Dear Americans, with regards to Cuba:

Did you know that the water in Flint Michigan is *still* poisoned? Did you know that 1 in 5 American children live in poverty? Did you know that America has more of its citizens in prison than any other country on Planet Earth, both in per capita terms and overall? Did you know that many of those prisoners are used as slave labor to make products for large corporations while only getting a few cents an hour? Have you read the 13th amendment? Did you know that this week in North Dakota the American government is initiating violence against peaceful protesters (i.e. its own citizens), injuring hundreds, and costing one woman her arm, just so a corporation can put an oil pipeline into the ground in the name of profits?

If I’ve never heard you be consistently outspoken about all of these things, then I definitely don’t want to hear your ass lecturing the world on Castro’s “human rights violations”. When did Castro have slavery? When did Castro have segregation? When did Cuba drop a nuke on 100,000 women and children? When did Cuba invade two countries, slaughtering over 100,000 civilians? When did Cuba under Castro commit genocide? When did Cuba prioritize profit over people In their healthcare system? When did Cuba lock up millions of people and subject them to slave labor?

How dare anyone who defends American Capitalism talk about human rights and morality. The moment you defend this rotten system, you lose all credibility.

Another thing: I’ve noticed a lot of Americans call Fidel Castro a dictator, as if we don’t live in a dictatorship ourselves. Do you really think that being able to pick between two rich people every four years means you are free? Do you really think that you have any more voice in your government than the average Cuban citizen has in theirs?

Cuba isn’t perfect, no place is. But, pound for pound, its better than America. Can you imagine what Cuba could do if it was as wealthy as the United States? Do you think that if Cuba had the wealth and resources that the US has, that any of its children would go to bed hungry or have to drink poisoned water for 3 years? And do you think Cuba itself would struggle economically if the largest economy *in the world* didn’t impose a brutal decades-long trade embargo on it?

But even with all the obstacles Cuba faces, 90% of Cubans own their own home. There is a 99.99% literacy rate. There is NO homelessness and NO hunger. Every Cuban citizen has access to a world renowned healthcare system.

There are no billboards or commercials or advertisements. And there is a beautiful, diverse array of cultural and artistic expression.

There is plenty of corruption in the government, and the Castro government is more authoritarian than I would prefer (although given the geopolitical context they must operate in, and the fact that the U.S. has never stopped trying to instigate sabotage and overthrow their government, perhaps this is defensible). There are plenty of leftists organizing in Cuba trying to create a better, less repressive form of political organization. But capitalism is not the answer. They don’t want homeless people and hungry people and fast food restaurants on every corner. They don’t want the wealth inequality, exploitation, and environmental nihilism that comes with capitalism. They want a socialist economy with a freer political system.

I hope they get it. But the positives of Cuban society are not given nearly enough credit in the US, because far too many people passively absorb bourgeois propaganda instead of putting in the work of studying other countries and reaching their own conclusions.

I, for one, applaud the achievements of Cuban socialism, and I hope that the Cuban people can continue to build on those achievements going forward.

Rest in Peace, Fidel.

 

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Trump Is Not Our President

Fact: Only 25.5% of Americans voted for Trump. 25.6% voted for Hillary, about 2% voted third party, and over 46% didn’t even vote at all.

When we say “Trump is not our president”, we are not just making a statement about our values, we are making a statement about statistical and mathematical reality. The majority of Americans did NOT vote for Trump. His opponent (although horrible in her own unique ways) got more votes than him, and nearly half of Americans were so disgusted or uninterested in the election that they didn’t even want to vote for either candidate.

25% of any society taking over all three branches of the government is not democracy nor is it a representative republic. It is not a “victory for the majority”. Its an electoral coup…

So no, Trump is not my president. No, I will not “unite behind him”. I do not respect or recognize the legitimacy of the United States government, and nobody in that government represents me or my views. I am coerced into accepting this government only via the fact that the State has a monopoly on force and can put me in a cage if I try to act on my non-recognition of the legitimacy of them and their laws. Period.

The Importance of Protest in the Face of a Trump Adminstration

“What’s the point of protesting? The election is over, dude, this is pointless. Ugh.”

Answer: NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, Berkeley, L.A., Denver, and even lil ol’ Omaha erupted as tens of thousands of people in major cities all across the country took to the streets today…

What does it accomplish? It sets a tone. It shows political grievance. Protests are, and always have been, an important and legitimate way to do that. Women got the vote largely by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Black folks got civil rights by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Workers got the minimum wage and weekends and safe working conditions largely from taking to the streets and marching and protesting and not shutting up. Grassroots movements have been an essential part of every single shred of progress that this country, or any other, has ever achieved.

The intent is not to overturn the election; that’s impossible. It’s to show force and to let the new Administration know that millions of us are not okay with the right-wing take over of our government, and when/if they try to do anything that crosses a line, we will shut shit down. We will be a constant source of political agitation.

