Vile Maxims 

Adam Smith wrote that the ‘masters of mankind,’ who at the time were the manufacturing owners in England, pursue their vile maxim: “everything for ourselves and nothing for other people.”

Noam Chomsky has written at great length about how this is as true today as it was when Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations. I cannot possibly improve on the case the great professor makes in a mere essay, but simply draw out a few strands and hold them closer to the light.

There’s something very wrong about the world we live in. People tell me that the problem is deeply rooted in human nature. That we cannot possibly change it, that greed and self interest are as much a part of what makes us human as our opposable thumbs and brain size. Greed makes people abuse welfare. Greed makes people steal and use drugs. And greed makes massive financial institutions wreak havoc on the world economy behind their responsibility and demand (and get) a bailout from the taxpayer. The first two cases in which greed informs behaviour are harshly punished. The latter is not.

This is not news to anyone. Even the most reptilian neo-liberal accepts that corporate greed is negative (or perhaps they don’t, I am not particularly interested in knowing). If only because it makes the corporate interests lobby governments to pervert the free market to their own ends. But the masters of mankind have us tied up in the belief that Human Nature cannot be changed. If greed is not good then at least it is ineradicable. That way the masters can continue their plunder of the world while the rest of us toil for less and less.

I don’t think greed is necessarily a part of human nature. In fact empirical evidence taken from the myriad forms of human society demonstrates the weakness of the human nature claim. Pre-european Māori tribes engaged in inter-tribal warfare (that increased dramatically after Europeans brought the musket), but Māori society was remarkably stable, and quite immune from the pressures we like to worry about. Like individual property rights.

Our society is built to be greedy. That is capitalist nature, not human. We built the society, and we can fix it. How do we do it? A violent Revolution? I am not at all sure that storming the proverbial Bastille is the way to go. Instead, I want to look at the ails of society, which is what Marx and Engels were concerned with in the very first place. Deny and disagree with their conclusions if you wish, but their analysis of industrialization was deadly accurate. You don’t have to answer for Stalin if you invoke Marxist theories, just as supporters of Bernie Sanders do not have to answer for Trump. I say that as a throat clearing for any vocal critics.

What needs to happen now is the lower 90% of people who would have been known once as the proletariat, has to reclaim the power they once had as factory workers to unionize and agitate against the bourgeoisie. Over the years the means of production have been outsourced and the working class thereby disempowered. A sweatshop worker in China cannot hold Nike to account, multi-nationals assume the privileged of being neo-states in all but landmass. Financial regulation and deregulation espoused by the frightful hack Alan Greenspan established the new proletariat dubbed the ‘precariat’ because the working class is now characterized by insecurity. Zero-hour contracts, no health insurance, fire at will policies, the erosion of welfare so that the worker who predictably loses their job cannot pay their rent or their bills. All for ourselves and nothing for other people, the vile maxim sits at the heart of this filthy Society.

But it is based on a lie. This is not a zero sum world. Advances for some people are not necessarily imply detraction for others. If you are fortunate to be thriving in this Society I do not want to injure you or harm your prospects. I want to meet Society work for more people, like trans and non-binary people. The poor, the ill, those abandoned by Society and kept in cages. The first step is to listen to these people, the second is to make concessions. In order to get to that place it needs to be accepted that workers have rights and must be able to agitate for better conditions. They can continue to represent themselves better than any demagogue hoisting the red flag.

Lastly, security needs to be attained in all its complexity, not just in physical terms when considering domestic and international terrorism. The American Dream was about individual security. A family sustaining itself without government interference. That dream is dead as long as workers are precarious on the edge of oblivion. So be cautious when dubious and smug politicians talk about the economy. The word they actually mean to say is plutonomy, and growth for 0.1% does not strengthen the economy overall. But it does invite them to lavish parties on expensive yachts and stroke them in just the right way.

Instead of citing particular pages, much of this essay is based on Noam Chomsky’s Who Rules the World. Additional reading from The Meaning of Marxism by Paul D’Amato.

My Little Piece of Paradise 

There is a spot I go to in my little house that sends me places. I can tread countless continents with no passport; time and space is completely pliable, the only constraint is my own wretched imagination.

