Workshopping the Future

 Most of the pieces I’ve written for the Peace Corps Mexico internal newsletter The Piñata have been posts I’d already tapped out or had in mind for this blog. This time it’s reversed; I’ve changed all acronyms to words and explained where I think explaining was merited, but you folks are smart, you’ll get a long.

An ex-volunteer, between his Close of Service in November and his move to the Philippines for Peace Corps Response this past May, made a short tour of Mexico, and when he came by Jalpan, he left me a book, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything from December of last year. Peace Corps Volunteers being what they are, I imagine some of you have read Klein and even her new work. But for everyone who hasn’t, I’ll give you the briefest summary and then we’ll get onto why it’s important.

Because it changes everything?

Because it changes everything?

As a species, we’ve spent the forty years we’ve known about the problem doing nothing; neither Río nor any later conference has made any real gains, and we’re maybe less than a decade out from releasing enough carbon to blow past 2C of warming into an all-the-more-apocalyptic future.[1] Our large multinational fossil fuel companies have, right now, reported reserves that, if extracted and burned, would easily bring us to 3 or 4C of warming.[2] Not only that, but the danger climate change presents isn’t imminent so much as it’s already here, and more than a few of us in Mexico have observed firsthand variations in climate that deviate from millennia of established patterns.

I assume we're all past this point if we're not experts

I assume we’re all past this

The causes we’re mostly familiar with. Dirty electricity production is foremost, followed by the burning of fossil fuel for transport, both personal and commercial, especially the diesel and gasoline used to power the ships and planes and trucks on which global trade depends. And industrialized agriculture, which has huge carbon outlays not just for shipping and the running of equipment and facilities but in the extraction and production of mineral fertilizers, all alongside the massive pollution and environmental destruction caused by runoff and the overuse of herb- and pesticides. Others, of course, but here you have the big three: power, transport (shipping), agriculture.

Naomi Klein’s solution to this disaster is appropriately drastic. She wants to overthrow the global capitalist system, not by violence but by mass democratic action. She wants to derail the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’ that has dominated global economics since the late 1980s and which, for a time, was the leading philosophy in development as well.

What has any of that got to do with us? Everything. Not in the overthrowing—it’s not within the ambit of a Peace Corps volunteer. We come in when Klein imagines the world afterwards.

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A (Very) Late Review of Inequality for All


I just watched Inequality for All, and it’s great. Crystallizes everything we all should have been angry about since 2008 if not, like Secretary Reich, since the Reagan Administration. Rising income inequality in the US has poisoned our democracy which has in turn poisoned our economy (etc.), and the two effects have waltzed hand in hand for decades now, dropping us dozens of places in world rankings of every indicator of prosperity.

But there are two points the filmmakers either missed (or, more likely) chose to ignore, at least in terms of a holistic picture of the post-crash situation in the States. Reich mentions polarized politics and correlates them with inequality. Somewhat fair. But while the rest of the film draws on parallels between our own time and the period between the Gilded Age and the Great Depression, politics at that time were nowhere near as polarized (contentious, maybe, but not along ideological party lines).

While he brings up both Occupy and the Tea Party as exemplars of dissatisfaction with wealth inequality, he equates them erroneously, failing to mention the (pretty critical) differences. Both were ostensibly set off by big money interfering with government (TARP and Citizens United, for example). But while Occupy advocated polices that were at least oriented towards amelioration of the situation, the Tea Party (partially and significantly funded by the Koch Brothers) pretty much lobbied for the rich and against themselves.

Which illustrates the problem that Inequality ignores—politics in the States has become a matter of faith, and a good chunk of Americans, if not 50% of the country, takes on faith the line that continuing the trickle-down policies of increasing inequality begun under the Reagan Administration will somehow solve the same crisis they precipitated.

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Liberal Arts

When I first got here, the volunteers of the group before mine called me ‘Georgetown.’ I hadn’t meant to mention my university so much. I’ve gotten less snobby about school with every passing year, and in my experience GU doesn’t impress much outside of the foreign policy crowd anyway. But I came to Mexico straight out of college, and it was my major touchstone for the last four years.


Having, as it did, a lot of stones

A friend brought it to my attention and I’ve tried to stop using the name so much, even here on the blog. But with all the debates that have been cycling through the navel-gazing loop of Slate and Atlantic and New Yorker comment pieces about the nature of college, I’ve been thinking about it more. I disliked old money at Georgetown and the extent to which everyone in DC fetishized the northeast; how fashion went off the deep end my sophomore year and everyone in the city started dressing like they were about to go sailing with the Kennedys in Nantucket, all boat shoes and pastel pants and little anchors and sailboats peppering everything. But it’s an idiosyncrasy of mine that I look back to the hoary old campuses of the East Coast and the glory days of an American aristocracy growing up in prep schools, heading to the Ivy League, and then entering civil service or elected government.