Try to build a wall and send out deportation squads to split up families?
We will march on Trump Tower.
Try to take away women’s reproductive rights?
We will march on the Capitol.
Try to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, or push through DAPL, and threaten our water sources?
We will march on the White House.

This is politics. This is democracy. This is one side showing the other side that we won’t take it lying down; that they can’t just do whatever they want with no backlash. We will be a thorn in the fucking side of the Trump administration every damn step of the way. And if you don’t like that, If that just fucking rubs you the wrong way, then just do what you’ve always done: make cynical comments on Facebook, vote every few years, and be overly-flattered with yourself. It’s no sweat off our backs. You are irrelevant, and we got work to do.

Six Ways of Approaching and Interpreting Marxism

Marxism, like many philosophical traditions, is a huge series of concepts and ideas with plenty of complexity and nuance. Too often discussions of Marxism are befuddled and unproductive because people are using the term in different ways than their conversational partner, and so they end up talking past one another. What I want to do here is propose six basic ways of approaching and studying Marxism in an effort to bring some of these complexities and nuances to light, and thereby, hopefully, increase clarity and understanding with regards to discussions of Marx and Marxism. I am motivated to do this because I think Marx, more than ever, offers an essential and important way of orienting oneself to current social, political, and economic events in the pursuit of understanding them fully. However, for a plethora of reasons, there continues to be a stigma attached to Marx and Marxism, and a large reason for this is because so much confusion exists as to what exactly it is; I hope this short essay will clear some of that confusion up.

Here are six general ways of understanding Marxism (in no particular order):

1) As a historical, empirical subject of study: If you were asked, for example, to do a paper on Marx in a college class, you would likely approach him in this  way; as a subject of third-person research or of a biography, in which the historical facts of his life and writings are explicated in as objective a way as possible.

2) As a doctrine: as a core set of ideas. This is done by extracting what one considers to be the central points of Marxism, and molding them into a coherent doctrine that can be subscribed to or refuted. This involves abstracting away from any changes in his thought over time in order to put forward a cohesive net of basic ideas. It is a rational reconstruction of Marx’s thought based on what one believes to be the most important, or most central, aspect of his thought. 

3) As a conceptual revolution: One could view Marx, fundamentally, as starting a *tradition* of thought; as re-conceptualizing capitalism and history, and thereby spawning a philosophical and political tradition. Much like Darwin and Freud re-conceptualized biology and the mind, starting long traditions which expanded on, edited, corrected, and carried forward those basic ideas.

4) As a branching-off: You could study the thought of *the people who called themselves Marxists* throughout history (Lenin, Adorno, Althusser, Gramsci, Debord, Kautsky, Luxemburg, etc.). So Marxism just becomes a loosely connected net of different strains of thought as represented by different thinkers after Marx. In this interpretation, Marxism becomes identical to the thought of historical figures who called themselves Marxist.

5) As a historical application: You could study Marxism merely by studying the ways in which his ideas were put into practice, focusing more on how they operated in the real world (Soviet Union, Cuba, China, etc.) instead of on the ideas themselves or the methodology he proposed. In this interpretation, Marxism most often becomes synonymous with Leninism and Stalinism. Many of Marxism’s opponents take up this interpretation as the ONLY valid interpretation for obvious reasons.

6) As a methodology: as an interpretive lens through which one can make sense of historical and political events and through which one can analyze the economic paradigm. It can be seen as a continuing project of consistently applying the methodology that Marx put forward. Under this view, it matters less what the exact ideas of Marx himself were, and instead focuses on the WAY in which Marx proposed we analyze the world.

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I study Marxism largely via #3 and #6. And insofar as I call myself a Marxist, I mean that I view him as a conceptual revolutionary who put forward an interpretive lens and a methodology (namely historical and dialectical materialism, theory of alienation, the critique of political economy, etc.) that I find particularly useful in analyzing current social, political, historical, and economic events. It is not a dogma or a doctrine to which I blindly adhere, rather its a general approach I take, fully backed up and informed by my own critical thinking, ethical values, and political / historical context. Beyond that basic orientation to Marxism, I also find #4 extremely important. Marx was just a human being, and as such he was wrong about a lot, and many thinkers that came after him took his thought in new and exciting directions, and expanded on his philosophy in such a way that it was improved and updated, and continues to be improved and updated. I place myself in that long tradition of people who studied Marx and his philosophical heirs, and who continue to update Marxism and apply it in new and unique contexts (as Marx himself would have wanted).

But NONE of these ways of interpreting Marxism are completely wrong. All of them are valid ways of studying Marxism, its just a matter of realizing that all these approaches exist and are valid in their own ways, and then being conscious about how you are using the terms involved at any given moment.

Lots of confusion stems from people talking past one another by using different approaches without being clear, in their own minds as well as explicitly, about which one they are using. I’ll often get into arguments with people interpreting Marxism STRICTLY as #5, when I am using it in the ways outlined by #3 and #6. Such discussions are bound to fail because we are literally talking about different things without realizing it, and no constructive dialogue can blossom out of that fundamental miscommunication.