After spending many years wandering through strange markets, dodging eight handed pick pockets and avoiding the sellers of the deep space, pink bellied whale (a delicacy known to cause reverse hair growth), I’ve avoided — for the most part — laying my tales before living eyes. But I think there is a good reason to now.

 To follow me on my journeys you will need a suitable passport which I will endeavour to provide. Just how to get this to you dear one, I do not yet know. But I will get right on it after I have dealt with the thief who has made up with my sandwich bag. He may lose a hand for this!

The Cold Light 

The rush of the moment can be exquisite, but perilous. An angry tweet can destroy a friendship, or a presidency, or simply be lost in a fog of a million other tweets. Thinking with the knees is not really thinking at all.

This thought comes to me as I read about the terrorist attack in London, which has killed at least five people including the attacker outside the Houses of Parliament. The nationalist instinct bubbling beneath the surface of British politics will almost certainly break through again. Attacked within from without, us and them, the wicked measures to enhance security suddenly necessary.

The political impacts of this are unsurprising. We are living in security states that exist entirely at the mercy of politicians knees. Whichever way they jerk affects us all, and it is all about thinking. I hope it is clear that the the current security measures worked. The attacker was stopped. Parliament was not invaded. There need not be more security measures as a response.

What this means for Scottish independence I do not know, although I am sceptical that attacking the nation’s parliament arms nationalists with overt ferver because many people were feeling misrepresented by Parliament anyway. Had it been in the attack on the duke and duchess of Cambridge at Kensington Palace, things might be different.
As the day draws to a close and the bodies go to the morgue, and families pass a sleepless night in mourning, I hope real thought returns with the cold light. Anything else is maddness.

Who is Orrin Hatch?

Orrin Hatch is the senior US Senator from the State of Utah, who in 2015 became the President pro tempore of the Senate. This honor is conferred on the most senior senator of the majority party, and according to the Constitution the President pro tempore presides over the senate in place of the Vice-President who is also the President of the Senate, whenever they are absent. In practice they don’t actually preside at all, the office being more ceremonial which suits the incumbent who is a crusty 82 years old. However, should the President be incapacitated, the Vice-President indisposed, and Speaker Ryan unavailable due to being too high on the prospect of depriving poor people of health-care, the President pro tempore succeeds to the Presidency.

Old Orrin has served in the Senate since 1977, and and ran for President in 2000 with a platform that claimed his website was more accessible than George W Bush’s. As strong as this was, it wasn’t quite enough to convince the GOP who at the time were still convinced that Y2k would infect their computers and turn them gay. Orrin has been busy in the last 17 years though, ducking in and out of the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opposing abortion, advocating 14 year old offenders to be treated as adults and punished harshly for petty crimes, and Chairing the Finance Committee.

He is seen as pro-business, anti-gay, pro-state death penalty, pro-stem cell research, pro-war on drugs, pro-prayer in schools, anti-environment, pro-Israel, anti-Iran, pro-NATO, and since Trump won the Republican nomination for President; pro-Trump.

I am writing about him because I think it is valuable to take a little time to take a closer look at some of the peripheral shadows in the US government. What they do affects us, and without the occasional closer look we run the danger of inhaling the junk statistics and rectal generalizations that people love to throw around in order to seem intelligent.

Hatch doesn’t seem to want to seem intelligent, hence his support for nonsense and stupidity, and because of his position this makes for a somewhat dangerous figure. Having said this it looks like Hatch is drooling in ceremony now, and no longer much of an active participant in Republican skulduggery. He was absent at the 2017 inauguration of President Trump because as the designated survivor (a member of the line of succession kept in a safe place in case the entire US government is collectively vaporized) he was safe in an undisclosed location.

It is odd to consider these senators close up, rather like examining an ichneumon wasp through a jam jar, its ovipositor pulsating against the glass. Curious because American politics is so inhuman, so impervious to the logic of the rest of the world. IN Britain, Australia and New Zealand, with quaint parliamentary systems that actually work, a u-turn is treated severely and rarely forgotten. But Republican senators like Orrin Hatch who  through 2016 engaged in procedural gymnastics and contortion to prevent President Obama from carrying out his constitutional duty of filling vacancies in the Supreme Court, now call Democrats idiots in breach of Senate decorum for holding up Trump’s nomination.

