Down to Earth

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The majority of Americans tuned into the televised Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Pundits across the country are still grappling with the reality that Trump, the Republican candidate and real estate tycoon may yet become the nation’s 46th President. The belief held by most of the punditry is rooted in the cult of personality.

Trump’s personal embodiment is that of a boorish, unrefined, racially insensitive, misogynistic, and megalomaniacal demagogue. Clinton on the other hand is teaming with years of political experience, tenacity, levelheadedness, and quite clearly presidential nous.The line of thinking one can attribute to media commentators and the political class is simply one of shortsighted denial.

Another observation is that the experts are simply out of touch with the sentiments affecting a large demographic number in the country and the world. The assumptions held by this largely privileged clique are anchored on the unexamined expertise of the currently entrenched oligarchies. They are also at the core of the neoliberal ideologies mesmerizing most of the western political establishment since the seventies.

The political class has failed to grasp the discontent gripping many voters. The malaise is fundamental to understanding the distrust aimed at the elites of both main parties. A mistrust stemming from the formulaic dispositions of the ruling voices, moreover the persistence of pursuing policy prescriptions allied to the discourse of globalization.

Free trade and capital mobility seems to have its positives, limited advantages incurred by businesses profiting from cheap labor and by a further dwindling consumer class. In America and especially in the post-industrial rust belt people are facing wage stagnation. For them the median income has fallen far behind the rate of inflation with even the prospect of an education failing to reap its touted promise.

Besides the over 70% of college graduates with student loan debt, a great number of graduates are dealt a very common possibility of prolonged joblessness. Social mobility in many instances has become a far fledged hope. This is where I assert that Trump’s supposed weaknesses are actually his strengths. His abrasive mannerisms rather than comically isolate him from the sympathy of voters, has endeared him to those disheartened by a political culture that seems to dispense with their concerns.

I believe these individuals are motivated not so much by what Trump offers or says but by what Clinton represents. The engineered campaign of democratic dogmas has left many voters feeling a sense of ostracization. Politics as usual has reaffirmed an anxiety that the political system is rigged. For these often overlooked constituencies the political center has left them bereft of representation.

When the Democratic candidate uses language such as “uninformed basement dwellers”, it can only serve to further marginalize voters. Especially those who would have preferred Bernie Sanders as the Democratic candidate. Clinton’s descriptive portrayal of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables” couldn’t have helped her campaign’s “down to earth” strategy.

Quite predictably the media and party elites are far removed from the issues affecting many forgotten Americans. Across the globe voters are expressing their frustration. Europe in particular has paid witness to strong opposition to centrist positions. The disenchanted seem keen on sending a message. For the establishment this general upheaval probably won’t bode well in November.

 

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The Will to Organization

Advice focusing on channeling the powers of the ego to ensure the success of organizations and groups seems to pointedly ignore the benefits of co-operation. Don’t get me wrong; I’m of the opinion that all sentient beings are driven by ego. In so many ways my views don’t venture too far from Schopenhauer’s conception of “Will”.

At this point most of you might be thinking: “what does a 19th Century philosopher have to offer a 21st Century organizational model?” I’d say a great deal but the key contribution is his idea of Will as the driving force behind human action.

The philosopher’s concept of Will is multi-faceted. I want to focus on the most elemental point. The clearest explanation I’ve come across is highlighted within this phrase:

As long as we rely only on experience, the only thing we can know is how things appear on the outside, by how they seem to our senses. Only in the case of my own self is it possible for me to turn within and know it’s fundamental inner nature. And when I do turn inward and try understand what it is at its central core, what I will encounter in there is pure life drive. The pure energy, force, and urge at the center of all life. That is what “Will” is.

The idea is simple. We can only know the external as perception. The ‘inner’ knowledge we have is that of ourselves or the pure energy, drive, and urge at the center of living. What Schopenhauer calls Will. With this information it’s tempting to conclude that Will is primarily ego-driven hence humans are prone to be focused on personal and individual satisfaction.

I won’t fully disagree with this superficial interpretation. In the world of businesses and organizations, individuals are motivated by success. Success can bring satisfaction, it’s the primary component motivating individuals to achieve under the umbrella of organizations.

The pure energy driving this motivation can be varied but it seems to me short-sighted to insist that it’s simply a self-motivated impulse that propels people into action. I view the ego as a complicated concoction that seeks out approval and a sense of collective incentive as much as it desires the gratification of certain selfish impulses.

Businesses and organizations function as groups. Individuals continue to join and form groups out of an enlightened self-interest. That is they co-operate with one another for selfish reasons. We often see in complex interactions that people tend to be nice to one another for self-interested reasons. Most people adopt a “Tit-for-Tat” strategy where all involved parties gain some mutual benefit.