So, whether you are sympathetic to Marxism or are firmly opposed to it, I hope you keep these distinctions in mind going forward, and do your best to articulate them explicitly when engaging in dialogue about Marx and Marxism. It’s not only an intellectual obligation, its also a moral one, because in these times of rapid change, ubiquitous corruption, and constant upheaval, understanding Marx, and what he had to offer, is more important than ever.

The Embrace Of Sadness And The Deepening Of The Self

At the core of my being is a profound sadness. I would say that my predominant life-emotion is sadness; melancholy representing it in its most beautiful and poetic form, and clinical depression (from which I suffer intermittently) representing it in its most explicitly bleak form.

I’m not sad person in the sense that I’m outwardly and obviously sad all the time, but it’s always just below the surface; bubbling. My eyes well up with tears on a near daily basis, and have my entire adult life. Anything can provoke it, from a random lyric in a song, to a news story, to mere moments of silence. I view life as fundamentally tragic. And it is.

Our lives are fleeting, fragile, largely meaningless, and marked by violent injustice and personal loss. In our personal lives, we are forced to watch as everyone we love grows old, gets sick, and eventually dies. The older we get, the more funerals we attend. Life is a waiting room where, one by one, we watch everyone we care about march into their graves while we wait for our turn; a macabre conveyer belt of death. Zooming out and looking at civilization as a whole, we realize that we live in a society which elevates the shallowest aspects of our nature to the level of what we blindly call “culture”: from endless, vacuous consumerism, to soul-crushing and time-stealing wage labor, to the obsessive and ubiquitous focus on hyper-individualism, selfishness, and competition, which destroys any semblance of community and leaves us feeling isolated, alienated, and perpetually dissatisfied. Add to that the constant barrage of natural disasters, mass shootings, war, and disease, and life, both personally and generally, is often overwhelming in its wretchedness.

To open your eyes to the world is to open them up to abysses of despair and mountains of triviality.

For sensitive, intellectual people our world is a monstrosity, punctuated only far too rarely by brief moments of elation and happiness. Moments which fade quickly, and serve only to remind of us of their oppressive infrequency.

My personal transition from adolescence to adulthood was defined by a long period of clinical depression. The naiveté and sense of joy that had marked my childhood crumbled into dust when I first had to get a shitty job and I realized that this was what the rest of my life, and all of our lives, consisted of: going to work, coming home, paying bills, and going back to work. That revelation was so disorienting and dark that I fell into the worst depression of my life, and stayed there until I had to be hospitalized for it. I was admitted into a psych-ward for a week, while a team of psychiatrists and doctors tried to figure out how to treat me. There solution of medication worked long enough for me to get out of the hospital, but soon failed miserably. The sadness I had, while partially neuro-chemical, was fundamentally existential, and there is no treatment for that. When the disease is life itself, what pill could I swallow to make it better? The answer was then as it is now: none.

I do not want to sound hyperbolically bleak. All things considered, I am a very blessed man. I have a nice apartment, two wonderful, healthy kids who I love more than I could put into words, a fiancé, and a great set of family and friends who love me deeply. I am not in desperate poverty. I do not have any serious health problems. And my job, while utterly meaningless and morally unfulfilling, grants me a surplus of downtime in which I can read and write (and get paid for it!).

I do not walk around life with my head down in a state of indefinite emotional despair. In fact, most of my adult life has been a project of learning how to live in the midst of this tragedy. Without recoiling into medication or therapy, I’ve been able to cobble together some basic strategies for living with my head above water, appreciating the small things in life, and keeping my sanity. In my personal life, I’m extremely lighthearted and often humorous. No one who interacts with me on a daily basis would use the term “sad” to describe me. But that is not because I hide it from people, its because, all things considered, I am fairly well-adjusted and have been able to put together an assortment of mechanisms by which I can live. Humor, parenthood, and a handful of hobbies are primary ways that I cope with life.

But the sadness is always there. The darkness is always there.

But accepting this, and even embracing it, has allowed me room to exist. In fact, I would argue that there is beauty, and the promise of growth, in the embrace of one’s own sadness. Sadness, when not violently catapulted into clinical depression, is actually a very gentle, often sublime emotion. When we stop resisting it, or trying to escape it, we can allow it to operate within us and therefore to deepen us.  Sadness, once embraced, can function like a rain that, over time, erodes away the hardness of our internal lives and carves out room for empathy, gentleness, and even love. It can soften us, and through that softening, it can make us better, more connected, more authentic human beings. When we come face to face with the tragedy of our own life, we can see the tragedy in everyone’s life. Our sadness is the sadness of being human, and by extending that realization outward, we foster compassion and love for other human beings. And that, perhaps, is the foundation on which a better world can be built…