Saturday, January 20, 2007

Note taking: a comment (mine) at Maxspeak (rough)
Social democracy is generated by community not by individuals and certainly not by a teleology of "progress." Delong defends forward motion as its own reward and then pretends to be a man of the world.
In the history of the planet there's been a division always between self-interest, the search for filthy lucre, and the life of the mind. This country has redefined the latter as the philosophy of the former. That's a perversion of the intellect.
Delong believes in scientific progress as moral progress. He thinks there's no difference between a bakery run by one family for 3 generations in a small town in italy and the yuppie "artisanal" bread shop in the mall. In social democracy the family bakery is in the mall. Social democracy isn't about progress it's about stasis and complacency. And it sure as hell isn't about the intellectual avant-garde bringing knowledge to the masses (or atheism mixed with contempt). After all the popular aspect of the 60's political movement was led by ministers. And they weren't white, and with apologies to Amanda at pandagon they didn't drink Martinis. The peasant rebellion was the best most important part of the thing. It went downhill from there.

The strength of what's been happening recently is that the people who claim to be it's leaders are nothing but empty suits. They may pretend to be otherwise but they're not. Kos is a loudmouth and putz. MyDD is liberal pamphleteering by slackers gentrifying a poor neighborhood with a lecture and a smile. The poobahs at TPM Starbucks have their asses handed to them by the readership on a daily basis.

The real change, the change that I take seriously and that I respect is not the "movement" but all the people who follow along and now ask questions: the middle-american housewife with the gay neighbor a taste for ethiopian food, a rudimentary knowledge of spanish, and whose husband just bought her a vibrator as an anniversary present. This average and unintellectual woman, neither brilliant nor dim, is pissed off and with good reason. I like her.

It's not about leaders and progress and forward motion but about hobbies and community and curiosity. But it's also not about communes and kumbaya: the over-determined denial of the individual in service to the ideal. It's not cult-like or monastic. It's not opposed to capitalism but it's in defense of everything else that makes life worthwhile. It's not against economic activity, it's against the definition of all activity as economic in principle. It's about the defense of leisure not made by intellectuals as revolutionary program and pedantic tract, but by average people who've decided that it's nice to take a walk sometimes, in no particular direction, and for no particular reason. That is the "movement" that interests me. And its real.

If you want to take the L train into Williamsburg to yell at slackers go ahead. I did that for 20 years. As long as I've been on the web I've done it. No one listened, here or elsewhere. I was in a bar there recently; the place was done up in a production designer's idea of a dive circa 1940. I overheard opinions on various topics, all based on recollections of experience and little else. Art began with Warhol but politics began in 1975. Movies began with MTV except Star Wars and the Godfather and maybe The Wizard of Oz. It was clear that most of the people there thought of themselves as idiosyncratic in one way or another, and liberal.
Leaving later the friend I was drinking with commented on what he liked about the lounge cafe we go to in our neighborhood. You need to dress up a bit to go there, look nice at least. The girls are pretty or they can make themselves look pretty. The boys are the same. They sit and smoke and drink. various languages come and go. "The people in the neighborhood know what they are" my friend said. In Williamsburg they have no idea. I'm told Zadie Smith riffs on that in a Williamsburg section of a recent novel. The oblivious self-absorption seems to have horrified her. Just look at the Pic of Mat Stoller at Starbucks, it's all in that smile.
In my neighborhood, at whatever age, and from whatever country, the people have seen more politcs and more war than anyone born here. They still come and go. Two languages is universal. many know three or four. People know what money is and they work for it, but money isn't the point. The point is to have time to sit and drink with friends. They're worldly and unpretentious. They can talk about Athens, or Bucharest or Saint Petersburg or Rio or Miami. Two blocks away they can talk about Marrakesh or Alexandria or Beirut. I like all these people, for for the same reason I like that middle American housewife.
Yell at the slackers if you want, but make sure you know why you're yelling. There may be better ways to get things done, and there are certainly better ways to waste your time.
Change is slow, but change is real.
The avant-garde is dead.

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