Arcade Fire: a delayed appraisal

I rarely have the opportunity to watch late night talk-shows but bizarre happenstance found me catching the same episode of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, twice within the span of two weeks. The musical guest was The War on Drugs and I am not exaggerating when I say that the second time I saw this band perform Baby Missiles was a revelation. At that moment I realized that the ‘indie rock’ genre, as it is has been called now since the late nineties, has been absolutely ruined; it has in fact spoiled in exactly the same way that fruit spoils. Of course anytime someone makes such a bold statement, they have to prepare themselves not only for swift written and verbal reprisals, but more profoundly, to accept the fundamental incongruity or irresolvable nature of the thesis they are propounding. Yet it is the incongruity, or need to ‘prove it’ which drives every argument forward. This particular incongruity appears to me as being contingent upon two points:

Arcade Fire

Someone is gonna get blown!

1) no-one is talking about this decline
2) the culprit of this corruption is obvious, it is Arcade Fire.

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To Be Right…

I love always being right.
This is the central motivation behind all of my actions in life.
Note this does not mean I am right, but that I strive to be right.

To be right is to…
…give more than empty words.
…understand chaos in the universe.
…live long past the point of no return.
…transgress popular culture and get to the root of the mater.

You become pop culture as a by product.

I have spent a life of procrastination
to escape the rigors of a desk job.
I never wanted a profession that weighted on my life.
Occupation, like marriage, is a prison sentence.

To be right comes with…
…a set of skills of it’s own.
…no remorse or hard feelings.
…the understanding of why you are right.
…the bottom of a bottomless heart.

You only appear like an asshole.

Of all the ways one can live their life,
There is none better than being right.
Which of course takes in to account
more than the ignorant notion of being right.

To be right takes into consideration…
…the truth.
…the humans.
…the environment.
…the change.

A universal view can see the big picture.

Neo-cons wouldn’t know the first thing about being right.
Nor the punch drinking liberals.
The truth is not pretty,
but it shall set you free.

How to Become an Adequately Cultured Person: Introduction

The Ultimate Half-Assed DIY Guide to Well-Roundedness
The Director’s Cut
By Ian McLeod

So a lot of people write “how to be well-rounded” articles at some point or another in their writing careers. I know, I wrote the original article quite some time ago. By popular demand, it’s back, and in the parlance of our times, it is being embiggened to proportions hithertofore unseen.

Rather than one article with a few super half-assed ways to improve yourself as in the original article, this new series will go in depth into how to be amazing. Now some of you may have your doubts, and I agree–maybe all of this is full of shit.  But then I argue that any series on being well-rounded that has “shit” somewhere in the first couple paragraphs has to be somewhat different–possibly even good.

And this is a Half-Assed guide, so it’s full of shortcuts and easy ways to become cultured, or at least seem more cultured than you really are. Unlike most who give sage advice, I’m not going to give you a list of “must-read” books or “must smoke” cigars. I will give you a general idea of what does and doesn’t count.

Are You Adequately Cultured?

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Is Ron Paul the New Face of Populism?

Is Ron Paul the new face of populism?

Ron Paul’s presence in American presidential politics over the last eight years doesn’t follow the spectacle-oriented third party approach that Ross Perot inaugurated in the nineties, (this anticipation has instead been projected onto Donald Trump and Sarah Palin); instead, Paul’s candidacy has the dogged warhorse quality of Ralph Nader’s campaigns, albeit shifted to the extreme right. In the case of Nader, one might have seen the liberal concern for the poor to be a pretty clear indication of traditional populist values. As complex as the supposed tenets of populism can seem, I would consider its only consistent facet to be ballot-power which is derived from the corralling of financially deprived voters, regardless as to what the “official” or stated policies of the candidate may be. Though Paul will most likely be unable to cause the damage Perot did to Bush Sr. in 1992, or that Nader did to Gore in 2000, he is nonetheless, a visible remnant of the twentieth-century Populist movement.

Prior to the modern promulgation of Populism in the late nineteenth century, the movement existed in many forms beginning with the Populares in the Roman Republic; Julius Caesar being a prime example of a movement, aristocratic in origin, which sought senatorial power by way of public support. Since then, the term has entered the political forum under various guises. Looking beyond the alternately pejorative and exalted lights it has been viewed under, we can agree only on its regional and temporal origins. In the United States Populism originated and grew out of The U.S. People’s Party, founded in 1892, as an attempt to mobilize farmers throughout the South, West and Midwest.