Reciprocity is the key element in explaining the general agreeableness between individuals in competition. Beneath the seeming glory of outperforming colleagues measured against each other, collaboration seems to generate a more satisfactorily advantage.

In environments where some sort human interaction needs to occur, which is true of the most basic of situations. Focusing primarily on individual incentive as the catapult of motivation could be a very narrow interpretation.

Like Schopenhauer I believe that individuals are driven by an inner urge that can’t be anything but the ego. However, I tend to see this drive as a labyrinthine contributor of human activity that the rational mind fails to fully comprehend.

From an organizational viewpoint it seems fundamental to me that a results-driven obsession with productivity be reconsidered. More than simply enjoying the fruits of all their labor, other processes are behind what motivates individuals. A more conscious acceptance of this dilemma would be a good place to start.

Double Play: Visual Poetry & Some History

Double Play

Photo of Richard Linklater and James Benning  (Photo Credit: Mubi, Courtesy of Gabe Klinger)

Enthusiasts of the cinematic tradition can agree that the medium is a catalyst for the exploration of history. Irrespective of the format, an intriguing film establishes a platform for the investigation of a director. Gabe Klinger’s Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater: is in sync with this sensibility but will echo further to those who adamantly aim to achieve their visions.

The movie about two central figures in cinema, James Benning and Richard Linklater, feels nothing like a modern documentary. A particular strength of this film is it’s effortless cohesion of technique and substance. Klinger offers his subjects the proper space as they explore observed intricacies of time, sports, and film.

Interspersed are montages of clips from the films of both directors. Involved with the connections and shared experiences, the film convinces us of the possibilities of cinema and more importantly the blessings of friendship.

In a moment of hyper-media excursions covering a broad range of creative artists, the process of documenting them can at times seem a pompous whim. The film Shut Up and Play The Hits about James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame is an example of this tedium. Luckily Double Play is on the opposite spectrum, a serious yet far from self-conscious peak into the complexities of two cinematic artists.

The credit is primarily Klingers’ who wisely steers clear of interpretive devices and simply lets the directors speak for themselves. By doing so Klinger effortlessly summons the magic that seems an instinctual aspect of both Benning and Linklater. In retrospect the viewers get a deeper understanding of the minds of two filmmakers as well as a poetic delineation of an engaging relationship.

We journey into important places for the directors, usually related to aspects of their work. When they chat and play ball, the discussion concerning sports reveals how baseball helped opened their forays into making movies. Little snippets on memory and the passage of time blend seamlessly with excerpts from their films.

Klinger inserts the montages to help accentuate the topics occupying Benning and Linklater. One point made by both Benning and Linklater delves into the heart of this film. Exchanging views on innovation, both directors affirm their ambitions of challenging assumptions on what it means to make films.

In many ways Double Play is a simple investigation on film-makers yet goes beyond this typical homage. The film convincingly and artfully conveys the universalities of time, friendship, and obsessions.

Double play: James Benning and Richard Linklater won the Venizia Classici Award for Best Documentary on Cinema. The film funded primarily through the success of a Kickstarter campaign should offer sober encouragement for budding cinéastes. In a screening at the Music Box theater in Chicago, Klinger was modest in his own appraisal stating he just wanted a chance to interview two of his own film idols.

In a recent discussion with Indie Outlook he explains there wasn’t an immediate realization Double Play could become feature material. The rewards are apparent as the film clearly provides a thorough aesthetical and historical examination of Benning’s and Linklater’s films. I can only imagine the class and quality of his future endeavours when he is certain of an ideas’ potential.

A Billy Bud Moment

Photo of Herman Melville

Photo of Herman Melville (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, a Sailor (1962) aptly conveys the propensity for human self-deception. Captain Edward Vere applies a strict-scrutiny adherence to naval law and condemns Billy Bud to death for accidentally killing his superior John Claggart. Claggart falsely accusing Billy of mutiny generates the dispute between shipmates, due to his speech impediment Billy’s immediate response is manifested physically. The question Vere faces examines the convictions of upholding the law even as it reveals its own moral inconsistencies. Billy’s fate is sealed as soon as he lands the fatal blow. Vere constructs the terms based on his narrow-mindedness: “His settled convictions were as a dyke against those invading waters of novel opinion, social, political and otherwise” (Melville, 1962). The final judgment is acquired through self-deception; Vere convinces himself of the superiority of his ideas and in doing so, “never heeds the frontier” (Melville, 1962) or faces reality.