What makes American politics different is not simply the bizarre constitutional system, or their fetishisation of liberty and freedom (I mean what are they, sex toys?), it is that there is no such thing as shame. You cannot cause Donald Trump to feel shame in himself, nor Paul Ryan, nor Bill and Hillary Clinton. The condition requires a standard upon which to hang,  and that standard is long gone, if it ever existed at all.

Burning Down the House

I keep wondering how many times the house can burn down. It goes on and on, the relentless nightly arson, and by now the inferno seems unstoppable. Yet there is still fresh fuel, more sections of the house to devour, and more opportunity for witty people to make fun of it. This would be hilarious if it weren’t for the screams of people burning. Some things are too crispy for humour.

The seven week old Trump Administration is tangled up in court again for using executive power to achieve racist goals. The doleful replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act (I won’t call it a health care plan because something that strips 24 million Americans of their health insurance does not deserve the name) is dying in Congress. Trump wants to move on to reforming the tax code, right when two pages of his 2005 tax return are leaked and can be used to quantify just how much he will personally benefit. And former President Obama wanders around paradise in a leather jacket with a $60 million book deal.

Just what sort of reality is this? Will Trump really fail for the rest of his term like he is failing now? His approvals are down to 43%, and the Bush zone (mid 30s) beckons. But I don’t expect that will give him any pause. Trump is 70, he’s not going to change, and as a majority of Americans get alienated from him the zealots of Breitbart News and InfoWars will only get louder in his ear. He seeks attention, praise, and thanks, but he doesn’t need it from everyone.

At the moment I am reminded of President Obama’s achievements and also the vitriol poured on him. Friends of mine who are otherwise incandescent in their intelligence get cantankerous and stupid when discussing Obama. Off the top of my head I can summarize his achievements. He passed a health reform act that remedied many of the worst things about private health insurance. It wasn’t universal healthcare by any means, but got the insurance rate up to over 90% of the population. He banned waterboarding enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and other torture by US personnel.

At home he also banned solitary confinement for juvenile offenders in federal prisons. He made guidelines for the protection of transgender students at schools — which was overturned a few weeks ago by Trump who likes to grab women’s genitals, on the advice of the right-wing hawks around him who are fascinated with the genitals of young people. Obama ended the US military policy on gays, don’t ask, don’t tell. He changed his mind on same-sex marriage and supported the successful case that went to the Supreme Court. He appointed two female supreme court justices, including the first Hispanic justice. He appointed the most culturally diverse cabinet in American history. He was the first President to make public the identities of those visiting the white house, and who he played golf with, because he truly believes that transparency matters.

He also saved the auto industry, bailing it out and overseeing it’s reorganization and reconstitution. It payed the bailout money back, because unlike Wall Street the auto industry actually makes something tangible. Obama also made the US energy independent through the oil and natural gas it produces domestically, and growing the renewable energy sector to the point where a future without fossil fuels is viable. He signed an international climate change agreement in Paris which actually sets reduction targets for the US and China, making the threat of climate change actually look surmountable.

Also abroad he negotiated with Syria to give up its chemical weapons stockpile — which it did — and he negotiated with the Iranians to nullify their offensive nuclear capacity. He changed US policy on Cuba to end a particularly stupid American foreign policy delusion that dates back to Eisenhower. He made public the details of the budget for the CIA, the first President to do so.

Yeah, I guess he failed. It’s all nullified by his failure to close Guantanamo Bay eh? Or his murderous drone strike program. Or domestic surveillance. Or the rise of ISIS. These things are blights on his record, but they are part of a larger picture, that of a pock-marked portrait of an American President. Of course, so far with Trump there’s no space between the pockmarks and nothing worth painting.

 

Censored 

I cannot continue this blog. I can no longer write under my own name because it doesn’t really belong to me.

Future writings will be under pseudonyms, so that nothing I write can bring anguish to those close to me. For the record, I have never wanted to write for a magazine or formal publication. If that has been the bar I’ve been judged by, it has been an error since the beginning. 
I have a few draft entries to complete before I leave. The website will remain until October when my account expires. At that point it will close. I just cannot write anymore. Thank you all.

Seeking Jacs

The internet revolution has brought countless photos and videos of people in various stages of undress. The variety is intended to satisfy an infinite range of desires, and to hold the viewers attention through more and more extreme content. That is, more and more of less and less. Less clothing, less inhibition, less dignity all around. 