Despite the voracious anti-elitist and anti-big business tone of The U.S. People’s Party’s rhetoric, there was a corresponding social conservatism, evinced by the party’s support for segregation (though not espoused by all members, it sat, paradoxically, next to their policy of granting membership to women) and fundamental respect for the tenets of Christianity (the aspect of populism which came to the fore in William Jennings Bryan’s representation of the State of Tennessee in the Scopes Trial of 1925).

The Scopes Trial appeared to be the Crucible upon which the liberal values of progress and science were pitted against the conservative values of traditionalism and religion. In his book Outgrowing Democracy, The Hungarian historian John Lukacs has referred to this conceived juxtaposition of values as being inherently false because neither of the two sides in conflict were representative of twentieth century values (Bryan was the heir of pre-Enlightenment aristocratic values and Clarence Darrow was representative of eighteenth century Enlightenment ideals), but contends that the Scopes trial “marked the final divorce of populism and progressivism”; after which populists would shift to the right and progressives toward the left.

Prior to the Scopes Trial, Frederick Jackson Turner had attempted to conjoin populism with the progressive spirit in the figure of the ‘pioneer farmer’:

The populist demand for government ownership of the railroad is of the same effort of the pioneer farmer, on his latest frontier. The proposals have taken increasing proportions in each region of western advance. Taken as a whole, populism is a manifestation of the old pioneer ideals of the native American, with the added element of increasing readiness to utilize the national government to effect its ends.

Two things catch our attention, one is the use of ‘native’ (not capitalized); Turner is speaking of the settlers and not actual Native Americans, secondly, the use of the word ‘latest’ as opposed to ‘final’; it is in this choice of words that the hidden progressive nature of populism is encoded. Turner innately grasped the idea that any ‘movement’ which is intentionally regressive would be exceptionally oxymoronic and fail.

The lynchpin in my analysis of populism as it relates to the popularity of Ron Paul lies in the fact that, Populism, in the 1890s, was able to transcend traditional political lines before finally being absorbed into The Democratic Party during the early part of the twentieth century, in much the same way that Paul himself, has been absorbed into The Republican Party. An interesting distinction lies between ‘ideals’ or ‘values’ being absorbed into a national political party one hundred years ago and the ‘personage’ or ‘icon’ of those same values being assimilated today.  It almost seems as if The Republican Party would not have intellectual jurisdiction over Libertarian values unless there was an avatar of Libertarianism present to espouse them.

The paradoxical nature of Ron Paul’s candidacy doesn’t represent a short-circuit in populism i.e. a candidate whose policies actually contradict the interests of his followers as much as it represents an evolution of Populism itself and the growing fissure between medium and message -sign and signifier. Sam Tanehaus indirectly sums up the symbolism of Ron Paul’s placement in the Republican party, by way of describing the general crisis of the GOP’s self-perpetuating contradiction in his article, Will the Tea Party Get Cold? (The New York Review of Books, March 8, 2012):

It’s leading figures, in office and in the media, continue to espouse an antigovernment ideology that in reality attracts very few voters, even on the right. More accurately, today’s self-identified conservatives embrace movement rhetoric but not movement ideology -at least not when it is cast as policy.

Ron Paul’s candidacy is not a threat to The Democratic Party, it is however the representation of a total crisis of conscience for The Republican Party. For the last twenty years The Republican Party has conceded its ‘morally’ conservative social policies to a radically capitalist agenda (see The Rolling Stone article How the GOP became the party of the rich by Tim Dickinson). Ron Paul is the embodiment of this radical economic strategizing, completely detached from the usually attendant moral platitudes.

For the first time since Grover Norquist seized the reigns of The Republican Party, party members are now aware of the apodictic bifurcation of their two stated passions: unchecked, unregulated free market capitalism on one hand, moral and religious grandstanding on the other. Politically speaking, they are contingent upon each other, though no-one has brought their respectively autonimous natures into the light of day with the sheer precision Paul has.