Acts of war involve human costs, usually at the behest of appropriating the authority of one action over another. Political leaders determine this based on whether gains outweigh losses. The rhetorical options are nothing more than a self-deceptive practice, especially considering the entanglement of people’s lives. Irrespective of the course of history or the context of any specific period, the ethical considerations that ensue following acts of war persist through generations. The collateral costs beg us to ruminate whether war can ever be deemed moral? No matter how President Obama presents his case concerning military action in Syria, the moment is rife with self-deception. The push for war in Syria outlines a certain disavowal of relevant information and the responsibility entailed.

The clearest examples of moral inconsistencies in history are found in the American Civil War and World War II. Despite their reputation as two of the more just wars in history, the collateral damage that concurred suggests an entirely different narrative. The American Civil war was partially waged to ensure the freedom of Black Americans from compulsory enslavement. The failures of President Lincoln and Johnson’s Reconstruction hampered the South, as Freedmen became second-class citizens and poverty prevalent. The Jim Crow laws that resulted systematized a number of economic, educational, and social disadvantages for Black and poor white Americans. The compromise reached in1877 that ended reconstruction removed Federal encroachment on the politics of the Southern States. The deal granted Hayes the Presidency yet emboldened the South to pursue agendas related to “separate but equal” policies.

The effects of World War II also demonstrate the moral inconsistencies and self-deception of Western Allies in their commitments. The overriding reason behind the alliance within the European theater was to prevent Nazi Germany from expanding their fascist objective as well as prohibiting the spread of totalitarianism. The historical evidence of the Munich Agreement and Yalta Conference provide a contradictory picture as it relates to buffering totalitarianism. The concessions of the central and eastern blocs of Europe to Stalin pertain to nothing more than Realpolitik. The results left many Baltic States feeling betrayed and existentially isolated. The political gamble may have kept Western Europe and the United States from an un-winnable war with the Soviets. The long-term cost initiated the nightmarish Cold War, which sustained tensions between the East and West until 1991.

The outcomes of warfare leave disadvantageous guarantees. Moral considerations cannot be overlooked through the use philosophical methods. Convictions of political authorities over the benefits of war can only be reached through a dissociative relationship with reality. Captain Vere decides Billy Bud’s fate through some disconnection with other moral considerations. The spoils of victory are obtained through the denial and elimination of the opposing side. There is technically no way of approaching war pragmatically. Pragmatism suggests approaching decisions based on practicality or success. In war human lives are sacrificed for declared ends, the loss of life should never imply success. Realpolitik as a philosophical tool for the discourse of war is a dissociative one that denies the other integrated whole. The consideration of some moral obligations over others concerning military action in Syria reflects the American Governments very own Billy Bud moment.

Reference:

HERMAN MELVILLE. Billy Budd, Sailor. Eds. Hayford, Harrison and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1962.

The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) and Authoritarianism

The incongruity surrounding the initiation of the year 2012 on December 31st 2011, predictably went over the heads of a populace bubbling with infotainment rather than information. Whilst revelers were fawning the arrival of yet another year that would presumably bring them a period of transition worth celebrating, the President of the United States was signing the National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA. The President also offered a signing statement that read:

 I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists… I decided to sign this bill not only because of the critically important services it provides for our forces and their families and the national security programs it authorizes, but also because the Congress revised provisions that otherwise would have jeopardized the safety, security, and liberty of the American people. Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded…

I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.

The Bill though a far cry from what has been described by some civil liberties advocates as America’s “Maya Moment” a doomed precipice “when the nation embraced authoritarian powers with little more than a pause between rounds of drinks.” Should concern anyone apprehensive about the Executive’s military detention authority and the closing of the Guantánamo Bay Prison.

Besides granting The Executive Branch broader authority and presumable preference for indefinite military detention, rather than criminal arrest and prosecution for suspected terrorists as described in section 1022, the bill also contains troubling provisions as highlighted in Subtitle D (“Counterterrorism”) that will continue to hinder the possibility of closing the Guantánamo detention facility. Contrary to some reports concerning the “authority” provision of subtitle D, section 1021 in which congress has made military trials and indefinite detention a permanent part of American law, the section as is expressly noted does no such thing. Marty Lederman and Steven Vladeck analyze the section in a their own review as such:

To be sure, as David Cole notes, the law will “put [] Congress’s stamp” on a particular interpretation of the Executive’s military detention authority. But that is hardly surprising: The AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) interpretation reflected in section 1021 is the one the Obama Administration has been pressing upon the habeas courts since March 2009, namely, that the executive has the authority—to the extent consistent with, and as informed by, the laws of war—to militarily detain a person “who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks,” or a person “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

The only context in which this standard has played out thus far in the GTMO (Guantánamo) habeas proceedings is in determining whether particular detainees can be held in military detention on the basis that they are “part of” al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or an “associated” force, or co-belligerent, of al-Qaeda or the Taliban that is likewise “engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” As applied to such persons, judges across the jurisprudential spectrum have approved the DOJ (Department of Justice) standard, following the lead of the Supreme Court’s explanation in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the AUMF should be construed in light of “longstanding law-of-war principles” to authorize the detention of enemy forces “for the duration of the particular conflict in which they were captured,” for the purpose of preventing them “from returning to the field of battle and taking up arms once again.”

