get pleasure by being transported, which requires great immersion? Or do you get pleasure by having your focus on multiple places at once? “That’s a cultural shift. Artists have to think about what that means, and what they want to do about it.”
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Police Restrain Crowd from Taking Food after Supermarket Eviction
Mark Barber, WISTV.com, March 26, 2013
[EDITOR’S NOTE: It would be difficult to surpass this story’s galling power as an illustration of the literally insane behavior that can result from unthinking adherence to a system of external rule. In this case, the external rule is that of civil law in rural Georgia. One understands why the police did what they did, given the nature of their formal jobs, but in terms of their more fundamental identities and roles as human beings, their behavior is reprehensible. Not tangentially, it bears remembering that this same scenario is played out in slightly different form in restaurants around America every day, as I witnessed personally in college when I worked briefly for a McDonald’s and found that a titanic amount of food was formally required by company policy to be thrown away every day. It was against policy to give this food to employees or anybody else. One manager regularly sacked up as much of it as possible and secretly left it on top of a trash dumpster out back for a group of homeless people to claim. One wonders how many people right now are doing something similar. One hopes the number is huge.]
Law enforcement officials pushed back hundreds of people who were crowding around a large pile of merchandise outside an Augusta grocery store Tuesday afternoon. But the goods sitting in the parking lot of the Laney Supermarket didn’t make into anyone’s hands. Instead, the food people hoped to take home was tossed into the trash. “People have children out here that are hungry, thirsty, could be anything. Why throw it away when you could be issuing it out?” asked Robertstine Lambert.
The Marshal of Richmond County, Steve Smith, says the food wasn’t theirs to give away, so they had to trash it. “We don’t have authority to take possession of the property; we just have to make sure that it’s handled, disposed of by law,” Smith, said.
SunTrust Bank in Atlanta owns the property and they’re sending the merchandise to the landfill after evicting the Chois, the owners of the grocery store. The Chois didn’t want to speak on camera but they say they were kicked out by the bank because they owe them thousands of dollars. They say they offered the food to a church, but members didn’t show up to claim it.
That’s when word that store products were abandoned spread through the community. About 300 people came to take merchandise home, but they were held back by law enforcement. “These are brand new items; we saw the potential for a riot was extremely high,” said Sheriff Richard Roundtree.
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The Sound of the Gravediggers
John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, March 28, 2013
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a blog post in which Greer explores “the religious dimensions of peak oil and the end of the industrial age” — a topic that he has broached many times at The Archdruid Report, and that he unfailingly handles with eloquence and insight. This time is no exception.]
Unlike too many of today’s atheists, Nietzsche had a profound understanding of just what it was that he was rejecting when he proclaimed the death of God and the absurdity of faith. To abandon belief in a divinely ordained order to the cosmos, he argued, meant surrendering any claim to objectively valid moral standards, and thus stripping words like “right” and “wrong” of any meaning other than personal preference. It meant giving up the basis on which governments and institutions founded their claims to legitimacy, and thus leaving them no means to maintain social order or gain the obedience of the masses other than the raw threat of violence — a threat that would have to be made good ever more often, as time went on, to maintain its effectiveness. Ultimately, it meant abandoning any claim of meaning, purpose, or value to humanity or the world, other than those that individual human beings might choose to impose on the inkblot patterns of a chaotic universe.
. . . . The surrogate God that western civilization embraced, tentatively in the 19th century and with increasing conviction and passion in the 20th, was progress. In our time, certainly, the omnipotence and infinite benevolence of progress have become the core doctrines of a civil religion as broadly and unthinkingly embraced, and as central to contemporary notions of meaning and value, as Christianity was before the Age of Reason.
That in itself defines one of the central themes of the predicament of our time. Progress makes a poor substitute for a deity, not least because its supposed omnipotence and benevolence are becoming increasingly hard to take on faith just now. There’s every reason to think that in the years immediately before us, that difficulty is going to become impossible to ignore — and the same shattering crisis of meaning and value that the religion of progress was meant to solve will be back, adding its burden to the other pressures of our time.
Listen closely, and you can hear the sound of the gravediggers who are coming to bury progress.