It seems that the Republican Party is more comfortable with the incongruity presented by the Neo-Conservative movement, which seeped into it during the eighties; this particular incongruity being: the simultaneous promotion of both war and democracy. The viablity of Neo-Conservativism is in one sense the turning of the tables on early twentith-century Marxists (like Bernstein) who insisted that democracy was contingent upon socialist economic practice, and, more profoundly, a refutation of Plato’s advocacy of an anti-democratic Republic where war would be the exception and not the rule. Taken in this context one could plausibly argue that the Neo-Conservatives are keeping with the spirit of Heraclitus, who claimed:

“War is father of all, king of all. Some it makes gods, some it makes men, some it makes slaves, some free… We must realize that war is universal, and strife is justice, and that all things come into being and pass away through strife.”

Perhaps it is Ron Paul’s stated opposition to military intervention, not his stance on social issues (gay marriage, legalization of drugs etc.) that has been his biggest obstacle to acceptance within the Republican mainstream. Elite groups working within the party to guide its ideology are nothing new and the extent of Paul’s success is not evidence as to how much elites will allow, but an indication of the limit of Populism’s power to short-circuit this Iron Rule of Oligarchy (a term for elite-based oranizationalism coined by Robert Michels in 1911).

We must keep in mind that when we talk about the stemming of Paul’s popularity, if it is in fact the work of top-level Republicans (the elite), and it is not accomplished by diminuation of Paul’s character, so much as it is an act of obfuscation in regards to the aforementioned crisis of conscience which Paul represents. The fact that The People’s Party would be resurrected by anti-war activists in 1971 as a radically liberal party is evidence that the rhetoric of Populism is not only detached from the inferred political message, but that Populism itself is pure medium, and in this sense Ron Paul speaks the language of Populism.

The Failure of Conservatism: A Polemic

by Ian McLeod

–With Thanks And Highest Regards to the Late Mr. Nock

Whilst I’m occasionally mistaken for a conservative, as I have a preference for economic freedom and have some (but certainly not all) traditional cultural views, I am not a conservative because I have no desire to see my personal or cultural views legislated on anyone–and in fact reject every attempt even to legislate them on me or anyone else, as I believe the fictitious King Pausole’s laws are the only laws worth having: first “hurt no man,” then “do as you please.”

Conservatism is an utter failure in America, as this election cycle has proven.  Once more Ron Paul has been destroyed by the Republican Party machine, and three identical candidates vie for a meaningless title. That was predictable.  I am nominally a supporter of Paul, but I did not vote in the Alabama Primary and nor will I vote this November, except perhaps to write in “Zombie-Eisenhower” if I am feeling particularly cheeky on that Tuesday morn.  But this cycle, I realized something whilst reading Facebook comments and news articles and blogs all across the Internet: the Ron Paul supporters do not realize how spurious their own opinions are, because they share one thing in common (if only tangentially) with the Party Establishment.  While they are True Believers and the Establishment is not, this is true of the vast majority of Conservative voters (not the elected officials or media figureheads.)  Conservative voters are gullible, not because they are idiots but because they are maleducated (because most Americans are maleducated, regardless of political affiliation).

Indeed, the Paul supporters, who are closest to traditional conservatives of yore, have a massive blind-spot. Again, and so I don’t seem as if I’ve gone Leftist, I find Progressives are equally maleducated, but do have an advantage in that they spend absolutely no time looking back to learn from history except to heap guilt on people who personally have nothing to do with dead and buried atrocities.

Now I understand that Ron Paul is a libertarian trapped in a Republican’s body.  Believe me, I’ve been a reader of his for the better part of a decade: I was down with Ron Paul long before he was cool (I write this with utmost irony and sarcasm, of course.)  But, you see, the Constitution itself is an anti-libertarian document.  Why he hearkens back to it so much and with such fervor is beyond me at this point.  People and their blind spots.  The definition of mal-education.

You see, the Constitution was the product of a cynical coup d’Etat by the urban, mercantilist, creditor class (who happened to own vast tracts of land across the several states, and were owed quite a bit of money after they bankrolled that little revolution.  The Madisonians and Hamiltonians were Madisonians and Hamiltonians precisely because stood to benefit most from centralization.  Principle had nothing to do with it.)  My question thus is, why do you call for a return to constitutional principles if those very principles are simply the enhancement and centralization of government power?  Does revering a document which was itself the product of unprincipled opportunism not seem nonsensical, if not immoral?  It’s a self-contradiction.

As we all know, this coup was led by Madison and Hamilton and perpetrated while Jefferson was in France.  Patrick Henry “smelt a rat in Philadelphia, and it was tending towards Monarchy” and made it a point to no-show to the Convention.  Sam Adams joined him.