Once you've climbed on John Carroll, you're practically there

Once you’ve climbed on John Carroll, you’re practically there

We play down how much our undergraduate institutions mean to us. We don’t call ourselves Harvard men or Georgetown men anymore, don’t get together and sing the alma mater for old times’ sake. I don’t know if it’s that they don’t leave as much a mark on us as they used to or if we’re determined not to be tied to something so solid and old in our eagerness to be young and restless and free. But I am a Georgetown man or an East Coast man and I want to be, because there’s something that lives in those ancient, ivy-obsessed ruins that’s fading away everywhere else.

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Dulce et Decorum est

I’m always looking for practical applications of philosophy, and when an illegal war to prolong an illegal occupation broke out across the water a few weeks back, I started re-reading Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars so that I might have a better framework to back up words like “illegal” and “massacre” and “a pretty clear pattern here, folks.”

I’ll touch on the Balfour Declaration and everything that came after in a few weeks or whenever I get through the book, but for now I’ll be typing up stuff that strikes me as I read. Right now, I’ve got a bit of a policy suggestion.

Walzer’s book is about just war theory and the war convention, the ways in which we judge the initiation of and conduct within wars.

Who loved Political and Social Thought? This guy

Who loved Political and Social Thought? This guy

Walzer refers to existing international law at times, but he’s up front in pointing out that iLaw as it stands is an incomplete tapestry, one that lacks coherence and sovereign enforcement. His argument, he says, is about moral law, the kind worked out by philosophers for millennia.

All of this is to say that sometimes Walzer begins what seems like a tangent into philosophical wordplay in order to illustrate a point of ‘moral law’ or a moral imperative. It was during one of those apparent digressions that I started thinking about this post.

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Holly Golightly, Swede Levov, and Raoul Duke

I’ve mentioned that I’m reading all the time here, even though my tally is nowhere near as high as Danny’s when he was this far into service. I console myself by saying that I also read most of the longform journalism that makes it onto the web and that I’m going through a list of 20th Century Western canon that I never got to in high school or college (here’s the link, suggest me stuff if you think I’ve got glaring holes; I don’t know if Goodreads will tell you you’ve suggested something I’ve already read or if crowdsourcing works when your blog only has twelve regular readers, but well there it is), but really I think he’s just more dedicated to the endeavor.

I’ve got to find material for the blog, though, so I’m going to start reviewing some of the books I go through, either in fast little snippets like in this post or in longer, I-wish-it-were-like-NYRB-style-essays, which I’ll do for Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon maybe.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s — Truman Capote

Like most people (I think, in this particular case), I’d seen the movie before I read the book, and I don’t know if it’s just because you tend to like and believe the things that you see first, but I’d have to maintain that I enjoyed the film more (as opposed to the usual order of things). It’s hard not to hope for a happy ending where Hepburn is concerned, and once you’ve seen her as Holly Golightly, it’s hard to think of the character as anyone else.

I mean, right. Right?

I mean, right. Right?

Plus the Paul Varjak—George Peppard gigolo bit is fun and it doesn’t play in the novel.

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Gender and Power in The Conjuring

I’m short on time for writing this week, so I’m putting up a piece I wrote for Erin Riordan and Kat Kelley’s creation, Feminists-at-Large last summer. 


Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir has turned out the most fauxned-in diatribe you’ll read all month. Pretend-outraged rants against masculine values have to be the new lazy-man’s response to art. In the same way that early critics of Lolita’s ‘pro-pedophilia’ message were both ignorant and misguided, O’Hehir’s review of The Conjuring managed not only to miss the point, but portray the work’s message entirely backwards.

The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family, mother, father, and four girls who move out to a house in the country. Soon enough, they discover an ominous boarded-up basement, and a standard possession-haunting scenario develops, with flying pictures, creepy sleepwalking, and terrifying apparitions. Coming to their aid are the Warrens, a husband and wife team of ghostbusting paranormal experts, with Ed Warren playing the academic and his wife the strong-willed psychic.

The soon-to-be-less-happy Perron Family

The soon-to-be-less-happy Perron Family

O’Hehir imagines the film’s politics to be reactionary, but his is the only retrograde thinking in taking a feminist dream and writing it like a nightmare. He claims that the women in the movie are the fount of all its evil, and he’s right, but only because the women are the only important characters in the film.

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