I am referring to pornography, and the destruction of bona fide erotica by corporate means. But erotica refuses to die, and the fluid nature of desire means that marketers will never quite get ahead of their customers. And through the smog of negative impact the internet revolution  has caused, there are pockets of delicious fresh air where birds sing and dreams fly. 
I am talking about the umbrella term NSFW, or not safe for work, which is everything from porn blogs to the finest art. Plenty of this resides on the Tumblr platform, and though it is not in any way corporate, it is an industry. 
The artisans of this industry are who I want to focus on. I started following many of them on Tumblr, and the practice became part of my every day life. So what is the progression for someone consuming this particular kind of erotica every day? More and more of less and less? It didn’t lead to extreme gag porn. It didn’t destroy my intimate relationships  (I don’t have any). Instead it recentered my perceptions so nakedness and sex are separated. This is important because it has feminist implications. 

I have found that it is possible for the naked female form to not carry sexual connotations. This means that I seethe when people imply that women invite abuse by what they wear. Or that breastfeeding openly is ever inappropriate. I am not the argumentative arsehole that I used to be, but that is when I let the temperature beneath my collar boil over. 

Early last year I read that one of the artisans I follow was caught in a flash flood in remote USA. She survived, but her car and all her possessions did not. She appealed for help and turned her anguish into art. That was when I decided to become one of her patrons on Patreon, and pledge money every month in return for access to her body of work. 
I remain a patron.

Supporting an artist is terrific because of the fine art you have access to, but also because of the access I have to her personal story. Her art has changed over the course of a year, self nude studies get opaque with filters, and themes of isolation and anxiety become clear. Now she is makingand selling full photo books. No, this is more than just sex, this is life.

In her acceptance speech at the Oscars yesterday Viola Davis said that actors get to explore life itself. Actors, and Jacs Fishburne. From far across the seas I admire her more than she will ever know. Stay strong dear one.

To see her Patreon page and maybe pledge please go here: https://www.patreon.com/jacsfishburne/posts

To view her Tumblr page please go here:  http://blog.jacsfishburne.com/

She is an essayist too. Check out her awesome feminist essay here: http://www.patreon.com/posts/7542858

Some of the photos from Jacs Fishburne I have in my collection.

Personal Update – Getting through to creativity -photography

Okay, I followed my bolder instincts (the cautious ones are in a ditch somewhere) and am leaving my job in a week. Just wanted to update any regular readers. If you aren’t regular, but just dropped by for whatever reason, hello! I promise this will not be a long scrawl of sentimental soul retching. No, it’s just a short scrawl of sentimental soul retching.

Well then, here goes: Stress, isolation, poor-health/fatigue, and the fact that admin/analysis is absolutely not my bag makes Joe a very dull boy. I was a tad concerned that the bout of depression I’ve had would take me somewhere I do not wish anyone to ever go themselves; that far too many do.

This country — and many westernized countries — has a horrendous problem with mental health, and if I may be permitted to suggest one responsible factor (among many that far better people can analyse) I would say that the fact that no-one can (yet) see clearly into your head makes understanding someones mental state extremely difficult. Especially because, I say this as a chronic depressive, you don’t want to be seen as unwell. Capacity to do work dwindles, but at the same time fear and paranoia that the capacity might not come back — or people will take it away entirely — is ratcheted up.

As a person with a progressive disability, capacity and ability are sore spots for obvious reasons. The fear of being trapped into a situation where every effort goes into maintaining a diminishing standard of living, as the goals and ambitions I once had are realized by others… no. That is the garbled thinking of a mind looking only for exits. The world does not work like that. Achievement of goals by anyone (okay, anyone you don’t actively dislike, we all have our reasons) is positive, and should be celebrated.

Getting past that fear though… I shudder at the prospect while quickening my step. Leaving an intensely unsatisfying job is one thing, adjusting to the reality of not having a job is quite another. Along with developing my creative writing (which is tonic for the spirit and air to the wallet) I am investing in my photography/videography skills as my main source of income. But oh my, I have no clients! Well, I turn to you. If you need headshot portraits for your business, or want a promo video, or to discuss a creative project that I can help with, or know someone who is looking for someone to make this stuff, I really want to talk to you.