The section underlies what the courts have already authorized in short; the relevant schism concerns such concentrated power being appropriated into a piece of legislation. The facts surrounding the NDAA though more sober than what has been dispensed by critics including myself, should not deter the overarching questions most reasoned individuals have about the broader implications of unhindered Executive power. History has revealed repeatedly the folly of authoritarian policy pursued by political leaders in a number of varying circumstances, which has more often than not lead to inevitable tyranny and further social unrest.

The NDAA has justly brought to light serious reservations concerning the proper role of Presidential powers. The NDAA has also persuaded many to view the bill as a further extension of the Government to legitimize torture, authorize warrantless surveillance, and approve of certain war crimes. The broad and often obfuscating language in the bill seems to conjure instances of doublespeak, where an ever-suffocating war on terror reaches a socially acceptable and codified infinitesimal inevitability, a war that further consolidates the political leadership of the country to legitimate hovering infringements on the constitutional rights of citizens.

The problems are vast and the absurdities of war help to propel the arguments of governments to institute particular provisions, more so when the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist” can become arbitrarily applied. In moments such as these it is of vital importance that those supportive of social democracies and of maintaining a political infrastructure that has a proper balance of power, remain prepared to question the wisdom of the political classes and hold them accountable.

Apocalypse (Introduction)

Human history is fraught with examples of mankind reaching a summit, an eclipse, or a sort of end. The term “apocalypse” refers directly to these kinds of circumstances, instances pertaining to a religious or eschatological scenario derived directly from the monotheistic tradition and the plethora of literature expressing the visions of various secular apocalypses; apocalypses that are extremely indicative of the modern human paradigm.  I refer to the term “apocalypse” incorporating a similarly broad analogy that attempts to encompass more sociologically holistic phenomena.

The task is one attempting to sculpt a more definitive model of the direct relationship between history and modernity.  The hermeneutic pool one dives into when approaching these kinds of topics suggests an exercise submerged in perplexity, yet there are numerous invocations of the term and context of apocalypse that make sense of this historically unprecedented scenario (Hall, 2009). The most forthright examples of the modern (secular) paradigm are:

  • 2012 phenomenon– eschatological beliefs incorporating various interpretations of cataclysmic and transformative events of which include:
    • New age interpretation:  earth & inhabitants undergo a positive spiritual & physical transformation (Stitler, 2006).
    • End of world scenario: solar maxim – earth collides with a black hole, asteroid, or the planet “Nibiru”.
  • Environmental collapse – theory centered on a planet threatened by ecological disaster that threatens to decimate human populations at an unprecedented scale.
  • Societal collapse – a theory derived from systems science that explains how societies decline either abruptly or gradually through the common disruption of:  social cohesion, economic growth, and adaptability (Tainter, 1990).

 I want to note that both the environmental and the societal collapse theories although loosely apocalyptic in the sense that allows us to conceptualize societal decline, are competent social theories that avoid the trappings of most pseudoscience. The underlining contexts of both theories however, are in no way absent of the teleological constraints or paradigms that are the definitive mark within other forms of apocalyptic literature. I have made the decision to incorporate these theories with the intention of broadcasting the amplest evidence and to delineate the different kinds of apocalypses, in this instance the types where collapse signifies a cataclysmic and transformative event.

The inclination to focus on the apocalypse is merely to spotlight the habitual determination of humanity’s attempt to explain the present condition or present crises. The odyssey though fraught with folly and perhaps a bit of stubborn delusion as to the central role mankind plays in determining the future and the state of being, is one that is uniquely human and perhaps a crucial detail that differentiates humanity from other animals.

REFERENCES

 Robert K. Sitler (2006).  The 2012 Phenomenon: New Age Appropriation of an Ancient Mayan Calendar.  Novo Religio: the Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Joseph Tainter (1990). The Collapse of Complex Societies (Cambridge University Press).

Michael Hall (2009).  Apocalypse: From Antiquity to The Empire of Modernity. (Polity, CA)