In any case, the Constitutional Convention was convened under the false pretense of hammering out some irregularities in the original Articles of Confederation.  Its stated purpose was not to replace the government entirely, but to make the Confederation run more smoothly.  But as soon as it was convened, Madison, Hamilton, John Jay, and their cronies changed the agenda and the end result is what we have today: the Constitution of the United States.  The only “framing” the framers of the Constitution did was of the terms of the debate–for the Federalists it had little to do with grandiose ideas or heart-felt principles, as it boiled down to power and money.  And like most astute politicians, they were able to sell the public down the river in the name of “national defense” and “general welfare.”  John Jay really laid out the agenda the most truthfully, and while I despise what he did I will not issue a damnatio memoriae for sharing the same birthday with him simply because he was honest about it:  “The people who own the country should run the country.”   That was the spirit behind the Constitution.

Oh sure, you can blame Lincoln, or Wilson, or Roosevelt, or Taft, or Obama for all the problems today–but the blame truly lies on the Constitutional Convention itself.  The Presidents and Congresses and Courts have simply played the hand they’ve been dealt.  It is important to remember that the document was not sent to the Continental Congress or the State Legislatures to be vetted before it was put directly to a popular vote–an odd thing for a country which only a few years prior was so determined not to succumb to the perils of democracy.

Now, if you’d prefer actual limitations on the power of central government, then acknowledge that the power of the purse itself must be returned to the state governments, as under the Articles of Confederation, with all the hardships and limitations that necessarily accompany it.  Easy war, expansionism, imperialism, and your favored social issues will, by default become impossible to accomplish legislatively through the heavy hand of central government–but at least so will the legislative goals of your opponents, who are consistently better at manipulating the masses than you are.

The thrust of this is simple: anything less than pure antifederalism is mere posturing.  You wish to “restore the Constitution” when in reality the Constitution is fine, it is working precisely as it was designed.  It was designed to replace a loose-knit confederation that was more similar to Switzerland than to Britain at first–a confederation with painfully explicit limitations of powers with a centralized Federal-National government with only very weak powers.  The Bill of Rights was, and is merely a Trojan horse–a sugar-coating to make the bitter pill of nationalism palatable.    There was far more freedom and individual liberty under the Articles of Confederation.  It was a flawed document, no doubt, but it erred on the side of the Everyman and of State and Local governments, rather than play with the fire of centralization.  Conservatives and Progressives in America today are identical: you only differ in how much fire with which you’re willing to play.  Neither of you question the wisdom of playing with fire in the first place, and for that you should be damned.

You conservatives should be less shocked and offended when the Supreme Court “legislates from the bench.”  The Supreme Court, in fact, is doing precisely what a body of unelected lifetime appointees with unlimited power is designed to do.  Jefferson saw it coming, and was dismayed.

You fail to see that an intentionally vague legal document is a dangerous thing.  In vagary there is unlimited power to be seized.  Progressives understand this better than you do.  Indeed, Progressives are better at interpreting the “original intent” of the Constitution than any Strict Constructionist, as the “original intent” was an unprincipled power-grab by the moneyed class sold as increased security and better services at the expense of both social and individual liberty (the irony, the irony!)  It would have been worse from the outset if not for the antifederalists who demanded a Bill of Rights to mitigate the damage from the inevitable compromises which ensued during the surprise convention.  But even then, the Bill of Rights was a “go along to get along” measure, a bone already sucked dry of its marrow thrown to the antifederalists and Jeffersonians to keep the entire country from Balkanizing outright (as Washington predicted it would.  Indeed, Washington believed the Constitution would not last 20 years.  It probably would have been better if he were right.)

Conservatism in America fails precisely because it deifies the very thing which created all the problems about which Conservatives frequently complain.  You look to a history that never was as you are too blinded by your romantic messianic visions of “founding fathers” or “framers” to see that they were people..  Some of them were great men, and most of them did great things, but as with most people who find themselves with far too much power and influence, they–especially Hamilton’s ilk but Jefferson was no saint either–used their power and influence to their own ends.  They were human.  There is no excuse over 200 years hence, for the wool to remain over your eyes.  Why do you hold it there in the first place?

As you Conservatives look to a history that never was, your only comfort is that Progressives look to a future that will never be (but bless their hearts, they try.)

Politics in America is merely the blind leading the blind, and as great Suleiman the Wise wrote three-thousand years ago, both will inevitably fall to destruction.