I specifically mention headshots and promo vids because I have done them before, and am comfortable with my level of experience that I will deliver a quality product.Geographically I am focusing on the Wellington region and Palmerston North (home sweet home). So if you want something outside these areas please hold fire until I can get this thing set up. Gotta start somewhere!

I’ve done quite a bit of stuff for free in the past, and I love to do it so it will continue. But, I have to be able to pay rent and the utility bills, so paying projects are the priority. In a week I will be changing my website to include information about the services I can provide, and I’ll be putting together a portfolio over the next month.

What to do, what?

Okay, so I’m a little lost in my own thoughts; I am not completely sure what I have said to people, and what I have merely pondered. So I write it down here both for my own reference and to stop me sliding back and denying this. If you think this is oversharing, I can only say welcome to 2017. It is quite esoteric and personal, so you can stop reading here if that turns you off.

It is becoming futile to try and do what I really love (fiction and non-fiction writing)*, and to develop at all artistically while also holding down my current job. The latter is completely beyond my ability now, I haven’t managed to hold it down properly for months, and I don’t have the energy to keep going. No-one should be in the position of being hopelessly ill-equipped to perform the basic tasks of a job and feel totally trapped by it. That is not what the opportunity to get work was supposed to achieve.

I was so fortunate, and I jumped at the chance to work full-time, knowing that it was unlikely I would be able to do work like that for very much longer. Well, it is now twenty months since I started a twenty-four month contract, and sure enough my capacity has decreased. That is not a complaint by the way, just a statement of fact. I am not as I was. I am sure you aren’t either, though I hope the difference is not so stark in your case.

As an example of how things have progressed, I can’t hear 80% of what people say to me because:

  1. there is either background noise (any noise now) they are speaking too quietly,
  2. they are too far away (more than two metres)
  3. turn their head away mid-sentence
  4. or all of the above.

So I am terrified of my work phone (an infuriating little headset) because it takes to much effort to listen, no blood flow is left to go to my memory!

Also, twenty months of predominant wheelchair use and a not-quite-healed fracture in the upper arm do not bode well for the course of a progressive neurological condition. Things get worser faster! Not that there is no hope of wheeling things back. Exercise and self-care just has to take precedence, for some time it is necessary to devote all available time and energy into it. Yes, that does not exactly fill me with excitement, and no, it isn’t as simple as trotting off to the gym a few times a week after work.

Heavy on my mind is the guilt that accompanies the realisation that there are plenty of people worse off than me. Wonderful people who haven’t had such a treasure-trove of opportunities as I have, and who have been stricken with such serious misfortune that I want to punch** those who claim that people just need to work harder.

I don’t want to feel guilty, and please don’t you feel guilty because of me. Let’s be collectively guilt-free, since none of us actually chose our lot. I didn’t choose to have Friedreich’s Ataxia, neither did you. But hopefully we do get to choose what we do with our time this side of the grave. An opportunity is something voluntary, something you can back out of. Otherwise it is a compulsion.

I am being purposefully non-specific about what my job actually is because it is not fair on my employer if I start detailing it. I care about the people I work for, and I believe in the institution. Anyway, those that know me already know what I do. The point is that I don’t believe in my own place within it. My purpose. This is a cry for understanding, because I am someone who relies very dearly on others for validation. It is distressing to think that I am letting people down. But I need to back out.

I need the freedom to do what I came out of this planet to do and write out the stories in my head. Twenty months of concepts and ideas need to be re-examined and developed (where they are actually good — most of them aren’t and I am not being modest), as well as a back-log of drafts for this website. Interviews with people, attempts at poetry. I have plans to transform this website and launch a patreon page which would allow people to support me by pledging a small amount of money (like $3) on an ongoing basis in return for which those patrons would get access to content etc. It is a way to make creative endeavours actually sustainable long term. I’ll write more about this later.

Full-time work in the public sector is not my dream, and it shouldn’t be a hell. Carefully, and honestly I want to make my real dream actually happen. I just need some time, space, and understanding.

*Despite what some people have assumed, I don’t want to write for the Listener magazine. Or any media outlet for that matter. Not that I think I am better than that, but because when I am at my worst I find solace in fiction/poetry. At my best I can write fiction/poetry. I interview people because I enjoy good conversation. Whether the product of my endeavors is worth examining, well, that is really up to you.

**Punch with words of course…